Peaceful SF – space opera

September 12, 2014

This was a panel at Shamrokon — specifically, we talked about space opera and whether it was possible to have space opera that didn’t involve war or violence.  We got a bit into the semantics of it all — like, “peaceful space opera” and “anti-war space opera” are not the same thing, because there’s quite of a bit of anti-war space opera — Haldeman’s Forever War and Bujold’s Vorkosigan series — that still focuses on war.  And does “peaceful” specifically mean “lacking in violence,” or specifically lacking in person-on-person violence?  For example, can a story focusing on a violent natural disaster be considered “peaceful” or are we specifically looking for stories that don’t rely on violence or trauma at all?

It’s a bit of a rabbit hole, trying to define this sort of thing.

Arguably the best part of the panel is when everyone, panelists and audiences, just started tossing out favorite books, authors and reading suggestions. I wrote a some down and am now posting it at the request of some of the panel attendees. A lot of the suggestions are classic older works, many of which I haven’t read, which is why I wrote them down.  I don’t think I got everything, so if y’all want to add more, feel free.

Arthur C. Clarke (The Songs of Distant Earth and Fountains of Paradise were my picks)

Carl Sagan

“The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster

Solar Clipper books by Nathan Lowell

Naked to the Stars by Gordon Dickson

The Way Station by Clifford D. Simak (All Simak’s work, some people argued.)

Soviet-era SF: Several people mentioned that Soviet SF of the 60’s and 70’s reads quite different that U.S. SF and isn’t as focused on war.  Like, first contact stories tend to be about everyone being happy to meet each other and good things coming out of it.  (I remember getting hold of an anthology of 70’s Soviet SF stories and reading that kind of story there.)  We didn’t talk about Stanislaw Lem specifically, but probably should have.

Someone recommended a book that I think was called At Auberly Fair, but alas I didn’t write down the author and haven’t been able to find any sign of it online, so I’m not sure I got this title right. Can anyone verify?

Also mentioned:  Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, C.J. Cherryh, James White, and my own list includes Douglas Adams and Iain M. Banks.

Space opera is experiencing quite a nice resurgence right now, but the books all seem to be war stories.  Who are some more recent authors and novels that deal with space and space opera without telling war stories?  (I suddenly think of Andy Weir’s The Martian, a new novel that was recommended to me by like five different people last month.)

What a lot of these suggestions have in common is they’re about building things or exploring places.  The ideal of Star Trek’s Federation (but even Star Trek told a lot of war stories, what with the Borg and Dominion and such).  They’re a bit utopian.  And I think we all agreed that this is a good thing that we’d like to see more of.



10 Responses to “Peaceful SF – space opera”

  1. MichelleD Says:

    Thoroughly interesting panel…especially once we got through the semantics bit…

  2. Ron "Lionus" Polubinski Says:

    I suppose that even Sci-Fi can be comedic or romantic or largely tourist brochures about the visual wonders of space and alien beings and their civilizations to be seen and described. But if Sci-Fi is drama, then it has to fall under the generic definition of drama as being about one type or another of people or things in conflict — (i.e., wants or needs in opposition).

    On one end of that opposition is violence and war. On the lesser end there is difference of opinion. The former has all the flashy eye-catching (and imagination-grabbing) sights and sounds of bright explosions, loud noises, and physical force in use.

    On the lesser end of conflict is two or more people sitting calmly around a table politely arguing a contentious abstract point that only they are interested in or perhaps are capable of understanding.

    One tends to be emotionally stimulating while the other is stimulating on an intellectual level and can not help but be pallid in comparison.

    Peaceful SF – space opera? *Yawn*

  3. Phenix Nash Says:

    Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya stories (including the novella On a Red Station Drifting) really expanded my mind with regards to what space opera can be. Apart from the whole premise of a hegemonic space-faring Confucian culture, she writes about a lot of things other than war. Some of the Xuya stories do focus on war, genocide, and atrocity, but my favorites don’t. “Ship’s Brother” deals with sibling relationships. Red Station is about navigating family relationships and duty. “Immersion” deals with cultural assimilation. They’re hardly boring even without interpersonal violence. People die “off-screen” in Red Station and there’s the threat of war throughout, but the only time violence hits really close to home is a suicide attempt. It’s handled with incredible verisimilitude. “Ship’s Brother” begins with a harrowing childbirth. Not every story needs violence and when you think about it, we have a pretty narrow definition of violence in much fiction anyhow. Just some thoughts.

  4. DMS Says:

    Jack McDevitt’s Academy series. The first one was out in the 90’s, but the most recent one was published last year so I’m calling it current.

  5. I wrote “Angel Station” with the deliberate intention of writing a space opera where nobody had a gun or employed violence. Also, no cliches derived from Westerns. And a hive species that weren’t modeled on ants or bees.

  6. carriev Says:

    Hi Walter! I’m always surprised at who actually reads my blog!

    Thanks for the suggestions, guys!

  7. Kendall Lovely Says:

    I wouldn’t know anything about ’60s and ’70s Soviet SF novels, but Tchaikovsky’s Solaris is a great film.

  8. Why so surprised? I’ve commented here before. I think. Haven’t I?

  9. carriev Says:

    Yes you have, but it’s been awhile. 🙂

  10. spacecadette Says:

    [Wow, Walter Jon Williams…just got Metropolitan, it’s next up after Lock In. You and Walter are a couple of my favorite authors.]

    There’s a guy that wrote in the 70’s I believe, “Randall Garrett” (and a bunch of other pseudonyms). He had a number of series, some of which were more mystery oriented (The Lord Darcy series), The Gandalara cycle (about a character’s adventures in another time) and also an interesting series about magic, of the rabbit in a hat variety, sort of. May be under several of his ‘noms.

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