In the upcoming fall semester, I will be teaching an upper division modern science fiction course on American space opera. That’s right. A whole entire course just on American space opera. Though I have a few ideas for texts to teach, I realize that space opera is a massive field and that I would be remiss not to poke the infinite knowledge of other science fiction fans for works I might otherwise have missed or which might serve my needs better than the things in my head.
With that in mind, I’m looking for space opera recommendations! As of right now, I’m strongly considering teaching E.E. “Doc” Smith, Joe Haldeman, Tobias Buckell, Alfred Bester, Samuel R. Delany, Lois McMaster Bujold, and C.J. Cherryh. I have a lot of titles, but I’m not sure what I will choose to focus on just yet. Given the scope of the course, I may be limited in how much I can actually explore.
So what am I looking for?
1) Short stories, novellas, and novels (no longer than 400 pages) which could reasonably be described as space opera OR playing in the space opera sandbox. The stories should in some way engage with the course description:
Coined by Wilson Tucker in 1941 as a pejorative, the science fiction subgenre of “space opera” has become a staple of science fiction narrative, most popularly envisioned in film by the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises. But far from mere visual spectacle or adventure, space opera’s history suggests a complicated relationship between the subgenre and the contemporary culture in which it is written. From its roots in the often paranoid and sometimes blatantly racist narratives (e.g., “Yellow Peril” stories) of what I.F. Clarke calls “future war fiction,” to its development as a legitimate subgenre in the pulps and the Golden Age via writers such as E.E. “Doc” Smith and Alfred Bester, space opera has always been in conversation with its time. It reinforces contemporary values or, as science fiction is apt to do, it critiques or deconstructs those values.
This course will explore the development of American space opera from its literary origins in late 19th-century “future war fiction” and the “Edisonades” to its codification as a subgenre in the pulps via writers such as Edmond Hamilton and E.E. “Doc” Smith. From there, the course will trace the legitimization of space opera as a subgenre in the Golden Age and the political blowbacks to its imperialistic and/or “conservative” themes or narrative tropes in the New Wave (Samuel R. Delany, et. al.) and New Space Opera periods (Tobias Buckell, C.J. Cherryh, et al.).
Readings will consist of serialized fiction, novels, and critical readings on science fiction, history, or relevant literary or cultural theory. Students will be expected to keep up with the readings and to regularly participate in class discussion. Written course requirements will include two short essays, a group discussion panel, weekly discussion questions, and one final essay.
- Stories which are considered precursors to traditional space opera
- Stories which helped define the subgenre
- Stories which pushed against the traditional form (particularly works form the New Wave)
- Significant works of New Space Opera