The Magazine

Out of This World

An interplanetary opera with a nod to the past.

May 12, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 33 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
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There's something a little off about the parodic elements of Space Vulture. It's not really fair to do parody of a genre that nobody does seriously anymore. Oh, there are plenty of modern science-fiction stories that owe a debt to the old Buck Rogers space opera: Larry Niven's Ringworld, for instance, and Lois McMaster Bujold's endless Miles Vorkosigan saga. But they aren't exactly like their predecessors, for readers these days demand a little better science, a little better writing, and a melodrama that's a little better hidden.

In fact, pure space opera exists today only as parody, from Harry Harrison's Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers to Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. (The best may be Jack Vance's 1965 Space Opera, which even involves actual opera as an eccentric heiress hires an opera company and sets out to bring culture to the deprived citizens of the galaxy's distant planets.) In the case of Space Vulture the mild parody weakens the book's homage to space opera, and the homage gets in the way of the parody.

Still, there's no getting around the fact that Space Vulture is a fun, quick read. The dust jacket carries praise from both Guy Consolmagno, the chief astronomer at the Vatican Observatory, and the Catholic novelist Gene Wolfe, probably the most respected science-fiction writer alive. Of course, that may owe something to John Myers's day job; science fiction-writing archbishops don't grow on trees.

But some of the praise is due. From that moment of discovery way back when in Earlville all the way down to the present, Gary Wolf and Archbishop Myers have kept alive the memory of Space Hawk and Captain Future and Flash Gordon. And why not? It was science fiction--science and fiction at the same time!

Joseph Bottum is editor of First Things.