The Final Frontier


So I have a book coming out and it’s actually written in a genre I don’t see a lot anymore. Or should I say a genre that has turned out so many ideas on film and 50s pulp stories–in varying degrees of goodness–that most authors have fled from it, even though nearly every specfic lover came to their love of specfic through some version of this very category.

I speak, of course, of space opera.

From A Princess of Mars, to Star Wars, to Dune, most of our ideas of what we can expect of the final frontier have been shaped by the writers of space opera. I know mine were. I still clearly remember finishing Dune and thinking I would never, ever be able to match one iota of this masterpiece and getting incredibly depressed.

I cried people. There were tears. And also, a massive glossary and appendix. Frank Herbert did not believe in suffering alone for his art.

My own book, ‘Lex Talionis’, features a sort of tribute to Dune, in that there’s a desert planet, and there are things under the sand that you don’t want to disturb, but in the end, what I really wanted to do was write a rip-roaring story that had all the tension and action and mystery–and aliens!–the old full-blooded space operas used to have. I wanted to build a universe of many cultures and lifeforms where I played with and twisted some of the well known tropes of space opera (hence the nod to Dune), as well as work with the idea that we could have a future where mankind is not the leading race, just a tiny dot on a massive intergalactic map. I think that’s an idea that hasn’t been explored so fully.

‘Lex Talionis’ is my answer to several questions. What if we don’t find alien life first? What if it finds us…and wants to do business? What if we were simultaneously the least important and most important race in the universe? What if an alien race had a blueprint for what the very best of us would be like and a way to use alien science to achieve it–but it all came with a price? Would we take that deal?

What if every single thing we did throughout the entire course of human history matters not at all, except for a single bloodline and one woman’s choices?

You see, I love space opera. And I miss it. It’s not fashionable to just let your imagination loose anymore. Hard scifi is very difficult to write, and I so admire people who can pull it off with an exciting story, like Harlan Ellison, M. John Harrison and Isaac Asimov. And goodness knows, with all our scientific advances, Kim Stanley Robinson raises the bar on hard scifi with every book.

But the stuff that I like to read, watch and write also includes people like Lois McMaster Bujold, Anne McCaffrey, Jack Vance, Douglas Adams and even L Ron Hubbard. I think sometimes you have to dispense with what you think/know is possible, so you can dream the impossible. After all, if we don’t challenge all we know of science, how do we go beyond our limits to find new boundaries?

I think there’s room for more space opera that gets back to the storytelling along with amazing worldbuilding and I’m willing to put my head on a block and try to produce it. ‘Cause I really miss the days of Andre Norton’s Beastmaster series, and Phillip K Dick’s insanely fascinating futures. I want to roll all the awesome funny, heart-breaking, pulse-pounding, intimate, epic stories from Sector General to Firefly up into one and hug them because they changed my life for the better, along with so many others. I want to add my voice to that wonderful legacy.

Now, I can’t begin to compare myself to the masters who walk behind and before me,  but I did wonder if I was making a mistake. If I perhaps had over-estimated the appeal of such stories–especially when John Carter took a nose dive at the box office.

(Though in fairness, it was not really the sort of film that deserved to do much else. I had fun watching it at home, I won’t lie, but I didn’t shell out dollars to see that at the movies after all. Still, I have to admit I liked it far more than I thought I would, based on the advertising and reviews.)

Then I read a few articles on io9 and in the comments, people were actually bemoaning the lack of ‘fun’ scifi. They wanted adventure stories. Big ideas with big characters. Alien races galore. To my joy, they wanted more space opera in books, films and TV. So perhaps I’m not alone after all.

But seriously–do you agree? Is there room in the specfic market today for good, slightly old-fashioned space opera? Or is the genre too played out to really be fresh and capture the public’s imagination again? What specfic genres would you love to see more of? And tell me what brought you to the dark side–what are your favourite specfic books, regardless of genre?

Mama needs new books to add to her shopping list.

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