Some years ago, I was at a movie night in the East Bay. We were watching The Iron Giant. It got to the point in the plot where the US army shows up and starts shooting at the Giant without any real provocation. Someone else who was watching the film said, without irony, “the army wouldn’t do that!”.
To which I responded, “Giant. Metal. Robot. You’re watching a movie with a giant metal robot and you can’t suspend disbelief about that?”
(That saying has gone on to become, at least in my social circles, a way of saying, “you need to suspend disbelief.” Someone says, “I don’t buy how Doctor Octopus manages to control the arms with a neural interface” and you say, “Giant. Metal. Robot.”)
Well, I’m in my own trap.
Some people know that I have a . . . moderate . . . contempt for the concept of “mecha” in science fiction. I have decided that, instead of it being a “moderate” contempt, I shall now move it to a full-blown “extreme” degree of contempt, and hereby resolve to never use them in any story or setting I create from this day forward.
I always thought that the idea of a giant, humanoid robot ravaging the countryside was cool. It certainly looks cool. But in the light of, oh, intelligence, it just doesn’t hold up. At all.
The beginnings of my slide towards extreme contempt lie with the movie, Matrix Revolutions. Here, we have a series of mecha that are operated by the humans. These mecha are not really mobile – they just sort of stand in one spot. A job that a cannon or a mounted automatic rifle could do better. Oh! And the mecha suits have *open face plates*. So it’s not like they are providing any degree of physical protection.
Now, okay. That’s a movie, and a particularly bad one, and was a movie that was all about “looking cool.” Fine. So, let’s discuss the concept of mecha outside of that – as a military ideal.
What, exactly, is a mecha? A mecha is a mobile, all-terrain weapons platform. That’s really what it is. It’s a way to get big guns to strange locations.
In what way is this better than a standard tank?
I’m not coming up with many methods. There’s the “all terrain” part – tanks can’t traverse ground that theoretical mecha can easily.
But then, a helicopter can traverse the same terrain as a mecha can. And it can do it better! And it can do it with a much higher ceiling, and with a full 360 degrees of movement.
Tank: Barring armor-piercing rounds (which a mecha would be vulnerable to as well), a tank has one weakness: the treads. Take out the treads, and it can’t move. It can still shoot you, though. Lack of mobility will not decrease the tank’s effectiveness as a killing weapon.
Mecha: Let’s give our big armored weapon not one or two but perhaps hundreds of weak points that can’t be armored. Like, say, knees. And better, when those knees are disabled, the entire unit is disabled. Falls over, kaput. Sure, it can still fire the guns. Into the ground (or the air, depending on if it falls on its back or not).
Maynard thought that “stealth” may be a valid reason for a mecha. But then I thought about the fuel requirements to move something that big and heavy – and to so quietly and at a speed that gave it a tactical advantage. I’m not sure that the laws of physics allow for a fuel source to be used on something like that that isn’t nuclear in nature (and thus visible from miles off via heat signatures). So that’s out.
I keep coming back to helicopters. Mobile weapons platforms with 360 degrees of movement. Sure, sure – you won’t find 50 pounders on an Apache. But then, they don’t have knees.
I suppose I’m finding it hard to believe that such an ill-thought concept (militarily and laws-of-physics-ly) has managed to become so ingrained in science-fiction. And I’m not talking, like, Star Wars or Voltron – that’s really just “fantasy” with robots (almost, but not quite, how the dragonriders of Pern stuff is science-fiction with dragons).
Maybe I’m just too old to ignore what to me appears to be basic military thinking and am no longer able to just “Die Hard” through a story. Giant. Metal. Robot.
It’s funny, because I’m perfectly willing to just throw my brain away when it is obvious that I’m supposed to (like Die Harder – holy crap, did those writers know anything about computer security, and hey, that F-35 jet doesn’t have a hover mode, let alone a cannon).
But take a movie or story that purports itself to try to stick with reality, and I get pissed when it goes off the rails into fantasy land (like Sunshine – people don’t freeze instantly in space [there’s no air for the heat to radiate off to], and htf did that dude stay alive so long in the abandoned craft?).
Am I too old? Is that just it?