Sunday, June 10, 2018

A Political History of the Future: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente at Lawyers, Guns & Money

My latest Political History of the Future column discusses Catherynne M. Valente's new novel Space Opera.  As I discuss in the essay, this is seemingly an odd choice--Valente's Hitchhiker's Guide-inspired comedy about a galaxy where species prove their right to exist among civilized nations by competing in space-Eurovision is pretty far outside the boundaries I had previously defined, of works that engage with concrete political and social issues.
To which the answer is, because talking about Space Opera gives me an opportunity to point out a glaring lacuna in almost all the works we’ve discussed so far—the way that nearly every one of them leaves out the centrality of culture, and particularly popular culture, in shaping a society and reflecting its preoccupations. ... Even as it strives to create fully-realized worlds, art—high and low, functional and abstract, popular and obscure, ridiculous and serious—tends to be absent from them. So are artists—try to remember the last time you encountered a character in a science fiction or fantasy story who had an artistic side, even just as a hobby. Even worse, few characters in SFF stories have any kind of cultural touchstones.
Valente not only creates a setting where art and music are the most important thing, but also touches on how central culture is to our existence as thinking, feeling people.  Plus, it's a really fun book.

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