Tuesday’s post got me thinking about the kind of stuff I most enjoy reading. A correct answer to the question “what is your favorite kind of book?” is a complex beast and probably depends on a myriad of factors – everything from my mood to the kind of novel I’m working at at the moment of answering the question.
Probably the kind of writing I enjoy most is the quintessentially British humor of authors like Wodehouse, Pratchett or Douglas Adams. But I’ve read almost everything they’ve written, so that initial flash of wonder at their brilliance is no longer available.
On the other hand, I often enjoy a good dose of the classics, especially some of the 20th century greats (I especially recommend The Great Gatsby and The Remains of the Day).
Other days, I love nonfiction in various forms.
But if I had to be specific about one particular type of genre, I’d say I enjoy space opera and medieval-style fantasy.
The fantasy is easy to explain. Lord of the Rings is the benchmark there, and many of the doorstop series that began in the 1970s through 1990s followed the template. They eschewed social questions to focus on the eternal battle between good and evil… and are all the better for it (Terry Brooks is probably the prototypical exponent of this, but Feist, Jordan and Eddings–before he became impossibly annoying–were good, too). Escapist stuff, with little in the way of moral grey areas and absolutely no message fiction. It’s lovely to read stuff in which politics are absent–I can always look at my Facebook feed if I happen to miss that (hint: not likely!).
Space Opera falls into a similar space, at least at novel and series length. By its very nature, the subgenre deals with worlds so transformed by technology that current modes of thought and moral discussions are irrelevant. This has the effect of making even the political considerations–and, as seen in the Dune series, politics can be used effectively–interesting, as opposed to yawn-inducing.
And it’s only in space opera that writer’s imaginations are fully unleashed. The technology is so far from today’s stuff that it bends society and even what it means to be human beyond recognition. If fantasy is escapist, then this takes escape to the next level.
Unfortunately, both genres (like everything else) are subject to the whims of fashion… and fashion is currently dictating two things:
- Medieval fantasy is wrong because the social and political structures necessary to make it believable (feudal class structure and a society where men do most of the fighting) are very much not in vogue today.
- It is compulsory for science fiction to focus on the next fifty to one hundred years. And they must be shown as grim because capitalism will destroy us, and global warming will destroy us.
My only problem with the above is that those trends forget that SF became popular because, on one side, it was fun, and on the other, it presented ideas that caused people to say “wow”.
Fortunately, some writers have ignored the dictates above and are still writing about a post-Earth human future. The old sense of wonder, more mature, more jaded and much more knowing, is still alive in these works.
I really don’t think yet another post-apocalyptic society based on egalitarian political thinking is going to create much of a sense of anything. Ennui, maybe. Extreme boredom, perhaps.
But nothing else.
As a genre, we really need to bring the fun back.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist whose best space opera is probably Siege. You can check it out here.