Most the time I refer to my writing as science fiction, but, as I approach publishing Mesh, I realize that to be totally accurate, I should go with the “space opera” label. Space Opera means many things to people, some see it as a pejorative term (similar to how the term “melodrama” is often considered, but would you consider Douglas Sirk’s melodrama to be weak films?) while others see it as just a finer point on the science fiction label.
I think space opera should be characterized as a separate genre than science fiction, not a subset of it. And it should not be considered a weaker entry than straight sci-fi either. Just different.
Science Fiction, to me, implies some exploration on how science, either real or theorized, affects society, characters, etc. Jurassic Park, Frankenstein, 2001, are good science fiction examples to me. With space opera, you’re looking more at characters and broad themes, and the science takes a backseat (or is ignored all together). Look at the Star Wars films. These are considered science fiction, but there is no attempt at explaining hyperdrive or their gravity system or why every alien has evolved to be basically a human body with a weird head. Star Trek has done a good job walking the line between science and elaborate drama, with DS9 leaning toward the space opera while ST:TNG factoring in a little more science.
For me, I try to incorporate a little science into my story, but I realize I am not an astrophysicist, and I’m not going to pretend to be. Some of the science aspects wouldn’t hold up under close scrutiny (or any scrutiny), but the purpose of my story is not to look at how technology has affected humanity, but how population expansion and colonization, in general, has fractured and changed society. I chose to use four main perspectives to facilitate this goal. When you read part one, you will get the perspective from a corporate leader, a politician, a middle class family, and a criminal. I won’t use this format for each part, but I felt it was important for the first.