SIXTH PLANET, HOTH SYSTEM – The tauntaun ran screaming across the crevasses and zig-zag trenches dug into Nev Ice Flow, fur singed black and gold and slathered in crimson.
A tauntaun doesn’t bleed red though. Rebel infantry does.
So starts the short story “When the Blood Runs Cold,” my contribution to the upcoming anthology STRATEGY STRIKES BACK: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict,” due out in May from Potomac Books. It is an eye-witness news account of the Rebel retreat from Hoth that is modeled on Ernie Pyle’s dispatches during World War II.
While my approach to answering the question of what the Star Wars universe can teach us about contemporary and future conflict relies on fiction, the collection of more than two dozen essays includes analysis from the smartest writers on strategy and military affairs today.
Kudos to editors John Amble, Max Brooks, Matt Cavanaugh, and Jaym Gates for producing such a valuable – and enjoyable – book. It can be read for entertainment as well as for professional development, which will give plenty of people a chance to talk at work about the Death Star’s acquisition travails or the ethics of Rebel tactics or morale within the Imperial cadre.
No writer should be shy about clamoring for pre-orders, and in that spirit here is a link: http://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/potomac-books/9781640120334/
As parents well know, the terrible twos are so named for a reason. For authors, publishing date anniversaries — book birthdays – can be equally tricky at the age when a book’s launch buzz is long forgotten and the weight of creative expectations has moved from crawling underfoot to fluid running.
There might be tantrums.
Or cake and candles.
With Ghost Fleet, the summer of 2017 marked the two-year anniversary since the novel’s launch on June 30, 2015. The book’s recent addition to the Commander of US Special Operations Command and the Chief of Staff of the US Army professional reading lists mean the book’s “twos” aren’t terrible at all. It takes time to build an audience, particularly as readers are busier and busier. The hope is that the connection with characters, stories and concepts continues to spread from person to person, organization to organization with increasing urgency and enthusiasm. The book is already on myriad military reading lists, but seeing it still being endorsed as professionally relevant makes a parent proud.
On the Army’s list, Ghost Fleet joined a short list of esteemed fiction titles, including Gates of Fire by Stephen Pressfield, Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes and Virgil’s The Aenid. “Each of us faces busy schedules every day and finding time to read and think is a recurring challenge. But even as we train our units and physically condition our bodies, we must improve our minds through reading and critical thinking,” wrote Gen. Mark Miley, the 39th Chief of Staff of the Army in his preface to the list.
On the concise SOCOM reading list, Ghost Fleet can be found under “Disruptive Technology” alongside 3D Printing Will Rock The World by John Hornick and The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia’s Digital Dictators and the New Online Revolutionaries by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan. It is the sole fiction title.
By next summer, work on the next book will be well underway and I hope there will be time and occasion, once again, to celebrate another Ghost Fleet birthday.
Throughout my reading life, I’ve picked books for lots of reasons. I can remember going to Tower Books in Seattle when I was in elementary school and perusing the sci-fi section, discovering David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers on the strength of its cover art alone. I did that a lot. Other times, I’ve had books recommended to me with heartfelt conviction, like when a former Navy SEAL first told me about Gates of Fire and the work of Steven Pressfield. More recently, the suggestion to read the novel Room came during a conversation on how I could get better at character development while speaking with Ken Liu, a writer whose prose and translation—and work ethic—are indomitable.
Today there is growing acceptance that fiction belongs on military reading lists, and it is leading to some outstanding suggestions. A great novel or short story (particularly sci-fi) pushes us to confront our assumptions, helps us understand other perspectives, and stokes our imagination in ways that nonfiction cannot. In particular, dystopian sci-fi stories have their place on these lists for their cautionary value in an era when technology’s downsides can sometimes only be revealed after calamity. Terrible times often produce the most memorable heroes.
These are among my favorite fiction titles that I’ve read (or re-read as in the case of The Profession) recently. As a package, these books complement each other for their exploration of everything from human migration and trafficking to political collapse to narco superpowers to private armies. Plus, they all have great covers.
Read more at West Point’s Modern War Institute War Books column.
Peruse the shelves at any bookstore and one section sure to be well stocked is for books on writing. There are notable titles, from rule books such as Elements of Style to the inspirational and craft-oriented Naming the World, that are well suited to equipping writers with the tools to put their words on a page as effectively as possible.
There are other types of writing books, though, that pull back the curtain of what it is like to write professionally. Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is one that stands out, and so is Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing endure as being entertaining and useful.
Add to the list two more worthy reads. These recent autobiographical books hew to the “show, don’t tell” adage and reveal the stories behind their authors’ lives: Steven Pressfield’s The Knowledge and John le Carré’s The Pigeon Tunnel. While these books are rooted in the past, their value to future-minded writers is in understanding the importance of personal stories in creating inspiring characters and credible settings perched on the knife edge between fact and fiction. This is perhaps even more important in tales that can be easily overrun with technology and fantasy.
Read more at the Art of the Future Project website.
As podcast titles go, it’s hard to beat The Dead Prussian as a set up for an interview. During a recent trip to Australia, I met up with Mick Cook, an officer in the Australian Army and the podcast’s host. We set up in a Canberra coffee shop and talked Ghost Fleet, the power of narrative and writing, Australia’s military modernization and the 21st Century way of war, and finished with one of the toughest questions I’ve yet encountered — or asked. The podcast is named after the Prussian military officer Carl von Clausewitz who wrote On War.
As Mick puts it on his website: Carl Von Clausewitz and his work On War has had a great influence on the way modern, particularly western, militaries practice war. It is for this reason that this podcast, an exploration of war and warfare, is named The Dead Prussian. This podcast will endeavour to study war and warfare as thoroughly as Clausewitz did.
Listen to episode 8 of The Dead Prussian and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.
Gaming website Gamasutra shed some light on Tom Clancy’s The Division development and how Ubisoft used a strategy-game oriented studio it acquired, Massive, along with its existing studio capabilities to strike the right balance in developing the game’s look and feel.
One of the most telling, and important, quotes from the article is from a Massive executive describing how the Ubisoft team built and organized the development process. It has applications for any creative project where disparate skillsets need to be aligned toward a common objective: “What are you really passionate about? And, be blunt, where do you think you’re better than us? Because that’s what we want you to do on this project. What would you like to own?”
Read more at the Art of Future Warfare website.
Surrounded by shredded wrapping paper, I sat cross-legged in the living room on the cold wood floor. But it didn’t matter. Nothing was as cold as Hoth. I held the Rebel Snowspeeder in my lap as tenderly as if I’d received a puppy. The pilot was snug in the cockpit, ready to fire his grappling hook at the legs of any wayward Imperial armored walkers.
The Star Wars universe existed not only on the screen, but also day-to-day in my imagination, aided by plastic X-Wings, Landspeeders and eventually a Millennium Falcon and AT-AT that my brother and I played with incessantly. The toys, treasured stiff-armed heroes, were the fantastical made real. On a rainy Seattle afternoon they could turn a couch into an impregnable Imperial base or a dark closet into a merciless black hole.
The return of Star Wars in the form of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens means reconnecting with the origins of our inspiration and imagination. And that was his intent.
From reader to writer, exploring the known world to the unknown one, this film’s arrival comes at a perfect time for me. Ghost Fleet is rooted in my interests in conflict and diplomacy, war and peace, that developed out of the Star Wars trilogy, Starblazers, Robotech and other stories from those elementary-school years.
Fittingly, the film’s release this month has given me a chance to reconnect with this past:
Read my article with P.W. Singer at The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog on how the science in Star Wars is actually real.
Listen to the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) Real Time Strategy Podcast on Star Wars: Battlefront where we play the video game and discuss everything from the ethics of Rebel tactics to Imperial military healthcare for Stormtroopers.
“The authors in this anthology invite us to shed the shackles that bind us to our current constructs and instead imagine things as they might be, for better or for worse.”
– Martin Dempsey, foreword to War Stories from the Future
So writes Martin Dempsey, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about the first science-fiction anthology published by the Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare project. The endorsement of the stories by the recently retired top military officer in the nation underscores the importance of fiction in understanding a very complex and frequently heartbreaking world.
Along with contest-winning art and fiction from the project’s first year of contests, the free collection features new stories from Ken Liu, Madeline Ashby, Jamie Metzl, Mat Burrows and me.
That’s where ANTFARM comes in. It’s my first new fiction since Ghost Fleet. The short story grew out of my curiosity about what would happen when swarming weapons combine with crowd-sourced intelligence analysis and man-machine symbiosis.
Check out ANTFARM and the rest of the collection here.
In the past, readers toted a novel to the beach, shaking grains of sand out from between the pages on the commute to work the following Monday. With books on phones and tablets, people can bring fiction with to enjoy even while they might look like they are conducting serious business. Not that fiction isn’t serious. It is, and increasingly so. Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War featured this week during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the future of war. Joining the esteemed witnesses for the hearing, chaired by Sen. John McCain, was P.W. Singer, my co-writer. Ghost Fleet is fiction, but it is useful fiction, as the hearing shows. It also must be a first for a novelist to get a chance to showcase their fiction before the SASC.
From autonomous systems to cyber, the assembled experts provided an insightful walk-through of technologies, actors and trends shaping the future of war. To actually “see” what that future might look like, you can crack open the book. Serious indeed.
Watch the hearing featuring P.W. Singer: http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/hearings/15-11-03-future-of-warfare