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Old 09-04-2014, 04:13 PM   #1
Agemegos
 
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Default [Space] and [UT] for New Space Opera

In a thread in Geek Culture, doctorevilbrain asked:
  • What is the difference between space opera and new space opera?
  • How would you use GURPS Space and GURPS Ultra-Tech to run a new space opera campaign?

Unfortunately the discussion among the geeks in Geek Culture wasn't as specific to GURPS as doctorevilbrain would have liked, and I think a lot of the masters of doing stuff with GURPS missed it. Therefore, and because I'm interested in the question myself, I'm re-asking the second question here. What tools from the Space and Ultra-Tech trays of the toolbox are useful for new space opera gaming? What options, setting switches, tech paths, gadgets, generation procedures etc. from Space and Ultra-Tech would be good to use in a new space opera campaign?

As for the first question, the geeky discussion of subgenre boundaries is perhaps best left in the old thread, in Geek Culture.
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Old 09-04-2014, 05:08 PM   #2
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Default Re: [Space] and [UT] for New Space Opera

I'm going to start by addressing the heterogeneity here by defining what "new space opera" means to me and then address what bits of GURPS Ultra-Tech and GURPS Space apply to trying to run it GURPS (which I have actually done with Xia of The Empire of Heaven).

To me, the "new space opera" includes a lot of what was written with an interstellar or galactic scope and published after Star Wars, unless it is deliberately ultra-hard (Benford's Galactic Center books) or deliberately retro (Bujold's Vorkosigan books). It rejects the new wave's focus on smallish stories about the near-future on Earth, the dystopian pessimism of cyberpunk, and the rigid rules of high literary hard-sf, while still being heavily influenced by all of those. It is closely related and sometimes overlaps with radical hard-sf (Spin and Axis come to mind as fitting into that overlapping zone). To be (for me) "new space opera" it must:
  1. Have an interstellar or galactic scope.
  2. Be something of the epic in scale.
  3. Have some attention to technology and science, even if it is just consistent technobabble.
  4. Have technology with radical and transformative effects on daily life.
  5. Not ignore or retrotech the information age. Usually means that AI needs to be addressed or at least lampshaded.

Some (heterogenous) examples: Banks' Culture, Simmon's Hyperion and Endymion, Williams' Dread Empire's Fall, Leckey's Ancillary Justice.

Now that's out of the way, GURPS stuff:
Ultra-Tech p. 8-11:
  • Most examples should start with the Radical Hard SF path, but typically include some elements of Emergent Superscience most commonly some form of FTL (and most typically stable wormholes that don't permit closed time-like curves).
  • Natotech Revolutions (and even singularities!) are common tropes.
  • High-Biotech may exist. Especially for radical daughter cultures or aliens.
  • Safe-Tech may exist in a limited way, such as in settings where AI volitional AI are heavily controlled in order to prevent a singularity.
  • Retro-tech and Psi-tech are totally inappropriate.
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Old 09-04-2014, 05:23 PM   #3
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Default Re: [Space] and [UT] for New Space Opera

In GURPS Space:
  • Settings aren't likely to be High Industrial, but are likely to be High Biotech, High Cybertech and High Nanotech all at the same time. pp. 50-51.
  • Leisure Societies p. 183 and Macro-Life p. 191 are both common tropes.
  • Machine Civilizations p.200 are common especially those which include humans and other biological creatures as partners (or pets) of the AIs.
  • Modified Humans, Uplifted Animals, Robots and AIs, and Aliens pp. 216-218 are common characters. Aliens are as likely to be as modified as humans are. Psionic Mutants aren't common, though, as psi is definitely retro.
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Old 09-04-2014, 11:47 PM   #4
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Default Re: [Space] and [UT] for New Space Opera

Retrotech is right out. What about safetech? My feeling is that it need not be a deal-breaker, but that there would have to be something to make the result new space opera rather than rationalised old space opera. Are there examples in the literature?
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Old 09-05-2014, 02:01 AM   #5
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Default Re: [Space] and [UT] for New Space Opera

Quote:
Originally Posted by Agemegos View Post
Retrotech is right out. What about safetech? My feeling is that it need not be a deal-breaker, but that there would have to be something to make the result new space opera rather than rationalised old space opera. Are there examples in the literature?
Dread Empire's Fall: AI is restricted by the former alien overlords who feared Singularity.
Barnes Thousand Worlds has AI restricted (although less so) for similar reasons.
If Mass Effect counts (for me it definitely is a borderline case; new with old sensibilities or old with new elements; not sure) it also restricts AI.
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Old 09-05-2014, 06:36 AM   #6
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Default Re: [Space] and [UT] for New Space Opera

Quote:
Originally Posted by Agemegos View Post
Retrotech is right out. What about safetech? My feeling is that it need not be a deal-breaker, but that there would have to be something to make the result new space opera rather than rationalised old space opera. Are there examples in the literature?
Star Trek: TNG. It's an example of what I call NotSafeTech because whenever one of the SafeTech items comes up it goes Horribly Wrong.

Banning some item because of a rational assessment of risks wouldn't make a place SafeTech.
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Old 09-05-2014, 11:27 AM   #7
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Default Re: [Space] and [UT] for New Space Opera

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fred Brackin View Post
Star Trek: TNG. It's an example of what I call NotSafeTech because whenever one of the SafeTech items comes up it goes Horribly Wrong.
Star Trek is, IMO, definitely not new space opera, when it is space operatic at all it is old space opera.

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Old 09-05-2014, 11:41 AM   #8
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Default Re: [Space] and [UT] for New Space Opera

Quote:
Originally Posted by sir_pudding View Post
Star Trek is, IMO, definitely old space opera.
I think that's too extreme a judgment.

Within the domain of film and television, if you want space opera, probably the classic example is Star Wars. Grand sweeping battles, planet-destroying weapons, heroes and villains and plots that turn on the struggle between them, everything focused on the grand plot. . . .

Star Trek is clearly not at that pole. A lot of its episodes stood on their own. The universe is not one with good versus evil or a single massive struggle. There were storylines that were social science fiction, or at least sf-as-social-allegory in the Soviet mode. There were pure character studies.

It seems to me that what you're trying to do is draw a sharp line, with hard sf on one side and space opera on the other, and with everything put in one category or the other. And since Star Trek clearly isn't hard sf (has any film or television series been hard sf?), it lands in space opera. But a system of categories under which Star Wars and Star Trek and Babylon 5 and Firefly and Guardians of the Galaxy are all in the same category isn't making fine enough distinctions to be much use.

Bill Stoddard
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Old 09-05-2014, 11:49 AM   #9
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Default Re: [Space] and [UT] for New Space Opera

Adding to this: There's an old argument—I think it might have come from Isaac Asimov—that science fiction falls into three categories: the gadget story; the adventure story; and the social impact/worldbuilding story.

In the gadget story, for example, the hero is an inventor who is working on the new technology of the automobile, and the story is his trying to get his automobile to work right in order to enter it into some competition, or use it to solve some problem. In the adventure story, the hero is an automobile driver, or a crimefighter or spy or adventurer who uses fast transportation to help his adventures (think the Green Hornet). But in the worldbuilding story, the hero may be an industrialist who's trying to solve the problems of marketing automobiles, or a doctor who's seeing a lot of victims of a new type of accident, or maybe someone who lives in a world dependent on the automobile and is accustomed to the social institutions and cultural attitudes and trade relations it makes possible, and is now seeing them change for some reason.

In those terms, "space opera" is science fiction adventure stories, where the "sf" elements are there purely to enable the adventures. And neither in Star Trek nor in Firefly was that true.

Bill Stoddard
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Old 09-05-2014, 11:52 AM   #10
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Default Re: [Space] and [UT] for New Space Opera

Answers to Bill's non-GURPS related genre-defining in the other thread.

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