When I was at Limestone Genre Expo a couple weeks back – side note: is anyone else amazed that it’s only been two weeks?! Cuz I am – I listened to a great panel about what’s going on in science fiction, moderated via hand grenade by the awesome Matt Moore and featuring an array of talented writers. One of the points that was made, I think, by Kate Heartfield and then echoed by the other panelists is that we’re seeing another rise in the popularity of space opera – where the lasers are hot, the action is intense, and not everything needs to conform to the known laws of physics. This is the science fiction that first got me into writing, imagining worlds with a ton of aliens and FTL drives explained via expert handwavium, because nobody actually cares how lightspeed works, as long as we can get to lightspeed and get on with the excitement.
With that in mind, you probably won’t be surprised that I’m now a huge fan of Tanya Huff, having just finished Valor’s Choice and The Better Part of Valor, the first two novels in her Confederation series. Both novels focus on Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr, veteran Marine who takes the job of getting her people out alive with absolute seriousness despite the sardonic comments and gallows humor that pops up on almost every page. Kerr is a true badass: she throws herself into the thick of it, tells officers and civilians alike exactly what she thinks, and refuses to allow any of her subordinates to gripe, complain or see how much she worries about them. On top of that, she actually cares about the Confederation, and between both novels finds a way to help her superiors accomplish their own goals, even if she doesn’t entirely agree with them. Despite Kerr’s awesomeness, she doesn’t entirely steal the show; Huff also succeeds at the difficult task of presenting an ensemble cast of soldiers and officers who all have distinct voices, and in my opinion does it better than authors like Steven Erikson and David Weber.
The other reason why I loved these two novels is because they are space opera at its finest. She has a version of FTL, and she doesn’t waste time beyond explaining the absolute basics of it. She has an entire Confederation of alien species with distinct physiology and culture, and even an opposing group of aliens known as the Others. Both the action on the ground and in space is engaging without being too descriptive. You’re never entirely sure how the characters are going to make it out alive, or even if everyone is going to make it (and not everyone does). And nothing in these novels is black and white – everything is complicated, except for the simple fact that Staff Sergeant Kerr isn’t going to stop until the job is done and her people are home safely.
Seriously, go pick up Valor’s Choice. It’s novels like these that reinvigorate my desire to write space opera of my own, and to hell with the hard scientists who say that FTL and a bevy of alien species will never exist in real life.
(Full disclosure: The fact that Tanya Huff is the Author Guest-of-Honor at Can*Con this year – a conference I’m helping organize – has nothing to do with my raving about her work. But now that I’ve mentioned, why not come to Can*Con and see her and a bunch of other excellent authors? Okay, shameless plug complete.)