Today is Veterans Day here in the United States. It’s also celebrated as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in other parts of the world in memory of the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. Regardless of which country you’re from, today is a sacred day where we recognize the sacrifice men and women in the armed forces, and their families, make to keep us safe. So from me, to all of you, thank you. Seriously.
To commemorate the day, I thought I’d put together a list of five of the best Science Fiction & Fantasy reads that give us an insight into what our soldiers go through. Sure, you’d be better off reading All Quiet on the Western Front or Dispatches, but we like our SFF, right? Without further ado:
Where most war novels are about the conflict, or the individual, Abercrombie’s latest novel is about the ties that bind the men and women together on the front lines. The brotherhood in arms is on full display here. He also grapples with concepts of bloodlust, cowardice, and ambition. Craw’s story is particularly difficult to read as an aging veteran who can’t walk away. His obligation to his commanding officers and his squad are the excuses he uses to justify continuing to do the only thing he’s ever been good at.
I’m sure you’re saying, “No shit, Justin.” And you’re right. Forever War is about as obvious as it gets in this category, but that doesn’t make it any less true. This is sort of the seminal novel of military science fiction. Haldeman tells his futuristic war story through the lens of his experiences in Vietnam. It’s about the institutional support to produce productive soldiers, but the lack of same for those who return home alive. It’s also a pretty killer early hard science fiction novel that looks at what faster-than-light travel really means.
Rarely have I been so moved by a novel as I was reading McCarthy’s debut. Germline is about an embedded reporter who finds himself broken by war, subsequently addicted to it, and his journey to rebuild himself on the other side. Despite some first time author hiccups, McCarthy writes with an emotional rawness that screams, ‘I know what I’m talking about.’ Although not a Veteran himself, the author is a former CIA analyst and has suffered from PTSD. All of that adds up to it being the most personally poignant “war” novel I’ve ever read in genre fiction.
First of all I steadfastly refuse to ever make a list on this blog that doesn’t include a Parker novel. So there’s that. Beyond that, this is the 10,000 foot level war novel. It’s not about war really at all. It’s mostly about economics and politics, but that’s what going to war is all about, or at least that’s part of what Parker is trying to say. Pessimistic perhaps, but a reality more often than any of us would like to admit. Parker is talented writer of the highest order, and all of those powers are on full display here.
Alright, so this is kind of cheating since it’s really 10 books, but no one asks questions like Erikson does. His books explore the human condition better than any others I’ve read in genre fiction. From Deadhouse Gates where Erikson reminds us that there are things worth fighting for that are bigger than ourselves, to The Crippled God where he shows that sometimes the only thing we have to fight for is each other, I can’t think of a better message to send on Veterans Day.
Honorable Mentions: Gates of Fire by Stephen Pressfield (not SFF), Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole (hasn’t been released)
What did I miss? I’d love to hear feedback on what everyone else thinks would make for great Vet Day reads.