I just found out that one of science-fiction’s greatest authors, Dr Jerry Pournelle passed away today at the age of 84. He was without a doubt a giant in his field, an intellect that outstripped almost every other writer of his time, and a storyteller without peer. Dr Pournelle was also the one who introduced me (and no doubt every other mil scifi author writing today) to the military science fiction genre with his John Christian Falkenberg stories. The very first mil scifi story I read as a teen was his novel West of Honor. From that day on, I was hooked. Pournelle’s CoDominium universe became a major influence on my scifi reading tastes, and decades later, on my own writing. Without Dr Pournelle’s influence, Zack Decker and Siobhan Dunmoore wouldn’t exist, and neither would Eric Thomson.
Rest in peace, sir.
Military science-fiction writers create worlds of conflict and death. We create villains that must be vanquished and heroes that do the smiting. Sometimes, if not often, we might even spend time examining the fate of those caught between the villains and the heroes. What I scribble is designed to be pure escapism for the most part, to take readers out of the mundane and give them a few hours where they don’t have to deal with their lives and the world around them. I don’t do message-laden fiction, nor do I comment on the current state of humanity, other than perhaps very obliquely and only for the benefit of those who catch those subtle passages.
Then, horrors like the terrorist attacks in Paris occur and once over the initial rage at the barbarism of the perpetrators, one is tempted to either move away from writing about violence altogether (which pretty much defeats the basis for most fiction, which is built on some sort of conflict) or using one’s pen (keyboard?) to pursue those evildoers in an imaginary world, under a thinly cloaked disguise to make them fit into a distant future where humans still carry the old hatreds and some still worship death in a most primitive form.
Do readers really want to see the worst of the present day reflected in fiction about a future which, although imperfect, should have seen humanity evolve? Wouldn’t it be depressing to think that our descendents five centuries from now are still fighting the same ideological and religious battles, or have found new ones to replace them? Strife, once contained to a single planet or parts thereof spreading across a chunk of the galaxy? I suppose many do. Evil will not change – it hasn’t for the last few millennia, why should the next few be any different? Reading about the good guys annihilating bad guys that sound and look like our present day barbarians can be immensely satisfying, cathartic even. I’ve read a few stories in exactly that vein and enjoyed them. Funnily enough however, I have hard time orienting my stories onto that particular path. I seem to prefer keeping my tales disassociated from present day ideologies and conflicts, with the exception of those surrounding the lust for power, which will no doubt remain universal until the death of the universe.
My heart goes out to the victims of this latest outrage and, even though I wish it wouldn’t be so, I know they’re not the last by a long stretch. Humans will always find ways to kill each other in job lots over just about any excuse imaginable. The fact that I enjoy a modest success as a writer by exploiting our propensity for conflict through my novels does give me pause on days like today.