Military Book Reviews

To Boldly Go: Leadership, Strategy, and Conflict in the 21st Century and Beyond

To Boldly Go: Leadership, Strategy, and Conflict in the 21st Century and Beyond edited by Jonathan Klug and Steven Leonard (Casemate, 2021, 304 pages)

The literature of ideas. When author Pamela Sargent used those words to describe science fiction in 1975, the genre had exploded into the literary mainstream. As a literature of ideas, science fiction has proven to be a powerful metaphor for the world around us, offering a rich tapestry of imagination through which to explore how we lead, how we think, and how we interact. To Boldly Go assembles more than 30 writers from around the world to help us better understand ourselves through the lens of science fiction.


The title of this book is a clear sign to those familiar with Star Trek that this is not your typical book about strategy and leadership. If you have ever wanted to see Clausewitz and Sun Tzu mentioned on the same page as Captain James T. Kirk or Darth Vader, then this may be the book you are looking for. 

Overview

The book comprises thirty-five chapters grouped into six sections, each focused on a specific topic, such as the interaction between humans and technology, military strategy and decision making, and conflict and war. The chapters are all about six pages long, but they are very dense with ideas to think about over a cup of coffee or to discuss with a small group. 

Many of the chapters in the book feature major popular science fiction properties, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, or Dune, but there are also chapters discussing lesser known works, such as the books of Octavia Butler, Starship Troopers (the book and the movie,) and the television series Babylon 5. In all, there are over fifty different science fiction properties referenced, covering books, movies, and television. 

Takeaways

The various chapters touch on some of the biggest issues of our times, such as diversity, women in combat, civil-military relations, and leadership (both good and bad). Looking at these issues through the lens of science fiction allows the reader to consider them in a new way or from a fresh perspective. 

Don’t worry if you do not have an encyclopedic knowledge of all science fiction properties of the last few decades. Various authors briefly explain the key plot elements of the books, movies, or television episodes they are drawing from before launching into some analysis and discussion. The reader may initially be drawn more to the chapters featuring the properties they are familiar with, but it’s well worth reading the other chapters as well. The downside is that your reading list is going to get longer, as you will find yourself wanting to read the book referenced or check out the movie or television episode discussed.

For avid science fiction fans, this book is a treat. The variety and total number of science fiction properties referenced in the book are impressive, and the issues addressed are more relevant than ever with the use of drones and technology in the conflict in Ukraine, the increasing weaponization of space, and the ongoing discussion of gender, diversity, and inclusion in the military. Those questioning the use of fiction should refer to a quote from the foreword, written by Major General Mick Ryan of the Australian Army, “Science fiction offers military organizations a tool for nurturing creativity and imagination in an otherwise conservative institution.” To Boldly Go will have you looking at leadership, strategy, and science fiction in ways you may not have considered before and is perfect for anyone wanting to think more about those topics.    


Stephen Lepper served 21 years on Active Duty with the U.S. Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps. He lives with his family in central Massachusetts and is always on the lookout for what to read next. You can connect with him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephen-lepper. 

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