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Widescreen Baroque

Entry updated 21 May 2019. 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. 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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