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^^^ Me again. M Harold Page. The writer with the swords and some books in print, rather than the one with the cats and a metric tonne of books in print (plus enough rockets that we really should get him that Tracy Island in which to keep them).
Did I say "swords"?
Right now it's actually blasters because I'm wearing my Space Opera hat.
Yes, despite all my books to date featuring many, many swordfights, I wrote a Space Opera. It's called "The Wreck of the Marissa (The Eternal Dome of the Unknowable #1)".
And yes, as you might guess from its title, it's at the other end of the spectrum from the transhuman wibbletech extrapolative futures that Charlie likes to explore. It's also not Military SF. Though there's fighting - the protagonist is a retired mercenary turned archaeologist - it's small scale stuff and the focus isn't on the regular army.
But what subgenre is it?
The same subgenre as EC Tubb's Dumarest books - hero wanders the galaxy in search of Earth - or Moon's Vatta's War - hero trades across the galaxy while coming to her family's rescue - or Firefly - oddball crew trade between worlds - or, of course, the venerable Traveller Roleplaying Game - I've been reviewing the new Mongoose Traveller over on Black Gate (*).
It's partly defined by vibe; hardboiled adventure in an imperfectly distributed future where there are more planets like Tatooine than Coruscant. However, it's also defined by protagonist(s) and scope; independent operators struggling to make a go of it in a hostile human universe with the antagonists capped at corporation or "house" level, with no Dark Lord, and no saving the galaxy.
You know exactly what I mean. It's the subgenre that that bears the same relation to Space Opera that Sword & Sorcery bears to Heroic Fantasy.
But it doesn't have a name! And though I'm half a century late to the game, I think we should call it "Star Punk".
The range of $CONCEPTpunk genres, namely Cyberpunk, Steampunk, Valvepunk, Elfpunk... (Wikipedia has a handly list) all share one or both of the following:
First, the $CONCEPT really works by authorial fiat. It's what some writers call a "gimme".
Any deep worldbuilding is mostly just handwaving to support the technology that produces the desired literary effect. Taking Steampunk as a representative example: Philip Reeve's Predator Cities (*) trundle around the dried up ocean beds eating each other with backstory, but no plausible technical explanation; and Oppel's more lyrical Airborn (*) gives us an airship based future with some technical explanation, but not much backstory.
And we don't care.
We want the story world with the Zeppelins and steam-powered tanks, partly because they're cool, but also because they enable stories that explore certain themes and human experiences. In this, the $CONCEPTpunk genres have a lot in common with Magical Realism. (Perhaps we punks are really just magical realists who know how to plot?)
Second, there's a focus on the personal experience of individuals with personal agency - "punks"? - navigating the technology of the storyworld .
The parent genres often use the same tropes and technologies, but it's the punk sub genres that engage with them. Thus, for example, characters in Simon R. Green's scenery chewing Deathstalker (*) series boast various Cyberpunk augmentations, but the series is squarely Space Opera. Jackson's Lord of the Rings movie gives us orcs using Steampunk technology at Isengard, and Tolkien himself turns the Shire into a Steampunk dystopia, but neither are by any stretch of the imagination actual Steampunk.
I think the reason we recognise a kinship between, say, Dumarest (space drifter) on the one hand and Firefly (space trader) on the other is because they share a similar science fictional universe in which the what matters more than the why. The same goes for Vatta's War, and most of Flinx, and actually Jack McDevitt's Alex Benedict stories (*).
They are all set in spacefaring civilisations where technology has somehow - with an authorial handwave - and my handwave is particularly cunning and internally consistent - failed to eliminate the human element, where you still need a human to pull the trigger or pilot the scout ship, and where nanotechnology, 3D-printing and vertical farms have neither eliminated trade, nor ushered in a crime-free post scarcity society. They all involve individuals or companions - adventurers, traders, investigators, contractors - pursuing goals of only local significance.
In other words, they could all be transcripts of particularly good Traveller campaigns.
As I said, this genre is like the Space Opera version of Sword & Sorcery. However, I'm damned if I can coin a _____ & _____ term along the lines of Sword & Planet that covers all aspects without making any mandatory. (Have a go in the comments if you like...)
So let's call the whole lot "Star Punk" and be done with it...unless you have a better idea?
M Harold Page isthe Scottish author of The Wreck of the Marissa (Book 1 of the Eternal Dome of the Unknowable Series), an old-school space adventure yarn about a retired mercenary-turned-archaeologist dealing with "local difficulties" as he pursues his quest across the galaxy. His other titles include Swords vs Tanks (Charles Stross: "Holy ****!") and Storyteller Tools: Outline from vision to finished novel without losing the magic. (Ken MacLeod: "...very useful in getting from ideas etc to plot and story." Hannu Rajaniemi: "...find myself to coming back to [this] book in the early stages.") You can find his most recent Black Gate Traveller article here.
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April 26th, 2017: I am still in Alaska! IT IS STILL GORGEOUS!! Everyone come here, it's great! Only some local teens burned down the local (AMAZING) park so I am here to tell you: teens, don't do that. Teens, you will go to jail for burning down a park and then everyone will say "what the heck is wrong with these teens".
So it's that time in the book production cycle again, and in the next couple of weeks "Empire Games" is going to be finalized for paperback release this autumn. Which means it's my last chance to hunt down and fix any typos/errata in the hardback/initial ebook release.
Got any typos in "Empire Games" (not any other books, thanks!) that you've been saving up? If so, please tell me what it is in a comment below. If it's a hardback, please identify the page and line number it occurs on. If you're using an ebook, cut-and-paste about a line of text that includes the error (so I can search for it). Thanks!