BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An anthology of 32 stories attempting to provide historical perspective of space opera.


PROS: 24 stories good or better, 10 of them outstanding; historical editorials.

CONS: 8 stories mediocre or worse; editorials have academic tone.

BOTTOM LINE: You are unlikely to find a more comprehensive survey of space opera.

It takes a certain ambition to try to get your editorial arms around space opera because it seems that everyone has their own definition of it. It’s as if the definition of it is as subjective a thing as success or beauty. It therefore may not be surprising that a space opera anthology, which attempts to put space opera in historical perspective by including samples from all its variations, is just freakin’ huge. At 32 stories (12 novellas, 12 novelettes, 7 short stories and 1 vignette) and 940+ pages, The Space Opera Renaissance is one giant, arm-numbing tome. When you open the cover and see that the book is printed with smaller than normal text, it may seem downright daunting. But if space opera is your thing, like it is mine, you’ll dive into it with laser blaster drawn.

So how does a reader get his arms around this? The book’s table of contents shows its organization. Stories are grouped into sections roughly by era, yet inexplicably the publication dates of the stories within each section do not always fall within those dates. This must be an editorial oversight. It would have been better to leave off the year labels on the section headings to avoid the confusion.

Hartwell’s and Cramer’s introduction – an expansion of an earlier essay titled How Shit Became Shinola: Definition and Redefinition of Space Opera – serves to put space opera in historical perspective by considering the myriad of definitions it has held over the years. It’s not all laser blasters and spaceships. Along with story intros that are longer than those in most anthologies, the main introduction has a somewhat academic tone that makes it seem like a stiffly-delivered dissertation. Space opera is supposed to fun. Writing about it should yield something fun as well. Otherwise, the essay does great job cataloguing the history of space opera, from its critical abusive roots to its morphing into something acceptable by the literati.

Since the definition of space opera is so broad, it’s no wonder that some of the stories seem to be all over the sf genre map. Several stories seem more happily pigeonholed to other sub-genres (like military sf, for example) than they do in the space opera camp, but only diehard space opera purists would be bothered by this. The result of the genre-mingling is a diverse mix of stories that either hint at or have feet firmly entrenched in whatever your own personal definition of space opera might be. As to the quality of the stories, well, that varies. It seems that some stories were chosen to make the volume more comprehensive. That’s the point of this volume, I suppose. But how many anthologies can boast having only top-notch stories anyway? The book succeeds in its goal of providing a comprehensive survey of space opera.

There were ten standout stories this volume. They were “The Star-Stealers” by Edmond Hamilton, “The Swordsmen of Varnis” by Clive Jackson, “Empire Star” by Samuel R. Delany, “A Gift from the Culture” by Iain M. Banks, “Escape Route” by Peter F. Hamilton, “Aurora in Four Voices” by Catherine Asaro, “The Death of Captain Future” by Allen Steele, “Fools Errand” by Sarah Zettel, “Spirey and the Queen” by Alastair Reynolds and “Guest Law” by John C. Wright. Six of the stories are available online, as noted by the hyperlinked story names below.

[Note: It's rare for any anthology, but certainly possible in one of this size, to include a story that qualifies as a novel by the SFWA standards, but Donald Kingsbury's Kzin story "The Survivor" clocks in at 60,000 words according to the author's website. When published as part of The Man-Kzin Wars IV, it was 245 pages. For that reason, I will not include it in my short story reading project but since it does contribute to the overall quality of The Space Opera Renaissance, I have weighted "The Survivor" rating as twice that of a novella.]

Reviewlettes follow.

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POLL RESULTS: Stop Reading!

Here are the results of the latest SF Signal poll.

Have you ever, by your own choice, finished reading a book you were not enjoying?


(61 total votes)

Be sure to vote in this week’s poll on your favorite film robot!

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Book Reviewer Backlash

There are a couple of discussions going on in the sf blogosphere regarding book reviews. Here are my thoughts on the matter…


In a rather lengthy post that mixes review with anti-review rant, Gabe Chouinard says he’s disappointed with the quality of online reviews. He says he wants substance in the reviews he reads.

There are some interesting comments and observations in that post and a healthy dose of angry comments, too. Much of the discussion revolves around the difference between a review and a critique. One commenter took issue with Gabe’s rant, enough to post a scathing counterpoint on his own Live Journal to which Gabe responded. Also good reading, that. Despite the occasional angry comments, it’s good that people are talking about this.

I’m reminded of people who gripe yet continue to punish themselves by continuing the behavior which seems to make them so unhappy. (I’ll ignore the ironic amusement provided by Gabe’s admission that he is part of the problem.) If a reviewer is not to your liking for whatever reason – lack of insight, differing tastes, poor writing – then don’t read their reviews. If you have a list of reviewers who you like, great! Stick with them.

As one of the offending reviewers, I’m tempted, as was apparently intended, to respond defensively. I could pick on the fact that the more “insightful” of my comments of my review was ignored and a quote was chosen (one with a typo no less) to suit the rant. I could also mention how Eragon was a book I purchased and not a review copy from the publisher, thus there was no aim to please anyone. I could say that the review was written relatively soon after I began reviewing and that my later (and hopefully more experienced) reviews were ignored. I could cite how my reviews are not always glowing, how I don’t like everything I see and that sometimes ticks people off. (Don’t get me started by mentioning Klausner.)

But the fact is that people review and critique for all sorts of reasons. Some do it as a profession. Some, like me, do it for recording their impressions. Some, as the other post suspects, might even do it for the free books. Without matching each and every individual review with a reviewer’s reasons and criteria, whining about them seems pointless. The most you can (respectfully) say is that your tastes differ from a reviewer and/or a review does meet your own expectations, which may be entirely different than the goals of the reviewer.

That said, there are review sites that I personally feel do not meet my own expectations. But you can’t please everyone. I’m sure those same reviews are useful to someone somewhere. To each his own.


Over on the Nightshade forum, there’s a discussion about short story reviews. The discussion revolves around whether a review of a collection or anthology should say something about every single story in the book.

Are reviewers obligated to do so? Some of that post’s commenters seem to think so. They feel cheated if stories are not mentioned. But, as mentioned there, some venues are limited for space (especially print magazines) and there are only so many words that can be used. Editorial constraints apply.

Speaking for myself, which is the only thing I can do, I like to review all of the stories. Again, this suits my reason for reviewing: to serve as a record and reminder of what I’ve read. Admittedly, I’m probably more anal-retentive about it than most, as will be evidenced by my upcoming review of The Space Opera Renaissance. But that’s just what I choose to do. Your mileage may vary between reviewers, venues and subject matter.

Filed under: Books

SF Tidbits for 9/17/06

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SF Tidbits for 9/16/06

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SFBC Author Insights

The Science Fiction Book Club blog has posted a series of excerpts from the SFBC monthly member magazine in which authors talk about their books. Most recently:

Filed under: Books

Mmmm…Web Boomer

[subtitle: Where Tim Will Be on Sept. 18 :)]


Grace Park, who plays Sharon “Boomer” Valerii on SCI FI Channel’s original series Battlestar Galactica, will answer viewer questions in a video interview that will go live on SCIFI.COM on Sept. 18.

Park will discuss the show, the challenges and benefits of playing multiple characters and the possibility of a Battlestar Galactica hockey team.

Park answered questions that were previously submitted by visitors to SCIFI.COM. The video will go live at 7:30 p.m. ET on SCIFI.COM’s SCI FI Pulse broadband network.

(Note to self: Make sure The Wife is not nearby when googling for Grace Park pics.)

Filed under: Web Sites

SF Tidbits for 9/14/06

Filed under: Tidbits

As discussed by you, the loyal SF Signal readers. Some liberties have been taken with the term ‘SF’ to allow horror and or fantasy threats.

I present the Top 27 Coolest SF Threats, in no particular order, although multiple nominations are listed first….

  • Everyone’s favorite Elder Being, Cthulhu.
  • The risen Dead from Peter F. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy.
  • The Bersekers from Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker series of books. Similarly, the machine race from Gregory Benford’s Galactic Center novels.
  • The eponymous Aliens from the Aliens series of movies.
  • A rogue AI - Scott Westerfeld’s Risen Empire books, Colossus: The Forbin Project and from Karl Schroeder’s Ventus.
  • The planet Endurium in the classic PC game, Starflight.
  • The Inhibitors from Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space books.
  • The planet eater from the Star Trek episode, The Doomsday Machine.
  • The wandering superstring from Stellvia Of The Universe.
  • The blast front from the exploding core of the galaxy from Larry Niven’s Known Space stories.
  • The grey goo from Greg Bear’s Blood Music.
  • The Yuzon Vong from the Star Wars Expanded Universe.
  • Galactus, from The Fantastic Four comics.
  • The Grendel from Legacy Of Heorot.
  • Larry Niven’s version of the Kzinti.
  • The Reavers from Firefly/Serenity.
  • A more personal threat here, the poison gel packs used to ‘motivate’ people in Gibson’s Neuromancer.
  • How can we forget God, in the movie Time Bandits?
  • The Jain from Neal Asher’s Polity Universe.
  • The Prime aliens in Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth books (Pandora’s Star, Judas Unchained).
  • The Hypotheticals from Charles Wilson’s Hugo winning Spin.
  • The Omega Clouds from Jack McDevitt’s Engine Of God series.
  • The ‘Dust’ from Pullman’s His Dark Materials series.
  • The Shadows from Babylon 5.
  • The Triffids from The Day Of The Triffids.
  • The Death Star, from Star Wars.
  • The Blight from Vinge’s A Fire Upon The Deep.

So there you have it, some of the coolest threats faced by characters and/or societies in SF/Fantasy/Horror. It’s a nice list and I must say I have actually seen or read about all of these before, so nothing I hadn’t encountered before. I recommend reading/watching any of the above listed books/movies if you haven’t already!

Filed under: BooksMoviesTV

Release the Hounds! We’ve Been Robbed!

Joel Schumacher will be directing a vampire Nazi movie! Sound familiar?

The Hollywood Reporter says the Batman & Robin director has signed up to helm Town Creek, a vampy Gold Circle horror movie. If vampires aren’t enough to get you interested, they’re also throwing in Nazis. It’s the story of a West Virginia man who helps his brother wipe out a family that once protected a Nazi vampire. See, genocide alone isn’t bad enough, to be really really evil you’ve also got to be a blood sucker.

OK, technically, it’s not thievery since Schumacher’s film lacks zombies…and time-traveling…and Green Bay Packers. But you get my point. I think.

Filed under: Movies

Reading Snobbery, Part 3

Continuing the theme of the first and second parts, I submit without comment this excerpt from Grumpy Old Bookman:

…it is a fundamental error, with moral implications, to think of fiction as a hierarchy, a sort of tower block, if you will, with literary fiction at the top and the ‘lower’ types of fiction tucked away in the basement. That is a concept which has no intellectual validity.

The correct way to think of the various genres of fiction is as a street of many bookshops; and in this street there are no prime sites. Each shop pays the same business taxes as any other: all shops are equal. And the smart customer places her business in different shops at different times; to the advantage of everyone, most importantly herself.


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SF Tidbits for 9/13/06

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More Remastered Star Trek Info has a few trailers posted for the upcoming remastered Star Trek series. Additionally, and more importantly (and finally!), they also have a station listing of all the affiliates airing the remastered series, as well as the times. For Houston? Channel 13, KTRK, will be airing the show on Saturdays, at 1:05am!!! Urk.

Sadly, CBS will not be making the HD version available to its affiliates to air. Some one at CBS is apparently too busy screwing the pooch to realize what a terrible PR move this is. Many CBS stations are capable of handling HD feeds, yet CBS won’t distribute it to them. I’m tihnking HD-DVDs in the future are the reason here. Yes, a conspiracy theory. CBS will whet the appetites of Trekkies everywhere with the standard def broadcasts, then will try to convinve them to buy the shiny new HD-DVDs at a later date. The bastages!

Still, I’ll record the first few to see what it looks like. Will you?

Filed under: TV

What’s the Longest Book You Ever Read?

Yes, I’m still reading The Space Opera Renaissance, the massive Tor anthology edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer. I’m enjoying the heck out of it but I have to admit, the sheer size of the thing is playing games with my sense of progress.

This hardback clocks in at 944 pages. But not just any 944 pages. No, these pages have some sort of patented smaller-than-average Tiny-Type which means, all things being equal, it’s longer than most books of the same size. I do not know the word count – and I would love to know that and the average word count for the average book – but as a guess, I’d say this is the word-count equivalent of 3 or 4 “standard-length” books.

The good news with respect to closure is that I’m almost done. But this has to be the longest book I’ve ever read. I usually average about a book a week. I’ve been reading TSOR for over 5 weeks now. (To be fair, though, I have sneaked in two other quick-read books in the interim.)

What’s the lengthiest book you’ve ever read? Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth? Stephenson’s Quicksilver? War & Peace? No fair counting omnibuses!

Filed under: Books

SF Tidbits for 9/12/06

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EW Reviews SF

Issue #897 (September 15, 2006) of Entertainment Weekly offers some brief reviews of science fiction and fantasy books. Here’s a snippet…

Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson

For Fans of: The late master’s Future History stories.

Lowdown: An enjoyable read. Star incorporates plenty of Heinlein’s liberal social theories, but not enough of his sharp moral edge.

Grade: B

Mappa Mundi by Justina Robson

For Fans of: Brave New World or Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, if they met Thomas Pynchon in a cybercafe.

Lowdown: A lyrical, attentively-written anti-utopia.

Grade: A-

Stamping Butterflies by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

For Fans of: The Matrix.

Lowdown: Grimwood’s hard-boiled prose reels you in like a velvet rope (smiles twist “lips without ever reaching your eyes”). Too bad about reality being an illusion, though.

Grade: B+

A Meeting at Corvallis by S.M. Stirling

For Fans of: Forget Tolkien – does the Society for Creative Anachronism ring a bell?

Lowdown: Diehards will find this richly realized story or swordplay and intrigue immensely satisfying.

Grade: B

Filed under: Books

SF Tidbits for 9/11/06

Filed under: Tidbits

Here are the results of the latest SF Signal poll.

Which of these is your favorite fictional robot from literature?


(68 total votes)

Marvin and R. Daneel took a significant amount of votes here. Should I not have bothered with the other choices? :)

Be sure to vote in this week’s poll on When to Stop Reading!

Filed under: Polls

H.G. Wells – Master Predictor

Historian and futurist W. Warren Wagar reviews the range of H.G. Wells’s contributions to the discipline of future thinking in this 1983 article H.G. Wells and the Genesis of Future Studies. It mentions Wells’s work, including Anticipations of the Reactions of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought. (Yay Gutenberg!)

Here’s an excerpt of Wagar’s article on Wells’s prediction powers:

Anticipations ranged widely in its subject matter, from the future of transport to the future of world order. The first chapters are familiar fare to anyone who has read other books of the time by journalists sketching with enthusiasm the progress to be expected from science in the new century. Wells looked ahead to the first aircraft and to broad highways teeming with automobiles, busses, and trucks. Suburbia would triumph over city and countryside. In the United States. one vast unbroken sprawl of middle-class life would reach from Boston to Washington. Homes would be prefabricated, and household appliances and chemicals would put an end to the need for servants.

But in later chapters, Wells turned from his predictions of miracle dishwashing solvents and tidy electric ranges to something that for him was much more crucial. By the close of the 20th century, he foresaw the collapse of capitalism and the nation state system in great technologically advanced total wars that the tycoons and the politicians could not, ultimately, understand or control. Power would slip through their fingers. They would be swiftly replaced by the technically competent, by scientists and engineers and managers, who would learn from their errors and build a world state of peace and plenty.

Filed under: Books

7 Leftist Trends in Science Fiction

Tim @ Random Observations has a Science Fiction and Leftism post in which he details seven leftists trends in science fcition. Here’s the short version:

7 Leftist Trends in Science Fiction

  1. The Misunderstood Villain
  2. Moral “Evolution”
  3. Atheism
  4. Globalism
  5. Child-Worship
  6. Moral and Cultural Relativism
  7. Free Love

Filed under: BooksTV

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