The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Our Own Corner Of The Library

Posted on | May 28, 2013 | 107 Comments

— by Wombat-socho

I’ve been a science fiction reader for most of my life, starting with a copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time I was given in second grade and continuing on through Robert Heinlein’s juvenile novels to Asimov, Silverberg and other grand masters. I’m old enough to remember when the artsy-fartsy “New Wave” introduced annoying literary styles and gratuitous sex to the genre, and the larger cultural change that made science fiction and fantasy acceptable – no longer something to be sneered at by critics or your classmates.
We’re now at a point where, as Thomas Disch remarked, “we’ve won the culture war”, and millions of people line up to pay perfectly good money to see a movie that reboots a TV series that was originally a ratings failure – but a cult classic.

What’s interesting to me is that with occasional exceptions, SF has largely been dominated by socialist or technocratic futures, mostly because it’s been written by authors who want to write about such futures either because they’re inclined that way (Isaac Asimov) or explicitly socialists (John Brunner, Charles Stross). One subgenre of SF, though – and one publishing house in particular that specializes in that genre – tends to be dominated by conservative and libertarian writers, much as country music tends to be dominated by singers and bands unafraid to express their patriotism and love of country. I’m referring, of course, to combat SF, from which Baen Books has made a fair amount of money. One might almost consider Baen the Fox News of SF publishing: they provide a place for fiction that’s not even remotely PC enough for the other publishers.

The question I want to throw out to the readers is this: is there something about military SF that attracts conservative and libertarian authors? Does writing what you know explain why a lot of Baen’s authors who write in this subgenre are veterans? Where do technothrillers fit into this? Why doesn’t Baen have a booth at CPAC? 😉


107 Responses to “Our Own Corner Of The Library”

  1. keyboard jockey
    May 28th, 2013 @ 1:10 pm

    I am a big Frank Herbert, Dune fan, all the books up to when his son took over writing them after his death, and as you said, added all the gratuitous sex.

  2. Old rod
    May 28th, 2013 @ 1:29 pm


    I think you left our a very significant (to both be and the Law Prof in Tenn) conservative SF writer – Dr. Turtledove. Dr. T classes about half his work as SF; the rest fantasy.

    I do not like fantasy; but have been a SF reader for 60 years (I joined the Corps after reading “Starship Troopers; went to Nam and picked up (among other things 3 scars; all on the front of my body!) Dr. T has some Nevulas and Hugos.

    I would bet he voted for Ronnie in 66 (as did I)

    I am not unbaised; besides beiong a Californian I like his SF books and am a big fan thereof. Not his fantasy

    Tuirtledove is so conservative he makes: Stacy’s cousin, Mitt and the Sp[eaker of the House – all look like liberal extremises. DR. I.A would fit in with the 3 Republicans (?) above. But I liked his jbooks 60 years ago!

  3. Dianna Deeley
    May 28th, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

    Ask John Ringo, Michael Z. Williamson, or Thomas Kratmann about the CPAC booth – though I think Tom might say CPAC is too sissy for him – and then stand back. John really does like to talk, and it’s fun. You will just need to occasionally nod encouragingly. Baen publishes a lot of stuff besides the Blood on the Bulkheads stuff I read with such enthusiasm, and would probably be massively uncomfortable getting into politics.

    Not every one of the combat SF writers is conservative – I think David Drake would describe himself as libertarian, and has some definite questions about interventions. Eric Flint is a socialist (Does anyone not know that?); I don’t know how conservative Elizabeth Moon is, and I do so wish I liked her books better. I have no idea what Lois McMaster Bujold’s politics are; David Weber lately seems more interested in history than politics….huh. I need to think about this.

    There doesn’t appear to really be an over-arching political theme to Baen’s catalog. But, wow, until I started my mental review of my shelf, I hadn’t realized how far my Blood on the Bulkheads interests coincided with my politics.

  4. SDN
    May 28th, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

    You might want to add Sarah Hoyt’s blog to the blogroll.

  5. Luke
    May 28th, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

    Volunteers for the military (especially the combat arms) tend to be idealists.
    The military is a totalitarian organization that’s largely incompatible with most types of idealism.
    There’s a certain amount of friction there, and there’s a pretty hard limit on how much you can talk about it until you muster out.

    But once you do…

  6. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    May 28th, 2013 @ 2:02 pm

    Heinlien was a better writer than Asimov.

  7. MarkReardon
    May 28th, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

    I’m pretty sure Flint would be proud to be called a Wobbly. Not conservative, but definitely nobody’s pussy.

  8. Dianna Deeley
    May 28th, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

    More interesting and less repetitive, certainly.

  9. Dianna Deeley
    May 28th, 2013 @ 2:16 pm

    He at least used to refer to himself as a Trotskyist. I do not know if he’s changed that or not.

  10. richard mcenroe
    May 28th, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

    Michael Flynn writes outstanding, literate space opera that manages to avoid being kneejerk leftists, whatever his own predilections, because he respects what the material is telling him as he creates it.

  11. richard mcenroe
    May 28th, 2013 @ 2:57 pm

    That’s the point. There is no over-arching political theme to Baen, which is why the lefty litteratoors who lobby for Hugos and Nebulas but just can’t seem to sell as many books have pigeonholed them as warmongering fascists. You don’t have to oppose the party line, just not toe it closely enough,

    Remember, it’s the progs in WI who blacklisted Elizatbeth Moon (whose works I think are terrific), which is why I will have nothing to do with SF events in that state.

  12. laura_PH
    May 28th, 2013 @ 2:57 pm

    I don’t know how conservative Elizabeth Moon is in general, but I do know she took a lot of crap from the left for opposing the Islamic memorial near the Twin Towers and she stood her ground – no backpedaling, apologies “if anyone was offended” or any such nonsense.

  13. JeffS
    May 28th, 2013 @ 3:23 pm

    Other candidates for evaluation and study:

    S.M. Stirling
    Orson Scott Card
    Roland J. Green
    Jerry Pournelle
    Keith Laumer

    And, yes, I’ve read them all. Plus the others already mentioned. Like Wombat, I started out with “A Wrinkle In Time”, and went from there.

    But to answer the question: how about conservatives and libertarians have a preference for conditions where honor and duty are more important than politics and ideology?

  14. SPQR9
    May 28th, 2013 @ 3:27 pm

    You mean, because she’s written on the very topic of the original post …. 😉

  15. robcrawford2
    May 28th, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

    Moon is, apparently, at least a mindless liberal. She was shocked that her defenders were from the right.

  16. richard mcenroe
    May 28th, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

    Gal’s a Marine, even with the funny lady parts. They don’t teach them a lot of back-down.

  17. Dai Alanye
    May 28th, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

    An SF fan, eh? Yet never opened a thing by me. Remember, McC, loyalty runs both directions.

    Blood on the Bulkheads, BTW, sounds like a wonderful title and book premise all in one.

  18. Dianna Deeley
    May 28th, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

    I’ve read them all, too. I’d put most on them on the libertarian to conservative arc (excepting Pournelle, who really is too idiosyncratic to place). Laumer is too good a satirist to classify at all – what do you think?

  19. robcrawford2
    May 28th, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

    Military SF has the advantage of drawing on reality more than the utopian SF. And, like the Baen series from the 80s/90s said, “There Will Be War” — because humanity hasn’t changed.

  20. robcrawford2
    May 28th, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

    I believe Heinlein — who was a volunteer for the military AND an idealist — would explain, patiently, that the military is a special case of “lifeboat rules”. When the bullets start flying, you can’t take time to reach a consensus, and you need a recognized authority.

  21. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    May 28th, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

    S.M. Stirling is okay, but he is milking this Emberverse thing way too long. I am guessing he does not have a good ending to land that bad boy.

    Orson Scott Card and Jerry Pournelle are very good.

  22. robcrawford2
    May 28th, 2013 @ 3:42 pm

    And when Pournelle teams with Niven…

  23. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    May 28th, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

    We certainly have not changed over recorded history. And I guess those Cro Magons who painting in France were virtually identical in personalities and general behavior (as a group) as any other randomly selected band of humans today.

  24. M. Thompson
    May 28th, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

    The thing with Baen is they’re looking for people who can write.

  25. Dianna Deeley
    May 28th, 2013 @ 3:51 pm

    At least, when they’re collaborating, you get both a plot (Niven hasn’t had a plot since Ringworld *and I know I’m exaggerating, it’s for effect), and Pournelle’s characters are cardboard cut-outs who toddle through really good plots.

  26. Sarah A. Hoyt
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:04 pm

    Hi. I’m going to jump in, and I’m going to be rude — not because I mean to, but because I’m really really (really) busy today. Your post deserves a more complete answer, and I know how to give it and I’ll try to tomorrow, but for now — I’m not a mil sf writer, though I am a Baen writer. (A Few Good Men can sort of sideways be considered mil sf, but the rest is “just” pace opera.) You’ve got cause and effect a little sideways. Baen is the only house that will publish an OPEN conservative/libertarian. Which is why I only came out of the political closet when I went Baen-and-indie only. But indie gives us a chance to get past this. We’re trying very hard to create Human Wave, the response to New Wave from the sane side. Explained here: (That is the rude part, and if you want to remove the link you can. I’ll try to come by and be more thorough in answering this evening, if no other fires break out.)

  27. Wombat_socho
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:10 pm

    Not a big Turtledove fan; used to like his work but about halfway through his parallel WW2 (with the Nazi Confederates) I became convinced he was just phoning it in. Haven’t read anything of his since.

  28. Dianna Deeley
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:11 pm

    I don’t think we can blame Stacy for this thread! And, forgive me for not having known about you. Clicked your name, will read at least one of your pieces.

  29. Wombat_socho
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:12 pm

    Yeah, there was a reason I left Drake and Flint out of it, Drake because he strikes me as apolitical and Flint for the reasons you mentioned.
    Honestly, I was only kidding about the CPAC booth.

  30. Wombat_socho
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:12 pm

    Wiscon is its own particular locus of crazy, even in the left-liberal swamp of fandom.

  31. Dianna Deeley
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:13 pm

    I’d still like to be a fly on the wall if the subject were broached to some of the authors.

    BTW, thanks for a book thread!

  32. Wombat_socho
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:16 pm

    Agreed. I am currently waiting impatiently for On The Razor’s Edge to come out, and enjoyed talking to the O’Floinn this past weekend at Balticon. He’s a traditionalist Catholic, BTW.

  33. Wombat_socho
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:18 pm

    Pournelle is an old-school conservative, and yeah, he doesn’t fit neatly in anyone’s box. Laumer could do serious SF – anyone judging him just by the Retief stories is drastically underrating the man.

  34. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:19 pm

    I thought Frank Herbert did an exceptional job of thinking how societies might develop in the future. That society is hardly fluid over a 10,000 year time span is the flaw with both Herbert’s work and with Game of Thrones (which explores the same political points but without the science fiction). Yes families rise and fall, but they same feudal players remain. The reality is family dynasties never last beyond a few generations. Organizations last.

  35. Wombat_socho
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:19 pm

    This was H. Beam Piper’s central argument underlying his Terro-Human future history.

  36. Wombat_socho
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:23 pm

    Nothing rude about the link, and I appreciate your answer! I didn’t intend to imply that Baen was all about military SF, but it certainly seems to publish more of it than the other SF imprints, and it definitely has a wider variety of political thought among its authors. Looking forward to the expanded reply – feel free to do it here, or at your own blog and drop a link in the comments here.

  37. Wombat_socho
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:25 pm

    E-mail me a link to some of your stuff – and I agree about that title. Better jump on it before John Ringo grabs it for a sequel to Under A Graveyard Sky. 🙂

  38. Wombat_socho
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

    Until he stopped writing juveniles in favor of seniles, yes.

  39. Wombat_socho
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:27 pm

    For what it’s worth, a lot of folks in the military read SF, at least when I was in.

  40. Sarah A. Hoyt
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:28 pm

    On second thought, and if you don’t mind, I thought I should post this link also — it’s tangentially related but it explains why most sf is “the more left the better.” I have tomorrow’s post already scheduled, because we have an early morning vet appointment for all five cats (P. J. O’Rourke confused me when he opposed people with more than one cat to people with more than one gun… because… why not both?) but I will write an explanation on Thursday and link this post if that’s all right.

  41. Wombat_socho
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:28 pm

    The Human Wave is not quite what I’m talking about here, but is a larger grouping into which conservative & libertarian SF fits. Usually.

  42. Wombat_socho
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:30 pm

    I thought it was common knowledge that Stacy didn’t read fiction. He must be new here. 😉

  43. Wombat_socho
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:31 pm

    I may have to do this more often.

  44. Dianna Deeley
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:32 pm

    I’ve read all of Laumer. I just think his satiric edge existed at all times.

  45. Wombat_socho
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:33 pm

    With Game of Thrones, GRRM has successfully fooled thousands of people into thinking he’s writing fantasy, when in fact it’s all about a medieval society on a planet that rather obviously isn’t Earth.

  46. Wombat_socho
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:34 pm

    I didn’t see it in “Thunderhead”, The Glory Game or the Bolo stories, but clearly your mileage varied.

  47. rustypaladin
    May 28th, 2013 @ 4:44 pm

    From an interview I read I think Bujold leans left. Not to a moonbat extent, but definitly leftward. I love her Vorkosigan saga. More for Aral than Miles though. I agree that Weber is more historian than political but his fictionalization of the French Revolution doesn’t make socialists look good either.

  48. rustypaladin
    May 28th, 2013 @ 5:10 pm

    Jerry Pournelle was actually a member of the Communinist Party in the 1950’s. He certainly isn’t now. I usually try to get my liberal friends to read “Fallen Angels” or John Ringo’s “The Last Centurian” when I feel like being subversive.

  49. Richard McEnroe
    May 28th, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

    I’d look forward to reading it.

  50. Bob Belvedere
    May 28th, 2013 @ 5:48 pm

    Please do.