I've always liked science fiction and also like military SF. I also used to to play war games that came with hundreds of cardboard counters on paper maps so I'm used to big fat rule books of minutia. Having said that I did not realize how big of a gulf there is between the main SF genre and the military SF sub-genre AND the gulf between anime fans and mecha anime fans. I kind of stepped into the middle of no mans land by trying to write good SF mecha stories with inspiration from mecha anime. So I write in a grey area for two sub-genres and try to mix them. Hmmm... Don't think I'm selling a million copies here, but it is something I want to finish just to tell a good story.
Two years ago I started blogging again (see Tokyo Excess for Japanese pop culture) and then started writing again with Exocrisis Blue six months later. I've been somewhat successful with both endeavors, but I'm not giving up my day job any time soon as a business analyst:
- My Tokyo Excess blog has about 450 page views a day right now, not tons, but not a little either. I like Japanese pop culture and it is a good complementary mix with my other writing which is real military SF with an anime-inspired mecha element.
- I've sold hundreds of copies of HARM and Raid on Kahamba, and gave away about fifteen hundred copies or so as promos. I've been pretty explicit about it being military SF with mecha so people don't slam you for something they don't like (e.g. I don't like big robots or I thought this was a romance).
- I'm also continuing the Exocrisis Bue story with two short novels about the Neo-Ace Academy to train the next generation of super mecha pilots. I'm about halfway through the first novel right now, and you can see the draft of the novel at Wattpad here. Follow me there if you want to show support for my writing. The best place to follow me in general is on my twitter feeds. I update the Tostzilla feed the most.
Military SF is the writing of David Drake (Hammer's Slammers), Keith Laumer (Bolo), David Weber (Honor Harrington), H.G. Wells (War of the Worlds), Heinlein (Starship Troopers), etc. I'm not going into a detailed analysis, but it has to have a heavy military element obviously or focus on military operations. You'll see that my categorization is broad is it starts to quickly includes more general SF after point 1 below too.
This genre comes in three main flavours to me:
- Combat oriented. It is all about the fight, the men, the machines. It's gritty, there's blood and circuits everywhere. I'm fighting to just see tomorrow and the honour of the regiment. I think many fans of the genre are in this boat. Bolo falls in this category along with Hammer's Slammers. The Star Carrier series is a recent one in this genre, along with The Lost Fleet series, but I think both of these entertaining series worked well as they were space naval with fleets and some politics, so not super small unit operations.
- Political / Social. Military is mentioned, there might be a description about Operation So-and-So. The main story is about power structures, machinations between political bodies and alien races, and it could be generational. Grunts die, but that's war, lets focus on other things. Foundation by Asimov is in this category.
- Combination. There is a big political or social back story to the fight. What are we really fighting for? There's combat in space, on the ground, and in the political or business arena. Most space opera sits in this one such as David Weber's Harrington series, Mike Shepard's Kris Longknife series, and Peter F. Hamilton's works (e.g. Reality Dysfunction).
Observations About Mecha Anime
For non-anime fans out there I'm just going to say that anime / manga is a big genre that ranges from mysteries, romance, historicals, all the way to SF. It isn't just for kids and teenagers, but much of it is oriented at the youth market. In Japan, it is huge, and the closest thing to it in North America is the young adult fiction genre that sells really well right now too. Often the stories are simpler, but they have appeal, and are not over encumbered with a ton of story baggage. There is plenty of good anime science fiction and in fact, the Japanese are often better at futuristic depictions than our own television and movie industries (although this maybe changing with the current generation of shows and movies). As for mecha anime, this is a fairly popular sub-genre, and it has mainstream support in Japan, but not worldwide.
Mecha anime flavours.
- Big robots / giant mecha. You've all heard about this trope that is comprised of the Iron Giant, Mazinger, Pacific Rim, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Getter Robo, Gunbuster, etc. This is the super robot category where the pilots tend to be hot blooded, call out their robot's signature attacks like a Hong Kong action flick, and the robots are super-awesome with amazing powers and abilities. Who wouldn't want to drive a giant robot?
- Real robot. This is the more realistic type of robot that is not usually at large as the giant robot, but still big, and they behave more like real machines. Macross, Gunparade, Full Metal Panic, Gundam all fall in this category. Still about the robots, but with a wider range of stories.
- Futuristic anime with robots. This is often just science fiction anime. This is the future where man and machine work together and it could be more like a technothriller. Shows like Ghost in the Shell, Gundam 00 (this one is a real robot, but the story begged to be in this category), Patlabor, Bubblegum Crisis, Votoms, Burst Angel, Yukikaze (coming soon with Tom Cruise), Appleseed, etc.
Some additional reading about Anime SF / Mecha Anime:
- Six Favourite Real Robot Anime Mecha
- Science Fiction and Anime Connections (サイエンスフィクションとアニメの接続)
- Six Favourite Science Fiction Anime
- Giant Gundam Statue in Tokyo From My Travelogues
- Pacific Rim and Six Favourite Giant Mecha / Robot Anime
Now that I have discussed the two types of genres that I'm writing under you can see that there is commonality in the 3rd category between mecha anime and military SF where the stories tend to be broader and can appeal to a wider audience. I don't think there is a great deal of crossover in audiences though. You tend to be in one camp and never see the other as far as I can tell - maybe not enough press or something. This is the same idea as serious literature folk not reading SF, but with less of a gulf. However, these sub-genres tend to have avid fans too, so I don't think there is a great deal of general support for something outside type of story you like based on what I've read or seen. I'm hoping my stories appeal to a wide fan base myself as I've enjoyed both types of genres and hopefully I've shed a bit of light on this subject so others do too if they do not already do so.
Resources for Military SF
- I started a thread over at Reddit to discuss my post on Science Fiction Infantry here. Lots of opinions and good ideas. Heated too. Basically, the premise was why are science fiction infantry so under armed? Why are their weaponry, equipment and tactics not better than late 20th century infantry in most writing that happens now?
- Politics and Military SF
- About Military SF (an essay)
- Describing What Military SF Is
- Hunters in the Dark (about spaceship combat and weapon systems - a good read)
- An interesting article about Aircraft Carriers in Space
- Autonomous Weapons - Drones on their own.
- Get Ready, the Autonomous Drones are Coming