Editor’s note: War on the Rocks has partnered with the Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare project, which seeks to use “war-art” challenges to showcase the value of creative thinking in the national security realm and to gain insight into the future of warfare. The best of these works will be prominently featured on the project’s website and included in an electronically published volume produced by the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security in the fall of 2015. This volume will be tentatively titled War Stories from the Future and will include other visual media and graphic arts.
America began the 21st Century on a war footing. What about the close of this century?
The Art of Future Warfare project’s second creative writing contest is decidedly science fiction in theme: short stories about space and interstellar conflict during the last decade of the 21st Century.
In the 2090s, what will be worth fighting over in space? Could there be a “Carter Doctrine” for off-world resources? Who will take up arms, and what might the frontline weapons 80 years from now look like? When today’s U.S. Air Force B-52 bombers are on average 50 years old it is an interesting question. What will such conflict mean to those on Earth?
With this contest, the project asks writers to take us far into the future of armed and social conflict in space. The best stories will be meaningful to readers of today, contemplating the uncertain future of the U.S. manned space program — and remain relevant in the decades to come. There are great examples, such as Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon. The story, which came out in 1865, turned the quest to reach space into a pioneering tale of honor, ambition and outright curiosity about how the biggest gun ever built might realize one of humankind’s longest standing ambitions in a 19th Century post-war America.
Looking to the stars must have come naturally then. Confined in a modern city, the few visible stars are just a murmured invitation to consider the far future beyond Earth. Without such inspiration, it is natural to turn inward. But venture far from civilization’s light, and the stars are beacons not beckoning, but ordering, us to act, even if it is to write.
From that place, what lays beyond Earth is a blank canvas, the ultimate tabula rasa. Even today’s understanding of physics need not apply in the right writer’s hands. All can be made anew. Yet in the same way a black and white photograph focuses our attention on living beings in an image devoid of rich color, the off-world realm gives a limitless tableau for humankind’s altruistic ambitions and far fewer places to conceal its baser qualities. This tension between our best and worst is elemental in science fiction because technology is often used as the broker of this duality.
No better advice for this challenge.
August Cole is the director of the Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare project and a non-resident senior fellow at the Council. He is a writer, consultant and analyst. His first novel, GHOST FLEET, co-written with Peter W. Singer, will be published in 2015.
Photo credit: thedaintyheart