The Final Frontier

To Boldly Go (5)

So what is the future for space opera?

With modern developments in cinematography and CGI, movies and television seem to have become the favoured media for science fiction. More people are hooked on visual fantasy than ever before. Film series like Alien, Star Wars and Star Trek, singles like ET, The Abyss, Blade Runner, Independence Day, Avatar and others have drawn millions – if not tens of millions – of fans to the box office. TV series such as Babylon 5, Stargate SG1 and Battlestar Galactica – the ratings are controversial – are certainly in the millions too if one counts computer viewings and DVDs. Over the past twenty years, science fiction literature has been relegated to the special interest it was half a century ago.

Or has it?

Accurate sales figures for books are not readily available. However, such that are indicate that quite the opposite is true. Wikipedia (which may not be completely trustworthy) has compiled a list: Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy has apparently sold 20 million copies since it was first published in the 1950s; Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, a work of fantasy though not space opera, takes the all-time second prize at 150 million; Frank Herbert’s Dune weighs in at 12 million.

If we take a look at what is out there (the Truth of course, but much else), we might be astounded. After a gap of some twenty-five years, Asimov went back to his Foundation and, amongst other things, went on writing Foundation stories until his death in 1992. From the seventies until his death in 2008, Arthur Clarke continued with his space and time Odysseys, and published other amazing stories by the way. Ray Bradbury, even at the age of ninety, did not stop writing and collaborating; and his collection of awards and was almost as long as the list of his books. The late Douglas Adams added a touch of comedy to the genre with his Hitchhiker books. The world has lost some of its greatest writers, but they have left a legacy that will outlive all of us alive today.

Novels by modern sci-fi writers, such as Ian M Banks’ The Hydrogen Sonata, or Peter Watts’ Blindsight, may not reach the same fabulous heights of popularity as these older works. We cannot know; however, the writers themselves are in good company of others, producing a plethora of novels, short stories, plays and scripts – we should never forget that someone has to write those TV dramas! Writers like Greg Bear, Peter F Hamilton and Michael Moorcock, and a multitude of other wonderful authors are still exploring the boundaries of the probable – and improbable – with flair and imagination, imagination that is needed if we are to advance the species. Some of the greatest of humanity’s scientific advances have their origins in the novelist’s pen.

Fashions in literature change, but there is no time limit for amazing stories. Why else, after more than two thousand years, are we still reading the works of Homer? Why, after a few hundred years, are we still reading fairy tales to our children? In a few hundred more, our descendents may be reading something else, but it’s a good bet that science fiction will be high up on the list.

We will never cross that final frontier, yet we will not stop trying.

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