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Widescreen Baroque

Entry updated 22 August 2022. Tagged: Theme.

An occasionally quoted critical term coined by Brian Aldiss to denote Space Opera at its most grandiose: what might also be termed space grand opera. In his introduction to the 1964 Faber edition (as The Paradox Men) of Charles L Harness's Flight into Yesterday (May 1949 Startling; exp 1953; vt The Paradox Men 1955 dos), Aldiss described such "pure science fiction novels":

Their plots are elaborate and generally preposterous, their inhabitants have short names and short lives. They traffic as readily in the impossible as the possible. They obey a dictionary definition of baroque; which is to say that they have a bold and exuberant rather than a fine style, they are eccentric, and sometimes degenerate into extravagance. They like a wide screen, with space and possibly time travel as props, and at least the whole solar system as their setting.

Commending the Harness novel under discussion as a particularly enjoyable Widescreen Baroque creation, Aldiss names such predecessors as the Lensman series by E E Smith and The World of Ā (August-October 1945 Astounding; rev 1948; vt The World of Null-A 1953 dos) by A E van Vogt, and goes on to cite the additional examples of Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man (January-March 1952 Galaxy; 1953) and Tiger! Tiger! (October 1956-January 1957 Galaxy as "The Stars My Destination"; 1956; rev vt The Stars My Destination 1957; rev 1996) and Kurt Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan (1959).

Further novels which might be termed Widescreen Baroque include Colin Kapp's The Patterns of Chaos (February-May/June 1972 If; 1972), Iain M Banks's Consider Phlebas (1987) and others in his Culture sequence, some of the more action-oriented of Stephen Baxter's Xeelee novels, John C Wright's out-van Vogting of van Vogt in Null-A Continuum (2008), and Tom Toner's Amaranthine Spectrum series. Mariko Ōhara has applied the term to her own work. Much of Blake Butler's work is variously relevant, and Aannex (2022) is a full-blown example. The extravagance intrinsic to this subgenre is apt to leave the susceptible reader alternating between gasps of amazement and gasps of disbelief. [DRL]

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