There's a brilliant essay by M. John Harrison in this month's Locus (I don't usually buy it because it's expensive, but this one is on the New Space Opera, which yanks my bell) which just about sums up everything that's good and great about space opera in one go. I can't help but excerpt a piece of it here:
"You've flown the Schwarschild Radius. You've fought vacuum battles. You've seen a star or two, you'll admit to that, but you've never seen anything like this tiny, ten-million-year-old artifact, whose boundaries are indeterminable,whose purpose is unclear. It's a communications device. It's a weapon from an ancient war still being slugged out by automated vessels in cometary orbits around a sun no one but you has ever seen. It was dug up from the site of a civilisation whose remaining texts confront the desparate last throw: racial suicide in the face of an undescribed threat."
There's more, so much more, but what's interesting about the essays in this issue of Locus is the influence of Harrison on space opera, a genre that previously featured two-dimensional heroes with simplistic, 'moral' drives. Harrison apparently helped introduce the 'amoral' to the genre, along with others, but for a younger writer like myself I've never known anything else. I tried reading 'Doc' Smith, and found it unreadable and dreary. I grew up reading writers like Bear and Benford, as well as Asimov and Clarke, though I think it's writers like Benford who proved by far the greater influence.