I Was A Middle Aged Writer

April 12, 2010

“My” Sci-Fi

Filed under: Uncategorized,writing — danielrdavis @ 6:56 pm
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Today I’ve decided to talk about the type of sci-fi I enjoy. It’s the same sci-fi I like to write. And that’s space opera. Not what they call the “New Space Opera,” but space opera as defined by the following description:

“adventure science fiction set in outer space or on distant planets, where the emphasis is on action rather than either science or characterization. The conflict is heroic, and typically on a large scale. “

However, this does not mean that I want wooden characters. I want fully fleshed out characters, characters with depth. The characters have to be the driving force of the story.

I think that there’s some confusion about just which is which subgenre. The “New Space Opera” is an attempt, I believe, to add hard science into space opera and it frankly doesn’t work for me. There’s a place for hard science, it’s called Hard Sci-Fi, as defined thus:

“characterized by rigorous attention to accurate detail in quantitative sciences, especially physics, astrophysics, and chemistry, or on accurately depicting worlds that more advanced technology may make possible. “

However, once again, this is not to say that I don’t at least want some realism in the story. The basics are fine though. The vacuum of space is deadly with no protection and an object in motion will remain that way until acted on by an opposing force, be that running into something or retro/attitude thrusters. A black hole is something you don’t want to get caught in the gravitational pull of. I’m not all that interested in knowing that Bob is on a planet that has an extra four hours in the day or that the gravity is 1.6 instead of Earth normal and therefore everything he does is more exhausting. It’s alright if it’s there, but it should be there for flavor and not detract in the slightest from the story itself. If he’s on a planet where it’s the middle of the night and he’s used to being awake during that time because that’s the time he’s used to for his daylight hours, then I don’t have a problem with him not being able to sleep, unless it starts becoming distracting to to the enjoyment of the story.

I don’t need to know how a technology works to have fun reading the story. I don’t need to know that it’s theoretically possible for the technology to work based on our still limited science knowledge today. In my humble opinion, this is why it’s called fiction. Lightsabers work and kill people, hyperdrives can go 1.5 times past light speed without making them travel back in time, lasers cut nice cauterized holes in the unprotected and make them quickly dead, ships explode (at least until the oxygen is eaten away) in the vastness of space. Folding space tech and wormhole generators are commonplace.

These things are what’s actually made me run for the romance genre recently. Unless I want to go and find used copies of the more traditional space opera sci-fi written in the past, I’m reading sci-fi romance. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with ’em, unless you have embarrassment issues over the romance aspects or some puritanical religious issues. Nearly everything I’ve picked up that’s new space opera novels are part of the “New Space Opera,” much of which I feel I need a degree in the above listed “quantitative” sciences to get. I don’t get that with sci-fi romance. I get the story first. The basics are still there, but it doesn’t get in the way of the story itself and bog me down in minutae.

“If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” — Toni Morrison

Truer words… This is why I write the type of sci-fi I do. Because I’m not finding it. And if the publishers are pushing the hard science angle, then I’ll write it for Romance publishers. I’m not a big fan of the EU (extended universe) novels for Star Wars or Star Trek or Battlestar. I don’t really want to read the same universe. I want something fresh. I want a different setting. I want space battles, heroes, villains, lasers, FTL travel, wormholes, singularity generators, terraforming, space explosions, planet killers, aliens, mayhem, and perhaps a happy ending or two. I want good and evil AND shades of gray (yeah you can also use an “a”), I want three dimensional characters, heroes that are also real people who may not always do what’s right to survive.

In essence, I want space opera.

The “New Space Opera”

I’ve read some of this lately and a story shouldn’t have me saying, “bu-wha…?” and wanting to chuck the book out the door. It shouldn’t make me feel stupid or that I’m underpriveleged because I didn’t have the time or money to go and earn a degree in quantum physics so that I could understand the book. I actually hate that I can’t even look up the term “space opera” anymore to find the types of stories I want to read.

There’s a veritable minefield of hard science space opera novels out there nowadays. And of those, a great number of novels that leave me feeling unfulfilled for my fiction fix. I’m just now starting to delve into the sci-fi genre after years of reading fantasy and I’m a big fan of the classics of the space opera subgenre. However, I’ve already seen/read Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar and Farscape. There’s been some decent EU novels in those settings and I’ve read some, but I want new settings now.

And a side note: A story doesn’t have to move slower than molasses in a cold house in winter to have political intrigue or span multiple novels. I’m actually testing novels before I buy by getting library copies first. And it’s a good thing. I’ve picked up a couple novels that I would have wanted my money back on if I’d bought them.

Still, I have stumbled onto some good stuff while trying to sift through the chaff, so to speak and foremost on that list has been Alastair Reynolds’ novels. To date he’s done a fantastic job of adding some hard science elements without giving me the ??? moments. He’s good at explaining just enough without taking it too far and killing the story at the expense of explanation or description. I found his Minla’s Flowers short story in one of those “New Space Opera” anthologies. Truly a needle in a haystack. Minla’s Flowers was actually the only story in the anthology I did like. So I found his Zima Blue and other Stories anthology and liked every short story in there. So, I took a chance on Revelation Space from the library. Now I have Revelation Space, Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap coming from Borders (I will support a writer I like by buying their titles). I await them with bated breath. I have an older trilogy coming from them as well by CJ Cherryh. I didn’t test this one first, but some of the negative reviews from Amazon actually helped me decide to get it. 😉 We’ll see.

So anyway, other than a rambling description of what I like in sci-fi I guess I’ll end with this:

There’s a place for every type of sci-fi and fans for every type as well. And if you can’t find the type of sci-fi you’re looking for, write it. And if one type of sci-fi publisher isn’t buying what you want to read it’s not what’s currently the trend, find those that are and run with it.

And if anyone wants to add their favorite space opera authors here, let me know what you like about them and I’ll look them up. I’m in the market, so to speak.



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