Social Concerns / Themes

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Soldier Boy contains some of Shaara's finest moments in fiction, and in his "Introduction" and his "Afterword" he hints at how they came out of his life and into his art. For Shaara, "writing has always meant . . . going for a while into another, real world," where flashes of insight are waiting, like Michelangelo's shapes, for the artist to set them free. Just as Chamberlain in The Killer Angels (1974) could not grasp the meaning of tragedy until he had lived it, at his best Shaara can make his reader share those times, a communication that he says has been, after his writing, "the best moment[s] in living as a writer: to know that somebody else has seen what you see, felt what you felt."

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Ten of Soldier Boy's stories are science fiction, dating from the 1950s. The genre allowed Shaara to distance himself from what he calls "this incomprehensible mess" where most human beings live and to create hypothetical milieus to isolate and explore human griefs and growths. The title story dates from 1953, but it eerily forecasts the turbulent Vietnam era when some people had been taught "peace" so thoroughly that they despised the soldiers who had to maintain it; Shaara grimly observes that "no peace-loving nation in the history of the earth had ever kept itself strong." The same darkness that pervades many of Shaara's fictional universes prevailed in the Old Norse myth from which he drew the epigraph to "Soldier Boy" — the deadly certainty that evil will eventually vanquish good, and all that matters is the courage a man finds to meet his fate. The one saving grace in Shaara's valleys of the shadow is his sense of "a path going somewhere," just as the one common denominator of all his work is his belief that some human beings are able to choose it.

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