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! Read the rest of this entry

There’s an overwhelming selection of appealing titles to choose from when it comes to reading science fiction, fantasy and horror books. Yet some titles float to the top of the pile, making them more immediate candidates for the next books you’ll read.

Q: What sf/f/h books are on the top of your “To-Be-Read” Pile?

Read on to see the tasty selections of this week’s panelists…

Lucius Shepard
Lucius Shepard is a writer who lives in Vancouver. In 2008, Subterranean Press published The Best of Lucius Shepard, a career retrospective. Shepard’s latest novels include Vacancy & Ariel, Viator Plus, and The Taborin Scale.

Art the top of my stack is Islington Crocodiles, the highly praised short fiction collection by the UK’s Paul Meloy. Intro by is by Graham Joyce. Really looking forward to that.

Next up: Strange Forces – The Stories of Leopoldo Lugones, a collection of fantastical stories from an Argentine writer released in 1906. Lugones is very well known in Latin America, almost unheard of here. He’s supposed to have been an eccentric a la Lovecraft and killed himself over a woman 30 years his junior by drinking a mixture of whiskey and cyanide.

Horacio Quiroga is a classic Latin American writer of extremely dark stories, some of which are included in The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories. A disciple of Poe, he lived a tormented life that included the suicide of one wife and desertion by his wife and child while enduring his final illness. Many of his stories are set in the jungle where much of his life was spent. Sounds like my kind of guy.

Lucy Snyder’s Spellbent — I’m not sure what this one is, a YA I guess, but it sounds like a blast. About hell coming to Ohio. Having played in a lot of Ohio’s armpit bars, I can relate.

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This week’s question is a simple one, but yielded lots of responses. We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: What are some of your favorite short stories in sf/f/h and what makes them so memorable?

Read on to see some great reading suggestions, then check out Part 2. And be sure to tell us your own favorites!

Michael Boatman
Michael Boatman is best known as an actor. He co-starred in the ABC comedy, Spin City, as well as the HBO original series ARLI$$. He’s appeared in movies like Hamburger Hill, The Glass Shield, and The Peacemaker, and in television shows like The Game, Criminal Minds, Law and Order and China Beach. He is also an author. His horror-comedy, The Revenant Road, was published by Drollerie Press in 2009 (available at Amazon.com) and his short story collection, God Laughs When You Die, was published by Dybbuk Press in 2007. His fiction has appeared in Weird Tales, Red Scream, Horror Garage, and in anthologies like Dark Dreams 2 and 3 and the upcoming Dark Delicacies 3: Haunted.

One of my favorite horror stories would have to be David J. Schow’s “Jerry’s Kids Meet Wormboy”. It’s the quintessential zombie tale that originally appeared in Skipp and Spector’s classic Book of the Dead anthology. In a collection of great stories by Stephen King, Joe Lansdale and others, this one stands out for humor that is as black as pitch, gore that is both horrifying and hilarious and an unbelievably weird protagonist in the five-hundred pound zombie apocalypse survivor Wormboy. I guarantee anyone who loves stories set in a Romero-esque zombified universe, J.K.M.W cannot be beat. Not with a baseball bat, an axe-handle or out of control spinning helicopter blades.

My favorite recent science fiction story is Understand, a great thriller by Ted Chiang. It’s about a coma victim who is injected with an experimental drug after suffering extreme brain damage in a near drowning. The drug not only repairs him; it also makes him smarter. The rest of the story involves the supercritical protagonist trying to find more of the drug to increase his intellect while preparing to meet the one person on Earth who may actually be smarter than he is. It’s a great story. The supercritical Leon’s struggle to live in a world in which he is rapidly becoming smarter and smarter, is fascinating. I actually felt smarter after I’d finished reading it.

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