I like Twitter. A lot. I've made some really schweet connections via social media, and running into editor Andrew Liptak via Twitter when he was finalising the War Stories: New Military Science Fiction anthology with co-editor Jaym Gates was one of those strokes of good fortune. Andrew and I chatted a bit, I turned the idea over of writing military SF with my own spin on it... And I figured out my story, "Only the Void and the Stars Between". I was, of course, totally stoked when they offered.
So, to share in the happiness and bubbles of the recent release of this fabulous collection of short fiction, I've invited Andrew and Jaym over for a little Q&A to look a little deeper into what went into this book.
Welcome, Andrew and Jaym!
What is it that you love the most about the military SF genre? Understandably it's quite a specialised niche in the genre, so what were some of the characteristics you were looking for in the stories that you selected for inclusion?
What I personally enjoy is the idea of people making decisions while caught up in these major conflicts, and where we get to see how technology aids or hinders us, and how often, the role of the soldier's story changes very little from war to war (historically and in fiction.)
Jaym: I love the sort of pressure cooker of any fiction dealing with large-scale conflict. There are so many elements that most people either don't know, or don't stop to consider, and so we were aiming to bring some of those to light.
You've also aimed for diversity in the anthology. Can you give us a few examples of some of the contrasting stories and focuses?
Andrew: Well, we wanted to explore some of the non-US voices here, because conflict appears throughout the world, and people approach it differently. One great example was Rich Larson's story, "Ghost Girl", which blends some elements from Africa with a style of warfare that really doesn't mesh with how we see it in the US. Here, I really got the sense that we have a historical background that the US doesn't share, which I found fascinating to read.
Jaym: One of the things I love most about this collection is that we have several stories that probably wouldn't count as military science fiction by normal standards. Thoraiya Dyer's story is about two female snipers – both with very distinct goals and drives – and the political and social currents surrounding them in a far-future Beirut. Mark Jacobsen's main character is a woman who used peaceful means to protest war, and, after her son is killed by the occupying forces, she uses that peaceful activism to draw attention to their plight in a very vivid, horrifying way. Ken Liu's main character struggles with the ethics of war – is it better to sacrifice one, or risk losing many?
At the same time, we have James Sutter and Maurice Broaddus with full-on combat stories, and Janine Spendlove's heartbreaking look at what rescue pilots have to deal with. Taken as a whole, I think we were able to bring together a very cohesive – if necessarily quick – look at the issues that are so very relevant today.
What are some of the challenges contemporary authors face in the SF genre – especially in the face of so many changes in technology? (There is always a fear, in my opinion, that writing can date easily.)
Andrew: Specifically with military SF, it's trying to imagine how war will happen with contemporary blinders. Starship Troopers is a Korean War novel. The Forever War is a Vietnam novel. Embedded is an Afghanistan war novel, and so on. The trick to imagining future war is to understand that it'll be completely different from any past experiences we've had with war – all the while, soldiers caught up in it hold the same role as they have for thousands of years.
Jaym: We've been working on this for just about 2 years now, and in that time, there have been tremendous leaps. Several of our stories have been requested by governmental, private, and corporate interests for use in dealing with current and extremely near-future military concerns. In ten years, we may be in a society where those stories are absolutely obsolete – something that SF frequently struggles with.
However, I don't believe that all work should always be completely technologically relevant for all of the future. Sometimes it's enough for a story to be highly relevant for a year, if it changes technology or society in an important way.
And, to be honest, it is bloody terrifying to think that we've published stories that are are being used in considerations potentially involving the life and death of other people. When you're writing, be very mindful that fiction can be absolutely transformative, for good or ill, so consider your words!
For those who're planning on writing SF for the first time, what sort of tropes do you feel they should be aware of (and avoid)? What are some of the tropes that you see the most often, and what would you like to see more of?
Andrew: Again, with military SF, I think that the big trope to be aware of is how war is seen from other sides – it's predominantly seen as a sort of conquest or colonization mechanism, and a certain enthusiasm or unawareness of this comes across as championing such actions. It's also good to realize that military SF (or military actions in general) aren't inherently a liberal or conservative issue.
Jaym: PTSD is a huge one. Veterans get treated badly by media as a general rule. PTSD is portrayed as an aggressive, violent, reactionary mental illness, when it is more likely to cause extreme depression and introversion. The stigma of PTSD damages the support and recovery of people who are already fighting an uphill battle.
The glory of combat is another. It's not glorious to go to war. It's awful. And even if you make it through unscathed, you've lived with a certain stress and uncertainty that changes your perspective a great deal.
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