Is Space Adventure Fiction on the Brink of a Renaissance?

A Guest Post by Abby Goldsmith

General audiences praise "Star Wars" as a great space epic, with magic powers and high stakes. But that story is more than forty years old. While space stories populate video-game franchises, manga, anime, and TV/film, they're less popular in literature. Few people can name a living author who dominates the Space Adventure sub-genre (Space Opera and Space Fantasy). The "Vorkosigan saga" is beloved, but not on the same global scale as "Harry Potter."

Fantasy has historically outsold Sci-Fi, and I believe it's due to a dichotomous approach to story premise. Fantasy stories are built from a premise of personal conflict. For example: What if you need to conquer your inner darkness in order to save everyone you love? Another example: What if you're expected to go insane and become a tyrant in order to save the world?

By contrast, Sci-Fi builds stories around postulations. For example: What if dangerous dinosaurs could be bioengineered? Another example: What if global poverty ended because of nanotech replicators?

Some Sci-Fi is full of personal conflict, and some Fantasy is full of big ideas, but they consistently differ at the premise level. Audiences seem enchanted when a story combines a personal premise--common in Fantasy--with the machinery of Sci-Fi. "Star Wars," "Dune," and "Wool" are built that way.

Likewise, some of the most beloved Fantasy epics use a generous helping of big ideas in their premise. Fans of "The Wheel of Time" cite its magic system, which is based not on personal conflict, but rather on a postulated synergy in the way males and females think. In that respect, a healthy chunk of its premise is Sci-Fi.

I think general readers are starving for more Fantasy premises with Sci-Fi trappings, and vice versa. Space Adventure is fertile ground for such stories. It's only a matter of time before a new "Star Wars" makes a big enough splash in the public zeitgeist to open the floodgates. Horror used to be a dying genre, until Stephen King showed up. Few readers noticed Techno-thrillers before Michael Crichton. Middle Grade and Young Adult Fantasy used to lag far behind other types of Fantasy, until J.K. Rowling began her author career.

A lot of aspiring writers are excitedly working on Space Adventure novels that combine magic and technology. None have gained an astronomical fan following . . . yet. To quote from Scott Sigler's GFL series: The only variable is time.

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3 Responses

  1. I’m going to comment on my own guest post, to answer the question of “What do you think is missing or needed in the Space Adventure genre?”

    For me, it’s not a simple matter of needing more X, Y, or Z. I’m not sick of space tropes, or longing to see a certain kind of technology. It’s more like … I want to see a premise that has the scope and stakes and feeling of epic fantasy. I want a cast of characters with strong chemistry and power dynamics.

    Stories that stick in my mind–epic masterpieces–transcend the boundaries of target audiences and genres. They combine action and adventure with sweeping romance and philosophical insights. I just don’t see that a whole lot in Space Adventure. Yet the potential is there.

  2. Dominick D'Aunno says:

    Great post Nathan! Thank you Abby for your insight.

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