Thursday, October 21, 2010

Like Opera?

I’ve come to realize I’m a fan of space opera.

Why does that feel like a confession? It shouldn’t. The stuff I’m talking about is inventive and intelligent, engaging with serious issues at the same time as it’s adventuresome fun. Maybe it’s just the name. Opera. Soap Opera. Space Opera. Not, for me, the same thing.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve enjoyed novels like Peter F. Hamilton’s The Dreaming Void (The Void Trilogy), and John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, and Bright of the Sky (Book 1 of The Entire and the Rose) by Kay Kenyon, and I may have mentioned digging Hyperion by Dan Simmons. Realizing that I have good things to say about Iain M Banks’ The Algebraist and Alastair Reynolds’ Chasm City (Revelation Space)

Well, I’m seeing a trend here.

Are all these things Space Opera? I don’t know, but I’m thinking so. What they have in common is that they combine elements of science fiction interplanetary travel and theoretic possibilities with adventure on a grand scale. For a while, I thought of them as books that read like epic fantasy, but that were set in space. I guess the Dune novels would fit into this category too. I’m not sure where the boundary begins and ends, although I know it when I bump up against it.

For example, I read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars (Mars Trilogy) recently. That’s got adventure and romance off planet, but it’s different. It’s chained to our known world realities and near possibilities in a way that space opera isn’t really.

So what do I enjoy about these novels? Depends on the book, of course. A big part of it comes down to the combination of fine writing, with interesting characterization and thematic weight, combined with pure flights of the imagination. That’s a feature of good fantasy too, but only a handful of fantasy authors engage me intellectually - which is part of the attraction to these operatic authors. It’s sharp, fun, sometimes scary stuff.

Just thought I’d mention it.



Blogger Jamey Stegmaier said...

I've read Hyperion but haven't even heard of those other books. Is there one in particularly you'd recommend as a good starting point?

Also, fan question: Does this mean you might write a book in the vein of space operas in the future?

2:11 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hi Jamey,

Hmmm... Maybe the Alastair Reynolds - Chasm City. It's fast paced, pretty slick and sexy, but it's not gratuitous as, say Richard Morgan pushes towards. It's also got an interesting mystery that unfolds inside the story.

But they're all quite good! If anybody has any recommendations feel free to mention them.

6:01 PM  
Blogger Jamey Stegmaier said...

Thanks David, I appreciate it. I'll check it out.

6:35 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

I see I forget to answer your question.

I'd love to write space opera, but I don't see it at the moment. I just don't have an idea for it or confidence that I'd handle the material that well. So I'm not sure. Technology isn't my thing.

Not that all space opera needs to be high on technology. Some of those settled worlds out there might choose to stay away from technology. I recall that being part of the Dreaming Void...

But still, I'd need to have something meaningful to contribute to the genre. I don't have a grip on that yet. I'll just keep reading it.

9:33 AM  
Blogger Jamey Stegmaier said...

The book "The Sparrow"--really, an incredible book--uses very few explanations of technology. It takes more time explaining the cultures of the first inhabited planet other than earth that humans have contact with. You seem to have a knack for creating cultures/creatures, so perhaps that type of space opera is within your creative talents.

Either way, I was just curious. I'm looking forward to the last book of the Acacia trilogy. I think it was around this time last year that The Other Lands came out, so I'm getting that itch for more Acacia.

11:22 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Interesting choice to look to. Mary Doria Russell has moved in the opposite direction as me. I went historical to sf. She went sf to historical. We're probably working some of the same muscles, though.

So... maybe.

And thank you, sir, for hankering for Acacia 3. It's on my desk each and every day now. Realistically, it's a year away from being in print, but I hope you know I'm working daily to do my part.

Wrote a scene that had me a bit teary today, truth be told...

5:41 PM  
Anonymous Joe DePalma said...

Thanks for the leads. I've been looking to get into something that I guess would be considered "space opera", although I'm still not sure what that means. Your explanation is about as good as I could hope to put it.

I love Sci Fi TV shows set in space (Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica (Ron Moore version), Space: Above and Beyond) but I haven't been able to find books that really capture that in books.

Ideally I'd love to find something in the vain of A Song of Ice and Fire and Acacia, but set in a space. I just simply haven't been able to find that combo. Maybe some of your suggestions will fit the bill (Hyperion and Pandora's Star are sitting on my self to try). Thanks again.

9:42 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


I know it's an old classic, but I have to ask...

Have you read Dune?

I only properly read it about 6 years ago. Loved it.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Ancapaillmor said...

You want want space opera check out kevin j andersons, saga of the seven suns. Also the hyperion follow on endymion is as good as if not better than hyperion.

Found this blog looking for info on book 3, realling digging Acacia at the moment and looking forward to reading book 2 and the pride of carthage.

Joe definately read those 2 books, pandoras star is a great book as is the sequel judas unchained. You might want to check Hamiltons nights dawn trilogy(3 huge books, roughly 800 pages eaach).

6:07 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Thanks for stopping in. Very glad to hear you're enjoying Acacia. Please do give Pride of Carthage a try too! That's the one that taught me how to write books like Acacia.

And I have added Anderson to me booklist.

10:03 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

It was pride of carthage that actually got me onto your books. Was watching battles BC and decided to search for Hannibal books and your name popped up, i rarely buy one book by an author so i picked up 3.

BTW Anderson did a few dune books with Frank Herberts son. never got past the 3rd Dune book.

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Joe DePalma said...

Thanks David,

Dune is another book sitting on my shelf I've been wanting to get to. You're not the first to recommend it when I try explaining what I'm looking for. I probably need to bump it up on my "to read" list. I guess part of the reason I haven't read it yet is because I kind of know the story through the movie and the mini series on SyFy. I'm sure they don't do the book justice, but I still just haven't gotten to it.

Also, thanks Ancapaillmor for the other leads.

11:27 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Hmmm. I'd be curious about what you think about the book anyway. I had seen the Lynch film and that was in my head as I read. Actually, I understood the film better for seeing what the source material was like. The tv series I glanced at, but it didn't hook me.

I'd like to think that neither of them do justice the experience of reading the book. Also, I have to admit to being blown away by the fact that it was written before humans had even landed on the moon. Despite that, it doesn't read as dated. Ancient, perhaps, but not dated, if you know what I mean.

1:38 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home