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How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Genre: the Mad Designs behind Open Your Eyes

Posted on April 23, 2011 by Flames

FlamesRising.com is pleased to present an essay from author Paul Jessup, who wrote a novella entitled Open Your Eyes, published by Apex Book Company. In this surrealist space opera tale that takes place on a ship with a mind of its own, Jessup explores the unusual, the weird and the bizarre. Today he’ll discuss what space opera means to him and his motivation behind Open Your Eyes.

Open Your Eyes

    I’m a huge fan of Space Opera, wait, no, scratch that– I’m a huge fan of what I was told was Space Opera when I was a kid. Which was primarily one thing- Star Wars. Which was more like the monomyth in Space, with Samurais, but I digress for a bit. If you’re a kid from the 80’s, you know the score. This kind of Space Opera was everywhere, not just in Star Wars, but in cartoons, on the back of cereal boxes, in toys (and knock off toys), in books, all that fun stuff.

    Later on, I found that wasn’t really quite what Space Opera is, but again, I digress. What Lucas did was, for better or for worse, give us Science Fantasy on a grand scale and somehow created a zeitgeist for kids locked in that time period. Colorful lasers, lightsabers, fuzzy animals, muppets, all tied together with the Force and magic and what have you. This was Space Opera to me.

    Later, I would discover old school Space Opera like the Lensmen books, but those bored me. Then I would read old Astounding and Asimov’s from the 70’s I’d found at random garage sales, and these bored me too. I wanted more of that, even though I didn’t really know what that was. When I was older I grabbed some military SF, and that was close, but not very mind blowing. It didn’t have the elements of fantasy I craved in my SF. Dune was the closest thing, and reading that (to a ten year old on a steady diet of Dragon Lance) was like reading the bible in Latin.

    Then I forgot all about Space Opera for a few years. Forgot all about Star Wars. The Challenger disaster foiled my want and need to go into space, and the whole concept of a future filled with crazy aliens and psychic space ninjas with laser swords seemed less and less probable. I got into surrealism, philosophy, modernism, post modernism. But like all good genre bunnies, I came hopping back to my roots later on, mostly to watch Episode I when it was released, and bitch about how much it sucked.

    But, suckage of Episode I aside, it did pull me back into the sfnal world. Where I grabbed Delany and all sorts of New Wave writers, and plunged into the New Space Opera. Still, it was all hard-science fiction, without the craziness I craved. And I decided — you know what? A whole generation was raised on Star Wars. Maybe they feel like I do. Maybe they feel like Space Opera needs to be broken, torn down, returned to Fantasy.

    So I started generating ideas. First, I made the idea that realism would be out the window completely. I didn’t want people walking in with the normal expectations of New Space Opera and being disappointed. Because nothing is worse then settling down with a book and expecting one thing, and getting another. So I wanted it to be up front, no holds barred fantasy from the start.

    And it came to me, in a single sentence: Her lover was a supernova. BAM. There is going to be no mistaking this for realism, for hard science fiction, not a chance. And from there I went and outlined, and created this world, this far future world were everything was so similar to ours, but different. So vastly unkowable.
    I read a lot while planning this books. I read Nova, and Empire Star. I read Ender’s Game (bleah) and tons of Ian M. Banks books. I read the Lensmen books, and then I read Leigh Brackett’s Mars books. I rewatched Star Wars, and a ton of my old favorites from my childhood (Voltron! Robotech! Hells yeah!). I ingested all these various ideas and concepts and motifs and I took from all of them (including the atmosphere of the Dune movie by David Lynch). And then I went nuts.

    I cherry picked ideas, I did research on actual AI programming (having a background in C++/ASM helped this a bit), delved into actual science speculations. I drew maps, I came up with idea after idea, and then I threw it all in together and started working on the plot of all this. How I wanted to structure it (like a closed loop, starting with the sex of a supernova, ending with the offspring being born).

    I created plots and counter plots, but those were distractions, digressions from the main threat that hovered on the edge of the wings- the thought virus. This was not a virus in the strictest sense- it was a symbiotic alien life form, with an intellect that was like a hive mind. It lived inside of these creatures with mass intellect on an alien planet, together, the two working and living. And when humanity colonized and terraformed the planet, they killed the original host aliens, and this sentient language needed to find a host– in humans. But humans minds were too small, and when it moved from human to human, it ended up killing them.

    Which, if you know you’re William Burroughs, you know this isn’t exactly a unique idea. But it was fun to throw in, fun to up the ante and make everything come to a head.

    So there you go. I wanted to take Space Opera and break it. I wanted it to be the Space Opera of my youth. Of course, that’s not what I got at all in the end, I got a Space Opera that would’ve probably disturbed and frightened me as a child, but whatever. And some might say I took a perfectly good genre and broke it. Whatever. I had fun, and in my mind, that’s all that matters.

    About Paul Jessup: For more information about the author, visit PaulJessup.com.

    Open Your Eyes is available now at DriveThruSciFi.com.

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