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space and space opera

jordan179 posted an index, which brought me back to this essay and inspired some reflections on it.  And Lensmen, and Asimov's Foundation series -- because space opera has another problem with great sweeping galaxy- (or cosmos-) wide events.

The problem is that

Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.

This gives space opera the same problem as epic fantasy: a threat big enough to endanger an entire world is big enough to endanger your suspension of disbelief by making the world look like cardboard. Holding off on the actual threat and building up to it with bridging conflict would help here, too, and spending a long time on the story to let you have scope for many settings.  It does not guarantee it, though -- both Lensmen and Foundation were multi-volume and lacking vividness of setting.

But any threat that threatens quadrillions of people -- what sort of threat would do that? And how do you personalize it?  And how does any character, even a leader, act meaningfully against it?  How could you meaningfully lead any structure that large?  Michael Flynn's Spiral Arm works with smaller threats but then a much larger universe.  The issue of to what extent the Ardry actually controls his League is brought up; basically, he controls where his Hounds actually are working at the moment.  It's still space opera.

Come to think of it, Poul Anderson's After Doomsday also handled the larger scale with action and adventure, and no cosmos-wide threat, because what could threat the galaxy, even?  Humanity, on the other hand -- the larger scale was a threat to its very existence.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 17th, 2012 11:14 pm (UTC)
Remember the target audience of the day, 15 year old boys. Fifteen year old boys get this grand and glorious ideas that tend to be a tad over reaching. Most likely because they have no real idea just how big the world really is. (Much like Japanese military planners in World War II.)
Jul. 18th, 2012 12:23 am (UTC)
Except that 15-year-old boys could also read about Barsoom with great glee. And that's where the adventure is limited to a planet. So they would overlook, but at least not complain of, more feasible scales.
Jul. 18th, 2012 07:07 pm (UTC)
But given that they don't understand a world how could they understand a galaxy. To sort of paraphrase an author, people don't really know how big the world is. They think they have some idea based on what they've read in a book somewhere, but compared to a jaunt down to the corner it is an immensely huge place.

And that's the difference between knowing and undertanding. With knowledge you have some facts. With understanding you have some idea as to what it means.
Jul. 19th, 2012 12:50 am (UTC)
The point is to put it in for the older audience, because if it misses for the younger ones, it will at least not obstruct them.
Jul. 18th, 2012 12:42 am (UTC)
I'm still kicking around a fanfic where someone from a sane universe shows up in the Star Trek universe and is boggled by entire planets being all the same government, like a mayor's office on crack. Then he meets the Romulans and the Klingons and all the other "entire huge multi-systems are all the same tiny little culture" groups....
Jul. 18th, 2012 02:02 am (UTC)
One-planet governments, sure. I could handle that, with a high enough tech level. Especially if it was colonized and spread out from that.

Monoculture -- I can stand firmly beside you on that. Unless the aliens somehow had genetically programmed culture, like bees' knowledge of how to build hives, and that would make them considerably more alien than the aliens you get on Star Trek.
Jul. 18th, 2012 05:12 am (UTC)
I'm not saying it right... it seems like they're big on "the entire government is in direct control of at most three people" style of government. My uncle is a small town mayor and he's got more delegation and less micro-manage. ment than they show in most TV Scifi.

Now, a big pyramid of management levels that end up encompassing the entire planet with one to three heads that can meet with Super TechnoMagic Carrier Ship? Totally different.

In a different metaphor, it's like extrapolating how a carrier works by trying to enlarge a four-man fishing rig, instead of layering or adding bodies to the jobs.
Jul. 19th, 2012 12:57 am (UTC)
Ah, that's a "budget for extras" issue. I grew up on Doctor Who and have great tolerance for imagining that six people are a crowd. . . .

Plus of course the question of clutter and whether all those people would contribute to the story.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


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