Space Opera and Supernatural Magic

Space Opera is more akin to action/adventure than science fiction. Heroes blast their way out of prison, villains become tyrants for the self-serving desire to have power, and politics resemble Greek tragedies: all about personal grievances and family bloodlines. Space Opera is a mash up of pop futurism and traditional storytelling.

She’s holding a space pistol. She is defending him, not the other way around.

In Space Opera technology is just a story mechanic to service the plot. Consider one of the grandfathers of pulp sci-fi Flash Gordon. The science (if you can find it) is nonsense, but these are larger-than-life characters doing exciting things. It’s not that the science is too lazy or “soft”, it’s actually irrelevant. Don’t worry, you don’t have time to think about what makes the hawkcycle go, you are too busy dodging death rays and being seduced by gorgeous amoral princesses.

FlashGordon.com

The downside is with no consistent world rules technology comes and goes as needed Deus ex machina to get characters from A to B, or to resolve impossible conflicts instantly. Star Trek is among the worst offenders for casually discovering or inventing a world-breaking technology on a weekly basis and just as quickly ignoring it.

Technobabble is used not to inform the viewer but to talk over their heads. That isn’t science fiction, it’s just trying to awe with pseudo-intellectual wordsalad.

Another unfortunate staple of Space Opera is reductively amplifying every conflict to an ancient battle of Good verses Evil (looking at you, Babylon5). I think this is more a case of reductio ad absurdum, or just bad writing. How old is this conflict? Since The Dawn of Time…, wait no, before that even…

Why rely on dry technology infodumps to explain the setup if you can have a juicy prophecy with built-in foreshadowing to get the action moving? (Also why develop characters with believable motives when you can just have space nazis?) Most genre clichés probably have a grandfather that did it well, followed by hundreds of derivatives that did it to death.

Supernatural magic is NOT inherent to Space Opera, but it’s the corollary to Clark’s Third Law “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Only in this case it’s actually magic but we’ll say some technobabble so it sounds like advanced technology.

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