War never changes. That’s the opening sentiment to Fallout 4, and it’s maybe an underlying concept in War-based Science Fiction. That we can take the way War functions now, and place it somewhere – somewhen – else.
In other words, War is like the scene in The Avengers, when Nick Fury agrees that War isn’t won by superheroes – it’s won by soldiers. And it’s not like the scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (the book, the prologue), when the Prime Minister says they should have no problem with the Death Eaters because they have Magic – and they remind him of the problem, that the enemy does too.
In other words, in Science Fiction, the focus on War tends to still be on the experience of individual soldiers, fighting in scenarios we might recognize or understand of War. In Fantasy, you tend to get whole societies going to War – all the elves, all the dwarves, all the wizards, etc. Because they all have powers, or are just all that badass (they’re elves!). Or else you have peasants and such joining in, rising up, becoming heroes. But not your typical soldiers – they’re in Science Fiction.
I feel like a lot of the fighting over things like Science Fiction and the Hugo awards lately has a lot to do with wanting to continue this War-based, kinda-realistic-but-in-space sort of Science Fiction. That it is what Science Fiction is. That novels like Starship Troopers, while good, somehow defined the genre forever.
Okay, so I’ve defined War in Science Fiction separate from Fantasy, and said a piece about how it has existed in history. So for this Science Fiction Today post, I want to go on to look at how the realistic-War type stories can be important for looking at War in a different way from an actual real War, and then I want to talk about how Science Fiction can also step back from War entirely, look at the idea of War itself and take it apart and define it.
Media coverage has only heightened the sense that War seems to go on forever, though to be fair we haven’t fought anything called a “Hundred Years War” in anyone’s lifetime… It also means that in our art, we have expressed how we feel about War.
So take a recent, highly successful version of that: the film American Sniper. We have not seen it, but I don’t know that I need to say anything about its content. I actually want to talk about its record-breaking, insane January movie release box office. I remember an excellent rundown of reasons on We Minored In Film (before I fell off the wagon of blog-post-reading). And some of it is that it brought out people who don’t normally go see movies. People seeing it for what I would say are patriotic reasons.
Not to say that Patriotism is bad, but a real-War War Movie (or other artistic expression) is probably going to lead either to a patriotic response or an anti-War response. That’s the nature of how it goes, and American Sniper is a great recent example of that.
But either of those responses are probably already in the person. People didn’t go see American Sniper and become patriotic: they were patriotic, and went to go see American Sniper. Or the reverse. Maybe repeated saturation of a specific viewpoint can skew us in a direction, say repeated news coverage of a War.
Hey look, we’ve made it to Science Fiction: The Forever War. Written in part to explore that Vietnam-era feeling of the endless war, it does a great job of it. In a space-age run in with relativistic speeds, the trips back and forth to the battlefront means that centuries are passing. The world changes. The War changes.
In this one book, I think that more can be done to make you think about how you look at War than a much larger number of War films or books based on real Wars or real soldiers. Because you step outside the specific, and into the concept. And the heck with how we, sitting in the peanut gallery, view War. For the soldier, war never changes. War is endless.
War – What is it Good For?
That certainly seemed to be The Doctor’s interpretation of it this season, especially in the episode The Zygon Inversion. Because as he says… well, we’ll let one of the many captioned pictures that’s been floating around the Internet say it.
War is a flip of the coin. And War doesn’t serve much of a purpose, since it ends in a way that could have been reached at the beginning.
His entire scale-model of War was fascinating, and really, I can’t in a blog post do the whole thing justice: it’s a fantastic episode. It’s just plain good Science Fiction. It takes the idea of War, breaks it open, explores all the pieces, shows it to us in a different way – separate from anything “real” happening in our lives, in the world – and lets us think about it.
And do you know what thinking is? That fancy word for changing your mind…
One of my favorite parts is the revelation that they have wiped their memories over a dozen times, with this just happening over and over. The push for War keeps happening. The Doctor’s scale model of War keeps holding it off. The arguments keep working. War, it seems, never changes.
But our minds might change, and are more likely to when we get to think about something like War (say through Science Fiction), rather than when we’re presented with a realistic piece that is going to elicit an emotional response.
To take The Doctor’s idea further, I’ve always loved the character Miles Teg from the later Dune novels, who was such a storied and feared general that he could usually win a fight without any shots fired – with words, with reputation. Honestly, not so far off from The Doctor as a character… But that this is the pinnacle of a warrior, the one who doesn’t fight. Who wins without fighting.
So is there room in Science Fiction for ideas like this? For other takes on stories about War? I believe so. Wars where no bullets are shot, no rockets, no lasers or blasters or phasers. Just one where Jean Luc Picard, or whoever, uses diplomacy and talks it through. Where people think. Where they change their mind – and every once in a long while, nobody dies.