Flu and space opera

Still got the flu. Still complaining. I’m reading Scott Westerfeld’s space opera, Succession, which is terrific. Fast, cool, interesting, and definitely holding my interest, despite the flu. Don’t know if I’ll have finished it by the time I head to Brisbane, but I’m definitely loving it.

On space opera: following on a point made by Andy, space opera happens in space. If it’s not in space, it’s not space opera. Also, no, planetary romances are not space opera. They come out of a different tradition – as CHARLES completely correctly point outed to me to day. A planetary romance comes from the lost civilisation tradition, while space opera grows out of both the western and the naval action adventure. The new space opera – a group to which Westerfeld’s novel clearly belongs – is “new” because it’s darker, it doesn’t necessarily involve the triumph of man or humanity, it has nifty new technology, and it has actual characterisation.

For what it’s worth, and this is a brief post written late at night with the flu, I rank both David Weber’s Honor Harrington books and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan stories as space opera, but not as new space opera. They still very much follow that older tradition of space opera, clearly described by Brian Aldiss in the introduction to his anthology, Space Opera.  I also understand that space opera used to be a perjorative term. I just don’t think it’s a relevant observation. The point is that what was once ‘space adventure’ is now described as ‘space opera’. Move on.

Oh, and a last thing. New space opera is not an intrinsically different, new thing from space opera. It is, though, an evolutionary step in the history of space opera. Novels like Succession, like The Centauri Device, Consider Phlebas, and Singularity Sky, and stories like the Shaper/Mechanist and Xeelee tales are all new space opera.  Work like that done by Bujold, Weber et all is fine and is space opera, but it follows an older path.

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5 Comments

  1. While its an oversimplification, and tries to explain a problematic term with reference to an even more problematic one, and there would no doubt be people who disagree, I find if you think of New Space Opera as Space Opera that is definitely informed by Cyberpunk, you won’t go too far wrong.

  2. I don’t disgree, really, though it probably slightly pre-dates cyberpunk. I date cyberpunk from the early ’80s, and NSO from the mid-70s. I’d also say that cyberpunk struck me as more an US thing, and NSO more a British thing.

    I do wish I could have gotten Conjure to pick up the NSO panel I suggested. I thought having me, Scott, Bruce, Sean and someone else discuss NSO would have been neat.

  3. I think we ought to just drop the whole “new” from the “new space opera”, and exactly as you put it, Jonathan – it’s an evolution of the form, not something specifically different from “old” space opera.

    And now you’ve made me wonder, who’s writing planetary romances these days?

  4. Chris Roberson’s second novel Paragaea (coming out from Pyr in the US in a month or two) looks a lot like planetary romance to me, though I haven’t read it myself.

    I can’t think of anyone else doing old-fashioned PR right now, but I’m sure I’m forgetting someone.

    Le Guin’s ’90s short fiction could be seen as a kind of “new planetary romance,” taking apart the expectations of the old Burroughsian form in the same way Harrison, Aldiss and the rest tried to dismantle old space opera.

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