When one thinks of “non-traditional” space opera, one’s mind goes straight to the Hugo shortlists — Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, John Scalzi’s Redshirts, Chuck Tingle’s Space Raptor Butt Invasion, and other such works. Most works of this nature come from SJW authors, usually to make a statement.
However, there are two non-SJW authors who have tried their hand at writing non-traditional space opera and succeeded: Jon Del Arroz with his novella Gravity of the Game, and Dominika Lein with her novella Reptilian Wanderer.
Gravity of the Game is about a baseball commissioner in the far future who wants to bring the sport to the Moon, but cannot due to the Moon’s weak gravity, so he seeks a way to solve that problem while also dealing with a corporate scandal on Earth.
Unlike many space operas, there is absolutely no violence — or even the threat of violence — in the book. The commissioner does not have to deal with some post-apocalyptic situation or looming war; he doesn’t even have to deal with minor political disputes. All the drama comes from how he navigates the scandal which, in his mind, has corrupted the game of baseball that he loves so much. The story even notes how baseball led to positive social change both in real life and in the world of the book. Truly a lighthearted tale, and one worth reading.
Reptilian Wanderer is a story of a ship full of lizardmen who go into deep space — and end up stranded for over ten thousand years. One lizard, a pilot, awakens in the ship, his body one of several incarnations he has had due to the lizards’ mind uploading technology, and he tries to piece his memories back together bit by bit.
There is no talk of politics, real or fictional, anywhere in the book. The purpose for the trip into deep space isn’t even given. There are no grand space battles or epic quests; the story feels every bit as constricted as the spacecraft it takes place on — a credit to Lein’s writing ability. The story has the feel of a mystery novel, and the unique setting makes the reader curious for how all this may turn out. It is much darker than Gravity of the Game, but never bleak or nihilistic, choosing instead to revel in curiosity for the unknown. This too is worth your time.
Now make no mistake — I see nothing wrong with more typical takes on space opera; they sell well for a reason. I merely wanted to point out that non-traditional sci-fi can be written for reasons other than “making a statement.” These are two wonderful short reads that you shouldn’t go without.