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)
“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.