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Time Opera

Entry updated 24 May 2021. Tagged: Theme.

A potentially useful item of Terminology which has yet to be generally adopted. It seems to have been coined by Anthony Boucher in his Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction editorial introduction to the first story in Poul Anderson's Time Patrol sequence, "Time Patrol" (May 1955 F&SF):

"Space operas are all very well; but for real honest swashbuckling adventure, spiced with intellectual paradoxes and startling historical contrasts, give me that rarer art form, the time opera."

Damien Broderick independently invented this term as the subtitle of his The Dreaming Dragons: A Time Opera (1980). If Time opera is defined as sf employing Time Travel to emulate the grandiose scope of Space Opera, several novels by A E van Vogt would fit the description – perhaps most emphatically the first volume of the Weapon Shops sequence, The Weapon Shops of Isher (July 1941 and December 1942 Astounding; February 1949 Thrilling Wonder; fixup 1951), with its "seesaw" traversals of an ever-widening Time Abyss. Numerous further examples would include Jack Williamson's The Legion of Time (May-July 1938 Astounding; rev 1952), Keith Laumer's Dinosaur Beach (1971), Barrington J Bayley's Collision Course (1973; vt Collision with Chronos 1977) and The Fall of Chronopolis (1974), Tim Powers's The Anubis Gates (1983; rev 1984) and Stephen Baxter's The Time Ships (1995). Some large-scale narratives combine both space and time opera, as in Dan Simmons's Hyperion Cantos (omni 1990).

Not all stories of institutionalized Time Travel and commonplace commuting across the aeons should be called time opera: despite the vast sweep of their temporal backgrounds, Isaac Asimov in The End of Eternity (1955) and Fritz Leiber in The Big Time (March-April 1958 Galaxy; 1961 dos) take some care to avoid space-operatic exuberance, the latter novel indeed being set in a single location throughout with a notable absence of on-stage Time Travel. Spatial constraint, however, need not debar a story from being classed as time opera: in many cases like Dinosaur Beach above, complex shenanigans of looped and entangled interaction across time are effectively equivalent to the interstellar vastnesses of Space Opera. Robert A Heinlein's "By His Bootstraps" (October 1941 Astounding as by Anson MacDonald) is a notable example in miniature, as are various stories juxtaposing time travel with Baseball. [DRL]

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