Two weeks ago, Tor Books publicist Cassandra Ammerman asked this question on twitter upon seeing my review of Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright.
Why do you think space opera hasn’t gone more mainstream, like steampunk? I always thought it was strange, because space opera really does have everything, and as Patrick [YetiStomper] and Michael [MadHatterReview] pointed out, it’s huge on TV and in movies…but the books never really seem to hit it big.)
I had this to say in response.
My answer to your question is in two parts:
Firstly, Space Opera once was mainstream, and therefore is now seen as SF’s history, not its future. People always like the new and odd (hence steampunk’s rise to popularity) but Space Opera has a long tradition and is seen as what was the happening genre in SF twenty years ago rather than what will be the happening genre in the next ten. (Though these things ar cyclical, and Space Opera could very well rise again.) This is unfortunate, of course, but people are like ravens; we want nice, new, shiny things. Space Opera is perceived as old and lusterless – the way SF used to think but not the way it thinks now. It will always be mainstream visually because of its big battles and explosions and intrepid heroes, but in books, it is our parents’ SF, not ours.
In addition, Space Opera is usually hopeful, and today’s SF readers prefer dystopia, which reflects their general view of the ultimate entropy of life, society and our planet (at least, if we don’t do something about it). We are less than hopeful these days, and our stories reflect this. If we are looking for hope, we prefer to think nostalgically (fantasy) or to reinvent history (steampunk) in order to remove ourselves from the downward cascade we unconsciously realize is occurring unless we halt its declining progress. Space Opera likes to think that humanity is on an upward curvature rather than a downward spiral, and that just doesn’t reflect the general perception of today’s SF readership.
So GFTW readers, do you agree with my assessment? Why or Why not?