Adventures In Military SF!

One of the reasons I prefer reading SF in contemporary groupings is because comparison often yields a better understanding of (and possibly appreciation for) works within their respective eras, so I’m not just assessing them based on my own contemporary value vacuum. Things feel less dated this way, and I’m better able to construe time-relevant cringe from anachronistic Heinlein throat-clearing creeperdom. I also just like reading lists.

My latest experiment is to read in canonization groupings, this time the Military SF canon. Canon doesn’t always mean the best or most worthy, but it usually means The Most Famous, though we’ll leave the chicken/egg discussion for another day. However, because these books are The Most Famous, sometimes they talk to each other, sort of like the way pop stars subtweet bitchy comments and block each other, which adds another element of fun while trudging through books I wouldn’t normally choose to read.

So, Fall-In!, About-Face!, and snap those shiny heels together! Here are The Most Famous Military SF novels this side of nationalistic superiority! Ten-Hut!

 

Starship Troopers (1959) by Robert A. Heinlein

StarshipTroopersPerhaps the most famous of the most famous pew-pew-em-ups, Heinlein wrote this novel as a response to criticism of his military activism. In the novel, Juan Rico enters the idyllic world of the mobile infantry for the Terran Federation, where law and justice is swift, clear, and precise, thanks to a law that permits only military vets to vote or hold office. (Because, you know, the military isn’t at all associated with stifling red tape, inefficient bureaucracy, and unethical cronyism.) Juan gets a really neat armor suit, he shoots Bugs, and he has flashbacks to lectures by his militarist teacher of History and Moral Philosophy.

True to Heinlein form, Bob starts penising on page six (“Yes, yes, I know they make better pilots than men do…”), but unlike many of his later novels, he drops the “women are speshul snowflakes” preoccupation sooner than usual, in favor of lots of talk about Personal Responsibility and Bootstrap Pulling. His reluctance to address death (“bought it” being the preferred phrase), his inability to foster real interiority, and a general neglect of the lower classes typically recruited and abused by the service make this book similar in substance to earlier pulp heroics that employ similar devices like powered armor and militaristic societies (ahem, Lensman, ahem). And, yeah, the “bug” talk feels racist to me, but that’s a symptom of militarism and military SF in general, which is reliant on dismissive slurs used to dehumanize the enemy– highly realistic, but reminds me of every racist I’ve ever encountered.

My favorite gem: “Back to these young criminals– They probably were not spanked as babies; they certainly were not flogged for their crimes.” (121) Heinlein: always with his finger on the pulse of the lower classes. Because no one ever enters the penitentiary system with a history of abject childhood physical abuse. Never.

On the upside, it’s definitely engaging, regardless of political persuasion. Plot is overrated anyway.

 

The Forever War (1974) by Joe Haldeman

TheForeverWar2New recruit? Check. Ethnically-ambiguous surname? Check. Nifty armor? Check. Bug enemies? Check. Sketchy military contracts and post-war depression? ….

An allegory for the author’s own experiences as a soldier-turned-veteran of the Vietnam War, The Forever War sits in direct contrast to the military glorification of Starship Troopers. With superb pacing that touches nothing irrelevant, this tightly written piece of SF history is thematically dense, but easy to read. With military-approved, drug-induced soldiering; dangerous and uncomfortable hi-tech armor; time-dilation as metaphor for cultural shift during wartime; and prolonged war to power the economy, this novel is both timely and futuristic, even forty years later. The most dated elements (women recruited specifically for sexual compliancy, locker room homophobia that extends centuries beyond to a militantly homosexual galactic society) feel neither dated nor unrealistic given the premise (metaphorical in nature) and the setting (this is the military, after all).

Best quote: “‘It’s so dirty.’ I shrugged. ‘It’s so army’” (166). This should be required reading before anyone signs on.

The Worst Part: The Foreword in recent printings, written by another SF author on this list who states his work was not influenced by Haldeman, he had only recently read Haldeman, and comments little on the important nuances of Haldeman’s work while drawing parallels between The Forever War and his own work when there are none, and insists on quoting Jimi Hendrix while failing to recognize the irony of the subsequent lyrics. (“Hey, Joe” is followed by “where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?” which puts in mind the image of a very angry Joe Haldeman unappreciative of such a negligent Foreword.) It’s a bad case of Ellisonitis.

 

Ender’s Game (1985) by Orson Scott Card

EndersGameA surprising turn of events: Having read this before I knew anything about the author and his disagreeable beliefs, I thought Ender’s Game was okay, but too depressing for my taste (I’ve grown, okay?), and found the uncertain audience focus distracting (is it for kids or adults?). Upon reread, now aware of Card’s unapologetic homophobia among other things, I expected to have a stronger dislike for this novel, vigilantly aware of narrative prejudices and the like. Not the case. As YA, it’s a pleasurable read, with challenging, surprising, and ambiguous concepts open to a variety of interpretations.

Characterizations of precocious children are often flawed, and Ender’s Game is nothing new in that regard. Card handles giftedness as a thematic polish, always in service to the plot, not reality, essentially putting adult people into little bodies in order to watch them squirm and adapt to their restricted freedoms. This hyperbole works, however, when Ender takes on the Ubermensch role, not to demonstrate Ender’s endless tolerance for sadism, but in order to demonstrate the threat of hegemonic power to “useful” citizens, its endless appetite for means to ends. On the other hand, it could be interpreted as a pity party for the exceptionals (aww, the dumb, impoverished normals have it so good), but overall, the most impressive quality of EG is its permeating moody tone and effortless ability to foster empathy for these little kid characters. In some ways, it feels like a childhood version of The Forever War, prompting  comparison and speculation as to whether EG would have been as successful with adult characters. (Probably not; kid empathy comes preloaded, which is why so many readers and writers are drawn to children’s fiction in the first place, whether they are conscious of it or not.)

Objectionable details are present: locker room homophobia, Jewish slurs (amid Muslim tolerance, no less! The eighties are so far away from today…), and rampant social darwinism will grate modern progressive sensibilities, but a variety of nuanced political and social viewpoints present themselves, while the haunting conclusion makes Card’s personal designs less than clear… which is a good thing.

 

Old Man’s War (2005) by John Scalzi

OldMansWar

Why is he old? He doesn’t stay old! It’s not about being old! Tor!

Upon the death of his wife, an elderly man joins the Colonial Defense Forces in order to prolong his life. He gets the requisite Gen-Eng upgrade followed by a week of really great sex (off page) with fellow elderly, gen-eng’d recruits before going into battle. Then he kills, feels, gets promoted, kills, feels, gets promoted, finds a clone of his dead wife, magically survives things because special, gets promoted because special. Not quite in that order, but still.

Titular fail: It’s not “Old Man’s War.” The old man is genetically-engineered into a younger body within the first few chapters. It’s “Genetically-Engineered Old Man Who Moves, Talks, and Thinks No Differently Than a Thirty-Something’s War.”

Analysis: Empty fiction with dubious heroics, limited diversity, and no message. Sad and Vapid Dogs, y u no like this? This is your thing!

Quote: I don’t know. It’s just dialogue. Nonstop. There was nothing to highlight.

Personal admission: I did legitimately lol every time the main character called his BrainPal by its name: Asshole. I’m not made of stone.

For a novel about mature adults, this is the most immature of the bunch. Forgettable, corny, fluffy, dubious. Jesse at Speculiction calls this kind of stuff “popcorn sci-fi”, but even popcorn offers some whole grain sustenance that you won’t find here.

 

The Red: First Light (2013) by Linda Nagata

TheRedFirstLight2Possibly not part of The Most Famous Military SF canon just yet, but like any standard Military SF hero, this book just will not die. Self-pubbed in 2013 and picked up by Saga Press in 2015, it keeps popping up in my periphery, getting rave reviews from new and old SF fans alike, and is no stranger to the occasional SF shortlist. I was looking for an excuse to check it out, but it’s actually the only recent Military SF novel to stand out in my mind.

Nagata, clearly aware of the canon preceding her, includes her own extrapolative twists to signature tropes: the armor is psychologically addictive, inter-platoon sexual relations are prevented by chemically-induced sibling sentiment, military campaigns doubly serve as reality TV, and conflicts are Earth-based, because, hello, we’re well into the new millennium and we’re still not in space. Though most of the above novels include some surprising amount of ethnic diversity for their eras, The Red is the only novel of this group to cast a non-white protagonist and a sizable non-white supporting cast. Seat-gripping tension, compelling intrigue, and likeable characters not only drive the sinuous plot forward, but come alive in the mind like an explosive Hollywood blockbuster movie. Hollywood should be calling soon–Nagata deserves no less.

Not without its flaws, though that’s part of what lends that blockbuster flavor. Characters of all races tend to verge toward the stereotypical; the thin, sexy, computer-nerd, supportive Asian girlfriend being perhaps the most eyebrow-raising of the bunch. The hero of the tale, despite his non-white status, doesn’t divert much from other cocky SF heroes, coming from a background of wealth, privilege, and entitlement. And, like Ender’s Game, The Red constantly oscillates between criticism and respect for military service, aiming for balance, but becomes alarming when the lead characters form their own vigilante militarist group. This development should invite much good analysis.

As a sidenote, skepticism of Nagata’s portrayal of redneck Texans getting all secessionist and evil and trying to murder the world for profit will evaporate when you find yourself driving behind a truck with a huge “Don’t Tread On Me” flag flying off the tailgate. Twice. In one month. Different trucks.

Overall, I always feel a little bit manipulated and bothered after I finish reading blockbuster-feeling novels. Although I greatly enjoyed The Red in the moment, the tang of canned aftertaste arrived soon after, a mainstream symptom that’s usually a good sign that most people will adore this book and, given my track record on mainstream tang/film contract correlates, an indicator that Hollywood really will be calling soon. Sure to be a classic.

 

The Intel

All very different stories, yet the tropes hold strong, with the evolution of powered body armor and sexual relationships being the most interesting developments to read about throughout the decades.

But the canon of Military SF does need a makeover. In reality, recruiters have always targeted the lower socioeconomic and ethnic minority classes, relying on lack of skills, family support, maturity, and career direction to entice the young and unknowing into contracted years of service with promises of flexibility, financial security, a six-figure retirement, and marketable job skills (ha!). I’ve seen plenty of those people go in, and none come out with all of those promises intact. Forever War is the closest in this regard, but if Military SF truly values precision, realism, heroics, and truth, SF publishers will need to encourage and pay attention to writing submitted by those marginalized veterans. Until then, it’s all just fantasy.

As you were.

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67 thoughts on “Adventures In Military SF!

  1. If you’re still in the mood for more Mil-SF, I heartily recommend Tanya Huff’s Valor novels (the first one is basically “Roarke’s Drift IN SPAAAACE!” or David Weber’s Honor Harrington series (which are “Horatio Hornblower, IN SPAAAACE!”)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. marzaat says:

    I was going to read the Nagata anyway … but if there’s going to be Tex Seccesh, I’m moving it up the list!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol, I get the feeling Nagata once had to live on a base in Texas and really really hated it. The characterization was so hateful and one-sided, I was a bit annoyed and my “Texas is actually really diverse, soon to be non-white majority, and it wasn’t THAT long ago that we had a female, Democratic governor” defenses started going up.

      …but then those stupid Don’t Tread on Me flags appeared in my windshield. You win, Nagata.

      Liked by 2 people

      • marzaat says:

        I recently spent some time driving in Texas. I’m primed to believe all sorts of things now …

        On a serious note, I do have some vague notion of looking at some science fiction titles that feature political crackups of America or secessionist movements, so I’ll add Nagata to that list.

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  3. So pleased to see The Red: First Light on here. I was thinking about it as soon as I saw your post title, though when I saw that you were listing “most famous” I didn’t think it would be listed. I do hope you’re right and that the attention will only grow, for it is much deserved. I loved this book, and I still need to pick up the third and finish up the trilogy. One of these days.

    And Old Man’s War may be fluffy, but it was one of my “gateway” books to science fiction around the time I was dipping my toes into the genre, and I have to say it was the perfect thing to start with. Even now I still enjoy John Scalzi’s brand of empty-calorie-popcorn fun and love checking out his new books, even though I’ve since branched out to include heavier and more “mature” sci-fi in my reading repertoire.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Seeing as I have zero prior knowledge of or interest in Military SF, my litmus test for “The Most Famous” was pretty simple: any book I could think of without consulting a List. So the fact that Nagata’s book has somehow wormed its way into my brain before all others from the last decade means she’s getting good publicity and attention. My eyes glaze at most Military SF mentions and no other recent titles come to mind.

      As for Scalzi, I can enjoy fluffy, but man I just don’t get the appeal of his stuff. It was a total yawn for me, and I’m pretty sure it would have discouraged my interest in scifi had it been my gateway book. Redshirts was much more fun, but felt too disposable to explain all the praise.

      Then again, Star Trek: TNG was my gateway to scifi. And A Wrinkle in Time. All other scifi books felt corny to me back then. I’m amazed I’ve found so much to like now.

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      • I don’t really understand the praise for Reshirts either! It was entertaining, but far from his best even when it comes to fun territory. I’ll say though, I haven’t read anything by him since that could match OMW, so I may have a bias for that book given my good memories of it and how it opened up the rest of sci-fi for me. Lock In, maybe. I loved that one, and it was by far the most “serious” book I’ve ever read by him.

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  4. marzaat says:

    You may want to check out Haldeman’s “You Can Never Go Back” — a Mandella story “You Can Never Go Back”, the more depressing and slower first draft of the “Sergeant Mandella” section of the novel. It’s in his “Dealing in Futures” collection.

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    • Good to know. As I am reading through the Hugos, I’ll be continuing the Haldeman and Card series. I hope Haldeman’s stuff is just as good as this first one. He’s a fantastic writer. So economical, yet powerful!

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  5. bormgans says:

    Great post, although I thought The Forever War was ethically dubious. You’ve also convinced me to not read Old Man’s War, for which my TBR pile thanks you!

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    • Ethically dubious, as in Haldeman should not have reported his experiences in this way? Or do you mean in ethically dubious in some other way? This hasn’t occurred to me.

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      • Oh, and don’t let me talk you out of Old Man’s War. I’m pretty sure my opinion is in the minority of SF readers. Scalzi is very, very popular.

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      • bormgans says:

        I wrote a couple of paragraphs on that in my own review of the book, but the gist of those is this: the victims (and their feelings) of the war are absent & remain alien, and as such the book is self-centered, as if the main victim of Vietnam was Haldeman himself. There’s hardly any moral thought about personal responsibility and guilt, and when it’s there, it’s shallow. I agree that Haldeman and soldiers in general are victims too, as you talk about in your post, so a certain self-centeredness can be defended, but as a lauded war novel The Forever War is surprisingly one sided. Now that I think of it, as such, my main beef with this book is maybe not with the book itself, but its reception as one of the most important books written on Vietnam. https://schicksalgemeinschaft.wordpress.com/2016/03/28/the-forever-war-joe-haldeman-1974/

        Liked by 2 people

        • bormgans says:

          Also the lack of character development on the side of the main character strikes me as odd, unless it was a fully conscious & deliberate decision on the part of Haldeman to fully externalize these changes in the changed society-metaphor.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Wow, I think that’s an excellent critique and I feel sheepish for not noticing such a huge flaw, especially since Ender actually manages some empathy for the enemy. I have seen critiques that mention the need for the other side of Mil SF- the victims on the enemy side– but I guess that wouldn’t make it Mil SF anymore, but more like space opera.

          You are right that it’s also probably the allegory framework that amplifies the shallowness of the story. I tend to love allegories, so that works for me, but you are right to question the protag’s lack of remorse or disturbance about the war.

          Liked by 1 person

          • bormgans says:

            Thanks! I’m not sure I understand your space opera comment though?

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          • I mean, if an SF novel is from the perspective of the victims of war, it would no longer be from a military perspective, but would probably fit better in the subgenre of space opera. (Not that it has to take place …IN SPACE!, but I’m just going with the examples in this post, which all but one pertain to space bugs being annihilated.)

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          • bormgans says:

            Okay, that makes sense, thanks for clarifying.

            Still, one could write a 1st person soldier perspective book and at the same time pay attention to moral responsibility and victims, even if they are space bugs.

            It’s interesting that most of the books that are considered the pinnacle of the genre don’t do that. It corresponds nicely with the theory that the general public doesn’t want to be confronted with the real ugliness of imperialism: not in books nor in movies. Most if not all Hollywood movies about war fall in the same trap of glorifying violence as a method, and focus on the Western soldier as (suffering) hero, even in so called critical films like The Hurt Locker or Jarhead. If there’s a focus on victims, it generally are the victims of the enemy, in movies as diverse as Schindler’s List and the latest Rambo (IV).

            Liked by 1 person

          • I think you’re exactly right, and I think I saw Amal El-Motar saying something like that on Twitter not that long ago. Maybe that means we’ll see a shift if she and other writers she influences start putting out work like that.

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  6. I also heard about a popular book named Armor, but I never read it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. iansales says:

    Funny how military sf is all about the grunts and dog soldiers, and never about the officers who go to Sandhurst, West Point, Annapolis, Dartmouth, etc… and yet a lot of the writers are middle class and educated and much more likely to serve as officers…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely! Of these five, only one (Ender) involves officer schooling. The rest are regular guys from comfortable beginnings who, for some reason, start at the bottom and quickly work their way into leadership positions through constant danger. It’s no different from “speshul boy wizard has adventures and discovers his destiny.”

      I would like to see the poor grunts who stay poor grunts and just have to get by. All Quiet on the Galactic Front?

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  8. As I remember,”Starship Troopers”,although I suppose far from perfect,is a much more engaging and readable book than “The Forever War”,which I think is the epitome of dull.

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    • Wow, our opinions could not be more different. I didn’t hate reading Starship Troopers– it was more readable and poppy than any other Heinlein I’ve read– but when I got to Forever War right after, I was immediately pulled in and impressed. Couldn’t put it down.

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      • Well,it was average,but who wants that?Hadelman doesn’t have the lightness and gaity of Heinlein’s style.

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        • If I want light and gay, I’ll (insert default funny and slightly offensive response right here, i.e. go to an ABBA laser show). Haldeman was specifically criticizing the light and gay approach to war in science fiction.

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          • I think you’re right,but what I meant that I preferred Heinlein’s style,which is simply more readable.Whatever different political viewpoints they take,it will be the way it was presented that will decide what was the better book at the end I think.

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          • I get your point. Troopers is certainly the first Heinlein that I finished quickly. As a story, it is fun. But Haldeman’s presentation worked best for me (and also went quickly). Concerns like his will always attract more of my interest.

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          • Yes well,I read “Starship Troopers” a very long time ago,so my recollection of it will be vague now,but I only read “The Forever War” a few years ago,but I already find it forgettable.I’d say it was acceptable,but that’s all.

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      • Warstub says:

        I’ve read Starship Troopers – I think I enjoyed it (at a younger age (early 20s)); I’ve made it past the third page of The Forever War – twice!

        There’s something about Militaristic Fiction in general that just bores the crap out of me. Some aspect of it just seems emotionless (the guns, the tech… give that to me in a video game and it’s a completely different story!!). That’s why, I think, Ender’s Game is so much more appealing – less techy, and more emotionally appealing to the teenage-me who read it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • The funny thing is, Forever War didn’t feel very militaristic to me. Or maybe I’ve forgotten all the battles. But yeah, Ender’s Game does appeal to the emotions the way they jerk that poor kid around and he articulates it so well.

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    • bormgans says:

      For what it’s worth, I thought the second part of TFW was dull & repetitive too. Haven’t read ST.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. The Forever War is book I might enjoy, Starship Troopers is a book I ighty enjoy to dislike. I am intrigued by Ender’s Game but knowing that Orson Scott Card is a giant arsehole is not very motivating.
    I’m not the biggest military sf fan but I should probably read one or two books in the cannon so really see where I stand with it.
    Did anyone ever said to you that you had the best British humor out there? It was the best mini review Old man’s War ever. I’m still laughing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Card’s opinions are off-putting, and his fans can get scary, so he’s not exactly the kind of writer I want to financially support. I already had this Ender’s Game, but I’ll probably purchase his books used in the future. I am really curious about how the next Ender’s books fare in comparison.

      I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed most of these books. I highly highly recommend Nagata’s for a taste test. Lots of action, very vivid, never boring, and it incorporates and builds upon longtime Military SF elements while still being modern and fresh.

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      • Oh, and I’ve never been told I have British humor (though I’m often told my humor is dark), but I wallow in your compliment! I’ve never even been to the Isles (too cold), but I did grow up immersed in a lot of British-y content. I was given a healthy dose of Monty Python when I was younger, then my mother studied Brit Lit while I was in high school and watching The Young Ones on repeat. And I used to be able to quote from memory most episodes of The Office (UK) and Peep Show. Though we rarely ever watch TV anymore, my husband and I always tell people we speak a mix of English, Spanish, and Peep Show in my household. So thanks for the compliment!

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      • Don’t worry, after reading your review of it, it went straight in my amazon cart along with The Forever War. I am really easy to convince 😉

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    • Warstub says:

      I kinda feel lucky I was a fan of Card as a teenager before I found out about his views (no internet, no asshole profle – lol). But I read the Ender & Alvin Maker series and really enjoyed their storytelling even though I’m atheist and knew that Alvin Maker was based on his Mormonism – Even Lost Boys has a similar function in terms of his religion, but the stories around them were always well told. So I don’t think it’s worth crossing him off the reading list – more so the earlier novels, as I stopped reading anything after the 2000s.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with that approach. There is value in reading divisive figures, if not for information or extrapolating a psychological profile, but sometimes they just happened to write some really readable books.

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  10. I haven’t read THE RED, but from the few reviews I’ve read for the series, it seems like those books are really going under the radar and deserve a lot more attention than they are getting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The slow burn may work in her favor in the end. She hasn’t had the over-fueled machinery of corporate publicity to shove The Red in our faces constantly, and that makes The Red’s success seem all the more legitimate. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on canon lists in the future. I think you would really enjoy it, btw.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Jesse says:

    I just read The Red not so long ago, also, and long review short, I had the same reaction as you: Hollywood-esque fun, but not much deeper…

    On a further military sf note, perusing the fun of 2015’s Hugos last year, I noticed that one author, Marko Kloos, decided to withdraw his name from contention (no pun intended) as he didn’t want to be associated with, well, you know. Thinking such action might be an indication of… material more than the retro-fluff the Puppies thought he warranted greater acknowledgment for, I found his book on the cheap and had a read – or at least initially a read, which became a skim read, which crawled to the end. I’ve never posted a review as it would be something to the effect of “The precise result of following the rules laid out in How to Write Military Science Fiction. I advise you also avoid.

    On a more positive note, military sf that’s good tends to be in short form. Greg Bear’s “Hardfought” (yes, Greg Bear), “Adrift on the Sea of Rains” by Ian Sales, “Malak” by Peter Watts, “Desert Lexicon” by Benjanun Sridungkaew (sp?), “Salvador” by Lucius Shepard, “The Incredible Exploding Man” by Dave Hutchinson, “The Lives and Deaths of Che Guevara” by Lavie Tidhar, and on and on go the interesting titles. And while I’m not very eager to jump on Richard’s bandwagon, I do agree Harry Harrison’s Bill, the Galactic Hero is good (satirical) military sf. Life During Wartime by Lucius Shepard is also good. And perhaps you would later kill me if I did not mention it, New Model Army by Adam Roberts. You need to read, or at least understand the premise, of Hobbes’ Leviathan in order to fully appreciate the novel, but it’s the best of Roberts’ I’ve read so far. (No, I haven’t read Bete. 😉 ) It goes without saying the next time you go gung ho, check out Roberts’ novel.

    I’ve written enough…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Kloos did slightly cross my mind because I remembered his actions from last year, but I couldn’t really remember his name and I figured (rightly, it seems) that no matter how honorable the action, he landed on a puppy list, and those people seem to be attracted to low quality formula.

      Oh, wow, I was pretty sure I was done with Mil SF for a long while (did my part, that sort of thing), but you’re bringing up titles and authors that strike my fancy. Tidhar doing Che Guevara? I’m there. And Hutchinson. and Sriduangkaew doing Mil SF? Maybe that’s just what I need to warm up to her. And I know I’ve seen at least one promising review of Shepherd somewhat recently on your blog. And how funny that it never occurred to me that Ian Sales’ novellas would be considered Mil SF. This is what I get for avoiding cover summaries.

      New Model Army is one I probably would have postponed for a long time, for just the title alone seems so ugh… but I am actually more familiar with Hobbes than Kant (thank you, undergrad political philosophy course) so there ya go. And I should know better by now than to drag my feet on his fiction, but those superficial blurbs cause pause: “Jack the Ripper in Space!” “AI Animal Farm!” “Who Goes There? Kant!” Thankfully, the blurbs are completely misleading. Have I mentioned that Bete is really really good?

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      • Jesse says:

        I had a chance earlier this year to read an ARC of Lavie Tidhar’s new collection Central Station. I’d read two of the stories, and therefore passed; Tidhar is constantly trying to find where pulp and litfic intersect, and thus far only Osama has found that point for me with any significance, the Central Station stories particularly off-point. “The Lives and Deaths of Che Guevara” is Tidhar writing from his gut, without thinking about pulp vs. litfic, and it’s the best thing of his I’ve read. Every time I see Che’s face on a t-shirt or poster now, my mind drifts to Tidhar’s story, and I laugh. ¡Viva la Revolución! Ha!

        Anyway, what are the options for your next themed adventure into mainstream sf of old and new? Time travel? Steampunk? Cyberpunk?

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        • I remember your Central Station review, but I keep seeing nice things about it elsewhere, so I’m curious what I’ll think. Having only read Osama, maybe I’m not yet burned out on his pulp/litfic explorations. I’m even more sold on the Che Guevara story, though. Will keep it in mind.

          It’ll probably be a long time before I come up with another theme. This just happened to come up because Forever War, Ender’s Game, and Old Man’s War are all Hugo ‘6s so I figured I should toss Troopers into the lot and get it over with. I’m sure some other theme will reveal itself eventually.

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  12. Kate says:

    Really enjoyed this compendium review. But have you not tried Elizabeth Moon? I tripped over her when she co-wrote Sassinak with Anne McCaffrey, which is THE best military sf / space opera novel I know. Moon now has published nine other space navy novels, ranging from extremely to pretty good, and all (in the UK at least) perpetually present on the high street bookshop shelves, unlike all the older novels you mention here.

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  13. liminalt says:

    Your Old Man’s War review cracked me up, although I confess it was already on my to-miss list. Really not that into military SF, but I did read The Forever War and Ender’s Game a while back. TFW I thought was good but flawed, and pretty dated in places. Ender’s Game annoyed me to death, but that was a personal bugbear on what you note of his characterisation of the “gifted” children as mini-adults, more than anything else. Speaking as someone who had that label stuck on them at a very early age, gifted children are not mini-adults: generally they have accelerated intellectual comprehension, but they remain emotionally immature. The only realistic nod to that I thought was that Ender didn’t realise the big reveal about the games he’d been playing….which any halfway intelligent adult would have done.

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  14. I’ve worked with “gifted” (and, you know, the normals) kids and teens for a long time and no, they are not mini-adults at all. They model what they see, or what they would like to be, but they’re still kids. Even those who are emotionally-advanced still give off kid vibes. It’s partly why I like working with them: every kid and teen is a jumble of multiple developmental scales and stages, and it’s just so interesting to watch all of those different developmental stages struggle against each other. Fascinating.

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  15. […] I did a compilation post about my first forays into Military SF, and I got a little flack from outside sources for covering the same big names. As a perpetual […]

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  16. I wonder if you might find something of interest in David Drake’s Hammers’ Slammers books. I may have read one or two when I was younger, but I can’t remember. I mention the series because Drake was in an armored unit in Vietnam (a unit with tanks, not giant mecha suits), so it’s possible he tackled some of the issues you were looking for in his fiction.

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  17. Eliza_Mariah says:

    I just started The Red: First Light. I didn’t think it would be my kind of thing, but it’s got my attention.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. […] its long history, from Wells’ spindly invaders to Clement’s didactic caterpillars to the Heinlein/Haldeman/Card &Scalzi spectrum of buggers. It’s a natural fit: with those extra articulated legs and absent the puppy dog eyes, bugs really […]

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  19. […] The Forever War by Joe Haldeman – A candid retort to Robert Heinlein’s facile militarism in Starship Troopers, Haldeman draws from his own experiences in the Vietnam War to portray the psychological toll of combat, the alienation of military life, as well as the psycho-social effects of time dilation due to space travel. A worthy “Best Novel” winner! […]

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  20. […] Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – A compelling and disturbing (and convenient and therefore unconvincing) tale about a boy soldier who is tricked into committing genocide. It is a good read, the young characters foster reader empathy, and it ends on a less jingoistic note than one would expect from a writer like Card. The “young kid trains hard, becomes X, and finds himself tale” is a bit cliche today, but there is my other theory: both Cuckoo’s Egg and Ender’s Game were actually inspired by Karate Kid. (I know… OSC had the idea since he was a kid. But still! What is it with the ’80s and these kid-grit stories?) […]

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  21. […] Old Man’s War by John Scalzi –  Except it’s actually “Genetically-Engineered Old Man Who Moves, Talks, and Thinks No Differently From a Thirty-Something’s War.” […]

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