Archive for January 20th, 2013
The four Hyperion books cover more than thirteen centuries in time, tens of thousands of light-years in space, more than three thousand pages of the reader’s time, the rise and fall of at least two major interstellar civilisations, and more ideas than the author could shake an epistemological stick at. They are, in other words, space opera.
So Simmons describes his own work and he’s not wrong. When he published the Hyperion Cantos (1989-90), he was the space opera don. His poorly received Endymion sequels (1996-7) and a re-evaluation of the more problematic aspects of his horror fiction have somewhat tarnished his reputation but ‘Orphans Of The Helix’ (1990) is as good an example of space opera at this length as you are going to get (certainly within the pages of The Space Opera Renaissance).
It starts in the way of all the best stories: a distress signal deep in space.
The great spinship translated down from Hawking space into the red-and-white double light ogf a close binary. While the 684,300 people of the Amoiete Spectrum Helix dreamt on in a depp cryogenic sleep, the five AIs in charge of the ship conferred. They had encountered an unusual phenomenon and while four of the five had agreed it important enough to bring the huge spinship out of C-plus Hawking space, there was a lively debate – continuing for several microseconds – about what to do next.
We have artificial intelligence, we have aliens, we have posthumans with hundred kilometre electromagnetic wings and baseline humans with radically different cultures to anything currently in existence. We have vast ships and habitats that are dwarfed by the awesome scale of space. It also has a “threshing machine from hell” and it is a shame Hartwell and Cramer don’t explore the idea of the gothic as an integral part of the New Space Opera:
The Helix was a kilometre long. The base of this other spacecraft was at least a thousand times as long. The monster was huge and broad, bulbous and ugly, carbon black and insectoidal, bearing the worst features of both organic evolution and industrial manufacture. Centrered in the front of it was what appeared to be a steel-toothed maw, a rough opening lined with a seemingly endless series of manidibles and shredding baldes and razor-sharp rotors.
If there is a weakness to ‘Orphans Of The Helix’, it is that it is part of a massive future history which threats to burst the seams of the story, particularly at the conclusion. Also some of the characterisation is very cursory, perhaps not surprising given the number of players in such a small space; for example, one woman is only ever described as some variation on young, attractive or flaky. But really, the editors couldn’t have picked a better story for their purpose.
Mime time: I’ve decided three shows is the limit but luckily they were better than last year.
Not Until We Are Lost by Ockham’s Razor – This was described as an immersive promenade piece but this was code for being bossed from one side of the theatre to the other at various points – pretty much the opposite of immersive. The reason for the movement was that Ockham’s Razor are an aerial theatre group and the show was split between two bits of apparatus: a movable scaffolding set and a shit perspex chimney. Let’s ignore the latter. The scaffolding, however, was a big improvement on the last time I saw them. There was a lovely playfulness, a childlike exploration, to their interaction with the bars and each other which compensated for a performance that was technically very tame. Still, there were many points where I wished they’d been a bit bolder and more fluid in their transitions. As is so often the case with performance art, the score (by Graham Fitkin) was the best thing about it.
The Cardinals by Stan’s Cafe – Three cardinals and a female muslim stage manager are putting on a mime adaptation of the Bible. Sort of like the Reduced Shakespeare Company for God but without words. Or 90% of the jokes. Or, indeed, much reduction: this had been trundling along for an hour with no progress when an intermission was called. A foolish move since we left to get something to eat. Presumably some use would have been made of the frame at the conclusion of the piece but we weren’t sitting through another hour of interminable flannel to get to it. (I’d clocked this was likely to be rotten from the programme but my wife insisted on seeing it because Stan’s Cafe once did something clever with rice. They should stick to rice.)
Plan B by Compagnie 111/Aurélien Bory – Their previous show, ‘Sans Object’, was the star of the 2011 festival so I had high hopes for this. I wasn’t disappointed. With a wit and a fluency absent in the other shows, Compagnie are able to mine a simple but inspired concept (here translating the plane of the stage from the vertical to the horizontal and points in-between) to stunning effect. The piece is ten years old but still completely fresh. The French basically put the British to shame when it comes to circus and physical theatre.