Time and again we’ve seen it this week. People weigh in on the topic of space opera and then… somehow start talking about something entirely different that has nothing to do with it. It’s baffling really.
But it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about alternative marriage arrangements in Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17 or the ultimate obsolescence of the incest taboo in the lifetime of Robert A. Heinlein’s Lazarus Long. If that’s your concept of what great science fiction is, then you are entitled to your opinion. If that’s your notion of how science fiction began, you are wrong. And if that’s your concept space opera… well, that’s just plain nuts.
The one thing that Heinlein and Delany have in common is that the entire point of the literary ethos that they hitched their wagons to was that it was inherently superior to space opera. To them and to the sort of people that tended to champion them, space opera is the worst sort of literature and it deserved to be sneered right out of not just the narrative, but the science fiction encyclopedias as well. Guys like them may well have consciously appropriated or developed space opera elements in their works. But what they wrote was not space opera by any reasonable standard.
Okay, I actually quite enjoyed this one. Everything was gorgeous. The bad guys were evil and decadent. The world building was extravagant. The life of every human being on earth was at stake. There were androids, rat men, humanoid dragon-people, guys with bird wings… all the staples from the pulp science fiction tradition, really. There was even an epic space wedding!
The pace was so relentless you might not have noticed that it was leavened with exactly the same dearth of chemistry that you would expect from the guys that brought you the Neo and Trinity. I know on my first viewing I failed to catch that the dialog between the space hunk and the space princess was just plain godawful. The action and the visuals really did sweep me away enough that it went right past me. But yeah, it really was some of the most cringe-worthy stuff in cinema history.
But the acting and the dialog is not what ultimately ruined this film. Structuring it around a female romantic lead did. Here’s why:
All Rome ever wanted was to earn a place in the village as a hunter, so that he could explore beyond the safe confines of the village farm fields, but when monstrous slavers destroy his village he is forced to head west into the irradiated wastelands in search of anything that might give him the power to save his people. Accompanied by his chief rival, his journey takes him farther than he ever imagined.
No Winter, No Summer, by Damon Knight and James Blish (writing as Donald Laverty) appeared in the October 1948 Issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories.
While there were a couple stories in this issue that I didn’t like, particularly Bradbury’s “crazy people aren’t crazy if you stick them in an environment that nurtures and caters to their crazy”, this was the only one that was not only disagreeable but felt wholly out of place in the magazine. Somehow, I find myself not surprised when I find James Blish and Damon Knight behind pseud.
Time Travel is real and the future is slowly conquering the past. A bland and hyperhomogenized evolved state of man has replaced every inch of earth with a great city; all energy is directed toward expanding man’s habitat and removing any impediments to it.
Space Opera seems to be in the air these days. And, I gues I’m not immune. I’ve been talked into it. It being running a Classic Traveller game. Which is the original and first Space Opera role playing game. The wrinkle we are taking is to play Proto-Traveller (term coined by this blog’s el jeffe Jeffro Johnson) by which I mean playing using solely the original Books 1-3 first published in 1977. Partly this is a conceptual exercise but, partly it’s to keep things simple. There are a lot of books just included in Classic Traveller. And, I want to keep the things to keep track of small. Plus, my main goal to is try really playing the trading rules which have been present from the start.
A key thing to note is that like Michael J. Fox has no Elvis in him, Books 1-3 have no Imperium in them. And, no subsectors. It’s up to the GM to make the setting. Given that, the first thing to do is to create a subsector. Book 3 presents a method for creating a subsector and worlds within it solely using tables and random dice rolls. Which I did; and, I didn’t fudge any of the rolls. Without going into the play by play of each roll, here’s the first draft of what I rolled. Note: I made zero decisions here, it was entirely stochastic. That’s the systems, starport type and Space Lanes. Notice I have done this manually. There are online subsector generators available but, none of them that I have found use the 1977 rules. And besides manual methods are just fine. This is handcrafted bespoke Traveller.
Now, that I have the systems and Space Lanes outlined what to notice? Well, the Spacelanes are fractured. So, my first decision is that each grouping of Space Lanes will be its own polity or, “empire”, if you will. Though, looking at some of these systems, empire is likely too highfalutin a word. Three major empires and four minor empires. Plus a scattering of non-aligned systems.
I recently saw Guardians Of The Galaxy 2. I loved it, it was a great big multi-colored thrill ride of a film, pretty much non-stop from the ELO-fueled dance/combat sequence that opens the movie to the final post-credits sequence. (You don’t have to be told not to leave until the ushers physically drag you out, right? This is a Marvel movie, after all.)
There are a lot of reasons why I like this movie—despite the fact that it is not a vaguely disquieting New Wave experimental film with inexplicable special effects, long shots of people staring moodily off into the distance and an ambiguous ending—but the main one is that the filmmakers understand the proper usage of Myth.
Space Opera is essentially mythic. The sorts of scientific absurdities that you find in Space Opera are the same sort that you find in Myth. Men with the heads of beasts, heroes who travel between worlds, weapons of vast power, capricious immortal beings, enormous monsters and planet-ending catastrophes.
There is a veneer of science fiction, just as in older myths there is a veneer of history or geography, but the essential nature of the tale is that it takes place in a universe of wonder and magic and monsters.
Or “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” as the saying goes.
After pulp fiction died out in the United States, other countries continued the tradition of publishing cheap and entertaining stories of adventure. In France, the pulp spirit contributed to bande dessinée comics such as Valerian and Laureline. Japan married the manga art style to pulp adventures aimed at adolescents and created the light novel. In China, pulp-style adventures became YY (Yi Yin) novels, or “enjoyment”1 novels, science fiction and fantasy adventures serialized online -and often updated daily- for the sheer ecstatic release that comes from reading an entertaining adventure. Among the first YY novels to make the leap from Chinese websites into English-speaking bookstores is Martial God Asura, by Kindhearted Bee, a magic and martial arts fantasy of the new xuanhuan genre, bearing significant influences from wuxia martial arts stories.
Chinese movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero introduced the warrior world of wuxia (literally “martial heroes”) to Western audiences. In this literary version of a China that never was, chivalrous heroes live as noblebright outlaws, fighting against evil and corruption with almost supernatural fighting abilities honed through years of practice, discipline, and cultivating one’s internal qi energy. In recent years, Chinese writers have added Taoist alchemical magic to the wuxia martial artist’s skills, creating a high fantasy genre known as xianxia (literally “immortal heroes”), where demihumans battle ghosts and mythical monsters as they search for immortality. If the Taoist elements are removed and other mythological and even foreign influences are cultivated, the result is xuanhuan, or “mysterious fantasy.” In all three, a hero moves from rank to rank as his skill, expertise, and energy levels are cultivated into more potent forms, similar to how an RPG character may level up. Superficially, this emphasis on strict levels can make a xianxia or xuanhuan novel resemble one from the litRPG genre. (Another counterpart to xuanhuan fantasy can be found in Japanese seinen young adult fantasies such as The Familiar of Zero, Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero, and Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, although those tend to take their fantasy elements from Dungeons & Dragons and other Western sources instead of Chinese myths.) But whether through martial arts, Taoist alchemy, or energy manipulation, the fantasy world requires that a hero rise from a humble station through the ranks and beyond.
In Martial God Asura, his name is Chu Feng.
Ever since humanity looked upon the stars, there have been stories of space. Rhapsodies spoken, drawn, and written about a place that is impossible to know, yet filled with infinite wonder. The “Space Opera” aesthetic is predominant in stories of alien beings, heroic earthlings, and tales rendering time and distance into mere playthings. Filled with emotion, stimulating the human soul, grand Space Operas are a theatrical art meant to draw the mind and heart towards the stories being told.
Grandeur must fill the Space Opera to the brim and overflow: the scenery, the characters, the plot, everything. Epic is not an option or an after-thought here, it is aggressively sought and brought to the audience skewered on a pike in sacrificial offering. Successful portrayals of a Space Opera never let adventure fall to the wayside. Exploring galaxies, conquering new worlds, harnessing ingenious technologies should never be boring!
A sense of wonder should never be made mundane, for Space Operas are about boundless imagination. Ambitious explorations of the unknown, by their very nature, are adventurous to the human spirit. The setting of outer space isn’t meant to be forgotten or considered secondary to any other element in a Space Opera story, no matter how outlandish that scenery becomes. Read More
This is huge.
Here’s what’s included:
Note that I received this in PDF format via email as a Kickstarter reward. (Yeah, this is a stretch goal bonus promise that I had completely forgotten about.) I don’t see it available on Warehouse 23, but keep a lookout for it!
Ace Slamm: Space Bastard – Turn on a Dame will be the last story this reviewer reads from Pulp Nova. It’s clear after this third strike that James Desborough’s work is mired in fashionably modern nihilism and deconstructivism rather than a forward looking attempt to recapture the magic of the pulp era. The grim and bleak cynicism that permeates this book provides an excellent atmosphere for the cosmic horror of Weird Tales style pulps, but undercuts stories written in any other genre of the pulps. Turn on a Dame presents a bitter drunk of a pilot, the eponymous Ace Slamm, as the protagonist, but at its heart it’s really about how Flash Gordon, Dale Arden, and the Professor were the secret bad guys who done Ming the Merciless wrong. This is an odd choice of direction, but Desborough is hardly the first to adopt an attitude of, “I had to burn it to the ground, sell its children into slavery, and then salt the ground on which it lay, and now hereby declare this barren wasteland the new and improved pulp.”
Consider the lead character, Ace Slamm, the Space Bastard. Lightly mocked in a bar by a few German pilots over the English pilots’ cowardice during a battle against the alien empire Dyzan, Ace responds in a manner specifically calculated to shock the reader and demonstrate the accuracy of the appellation, “Space Bastard”. He doesn’t just beat the Germans in a fight, he cruelly and maliciously sucker punches their leader by smashing him with a beer mug and grinding the shards into the man’s teeth, then kicks the man in the crotch when he is down. Later, he gleefully rips the shirt and bra off of Gail, the scientist’s daughter. A few paragraphs later, Ace casually and needlessly breaks his ex-wife’s nose…
This is the…protagonist? Read More
When posting about painting miniatures I like to mention the research required for the sake of historical accuracy. Recently, I ran across this blog and recommend a few posts which provides great examples of this aspect of the hobby. Even if you have zero interest in military miniatures the informative posts are a good read.
Exhibit #1 is titled Painting the Vietnam War, Part 2. The author divides the Vietnamese War into various eras and describes how uniforms and equipment changed as the war progressed. The analysis is terrific and is accompanied by photos emphasizing the text. The advisor and early war periods, 1959 to mid-1966, are influenced by the “…petty officiousness that every peacetime army has trouble letting go of when war comes, this translated to a strong push to maintain proper “uniform”, even in the field, as well as clean, uncluttered vehicles that were free of personal effects and excess weapons”. Come late 1966-1967 “uniforms and vehicles looked a bit more “lived in” and began to show a more realistic grasp of tropical warfare”, especially as “white name tapes, polished metal rank insignia, and colorful unit shoulder patches disappeared off of uniforms” along with the removal of large white stars on the sides of vehicles. Beginning in 1970 “frontline US troops and their vehicles began to resemble rolling gypsy camps and a full uniform was virtually unheard of”. Look at the picture to the right and compare that with the earlier removal of white stars from vehicles which reveals a change of mindset on many levels. Read More