In the introduction to his 1974 anthology Space Opera, Brian Aldiss wrote:
“Science fiction is a big muscular horny creature, with a mass of bristling antennae and proprioceptors on its skull. It has a small sister, a gentle creature with red lips and a dash of stardust in her hair. Her name is Space Opera.”
When I wrote my own space opera, The Recollection, it was a labour of love: a hymn to the girl with the stardust in her hair. In many ways, The Recollection was the book I’d always wanted to write, and I poured into it a lifetime of science fiction influences and daydreams. It was (still is) my homage to those iconic space pilots of yesteryear, and an attempt to write an updated, contemporary space opera.
There are many references and influences evident in The Recollection – some of them overt, some less so. And while you do not have to have read any of the following books in order to enjoy The Recollection, some familiarity with them will (I hope) enhance your enjoyment of the text. Or, at the very least, I hope that reading my book will make you curious enough to discover these classic texts, and the universe of science fiction within their covers.
1) Nova by Samuel R. Delany – A swaggering, heady smash-up of gritty space opera and serious literary ambition, Nova takes the tropes of traditional space opera and bolts them to a self-consciously mythical framework.
2) The Centauri Device by M. John Harrison – Harrison’s revisionist attempt to destroy the space opera genre spawned instead a renewed interest in grimy spaceports and down-and-out antiheroes, providing a key influence for the ‘New Space Opera’ of the 1980s and 1990s.
3) Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks – A rollicking adventure featuring space pirates, shape changers, sentient ships and interstellar war, which somehow also manages to simultaneously provide a deep and acutely painful meditation on the moral and emotional futility of conflict.
4) A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge – Famous for the author’s vision of a galaxy segregated by ‘zones of thought’ – areas in which certain technologies, such as FTL and AI, simply won’t work – A Fire Upon The Deep also presents us with a vision of a galaxy-wide Internet ‘chat room’, and the terrifying incursion of an artificial super-intelligence into human society: perhaps the definitive use of the Singularity in space opera.
5) Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds – In a dark universe filled with the ruins of older, vanished civilisations, gothic spacers schlep between worlds in vast, decaying ‘lighthuggers’, their lifetimes stretched by relativistic time dilation, their goals to shape the comparatively ephemeral planetary civilisations they encounter, and to gain a competitive edge over the other lighthugger crews plying their wares along the same lonely space lanes.
These five books are my personal selection of the five most essential space operas on my book shelves. If you’re a fan of the genre, I’m sure you have your own list tucked away somewhere at the back of your mind. Does it agree with this one? Feel free to leave your personal top five in the comments below…Tags: Space Opera