Reviews: Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck

Surly Czechs and unlucky mercenaries

The Forlorn Hope — David Drake

In any discussion of MilSFF, David Drake’s name is likely to come up earlier rather than later. Partly this is because he is seen as one of the founding figures of military SF (at least as it developed in the US). Partly it’s because, the occasional off-note aside [1], his work is generally never less than competent and sometimes very good [2]. Against the backdrop of the dismal swamp that is the majority of commercial MilSFF, even his merely competent material stands out.

A lot of people—me, mostly—hold a grudge against Drake for his part in establishing the Heroic Mercenary trope in MilSFF, which is a bit unfair. Firstly, Jerry Pournelle and his literary spawn are far, far more responsible for the figure of the noble mercenary bravely gunning down dissidents in sports arenas [3]. Drake’s mercenaries are often not good people—some of them are very bad indeed—but they look good because the people around them are even worse.

Which gets us to 1984’s The Forlorn Hope.


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Drafts

The Forever War — Joe Haldeman
Forever War, book 1

This is a case of a commission dovetailing nicely with my themed reviews. For the most part I would prefer to stick to military speculative fiction that I think readers may have overlooked. There are a few classics, generally early ones, that I believe it would be illuminating to review [1]. One of those is Joe Haldeman’s classic 1975 novel, The Forever War.

When I reread this book, I remembered a more obscure work by the same author, an early short story called “Time Piece”, which was published in 1970. I don’t know of any other review that has compared the two. This may be because “Time Piece” didn’t win the Nebula, the Hugo, the Ditmar, and place first in the Locus, which The Forever War did. Something told me that it would be interesting to compare the two works; I’m glad I did.

The edition of The Forever War I am reading is the 1976 mass market paperback, first printing. I understand there is a later, somewhat different edition; I don’t own that one. The edition of “Time Piece” I am reading is the one in Reginald Bretnor’s 1980 collection The Future at War: Orion’s Sword.

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F-IW!

The Great Explosion — Eric Frank Russell

Military speculative fiction doesn’t have to be all pew-pew-pew and Stern People Who Do What’s Necessary. There’s lots of room for other approaches, including satire. The (or at least a) master of military satire was, of course, Eric Frank Russell, a British SF writer active mainly in the 1940s to the 1960s. His milSF story “Allamagoosa” won the very first Hugo Award for Best Short Story, in 1955.

Inaugurating my series of reviews of MilSFF That Does Not Suck with a classic like “Allamagoosa” strikes me as a necessary antidote to the blind military-worship that all too-often characterizes the genre. There are two catches: I actually inaugurated the series last week with Cook’s The Dragon Never Sleeps and I have already reviewed “Allamagoosa.” Here, have another worthy Russell work: 1962’s The Great Explosion.


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It’s a Cook book! It’s a Cook book!

The Dragon Never Sleeps — Glen Cook

The odds are fairly good that if you’re aware of Glen Cook, you know him for series like Garrett and Black Company; if you’re of a certain vintage, you might have read his early Dread Empire books, or perhaps the Starfishers space operas. The Black Company (novel, not series) would have made a fine inaugural book for my new review series, Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn’t Suck. However, it happens that I prefer SF to fantasy [1], so I will review something that (thanks to Stupid Publisher Tricks back in the Late Reagan) was unjustly obscure: 1988’s The Dragon Never Sleeps.

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