Writing Forums

Writing Forums is a privately-owned, community managed writing environment. We provide an unlimited opportunity for writers and poets of all abilities, to share their work and communicate with other writers and creative artists. We offer an experience that is safe, welcoming and friendly, regardless of your level of participation, knowledge or skill. There are several opportunities for writers to exchange tips, engage in discussions about techniques, and grow in your craft. You can also participate in forum competitions that are exciting and helpful in building your skill level. There's so much more for you to explore!

Ramblings about [military] sci-fi... (1 Viewer)

Anarkos

Senior Member
It's crap. With very few exceptions, this sub-genre is utter shite. And, yet, somehow - perhaps due to my own literary delusions of grandeur - I keep reading it.

Every story has a plucky midshipman (or if it's being rebellious and writing about infantry, plucky marine). Every story has incompetent senior officers. Almost every story ends with the protagonists being drenched in the drool of loving crowds of politicians. Spaceships always fight like classical naval ships, with broadsides and running out the guns and all the rest; it's all Hornblower in space (in a nice twist, Feintuch makes the society Hornblower in space, but not the combat, wow!). They use weapons which fire lasers or "grasers" or "plasmic semen acceleration devices" or what have you, but which otherwise function in exactly the same manner as modern (or, indeed, archaic weapons). Alternatively, they're super advanced cruise missiles, but no one has ever thought of using them properly, as artillery (Weber nicely combines these last two, with missiles that, get this, fire lasers!!!) There is always far too much saluting. Quite often they're also drowned in arrays of medals and awards and other general blather.

Bugger all that.

I want to write a military type science fiction book about an utter bastard. I want to write a book where the man skips straight from private to Lt General. I want to write a book were the superiors aren't cowardly craven self-serving traitors or noble heroes, but a realistic mix of both, and where they're all damn well scared of the protagonist. I don't want black and white. I don't want war to give my protagonist cool scars and medals; I want it to dehumanise him and destroy what's left of his cold, black heart. I want shades; starting at about charcoal and going downhill.

When my protagonist wins a battle, I don't want to write hundreds of pages about how much the world loves him (or her). I want the world to look embarassed and go "oh, shit, I hoped that'd kill him" and throw him right back into the fray.

But...that's already happened! Richard Morgan wrote just that with his tales of Takeshi Kovacs....um, no. One, Altered Carbon isn't even military, really; it's a violent film-noir detective tale that just happens to be sci-fi and have an ex-military man as the protagonist. And I've pretty much forgotten Broken Angels (not on par with its predecessor), but, as I recall, it was equally a "search for the alien artifact" tale as a military one.

Wanted: One hard-bitten tough bastard who takes command by sheer force of will, and proceeds to lead an equally bastardly posse around explored space dispensing high velocity shells at all and sundry.

Wanted: One hard-bitten bastard who hates war but knows his duty to his men and knows that it's his only damn talent.

Wanted: An array of weapons systems that do not mirror those used in the 17th-20th centuries.

Wanted: Tactics based around these technologies [...see my tale And They All Died, for an example...a tale about religious fanatics and combat AIs. Unfortunately, due probably to my own writing ineptitude, most people seemed to look for fruity explanations for Phoenix's 'army-of-the-dead' rather than the one I'd been dangling in front of them. Anyway, a synopsis: A military who uses advanced combat suits, but refuses to accept combat AIs as it is "creating life" and against their rather fanatical religious beliefs. A man who wants to win by all means necessary. A few mass graves exhumed. A firmware upgrade, dispensed by a worm/virus. Equals: Combat AIs in damaged but functional suits loaded with dead men. Equals: One scared fucking army facing apparent zombies. Equals: Not much mopping up for the actual marines...try doing that with C20 tech!].

Wanted: One government that owes its existence to aforesaid protagonist, and knows this damn well, and is therefore scared to death of the man...and also mildly infuriated at the complete chaos he leaves in his wake.

Wanted: No goddamn psychic cats, playfull jokes between military leaders, no noble herioc leaders punning away in their mansions, no "socialist" vs "monarchist"/"conservative" wars, no Slow Moving Lasers, no Bug Eyed Monsters, no stellar empires, no long-running tedious series of long-running tedious books.

Oh, and: No stupid childish glorification of war and warriors. War kills people. War is one of humans worse traits. It amazes me how few people get this. "Military history buff", to me, translates to "fucking vulture". Wars are not fought without innocents dying. No flawless plan survives contact with the enemy. War does, however, breed tough bastards, who tend to be nicely neurotic too, which makes for some damn good stories. Take my grandfather, for example. The man died with barbed wire in his wrists. A German guard had slit them for disobedience in a prison camp; a handy med student had sewn them up with the first thing that came to hand...barbed wire. He's dead. The malnutrition he suffered in his late teens and early twenties while imprisoned knocked him off his mortal coil in his fifties. My other grandfather was shot down and fished out've the English channel three times, and he still won't talk about it.

No fucking heroes. No fucking villains. Just human beings being human beings.

If you ever read a novel which opens with a prologue in which the leaders of various 'revolutionary' groups arguing about which political theory should ascend and how high to make the statues of the heroic marines who won the revolution and how many medals they should get, when aforesaid heroic marine walks in and dispenses justice with a flechette weapon in each hand...that's me.
 

MiloDaePesdan

Senior Member
*shakes head* You've ever read any John Ringo? Tsk. Try "A Hymn Before Battle" or "Cally's War"--both military sci-fi.
 

Anarkos

Senior Member
I read the former. Tediously shite. The first half of the book meanders wildly, the author is blatantly projecting himself onto the protagonist, and the setup for a sequal would be considered blatant and ugly even by Hollywood movie standards.

And don't get me started on his aliens, who are either manipulative and human like (but unable to fight) or able to travel in space and build wonderful tech....but unable to aim or devise any tactic other than the wild charge. The alien perspective passages were particularily painful.

I quite liked the idea that no warlike race would ever discover intersteller flight before wiping itself out...a nice ironic jab there...but completely ruined by the Heroic Human Soldiers Saving The Universe From The Bug Eyed Monsters!!

Oh, and the army consulting sci-fi authors for military research? Oh, and what about other, non-US armies? Or the scout team that were a big feature half way, were introduced one by one...and then promptly killed and/or forgotten?

I particularly liked how the protagonist survived setting a nuke off on himself.

Baen books, with few exceptions, tend to be purely pulp (not that I don't respect the publisher and all that; certainly filling a niche, but it's bloody bollocks writing that's being churned out).
 

MiloDaePesdan

Senior Member
*shrug* Now it really sounds to me as though you're a realist--a sci-fi book like that would be appropriately dark. Ah well, this only proves that everyone has different tastes.

The Posleen weren't anything bug-eyed, though. More like centaurs. (And Ringo did base his ACS units from Heinlein's starship troopers.)

If you can find a book that fits all your wants, gimme the title. :wink:
 

LensmanZ313

Senior Member
Baen, however, is re-issuing some of the good SF from the 1930s-1950s. Their re-ssues of Robert E. Howard were good--but, I have to admit, the Del Rey editions are great looking.
 

Anarkos

Senior Member
Lensman - Indeed. I feel guilty criticising any niche publisher like Baen.

Milo - Eh, I like Culture books, I like Kim Stanley Robinson's work, I like a mixture of books, and not all are realistic or dark. The Bug Eyed Monster is a generic term for scary but vague Evil Alien Foes™ that the Heroes Of Earth™ fight in the Noble Struggle™. While individual BEMs may or may not be bug-eyed, they're linked by being stupid, inexplicable and evil and absolutely fucking ridiculous.
 

LensmanZ313

Senior Member
I like Baen just for the fact that they re-issue the good old stuff. Other than that, I don't care for it. The "science-fact" books by Sheffield, Hogan and Forward are good, I should mention . . . .
 

Anarkos

Senior Member
Er, yes....now, back about being bitter and anti...I love the species-creation tactics used by so many authors today.

"Let's take a cat...and add two extra legs...and give it psychic powers...and make it live in trees and eat celery! Yes! I'm a genius! That's totally believable!! [the habit of naming alien animals by adding random prefixes onto Earth animals names is a great one too. Hexapuma! Pseudogrizzly! Macroneosocioanteater!!!"]

"Hmm....I need a horrible alien race. What could I do? I know! I'll inexplicably combine other species! It's like a lion, and centaur and a crocodile all mixed into one! FEAR IT! ...ew, what is it? Posleeeeeen!" [I also appreciated the brilliant trick of not describing the other aliens..."it was like nothing she'd ever seen before"]

Oh, yes, and imitating Giger yet again is always good.
 

LensmanZ313

Senior Member
Actually, the idea of missiles carrying nuclear-detonation lasers is a cool idea, I think. It's an idea that's been around for twenty years or so.

As for the aliens and alien technology . . . that's been my gripe with the Star Trek universe; various alien species utilize the same kind of stardrive tech. It's all warp drive. I think that Borg did use something different . . . but, how is it that all of these races invent the same kind of stardrive, many light-years or parsecs apart . . . ?

Your zombie army concept nearly parallels one I came up with, visiting one of the Civil War graveyards in the region. The Iczeri Starlords, a mysterious species who rule thousands of low-tech worlds--the Iczeri pass themselves off as gods--use this tactic when they invade a world, to add it to their domain: Using nanobots and somatic engineering, the Iczeri infest the cemeteries of the world, reanimating the dead, infusing them with cybertechnology; having raised the dead, the Iczeri use these necrosoldiers to conquer the world and its people.

OK. It's a work in progress.
 

Anarkos

Senior Member
LensmanZ313 said:
Actually, the idea of missiles carrying nuclear-detonation lasers is a cool idea, I think. It's an idea that's been around for twenty years or so.

It is? What's the point of it?

LensmanZ313 said:
As for the aliens and alien technology . . . that's been my gripe with the Star Trek universe; various alien species utilize the same kind of stardrive tech. It's all warp drive. I think that Borg did use something different . . . but, how is it that all of these races invent the same kind of stardrive, many light-years or parsecs apart . . . ?

Well, presumably, the laws of physics remain the same, and presumably there aren't many different ways one can travel faster than light (or perhaps only one way), so...

LensmanZ313 said:
Your zombie army concept nearly parallels one I came up with, visiting one of the Civil War graveyards in the region. The Iczeri Starlords, a mysterious species who rule thousands of low-tech worlds--the Iczeri pass themselves off as gods--use this tactic when they invade a world, to add it to their domain: Using nanobots and somatic engineering, the Iczeri infest the cemeteries of the world, reanimating the dead, infusing them with cybertechnology; having raised the dead, the Iczeri use these necrosoldiers to conquer the world and its people.

OK. It's a work in progress.

Eh, if they have nanotech that advanced, why bother with the corpses? Why not just, say, drop one seed colony of nanites in one place with orders to reproduce exponentially across the surface of the planet until they meet themselves coming to other way, and then await further instructions...

Why bother keeping the low-tech cultures alive or pretending to be Gods?

That's another irritation in sci-fi and fantasy in particular: Bad guys using overly complex and inexplicably weird tactics because they look cool. It's basically the opposite of the Posleen mad-screaming-charge complaint. Characters should have plausible motives and should action reasonably. Where they do not seem reasonable to us, some physiological or cultural grounds should be provided.
 

LensmanZ313

Senior Member
Because religious mythologies fascinate me and I want to explore some things.

OK. What kind of weapon technologies do you want to see? Nanomunitions? Blasters that fire phased-compression gravitons or virtual-particles? Tachyons? Aliens that use psionics?
 

Anarkos

Senior Member
I seem to recall reading something about a similar device in the New Scientist.

I'm not so much certain what I want, but I'm more certain what I don't want:

Weapons which are entirely identical for all intents and purposes to modern weapons. For example, in Weber's books, the "pulse rifles" that apparently accelerate projectiles to immense velocities...but which somehow don't tear through walls and so on. His "pulse rifles" are, for all intents and purposes, just modern assault rifles with a futuristic name. Her flechette weapons are just shotguns with a new name (at least when I write about flechette weapons I'm talking about a new concept of weapon which can clear a room in one blast blah blah). In fact, in one book, Harrington uses a Colt 1911 to kill guards armed with flechette weapons!

Equally, I don't want all powerful superweapons. Nanotech is very close to that. Railguns can be too. Those ridiculous antimatter-propelled guns John Ringo devised damn well should've been. This is pretty much an equivilent of the old fantasy problem of balancing magic systems. If you can, as in your example, reanimate dead flesh, why would you bother conquering anyone? Presumably, that technology could equally well kill the living or build anything they needed or... (My previous question was not why you wanted to write that; it was why they wanted to do it...your characters need to have believable motives)

Equally, I do not want guns based on pure fantasy with no science. Gravity based weapons come close; like energy shields, hyperspace and so on, they are an accepted sci-fi convention which has appeared in countless different forms in countless novels, with, in almost all cases, no explanation more complex than "uh, they, like, can manipulate gravity, meaaaan!" [The problem of scientific information can, of course, be avoided if you use a limited third-person or first-person narrator. A marine doesn't need to know how his gun works; he just needs to know how to use it to put a hole in something.]

That said, in near future sci-fi, it is perfectly fine for guns to be relatively similar to those used today. Afterall, swords have not changed that much in the last millenium. However, like swords today, these guns may not be the primary weapons of a soldier.

[Of course, very good reasons can be provided for fighting with old fashioned projectile weapons and so on....not the least of which is that they're cheap and expendable, which matters in Vietnam-type situations, where neither true side is willing to commit their full military or economic might.]

If I had to pick the weapon of the near future, it would be the AK47 and the [suicide] bomb. The more distant future, the nanoweapon, viral agent [electronic or biological] and so on.
 

LensmanZ313

Senior Member
I remember seeing an illustration of a rock, a sling bullet, in a book on weapons--past, present and future. It had "Take That!" written in Greek on it.

Weapon systems . . . I'm fond of energy weapons (lasers, masers and particle-beam) and projectile/slug-shooters, be they chemical-sluggers (like the AK) or binary-propellant or electrothermal-chemical pistols or coilguns AKA railguns. I think that sound or even gravity can be harnessed as weaponry. I really liked the multiplex weapon that Zorg used in The Fifth Element. Variety is the spice of battle.

Harrington gets on my nerves. Ever read the Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell?
 

Anarkos

Senior Member
LensmanZ313 said:
Harrington gets on my nerves. Ever read the Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell?

Yes, she gets on mine also. Well, more accurately, David Weber's horrific writing style does.

No, I have not. Should I?

Ilyak1986 said:
Read the starcraft novels. They're a good read.

No. I don't read novelisations. If I want to play a computer game, I will. If I want to read a book, I will. I won't read meciocre books capitalising on the success of a game.
 

LensmanZ313

Senior Member
I think that you would like the Sharpe novels. Sharpe is an enlisted soldier who saves the Duke of Wellington's life--well, before he was made a duke--and is made an officer. Each novel is based on historical incidents that happened during the Napoleonic wars. I really like the novels; Sharpe's a great character and Cornwell is a great writer.

One thing about battlesuits. Everyone mentions Heinlein over and over again. It was E.E. "Doc" Smith who first introduced battlesuits in the Lensman novels . . . I just wanted to clarify things.
 

Anarkos

Senior Member
I've gotta find me some Doc Smith someday. Heard much about it.

Not that keen on historical fiction, or that sci-fi that is heavily based on history...unless done very well. I might give'em a look.

Tom Sharpe is, however, I will admit, a legend...although entirely irrelevant to this thread. The man writes good, solid English books. Or something similar to that, at least.
 

LensmanZ313

Senior Member
A publisher, iBooks, is re-issuing the Lensman novels. Check Amazon. I have all of the old Pyramid editions. Great stuff.
 
Top