The Quest For Space Princesses

This past Thursday, over at my main blog, I mentioned how I saw a trend in people making their own Star Wars riffs emphasizing the underworld and Mil-SF elements over the traditional Space Opera ones- and that I want to go the other way.

This led to follow-ups from Brian Niemeier (splicing in a similar thread by Alfred Genesson) and Jeffro Johnson and just about all of us figured that the Space Opera audience just isn’t getting enough Space Princes, Princesses, etc. (unless you go to Japan; they’re rarely lacking in such Romantic figures).

We cannot allow a Space Princess gap!

While we have the efforts of a handful of faithful inheritors of Burroughs and E.E. Smith out there, since 1980 at the latest (There’s that date again!) we have (outside of Star Wars) a distinct lacking of Space Princesses and the other key signifiers of the grand Romantic roots of Space Opera in Western media.

Why does this matter? Because you don’t reliably get Superversive without some Romantic elements; they’re roots for a reason. (Hark! I see you romance novelists over there! Shoo, you uncultured barbarians! These are not the ships you’re looking for!) Like it or not, the way a culture embraces the Superversive can be found in the Operatic mythologies it generates and passes on generation after generation- and we in the West are terrible about this outside of Star Wars.

If we are to regenerate our cultures, then we must embrace once more the heroism that our predecessors did and make it our own. Space Opera–made iconic by Princes & Princesses that are commonplace–is how we do this best now, something even superheroes don’t quite handle, and until we do we’re going to be at a disadvantage.

That means that there is an opportunity, for those bold enough to seize it. Go for it, folks. Take up that quest, and bring us the best Space Opera–laying on the myth and fantastic thick–that you can. Once the West had them in abundance. Now only Japan remembers them so. Make Space Opera Great Again! Bring back our Space Princesses!

Hard Sci-fi Made Me Cry

Tired of the remakes, the reboots, the “let’s see how much more blood we can squeeze out of this turnip” output of today’s Hollywood? I think you’ll find Passengers a refreshing change.

If like me, you didn’t rush out to see it in the theatre, it might’ve been because of blurbs like this one from IMDB: “A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early.”

Sounds like a snore, doesn’t it?

It is rated PG-13, just under two hours long, and tagged as adventure, drama, and romance. What it is, however, is a story about love, redemption, and forgiveness. It’s about making the best of life, even when things don’t go as planned. It’s about the pioneering spirit, about a positive future, about what a man and a woman can achieve together.

“But wait, you said this is hard sci-fi.”

Yes, I did. And I stand by it. It’s science fiction because of the setting, a spaceship traveling between the stars. It’s hard sci-fi because it’s closer to 2001: A Space Odyssey in that it’s an extrapolation of current knowledge, than to the space-fantasy cum turnip known as Star Wars.

But what this movie actually is, is a great example of using science/setting as a trope, a literary device for delivering a character-driven story. The science is not the point of the story, but there is enough verisimilitude that it has a real feel to it (this comes from someone who can get really picky about the scientific details). Continue reading

Star Wars: When it sucks and when it doesn’t!

Happy birthday, Star Wars! The present I was hoping to get you is not quite ready yet. So instead, inspired by some debates on episode 7 (e7), I’ve recently read, I’ve decided to analyze why the original films of SW worked, and the new stuff less so.

Note that this does not need to affect your enjoyment of any of these movies. However, neither does your enjoyment wash away these stories’ flaws. I myself love to death the movie Pacific Rim but even I can admit that it has some flaws. Likewise even when they are great, we will be cracking these movies open and looking at how they work underneath which can spoil some people’s enjoyment.
Proceed with caution. Extreme nerdity ahead.

Continue reading

Jon Del Arroz’s Definitive Top 5: Space Opera Series

It’s #SpaceOperaWeek and I can think of no better way to launch my first regular Superversive column than to celebrate the genre in which I write and love. I’ll be doing more top fives as they feel appropriate, but as a writer of Space Opera, it makes a lot of sense to launch in celebration of some of my greatest influences. Naturally, these are just my opinions, so I expect outrage, disagreement, fist shaking, and the like at my choices. Just know that you’re wrong. It says definitive in the title, and we all know the internet never lies.

Without further ado, your Space Opera Top Five!

5. The Serrano Legacy – Elizabeth Moon wrote what at first feels like a light romp in the vein of “The Most Dangerous Game.” At the same time she has a compelling background with the Famlias and their political influence over the Fleet that both hampers and helps our heroes at different times. The characters are about the easiest to get attached to in science fiction, and when you get to the third book in the first trilogy – you start to see some really cool sci-fi concepts in a rejuvenation treatment that makes the elderly young again, and its consequences to society. Moon uses the universe as a backdrop for other stories from there, always relating to the Serranos and their influence over the fleet. From a pure fun perspective, this work is some of my favorite.

4. Hyperion Cantos – Dan Simmons shows the depth of imagination that Space Opera can attain. This series mixes literary prowess with Indiana Jones in space style fun. While the later books aren’t as good as the first couple installments, Simmons left his mark on the Space Opera genre and most modern authors riff off of his concepts even if subconsciously.

3. Star Wars: Thrawn Trilogy – Tie in fiction is looked down on quite a bit, and I actually will differentiate this from the Star Wars films, as we’re focusing on literary fiction for the purposes of this post. Honestly, this series stands on its own. One doesn’t even have to have seen Star Wars to enjoy the depth of character, the machinations of the supreme strategist Grand Admiral Thrawn, the coming to prominence of Mara Jade, or all of the other wonderful facets of this series. It takes Star Wars and adds real depth and gravitas to the universe. There are very few examples of space opera out there that are finer.

2. Lensman – The original Space Opera by E.E. “Doc” Smith. He wrote this over the course of his life. Two epic alien species the Arisians and The Eddorians toying with the younger races like humanity in order to try to assert their will over the galaxy. These books are short, action packed, and they have a great punch to them. This series has inspired the likes of Star Wars and Babylon 5, and still is some of the most impactful work in the genre to this day.

1. The Vorkosigan Saga – This is a series by multiple Hugo winner Lois McMasterBujold, which debuted in the early 1980s. Originally penned as Star Trek fanfiction, the world was launched with Shards of Honor, a romance story in space about lovers from two worlds with completely different values. Though this is one of the lighter stories in the universe, it grew from there as we next met Miles Vorkosigan, the series’ main protagonist in The Warrior’s Apprentice. It’s got sweeping empires, weird body modifications, a great fleet battle, mercenaries, spies, about everything you’d want out of a book. And while that book shaped my interest in the genre in my youth, the series honestly only gets much better as it goes along. Lois hit on every mark possible in space opera and plays with a number of different story archetypes.
Jon Del Arroz is the author of the Alliance Award nominated and top-10 Amazon bestselling Space Opera, Star Realms: Rescue Run. His second novel, For Steam And Country, is set to be released by Superversive Press this summer. He is considered to be the leading Hispanic voice in Science Fiction, and hails from the San Francisco Bay Area. He regularly posts to his popular Science Fiction blog at http://delarroz.com. Twitter: @jondelarroz Gab.ai: @otomo

Beginning of the End

Image result for spider-man homecomingI’ve been thinking of that “Homecoming” trailer, and I realized something: My analysis was wrong. “Homecoming” is the beginning of the end of the MCU.

Well, not “Homecoming”. Technically “Doctor Strange”.

I’ll explain:

Early in the MCU, there was no guarantee the franchise would be a juggernaut. “Iron Man” was a huge risk. There’s a reason they followed it up with name brand heroes like the Hulk and Captain America. They wanted to build a brand. Even Thor was a little more well known than Iron Man was, if only from Norse mythology. The risky franchises, like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ant-Man”, came later.

Then “Doctor Strange” was made. The Marvel formula always included background and side characters of different races and sexes. But “Doctor Strange” was different. Not only was Eastern European aristocrat Baron Mordo turned into a well-spoken black man, the Ancient One was changed from an old oriental man to a middle-aged Scottish woman. Yes, she was changed into a white person, but don’t kid yourself: This was about social justice. It was about adding a woman and changing stereotypes. Tilda Swinton was terrific, sure, but that wasn’t the point.

“Doctor Strange” wisely didn’t comment on this at all, since it had nothing to do with the movie, but it was an experiment: viewers were willing to accept changes to even more major characters without revolting.

And now “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is continuing the experiment. I’m sure “Homecoming” will be very good. They don’t seem to be attempting to do any commentary on racial issues, the casting for Peter Parker is excellent, and honestly it does make sense for an NYC high school to have more minorities than white folks.

But focusing on that misses the point. Now *everybody* who is a part of Peter’s world, including best friends, BOTH love interests, and even Flash Thompson, are minorities. Even if Zendaya’s character isn’t Mary Jane, they specifically made Peter’s love interests minorities. They specifically made sure to make his best friend a minority. And don’t think for a second that the villain being white is a coincidence – you’re “allowed” to make the villain white and still fulfill your social justice quota.

“Homecoming” isn’t the end point. It’s a test. It’s to see how much diversity casting audiences are willing to accept without revolt. “Star Wars” underwent the same evolution. The prequels made Star Wars think they were invincible; even after critical bashing, they were all still huge monetary hits. Thinking they could get away with anything, they started diversity casting with “The Force Awakens”. It was also a huge hit, but this time…there were rumblings. Brian Niemeier relays those concerns well.

But the franchise still doesn’t see it. They still think they’re invincible. And now, “Rogue One”, explicitly a pro-diversity, SJW film, as openly bragged about by the writers, is going to be the beginning of the end. Oh, it will do well. But it won’t do as well as they expect it to do. They still don’t understand the difference between a movie being poor and insulting your viewers.

“Homecoming” is Marvel’s test. And it will do well. And it will be the beginning of the end for Marvel, because they will think they’re invincible, and their SJW messages will get more and more overt, and, as always, people will get tired of it.

I don’t think “Spider-Man: Homecoming will be bad. In fact, I think it’ll probably be great. But it’s a sign of things to come, and mark my words: It’s not a good one.

“The Force Awakens”: It’s Pretty Good, I Guess

Okay, I’m about to say something really shocking…really, really shocking.

Are you sitting down?

Good.

*mumblemumble* As a remake I liked it more than “A New Hope” *mumblemumble*.

Sorry. “A New Hope” aged badly. Nowadays it comes off as very corny. Them’s the breaks.

(Yes, as a remake, not a sequel. The plot was paint-by-numbers the same, come on.)

Things I loved:

– Finn rocked

– Poe rocked

– Kylo Ren rocked. Making him a whiny, petulant loser was a brilliant idea. Following up Darth Vader with an even evil-er Darth Vader could never have worked. The whole concept of Kylo Ren was great.

– Han Solo…was actually not as entertaining as he could have been, but it was great to see Harrison Ford back in that role.

– I liked the actress who played Rey. Very pretty, at least, and she had a certain natural charm.

Things I didn’t love:

– Yeah, Rey was ridiculous. Her fight with Kylo Ren was a little off, but at least he had already been injured by Chewie and Finn. It was her use of Jedi mind powers that really got me, something Luke was never able to master until after his training with Yoda but that Rey got through…I dunno. Jedi osmosis? And, yeah, maybe she could pilot the Falcon since it’s been there for such a long time and she’s probably looked through it before, but expertly pilot it, outmaneuvering several trained fighter pilots in a high speed, low-orbit chase through tunnels?

Not quite the same as “She managed to fly it”.

Her treatment of Finn at the beginning of the movie was contemptible, and her fight with the four men who tried to mug her was ludicrous. Her sudden and basically inexplicable expertise at flying the Falcon made no sense. Rey Sue indeed.

Why I liked it more than “A New Hope”:

To be perfectly honest with you, there was no character in “A New Hope” I ever liked as much as I liked Finn with the exception of Han…who had a major role in this movie, and anyway Han’s very best lines came in “Empire” (which remains easily the best in the series and one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time).

As much as I disliked the character of Rey, the chemistry between her and Finn gains some genuine sizzle later on, which was good to see. Sure, the rehash of the plot of “A New Hope” was kind of dumb, but thought of as a reboot rather than as a sequel it works fine.

The dialogue wasn’t as corny. As memorable as some of the lines from “A New Hope” are, overall it’s pretty cheesy. I don’t mean to bash the movie. It’s not bad, and some people like that corny sort of optimism. I just liked this one more.

You can take it or leave it, I guess, but there you go. It’s not great, but it’s a very good movie. Highly recommended.

Star Wars: Aftermath

Heir to the Empire

Such lightning. Much Force.

Back in 1991, a book came out that rocked the world of ten year old Josh: Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire, the inaugural book in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. It officially opened up the post Return of the Jedi galaxy for exploration, for better or for worse. Most of the time I remember loving the EU– back before it was necessary to differentiate between levels of canon– and I only remember a few stinkers in the mix. (I’m looking at you,Crystal Star.)

Fast Forward– I guess we really should say “chapter skip” now?– a few years, and the trailer for The Phantom Menace hit. I was excited as the next dude, but I remember having misgivings even then. There’s a double-bladed lightsaber? I thought only Exar Kun was so skilled and savage as to be able to use a double-bladed lightsaber, and he’s been dead for thousands of years, but heck. It’s a big galaxy. Maybe this Sith lord is just that awesome.

Well, we all know how that went.

I said good bye to most of the EU somewhere along the lines of the second prequel film. It wasn’t just that the prequels were subpar, or that they contradicted the previously established “canon” of the novels/games/comics– and until the prequels came along, it was Canon– it was that they did it cavalierly, in little ways that showed utter spite for what had been written. The Clone Wars glimpsed through the lens of Zahn were something terrible and unnatural. In the prequel films, they’re a muddled mess, and clones, an unnatural abomination that felt terribly wrong to Luke in Zahn’s trilogy, are suddenly… good guys. Qui Xux was no longer the Death Star’s naive designer; its origins lay with some bug people on some planet in a muddled and incoherent conflict. Jedi are no longer the badasses that they were in the EU, capable of knocking Star Destroyers out of orbit with the force (albeit at the cost of their life), they were chumps who, universally, didn’t have the Force sensitivity to see betrayal coming. The biggest fight put up by a Jedi during the slaughter was from a youngling.

Anyways. The only thing I felt when Disney canned the previous EU was some sadness at the loss of Zahn’s wonderful villain, Grand Admiral Thrawn and quite a bit of schadenfreude. But then Star Wars Rebels came along, and all of a sudden it felt like the old Star Wars was back. And the Clone Wars cartoon turned out to be not half bad. And that trailer? Man, that trailer. All reasonable expectations went out the window the first time I saw the Millennium Falcon in the Episode 7 trailer.

Why did I bother posting a picture of a snack bar?

Not pictured: Me sitting at the table right behind Santa’s head.

So when Star Wars: Aftermath came out while my wife and I were taking a weekend in Frankenmuth, Michigan, I cheerfully logged into Bronner’s wifi and downloaded the book on to my Kindle, stole away to their snack bar, and holed up with my book, some deliciously terrible nachos, and a Coke while my wife browsed endless selections of Christmas ornaments. It was time to see the new EU! Lets see what wonderful glimpse of the future of Star Wars awaits!

And Aftermath was…. not very good. Really. I stopped reading Somewhither for this? I’m back on it Somewhither now, after taking a month and a half to read Aftermath, which should be telling. Yes, I’m in seminary and I have to spend most of my days reading Tertullian and a giant, terribly boring book on Christian counseling, but this was light science fiction. I should’ve destroyed it. I should’ve chomped that thing down into little bits, because there’s no easy like reading science fiction after fighting your way through Patristic era writers easy.

Star Wars: Aftermath opens immediately in the Special Edition’s added scenes of citizens rejoicing at the Imperial defeat at Endor. And then, wonderfully, logically, Imperial police come along and put down the riot on Coruscant. Because an Emperor’s death doesn’t mean the end of an Empire, y’know? After that, we pop in with our real characters: Rae Sloane, an Imperial Admiral, fighting to keep the Empire from falling apart after the massive loss of troops and equipment at Endor. Norra Wexley, a Rebel pilot, returning home to find her son after fighting for the rebellion. Temmin Wexley, Norra’s son, who tinkers with droids and gets in over his head with the local crime syndicates. Wedge Antilles, on a scout mission searching for Imperial remnants in the Outer Rim. Sinjir Rath Velus, an Imperial loyalty officer who deserted at Endor. Jas Emari, a Zabrak bounty hunter that once hunted Rebels for the Empire and is now hunting Imperials for the New Republic.

Aftermath is, largely, a long comedy of errors in which fan favorite Wedge is captured right off the bat, and where largely unmemorable characters do unmemorable things on an unmemorable planet. If this sounds harsh, it probably is. But Wendig’s writing isn’t to my taste at all– and I checked some of his other books on Amazon to see if that was him or this book, and it’s him– and he doesn’t do a terribly good job, typically, of making the book feel like Star Wars.

There are moments of very interesting things here, to be sure, but that’s all they are: Moments. Putting two and two together gives us a glimpse of why The Force Awakens has a First Order and a Resistance instead of an Empire/Imperial Remnant and a Rebellion/New Republic; the Empire is decimated, and a character mentions secret research bases in the Outer Rim, where the Imperial forces can hole up and lick their wounds. Most of the Imperials seem to feel this is a good thing. My inference is that they do just that, afterwards, and come back as the First Order and steamroll the New Republic.

B1 Battle Droid

Not pictured: Awesomeness

Another standout is, bizarrely, an ancient battle droid from the clone wars. Not one of the fancy destroyer droids, one of those goofy, terrible droids, that exist solely so that Jedi could chop them into pieces without getting the films an R rating for dismembered limbs. Norra’s son, Temmin, has modified “Mr. Bones” and uploaded a fair amount of combat programming into his head– possibly including Grevious’ skills– and some dance and acrobatic programs, creating a droid that is both hilarious and deadly. Mr. Bones’ fight scenes were among the best scenes in the book, and I found myself laughing, for the first time ever, at “ROGER-ROGER.”

Sprinkled through the book are little interludes that show snippets of life going on away from the book. These are largely less successful than they were probably meant to be, but at the very least they give you an end to the war that’s not quite as unrealistically neat as it was in the EU. One of the best things that’s been happening with the new canon is that they’re showing us an Empire that is evil— in the original trilogy, life didn’t seem so bad as long as you weren’t trying to overthrow the Rebellion. (We all know Alderaan had it coming.) But between Rebels and Aftermath, we see an Empire that will torch a village just to draw a Rebel out of hiding, and who has Soviet-style loyalty officers trained to be on the lookout for disloyalty and wrong-think. It’s some how strangely more effective, narratively, than blowing up an entire planet. I suppose it breaks the evil into manageable chunks.

All things considered, it’s hard to say that I hated Aftermath. I didn’t. It wasn’t very good, but it wasn’t so bad that I’d throw it out of the canon like The Phantom Menace or the almost equally regrettable Crystal Star. (Which, being part of the EU, technically was thrown out of the canon.) But it’s also not very good. It’s a very… mediocre book. The highs aren’t so high, and the lows aren’t so low. I’ll read the next one in the trilogy, but to be honest, a lot of that comes from a mysterious figure appearing in the epilogue that gives me a lot of hope (that I’m certain will be dashed) for some future awesome.