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Alien & Fate Join ICv2's Top 5 RPGs

Alien and Fate join ICv2's tabletop RPG sales chart, while Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder maintain 1st and 2nd places as usual, positions 3-5 always change. Cyberpunk, from R. Talsorian, has climbed from 5th place last time, to 3rd place. This chart is for September-December 2020, based on interviews with retailers, distributors, and manufacturers.

alien.jpg


Position​
GamePublisher
1​
Dungeons & DragonsWizards of the Coast
2​
PathfinderPaizo
3​
CyberpunkR. Talsorian
4​
AlienFree League
5​
FateEvil Hat Productions

As always you can see all the historical charts here.
 
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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Definitely don't agree with that.

From TV Tropes:

And Wikipedia:
It seems difficult to argue, even if one is simply naysaying for the sake of naysaying, that either of these workable definitions for 'Space Opera' don't readily apply to the OT Star Wars.
TV Tropes is, now, in 2021, actively bad. Its definitions get worse literally every year. They long ago reached the point where they hinder rather than aid understanding, and half the entries seem to be more obscure webcomics than anything else.

And Brian "Helleconia" Aldiss wouldn't know space opera if it bit him on the nose.

You seem to be confused and thinking I'm saying SW isn't space opera though. I'm not. I'm saying it's not the best example. In the OT. It is clearly within the definition though, we agree on that.
 

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pemerton

Legend
If Star Wars isn't space opera than Flash Gordon isn't space opera. Which to me seems pretty counterintuitive.

EDIT:
I found this on the Wikipedia entry:

Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, interplanetary battles, chivalric romance, and risk-taking. Set mainly or entirely in outer space, it usually involves conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons, and other sophisticated technology. The term has no relation to music, as in a traditional opera, but is instead a play on the terms "soap opera", a melodramatic television series, and "horse opera",[1] which was coined during the 1930s to indicate a clichéd and formulaic Western movie. Space operas emerged in the 1930s and continue to be produced in literature, film, comics, television, and video games.​

To me that seems reasonable enough. And Star Wars clearly exemplifies this - it doesn't get more melodramatic than Star "I am your father!" Wars.
 

Doctor Futurity

Adventurer
I will also note that in at least the case with FATE and Alien, they both had a big push for VTT options in the last few months, making them accessible to the online gaming crowd when most needed. That probably helped a bit, too. Cyberpunk Red doesn't surprise me though because for one shining moment it was HUGE.

For Pathfinder, as much as old fans want to believe 1E content is driving it, most old PF1E fans were saturated with and had stopped buying new content long ago. I get PF1E aftermarket sales are more brisk, but it would be weird if the majority of current PF sales weren't from PF2E. Anecdotally I can only fine PF2E in my city, no one is selling PF1E that I can find.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I will also note that in at least the case with FATE and Alien, they both had a big push for VTT options in the last few months, making them accessible to the online gaming crowd when most needed.
This is very much not VTT options, but books sold in hobby stores.
 

Doctor Futurity

Adventurer
This is very much not VTT options, but books sold in hobby stores.
That is true, but what I meant was that the availability of options to play these games in VTT environments would drive physical book sales. My group, as an example purchased a lot of Alien books as a result of Roll20 offering support. I admit, I could be wrong, as for all I know VTT gamers stick with purely digital content, but the thought crossed my mind that there could be a link between this kind of support and physical product sales.
 

And Brian "Helleconia" Aldiss wouldn't know space opera if it bit him on the nose.

Would this would be the same Brian Aldiss who was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and awarded an OBE for services to literature? The one who as well as being an accomplished poet was an artist with international reputation?

The guy who won a Hugo award for his history of science fiction? Let me repeat that -- he won a major award for a book specifically that discusses what space opera is.

I mean, it's up to you, but I think his credentials are pretty damn good in this area.
 

Would this would be the same Brian Aldiss who was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and awarded an OBE for services to literature? The one who as well as being an accomplished poet was an artist with international reputation?

The guy who won a Hugo award for his history of science fiction? Let me repeat that -- he won a major award for a book specifically that discusses what space opera is.

I mean, it's up to you, but I think his credentials are pretty damn good in this area.
Yes, absolutely that Brian Aldiss.

I mean, the fact that you think an OBE means anything, or that being a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature is a positive thing in this context really shows the extreme problem with your thinking. You think prestige in the non-genre, even anti-genre society means he must be right for the rest of time? That's beyond ludicrous. This is the classic appeal to authority, but of an unfortunately ludicrous kind. He has many other, more relevant qualifications! So why go with those? The least relevant, and even somewhat harmful ones (esp. the OBE good god, they don't consistently mean anything at all beyond a willingness to be a member of the Establishment or at least associated with them). And why would him being a poet qualify him to define space opera? Bizarre!

Presumably you're referring to his 1987 book, The Trillion-Year Spree? I'm sure in 1987, it was relevant, and still is valuable as a history of SF up to that point, but things move on, and his definition of space opera was never great, not even for 1987, being overwrought and excessive one, because he was writing in an era where space opera had very, very recently been a pejorative and sneering term, and indeed many of his contemporaries still used it that way (or had it turned against them). I have no doubt his fellows at the Royal Society used it pejoratively. His definition seeks to narrow what can be considered space opera, because to him, it seems like it's still pejorative term or at least represents a low-brow sort of thing - he was very careful to construct it so any of his contemporaries could decide their work was not space opera - even when it clearly was by a more reasonable definition. His own work also would certainly and consistently escape being termed space opera, despite frequently being as lurid, glamorous, and over-the-top as any space opera, and if one is going to sneer at most space opera, one should certainly be sneering at Helleconia. Yet literary people didn't - as we see from his literature-world credentials, which you stressed the importance of (probably on the basis that it's all kind of miserable).

I should point out, I'm hardly ignorant of his work. I've read quite a lot of it. There are a lot of fantastic ideas, though also a lot of stuff that was looked dated-as-hell even when it was being written. He was incredibly talented and prolific, no-one can take that from him, and I'm sure his histories were good - it's very helpful to have histories like that showing how people regarded things at the time - but yeah I am going to go ahead and say he was not the right man to define space opera, and 1987 wasn't the right time to define it.

I should note as mean as I am to Helleconia, I love it really - Aldiss is really bad at certain kinds of writing but those ideas, and the sweep and the scope and let's just not think about the beaming love-rays business which... just no. But still, you don't get enough SF writers now who are willing to write about epic periods of time or humans-like beings in distant futures - or when they do, it can get a bit trite - yeah I'm looking you Noumenon.
 
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I should note as mean as I am to Helleconia, I love it really

OK, you think the opinions of other writers and sci-fi fans are trash, and apparently 1987 is a terrible year for defining space opera (slightly curious as to what you think the best year would have been -- 1990? 1974? 1800?) but please, please, if you are going to keep referring to one of his books over and over again, and if you love it that much, please spell it right.
 

please, please, if you are going to keep referring to one of his books over and over again, and if you love it that much, please spell it right.
This is fascinatingly petty and mean-spirited.

you think the opinions of other writers and sci-fi fans are trash
????

You think everyone who got a Hugo is great and everything in that book is right? I mean I doubt you do but that's the same logic you're employing.

what you think the best year would have been -- 1990? 1974? 1800?
Later would be better, because the pejorative usage declined over time. I thought I explained my point re: 1987 pretty clearly. It was still used extremely pejoratively quite frequently. That's why his definition is the way it is - it's basically an invitation to choose whether to label your book space opera or not (and a defence against accusations), not a genuine attempt to define space opera in a meaningful way.

Have you actually read anything by him btw? I'm getting a vibe that you haven't.
 

[edited post — on reflection, arguing merits of literary criticism of Aldsis’s writing in this forum isn’t on topic]

I have read Non-Stop, The Primal Urge, Hothouse, Report on Probability A, Barefoot in the Head, Moreau's Other Island, The Helliconia Series, Jocasta, the collections "Space, Time and Nathaniel", Starswarm, Brothers of the Head, and many of his short stories in other collections. I read some of The Malachi Tapestry, but didn't finish it. I have read several of his essays, but cannot recall where and when I look at his bibliography, many works ring bells but I cannot be definite that I have read them.

Aldiss can be dry, but STAN, in particular I would call out as well worth reading even now, many decades later. I do find his credentials and accolades deserved, and so overall would give strong weight to his views. In particular, I don’t find more modern definitions of space opera more compelling than his.

I enjoy both classic space opera (I have read the Lensmen series — the exemplar of space opera — several times) and modern space opera (I recommend Iain Banks to any who will listen). Modern space opera is better, I feel, but no more so than any other genre within sci-if, so the modern re-definitions that stress good writing and characterization don’t add much to me; they just say “we write better space opera now than we used to”.
 
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I enjoy both classic space opera (I have read the Lensmen series — the exemplar of space opera — several times) and modern space opera (I recommend Iain Banks to any who will listen). Modern space opera is better, I feel, but no more so than any other genre within sci-if, so the modern re-definitions that stress good writing and characterization don’t add much to me; they just say “we write better space opera now than we used to”.
I wouldn't have thought a modern definition would have stressed either good writing or characterization. Those are assessments that seem irrelevant to genre. So it's odd if there are definitions that contain those.

The definition quoted and attributed to Aldiss, I believe allegedly from his Trillion-Year Spree (not from his anthology "Space Opera", which I believe defines space opera as "the good old stuff" or something similarly simple, which was already a somewhat outdated view in 1974), is as follows:
  1. The world must be in peril.
  2. There must be a quest,
  3. And a man or woman to meet the mighty hour.
  4. That man or woman must confront aliens and exotic creatures.
  5. Space must flow past the ports like wine from a pitcher.
  6. Blood must rain down the palace steps,
  7. And ships launch out into the louring dark.
  8. There must be a woman or man fairer than the skies,
  9. And a villain darker than a Black Hole.
  10. And all must come right in the end.
And he apparently states it would have most if not all of those characteristics. If we look at Iain M. Banks for example, you have work fairly hard to even get to get to a definite "most" in with a lot of his work, and you pretty much never find 8 and occasionally 9 and rarely 10, often 6 is skipped, sometimes 4 or 5 or 7 is, I think there's at least one where 1 isn't the case, and 2 is sometimes arguable - almost always 3 happens at least! Yet you and I would both agree Banks generally wrote space opera (even if Use of Weapons feels like an opera in a more traditional sense!).

My point, which perhaps this makes more clear, is that his definition appears intentionally constructed in such a way that few things are definitely space opera (as few things hit all 10), but can easily be suggested that something is somewhat space opera-ish (as many things hit 6 or more, especially if you stretch it a bit), if you want to. As such I don't find it very useful. I also get the vibe from it that he's still very much mentally picturing Lensman or the like, which by 1987 was really a bit much.

(Now, it may be that this definition is not his, and is being falsely attributed to him - but it's the one I was responding to. I don't have a copy of Trillion-Year Spree to hand and the internet is being unhelpful.)
 


@Ruin Explorer

That list of typical characteristics of space opera seems pretty OK to me - admittedly I'm far from a connoisseur of the genre, but that captures Flash Gordon and Star Wars pretty well.
That's my point - it captures the classic 1930s-style space opera (though not all SW movies hit all the notes), but it doesn't hit a lot of modern stuff we'd call space opera, like Banks. My feeling is that he was concerned some SF writers who didn't, in the 1980s, want to think of themselves as writing space opera, which was still a pejorative at that point, so he didn't go for a more modern definition - either that or he was stuck with the 1930s style of things.
 

Arilyn

Hero
I remember back in the 80s, when David Brian's Uplift universe was starting to take off, and there was a lot of buzz about his novels. After a lot of fans and critics asked him about the depth of his creation and the aliens in his novels, Brin essentially laughed and said he was writing space opera. I thought that was a great reply. Not sure everyone believed him at the time because his books were critically acclaimed, and space opera was not. His Uplift saga does check all the boxes, and proves that placing value judgements on genre is foolish.
 

I wouldn't have thought a modern definition would have stressed either good writing or characterization. Those are assessments that seem irrelevant to genre. So it's odd if there are definitions that contain those.
Here's a pretty well-known editorial comment from Locus:

"Old school space opera was all about scale. Everything in it, from the lushly romantic plots and the star-spanning empires to the light-year-spurning space ships, construction of any one of which would have exhausted the metal reserves of a solar system, was big. But while it may have been stuffed full of faux-exotic colour and bursting with contrived energy, most of the old school space opera was, let's face it, as two-dimensional and about as realistic as a cartoon cel. New space opera - the good new space opera - cheerfully plunders the tropes and toys of the old school and secondary sources from Blish to Delany, refurbishes them with up-to-the-minute science, and deploys them in epic narratives where intimate, human-scale stories are at least as relevant as the widescreen baroque backgrounds on which they cast their shadows"

That's a pretty fair example -- there's also a definition by Pringle that I'm failing to locate which is more explicit. This, though, is pretty clear -- it's the same as the old school, but with better characterization and modern science. I can find a number of commentators on the new school's thinking, for example:

"The new space opera was a reaction against the old. New space opera proponents claim that the genre centers on character development, fine writing, high literary standards, verisimilitude, and a moral exploration of contemporary social issues"


The definition quoted and attributed to Aldiss, I believe allegedly from his Trillion-Year Spree (not from his anthology "Space Opera", which I believe defines space opera as "the good old stuff" or something similarly simple, which was already a somewhat outdated view in 1974), is as follows:
  1. The world must be in peril.
  2. There must be a quest,
  3. And a man or woman to meet the mighty hour.
  4. That man or woman must confront aliens and exotic creatures.
  5. Space must flow past the ports like wine from a pitcher.
  6. Blood must rain down the palace steps,
  7. And ships launch out into the louring dark.
  8. There must be a woman or man fairer than the skies,
  9. And a villain darker than a Black Hole.
  10. And all must come right in the end.
And he apparently states it would have most if not all of those characteristics. If we look at Iain M. Banks for example, you have work fairly hard to even get to get to a definite "most" in with a lot of his work, and you pretty much never find 8 and occasionally 9 and rarely 10, often 6 is skipped, sometimes 4 or 5 or 7 is, I think there's at least one where 1 isn't the case, and 2 is sometimes arguable - almost always 3 happens at least! Yet you and I would both agree Banks generally wrote space opera (even if Use of Weapons feels like an opera in a more traditional sense!).

Use of Weapons satisfies 1 (several times). for 2, the book is explicitly a quest with a definitive objective at the end. There is certainly a main hero (3) who confronts, well, everything (4). Plenty of space travel (5) and ungodly amounts of blood (6), maybe even in literal palaces! (7), definitely.

8, 9, and 10 are debatable -- and this is probably where the newer space opera diverges most from the old; it's much less optimistic and "good guys win" in tone. For UoW, I'd argue there is an extremely dark villain, so user Aldiss's assessment, this make sites ay 80% of a good fit? That seems pretty good to me.

My point, which perhaps this makes more clear, is that his definition appears intentionally constructed in such a way that few things are definitely space opera (as few things hit all 10), but can easily be suggested that something is somewhat space opera-ish (as many things hit 6 or more, especially if you stretch it a bit), if you want to. As such I don't find it very useful. I also get the vibe from it that he's still very much mentally picturing Lensman or the like, which by 1987 was really a bit much.
Yup, I can see that. For me, I haven't seen any definition more compelling, and I guess that also, for me, the Lensman series, Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy really are exemplars of what I think of as Space Opera, and so Aldiss's definition which fits these perfectly, works well.

Banks, who I absolutely adore (both his SF and non-genre work) I think deliberately created the Culture to be a rebuttal of the dystopia/Cyberpunk movement that was reaction to Space Opera and the "high optimism" of early SF. So his work ended was a reaction to a reaction to Space Opera -- and hence was very similar to the original "high optimism" view of SF, but influenced and aware of the arguments against that. I'm happy to call it Space Opera, but it's not the exemplar of Space Opera to me -- and it's better because of it!

Maybe as an analogy, PULP FICTION is a gangster film. But it doesn't have all the tropes and it couldn't be viewed as an exemplar the way that GODFATHER is, for example. So, for me, a writer can be writing Space Opera even if they are not doing it 100% -- I'm OK with 70% or so.

Honestly, I'd have through a succinct example of a modern definition of Space Opera would be more readily available online. Most irritating.
 

Star Trek is pretty much modern Space Opera...
  • the quest in several of the shows (TOS/TAS, TNG, Voy, Ent) is unfulfilled at the end, but the pursuit itself has changed them all.
  • Blood on the steps? Not often, but each series (not season; US meanings) has one or more with blood on the steps... Including Picard and Disco.
  • stars streaming past? yep. Even in DS9 they manage that.
  • 8 - the fairest - Each Trek has is own eye candy. Let's not forget that even in classic SO, the Good Guys are right up there in the eye candy spot. Flash, Buck, Kimball....
    • Kirk, Rand, and Uhura in TOS, Mress in TAS,
    • Crusher, Crusher, Troi, Riker, and Yar in TNG
    • Jadzia-Dax, Esri-Dax, Kira Nerys, Julian Bashir, Benjamin Sisko in DS9
    • Kes, 7 of 9, and Tom Paris, with the token nods to both Kim and Tuvok for DS9.
    • Ent: T'pol, Tucker, plus Hoshi Sato, and Mayweather for Ent.
    • Disco has the most overall eye-candy IMO. Michael, Tilly (despite being pleasantly plump, much like Nichelle Nichols was), Ash Tyler, Stamets, Hugh Culber, Dettmer, (and season 2: Spock, #1, Pike, Nhan)
 

Use of Weapons satisfies 1 (several times). for 2, the book is explicitly a quest with a definitive objective at the end. There is certainly a main hero (3) who confronts, well, everything (4). Plenty of space travel (5) and ungodly amounts of blood (6), maybe even in literal palaces! (7), definitely.
You're kind of proving my point extremely well here. 4 and 5 for example, are clearly not really "things" in the way they'd be in older SF, nor is 7 (there's no "louring dark" of space here - the darkness is on the planet and in the mind, mate), but his definition is so malleable that you can claim it's the case even when it's a terrible fit (though I think we can both agree there's plenty of blood in palaces). I think questions can also be raised re: 1 and 2, though that's a bit more complicated.

If you use it as broadly as you're suggesting, I mean, huge numbers of things can be claimed as "space opera" even they obviously are not.

For example, it's an easy 8/10 on The Hunger Games (Peeta is 8, the man's a naughty word saint). And that's treating the definitions more narrowly than you did! All you're missing is 5 & 7. But it's obviously bollocks. Yet it easily passes your 70% threshold (note the book nails it better than the films, which minimize 4, but 4 is quite a thing with the mutant wolf-monster-things in the books, I think they're in both 1 & 3). I'm actually having difficulty, off-hand, thinking of much SF that wouldn't, going as broad as you're suggesting, count as space opera. naughty word you can probably get 7/10 on most of the Helliconia books, even though again, obviously it isn't space opera and is perhaps even antithetical to it.

So this is why I'm saying it's not very useful.

Agree that it's disappointing that there's no good modern definition, which I suspect it why Aldiss' definition got dug up in the first place and thanks for the explainer re: "better writing", makes sense.
 

If you use it as broadly as you're suggesting, I mean, huge numbers of things can be claimed as "space opera" even they obviously are not.
For example, it's an easy 8/10 on The Hunger Games
I haven’t read the Hunger Games, but I didn’t think there was any space travel in it? And is there really a lot of death in palaces? Or alien creatures? I thought it was mostly about people killing each other in contest grounds from my admittedly Limited exposure.

Actually though, I do agree with David Pringle that Space Opera requires space travel. He suggests that without it, it can be at most a “Planetary Romance” — which means Flash Gordon gets redefined, and I’m OK with that. There was also an interesting review I think in Interzone on Gardner Dozois’s Space Opera collection which suggested that most stories failed to be Space Opera because they weren’t grand in scale, which also seems right to me.

So to address your concerns, I’ll factor Pringle’s requirements into Aldiss’s definition and say that the middle four are the heart of the definition and more important than the others; in particular 9-10 are more characteristic of older works and if you’d like to omit them, I’d be OK with that.

One thing to bear in mind is that Aldiss‘s definition is not a tone-free description. He doesn’t just require that elements be present, but he requires them to be present in a (melo)dramatic and grand(iose) format. It’s not enough simply to have space travel, but space must be dark, dangerous and threatening. I quite like that way of defining things as it helps me, at least, distinguish between writing that might have similar elements, but very different presentation. Whatever definition we would like to update to, I think it needs to capture the tone requirements of Aldiss’s.
 

I don't think Paizo is selling any 1E is it? So all of it. This is about games in stores now. There may be some old stock some retailers are selling, I guess.
According to their storefront, they still have "non-mint" PF1E core rulebooks for just under $40 US. PDF at $10.
And the Bestiary at $45 new, or $30 non-mint, PDF $10

(Above rounded to next whole dollar.)
65 products in PDF, many still on dead tree.

So, it is a valid and viable question.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I don't think Paizo is selling any 1E is it? So all of it. This is about games in stores now. There may be some old stock some retailers are selling, I guess.
I think they do still sell the pocket 1E versions physically, but probably mostly 2E in these numbers.
 

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