After finishing up my review of Galaxy’s Edge – Galactic Outlaws, it occurred to me that there was more to say about the category of Space Opera. Some might say that I was a little unfair to social justice fiction fans. After all there must be a significant audience of fans with blue hair and cats who really enjoy girl power super heroes and their adventures in space. So, to say that these are automatically bad just because I heartily dislike them might seem arbitrary and unfair. It might seem that way but it isn’t. And that’s because I am the final arbiter of good and bad in science fiction. I earned this coveted status by living long enough to see everything in the world. So, once again, all Star Wars movies after Return of the Jedi (and even some parts of them before that point) are irredeemably bad and should be cast into the outer darkness where there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth. And that lines us up for me to proclaim what does make a good space opera. What follows is:
“photog’s RULE FOR WHAT MAKES GOOD SPACE OPERA” (patent pending).
It needs to appeal to the sense of wonder of the twelve-year-old boy in you. Now mind you, it doesn’t have to only do that. It can also be a brilliant philosophical treatise on the dualistic nature of the universe or a psychological study of the impact of technology on the human race, or even a deathless love story written across the stars of the galaxy. But if it fails to inspire the twelve-year-old boy in you it’s not space opera. It may be science fiction or anything else but it isn’t space opera. And this isn’t even an exclusive precinct of science fiction. Any adventure story has to satisfy that same basic requirement. Take the literature of the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century. A quintessential example that comes to mind is Treasure Island. Here is a story that was tailor made for the sense of wonder of a twelve-year-old boy. It has all the earmarks of the tale of wonder. The boy who loses his father, the quest for riches, exotic locales, colorful and dangerous opponents, the revelation of secret knowledge, the coming of age experience of the world and the people in it. An adventure story is a story for a boy that kindles his interest in the world around him. It leads him to think there is more to life than school and chores. It inspires him to strike out on his own and find his place in the world.
Now I can just hear the modern women and girly men screeching, “Girls want adventure too!” To which I reply “Stop screeching, you’re hurting my ears.” But also, I would say that what girls want is neither here nor there. Boys need the adventure story because it fits their brains. Girls have been told that they want adventure stories so they want them in order not to get left out in the modern #metoo world that they live in. And in fact, I don’t really care if there are adventure stories for girls. More power to them, I guess. What I do mind is that for the sake of inclusiveness they are ruining all the adventure stories that are coming out of Hollywood. And that is why I look for good old (and new) space opera and other adventure stories for my grandsons (and for me).
Back in January I reviewed Legionnaire, the first volume in the Galaxy’s Edge series by Jason Anspach & Nick Cole. That story was a straight up mil-sf story set in a future where the human race has spread into the galaxy and formed a “Republic” of worlds. At the point in this Universe’s history that Legionnaire takes place, the Republic is beginning to devolve into an empire, ruled over by an elite that controls the rich central systems, with an underclass occupying the rest of the galaxy and the edge of the galaxy as an outlaw haven where even the powerful Legion can do little but skirmish with the rebels and pirates that abound out there. By the end of that story it’s apparent that all the skill and valor of the remnant of faithful soldiers is being frittered away for political points by the bureaucrats that call the shots and wield the Legion as a bludgeon against the innocent inhabitants of the poorer sectors of the Republic. As I said back in January, it is an engaging military tale.
So, what have Anspach and Cole done for an encore? It appears that Legionnaire merely set the stage for the main event. This is going to be a space opera of epic proportions. And it’s easy to see what they intend to do is follow the space opera play book but dial it up to eleven. And in doing so they are following in a long tradition. Most recently, George Lucas mined that vein for all it would pay with his Star Wars franchise. His rebels revolting against a republic that has turned into an evil empire is the latest iteration of a story that goes back to the actual Roman Empire and the tales of Brutus and Spartacus and Masada.
And when I say they’ve dialed it up to eleven I’m not kidding. The text is full of little blatant references to dialog and images reflecting some scene from Star Wars or Firefly. It was kind of fun finding them. And whole characters are parodied. There is a princess with the rebels named Leenah. There is a plucky scoundrel in a freighter who rescues the princess. There is a bot that guards a young damsel in distress. The bot speaks with some combination of the diction of C3P0 and the Operative from Serenity. You can literally hear the toff British accent. And then to make sure you don’t miss any ingredients they are sometimes doubled. So, there are two scoundrels with freighters helping damsels in distress. There are two damsels in distress. There are two bounty hunters.
And there’s even a cantina. There are mob warlords with bounties on the plucky scoundrels. There is something like a dark lord whose name is Goth Sullus. So far there are no Jedi Knights but some of the characters seem to live forever so something’s going on there.
Suffice it to say that a lot of stuff is going on. And by the end of the book you can see that this is just the beginning of the story.
And now, what do I think of all this? Well, I have a theory about space opera. I believe that space opera has the potential to be very good or very bad. It entirely depends on the imaginative powers and writing skills of the author. Take an E. E. Doc Smith or an Edgar Rice Burroughs and you get the Lensman stories or Barsoom, fun and excitement. Take the likes of George Lucas and you end up with Jar Jar Binks or the latest Disney feminist trope with a light saber.
The good news is this is fun space opera. None of the damsels in distress rescue the hero. No one mentions race or gender studies terminology and the good guys aren’t ashamed of being good. I’m pretty sure the authors have included the homages to Star Wars imagery to sort of point out that the story doesn’t have to be bad just because of the space opera tropes. It just requires the story and characters to be interesting, likable and fun. And in this case they are. So if you like your space opera right up front without too much artistic restraint then I’d recommend Galactic Outlaws.