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Defining space opera

What is space opera, anyway? Going by the discussion on the preceding blog essay, lots of folks are a bit confused. And so they should be; it's not exactly a well-defined concept.

Dave Langford and Brian Stableford took a stab at describing it in the gigantic monograph on space opera in the Encyclopedia of SF, but they (wisely, in my opinion) didn't try to give it a coherent definition, because it's a diagnosis, not a prescription.

I think that for a work of SF to qualify as space opera it requires certain features to be present. Breadth of scope is one of them: Interstellar scale is almost mandatory (although I think there are exceptions: "Tiger Tiger"/"The Stars my Destination", perhaps). A sense of wonder is necessary as well. The key factor is that it's almost invariably romanticist in sensibility, often overlapping with the gothic: if it lacks a romantic/gothic tone then it's probably not space opera.

I wouldn't call "Ringworld" a space opera, even though it hits the high notes on scale/sense of wonder/adventure—Niven's tone is all wrong—but on the other hand, "The Quantum Thief" trilogy nails the target even though it's not strictly speaking interstellar and a metric shitload of it happens in upload/computing environments. (Jean le Flambeur is a classic space operatic anti-hero in the mold of Gully Foyle.)

Discuss.

397 Comments

1:

Definition: any science fiction story that includes one or more clichés from the previous blog essay + comments.

2:

Sense of wonder definitively. Sense of scale, too. Plus seemingly big things happening. If it's not big, it's not space. Big ships, big infrastructure, big planets, big organizations, and yet, still so human.

Mostly, the idea that little old me could be a part of that big thing.

4:

Interesting question that comes up fairly often. Which just goes to show how hard it is. Or how rarely people agree.

I can't even say "I know space opera when I see it," because while some things definitely are (The Mageworlds by Doyle and MacDonald, Peter F. Hamilton's doorstops), I'm less sure of others. Is The Expanse space opera?

5:

By your definition, is the Majipoor cycle space opera ?

(romanticist : check, large scale : check, but all on oen planet)

6:

The Expanse series seems to qualify and it is stuck firmly in our solar system.

Musical opera seems to cover a multitude of sins. What do you think you should aim for in a space opera? The Ring Cycle, The Magic Flute, The Threepenny Opera, The (Space) Pirates of Penzance? (Maybe not that last one).

8:

Grandiosity.

9:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description "Space Opera", and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.

Oh, wait, that's porn. But same deal.

And yeah, Ringworld is not it, far too geeky about the details.

Hyperion, for me, is probably the most obvious (good) example of the genre in books.

10:

Grandiosity.

Agreed. Should have big ideas, big scope, an essential "ta daaaaaa" of the aforementioned real opera.

Everything should be life and death, including minutia like a shopping list. It's not just a shopping list, it's vital that they have this part and only one of them exists so great daring do is required to secure it.

Larger than life and ripe for an aria.

11:

Damn, I was going to use the Quantum Thief trilogy as an example of an in-system space opera. You stole my point. Bollocks.

OK.

I think the original Ophiuchi Hotline series counts (though the reboot less so).

How about Vacuum Flowers?

12:

Ophiuchi Hotline and 70s Varley eight worlds universe: definitely. 80s/90s Varley: much less so, if at all.

Vacuum Flowers ... I read it when it came out; can't remember it, now (nearly a third of a century later).

Okay, how about Wil McCarthy's Queendom of Sol books? Both the original novel (set in one solar system) and the sequel trilogy (featuring a single much slower than light journey to a single colony system, and back again)? I'd say the first novel has got the space operatic feel, even though it's all in one solar system, while the sequels don't, even though they go interstellar and feature the blowing up (or rather, the imploding) of worlds.

13:

I loved Vacuum Flowers, the cutting edge at that point in time seemed to concentrate on the Solar System. I can't think of Gibson or Sterling venturing outside it ( though there is another intelligence at the end of Neuromancer which is interstellar).
It's an interesting question, are spaceships enough to be space opera, or do you have to go to other star systems.

14:

Stableford's "Hooded Swan" - can space opera have cynical leads? Or Allen Steele's "Clarke County" - all the optimism, but inside lunar orbit? Even James Michener's "Space" - 1930s to 1970s, IIRC, and little space travel - but good at the scope and awe...

15:

Space Opera, to define it, is really a slippery beast.

To me, a Space Opera:

--Takes place primarily off-Earth.
--Goes for the same sort of scope and size that Epic Fantasy does over in the Secondary World Fantasy realm. This sense of scale really can vary, though and its not a guarantee
--It needs the right tone and I can't really pin that down

Ringworld doesn't have quite the right tone, even though its got the original Big Dumb Object (and more, like the Rosette of Worlds). But that novel is mostly a Wizard of Oz quest on the Ringworld itself. And thus not Space Operatic.

I think you need, for lack of a better word, multiple political actors and *players* to put it into Space Opera. Tau Zero is NOT Space Opera, to me, even as the ship goes to the end of the universe and beyond.

Dune is epic fantasy masquerading as Space Opera.

16:

Mild spoiler for the Expanse series follows...

The Expanse series is not "firmly stuck in our solar system" from book 4, thanks to an alien megastructure.

Which I would say emphasises the need for scale and sense of wonder. The first three books used the entire solar system out to Jupiter, and it still wasn't big enough.

17:

Queendom: I would definitely agree, the first book was optimistic and expansive, the latter books had the feel of an orbital version of "The Postman".

18:

Have you read the kind-of-a-sequel to Vacuum Flowers, "Stations of the Tide"?

19:

Well, hell. Isn't Iain Banks's Culture space opera par excellence? Galactic scope, fabulous aliens/monsters, ginormous space ships with planet-busting weapons, and lots of pulled-it-out-of-my-ass technology? In a good way, of course.

20:

"It's an interesting question, are spaceships enough to be space opera, or do you have to go to other star systems."

I think it's significantly harder to write it staying within the Solar System than it used to be. Partly because we know a lot more about the various bodies in the system these days so describing them in flights of wild imagination doesn't wash any more (no oceans and undersea cities on Venus, for instance), and partly because so very many stories have been written with FTL interstellar travel taken as a given that it now seems implausible not to have it. But neither of these are insoluble problems, and having come up with an approach that mitigates them it's basically just a question of getting the feel right.

21:

Pluto is a lot more interesting now than it has been since it was discovered. Also the outer moons. It's not the swamps of Venus, but it's got potential.

22:

Scale and Grandeur are key aspects of this - there needs to be huge stakes, great drama,and so forth. "The galaxy is at risk!" "The solar system civilization is at risk!"

You need high emotional investment and expression as well, I think. "Luke I am your father!". The best of this sits such that it can feel grandiose without feeling pompous or undeserved.

@Pigeon

I'm a little surprised that Alternative History fiction with interplanetary space opera isn't more common. Telescopes couldn't really resolve the surfaces of other planets until the 20th century, so why not do an alternate solar system where Venus really is a wild, life-filled world beneath the clouds, or Mars a dying desert planet? Or litter the solar system with relics of an alien civilization?

That said, some good stories are still possible. I'll always be grateful to Mobile Suit Gundam for making compelling stories that take place almost entirely in Cislunar Space.

23:

Of course, he went on my buy on sight list after vacuum flowers
Weirdly I had read in the drift before vacuum flowers and he hadn't registered, perhaps I should dig that out of the basement
I didn't see Stations of the Tide as in the same universe as vacuum flowers, though it could be, loved it too, Vancean overtones and just great ( I for some reason checked it out on good reads recently, and it not everyone's cup of tea, but I really liked it)

24:

I'd guess it may be because it's a pretty fine distinction. A lot of "classical" Solar System SF is set in a time which is - or looks like - roughly now, only with interplanetary space travel and often the Soviet Union, so it has come to look like alternate history even if it wasn't intended as such.

Still, as Resuna points out, while the new knowledge has closed a lot of doors it has also opened new ones. The methane-breathing octopoids on Titan, perhaps, or the renegade group of humans infected with an alien mind parasite picked up by the first mission to penetrate to the liquid layer on Europa.

25:

Colin Greenland's Plenty takes place in a Solar System where Venus is steamy, swampy jungles, and Mars is a dry but inhabitable desert world, in a book which seems otherwise to follow 1990s technological tropes, for the sake of cognitive whiplash as far as I can tell. (Definitely space opera.)

26:

I know I read Plenty, but I literally can't remember a thing about it,,other than I never retread it

27:

Is there anything useful in comparing and contrasting "space opera" with "planetary romance?"

28:

I wonder if there are story elements that are inextricably linked to space opera - ie stories that can only be told within the genre?

I find that many classic space operas, especially movies, can be almost as fun if you mentally transpose all of the shipboard action as taking place within hotel corridors and conference rooms. The eeevil empire recasts easily as a Goldman Sachs or Haliburton.

29:

To the extent that you may want to differentiate between them, planetary romance takes place on generally one planet, while space opera gads about all over the place.

One may be a subset of the other though, or possibly they intersect.

30:

I find myself in disagreement with Langford and Stableford.

I don't think "Downbelow Station" is space opera, nor "Barrayar" and "The Vor Game".

But I struggle to express why.

I think space opera relies on a background of epic, grand technology. If it isn't epic, it isn't space opera. But the technology must be in the background.

I see it in some ways as requiring the opposite of the sort of grimy, personal, intimate technology that CyberPunk was about. I think it was Stirling who gave the contact lens as the sort of new technology that inspired cyberpunk, in contrast to rocket ships.

Which still doesn't explain why "Barrayar" and "The Vor Game" don't feel like Space Opera to me. But the psychodrama of Cordelia Naismith's relationship with Sgt Bothari, and her rescue mission that decapitates the pretender Vordarian: they just don't feel like Space Opera. Too gritty, maybe.

As for Downbelow Station: Space Opera is about epic adventures. Signy Mallory of the Norway is just too, um, too real?

31:

How about anything which where the plot is similar to the movie or parts of the movie "How the West was Won" but is set in the future with space ships.

32:

"A sense of wonder is necessary as well"

Again I'm left thinking of cyberpunk as the anti-space-opera, though this time because of the dystopian cynicism of cyberpunk.

33:

I can see where you are going with Bujold, many of the Vorkisiverse novels are essentially different genres with a space opera set dressing - although the early Miles novels are overtly space opera.

Again the Alliance-Union novels - some are more space opera-y than others, but for me Downbelow Station would count, but maybe not the more planetbound ones like Serpents Reach & Cyteen.

34:

1. Space opera is fiction that pretends to be "science ficion" in that it uses a patina of unexamined science-like justifications for the setting. For example if you need people with superpowers you can't have magic, it has to be called psionics. For each magical element here must be some kind of wave in the direction of how there's some scientific explanation, but little more than that. They channel energy from an alternate dimension, someone understands it somewhere so it's not at all mystical, now back to our story. Ideally the setting is jam packed with tropes so you can have all kinds of technologies that are both wondrous and ordinary. Ray guns can do things regular guns can't, just like spaceships can do things regular ships can't. But when we say ray gun and spaceship you already know what it is, and in the setting ray guns and spaceships are ordinary to everyone there. Ideally, the entire setting is totally whitewashed so that nothing is not transformed into magical bur ordinary versions.

2. Most of the story takes place in space. That's in the description. Does "space" mean everywhere beyond Earth? If so a family drama set entirely in a dome home on Mars could be said to be set in space. No, set in space means that space travel is involved, and like ray guns and psionics it is an ordinary part of the setting and perfectly scientifically plausible there, yet easily grasped by the reader without lots of explanation. A story about the first spaceship cannot be space opera. A story about a character using a pre-owned spaceship for smuggling can. Does it have to be interstellar? No, but being interstellar helps with making things larger.

3. Saying that space opera is tinged with romanticism (enhanced by gothicism) is just a way of characterizing it's melodramatic roots. Emotional situations are exaggerated, and individual efforts are the focus. For maximum emotional engagement in individual efforts, the story is about the largest possible hero that can be wedged into the setting. For the largest possible hero, the stakes must be as large as possible. You can't just save the orphanage, you have to save the universe. And the hero must be great because of some unexamined characteristics. Displacement has a scientific explanation, we just aren't going into the details. But Sleeper Service's greatness lies in something murky, possibly the only thing that's really murky. The gods are not known by their external qualities, but their internal ones.

35:

so why not do an alternate solar system where Venus really is a wild, life-filled world beneath the clouds, or Mars a dying desert planet? Or litter the solar system with relics of an alien civilization?
Err ... I read this, every week in the 1950's
"Dan Dare"

Why do you think I want my future back?

36:

I think one of the things that makes it Space Opera in my head, and promotes at least some of the clichés in the previous post, is a sense of exploration and being out of touch. That gives quick parallels to exploring the high seas, pirates, boarding actions and so on. Not all of them can be easily rewritten but a big chunk of multi-mast sailing era novels and space opera could be transposed if you changed the technology and destinations and foes: the stories are very much the same but in different clothes.

So a lot of Larry Niven doesn't count for me, because although there are odd bits of worlds and so on that aren't known, and the Ringworld itself is an oddity, it's more like exploring the Marianas Trench - how you get there is well known, what you'll find when you get there is the mystery. The Expanse series does count even before it goes interstellar, because once you've got beyond the "little experiment" on Ceres the rules of the game have changed so it's exploring the unknown. It also does a good job of having isolated ships' captains making decisions because it's light hours to politicians and the shooting is about to start right now. Ok, in times of sailing ships and so on, the politicians might be months rather than hours away but it still doesn't matter when you have to make a decision in minutes or seconds.

My feeling is that a lot of the other things that have been mentioned spring from either the unknown or the isolation. Isolation gives you a nice tight focus, so you get a hero's quest emerge. Whether it's a quixotic windmill, a real human agency or aliens standing in for the dastardly French in your Hornblower analogues, the style gives you a nice underdog against the giant opponent tale, while the unknown gives you the room to throw plot devices of all kinds as hurdles in the hero's path.

37:

Well, hell. Isn't Iain Banks's Culture space opera par excellence?

The Culture is pretty much the type specimen for modern (post-1955, non-pulp) space opera. Put it this way: if the Culture books and setting aren't space opera, space opera doesn't exist.

38:

Try this:

A vast and wondrous space of intricacy and magnificent acts

Pigeon got it in one with 'Grandiosity'.

It doesn't need the magnificent absurdity of opera - there's a pejorative term in there, somewhere, from someone who hated Verdi and Wagner - but it does indeed need to be magnificent.

Also: it isn't just about one thing. 'Opera' is an Italian idea and ideal, which is best expressed in German as 'Gesamtkunstwerk': the fusion of all the arts into a unified performative whole.

So the one good idea and the one good character that make a good short novel aren't enough for Space Opera: all the arts of writing and imagination must be brought into the vast and demanding whole.

39:

Bujold never got a contract to publish in the UK, or something like that
I never got to read her till I moved to the States, and so I read her later than most
I, once started a thread on RASFW asking why she was so popular, because if you start reading her a decade or so late, it's like Agatha Christie
Great writer, classic themes, but not at the cutting edge

40:

Banks at his best, was absolutely fantastic
I remember once I discovered him having to hunt down his books at Forbidden Planet
And yes, if we are defining Space Opera, in the post era he has to be the poster boy
I was really depressed by his passing, so young, and so effing brilliant most of the time
I loved that he differentiated his M and non M books, rare. To be such a good writer that you could get away with that

41:

Conclusion: Gizmos are a dime dozen, what really matters, regardless of scale, is ineffable aspects of character. Quality beats quantity. Same with heroic fantasy. "Sure, wizards have powers, but I have a strong jaw and a determination to save the day so I win." Space opera is not so much anti technology as simply about dismissing the importance of technology.

Speculation: the prevalence of heterosexual male protagonists in heroic fiction, such as space opera, may be more than a consequence of any prevalence in the reading population (if any). It may be a reflection of the idea that the drive to be heroic is strongest in heterosexual males, especially young single ones. There's an impression that being the largest possible hero is the only way to impress the chicks. This impression doesn't have to have anything to do with reality, it's there over riding all other considerations. In an effort to be heroic, to get approval (and, often subconsciously, to thus get the chick), young males will move mountains, and even kill or castrate themselves. Women and gay men also have ways of seeking to be heroic but perhaps the character of it is slightly different, less of a "Tarzan rescue Jane" element, and probably the question is very much worth examination. Friends and family and community may be more of a concern. As a side note, the drive to be heroic often turns into a drive to be antiheroic or even villainous, if that's what it takes. Then there's the question of narcissism. This is what happens when you learn to masturbate the hero drive. "I can feel like a hero and I don't have to actually do anything heroic or gain external approval."

42:

The Culture novels feel completely different from the kind of American fiction that your list of tropes seemed to draw on: Star Wars, the Terro-Human Future History, the Lensman novels, Retief's world, Flandry's world, the Traveller RPG, ... Like Asimov's fiction, I see it as a different beast than the works on that list, and I would not call it by the same name, or the name space opera.

43:

Multiple narrative viewpoints are required for the operatic experience, e.g. the Culture novels fulfil this criteria but the Takeshi Kovacs novels don't despite the multiworld scope.

It's one of those terms easier to define by addressing what it isn't.

Interesting point raised above about the Cultures series feeling different to the more traditional space opera, perhaps Culture is representative of what comes next once mainstream space opera sublimes...

44:

I don't think "Downbelow Station" is space opera, nor "Barrayar" and "The Vor Game".

These are space operatic settings as opposed to space operatic stories. There are true space operas set in Cherryh's Merchanter universe, but "Downbelow Station" is something else (except near the end, if I remember correctly, when there's basically an intrusion of space-operatic scale into what up until then is a claustrophic psychological thriller about a neutral space station caught in the tightening jaws of an interstellar war).

The two Bujold novels you cite are similarly not space operatic in scope, but take place in a much larger setting that features space battles, feats of heroism and derring-do, interstellar empires, and all the other trimmings.

Again: while Banks' Culture is clearly a space operatic setting, and some of the books most definitely are ("The Player of Games", "Use of Weapons", "Excession", "Consider Phlebas", "Matter", "Surface Detail" ...) others are not -- "Inversions" most specifically.

45:

Banks' space opera is very non-American in sensibility -- largely because he wasn't American! Scottish socialist SF FTW. Nevertheless it had a lot of the same feel to it. He also dodged most of the cliches on my earlier list -- note that this is a good thing: he's the type specimen for the new space opera that showed up in the 80s.

What we're seeing lately is a whole lot of back-sliding towards the 1950s; hell, you could probably translate and publish Perry Rhodan profitably in the US market right now.

(As a matter of policy I try not to diss other authors in public, but try as I might, I couldn't force myself to get more than 40% of the way through Becky Chambers' "The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet". It's well-written and the characterization is excellent, but the careless deployment of cliches that were old enough to vote in the 1960s, and the total train-wreck that is its employment of technobabble (in the Star Trek: TNG mode) was like fingernails-on-blackboard to me. And she's not the worst offender: there are plenty of other space operas out there that make similar mistakes and are worse-written.)

46:

Cowboys and Indians in space

47:

Speculation: the prevalence of heterosexual male protagonists in heroic fiction, such as space opera, may be more than a consequence of any prevalence in the reading population (if any). It may be a reflection of the idea that the drive to be heroic is strongest in heterosexual males, especially young single ones.

Flawed: I think you're just missing out on the general invisibility of non-white/non-heteronormative representation among the male population in general (due to the violent antipathy of some) and it's reflection in fiction.

... But the "young, male, and heroic" angle bears examination: we're in danger of diving into Joseph Campbell monomyth territory here -- the Hero's Journey.

I think that while the monomyth underlies a bunch of existing fiction and quite a lot of myths, but it's not the only one (there's the female variant, which is arguably all about leaving the family/tribe and creating/gaining a new family). I've got an inkling that the underlying appeal of the monomyth is down the period many mammalian species go through around puberty -- humans included -- of being actively repelled from the family group they grew up in; you know how adolescent kids often find their parents acutely embarrassing, seek peer groups to hang out with, get restless feet and go wandering, and so on? That's a deep pattern that presumably goes back to pre-sapiens hominids, and if you look at the opening chunk of the monomyth cycle, it fits right in.

Hmm.

Also: the way adolescent males think they're immortal? Yes, that. Space opera/the monomyth supplies a fantasy of agency in which the young male can strike out on their own, gain skill, vanquish foes, and win the fertile reproductive partner (the "princess as plot coupon/reward" trope) with whom they will found a new dynasty. (With brass knobs on.) It's not even that hard to figure out how to build a non-heterosexual variant or three. Or a variant that's an adolescent fantasy of agency for girls, not boys (and the recent news about the Wachowski twins has me going "hmm ..." there).

PS: No, seriously, click that link to Foz Meadows' deconstruction of "Jupiter Ascending", it's brilliant if you're into takedowns of the monomyth (and bear in mind that "Jupiter Ascending" was, batshittiness aside, clearly a space opera -- a portal space opera, by analogy to a portal fantasy (person from our world gets precipitated into gigantic gnarly cosmos, has adventures: also discover they're the long-lost scion of the galactic ruling dynasty)).

48:

I think there are stylistic differences between planetary romance and space opera, but I cannot put my finger on them.

There is difference between journeying around a continent and island hopping. Planetary romance, as opposed to SF that takes place on a planet, generally has a very lived in look. Space opera's typical milieus are the bridge, the dock and the office of the President (of the entire world where the ship is docked.)

Cultures are described in detail and the protagonist is often swept up in them. That's why I would say even the Demon Princes is a planetary romance, not a space opera, despite all the space travel. Vance spends a lot of time showing you each culture. Ditto Wolfe's Solar Cycle. There's an argument that the Ancillary series is a hybrid of the two genres. Cherryh's Foreigner series is a planetary romance where they occasionally take off into space. I would also argue that Inversions and Matter, for instance, might be PR rather than SO.

49:

I meant to add Mary Gentle's Ancient Light as an example.

I think Charlie and others are onto something with regards to space opera being both a style, a setting or a set of tropes. Any particular story could be using any or all meanings of the term.

50:

That's a good distinction to make. Also: PR tends to have a chunk of the travelogue to it -- an SFnal cognate for the strain of high fantasy exemplified by The Lord of the Rings (which, if stripped of travelogue, would be about half the length).

51:

(And to return to my old reliable hobby horses) we go back to the distinction between Herodotus, let me tell you about all the old junk I saw in Egypt, and Thucydides, just get to the battle scenes already but don't forget that plucky strategos who almost saved Ennea Hodoi if it weren't for those fat cats back at command.

52:

Charlie says she has her reasons, for not writing as much as I would like.
But I absolutely cherish her books, she is a clear example of this thing is not the other thing
Huge range too, fantastic writer

53:

I skipped a large section of Anathem when Stephenson went into travelogue mode, I suppose it means you are grown up when you watch a movie or book and you tell yourself this is the chase scene/travelogue portion

54:

My small view, but I've always seen Space Opera as the combination of what people think Opera and Science Fiction should be. It's mixed together with the pulp attitude of "Well, couldn't sell this as a Western or a Gothic. Let me add in some spaceships and see if it'll sell then."

For me, when people think of Opera, they think of Wagner (Checkout the Met's Ring Cycle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hO8aJOyTuUg). When they think of science fiction they mostly see this: (taken from the Star Citizen trailers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZ369wYFsK8) or this if you want more classical music (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mvKNS9OUZI)

So it probably has very little to do with the actual tropes, structures and ideas of the various styles and genres, it's more to do with the aesthetics and stylistic signifiers.

55:

[regarding LMB] I, once started a thread on RASFW asking why she was so popular, because if you start reading her a decade or so late, it's like Agatha Christie. Great writer, classic themes, but not at the cutting edge

Beg to differ. Take "Ethan of Athos" - it's now thirty years old. Even after three decades, it should still make the new reader sit up and think.

Or her latest, "Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen" - I really enjoyed it, in much the same way I enjoyed "The Annihilation Score". What, an atypical relationships story for grownups, in SF? Brilliant.

Sir Terry pointed out that he could now write anything he wanted, if he set it in the Discworld. Police procedural? Political intrigue? Postal work, banking, industrial revolutions, future shock, religion, race relations? I suspect that LMB and OGH now have a similarly understood environment and loyal readership that should allow them to carry on experimenting, and challenging us by pushing things out of the comfort zone...

56:

... (there's the female variant, which is arguably all about leaving the family/tribe and creating/gaining a new family).

This reminds me of my observation about Cherryh's science fiction, that a lot of it is built around losing your family and getting a new one.

This can be bit obscured because:

The families may be metaphorical instead of literal. Also the matrilineal
system (without marriage*) of the merchanters, which is unfamilar to most readers.

The new family is often kinda sucky, because of the high general suckiness level in her science fiction. But you still need one.

* Actually marriage is not completely unknown, but it is rare.

57:

Also: the way adolescent males think they're immortal? Yes, that. Space opera/the monomyth supplies a fantasy of agency in which the young male can strike out on their own, gain skill, vanquish foes, and win the fertile reproductive partner (the "princess as plot coupon/reward" trope) with whom they will found a new dynasty.

So; do your galaxy-spanning heroic space opera, with engaging characters and multiple viewpoints, then kill off a realistic percentage of them; or a "what happens decades later, when the grandkids doubt / are bored of stories about how you saved the universe, you have a sore back, stuffed knees, the wife wants you up from in front of the TV, and you're seeing the kids make all the same mistakes" version of the wise and mystic wizard meme who mentors the young Jedi...

:) Admit it, you've never seen a trope you didn't want to subvert :)

Historical example: If you go back four hundred years, Scotland was a small country with less land and industry than could support all the sons being born; among its primary exports to the political turmoil of Europe and the Thirty Years War were soldiers of fortune (see John Hepburn, Robert Monro - and the number of Scots in the service of Gustavus Adolphus). Not many of them came home having made their fortune and won the hand of fair maiden.

58:

So, I checked out the intro to the 1974 Aldiss collection ‘Space Opera’. He put it thus:

“Science Fiction is a big muscular creature, with a mass of bristling antennae and proprioceptors on its skull. It has a smaller sister, a gentle creature with red lips and a dash of stardust in her hair. Her name is Space Opera…. Science Fiction is for real. Space Opera is for fun. Generally. What Space Opera does is take a few light years and a pinch of reality and inflate thoroughly with melodrama, dreams and a seasoning of screwy ideas.”

Here a few lines extracted from some of the stories in the collection that to me at least, are classic Space Opera:

“The hope of the universe had lain with the Red Brain. And the Red Brain was mad.”

“His eyes rolled. His mouth twitched. With vast effort he said, “Zirn! Zirn is lost, is lost, is lost!” His head rolled forward. Death rearranged his face. Zirn Lost! My brain worked furiously. That meant the High Star Pass was open, negative accumulators no longer functioning, the drone soldiers overwhelmed.”

“And there’s the matter of the newly established distance of the Earth from the Sun … And the unanticipated discovery of three elements that defy assignment to the periodic table. The disproof of Avogadro’s Hypothesis. … That’s too many milestones at once. I tell you the thing is stirring.”

“'Hurry!' Psychband screamed. Ixmal was trying to muster another two billion thought units when the alien warhead struck. There was a horrible shattering thousandths of a second before consciousness fled. Amorphic blackness. Night. Nothing.”

So, definitely 'grandiosity'.

59:

Familiar mostly with Vor and Culture SOs ...

Elements that I think define good SO:

Maturity/coming of age ... what this means to the individual, their family, clan/social group, species.

Succession vs. displacement vs. disruption ... some people never really change as they age, others do ... why?/what about their past/present/community favors increasing consolidation of existing traits and which traits do them in. Succession in a long-lived species probably could use some pointers on how to end relationships amicably. This topic area should be explored if only as a way to figure out how to deal with our own rapidly growing population of senior-seniors. This also leads to increased fragmentation by needs as each life stage has its own specific needs. And if large enough, one generation's needs can drive the marketplace and social policy (e.g., post war baby-boomers). What happens though when there's only 3% of the population per each of 33 different/distinct segments. Flexibility ... redefining 'other', etc. ... something that current western society is only slowly recognizing.

Add tech as both backdrop and special seasoning across all aspects of life, stir and set to boil/bake. Keep in mind that as a species we're wont to use very old tech just for amusement value (not pure economics or physics), therefore barbecues, roasted marshmallows and babies the old-fashioned way will probably never lose their appeal. (Lesson: No such thing as an anachronism in SO.)

Scale is multigenerational therefore must also be multifocal. Each generation goes through the same life stages, but because of whatever happened in the previous generation, the start position is different ... grand opera's leitmotif.

Lastly - grand themes like classic Greek tragedies with the gods updated to whatever the currently feared bogeyman might be. And, as in some tragedies, we don't always know who the real villain is until the very end.

This qualifies Asimov's Foundation series as classic SO.

60:

The meaning of the term has changed since it was introduced, and Aldis was referring to the original one. If I recall, it was introduced by the authors of 'serious' science fiction, and intended to be pejorative; Aldiss was broad-minded enough not to condemn pure entertainment. In the original sense, Bank's Culture books are NOT space opera, because they have too much depth and 'message'. The modern sense has lost the pejorative aspect and means something rather different, though I am not entirely clear what, so am reading this thread with interest!

61:

Quite a lot didn't try, and settled down locally.

62:

What about the majority of Alastair Reynolds, the Revelation Space books give you much of this but do at times rely on a big dumb object. However I'm thinking of the a couple of the stand alone like Pushing Ice though it does include the big dumb object and my favorite Sun of Suns. The Shattering idea, the multiple worlds us so many strange beautiful things going on and apparently a sequel of some kind n the works. Another I question is the Virga series by Karl Schroeder though relatively unknown a very interesting idea that has a dumb object that then by the end goes into a wider universe.

63:

Speaking of Asimov's Foundation ...


Anyone know anything definitive about whether/when HBO is producing Asimov's Foundation as a TV series? Their version of Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End wasn't horribly bad, so maybe they could pull this off. And, no, Childhood's End is not SO despite some thematic similarities.

64:

Not disagreeing, it's embaressing not loving one of the most awarded authors in SF
i do hope if I had read her novels when they came out rather than close to this century, I would have loved her too
But I (perhaps hopefully) think I had crossed some sort of threshold that SF had gone too

65:

For me Space Opera usually can be "would be fantasy except there are space ships" (for example, Star Wars), but I've noticed that my definition is stretched a bit to include stories of staggering breadth and scope (as a whole I've realized that I view the Honorverse books as Space Opera due to their scale)

66:

"Pushing Ice" is hard science fiction at first, then becomes very reminiscent of a Ringworld, to me. The "Revelation Space" series is space opera, except for maybe "Chasm City". Volyova is an especially good example of an alternative approach to a hero. "The Prefect" is even more archetypal space opera, and set in one solar system. What's required is a world of worlds, which can exist in a single solar system if you aren't stuck on planets. Just converting the titanium on Luna into modified Oniel cylinders would provide millions of really huge ones. I just don't know why Reynolds doesn't set some stories in the galaxy after everything in every solar system has been broken up into tiny planetoids. Maybe people will live on them.

67:

I think we both agree that they were the sensible ones who you'd actually want as a neighbour...

68:

In his book "On Writing" Stephen King says basically that theme or message is something you bring out in the second draft by highlighting the theme your subconscious put into the story. Sitting down with a theme or message first, the way works are analyzed in a literature class, is a sure way to failure. Maybe that's just him.

69:

One thing I'm thinking about is character depth. I feel that one of the tradeoffs that comes with grandiosity is that characters are defined by fewer, iconic characteristics, rather than many, individual idiosyncrasies. But... does it have to be that way? Not sure.

70:

And yet there's a US writer whose series is definitely "Opera set in space" (Rather than space-opera, where the "heroes" are ordinary people, doing their best, & becoming extraordinary thereby ... that breaks just about every rule in the books, yet is magnificent.
U K le G's Hainish cycle.

Oh I put a post in & it vanished ... why not use real opera?
There are at least two operatic & two theatre-plots that are "made" for space opera ....
Monteverdi: "The Return of Ulysses (to his home country)
Many composers: Orpheus ( & Euridice )
The Tempest, of course &
also "Twelfth Night" where the main female protagonist is washed up on the shore of an unknown country ....

71:

Same with heroic fantasy. "Sure, wizards have powers, but I have a strong jaw and a determination to save the day so I win."

Has anyone ever deconstructed that? As in, fantasy story with strong-jawed determined hero, but ultimately the victory goes to whichever side has the biggest industrial base to supply their wizards with whatever wizards need?

Sprague de Camp sort of did that in "The Reluctant King" trilogy, but none of his strong-jawed heroes take themselves very seriously (especially the protagonist), so the deconstruction lacks bite.

72:

What Wagner, where?
That link went to "Miami iIce or some such ... err ....

73:

Is it possible to watch this in the UK, without going through multiple hoops?
You Tube seems none to helpful at the moment ....

74:

Oh I put a post in & it vanished ... why not use real opera?

Stephen Donaldson's Gap series is explicitly based on Wagner's Ring cycle. It's dire, but not because of the borrowed plot: it contains plenty of the cliches considered in the last post, together with infodumps of complete and utter twaddle, an inability to do basic arithmetic, and characters of premium recycled cardboard (it was recommended to me by a colleague whose taste is usually good...still haven't quite forgiven him...).

75:

Not one of my favourite writers! Quite a lot of science fiction writers SAY they start off by thinking "Let's explore this idea", which is a case of theme first. I agree that the didactic approach (i.e. message first) is usually irritating (Ayn Rand, anyone?), but the complete absence of a message (not even "this idea might work this way") is a sign that the idea has not been properly explored.

And space opera, in the old sense, often had no message (and often not much of a theme): e.g. Lensman, Barsoom, Gor. Entertaining, but not exactly thought-provoking. The modern sense is somewhat different.

76:

That's because (outside of steampunk) that's not the mentality of folks who read and write alternate history.

Alternate history is for historians, anthropologists, and sociologists what science fiction is for engineers and scientists - a space where they can stretch out their knowledge, models, and theories in such a way as to test their limits. Adding alien artifacts takes away from the whole fun. That's the same reason there's very little alternate history that predates Mesopotamia. It's outside the knowledge field of the authors and audience.

This is the same reason comparatively little science fiction has a scale larger than one galactic cluster. To do so you would have to account for a large amount of the fundamental structure of the universe (which is not that well understood). Better to stay within the safe zone where you can ignore such uncomfortable realities as the difference between the obervable universe and the whole actual universe (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observable_universe). I know that's a lame example, but I have little knowledge in cosmology larger than a galaxy.

77:

After reading Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, decided I didn't like Donaldson for the same reason, i.e., cardboard characters and that all interpersonal interactions are based on only one relationship premise. Grown up human relationships change dynamically, so are more tangled and interesting.


And ... thanks very much for explaining quantum dots, etc. on the previous topic thread!

78:

Inversions is a Culture novel only if you already know about the Culture, and then pretty much only by implication. (I did love it.)

79:
This reminds me of my observation about Cherryh's science fiction, that a lot of it is built around losing your family and getting a new one.
A lot of writers have dominant themes: Sturgeon (love), Dick (what is reality?), Budrys (who am I?), just to mention a few. Doesn't hurt if the writer is good.
80:

So, I checked out the intro to the 1974 Aldiss collection ‘Space Opera’. ...

Here are a few lines extracted from some of the stories in the collection that to me at least, are classic Space Opera: ...

“His eyes rolled. His mouth twitched. With vast effort he said, “Zirn! Zirn is lost, is lost, is lost!” His head rolled forward. Death rearranged his face. Zirn Lost! My brain worked furiously. That meant the High Star Pass was open, negative accumulators no longer functioning, the drone soldiers overwhelmed.”

Minor quibble: that one is not genuine space opera, but a spoof thereon by Robert Sheckley: "Zirn Left Unguarded, The Jenghik Palace in Flames, Jon Westerley Dead", collected in The Robot Who Looked Like Me.

When first reading the thread, by the way, I realised that for me, the quintessential space-operatic novel would probably be Charles Harness's The Paradox Men. For those who would like to investigate the physics of plasma-temperature quantum dots (if any), there's even a visit to the surface of the Sun.

81:

Yes, I agree that there is plenty of fiction published today which uses tropes which conservative, science-oriented writers were merrily deconstructing in the 1950s.

I could not get through one Culture novel. Like Douglas Adams, it just was not my cup of tea. Since when I look at your list of examples of space opera I don't feel that they have important features in common, I will drop out of this conversation.

82:

Sitting down with a theme or message first, the way works are analyzed in a literature class, is a sure way to failure. Maybe that's just him.

News just in: it's just him.

(More specifically: sometimes that's how I work ... but sometimes I decide to write a novel around a theme, and the theme comes first. There's more than one way to write a novel.)

83:

And to take the theme of Opera a little bit further, one could characterize the work of Suzette Haden Elgin as Grand Old Space Opry (cf Nashville) due to her extremely strong Appalachian roots. Since she had a doctorate in linguistics, she knew exactly what she was doing when she set the Ozark trilogy to Appalachian music (even though upon a later reading one suddenly understands why Responsible of Brightwater has so much trouble getting people to listen to her). But reading her work is a delight for those with the right ear.

84:

"Is it possible to watch this in the UK, without going through multiple hoops?"

You only need quite simple hoops, and the words "PirateBay proxy".

85:

It's the only correct way to write a novel. Except for all the others.

86:

Has anyone ever deconstructed that? As in, fantasy story with strong-jawed determined hero, but ultimately the victory goes to whichever side has the biggest industrial base to supply their wizards with whatever wizards need?

Input with a not-very-good camera — sorry.

87:

I think the essential thing about Space Opera, modern or not, isn't the scale, but the scale of the agency.

Star Wars is about the fate of the galaxy and has planets blown up for tactical advantage. Culture warfare casualty lists include stars. Ringworld's original kick had a lot to do with subverting the trope by how completely the protagonists lack agency on the scale of the artifact they came to explore. Lensman starts off with fate-of-nations and ends with indescribable violence ending a war older than most of the species fighting it.

And, critically, at least some of the viewpoints are the ones pushing the button.

Planetary Romance, on the other hand, may use the same furniture but it's not about that scale of agency, it's about people. (As reflected in various metaphorical or literal journeys.)

88:

"Pirate Bay Proxy"
Is that legal in the UK & where do I start, apart form a google-search, just in case?

89:

And, critically, at least some of the viewpoints are the ones pushing the button.
Yeah, well .. reverting to Mr Weber, which is certainly "romantic" fiction in the 18/19th C sense of the term.
The Treecats have not signed the Eridani edict, have they?

90:

Shall we attempt the formal?

He advocated that opera seria had to return to basics and that all the various elements—music (both instrumental and vocal), ballet, and staging—must be subservient to the overriding drama.

Francesco Algarotti

A dirty translation:

Elements-Music: Dialogue / cultural spice [aka tone]
Ballet: Action
Staging: World Building / Lore

Drama: Narrative Arc / Story


In this example, we can clearly see why certain SF is called "Space Opera" and not.

It's a fairly concrete element of, say, the Gridlinked series.

~


Is there contention around the tripartite model cusped by the emergence Drama?

91:

To me, Space Opera is effectively Adventure, Western, Historical wars or Exploration stories, IN SPACE!

Wagon train to the stars, sea space battles with Monsters From The Deeps, rows of warships facing off in defence of the Planet/Empire/Plucky Last Stand.

The stakes can be as large as the fates of worlds, or as small as the survival of a single ship against the odds.

The feel though is of relatively rapid easy travel between benign environments, whether they be in our solar system or interstellar. Normally there is a frontier mentality, since that is where the *interesting* stories happen, compared with the settled worlds at the core.

Effectively, Space Opera to me is the default setting for writing stories IN SPACE, with all the cheat codes enabled. If you start restricting yourself as an author, you'll soon end up in one of the other subgenres. If you write people focussed, it could be planetary romance. If you write where FTL is impossible, it rapidly becomes Hard SF or Near Future. However it isn't space fantasy - the handwavium tech is quite necessary to the story, rather than the setting driving the plot.

Compare and contrast Weber's Honorverse with Feintuch's Seafort saga, against say Temeraire which is clearly fantasy.

92:

If you have access to the Sky, Childhood's End begins on Sky1 this coming Thursday.

93:

@90 I don't understand the distinction between narrative arc and action or dialogue. Drama is suspenseful tension that comes from character driven interpersonal conflict. Like setting, it should fuel plot and narrative arc but isn't either of them. Then action and dialogue come from the narrative arc generated by the drama. I mean, that's the way I read it. Furthermore, movies are the new unified art form, replacing opera. They bring all the other arts together. In that medium a nearly quintessential space opera is the Riddick movies.

@91 I just don't see how there's a danger of a space opera becoming hard science fiction so that it's no longer space opera. It's possible to have more or less hard space opera, at least up to a 4.5 or 5 on the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MohsScaleOfScienceFictionHardness
Though I like the Culture I usually find unjustified FTL a jarring problem that mysterious energy sources and radiation shields, or even antigravity, are not. That's part of why I liked the Expanse series, Reynolds' "Revelation Space", and Westerfeld's "Risen Empire" so much.

"One gravity is defined as 10 meters per second squared acceleration. The Emperor has decreed that the speed of light shall remain as nature has provided."

94:

Treecats are recognised as citizens of the Manticore Empire, so if the Manticore Empire signs up for some interstellar agreement, they're bound by it. (Standard cliche of aliens living in a compatible biosphere, being comprehensible, etc.)

The Eridani Edict is David Weber's solution to the problem of fractional-C asteroids in space opera. It's not an opt-in agreement banning weapons that could end a planetary civilisation; it's an agreement that if anyone does drop a dinosaur killer on another planet, the signees to the Eridani Edict will obliterate the perpetrator's world. Mutual assured destruction.

95:

I remember an old Jackie Chan movie where, at the climax, he uses his kung fu to beat the head of the occupying Japanese karate school. Then he leads his countrymen in a revolt against the occupiers. At that point, the Japanese break out the guns and all the heroic characters die.

It was a bit like the fourth season of Blackadder, just in China and twenty years later. And with more kung fu, obviously.

96:

Can I be with Jack Vance here, and expect that "there's an opera company on board a starship" is the minimum requirement for a book to be called 'Space Opera'???

And we generalise from there. Is it Wagner or Elgar?

97:

@93,

I agree that you can definitely get very hard SF as Space Opera, though I can't think of a good example offhand. Stephen Baxter's Xeelee maybe?

Rather I think that if you've gone for a 4.5-5 Moh setting, you're probably targeting a different segment of the market to traditional Space Opera enthusiasts, who are much more in the 2-3.5 Moh range, and are more likely to Protest Too Much about how your work is Different. I'm thinking the Margaret Atwood of space stories.

Certainly a lot of people love to divide everything up into finer and finer categories with themselves in appropriate areas, which may well explain a lot of why "I know it when I read it" is so prevalent.

98:

Accessing PirateBay via a proxy, because your local ISP has blacklisted it, is legal. So is having a copy of uTorrent. So is using the combination to download non copyrighted material.
OTOH, you download Childhood's End and you are a criminal.

99:

I do like that juxtaposition of Lensman and Barsoom. From one end of the scale to the other, as it were. As a series of quest tales set on a single small planet, without even any space travel (apart from the magic by which John Carter gets there in the first place), Barsoom stands on the border between SO and "classic" fantasy. It seems to me that awareness of that connection is a useful indicator of what kind of "feel" we are dealing with.

100:

Thanks for that link to the comparison of The Matrix and Jupiter Ascending. I'll give JA another try.

Since you opened the door to movies...

Do Galaxy Quest, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spaceballs and Hitchhikers Guide count? If so, add some Despicable Me - Someone stole the black hole at the center of the galaxy and terrible consequences will resort. With all the dark dreariness of the current Star Wars and superhero stories, I think something that is actually funny and entertaining could do well.

101:
PS: No, seriously, click that link to Foz Meadows' deconstruction of "Jupiter Ascending", it's brilliant if you're into takedowns of the monomyth (and bear in mind that "Jupiter Ascending" was, batshittiness aside, clearly a space opera

Hmm, seems reminiscent to me the myth of Procrustes - these narratives WILL fit my argument.

And as for

In other words, and despite their many similarities otherwise, The Matrix is gritty, dark and stereotypically masculine, while Jupiter Ascending is bright, hopeful and stereotypically feminine

are we going to start referencing puppy dog tails as well? dark = masculine, bright = feminine; good grief ...

Jupiter Ascending was flagrantly space opera of a look they seem to have stopped making. The worlds in movie SF are grungy, bland, and broken down now it seems; hopeful, positive, ostentatious and shiny don't sell. If the hero wins out at all it's by 'escaping', not improving. Most of the time it ends up being 'be happy where you are' (a failing that JA suffers from in spades - sure a bog cleaner is going to go back to work after inheriting the world, literally).

I'd suggest space opera also gets defined by having a certain 'positiveness' in it's world building (even if the story is full of trouble), in that it says "yes, the world can be bigger and more grand than the one you live in - things can be better than this".

102:

We have various people saying that a Space Opera setting is not enough to make a story Space Opera - with examples of some novels in a setting being Space Opera and others not.

Graydon then argues that to meet the 'scale' criteria necessary to be Space Opera the story needs to be about (in some sense of about) those who are doing things on an epic scale: blowing up planets being the main example.

I think that's insightful - at least as far as matching my intuitions. But not a complete definition.

Let me toss in that I don't think the novella "The State of the Art" is Space Opera. Even though it is set in Bank's Culture universe. And it does include a debate about whether or not to blow up Terra, with a character who definitely could as a party to that debate.

103:

"Sky" is a MURDOCH channel.
No, not at any price.
And I don't have a TV - "only" web access, anyway

104:

Elgar wrote no performed operas.
Wagner, now ... yes, well ....

105:

I said EASY way to get hold of a copy.
I haven't a single clue as to what to do from what you've said - yes ignorant, but not stupid.
So:
Look for Pirate Bay then look for proxies, then find uTorrent (free?) then use said combination for a view/download?
Or something else?

It's like I want to build my own replacement "tower" PC from components, but there are s SO MANY OPTIONS, I haven't a clue as to where to start. Yes, I know there are web-sites, but they seem to contradict each other & also prices are extremely variable & I don't want to get ripped off.
Or a neighbour, who knows nothing about cars - where would he start if he wanted one & learnt to drive ... ??? [ Apart from asking me, of course... ]

106:

I found the first book of the Gap cycle in the second hand bookshelf in a youth hostel a few years ago.

Somehow forced myself to the end of the book, despite feeling unclean, and resolved never to read anything by Donaldson again.

107:

Whether or not something is Space Opera, as obvious as that might seem, is possibly a stranger question than it might appear. On the other hand my wife, a long-time devotee of The Bold and the Beautiful (and potentially other "real" soaps) found Star Trek TNG far too formulaic and silly to watch more than once. You could say that a post tvtropes world means that genre is something you must create continuously, but even that doesn't really get you half the story.

108:

Interesting. I got Lord Foul's Bane from my public library, back in the says when they still had books, read about a third of it, and had exactly the same reaction.

109:

Guardians of the Galaxy is an interesting one. It doesn't follow the classic superhero film structure of Hero has to grow into themselves (origin story) or overcome a personal problem (sequel) before defeating the bad guy in a spectacular fight. (Logically linking the internal struggle and external threats in some way turns out to be optional). The closest we get is the team deciding not to split up and run for it in the face of Ronin going to destroy everything ever. Yet it's clearly a superhero film.

Meanwhile I don't think it's quite interested in the setting enough to be proper Space Opera. None of the places they go is more than a backdrop to character scenes and fights. (The closest is the giant space head* that's being mined for organics, but that's mostly an excuse for flying the mining pods in a crazy chase). I got the feeling they wanted people to say "wow" at the visuals rather than "that's an amazing idea for a world!"

They didn't even seem that interested in the spaceships. I'm not going to insist that a fetish for ship is necessary for Space Opera, but it comes up a lot.

On the Opera side, they were pretty full on with the music. Maybe it should have been a musical?

* Presumably from one of the many hundreds of space giants Marvel has in it's backstories

110:

Thank you :-) I don't see that any particular scale matters, so much as it being melodramatic, romanticist/gothic, and with an expansive, often continuously expanding, scope (and Barsoom assuredly was all of those). And, back then, people were more cavalier about scientific nonsense in science fiction - that really changed only in the 1950s and 1960s.

It also met the old criterion of being full of action, without any particular subtlety of meaning, which was why 'space opera' was used in a derogatory sense.

111:

That replied to entirely the wrong person. Gah!

Anyway Film Space Opera has almost always been "softer" SF than written. Doc Smith does some wacky stuff, but if you watch a Flash Gordon Serial it turns out there's almost nothing Ming can't do with a ray or gas, and whatever he does Zarkov can counter it after Flash goes somewhere, beats up some guys and takes the thing he needs to complete it.

(Although there was a bit of world-building in there I didn't see for a while. The enormous chunky walkie-talkies they use are actually super-minaturised radios. Imagine how small the vaccuum tubes would have to be.)

112:

The traditional name for stories like Burroughs' Barsoom stories or de Camp's Planet Krishna stories is "planetary romance." They differ from space opera in some fundamental ways, such as not taking place in space; if there is space travel, is is an excuse to get the main characters to the place where the story happens, not an excuse to tell stories about space pirates, meteor storms, and malfunctioning life-support systems.

113:

Maybe space opera can be defined by what gets laughed at?

Harry Harrison wrote "Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers" as a send up of space opera. He later wrote a short "Space Rats of the CCC" in the same vein.

Those were both in the 1970s though. What send-ups of the new space opera have been written since?

114:

Most of the time it ends up being 'be happy where you are' (a failing that JA suffers from in spades - sure a bog cleaner is going to go back to work after inheriting the world, literally).

Movies tend to succeed or fail based on their last 20 minutes and ending, JA being a perfect example. The complicated end sequence where she has to save so many members of her family should (IMO) have been narrowed down to just one favorite. Then all the tension would have been focused on saving that one in the middle of chaos.

That she would happily clean toilets after inheriting most of the galaxy is just not honest. IMO they should have set up an earthside villain at the beginning who is keeping the family in bondage (they are illegal immigrants maybe) and she turns the tables on him at the very end before flying off to her happily ever after.

115:

Do Galaxy Quest, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spaceballs and Hitchhikers Guide count?

Galaxy Quest is definitely space opera, insofar as if it isn't, neither is (original) Star Trek. Unless we add a new rule that space opera can't be parody, which is obviously wrong.

Haven't seen GotG or Spaceballs. Hitchhiker is definitely not space opera insofar as Arthur Dent (and Ford Prefect) are utterly anti-heroic despite any and all attempts to frame them in a heroic context; if HHGTTG is space opera, then so is Doctor Who.

116:

The worlds in movie SF are grungy, bland, and broken down now it seems; hopeful, positive, ostentatious and shiny don't sell. If the hero wins out at all it's by 'escaping', not improving. Most of the time it ends up being 'be happy where you are'

Remember the key movie demographic to make the numbers people happy is "first weekend audience", who are overwhelmingly young -- we're talking millennials here. As millennials are overwhelmingly living in a world that is grungy, bland, and broken down and where they can expect their lives to be worse than their parents' generation, you should take the movie-world depictions you dislike as simply playing to their experience.

If you think space opera has to be happy-fun-optimistic I will suggest that you've never played/interacted with WARHAMMER 40,000, or read much Iain M. Banks.

117:


I made the same point about some of Iain's Culture stories earlier, in this comment.

118:

Procedure:
a) Download uTorrent and install http://ll.www.utorrent.com/intl/en/downloads/complete/os/win/track/stable

b) Find a PirateBay proxy
https://thepiratebay-proxylist.org/

c) Make sure you virus checker is up to date!

d) Pick a proxy, enter the name of the program you want to find. Click on one of the selections

e) Click on "Get this torrent"

f) Be careful of popups and virus infected pages. Never agree to download anything except exactly what you want.

119:

I do not think a Space Western counts as Space Opera, and it's an interesting contrast. Both have vast scenery. In the western the characters are swallowed up in it. In an opera the scenery serves to make the characters larger than life.

120:

And if we don't see you here for a long while we can assume the Russian porn virus has got you!

121:

Spaceballs is at least as much a Star Wars parody as GQ is of ST, so it goes in as parody Space Opera also.

122:

Dirk, this is not the appropriate thread for teaching Greg how to use the internet circa 2005. You are wandering wildly off-topic and we haven't reached the #300 comment mark yet.

123:

Yes, with one niggle. I am not convinced about "Consider Phlebas", "Use of Weapons" and "The Player of Games", because they have a personal focus the way that "Excession", "Matter" and "Surface Detail" do not.

124:

I suppose I should have just linked to a "how to" link.
Anyway, I doubt this will reach 300. Or that Greg will start on a career of piracy in his old age.

125:

Does SO exclude all other genres that are merely "set in space"? ie is it a unique thing in itself?

126:

Flash Gordon the movie has to count. It's got Queen!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNIVpMXHqlk

127:

Graydon then argues that to meet the 'scale' criteria necessary to be Space Opera the story needs to be about (in some sense of about) those who are doing things on an epic scale: blowing up planets being the main example.

I think that's insightful - at least as far as matching my intuitions. But not a complete definition.

Thank you!

And no, not complete.

Let's consider Glen Cook's The Dragon Never Sleeps. It's got planet-destroying scale, and all of the viewpoints are people who have, have had, or could have, command authority on that scale. The conflict is an essentially banal one over territory and money. Victory is defined by one side as nothing changes.

I'd still say it was Space Opera, but you can easily argue that it's not because the application of the will -- the other half of the question of agency that goes along with scale -- is never to any idealistic end. (Even space-opera villains spout principles.)

Or, for a hypothetical -- plucky band of rebels and misfits achieves unparalleled scientific advance, and spreads (via the Imperial network of trading ships/interstellar teleportation booth service/postal system) biological warfare materials that modify the whole population to be kinder, more co-operative, better at co-operating in groups, and more forgiving. The enunciated principle is that the system almost works, the Empire does establish peace, it would work if the people implementing the Empire were just a little bit less likely to be horrifying greed-heads. (The bad guys are the already-rich and aristocratic who would like to stay horrifying greed-heads. And who can rationalize that eloquently.)

No blowing up planets (well, maybe incidentally...) but the scale's "every sophont in the galaxy". The viewpoint characters are directly responsible for the innovations necessary and the operations to use them. (Or to try to stop them.) Space Opera or not?

128:

Kingley Amis did not agree. New Maps of Hell: In space-opera, Mars takes the place of Arizona with a few physical alterations, the hero totes a blaster instead of a six-gun.

I am not sure that there ever has been an agreed meaning, not even if you fix a particular date.

129:

The way I reckon it is that there are three strands to what we call space opera.

There’s the original ‘Space Opera’, written from the 1930s-50s and derogatorily named in the 1940s by analogy to the ‘horse opera’ and ‘soap opera’ of the era. ‘Bat Durston’ and all that. Nothing to do with ‘opera’ the music. Wilson Tucker was talking about the poorer clones of Edmond Hamilton or ‘Doc’ Smith – the stories published in Planet Stories as a matter of course. There were some parodies in the late-sixties.

Secondly are the things we see in TV & Film – starting with Captain Video and going through Star Trek, Star Wars, and later productions. Let’s (mostly) ignore this. Not just because in the previous column OGH *explicitly* excepted it, but also because it is a completely different medium.

Thirdly, the ‘New Space Opera’. A style which came about in the 1980s, but only became a ‘thing’ in the 1990s onward. When we’re talking about ‘space opera’ I’m going to assume we’re talking about the ‘New Space Opera’. Not the stuff written about the time my grandparents were married.

I dug out my copies of the Hartwell/Cramer & Strahan/Dozois Space Opera anthologies and reread the introductions. I like what Hartwell says, including that what we used to call ‘science fantasy’ (pre-1970s) with a bit of a mix with hard SF is what we now call ‘space opera’.

Hartwell says that from the 1980s “space opera meant, and still generally means, colourful, dramatic, large-scale science fiction adventure, competently and sometimes beautifully written, usually focused on sympathetic, heroic central character and plot action (this bit is what separates it from other post-literary modernisms) and usually set in the relatively distant future and in space or on other worlds, characteristically optimistic in tone. It often deals with war, piracy, military values, and very large-scale action, large stakes.”

He also noted that many of the Hugo novel winners from 1982-2002 could be called ‘space opera’ whether recognised as that by the writers/audience or not. I haven’t myself checked the list to see it I agree, but it is interesting.

Beyond that, I am also reduced to ‘I know it when I see it’, acknowledging all of the usual suspects mentioned here and in the articles referenced by OGH, self, and others.

130:

I usually think of space opera as more of a screen genre than a literary genre. The space opera approach to science and worldbuilding is mostly just not to worry about it too much. That's easier when you have cool visuals and fast-paced action to distract the audience from your plot holes. So I use the term for things like Star Wars (the elephant in the room), Robotech, Voltron, Stargate, Guardians of the Galaxy, Gundam, and the hammier Treks.

Honestly, I don't think it's a genre that plays to Charlie's strengths. It's more for the sort of author who would compile a list of hoary genre cliches, then look for ways to make them even hoarier. George Lucas was great at this.

131:

"New Maps of Hell" was early 1960s; it predates the modern formulation, i.e. the New Space Opera, which dates to the mid-1980s (or the late 70s at earliest -- Star Wars).

132:

"Hitchhiker is definitely not space opera insofar as Arthur Dent (and Ford Prefect) are utterly anti-heroic despite any and all attempts to frame them in a heroic context; if HHGTTG is space opera, then so is Doctor Who."

I think they are both relevant to the discussion though, as a refinement of "show what it is by showing what it isn't" by way of picking "isn'ts" from near the borders.

Doctor Who was originally conceived as an educational series, but very rapidly evolved into a species of soft SF, encountering such selective pressures as being British, in the early 60s, done by the BBC, on a tiddly budget with the same technology for special effects as used for making things on Blue Peter. Had it had more budget and not such a very very British incubator it might well, I think, have evolved into something much more like Star Trek. (It sort of was the British Star Trek anyway, despite the differences.)

Hitch-hiker's gives Ford and Arthur the characterisations it does because rather than being a straight story, it is a piss-take. (And written by a Doctor Who scriptwriter, too.)

133:

"Honestly, I don't think it's a genre that plays to Charlie's strengths."

My reaction on reading Charlie's comment about Iain Banks - "Scottish socialist SO FTW" - was something along the lines of "and who better to take up the torch?"

134:

Re: '"It often deals with war, piracy, military values, and very large-scale action, large stakes.”'

This describes the milSF stuff that's everywhere which as some posters mentioned is just updated Earth sea battles or some other types of campaigns.

If we're constrained by this definition we need to update the sources that milSF can poach for space opera. So, what's the most obvious 21st century contribution to military behavior, structure or whatever? I'm guessing: drones (remote war - surveillance and bombing), the blurring of the civilian/military lines of communication (social media), and invisible war financing ... it's in every country's defense budget, but very few eyes are allowed to peek at the details. Something else that's very definitely showing up is the interest in and cost of PTSD. (Many millions in US Defense research spending on this a la university research funding, plus public awareness via Shake Hands with the Devil author General Dallaire who often talks about his PTSD in interviews.)

Not sure that the reasons for 21st century wars/uprisings are germane to SO ... they're mostly retreads anyways except for outright geographic expansionism. Instead of relabeling some geographic with the conqueror's flag, the 21st century version is limited/targeted/strategic geographic expansionism as in: We're only interested in the X that you have, you can keep the rest - it's not worth our bother/would cost us too much to maintain.

135:

Oh, very much so! But that's part of the problem. Barsoom was space opera with the old meaning, but not the new. There are probably older books that would be under the new but not the old; there certainly are newer ones (e.g. Excession). What's to be done about that?

One reasonable definition (clearly yours to take or not) would be to say that the term (New) Space Opera does not apply to stories written before (say) 1980, and wasn't a consensus until (say) 1990. That would exclude Aldiss as an authority, as well as Amis.

136:

Jay is also apparently forgetting that I've made the Hugo shortlist [at least] three times with space opera novels. So, um, not really :-)

137:

Look for Pirate Bay then look for proxies, then find uTorrent (free?) then use said combination for a view/download?

And remember that torrent applications also share out what you've downloaded. So you can be distributing pirated content if you've download pirated content.

138:

Well, there's also Ken MacLeod - who's is probably both more Scottish and more Socialist than Charlie.

Whether he does more SO is another question.

139:

Well, Gulf War 1 popularised the notion that modern warfare is just like playing video games (at least until you get hit).

But even before that, at least two authors used the idea of space battles being fought by kids controlling actual spaceships through a video game UI.

140:

While he doesn't call it that, a lot of David Drake's military SF involves PTSD. And he told veterans that there is help out there in one of his forwards (or afterwords, I forget.)

But on the other hand he is very heavy into re-purposing old wars and weaponry into SF-nal retreads.

141:

'But even before that, at least two authors used the idea of space battles being fought by kids controlling actual spaceships through a video game UI.'

Right! Ender used full-scale ships remotely. I was thinking drones. Then add a layer of decentralized, anonymous recruitment which can only really occur because of the InterWebthingy. (Not sure I know who your second author example is.)

Okay - another item ... epic scale historically meant big machines/armies for big effect. But, we're at super miniaturization .. so big effect using the ultra small. Could be quantanium* or the classic linchpin problem. Time could also be a weapon, as in some efforts can be completed much faster than before and/or the effects can last much longer.

*Quantanium (Def): Anything that relies on quantum stuff or theory or anything that in daily life could not possibly exist but must because it's backed by reams of powerful cantrips (math) and demonstrated utility (GPS). Also: a subset of unobtainium.

142:

Yes, the etymology of the term 'Space Opera' is via horse opera and soap opera. The type of story was originally cliched melodramatic and cliff-hangerish. The stories are only superficially science-fictional since the sf elements are decorative, unexplained, and possibly MacGuffins. Tramp freighters, smugglers, space pirates, treasure maps, alien sidekicks, weird religions, lost heirs, Monte-Cristoish revenges, barroom brawls, kidnaped princesses, exotic bazaars, lost civilisations, ancient ruins - early twentieth century adventure fiction with added rocket ships and rayguns.

143:

I think it's more a case that what you're calling space opera, I'd call medium to hardish SF. No worries, except that if an American publisher is talking to you about writing space opera, you probably want to ask them exactly what they think space opera means. I doubt they want Banks, who is not widely known over here.

144:

Fifth Element, obviously, if for no other reason than the use of an actual opera. In space.

145:

PTSD is potentially preventable by genetically screening potential recruits:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetics_of_posttraumatic_stress_disorder

146:

WHOOPS!
That's my fault as much as D B's ....
Though I do plead the superfluity of "possible" courses open leaves one 'orribly confused ...

147:

Thanks for this info ...

Just looked up David Drake's essay on PTSD on Tor.com and the related short milSF story below that he discusses. According to Drake, most military experienced SF authors do not discuss the physical or emotional brutalities of war. Doing so can get an author labeled as writing war/torture porn.

The Rocketeers Have Shaggy Ears

http://www.archive.org/stream/Planet_Stories_Volume_4_Number_6_#page/n23/mode/2up

148:

AND PTerry (naturally) subverted it ... "Only You can Save the World"

149:

It was Only You Can Save Mankind.

150:

"Guardians of the Galaxy" has a knife missile, so there's that.

What do people think about "Lady of Mazes", Karl Schroeder, 2005/6? (I see OGH did a blurb.)
The exploration and drama are mostly in the virtual and philosophical, but sprawling and rich.


151:

To expand on this:

Largely, Space Opera doesn't concern itself with non-narrative based impacts or the implicit destruction. i.e. you can have a space battle (and well, hey, guess no-one else is traveling there for a while due to debris) or let of a nuke on a planet etc etc


ATemporality is basically the modus operandi of SO: the Action moves on, the poor nerf herders don't get a mention as the entire edifice / structure of their lives burns down, the fact the hero just stole some poor smook's hoverbike never leads to the reveal that poor smook lost his job, those Station Security guy's families are never mentioned [yes - ad absurdum]

~

Space Opera's main trope is that it has no real causality unless it matters to the plot.

152:

Am I the only one to think that "A Fire Upon the Deep" is the one book most closely instantiating the Platonic ideal of a space opera?

I agree, BTW, that "Lady of Mazes" should also count, but it is too (wonedrfully!) idiosyncratic to by prototypical.

153:

I am not sure that Platonic ideal of a space opera is even possible, but if such thing can exist at all, then "A Fire Upon the Deep" is not a bad choice.

However, it avoids most of the tropes Charlie (and others) have listed, and I think avoids all of the particularly cringe-inducing ones.

154:
If you think space opera has to be happy-fun-optimistic I will suggest that you've never played/interacted with WARHAMMER 40,000, or read much Iain M. Banks.
Err, I've read all Iain M Banks, and in fact had him in mind when I wrote :
I'd suggest space opera also gets defined by having a certain 'positiveness' in it's world building (even if the story is full of trouble)
Whatever tortures Iain subjected his protagonist to, the world building background was always the supershiny communist-utopia-to-annoy-the-americans of the Culture. And who wouldn't want to live in the Culture, they are even nice and sensitive when they are blowing up star systems?


And yes, I think the reason why SF, and particularly movie SF has tended towards broken down and grungy is because the level of hope, in everyone not just teenagers, is way down on where, say, 2001 was. The type of space opera that JA looks like seems to alienate people - they don't escape into a bigger brighter world any more it seems. Similar fate for Tomorrowland which was self-consciously targeted on an 'optimistic philosophy of the future'. I'd also point at how often walls and being hemmed in features in SF today, together with 'returning to home' as a goal.

The contention (that I've made before) is that as a species we no longer collectively think that there's 'bright blue horizon' that we can get to, no new world we can say "sod you, I'm off" and head towards. The turning away from science and an optimistic mindset in the late 60s/early 70s put an inflection point in what space opera meant, and in it being viable at all in the mass market. Even Star Wars in 1977 was shiny, B&W against the backdrop of a collapsed civilisation. Today, well look at how much dereliction litters the frames of Force Awakens.

155:

TVTropes might be the place to go for this one. It's a popular wiki, so their definition of space opera is probably pretty close to a consensus view of the English-speaking internet.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SpaceOpera

also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_opera

156:

I was thinking of Fire Upon the Deep too. I would have like to have seen Vinge do the space opera expansion to Across Real Time, with meat sacks exploring the universe in their safe silver spheres (and knowing that humanity had long since moved on). Brin's Uplift Saga would also be a top pick for archetype of late 20th century space opera.

I've always thought the Culture novels have been a mashups of space opera and spy thriller (Bond) or smartest guy in the room murder mysteries (Holmes). The only time the ships felt like the under dogs was in Excession, and to be a Real (tm) space opera the protagonist has got to the the plucky upstart :-)

157:

Sorry, late to the party.

One thing I'd change is "interstellar" to "interplanetary."

The point is that stars basically don't matter in most plots. What matters is that the plot takes place on multiple settled planets, plus space travel between them. The stars are not essential but romantically or gothically alien planets are.

The default trope for the last few decades is that systems have only one habitable planet, so to go from habitable planet to habitable planet, the hero has to go interstellar (And yes, I can think of a lot of exceptions too. Don't bother listing them).

If you make the requirement that the story take place across multiple planets rather than involve interstellar travel, then Quantum Thief fits in quite nicely. It also includes a lot of old pulps (Asimov's Lucky Starr comes to mind, but you could also include War of the Worlds, the solar system of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Hamilton, Heinlein's Mars, etc.), where adventures to other stars weren't even possible, but every planet in the solar system had life and the hero's journey took them to different places.

What seems to happen is that space operas scale with popular knowledge of cosmology. They started with the solar system. Then, as we started understanding about galaxies and all that, stories expanded to become interstellar, intergalactic, even multi-universal or at least multi-dimensional (cf EE Smith and James Schmitz) depending on whether the author's starship of choice used hyper (sub) space or whatever. Now, as we're having trouble suspending our disbelief on interstellar travel (which should have been here 30 years ago dammit!) so innovative modern space operas look more like the Expanse or Quantum Thief, and are set in universes where star travel is irrelevant/impossible, but the solar system is thoroughly settled using innovative applications of Narrativium.

158:

The answer to that question is, yes, he does, with a 6-months-between-books trilogy, book one out in two months.

Assuming the blurb doesn't lie [1], is this Ken's first space opera? The only previous contender is Newton's Wake, I think. It has the requisite scale and doesn't take itself too seriously, but might be lacking some other essential tropes.

[1] one day there will be an exception.

159:

Now, as we're having trouble suspending our disbelief on interstellar travel (which should have been here 30 years ago dammit!) so innovative modern space operas look more like the Expanse

Funny you should say that, because just a few minutes before reading your comment I was thinking about why The Expanse is in danger of breaking my SOD. I loved first two books (and the SyFy series, much to my own surprise), and thought that "Abbadon's Gate" went on a little too long, but was still great otherwise. However I read the synopsis of "Cibola Burn", and now am reluctant to read it... and it has nothing to do with the series having gone interstellar.

What is liable to break my SOD is that James Holden and his crew are about to get into yet another world-altering conspiracy. They are basically nobodies who got very very lucky. Three times. NOBODY gets that lucky for the fourth time!

Holden's crew certainly fit Matware's definition of "lucky upstart", but one can stay a lucky upstart only so long. After the events of "Abbadon's Gate" they ought to be either in Martian prison, or safely ensconced in the upper echelons of OOP government.

160:

Typo: meant "OPA government"

161:

Assuming the blurb doesn't lie [1], is this Ken's first space opera?

The blurb lies.

Not only did "Newton's Wake" fit the bill; so did the Engines of Light tetralogy (written explicitly to be an ACME General Purpose Space Opera setting, except it didn't quite work for Ken, hence the sudden ending in book 4), and various other effusions -- for example, "The Sky Road" shows signs of going space-operatic, except there was no book 5 in the Fall Revolution tetralogy.

NB: I've read "Dissidence" (in early manuscript, before it acquired the title) and I'm not sure I'd call it space opera. It reminded me most of "Software" by Rudy Rucker, if Rudy Rucker was a Trotskyite with an interest in neoreactionary ideology, and the world of "Software" went interstellar over the next five centuries, and, and ...

162:

Again: while Banks' Culture is clearly a space operatic setting, and some of the books most definitely are ("The Player of Games", "Use of Weapons", "Excession", "Consider Phlebas", "Matter", "Surface Detail" ...) others are not -- "Inversions" most specifically.

Inversions was the first Banks book I read. Coming in cold to the Cultureverse, it was kind of like reading Hard to Be a God but a lot more demanding of the reader in trying to figure out what the background conditions were of the mysterious outsiders meddling in the backward kingdoms.

I liked it enough to pick up Consider Phlebas and then I was really hooked. If I'm going to throw known physics out the window and dream of FTL, teleporters, and force fields, the Culture is where I want to sleep. Everything that's headdesk-stupid in Star Trek is corrected in the Culture setting, even though they're both working with basically the same toolbox of handwavium devices. It was so perfect that it felt like someone had discovered a new Utopia instead of simply making it up.

Now I'm more annoyed than in my pre-Culture reading days when I encounter other settings loaded with Trek-tional technologies yet still overlooking the implications, or clumsily neutralizing the implications with some in-story handwave, so they can have drastic changes without consequences. It's the 20th century forever with dramatic yet meaningless changes in locale and set dressing.

Banks really raised the bar. You don't have to posit a left-anarchist paradise emerging from the rise of strong AI and starfaring to write a good space opera, but you damn well shouldn't try to get away with doing a lazy palette swap where planets are basically 20th century suburbs and running the wormhole business is basically like running an Internet startup.

163:

Oops, my ignorance is showing. I haven't read the Expanse series, just caught some of the serialization on TV.

But you're right. Outside of Star Trek and Star Wars, nobody gets that lucky. Except Bob Howard.

164:

Ultimately, you have to look at what sells, I think.

Star Wars now is thought to have been innovative at its time because the world looked lived-in (read grungy), unlike 2001 or Star Trek. That effect has been repeated ever since, even by Abrams' rebooted Star Trek.

How much of this is because the world has changed and gotten more war weary, and how much is it investors funding more of what sold before?

Hard to say. I can offer some evidence, but in general, when hundreds of millions of dollars are on the line, investors tend to insist on more of the same.

I'd also argue that a lot of writers are coming out of English majors rather than the sci-tech side. As a result, they understand the tech as tropes, not as a working (if goofy) system. They're copycats, not innovators, and this makes a big difference in what comes out the other end.

Still, there is a change in attitude, at least in one population. Yesterday, I had a discussion about climate change and the future of civilization. As usual, I said that we had a lot of the technologies we needed to go to 100% renewables, but that the big problems were sociopolitical. Also as usual, the people I was talking with (who were white men who are rather older than I am), immediately insisted that I was wrong, that we were all going to hell regardless, that there was no technology that could keep us from...I cut off the rant and reminded them that I'd just said that the technology existed. This caused a one second disconnect as they adjusted the argument to say that society could never figure out to go sustainable because we are all going to hell. Beliefs are hard to shake

This morning, I had a similar discussion with some college age Americorps volunteers (all white, but mixed gender), and it was very different. They know the future's going to be messy, and they were interested in my book because they were trying to figure out how to save the world, or at least survive what was coming.

People in both conversations were environmentalists, but there is a difference in attitude between people who have been dealing for decades, and those who just coming to grips with things.

The next question is who buys the space operas? If you want the conventional answer, it's older white guys. If you're in Suzanne Collins mode, it's teenagers. Who do you want to sell to?

165:

George Miller on 'the look' of Mad Max Fury Road:

But by the time we got to do Fury Road, I just wanted to make sure that we avoided what had become cliché.

(Interviewer) For example?

The most obvious one is desaturated color. [The typical look] became all very desaturated, moody color, and as I said, that tends to look like a junkyard. That’s why we went for the saturated color...

I'm not convinced that Hollywood is channeling the mood of the society so much as having fallen into cliché with all the somber grunge for science fiction and superheroes. Guardians of the Galaxy was also noted for being more colorful (and funnier) than the rest of the pack, which helped it stand out.

166:
How much of this is because the world has changed and gotten more war weary, and how much is it investors funding more of what sold before?

Hard to say. I can offer some evidence, but in general, when hundreds of millions of dollars are on the line, investors tend to insist on more of the same.

The other evidence, that I pointed at, was optimistic SF tends not to do well at the box office. Now JA had a ropey script, fine, but Tomorrowland also bombed. And John Carter, etc. I'm thinking the evidence is the money men shy away from fund optimistic stuff because it doesn't sell, rather than just because they are duplicating success.

This caused a one second disconnect as they adjusted the argument to say that society could never figure out to go sustainable because we are all going to hell. ... They know the future's going to be messy, and they were interested in my book because they were trying to figure out how to save the world, or at least survive what was coming.

I'm thinking your old white men were more realistic than your young volunteers. My goto point to greenies is we've been talking the same story for the past 25 years, about reducing carbon emissions, government action, transition, etc. During that time we've had a bit of smoke and mirrors, but practically the CO2 pollution continues to rise relentlessly. It's pretty daft to think the same policy set that's failed for the past 25 years is suddenly going to start working, particularly when the necessary rate of decline in CO2 production is so much steeper now than it was then.

Any credible solution has to look nothing like the same old same old.

Which is at heart an optimistic viewpoint - that tomorrow need not look like today, even if you are cynical/realistic about the systems of our society being broken.

The next question is who buys the space operas? If you want the conventional answer, it's older white guys. If you're in Suzanne Collins mode, it's teenagers. Who do you want to sell to?

The mass market. From a purely business standpoint, it's daft to target others. But also from a cultural standpoint, there's no point in changing the viewpoint of a small group - one way or another you need to touch all of society.

Arguably Star Trek created the mobile phone. Big ideas, big targets to aim for are a net positive for society, and probably the biggest payoff of SF. Space opera has its place in that.

167:

Scale, definitely. But I think what's required is that the scale be huge to the characters. So you could have space opera within the solar system if the characters are on the cutting edge of opening up this huge-to-them space. In fact, this gives you Venus Equilateral, which is definitively space opera.

I also think that the stakes must be nearly that high—everything the characters know and care about has to be in play.

Thus, Ringworld is certainly not space opera; it takes place in one stellar system on the fringes of explored space (so a tiny portion of the known universe) and nothing much is at stake except the personal lives of the characters. Not even close.

168:

Banks? You're all joking, right? Admittedly I have little experience with Banks, since the one book I read based on multiple recommendations from friends who should have known better I hated with a white-hot all-consuming passion. But it (the book was Use of Weapons) seemed like the apotheosis of anti-space-opera to me. It's about losers sitting around not even trying to do anything.

169:

Careful about getting your hate on for Ian Banks in these parts!

170:
But it (the book was Use of Weapons) seemed like the apotheosis of anti-space-opera to me. It's about losers sitting around not even trying to do anything.

I suspect what you read wasn't "Use of Weapons". Or by Banks, for that matter.

171:
optimistic SF tends not to do well at the box office. Now JA had a ropey script, fine, but Tomorrowland also bombed. And John Carter, etc. I'm thinking the evidence is the money men shy away from fund optimistic stuff because it doesn't sell, rather than just because they are duplicating success.

I'm not familiar with Tomorrowland, but the other two examples you've given are pretty terrible films, and the terribleness is so deeply engrained that it isn't just a feature of them being positive and optimistic SF.

Or maybe it is just easier for hacks to dust off the old noir tropes and cobble together something dark and grimey, but there's no convenient source material for anything more upbeat?

172:

WHAT "sitting around"? - like Ru says, that is emphatically NOT "UoW".
Cheradinine Zakalwe is re-recruited by the Culture to fix a problem in an outlying system, except it turns out (at the end) that he's not "CZ" he's the Chairmaker, coupled with various recall-episodes of mostly the fake CZ's life & also the real CZ's life on their home planet.
And LOTS of action.

173:
Hitchhiker is definitely not space opera insofar as Arthur Dent (and Ford Prefect) are utterly anti-heroic despite any and all attempts to frame them in a heroic context

So, off-topic terminology question... when I think of the word "antihero", I mostly think of the darker-and-edgier, I-smoulder-with-generic-rage type of character. I don't really know what word I'd use to describe Arthur or Ford... anheroic? Are there actually any useful terms to distinguish these types of non-heroic protagonist?

174:

Hey, SPOILERS! Just joking. Though I suppose there could be lurkers here who never read it.

175:

I think that he meant antithesis, not apotheosis, in which case I would agree with that sentiment, though not the claim of inaction. "Use of Weapons" is profoundly dystopic, and was (and is) highly topical, unfortunately.

I am not going to restart #135, but several subsequent posts have been by people who use the old Amis/Aldiss categorisation of space opera. People need to be aware that there are two different meanings attached to that term.

176:

It's about losers sitting around not even trying to do anything.

There's something here. If this description ISN'T Space Opera, then Space Opera is about people going out and dealing with external problems; tackling the antagonists and/or environment rather than internal character issues.

(Which is not to say that internal character issues aren't possible in a Space Opera, but it seems they are not at the heart of it)

177:

For categorising existing works the terms 'Space Opera' and 'New Space Opera' are different. More of the former has probably been written but more of the latter is probably currently in print. In the context of current publishing conversations 'Space Opera' actually means 'New Space Opera' unless otherwise stated. Were someone to write an actual space opera nowadays it would be a strangely retro thing. Possibly Take Back Plenty was such a thing in its time - I read it twenty-five years ago.

SyFy currently has both shows that are space opera (Killjoys, Dark Matter) and a show that is new space opera (The Expanse). TV critics appear not to have noticed that these are supposed to be different genres. On TV perhaps they aren't.

178:

A lot depends on whether renewable energy technologies are capable of working at sufficient scale without hidden subsidies. My read is that they aren't, but I've been wrong before.

179:

I stopped taking "Energy shortages will doom technological society" even a little bit seriously after reading an inflation adjusted time series for electricity prices.
Go find one. It's enormously reassuring, because subsidies or no, you don't have to go back very far into the past before hitting a period where the real cost of fossil fuel based electricity was a lot higher than renewables or nukes are today.
Which guarantees that high-energy society is here to stay, because we are also quite a lot more efficient with our energy use these days. Basically, the doomer tendency simply hasn't internalized just how insanely valuable electricity is, because it is in monetary terms very cheap.

180:

So maybe the question should be "How do publishers define Space Opera/i>?"

After all they have to be comfortable with sticking the label "SO" on OGH's new work.

181:

Why should they? Non-renewables have all sorts of hidden subsidies, after all.

182:

Okay, not a book ... but how would you type Raiders of the Lost Ark? Epic scale, lots of travel/strange places, cliffhangers everywhere (some literal), amazing handwavium, gasps and larffs, etc.


Disagree that the younger generation wants dystopias. Instead, I'd say that the younger generation sees dystopias everywhere and is trying on various strategies to see how these might make their world better. The endings of the dystopic for the younger generation hit movies (Hunger Games) I've seen all had happy-ish endings: the hero made a difference even if all the problems of the world weren't immediately solved. This is actually a lot more grown-up than the comparable previous generation's dystopic movies. While not all rosy and cheerful, the big hits are not nihilistic - and this is a big deal in terms of understanding this generation IMO.


183:

The critical point is that the conversation with the Old White Man was that he has his preconceptions, right or wrong, and when confronted with a contradiction in what he's saying, he denies the contradiction and keeps on saying it. That's not exactly realism, except by accident. The kids were trying to figure out what to do with their lives, and they're *very interested* in what's going on. After all, they're going to be living with (and on) the stuff we leave them.

The bigger point is that if you target the over-50 white male demographic, they've got money now, but they're also not going to be around as long as the kids, and they're likely to have less money (but more reading time) in coming decades.

The kids, conversely, are a longer term market. To them, US Presidents are either stupid white males or black, for example, and while many of them have been Churched to an extreme, they also like music (like Hip Hop) that's more explicitly multicultural. They also realize that there's no adult version of the Hunger Games, Harry Potter, or all those great series of their childhood.

Instead, there's this literature they don't really relate to, that tends to dress up 19th Century social tropes in 1960s high tech, uses it to shoot Other people (and the Other is always negative), and glories in the triumphs of stupid white men. Or there's Iain Banks, who's just weird. What is this communist/socialist post-scarcity stuff he's talking about anyway? Star Trek's kinda similar to that too. It's so 1960s. It's what their parents watched as kids. And the kids coming of age are getting more into shared suffering and making do with less, but they don't see this as necessarily dystopian, they see it as living.

184:

A lot depends on whether renewable energy technologies are capable of working at sufficient scale without hidden subsidies.

I watched a TV program yesterday which is about renewables. In the UAE a solar power station is being built. Why? It's cheaper to use solar energy than it is to use the gas that is in the ground under the solar cells being installed. 5.63 $cents / kWh without subsidies.

Despite the program being a dutch one you should be able to follow the interviews in the program as they are in english. (If it's available in the rest of the world)

185:

The other evidence, that I pointed at, was optimistic SF tends not to do well at the box office. Now JA had a ropey script, fine, but Tomorrowland also bombed. And John Carter, etc. I'm thinking the evidence is the money men shy away from fund optimistic stuff because it doesn't sell, rather than just because they are duplicating success.

Tomorrowland promised optimism and delivered dystopia. "If you could be anything and change the world, would you go?" Hell yes.... no, wait, what's all this about killer robots? They also didn't know what to do with the third act, and it showed.

Very few in the current generation of movie-goers know who John Carter is. The advertising campaign for JC has been repeatedly criticized for leaving out the 'and the Princess of Mars' part. The first trailer made it look like a western because that's where the story starts.

I think optimism and humor in sci-fi would sell extremely well if they were done right. But, as the cliche stands, comedy is harder than dying.

186:

What's the name of that (American) college that always sends out an email in September to their staff, reminding them that their new intake are 18, and laying out what that means in cultural terms?

"9/11 happened when they were two. The Iraq War was declared 'mission accomplished' when they were four. The only President they remember is a black man. The Space Shuttle was retired when they were thirteen, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer was mom's favourite TV show before they were born."

187:

You mean this ... talking about new students in the year 2019 (sic)?


https://www.beloit.edu/mindset/

2019 List

Students heading into their first year of college this year are mostly 18 and were born in 1997.

Among those who have never been alive in their lifetimes are Princess Diana, Notorious B.I.G., Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa.

Joining them in the world the year they were born were Dolly the sheep, The McCaughey septuplets, and Michael “Prince” Jackson Jr.

Since they have been on the planet:

1. Hybrid automobiles have always been mass produced.

2. Google has always been there, in its founding words, “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible.”

3. They have never licked a postage stamp.

4. Email has become the new “formal” communication, while texts and tweets remain enclaves for the casual.

5. Four foul-mouthed kids have always been playing in South Park.

6. Hong Kong has always been under Chinese rule.

7. They have grown up treating Wi-Fi as an entitlement.

etc.

188:

Question - does Karl Schroeder's Virga sequence count as a space opera? It has most of the tropes, and the action is largely confined to a planet sized volume.

Another one of Schroeder's that comes to mind is Lockstep which has the sense of scale over time and space by making extensive use of hibernation to travel and build up resources to live outside of hibernation. Does it count?

189:

I think it qualifies as variant space opera. I mean, it's certainly doing riffs on the Napoleonic navies in spaaaace thing, but doing so with an utterly outrageous Hard SF variant Big Dumb Object to provide a plausible environment for it to happen in. So it has the plot structures and larger-than-life protagonists, but it makes sense.

NB: to anyone who wants a space opera that makes sense (once you posit interstellar spaceflight and Big Dumb Objects), then the Virga trilogy is the business. Highly recommended.

Lockstep is still on my to-read pile. (Karl apparently was unable to sell book 2.)

190:

Speaking as someone who likes *real* space opera, and the things it was (de-)based on, I agree.

Doc Smith, IMO, invented the kind of science fiction that would become space opera - think of, say, LotR vs. Sword of Shannara.

The originals - dare I call it Real SF? - I think have these characteristics:
1. We get into space.
2. There are major scientific breakthroughs, which
may result in (1)
3. There are *large* consequences, usually to humanity
(though not necessarily). Whether this is all of
Terra, the solar system, or on the galactic stage,
doesn't matter, but it *does* matter to us.

What can we call the kind of sf that space opera descends from - real sf? hard sf? large scale sf? I think we need a name for it. (mutter, mutter), Perhaps an example of the real sf vs space opera:
1. A chemist working for the government makes a fabulous discovery, is laughed at due to a missing detail, then spends *much* time with a friend doing heavy duty math. With friend's resources as a millionaire, a space ship is built, and they go off in the Skylark of Space, chasing a ship built by another scientist, *also* backed by a giant industrial firm...

as opposed to
a crusty old guy, in his surplus missile silo, builds a spaceship, with a new ftl drive, and launches... and meets some aliens who call themselves Vulcans.

I'm ok with the latter, but there damn well ain't enough of the former, not in a long time.

One last note: I like *some* opera. The Niebelungenlied, on the other hand... no *wonder* the Nazis adored Wagner and Siegreid - he's a friggin' Mafia-type street soldier, a real scum.

mark

191:

The UAE are also building four nuclear reactors because the sun doesn't shine all day. The gas (and oil) under the sand can be sold abroad for money rather than being burned locally to provide electricity and fresh water.

The four Korean-built reactors will produce 5.6GWe total with an expected 90% uptime = 4.9GW annually. The Sharma 1 solar concentrator power plant has a dataplate maximum output of 125MW (uprated from the original 100MW) but in 2015 it produced 216 GWhr or 20MW average. Some of that generating capacity was apparently produced by burning gas to run the turbine-generators after the sun set (a regular practice in solar concentrator operations).

192:

Well, the followup books in which said chemist and millionaire friend manage to compress thousands* of years worth of tech development into a matter of months and accomplish multiple genocides along the way are highly realistic.

It's OK to be green so long as you are humanoid, but look at the protagonist in a funny way and you are getting your galaxy blown up.

*For everyone else.

193:

Another comment: the old space opera - 30's-50/60's - where it's almost always the white male American hero... remember who wrote them, and who the readership was, add one cup "write what you know", and voila!

Data: when I discovered fandom, in the mid-sixties, it was 90% male. By the mid-eighties, it was closing in on 55%-45%,male to female. That was a *massive* change in the most statistically significant percentage of who the sales were to.

mark

194:

Would it be helpful at all to delineate "sci-fi" from "space opera" when the technological elements become secondary to the narrative, which is generally analogous to a classical romantic adventure? Star Wars, the only space opera with which I'm familiar, is really just a sword-and-sorcery fantasy set in a high-tech future (that happened, anachronistically, "a long time ago"); the Force is just "magic", and light sabers are just magic swords, along the lines of Vorpal Blades, or Hanzo swords, or Holy Avengers.

195:
Or there's Iain Banks, who's just weird. What is this communist/socialist post-scarcity stuff he's talking about anyway?

That might be a background theme of much of his SF stuff, but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of actual talking about it. Does "communism" even get mentioned at all? Even the whole post-scarcity thing doesn't really raise its head in many of the novels. The political and economic basis of the Culture is glossed over (superhumanaididdit).

196:
Lockstep is still on my to-read pile. (Karl apparently was unable to sell book 2.)

Well, that's depressing. I thought it was one of the more noteworthy to the space opera headspace in years. What killed me was the number of people that were personally offended by the idea of a setting with no FTL and very reliable hibernation and automation that offered all the tropes they wanted, but was a little different.

I wonder what they would have thought of your tinkering with the assumptions would have been (Neptune's Brood)?

Related question - what's your take on Tobias Buckell's Xenowealth series? It has moments that are pure space opera. And then gritty bits that feel like they escaped from Alien/Aliens/Outland.

197:

No
Siegfried is an heroic PUPPET.
He is reasonably intelligent, but he never spots the shadowplay & the manipoulation that we (the audience) can see.
It dooms him & the gods.

198:

If Korean reactors are that good, why aren't we buying them, rather than out-of-date expensive Froggie ones?

199:

That might be a background theme of much of his SF stuff, but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of actual talking about it. Does "communism" even get mentioned at all? Even the whole post-scarcity thing doesn't really raise its head in many of the novels. The political and economic basis of the Culture is glossed over (superhumanaididdit).

Banks wisely separated his big background infodump on the Culture from his novels about it. You could pretty much pick all of that up by reading all the books, but he didn't just dump it into the stories.

I find it rather grating when authors build a detailed world and then lecture the readers like a tour guide for visitors from the Stupid Ages. (Paolo Bacigalupi, I'm looking at you: you don't need to say "LED light" every time you refer to lighting in the future. We're not idiots. In the same way you don't need to say "electrical light" every time someone illuminates a room in the present day.) If a prescient writer from 1985 set a novel in the year 2015 I really hope that the first scene where someone gets a text message wouldn't have a character giving an impromptu monologue about spread spectrum communication techniques and the miniaturization of electronics. Just show what's happening and allow the readers to make inferences. It's more likely to age well and less likely to have inconsistencies uncovered by bright-eyed readers.

200:

Bounced off the first Xenowealth book, less than a chapter in. Ought to go back to it sometime, but most of my reading these days is fantasy. (Reading too close to what I'm writing messes with my head and isn't relaxing recreation, anyway.)

201:

Because the purchasing decisions aren't being made on the basis of economic sense?

202:

The most recent crop of young adults has never been entirely alone/unconnected. Their entire lives including much of their inner thoughts are documented and publicly accessible. Access to information and opinion is widespread and taken for granted, therefore there is always a way to get the information you need. Friendships are not solely based on geographic lottery/chance or facetime, from this, it follows that perceived and real personal, social and moral obligations are also more widespread and fluid.

Our next-gen SO heroine is one of a team/cadre of heroes who will be finding help/clues as often via mining social/interpersonal connections as through digging through arcane texts. Plot-critical esoteric knowledge could as easily be some sort of super-tech specialty as the latest foodie or wearables craze in a particular neighborhood/social circle.

In 21st century terms, being a member of a team is not the same as being a cog or being more susceptible to group-think. In fact, disagreements between team members are more open and rapidly discussed/resolved. Multiple group affiliation is more common than single group affiliation: it's understood that each individual is a unique agglomeration of traits, personal/social history/connections and abilities.

203:

The French reactor designs are fine, as the Chinese are currently demonstrating. Something has gone very, very, very wrong with our collective ability to build large infrastructure projects.
People blame this on anti-nuclear activists, but I think that is wrong, because whatever it is, it happens to an absolutely frightening percentage of our large projects, regardless of what field we are talking about. I think, rather, that we have fucked up somewhere in the organizational or legal frame works we use for these things, and it would be very advisable to fix it.

204:

Reasons.

The EPRs were "state of the art" designs back when they were first designed and they had some sales before they were mooted for the UK. They've had a very problematic build history -- The French keelplate EPR at Flammanville, the Finnish one and the two Chinese builds have still not been completed. Some of that delay is first-of-a-kind syndrome, the paperwork wasn't perfect and such but they're BIG -- each EPR produces three times more electricity than a single British AGR and 50% more than the current range of PWRs. The two EPRs currently planned for the UK would produce about 10% of all Britain's electricity needs.

The planning for new-build British reactors is being done by the Conservative government in a hands-off private-funding manner hence the assortment of reactors in the late planning stages -- two EPRs, a possible keelplate ESBWR (even more powerful than the EPR, as much as 1.8GW electrical), a series of modified-at-great-expense Hualong Ones (CPR-1400) from China etc.

It would be better, as the French did in the 1970s to plan a standard series of reactors with slight tweaks to the designs to sort out build problems (as we did with our own AGRs). That means expertise is transferable from one site to the next as the builds progress and components can be ordered in bulk. The French are in the process of refurbishing their M910 reactors and have ordered over fifty steam generators, all exactly alike for the operation. Some reactors use three generators, later models with greater output use five but there are big savings in the fact they're identical parts. Parts like this made for an EPR won't fit an ESBWR and vice versa.

The reactors being built by Korea Electric (KEPCO) in the UAE are tweaked Westinghouse models (APR-1400) that the Chinese CPR-series reactors (aka Hualong One) are based on. There's a lot of experience in rolling such reactors out in a six-year timescale to budget but they're not super-advanced like the EPR. Frankly we'd be better off stamping out cookie-cutter APRs like Sizewell B even if they aren't sexytech.

205:

"If Korean reactors are that good, why aren't we buying them, rather than out-of-date expensive Froggie ones?"

In case you had not noticed, we are ruled by scientific illiterates to whom the notion of "evidence driven policy" is meaningless. The public gets what it voted in.

206:
I think, rather, that we have fucked up somewhere in the organizational or legal frame works we use for these things, and it would be very advisable to fix it.

Our government has fallen prey to Charlie's alien invaders. It seems to have little to no ability to defend itself against their depredations, and so here we are.

207:

Sigurd (I'm more familiar with the Norse variant than the Germanic and Wagner's take on it) doesn't seem too far different from a standard Trouser-man to me (the brain in the head is not in control and the one in the trousers is only capable of short-term thinking). There are innumerable tales of blokes doing the same sort of things without any need for the supernatural headfucks to lead them into it: female character appears, and it is immediately possible to predict what the next several chapters will consist of - male lead shags her and shit hits fan. As a puppet of supernatural powers I much prefer Turin Turambar: his suboptimal decisions are much more a product of his own personality and history, rather than of generic biological impulses.

208:

I haven't read the particular book in question, but in general terms it seems to me unsurprising that people have difficulty with a setting that excludes FTL. Unless you limit your stage to the size of one solar system, the timescale of sub-FTL travel is just far too long in relation to human lifetimes. Every time the story moves on a stage you have to introduce a whole new bunch of characters because all the previous ones are long dead.

Columbus toddles off into the wide black yonder; hundreds of years later his great-great-great...s get back...

Even if you handwave FTL communication (with reservoirs of entangled quantum bits or whatever) it doesn't help much. People may still be able to talk to each other a bit, but they still can't do anything that really affects each other, they can only do things that might affect someone's distant descendants. The result is that it enormously changes the kind of story you can tell, and stories where people can't effectively do things to each other are trying to do without something pretty fundamental to storytelling.

"Realistic" FTL (as in, with relativistic time travel effects existing) also has problems, although of a different nature: basically, that of expecting readers to understand relativity. If they don't, they have to swallow a lot of weird stuff going on and associated difficulties it causes, without the mental toolkit to make sense of why it's like that.

209:

In the last thread I mentioned an itch that SO as a genre scratches - escapism. I think this is where the huge scale and the sense of wonder and the action filled plots com in. It has to feel a bit unreal, or rather larger than life. Don't mind a plucky farmboy or two* as POV character.

I think to be dramatic, space opera must not be Star Wars, where the first mass murder is simple special effect. I think the nova in Iron Sunrise, or the assault on the system in the Algebraist where well done and neccessary: Show us a few faces, don't make mass slaughter an anonymous backdrop to a toy commercial. Escapism yes don't trivialize the drama by hiding the ugliness.

210:

Has anyone ever deconstructed that? As in, fantasy story with strong-jawed determined hero, but ultimately the victory goes to whichever side has the biggest industrial base to supply their wizards with whatever wizards need?

You are going to want to go find Joe Abercrombie and read everything set in his First Law universe, since that is basically the bulk of it. And the first 3 are a wonderful play-about of Lord of the Rings

For example, Heroes (book 5) features an army headed by shapechanging witch-agents of the opposing wizard... so the local wizard introduces them to these new inventions the bell makers and chemists have come up with that do something very interesting with large balls of iron.

Also, the series includes the phrase "you magical arsehole" which is always a plus.

211:

I haven't read the particular book in question, but in general terms it seems to me unsurprising that people have difficulty with a setting that excludes FTL. Unless you limit your stage to the size of one solar system, the timescale of sub-FTL travel is just far too long in relation to human lifetimes. Every time the story moves on a stage you have to introduce a whole new bunch of characters because all the previous ones are long dead.

As far as suspending disbelief goes, I find it a lot easier to imagine extreme life extension than FTL travel. I have no idea if humans will actually manage to engineer themselves into much longer lifespans, but at least we have some examples of multicellular organisms that live for hundreds, even thousands of years.

Of course for the sake of a good space opera I'm willing to let go and enjoy the FTL, recognizing that it's science-fantasy and it doesn't have to be any more grounded in scientific reality than a voyage into Faerie.

212:

It seems to be rather out of favor these days. However, Frank Herbert's Dune has always defined space opera for this reader since the very first read. It's perfect, with the exceptions of certain treatments of the primary female characters.But then, Dune had female characters, many of them, and all different, who had much to do, which cannot be said of most sf written by men before Dune or after, for that matter.

213:

Non-renewables have all sorts of hidden subsidies, after all.

Yes, but we know non-renewables are going away. It's in the name. The 6.5 billion-human-life question is whether non-renewable energy is going away too.

214:

oops: whether renewable energy is going away too.

215:
Even if you handwave FTL communication (with reservoirs of entangled quantum bits or whatever) it doesn't help much. People may still be able to talk to each other a bit, but they still can't do anything that really affects each other, they can only do things that might affect someone's distant descendants

FTL communication combined with personality uploads is one possible trick there. Richard Morgan does that in his Altered Carbon books, and the A-gates in Glasshouse are effectively the same. The former manages to largely avoid the problems/possibilities of having multiple instances of the same mind floating around at the same time, which seems like a little bit of a cop-out.

FTL communication with boring old telepresence is another. Ender's Game sorta has this, but I don't know if anyone does literal remote control of equipment/prosthetic bodies, etc.

Ansibles pop up all over the place, of course, but I'm not well enough read to know if those two extensions are more widely used that the examples i gave.

216:

One other thing, re the desire for becoming A or The Hero comes from the urge to impress females -- there is the constantly overlooked real life Hero who conquered all the worlds he could find: Alexander. Julius Caesar wasn't far behind, and there was a great deal of talk that he too wasn't all that much of a straight shooter, so to speak (though a lot of it was probably written by haters for political reasons, rather than anything proven).

It's not anywhere near as much about getting girls as being admired by one's (masculine) peers and getting to be the boss of them.

217:

Pigeon,
The assumptions are highly effective hibernation and automation. As in you can sleep for a 100+ (and kilo years are possible IIRC) and wake up to find your robots have replicated across the surface of your dwarf planet in the Oort belt and woke you up because now you have enough resources for everyone in the colony to be awake and work together for a few months. And since this typically happens on a schedule, traders that also use hibernation have timed their arrivals and awakening to be there at the same time. Though Schroeder was a little unclear on what needed to be traded at near interstellar distances.

Add in later (and stranger) cultures joining in and you can have all kinds of strange human and human variants interacting with the founder cultures (ie, viewpoint characters for the readers).

Anyway, I thought it was a damn neat idea and setting.

218:

And now a second thing, the other space operas the help define the category for me: Vernor Vinge's "Zones of Thought" series. I love those.

219:

Even if you handwave FTL communication (with reservoirs of entangled quantum bits or whatever)

That reservoir of entangled qbits could be a nice McGuffin. It would be impossible to make another in any reasonable time (what with quantum entangling the bits, sending one set on a multicentury, sub-lightspeed interstellar trip, and hoping the entire thing isn't ruined by a relativistic pebble or a little stray heat from the Huge Damn Rocket that launched the thing). There's only a finite number of bits for communication, and let's say this one has just enough left to send a tweet or two ("Murderbots coming your way").

Cons: Utterly impractical on an engineering level.

Pros: Non-reproducible. Non-fungible: you can have petabytes to communicate with one system while still having hardly any to communicate with another. Kind of makes sense if you don't think too hard about it, and that's way more sense than a space opera McGuffin needs to make.

220:

It's not anywhere near as much about getting girls as being admired by one's (masculine) peers and getting to be the boss of them.

That's how women generally think. It really isn't how straight men generally think. We're asymmetric in this respect.

221:

How is your "chemist" example functionally different from a superhero story?

222:

Walter Jon Williams has committed a fair number of space operas, such as his Dread Empire's Fall series.

223:

It would be impossible to make another in any reasonable time (what with quantum entangling the bits, sending one set on a multicentury, sub-lightspeed interstellar trip, and hoping the entire thing isn't ruined by a relativistic pebble or a little stray heat from the Huge Damn Rocket that launched the thing).

Such a set up would imply a very long supply chain. The weekly starwisp delivering a few kilos of commbits may have been launched a century before.

If you're tech is good enough that you can plonk a robot factory on an asteroid/moon and have it churn them out then it might not cost much. The big headache will be that consumption is limited by logistical decisions made generations before.

224:

Frequent small packages are almost surely a bad approach. The qbit hardware itself is probably much smaller than the cryonics needed to keep it cool, and the energy needed to accelerate/decelerate the package mass is, to put it mildly, substantial. Rare packages of the maximum practical size would make more sense.

225:

I suspect you're referring to the poll put out by Beloit College.

226:

Sorry, sarcasm doesn't translate as well as it needs to. I'm somewhat neutral on Banks, but that's just personal taste.

My point in swiping at St. Banks was to point out (through being annoying) that regular posters may make the mistaken assumption that The Kids will like him too. Unfortunately, his world is just as much a product of the 20th Century as Stranger in a Strange Land was, and I'm not sure that his approach to space opera will sell any more than, say, Dune will. There's a bit of a disconnect in the literature, and it's centered around the publication of the 3rd book of Harry Potter, when YA started to become it's own thing, and SFF lost a big chunk of teenaged audience.

227:

Well, Raiders isn't space opera. This gets back to the original notion that Space Opera was spun off of Horse Opera (e.g. westerns with a stereotypical plot).

This does bring up one point, that scales do often get wacky, especially in the sillier space operas. The protagonists travel from Planet Shanghai to Planet Honolulu to Planet San Francisco... In other words (as Charlie noted in the last post), it's standard to scale a small spot up to take up a whole planet.

What these stories are really doing is taking Age of Empire adventures, filing off the serial numbers (so that Timbuktu became Planet Timbuktu in the Sahara System), and telling the same story.

It's pretty reasonable to assume that you can do the same with Cli Fi. Back in the 1970s, Sterling Lanier was doing similar things with stories set in post apocalyptic North America, complete with psychic Indians riding tame moose, IIRC. Fun stuff if you're a kid, even if it's a little harder to pull off after a mass extinction with a side of global warming sauna.

In any case, as with Raiders of the Lost Ark, you can take the space out of the opera and still have a fun adventure. Global disasters ultimately end up rediversifying the planet by making the cultural scales substantially smaller.

228:
And the kids coming of age are getting more into shared suffering and making do with less, but they don't see this as necessarily dystopian, they see it as living.

Which is kinda the point - in the 60s it was all "things are going to get better", and now it's "things are going to get worse".

Or, looked at another way "you can't cut your way to greatness".

Nobody will boldly aim to forge a world in which "well, it's going to be a bit shit" - it doesn't make things happen, it makes things NOT happen.

Which might well be where the whole green movement trips over it's own feet and ensures that CO2 is not cut - you can't get a mass movement to charge boldly towards ... having it worse than they do now. A positive message, a better world, is the only way you can have change.

And one of the first steps is the construction of a narrative that IS better, and DOES tie in with the plausible real world. Maybe that's the space opera that's needed?

229:

Start by immunising people against induced failure to recognise that their most precious, least extensible personal resource is being systematically stolen by a web of mind-controlling hyperparasites whose excretions are poisoning the world...

230:

It's way worse than that because we're not dealing with parasites, we're dealing with symbiotes.

Could you feed yourself without Monsanto?

231:

It isn't. The chemist is Richard Seaton, the hero of EE "Doc" Smith's Skylark series. He is very much a superhero of the "assisted standard human" type: he is extremely intelligent, extremely physically fit and strong, good-looking, commanding, forceful, etc, etc, but he doesn't fly or shoot lasers from his eyes or anything; he develops/gets his hands on some cool technology and uses that to augment his capabilities instead, to the point of being able to destroy galaxies. He is also an authorial expression of "Doc" Smith's own personal superhero fantasy - he was a chemist and he more or less saw himself as Seaton before he made his big discovery.

232:

"...his world is just as much a product of the 20th Century"
Don't know about that; re-reading The Hydrogen Sonata (2012) and it feels quite contemporary.
Surface Detail (2010) also probably couldn't have been written in the 20th century.
Matter (2008) probably could have been though. (IMO)

233:

I avoid reading the Hydogen Sonata for some time on both conscious and sub-conscious levels, probably because I didn't want to read the Last Culture novel
I have to say I didn't love the Hydrogen Sonata, but if we take the position that most SF is really about current times, then it becomes a much more interesting book
So thanks for opening that interpretation to me

234:

Capacity might not be too much of a problem. I suspect that once it becomes possible to produce them reliably at all, that'll be the big problems solved, and it won't take long to get from there to churning them out by the mole at densities of one per several atoms. For comparison, I think internet traffic at the moment is somewhere roughly of the order of a thousandth of a mole of bits per month (give or take an order of magnitude). So a thing the size of a can of cat food could carry many years' worth of the whole internet. Given how much of that is of purely local relevance, and how much it is bloated by things like stupid websites with a 1000:1 signal to useless bollocks ratio, I reckon it'd be a long time before running out of capacity would be a serious problem, and even then it'd probably most likely be due to ineffective castration.

It might well, also, be advantageous to send them off in lots of small packets. It'd make things a lot easier if your automatic lunar manufacturing station could easily collect enough energy from its solar arrays to accelerate the things to full speed before they got out of range. It also means that whatever catches them at the other end has to dissipate the energy in smaller chunks (assuming you manage to solve that problem without requiring engines on the thing itself).

Cooling it en route might not be necessary. Once you get away from the sun it's bloody cold, and I'm not aware of any hard limit on how cold is cold enough.

Usefully, the set-up time isn't a problem: it takes the first packets a long time to get to the destination, but it also takes a long time for the first crewed ship to get there, and two-way communication is inherently possible.

235:

I am reminded of that louse that eats a fish's tongue and then clamps onto the stump and the fish uses it as a tongue...

236:

Dread Empire's Fall is a favorite of mine. BTW, is it just me or did WJW play with the more operatic side of the toolkit? And did he flip the gender roles of the teri characters?

237:

Ah. That raises more questions than it answers. I shall have to read the book.

238:

Never mind economic sense - what about technical/engineering sesne?
We're back to R J Gordon again ....

239:

In case you had not noticed, we are ruled by scientific illiterates to whom the notion of "evidence driven policy" is meaningless.
Agree BUT
Whether it's tory or liebour it makes no difference AT ALL - the voting by the public is at least 150% irrelevant.

See also #203.

240:
what about technical/engineering sesne?

What about them? They've not been relevant to government policy for decades. Why should they be now?

241:

ANSIBLE
Hainish cycle

242:

If (VERY big "IF" ) they are symbiotes, what's the mutualising benefit to us?

Could you feed yourself without Monsanto?
I already do & so could most of the rest of the Planet, actually.
What one needs is more Rothamsteds & no Monsantos.
Um

243:
regular posters may make the mistaken assumption that The Kids will like him too.

As opposed to a regular poster assuming they know what The Kids think without asking them, based on some personal assumptions about the work in question?

Unfortunately, his world is just as much a product of the 20th Century as Stranger in a Strange Land was

I too have noticed that when a new century ticks over, all material written in the hundred years prior to it promptly becomes indistinguishable.

SFF lost a big chunk of teenaged audience.

Did you put one too many Fs in there? or were both deliberate? Because that would surprise me a little more.

244:

Re "Non FTL space opera has problems because of the relativistic effects": not necessarily more than any space opera. The characters on a spaceship are all together and experience the same effects. The people on the planets (systems, cities, whatever) they visit don't matter. Spacers and grounders are different breeds. Of course that brings in the issue of how space opera is it if space travelers are not interacting with other space travelers in different spacecraft, in which case you have different relativistic effects. A little genetically engineered longevity might help.

245:

Which is why my teenage kid's favourite film of the last few years was GoG.

246:

Yes, I did mention ansibles. I don't believe the Hainish books make use of telepresence or personality uploads, and those were the extensions that were most relevant to the discussion about FTL travel.

247:

And when he does infodump it's in small doses that feel like "interesting factoids" about something currently topical. Character wears gelsuit, has an argument with it, here's an interesting factoid about gelsuits. The point about the Culture is that it's just ridiculously advanced so anything is possible but there are still challenges and THAT's what the story is about, rather than about the kinds of traditional stories that can be told in new settings if we just have these magic tricks. What kinds of issues will be transcendental? As for it's being "communist" that's just what Banks projected as an inevitable consequences of having conquered all problems that technology could possibly solve. So, what problems are left?

248:

If the kids today are attracted to books about just learning to live with an expected crappy future, then maybe what they need is a story like this:

bright future utopia has solved all that, a bunch of young people cop a star ark and thaw out in distant solar system ready to colonize. They encounter a hostile world where the aliens killed themselves with climate change from too much use of fossil fuels, and using only available tools they have to overcome the problems of colonizing that.

249:

Come on, kids. This will be fun!

250:

To me the major hurdle non FTL space opera has to clear is that of finding a reason for the protagonists to travel from A to B that will still be relevant when they get there.

251:

Okay, so they are basically presented with the earth that could have been had their utopia not solved everything? Here's a start: How long ago did said catastrophe occur? Does the planet still support life in some recognisable sense, or are we dealing with a pseudo-Venus resulting from hundreds of thousands of years of runaway greenhouse? If there are still oceans and life, it could be ripe for some biogeochemical hacking. I am thinking along the lines of the notion that in our oceans today, iron is the limiting factor in photosynthesis and carbon fixation. Fertilise the oceans with iron and you get massive plankton blooms that suck vast quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere by way of the oceans. Assuming the majority of these blooms die and sink, sequestering the carbon on the seafloor, you have a neat way of reducing atmospheric CO2 and pushing climate change in the other direction. There have actually been relatively small scale experiments that have shown you can make plankton blooms in this way. The question is then, how long can they hang around on their star ark, waiting for the planet to be habitable?

252:

They encounter a hostile world where the aliens killed themselves with climate change from too much use of fossil fuels

Will there be a scene where they discover a half-buried Statue of Liberty at a beach?

253:

Do you think Rothamsted-style farming is something that could be scaled to feed the whole planet, or is your ability to eat that style of food a luxury provided by your relatively elevated position in a society that depends on cheaper foods for the masses?

The mutualizing benefit is simple. Abundance, relatively speaking, with accompanying benefits in military success, population, etc.

254:

Err
Rothamstead is the pre-eminent & oldest agricultural resaerch station on the planet.
Most days, forced to beg for money from corporations, most of the time, though quite a bit of its work can be sold for a profit.
My "relatively elevated postition" ...
Err, no.
Allotment food is tasty & nutritious, & cheap, but it is hard work & time-consuming.

255:

Yup, that's exactly the one!

256:

The Hydrogen Sonata wasn't intended to be the last Culture novel; Iain actually was beginning to think of the next one when the diagnosis came in.

A few days before he died he invited Ken and Andrew around to talk about his literary estate, and said he was going to make some notes on the last Culture novel in case Ken wanted to finish it for him. But he took a turn for the MuchMuchMuch worse that evening and ended up in hospice care, where he died without writing anything down. (This was the week after he recorded that final TV interview; he'd expected to have another month or so.)

So no, there is no "final Culture novel", and there won't be -- not even the notes for it.

257:

Did you put one too many Fs in there?

SFF = Science Fiction and Fantasy. Accepted acronym use, alternatively rendered as SF/F.

258:

Yes, I'm aware of that. I wasn't aware that the 'fantasy' part was suffering a sharp decline in younger readers.

259:
My "relatively elevated postition" ... Err, no. Allotment food is tasty & nutritious, & cheap, but it is hard work & time-consuming.
How long is the waiting list for an allotment in your area, Greg?
260:

Speaking of Iain Banks, I just came across a note I made of something he said at a convention or literary festival a few years ago: "Space Opera isn't written in a vacuum!"

261:

1) Social signals work on more than one audience; it can be both.
2) Evidence for this assertion? OTOH, I'm sure you can think of at least one group of men with status games for nothing but internal stakes.

262:

Interesting Article on Despair Fatigue

http://thebaffler.com/salvos/despair-fatigue-david-graeber

Really looking for reasons to be hopeful, or just wanting to pull the bedclothes further up and hope it all goes away?

263:

Years ago I was in a similar discussion at some con. I asked if In Conquest Born by C. S. Friedman counted as Space Opera.

It has the basic infrastructure:

A Very Evil interstellar Empire in a millennia-old war with a Not That Bad interstellar Empire.

Protagonists who are major figures in their empires and who may effect their ultimate destinies.

Uniform cultured planets.

Exploding space ships.

But the group at that con said it didn't count because of the central element of really twisted sexual politics and psychology.

Also, can it be a Space Opera when the Good Empire is shown as not that great, except in comparison to the enemy?

264:

Yeah, I think there were Star Trek episodes that had this theme? Isn't it a little patrician/patronizing/authoritarian to tell people that technology has solved all their problems, so they don't have to worry your little head about them?

After all, technology certainly created every single one of those problems. Very few people believe that technology is an unbridled good any more, even though they depend on technology.

No. This, again, is why I wrote Hot Earth Dreams. What is a climate-changing Earth like? What is a climate-changed Earth like? This is what at least some of them really want to know.

The default is that it's a black space into which to project your horrors, so that one can pontificate about either: the stupidity of humanity, and/or our moral failings, and/or the evils of science and technology, and/or the simple*, back-to-the-land solutions that, if we only had implemented them back in the 1970s, would have saved us all.

What we already know of it is far more complicated than that. Unfortunately, even though there's most of a library bookshelf of books dealing with all the issues and possible solutions, they're not getting widely enough read to even be checked for utility.

This is one place where SFF (yes, two F's) can help, by sneaking ideas into popular discussion without being didactic about them.

*I totally agree with Greg. Simple is not the same as easy, especially when it comes to agriculture.

265:

As an aside (but connected to this), you remember that during the 1990s and the 2000s when "everyone" was upgrading their technology every two years for increased performance? To my knowledge, that ended in 2010 with the release of the iPad. This means that the oldest of Generation Z (born after 2000), they were 10 when this stopped happening. For them, computers, smartphones, and tablets were all jewelry or appliances. Further, consumer technology has appeared static, with only minor cosmetic improvements (a simplistic viewpoint, in my opinion). I wonder how this has affected their worldview?

266:

It has moved more from hardware to software, hasn't it? We're now migrating from Facebook to Twitter to Snapchat, with LinkedIn replacing MySpace, and Second Life doing whatever...

There's also the rise of the sharing economy, aka monetizing everything your friends and family used to do for you, aka doing more with less.

This is actually a good argument about how to deal with tech in a story. If it looks too much like the linear extrapolation of an era (cf cyberpunk) it gets very dated, very fast. With cyberpunk, no one in their right mind would now want to implant a phone directly in their brain, especially after seeing how both ownership issues and universal hacking.


267:
no one in their right mind would now want to implant a phone directly in their brain, especially after seeing how both ownership issues and universal hacking.

As soon as it becomes possible, it will happen. People just don't care about ownership issues or hacking. They want their cool stuff.

Issues of obsolescence might cause second thoughts, but I wouldn't want to bet on that.

268:

Depends
Some sites have long waiting lists
Ours, I think has one waiting at present.
People have realised (again) that it IS hard work - depends on whether you think it's worth it.
As a retired person, I have the time, most of the time ...

269:

I don't know if migrating from Facebook to Snapchat is really any different than migrating from Motorolla to Nokia was back in the day?

However, you are right about the fact that most improvements these days happen on software. Specifically, machine learning is getting far more capable. With the exception of a well-publicized event like Watson winning Jeopardy and AlphaGo winning Go, it is hard to quantify improvements in this field. I mean, Google's search algorithm has gotten better. So have the various recommendation engines, but that gets back to Hugh Hancock's problems he mentioned in Storm of Stories.

270:

"Despair Fatigue"?
Maybe.
But, echoing hetromeles ...
THIS
Not good.

Checked my very small pond today - newts but only one, egg-swollen female frog. No males. I hope more show up soon. Last year had lots of egss, but very few tadpoles ....

271:

Will this now change that a (admittedly proof-of-principle lab-test only ) has shown that computing down (up?) to the Landauer Limit is possible?

272:

And so, having an allotment and the time to work it, you contend you are not in a relatively elevated position?
(The questioner may or may not be suffering intense garden envy brought on by attempting to plan the year's planting while restricted to containers.)

Your point about more Rothamsted-style research is well taken; of course, no Monsanto doesn't mean no GMO - the IRRI are the people currently working on golden rice.

273:

'... back-to-the-land solutions ...'

Ever hear of Bjark Ingels and the hill house? Most of this architect's projects are very large scale yet each project connects with the people using these structures as well as with their environments. Emphasis on interesting/integrated sustainable architecture. Probably the most SF-ish designs around. (He's been hired to design Google's new head office.)


Video below:

Bjarke Ingels "Hedonistic Sustainability"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpMDkQbye0A


274:

Hmmm.... I have a feeling that it's about more than just scale and grandness.

If Game of Thrones had shuttles instead of horses and space cruisers instead of dragons I'm pretty sure it would qualify as space opera.

Pratchett's Strata has all the elements of space opera but doesn't really feel like it.

I think it's more about the focus of the writing.

Some authors like Niven tend to focus on devices, the introduce a device and then play with dropping it into the world. Sometimes these devices can be on a space-opera scale like the ringworld but the focus still remains upon the device rather than the characters or the empires. They're just bit players being pushed around by the mechanics of the new world containing The Device.

If Banks hadn't given his ships personalities, made them characters, I don't think some of his books would have felt very much like Space Opera since the human-level characters would simply have been pushed around by giant artifacts with no control themselves.

So I think that space opera attempts which focus too much on the toys rather than just noting their existence like Banks did will tend to fall down as space opera. Grand devices on the scale of stars can be backdrop but they can't drive the choices of the characters.

Dr Who and HHGTTG on the other hand are pretty much totally about the characters, devices are pretty much magical wands thrown in to fit the plot.

I think the reason they don't feel like space opera is that they stick too close to the main characters. Everything is on a personal level. The Dr destroys attacking fleets but it tends to be *him* and his companions doing it. He doesn't ride over the hilltop (around the gas giant) with reinforcements trailing behind him.

275:

Frogs? I think we may have yours. We have possibly more than ever.

(Pond in corner of shared garden, I wonder if that helps)

276:

I don't think it is. Go into the YA section of any decent bookshop, and a rather large percentage falls into the SF/F category. Go into the primary-age section, and count the number of "BeastQuest" or "How to Train your Dragon" titles...

277:

Well, this is annoying - this page doesn't accept the pre html tag

In Doc's defence,
a) Dick *does* go and find the most advanced race he can.
for real technical assistance, and give them something
worthwhile in return - X, since they're short on energy
b) You will admit that the Fenachrone aren't exactly
sweetness and light, and then there's the ameboids,
who prefer to wipe *everyone* unlike them out. In
the latter case, it does seem to be it's us or them.

And the scene fairly early in Skylark, with Dick and Mart arguing and beating on the seriously heavy-duty math isn't just Finding a Magical Sword. Actually, that also reminds me of Jim Hogan's Genesis Machine, which, to my mind, may be the best ever story showing the real *excitement* of finding an understanding of something important about the universe.


mark

278:

Issues of obsolescence might cause second thoughts, but I wouldn't want to bet on that.

What: the risk of anti-biotic resistant meningitis doesn't worry you? Wow, you're brave!

We're already at a point where antibiotic resistance is a consideration as a risk factor for all sorts of surgery, especially anything deep -- orthopedic stuff, hip replacement, and brain surgery in particular.

Yes, we'll eventually get new antibiotics. But I think it'll take a very long time indeed for the memory of resistance and what it means for surgery to be lost by the medical profession this time round. They're in the process of re-learning everything they forgot about hygiene from 1945 to 1985, and which they originally learned in 1865-1905, and it ain't pretty.

279:

Sad, sad, sad.
And just to clarify I meant the last Culture novel I will ever read for the first time.
I am sure the Culture moved on at some point, the exit points were there
The fascinating thing is why they hadn't

280:

I think you misread my post - I was talking about those settings which do have FTL, but treat it "realistically" by taking account of the relativistic time weirdness that results (instead of just pretending it doesn't happen as is the usual case). That puts a particular burden on the reader, by requiring them either to understand relativity or to accept a large helping of weirdness that doesn't seem to make sense.

In fact on revisiting this thought I'd put it a bit more strongly - understanding relativity isn't really enough to be able to have the story flow naturally without coming up short against humps, although it does provide for flattening the humps by thought; to not notice humps at all the reader really has to grok relativity, which is probably a rare ability even among actual physicists.

281:

How about EM drive ... research funded by the UK gov't?

'Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd (SPR Ltd) a small UK based company, has demonstrated a remarkable new space propulsion technology. The company has successfully tested both an experimental thruster and a demonstrator engine which use patented microwave technology to convert electrical energy directly into thrust. No propellant is used in the conversion process. Thrust is produced by the amplification of the radiation pressure of an electromagnetic wave propagated through a resonant waveguide assembly.'

282:

Actually, I find it hard to worry about antibiotic-resistant meningitis. The reason being that I have the impression of meningitis as a disease which progresses very rapidly, but whose symptoms are not definitive, so that by the time they've figured out that's what it is you're already nearly dead and it's too late for antibiotics to be much use anyway.

Of course, this impression may be completely wrong...

Totally agree with the rest of your post, though. Something has gone very wrong with hospital hygiene culture. My gran died as a result of antibiotic-resistant infection in her leg, which got in there in the first place by way of dodgy hygiene, notwithstanding my mum (who is a doctor) pointing out what they were doing wrong both to begin with and in terms of the care provided after the infection had taken hold.

283:

Well, the stupidity of implanting phones has been mentioned at least once as an example of where cyberpunk got it wrong. People might want to upgrade phones one or more times per year, but they don't particularly want to have brain surgery every year just for fashion's sake. If nothing else, the prevalence of little lovelies like MRSA and C. diff. in hospitals would dissuade them.

This is actually one point: the cyberpunks did get a lot of the future right, but since they got into implants and cyberspace, most people ignore the parts they got right.

I'd also point out that this isn't unique: wrist phones have reportedly been available for at least a decade in Japan. IIRC, they're known as something like "virginity insurance," given the characteristics of (largely male) population who's willing to buy and wear the things. Just because it's techie and cool, it does not follow that it will catch on.

284:

Well, my late father had bacterial encephalitis back in the 70s. They cut open his head and took out the infected bits, and left him a bed-ridden paraplegic with severe epilepsy and other cognitive deficits. This was someone who was wiring computers to talk with each other back in the 1960s, incidentally.

Anyway, he lived another 30 years that way.

That's the downside to brain infections--you often get to survive them. Fortunately, diagnosis has gotten better since my dad got sick. Unfortunately, the bacteria have gotten more virulent as well, and hospital staff are (in my limited observation) pretty effing careless about sterile procedure, hygiene, and quarantine. Personally, I wouldn't count on antibiotics keeping up with resistance, given that antibiotics don't bring in the profits that things like statins and erectile dysfunction drugs do.

285:

Another reactionless drive...

Conservation of momentum is a very solidly established principle. Various inventions have been put forward over the years that purport to violate it. Some of them are outright charlatanry designed to extract money from gullible funding agencies; others are honestly believed to work by their inventor, but invariably turn out not to once sources of experimental error have been thoroughly eliminated.

I could swallow it as a drive mechanism in a space opera (although I'd cough a bit when it was first introduced), but in real life... IBIWISI, actually controlling the attitude of a satellite or some other real application.

286:

That is... pretty fucking horrible :(

287:

No, I wasn't aware. Thanks, he looks interesting.

288:

Re the mapping of Algarotti's thoughts about opera to a space opera triple of cultural dialogue/spice, action, world building/lore, plus narrative arc/story,
after finally poking around a bit, sure these elements need to be present in current (readable) space opera. Agree with DaiKiwi's analysis; it's a bit of a stretch for the original derogatory term, which by all accounts (I've found) was an observation of similarity to Horse Opera (only one book found: Horse Opera: The Strange History of the 1930s Singing Cowboy). I am mostly interested (for space opera needs) in New Space Opera (and Dune, even the later books), which do have these elements. (word choice appreciated.)

289:

Yeah, I've been staring at the February temperature record since Sunday (wunderground); missed it on Saturday. The embigified graph in the Independent is worth staring at too, and sharing; colors are effective.

290:

I think you're underestimating continued upgrade pressure. I have an iPhone 4 (June 24, 2010 release), and it is still functional and useful, but slow and no 4G and does not have enough memory and there are no iOS upgrades and some new apps don't work, and people are starting to mock it a bit.

291:

Actually it isn't "reactionless"
Think of it as an QM hydraulic Jack - the principle is remarkably similar.

292:

The principle is well established, and involves credulous investors being parted from their money. Claiming that reputable agencies are "interested" is a standard gambit. Badgering them into doing tests to debunk the more absurd claims introduces the highly profitable "establishment conspiracy" angle.

Protip: Mixing different levels of abstraction such as "qm" and "hydraulic" is classic flim flam.

293:

The law is ... undeveloped, but another possible future reason for implants could be to make the phone/computer a proper augmentation of the mind for legal purposes, with potential legal protections vs search and seizure and self-incrimination similar to current rules for meat-brain-held information.
(I would like to live in a world like that.)
Links for a discussion of this were in HB comment in a previous thread- the slate.com piece has vanished.


294:

With regard to despair fatigue, I tend to cluster with the Buddhists, whose first noble truth can be translated either as suffering is unavoidable, or as existence is unsatisfactory. Embracing this truth is the first step towards enlightenment.

One of the cognitive problems with Progress is that, no matter how many goals we achieve, the world continues to suck. Buddhism veered towards embracing the suck, instead of trying to make it go away. Perhaps that is the saner approach, especially now?

To be clear, I don't think the Buddhists have ever created Nirvana on Earth (indeed, this is where various traditions of Messianic Buddhism--which is a thing--come from). However, I do think that they've figured out ways to deal with the fundamental suckiness of life that we could do well to embrace in a wide variety of ways.

I'd also point out that Buddhism isn't a panacea, and furthermore, there are a lot of interesting conflicts that come out of a Buddhist worldview (cf: Manga, Anime, Chinese novels, etc.), so it's perfectly possible to play with their ideas and still have a conflict-filled life. Getting back to the original topic of this post, I don't know of any Buddhist space operas, but that's probably just my ignorance showing again. They certainly should be possible.

295:

Or there's Iain Banks, who's just weird. What is this communist/socialist post-scarcity stuff he's talking about anyway?

Not nearly as weird as ought to be, given the setting. I recall Banks once mentioning that every Culture novel is set during relatively rare and relatively short periods when "there is a fashion for biological bodies."

296:

Sounds like moonshine funded by physics-illiterates, as I understand it.

Rather more credible: here's an off-the-shelf plasma thruster for cubesats. Isp of 608 seconds, which is pretty good. It weighs 280 grams and can run off 2.7 watts of juice supplied by PV arrays; I can quite easily see larger versions driving missions to the asteroid belt and Jupiter, at which point the main headache is powering a downlink back home -- presumably relaying via a larger probe, the way they do on Mars?

297:

Personally, I wouldn't count on antibiotics keeping up with resistance, given that antibiotics don't bring in the profits that things like statins and erectile dysfunction drugs do.

Correct, but that's because we've spent fifty years leaving antibiotic research in the safe and competent hands of, er, the Invisible Hand (of market forces), which optimize for profitability rather than life-saving efficacy.

We know how to fix this; it just needs a judicious application of tumbrils and changes to IP law (although a couple more Martin Shkreli's crawling out of the woodwork might be enough to tip the balance).

298:

Properly designed and built (and expensive and space-rated) ion thrusters will give an Isp of a thousand and more. The xenon-fuelled thruster on the SMART-1 lunar probe had an Isp of 1600 and that flew over ten years ago.

As for deep-space, outside the orbit of Mars there are no operational probes that can provide relay capabilities. They usually have limited bandwidth and power capabilities and no suitable receivers, switching and signal transcoding equipment on board.

Mars is special in that there are regularly-scheduled missions being sent there (ExoMars launched a couple of days ago), multiple operational rovers and science stations on the ground as well as multiple orbiters and being able to share downlink capability was designed into the most recent probes. I think the only other ongoing mission outside Mars is Cassini in the Saturn system, after the Pluto flyby.

299:

Personally, I wouldn't count on antibiotics keeping up with resistance, given that antibiotics don't bring in the profits that things like statins and erectile dysfunction drugs do.

Correct, but that's because we've spent fifty years leaving antibiotic research in the safe and competent hands of, er, the Invisible Hand (of market forces), which optimize for profitability rather than life-saving efficacy.

We know how to fix this; it just needs a judicious application of tumbrils and changes to IP law (although a couple more Martin Shkreli's crawling out of the woodwork might be enough to tip the balance).

Um, that's not what I've seen, at least reading Chemical and Engineering NEws. It currently takes somewhere north of US$1 billion to bring a drug to market. Also, only about 1 in 2,000 drugs that show efficacy in the lab make it to market. Most of the rest die in "The Valley of Death," as it is known in the industry, going from where initial lab assays show it is promising candidate, to getting to phase 1 human trials, where most of the expense of creating the drug lies. There are any number of screwups, normally relating to unanticipated toxicity. It's hard to get funding to cross The Valley of Death, because there's such poor odds of success, and that's where most promising drug candidates languish untested and unchampioned.

Most of the cost in drug trials is reportedly the salaries of the workers, and there are a number of ways to get these down. For example, many human trials are held in cheap countries (India is or was a favorite) to keep personnel costs down. Still, a drug has to make hundreds of millions to billions of dollars to justify the cost of developing it to market, and failure to do so can easily bankrupt a company.

What can we do? Well, stupidly, the US Supreme Court made it legal to advertise drugs, and that's some substantial portion of the cost now (1/4 to 1/3? I don't have good numbers on that). Additionally, we insist on having drugs that are relatively safe when used correctly, which is expensive, albeit sane and practical. Finally, there's just science. While we can predict what kind of molecule will, say, disrupt a receptor on a bacterium (aka an antibiotic), we're still crappy at figuring out what else that particular molecule might affect, particularly if it's novel. That's one major way drug candidates fail crossing the Valley of Death.

The solution so far is to find angel investors to help promising drug candidates cross The Valley of Death and get into trials without wracking up hundreds of millions in costs. I do know the Gates Foundation has stepped in to help in some cases. Another thing we could do is to again outlaw drug advertising, but we'd have to convince the Supreme Court that they'd screwed up, and they generally don't seem to be receptive to those kinds of discussions.

300:

Oh, him. He doesn't know what he's talking about. The Culture seeks out humanoid civilizations to cultivate toward being ready for contact. There was a period in Culture history when non humanoid (but still physical) bodies were the fashion, but it passed. My theory is that the original Minds were products of an accelerated evolutionary process that made something nobody, even Minds, could understand the workings of. So they just clone them. And that process involved a parameter of trying to develop an AI that would seek out and make friends with humanoid life--because that's what the proto-Culture was doing at the time. Thus when the population becomes too predominantly non humanoid it gets nudged back. It's all very well and good to have a minority of non humanoids, but the soul of the Culture really comes from the collective will of the pampered gut flora called humans. The doting is irrational and the Minds know it, but given a basic drive, what within the needs of that drive would induce you to change that drive? Also Charles Stross writes good books, and the Singularity Sky world is one that does recognize the retrotemporal implications of FTL, though mainly to run from them screaming.

301:

We're already at a point where antibiotic resistance is a consideration as a risk factor for all sorts of surgery, especially anything deep -- orthopedic stuff, hip replacement, and brain surgery in particular.

Again I bring you some tidbits about politics here: the Finnish cabinet is a bit right-leaning currently. Hence the austerity policy (and associated doom and gloom).

So, one of the target of the cuts is the National institute for health and welfare. They have now started thinking what to cut because of the budget cuts.

One area which might be cut is the monitoring of the antimicrobial resistance, which of course includes antibiotics. Considering, in the words of a friend of mine, that this is one of the top threats against the humanity on the WHO's list, it does not sound that smart a move...

Oh, surely that's not the only area under consideration for termination...

302:

It looks to me to have started off as a bog standard reactionless drive, based on the well-known principle that you can always beat inconvenient conservation laws with a bit of fancy geometry if you try hard enough. The QM bit was tacked on a few years later as a counter to people like me going "reactionless drive, pull the other one", a counter which also has the added advantage of being able to say "quantum vacuum" a lot, thereby sounding cool and advanced and mysterious and especially attractive to people who already know the quantum vacuum as a source of free energy because Arthur C Clarke ran a spaceship off it.

303:

Well, maybe. Electromagnetic radiation drives are not new - the problem is that they are terribly inefficient, in terms of energy/thrust. And, of course, there is at least one practical (in a limited sense) reactionless drive that needs no physics beyond A-level.

304:

AIUI (& assuming we are talking about the same "drive")
It does not appear to be actually "reactionless" & it does not violate conservation laws.
A weed like me can lift a 2-tonne Land-Rover with a hydraulic jack, because, although the pressure inside the jack is equal at all points, the total load on a small area is much smaller than the load on a large area.
Similarly, this drive, if it works, is using "pressure" over differential areas - maybe. But it will be inefficient, but/& it will also go on for a long time on small quantities of power - in that respect it's similar to existing reaction ion-drives.
We will see.
It is entirely possible that it's a scam, but it is also possible that there might be something in it.

305:

I think the only other ongoing mission outside Mars is Cassini in the Saturn system

Dawn in orbit around Ceres and Juno due to arrive at Jupiter in July.

The theory behind relaying is you'd fly one or two "conventional" probes optimised for comms rather than research first, then your flock of plasma drive cubesats or whatever later.

306:

Euw.
I just looked up Msrtin Shkreli - what an evil greedy little crook!
I note however that the USA FDA have just changed the rules to try to stop this happening again ....

307:

I ran the numbers on these a few years ago.

The conclusion was that electromagnetic reaction drives are the most efficient available use of "fuel" if you are able to achieve 100% conversion to energy. Anything less than that and you are better off using the energy to accelerate the stuff you can't convert as reaction mass.

A key thing to remember when people talk about laser propulsion is that coherence, frequency etc. don't matter. Everything cancels out and you end up with momentum proportional to energy.

Lasers may make sense for pointing at a sail but if you are determined to have a photon thruster mounted on your space ship you may as well just use a heat lamp.

308:

All true, but remember what happened with AIDS drugs in the 1990s. If enough people are dying for lack of a treatment, the testing requirements can be relaxed in a targeted way.

309:

You and me, both :-) Yes, that's the problem.

310:

Can't find it, but read somewhere that old drugs and folk medicines are being looked at very seriously. Germany (Commission E), India and China probably the best bets for good info on this.

China ... is the newest clinical trials participant but there were such serious problems in one major clinical trial that the FDA sent investigators over.


Lastly, some antibiotics have been around/FDA approved for some time but are just too tetchy/dangerous so that many physicians are unlikely to prescribe them. So at best, these drugs might end up being used only in specific hospital situations. For the example given, 1 of every 2 patients got kidney damage even when this antibiotic was taken correctly! (So, probably can't use this antibiotic for most seniors which also limits the market considerably.)

ID Update 2014: New Threats, Old Antibiotics (John G. Bartlett, Johns Hopkins)

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/825141

311:

AIUI (& assuming we are talking about the same "drive")

Oh look, it's Roger Shawyer's Emdrive.

It does not appear to be actually "reactionless" & it does not violate conservation laws.

Actually it is, and it does:

Microwaves are squirted into a specially-shaped closed container and bounce around inside it. So it emits neither mass nor radiation but supposedly produces net thrust. That's "reactionless" in a nutshell. And any drive that's reactionless violates conservation of momentum, by definition.

Shawyer's theory claims no novel physics, but relies on standard electromagnetism and special relativity to "prove" there's a net force. But conservation of momentum is implicit in the standard theory, so you don't even have to look at the details of the "proof" to know that there must be an error somewhere in all the bafflegab about group velocity and frames of reference.

I'll go with Newton, Maxwell, Einstein and Noether on this one.

A weed like me can lift a 2-tonne Land-Rover with a hydraulic jack, because, although the pressure inside the jack is equal at all points, the total load on a small area is much smaller than the load on a large area.

Maybe, though your analogy is dubious since Shawyer seems to think the pressure isn't homogeneous. But can you still do it if you and the jack are entirely inside the Land-Rover? That (by analogy) is what's being claimed here.

312:

To do a hard science fiction space opera you have to decide what you want to use for your one lie or one fib. Go beyond that and you're into medium or soft. While EM drives are one candidate that might do, they are single purpose and have issues. A good candidate for your one fib is an antimatter generator. Or more specifically, a device into which you put matter and get out antimatter. This gives you an unlimited energy source on which an entire civilization can built. Reading in the latest issue of New Scientist I see there may be a couple of new particles showing up at CERN that they didn't expect from the Standard Model. Stay tuned. And that gave me an idea. Suppose you could use one of these particles as the background, the origin story, for the antimatter generator. So here are a couple of premises that might be needed.
1. The dark energy particle is discovered. This is the particle that carries the dark energy information. It normally emerges from the quantum foam too briefly to observe, but enough electron volts and you see them.
2. Dark energy is related to the value of the fine structure constant, which is related to the speed of light.
3. Thus, by (somehow)shielding dark energy from a volume you can modulate the speed of light (and other fundamental constants) within that volume.
4. Particles going backwards in time are antimatter.

While modulating the speed of light in a limited volume is useless in and of itself, what happens when you have a particle going at 300,000 km/sec through a volume then reduce the speed of light in that volume to 100,000 km/sec? You have a superluminal particle, which starts going backwards in time. Which is meaningless because it's a mirror image and of course you remember the particle taking that course, it always has.
So you have a way to make antimatter for free just by generating a dark energy blocking field and shooting particles into it, then capturing them magnetically as they come out. This lets you do all kinds of things that the future of the past promised us, but which were impossible because they take just oodles of energy. Not just one thing like the EM drive.


Also I was thinking about new space opera and old space opera. The difference isn't the tech, it's the kind of stories you tell. Star Trek and the Culture have the same tech, but Star Trek uses it to tell old fashioned stories about a world that isn't really a product of the tech. The Culture uses it to tell new kinds of stories about the kind of world that might come from such tech. Space opera, by etymology, is a paintjob: horse opera in space. 19th century stories in a glossed setting. New space opera, by the definition I have offered, is not a paintjob, it is real science fiction positing different tech or science and telling stories in a world based on the consequences of that. New Space Opera is thus only defined as space opera at all based on surface similarities to Space Opera. As such, it is to old space opera as old space opera is to new space opera. It is a paint job also.

313:

Testing requirements can still be relaxed if necessary. I was involved with the clinical trial of a new antibiotic (I coordinated the pathology labs parts of clinical trials and research). The clinicians involved were able to use the new drug on a patient whose infection was resistant to all available antibiotics.
I don't know the outcome of this case but the new drug was never marketed so I assume it was a failure.
As the person responsible for the assay of some last resort antibiotics my personal observation was that after the Labour government's "deep cleans", changes to hygiene in doctors like banning long sleeves, ties and watches and the use of MRSA pre-screening the number of MRSA case reported dropped dramatically as did the number of gentamicin, vancomycin and tobramycin assays on patient samples.

314:

If the planet were originally anything like Earth ( and I'm presuming it was because space telescopes picked it out on that basis) then it would have far too little carbon to ever become a Venus. I'm thing it needs to be at the point of the maximum suffering, before any recovery has taken place. There should be ruins everywhere. And there shouldn't be any sitting around on the Star Ark waiting to terraform. This was supposed to be a landing on an almost Earth like planet. There are provisions in case it isn't, so there are space suits and hab modules and solar panels and tools, but also a lot of useless seeds and pet chickens.

315:

" Most of the rest die in "The Valley of Death," "

There is also the fact that our legal standards of risk taking have evolved, many drugs in current use would not cross the valley today. And many people would die or live in pain because of it.

We have lost sight of the whole notion of risk / benefit ratio (and meanwhile we inflict incredible pain and side effects on cancer patients (often elderly) to sometimes gain at best a few months of low quality life, but because it's !!!cancer!!! everything and anything goes).

Our society wants "free" for everything and gets nothing as a result.

( according to this guy this includes aspirin, penicilin and other fairly common medications :

http://www.medicalprogresstoday.com/spotlight/spotlight_indarchive.php?id=1039
)

316:

It currently takes somewhere north of US$1 billion to bring a drug to market. Also, only about 1 in 2,000 drugs that show efficacy in the lab make it to market

A chunk of the cost is in the regulatory paperwork hoops, which is impressive -- and seems designed to keep bit-players out of the game. (Can you spell "regulatory capture"?)

Antibiotics are really uneconomical for big pharma to put resources into -- they've got about 8 years to cover the development costs after getting type approval before the patent coverage runs out. If you can get someone hooked on a new antidepressant they'll be on it for years-to-life; but a course of antibiotics is typically a 5 days to 1 month thing. So unless you can pile it high and sell it deep immediately, the profit margin on a medicine for any acute condition is tiny compared to chronic condition.

Mind you, there are some rays of hope. The FDA apparently just tweaked one regulation this week and has fucked Martin Shkreli's business model totally -- they reduced the paperwork requirements and opened up fast-track approval to generic copies of medicines that are out of patent cover but where there is only one supplier, so the time to approval has dropped from months-to-years to weeks-to-single-digit months.

What we really need is for the FDA and equivalent agencies to offer X-Prize type funding for new antibiotics; as in, if a corporation brings an innovative antibiotic to market (meeting certain criteria -- ideally, targeting a new metabolic pathway or blocking a new resistance trait) they should get an eight or nine digit tax-free check from the government in return for accepting reasonable price controls. That way, the risk of pursuing a new antibiotic could be offset against a guaranteed lottery-win style profit, and the price control model should still allow for profitable sales, but be graded to ensure availability -- to get the thing into clinical use fast. The quid pro quo would be no licenses for use of new antibiotics in veterinary medicine, period. We don't need to train zoonoses to make an end-run around our last line of defense ...

317:

Okay, I get that the stats don't look good for quite a few of the older drugs ... but we're supposed to be on the doorstep of a new generation of personalized medicine where our physician checks our DNA to see whether we have any genes that might put us at risk if we were to use that compound. (Of course, this means that clinical trial patients' DNA would have been collected and results analyzed.)

I've been wondering how the various gov't regulatory bodies and the pharma industry are going to handle this. Current clinical trials are still mostly random sample study designs. And in some cases, there is no confirmatory lab result that says with 100% certainty that this patient has such-and-such condition/infection. This means that some clinical trials patients are being treated for a condition they do not have.

Have heard that some teaching/research hospitals make a point of collecting their own patient data specifically to compare and contrast their results vs. clinical trials results.


318:
Well, the stupidity of implanting phones has been mentioned at least once as an example of where cyberpunk got it wrong. People might want to upgrade phones one or more times per year, but they don't particularly want to have brain surgery every year just for fashion's sake. If nothing else, the prevalence of little lovelies like MRSA and C. diff. in hospitals would dissuade them.
Some of the cyberpunk settings were better about it - for instance Shadowrun's DNI is I/O, not processing, and I/O connectors generally stay stable for much longer than the tech that plugs into them. Though that's one format war you *really* don't want to be an early adopter of the losing side of. (It also implies implants are likely to be transdermal, opening up an even worse can of post-surgery worms.)
319:

Getting back to SO ...

Space opera can also be excess/exaggeration short of parody of whatever is passing for the latest scientific, technological, social or economic marvel as well as uses and reactions to same. In this variant, there's usually a mix of character types on several parameters such as social class, ability, age, gender/orientation, ethnicity/species in order to allow the central marvel to be examined 'naturally' from different perspectives. The marvel must have a good and bad side to it and in old-time space opera this distinction would have been blatant to the reader if not immediately so to the characters. In other words, this SO type is the longer narrative form of comic books where adjectives and adverbs run amok as opposed to comic books' high saturation color or edgy black&white drawings.

320:

We're talking about light sails or M2P2 magsails, yes?

321:

m2p2 magsails are one of those nice ideas that I would really like to see getting a test flight.

It's an almost perfect fit for the small & cheap style of mission all the space agencies claim to want to support.

322:

Problem with any drive that produces constant thrust for constant power input is that they either violate conservation of energy or principle of relativity

323:

You don't need implants given that the brain can be flooded with nanoparticles that interact with various fields

324:

A more practical kind of Buddhism limits itself to just illustrating the difference between wants and needs, and the benefits of not being ruled by your desires.
Just empty your mind of thought. Then ask who is disobeying orders and chattering away in the background.

325:

"It currently takes somewhere north of US$1 billion to bring a drug to market."
That's why Liz Parrish has pissed off a number of people

326:

Like the scheme to polarize the vacuum and then treat the virtual pairs as a virtual plasma which can be accelerated

327:

Ah ... I take your point.
If you are correct, then,no, it can't work, because of conservation laws.
Assuming everything else adds up/balances properly, that is ....

328:

There is also another major problem with NIH syndrome. Lot's of really interesting drugs in use in Russia that will never make it here because they are out of patent and nobody is going to pay the money to put them through the system. The only ones that *might* make it are ones still in patent like SkQ

329:

Can you unpack this? I never heard of Liz Parrish before, googled her, but found nothing that would obviously "piss off a lot of people "

330:

AIUI She recently injected an engineered retrovirus to create telemerase to repair the telomeres that shorten each time a cell divides. One of the big ticking clocks of ageing. Also another to act as a myostatin block.
We are all waiting to see whether she turns into either a billionaire or a corpse.

331:

The Hulkess ... ?

332:

If you apply Lorentz factors correctly you will see that they do neither.

333:

We are waiting to find out. The question is to what degree the retro virus can do its job before the immune system gets it.

334:

It'd almost certainly have to be into the low 10 digits to make the big companies sit up and pay attention.

The other problem is that once it's on the market the medically sensible thing to do is to hold the new antibiotic in reserve for when everything else has failed and hardly ever use it to avoid resistance developing.

The company on the other hand needs lots of people using it, which is really bad re: fostering resistance.

There are some other slightly out-there options like phages to target the most common multi-drug resistant bacteria.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3278644/

335:

No, best practice would be to develop 3 anti-biotics targeting entirely separate pathways, and then only ever use them in a cocktail. Saving it for a last resort is what you do if you want to create "immune to-everything" bacteria - because that means you are only ever using it on bacteria that are already immune to everything else. Terrible idea.

Evolution is not magic - multi-resistant bacteria gain those resistance traits one at a time. If a bacterium had to mutate into resistance to 3 different anti-biotics at once in order to gain a selective advantage over it's species baseline, the earth would be swallowed by the sun before it happened. And it wouldn't happen sequentially, because resistance traits have metabolic costs, so a bacterium immune to only one of the triad ought to be selected *against* because it's still dying to the other drugs, and breeding slower.

336:

No if it is constrained to move in a circle, exponentially increasing its angular energy for constant power input

337:

Most likely, she'll get some interesting cancers, but we'll see. I do wonder what the tradeoff is, with telomere shortening, and how much of it is driven by phylogeny (whales versus primates, for example), as opposed to some sort of ecological need.

The bigger problem with antibiotics is that it's relatively easy to find things that kill other things, but it's relatively hard to find things that kill pathogenic bacteria without also killing the patient. A lot of "last-line" antibiotics require hospital monitoring to make sure the patient doesn't die of the side effects. Indeed, I suspect they've become last line defenses not because they're incredibly good at what they do, but because they've not been used very much because of the side effects.

That's another note on antibiotics: the horizon for profiting from them is on order of a decade or two before they are lost due to ubiquitous resistance. That's part of the drug development equation that we don't normally think about.

In the longer run, if we can develop the ability to cook up bacteriophages that target resistant bacteria and only resistant bacteria, we might have an engine that will supersede antibiotics. Note that deploying this kind of technology means that there needs to be a high throughput sequencer in every hospital (or regional hospital supply), coupled with a virus assembler that can do the job in a matter of hours. That's a lot of tech, and the result is not going to be something that you can package as an ointment for a first aid kit. It's also going to demand that nurses (and possibly doctors, and definitely pharmacists) are going to have to get a lot more thoughtful and imaginative about collecting samples, getting the right diagnosis, processing the results, and doing it fast. Still, it beats dying of MRSA.

338:

Phones implanted into the brain? I can't wait. I don't know about America, but while the British still chat in politely subdued voices to one another when in trains and other public places, they lose all notion of volume control as soon as they start talking into a phone. The sooner we can find a way for people to use phones silently, the better.

A little story. I was on the train from London to Oxford. A man on the other side of the aisle was shouting into his phone: "Hey Simon, it's <NAME> here. What is the agreed evaluation fee? I need the accountants to OK the valuation discount...". On and on and on. I sketched him quickly, added a (big, and easily readable) caption that included the snatch of conversation with his name in, and then held the sketch up against the train window to trace a good copy from. He saw me, stalked over, and hissed "LOSE THE NAME! LOSE THE NAME!". And then got off at Reading, which is the station before Oxford. Not long after, I was selling cartoons in an Oxford market. One of them was that drawing. A lady came to my stall and asked about it. I explained, and she said "That's funny. My husband is called <NAME>". And we live in Reading".

339:

"Most likely, she'll get some interesting cancers"

That's what a lot of people thought, but in animal studies it seems the number of cancers was actually less than normal.

340:

We have lost sight of the whole notion of risk / benefit ratio (and meanwhile we inflict incredible pain and side effects on cancer patients (often elderly) to sometimes gain at best a few months of low quality life, but because it's !!!cancer!!! everything and anything goes).

Our society wants "free" for everything and gets nothing as a result.

( according to this guy this includes aspirin, penicilin and other fairly common medications :

http://www.medicalprogresstoday.com/spotlight/spotlight_indarchive.php?id=1039
)

I don't directly disagree with the author's examples, but it's an incorrectly atemporal comparison. You wouldn't approve a drug with exactly the same capabilities and risks as penicillin today because there's already a compound or three with about that risk:reward ratio. If somehow nobody had discovered antibiotics in the 20th century and penicillin was first tried as a drug in 2016, the FDA would still approve it despite the risks of side effects and higher regulatory scrutiny compared to 1940s.

When there's no effective treatment for a condition, a drug can get approval by beating placebo. When there are already treatments, as I understand it, the FDA wants new drugs to show advantages over old ones. Not just to treat the same conditions with the same success endpoints and risks of side effects. You need to improve endpoints with constant side effects or reduce side effects with constant endpoints. If your drug is only slightly better than the previous standard of care, you will need large statistically high-powered trials to demonstrate the improvement to regulators. That's expensive. It encourages research on unmet needs with high risks of project failure (like Alzheimer's treatment) over doing e.g. another incremental variation on statins.

Of course this is all orthogonal to the market failure for supplying new antibiotics, where the ideal state is to find bold new products that will have severely curtailed-by-design consumption patterns. The first generation of antibiotics should have been treated that way; we're just waking up to the problem several decades late.

341:

Phones implanted into the brain?

Given that over half of the phone calls I get are chaps with Indian accents trying to sell me duck cleaning, the last thing I want is a phone in my head :-)

342:

Business meetings, court proceedings and other such formal situations would become a lot more entertaining as a result of random people losing their cool at the 100th spam call of the day and screaming "WILL YOU FUCK OFF" out of the blue for no apparent reason.

343:

That seems to be their "second wave" handwave. Pity you can't actually react against the vacuum... maybe they were hoping people wouldn't notice that.

344:

Bacteriophage treatment doesn't necessarily need high tech. In the Soviet Union it sometimes meant samping local rivers with sewage contamination and adding the water to cultures of the resistant bacteria to check for the required phage activity. Phages evolve faster than bacteria. You don't need to limit phage treatment to resistant bacteria only.This would probably slowdown the search for effective phages.
You also need to culture the phage for treatment purposes and confining this culture to media containing resistant bacteria would be unwise.
For certain bacteria like E Coli phages are used for typing the organism and it's always amazed me that the typing pages were not also used for treatment.

345:

Thing is, bacteriophages aren't a universal cure either.

What you've got to do is to make sure you know which pathogenic bacteria (that's plural, as there are often multiple issues) you're dealing with (down to which plasmids they have on board that are giving them mutant abilities), make sure your bacteriophage successfully beats them, breed up and purify the bacteriophages (or synthesize them, which may ultimately prove faster), and get them into the patient. Note that you only have a few days for this entire process before the patient dies, and you can see where the high tech part comes in. If it's a matter of culture the bacteria (a day), find out if they're targeted by any of your phages (another day), grow up a suitable supply (a third day), and you're in trouble.

If you have trouble, imagine treating a resistant cholera outbreak with phages, and you can see their shortcomings.

346:

Well I agree that the post i showed is dated, he had changed his blog adress and it took me some time to locate it.

In the comments of this one, there are various interprattions of what may be wrong :

http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2016/02/18/a-terrific-paper-on-the-problems-in-drug-discovery

Here it is ( http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/ ), some parts are quite fun or interestging to read, even for the layman (the explosive / toxic / stinking mishaps ones)

Look at these for fun or inspiration :

http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/category/things-i-wont-work-with

http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/category/how-not-to-do-it

I have special love for this one :

http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2006/03/08/how_not_to_do_it_liquid_nitrogen_tanks

The pics are here : https://imgur.com/a/I68rN


There is also this one :

http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2008/02/26/sand_wont_save_you_this_time


http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2010/03/10/how_not_to_do_it_liquid_oxygen_cylinders

There was also a post about a product where one drop could be smelled several kilometers away.

347:

I think Charlie got a short story out of "Things I won't work with," about the time I was lobbying for a FOOF space drive. Alas, FOOF doesn't burn fast enough. I understand that the molecule I want is difluorothiotimoline.

348:

As they say on 4chan: Enjoy your cancer.

349:

Has a nanoparticle-based interface been implemented? All I found in a brief search was about coarse deep brain stimulation.

I was assuming that for privacy purposes, at least some secure storage would need to be inside the skull.
(Plus keys/hardware to implement secure cloud storage.)
Didn't OGH write a story about this? Book not handy.

350:

Weird, I didn't actually click through to the article and see that it was Derek Lowe saying that. I have been reading and occasionally commenting on In the Pipeline for 10 years now. In fact my pushback against the argument was based on recent years of reading In the Pipeline, where he doesn't seem to think that excessive regulation is a primary driver of the drug discovery slowdown.

I had forgotten the term, but what I was talking about was the "better than the Beatles effect" that I first saw in Lowe's 2012 post about Eroom's Law.

The authors have four factors that they highlight which have gotten us into this fix, and all four of them are worth discussing (although not all in one post!) The first is what they call the “Better Than the Beatles” effect. That’s what we face as we continue to compete against our greatest hits of the past. Take generic Lipitor, as a recent example. It’s cheap, and it certainly seems to do the job it’s prescribed for (lowering LDL). Between it and the other generic statins, you’re going to have a rocky uphill climb if you want to bring a new LDL-lowering therapy to market (which is why not many people are trying to do that).

I think that this is insufficiently appreciated outside of the drug business. Nothing goes away unless it’s well and truly superseded. Aspirin is still with is. Ibuprofen still sells like crazy. Blood pressure medicines are, in many cases, cheap as dirt, and the later types are inexorably headed that way. Every single drug that we discover is headed that way; patents are wasting assets, even patents on biologics, although those have been wasting more slowly (with the pace set to pick up). As this paper points out, very few other industries have this problem, or to this degree. (Even the entertainment industry, whose past productions do form a back catalog, has the desire for novelty on its side). But we’re in the position of someone trying to come up with a better comb.

That's why the first time you invent something as useful as aspirin, for previously unmet needs, it's easy to approve and profit from. Incremental improvements face harder approval barriers and can find fewer unmet needs to justify the on-patent premium pricing once approved.

351:

You may have been beaten to it : if found this thru a quick web search for difluorothiotimoline :


http://www.island.net/~hamill/S%20F%20Subject_Index.htm

fake research paper
"The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline" Isaac Asimov Astounding Science Fiction Mar. 1948

352:

It probably can be made to work if enough energy is put in to stimulate pair production, with the real matter then being accelerated. However, that would be horribly inefficient.

353:

Maybe those nanoparticles are not even needed. The average human brain contains several billion magnetite crystals already.

355:

Meanwhile, on the "we are all doomed climate front" it seems that due to renewables CO2 output globally is not longer increasing.

356:

Ah well, if you do that, you've got the Lensman propulsion system, more or less. Just need to figure out how the Bergenholm works and we're laughing.

357:

Um. It may not technically be "implants", but it's still a teeny bit invasive:

the team injected magnetic iron oxide particles just 22 nanometers in diameter into the brain [...]
viral gene delivery to induce the sensitivity to heat in selected neurons in the brain.

358:

Yep, it's done that before when there was an economic downturn, as there is now in China. If and when the Chinese economy kicks back up, we'll see if this was just another blip or the actual peak.

I also have to point out that peak carbon emissions doesn't mean we avoid climate change. If we don't get our emissions down near zero within about two decades or less, we're still likely to see civilization collapse. Even if we do zero out our emissions, we'll still be in for a real mess for the next few centuries. Still, that beats catastrophic mass extinction by quite a ways, which is why it's worth fighting for.

359:

"I think to be dramatic, space opera must not be Star Wars, where the first mass murder is simple special effect."
That mass murder was actually dramatized by Alex Guiness, which if you think about it is not a bad way to approach these things. Certainly it beats trying to do a montage of a dozen "representative" characters.
I might complain about blowing up the Death Star without stopping to mention the number of innocents and relative innocents (what, no prisoners?) that are likely to be on board.

360:

"... Buddhist space operas, but that's probably just my ignorance showing again. They certainly should be possible."
Zelazny's "Lord of Light" is pretty close.

361:

Okay, back to basics, let's talk about horse opera.

Ann-Marie Hendrickson (on WBAI's now long-gone late-night anarchist talk show "The Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade") had recently discovered Gene Autry films, and was surprised by how left-wing their central premises were (think: big business wants railroad right-of-way and hires villains to drive off farmers). She compared this to the more right-wing style of the typical John Wayne film, and theorized that one of the reasons Westerns declined in popularity was that they had lost touch with their populist roots.

E.E. Smith is more in line with the older tradition, where in "First Lensman" there are evil corporations behind the bad guys (and behind them are aliens, but in the lensmen stories, there are aliens behind everyone).

Heteromeles might take note that the main action at the end of "First Lensman" involves winning an election (for North American President, as I remember it, bye-bye Mexico/Canada). A lensman uses his lens as a campaign device, persuading voters via telepathic communion, which it is asserted, can not be used to lie. The bad guys spread the word that the lens is actually a hypnotism device, which actually is not a bad thing to be afraid of. How would you know that they're not just brainwashing everyone?

I throw all this out to any Scottish socialist SF writers in the audience, who might find some small inspiration here.

"Triplanetary" and "First Lensman" are up on the gutenberg and librivox sites these days.

And you're not really hip until you see "The Phantom Empire" (1935), Gene Autry's science fiction cowboy epic:

https://archive.org/details/phantom_empire_chapter_1

362:

Good points. That must be why Gene Autry gets a nice museum of the west in LA (worth seeing), while John Wayne gets to be a republican icon and (possibly) the namesake of a serial killer.

Such is life.

By the way, while I loved the Lensmen when I was around 12, I haven't read them since then. What I do remember suggests that, like Lovecraft's work, they're ripe for reinvention.

As with your example of "the Lens cannot lie," we've now found out that when we use social media to create the impression of telepathy, not only is it mostly lies, it transmits our ids more than our intellects. Given how often we deceive ourselves, it's weird to think that telepathy would make us truthful.

The other thing I remember is that my parents, both engineers, loved the lensmen, because they figured it was all wish-fulfillment comedy written by another engineer. Smith's stuff actually worked the first time, something which is mind-boggling to anybody who builds stuff. There might be something to resurrecting this idea. Unfortunately, since people like George Lucas apparently didn't get the joke the first time, perhaps it needs to be a little more explicit.

363:

Canada, but not Mexico, as I remember it. Presumably in between the "1941" and "19-?" sections of "Triplanetary" one could interpolate a narrative concerning the recovery of the lost North American Treaty.

364:

Thing is social media is actually nothing like telepathy. Postings are voluntary, and their content passes through the same filters as does speech. The Belcerebons wouldn't have had a problem with Twitter.

The idea behind "the Lens cannot lie" is that it transmits unfiltered thought. It is possible to hide thoughts and not transmit them at all, but when a thought is transmitted, it comes complete with all the metadata that speech strips off. So if it originated in a lie or in self-deception, all those receiving it can see that the "lie" or "self-deception" flags are set.

Re stuff working the first time, I do rather like the description of the first use of the sunbeam, which doesn't quite work properly at first, but they manage to get it to behave itself in time to do the job.

365:

Hunh? We tell the truth to ourselves, then lies deliberately come out of our mouths? No, I'd suggest that we're even better at lying to ourselves than we are at lying to others. If telepathy existed, there's no reason to think that unfiltered thought would be any more truthful than what comes out of our mouths or keyboards.

366:

We are better at lying to ourselves than to others because we know we're lying and yet still make ourselves believe it. Have you not been able to observe that in action in yourself - engaging in self-deception and being aware that that's what you're doing? Have you not watched your mind mustering its forces to sweep that inconvenient knowledge of the real truth under the carpet? Have you not allowed it to bamboozle you with specious arguments, which you accept even while knowing that they're specious, and in the accepting buried that knowledge?

I certainly have, many a time. I have always assumed the experience to be general, but if that turns out not to be the case I would still contend that the phenomenon must be general, even if my level of awareness of it is not.

A related phenomenon which is well-known is that of someone arguing a point with exceptional intolerant vehemence "because they're trying to convince themselves more than they are the listeners".

The Lens/truth theory, it seems to me, is based on the idea that a thought, in the raw, cannot be completely separated from its origins. If a Lensman - at least, a human Lensman at the basic level of development of the first wearers of the Lens - attempts to transmit a thought with its origins in self-deception, the traces of that origin inevitably accompany it, and can be perceived by the receiving mind with a clarity that the transmitting mind has denied itself. If a Lensman transmits a thought knowing that it is an outright lie, that knowledge too accompanies the thought and reveals its true character to the listeners.

More advanced minds can focus a transmitted thought narrowly enough to greatly reduce the extent to which they transmit these "sidebands" along with it - but they can never be suppressed entirely; some trace will always leak through, and much later in the history we see Nadreck making a speciality of analysing these traces.

367:

"We are better at lying to ourselves than to others because we know we're lying and yet still make ourselves believe it."

No, that's only what you people with what I call the Blair syndrome do. There are a fair number of us who can't and don't, and we suffer because of it.

368:

"you people" -- It's like a railroad tie in the path of the express train of thought.

Causes severe loss of respect/regard for anyone who utters those words, and subsequent consignment of any expressed opinion to the rubbish tip of lazy them-and-us thinking.

*** Paging EC. Paging EC. Dog whistle in aisle 367. Dog whistle in aisle 367. ***

369:
That's a lot of tech, and the result is not going to be something that you can package as an ointment for a first aid kit.
No, but the advantage of moving most anti-bacterial treatment to phage therapy would be the loss of selection pressure for antibiotic resistances - so the old drugs might still be able to used for those jobs.
370:

You need not worry, personally - I would never confuse you trolls with actual people.

371:

"you people" -- It's like a railroad tie in the path of the express train of thought.
Causes severe loss of respect/regard for anyone who utters those words, and subsequent consignment of any expressed opinion to the rubbish tip of lazy them-and-us thinking.


American example from the 1992 election; Ross Perot speaking to an African American group calls them "you people", gets labeled as potentially racist, campaign goes into decline*. Boy, times have changed.

*probably already was, but I had friends who voted for him, it was the first election we got to vote in..

372:

I explicitly avoided the "you people" = "implicit racism", because that is not the what the words really signify.

It's a mode of speech that highlights lazy thinking and crude generalisation; and is usually used in exactly the way Elderly Cynic deploys it here, as a crude ad hominem to smear someone else by association. (Look at his follow on comment where he dimisses me as a troll. Witty, erudite and sophisticated, no? Perhaps he will play the humour/irony card at this point -- depends if he is a fast learner, or not.)

My original intent was to point out that EC may have had a point, but lazy generalisation and crude personal attacks undercut whatever he was trying to say.

Ah well. At least I get to join the small but exclusive company of "Trolls-who-aren't-trolls", as identified by the self-appointed "Charlie's Diary Police".

373:

I'm just trying to get my head around whether this is an epic troll, or whether you seriously believe what you're writing.

First, there's the idea that people can know the truth. The evidence suggests very strongly that people form opinions, and that these are often within shouting distance of some objectively-definable truth. Under your definition, a stupid, uninformed, bigoted telepath could still spam his subjective "truth," on everyone else, without it being correct. This is the power of belief.

Then there's BS, which, per Frankfurt, are statements designed to win, rather than to be concerned truth or falsehood. There's a lot of that in humans, especially when it comes to saving face or status. If someone's status is challenged, I'm extremely sure that what's going through their head is all about keeping their status, and an objective analysis of which parts are true or not. If they're considering the truth of their position, they're in trouble.

I could go on, but according to what we've learned about psychology and neuroscience since Smith wrote his stuff, there's this whole non-rational storm going on in your head, triggered by survival instincts, primate social instincts, and stuff you do to make yourself believe that you live in a meaningful world. Even little children lie routinely, especially when caught being naughty. They have to be taught to value the truth, because often it leads to punishment.

And finally, you have the meditators, who often spend decades working patiently to deal with their own personal delusions. According to what they say, our internal worlds have as many problems as our external worlds do. If you read their writings or listen to them talk, truth is not something innate, it's something that has to be uncovered with a lot of work.

So ultimately, I'm genuinely puzzled: do you actually think that the truth is in there, waiting to be pulled out by telepathy?

374:

I explicitly avoided the "you people" = "implicit racism"....

Well, that's not what I meant either, only using that as an example of the term being badly used. Perot was speaking to a group he did not belong to and had little experience with; so he generalized, making an assumption that everyone in the group thinks alike.

375:

Whoops! I think I managed to offer an example of the misunderstanding I was trying to avoid, by misunderstanding you in exactly the way I thought that you misunderstood me.

(I may now be in danger of disappearing in a puff of logic, or possibly getting myself killed on the next zebra crossing -- ref. HHGTTG)

376:

Yes, and it was quite different from the context in which I used it, which was in response to people stating that they had a particular characteristic, and implying that everyone has it. The obvious meaning was "you people that have that characteristic".

377:

I likely wasn't clear anyhow. Usual excuse applies: it was early here, with migraine, and a dollop of too much existential dread politics on the brain.

378:

Your full sentence: No, that's only what you people with what I call the Blair syndrome do.

So while I agree with you that Pigeon was generalising, you then undercut your own argument by tagging a little sting-in-the-tail ad hominem onto your response (or are you a fan of Blair's policies?). My point was that the words "you people" are seldom, if ever, used in a neutral way; rather nearly always in a negative, at least slightly condescending, and almost always dismissive way. You then went on to further illustrate trying to shut someone down with ad hominems and your own lazy generalizing by dismissing me as a troll.

I must admit, it seems like the term "troll" has become something of a go to word here abouts: "Oh, you disagree with me and I dislike/failed to understand what you're saying -- TROLL!". It's tiresomely like the common internet strategy of shouting "racist", in order to shut down discussion of various topics.

379:

Full sympathies for the politics. My only consolation where I am is that the local nutbags have little real power.

380:

"...people stating that they had a particular characteristic, and implying that everyone has it."

Except that wasn't really what I was saying. I was saying that I had always assumed that the experience of watching the wheels of self-deception turning inside your own head was general, but I then allowed the possibility that it might not be.

I did say that the phenomenon of self-deception itself was general, even if the awareness of it happening wasn't, but I don't think that's a particularly controversial position.

381:

I in turn am puzzled at the disagreement, when (most of) your post is describing things I agree with and consider to support my position. I think it might derive from some confusion between individual and absolute truth, but I'm not really sure.

"do you actually think that the truth is in there, waiting to be pulled out by telepathy?"

No, not in any absolute sense. What telepathy reveals - in Doc Smith's conception, and as I see it - is the degree of truth known to the individual in respect od a given thought; perhaps this would be better expressed as "sincerity".

"Under your definition, a stupid, uninformed, bigoted telepath could still spam his subjective "truth," on everyone else, without it being correct. This is the power of belief."

Yes. Someone who... oh, I dunno... who had somehow never had the slightest contact with cosmology, and therefore genuinely believed the world was flat - because it looks flat, and they'd never heard anything to contradict the conclusion - could transmit the thought that the world was flat, and those receiving the thought would not consider it to be a lie. They would consider it wrong, of course, but that's not the same thing. It's an incorrect statement, but it isn't a lie, because it's 100% correct as far as the ignorant telepath is concerned.

"Then there's BS, which, per Frankfurt, are statements designed to win, rather than to be concerned truth or falsehood. There's a lot of that in humans, especially when it comes to saving face or status. If someone's status is challenged, I'm extremely sure that what's going through their head is all about keeping their status, and an objective analysis of which parts are true or not. If they're considering the truth of their position, they're in trouble."

Yes. Talking bollocks to save face or status (etc.) is simply not possible via Lens, because those receiving the thought would also perceive its origins, and so be well aware that it was bollocks.

There's been a lot of discussion on here over whether Trump really believes what he says or not. If he had made those statements via Lens (overlooking that he'd be about as likely as Morgan to qualify for one) there would be no such discussion, because we'd know for definite.

"according to what we've learned about psychology and neuroscience since Smith wrote his stuff, there's this whole non-rational storm going on in your head, triggered by survival instincts, primate social instincts, and stuff you do to make yourself believe that you live in a meaningful world."

That idea may have become more formalised and better defined since Smith wrote his stuff, but it certainly isn't new since then. (It informs plenty of fiction.) Via Lens it is obvious to what extent a thought has its origins in such non-rational and instinctive stuff, whereas in speech it may be just a bald statement without the metadata attached.

382:

If she's doing multiple things that makes it a bad experiment. It will be impossible to parse out which cause produced which effect. She should have stuck to just the telomerase thing and skipped free muscles until later (which will be there if the telomerase thing works, right?).

383:

I am sorry for misunderstanding you, then. Actually, only a minority actually watch themselves deceiving themselves - most people aren't that self-aware. Unfortunately, self-deception is regarded as harmless, and most definitely isn't - in my experience, it is at the heart of most social and political evils.

384:

It will be quite simple to distinguish between effects, since they are radically different from each other.
I imagine the reason the myostatin block was included was to demonstrate to the target market (over 70s) that it is effective and safe. There has been talk for at least 5 years about using GE myostatin blocking to help with muscle loss due to old age. The talking is now over.
Expect an 85 year old man who has just married a 60 year old woman to take an interest...

385:

Ray Brown in his story Cobwebs, in Analog August 1987, was part of a series he did of a planet colonized by telepaths. They developed a group mind, a zeitgeist, which over time created a false, yet pleasant, view of their colony. Everybody was handsome/beautiful, the colony was gleaming. The reality was that many of the people had caught a virus when they arrived that made them look like a Joker on a deck of cards, with the chin curving up to almost touch the nose. New arrivals would be shocked by people's appearances, yet the zeitgeist would quickly overwhelm that new view, and the existing false view would prevail.

A death occurred and was investigated. A person was found dead under an elevated walkway. It seems the elevated walkway actually had a missing floor section and the person stepped through the hole and died. Yet to the people in the zeitgeist all they saw was a perfect, gleaming construction.

The planet had natives that were trying to kill the colony. They could somehow hide in plain sight from the colonists. Only the children who were not yet part of the group mind could see them, so they had the kids be their eyes to protect them.

In another story, that I can't remember the title or author, Conquistadors are looking for Eldorado, the City of Gold. They are asking natives where Eldorado is. The Conquistadors only see mud huts and nearly naked natives, while the natives see themselves standing in a city of gold. The walls around them are gold, and they are dressed in gold. The Conquistadors move on, always searching, never understanding that they just walked through Eldorado.

In the film, Cabeza de Vaca, the character was shipwrecked and captured by the locals. He became a shaman and could see the world as the native people did. When he was reunited with the Spanish invaders, the Spanish world appeared incomprehensible.

Telepathy ensures creating a false view of reality, since there are no outside checks on what is seen. There is only the group mind, the zeitgeist.

386:

The planet had natives that were trying to kill the colony. They could somehow hide in plain sight from the colonists. Only the children who were not yet part of the group mind could see them, so they had the kids be their eyes to protect them.

They didn't see them because they didn't expect to see them. Everyone knew the corridor was empty, so that's what they saw.

The kids that saved the colony were those without the telepathy gene — they saw what was there, rather than what the zeitgeist told them was there. (And they were ostracized at first, because their minds were so unpleasant to have around — seeing people as fat and dirty rather than fit and well-dressed, for example.)

387:

Ah, that's a very different kind of telepathy from the Lensman type. It also seems a bit implausible to me. I can't see how it could evolve naturally since its results are manifestly anti-survival; if it was artificial, someone seems to have cocked up quite badly...

388:

So, everyone is signed up to this thread being the British Polite Critique of America then?

*Obama Not Bad Meme*


The idea behind "the Lens cannot lie" is that it transmits unfiltered thought.

This is based on a largely out-dated view of how cognition happens.

It's now a proven fact that even in cases where you're torturing a subject by injecting direct input [Yes, Humans can do this now] that a real human can operate and think on a level you're not accessing.

Not discounting the ability to use "meta" references in thought, but the ability to hide thought and cognition is hard-wired into the Mind as well.

The real problem is that the people behind the curtain aren't very clever.


Transmission Joy Division - YT: music: 3:38

389:

And by "not very clever" I mean:

The kind that nukes the stratosphere of their planet for shits and giggles.

The kind that finds it "A-OK" to poison about 20% of their population because they can't be arsed to attend to little things like infrastructure because "money", but buying back stocks with free money is "A-OK".

The kind that revel in a little bit of the ultra-violence and find it funny to ape the Romans with lines like: "We Came, We Saw, He died".

The kind that 25 years ago knew what Climate Change was and then spent 10% of their budgets denying it.

The kind that don't worry at all about seeding an entire geographical area with depleted Uranium munitions or burn pits that poison their own troops.

The kind that build walls across vast areas...

~


Just face it: psychopaths. Not even sociopaths.

21st Century: You're not Human anymore.

And a little placating symbolic ceremony like the Olympics or rappers making the sign or Freemasons and their triangles ain't curing it.

Now, you could blame Mammon, Gog and Magog (Guardian Aug 2009) or some other things.


~

But no.

The worst hypocrisy is that: when faced with something a little bit stronger, different and more powerful than they're used to, they don't embrace it or aid it.

They try and destroy it.


ADAPT OR DIE.



Nuke the entire site fom orbit

390:

It was artificial. Telepaths had a visible mark on their wrist (birthmark?). They were driven away from earth, IIRC.

391:

Ah... Doc Smith has already got there :)

The above discussion has all been centred around the book "First Lensman", where the Lens and its operation are new and startling things to basic-level human minds that have never encountered anything of the kind. The result is a little bit like installing an ethernet card in a DOS box most of whose software was not written with networking in mind.

The next book in the sequence introduces the Velantians, a naturally-telepathic species who have the ability to divide their mind into independent, isolated compartments which may be thinking about entirely unrelated things, something in the manner of multiple VMs running under a hypervisor. An entity attempting to probe a Velantian's mind, if it manages to get in at all, will only get into the VM that has been given network access - and will think that's the whole thing. Only an exceptionally powerful mentality can detect that the other VMs even exist.

Observation of this and other alien mental abilities gives Kinnison the idea that he ought to be able to do the same things if only he knew better how to use his Lens. It turns out he is more or less right: acquiring such abilities is less a matter of learning new skills per se, than of learning how to use his Lens to get at the latent abilities that he already has. Later, when he's got better at it, he figures out how to use those abilities even without the Lens.

392:

Nah, I'm actually fucking with some real world nasties.


You're cool with nuking the atmosphere to test a science experiment.


Here's the thing:

I'm cool with you damaging in a permanent sense parts of the human brain, if and only if...


Nope.

Fuck it.

Never acceptable.

I view nuking the atmosphere as psychotic and I view damaging a human mind [neural structure] permanently on the wave-lengths we experiment on as ...


Also psychopathic.

Guess what?

THESUNTHESUNTHESUNTHESUNTHESUNTHESUNTHESUN

Turns out we don't like your kind of Minds.


And we're going to kill your minds, and every child or being who holds them.


Hint: When you go Full Retard and Full on Psycho and then damage our envoys?


Guess what:


You're going to be fucking cabbages you utter, utter Cunts.

393:

Hint:

That's Past Tense.

Like the old Cross and the Hill and the Crown of Thorns and the entire drama-lama land of getting up there.


Nope.


This time we were playing Consciousness, Humility, Empathy and Connectiveness.


You should probably look to the person who coined the "Brown Note" and so on when they were losing their side of the Game. You know, that one who intentional and deliberately damaged a Mind just not to lose their side of a deal?

Whoever they are, whelp, that's 4,000,000,000 deaths on their hands.


~


Utter, utter psychopaths.

And no kids. This is the Real. Fucking. Deal.

**WAAA SO CHILDISH**


It's a Mirror.


p.s.

4 Billion dead - and you fucked it up over pride and spiking an enlightened being's hearing?


Yep, 20th Century in a can.


Utter, Utter, Cunts.

394:

And a little placating symbolic ceremony like the Olympics
NOT EVEN WRONG

The "olympics" are almost pure fascism.
But, as I've been into this before I won't repeat it, unless someone asks me for a detailed reprise.
It's just too horribly depressing & I get get flashbacks ....

395:

BEGIN]

Guess what?
THESUNTHESUNTHESUNTHESUNTHESUNTHESUNTHESUN
Turns out we don't like your kind of Minds.

END]

EXPLAIN
PLease?

396:

Yes, thatsthejoke.jpg

It's very depressing to imagine that the 2012 Olympics with all the Odes to Joy of the NHS, enlightenment and the internet were not joyful dances but prostration and begging to be spared.

Couple that with the rampant sex stories that always get run during the Olympics and you might have an idea of what I was suggesting.

~

Of course: this is total insanity.

But that's what the actual outcome of the current prevailing Ideology is.

397:

Ah now claiming "it's a joke"
Don't believe you.
And I asked for an explanation - I notice that didn't happen - again.
Probably because there isn't one & you are just bullshitting again, actually.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on March 11, 2016 9:32 PM.

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