Traveling through space with the Space Opera genre

It’s about time we added another genre post… this time, we’ll look at the sub-genre of science fiction commonly called Space Opera. We’re looking at this one because it is one of my absolute favorites.

It often includes space travel, first contacts with alien races, alien and human interactions, space battles, journeys, adventure, romance … in short, nearly everything I like in a story.

This post will take its form from our Book Adventures Weeklies – a list of links that you may choose to read which explain or explore space opera.

  • For starters, there is always Wikipedia. Interestingly, in addition to describing the main elements (outer space, futuristic time period, adventure/warefare), it tells us where we got the name: apparently from “horse opera,” which I’ve never heard but which was relevant in the days of silent movies to describe formulaic westerns.
  • Science and science fiction blog io9 breaks apart the sub-genre by comparing space opera and military science fiction. In a sentence, space opera according to io9 is about adventure, while military science fiction is about warfare and conflict. There is overlap between the two, and they come from roughly the same place, looking at culture through different lenses.
  • G. W. Thomas wrote An Epic History of Space Opera. He, too, mentions the name’s origins in “horse opera,” but also connects it to the term “soap opera.” He gives brief synopses of some of the major works in the sub-genre, focusing on the early decades and including films and radio in addition to books.
  • There’s also a lesser-known sub-genre that has been dubbed “space regency.” Which is sort of a combination of comedy of manners and science fiction – think Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer in space. Authors of this might include Sharon Lee and Steve Miller (Liaden universe), and Lois McMaster Bujold (Miles Vorkosigan series). I’m thinking of a combination of witty banter, comedy of manners, space travel/adventure, and romance. Do you know of any others?

Check out the following gallery of books (in no particular order) for some of our favorite space operas. And if you haven’t seen enough, a member of has put together their own massive list of space opera books and authors. What books do you think should be on this list, or do you have any recommendations?

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