Why Space Opera Books Are the Perfect Escape Right Now

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Given the gravity of current global events, many people are looking for ways to take their minds off the news and relax. For some, that might mean binging their new favorite Netflix series. For others, reinventing their favorite home workout routine is the pastime of choice. 

In the digital age, there isn’t any shortage of distractions and entertainment. But, that’s no reason to ignore one of the most ancient and beloved forms of leisure. Namely, curling up with a book of your choice and escaping into the story of a good novel. 

We all have our preferred genre of reading, but there are a few reasons why a particular subgenre of science fiction might prove to be the perfect escape in our current collective moment. While initially coined as a pejorative term for sappy or melodramatic fiction, space opera has come to represent a subgenre that categorizes some of our favorite science fiction stories.

The term space opera refers to science fiction that puts particular emphasis on character development and straightforward plot lines. Perhaps the most famous champion of the genre in modern times is George Lucas’s Star Wars. With its compelling characters, creative storyline, and vivid attention to detail, Star Wars-inspired an entirely new generation of authors to create space opera novels that mimicked its character-rich melodrama in a rich science fiction world.

It revitalized the genre in the eyes of critics, some of whom perceived space opera as being too sappy, corny, or unbelievable previously. Unlike more abstract forms of science fiction, good space opera creates characters the reader cares about and exciting plots that keep them wanting more. They are science fiction page-turners, and they don’t get too bogged down in the heady or abstract conceptualism of other science fiction. 

Many space operas include large, dramatic battles, sometimes between different planets, galaxies, or species. Many of the titles listed in this piece by the Washington Post as some of the best science fiction and fantasy include many of these themes. Some of them could even be classified as space operas!

One of the most popular space operas that deal with many of the themes mentioned above is – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. 

It follows the story of Ender, an extremely intelligent and emotionally mature teenager who is handpicked by Earth’s government to attend a rigorous military training program. He’s taken off Earth for the program to a training facility in space where his physical, intellectual, and mental capacities will be pushed to their breaking points. All the while, he is continuously surveilled by government leaders as they strive to pick the trainee that will be groomed to become Earth’s military mastermind to battle an interplanetary foe.

While often categorized as young adult fiction, Ender’s Game has garnered a massive readership of people of all ages. Moreover, its popularity spawned a large series of prequels, sequels, and sister sequels that all take place in the same fictional world. 

These sequels mature with the series, gradually exploring darker and more adult themes.

It isn’t uncommon for space operas to be prolific. They often create such captivating worlds and characters that readers wish to keep exploring them book after book.

The same thing can be seen in another space opera classic Dune which spawned so many sequels and subsequent books that they’re difficult to keep track of even for fans of the franchise. Not to mention, Dune comics and short stories that touch on details outside of the main series of books.

Many other space opera books have created the same kinds of in-depth worlds and built large franchises. Cool Things Chicago’s best space opera books guide has more reading options.

Dune was unfortunately an example of a terrific and beloved soap opera franchise perhaps not getting the attention it deserved when it was made into a motion picture. The film struggled to capture viewers’ imagination and make them care about the characters in the way the books did. The film was flamed by critics and tanked at the box office.

This is often the case when soap opera classics are made into movies, as much of the appeal of the genre lies in its extraordinary attention to detail when creating its fictional world. This can be difficult to replicate in a motion picture. You can find other examples of books that accomplish this same attention to detail through this piece by the LA Times.

However, the attention to detail that the genre accomplishes in book form is part of the reason why it makes such a great escape from the worries of daily life. Readers can disappear into a fictional world that they are fully immersed in, with characters so real that they seem to live and breathe. 

Moreover, some would claim that many soap operas deal with many of the themes that people have to cope with today. Exploring and assimilating ideas related to the issues of our day in the world of science fiction can offer a welcome respite from having to deal with them daily in real life.

Indeed, the space opera genre isn’t without its critics. As seen in this piece by the New York Times, the genre can sometimes come under fire for being too sentimental or parable-focused. Defenders of the genre will claim that, while not all space opera is good space opera when it’s done right, it can incorporate all of the gritty, cyberpunk realism of other science fiction.

Reading about the problems and trials of a fictional world can be a terrific escape from reading about the problems we’re facing today. Moreover, it can allow you the break you need to take a look at some of the issues we’re dealing with today with fresh eyes. This can open your mind to exploring issues from all angles through a reliable news source.

Taking a break and curling up with a space opera novel might just be what you need to reset, recalibrate, and explore confusing global events while adapting to them. It wouldn’t be the first time that literature has allowed us to do just that.

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