Science Fiction and the Strategist: A Reading List

Reading science fiction is not only enjoyable, but can also be an intellectually nourishing experience for the military professional. Reading science fiction drives us to think about the future and frees us from the constraints of the present, allowing us to see the trends affecting today's military in a new way. It draws our thinking out of current operations, out of the day-to-day meetings and PowerPoint presentations. In many ways, science fiction is the forward-looking, speculative complement to history, which provides past precedent and ways of thinking to be considered. Consciously or subconsciously, reading science fiction leads to thinking about the future of our respective services and the profession of arms.

There are several reasons why science fiction should comprise one element of an effective, broad reading program for military officers, particularly those who will assess and direct operations or programs that shape national security over the long term.

  1. Reading science fiction can nurture the hope that there is something better in the future. These types of books describe people working through scenarios which we ourselves cannot imagine, but thereby providing hope that we can solve the problems put before us today. While conflict, catastrophe, and climate change feature in many of these types of 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.

  2. Reading science fiction allows one to think about a variety of negative potential futures. The dystopian future genre, particularly for younger readers, 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 good that military officers should read such descriptions of alternate futures; it is the first step in ensuring that they do not come to pass.

  3. Science fiction allows us to think about technology in different ways. Whether it is an alternate reality or the distant future, science fiction can inspire different ways of thinking about novel technologies and how to employ them.

  4. Reading science fiction provides variety in honing one’s intellect. Embracing variety in professional reading increases a reader’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.

  5. Finally, science fiction reminds a military officer 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 and honor that are integral to human warfare, are enduring. Notwithstanding the technological marvels of science fiction novels, war ultimately remains a human endeavor.

We highly recommend the books and online reading below to expand and diversify professional reading for military officers:


Online Science Fiction

Brigadier Mick Ryan is an Australian Army officer. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the USMC Staff College and School of Advanced Warfare, he is a passionate advocate of professional education and lifelong learning. The views expressed are the author's and do not reflect the official position of the Australian Army, the Australian Department of Defence, or the Australian Government.

Nathan K. Finney is an officer in the U.S. Army with a focus on strategy and planning. He is also a founder and Board Member of The Bridge, the founder and Managing Director of the Military Fellowship at the Project on International Peace & Security, a founding member of the Military Writers Guild, a term member at the Council on Foreign Relations, and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point. The views expressed are the author's and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

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