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War is still a ripe subject for fiction. It has been a constant part of the human existence since there were nations. For six thousand years, we've glorified it, hated it, resolved ourselves to it. There's no reason to expect it will go away any time soon, and it's no wonder that war is a common theme in science fiction.

A couple of years back, Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers made a big splash with its interesting take on interstellar combat and the character of patriotism. It was a jingoistic piece that I'm sure resulted in a small spike in enlistments. Gordy Dickson's war novel Dorsai also came out in in 1959. Dorsai was a fairly straightforward war story of a genius mercenary with the temperament and training to become a renowned general. Like Troopers, it was a runner up for the 1960 Hugo (Troopers won).



Both are what I'd call "typical" of the genre. I find it interesting how often war is positively portrayed: exciting, filled with tales of cunning, guts, and derring-do. I suppose it's because World War Two was a "good" war. Democracy vs. Tyranny with clear villains to fight. Sure, we lost some of our boys, but we made the world safe again. And so we have a stream of war movies which are by turns dramatic, gripping, even comedic, but rarely overtly anti-war. A Walk in the Sun, a candid film that even included a portrayal of battle fatigue in the midst of action, is one of the few exceptions.

Pacifist sci-fi novels have been similarly rare. Given the nature of Dickson's Dorsai, I was thus surprised (and delighted) to see that his recent Naked to the Stars, serialized over the last to months in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, is a thoughtful and engaging anti-war book.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)

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