Literature of Horror, Fantasy & Sci-Fi

Course Blog for LMST345 Ringling College of Art

Space Opera is the sub-genre of science fiction that was originally developed from the high adventure tales of the 19th century, especially the pulp western and sea story. Using the conventions of these genres transplanted into outer space settings, this form of science fiction dominated the types of stories published in pulp science fiction magazines of the 1930s and 1940s. Space Opera was generally staged in large scale societies and across galactic distances. There are intergalatic empires, space pirates, ray guns, and faster-than-light spaceships. The plots and dialogue are often melodramatic and the prose purple, but these large canvas high adventures are still often the way fans first encounter the genre. This was true for the first wave of science fiction fans in the 1920s and 1930s and it is still true today for fans who first experience science fiction through space operas like Star Wars or Serenity.
By the 1940s, space opera was giving way to science fiction with more serious focus on future technologies, character development, and the fiction of ideas.

One of this week's suggested novel is Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold, a romantic adventure on another planet. Lois McMaster Bujold is one of the best writers of space opera and she is still adding to her long-running story of the Miles Vorkosigan family which remains quite compelling in its adventure and social complication.

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, one of the relatively unknown and terribly underread classics of Science Fiction is the alternate choice. In this novel Bester creates one of the most memorable anti-heroes of science fiction, Gully Foyle, who is about as nasty and impossible a hero as you will find anywhere. Essentially a retellling of The Count of Monte Christo, the 19th century novel of high adventure, this work captures all the excitement of space opera with deeper development of ideas and characterization.

The other main force in 1950s Science Fiction was fiction that dealt with the possible realities of interplanetary exploration, especially within the solar system. Interest in human exploration of the planets in our solar system has recently been renewed.  The novel The Martian by Andy Weir and the subsequent movie of the same name is an example of how those speculations, which adhere closely to scientific fact, are being dramatized for today's audiences.

There has been a revival in space opera and an interest in creating high adventure science fiction that makes the most of the expansive possiblities of super scale societies as it also makes use of the conventions derived from the western or the sea story. Joss Whedon's Serenity or Firefly series is space opera of this type. More recently the sapce opera that begins locally and enlarges cosmically is well-represented by the Wachowski siblings' Jupiter Ascending.

The English writer Alastair Reynolds is particularly adept at this in his short stories and his large canvas novels about Revelation Space. The SciFi Channel has been recently exploring this type of science fiction with The Expanse a series taken from the novels by James S.A. Corey, the pen name of the team of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. This series combine aspects of the noir detective story with interplanetary adventure.

If you are interested in the fusion of space opera and romance novel conventions consider some of the work by Catherine Asaro. 

Here is a link to the syllabus assignment for this week including a list of alternate readings.

As for the issues of writing strong women for television and movies these remarks by Joss Whedon are very relevant and on the mark:


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