Daily Archives: May 28, 2010

Status Update: Friday, Noonish

For all of those who just can’t live, if living is without me:

My epically bad travel karma decided not to exhibit itself yesterday and I got in Phoenix without any particular problems, which just means that when I leave Monday I’M DOOMED. But I’ll worry about that later. On the way in to the hotel stopped for In-N-Out with Lee Whiteside and Nadine, my guest liaison, both of whom clearly know what my priorities are. They also provided me with a 12 pack of Coke Zero. I LOVE THEM.

Once ensconced at the hotel I caught up with Wil, who asked “so are you doing the preview night?” to which I said “Bwuh?” It was then explained to me that Thursday nights are sort of the laid back informal night for folks here, but that folks still show up to the exhibitor space, so why not go and do that. So I spent a couple of hours at the exhibitor space, at my little table, occasionally signing books and meeting folks. I also got my hands on a copy of the Tor edition of METAtropolis, which is lovely, and which you can see Wil modeling above. Then off to dinner with friends, and then complete loss of consciousness (to be clear, after I returned to my room). In the morning I wandered off to do errands and met Felicia Day in the elevator. We totally bonded and are now ZOMG best friends forever. FOREVER. Those last two sentences were not creepy at all.

Today’s formal activities: A panel on Stargate:Universe, a panel on bad design in science fiction universe, a signing slot and then later tonight Rock Band with Wil. Because that’s how we geeks roll, yo.

The Big Idea: David J. Williams

Everything you know about war is going to change… someday. We know that because it always has before; we’re not fighting wars today like we fought them 70 or 90 years ago, and those were fought differently than the wars before then. What will the next war be? With The Machinery of Light and the rest of his Autumn Rain trilogy of books, author David J. Williams gives you an answer. Here’s the short version of the short version.


“There will be a convergence between the rise of a peer competitor and the maturing of technologies that could threaten U.S. military dominance.”

–Lt. Col. Thomas Bell, USAF, in “Weaponization of Space:  Understanding Strategic and Technological Inevitabilities”

I get bored by all those Hollywood movies in which the world dodges total war/Armageddon at the last moment.

And I’m figuring I’m not the only one.

So I decided to give the people what they want:

The finale of my Autumn Rain trilogy features World War Three across the Earth-Moon system.  I don’t think that’s really much of a spoiler, because it’s kinda obvious from the back-cover…  and besides, the War to End All Wars is really just the background to the trilogy’s finale.  Because while the United States and the Eurasian Coalition are beating the crap out of each other, an even deadlier game is taking place behind the scenes…  as my verging-on-posthuman characters struggle to uncover the secret behind the Autumn Rain experiments… even as those experiments approach culmination…

But I digress.

Regardless of geopolitical permutations, we can postulate certain principles that will govern the next phase of warfare.  I took a stab at synthesizing the research I’d done in writing the Autumn Rain books into an overarching theory:  you can see the entirety of it here—and presented it last year at the Library of Congress and the National Academy of Sciences, so it’s been getting some nice attention.  My basic contention is that the current so-called “generation” of warfare (which favors insurgencies/guerillas) will give way at some point across the 21st century to a new paradigm favoring retooled/revamped nation-states.  Were those nation-states to engage in total war, the ultimate outcome would be totally unpredictable, of course.  But here’s some of the dynamics I would expect to see in what unfolds:

The outcome of the war will be determined in space:  Space is already militarized.  Every time an American GI in Iraq uses GPS, he or she is dependent on space-based assets.  Anyone who wants to neutralize American supremacy needs to eliminate those assets.   In addition, whichever side controls space can engage in strategic bombardment of the other’s homeland from orbit.  (The evolution of space-based weaponry is thus likely to proceed along the same lines of the early 20th century, where each side first used the air for reconnaissance… and then started mounting guns on their aircraft and targeting other aircraft… and then started bombing targets on the ground… )

The war in space will be a function of “topography”:  In the lower orbits, you’re looking at the mother of all free-for-alls, thanks to a myriad intersecting orbits.  But higher up, things are even more interesting.  The key libration points—L4 and L5, where the gravity of Earth and Moon allow a smaller object to remain stationary with respect to them both—will be particularly strategic.  As Heinlein once noted, if you had a mass-driver at L5 (and enough rocks), you could control everything.  Or at least wipe the smile off anybody you didn’t like down on the surface…

Solid vs. space tension:  Though the Moon is lower down the gravity well than L4/L5, your hardware there might be more advantaged, since you could bury it underground, whereas anything hung at L4/L5 would be more than a little exposed.

You aren’t going to see any flying aces:  The rise of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) is merely the start of it.  With the advent of hypersonic engines, we’re going to be creating aircraft capable of pulling more Gs than a pilot can withstand.  Beside which, those aircraft will be intensely vulnerable to…

Directed-energy (DE) weaponry will come into its prime:  By this I don’t mean handheld laser weapons—that’s something that will remain science fiction – but rather, laser cannons:  strategic weaponry capable of striking targets at long range.  Such weaponry is likely to mature across the next several decades, and will transform warfare.  Not just because you’ll be able to hit any point on the surface at the speed-of-light.  But also because it will make the industrial-strength missile shields that Reagan dreamt of a reality.  Which means that…

Cities will be detargeted, at least initially:  the primary target of weapons will be other weapons, with the #1 goal being the speedy elimination of the other side’s DE capability.  Cities can be nuked (or held hostage to those nukes) once you’ve broken down your opponent’s defenses.  From which we can expect…

Rapid degradation of firepower:   With energy weapons blasting away at one another, the attrition of those weapons will be disproportionately concentrated in the initial stages of the war.  After all, this is speed-of-light warfare we’re talking about.  In particular—and particularly scary—it will almost certainly be necessary to take humans out of the firing loop.  Reaction time will belong to the machines.   And speaking of…

Let’s not forget about cyberspace:   The single best way to deal with an enemy asset is to hack it.  When Russia went after Georgia in 2008, they shut down the Georgian net.  When two superpowers try to do the same thing to each other, look out.

Expect to be surprised:  From the Roman corvus to Allied code-breaking, secret weapons have determined more than one war.  And it’s no secret that The Machinery of Light contains more than one secret weapon…


The Machinery of Light: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit Williams’ blog. Follow him on Twitter.