As many of you know, I’ve been teaching The Forever War by Joe Haldeman in my Survey in American Literature course at the University of Florida. Yesterday was the last day of discussion, which led me to wonder what so many science fiction readers find appealing about military SF.
I wouldn’t consider myself a big military SF reader, though some of my favorite SF novels happen to be military SF (The Forever War and Old Man’s War, for example). That said, I do find the attention to detail, the technology, and the action that often occupies military SF stories appealing. I’m a sucker for a good, logically-oriented battle (which explains why I prefer the space battles in the original Star Wars movies to the ones in the prequels). Military SF isn’t always about the battles, but I can’t think of any military SF novels which don’t include the actual action of military campaigns.
But as much as I like action and excitement in my fiction, I’m not drawn to military SF exclusively for such things. Rather, I like military SF because it provides a gateway into the mind of the soldier, officer, or other non-civilian character. As a staunch supporter of military personnel in the U.S. (as opposed to a supporter of the war(s)), I can’t help wanting to understand what the nation asks of its men and women in uniform (nation is rhetorical here); military SF is one way to think about such things. The Forever War, for example, is one of my favorite novels because of the way it approaches its singular soldier character: Mandella. I’m fascinated by the ways he copes with what he is forced to do and how the novel allegorizes the processes of alienation that often affect soldiers returning home from the battlefied. Even the military jargon, the attention to military detail, and the discussion of tactics are fascinating to me, not because I like military tactics (I really know nothing about it), but because it’s all part of a kind of mindset. In a way, a book like The Forever War develops an authentic reality from its totalized military viewpoint, which makes for a consistent and fascinating book. If not for the problem of repetition, I would teach Haldeman’s book again in a heartbeat.
Now I’ll throw the question(s) to you:
- What are your favorite military SF novels?
- Why do you like military SF? What do you dislike?