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Three Characteristics Every Space Book Should Have

This week blast off to see what makes a great space book and how writers should take advantage of the vast possibilities that come with the genre.

Space. The final frontier.

While a good portion of comic books take place right here on planet Earth, the popularity of the sci-fi genre and the space-faring hero can't be denied. From heroes like Green Lantern and Nova to concepts like The Fourth World, setting a book in an alien setting gives it limitless possibilities.

However, this balance is tricky: it's easy to throw too much of a good thing at readers and send your book spiraling down into mediocrity, or worse, the bargain bin. Here's some things I've found that make a great space book, and examples of how they've been pulled off.

Scale

Space is big. Really big.

No, I mean it. Like, really big.

So why limit yourself to the solar system? Or a planet? Why limit yourself to the rules of Martian fiction when you could create your own planet that looks just like Mars, only it's yours, from the ground up?

== TEASER ==

It's important for writers of space books to consider how much room they have to play with: there is literally no end to the amount of new things to explore, conquer, inhabit or discover. Use it. Play with it. Don't have your heroes stay in one place unless the story demands it.

Planet Hulk did a great job of showing scale, even though it didn't leave one planet: Sakaar was full of vast plains, lava pits, cities, villages, hives and had you traveling to each of them. It might have been easy for the writers to keep you situated in one locale for awhile, but what's the fun in that?

The ultimate point in science fiction is to show people a setting that they wouldn't see otherwise, and space books need to achieve that as a basic requirement for being. Allowing writers to be creative allows for remarkable results, like Jack Kirby's Fourth World.

A Sense of Wonder

That creativity also needs to make sure that what it's doing justifies the trip into space. When organizations decide to throw a man into orbit, it's not for kicks: it's for a specific purpose.

Having a hero journey into space should be to have an adventure or fulfill a purpose he couldn't do while he was still on Earth. It should be framed in a way that avoids the descriptor "X, but in space." This tends to cheapen something that, as we've discussed earlier in this article, is limitless in its potential for creativity.

A part of what makes science-fiction series like Star Trek great is that they instill in us a sense of wonder: a curiosity to the unfamiliar. It makes us think "Wow, there's so much out there," and not "Man, this 'Kroy Wen' looks a lot like a certain city I know back home." This sense is important, because it allows us to be open to a setting where the weird and downright impossible might happen at any one moment. We as readers need to be prepared for planets that can talk, a place where there is no "up", and seeing stars that live and die in a heartbeat.

If we have that sense of wonder, we can suspend our disbelief to the point where these things become plausible, as to us, they are. We believe that "hey, there's nothing saying a talking planet couldn't happen, so who am I to complain?" As a writer, this makes your job a lot easier, as you have a lot more freedom to create, instead of worrying about whether your readers will accept it.

Identification, Even In The Depths of Space

While I mention that things shouldn't exactly be predictable, they shouldn't be totally alien, either; a good way to keep your readers scratching their heads is giving them a setting they can't relate to, even in a small context.

The ability to relate is important in all fiction - not just comics. It allows us to insert ourselves into the story and enjoy the piece as an experience, not just a bunch of text in front of us. By having a hero, place or concept that's similar to something we might experience in our every day life, no matter how small, it allows the reader to use it as a grounding point for the weirdness they may encounter.

In Annihilation, even as the Kree Empire dissolves around him, Richard Rider still manages to live in modest quarters that reminds us of Earth. He pursues relations with Gamora (who kind of fails the "sense of wonder" test by just being a big green woman) and deals with the harsh realities of war. These concepts aren't cheapened by just being "X, only in space!"; instead, they're there as minor reminders to the normalcy of what we experience here on Earth.

This isn't to say that Rider could have submerged himself in a bio-mechanical sleep pod that submerges him in goo every night - in fact, that doesn't really make a difference at all. Hell, he could weightless every night, as long as he just sleeps. It shows us that even in space, people are still people with real needs.

And ultimately, that's what good comics are: stories about actual people that we can identify with and enjoy reading about. They fit in the settings that they inhabit and they're the product of a vast creative process that is both logical and deep. They take advantage of what they're given, and use it to make something amazing.

So, until next week: see you, Space Cowboy.

---

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30 Comments
Posted by SleepyDrug

Nice review.  I wonder if these criteria would apply as well to alternate dimension stories.
Posted by Transmetal

This is why I like Green Lantern so much...It feels like it hits these points
Edited by longbowhunter

Good points all around. For the longest time I was a fan of mostly just street level heros, but Green Lantern opened me up to alot of cosmic stories. I recently read all of Annihilation and really enjoyed it. Loved Nova and Drax.
Posted by jubilee042

nice

Posted by Emperormeister734

The way I see it space is the new battlefield 
 
There ships, big space weapons, and brave heroes and notorious villains. It's big  event

Posted by TheRyanHimself

I agree whole heartily. I have been telling my friend for a while that stories are best when the characters are people the audience can relate, but the setting or circumstances are NOT. It adds that important WOW factor. What would you do? What choices would you made? This is what made Spider-Man so successful. Space also opens up more opportunities. Do you like Samurai? Don't want to write a period piece? Hell with it! Call 'em Jedi and put them in Space. Feels relevant and still has that badass factor.

Posted by Maki_P

These points are very true, Doctor Who for example keeps it and that makes it so great (the space is limitless and there's always something new, and yet you see things familiar).
It also remind me of the portions of Invincible with Allen the Alien, even in the Deeps of Space couples don't let their guests sleep *snicker*; and still the Universe is vast.

Posted by ninjadude853

I love space comics, not only are Green Lantern and Nova two of my favorites superheroes, but Planet Hulk is one of my all time favorite story arcs ever. Annihilation is one of my all time favorite events too.

Posted by ltbrd

nice touch with the Bebop reference
Posted by The Stegman

i was never really a fan of space stories, not just in comics, but in all genre, never liked Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica or any sci fi adventures like that..i don't know why..it just feels..boring to me...however i DO like Green Lantern

Posted by Dedpool

Between Annihlation, Conquest, and the Sinestro Corps war I had a good run for a bit. Time to catch up! Marvel has done a great job reubuilding their cosmic stuf without having to truly tie it in to the mainstream universe.
Posted by Sobe Cin

When it comes to space stories, I prefer Star Wars, with its established universe and and there is just so much to explore. And its been the only space comic I can read without question.  
 
Others like Star Trek or yes, even Doctor, Who, I just can't get into them when they are in the comic book format. With Star Trek- its just boring, I loved Next Generation- but I am not a fan of Captain Kirk.   But with Doctor Who, it doesn't feel right- It may be the likeness of the Doctor- but its not him. 
 
Never read Annihilation- so I don't know anything about it.
Edited by difficlus

Nice stuff!! Another great article

Posted by guerilla939

Fantastic Bebop reference.

Posted by RedheadedAtrocitus

Stories involving space are why I still say Jim Starlin is one of the best space comics writers out there.

Posted by Man of Lengend

nova ftw

Posted by Jotham

Good article. We do need some better space books.

Posted by maxicere

I don't know why I don't like space books because I'm a big fan of Star Wars Universe. I can't understand why space characters and stories in comicbooks don't like to me.

Posted by Amegashita

  Great article, the Cowboy Beebop quote at the end made me smile.

Posted by AssertingValor

exploring space is my most fantastical dream..................

Posted by darkcloakx

silver surfer moie would be a great space movie with great wonder and action

Posted by B'Town

Oh, you really have me missing my Guardians of the Galaxy!

Posted by Timandm
@mattdemers
 
I was thinking that the three things a Space book should have are
 
1: pages
2: pictures
3: words
 
But after what you wrote I'd just feel stupid.. LOL!!!!   Just playing...
 
That was actually quite well said...  (I mean what YOU wrote, not me.)
Posted by Psychotime

It also needs this song.
 
 

    

Or for added fun: 
Posted by Eyz

Well said!
 
The sense of scale, particularly, is what most writers/creative teams miss in most general examples.

Posted by Frobin

Totally agree with those 3 points! 
 
I would call it: 
1. Amazing settings going beyond human & planetary environment (outer space/ deep space) - SCALE 
2. Adventures of exploring the unknown - stories that can't be told on an Earth setting - WONDER 
3. Human characters (Hal Jordan, Nova, Captain Comet, Adam Strange, ...) or characters relating to human nature (like Silver Surfer) - IDENTIFICATION 
 
Great analysis.

Posted by Michiel76

I keep telling you guys (and i mean americans mostly) you need to get and read this european comic:
http://www.comicvine.com/storm/49-25634/ 
It's been translated completly in english so there is no excuse for not reading it.
The first issues may feel a bit dated but as soon as the main character gets to planet Pandarve it's one hell of a read.
It has all what makes a great Sci-Fi comic and more, way better than i've seen in either Marvel or DC space comics.
 
i'm serious, get it!!

Posted by stuamerica

This is quickly becoming my favorite article on this site.  Cannot argue against a single point that was made.  That is hard to do. 
These are good characteristics for good sci-fi in any medium, not just comics.  Way too often scale or identification gets forgotten in the hulabaloo of the fantastic.  Science fiction has come into mainstream acceptance over the last decade or so, and in doing so seems to have lost some of the spark that made it so interesting to me when I was younger.  This should be must-read material for any writer, artist, producer, or director looking at wading into the genre ( or has been in it so long they forgot what made it so good when they started). 
And the Bebop reference was just icing on the cake.
Posted by lorex

Thats why I love good epic space stories or space opera. When all the components are present its can be great but when a creator doesn't have all the compontes they may have good characters and ideas but it just doesn't quite work out. One thing I really loved about Star Wars was the scale of everything, I mean the first movie opens with the shot of a Star Destroyer, which is a huge starship. In that same universe there is a planet, Coruscant covered entirely by a city and a massive space station , the Death Star capable of destroying a planet. Though not a comic the Honor Harrington novels from Baen Books is a good Space Opera.

Posted by LP

As a fan of all space-related stories since BIRTH I heartily enjoyed this article - only wish it was longer! :D