The first thing to remember when adapting military history to science fiction is you cannot portray warfare as it actually is. Warfare is too brutal, too cold, too horrific, too insane for full portrayal in any fiction. Even after all the fiction written about the world wars, the Spanish Civil War, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and the War on Terror, you just can’t quite capture the reality of warfare. And it’s a good thing you can’t, too.
Why is that a good thing? It’s because war is the ultimate destruction of civilization, of humanity, and of individual humaneness. Even the greatest war novel ever written, “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque, a German soldier who really fought on the Western Front in World War One, cannot portray all the terror and death and hate and fear and destruction of warfare. It is impossible to share it in fiction because the experience is too individual, too unique, too personal, too frightening and horrible.
I, for one, do not wish to fully show the horrors of war in my stories. In my novel, “Sky Knights”, I come as close as I can. My lead character, First Lieutenant Hector Crossman, is horrified by an alien atrocity against a female human prisoner that he witnesses through a remote probe. It disturbs him and drives into hatred for the enemy and a desire to kill them all so his friends, his fellow fighter pilots, may not fall into the creatures’ clutches.
As he falls deeper into darkness, suffering from fear and hatred and the horrors of war, he begins driving his friends away, even his lover, Lieutenant Lisa Mauros. He begins to hate his friends; his desire to protect them has taken him to the brink of insanity and he blames them for that.
I can show the horrible images of warfare, and I do show it in “Sky Knights”, as I also do in my new novel, “Chaos Company”, about Marines fighting to save the same world that Hector Crossman fights to save. I don’t show a lot of the grittiness, though. I don’t want my stories to be lost in the gore and horror of war. War brings out the worst in humanity, but also often brings out the best. The best includes self-sacrifice for friends, courage, honor, integrity, and the almost instant construction of everlasting friendships that take years to create in the civilian world.
I write about the men and women who fight in war. It’s the people who make fiction interesting and soldiers are no exception to that rule. So, for me, war isn’t so much about the glory (which is fleeting and often false) as the relationships and the people. I cannot be too realistic and authentic because my stories would then be a million words long, rather than just a tenth of that length.