Space Opera – A Summary History

I have for obscure reasons been rummaging around the history of science fiction sub-genre, Space Opera. The definition of space opera has changed over time, partly because new interpretations being added in. But if it doesn’t develop, then it will go stale on the readership, so no surprises there.

The generally accepted father of Space Opera is E. E. Smith with his Skylark and Lensmen series. The Skylark of Space was first published in three parts in the 1928 August to October issues of Amazing Stories. This does not mean to say there were no space stories before then. It is just that they did not have the combination of serious scientist inventing a space drive type of thing with the planetary romance in the style of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

In the 1930s and 1940s, E. E. Smith, Edmond Hamilton, John W. Campbell and Jack Williamson led the way, with a hoard of writers following in hot pursuit.

The actual term Space Opera was invented in 1941 by Wilson Tucker who defined space opera as the science fiction equivalent: a “hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn, spaceship yarn” As you see, he had seen too many space opera stories to be enjoying them any longer.

By the 1950s we had Isaac Asimov writing the Foundation series, Arthur C Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Poul Andersen’s  and Gordon R. Dickson’s Hoka series, and many many more.

Although new stories kept on coming out, people in the 1960s (e.g. Brian Aldiss) were starting to think space opera was the ‘good old stuff’. By the 1970s this opinion was universal.

Just when science fiction was heading for one of its periodical doldrums eras, the 1980s saw not only cyberpunk erupt on the scene, but also darker type of space opera, which involved newer technologies, stronger characterisation and more scientific rigour. The New Space Opera has many proponents: Iain M. Banks, Stephen Baxter, M. John Harrison, Paul McAuley, Alastair Reynolds, Ken MacLeod and Peter F. Hamilton.

To my mind, this is what I call the turn of the millennia space opera, because I feel there is new generation of space opera at play now – one where space opera is heavily intertwined with cybertech. Think of John Meanny’s To Hold Infinity or  Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series that took the science fiction world by tornado. In my mind I would like to call this Cyber Space Opera. 

As with all categorisations of sub-genres, there will always be stories that pre-empted the big waves, but in general, they did not quite get the model for that sub-genre reader-attractive. Equally, stories are still being being published along the older sub-genre lines. These things are never as black and white as they appear.

But to summarise:

  • 1930s – 1950s – Traditional Space Opera
  • 1960s – 1970s – ‘Good Old’  Space Opera 
  • 1980s – 2015 – New Space Opera
  • 2015 – ? – Cyber Space Opera




SF Novellas – Paying Submission Markets

Yes, I know I’ve been a little bit too quiet on this blog, but there were good reasons. One of them is that what started out as a science fiction novelette has turned into a novella (here the definition of a novella is between 17,500 and 40,000 words). It got me thinking… what are the markets for science fiction novellas?

Well here’s a tentative list:

I suspect there a few more markets, but they are closed without a reopening date, open only to requested works by the publisher (as perhaps Newcon Press is) or do not have an internet presence that is easy to hook into.

Ah well, back to editing the novella, which was inspired by my holiday in Switzerland last year. I’ll leave it to your imaginations as to which aspect of the following photo caught my attention…


Sciency Science Fiction New Novel Pick for July

The choice for the new novel coming out in July is

Record of the Spaceborn Few

by Becky Chambers


The Blurb:

From the ground, we stand. From our ship, we live. By the stars, we hope.

Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat.

Tessa chose to stay home when her brother Ashby left for the stars, but has to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened.

Kip, a reluctant young apprentice, itches for change but doesn’t know where to find it.

Sawyer, a lost and lonely newcomer, is just looking for a place to belong.

And when a disaster rocks this already fragile community, those Exodans who still call the Fleet their home can no longer avoid the inescapable question:

What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination?

Amazon UK Link here.

Amazon US Link here.

Why this book?

This is the third in the Wayfarer series by Becky Chambers, the first having caught the imagination of the science fiction community when it came out. From the blurb we can see it will be dealing with all too human issues, based on what the future might really hold for us. Hence the interest.

Recent Science Fiction Themes?

The latest edition of Interzone plopped through the letterbox – well actually more like crashed with an big bang against the wooden floor, but it doesn’t do to exaggerate does it? One of the things that caught my eye was the 1983 quote by Robert Silverberg:

‘But I wonder: are we heading for an era, a decade or two hence, when science fiction, our soaring and mind-expanding literature, is a musty and ritualised entertainment consumed only by elderly Baby Boomers, hearkening back nostalgically to the good old days of their twenties, while etc illiterate young ‘uni divert themselves with the electronic hardware that science fiction predicted?’

 So what has happened since then?

Well the immediate answer to Robert Silverberg came in 1984 with William Gibson’s Neuromancer. If the ‘young ‘uns’ were going to be playing on electronic gadgets, why not write interesting observations about the whole way of living? It would certainly get them interested in the written stories.

Then the 1990s saw Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars (1992), Green Mars (1993) and Blue Mars (1996) series burst onto the science fiction. It was a kind of back to the future, the possible real future that is, that caught the zeitgeist. Realisation had arrived back in science fiction. It was continued by Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space  series (Revelation Space 2000, Chasm City 2001, Redemption Ark 2002 and Absolution Gap 2003) and as a nod to space opera, (Leviathan Wakes 2011, Caliban’s War 2012, Abandon’s Gate 2013, Cibola Burn 2014, Nemesis Games 2015, Babylon’s Ashes 2016, Persepolis Rising, 2017 and Tiamat’s Wrath (to be published 2018)). The stream of realistic swear future science fiction in space seems here to stay.

Back on Earth, we have had the cli fi movement noughties welcomed cli fi as a science fiction sub-genre, in order to try to explore how to deal with the increasing danger of climate change. Although this as a sub-genre can trace its origins all the way back to Jules Verne, it seemed to have gained a new lease of life, mainly I suspect there were a lot of tech ideas coming out of the real science and technology labs.

So what of this century’s teens? What push in subject does it have? Artificial Intelligence from the viewpoint of that AI is the theme that is becoming stronger at the moment. People are looking for answers as to how to deal with the deluge of new technology, its vagaries, its nuances, its idiocies. No wonder it seems to have taken on a life of its own.

So what’s next for the twenties? Well, I’ve said elsewhere that the impact of new things done on the micro-scale that will change our lives will be an ‘in-thing’. It’s not easy to explain without going into a fictional story (and this is where I really do wish my C.A.T. novel had been published because I can point to the relevant section that describes very well what I’m getting at). The end results will be on the surface oxymoronic i.e. kind of self-contradictory. (I told you this was hard to explain.) For instance, there will be more individualism / uniqueness and uniformity at the same time. This theme lends itself to literary writing techniques, which is I suspect why we are having so many literary writers trying to enter science fiction at the moment. They are following their instincts without understanding really why they are doing what they are doing.

So to summarise the stand-out subject themes since 1983:

  • 1980s – Cyberpunk
  • 1990s – Near future realistic space opera
  • 2000s – Cli fi
  • 2010s – Artificial Intelligence point of view
  • 2020s – effects of micro-tech improvements

Obviously the last subject needs a clarifying explanation – it’s far more than mere quantum mechanics, for which there have been various failed science fiction attempts in the recent past – justifiably so because it’s been said before. (Having said that, I know there is an author for whom I’m beta-reading at the moment that is making a good go of innovative quantum mechanics, which actually uses the kind of new micro-tech theme I’m on about. It’s a step in the right direction. He has already got a publisher lined up! – I’ll let you know when the novel will be published, but in publishing terms, it’ll be sooner rather than later.)

But I’ll save that explanation for another blog… for those critics who read my blog – you know who you are – keep a look out and when the time comes read that novel I just mentioned. You won’t regret it!

In the meantime I need to rewrite a certain story – yes you’ve guessed it – I was without realising ahead of my time by about 12 years… note to self – must stop doing this!

I’ll leave you with a link to my C.A.T. short story…


Experiences, experiences, experiences…

I have just finished drafting what should have been a short story, but turned into a novella. The idea behind it came from my holiday in Switzerland last June. So it has been some time in brewing before it finally got onto the screen.

But like most of my writing that I end up being happy with, it came with surprises during the writing. For want of a better description, the creative spirit was with me on this one.

Now I’m going to put in the filing system and let it brew a little longer. I realise I have got too close too the words, the paragraphs, the grammar, the sub-plots, the characterisation and the world-building (which is both familiar and because of the basic idea behind it, unfamiliar). I need to step away from it and look at it with fresh eyes later in the year.

What’s next?

Another short story beckons… let’s hope this one does not end up as a novella, unlike the previous short story.

And then it’s back to novel number three, which for various reasons has has taken a back seat for these last couple of months.

But in all this, I continue to be reminded that there is still an imbalance between the sexes when it comes to writing and publishing science fiction. I still, after all these years, do not know the answer, though I must admit the situation has become more balanced. There is still a lot of ground to make up, though. So no complacency.

One thing I have learned is that it pays to look round the internet for possible markets – it is no good relying solely on the big sites such as grinder. Yes, their intel on markets is good, but it is not complete, particularly for longer works.

One snippet of good news is Explorations Through the Wormhole anthology continues to be in the top 100 in categories on both Amazon UK and Amazon US 20 months after it was first published. I still can’t believe it and I’m sure it has been due to the hard work of the publishers, behind the scenes contributors and fellow authors.

But is the science fiction market changing.

One thing I have noticed is that there is an increase of stories written from an AI point of view. Now a lot of them are really human traits placed in a machine, but no less valid science fiction for it. But not all are in this vein – you only have to look at C.A.T. as an example (well, I had to say this, didn’t I?). I think this is going to be subject bubble for the next year or so before it come submerged in the spaghetti themes of science fiction. Which, to me, makes it more unlikely for my C.A.T. novel to be published. A great shame really because my beta readers continue to enjoy their bimonthly episodes from the novel and I know the general readership will miss out on what I call a multi-level reading novel – I mean it is both a darned good adventure while dealing with serious issues.

Apart from this bubble, what else is on the science fiction horizon? Well, there still seems to be a move to to the fantasy end of the speculative fiction market. More science fiction writers from the hard end of the speculative fiction spectrum are turning towards fantasy end. Such an emphasis will eventually get overpopulated with stories and people will start looking for something else. It’s a question on when, not if.

What will replace this fantasy bias and the mini AI bubble?

It’s crystal ball time… make mine a deep purple amethyst… I think we are going to look at the revolutions that are quietly coming through from science research and technology development on the tiny scales. It’s one of those amazing realms (if I can borrow a word from fantasy) to be as a writer at the moment. There’s lost and loads to be explored…

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the C.A.T. story… click on the image to get to Amazon to read the first part of the first C.A.T. short story… (come to think of it C.A.T. would make a good science fiction TV series, but please don’t tell him about it – he;s got a big enough head as it is…)


Silence from the Agents

A long long time ago I sent a short story into a magazine. They held onto it, so I thought they must be seriously considering it. I waited. Life got in the way. I forgot about it. And three years later I got the rejection. The editor concerned is still in business, but after that I refuse point blank to have any dealings with him. Why? If I had got rejection in a timely manner, I would have passed it onto other magazines to see if they would accept it. Yes it did have a strong plot and was very topical for the day. By the time the rejection had come through, I had lost interest in the story and its style felt old and jaded. So it died in depths of my filing system, when it could have had a chance of being published.

As you good people know, I’m sending my C.A.T. novel to agents to see if they are interested. I have had replies from some saying they liked what they read, but it was not their kettle of fish and gave it a pass. There are some agents who say on their website that if you don’t hear from them within such and such a time limit assume, that they are not interested. These two categories I’m more than happy with because I know where I stand with them.

The agents who really annoy me are those who say that you should hear back within such and such a time and even if you give them reasonable leeway for life’s natural interruptions, you still don’t hear back from them. You are just left dangling there in the no-space of not knowing. Not only is it annoying, it’s downright rude!

Now I find fellow writers have been having the same problem. They’ve been thrown into the no-space of left dangling there.

I can’t remember things being as bad as this. It seems as if there is a plague of agent could-not-care-less-about-new-authors going on. And I’m not just talking about the agents starting up here. There are some well known agencies involved.

I refuse to do chase-up queries. I have spent time and effort in getting my submission into the form they want, and they can’t even be bothered to say a ‘no thank you, this does not work for me’ standard e-mail. Why should I waste more of my time on them? If they have been rude once, they’re very likely to be rude again.

I now have a blacklist of said agents (those that leave you wondering ones) whom I will not offer any future novels to. No ifs or buts. They’re on that list and that’ll be the end of my dealings with them.

I hope other authors who find themselves in a similar situation will follow suit. It’ll mean those agents-who-leave-you-dangling will have less chance of signing on a good novel from an author who is dedicated to writing.

To those agents who let you know on their website what the situation is, thank you. To those agents who make the effort to reply in a reasonable time, a special thank you.

Planet by planet through the Solar System!

It has been a long term ambition to publish an anthology that contains my stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies that has one story for each planet in our Solar System. Here’s the latest list:

  • Mercury – Displaced – ‘the new writer’, Volume 66, May/June 2004
  • Venus – Flex and Flux – Aphrodite Terra anthology, Whippleshield Books, December 2016
  • Earth – Cold Pressure – Jupiter 26, Isonoe, October 2009
  • Mars – A Fate of Dust – Full Frontal Lobe e-zine, Issue 2, October 2012
  • Jupiter – Agents of Repair – Jupiter 29, Thyone, July 2010
  • Saturn –
  • Uranus – Iceborne, Earth-born, Kraxon Magazine, April 2018
  • Neptune – Life Sentence – Jupiter 8, Phasiphae, Spring 2005

The observant among you may have noticed that there is one missing! The most visually interesting planet of them all – Saturn. The trouble is that in many ways it is too rich a place and many authors have been drawn to it like bees to a honey pot. And a lot of science fiction has been written about it. Yes, I did have a story about Saturn, centring on its moon, Hyperion, but I’ve now retired it from submitting it to publishers who might have been interested in it. Nor, for various reasons am I going to return to it to improve the story.


But what am I going to of about Saturn, which another author has not already done?

Well, new discoveries keep crawling out the vacuum. Recent announcements include Venus being able to sustain bacterial life and confirming that Uranus smells of hydrogen sulphide – rotten eggs to you and me.

Now when I wrote my Venus story, I was fully aware that the planet’s upper atmosphere could sustain human life. It is but a small logical step from there to say the upper atmosphere could sustain bacteria. That was obvious and left me wondering what the fuss was about.

My reaction the Uranian rotten eggs is that such a fact would only be useful if you had a plane or spacesuited person flying through the atmosphere and the fuselage or spacesuit was breached. A good warning of something wrong. The left me with a ‘there’s not much I can about this fact’ situation.

But that doesn’t mean that some interesting fact about Saturn will not emerge that could be the basis of good science fiction story. After all, there’s all that Cassini probe data to analyse. But this means sitting around and waiting for something to be found and announced. Could be quite a while.

There is one aspect I have not yet seen anything written about – the hexagon cloud formation around the north pole’s vortex (which, by the way has changed colour from mostly blue in 2012 to a more golden yellow in 2016). But, like the Uranian rotten eggs smell, I don’t yet see how to develop a story where this hexagon is a catalyst for a human story.



In the meantime, you know that short story I am writing that is supposed to be 10,000 to 12,000 words long. Looks like it’s heading for twice that size. How did that happen?

Dag nab it, Saturn will have to wait, while I finish this novella… a novella I say!