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I have a confession to make. It’s nothing I’m proud of, but I’ve learned to live with it. I don’t like Sci-Fi.
Sure I love Star Wars and Star Trek and Guardians of the Galaxy and I especially love James Turner’s Warlord of Io, which is the inspiration for this post, but I can’t get through an Isaac Asimov anthology to save my life. Not even when all the stories are about robots. I like a lot of Warren Ellis’ creator-owned stuff, but the only one I truly love is Anna Mercury.
When I first discovered this, I was a bit disappointed in myself. I’d grown up thinking of myself as a Sci-Fi fan. I loved John Carter of Mars. Killraven was one of my favorite Marvel characters. I didn’t realize that there was anything wrong with me just because no amount of Jack Kirby could get me interested in 2001: A Space Odyssey. (I was nine; I expect I’d have a different reaction today, but that would be all Kirby’s doing and none of the concept’s.)
Of course, it’s the hardcore Sci-Fi fans who are telling me that I don’t like their genre. Star Wars isn’t real science fiction. It’s fantasy. There’s no actual science to it. It’s just Lord of the Rings with spaceships and blasters instead of dragons and magic wands. But you know what? I’m okay with that now. Let the hardcore Sci-Fi folks have their label. I’ve found another one I like better anyway.
What it is and what’s the difference after the break.
In genre-naming circles, the stuff I dig is usually called Space Opera, but I don’t like that name either. It reminds me of singing valkyries and Days of Our Lives, not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things. They’re just not what I’m looking for in an outer space story. And what Space Opera really refers to is the huge scale of the story, not the level of awesomeness in it. What I’m looking for is awesomeness. What Grant Gould once described to me as Sexy Sci Fi. Weird planets, cool ships, laser guns, wildly imaginative aliens; bubble helmets and jet packs. The term that describes all that, I think, is Space Pulp.
But the Space Pulp label also comes with some problems. It makes no claim to any kind of literary quality and that’s a weakness. There’s no reason why a fun and exciting story shouldn’t also be a meaningful one. I have no patience for stories that are all plot with no character development and no point. In fact, I have much less tolerance for those than I do for weighty, important stories that aren’t all that exciting.
But given my choice, I’d rather have both. I’d rather have a book like Warlord of Io. It’s got Zing, whose primary responsibility as Prince of Io was playing video games, but now has to figure out how to rule the empire since his father is retiring for an orgy-filled life in the Pleasure Domes of Zur. His idealistic best friend Moxy Comet is willing to help, but first they have to escape the assassination attempts of Io’s would-be usurpers, led by the Demonic (meaning that he looks a lot like Kirby’s Demon) General Grymak.
The plot’s fairly simple, but it overflows with awesome. Turner has a boisterous imagination and it spills all over every page, making everything better. The villains are an eclectic group of crocodile-men, warbots, mud monsters, asteroid ants, jello people, and others too nuts to describe. Zing is helped by a miniature robot named Urk who makes R2-D2 look like C-3PO. There are also talking ray guns, a philosophizing sapling, a cybernetic death-rat, and of course Tiki Space Pirates.
It has heart too though, mostly thanks to Moxy Comet, the only person – including Zing – who seems to believe that the new emperor is capable of ruling well. Turner’s not heavy-handed with this, but it permeates the book and adds a different element to the concept of Wrong vs. Right. If – as Moxy believes – it’s Right for Zing to rule Io, then his slacking is just as much an obstacle to it as General Grymak is, which makes it just as Wrong.
I know there are lots of other great space stories like this, whether we call them Sci-Fi or Space Pulp or whatever. They may not teach a lot of science, but they teach us something about ourselves and let us have a great time in the process. So, the Questions for the Week are: What are they? What are your favorite comics set in space and why? And which bona fide Science Fiction comics are also good at human stories? Because in spite of what I said earlier, I’d really like to read them and see if I can start calling myself a Sci-Fi fan again.