My question during the panel "Pew Pew! Where Have the Lasers Gone?":

"Is there any way that the disappearance of lasers from Science Fiction could be a rejection of sanitized killing?"

The panel was about the way that nobody has a good ray gun any more, they have projectile weapons and flechette rounds and explosions. And the panel had spent a lot of time discussing how laser technology in the current day had effectively de-mystified the laser gun, and people's understanding of the limitations of the technology meant that it just wasn't convincing. There was also quite a lot of the kind of weaponry discussion you get when a certain sort of fan encounters a fertile subject: "The US Military is currently [insert thing that may or may not be true, but definitely appeals to readers of Jane's Killing Machines Monthly]".

But I've been mulling over my question since, and I think it might have been related to a shift in the nature of space opera (to an extent, the shift of a section of works from "Space Opera" to "Military SF") sometime around 1970. Joe Haldeman's "The Forever War" is clearly a landmark in the area (I'm not claiming "it changed the world", but just that you can point at it as a significant feature). And that leads us, inevitably, to Vietnam. Post-Vietnam, there appears to be a more general shift away from romantic space conflict (though the roots of this clearly go earlier) and towards a level of verisimilitude (though often in only certain aspects). (1)

Recent works, even ones that might be regarded as "pro" military (for example, Tanya Huff's "Valor" series, Elizabeth Moon's "Vatta's War", or Jack Campbell's "Stark's War") tend not to portray conflict as anything other than painful and bloody, though the value conclusions that they draw from this may vary wildly. If there are laser guns, they tend to sever limbs, put burned-through holes in people, rather than just cause them to fall over decorously. Star Wars and its immediate descendants are in some ways throwbacks to the previous era (there is a long held belief that visual-media SF lags about a decade behind written) as, to a large degree, are the Star Trek family.

It's unsurprising that the c.1945-c.1960 Space Opera mirrors the action adventure works after the second world war. There's not much difference between the tone of E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman books and films such as "Flying Tigers", or "Where Eagles Dare". What's possibly more surprising is the initial leap - the same author's "Skylark" series predates the second world war, but seems to me uninfluenced by the first world war, instead harking back to H. Rider Haggard's "King Solomon's Mines".

To answer my own question: partly. If it is, then it's part of a wider movement, and the rationale behind it is more complicated.

(1) It's interesting to contrast two novels in Gordon R. Dickson's "Childe" saga - Dorsai! (1959) and Tactics Of Mistake (1971) - there's a definite difference in terms of the handling of conquest, at least.

PS. Please don't tell me you don't like space opera or milSF in the comments? It's a perfectly valid opinion but not very helpful or constructive.

From: [identity profile]

As I said at the time, I think it was a bloody good question!

I strongly suggest that you propose it (or something like it) as a panel topic for the next Eastercon. Or the next nine-worlds - either would fit.

From: [identity profile]

It was jolly nice to see you, by the way, even if only in repeated brief moments.

I might do that! [ profile] the_alchemist and I are planning to go to Nine Worlds next year.

From: [identity profile]

Grand! It was a thoroughly excellent con - I'd actually rate it higher than Worldcon in many respects.

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