I have loved Space Opera since I was three.
That was when the original Star Trek series aired on one of the only two channels that were available in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1966, and it was something we, as a family watched. I remember my mother being certain that the sight of one alien in the closing credits (Balok from The Corbomite Maneuver) would scare me too much, so she charged my sisters with distracting me so I wouldn’t see it.
Of course, when I finally did, I wasn’t bothered at all.
Star Trek truly entered my consciousness in the Seventies during first run syndication after school. When I rediscovered it, I would race home and hope it was one I hadn’t seen yet. Not that it mattered. I watched them over and over, poring over every detail, memorizing the look, the ideas, the performances. I tried over and over to build the Enterprise with my Lego. And this was back in the day when there weren’t any specially shaped blocks, just flat bits, rectangles and squares. My love for the show just continued to grow.
The other significant Space Opera memory is entwined with my love of books and libraries. When I was a child, there was a specific Saturday morning routine: my dad dropped my mum off at the grocery store to shop, and he and I went to the library for books. I was let loose downstairs in the children’s section, with my children’s library card, typed in red to show the difference. (Anyone out there old enough to remember typewriters?) While my memory has gotten fuzzier with age, I distinctly remember the first Edgar Rice Burroughs books I happened upon: Carson of Venus. It was magical. Much of that glow had faded when I read it again a few years ago, but as a child, I was transported. Edgar Rice Burroughs was my gateway drug to Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, and McCaffrey.
My love of Science Fiction, and Space Opera in particular, was now deeply ingrained. I couldn’t even begin to count all of the iterations I’ve loved. Farscape. Firefly. Killjoys. Anne Leckie’s amazIng Ancillary series. On one level, it’s simple as a love of the design aesthetic and the idea of all the wonderful toys that these futures promised. Space ships and ray guns. Transporters and faster than light travel. I loved all the gadgets and seeing how those trappings were reinterpreted with every passing year. But what also kept me coming back was one simple thing: hope.
In those black starscapes, in among the zipping starships, was the promise that we were going to make it. We would get through all of our pettiness and self destructive human ways, and we would make it to the stars. Of course, we’d take a lot of those terrible habits with us, but look at all the other things we could accomplish along the way.
Science Fiction, and Space Opera as well, can show us who we are, who we can be. The things we can accomplish if we can work at it. It can also show us the dangers and pitfalls we will face if we don’t address the challenges in our path now. And it can do so in such a way as to couch it in metaphors that can draw in those who may just be looking for spaceships and rayguns.
It all dovetailed nicely into my love of comics, especially where the two intersected in series’ like Legion of Super-Heroes. In those epic tales, I learned about heroes, and more specifically what heroism looks like. Those stories taught me valuable lessons. That the right thing to do is seldom the easy thing. How important it is to stand together. To respect the ways we’re different, as strongly as the we care about the ways we are alike.
And good Space Opera can break your heart. If you can watch Spock stand up in that reactor chamber, straighten his tunic, stumble into the barrier because he can’t see, saying “Do not grieve, Admiral. It is logical” and not cry… If you can watch Serenity and see Zoe say, big gun in hand as the Reavers begin their attack, “Wash ain’t comin.”… If you can sit through those scenes unmoved, then you just might be a Terminator in disguise. Just sayin’.
When I started writing, which was mostly on a dare from a friend who didn’t like me bitching about my dissatisfaction with a scene in a movie we had just watched. “Okay, fine, smarty,” she said. “Go ahead and write it yourself.” And I did. And it was awful. But I kept going, and I learned.
Somewhere in there, I came out. And, while I still devoured all the SF and SO I could get my hands on, I started to wonder, “Where are the queer people?” I mean, if the stories I was watching were correct, humanity would survive and keep on going out there in space. Did we just get left behind? Oh, there were vague stabs at it. I mean, Star Trek: The Next Generation did that episode The Outcast, which was about a race of non gendered beings who are shunned and subjected to corrective treatment if they violate that and attempt to live a gendered life. One of the aliens declares she is female and falls in love with Riker and it all ends badly. So, the guest character is treated horribly for being heterosexual. Bless their straight boy hearts, it probably was all they could really get away with in the Nineties. It meant nothing to me, but a straight woman I know told that the episode hit her hard in its subject matter and handling of it. So, if it helped straight people gain some understanding of what LGBTQ people were going through, then great. But it wasn’t the queerness I, or anyone I knew, was looking for.
So, I wrote my own queer space adventurers. One night, I had a dream. It was about a man, summoned by his male lover, who ruled a planet and needed his ex’s help. That was it. In that one scene I dreamt, I knew who they were to each other, that there was a long separation and much bitterness. And that was all.
That dream became (after many rewrites and title changes) Soul’s Blood. I got to write technology and spaceships and pulse-pounding adventures, all the things that I loved about Space Opera.
And even though I had to write them myself, I finally found my queer space heroes.
Next installment: Queer is never the problem.