Monday, June 04, 2012

Selling the Genre

Will Eisner, Wally Wood and Jules Ffeifer
take the genre and make it not just
operatic but cinematic, too. Read the
entire story here.
I finally figured out the genre of The Cold Distance and it's - wait for it - Space Opera.

Jeez, that sounds terrible doesn't it? Science Fiction Soap Opera? Who in the world would want to read that?

Well, maybe anyone who's seen The Avengers or Thor. Especially with the big reveal at the end of The Avengers, I can reasonably assume that Avengers 2 will be a lot more cosmic than the first one where there were invading aliens.

But let's get a kind of definition out of the way. This is from the Wikipedia entry on the topic:

As David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer note in their 2006 anthology of space operas, "there is no general agreement as to what [space opera] is, which writers are the best examples, or even which works are space opera".[1] They further note that space opera has had several key and different definitions throughout its history; definitions that were significantly affected by literary politics.[1] They argue that "what used to be science fantasy is now space opera, and what used to be space opera is entirely forgotten."[1]
I have a great deal of respect for Hartwell and Cramer as I've read the last three in their series of The Best of Science Fiction anthologies and have not encountered one bad tale in any of them. As a matter of fact I've got the newest copy waiting to be read (once I've finished Alex Grecian's The Yard). My point is that Hartwell and Cramer know their stuff. They pick the best of the genre year after year and they do a terrific job of it.

Regardless of what you think science fiction is, space opera fits there quite nicely. It's pretty respectable and I guarantee that if you're reading this blog, you've been to at least one film that is classified as space opera. It's not the hack work that has disappeared along with the pulps and it's not all planetary romance, either. (That's a term that I'm quite fond of - can you imagine Millie the Model kissing a purple alien on a green planet?)

You want some examples of what space opera is? Okay, hang on to your hats:

The most recent example is probably John Carter. The Andrew Stanton-directed film from Disney that tanked at the box office. It's a planetary romance for being set on Mars and for Carter and Dejah Thoris being attracted to one another, but there's war, too, a war that risks pulling all of Martian society apart. It's great science fantasy.

Another example that's recently been translated from novel to comics and soon to film is Ender's Game. While it could be seen as a sophisticated riff on Heinlein's Starship Troopers, there's war here, too. This war threatens to pull apart human society as the threat of invasion looms and politics are played out. It's a great comment on how humanity would work (or doesn't) when faced with annihilation.

The best one, of course, in the genre is Star Wars. Now, we're talking the original trilogy but the entire thing could easily be classified as space opera. Traveling from world to world, fighting bad guys, the Jedi are, themselves, interstellar peacekeepers - the sheriffs of the universe. The showdown between Ben Kenobi and Darth Vader at the end of A New Hope is a direct nod to High Noon.

Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, the Star Trek films (but especially Wrath of Khan), and even the Avengers. I'm sure you could come up with more (like Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers) if you wanted to and I can.

Which is why I'm writing a space opera. It just took me a longer time than I wanted to realize what the genre of the novel was. It's Science Fiction, make no mistake about that, and the characters travel from planet to planet and their relationships are important to the story. I can't wait for you all to be able to read it. I'm aiming for it to be the SF equivalent of Bohemian Rhapsody. Let's see how it comes out, shall we?

Here's some more reading on Hartwell's and Cramer's ideas about space opera. Check it out.


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