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

  • Published

To Boldly Go: Leadership, Strategy, and Conflict in the 21st Century and Beyond by Jonathan Klug and Steven Leonard. Casemate Publishers, 2021, 286 pp. 

What can we learn about leadership from the science fiction classics Ender’s Game or Starship Troopers? Can Star Trek Deep Space Nine provide insights into naval warfare? How about whether we should fear artificial intelligence as seen in Battlestar Galactica, or will artificial intelligence simply find humans tedious as in the Murderbot series?

For those who have pondered such questions over cigars while deployed in the desert, with friends and a glass of scotch, or even in their deepest musings while commuting through traffic, there is a finally a book with the answers you seek! Jonathan Klug and Steven Leonard’s To Boldly Go tackles serious issues through a medium loved by many: science fiction. The collection of essays broaches surprisingly complex contemporary issues and mines the farthest reaches of our imaginations for answers that are not only entertaining, but legitimately thought-provoking.

On the surface, To Boldly Go suggests a nerdy exposé of obscure sci-fi concepts with little appeal to the common military reader. The book clearly seeks to capitalize on the significant overlap between strategy nerds and sci-fi nerds. Those that fall into the former but not the latter category would still do well to explore some of the essays, as most are accessible even to those unfamiliar with the source material. In fact, the essays that pull from unknown sources are often the most interesting to read.

The book consists of 35 essays crafted by some of today’s best-known science fiction authors and military strategists. It is broken into six sections focusing on leadership and command; strategy; ethics and diversity; competition and conflict; humanity and technology; and finally, the dark side of toxic leadership. The essays are quick reads and easily digestible over lunch, a commute, or during your kid’s soccer practice. But that does not mean they are light reading!

The book excels at exploring complex issues of interest to modern military leaders and thinkers. The use of science fiction allows the authors and the readers to break free from known conventions and explore the ideas from new angles. The book is well-timed to coincide with the growing acceptance of science fiction in popular culture through massive hits such as Star Wars and Dune.

My early critique of the book was that I only connected with the essays that pulled from franchises I was familiar with or held prior interest. But by the second section, I widened my aperture as the quality of the essay’s analysis increased. I could connect with stories I did not know and seriously ponder the lessons and questions posed by the authors. By the third section, I was hooked, and I could appreciate familiar content with the happy heart of a fan boy while also adding several series to my read and watch lists. I went into the book expecting beer-drinking-level discussions and left it with the mentally tired but happy feeling that comes from a productive college class from a favorite subject.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys military strategy, leadership, or the role of future technology in our lives who also appreciates science fiction. I would tell them to come for the comfort of topics and franchises they love and stay for the new worlds and thoughts it will help them discover. If nothing else, it will breathe new life into many water cooler discussions.

Lieutenant Colonel Ian Bertram, USAF

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."