.
A

long time ago (well, only a few years), in a galaxy far, far away (okay, it was only London), I became hooked on the reboot or reimagining of “Battlestar Galactica” about the fight between the Cylons, machines evolved into human form, and the humans of the 12 Colonies. Some would scoff saying “isn’t that that cheesy ‘70s-show?” or “that sounds nerdy”, to which I would counter it was so much more. It had complex debates about civil-military relations, terrorism and insurgency, ethics and morality, some of which it hit a bit too on the nose, but others it handled far better than any Sunday morning news program. (I also had an entirely surreal Thanksgiving dinner with the actor James Callis who played Gaius Baltar on Battlestar Galactica; he happened to be my colleague’s childhood friend. Baltar was a genius scientist, masterfully manipulated by a particularly crafty Cylon, Six (played by Tricia Helfer), whose indiscretions led to the Colonies’ initial defeat prompting their exodus into space.)

To Boldly Go: Leadership, Strategy, and Conflict in the 21st Century and Beyond | Jonathan Klug (editor) and Steven Leonard (editor) | Casemate | September 2021.

If you only read or watch science fiction casually, you might miss so much of the underlying complexity and nuance. It’s not just about robots, aliens, or lasers. Science or speculative fiction (sci-fi) speaks so much more about the time and anxieties in which it was written than about the future. It also serves as a vehicle through which we can explore issues facing us today in an abstract or harmless space. When stories are about aliens or take place in a galaxy far, far away, people are less likely to retreat to their corners or put up their guard when talking about complex or, perhaps, uncomfortable subjects.

To Boldly Go: Leadership, Strategy, and Conflict in the 21st Century and Beyond,” a new book edited by Jonathan Klug and Steven Leonard, a copy of which was kindly provided by the publisher, Casemate, shows just how deep the universes of sci-fi are, exploring incredibly timely topics from the future of AI, developing inclusive teams, civil-military relations, and much, much more. It is one of the most fun, enjoyable, richest, and thought-provoking books I’ve read in a very long time.

In full disclosure, if it wasn’t obvious from the opening, I’m a policy wonk with a fairly significant nerd streak. While others were enjoying the narrative arcs of Game of Thrones (at least the first few seasons; we won’t discuss the final season), I was far more interested in the strategy of the kingdoms and how such massive armies could support themselves logistically. The book “Winning Westeros” answers a number of these questions and more, and has many of the same authors as “To Boldly Go.” On leaving a screening of the Last Jedi, I was complaining about the First Order’s appalling lack of strategy or tactics to such a sufficient degree that, as a way of ending my rant, they suggested I write it down. So I did and, much to my surprise, this publication kindly decided to publish the lengthy analysis of weapons and tactics in the Star Wars universe.

“To Boldly Go” left me with a smile on my face, which I know sounds a bit odd to say. I always take away something from every book I read, good, bad, or indifferent. I enjoy the act of reading; it is a profoundly enjoyable experience, much more so than other diversions. Of course, my friends and family would quibble as to whether reading a dense or weighty tome could actually be enjoyable, but for me, it is. There are, however, few times where I put a book down and smile with enjoyment, and “To Boldly Go” managed to do just that. It is such a rich exploration of sci-fi universes I know and love, merged flawlessly with discussions on leadership, national security, civil-military relations, diplomacy, and more.

Beyond that, the enjoyment and enthusiasm of each and every one of the authors is so palpable that it’s hard not to smile. Take experts in their craft or field, allow them free reign in universes that they clearly love and enjoy, and sit back and watch the results. Every one of the essays is infused with such enjoyment and fun, even with their weighty and serious topics that it’s hard not to be swept up. It would be immensely fun to gather a few of the authors, buy them their beverage of choice, throw in some pizza, and watch the fireworks as they debate the merits of Captain Kirk over Captain Picard; or whether Apollo Adama in Battlestar Galactica was right in defying his father and what it says about civil-military relations; or what Spock’s beard tells us about toxic leadership. Sounds like a fantastic evening to me.

It’s a testament to Klug and Leonard that they were able to pull such an anthology off with this much success. Essay collections are, for me at least, notoriously difficult to review. There is almost always an uneven quality to the essays—some are good, some are bad, more are in the middle. How does one accurately review such a grouping? Is it how close they stick to the theme? Do you judge it off of the best or the worst essays? For those reasons, I usually avoid reviewing such books, even if I read them. Thankfully, this was not even remotely close of a problem with “To Boldly Go.” Every essay is infused with that enthusiasm to start, but also left me saying to myself “huh, I hadn’t thought of that” or “that’s an interesting way of exploring that issue”.

From Theresa Hitchens’ exploration of the economics of the Expanse universe (exceptionally apropos given the creation of the Space Force and the billionaires’ race to the moon and beyond), to Kera Rolsen’s exploration of why Star Wars’ one-size-fits-all (humans) cockpits limits the Republic’s future, to Kelsey Cipolla’s discussion of the challenges women face in leadership positions through the lens of the conflict between Poe Dameron and Vice Admiral Holdo in the Last Jedi, and everything in between, there is just so much depth to “To Boldly Go” that if you aren’t taking something away from every chapter, you’re just doing it wrong.

The immediacy of the challenges the authors address lies just below the surface. Reading John Scalzi’s excellent “Old Man’s War” and subsequent books in the series raises innumerable lessons on strategy, tactics, and civil-military relations for Major General Mick Ryan of the Australian Army. For Rita Konaev, the universes of Terminator and Star Wars offer insights into human-machine interfaces and the future of artificial intelligence—issues that are very much here and now. Indeed, a major magazine’s cover story this week highlights concerns where the United States is developing rules of ethical weapons systems, but others are not. Kathleen McInnis writes about the need for strategic empathy, using “Ender’s Game” and others to demonstrate what is lacking in much of our analysis—not a lack of information, but an ability to see our adversaries (and our allies, alike) through their own eyes and circumstances.

It would be interesting to explore a Chinese, Russian, or Iranian counterpart to “To Boldly Go.” Here is something I Imagine Grand Admiral Thrawn, the Chiss officer in both Star Wars Legends and Canon, would fully support. In James Groves’ entry, he explores how the admiral used the art of various cultures to understand their strategy and outlook to the Empire’s great advantage. What could we understand better about Beijing’s view of the future and of technology if we looked through the lens of Liu Cixin’s “Three Body Problem”? What could we learn about Russian societal issues from Sergei Lukyaneko’s “Night Watch”? What does Mohammad Sarshar’s young adult novel about the downing and capture of the RQ-170 drone, “Monster Hunt,” tell us about how Tehran views competition with the United States? Seth G. Jones’ recent book, “Three Dangerous Men,” explores what the military leaders of China, Russia, and Iran say about irregular warfare, but what would they make of their country’s sci-fi?

This is a notable gap, I think, in American publishing—we import and translate far too little fiction writ large, let alone science fiction. As “To Boldly Go” shows, there is so much more to sci-fi than just starships, aliens, and space battles, and I imagine there is vastly more we can learn about our adversaries, as well as our friends, if we read more in their own words.

“To Boldly Go” is one of those books that comes across at the right time and bull's-eyes womp rats in each and every one of the authors’ T-16s (essays). It is exceptionally enjoyable for sci-fi fans and those who may not be familiar with all of the works explored. I must confess that I had not looked at Space Battleship Yamato, but after reading August Cole’s entry, I’ve added it to my to-be-watched queue. I’ve also been inspired to re-read “Old Man’s War” after thinking about it through the analysis of Major General Ryan and others. “To Boldly Go” offers a refreshing take on both the universes explored, but more importantly, the subjects discussed, and looking at today’s challenges and tomorrow’s issues through fresh eyes is more critical now than ever.

About
Joshua Huminski
:
Joshua C. Huminski is Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress. He can be found on Twitter @joshuachuminski.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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What We Can Learn from a Galaxy, Far, Far Away

Photo via Adobe Stock.

October 9, 2021

“To Boldly Go” is a rich exploration of sci-fi universes we know and love, merged flawlessly with discussions on leadership, national security, civil-military relations, diplomacy, and more.

A

long time ago (well, only a few years), in a galaxy far, far away (okay, it was only London), I became hooked on the reboot or reimagining of “Battlestar Galactica” about the fight between the Cylons, machines evolved into human form, and the humans of the 12 Colonies. Some would scoff saying “isn’t that that cheesy ‘70s-show?” or “that sounds nerdy”, to which I would counter it was so much more. It had complex debates about civil-military relations, terrorism and insurgency, ethics and morality, some of which it hit a bit too on the nose, but others it handled far better than any Sunday morning news program. (I also had an entirely surreal Thanksgiving dinner with the actor James Callis who played Gaius Baltar on Battlestar Galactica; he happened to be my colleague’s childhood friend. Baltar was a genius scientist, masterfully manipulated by a particularly crafty Cylon, Six (played by Tricia Helfer), whose indiscretions led to the Colonies’ initial defeat prompting their exodus into space.)

To Boldly Go: Leadership, Strategy, and Conflict in the 21st Century and Beyond | Jonathan Klug (editor) and Steven Leonard (editor) | Casemate | September 2021.

If you only read or watch science fiction casually, you might miss so much of the underlying complexity and nuance. It’s not just about robots, aliens, or lasers. Science or speculative fiction (sci-fi) speaks so much more about the time and anxieties in which it was written than about the future. It also serves as a vehicle through which we can explore issues facing us today in an abstract or harmless space. When stories are about aliens or take place in a galaxy far, far away, people are less likely to retreat to their corners or put up their guard when talking about complex or, perhaps, uncomfortable subjects.

To Boldly Go: Leadership, Strategy, and Conflict in the 21st Century and Beyond,” a new book edited by Jonathan Klug and Steven Leonard, a copy of which was kindly provided by the publisher, Casemate, shows just how deep the universes of sci-fi are, exploring incredibly timely topics from the future of AI, developing inclusive teams, civil-military relations, and much, much more. It is one of the most fun, enjoyable, richest, and thought-provoking books I’ve read in a very long time.

In full disclosure, if it wasn’t obvious from the opening, I’m a policy wonk with a fairly significant nerd streak. While others were enjoying the narrative arcs of Game of Thrones (at least the first few seasons; we won’t discuss the final season), I was far more interested in the strategy of the kingdoms and how such massive armies could support themselves logistically. The book “Winning Westeros” answers a number of these questions and more, and has many of the same authors as “To Boldly Go.” On leaving a screening of the Last Jedi, I was complaining about the First Order’s appalling lack of strategy or tactics to such a sufficient degree that, as a way of ending my rant, they suggested I write it down. So I did and, much to my surprise, this publication kindly decided to publish the lengthy analysis of weapons and tactics in the Star Wars universe.

“To Boldly Go” left me with a smile on my face, which I know sounds a bit odd to say. I always take away something from every book I read, good, bad, or indifferent. I enjoy the act of reading; it is a profoundly enjoyable experience, much more so than other diversions. Of course, my friends and family would quibble as to whether reading a dense or weighty tome could actually be enjoyable, but for me, it is. There are, however, few times where I put a book down and smile with enjoyment, and “To Boldly Go” managed to do just that. It is such a rich exploration of sci-fi universes I know and love, merged flawlessly with discussions on leadership, national security, civil-military relations, diplomacy, and more.

Beyond that, the enjoyment and enthusiasm of each and every one of the authors is so palpable that it’s hard not to smile. Take experts in their craft or field, allow them free reign in universes that they clearly love and enjoy, and sit back and watch the results. Every one of the essays is infused with such enjoyment and fun, even with their weighty and serious topics that it’s hard not to be swept up. It would be immensely fun to gather a few of the authors, buy them their beverage of choice, throw in some pizza, and watch the fireworks as they debate the merits of Captain Kirk over Captain Picard; or whether Apollo Adama in Battlestar Galactica was right in defying his father and what it says about civil-military relations; or what Spock’s beard tells us about toxic leadership. Sounds like a fantastic evening to me.

It’s a testament to Klug and Leonard that they were able to pull such an anthology off with this much success. Essay collections are, for me at least, notoriously difficult to review. There is almost always an uneven quality to the essays—some are good, some are bad, more are in the middle. How does one accurately review such a grouping? Is it how close they stick to the theme? Do you judge it off of the best or the worst essays? For those reasons, I usually avoid reviewing such books, even if I read them. Thankfully, this was not even remotely close of a problem with “To Boldly Go.” Every essay is infused with that enthusiasm to start, but also left me saying to myself “huh, I hadn’t thought of that” or “that’s an interesting way of exploring that issue”.

From Theresa Hitchens’ exploration of the economics of the Expanse universe (exceptionally apropos given the creation of the Space Force and the billionaires’ race to the moon and beyond), to Kera Rolsen’s exploration of why Star Wars’ one-size-fits-all (humans) cockpits limits the Republic’s future, to Kelsey Cipolla’s discussion of the challenges women face in leadership positions through the lens of the conflict between Poe Dameron and Vice Admiral Holdo in the Last Jedi, and everything in between, there is just so much depth to “To Boldly Go” that if you aren’t taking something away from every chapter, you’re just doing it wrong.

The immediacy of the challenges the authors address lies just below the surface. Reading John Scalzi’s excellent “Old Man’s War” and subsequent books in the series raises innumerable lessons on strategy, tactics, and civil-military relations for Major General Mick Ryan of the Australian Army. For Rita Konaev, the universes of Terminator and Star Wars offer insights into human-machine interfaces and the future of artificial intelligence—issues that are very much here and now. Indeed, a major magazine’s cover story this week highlights concerns where the United States is developing rules of ethical weapons systems, but others are not. Kathleen McInnis writes about the need for strategic empathy, using “Ender’s Game” and others to demonstrate what is lacking in much of our analysis—not a lack of information, but an ability to see our adversaries (and our allies, alike) through their own eyes and circumstances.

It would be interesting to explore a Chinese, Russian, or Iranian counterpart to “To Boldly Go.” Here is something I Imagine Grand Admiral Thrawn, the Chiss officer in both Star Wars Legends and Canon, would fully support. In James Groves’ entry, he explores how the admiral used the art of various cultures to understand their strategy and outlook to the Empire’s great advantage. What could we understand better about Beijing’s view of the future and of technology if we looked through the lens of Liu Cixin’s “Three Body Problem”? What could we learn about Russian societal issues from Sergei Lukyaneko’s “Night Watch”? What does Mohammad Sarshar’s young adult novel about the downing and capture of the RQ-170 drone, “Monster Hunt,” tell us about how Tehran views competition with the United States? Seth G. Jones’ recent book, “Three Dangerous Men,” explores what the military leaders of China, Russia, and Iran say about irregular warfare, but what would they make of their country’s sci-fi?

This is a notable gap, I think, in American publishing—we import and translate far too little fiction writ large, let alone science fiction. As “To Boldly Go” shows, there is so much more to sci-fi than just starships, aliens, and space battles, and I imagine there is vastly more we can learn about our adversaries, as well as our friends, if we read more in their own words.

“To Boldly Go” is one of those books that comes across at the right time and bull's-eyes womp rats in each and every one of the authors’ T-16s (essays). It is exceptionally enjoyable for sci-fi fans and those who may not be familiar with all of the works explored. I must confess that I had not looked at Space Battleship Yamato, but after reading August Cole’s entry, I’ve added it to my to-be-watched queue. I’ve also been inspired to re-read “Old Man’s War” after thinking about it through the analysis of Major General Ryan and others. “To Boldly Go” offers a refreshing take on both the universes explored, but more importantly, the subjects discussed, and looking at today’s challenges and tomorrow’s issues through fresh eyes is more critical now than ever.

About
Joshua Huminski
:
Joshua C. Huminski is Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress. He can be found on Twitter @joshuachuminski.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.