More than whizzbangs by Anna Butler
Science fiction has evolved, don’t you think? Once it was all about a bright future, with mankind fanning out across the universe, adventuring among the stars in a world of infinite possibility. Its roots were firmly in a time, the 60s–90s, when we (generic Western we) were still aglow with all the certainties of right and might in the world, when we thought we were the bastions of freedom and free thought. When no one had heard of climate change, or the idea of Islamic jihad, or sub-prime mortgages crashing the world’s economy. Perhaps a time when we owned it all, and we didn’t know that our enemy wasn’t something ‘out there’, but our own flawed natures.
Of course, the principles that underpin sci-fi’s history were pure white, cis, heterosexual, ‘western’ privilege. Everything back then was fine for people like me. Not so much for those who aren’t. We’ve made some strides since then, not least in enforcing laws to challenge racism, sexism, anti-lgbt and other shitty behaviours. But oh lord, have we made some regressions. Who would have thought just a decade ago that today we’d be seeing the resurgence of the far right? That the US would have a womanising anti-gay racist as a president and the voters who put him there don’t care about it? Or that, here in the UK, we’d listen to the siren song of sovereignty and isolationism and “stop those brown people coming in here!” and turn our back on co-operation and common sense? Pretty bloody depressing, if you ask me.
Well, sci-fi’s evolved alongside us. From an obsession with laser guns and space travel, it’s caught up now with all our new uncertainties. At its best, it’s about politics, society, and life. Often it’s a vision of a (near) future where all the issues about modern living that stress us so much now—politics, government, climate change, global economics, social change—have piled down onto our heads to the point where humans are brigaded into smaller, more confined societies where the daily struggle is survival, and everything we are or do is controlled to the nth degree.
The best sci fi holds up a mirror, and nods at us with a warning that this is our future unless we’re careful. It exposes our weaknesses and frailities, explores and dissects them. The stories might be set in some unknown future, or in the interstellar wastes, or on an Earth twenty years from now, but the themes? They’re what pinch at us, every day.
Taking Shield isn’t modern sci-fi in that sense. I’ll readily admit that. It’s old school space opera—big spaceships, faster than light travel, alien enemies, cool weaponry and heroes running around shooting their lasers. The only difference in the Taking Shield universe to the space opera norm is that my heroes are two men who love each other.
It is old fashioned. I wish I could write with the finesse, the absolute relevancy to our current state as Olivia Butler, say. But I can’t. That isn’t to say that these themes aren’t in Taking Shield, of course, because they are. The impact of war, the longing for autonomy and freedom, the unthinking prejudice of imperialism, the principle-less machinations of politicians… all are woven throughout the books, coming into more prominence as the series progresses, and the underlying theme is that the seeds of Albion’s problems are within itself. But I can’t write about these things in the same forensic, literary way I so envy. I wish I could. Taking Shield’s a space opera, but it does have a brief, thin message of sorts: fighting each other, refusing to unite to fight for something better for everyone, does not end well.
Holding up a dull, cracked mirror at best, perhaps, but it’s the best I have. Still, I’d encourage you to read sci-fi not just for the whizzbangs and space battles, but for the mirrored image it can hold up about where we as a people are headed. Makes you think, perhaps. But then, that’s all to the good. Like all of you, I’d rather like things to end well in real life
Title: Taking Shield: the complete series
Series: Taking Shield
Author: Anna Butler
Cover Art: Adrian Nicholas
Publisher: Glass Hat Press
Release Date: November 5, 2019
Genre(s): Science Fiction
Page Count: 1463
The complete Rainbow Award-winning space opera/military sci-fi series.
Earth’s a dead planet, dark for thousands of years; lost for so long no one even knows where the solar system is. Her last known colony, Albion, has grown to be regional galactic power in its own right. But its drive to expand and found colonies of its own has threatened an alien race, the Maess, against whom Albion is now fighting a last-ditch battle for survival in a war that’s dragged on for generations.
Taking Shield charts the missions and adventures of Shield Captain Bennet, scion of a prominent military family. Bennet, also an analyst with the Military Strategy Unit, uncovers crucial data about the Maess to help with the war effort. Against the demands of his family’s ‘triple goddess’ of Duty, Honour and Service, is set Bennet’s relationships with lovers and family—his difficult relationship with his long term partner, Joss; his estrangement from his father, Caeden, the commander of Fleet’s First Flotilla; and Fleet Lieutenant Flynn, who, over the course of the series, develops into Bennet’s main love interest. Over the Taking Shield arc, Bennet will see the extremes to which humanity’s enemies, and his own people, will go to win the war. Some days he isn’t able to tell friend from foe. Some days he doubts everything, including himself, as he strives to ensure Albion’s victory. And some days he isn’t sure, any longer, what victory looks like.
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Taking Shield Series
Anna Butler was a communications specialist for many years, working in various UK government departments on everything from marketing employment schemes to organizing conferences for 10,000 civil servants to running an internal TV service. These days, though, she is writing full time. She lives with her husband in a quiet village tucked deep in the Nottinghamshire countryside. She’s supported there by the Deputy Editor, aka Molly the cockerpoo, who is assisted by the lovely Mavis, a Yorkie-Bichon cross with a bark several sizes larger than she is but no opinion whatsoever on the placement of semi-colons.