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.