Five Science Fiction & Military Narratives That Have Influenced My Writing
Where the first Alien movie was pure SF horror, the second was a straight-up military SF action flick. It was probably the most seminal influence on my teenage brain when it came to storytelling and how to do human drama and action beats. You had a kick-ass protagonist who was unlike any SF hero seen on the screen thus far. The Colonial Marines acted like real grunts—banter, bravado, and spit-in-your-face last stand heroism in battle—and they were all developed characters in their own right, not just cannon fodder.
(I have managed to work an ALIENS reference into every Frontlines novel so far. It may be a chapter title, or a line of dialogue, or a character name, or the name of a location. But there’s at least one snuck into every book.)
Battlestar Galactica (2003)
From the first few minutes of the miniseries, I was hooked. This wasn’t the cheesy space opera of the 1970s BSG. This was human drama, hard moral choices made by flawed characters, amazing space battles, and people you ended up caring about deeply. The military customs and jargon were realistic. Even Galactica was the opposite of her 1970s version—instead of being a modern and state-of-the-art warship, she was a tired old veteran about to be decommissioned when the war begins, and the people on her find themselves thrust into the role of sole protectors of what’s left of humanity. Powerful, gripping, inspiring stuff, and easily the best drama on TV in the last 15 years.
(The soundtracks by Bear McCreary are also fantastic writing music. I wrote the first two Frontlines books to a playlist that mostly consisted of BSG music.)
Starship Troopers (novel and film)
It’s easy to list Starship Troopers as an influence for military SF (it’s the towering example of the genre, after all), but I am also listing the Verhoeven movie, which had very little to do with the book.
Robert A. Heinlein’s book showed me that you can have kick-ass battle scenes and simultaneously reflect on why we fight and what it means to take responsibility for the safety of your society from external threats. The movie showed me that the philosophical and political treatises sprinkled into the story can be a.) tongue-in-cheek, and b.) served up with a good deal of big, noisy fun.
Band of Brothers (2001)
This HBO mini-series (and to some degree the later THE PACIFIC) were an unflinching look at war and the effects it has on the young men who are usually sent to fight. Good cause, bad cause, questionable cause—politics of the conflict aside, the guys on the ground have to deal with the policies set by others, and they are the ones doing the fighting and the dying. A fantastic look at the effects of war on the psyche—both of the officers in command and the enlisted grunts in the foxholes.
Das Boot (1981)
A German war film about the crew of a WWII German U-boat, the branch of the military with the highest casualties. (As the caption at the start of the movie points out, two out of three U-boat men lost their lives at sea and never returned home.) There isn’t very much blow-‘em-up battle action in this movie, as it mostly deals with the psychological pressures that come with performing war patrols in a cramped steel tube submerged in the hostile environment of the North Atlantic. Another great study on the effects of intense psychological pressure on men who have to fight a questionable war in extreme conditions.
Marko was born and raised in Germany, in and around the city of Münster. In the past, he has been a soldier, bookseller, freight dock worker, and corporate IT administrator before he decided that he wasn’t cut out for anything other than making stuff up for a living.
Marko writes primarily science fiction and fantasy, his first genre love ever since his youth when he spent his allowance mostly on German SF pulp serials. He likes bookstores, kind people, October in New England, Scotch, and long walks on the beach with Scotch.
Marko lives in New Hampshire with his wife, two children, and roving pack of vicious dachshunds. Chains Of Command, the fourth book in the Frontlines series, in out now.