My husband, sf writer Dave Trowbridge, and I were discussing the appeal of space opera at breakfast, what it is and why it appeals. Basically, space opera is a type of science fiction set on a large scale, highly dramatic and sometimes melodramatic. It tends to have military elements -- huge battles upon which hinge the fate of galactic empires, that sort of thing. Although wikipedia says it has nothing to do with the musical form, I think that reflects their own ignorance. What space opera and musical opera have in common is being larger than life, or rather brighter and more intense than life. Opera was, after all, the epitome high-tech special-effects knock-your-socks-off entertainment for centuries. Music, lyrics, sets, and costumes, not to mention trap doors and wire harnesses, exotic animals and fireworks, all enhanced one another. But that's another topic.
We agreed that we love the grand scope of such tales, but that it needs to be balanced by emotionally intimate moments. The same is true, for me at least, in epic fantasy. Monstrous dark forces are threatening the entire world, volcanoes exploding by the thousands, rivers of fire and poison...and then a detail in the characters that's so human, it touches my heart, not just my things-go-boom adrenalin endorphins.
Which brings me to Darkover.
Technically, the series is science fiction, and if you read the very early books, this is more clear. As Marion developed the world and explored its history, fewer of the stories actually involved events in space and the clash of cultures, and more were focused on conflict within the Seven Domains. For me, that iconic first experience remains, "Character comes to Darkover and discovers...adventure, danger... himself and his past," and I discover these things along with him.
Marion was a life-long opera enthusiast.As a young woman, she'd wanted to be an opera singer, and she never lost her love of it. One of my favorite memories of her was going together to hear Puccini's Manon Lescaut at the San Francisco Opera. I wonder how much of that love of opera -- music, words, color and movement coming together to make a whole greater than the parts -- helped shape the world of the Bloody Sun.
Darkover may be only one planet, and hence the term "space" may be subject to question, but is it space opera? What do you think?