Sublight Scifi - Writing good space-opera scifi without inventing some sort of faster-than-light space travel can be challenging. How do you write a story to span a galactic stage, when even the effects (much less the protagonists) of any event take thousands of years to reach across the vastness of space? Some of the most popular scifi authors have found answers to these questions which have resulted in a new sub-genre: mundane space opera, where everything is scientifically feasible and Einstein’s universal speed limit remains the unbreakable law of the universe.
… think of the Master and Commander novels by Patrick O’Brian, says [Charles] Stross. “If Patrick O’Brian could make his Earth feel vast, then the same sort of scale effect should be applicable in SF.” Travel times within a solar system at very fast sublight speeds, even with nuclear propulsion systems, should be similar to traveling around the Earth during the age of sail. “Vast distances, isolated outposts, that sort of thing,” says Stross.
I have to admit I too am guilty of taking artistic license with concepts of super luminal space travel in my books (although I plead special circumstances because the very method of travel is at the center of the story). Nonetheless, I do agree that faster than light travel is not a necessity for good scifi space opera; Norman Spinrad’s “Riding the Torch” proved that a long time ago!