terça-feira, abril 10, 2018

milSF Without Story: "Ironclads" by Adrian Tchaikovsky




As a seasoned SF reader, I've always disagree strongly with the assessment of milSF as glorification of war; "The Forever War", after all, betrays the political strand of extreme dubiousness about war that also exists in science fiction, a strand demonstrated also in novels such as John Scalzi's “Old Man's War”, but that could equally be seen in “Veteran” by Gavin Smith (which contains a number of other left-wing themes) and the aforementioned New Model Army by Adam Roberts, which is deeply entrenched in liberal, democratised thinking about war, glorifying it to some extent but also attacking it. The fact is this: milSF has a certain concern, and that isn't to show war in its grand scale and all its effects, but to show it from the perspective, normally, of the troops. Dan Abnett's “Gaunt's Ghosts” is a great example of a series that does this - a Warhammer 40k spinoff series, I might add - without glorifying war as a whole, beyond the fact that certain characters believe in the glory of war; to deny that soldiers may think war is glorious is to simplify it in the exact opposite way that you accuse milSF of doing, but is just as problematic and perilous. That's all just scratching the surface, without looking at the glorification of war in fantasy such as Terry Brooks' “Sword of Shannara” and Markus Heitz' “The Dwarves”, either. War and milSF are not the same. War has been a topic for Story since forever but the mil SF tends to have more weapon, tactics, etc., stuff, I guess. But the way that conflict is treated varies a lot and is more complex than it's been given credit for. A few things: the "military fantasy" that viewers get drawn into in “Battlestar Galactica” IS the fact that only the military can save humanity (as microbes were the saving grace in Well's “War of the Worlds.”) Yeah, civilian government, yada, yada - except one that is mightily curtailed by the state of martial law that's imposed, figuratively if not actually (would have made a much better story if they'd offed the civilians for purported collaboration with the Cylons, imposed full conscription and then all died in the end, lol). There are, it seems to me, two basic strains of military science fiction: that represented by works such as “Forever War”, “Starship Troopers”, “Old Man's War”, “Hammers Slammers”, King David's Spaceship, “Dorsai” and even “Bill, the Galactic Hero”, and those represented by things like Honor Harrington and much of the Baen 'fleet': that difference being that the former concentrate on the human effects of war - which is usually presented as something that has been unwilling imposed on the race, while the latter seem to glory in the technocracy of war. That former type of "military science fiction" is what I personally prefer to read. Every time I read a milSF novel I remember what Disch wrote in his book "The Stuff Our Dreams Are Made Of": “the vile relationship between commercial SF and the military-industrial complex is well covered therein"; Disch approaches the SF work of (amongst others) Newt Gingrich - a truly depressing experience, enlightened by the anecdote about the American general who demanded, on watching “The Empire Strikes Back”, that his weapon designers build him an army of AT-ATs - only to be told to finish watching the sequence as Luke Skywalker drew attention to their weak spot - string around the legs.

NB: The treatment of warfare in fantasy is also interesting. Martin's “Song of Ice and Fire” shows armies of thousands clashing to satisfying 'honour' and political aims rather than any overwhelming threat to anyone's existence, leaving thousands dead, but Martin doesn't let his characters off the hook in evading responsibility. Even his most ruthless general at one point says, in answer to criticism of an assassination he had ordered, "Why is it better to kill forty thousand men on the battlefield rather than a dozen at dinner?" I sometimes wonder if at least one aspect of the critical response to the fourth novel is that Martin isn't showing the swords clashing and arrows flying any more, but instead is showing the shattered landscape, destroyed villages, abandoned refugees and the other inevitable consequences of war, which is simply not as much 'fun'.

Adrian Tchaikovsky does not bring anything new to milSF. The fact that literary SF (at the book stores) continues to decline in terms of sales and market percentage is a clear indication that almost all has already been invented. So, at the same time people like me cheer the kicking-out of the hoary old conservative white hetero male POV, literary SF on the other hand is gradually becoming a niche academic industry with niche academic marketability. While mainstream SF (in the form of movies, comics, and games) continues to go great guns. Perhaps consumers want to be entertained, more than they want to be sermonized? Perhaps if literary SF molded itself more after “STAR WARS 1977” and stopped being so dreary and dyspeptic, going on and on about social criticism, humanities theory, and contemporary pop-angst navel-gazing, the genre wouldn't be contracting? Bold tales, told boldly. That's the stuff, my friends. 31st century Hornblower swinging into action with a laser blaster and a cutlass, a beautiful damsel (also wielding a laser blaster and cutlass) at his side. All else . . . well, again, not everything written will be to every taste. Just don't be surprised if your dreary dyspeptic social studies sermon (disguised as fiction) doesn't blow the doors off at Barnes & Noble. Any sufficiently elaborate story is a product of its time, society and the politics of its author. Clever (and successful) writers know this; they use imagery, dialogue, character names, situations and subtext to tell bigger stories about human exploration or frailty. The writers who fail are the ones who don't put the effort in to add this depth to their stories and simply allow their own convictions to fall into the text unplanned. And so people with a strong religious conviction (but no discipline or editor) might continually write stories about saviours and sacrifice without realising it, and yet they might miss the religious subtext in, for example, The “Green Mile” or “The Day the Earth Stood Still” because they're "just stories."

It's the way these stories relate to daily life that makes them interesting to me. A story without depth is not a story; it’s a plot.

5 comentários:

Book Stooge disse...

I'm guessing you didn't like this then?

I've loved everything by Tchaikovsky so far, but I also haven't really gone into his short stories/novellas. Have you read anything else by him to compare to this?

Manuel Antão disse...

No.

This was as my first Tchaikosvky.

Book Stooge disse...

Do you think you'll read more or let it go? I'd be really interested in what you think of his Shadows of the Apt decalogy :-)

Manuel Antão disse...

I'll give Adrian another shot. If he does not convince me, I'll drop him...

Book Stooge disse...

If you don't want to dive into a big series, you can always try his Children of Time. Both it and his Guns of the Dawn were 4star reads for me.