July has clearly arrived, heralded here in the US (where I live) by explosions celebrating our Independence Day holiday. Fortunately (locally at least) these are essentially benign – accompanied by colored lights and coordinated with music. Fireworks, in other words. Nevertheless, my paranoid reflexes still cause me to startle at the beginning of each set of reports, and I usually find my mind wandering to places where such noises aren’t easily dismissed as holiday revelry.
War is not a pleasant, nor an easy topic to discuss. Even in the abstract, emotions run high, and often more heat than light is the result. The distance given by writing about conflict in the venue of fiction, science fiction in particular, becomes extremely valuable as a result. We can consider the alien enemies of SF at a remove great enough to allow examination of even the most emotional arguments from multiple angles and viewpoints. At the same time, the skillful author can draw on resonances with real current or past conflicts in a manner that illuminates complex situations and can aid understanding.
Our current issue offers the example of H.G. Wells’ classic War of the Worlds, in both the original and a just-released cinematic interpretation as examples of an examination of this disturbance. The longevity of the story’s popularity is a testimony to the skill with which it draws on our concerns about war and struggle between ourselves and the outsiders who seek our resources or our destruction. The outcome of events (in both versions) reaffirms the attackers are truly alien, vanquished by hubris, biology and fate.
Alas, as much as I would like to rejoice at us casting out our foes, it seems deceptively easy to accomplish. A more chilling vision (especially if you are familiar with the ideas of Fourth Generation Warfare) of alien conflict and its outcome can be found in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis stories. How much victory is there in being assimilated by a culture or by conquerors, and how much defeat? How do you fight a war when Us is (or is becoming) Them? Though lacking our beloved explosions, the latter may be the questions that matter more, in the end.