The question has floated up over the past few days vis-a-vis the discussions about the list of candidates for the 2014 Hugo award. One nominee in particular has garnered much opprobrium because of his personal views and his somewhat abrasive style of not suffering fools, the proudly ignorant, or both. The gist of the opposition to this individual is that because his views on certain topics are Beyond a particular Pale, his works are contaminated and should be shunned. The most extreme argue that anyone on the same award ballot is likewise tainted, no matter what their personal beliefs or writing skills and style are.
I picked up a new research book today, and found an unusual, well, disclaimer is not the right word. An odd comment at the end of the acknowledgments caught my eye. The book is about the history of military technology between 1350-1600 more or less, and I got it because I need to know more about early gunpowder and gunpowder weapons. The paragraph is a brief meditation on the influence of warfare on the research historian, and wondering if immersion in the topic can influence a writer’s perspective, pulling the historian into (in this case) the mindset of the men of the time, which was pragmatic to brutal. The author doesn’t believe it can, but he cautions that historians of war should avoid glorifying it, something I suspect anyone with any experience of warfare would most heartily concur with.
Which set me to thinking, because I latched on to military history and military science fiction (mil-sci-fi) in my early teens and have never let go. Has this interest molded me in some way, or did something already innate in my personality respond to the material? ‘Tis a curious question.
I grew up in a family with several members who had served in the US armed forces (Navy/Marines, Army Air Corps, Army). I read military history from the time I was in my early teens, mostly naval history moderated by large doses of the Bantam Press accounts of various individuals, campaigns, and units. Forester’s The Good Shepherd and MacLean’s H.M.S. Ulysses showed me what leadership and duty could lead to. I watched movies such as Twelve O’ Clock High, Away All Boats, Operation:Petticoat, The Enemy Below, Tora Tora Tora, and whatever else was on (Richard Chamberlin is a magnificent Cardinal Richelieu, by the way.) I planned on a military or diplomatic career, despite being short, female, unenthusiastic about exercise, and short-sighted.
Then I stumbled into mil-sci-fi and found “my people.” First came the Dorsai books. Then David Drake and Hammer’s Slammers (giant hovering tanks! Yeah!), and the Falkenberg novels. From there I nibbled my way into Keith Laumer’s Bolo and Retief books, Elizabeth Moon, and others. I started writing vaguely mil-sci-fi stuff, most of which has long since vanished into the burn bin. In grad school, a friend introduced me to David Weber, I found Tom Kratman on my own, and only recently started reading the Freehold books. They all resonate for some reason.
I do not consider myself an especially militaristic individual. I support a few veterans’ organizations, I believe that sometimes a good offense helps greatly reduce, if not prevent, the need for a good defense, and if someone wants to ambush a few of the [redacted] VA employees in Phoenix who buried “bad” scheduling problems and contributed to people dying, I won’t look too closely into the alley. War should be the last resort, always, but if the bad guys want it, I believe we (the good guys, all of us) should be capable of granting that desire. I also believe in personal self-defense, which includes being aware of situations and surroundings so I can get the h-ll out of Dodge before I need to defend myself.
Am I what I write? I’m not Rada Ni Drako, although I share a few traits with her. I’m not Elizabeth von Sarmas, despite agreeing that when someone says, loudly and often, that they want to kill you, you should take them seriously. I’ve never served in the military despite trying repeatedly to enlist. So I’m not what I write, maybe. Then again, neither is the lovely local Baptist preacher’s wife who writes horror that would make Stephen King leave a 100 Watt nightlight on.
My books don’t preach my politics and vice versa. I would not want to live on ColPlat XI in Elizabeth’s time, not even in the Eastern Empire or the Sea Republics. The caste-based meritocratic aristocracy of Drakon IV is great if you are born a male of the upper castes, or your parents scrimp and save to buy you enough extra protein that you grow large enough to rise into the next caste, or they find a way for you to get a superior education. I don’t expect readers to see my politics in my books, although they probably figure out that I’m not a fan of involuntary collectivism. Nationalist oligarchies also turn me (and Rada) off. Neither do I care for totalitarian systems of any flavor. But I may write about them, and I may have characters who love being of the right caste and income bracket to enjoy the fruits of everyone else’s labors.
Please don’t assume my books are my politics, or vice versa. Unless I lard the book with so much message, any message, that the story dies, in which case judge away.