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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Operas of SPACE!!!

My leading light, reading-wise, continues to be the wonderful SF subgenre of space opera. I've done some more reading along that line the last few months.

Margaret Weis wrote a space opera trilogy called Star of the Guardians back in the early 1990s, of which I recently read Book One, The Lost King. Weis is far better known as half of a writing duo, the other half being Tracy Hickman, that produces in prolific fashion the Dragonlance novels. For this series Weis went it alone, although Hickman provides an introduction wherein she declares that Star of the Guardians is not science fiction but rather "Galactic Fantasy". What's the difference? Well, it's pretty much the same difference that's always illuminated between space opera and hard science fiction, although Hickman seems to hold hard SF in some disdain, saying that SF is about our love of technology while "Galactic Fantasy" is about our hopes and dreams in the future.

I'm not sure what to make of that, but The Lost King is a pretty fun and breezy read. It's fairly obviously indebted to Star Wars, using a lot of tropes from that "universe", which at the time of Weis's writing consisted of the movies and little else. The story takes place in the aftermath of a Galactic Civil War, in which a benevolent if inept monarchy was replaced by a dictatorial Republic, which is led by a harsh and controlling President who rules through the actions of his military and his Warlords. One of these Warlords, Derek Sagan, is tasked with tracking down the last living heir of the deposed Starfire dynasty, a young man named Dion, who is being protected by the last of the Royal Guardians. Dion flees with a mercenary ship captain named Tusk, and on the way they make the acquaintance of another Guardian named Lady Maigrey. Warlord Sagan, it turns out, does not wish to kill Dion Starfire outright; instead he has plans of his own (which aren't totally revealed in this first book of the trilogy).

The story of The Lost King is nothing that anybody who's read this sort of tale. As Weis notes, her story is far more reliant on the tropes of epic fantasy than SF, and what SF tropes are present are straight out of space operas like Star Wars, which many SF fans don't even admit as SF in the first place. It's not the most notable book I've read by a long shot, but it's got some things to recommend it; most notable are the character interactions between Warlord Sagan and Lady Maigrey (who have a long history that wasn't always antagonistic), and between the mercenary Turk and young Dion Starfire. Weis does a good job creating a cast of characters who have history behind them that explains their actions and motivations.

The Lost King is a promising beginning to a potentially nice space opera trilogy. It's not a great book, by any means, but it's worth seeking out for a breezy, entertaining "beach novel" kind of space opera.

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