Visions of Paradise

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

New Space Opera

By the 1990s the science fiction field had changed considerably from what it had been prior to the 1980s. I fell in love with science fiction because of its far-future expanses, its sense of wonder, alien worlds, and development of future history. Even many “New Wave” writers who tried infusing traditional sf with modern literature still emphasized the future, people such as Samuel R. Delany, Roger Zelazny, Michael Bishop, Ursula K Le Guin, and Harlan Ellison.

But the 1980s saw the “Cyberpunk” movement which dwelled in the very near-future, stories which were so close to the present that by 2000 we have actually passed most of those stories by, both in time frame and in technological development. Cyberpunk’s main foundation was strict logical development that could reasonably happen in the foreseeable future. It was not interested in future historical development, nor any far-future theories. Where were we headed immediately, how would we get there, and how would we react to it?

Soon after Cyberpunk, three other developments also had major effects on the shape of the fantasy and science fiction genres: alternate history, urban fantasy, and slipstream. Those three movements started out slowly, but by 2000 had enveloped such a large portion of the genres that “traditional” future-based science fiction had became an endangered species.

Looking back at my sf reading in the past decade, the majority of it fell into one of the sub-genres listed above. There were so few far-future based novels that it is no wonder I began growing restless with what I was reading. I began spending more time reading “classic” sf from the 60s and 70s, writers such as Jack Vance, Robert Silverberg, and Clifford D. Simak who set their stories in far-futures dripping with sense of wonder and future history. Several friends told me that traditional science fiction did not exist anymore, but I was convinced it still does. It is just not as popular as the alt hist / slipstream / fantasy sub-genres and so needs to be sought out a bit more carefully.

So in the past year I began deliberately looking for more of the type of sf which I love the most. I started thinking about “New Space Opera,” which began in England and gradually worked its way across the Atlantic. At first I mostly ignored it, since it brought back memories of E.E. Smith and Star Wars, neither of which was my favorite. But then I recalled the 70s Space Opera revival, spearheaded by the likes of Greg Benford, C.J. Cherryh and Larry Niven, all of whom I enjoyed tremendously. So what if 90% of space opera is trash? Sturgeon’s Law applies everywhere, doesn’t it?

And this past year I read Jack McDevitt’s far-future mystery Polaris, which I loved, and I realized that there is indeed a lot of far-future sf out there. Some of the short fiction I’ve read by the likes of Stephen Baxter, Peter Hamilton, and Alastair Reynolds has been superb. So I spent a few weeks thinking and researching before I added a handful of new books to my “Recommend Reading” list, both “New Space Opera” and other tales of alien cultures and future history, several of which I hope to buy and read in 2006:

Ilium, Olympos, by Dan Simmons
Infinity Beach, Seeker, Deepsix, Chindi, Omega, by Jack McDevitt
Survival, Migration, Regeneration, by Julie Czerneda
Consider Phlebas, Use of Weapons, by Ian M. Banks
The Time Ships, Coalescent, Exultant, Transcendence, by Stephen Baxter
Learning the World, by Ken MacLeod
Marrow, The Well of Stars, by Robert Reed
Chasm City, Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, Absolution Gap, Pushing Ice, by Alastair Reynolds
• One Million A.D., edited by Gardner Dozois

To be continued later this year (hopefully!).


  • Julie Czerneda as opposed to Czernada. Someone I'd never heard of before though, and I adore the other writers on your New Space Opera list.

    By Blogger jobby, At 3:39 PM  

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    By Blogger morisbencon9588, At 9:42 AM  

  • Coalescent isn't space opera in any shape or form; neither, strictly speaking, is Transcendent. However, Exultant is about as space opera as they come.

    I would also recommend Natural History by Justina Robson, and Light by M. John Harrison.

    By Blogger niall, At 3:23 PM  

  • I'm not only looking for space opera, but futuristic sf as well, so that's all right. I read LIGHT awhile ago, and liked it some, but perhaps not as much as others. I considered reading NATURAL HISTORY, but was so backed up with books at the time I doid not buy it. Maybe I should put it back on the list now. Thanks for the advice.

    By Blogger adamosf, At 5:57 PM  

  • Is One MIllion A.D. anything like the title implies?

    By Blogger Tom Meade, At 4:31 PM  

  • Yes, ONE MILLION A.D. contains 6 novellas by some of the finest writers in contemporary sf, such as Alastair Reynolds, Robert Silverberg, and Robert Reed, all set in the far distant future. I just got the book in the mail and will review it as soon as I find the time to finish reading it.

    By Blogger adamosf, At 4:56 PM  

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