Monday, August 21, 2006

On Military Fiction

Fitz has made a very important point that I think deserves to be pursued further. (Aristotle's Poetics have waited 2,300 years. They can wait a little longer.) Given that most writers are strong individualists who have trouble checking their egos at the door and becoming team players, does this explain the shortage of good military fiction?

There are plenty of anti-military satires written by combat veterans -- M*A*S*H and Catch-22 come immediately to mind -- and even more anti-military novels written by REMFs and people who never served, but based on the interviews I've done and the histories I've read, most pro-military novels fall into the categories of either heroic fantasy or war porn. Tom Clancy is one of the few who seems to get it right, in books like Clear and Present Danger, but even he has trouble keeping it credible and honest.

It's easy to come up with examples of heroic fantasy gussied up in contemporary or high-tech drag; e.g., books in which the story line is that the brilliant, clever, and darn near invincible hero is romping around the countryside (world/universe) on his horse (tank/starship), brandishing his sword (machine gun/laser blaster), accompanied by a bevy of selfless and expendable squires and minions (clones/redshirts/enlisted men), and fighting ever-bigger battles for ever-bigger stakes (and occasionally fighting minor skirmishes with his own incompetent and clearly inferior "superiors"), until he at last meets and defeats the Great Big Bad Guy in solo combat. It's the classic "orgasm" plot structure, which is why we apply the term war porn when the author's emphasis seems to be on describing with relish just how many and in which imaginative and gruesome ways the hero collects scalps.

But can anyone cite some examples of good, honest, and realistic pro-military fiction?