Archives: Robert A. Heinlein

Soldiers and Science Fiction


There is a tendency to think the military comprises dour, unimaginative people of the sort who’d have no use for science fiction, fantasy, or other such frivolous nonsense. A lot of films depict soldiers as robotic, linear thinkers, programmed to follow orders without deviation.

I think most of us know better than that, right? The military has long been home to devotees of speculative fiction. Pick any large military base in the United States, then travel to the nearest town. In addition to the inevitable military supply stores, sewing shops (never short of customers needing new patches sewn on uniforms), tattoo parlors, barbershops, and bars, you will find a well-stocked game store, a comic book shop, and a used bookstore with an excellent selection of science fiction and fantasy.

Portland Film Festival

Portland film fest

Saturday afternoon I attended a panel on Science Fiction, Film, and Technology. The panel boasted a pretty good line up, including Daniel H. Wilson of Robopocalypse fame. I enjoyed the discussion. Though I was struck by the thought that I may have spent too much time reading and thinking about this stuff. Wh? Well, during the course of listening to the flow of the conversation I would conceive a thought, a reference, a quote, etc. Within the next thirty seconds to a minute, one of the panelists would vocalize that exact thought. Perhaps I’ve spent too long marinating in the sci-fi pond, or perhaps it is growing stagnant.

One of the points politely contended was if the sort of films marketed as science fiction are truly science fiction. Or are they simply films of a different genre supplied with sci-fi trappings. An interesting question. Another question, that I don’t recall being addressed iis how interested would an audience be in a film that legitimately delved into hard sci-fi, the sort of technologically driven story written by scientists and engineers with a penchant for fiction, like the OG writers from the Golden Age of science fiction. A few films do tackle sociologically driven stories. But I believe those are easier to translate to compelling film.

The final question, delivered via Twitter, asked the panelists what their favorite science fiction story was, in any medium: film, novel, short story, etc. Now that is a broad question. I don’t think I could answer it. I cordially dislike most such arbitrary quantifications. Must I have a favorite? Cannot I enjoy multiple items equally? And of course one must separate ‘favorite’ from ‘greatest’, yet another arbitrary decision. Also the question eliminates categories. I don’t like requiring to pit novels against short stories, or short stories against film, or televisions shows against novels, etc. I suppose I should toss out some ideas. Dune, I could contend, is the greatest science fiction novel. But is it my favorite? I’d probably go with an old short story, something from RAH, or Fredric Brown. Or perhaps one of Jack Vance’s short novels. How to choose? Can’t do it. Same with film. I think Inception is a terrific science fiction film. But is it my favorite? Which would I rather watch again? Inception, or something like Robocop, or Predator, or The Terminator, Aliens, or hell, even Starship Troopers?

What do you think? Any favorites?