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The New Space Opera by Gardner Dozois & Jonathan Strahan
Review by Ernest Lilley
EOS Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780060846756
Date: 01 June 2007 List Price $15.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Hartwell & Kramer's Space Opera Essay / Show Official Info /

Editors Dozois & Strahan add their voices to the discussion of what constitutes the New Space Opera. There are some very good stories, some pretty good stories, and some that wandered in thinking it was about something else entirely. It's a pretty good collection but not quite The Year's Best SF.

Selected Story Reviews: Verthandi's Ring by Ian McDonald / Hatch by Robert Reed / Winning Peace by Paul J. McAuley / Maelstrom by Kage Baker / Blessed by An Angel by Peter Hamilton

In The New Space Opera, Romantics face the music, not the clear harmonies of the spheres, but the noisy and distorted soundtrack accompanying the clashing of cosmic civilizations.

The universe turns out not to be ours to win, but one we're only passing through, as Woody Guthrie noted. We might leaving a mark, or notůmore likely we'll leave garbage and ruins. In a span of half a decade, we have gone from a young species bursting into the universe to bring about a new and just order to a tired race grappling with the ephemeral nature of our existence.

Now, you might say that this reflects the aging of SF readers perfectly, but the authors in this collection are not, by and large, old folks. Many got their start in the last decade, and you'd like them to full of hubris...but society seems to be void of it. Well, liberal society, anyway. Conservatives are marked by their inability to learn (which has its own utility, believe it or not, but that for another day).

The stories in this book contain, as the editors point out, enough ideas for many a novel, no surprise considering the scope of the subject. In fact it's more of a surprise to me that so many of them actually manage to frame a cosmically sized story in the limited frame of a short story, and that some of the best are only a handful of pages long.

Not all the stories in here quite fit into what I'd consider Space Opera, like Kage Baker's "Maelstrom" set in her new Mars stories, where an acting troupe sets up on the red planet. It's good, but seems to have wandered in off the street by mistake.

All in all it's an very good collection, and as The New Space Opera continues to emerge and evolve, I'm sure we'll see more installments on this particular theme.

(Readers should take a look at Harwell and Kramer's essay: How Shit Became Shinola by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer as well as their earlier collection: The Space Opera Renaissance

Selected Story Reviews:

Verthandi's Ring by Ian McDonald / Hatch by Robert Reed / Winning Peace by Paul J. McAuley / Maelstrom by Kage Baker / Blessed by An Angel by Peter Hamilton

Verthandi's Ring by Ian McDonald - "War in space-time is slow and vast and bloody. When species fight, there is no mercy. "

Ian's story contains, as the editors point out, "enough dazzling idea content crammed densely into it to fuel many another author's 800 page novel," and in a short baker's dozen of pages manages to turn invoke and rewrite the heart of space opera. Themes form Doc Smith's clash of civilizations arise and are clothed in new flesh full of the sad and hard won knowledge of the intervening years. A brilliant story, and enough to make you want to run out and read Brasyl, the author's new book.

Hatch by Robert Reed - Hatch is part of a collection of stories set on a "Jupiter sized" starship found abandoned and now inhabited by myriad species hitching a ride around the galaxy. Here we follow the adventures of a man who is part of a civilization that sprang up on the outside of the planet sized hull, a man who wants to follow in his centuries gone mother to find a way back into the interior of the ship, from which they've been cut off since a war with an alien organism called the polymath. It's clearly a brilliant setup, but not light reading. I rather suspect that if you follow a number of the stories of the Great Ship you'll find them increasingly rewarding. To read one strained my ability to integrate the world quickly enough to get to the business of the story, which revolves around space pirates, lovers, and best friends...on a space operatic scale, if not in the old style.

Winning Peace by Paul J. McAuley - By comparison, the things and themes in Winning Peace are warmly familiar. Post conflict systems with soldiers from the losing side pressed into indentured service by shady men. Solar systems with stable wormholes, black market money disappearing into officials pockets and artifacts of an old civilization to loot.. We've been here before, and will no doubt return, for it's a rich paradigm, from the Heechee to firefly and back by way of the solar queen and the psoleotechnic league. With a stopover in jack McDevitt's universe and a touch of enemy mine. Reat yarn, from am author with a knack for hard sf on a big scale.

Maelstrom by Kage Baker is a delightful yarn about the formation pf an acting troupe on the red planet. I like this prolific author pretty well, but I have to wonder at the story's addition to this collection. Heck, as far as I can tell the play the troupe puts on isn't an opera, and the story isn't set against the vast cosmos, replete with romantic and tragic themes. But it's a nice yarn.

Blessed By An Angel by Peter Hamilton does contain a clash of civilizations theme worth of space opera, though it takes place mostly in an interrogation chamber that might as well be a generic desk in a generic police station. The civilizations at war here are the human and posthuman, though even the humans have immortality here, they've rejected having their cells pumped full of nanotech. The argument made by the interrogator to the advanced being is much the same as that put forth in The Matrix. Humanity's practical utopia has too look like the messy living, struggling, and ultimately dying reality it grew up with. Perfection and omniscience are dead ends as far as existence goes. Well and good, and the story is well told. Unfortunately for me, there's something about this popular author's style that annoys me. I suspect, appropriate for someone dethroning angels, it's hubris.

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