Saturday, April 4, 2009

Military SF; Wheat Rust

First the MilSF-

I have a weakness for this sub-genre, so I was very pleased to see this article here in i09. Andrew Liptak gives *a* list of 'the most realistic military SF'.

Liptak does not claim military service, and while that does not prevent him from making a judgment on the realism of the works in question, it does (for me) raise the question of how he makes that determination. If it had been me, in that situation, I would have chosen a different yardstick - although I would have probably fallen back on that old and barely meaningful descriptor 'best'.

In addition, I'm not sure how useful 'realistic' is as a single yardstick for the judgment of fiction. Important? Oh, my, yes - perhaps more so for SFF than for mainstream western lit, because we are dealing with suspension of disbelief, and there is little more than careless errors of fact (or significant misconceptions of reality) to jerk the reader from the invented world of the story. And that goes double for the sort of SSF that is attempting to question reality or teach the reader - it is easiest to convince the reader/viewer of the truth of one thing when the rest of the environment is accepted as true.

And I'm on the side of more realism rather than less - I adore sense-detail in writing, and appreciate depth in world building.

But if realism was all-important, we'd not be talking about dragons and FTL, now would we? Beyond which, there are a whole slew of writing rules which advise on adjustments to reality - "truncate conversation" "real life can get away with things that fiction can't", and so forth. There are other elements of story-telling - pacing, theme, characterization (although realism in characterization can also be significant) which can draw (or lose) the reader.

Which is enough grousing, I think, about the establishment of such a list. On to recommended additions:

To his list, I would add David Drake (Counting the Cost, although any of the Slammers books would count). As others noted in the comments, it really is *odd* to see Drake not represented on that list. CJ Cherryh (Rimrunner and 'Scapegoat'; as well as some fantasy work) has proven herself well in depicting both space wars at both the strategic and the personal level. SM Stirling (Marching through Georgia - but not for the faint at heart), like David Drake, writes gritty, dirt-in-your-teeth war, both in fantasy (Snowbrother) and the earlier-mentioned Draka novels. (Again, not for the faint of heart, or those who demand political correctness from their fiction.) I think that Gordon R. Dickinson absolutely should be mentioned for his Dorsia novels, with Three for Dorsia being a favorite. His fiction tends to be be more of the bloodless sort, which is why I list Three for Dorsia. Finally, for those who would protest that all these are "old" - Tanya Huff's 'Confederation' novels are a must-read - Valor's Choice being an excellent start.

I'd also throw Lois McMaster Bujold's Shards of Honor and Barrayar on the stack, although that one is reaching a bit.

Despite my reservations, it's a good list, (nothing that includes Aliens is all bad!) with lots more options in the comments.


Wheat Rust on the Rise - I wouldn't call something that was in Africa, the MidEast, and Asia "isolated".

What is pointed out in this article - and yet was missing from a similar article I saw about a year ago - is the mention of decades-past Nobel-prize winning work on breeding rust-resistant strains of wheat.

Diseases like rust are have been with humanity since we started pulling weeds and bandaging sick sheep instead of just eating them first. It is not a struggle we can expect to win, permanently, ever. And we need every tool in the box - from under-performing 'heirloom' breeds through GM and the judicious use of vaccines, pesticides and antibiotics, on to things we don't have names for because we haven't invented them yet.

...and I'll stop there before I get on a pro-food-and-health-tec rant. The internet should be for things we are happy about, moreso than rants. *g*

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