Subgenre: Military Science Fiction

Fanatic red lights rhythmically illuminate the bustling cargo bay as a siren billows. Loudly signaling the impending doom of the grey helmeted future soldiers pouring across the cargo bay to lock into their dropship seats. The symphony of organized chaos culminates in a sudden drop of all ships from their high orbiting battle cruisers to an atmospheric free fall to fight an enemy never seen or heard from. The rookie’s eyes widen as they hear their fellow soldiers explode in nearby dropships . All of the advanced weapons and tactical nuclear devices they carry can’t help unravel the knot in their gut as the free fall slows, lands, and releases them on a distant and unknown planet far from earth.

The great “Klendathu Drop” scene from  one of my childhood guilty pleasures, “Starship Troopers” (1997).

As part of the continuing series of posts regarding various subgenres of science fiction, I present my personal favorite.

Military Science Fiction

It’s described by Wikipedia as:

” A subgenre of science fiction in which the principal characters are members of a military service and an armed conflict is taking place, normally in space, or on a planet other than Earth.”

To understand this genre , we must see where it began. Many consider the foundation for it set with George Chesney’s “The battle of dorking “ and H.G. Wells’  “The land of ironclads”, but these are merely precdents though. As the noble genre of Science Fiction grew with a new generation, so did the sub genres. This next generation grew with a real appreciation for and understand of sci-fi’s unique ability to transport readers to a place free from their political byists and misconceptions.

To Walk in Another’s Shoes.

This ability is a  silver bullet that service members and combat veterans need to give the public the ability to experience even a fraction of emotional complexity of being a veteran and serving in a war.

As a veteran myself,  I find comfort in reading the military sci-fi classics. It feels like sharing an experience with an old friend who understands. It may be on a distant world or eons into the future, but the emotions, struggles and human nature are very much the same.

One author who is considered by many to be the father of military science fiction and understood it’s unique ability is Robert Heinlein. With his novel “Starship Troopers” (1958, very different than the film) he painted a word and conflict that soldiers to this day can identify with. Joining up for the wrong reasons then slowly falling in love with the endless toil, fighting in a war that the public doesn’t understand nor seem to care about, a sense of belonging to something greater than you are. Speak to any returning soldier about such issues and they can identify immediately.

Military science fiction literature exploded in the 20th century with the soldiers returning from the Second World War, Korean War and War in Vietnam. Each War bringing a different type of grittiness and /or complexity to the genre.

Some examples of  Military Sci-Fi:

Unfortunately the format of military science fiction doesn’t lend itself incredibly well to film as many military sci-fi stories require a somewhat more uncompressed storyline

Film :
Alien

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Starship Troopers

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Battle: LA

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Television

Battlestar Galactica

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Star Trek

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Books

The Forever War

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Starship Troopers

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Orphanage

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Video Games

Halo

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Command & Conquer

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StarCraft

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Throughout these examples there are a few themes that remain constant. The obvious, military values such as bravery, duty and sacrifice. These values often times coming into conflict with other themes throughout the story.  This being a subcategory of moral philosophy, another major theme in mil-sf are Questions such as “The morality of first strike on an enemy”, “Using soldiers as fodder”, “Should those that protect society (veterans) be the only ones to be allowed to influence the policy of that society?”. Which bring us into another common theme: The extremes of human nature. This genre is chock full of the greatness of human nature in the face of evil. Conversely, it’s also full of examples of the horrible ability of humans to inflict atrocities upon themselves and others.

As a veteran, of course I have not choice but to place this as my personal favorite genre. But it’s my strong opinion that Military science fiction can provide emotion complexity and an honesty that most other subgenres can’t touch.

Post Scriptus:

I have to give mad respect to the Live Action Commercial for Halo: ODST. It’s exactly as how I would imagine it, to the detail. Here it is:

[youtube=http://youtu.be/3S5I0_hjS3c]

- Brandon M. Brevard

[polldaddy poll=4271469]

The Direction of Sci-Fi: Promising Talent Emerges Behind The Camera Puts A Bold Vision In Front Of It

Any genre of any medium is defined by the people who work within it. Certain visionaries contribute works which can mold, shape, change, and alter how a genre is viewed and the artistic direction it takes. In the realm of science fiction film, there are certain names which stand out. George Lucas is probably the first name which jumps to mind for most people. Another is Steven Spielberg. His films are more mainstream than the offerings from other science fiction greats such as Stanley Kubrick or Andrey Tarkovskiy, but he has helped popularize the genre among average movie-goers.

But that’s the past. Who is the future in sci-fi direction? A few names stand out.

Duncan Jones landed on the sci-fi stage last year when he showed up at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival with ‘Moon’, a gritty, hard sci-fi vehicle for Sam Rockwell who stars as a one man mining crew on the far side of the moon, with only the station’s robotic aide, GERTY, voiced by Kevin Spacey, to keep him company. The film begins as his multi-year stint is coming to an end, only for his reality to come crashing down around him in this exploration of the ethics of science and human nature. Dark, brooding, and thoughtful, ‘Moon’ won critical praise and the Best British Independent Film award at the BAFTAs. The film was also the director’s first. With raw talent, and an artist’s eye, Duncan Jones seems destined for great things. His next two films are science fiction; ‘Source Code’, staring Jake Gyllenhaal, and ‘Mute’, a Blade Runner tribute which takes place in near-future Berlin.

"Moon" (2009)

Alfonso Cuarón came to our attention with the 2007 film adaption of ‘Children of Men’. Considered by many to be an instant classic, it tells the story of Theo Feron, played by Clive Owen, who becomes the unlikely guardian of humanity’s future in this dystopia in which women can no longer become pregnant and much of the world has fallen to chaos, civil war, and terrorism. The movie won critical praise, garnered a slew of awards nominations, and gave Cuarón instant credibility with sci-fi fans everywhere. Of particular note is the director’s editing skills and penchant for long shots of unbroken action which can lead single takes into lasting several minutes.  His next project is a science fiction film titled ‘Gravity’, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, and is a survival tale in which their space station is destroyed and they seek a return home. True to Caurón’s nature, rumor has it that the opening shot of the movie will be twenty minutes long.

Neill Blomkamp, a South African director of music videos and television commercials, released his debut feature film in 2009 titled ‘District 9′. Starring a cast of largely unknown actors, it ostensibly tells the story of an alien species, marooned in Johannesburg and herded into a slum concentration camp, and their on going mistreatment by humans, including the film’s protaganist, Wikus van de Merwe, brilliant played by Sharlto Copley. More broadly, this movie is a study of discrimination, racism, and social isolation; all themes with which South Africa is well acquainted. ‘District 9′, a hit with critics and at the box office, was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Blomkamp, who is a fan of documentary style, hand held camera work, is in pre-production on his next movie, a science fiction film titled ‘Elysium’. Little is known about the plot, other than that it will take place 150 years in the future on another planet, will be violent, and also a socio/political study like ‘District 9′. Sharlto Copley is already attached as an actor, and Matt Damon is currently in negotiations to also star.

J. J. Abrams is not exactly up-and-coming. He has been heavily involved in the sci-fi genre over the past decade, creating, producing, and writing the widely loved television series Alias and Lost. Only recently, however, has he taken the director’s chair and directed his second feature film, the successful ‘Star Trek’, in 2009. A reboot of the much loved franchise,

J.J. Abrams on the set of "Star Trek" (2009)

‘Star Trek’ returns to the original characters from the 1960s television series and begins the story anew. The movie was loved by critics and pulled in $385 million dollars at the box office, guaranteeing a sequel film which J. J. may direct as well. Currently he has just finished directing his third feature, another science fiction movie ‘Super 8′. True to Abram’s secretive character, plot details are scarce, but it is believed to be about an alien-invasion. The film is slated for a June 10, 2011 release.

Joseph Kosinski directed the recent ‘Tron: Legacy’, a sequel to the classic fluorescently-lit ‘Tron’, about a computer programmer’s creation of a digital world, ‘The Grid’, which ends up taking on a life of it’s own. The movie, which generated a lot of excitement and hype, has been very popular with fans of the original movie and is visually stunning. ‘Tron: Legacy’ was only Kosinski’s first film, and has established him as a talent to watch in science fiction. His next movie stays within the genre, as it will be a remake of the 1979 Disney movie ‘The Black Hole’. The original film was Disney’s most expensive at the time and, considering how much money they put into producing and marketing ‘Tron: Legacy’, we can be sure that Kosinski will have plenty of resources at hand when directing his next film.

These directors above, and others like them, are the future of science fiction film. This crop has potential and drive, and provides us with optimism that, at a time when studios are only interested in big budget, dumbed-down movies which can sell tickets, solid films are still being made. Sci-fi is in good hands.

- S. Brown