Is Military Science Fiction Nationalistic?

I’ve got a new piece up on io9, based around a question that I’d come up with after reading a book on counter-insurgency and institutional learning, Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam, by John Nagl. While reading it, I had a couple of points click into place when it came to how different countries approached warfare: there’s a mix of history and internal learning that helps inform the present. Science fiction has a very similar effect: the genre is affected in turn by the ways that warfare is perceived.

A key point of Nagl’s book is that a nation’s own military history helps to inform the ways in which said nation will go to war and use its military. The United States has a different makeup of conflict DNA than Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan and accordingly, we have a different perception of not only the ways in which the military should operate, but also philosophically; how and why wars or battles should be fought. In the science fiction world, the stories are reactionary, typically looking at lessons learned from a past conflict, such as colonial battles (War of the Worlds), World War II / Korea (Starship Troopers), Vietnam (The Forever War), Iraq / Afghanistan (Control Point / Germline). Military science fiction has a passionate following, but I often wonder if at points, if some variety should be added to the mix. We know how we like to do things, but what about how others go about doing the same thing?

Predominantly, military science fiction is an American-centric genre: Most of the really big names in military science fiction, such as Joe Halderman (The Forever War), John Ringo (A Hymn Before Battle), David Drake (Hammer’s Slammers) and David Weber (the Honor Harrington series) all served in the United States military, (as well as some of the newer authors, such as Myke Cole and D.B. Grady) whom have drawn upon their experiences and knowledge accordingly for their stories. Other authors who work in the genre, such as John Scalzi (Old Man’s War), David J. Williams (Autumn Rain trilogy) and Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game), also hail from the United States and are likewise influenced by their home country. Indeed, the landmark entries in the genre from the US are remarkably consistent when it comes to the doctrine and style of warfare that the US has traditionally engaged in: overwhelming force for a clear, decisive objective.

You can read the full article here.

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2 thoughts on “Is Military Science Fiction Nationalistic?

  1. It may be also worth pointing out that Mil SF has become pretty popular over the last 10 years we’ve been at war. Clearly, our foreign policy and mass buildup within the military has had, if nothing else, a strong influence on the genre.

    • I’m not sure that I buy that, actually. Military SF has been a pretty hearty genre for a long time: You’ve got stories like Starship Troopers and The Forever War, which came out long before, not to mention the creation of publishers that cater almost exclusively to the Military SF crowd – Baen Books, in 1983.

      The buildup in the military isn’t anything new in the last decade: the American military is still very, very small when compared to the years before the fall of the Soviet Union, which almost certainly had an impact on the fiction that the US produced (military SF and others).

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