New Short Fiction: Discards

Like a lot of great short science-fiction stories, Discards is born out of a desire to understand a  technological question on a human level. In this case, it is exploring the worth — and worthlessness — of new military inventions. What will the aftermath of a future war in Europe fought with game-changing weapons look like? What will happen to the machines and humans caught up in the chaos and destruction? You can read the full story at West Point’s Modern War Institute.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

“You hear that?”

Banging like a hammer on a nail. Then three more precise taps. Faster this time.

Silence.

“What?”

“Kick the ball again, at that one container, Wiz, just like you did,” said Lieutenant Evelyn Guerrero.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

The Army lieutenant nodded her helmet at the rows of dark green Conex shipping containers lined up next to the burned-out town’s soccer stadium. A banner for the Finnish national team – 2026 World Cup finalists — somehow had survived the past six months of fighting but fluttered limply in the wind like a dirty bandage. The intel brief Guerrero downloaded on arriving at the depot site earlier that day indicated a dozen or so kids lived around the stadium, but the orphans hadn’t shown their faces.

Wisnowski dribbled the sagging orange ball back about ten paces, then he kicked it hard against the side of the container again. The impact left a faint smudge of chocolate-colored mud, joining dozens more on the matte olive paint. The ball flopped back onto the grass, air wheezing out of the bullet holes that robbed it of its bounce months ago.

Wisnowski shrugged. “Ma’am?”

“Take off your helmet, Private. It’s just us.”

“LT, that wise? Gonna be dark soon and milfeed said some Russian gnats around. I like my lungs just the way they are. No cheeseburger milkshake for me.”

“That’s why I started smoking, Wiz. Gnats can’t see through it,” Guerrero said. She wagged the unlit cigarette in the corner of her mouth. It was an unfiltered Chinese cigarette from a carton she’d found in a disabled Russian Armata tank back in the town square. That tank had the telltale snakebite impact holes from the double-barreled Derringer rail guns her unit towed behind its Strykers. It was a mess inside, but the smokes were somehow untouched. “Trust me, Wiz.”

Read the full story at West Point’s Modern War Institute website.

What We Know About the Future of War

Aviation Week and Space Technology asked me and Peter Singer to contribute an essay on the future of war to their centennial issue that explored the coming decades of aviation and aerospace. It was an honor to be asked, and to have our writing appear alongside aerospace greats Burt Rutan and Sir Richard Branson.

The wars of the future might start by accident, such as by a pilot hot-dogging and bumping into another plane, the loss and outrage from the accident escalating into outright battle. Or they might be driven by some crisis boiling over, a dispute over a new policy or even a new island, with other powers drawn into the fight by old alliances. Alternatively, the conflicts might reflect deliberate choices to go to war, perhaps to avenge an old wrong or remake a new world order to reflect emergent economic and military powers.

The cause and course of such future conflicts are unpredictable, but there are some things we can be certain of.

Read the essay at Aviation Week & Space Technology.

A New Tool To Question Assumptions

This week the paperback edition of Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War goes on sale. This is a big milestone for the book, and for me. Paperback thrillers and science fiction novels were a staple of my reading when I was young. This is the version of Ghost Fleet that a younger me would have nodded off with and cracked open at first light.

The impact a novel, particularly a sci-fi story, can have in the national security community is growing. Ghost Fleet is part of that shift. Adm. Harry Harris, who heads up US Pacific Command, said in a recent Foreign Policy article that “warfare novels like Ghost Fleet help us to question assumptions and prevent complacent thinking that inhibits innovation.” It is an entertaining story, but it is a story written with this purpose in mind.

As the paperback edition debuts, help spread the word. This can be in person or online. If you enjoyed the book as entertainment or education (as in 4- or 5-star rating enjoyed it), head on over to the Goodreads page or the Amazon.com page and share that positive feedback by rating it. Even a quick star rating will help.

Useful fiction like Ghost Fleet can start conversations that are otherwise difficult to have about what makes us strong, and what weakens us, as a nation. A year from now, when you see a dog-eared, marked-up and torn paperback edition sticking out of a backpack or wedged under a cot you’ll know those kinds of talks are well underway.

Art & Artists Impact on National Security

Once we entered the clan’s dead zone we lost all comms and our direct link with the rest of the fire team. No choice, though—we couldn’t lose the target. I could swear my two FireLance ’bots hesitated right before they went full autonomous after crossing that invisible Rubicon somewhere between a puddle of something biological and a crushed silver carton of U.N. Refugee Agency pure-water. I sure flinched as my faceplate display glitched then rebooted as I formed a local network with my two ’bots. Just keep my helmet-cooling fan on, that’s all I ask, because a Marine can’t get much hotter than an off-grid underground Lagos rez in July. I’d vampire their batteries to do it, which was the first wireless power hack Gunny showed us on board ship on the way over.

Read more at Proceedings, the magazine of the US Naval Institute.

Art and Strategy

At the Atlantic Council 2016 Global Strategy forum on Monday, I’ll be talking with Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work about art, narrative and the Third Offset in a conversation tied to The Art of the Future Project’s recent short story and art contest on the promise and peril of man-machine, AI and other game-changing advances. The works by the contest finalists will help inform the conversation, which is the highest-level impact yet for the project’s crowd sourcing.

Award-winning writers Max Brooks and Ken Liu will also be speaking at the event about strategy and narrative — and signing books. Novelists and think tanks do go together.

Thanks to Daniel Y. Chiu for giving the project a central role. We’ll also have a design-thinking inspired idea wall for impactful films, games, TV shows and books to draw out the most entertaining and informative titles in order to produce a “must-read, must-watch, must-play” list for the project.

See the conference schedule and details.

The Reality of Killer Robots

Over the last 15 years, the idea of “killer robots” has morphed from science fiction to reality, with unmanned systems now a common feature in post–9/11 conflict zones. Just about everyone fighting the multi-sided war in Iraq and Syria, for instance, has used drones, from the US and Russia to the Syrian government and Hezbollah to the Islamic State.

As robots have become more commonplace on the battlefield, fear has grown that they may be on their way to becoming too independent, too intelligent, and too autonomous, able to do more and more on their own without being steered from afar by human control or restriction.

Read more of my essay with P.W. Singer at VICE News.

The Book Pile

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Earlier this spring I had the opportunity to visit Fort Benning in Georgia to discuss Ghost Fleet, imagining the future of war and using vignettes and narrative in the policy world. I came away with the mantra of “Ghost Fleet as a verb,” which was employed by the top general there to get the captains and lieutenants training at Fort Benning to charge up their official writing. Here are some of the books that I sent down after my visit to start a future-of-war lending library for the Commander’s Action Group, which functions as a sort of in-house think tank for the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning. When I mentioned I was including The Profession in the book pile to Callie Oettinger, Steven Pressfield was kind of enough to contribute some of his most important titles, including The War of Art. These are some of the recent books that have made the biggest impact on how I think about the future because they focus on the human element — and how to write about it.

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.

Don’t Get Stuck in Silicon Valley

If Secretary of Defense Ash Carter did a Google search for who would make the biggest splash as the head of the Pentagon’s new innovation panel from Silicon Valley, he couldn’t have gotten a better answer than the executive chairman of the eponymous search engine’s parent company, Eric Schmidt. The move announced at the RSA cyber security confab in San Francisco makes clear to the Beltway the military is serious about closing its innovation gap with the commercial sector by reestablishing ties to the Bay Area’s tech heartland.

Yet if the Defense Department’s innovation scouts get too focused on the corridor between San Francisco and San Jose, they risk missing out on existing or nascent technologies from America’s other innovation hubs.

Read more at National Defense magazine.