Sunday, June 5, 2011

My planet-sized spaceship is relevant

It's been a bit quiet around here this last week, but for all the right reasons. I'm really deep into The Dervish House, and finding it a little bit hard to imagine spending my science fiction time thinking about anything else. Which is great for me (I'm loving this book!), but maybe not so great for you.

So I'm going to do that thing again where I send you off to read something that I found somewhere else on the internet. Over on SF Signal, they have an occasional series called Mind Meld, where they ask a random assortment of speculative fiction writers a single question. Recently, they re-posted a Mind Meld in which this was the question:
Q: In his review of The New Space Opera, Alan DeNiro observes that, while much of science fiction in general has moved into the mainstream, the space opera sub-genre is still firmly entrenched with the confines of the science fiction field. Given this, how do authors of space opera respond to the challenge of keeping the form relevant?
This one really grabbed my attention, for a few reasons. On paper, I think space opera is the sub-genre of SF that I love the most. It's the one that I get most excited about reading. Big ideas, crazy adventures, Big Dumb Objects all over the place. Lots of cool stuff.

But, I have a sneaking suspicion that it's also the sub-genre of SF with which I am most often disappointed. Maybe disappointed isn't quite the right word. Underwhelmed? I read very few space opera stories these days that stay with me beyond the actual reading. Fun while they last, but they don't leave anything behind. Which naturally leads me to wonder: is that a problem with the sub-genre, or just the writers (or stories) I'm reading? Is it even a problem at all?

The other reason the Mind Meld grabbed my attention was I'm not even sure what the question ("how do authors respond to the challenge of keeping the form relevant") means. Was space opera ever relevant? What does 'relevant' mean in this context? Is it something all science fiction should necessarily strive to be?

I should note here that clicking through and reading the Alan DeNiro review that prompted the Mind Meld question does provide some helpful context. My sense after reading it is that DeNiro thinks relevance is crucial, and he doesn't have much time for space opera. My own recollection of reading both The New Space Opera [2007] and The New Space Opera 2 [2009] is that I loved them. I realise now, though, that I can recollect very few of the stories in those anthologies. Perhaps that's a sign?

My own writing has not been going particularly well recently, and I suspect that part of the problem is that I'm worrying myself too much over things like relevance and layered meaning. But that is almost certainly a topic for another blog post. 

I'll be back later this coming week with my thoughts on The Dervish House, so stay tuned!

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