I said this earlier:
… and I feel like I write about this a lot:
This reversal is a familiar reusable big Kirbytech device in science fiction. I’ve written about its use in Aztec Century and The War of the Worlds. TV Tropes calls it the “persecution flip,” and it’s ubiquitous. To do it well is to show truths that are obscured by ideology, and to make them stark and visible by turning history upside down; to do it badly is to paternalistically justify that history, for example by presenting enormity as benevolent (Childhood’s End) or by presenting the reversal of enormity as even worse (Farnham’s Freehold).
… if only because of its ubiquity. I think of this shit as a kind of anti-life, a counter-sf, because it’s as intimately entangled with its other as the snakes of the caduceus.
the particular framework that I want to think and write through: the idea that the core tradition of science fiction is a literature of resistance to empire―a tradition with its early roots in, say, Kylas Chunder Dutt and Martin Delany―which refuses the hegemonic formal constraints of the mimetic novel, and eventually builds a toolkit of refusals against the three great constraints of realism: location, selfhood, and physics. And of course, the mirror-tradition with which it is inextricably entangled, the counter-science-fiction of using those same tools to magnify empire and domination instead.
The two traditions were born together, two sides of one coin. So to talk about the coin’s face instead of its repugnant ass for once, consider “Human Pilots” by J. B. Park (Strange Horizons, August 2017) for a minute, a story I had the pleasure of editing and publishing a year ago. What drew me to it is how it depicts the hollowing-out of the social role of the “war hero,” and the absence of all the things you associate with war in sff, i.e., the ways in which such stories are normally cartoonish and ridiculous, or imperialistic and jingoist, or grimdark and deathporny, or combinations thereof. I liked that “Human Pilots” instead has something to say about alienation from two angles—
First, how soldiers are used as raw material in an industrial process that they aren’t expected to understand.
Second, how it extends the separation of actor from action (and the distancing of both from mere victims) that characterizes the history of modern war.
The latter is the gap that automatic weapons, bombers, missiles, and drones have all been methodically widening over the last hundred and some years. The titular human pilots are even more alienated from the consequences of their actions than the real-life pilots of drones or bombers:
The pilots flew at such great heights they were incapable of discriminating between a Cambodian village and their targets, North Vietnamese supply lines
… so much so that in the story, they literally can’t remember what they did and what they’re responsible for.
In real life, of course, war is all about these structural unseeings, refusals to acknowledge, naked denials. Forgetting is strategic for the war criminal in front of a truth and reconciliation commission. It need not be the literary strategy of choice for the writer of war. Military science fiction is not formally required to be a litany of pathetic, awful failures. Otro mundo, as they used to say, es posible.