Space Opera and the Question of Empire: From David Weber to Yoon Ha Lee

A new post over at!

When I set out to write this piece, I had a grand vision for what I was going to say. Then I realised that in order to achieve that vision, I’d need to write myself a book’s worth of words. So instead of having an incisive and cutting post looking at approaches to imperialism and gender in space opera, you’re getting the shorter version: a sketch towards an argument comparing the space opera novels of Ann Leckie, Yoon Ha Lee, David Drake, and David Weber, and how they treat empire.

A brief summation of some books read over the last weeks

I am a very irregular blogger. Well, I never promised otherwise.

Amalie Howard, The Almost Girl. Strange Chemistry, 2014. ARC.

Reviewed at I fear I may have been rather unkind to the poor thing.

David Weber, Like A Mighty Army. Tor, 2014. ARC.

Review forthcoming at Very much following the tone of previous Safehold books: more wargaming than character development.

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents. Tor, 2014. ARC.

Review forthcoming at Sequel to A Natural History of Dragons. I like it. Lots.

David Drake, The Sea Without A Shore. Baen, 2014. Electronic ARC.

Next in Drake’s entertaining RCN space opera series. And, in the way of that series, very enjoyable.

David Weber and Timothy Zahn, A Call to Duty. Baen, 2014. Electronic ARC.

Set in the early days of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, the setting might be David Weber, but the style, energy, verve, and attention to character is all Zahn. I like Zahn’s work: I tend to like it best when he’s playing with other people’s toys, and whatever one may say about Weber’s latest works, he has an impressive toybox when it comes to Manticore and its navy – and its navy’s history. I liked it a lot, and I’m delighted to hear that it’s only the first in a contracted trilogy.

Courtney Milan, The Countess Conspiracy. Ebook, gift.

Excellent historical romance involving science. I like science.

Faith Hunter, Death’s Rival. Roc, 2012.

Fun violent urban fantasy.

Sharon Shinn, The Shape of Desire and Still Life With Shapeshifter. Ace, 2013.

Not exactly interesting romance with minimal point to the fantastic content.

Libby McGugan, Eidolon. Solaris, 2013.

Reviewed for Vector (forthcoming). Oy, how boring and irritating was this book.

Michelle Sagara, Touch. DAW, 2014. ARC courtesy of DAW.

An excellent sequel to the excellent Silence. I should be reviewing it for shortly.

David Drake, Monsters of the Earth

Tor, New York, 2013.

The third in a series begun with The Legions of Fire and continued in Out of the Waters, set in an alternate Rome which Drake calls Carce. Drake is of an antiquarian bent, a Latinist who does his own translations of ancient works, and his grasp of Roman elite cultural mores, at least those from within the city of Rome itself, is fairly spot on – though he doesn’t much broaden his view outside the elite. (Roman citizens, even semi-literate soldiers, are the elite. [His not-Rome here also lacks something of the staggering filth and mortality of the ancient city that’s not reflected in its literature. {One day I’ll read a book that acknowledges ancient public baths, and the fact that they drained by overflow.}])

There are striking similarities between this and Drake’s Lord of the Isles series, in particular the broad strokes of the character types and the fact that they are forever being dragged/traveling into other worlds, mostly separately, to confront magicians whose greed, arrogance, stupidity or power-hunger threatens the existence of the whole world, en route encounter/fight monsters and strange people, to be reunited at the climax. (It is a very “Wonders Beyond Thule”/Ctesias’ “Indica” sort of strangeness, with occasional Lovecraftian elements.) But if this is the kind of thing you like – and I like it, for the most part – then this book is a hell of a lot of fun.