The seductive thrill of uncharted worlds, distant galaxies, and the unknown threats that lurk in the vastness of the cosmos… That’s the premise of the new anthology Infinite Stars, an impressively definitive collection of classic and current space opera and military sci-fi stories which recently received a coveted starred review in Publishers Weekly among other accolades. With 24 stories from writers like award-winning and best-selling authors such as Lois McMaster Bujold, Ann McCaffrey, Robert Silverberg, David Drake, David Weber and many others, Infinite Stars offers a closer look at the roots of science fiction.
We chatted with editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt to learn more about Infinite Stars and what makes space opera and military science fiction appealing to sci-fi audiences.
RECURSOR: What is the overall vision behind Infinite Stars?
SCHMIDT: At Sasquan (aka the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention) in Spokane, I sat down to discuss doing a space opera anthology with Steve Saffel of Titan Books — a major independent publisher distributed by Random House.
Steve said, “I want the definitive space opera anthology. I want one that is historic, something that nobody’s ever tried to do before.”
So we went out and asked all the big name people who have a best-selling series if they would write a story, and almost everyone said yes. We did not expect that. We thought we’d be getting half of these people. But when they heard who else was going to be in the book, they all wanted to be in the book. It was pretty cool how it came together.
What makes a great space opera story? What makes great military sci-fi?
Space opera tends to be, by definition, epic in scope. It involves interplanetary space travel.Usually it involves some kind of weaponry and political machinations as well as military machinations — there’s conflict.
Military sci-fi shares many of those features but, by definition, it has a more structured military and they actually follow the tactics and logistics of a real military. Space opera, on a broader scale, pays less attention to that.
Why do you think people love these types of stories?
People like real heroes that they can admire. They like people rising above adversity and triumphing. They like to see the good guys win. They like to see people fighting for justice. And they like to see adventure, action, cool gadgets and weapons and ships doing cool stuff. These are all core elements of space opera that have been part of the genre from the beginning. There are lots of reasons why people like it, but at its core, space opera is a hero’s story.
Over time, the heroes have gotten more flawed than they used to be. Some of them are in one circumstance heroic and in another circumstance not very nice people. There’s diversity in how they’re presented now. But the reality is that at its core, we’re looking at somebody who is maybe more heroic than we’ll ever hope to be ourselves.
The book is like a history of space opera and military science fiction — an essay by Robert Silverberg, classic tales and new stories. Tell us about that.
The book is almost 700 pages, 250,000 words, in beautiful hardback. (There’ll be a trade paperback in May.) It’s designed to be a collector’s volume, historical, a really good survey of the field and what the important stories are.
For new stories, we’ve got Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson doing a brand-new Dune story, a new Ender story from Orson Scott Card, a brand-new Honor Harrington story from David Weber, a brand-new RCN story from David Drake, a new Skolian Empire story from Catherine Asaro, a Revelation Space story from Alastair Reynolds, a new Lost Fleet story from Jack Campbell… That’s not even half the list.
For classics, we’ve got “The Game of Rats and Dragons” by Cordwainer Smith, which is a very important classic story. There’s a “Miles Vorkosigan” novella by Lois McMaster Bujold; the last Stark story, co-written by Leigh Brackett (of Empire Strikes Back fame) with her husband Edmond Hamilton; an old Poul Anderson classic, “Duel on Syrtis”; and a couple more.
What are your favorite space opera and military sci-fi books and movies that you recommend to someone interested in learning more about these areas of sci-fi?
I can recommend anything in this book. I am a huge Honor Harrington and Ender fan. I am a Vorkosigan fan. I really like the Skolian books. There’s a lot of stuff I like.
As far as movies and TV, there are Star Wars and Star Trek, of course, though those are more space fantasy. Guardians of the Galaxy are space operas that have been very popular of late. Firefly certainly fits into that spectrum as well. You’ve got The Expanse. Farscape is a great one. There’s Battlestar Galactica (old and new), Babylon 5, and others. Edge of Tomorrow had some very interesting aspects to it, as recent movies go.
You’ve recently started a podcast too, called GENRE TALK. What’s that about?
Cohost Peter J. Wacks and I wanted to do something about fandom, not just science fiction and fantasy. We talk about, “What do you geek out about? What are you a fan of?” We are basically giving you an opportunity to sit in on a conversation between three human beings (the hosts and a “celebrity” guest) who are fellow fans, with a special guest fan who pops on to ask questions as well. The idea is to celebrate fandom in all its forms.
We are going to have voiceover actors who do cartoon voices; Aaron Douglas from Battlestar Galactica; Katee Sackhoff (LONGMIRE, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA); TV magician/author Andrew Mayne. I’ve had a number of authors on there. We’ll have some music bands on. We’re going to have a bunch of stuff.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and Hugo-nominated editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince,received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online and include entries in The X-Files, Pedator, and Decipher’s WARS, amongst others. His anthologies as editor include Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek; Mission: Tomorrow; Galactic Games; Little Green Men–Attack!; Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6; Beyond The Sun; Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age; The Monster Hunter Files with Larry Correia; Predator: If It Bleeds; and Straight Outta Tombstone.