Lockstep in New York Review of Science Fiction
Derek Künsken gets it
I'm finding that the more a reviewer knows classic space opera (the 20th century version) the more they "get" Lockstep. Young Adult reviewers have been particularly kind, but now Derek Künsken, writing in The New York Review of Science Fiction, has explicitly compared Lockstep to its predecessors, and to what's often called the "new space opera." In the article (which you can find here, mind that it's $2.99 to buy the issue) he takes as a challenge my own assertion that with this book I've reinvented space opera, and sets out to see whether I'm right. To do this he compared the novel to its classic forerunners as well as recent works by Banks, Greenland, McCauley, McDonald, Reynolds and Stross. He starts by admitting that
Schroeder has preserved the interesting bits of the space opera setting, the light-year-spanning civilization, without jettisoning respect for known physics. This is an impressive addition to the canon.
His analysis is a fascinating read and a good reminder to those of us who've lost track over the years, of where this beloved branch of science fiction came from and what it's evolved into. In doing so, he highlights one of the issues that led me to write the novel: the pessimism of much of the current genre. There's no sense of innocence in science fiction these days. Now, I'm a firm believer that SF needs to shed its technophilic naivete; the time has passed when we could write starry-eyed tales about how science will cure all our ills. The hero of my long-running short story cycle, Gennady Malianov, is a pathologically shy Ukrainian arms inspector who, in tale after tale, ends up cleaning up the messes left by exactly that kind of naivete. So, I'm right there.
However, not only is there space for a mature optimism in SF, I believe it's absolutely essential. Anyone who has kids has to be an optimist, and we who are to bequeath a transformed world to our descendants are equally obligated, as a society, to work toward a positive future. That doesn't preclude being grimly aware of the mess we're in and the messes we could still create, as Gennady well knows. But it means we can still dare, and dream big, and care about the world we're for good or ill bringing into being. Space opera is a primary myth-form for that civilizational task.
As Künsken puts it,
Schroeder does not undermine, as Letson and Wolfe noted for writers of new space opera, the optimism present in the classic space opera form—quite the opposite. Lockstep is a novel overflowing with the optimism of a simpler time, fully embracing in its tone the adolescent yearning for the adventure, grand gestures, and romance of the classic space opera. Lockstep asserts thematically that it is possible to go back, to recover that innocence of an earlier age.
So, in the end, does he think I've "reinvented" space opera? Actually, no. Instead,
He created conditions under which the charm and wonder of classic space opera could live again. This is an equally valuable feat.
Good enough. I'm happy now.