a science fiction term applied to novels and tales usually set in interstellar space. The classic space opera has its roots in the nineteenth-century dime novel and in other popular forms of romance which emphasized extravagant action, an imperial condescension to ‘lesser’ races, and the eventual triumph of good over evil. Although space operas were written in Europe at the turn of the century, from 1925 the genre was developed by American science fiction writers into a dominant form of popular literature. Authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Cummings, Edmond Hamilton, Murray Leinster, and, notably, E. E. Smith wrote innumerable tales set in the future and in armed spaceships; beyond the frontiers of human space lay the unknown, populated by aliens for whom surrender was the only choice. As science fiction matured, with Olaf Stapledon's metaphysical space operas, the form began to reflect a more complex vision of the universe. The galactic empires of Isaac Asimov, from the 1940s, helped rationalize the form; and later writers, like James Blish, Frank Herbert, and Gene Wolfe, augmented it with complex ironies. Outside the genre, the term ‘space opera’ is often used pejoratively to designate science fiction as a whole.
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