Monday, 17 August 2015

Literary Accounts Of War

My preferred reading is not war fiction but imaginative fiction, ancient myths or modern sf. However, imaginative fictioneers also describe wars. European literature starts with Homer. A long passage in the Iliad describes the fighting back and forth in front of Troy. CS Lewis wrote of his World War I experience:

"One imaginative moment seems now to matter more than the realities that followed. It was the first bullet I heard - so far from me that it 'whined' like a journalist's or a peacetime poet's bullet. At that moment there was something not exactly like fear, much less like indifference: a little quavering signal that said, 'This is War. This is what Homer wrote about.'"
-CS Lewis, Surprised By Joy (London, 1964), pp. 157-158)

And in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, Krishna teaches Arjuna in a chariot between two armies before the slaughter begins.

In Poul Anderson's The People Of The Wind and Ensign Flandry, I thoroughly enjoyed the accounts of battles in space. Now that I am reading Marching Through Georgia by SM Stirling, it is enjoyable to read about Draka forces attacking Germans though not about the Draka napalming noncombatants and shooting prisoners. However, we are not being asked to approve of the latter. We are simply learning what the Draka are like.

We, or at least I, also hope that such large scale slaughter and destruction can be prevented from recurring in future.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I can understand why you and others might not care for military SF. If done well and honestly, such books will give us unflinching images of the horror of war. But, I think military SF is a big enough part of science fiction that some attention should be paid to it. Besides S.M. Stirling's contributions to the subgenre, I recommend Jerry Pournelle's Falkenberg's Legion stories.

Besides THE PEOPLE OF THE WIND and ENSIGN FLANDRY, we see a space battle in A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS fought by the Dennitzans and the Merseians. But ENSIGN FLANDRY gives us by far the most detailed account of what war in space might be like someday.

Like you, I too hope such large scale slaughter and destruction can be avoided in the future. But, I am NOT optimistic!


Paul Shackley said...

I did read one book in which Falkenberg ordered his men to fire into an unarmed crowd - and they obeyed.

David Birr said...

If that scene is the one I'm thinking of, it was inspired by the historical Nika riots of the Eastern Roman a.k.a. Byzantine Empire, and specifically their suppression by Belisarius and Narses, with approximately 30,000 rioters killed.

David Drake has written a HAMMER'S SLAMMERS book, *Counting the Cost*, which likewise replays Nika on another planet. Also, the main character of THE GENERAL, which Stirling wrote to Drake's outline, is based on Belisarius on still another colony planet, and has a Nika-equivalent with the same body-count in his back-story.

It seems a prime topic for exploration of the use of force. The character in the Belisarius role in *CtC* was as disgusted afterward by what he'd had to order as Falkenberg was.

Paul Shackley said...

I didn't know the history! Was Falkenberg sickened afterwards? In conversation at a World Con, Dr Pournelle seemed to defend Falkenberg's action - but the conversation was very brief and interrupted by another fan arguing something else so I am sure there is more to be said!

David Birr said...

"...We won't thank you for it, but -- you've saved a whole world, John."

Falkenberg looked at him grimly, then pointed to the bodies below. "Damn you, don't say that!" he shouted. His voice was almost shrill. "I haven't saved anything. All a soldier can do is buy time. I haven't saved [your planet]. You have to do that. God help you if you don't."

Yes, Dr. Pournelle evidently thought it was necessary, and Falkenberg certainly thought it was necessary, in order to prevent a collapse of government and civilization on that world, but it's still presented as a horrific thing that sickened
Falkenberg. "People will ... want to think somebody was punished for -- for this."

Sean M. Brooks said...

Greetings, Paul and David!

What with the accidents of time zones and my night time working hours, Dave beat me to replying! (Smiles)

I fully agree with the examples Dave selected, both from the historical Nika riots which nearly toppled Justinian I in 532 and the examples from Dr. Pournelle and Dave Drake's own works. Sometimes force is necessary, but it should not be rejoiced in. I would only add that Col. Falkenberg first offered the rioters and the leaders masterminding them a chance to surrender before opening fire, a chance which was rejected.