on 11 June 2015
New Space Opera volume one, which I finished recently, left me entertained but underwhelmed. I couldn't escape the sinking feeling that I'd been hoodwinked by marketing spin, the brand appeal of a recognised name above a familiar, pre-existing title. The sort of thing that keeps Jennifer Anniston in film parts.
I really, really shouldn't have bought both volumes at the same time.
Aside from the obvious couple of big names - Neal Asher and Bruce Sterling, as well as clunking fantasy doorstopper Tad Williams - I don't think it's unfair to say that New Space Opera 2 is really the B-list outing.
I can at least honestly say that out of the gate the stories in volume two show much more - which is to say "some" - evidence of being New Space Opera. Opening story "The Island" features a creditable Big Dumb Object with recognisable elements of Deep Space and Deep Time, a contrary Ship Mind and a cast of wired-up blue-collar space grunts. Neal Asher's offering "Shell Game" reads more like his most recent work, so it's not his best, but you're never in doubt this is widescreen space adventure and he hits the same grubby, blue-collar aesthetic, includes a couple of augmented immortals, and plays on the Squids in Space thing which I'm never entirely sure is a running gag or has made the grade all the way up to meme.
The real stumbling block comes with material like Defect by remorseless mid-lister Kristine Kathryn Rusch. It's a novelised bottle episode of some forgotten seventies TV show. Her lead character sports a black tunic hemmed with silver foil and wanders the corridors of a lawless space station called "NetherRealm" - named, presumably, after a forgotten online fantasy MMOG. She's a deadly space assassin forced to confront the realities of motherhood when the evil SpaceCorp sends a second deadly space assassin - how many can there be? - to kill her cover identity's family. The characters and storytelling are weak, and it's barely space opera, let alone "New Space Opera".
The editors' introduction leaves a sour taste as they try to weasel round the issue of how widely volume one missed its sub-genre mark, and volume two has the same Trades Description credibility gap.
Some of the stories here waddle more convincingly, and some of the stories quack more in tune, but this isn't the book about ducks you're looking for.
Go and buy some Iain M. Banks.