Over at leading sci-fi blog io9, Charlie Jane Anders has compiled a list of the 12 Greatest Science Fiction War Stories. There is much in the list to like. We’ve already delved into the strategies of Alliance vs Browncoats in Firefly and the approaches of Sith and Jedi in Star Wars, and intend to touch on many of the other properties mentioned in the future. As it must be, the list was incomplete, and if one is to fill a library with political science fiction, there is much more to add. Consider this the first part of an ongoing effort to compile a proper syllabus. (To see a similar attempt, John Robb has compiled a list of science fiction aimed at Global Guerillas.)
- The Mass Effect Series. Already featured on Blogtarkin, this is too time-intensive to assign as reading, but the epic scope, durable consequences, and emphasis on the back end of getting ready for battles makes it the most worthy video game to include.
- Robotech. Jon Jeckell writes:
Robotech should’ve been high on the list. Humans suddenly drawn into conflict far beyond their tech level when a ship containing key tech crashes on earth. Humans poorly reverse engineer and poorly use a tech far beyond their understanding to defend themselves. A vastly more powerful enemy must exercise restraint to avoid damaging something they desperately need war has dramatic effects on human social & political scene; tech & social regression as population devastated.
One major plot element from Robotech I’ve not seen in other sci fi war stories is demobilization and post war stabilization. The second half of Robotech Macross era is all about dealing with marooned ex-soldier Zentraedi warriors who know no other life than fighting. Combine this with being 60′ tall, enhanced aggression, lack of any other useful skills (they don’t even have the ability to fix their own equipment, or logistics) and severe resource constraints from Earth’s devastation from the war, and you have a powder keg. Add xenophobic vets and civilian survivors of the holocaust these guys perpetrated on them, who keep egging them on and cynical politicians, and things get really volatile. Both sides face great pressure to complete the genocide of the other. Some humans, however, know the Zentraedi are basically slaves sent to fight them, with false memories implanted to make them aggressive and obedient to their masters, and potentially irreconcilable with peaceful coexistence with a former enemy. Humans lack the technology to do anything to help them though, and many wouldn’t even if they could.
- World War Z: as pointed out by Jedi Councilor Brett Friedman, zombie survival strategies lack a focus on taking initiative against the undead threat. World War Z, cycling as it does through the stages of such a conflict, shows an evolution of active counter-zombie tactics, weaponry, and most importantly grand strategy. There are lots of stories that focus on human adapting to an apocalypse, but fewer that show humanity actively working against it.
- The Matrix: Friend of the blog Andrew Welleford wrote in favor the Wachowski’s opus, saying
“With the lack of a “Man vs Machine” example in the list, I think The Matrix would be a valuable addition. The first (and best) [Ed: only] film mostly focus on the actions of a group of guerrilla zealots, but the scale of the conflict is expanded on in the sequels. In addition, the backstory provided in the Animatrix highlights the uncomfortable idea only implied in the live-action trilogy: humanity was the original antagonist of conflict. Motivated by fear for our own creations we lead an aggressive and unprovoked attack against the autonomous Machine State. Facing defeat in the subsequent retaliation, humanity made another short-sighted gambit (blacking our the sun) that led to our own downfall and near extinction.”
- Ender’s Shadow, Shadow of the Hegemon. The primary Ender’s Game series deals with the consequences of war across galaxies, and Ender’s Shadow offers another examination of this reality from a character not forced to adhere to childlike innocence. More importantly, it sets the stage for Shadow of the Hegemon, which skips the inter-species conflict of the main Ender’s sequels and instead deals with the awkward and messy breakup of a coalition following victory. It is not terribly advanced IR theory, but I’m including it because the relation between warring nations on Earth and the multinational interstellar fleet that suddenly lacks focus are a good civ-mil/coalition politics discussion fodder .
- “Superiority” by Arthur C Clarke. The tale of defeat by a technologically inferior foe in the face of hubris, mishaps, and a constant refusal to understand the enemy is as vital to the student of PoliSciFi as it is to the Moff’s acquisition department. Maybe if it’s lessons had been headed, the Ewok Insurgency would not have been as successful as it was.
Commenters: what other works would you add to a course on PoliSciFi? Any pressing questions of interspecies/interplanetary/technological conflict that has been left out? Is there a work of science fiction that itself gets at the heart of war in a way nothing mentioned in either list has approached? Let us know!