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MIND MELD: Has Space Opera Lost Its Luster?

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

Late last year, after John Ottinger wrote a passionate review of John C. Wright’s Count to a Trillion, he was asked by Tor Books publicist Cassandra Ammerman on twitter about why, in his opinion, Space Opera, hadn’t gone more mainstream, like steampunk? (her words.) The question made sense: since Steampunk was The Next Big Thing a few years ago and apparently still hasn’t begun to lose its (steam) power, should science fiction writers and readers worry about its predominance as a subgenre in detriment of Space Opera, even with many new novels fresh in the market?

So, we asked this week’s panelists…

Q: With the growing success of Steampunk in recent years, is Space Opera losing its appeal as a subgenre?

Here’s what they said…

Mary Turzillo
Mary Turzillo‘s Nebula winner, “Mars Is No Place for Children,” and her novel An Old-Fashioned Martian Girl, (Analog) have been selected as recreational reading on the International Space Station. Her work has appeared in Electric Velocipede, Asimov’s, Weird Tales, Cat Tales, Space and Time, The Vampire Archives, Goblin Fruit, New Verse News, Strange Horizons, and F&SF. Her Nebula finalist, “Pride,” appears in Tails of Wonder and Mystery.

How could anybody think space opera was losing its appeal when we have such stellar practitioners as Iain Banks, Walter Jon Williams, and Lois McMaster Bujold? What I like is that space opera is a big pie-in-the-face to the mundane science fiction movement. Space opera just outright says, so what, it’s unrealistic, it violates the laws of physics, but it’s heart-racingly imaginative (Ooooh, that Culture), so get used to it. And every time I sit down to a really great space opera (a good place to start is that gorgeungous anthology, edited by Kathryn Cramer and David Hartwell, THE SPACE OPERA RENAISSANCE), I feel that I’m going back to my fannish roots — this is how SF started. Think big. Think romantic!

But steampunk is an alluring contender: Tobias Buckell does both genres with all kinds of sparkle. But think of Cheri Priest and even Cory Doctorow. The one appeal steampunk has is the visual: there are whole catalogs featuring steampunk clothing (The Pyramid Collection). Last time I went to my optometrist, I was just so dismayed that he didn’t have any goggles with funny gears on the side. Soon everybody will be wanting steampunk sunglasses. And then there are movies like HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE and HUGO. This isn’t all that new, really; a very stylish 90’s TV show, THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY, JR. is an early contender. Oh, heck, let’s even go back to WILD, WILD WEST. How many fans watched that and said to themselves, “Well, what is this all about? Western? SF?”

As for me, why do I have to choose? I’ll take both, thank you very much, by the bushel! Continue reading