One of the most confusing terms you will come across is "space opera". Like "space cadet" it has come to be wrongly used as a pejoative. This is by the evil or ignorant. The evil because they are regressionist, ready to hurl Mankind back to an era of backbreaking toil and ceaseless violence in a world of grinding poverty with a miserable, short life that anyone would be glad to have come to an end. As for he ignorant, it is because they are...well...ignorant and simply ape what they see without any critical thought.

The term comes from "soap opera" denoting the radio dramas of the 1930's and 40's and well into the '50's such as Guiding Light, the Second Mrs. Burton and others. Some of hese and others like them moved to Television where they survive to this day. Like As the Wrold Turns. they got their name from being sponsored by laundry and dishwoasing "soaps" like Tide, Duz, Joy and others. You may also be familiar with the term "horse opera" for westerns. According to The Science Fiction Image, space opera was coined before horse opera.

"Space opera" has been a misunderstood genre. Becuause of its subject matter it is often confused with science fiction, which itself gets divided into many sub-groups. Actually space opera is a hybrid form that includes some science fiction. Now true science fiction is a genre the defining characteristic of which is that the central conflict is resolved by use of a scientific principle. This principle is either current in "hard science" fiction or a derivative or extension of a current idea. there is another level; science fantasy, that utilizes yet to be discovered science or scientific principles.

Space opera is in fact a hybrid of adventure and some elements of science fiction. Mostly space travel usually accompanied by raygons and one or two othe items. Many of the accoutrements of space opera have become conventions of science fiction such that Asimov had to proppose (read "lay down the law" before the whole thing descended into chaos) the rule that you could have two as a "given" in a story but any more had to be well explained. For example you could have rayguns and space travel but if you introduced interstellar travel, you had to explain it. You could have rayguns and time travel, but if you were going to have space travel, you had to explain it.

Space opera tended toward science fantasy using many yet-to-be-discovered ideas. Space Patrol had the Brain-O-Graph (the ancestors of which I have seen and worked with in the middle 1970's), rayguns, rocketships and people living on all the plaets and several moons of the Solar System and was in the early stages of interstellar travel. MOst of the space opera of early 50's television tended to be juveniles but I suspect that was more by chance.

One of the criticisms levelled at space opera was that it was lightweight. Now, when you think of light fare, does the name Ayn Ramd come to mind? You think of her as "serious business" and well she was. In about 1961, when I was 16 I saw a copy of a short noevl in Newport RI at a place called Tubley's Spa where I used to play pinball and got many of my science fiction novels like The City and the Stars. the short nevel was Anthem-a post-apocolyptic look at the future. I saw the name Ayn Rand and said to myself "That's one of those fancy-Dan writers" and passed on it. To be honest, I was a bit intimidated by "serious". I intened to pick it up later but it was gone when I went for it. She wrote a piece about the philosophical implication in the movie The Miracle Worker entitled "Kant Versus Sullivan" that was absolutely brilliant. Now along with James Drury her favorite reading material was the "James Bond Thriller"s and Mike Hammer novels by Mickey spillane. Both of which she conceded as lightweight "escapism" of which she said "...offer a view of the world that is, morally benevolent and featured Man as good...". Two of her favorite television programs were The Untouchables and Charlie's Angels. The latter she described as "...attractive women having adventures". This from the lady who gave us ideas and controversy that ring through the years to this day. In the mid nineties, a question appeared on Jeopardy about the literary work that most affected the members of a certain book club (which name I forgot) and the answer was The Fountainhead. Atlas Shrugged has to be read to be believed: she put just about everything in it; an ultrasonic weapon, an optical effects "ray screen" generator that uses the same mechanism as mirages to create invisibility, a device that deirves energy from atmospheric electical potential, good-guy Vikings, Atlantis and a Latin Playboy who's a ladykiller while not laying a hand on them and several cliffhanger chapter endings: can you say "wild imagination"? Jay Diamond, a liberal talk show host, commenting on the economic ideas of Christian conservatives as"...coming from a devout Russian atheist". 'nuff said! When a serious writer gives thumbs up to what she herself syas is lightweight material--and states why in rational terms, then one cannot consign such material to the ashbin of literature on the basis of it being lightweight. if such fare was good enough for Miss Heavy Artillery, who was good enough to attract the likes of Kerry O'Quinn of Starlog, then it's good enough for the rest of us.

Literature, including dramatic presentation; live, flimed and broadcast, does many things. Among these is entertain. that's where the derisively used "escapism" comes in. This is best done by light fare because it does not stop to explain things, To do so would slow down the action, which is where the rubber meets the road, both in life and in Romantic literature, and it has to be fast-paced. This does not mean that it is sitting in an intellectual vacuum. it has to connect in some deep way or it is just yap. Although I saw most of the Star Wars films, I regard it as a failure since it was too dependent on the metaphysics of mysticism; you know astrology, i ching, crystal balls and seances, with a thin veneer of (pseudo)science to explain the whole thing along with a mawkish, sappy, pathetic excuse for "deep" philosophy and ethics that made Darth Vader a good guy by any ratioal standards and the diabetes from which I had to be treated for six months. To show what I mean, someone totally ignorant of the meaning of the word "metaphysics" (how the world works) asked me "If they have all that stuff [the Force, telekineses, clairvoyance, etc] why do they have the rocketships and rayguns?" (the fact is that the "Force" was a substitute for God but that would go down in a spacefaring venue like a screen door on a space capsule and Lucas, being a liberal, was more inclined toward Eastern Mysticism: Same idea, just less "Western"). Now Star Wars was originally space opera or "space fantasy" but later was described by George Lucas as a "fairy tale". The two don't mix. And here is the value of space opera; implicit in it, and this is why it connected with mid-twentieth century US Man, was that there was to be a civilization based on a utopia of science, hence of reaosn, hence benevolent in spirit, not "magic", in the sense of goblins and tiny, winged fairies (whose bodies would burn out in three days in real life) waving wands to do things, not in the sense of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, which I loved, but in the same wish-fullfillment-dominated manner as the "super-hero" literature, which I also find very phoney and unsatisfying and which never really resonated with me except at the adventure level and some of the cute plot twists. Superman was at his best when confronted by Mr. Mxtlplk (say that backwards 3 times) or evil Kryptonians from the Phantom Zone, that is, when the "super" was taken out of the mix, or even turned against him, and he had to resort to his rational faculty. If it weren't for Kryptonite, Superman would have died a long time ago. Lois and Clark and Smallville appear to have grasped that, much to their credit--and success. One is the metaphysics of reality addressed and cotrolled by science and practical arts, the other is the metaphysicis of "I-want-it-so-it-must-be-so": The ultimate in the self-absorbed.

But how good or valuable is this? Of Fiction, Aristotle, another heavy hitter for those of you keeping count: I only use the best, said "Fiction is more important than history. History tells us what was. Fiction persents the world as it might and ought to be". This is part of a whole branch of the extermely serious subject of philosophy called "esthetics" and answers the psychological need to be shown the world of the good, of the possible, of the way things can rightly be. Or, if you are not up to it, of the morose, of the twisted, of failure as the normal state of Mankind. Space opera did this in the terms that connected with the mid-twentietn century, the US having just led the world to victory in a major war against brutal tyrannies, and confronting another brutal tyranny, by means of technology and with life being made better for the people of the West by means of technology, hence scienc hence reason. No, the space operas did not, with the exception of one scene in Space Patrol, explicitly address any of the philosophical issues nor many of the scientific issues and some of the things were just plain dumb but served the purpose of showing some differences between the peoples of the projected future and us. This was all implicit and the underlying, subconcious premises of the genre.

This was the key characteristic of space opera. It inherited the form; heroic, adventuresome and fast-paced, from the Western and "sword fighting" movies, but instead of being set in the past, it was set in the present; The Flash Gordon serials and a future that was comprehensible to adult and child alike; take your pick. Like the Lone Ranger or Robin Hood, Buzz Corry was the head of the "good guys", where they carried six-shooters and the beloved longbow and sword, he carried his raygun, where they were horsemen. the elites of their time, Buzz flew a spaceship that was all his own; The "Terra" ships of one or another kind. Pilots are the elite of our age. Ed Kemmer was not only a flyer in general, but an elite fighter pilot of one of the hottest planes of WWII, the P-51 Mustang. He talked the talk and walked the walk!

Why the space opera genre gets no respect is that it left its serious side. The moral aspect, the specific scientific aspect and the larger philosophical aspect, to implication rather than direct statement, for the most part. To be sure, there were some bad bits but then that's true of all things that are presented in half or one hour weekly bites, not just space opera. In fact, I would say that space opera did more than 90% of all the "serious" science fiction and 95% of the philosophical treatises to "seat" man in the real world by presenting the subject matter of the seriou minded in action and make their function in the real world comprehensible. There was a brilliant scene (to which I alluded earlier) in THE HATE MACHINE OF PLANET X. Prince Baccaratti has activated a device that sends a field out across the Solar System that causes hatred. Buzz is flying the ship and there is a solilloque of what he is thinking. What we get is a moral statement of the ideals that he fights for that presents them as an absolute good, treated as almost self-evident, unmarred by maudlin sentimentality or anit-rational mysticism, straight up and without self-doubt or apology. Try and find that today. It shows that a good man is not beyond temptation but rather that once he brings his principles to consciousness, he realizes that there is nothing in it for him. Evil is not in his interest and he knows it.

when you look up and see a satellite, give a silent "thank you" to Frankie Thomas and Jan Merlin. when you see pictures from the Hubble Telescope, remember Rocky Jones and Flash Gordon and when you see the Space Shuttle, pause and remember Ed Kemmer.

Let me end by paraphrasing Miss Rand, who ended one of her last Boston lectures in the late '70's with "If I were a religious person, I would say 'God bless America': I am saying it anyway". well, that goes for space opera.