Marines go Sci-Fi

Updated: February 3, 2016


By Kevin Wilson

The Marine Corps Times recently reported that the Marine Corps is teaming up three prominent science fiction authors with 17 service members in possession of dangerous contraband known as “imagination”, for the purpose of creating a credible narrative of what the world might look like thirty years from now. Their stated goal is to use the insights gleaned from this meeting of the minds in order to better understand and prepare for the wars of tomorrow.

My first thought, after getting over the initial shock that they found 17 Marines capable of reading, was that their choice in authors was somewhat lacking. 

August Cole, author of the speculative fiction novel Ghost Fleet, makes sense. His novel, though somewhat fanciful, pictures a world where America is under attack. Veterans team up to form the sort of insurgency that most of us dream about while masturbating to watching Red Dawn. Teenagers go apeshit on the Internet, wreaking havoc on enemy networks. It’s like Fox News got knocked up by the ghost of Tom Clancy.

The other two authors, however, make less sense. 



Max Brooks, author of World War Z, can spin a compelling narrative, make no doubt about it. World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide are both entertaining as hell, but there’s a problem: Brooks understands as much about modern military tactics and weaponry as your average third grader. He pictures a world where humanity is overrun by the undead because they just can’t cope with the idea. In reality, 90% of servicemembers, past and present, are waiting for Z-day just so they have an excuse to shoot their neighbors in the face.

Charles E. Gannon, the third author, is responsible for the Tales of the Terran Republic series, a perfectly serviceable series of science fiction books about humanity’s first contact with aliens and the ensuing war. There’s nothing particularly wrong with them, but the concept has been done many times over, and has been done better many times over.

So who would I choose to replace them?

Well I’m glad you asked, Straw Reader, because I’m about to tell you.

Instead of Max Brooks, I’d bring in Karen Traviss. Traviss is most well known for the Star Wars: Republic Commando series, as well as being one of the three authors of the Star Wars: Legacy of the Force series. She’s also done an assortment of other military science fiction novels, but those are the ones for which she is best known. Now, in Star Wars nerddom, she’s either one of the best authors to grace the franchise, or one of the most overrated. I tend to lean towards the first camp.

Her Republic Commando novels brought something that was much lacking in previous Star Wars books: a sense of realism when approaching warfare. Her main characters were by and large not space wizards wielding a mysterious Force, they were soldiers. They were well trained, highly skilled professionals who did the jobs no one else wanted or could do, and rather than put them on a pedestal or treat them like vermin, she made them people. More importantly for this project, she also developed realistic small unit tactics based around futuristic weaponry and technology. Her books didn’t focus on large scale warfare, they focused on small units operating independently from a higher support structure in a variety of environments ranging from urban to jungle to desert to spaceship.

The next author I’d bring onboard will be a somewhat controversial choice, but one that I feel would be uniquely suited for the project: John Ringo. No, not the villain from Tombstone, the prolific science fiction author and former member of the 82nd Airborne who has churned out so many novels it would be impossible to list them all. Depending on who you ask, he’s either an out of touch kook or a visionary, and if you ever have the misfortune of trying to read his Paladin of Shadows series, well, bring brain bleach. zombie-apocalypse-t-shirt-21

However, his Legacy of the Aldenata series, alternatively known as The Posleen War, already tackled this exact subject. In the opening novel, A Hymn Before Battle, humanity finds themselves in the crosshairs of an alien menace that threatens to wipe out galactic civilization. The nominally friendly alien Federation is made up of species that are, for various reasons, incapable of fighting. They’ve known about humanity and our penchant for killing shit since prehistory, and have just sort of been ignoring us until they couldn’t afford to any longer. The Pentagon responds by calling in as many military science fiction writers as possible to dream up weapons capable of fighting the seemingly unstoppable Posleen horde.

Aside from featuring excellent action scenes and a harrowing running battle throughout Virginia and later in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, the Posleen War series provides a possible glimpse into the future of warfare. It’s also a harrowing cautionary tale of what might happen if humanity fails to adapt to the challenges that face it.

So there you have it folks. While I applaud the Marine Corps’s decision to tackle this issue in an uncharacteristically imaginative way, they did a pretty shitty job of choosing their science fiction authors. Maybe we can convince the Army to rip off the idea, only with better taste.




  1. Whitey

    February 3, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    I agree, but John Ringo really doesn’t need the help. BTW, his “The Last Centurion” should be required reading in every high school.

  2. eric

    February 4, 2016 at 8:30 am

    Cole actually *doesn’t* make a ton of sense. The point of these exercises (and this is what I’ve been personally told by 2 writers who’ve been involved in similar ones in the past) is to get outsider perspectives. Cole’s book is all insider perspectives. Interesting as hell, but they all already know that stuff. (Or should.)

    From that perspective, Brooks makes a lot of sense because what he’s imagining is the unconventional foe. Getting hung up on the details (“but his zombies are slow!”) is less useful than focusing on the generality: he’s talking about a foe who can’t be addressed using the military tactics of previous modern wars. Which is pretty much what’s going to be the case in a future dominated by resource-wars.

    There’s a long tradition of this kind of thing. In the past, the Pentagon has called on, off the top of my head, Robert Heinlein, Fred Pohl, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, Rob Sawyer, David Brin, Nancy Kress, & Bruce Sterling. Lots of others I don’t know about or can’t remember.

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