The Thursday War – Karen Traviss
In his short story “Gold,” Isaac Asimov’s self-insert character describes his writing style as dialogue-based, without much physical description. This is also very true of Karen Traviss’ work. While she definitely incorporates more scenery into her work than Asimov, most of the developments are brought through dialogue – characters sparring with their words, diverting attention, prodding at sore points, or revealing critical information. As a result, Traviss becomes one of many science fiction writers who use the dialectical method.
“If you’ll pardon my use of Wikipedia, the dialectical method is a ‘discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject, who wish to establish the truth of the matter guided by reasoned arguments.’ The more well-known Socratic Method is a subset of dialectics, and both are accredited to Socrates. In fact, I’ve discovered that a number of science fiction works utilize dialectics in order to explore concepts further. There could be an argument made that such discourses are lazy writing and exposition dumps, but I think that these have their place in fiction.” (The Socratic Method in Science Fiction)
The Thursday War is provides two examples of this. As Jul and Phillips are exploring Forerunner ruins and making discoveries, they each have a companion. Prone to Drift and BB’s fragment are their respective partners in the dialectic conversation, though BB and Phillips are more closely tied to the actual definition. Prone to Drift, being an authority on the subject of Forerunner ruins, alters the dynamic of his and Jul’s dialogue. BB and Phillips, on the other hand, are almost equals in their exploration.
The discourse between characters in the Kilo-Five trilogy is not relegated simply to exploring Forerunner structures or uncovering factual answers. It is also used as a method to explore morality. Jul has his discussions with Raia and Forze on the future of the Sangheili, BB and Osman have their conversations on ONI, and Vaz has a tendency to hunt down anyone involved with the Spartan-II program and demand an answer for their actions. In fact, Vaz is an example of when the Kilo-Five trilogy breaks from the dialectical method (a status which, in and of itself, is not a crime).
One of the key points about the dialectic discourse is that emotions and predetermined bias do not come into play. In the Kilo-Five trilogy, every character brings their bias openly to the table, and sometimes claims it as an absolute truth. In some cases, the knee-jerk emotional responses are backed by logic and morals and sometimes they are not.
“Because what we are really talking about is the standards of logical truth vs. emotional truth. An emotional truth is something that, quite simply, feels true even if the logic doesn’t.” (FILM CRIT HULK, 22 SHORT THOUGHTS ABOUT MARGARET)
The use of characters emotional truths in the perspective-based writing style discussed in the Glasslands analysis is what I think causes a great deal of the split in the fandom over these books. The greatest issues I have with these books are of an emotional variety, with disagreements on style and the moralities presented mixed in. The worst thing about this emotional truth/perspective combination is that it allows the narrative to laud things like vigilante executions or suicide as moral or desirable without any counterpoint. The best thing is that it makes the characters humanly, if frustratingly, flawed.
Due to the treatment of characters like Halsey and Thel ‘Vadam through the emotional truths of the view point characters, it would appear that the Kilo-Five trilogy rejects a common theme in the Halo franchise: the redemption narrative.
To clarify, when I speak of the “redemption narrative,” I am not referring to the psychological content of the self narrative nor am I speaking of theology, though both can be a part of a redemptive story arc. What I mean by the redemption narrative is the transformation of what was original intended or used for evil into something or someone that is a force for good. This theme can deal with individual characters or entire systems. Its function can range from the main conflict to a major thread or a bit of added flavor.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica is an example of the system redemption. As Mark from MarkWatches.net noted (major spoilers for Madoka through the link), the final act of a character reforms not only a corrupt system, but the entire universe, allowing hope to exist once more. The character redemption narrative is far more common; the most famous example in science fiction is probably Anakin Skywalker. In both of these examples, all naysayers who speak as though redemption is impossible are proven wrong by the end of the story. In contrast, the Kilo-Five trilogy is told through the eyes of naysayers and those viewing the narrative with a critical eye, but it does so without actually rejecting the redemption narrative. We still see Phillips have a change of heart over the Sangheili civil war in The Thursday War, Thel ‘Vadam is shown to be genuine in his pursuit of peace, and as a minor example, Lucy changes her response to the Huragok found on Trevelyan.
Serin Osman, arguably the lead protagonist of the novels, is both an attempt to reach the redemption narrative of a system and one of the narrative’s harshest critics. Tumblr user Dendritic Trees proposes that Parangosky chose Osman as a method to redeem ONI, even just in terms of image if not core values:
“I firmly maintain that one of the reasons Parangosky probably picked Serin was that she’s a relatively bullet proof scape-goat. Because she’s not only an S-II, but an S-II washout, you can’t really criticize her about anything Spartan Program related without looking like a total asshole. So now that she’s stepped down and Serin’s in charge, CINCONI as an office, is more or less in the clear no matter what eventually comes out about that.” (blog post)
But even as the “object” of redemption in Parangosky’s plan, so to speak, Serin sees no such narrative for herself, not just as a member of CINICON, but even her younger self. Surely, she reasons, if she was as ‘gifted’ as Halsey claimed, she should have been able to escape and return herself home to her supposedly grieving parents. Ultimately it’s this relentless guilt coupled with severe abandonment issues (another observation of Dendritic Trees) that keeps Serin from seeing hope for herself.
Unfortunately DilDev will have to neglect her section on Our Expanded Universe for this piece as she has misplaced her copy of The Thursday War to her dismay and confusion. It’s a tiny studio apartment. This should not be possible.