Seven sci-fi models for the Space Force
Trump wants a Space Force. Seven sci-fi stories have already considered the possibility.
“The time has come,” Vice President Mike Pence said on August 9, 2018, “to establish the United States Space Force.” Predictably, the announcement was met with controversy. Some have argued that the militarization of space runs counter to the peaceful, scientific ethos of NASA’s longstanding mission. Others considered that it was a necessary step to keep up with Russian and Chinese satellite-destroying missile initiatives. Still others believed that, while the U.S. has to keep up with the militarization of space by other powers—it doesn’t need to rebrand what has already been going on under other, preexisting Air Force initiatives.
But the Space Force’s impending creation has also generated a lot of parody. Stephen Colbert quipped that he wanted to give a shout out to “our fighting boys on the asteroid belt.” One YouTuber even set Pence’s speech to music from the Halo video game franchise—a canny combination revealing how the plot of world history is running remarkably (and terrifyingly) close to the plot of a blockbuster movie or high-concept video game.
Perhaps we would be able to take the Space Force and its debate more seriously if it hadn’t seemed like a characteristically offbeat suggestion from the mercurial commander-in-chief. In March 2018, Trump floated the idea of a Space Force in a speech at a U.S. Marines base. As reported by CNBC:
“Space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air, and sea,” Trump told an audience of service members at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. “We may even have a Space Force, develop another one, Space Force. We have the Air Force, we’ll have the Space Force.”
The concept might not have been so improvisational as the quote suggests, as The Los Angeles Times has reported that members of the aerospace industry have been lobbying the U.S Government for the creation of a militarized “space” branch since 2016. There’s also the matter of how Trump is using the Space Force branding to finance his reelection campaign.
Still, the goals of the future Space Force remain unclear. Since the world seems to have been teetering into Twilight Zone territory for a while now, it’s a good thing that there are several models of militarized space operations sketched out in popular science fiction books and movies for us to help frame the Space Force initiative. Because President Trump is not an avid reader, he is probably not familiar with these examples — but that doesn’t mean we can’t look at them anyway!
Without further ado—let’s see what may lay in store for the future of the Final Frontier.
1. The Militarist World State of ‘Starship Troopers’
Robert Heinlein’s 1959 novel features a world government’s war against an alien species pejoratively dubbed as the “Bugs.” The space warriors of the tale are the eponymous ‘Starship Troopers,’ who wear pretty awesome mechanized spacesuits, inspiring a host of sci-fi literature and video games with similar conceits.
But the most interesting—and ominous—aspect of Heinlein’s novel is the structure of the world government. In this ‘utopia,’ only veterans of the armed forces are allowed to vote. This is ostensibly to make sure that only people who have sacrificed for the greater good will be part of the political decision-making process, thus (theoretically) ensuring that the government would act in such a utilitarian way as a whole.
While the idea of political actors working in the interest of the greater good is noble in concept (and something we could definitely use a lot more of these days)—it’s dubious that Heinlein’s military-centric government would magically resolve issues of political selfishness and corruption all on its own.
2. The child generals of ‘Ender’s Game’
When Orson Scott Card conceived of Ender’s Game in 1985, he was way ahead of the curve. In the novel, a twist on the Starship Troopers formula—gifted children are recruited into Battle School, the world government’s ‘Hogwarts–in–space’ for budding military strategists. The institution’s goal is to exploit child creativity and video game skills to make them suitable commanders in the ongoing war against the “Buggers,” a race of ant–like aliens who have previously attacked Earth.
Given the rise of E-Sports, VR technology, and drone pilots who operate military aircraft in the Middle East from the comfort of Air Force bases in Nevada—the idea that skilled individuals (not necessarily children) could control military operations from afar is hardly fantasy. It’s already happening.
3. The Imperial Sardaukar of ‘Dune’
Dune, Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi fantasy novel, is a classic blend of history and imagination. Published in 1965, the book features a feudal, galaxy–sprawling empire ruled by the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV. His soldiers are the fanatic Sardaukar terror troops, raised on the hellish planet Salusa Secundus in the worst possible conditions, where only the strongest survive to serve their emperor.
In the 1985 David Lynch movie, the Sardaukar are kind of goofy, wearing poofy black hazmat suits with green lights coming from their helmets. Given their brutal upbringing, the Sardaukar of the novel are more like a sci-fi, brainwashed take on the warriors of ancient Sparta.
Still, the idea of the Sardaukar is too crazy for a future U.S. Space Force. We hope?
4. The Galactic Empire of ‘Star Wars’
Like the Sardaukar of Dune, the Galactic Empire of the Star Wars saga presents another intriguing take on the past–as–future space military. Notably, most all Imperial officers have British accents, thus associating them with the British Empire at its height—and its quest for global domination. (The Rebels of the saga usually have American accents, which is ironic given America’s contemporary military dominance.)
But the sneering, arrogant tone of Darth Vader’s British underlings contributes to the old-world feel of the Star Wars franchise—an attitude unlikely to translate in an American Star Destroyer, where we’d more likely see no-nonsense generals like Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men giving out orders for Code Reds and planetary demolitions.
5. Star Fleet from ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’
A pivotal plot point of Star Trek Into Darkness, the second film in the modern Star Trek reboot films, is the military–space complex. While the film franchise’s international and interstellar Star Fleet is supposed to be dedicated to peaceful exploration and conflict arbitration, like a Space United Nations—this movie centers around the political machinations of the nefarious Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), who wants to provoke a war with the Klingons and militarize Star Fleet with his black-painted capital ship—the U.S.S. Vengeance.
A prescient commentary on transforming NASA into a Space Force? Indeed, its not–so–subtle theme certainly seems relevant today.
6. The Gattaca Aerospace Corporation from ‘Gattaca’
In the sleek midcentury–modern world of the 1997 film Gattaca, eugenics have created a caste system between the genetically-engineered and humans born “the traditional way.” The plot revolves around the efforts of Vincent (Ethan Hawke), an ambitious young man who was born of his parent’s love, rather than a test tube. Vincent’s dream is to go into space, and so he borrows the identity of another, genetically–perfect man (Jude Law) to get a job at Gattaca, an aerospace company partially set in a Frank Lloyd Wright building and run by Gore Vidal. Actually.
The idea of a private aerospace company playing a major role in space operations is very close to the longstanding dominance of companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, etc.—and the new arrival of Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.
So, in short—while Gattaca’s eugenics theme has still not arrived to create new forms of prejudice in our lives (thank goodness)—the eponymous company might as well have. Still waiting on the return of the Frank Lloyd Wright—Mad Men aesthetic, though.
7. The Colonial Marines from ‘Aliens’
Decades after the disastrous events of Alien, in which a group of space miners are terrorized by an alien monster—a group of American colonists settle on the planet where the alien calls home. Soon enough, they are soon overrun and the Colonial Marines are deployed for the rescue op. Except it’s not just a rescue mission—it’s really a mission to recover the corporate property of the Weyland-Yutani conglomerate—a specimen of the alien itself.
Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the sole survivor of the first Alien, wakes from cryosleep to accompany the mission. And despite the vast array of weaponry the Colonial Marines bring to put down the alien infestation, one by one the soldiers are eliminated.
A classic tale of military hubris, Aliens (1979) is the story of a Space Force led astray by corporate greed. Perhaps that is the lesson of the real-life Space Force. If aerospace lobbyists are the only ones pushing for the U.S. to acquire expensive space warfare equipment—do we really need a Space Force at all?
We likely won’t know until it’s game over, man.
This is by no means a complete list of sci-fi ‘Space Forces’, so if you have any suggestions, please comment below!