- Posted by Giaco Furino
- On December 11, 2015
- 0 Comments
- dune, ender's game, flash gordon, skylark, star wars
Here at CONtv we know that there are so many areas of fandom and so few hours in the day. In order to help you decide if a specific genre, sub-genre, artist, or hobby is worth the investment of your time, we present CONtv 101. A series of “introductory level courses”, CONtv 101 is NOT your typical “best of” list. The purpose of each course is to provide you with a strong, basic understanding of each topic through a carefully selected syllabus.
Course Description: Though originally coined as an insult and joke on the term “Soap Opera”, the “Space Opera” genre is now synonymous with sprawling, epic adventures set in space. A traditional space opera often includes starcraft battles in space, sweeping romances, and a majority of the action taking place in outer space. As such, this separates the genre from other forms of sci-fi, where aliens invade earth, robots attack, or people travel through time.
Now most famously associated with Star Wars, the genre had humble beginnings as novellas and short stories in sci-fi magazines. With Star Wars: The Force Awakens just around the corner, we’re giving you a rundown of the films and books that came before and after Star Wars to paint a picture of the genre as a whole.
The Skylark Series
In the 1920s, no author did more to further the Space Opera genre than author E.E. “Doc” Smith. His series, which started with The Skylark of Space in 1928 (and can be read thanks to Project Guttenberg), focuses on mankind’s ascension to the stars. Humans find a rare and precious metal, use it to fling themselves into the stars, and spend the next three subsequent novels befriending and fighting against various intergalactic foes.
Flash Gordon as a property, like its competitor Buck Rodgers, is one of the largest influences on Star Wars. The story follows Flash Gordon, his pals Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov, and plenty of famous foes like Ming the Merciless as they travel throughout the galaxy. Once Gordon takes up interstellar travel in the 1950’s, the comics truly hit their Space Opera stride. The great thing about Flash Gordon is that there are plenty of access points to the franchise. The early comics are pure 1930s/’40s adventure, the serial movies are amazingly “B-movie,” and the 1980s feature film is just… magic. Check it out if you want to see the archetypal good-boy-hero, a true proto-Luke Skywalker!
This 1965 novel by Frank Herbert is one of the seminal movements in the Space Opera genre, even though much of it takes place on the desert planet Arrakis, and many argue that it isn’t even a Space Opera! Though it lacks the iconic space battles, it still has the swashbuckling, romantic feeling that all good Space Operas have. The book follows a young boy named Paul as he’s caught in the throes of palace intrigue. He escapes near-death with his mother and has to learn to survive in the harsh desert. Of course, there’s so much for to the story than that, and that’s why this book continues to excite sci-fi fans the world over. Ahead of it’s time? By about a century. Extremely influential on the genre? For sure. (Want extra credit? Watch David Lynch’s Dune—which everyone hates on except for this professor right here.)
The much-beloved novel Ender’s Game (1985) is one of the best examples of a modern Space Opera. Ender Wiggins is a young cadet with the International Fleet, and as he’s put through tougher and tougher “games” as training, his tactical acumen shines. Ender’s Game, and the subsequent novels in the series, take a hard look at how and why we go to war. With epic battles and teenage drama, this novel truly is like an Opera in Space.
The Fifth Element
What do you get when you put Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, and Chris Tucker in an epic English-language french film, directed by Luc Besson? You get one of the best sci-fi movies, and most exciting contemporary examples of a Space Opera. Set in the 23rd century, Willis plays a cab driver who finds a strange girl that falls into his cab. From there, he sets off on a far-flung space adventure to save the earth. Full of amazing performances, set design by Mœbius, great practical effects, and a sprawling story, The Fifth Element is a prime example of the genre.
Additional Reading/Viewing: Rendezvous with Rama (novel by Arthur C. Clarke), Star Wars (duh), Old Man’s War (novel by John Scalzi), Starship Troopers (both the film and the 1959 novel)