Before Tarkin: A Selection of Earlier PoliSciFi writings

Posted: July 18, 2012 by blogtarkin in Uncategorized
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1. Adam Elkus, The Strategic Implications of Giant Robots in Space:

Mobile Suits and ships locked in combat

One important ability is that expeditionary forces can, with proper equipment, campaign in both Earth and space. In low-intensity warfare, guerrilla bands or terrorists move from place to place with a mobile base ship, carrying out a process of moral and strategic attrition. If Earth grows too hot for them, they can “break out” to hide in space. Since “magic bullet” weapons (tactical nukes and abnormally powerful suits) are available, small groups of properly equipped suits can inflict great damage on civilian and military targets. In one episode, a “bitter-ender” partisan armed with a tactical nuclear weapon annihilates a significant portion of a Earth naval fleet review.

It goes without saying that nowhere is logistics at any point considered beyond the strategic problem of resources for protracted war.

Jedi Council member Adam Elkus wrote one of the most accessible studies of fictional war I’ve ever seen, and set out some good principles for taking it seriously. Acknowledge that a lot of sci-fi hinges on functional absurdity in favor of aesthetics, treat it as an internally consistent universe, and assume it is one where rational actors and strategy apply just as much as they do in reality.

2. Ben Adams, How to Hack into an Alien Space Ship:

Perhaps their culture is so rigidly honest that lying, even to a computer system, is utterly taboo. The captured alien certainly isn’t reticent to tell the President all of their plans. Perhaps, like in Harry Turltedove’s World War series, their culture was united under one empire so early in their history that certain aspects of war never really became an issue, and they are woefully unprepared for an asymmetric “insider”-attack. In a society where individuals can communicate mind to mind (as the aliens can), would unauthorized access to computers even be a thing? There’s no reason to assume that just because one aspect of their technology is powerful that another will be as well developed.

What’s clear from the movie, however, is that their security sucks. Centralization is generally a bad sign from a computer security standpoint. Their system is so heavily centralized that an external agent (the Mother Ship) can manipulate an individual Fighter to a ridiculous level of granularity, even overriding the system and opening the cockpit doors. Any human security expert would lose their mind if they discovered than an F/A-18 was designed so that a remote signal could lower the landing gear or open the cockpit hatch without the pilot’s consent – the potential for abuse by an enemy is too great.

This and the next entry both deal with alien invasion in film, and while the next piece is a dissection of how poorly thought-out most invasions are, this one instead justifies the depiction of aliens in Independence Day with probably more thought than Roland Emmerlich ever put into it. Extrapolating from what is seen on the screen, Adams finds takes key details: the 40-year project with the alien fighter, the far-reaching control of their network, and an interface with it through decoded transmission, and builds them into an understanding of how a space-faring race could be defeated by a powerbook. This piece, while mostly a commentary on the film, has cybersecurity insights that it directly relates back to reality.

3. S Peter Davis, 6 Giant Blind Spots In Every Movie Alien’s Invasion Strategy

Punching a mugger in the knife

Punching a mugger in the knife

Yes, we get why you might think it makes perfect sense to attack the powerful developed world first, just to get it out of the way, knowing that whoever’s left won’t put up much of a fight. That is, it makes sense if you are a Hollywood scriptwriter who has never had to plan a war. In reality, going straight for the United States is like trying to take down a mugger by punching him in the knife.

It’s written as comedy, but the thought put into dissecting why Alien invasions in film go so poorly is clearly greater than the filmmakers themselves put into creating those invasions. Just imagine for a moment if Aliens, rather than mounting a full-scale assault on the United States, set up camp somewhere that America has a hard time operating. Deep in the FATA, say, or perhaps as the guests of our enemies (much like Cortez and his Tlaxicala gambit), and then launch a campaign of conquest, with a local base to return to. Infinitely smarter plan! Yet film aliens keep making this mistake. In the Avengers, of all the places Loki could choose to make his big stand, why did he pick the one spot where Iron Man would have the most resources available to stop him? (Granted, there are good theories for that, but he still shouldn’t have punched the muggers in the knife.)

  1. Michael says:

    Random thoughts:
    1. ‘Astropolitik’ predates the 90s– read Heinlein’s MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS.
    2. Logistics were addressed in part of MOBILE SUIT GUNDUM. I haven’t any episodes in ages, but I seem to recall a story arc centering around efforts to get supplies to the White Base.
    3. Assuming for the sake of argument that arms are good things to have on your war machines, why on (insert favorite planet) does one need legs when your universe includes anti-grav machines? OUTLAW STAR is actually somewhat more realistic in this regard.
    4. Jerry Pournelle’s FOOTFALL does offer a plausible explanation for CRACKED’s #2 observation: his alien invaders were exiles from their home world. There were no reinforcements to call in.
    5. Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest book, 2312 (btw, his MARS books also qualify as good military sci fi) isn’t an alien invasion book. It does, however, hinge in part on the premise that- even with futuristic medicine- dwellers in artificial habitats still need to spend time in open-air habitats. Combined with Pournelle’s exiles, this offers a plausible counterpoint to #1; the alien invaders may simply want a home.

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