Extensive list of space opera cliches

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he’s catalogued 22 screens’ worth of space opera cliches

Well, that’s a pretty inaccurate measure. How much is that in a more standard amount, like Libraries of Congress? Or elephants?


[quote=“Stross”]Also, human gunners can totally draw a bead on a hostile pirate ship
maneuvering a few light seconds away. Fire control computers, not so

Ah, one of my favorites. Also, the dog fighting in space fighters, at fractional light speed, shooting by eye.

Novel use of the grocer’s apostrophe.


I actually found this a little odd. He states this isn’t about TV, Star Trek/Wars, etc, and yet a lot of the list seems to describe TV SciFi, for me.

The rest is in two main camps: Things that would never work. Well, yes, that will be because it is SciFi.
Lazy writing/Cliches: Here I feel I missing out on a whole bunch of books, as very few on the list made me think ‘Ah, yes’. Where is all this stuff?

Also: Cowboy/SciFi. Is this a thing (outside of Star Trek)?

And he probably wonders why no one will go to the movies with him.


Isn’t the standard unit-of-measure a power-diving 747 cargo freighter packed with telephone books and encyclopedias ?

The computer is a featureless black wedge. It does not have a power cord, but there is a narrow translucent plastic tube emerging from a hatch on the rear, spiraling across the cargo pallet and the floor, and plugged into a crudely installed fiber-optics socket above the head of the sleeping Vitaly Chernobyl. In the center of the plastic tube is a hair-thin fiber-optic cable. The cable is carrying a lot of information back and forth between Hiro’s computer and the rest of the world. In order to transmit the same amount of information on paper, they would have to arrange for a 747 cargo freighter packed with telephone books and encyclopedias to power-dive into their unit every couple of minutes, forever.

- Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson


Pretty much all of it is familiar to me as a reader of Sci Fi, so it’s definately not just TV/Film cliches.

For me the standard tropes of space opera include many of the things Stross mentions, and some he doesn’t.

Travel between star systems is always equivalent to a naval voyage.

FTL travel won’t let you get close to planets, so you have to motor in from “outside the gravity well” - unless for plot reasons it does, thanks to a skilled, risk taking pilot/captain.

There is no time dilation.

Artificial gravity in ships is a thing. If not, ships are able to accelerate at 1g, even in orbit, to maintain gravity equivalence.

All planets have one government, unless there is a single, rival government.

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hello. Serenity.


Han Solo is a cowboyish gunslinger who hangs out in a saloon (Mos Eisley Cantina) in a desert town with his Native American…er, alien sidekick and really likes to talk about how fast he can ride in his mechanical steed.

Another example is Firefly, which is often argued to be a western set in space rather than a scifi story with western elements.

I’m sure there are more, but those are two of the larger examples.


Yep, sorry, I mean out side of TV.

If there are two or more ethnicities represented on a planet their collective politics are simple and easily understood by analogy to 20th century US race relations

Because that’s such a simple subject.


Yes, I miss-typed here. I mean in books. There are a few TV/Film examples (although I never watched Firefly, maybe I should.)

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The list items under “biology” and “space and cosmology” read like all the reasons we actually never will leave Earth in any kind of physically colonizing sense as we’ve come to hope for. From microbiome incompatibility to blue-shifted cosmic background radiation frying meatsack DNA en route to far flung destinations at relativistic velocities.

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I’ve read a few listed here. So yes, its quite a sub genre to itself. http://best-sci-fi-books.com/15-best-science-fiction-western-books/

Yes, yes you should.


He’s left out the worst trope of all, Time Travel, which infects all SF like a fast mutating retrovirus. Or perhaps crack is better simile, the irresistible, easy, cheap high that never ends well.

Even bad space opera is like comfort food at this point. I’m listening to Nathan Lowell’s Trader Tales podcasts before bed. They’re a lovely soporific throwback to Heinlein Juveniles, with the boy from the backwater planet who comes aboard and is soon running the ship. Great thought provoking space opera like Vinge or Banks is like another animal.

I don’t consider time travel to be a Space Opera trope.

I liked the low key nature of the Solar Clipper series, too. But it is as prone to Space Opera tropes as any Space Opera. Artificial gravity? Check. Have to motor (well, “sail”) out of the gravity well to get to FTL? Check. Magic FTL? Check. Interstellar break bulk cargo trading? Check. Entire planets that that are the equivalent of cities or nation states. Etc., etc. Still, I enjoyed the the simple Bildungsroman.

Somewhere a script writer or budding sci-fi novelist is looking at this list and saying “hmmmm. . . I wonder how many of these rules I can break.”

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I don’t find these to be cliches so much as literary devices to avoid having a 50,000 page book with the complex background of entire world(s). They are simplifications that allow a story to be told. Shall we throw out all theater that has simplified backdrops? Asimov once wrote that there were two reasons he used the human-only Galactic Empire. The first reason was to avoid conflicts with John Campbell, who Asimov felt would impose racist overtones to the stories (i.e., humans are better than aliens being a metaphor that people of northern European extraction were better than everyone else). The second reason was to simplify the stories. Because he was dealing with human society with his psychohistory, he felt aliens would complicate things too much. Ignoring relativistic time problems and using ftl also make a story tellable, unless you’re telling a story specifically involving those.

It all depends on what the author is focusing on. Different authors do reality differently.

My two dollars (due to inflation).


Don’t git all twitterpated there now fella.

jk, I love Firefly even tho i haven’t seen more than a handful of shows and the movie.