In the lounge today, Bryan Thomas Schmidt has stopped by. I’ve got some of Craze’s special handcrafted malt on the table today.
Space opera is a marvelous subgenre of science fiction entailing stories entirely or partially set in space. It’s captured the imaginations of many from the early days of the genre to the present day. A staple, especially, in genre representations on television or film, it’s also popular in literature. As fans and writers of space opera, I invited science fiction author Bryan Thomas Schmidt to discuss with me his own passion for space opera and what we like about it as well as our influences. M. Pax
BTS: Mary, thanks for the invitation. Like you, I’m heavily influence by space opera series like Star Trek TOS, Firefly, Farscape, and Babylon 5. I’d add Battlestar Galactica, in both incarnations, Buck Rogers and Star Wars to the list as well. I also really enjoy pulp stories like those of EE “Doc” Smith, A.E. Van Vogt, Robert Silverberg, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. Modern day authors who’ve influenced me include Timothy Zahn, A.C. Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson, Mike Resnick, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Jay Lake, all of whom have written space operas in series or standalone form, sometimes several. Who have been your author influences?
MP: The newer incarnation of Battlestar Galactica had some of the best space battle scenes ever. It was a great show. I was a big Stargate fan. I loved the idea of stepping through a ring to another world. What would we find? Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert, and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. were my early influences in the genre. Made me sad to lose Ray recently. Tanya Huff’s Confederation novels remain one of my favorite series. I also really enjoy Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler, and Margaret Atwood. I’ve read a lot of classic literature which has a hand in my writing style, too.
BTS: Yes, I think to be a good writer, we need diverse influences, not just from our genre. Bradbury was an early influence for me. I read some Clarke, because of the famous 2001: Space Odyssey movie. I have yet to read Herbert, LeGuin, Butler, Atwood or Vonnegut but I know I need to. I have Dune right here on my nightstand. But let’s talk a bit about why we like space opera. For me, I like the larger-than-life heroes whom I can look up to. I like the kind that make a difference and make me want to do the same, rising above their faults against the odds to bring about good. I love action, especially when some good character banter and comedic aspects are mixed in, and I definitely like a fast pace. But I also enjoy the political maneuvering and scheming that often comes along with it. I know I wrote a lot of that in The Worker Prince and The Returning. The Returning in particular has a breakneck pace and some action scenes that are 10+ pages of nonstop action.
MP: The setting gets me. What’s out there? I wonder so every time I’m out under the night sky and peering through a telescope. The frontier and exploration aspects of space opera are what I like best; the need to be self-reliant and resourceful. I borrowed most from Firefly when creating characters for The Backworlds — not always good, not always bad. I like humor, too, and the characters, atmosphere, and the story take front and center for me.
BTS: I love the exploration and discovery as well. The settings can really provide great opportunities for imagination, not just for authors, but for readers. It’s also a great medium to examine our culture and mores and ask questions about who we are, why we are that way and where we should go. You can do it without being preachy and while still being entertaining. I think the most recent BSG is a prime example of that. Babylon 5 and Star Trek in its various incarnations also did it really well.
MP: If the message is we can become better than we are, then I like it. But I don’t need a message to enjoy it, and probably like it better if there isn’t one. I’m a rebel in that I enjoy making up my own mind and not being told what to think. Which is why I believe Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 is one of the most perfect pieces of fiction out there. Pondering that enigma is what drew me into other science fiction. I loved that he left me to think about the meaning of the monolith.
BTS: Well, I’m not talking about a preachy message. I’m talking about the message inherent in the way the character reacts to situations and the world and the ideals they strive for in living their lives. Confidence that they can make a difference, that others matter, for example. Perhaps belief in honor or goodness, etc. Those are the things that inspire me when I’m talking about the exploration and questions. 2001 was very much a Godmachine story that asks a lot of questions and leaves a lot up to the receiver for interpretation. I think the best storytelling does just that. Preachy morals are a turn off for many modern readers but having characters you want to imitate isn’t the same as a message to me. Who are some of your favorite heroes and heroines from space opera?
MP: I’m a big fan of the anti-hero. I’d never emulate him or want to know him, but Jayne Cobb in Firefly is one of my all-time favorite characters. Mal Reynolds is a close second. Torin Kerr in Tanya Huff’s Confederation novels is great. Zoe Wash in Firefly. OK, pretty much the entire cast of Firefly. Loved Samantha Carter in Stargate, and Claudia Black in Farscape was fabulous. How about you? Who are some of your favorites?
BTS: I loved Han Solo, the anti-hero who become more heroic and admirable as time went on. I think Kaylee was my favorite on Firefly. I like Claudia Black in Farscape but Ben Browder is the heart of that show for me. I like Frank Compton in Timothy Zahn’s Quadrail series. Other characters, Valentine of Silverberg’s Majipoor cycle, Ender of Orson Scott Card’s military scifi/space opera Ender series and Bean as well. Those are off the top of my head. I am a Captain Kirk Trek fan all the way as well. So we touched on common tropes. In my series, I already mentioned using the politics and scheming as well as action. I used a coming of age story in the first book and more of a chase/thriller story in the second. I have aliens who are friendly and aliens who are menacing, a powerful overlord who is the dark antagonist, family drama, a kick ass love interest but she’s no damsel in distress prisoner (defying tropes), starships, laser battles and diverse planets the characters explore. Which elements do you employ in your series?
MP: Yes, definitely love the Kirk. I envisioned the Backworld series as a Firefly meets the Twilight Zone sort of thing. There are enemies and mercenaries, mysteries and loves lost. Successes and failures, survival, friendship and loyalty are key themes.
BTS: Interesting combination you have there. That’s great. And I’m glad people are still writing these stories for whole new generations to discover, aren’t you? I enjoy continuing to discover new space opera worlds and characters and it’s fun to watch readers do that with The Saga Of Davi Rhii books, The Worker Prince and The Returning. Thanks for the chance to visit Spacedock 19 and talk about our mutual love of space opera, Mary.
I hope the space opera always lives on, Bryan. It’s a thrilling ride every time I open a book in the genre or start up a dvd of one of the old shows. Hope someone airs a new space opera soon. I miss it on TV.
In Bryan’s second novel, The Returning, new challenges arise as Davi Rhii’s rival Bordox and his uncle, Xalivar, seek revenge for his actions in The Worker Prince, putting his life and those of his friends and family in constant danger. Meanwhile, politics as usual has the Borali Alliance split apart over questions of citizenship and freedom for the former slaves. Someone’s even killing them off. Davi’s involvement in the investigation turns his life upside down, including his relationship with his fiancée, Tela. The answers are not easy with his whole world at stake.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured in anthologies and magazines. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.
How about you all? What do you love best about space opera?