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Review: To Boldly Go


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To Boldly Go: Leadership, Strategy, and Conflict in the 21st Century and Beyond
by Jonathan Klug and Steven Leonard (eds.)
Casemate, 2021
hardcover, 304 pp.
ISBN 978-1-63624-062-6
US$34.95

Science fiction’s role in shaping the Space Age has long been appreciated. Countless scientists and engineers have cited the inspiration provided by science fiction novels, movies, and TV shows to pursue careers in the industry and work on spacecraft, launch vehicles, and other technologies linked to those accounts. But besides that inspiration—and, of course, entertainment—is there anything else science fiction can offer?

The new book To Boldly Go mines the science fiction canon, particularly space-themed science fiction, for lessons related to leadership and strategy. Editors Jonathan Klug and Steven Leonard, professors at the US Army War College and the University of Kansas, respectively, commissioned nearly three dozen short essays that look to science fiction for lessons and insights on topics ranging from military tactics to strategy and policy.

While the authors relied heavily on space-based science fiction, filled with sagas of spaceship battles in our solar system or galaxies far, far away, the lessons derived from them in the essays are often far more down to Earth.

With a particular emphasis on military topics—the book’s foreword is by Mick Ryan, a major general in Australia’s army—there are some obvious science-fiction works referenced in the essays: Ender’s Game, Starship Troopers, Old Man’s War, and the Battlestar Galactica series. But the authors also examine a much broader range of popular science fiction, including the Star Wars and Star Trek universes, The Expanse, Babylon 5, and more.

While the authors relied heavily on space-based science fiction, filled with sagas of spaceship battles in our solar system or galaxies far, far away, the lessons derived from them in the essays are often far more down to Earth. One essay describes the battle between Kirk’s Enterprise and Khan’s Reliant in Star Trek II as evidence of the value of experience over knowledge. (Khan, another essay points out, is a prime example of toxic leadership. Who knew?) Another essay uses Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, a character in The Last Jedi Star Wars movie, as a lens to examine perceptions of women in leadership.

An essay that does have some lessons specific to space policy is one by Theresa Hitchens, which draws parallels between the corporate-driven expansion into the solar system depicted in The Expanse with the current rise in space activities, many of which led by billionaires, operating within an ill-defined scheme of national and international regulations. “The alternative to a well-regulated commercial space market is a dangerous ‘Wild West’ scenario, driven by the heirs to the East India Company and the prototypes for the likes of Tycho and Mao-Kwikowski in The Expanse,” she warns.

Appreciating To Boldly Go requires some fluency in science fiction, but most readers are likely to be familiar with the vast majority, if not all, of the works referenced in the essays; the authors avoid lesser-known authors or series. Many of the lessons derived may be obvious, but they are often entertaining and enlightening and, like the cautionary case from The Expanse, offer lessons we ignore at our peril.


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