Ordinary, Everyday Life: Good For Dramas, Not For Epics

Friend and good-natured troll Jon Del Arroz recently wrote about his experience with Tor’s blog, and it was on something that was bothering me for a while. Here was the paragraph that struck me.

Unfortunately, the promise that Tordotcom made in #SpaceOperaWeek turned out to be nothing but thin air.  The launch page really didn’t talk about space opera at all, just having some big logo announcing their initiative. The next post wasn’t about space opera or the joys of its fiction — but presenting a false narrative that women are somehow oppressed and erased in the genre (rebutted by the Hugo-nominated Castalia House who’s been active talking about the great women of space opera for years), a post about ponies in space,a post about the “underrated importance of ordinary, everyday life” in storytelling, and then shilling for a couple of Tor authors. Nothing else. No real space opera discussion at all.

It was the part about the ‘underrated importance of ordinary, everyday life‘ that struck me. I am not opposed to people writing about ‘ordinary, everyday life,’ as I am not opposed to people writing. Anything to get people more creative. I’m just not going to read it, and a lot of people aren’t either.

You think that’s an exaggeration? Surely, I’m projecting my own tastes onto the faceless masses. Well, not really. A little digging at a site called The-Numbers, which tracks movie sales and business, will show my theory in action. I took three ‘ordinary, everyday life’ films (Moonlight, La La Land, and Manchester by the Sea) and compared them with three heroic/speculative movies (Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy, and American Sniper). The results

For those of you who didn’t click the link, American Sniper is up top (war movie, with a side of patriotism), followed by Guardians of the Galaxy (space opera with a star-studded (pardon the pun) cast), both exceeding $300 million dollars. Doctor Strange (superhero fantasy with a martial arts twist) was lower, but still earning over $200 million.

Now, next we have La La Land (drama about a woman going off to Hollywood- not ‘ordinary, everyday life,’ but without any exotic elements like aliens or magic, or any heroic acts of valor, as one might find in a war movie). That grossed approximately $150 million. Manchester by the Sea (depressed man has to take care of his brother’s son, ‘ordinary, everyday life’ ensues) grossed just under $50 million, and Moonlight (Gay black guy goes through life in a rough neighborhood) made barely over $21 million.

My theory is that fiction in general, speculative fiction and heroic fiction in particular, is the incarnation of mythology for the modern age, though without the religious connotations. Think about the classical myths. They featured gods, sorceresses, heroes, monsters, magic, and all sorts of non-mundane artifacts. ‘Ordinary, everyday life’ has a place here, and it’s where the hero starts before he is torn into a realm of ‘extraordinary life,’ full of monsters and gods and demons and witches. Either that, or he is called to conflict greater than himself, and thus ‘ordinary, everyday life’ must be forsaken for something greater, usually war (The Iliad, for example).

Space Opera is an epic myth, with psionics instead of sorcerers, and spaceships instead of chariots, with planets in place of strongholds. The urge to focus on the mundane and the ordinary, when the very heavens are calling to you, is a failure of the spirit of space opera. It is beginning at the launchpad, and staying there. To focus on the ‘ordinary, everyday life’ is fine for drama. But for space opera, it is failure to launch.


Corey McCleery is a columnist and frequently top-100 listed fantasy author on the website Wattpad. His book, called Fever Blood, about a dragon-man who saves a woman and the adventures they have together, can be found here.

  • Jon Del Arroz

    Indeed!

  • ‘…we cannot help noticing that until quite modern times nearly all stories were of the first type – belonged to the family of the Oedipus, not that of Middlemarch. Just as all except bores relate in conversation not what is normal but what is exceptional – you mention having seen a giraffe in Petty Cury, but don’t mention having seen an undergraduate – so authors told of the exceptional. Earlier audiences would not have seen the point of a story about anything else. Faced with such matters as we get in Middlemarch or Vanity Fair or The Old Wives’ Tale, they would have said “But this is all perfectly ordinary. If these people and their fortunes were so unremarkable, why are you telling us about them at all?”’ —C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

    • Corey

      There is no way to go wrong by quoting Lewis.

      Someone had posted a link to an article in the Atlantic called A Reader’s Manifesto in a chat group I was in. I recently tried to read the Kindle sample for one of these books, called White Noise by Don DeLillo. While Lord of the Rings might not have the beginnings of the plot be shown in the Kindle Sample (which could be taken up by the ‘Concerning’ sections at the beginning, I have the physical books, and thus not on my Kindle), most other books have something to start the plot. Whether it’s the initial incident that starts the plot off or more, it’s there.

      Not so with White Noise. Everything in the sample seemed merely a random, disjointed actions, filled with awkward and bizarre dialogue, without any rhyme or reason, and from what I’ve read of the book from Wikipedia, the entire tome is like that. There was no plot, from what I could determine, merely jumbled chaotic events.

      It is a glorifying of the mundane by demanding that heroic stories and tales of wonder be stripped of their glory, and that glory is wrongly awarded to tales without nearly as much imagination or heroics. It is demanding that a small and ordinary town be seen with as much wonder and awe as Shambhala and Atlantis, while remaining small and ordinary. They demand an El Dorado without gold. And then they flippantly mock those who go to the work of imagining such acts of heroism and worlds of wonder.

      Expect more articles on this subject.

    • Terry Sanders

      In other words, mainstream literature is your fat pompous uncle, who forces everyone at the dinner table to listen to his retelling of his last business trip to Memphis, including his opinion of the warehouse manager’s personal hygeine.

      I like it.

  • Mrs. Wright

    The Like button won’t load on my browser, so…LIKE