Saturday, January 15, 2011

It's a Joke, Son

War is serious business. War between worlds has to be that much more serious. When considered in the science fictional context, of mankind arrayed against non-humankind, many authors have taken a cut at the idea, starting, of course, with the ur-War-of-the-Worlds story by H. G. Wells, published in 1898. Wells saw mankind as a victim of circumstance. Our position was precarious, not in any way privileged. There was no deity to protect us - in fact, Wells makes it a point to dismiss divine intervention. In the end what saves humanity is the lowly bacterium. Mankind was saved not by providence but by nature.

James Tiptree's classic The Screwfly Solution (1977, written as Racoona Sheldon), turns the tables. Humanity is not saved. Instead, the alien invaders devise a bio weapon that causes men to violently turn on women when it infects them.

Pournelle and Niven tell the story in a different light in their novel Footfall (1985). The enemy comes in the shape of anthropoid elephants who are unprepared for the possibility that they might be defeated. Their technology appears to be found or stolen, and their incomplete understanding dooms them in the end when the much more inventive humans unexpectedly leap out of their gravity well to attack them in orbit.

This idea of manifest destiny is actually fairly common in the upbeat strains of SF. Harry Turtledove uses it in his stories starting with In the Balance (1994). In that story the invading aliens are much more conversant with the issues that arise from conquering other alien beings, but they aren't counting on the humans' amazing inventiveness. As in Footfall these stories suggest reasons for human success rooted in human nature.

David Brin's Uplift War stories (starting with Sundiver, 1980), also suggest a manifest destiny for us. All other aliens in the universe seem to have been produced by uplift, the intervention in their species' evolution by already advanced beings. Only humans appear to have evolved entirely on their own. Brin is clearly having some fun at the expense of proponents of intelligent design.

Which brings me to one of the latest stories about war between mankind and alien invaders. David Weber's story Out of the Dark (2010) starts out ordinary enough. Aliens with advanced technology want to conquer the Earth. To their surprise they discover, upon returning some 600 years after the initial survey, that humans have advanced to our present stage, with access to computers and nuclear power: two or even three times faster than any other species they know of. Even though their charter for colonization would exclude a technologically advanced culture, they decide to proceed, hoping that human inventiveness will become an asset to their empire. They start by dropping large rocks from space on all human capitals, military installations, and surface fleet. However, humanity refuses to submit. Weber describes a struggle between an increasingly incredulous alien force and their desperate and furious human opponents. Our warlike nature makes us dangerous and inventive when we feel cornered and have nothing left to lose. Humans decimate the alien invaders, destroying large sections of their military in pitched battles, and much more in a running guerilla war.

But in the end, none of that appears to be enough. Defeat seems imminent. The aliens have realized that they cannot defeat mankind by conventional means, and plan to release a bio weapon to destroy all of us. What are you going to do now, wise guys?

Well, we send in our vampires, of course.

You heard me right. Vampires, led by the original badass himself, Dracula. It apparently isn't at all difficult for a vampire to penetrate military bases secured with electrified fences and remote sensors and trained warriors armed with the latest in alien killing technology. They can't be killed by ordinary weapon fire, in any case. Once inside, the vampires can kill all of the aliens. Then they go to the next base and do it again. Eventually the aliens try running away, and the vampires hold on to the outside of the fleeing shuttles and destroy the space fleet, as well. Now the vampires are on their way to punish the rest of the galaxy for the way they treated us humans.

That has to be joke, right? But, sadly, the story shows no sign of campiness. Weber's description of the violence is in all cases earnest, going into pornographic detail on the cost and capabilities of every damn piece of weaponry used in his story. This is a guy who knows his killing machinery inside and out, and he isn't at all embarrassed about sharing all of that in excruciating detail. I found myself skimming past many pages, trying to get past the loving descriptions of this or that hardware to where the story actually took up again. I was fully prepared for any kind of development, including a Screwfly Solution type ending.

But I wasn't prepared for vampires.

Anyway, if you like your military conflicts you might just enjoy a good part of this story. I didn't. The bits that I did enjoy were few and far between, and the vampires, they, well, let's say they surprised me.

Is this all that Meyers woman's fault?


At 5:28 AM, Blogger Edward Ecklund said...

Sounds dreadful. I almost see how erotic vampires can have a subliminal appeal to the romatically developing or deprived, but to burgeoning or frustrated technowarriors? Feels like a desperate attempt to be contemporary and reminds me of bad toupees, combovers, and old ladies wearing miniskirts.


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