Thursday, May 17, 2007

ALASTAIR REYNOLDS AND SPACE OPERA

I'm now, finally, getting around to reading the second of Alastair Reynolds' three-part space opera. I'd read Revelation Space awhile back and been blown away for the most part. Now I'm into Redemption Ark and really, really finding it to be great.

The best space opera, for my money, has to have most of these elements:

(1) A grand, cosmic scope.
(2) The fate of a world or worlds or the universe in the balance.
(3) Truly odd and almost unknowable aliens.
(4) Some odd and mind-bending alien object.
(5) Damaged or damaging characters, fascinating because they are eccentric or fragile or mysterious.
(6) An essential strangeness, in the sense of an almost insane imagination that the reader accepts because the strangeness is couched in pseudo-scientific or scientific terms. In other words, the comfortable bucket for the strangeness provides form for the strangeness, but it's still bug-f*** strange.

The best space opera is really, really odd on a fundamental level. And I think Reynolds has that quality.

Anyway, really enjoying this second book.

Jeff

12 Comments:

At 9:41 PM, Blogger Cheryl said...

And a great soundtrack.

 
At 11:11 PM, Blogger Tobias Buckell said...

What a great precis, yeah, those are the elements of space opera. Yay.

I'm a huge Reynolds fan, I think I'm caught up on all the books he's written.

 
At 6:16 AM, Anonymous paul jessup said...

You seem to be reading my mind- I have been in an odd Space Opera kick as well...and had just finished Revelation Space (had not read it yet- very damn good though).

 
At 6:47 AM, Anonymous Jonathan Wood said...

For my money, you don't get better Space Opera that Iain Banks. The Use of Weapons still creeps me out so many years down the line...

But, more on topic, I often feel that Space Opera lies close to that liminal space between sf and fantasy, because the technology focus is probably the least stressed of any sf sub-genre. It gets down to the fundamental weirdness (essential strangeness) that lurks at the heart of speculative fiction.

 
At 7:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jonathan:

I couldn't agree more. Of course, most space opera being set in the far future provides that liberty that *seems* about scientific extrapolation but is really about total and utter strangeness.

Use of Weapons is still my favorite space opera of all time. Some people have taken cracks at it for the "twist", but I think they're missing the point rather badly.

JeffV

 
At 7:27 AM, Anonymous Paul Jessup said...

Jonathan-
Perfect way of putting it! I've got The Space Opera Renaissance at home (reading some of the classics for my own ideas) and their opening essay talks about the history of Space Opera- and how it was originally called Science Fantasy.

One thing I love about it is when it's pushed the right way (Nova, Light, Breathmoss) it can be absolutely surreal.

And I love me some surrealism.

God I keep itching at a Space Opera...but the idea doesn't feel hatched enough yet in my mind to approach it...

 
At 6:48 AM, Blogger skinnyblackcladdink said...

M. John Harrison? anyone?

 
At 4:18 PM, Blogger Rob said...

I love space opera. Done well (e.g., Reynolds, Banks, Baxter, Harrison), it can be sublime.

Use of Weapons is excellent, but then again everything Banks writes usually is (except maybe The Algebraist, which I found disappointing.)

 
At 7:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah--Baxter is next on my list to read.

I've got a few things I want to write myself in the next few years. One of them is a mainstream thriller. Another is a space opera. I actually have the beginning basis for one in a story called "Flesh" that has never been collected. Basically, the space opera would arise out of the earlier years of the world of Veniss Underground. I don't know if I have the mind for it, but it's possible. I mean, Somtow Sucharitkul's space opera--basically forgotten now, unfortunately (well, shit--someone needs to resurrect those!)--doesn't have much science in them.

JeffV

 
At 1:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jeff!

Al

 
At 5:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Al--thanks for stopping by. And thanks for the fiction. I'm really enjoying Ark.

JeffV

 
At 11:21 AM, Anonymous paul jessup said...

Somtow Sucharitkul.

Now I have to search him out. That sounds fantastic. And a Veniss Space Opera? I would snatch that up faster than fast.

 

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