The Evolution of Science Fiction discussion

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SF Themes: Discussions & Reads > War Novel Comparison - spoilers!

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message 1: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4086 comments Mod
As a group, we've recently read Starship Troopers (1959) by Robert A. Heinlein & many of us have read Joe Haldeman's rebuttal 15 years later, The Forever War (1974).

A decade later, John Steakley wrote Armor (1984) which is another take on man versus bug in a war for survival while wearing armored war suits.

Old Man's War (2005) by John Scalzi is yet another take on the infantry of the future, again in armored suits.

There are a lot of similarities, but it's the differences in the books & the societies they represent that show an evolution in SF. I thought a spoiler topic freely discussing them would be interesting.


message 2: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4086 comments Mod
In the Best Book Reads in 2017 topic we started comparing Starship Troopers & The Forever War.

In msg #24, Ed wrote:
Marc-André wrote: "My best sci-fi books this year have been Too Like the Lightning and the The Forever War...."

I just read The Forever War a few days ago. I like it, but it isn't one of my favorites. My favorite part was the middle section back on Earth, which was apparently left out of the book until a 1991 revision because it was considered too depressing. I can understand why this book was so highly regarded in its time, but I've encountered the main ideas already in other works that I've enjoyed more. I liked the fact that the main character was not a typical military guy, and was in fact a pacifist until drafted.

It was interesting to watch the changes in societal attitudes toward sexuality, though none of the societies was actually plausible to me. In the first, soldiers are required -- both by custom and law -- to have promiscuous sex with other soldiers. (Presumably homosexuals don't exist at this point.) Later everyone is encouraged to become homosexual as a form of birth control. Umm... there are much easier forms of birth control! and most people can't just switch by force of will or societal pressure. And the main character got really annoying by repeatedly reminding us that he is heterosexual.

Anyway, I enjoyed it, and I wasn't sure that I would because I don't usually like military stories. Redeeming qualities were that it is a quick read that switches gears many times in its short length to deal with multiple new ideas.


message 3: by Jim (last edited Dec 27, 2017 04:21AM) (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4086 comments Mod
In msg #25, I wrote:
Ed wrote: "...It was interesting to watch the changes in societal attitudes toward sexuality, though none of the societies was actually plausible to me. ..."

Of course there weren't any homosexuals in the handpicked group of soldiers since they would have been weeded out by the standards of the day when Haldeman was writing this in the early 70s. IIRC, in 1974, the year this was published, was also the last year shrinks voted homosexuality a mental disorder.

I don't think they were supposed to be plausible. He was poking pins into the military, social mores, & gov't systems he really detested by making caricatures of them. Nixon was running around saying that homosexuality caused empires to fall & ZPG was a big deal. Conflating the two & showing how it felt to be a minority (A straight guy was a queer.) was funny, but you need to remember the context. The Pill was fairly new, & times were a changing. Times have changed a LOT since then.


message 4: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4086 comments Mod
In msg #26, Marc-André wrote:
Ed wrote: "I just read The Forever War a few days ago. I like it, but it isn't one of my favorites. My favorite part was the middle section back on Earth, which was apparently left out of the book until a 1991 revision because it was considered too depressing. I can understand why this book was so highly regarded in its time, but I've encountered the main ideas already in other works that I've enjoyed more. I liked the fact that the main character was not a typical military guy, and was in fact a pacifist until drafted. "

The cynical and lucide pacifist drafted in the military isn't a new take, but Haldeman does it well and does it in a sci-fi context. It isn't my favorite book of all time, but this year it is one of the best sci-fi novel I've read.

It was interesting to watch the changes in societal attitudes toward sexuality, though none of the societies was actually plausible to me. In the first, soldiers are required -- both by custom and law -- to have promiscuous sex with other soldiers. (Presumably homosexuals don't exist at this point.) Later everyone is encouraged to become homosexual as a form of birth control. Umm... there are much easier forms of birth control! and most people can't just switch by force of will or societal pressure. And the main character got really annoying by repeatedly reminding us that he is heterosexual.

I just see Haldeman as being a provocateur with his use of homosexuality. At the time it must of raised a few eyebrowse and seen as condoning an immoral behavior. I'm sure he had a good laugh. It still raises an eyebrowse today, but for sounding homophobic.

Anyway, I enjoyed it, and I wasn't sure that I would because I don't usually like military stories. Redeeming qualities were that it is a quick read that switches gears many times in its short length to deal with multiple new ideas.

I wish more comtemporary authors wrote shorter stories with shifting ideas. Nowadays this would be a trilogy* and each book 500 pages long.

*Yes, I am aware Haldeman ultemately turned it into a trilogy, but that was done 20 years later after the first book was published.


message 5: by Marc-André (new)

Marc-André | 298 comments To the list I would add Ender's Game. It is another take on military sci-fi with once again humans against bugs. Card takes the position that the end justify the means, like exploiting child soliders and genocide, in Ender's Game.

Compared with Starship Troopers and The Forever War, Old Man's War is sort of in the middle in terms of patriotism and cynicism. Old Man's protagonist isn't a blind patriote who thinks military service is the shiz. But he isn't a pacifist, as he enlisted in the military voluntarily.

In a way, the novel fits a pragmatic take on the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan post 9/11. War ain't a party and blind patriotism is dangerous, but war might be necessary to defend oneself (althought in the novel the humans are more imperialists than just defending themselves from invaders).

I'm not so sure that military sci-fi so much evolved, as context as changed and each novel is a different echo of their time.


message 6: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4086 comments Mod
Robert A. Heinlein & his book used the Bugs as a thinly disguised metaphor for Communism. The Cold War was going strong & The Red Scare of the mid 50s had only recently petered out. (He later defended Joe McCarthy in Tramp Royale (1992).) He was very pro-military, but he'd graduated from Annapolis & only served briefly in a peacetime navy before being mustered out due to a medical condition.

In Starship Troopers, the enemy are the Bugs, completely unknown & unknowable enemies that we're fighting against for survival. There can be no compromise.

Joe Haldeman started writing in 1973 the same year that Daniel Ellsberg was acquitted for conspiracy under the Espionage Act for releasing the Pentagon Papers which proved just what a mess the Vietnam War had really been. Haldeman was drafted into the Vietnam War after college & won a Purple Heart in the late 60s. He also married Mary Gay Potter in 1965.

In The Forever War, the enemy seems as unknown & unknowable, but it turns out they weren't. The Powers That Be were paranoid & a war seemed like just the thing to spur the economy & consolidate their power.

Seems like there was a lot of both authors in their books.


message 7: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4086 comments Mod
Marc-André wrote: "To the list I would add Ender's Game. It is another take on military sci-fi with once again humans against bugs. Card takes the position that the end justify the means, like exploitin..."

Agreed. It should be added. Ender's Game was originally published as a short story in 1977, but he turned it into a novel in 1985 & then updated it again in 1991 after the USSR had fallen apart & the Challenger disaster.

Card takes the position that the end justify the means.... The government in the story does, but is that really the position that Card takes? The end of the story & the subsequent books don't seem to support that.


message 8: by Marc-André (new)

Marc-André | 298 comments Jim wrote: "The government in the story does, but is that really the position that Card takes? The end of the story & the subsequent books don't seem to support that. "

I've heard the argument that the other books contradict the "end justify the means" message, but if they are a contradiction of the first novel, that means it is the message of the first novel.

Is it Card's official take? Not sure, but that is the message contained in his novel.


message 9: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4086 comments Mod
Marc-André wrote: "...Is it Card's official take? Not sure, but that is the message contained in his novel. "

It's been a while since I read any of the versions, but in all of them Ender is used shamefully by a government & populace who seemed to feel the ends justified the means. Card made the hero a 6 year old boy subjected to stresses that killed others. In the books, Ender is later reviled as a mass murderer who has to leave the planet he saved.

IOW, the gov't & people took an insane, sadistic gamble using an eminently sympathetic subject. Card is highlighting just how wrong that is on an individual level even though it works out well for humanity. Whether or not the ends justifies the means is the central question of the story, but he doesn't answer it. That's up to the reader & is part of the tragedy of the story. It's hard not to justify a winning strategy after the fact, but it should make the reader feel unclean & conflicted.

In the short story, I think the enemy is faceless. At the end of the novel, Ender realizes he's been communicating poorly with the queen through the mind game. Both realize that the conflict shouldn't have taken place if they had been able to communicate better, but even the queen admits to being part of the problem. She didn't realize humans were intelligent & then the distances involved caused issues, too. In this, I read an almost inevitable tragedy. I don't think Card is for or against, just sees it as a terrible possibility similar to what Haldeman proposes in The Forever War.


message 10: by Marc-André (new)

Marc-André | 298 comments Jim wrote: "It's been a while since I read any of the versions, but in all of them Ender is used shamefully by a government & populace who seemed to feel the ends justified the means."

He is used by the military. The goverment and the population do not know the entire truth about the program until the genocide has been comited. There is some "plausible deniability" at play, but it is the military who is behind it all.

IOW, the gov't & people took an insane, sadistic gamble using an eminently sympathetic subject. Card is highlighting just how wrong that is on an individual level even though it works out well for humanity.

Not at all. Humanity is saved. No one is really found guilty of torturing and exploiting kids. Ender gets out of it whole, physically and mentally, except for some guilt. There are no consequences for the genocide of an entire species at the end of Ender's Game, except humanity benefiting from it.

The message of Ender's Game is that the end justify the means. Even when you're wrong (the bugs didn't really want to war with humanity). The last bug queen even forgives Ender for killing her entire species! Now that is some handwashing.

I found it troubling has the story was rather engaging. Card had some good prose and plot.


message 11: by Ed (last edited Dec 27, 2017 08:46AM) (new)

Ed Erwin | 1906 comments Mod
Jim wrote: "It's hard not to justify a winning strategy after the fact, but it should make the reader feel unclean & conflicted."

It seems hard to justify a strategy that results in complete and total genocide. That is largely what the second book,
Speaker for the Dead deals with, Ender's feelings of guilt and how he tries to redeem himself. (In my opinion, he is not personally guilty because he was tricked and manipulated, but it is understandable that he would feel a need to redeem himself.)

Card has said that Speaker for the Dead was the story he wanted to tell. The first book was written only because it was necessary to set the stage for it. (This post has been edited. I originally confused Speaker with "Xeoncide", a different book in the series.)

I wonder what the rest of the books in the series are like. I'm not curious enough to actually read them, but am curious anyway.


message 12: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1906 comments Mod
My edition of The Forever War has a forward by John Scalzi. He says that despite the similarities with Old Man's War, he had never read "The Forever War" when he wrote it.

It is interesting how both deal with sexuality and with women and men mixed in the military, which is still a pretty new idea even today.

In The Forever War, there seem to be equal numbers of male and female soldiers, but the story is told through a definitely male point of view. At first it is described all fun and games: every soldier having fun sex every night. It starts out looking like equality. But later when a group containing a few females joins with a group of men who have been isolated for a while (years?), it suddenly starts looking more rapey. Those few women are expected by custom and by law to take care of the desires of all those men. That made me wince.

In Scalzi's military, it also starts out with lots of sex between soldiers, but on a voluntary basis and with partners of choice. Gays exist and get to make their own choices of partners. Much more enlightened. Still, there is probably something in there that will look problematic when read 20 years from now, but I can't yet see what. (Maybe the lack of trans people will seem odd?)

Was homosexuality addressed at all in Starship Troopers?

I don't think Orson Scott Card dealt with it in Ender's Game. In his real life, he is very opposed to gay marriage, and supported laws against it. This led to some people I know to call for boycott of his work at the time the film version of Ender's Game came out.


message 13: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1906 comments Mod
While we're here, might as well go vote on this list:
Military_Science_Fiction


message 14: by Marc-André (new)

Marc-André | 298 comments Ed wrote: "Was homosexuality addressed at all in Starship Troopers?"

The gender of soldiers were mentioned. Women served along side men. Much like race, gender wasn't a issue in the novel, and on those issues was progressive for the time.

I can't remember if homosexuality was mentioned. Somehow, I think Heinlein would have called it pederasty even if it is not the same thing as homosexuality.

In The Forever War, there seem to be equal numbers of male and female soldiers, but the story is told through a definitely male point of view. At first it is described all fun and games: every soldier having fun sex every night. It starts out looking like equality. But later when a group containing a few females joins with a group of men who have been isolated for a while (years?), it suddenly starts looking more rapey. Those few women are expected by custom and by law to take care of the desires of all those men. That made me wince.

The take away is that "men can't control their desires". It still is used to day to prevent women from serving along side men. That being said, Israel's army has men and women serving together and it doesn't seem to prevent them from killing people efficiently.


message 15: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1906 comments Mod
As far as I can recall, race was not mentioned in The Forever War.

In real life, the military in the US has been quite helpful in breaking down racial barriers. There was no such thing as colored-only bathrooms in military bases, even when they existed off-base. You couldn't get away with calling your black soldiers "boy" even if you could do that off base.

Maybe in future the military will help break down discrimination on gender, transgender, sexual orientation, and religion. Perhaps even discrimination against robots. If the gatekeepers let everyone in, then everyone is forced to work together. Once you are in, you can discriminate based on one thing only: rank.


message 16: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4086 comments Mod
Marc-André wrote: "He is used by the military. The goverment and the population do not know the entire truth about the program until the genocide has been comited..."

I guess I wasn't remembering that correctly. I thought everyone knew kids were being groomed for something & that was part of Ender's issue with being a third.

Marc-André wrote: "Not at all. Humanity is saved. No one is really found guilty of torturing and exploiting...

I was thinking more of the reader condemning it, not the people in the book. We're the ones to whom the point is directed, after all. I certainly thought it was horrible. So was wiping out an entire species over miscommunication, but we've done that often enough even when we communicate just fine. As Heinlein would have pointed out, just ask Carthage.


message 17: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4086 comments Mod
Ed wrote: ...It is interesting how both deal with sexuality and with women and men mixed in the military..."

It is interesting & I too wonder what we'll think of it in a few decades. It's hard to believe how much has changed in the last few.

I don't believe Heinlein mentioned homosexuality in Starship Troopers. It probably wouldn't have gotten past the editors. While it wasn't part of his Juveniles for Scribner (The last one was Have Space Suit—Will Travel in 1958.) it was too similar & homosex was still a forbidden topic. Even the mild bit he hinted at in Stranger in a Strange Land a few years later got a lot of flack. (Ben, the reporter, mentions running away after the antics at Mike & Jill's to Jubal.) He seemed fine with it in his later books, but he was fine with incest, too. Seems to have lost all boundaries.

I agree with you about race & all in the military. It can be a good blending force. When I was in, no one cared about skin color or religion, although language was something of a problem occasionally. The only women we saw were rare support staff & civilians. Once we were permanent party, most of us got somewhat steady girl friends.

I've read a few articles about rape in the military. A lot of it is male-male. IIRC, as many men are being raped as women, but there's a lot more guys. Still bad. I don't know how that compares to civilians percentage-wise. Nasty in all cases.


message 18: by Marc-André (new)

Marc-André | 298 comments Jim wrote: "I was thinking more of the reader condemning it, not the people in the book. We're the ones to whom the point is directed, after all. I certainly thought it was horrible. So was wiping out an entire species over miscommunication, but we've done that often enough even when we communicate just fine. As Heinlein would have pointed out, just ask Carthage. "

I agree with you that its up to the reader to condemn the "the end justfy the means" message of the book. Except I rarely see condemnation from readers. I see people saying it wasn't what the book was about.

To that I say that Ender is fine physically and mentally, no one is found guilty of any crime, the bug queen forgives and condone the genocide of her species, humanity prosper from the genocide, etc.


message 19: by Cordelia (new)

Cordelia (anne21) | 1 comments I really like the Vortosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold. Maybe it is a female trait, but the military aspects are intermingled and almost overshadowed by the human relationships in the story.


message 20: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4086 comments Mod
Marc-André wrote: "I agree with you that its up to the reader to condemn the "the end justfy the means" message of the book. Except I rarely see condemnation from readers. ..."

I think I see where I was misunderstanding. You think that genocide of the bugs requires justification, right? I don't, not as the story is framed.

IIRC, it's set up that it is us or them. They started a war that we barely won & knew they'd win the next one if we allowed them a second strike. If any survived, there would be a second strike. Under those circumstances, it becomes a war of species survival. IMO, such survival requires no justification, it's an evolutionary imperative beyond morals & ethics. That's why Homo sapiens is around, not Homo floresiensis or some other species of human.

It's the methods used that can be called into question & what I saw the story as being about. I think Ender was terribly damaged. As a father of 3 children, I found what was done to the kids horrible. It reminded me of Lord of the Flies. Was it worth it to save the world in such a ridiculous gamble? It worked, but that's all that can be said for it & the rest of what I wrote in msg #9.

Ender was guilty of no crime. He thought he was practicing - playing a video game. It wasn't until it was all over that he was told it was for real & he had been coldly sacrificing real people & killing off an entire species. That tore him up, didn't it? It hurt him badly & damaged him for life. The same is true of all the other kids.


message 21: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4086 comments Mod
Cordelia wrote: "I really like the Vortosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold. Maybe it is a female trait, but the military aspects are intermingled and almost overshadowed by the human relationships in the story."

I won't even begin to weigh in on whether it is a female trait, but I agree with you that her series is primarily about the people. There are some great characters, even ones that I started out disliking.

I also liked the Honor Harrington series. There was a lot more military action & gadgetry in it, but also some great characters. Unfortunately, David Weber is prone to info dumps. That's especially painful when it's the same dump repeated in multiple books. Still, I gave the series high marks.


message 22: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4086 comments Mod
Ed wrote: "While we're here, might as well go vote on this list:
Military_Science_Fiction"


That's a great list. I've read most of the top half or so, but found a couple of interesting ones to look into. Thanks!


message 23: by Cordelia (new)

Cordelia (anne21) | 1 comments Jim wrote: "Cordelia wrote: "I really like the Vortosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold. Maybe it is a female trait, but the military aspects are intermingled and almost overshadowed by the human relationship..."

I haven't struck that series. I must look it up.


message 24: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1906 comments Mod
I've been dipping-in off-and-on in How Great Science Fiction Works, actually using the video version, but the audio version would be completely adequate. Just watched the episode on "Invasions, Space Wars, and Xenocide". A few things I learned....

Starship Troopers was originally written as part of the juveniles for Scribner, but was rejected as too adult. (I assume he made it even more adult before the final publication.)

Two works written in direct response to it were Bill, the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison, and The Fall of the Towers by Samuel R. Delany.


message 25: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4086 comments Mod
Honor Harrington has the coolest pet, Cordelia. There's a short story he wrote about the two of them getting together. I can't recall the name off hand, but the series is here:
https://www.goodreads.com/series/4041...

I've read them up to #13, but not all of the spin-offs.


message 26: by Cordelia (new)

Cordelia (anne21) | 1 comments Jim wrote: "Honor Harrington has the coolest pet, Cordelia. There's a short story he wrote about the two of them getting together. I can't recall the name off hand, but the series is here:
https://www.goodread..."


Thanks Jim. I've ordered the first one from the library.


message 27: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4086 comments Mod
Ed wrote: "I've been dipping-in off-and-on in How Great Science Fiction Works, actually using the video version, but the audio version would be completely adequate. Just watched the episode on..."

That sounds interesting. I like TGC & wish I could afford more. This one is $30, which is a good price. Good to know only audio is needed. I listened to one a while back where the lecturer used a lot of visual material that I couldn't see in audio. Anyway, thanks, I'll buy it if you think it's worth it.

The lines drawn for juvenile fiction are kind of strange. Between Planets & Tunnel in the Sky both seem on par with Starship Troopers to me. Podkayne of Mars, the way it was originally written (She dies.) does, too. IIRC, it was written after his original annual contract with Scribner, though.


message 28: by Marc-André (last edited Dec 28, 2017 04:39AM) (new)

Marc-André | 298 comments Jim wrote: "I think I see where I was misunderstanding. You think that genocide of the bugs requires justification, right?"

No. I'm saying the genocide wasn't justified, but the story and characters in the novel say that it was justified because there was good that came out of the genocide and the exploitation of the kids.

That is my problem with Ender's Game. It presents genocide and exploitation of children as something that is positive.


message 29: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4086 comments Mod
Marc-André wrote: "...That is my problem with Ender's Game. It presents genocide and exploitation of children as something that is positive."

Funny how people read the same thing & come to different conclusions. I don't recall that it was positive or even good, just that it happened, but I rarely trust the narrator's opinions. It's possible I edited them out. As I recall, it was a sad mess like so many others we've had in our history.


message 30: by Ed (last edited Dec 28, 2017 10:44AM) (new)

Ed Erwin | 1906 comments Mod
Jim wrote: "thanks, I'll buy it (How Great Science Fiction Works) if you think it's worth it...."

The biggest thing it will cost you is time. It would take many hours to listen to it all. I'd really prefer it as a printed book. I think, though, that if you buy the audio, you can download a book which contains most of the same information.

The title is misleading. It is not analysis of texts, but just a survey of trends and influential SF literature (in English) over the last 100 years or so. You'll know most of the work mentioned, but will get a few new suggestions.

The only added value to the video over audio is that when he mentions an author or book, the name is shown on screen. That is helpful if you don't know how to spell the author's name. But, again, that would be in the downloadable book.

I get to watch this free via the library and the "Kanopy" application. Maybe that will be available to you.

And the author also does a podcast: https://jonathanstrahan.podbean.com/


message 31: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1906 comments Mod
Jim wrote: "Funny how people read the same thing & come to different conclusions..."

Sometimes not so funny.

I remember that when I read Ender's Game I was not at all sure what the author's attitude was about the events in the story. It seemed that he left it very ambiguous. It doesn't surprise me at all that readers would draw different conclusions.


message 32: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4086 comments Mod
Ed wrote: "The biggest thing it will cost you is time. It would take many hours to listen to ..."

It's only 12 hours, so a few days for me. I have a 1.5 hour commute (round trip) each day plus a couple hours in the shop most weekdays that I can listen. The book that comes with these generally isn't complete, more of an outline, but that varies. I glanced through the first chapter & it looks fairly complete, but the test is with the book names & authors. I'll have to see. Anyway, it looks great. Thanks for turning me on to it.

It reminds me Science Fiction: The Literature Of The Technological Imagination by Eric S. Rabkin, a series of 8 lectures. I listened to them years ago & might do so again after this course. It would be interesting to compare their takes on the subject.


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