Friend and good-natured troll Jon Del Arroz recently wrote about his experience with Tor’s blog, and it was on something that was bothering me for a while. Here was the paragraph that struck me.
Unfortunately, the promise that Tordotcom made in #SpaceOperaWeek turned out to be nothing but thin air. The launch page really didn’t talk about space opera at all, just having some big logo announcing their initiative. The next post wasn’t about space opera or the joys of its fiction — but presenting a false narrative that women are somehow oppressed and erased in the genre (rebutted by the Hugo-nominated Castalia House who’s been active talking about the great women of space opera for years), a post about ponies in space,a post about the “underrated importance of ordinary, everyday life” in storytelling, and then shilling for a couple of Tor authors. Nothing else. No real space opera discussion at all.
It was the part about the ‘underrated importance of ordinary, everyday life‘ that struck me. I am not opposed to people writing about ‘ordinary, everyday life,’ as I am not opposed to people writing. Anything to get people more creative. I’m just not going to read it, and a lot of people aren’t either.
You think that’s an exaggeration? Surely, I’m projecting my own tastes onto the faceless masses. Well, not really. A little digging at a site called The-Numbers, which tracks movie sales and business, will show my theory in action. I took three ‘ordinary, everyday life’ films (Moonlight, La La Land, and Manchester by the Sea) and compared them with three heroic/speculative movies (Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy, and American Sniper). The results…
For those of you who didn’t click the link, American Sniper is up top (war movie, with a side of patriotism), followed by Guardians of the Galaxy (space opera with a star-studded (pardon the pun) cast), both exceeding $300 million dollars. Doctor Strange (superhero fantasy with a martial arts twist) was lower, but still earning over $200 million.
Now, next we have La La Land (drama about a woman going off to Hollywood- not ‘ordinary, everyday life,’ but without any exotic elements like aliens or magic, or any heroic acts of valor, as one might find in a war movie). That grossed approximately $150 million. Manchester by the Sea (depressed man has to take care of his brother’s son, ‘ordinary, everyday life’ ensues) grossed just under $50 million, and Moonlight (Gay black guy goes through life in a rough neighborhood) made barely over $21 million.
My theory is that fiction in general, speculative fiction and heroic fiction in particular, is the incarnation of mythology for the modern age, though without the religious connotations. Think about the classical myths. They featured gods, sorceresses, heroes, monsters, magic, and all sorts of non-mundane artifacts. ‘Ordinary, everyday life’ has a place here, and it’s where the hero starts before he is torn into a realm of ‘extraordinary life,’ full of monsters and gods and demons and witches. Either that, or he is called to conflict greater than himself, and thus ‘ordinary, everyday life’ must be forsaken for something greater, usually war (The Iliad, for example).
Space Opera is an epic myth, with psionics instead of sorcerers, and spaceships instead of chariots, with planets in place of strongholds. The urge to focus on the mundane and the ordinary, when the very heavens are calling to you, is a failure of the spirit of space opera. It is beginning at the launchpad, and staying there. To focus on the ‘ordinary, everyday life’ is fine for drama. But for space opera, it is failure to launch.
Find my stuff here.