Dec 5, 2012

Epic Science Fiction: Space Opera

TV shows such as Firefly, Farscape, Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5, etc. have massive, loyal fan followings. Where are their equivalents in the book industry? I hardly see any. Epic space opera is very much in a low ebb right now. It seems that no one has had a space opera hit since Frank Herbert's Dune was published in 1965.

I think a large part of the lack of best-selling epic science fiction is its association with military fiction (a niche genre). These two don't need to go hand-in-hand, yet they often do. Many of the published Baen Books titles are military space opera. Ender's Game, Old Man's War, and the Vorkosigan saga are all arguably military space opera/epic SF. However, one could argue that George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones and Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time are military fantasy. Why is epic science fiction consigned to the small niche of 'readers who like hard science fiction plus military stuff' while epic fantasy gets a broad audience? No one really thinks of those best-selling epic fantasy series as military fiction. They're associated with fascinating worlds, high adventure, epic battles and epic romances, colorful characters, and high stakes plots. Why can't epic science fiction have all this as well?

It can, and it should.

There's a war going on in my epic science fiction series. So yes, there are battles ... but it's not military fiction, any more than A Game of Thrones is military fiction. There's no chain of command until they create one. There are no uniforms. The story is not about learning who is in charge and who is subordinate. It's not about adjusting to military life. There are no barracks. The main characters are not soldiers.

In fact, one of my main characters is a handicapped boy who's too weak to walk. Another main character is a female elderly alien slave. Only one of my characters is a muscle-bound warrior type. That should make it clear: This Is Not Military Fiction!

One more thing, and then I'll get off my soap box. I want to read some new epic science fiction that has the same sense of grand adventure that we see in epic fantasy. It seems that book publishers have developed a bias against epic SF due to the boatloads of military epic SF already published. But there is more to epic SF than military fiction.

I'm a major Scott Sigler fan because he writes epic SF that isn't military.  I love his books.  But I want to see more along these lines.  I've been told that literary agents shy away from space opera because they claim that it's 'hard to pull off well.'  I think they mean to say that 'space opera is always military fiction, which doesn't sell well, and therefore we don't want to see it.'

I wish they'd give my saga a read.  One more time: It isn't military!!!


Argonauta Xeno said...

I think the last great Space Opera is The Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons. There is some military, but it's definitely not about big guns with antimatter torpedoes.

Anonymous said...

thanks for share..

Dan said...

Actually, the last agent I talked to said there was a steady market for space opera that she felt was being underserved. The audience wasn't vast, but they were voracious readers who had little new to read. That was in 2010.

I suppose I'm one of those readers. Military SF is OK, but it seems to fall too heavily into hardware and tactics. I like space opera from folks like C.J. Cherryh, Elizabeth Moon, and Jack McDevitt. It's still a sweeping universe, but the focus is on character and personal challenges.

But other than that, the best writing advice I ever heard was to write the book you want to read. I want to read more space opera, so that's what I'm writing.