Saturday, May 28, 2005

Space Operas and Speculative Romance— comments on the changing face of Science Fiction


I went to see Star Wars Episode III with my children recently, and while viewing all those special effects, my mind roamed beyond the screen to my own perceptions of science fiction. Few of the current works which bear that label are truly science fiction, of course. In the romance section of any modern bookstore, a few “futuristics” are mixed in with historical and contemporary pieces. Susan Grant and C. J. Barry write in that sub-genre, and I’ve certainly enjoyed their novels. David Weber and John Ringo, both Baen Books authors, write space operas and do it quite well. Star Wars was and still is quintesential space opera, of course, and as one of those kids who grew up watching Star Trek on television, I continue to find such not-so-scientific stories enthralling.

Serious science fiction, which I also read from time to time, tends to fall into two categories, “hard” scifi, which does take real scientific principles and postulates how such technologies might be used or abused in future societies. Arthur C. Clarke’s works fall into this category. When a serious writer speculates more about the human side, then the work is labeled “soft” scifi. Ursula K. LeGuin’s works are among the best examples of this sub-genre. These works tend to be far more serious than the stories which are the basis for television and film science fiction presentations.

Anytime characters speed through space via warp drive or hyperspace, the work has moved away from serious science fiction and into the realm of space opera. Other common plotlines include time travel or alien invasions. In the sixties and seventies, extra sensory perception was often a key element of speculative works, but now readers are more likely to encounter vampires or shape shifters. For some reason, blood sucking is really in vogue!

My latest novel, Trinity on Tylos, has its roots in space opera, with gigantic ships which move characters through the galaxy at a rapid pace, but in large part it also explores surrogate parenthood, a topic which is of growing interest to our society. Indeed, this story borders on being soft scifi, for the main character is torn between her human lover and her role as mother of an alien society. Regardless of how my publisher chooses to label this story, I hope that readers will become engrossed in the conflicts which Venice Dylenski encounters, without worrying overmuch about what makes the ships work.

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