So if somebody were to ask me what subgenre of Dieselpunk and/or Pulp was my all-time favorite, my answer would be simple: anything set in/at World War II (I’m less adamant about the fantasy/SF part; if it’s a good story, I’m willing to roll with it). I don’t have a solid explanation for why; considering I was born 21 years after the war ended, it’s not like I have fond memories of it.
And then again, maybe I do, after a fashion. My father and mother were both alive during that time, and they talked about it often. My mother was a pre-teen and teen during the war years. She told my sisters and I that her first and strongest memories of the war was the announcer coming on the radio and saying that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. She said they had all been sitting down to breakfast when the announcement came. Her mother immediately burst into tears (and this was a woman not prone to tears). She cried because she had one son and three sons-in-law who were all eligible for the draft. In fact, they all did serve. My Uncle Jim was in Japan during the Occupation; my Uncle George was a Seabee (in the pacific theater, I think), and my Uncle Arvel drove a truck on the Redball Express.
The idea of my Uncle Jim in Japan always tickled my sisters and me. See, we grow ’em tall on that side of the family, and Uncle Jim was the tallest, over 6’6″. God bless him, can you imagine him in Japan, a big gawky giant? Hillbilly Godzilla Invades Okinawa!
I remember Uncle Arvel telling us about how he and his fellow drivers on the Redball would put a can of beans on the manifold of their trucks before setting out on their drives every morning. The beans would be heated up by the engine, so their lunch would be piping hot by the time noon rolled around. Well, one day near noon, Arvel was stopped on the side of the road, I can’t remember why; probably some sort of engine trouble, flat tire, something like that, because he forgot all about the can of beans. Anyways, while he was there, somebody started shooting at him. And not being an idiot, as soon as the bullets started whizzing by, Arvel dove under his truck. Suddenly he hears a BANG! way too close, and he feels something hot and wet suddenly appear on his face and start to run down his cheeks. Holy crap! he thought, I’ve been shot! Scared him to death, he was saying his prayers and getting ready to meet his maker!
Ummm, not so much, honey. In fact, the can of beans had either been shot, or had gotten way too hot. Either way, the can exploded and splattered hot pork and beans all over his face. That story always cracked me up.
My father was drafted, but was ruled 4F, so he wasn’t allowed to serve in uniform (Daddy had cerebral palsy). But he did get to serve. He always got such a kick out of telling us girls that he was in Counter Intelligence. Which was true enough, as far as it went. When they were putting together the group that eventually became the CIA after the war, they did it by recruiting from Ivy League schools. Daddy was attending Johns Hopkins at the time, studying chemistry, and they recruited him.
But “Counter Intelligence” sounds MUCH more glamorous and James Bond-like than it actually was. Daddy was trained, given the rank of Ensign in the Navy, and sent to the Baltimore waterfront. His super cool James Bond job? Sit around in bars and talk to people. If he heard any sailors or marines telling stuff they weren’t supposed to, he called the Shore Patrol. That’s it. John LeCarre had it right: all that cloak and dagger shit isn’t nearly as interesting as Ian Fleming liked to pretend. Daddy was really good at it for a non-obvious reason: the cerebral palsy was the perfect disguise. Who would guess in a million years, that the Navy would recruit a cripple for anything, right (especially in those days, when parents of CP babies were encouraged to institutionalize their child and “go have healthy children and forget about him”)?
But since Daddy’s service was all Stateside, he didn’t have any terrific war stories of his own (well, other than the epic bar fights he’d see on the waterfront). However, storytelling is as natural as breathing to us Appalachian types, so he ended up hearing some lulu’s from his relatives and friends. Like the two backwoods brothers from up Durbin (a tiny farming community a couple valleys over from our own treetop mansion) who said to their newcomer friend, “Come on, come sniper hunting with us! it’s just like squirrel hunting!” Or the cousin who, while on furlough in Germany during the Occupation, passed up a chance for some lovin’ from his German girlfriend so he could go watch the sentencing phase of the Nuremburg trials.
So I’ve taken a very long way around the subject to say that I am attached to the war years because of my memories of Mom and Dad talking about it. Obviously there’s more to it than that. Naturally the potential for vast numbers of stories, in any genre you care to name. The obvious, almost TOO easy villains ready-made, in the Nazis, the political and cultural currents at work during the time; my father used to talk about how, for one shining moment, it seemed like the entire world was of one mind, working toward one goal. Of course that wasn’t true, not in the least, but it was a beautiful illusion, the sort of illusion that makes you want to believe.
But for all that, yeah, Mom and Dad are my emotional connection to the setting. So why did I go on this rather bizarre little ramble for no apparent purpose? Because I’m going to be spending the next few postings talking about the war. Not necessarily in a strictly Dieselpunk or Pulp context (though I might go there, never can tell), but more as an exploration of the setting itself, and of movies, tv and books that have used that setting to tell their own stories, both fact and fiction. How’s that sound? I guess you could see this as a mini-series of Foundation Media on the war; this war shaped today’s world, and I want to examine it a little more closely, both fact and fiction.
and I’m hoping you’ll contribute to the cause! If you have a recommendation for a book (fiction or nonfiction), movie, tv show, or other medium that addresses the war years, either in the theater of war or on the homefront, send them along! I can talk about it myself, or if you want to write a review of said item, please, I’ll be glad to publish it (under YOUR byline, of course; credit where credit is due!). And if you have a story your parents, grandparents, whoever, told you about the war years, I’d love to hear it and share it here as well; that sort of storytelling is an Appalachian’s heartbeat, so yeah, share! My email addy is on the About Me page; you can find the page under the tab at the stop of this page.
In the meantime, time for me to sign off. Usual admonitions apply: please tweet, share, comment. If you have anything to share for Fun Friday, send them along. IF you just wanna write and say, “hey!” please feel free. I’m struggling to get back into the swing of things post-surgery. and I’m sorry that’s not going so smoothly. But hopefully the worst of it is over.
Anyway, y’all be good and I’ll be back on Wednesday.