Posts Tagged ‘paul mcauley’
So having just started to sketch out my own definition of New Space Opera, I turn the page to discover Paul McAuley has already done it for me:
New space opera – the good new space opera – cheerfully plunders the tropes and toys of the old school and secondary sources from Blish to Delany, refurbishes them with up-to-the-minute science, and deploys them in epic narratives where intimate, human-scale stories are at least as relevant as the widescreen baroque backgrounds on which they cast their shadows. There are neither empires nor rigid technocracies dominated by a single Big Idea in the new space opera; like cyberpunk, it’s eclectic and pluralistic, and infused with the very twenty-first century sensibility that the center cannot hold, that technology-driven change is continuous and advancing on a thousand fronts, that some kind of posthuman singularity is approaching fast or may already have happened. Most of all, its stories contain a vertiginous sense of deep time; in the new space opera, the Galaxy is not an empty stage on which humans freely strut their stuff, but is instead a kind of junk yard littered with the ruins and abandoned wonders of earlier, more powerful races.
It is a fascinating definition and one that I will return to when I write my conclusion. However, the editors pick a story from his Confluence series which I’m not sure fits the bill. Deep time certainly but perhaps too deep; this is eschatological SF. On its on merits, it faces the same issue as the previously discussed stories by Banks and Greenland in that it is painfully cut adrift from the mass of other story that gives it weight.
The latest mailing from the BSFA came with not just the usual issues of Vector and Focus but also a booklet containing all four of the stories nominated for the BSFA Award. This is welcome because all th estories are available online (see links below) the printed page is infinitely preferable to the screen. The only problem is none of the stories are any good. They all cleave very tightly to the SF story archetype: take one idea and then pound it flat. So, here is my ballot (in reverse order):
#4 ‘Exhalation’ by Ted Chiang (Eclipse 2)
If you had told me before I had read the stories that I would be rating the Chiang bottom I would have told you to pull the other one. Generally, it is much as you would expect a Chiang story to be: typically rigourous, taking a single idea and working it through. Unfortunately it is a lame idea. Chiang sits us down and explains the terrible beauty of, er, entropy. Great. Oh, and it contains no dialogue which must make it slipstream.
#3 ‘Crystal Nights’ by Greg Egan (Interzone 215)
Likewise this is a typical Egan story. Some good stuff about artificial life let down by the total implausibility of the characters. At least it has got some cool bits in it.
#2 ‘Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment’ by M. Rickert (F&SF, Oct/Nov 2008)
This is the complete opposite. Like ‘Exhalation’ it is a well executed take on an extremely unlikely and not very interesting idea. The only thing that bumps it up over Chiang and Egan is that contains characters who are recognisably human. Niall Harrison has a typically lengthy, articulate and wrong review. God knows how he managed to write for so long about a story that, as others have pointed out, is like a modern version ‘The Lottery’ by Shelley Jackson. That isn’t a good thing, by the way.
#1 ‘Little Lost Robot’ by Paul McAuley (Interzone 217)
This is very much the winner by default. There is nothing massively interesting about it – a giant robot flies around the universe exterminating humanity before being confronted by its origins – but at least it isn’t completely bloodless. The stories by Chiang and Rickert are icily perfect and pointless, the story by Egan could have done with being a bit more abstract, out of all of them only McAuley is having fun and being serious at the same time.
Not much to pick between them all, really. They are all worth a read but only once and on another day their order on my ballot might have been completely different.