by WC Bauers
A common trope in science fiction is war made new. A breakthrough occurs, and then the scientists gather together and clink glasses of red to “peace in our time.” But, alas, somewhere in the mix of lab coats is a psychopath plotting diabolical evil. He’s going to sell his life’s work to the highest bidder. It isn’t always a rogue nation state or trans-national terrorist outfit with chits to burn either. All too frequently it’s that monolithic beastie called “The Government.” Today’s vehicle of peace becomes tomorrow’s weapon of mass destruction and war is made new.
Megadeth’s cult classic GEARS OF WAR may have said it best:
Smart bombs, AI- guided armament
A more sophisticated way to end up dead
Still we search and invent such intelligent weapons
That kill each other like the gears of war
(Gears of war, gears of war)
(Gears of war, gears of war)
Okay, Megadeth didn’t say it exactly that way. But you take my point. The gears of war never stop turning. Never. And, as sad as I am to say this, if human nature continues to have a say in the matter, they never will. We know the weapons are gaining intelligence and according to some futurists they’re doing so at a frightening pace. Will the gun ever outsmart the gunner? Maybe in ten years, or fifty, or in the far future. We just don’t know.
Another common trope in SF is the kick-butt soldier up against crushing odds. Perhaps a lieutenant of Marines who always gets the job done, no matter the costs. And who doesn’t love a good first contact story gone wrong? Alien invasions and total war go together like fish and Pinot Grigio. The weapons are mil spec’d to the max. The protagonist gears up with a smart weapon and a suit of battle armor Sir Lancelot would have dumped Guinevere over.
To an extent I’m describing my novel UNBREAKABLE, and my heroine – mech-suited Marine Lieutenant Promise Paen. And because you just went there, yes, Promise leaves a mass swath of carnage in her wake. She looks like a pixie and hits like Thor. Will I, in a future book, promote her to major? I’m thinking about it. For the record, she wouldn’t be the first. I wrote a blog post about the genesis of her name so I won’t go into it here. Know that I didn’t name her lightly. Life is full of great difficulty and also great hope. Life is ahead, it always is. Promise certainly believes so. This duality speaks to the core of who Promise is, and I think, it keeps her sane in spite of the hell I put her through in the book.
Having read science fiction and particularly military and militaristic SF for years, it’s hard not to notice how the soldiers who prosecute wars are easily overshadowed by the tech their lives depend upon. Sure, we all want the epic battle scenes and “Five Army” moments. That’s the flesh and bones of great mil SF. But the marrow is the characters who change and adapt and surrender themselves to the carnage of war for the love of someone else, for the love of country, or simply because of a higher call. Having grown up in a military family, I know this is true; A soldier hates war. She won’t court it and will avoid it if at all possible. But, she won’t shy away from a conflict when matters come to blows. Ask for volunteers and the soldier will boldly stand up and say, “Here I am. Send me.”
I’m always on the lookout for a great “send me” moment in SF. Strip away the tech, spike the gears of war. What’s left is the soldier, the one who volunteered, or through no choice of her own landed on the beachhead. Send her to off to war and you see her purest motives surface. When they are noble and they give her license, magic happens on the page. The story finds a soul, and on rare occasion, goes on to live forever.