Andrew Liptak makes a provocative argument--military science fiction really, really sucks. And why?
Military SF novels aren't about the institution of warfare; they focus on the effects of war, on the soldiers, on the morality of an organization, and on what humanity will do to survive. But warfare is much more than just its destructive effects: It is an institution with its own theories and reasoning. It represents significant strategic, economic and political events, all coming together in a destructive crescendo. When military science fiction focuses on people, there is very little about warfare, and how it is conducted. In these tales, futuristic warfare is often incredibly simplified, on both the storytelling level, as well as the actual elements that make up the story. Here are some of the biggest problems with representations of war in most military SF.
I have commented on some of the problems with a specific subgenre of this in io9 too. But the problem with Liptak's argument is that there is a misunderstanding of what fiction should ideally focus on. As experienced by characters, it is true that fiction will mostly focus on effects, with an ultimately shallow outline of the technologies and strategies involved. That's simply what fiction is. Some good science fiction does focus very much on the broader outline of the worlds involved, and I've blogged on them.
But the primary focus is the characters. A focus on the technologies, strategies, and tactics involved tends to amplify some of the worst tendencies of science fiction in general: a fascination with the technical details of machines or the outlines of future worlds rather than the people who populate them. There is an inherent tradeoff, and when in doubt, lean towards character. The contrast between the anime versions of Ghost in the Shell and the manga is instructive--the anime is much more about the characters whereas the manga is chock full of lovingly footnoted technical details.
Historical fiction, to some degree, has the kind of level of detail and thought that Liptak desires, but in large part only because the past has already been laid out for us. I don't think there's a strict either-or choice between character and detail, but at the same time a tradeoff certainly exists.