Space Opera vs. Mil-SF

Legend of the Galactic Heroes

Picking up form yesterday's post about picking the right science fiction niche, Injustice Gamer Alfred Genesson names some successful indie authors who are peeling off readers from underserved or poorly served fandoms:
Brian brings up Galaxy's Edge, which is an interesting study as it's by Nick Cole and Jason Anspach, two authors I've reviewed apart from each other as well. They're both really good. I want more 'Til Death, Jason. But, the brand here is not either author, but both. I don't think either could put out as good a work in the world alone. This is far from an insult, it's a compliment to how well they work together. It's a really good riff on Star Wars. I know of at least one more coming up.
There's a rather good one from Robert Kroese, which started off as a Star Wars riff, but has moved more to SF in general: Rex Nihilio of Starship Grifters. The brand? Kroese, hitting on notes from around sf culture. 
One somewhat similar setting that was missed was Mark Wandrey and Chris Kennedy's Horsemen universe. The books are solo pieces so far(there's an announced shared novel). And only a few of the short stories have been cowritten. Here, the strength belongs more to the universe. Yes, it was established by two authors, but others are playing in it, and why is it working? Well, Mechwarrior and Robotech aren't doing the job, and I don't see any dominant anime now. Once again, we hit familiar notes.
So where's the alternate Trek(outside of Orville)? There's Starfleet Universe, but the publisher has done very little with it of late. A smart publisher/investor would buy those rights and do EVERYTHING they can. I don't know all the details of those rights, they may exclude film and tv. If not, Axanar should have bought them. But video and boardgames and rpgs there? They could move, and Nick Cole used Starfleet U in his Ctrl Alt Revolt!, not Trek.  Galaxy Quest did its thing(the best trek film), had some mildly amusing comics, and disappeared. 
I still maintain that the ST:U subplot in Ctrl Alt Revolt! is the best Start Trek story in the past twenty years. If I were a Paramount executive, I'd beg Nick Cole to come and save the Trek franchise. As it is, he's probably too busy walking all over Star Wars.

Speaking of poorly served fandoms, aspiring author Bradford Walker notes the conspicuous lack of  Star Wars forks that are pure space operas.
Like others, I'm looking to riff on Star Wars for my own purposes. What I see a lot is a shift of emphasis away from the Knights & Wizards towards the more underworld and mil-SF aspects. I'm wanting to go the other way. Space Knights, Space Princesses, castles in the sky, and fantastic powers capable of wondrous things- including wondrous technologies.
All one has to do is browse Amazon's space opera category to see that Bradford is right. That's not to knock Galaxy's Edge. Nick and Jason seem to have tapped into a rich vein of disaffected fans of the X-Wing and Bounty Hunter books from the Star Wars Expanded Universe's heyday. It's heartening to see those long-neglected fans finally get the Mil-SF flavored feast they've been starving for.

But as Bradford points out, fans of Star Wars' core space opera fandom are still going hungry.
Flat out going good and hard for the Space OPERA, and laying on the myth and fantasy thick (like how I prefer the frosting on my cakes). There's not enough of the fantastic and mythic in science fiction, and I'm fully behind the #RegressHarder mantra. (And yes, you see it in Legend of the Galactic Heroes, straight and subverted.) If you've ever seen the original, non-Flanderized King of Beasts: Go Lion from which we in the West got Voltron, you will know that "Space Princesses" is not code for "Baby's First Sci-Fi". It's hearkening back to John Carter, but played out on a galactic or universal scope and scale.
I see the term space opera thrown around a lot lately, and in contexts that make it clear there's more than a little confusion about what the genre entails. To sum it up, space opera descends from the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Doc Smith. Modern Mil-SF follows the tradition of authors like Robert A. Heinlein and Joe Haldeman.

Whatever your preference, here's wishing Nick Cole and Jason Anspach continued success. And here's hoping Bradford Walker can bring back our space princesses.


  1. Brian.
    As I suggested to Bradford at his blog,he could always mash up the underworld and mil ad with the space opera. That's what the original star wars had and itveas such a blast.

    In any case Bradford would write a great set of stories with just the space opera theme alone


  2. One of the things that made Star Wars so successful is that it is pretty capable of eating and then regurgitating ANY pulp or pulish type from Westerns to Noir to old black and white World War II films to the obvious: capes, rayguns and swordfights on spaceships. As the Clone Wars TV series showed, this got almost silly, when they did Godzilla in Star Wars, zombie apocalypse story in Star Wars, Train Heist in Star Wars, dinner party murder mystery in Star Wars, etc. But the funny thing is; almost ALL of them worked.

    I think anyone who wants to riff off of Star Wars but limit it to only a subset of what Star Wars is is missing an important point; it's to pulp sci-fi what D&D is to pulp fantasy; EVERYTHING can be absorbed and regurgitated with a specifically Star Wars remodeling.

    1. You're on the right track pointing out how many subgenres have been successfully incorporated into Star Wars properties. But you came just short of making the vital connection.

      The pulps didn't delineate between science fiction and fantasy. Star Wars and D&D are perfect examples. Both were profoundly influenced by Burroughs.

      No one's trying to limit what Star Wars is. We want a return to the anything goes spirit of the pulps.

  3. Most authors don't do as Mr. Walker says (and why I don't tend to read much of the genre) is because they're still operating under the Silver Age mentality that SF is separate from Fantasy and romance of the old definition. To get a truly wondrous old fashioned Space Opera story, there has to be a shift in mindset away from the Silver Age and toward the superversive.

    What I got from reading Galactic Patrol is nothing I have ever gotten from any other Space Opera novel and that is because Smith had a love that almost transcended the page.

    1. "To get a truly wondrous old fashioned Space Opera story, there has to be a shift in mindset away from the Silver Age and toward the superversive."

      Yes. Happily there are signs it's underway.

  4. Can happily say that in my first book, A Greater Duty, and in the Galaxy Ascendant as a whole,which is began, the line between science fiction and fantasy is very permeable. Let's Make Space Opera Great Again!

  5. Tangentially, the new Voltron series on Netflix is solid. It does dabble too much in anime goofiness, but there's some real heart to it and some great worldbuilding and characters.

  6. The most Star Wars-ish post-Star Wars books I can think of are Simon R. Green's Deathstalker books. I started reading the first one a few years ago but I just didn't like Green's writing very much, it was another obviously padded book, and the Star Wars connection was a little too on the nose (e.g., instead of Darth Vader, the villain was a woman called the Iron Bitch).

    1. Maybe I was in a bad mood when I tried it because it certainly has its fans. I just find that Green doesn't write pulp so much as "pulp" - a lot of enthusiasm but not enough sincerity? I dunno...