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Raymond's Reviews #162

%T There Won't Be War
%E Harry Harrison
%E Bruce McAllister
%D November 1991
%O paperback, US$3.99
%P 309
%G ISBN 0-812-51941-8

The title of this anthology is a well-deserved jab at Jerry Pournelle's bloody-minded and bombastic "There Will Be War" anthologies. Unfortunately, this theme anthology of anti-war SF is otherwise distinctly third-rate, even if you don't share the reviewer's distaste for the tiresome political correctness of most of the stories (and how I laughed at Harrison's bald claim in an Afterword that there "never was a physical threat" from the Soviets -- the only nation in history with nuclear weapons targeted at U.S. cities).

Lewis Shiner's When The Music's Over (RR#120) was a far better and more original exploration of this territory. This one has to fill out its pages with recycled material like William Tenn's The Liberation Of Earth from 1953 --- an excellent story, and perhaps worth picking up the anthology used if you've never read it, but it's not a good sign when such a piece is perhaps the strongest single story in an anthology that's advertised on the strength of its new material.

Then there's J.G. Ballard's "Terminal Beach" from 1964, often credited with being the story that started the New Wave. What it's doing in this volume I can't fathom, since it not only fails to be about war and peace but fails to be about, as far as I've been able to tell, anything at all but Ballard's decadent obsession with literary artsiness. For a decade afterward it looked as though Ballard's followers might remake SF in their image. But that battle is long ago over, and (thank Goddess) the New Wave lost.

Actually, the whole anthology has that kind of an archaic, quaint feel to it, as though many of the participants are bent on refighting old battles in a world that's passed them by. They're as much prisoners of the anti- Establishment's view of the Cold War as the most neanderthal right-wingers were of the Establishment mythology. When even the Russians have rejected "moral equivalence" and condemn their own Communist past with a fervor matching any American conservative's, the pious leftism reflected here can't help looking a bit silly.

In some of these stories, this recapitulation achieves a surreal kind of unintentional humor. Consider Kim Stanley Robinson's Lucky Strike, an earnest tale of an alternate history in which the bombardier on LeMay's mission to incinerate Hiroshima intentionally misses, and when he is shot for disobeying orders becomes a martyr to an ultimately successful nuclear-disarmament movement. One's jaw drops in astonishment; Robinson, in effect, asks us to consider the chance that pacifism might have led to a happy outcome superior to the decisive economic and ideological victory that a "war-mongering" strategy of confrontation gave the West in the real world. Clearly, Robinson has observed the end of the Cold War without grasping the shambles that end makes of his own belief system --- we did not after all, perish in a Strangelovian thermonuclear fire.

The same bemusing naivete runs through most of this anthology, and most of it in stories not nearly so well-written as Robinson's. Robert Sheckley's "There Will Be No More War After This One" ends with an assertion that the spoils of war never defray the costs --- but if the broadly farcical tone of the story didn't undercut that conclusion, history certainly would.

In the end, the lesson of this anthology (if there's a lesson at all) seems to be the same one history teaches. Peace is too difficult a craft for most self-declared pacifists; as a group, they lack the tough-mindedness and ethical sophistication needed to end war. And that is a shame.

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Mon Feb 10 17:13:34 EST 1992

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>