Space Opera II: The Libretto Strikes Back

March 18, 2012 § 3 Comments

Edit: WordPress has been wonky for me lately. Some things get italicized and some aren’t, and some things are properly spaced while others are just out to lunch. I’m trying to keep on it, but sometimes changing things…doesn’t actually change them.

Oh goodness I have so much to say, but first things must come first.

Week 11: Deathstalker, Simon R. Green

The First Scene: The author announces his hesitations and bewails the difficulty of his task to the universe. Largo, contemplative.

I admit to being undecided as to where to start with this. Like I’ve said before, I’m hesitant to out and out review books, but on the other hand, I really, really want to review this book.

I don’t read much sci-fi, but that’s not the fault of the genre. There are certain books and series that I absolutely adore, but there are far, far more fantasy and fantasy-esque books that I still have to read. I emphasize “have” because, regardless of how I feel about the Western Canon, if you want to work within a genre you better know the big names. It’s only good manners to know who the hell Terry Brooks is if you ever meet him (and want him to read your stuff).

In any case, this is the first sci-fi book I’ve read in a long time but it is not the only sci-fi media I’ve encountered in a while. I’ve watched/played Fallout, Mass Effect, some Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, and…shudderTransformers in the past few months/years. My burning desire to review it, then, is linked to the fact that I’ve seen and played some incredible things in the sci-fi genre and want to talk about how this stands up.

I won’t. However, I will try to do so by talking about two things: technological necessity (it’s more fun than it sounds) and in-universe seriousness. And because I’m me, I’m laying it out like an opera.

I'm still technically an opera, right?

The Second Scene: The author denounces technology and the necessity thereof. A small imp gallivants in the background, representing the author’s fears, and because the stage director thought it would be funny.

Technology is sci-fi’s magic. I stand by that point and will fight to defend it. If you’re writing fantasy, you have magic in there somewhere. What that magic is can be debated, contested, or even gone, but it has to be there in some way. I assume it’s theoretically possible to do without it, I’m thinking Song of Ice and Fire but sans wildlings and whatnot, but then you’ve just writing historical fiction with different names inserted.

In sci-fi, on the other hand, technology is either the instigator of the plot (as in, it causes the problems the protagonist must solve: i.e. Deus Ex: Human Revolution) or it is the enabler of the plot (it enables the plot to go on, i.e. Star Wars). There’s a big difference there, and it gets at the heart of what different people want from sci-fi. If you want cool explanations why certain technology exists and thought put into solving problems that humans might have in the future, then you’re probably not as interested in a story that takes impossible technology (I’m sorry, but we are far away from both the singularity and FTL travel) for granted.

In Deathstalker, for example, the ships travel impossible distances in the blink of an eye, medical advances have reached the point of miracles, and personal A.I.s are cheap-as-free. If you want hard technology or an exploration about how it will change the human experience, look elsewhere. However, that technology is still necessary because without it, without that magic, then this story would just be fantasy in the stars.

No, Phantom, you're not an opera.

The Third Scene: An atonal exploration of the nature of parody and consistency, done to the sounds of three bottles breaking. The bottles will represent the fragility of human consciousness, human emotions, and the job prospects of the director post-performance.

Parody is a funny thing, and I mean that completely seriously. Deathstalker isn’t pure parody, but at points it flirts dangerously close to the line, I believe, without intending to completely cross over it. Here’s a (wonderful?) example:

Scene: the Empress of the Galactic Empire is holding court in her impregnable city miles below ground when psychic terrorists break in to wreak havoc upon her and the highest nobles of the Empire.

Oh, that sounds pretty cool, right? Yeah! That sounds like a good set-up for a chaotic scene where political power is broken down and the Empire is, if not decapitated, at least wounded! Plus, the questions! Who are these terrorists? How did they get here? What does this mean on the grand scale? I see plot coming, I can smell it! It’s right th…

Resolution: the psychics announce that killing the Empress would only allow a worse person to take charge, and instead throw a pie in her face. They are then bloodily killed, and the horrific security breach is never mentioned again.

…Right. That seems like it would be perfectly reasonable in a Terry Pratchett book or a piece of pure satire. I feel that Green himself distanced the rest of the book from that scene, where it gets progressively more and more serious.

Later, however, when we’re talking about a meta-human rebellion, high politics on a galactic stage and the threat of alien invasion, the reader can’t ignore that the terrorist underground, in what was likely the most daring of all their raids, did nothing more than throw a pie in the face of the Empress.

In the grim darkness of the far future, this is what freedom looks like

I feel that you should pick one or the other and go for it whole hog. This is one reason why I love Good Omens and why I have humor in my story while still being completely serious 90% of the time. It’s not that humor or lightheartedness is bad, but it’s that it must be done with a great deal of care. It’s difficult and you risk making your characters seem like parodies or goof balls, but if done right, it injects humor without making it seem ridiculous. Or, just write a parody and don’t look back.

The Fourth Scene: In which the author, overcome by grief, talks about something else. Cue applause, flowers thrown onto the stage, and pecuniary success?

I’m making a move on Wednesday and will probably be without internet for at least a few days. I may go insane, but even if I don’t, posting will slow down for a week, or at least they’ll be quicker, shorter, and rushed under the cover of night and hi-jacked wi-fi.

Second, I will have another poll (because they’re fun) to determine which book I read next. I’ve already got some, so all you need to do is list which you think is coolest. They are:

  1. Fragile Things, Neil Gaiman’s short story collection about many things,
  2. The Regulators, Stephen King’s story where media takes over the town,
  3. Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse, exactly what it says on the tin,
  4. It Was A Long Time Ago And Didn’t Happen Anyways,Modern Russia and its inability to come to terms with its Communist past,
  5. The Lost Hero,Rick Riordan’s next book in the Percy Jackson series

So vote! And have fun if I don’t talk until next week!

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