Science Fiction and the Strategist 2.0

Science Fiction and the Strategist 2.0

Back in February 2017, we published a short piece on why reading science fiction should be part of the professional reading program of military and national security professionals. Given the feedback we received on that article, and the continued stream of high quality science fiction being published, we decided to provide an updated reading list.

As we wrote then, there are multiple reasons why science fiction should be a key component of an effective, broad reading program for military officers and national security professionals. And it has become clear that this isn’t just some speculative notion harbored by the authors (and those that responded through social media).

Science fiction has been a mainstay of military senior leader reading lists over the past decade, with books such as Ender’s Game, Ghost Fleet, The Forever War, and Starship Troopers being popular among military and national security professionals. Recently, the use of science fiction as part of a wider professional military education approach was also advocated by (another) Army officer from Australia. But the advocacy is much broader. The European Union has recently funded the development of Science Fiction in Education toolkit, that aims to support teachers in interdisciplinary teaching, and to reinforce learning in areas such as technology, the environment, basic literacy and civics. So, there is a broader acceptance around the application of science fiction to education and professional development. Why is this so?

Reading science fiction nurtures hope that there is a better future. While conflict, catastrophe, and climate change feature in many of these novels and movies, much science fiction is highly optimistic in nature. Uplifting stories of positive futures—or of hope and agency in the face of dystopian futures—fill us with optimism that we can drive our services to make positive possibilities happen.

However, reading science fiction also allows us to consider a variety of negative potential futures. The dystopian future genre has been popular of late, but this is not new. Science fiction has always dealt with futures where society breaks down or must deal with a far more pessimistic view of the possible. It is beneficial for military officers to read such descriptions of alternate futures; it is the first step in ensuring that they do not come to pass.

In both these ways, reading science fiction provides variety in honing one’s intellect. Diversity in professional reading increases one’s capacity for generating imaginative options to solve complex problems. Variety in a professional reading program develops a more sophisticated intellect able to appreciate complexity, deal with ambiguity and surprise, and think broadly about the challenging problems we often face.

In a more technical way, science fiction allows us to think about new and old technologies in different ways. Whether it is an alternate reality or the distant future, science fiction can inspire divergent thinking about advanced technologies and how to apply them in concert with new ideas and new organizations.

Finally, science fiction reminds us of the enduring nature of war. Some of the finest science fiction novels explore this. These stories remind us that the clash of wills, the fear, interests, and honor integral to human warfare, are enduring. Notwithstanding the technological marvels of science fiction novels, war ultimately remains a human endeavor.

Unlike the bulk list we provided last year—only broken out by books or online resources—this year’s list contains some holdovers from last year, but many new additions. The list was compiled by re-looking the last list, which was based on our own preferences and experience using the selected works to inform our own careers in the profession, and refining it based on great suggestions from the community on Twitter. We chose to remove some books we viewed as having less applicability to the future of warfare, while adding some new books (at least to us) addressing some key issues that may affect future warfare that were not represented previously. Finally, feedback on our previous list pointed out some holes in our own reading—namely, the lack of female authors. We were thankful for the feedback that brought many fantastic new books to our attention, so we endeavoured to capture those that had great lessons for those in the profession of arms. We hope readers of this list continue to engage with us to fill any other holes in our knowledge!


via The Strategy Bridge

September 3, 2018 at 07:08AM

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