The Dead Prussian

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.

Picking Allies

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.

Art of Darkness

The faces looking through the chain link fence don’t despair any more. They gave up days ago. That’s why they are in the Hudson Refugee Camp, packed in by the thousands just to be close to what was supposed to be salvation: soldiers, medicine or vaccines, communication links to the rest of America. The truly desperate remain outside, fighting over canned food and fresh ammunition. Even if you want to help the refugees, you can’t. You’re needed elsewhere: on the streets of the catastrophe that is New York to help restore order.

This is Manhattan as seen in the early-play version of Tom Clancy’s The Division, a new video game in the Tom Clancy series that follows a small team of covert operators who have been standing by in the event of a catastrophe so great that the United States teeters toward becoming a failed state. In this case, it is a bio-terrorism attack on Black Friday that ruptures the fragile membrane between order and anarchy.

Read more at War On The Rocks.

A Long Time Ago …

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.

 

ANTFARM

“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.

Ghost Fleet On The Hill

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

After The War

The Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare project has so far used short stories to explore how wars start, how they might be fought in space and what a conflict among the great powers could look like. But what comes next when the fighting ceases? For combatants and warzone civilians alike, conflict during the next decades will have elements that would be familiar to Greek hoplites, like the essence of tactical deception or being proficient in close-quarters combat. Yet there will be elements that from today’s perspective will stretch the boundaries of official imagination in preparing for how closer man-machine interface, latent cyber weapons and bio-enhancement to soldiers and weaponry alike will change war.

In partnership with veterans writing group Words After War, the Art of Future Warfare project seeks unpublished short stories exploring post-conflict issues from a future war in the 2040s for its latest creative challenge. The winner will receive a $500 honorarium.

Enter at ArtofFutureWarfare.org.

Superpowers, Parkour And Pupil Power

Some notebook highlights from my first SXSW Interactive…

Seeing curiosity as a superpower: You all have a superpower — your curiosity, said Hollywood mega producer Brian Grazier.

Making virtual reality an active, not passive, technology with eye-tracking in Fove’s VR goggles.

Exploring the duality of unmanned aerial vehicle technology: Meeting digital humanitarians like Patrick Meier.

Think of design like parkour: Paola Antonelli, director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, who riffed on design theory and revealed she once had her heart set on becoming an astronaut.

Thinking the unthinkable: My panel with Peter W. Singer and Dave Anthony, Zero Day: What Will Be The Weapons Of World War Three?, brought a different perspective to the event and broached a subject a lot of people don’t regularly consider — but should in the tech and creative community. “While I sincerely hope that we never need to serious contemplate these questions, but it was a refreshing break from the standard SX content,” wrote an executive from The Royals, an ad agency. Indeed, that was one of our aims. ExtremeTech also covered the talk, noting the tradeoffs advanced nations face with their military and strategic reliance on technology.

 

Breaking Through The Fog

Nobody else is awake in the house. Why would they be?

I’d say this is my time, but it’s really not. The hours between five and seven in the morning belong to others: The fictional Marines, soldiers, sailors and security contractors of the future whom I struggle to give the lives they deserve; the people counting on my professional writing in the “real world” of defense and security analysis; my co-writer on the biggest professional gambit I’ve ever undertaken: a novel about the next world war.

Before I am fully awake, the keyboard keys rattle and shake in their metal bed beneath my cold fingertips. Whether those sentences that come out in three-to-four-second bursts are any good or not is less important. The most important part of this moment is the act of sitting down in the dark to get to work. Each character, word and paragraph is an incremental victory in a larger set-piece struggle that occurs every time I open my laptop before dawn.

If it’s a good day, there are creative breakthroughs. Big ones. It’s predictable, because for me the earliest hours of the day are almost always the most creative. Those breakthroughs come from the routine and practiced approach that respects an artistic tradition of early-morning productivity.

Read more at War On The Rocks.