Friday, March 18, 2016

Stross on a Taxonomy of Space Opera Cliches

Over at Charlie’s Diary, Charles Stross (The Atrocity Archives) is in the process of compiling an encyclopedia of clichés related to space opera. Excerpt:
Some of you might remember the Evil Overlord's List, a list of all the generic cliche mistakes that Evil Overlords tend to make in fiction (16: I will never utter the sentence "But before I kill you, there's just one thing I want to know."). I think that it might be a good idea to begin bolting together a similar list of the cliches to which Space Opera is prone, purely as an exercise in making sure that once I get under way I only make new and original mistakes, rather than recycling the same-old same-old.

This is not an exhaustive list—it's merely a start, the tip of a very large iceberg glimpsed on the horizon. And note that I'm specifically excluding the big media franchise products—Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, and similar—from consideration: any one of them could provide a huge cliche list in its own right, but I'm interested in the substance of the literary genre rather than in what TV and film have built using the borrowed furniture of the field.

List follows, below the cut.
Read the whole thing. As I pursued Stross’ list, I found myself puzzling over parts of it. Sure, many of its line items are eye-rollingly overused. “All planets harbour a single apex predator that eats people.” “The only place worse than a Colony World is Old Earth.” “Everywhere on a planet shares a common climate and the same weather patterns.” But others had me scratching my head. Do I really need to concern myself with the length of diurnal periods when writing space opera? Should I worry about intestinal flora when penning descriptions of cryosleep? Ought I to linger over the niceties of supply-chain management and interplanetary shipping? Then it hit me: This taxonomy is more of a breathless love letter to hard SF than a true examination of overused space-opera ideas.

Now, don’t get me wrong. What Stross has constructed here is which is immensely insightful and most definitely worth your time. But it’s worth remembering that hard SF isn’t an inherently worthier genre than the soft sociological stuff. Not every writer wants to be Kim Stanley Robinson or Arthur C. Clarke, nor does space opera necessarily require it. Similarly, not every readers is looking for finely detailed descriptions of interstellar navigation, extraterrestrial terraforming, or genetic manipulation. By all means, seize tired tropes by their roots and forcibly yank them out of your stories. But don’t think that peppering your tales with technical detail is the only way to do it.

(Picture: CC 2011 by Sweetie187)

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