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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Happy Stars Wars Day!

Why is it Star Wars Day?  Today is May 4th, so "May the 4th be with you."  More importantly, why do I know this?  I have a 6 year old boy who eat, sleeps, and breathes Star Wars.  This is a real holiday at our house.  But we are not the only ones, click here and here for more information.

So I thought I would use the "holiday" to suggest some readalikes for Star Wars.  Many more people enjoy the Star Wars story than claim to like science fiction.  Today, I want to talk about the appeal of Star Wars and suggest books for readers who like the story but think they do not like Science Fiction.

First, let's talk about where we plot Star Wars on the SF map; this holds the key to its wide appeal.  Star Wars is a "space opera."  This is a very popular and widely read subgenre of SF.  A space opera story actually has more in common with epic fantasy (such as Lord of the Rings) than other areas of SF, in terms of its overall appeal.  In fact, space opera is the SF subgenre which most appeals to Fantasy readers.

The space opera storyline will feature action, adventure, intrigue, and romance.  War is often an element in the space opera, but it is more there to provide tension; the emphasis is truly on the larger picture and the relationships between the characters.

Space operas are sweeping tales with multiple characters and locales, and they always feature a heroic individual going up against an evil enemy.  Space operas are usually set in a time and place when galactic empires, spanning multiple world are a reality.  Therefore, politics  plays an important role, but we also see stalwart companions and romantic liaisons throughout it all.

This is what we see in any space opera and Star Wars, even though it is a movie, is the benchmark for the subgenre. Star Wars has all of what I mentioned above.  These elements are the key to understanding why you like or don't like space operas.  There very little hard science here.  It is the futuristic, space setting, the drama, the relationships, and the ultimate victory for our heroes which is why people love these types of stories.

So if you are one of the many readers out there who likes Star Wars, but also thinks you don't like SF, it may just be that you were looking at the wrong type of SF.  Don't worry though, I am here to help.  Below I will suggest some other SF options for people who think the only SF they like is Star Wars.  Also, I want to draw your attention to my Science Fiction for Beginners list which you can access on this page (scroll down, it is an alphabetical list) for even more options.

Other sure bet space operas:
Ender's Game (Ender, Book 1)Enders Game Series and its sister series following Bean called Ender's Shadow both by Orson Scott Card.  Ender's Game the novel is, in my opinion, one of the very best books ever written, regardless of genre.  Here an annotation I wrote for this book a few years ago:
At age 6, Ender Wiggins is identified as the "last hope" to defeat the alien race set upon the destruction of the Earth and all of its inhabitants.  Sent to a special military training school in space, Ender leaves his family behind and begins an intensive training involving team building and simulated war games.  The reader follows both Ender's trails and his family's story of dealing with the increasingly difficult political situation back on Earth.  Ender's Game is a moving coming-of-age tale with a science fiction twist.
Cordelia's Honor (Vorkosigan Saga Omnibus: Shards of Honor / Barrayar)Lois McMaster Bujold writes fantasy and science fiction; however, it is her multi-volume Vorkosigan Saga which is space opera at its best. The series is up to 17 volumes right now, plus a few parallel titles that shoot off of the main series.  Interestingly, the series begins with 2 novels (Shards of Honor and The Warrior's Apprentice) to set up the space opera to follow.  The series starts by introducing two truly honorable space commanders from different planets with VERY different cultures who meet, fall in love, deal with treachery, and learn how to make their marriage work--even when their deepest help beliefs are challenged.  Then, the focus shifts to their son Miles, who was damaged in utero and develops into a 4'10" hunchback, but is a strategic genius, a tough soldier, an intelligence agent, con man, and charismatic leader.  Miles also has a great sense of humor and a love of Amazonian women.

This is a great series for fans of the entire Star Wars story, especially those who are compelled by Anakin's specific story.  Bujold puts these characters in terrible situations where they have to use all of their ingenuity, skills, and technology in order to survive, while at the same time their most deeply held beliefs about themselves and what is "right" are severly tested.  Not all outcomes are neat and tidy; not all relationships end well.  These stories may be set in space, but the characters are very believable.

Other space operas I would suggest for Star Wars fans include:
  • The Foreigner Series by C. J. Cherryh follows a human liaison to "The Atevi," a race so foreign that human beings cannot understand them, at all.  What makes this series so interesting and compelling is that the reader cannot understand them either as we see everything through out human narrator.  This series is about the humans and the Atevi and how they try to coexist.  The series is broken up into 4 separate "sequences," which can each be read on their own.
  • The Hyperion Series by Dan Simmons images a world where the Earth has been destroyed and the surviving humans are spread out on a number of planets linked by "the web."  This series is more haunting than Star Wars since it involves the destruction of Earth.
  • The Honor Harrington Series  by David Weber has a lot of space opera characteristics, but there is also a lot of military detail here.  For some readers, the military details may be a turn off, but the strong female hero is also an appeal worth considering.
  • The Karres Series begun by James Schmitz and continued by Eric Flint et al begins with a Han Solo type character freeing 3 children.  Thus begins a compelling story to save the universe.
  • And for those who don't want to try an entire series but want to have a small taste of the subgenre, there is The New Space Opera and The New Space Opera 2.  These are excellent collections of epic science fiction stories by authors both old and new.
Happy Reading.  And...May the 4th be with you!

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