Mines of Mercury WRITING PROMPT

Shared previously on a Facebook page, the following is the writing prompt for the current project, The Mines of Mercury:


Year 3017. After the terraforming of Mars and Venus and the collapse of the former societies of those worlds, Mercury collapsed as well. The United Nations wars and the loss of trade partners devastated their economy, but the culture and technological advances of the distant past linger on, unlike on Venus and Mars.

Beneath the surface of Mercury run a series of interconnected tunnels deep enough to protect from the extreme rages of heat and cold between night and day, passageways that used to be mines, shafts that cut across the entire planet. The metals that built the panesl that provided Venus' artificial day and night, built the colony on Earth's moon, contributed to the settlement of Mars, that supplied spaceships for the exploration of the entire Solar System--these mostly came from the mines of Mercury.

The mines are a ghost of what they used to be. Only a relative handful of the robotic workers still function, the massive excavators fallen into decay from centuries of disuse. Among the few remaining mines, robots work some shafts, while in others, humans provide all the labor, in places with pick and shovel. Multiple republics cut across sections of the planet, only recently united with one another in a weak confederation. Cultures are diverse. No one language or time period is represented. The majority believe in God but without any specific devotion. Strong faith of any kind and organized religion are rare, but held on to fiercely by the small minority who believe.

Robotic workers predominate in some areas, especially in the hotter tunnels around the equator, while others are dominated by mining corporations and labor unions, while still others are littered with small stakes, pirates, and claim jumpers. Especially remote are the cold tunnels around Mercury's North Pole. The United Republics of Mercury are trying to rebuild the basis of their economies and repair the shipyards, to reclaim their heritage. They need the mines.


But in the depths of the mineshafts emerge strange beastes, genetically engineered monsters that linger in the darkness, "gifts" of the genetic masters of Planet Earth, though few on Mercury will discover this. For the Earthlings, "Earth is our mother" and living anywhere else is a violation of the natural order. They hope to force the mines of Mercury to close and the inhabitants of the planet to return home to "mother."

"Mother Earth" is a child abuser, her astounding monstrosities devouring both man and machine...

At #RealmMakers2019 conference!

Virtual Release Party for Beatitudes & Woes Anthology!

When?: July 13, 2019 at 8:00 pm – 9:00 pm CT,  Time for a (Facebook!) party!

Where?: Event on facebook: "Release Party for Beatitudes & Woes"


Beatitudes and Woes is the new anthology coming out from this weekend.

Join us Saturday evening's Release Party for fun and frivolity and even some potential to win FREE STUFF!

Parties need snacks. What kind of snacks will you be enjoying?

Submissions are still open for The Mines of Mercury!


July has brought a lot of new addtions to our books so far: A Shattered World, What Aliens Teach us About God, Writing Speculative Fiction: Adult Self-Paced Edition, and Tales of the Phoenix!

Yet to come in the near future (God willing): Mythic Orbits 3, Spanish and French versions of What Aliens Teach us About God, and Worlds of Weinbaum (based on classic science fiction short stories by Stanely L. Weinbaum).

Bear Publications is also sponsorting a LitRPG novel. And more!

Published in Arabic!

Bear Publications has managed to get one of Kerry Nietz's flash fiction stories (previously published by Havok!) translated into Arabic and printed in an Iraqi literary magazine! (WHOO!!)


Here's the a link to the  Nehreem  magazine. Scroll down to page 38 and you'll see Kerry's name in our alphabet, followed by the story in Arabic!



Realm Makers 2018!

The Bear Publications was present at the Realm Maker's conference in Saint Louis!

If you are a Christian author writing speculative fiction, find your people at Realm Makers!

For more intormation, follow this link to theRealm Makers website:



Starting with Lelia Rose Foreman's Writing Speculative Fiction, we are now publishing non-fiction and will soon be publishing novels!


(See our "Non-Fiction" tab to order Writing Speculative Ficiton: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror.)

MYTHIC ORBITS cover redesign


Thanks to Mike Rogers for the reflected image on the astronaut's visor.

This cover also changed out the logo for Bear Publications and added the editor's name to the order to meet certain design specifications by Barnes and Noble.




Thanks to Kendra LaLonde for the photo arrangement within the V on the front cover.

Victorian Venus stories often comment on the long 14-day night on Venus, a.k.a. "the dark fortnight."

This cover reflects that story reality by using a dayside/nightside design...


Bear is on the Air!

In the life of a writer, sometimes lots of things happen all at once, and sometimes, nothing happens at all. Here you can listen to some of the interviews concerning Bear Publication and our Authors!



PJC Media / RadioTalkShow

Parker J. Cole, Host.

PJC Media is a network focused on real Christian talk about issues that affect every day of our lives...

Catholic Geek Radio / Radio

Declan Finn, Host

(Dragon Award Nominee, Best Horror, Honor at Stake), brings you a host of authors from the Mythic Orbits 2016 anthology, the best spec fiction from Christian authors..

The Big Idea Blog

Travis Perry writes about story ideas, the universe, and everything at his unique blog:

Travis P here. Last time we talked about levels of war (tactical, operational, and strategic) and mentioned a number of different types of war (siege, aerial bombing campaigns, etc). This time we’re looking at something called “Spectrum of Conflict.” In my experience working with engineers, they like diagrams and images. Travis Chapman is no exception, established by the fact he’s provided three diagrams of the concept we’re discussing! To which I’m actually adding one image I found on my own, the first one below, because I feel it gets across well why the word “spectrum” gets used for this military topic (from Just like a spectrum of light has a variety of shades of color, warfare can come across as a spectrum of activities that nations can perform, just like the diagram I just used shows. To make sure everyone understands the concept, let me use the Cold War as an example: The United States and the Soviet Union, for approximately forty-five years, assumed roles as global adversaries. The two nations each had a section of divided Berlin, each had masses of troops in its own version of Germany (and Korea, though that also involved the Chinese). Each had strategic nuclear weapons capable of killing the majority of the human race, competing with one another as to who would have the most such weapons. Each had a global navy and an active competition in outer space; each extensively spied on one another; each supported revolutions in other nations (often with covert action); and each engaged in smaller wars on the periphery of areas they controlled, with the other side supporting the opposition–in Vietnam and Afghanistan in particular. The closest they ever got to direct war was when Soviet “advisors” to the North Koreans were actually flying MIG jets that US pilots (in South Korea under a United Nations mandate) engaged in aerial combat. Most Cold War war activities would be in the “gray zone” of the diagram I’ve shared. Some covert actions would get into the “irregular” zone of covert operations. “Hybrid war” I’ll talk about in a bit…and a “limited conventional war” is what the USA might call our war in Vietnam. No “theater conventional war” (as in, all of Asia, i.e., a theater) happened during the Cold War. The reason this is the case for major modern nations (note the chart tops off at “Strategic Nuclear War”) is because the entire dynamic of national interactions is different when strategic weapons are around, since we really don’t want to blow ourselves up. If we diagrammed Genghis Khan’s spectrum of conflict, it might have only have two points on it–”call on foes to surrender” or “invade.” (Ahem.) Though even though modern nations generally have more options, most nations over most of the world’s history have had a variety of actions they could take against other nations. These include such things as a trade embargo or denial of access to strategic areas (like closing off the Soviet fleet’s access to the Mediterranean in the Cold War).   Let me show another diagram (also from Air University) that helps illustrate how two modern countries have a variety of possible responses to one another. Note the axis of probability on the vertical versus the violence axis on the horizontal, which shows that under modern-day conditions, less violent actions are more likely to be a nation’s first response over more violent ones: But the two charts I’ve shared so far still don’t fully account for all the possible actions that can be a part of war’s spectrum. Here’s another: Credit: Victor Castillo, “Why An Army? Full Dimensional Operations and Digitization” from On Point. What’s nice about this chart (from On Point) is it shows a wide variety of activities modern nations can engage in–and in all of which the military has a role to some degree–peacetime roles being as important as wartime. (The chart even color codes recent military conflicts according to “red” or “blue” action.) Modern U.S. Army doctrine (“Unified Land Operations,” ADP 3-0) looks at the spectrum of conflict a bit differently. It says all forms of warfare consist of three things, offense, defense, and “stability operations” (which means activities a military performs when not in direct combat to maintain peace). It’s a bit like mentioning a television uses three primary colors in various mixtures to create every shade of color you see. Though whether or not these three colors cover all possibilities is perhaps debatable–for example, the Art of War extensively talks about offense and defense but also mentions peace negotiations as an element of war (Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Ch. 3, 17). Credit: Jason Rivera at Small Wars Journal Let’s share one more diagram, because it will help me illustrate “hybrid war,” something I said I’d talk about but haven’t yet (from Small Wars Journal): The point of this oscillating diagram isn’t to talk about hybrid war, it’s to demonstrate that modern nations can and do perform actions that perhaps have hostile intent, but which fall short of war–and also clearly perform acts of war–and also do some things that lie in-between. While this chart is geared towards modern nations, the principle of different actions performed at various levels of hostility would apply to most nations found in speculative fiction. But let’s look at some of the elements that are very modern on this chart. Like cyberwarfare. Or a nation sponsoring a terrorist attack. These are elements of “hybrid warfare,” which is quite a modern idea. It’s the everything-including-the kitchen-sink approach. Russia has used variations of hybrid warfare against Georgia and Ukraine–they messed with elections, knocked out electric power, crashed key servers with cyberattacks, shut down the airwaves, put military personnel in civilian clothes and had them conduct strikes (that would seem to be terrorist attacks), funded actual insurgents, and followed up with conventional military attacks. In other words, they did as much damage as possible while maintaining plausible deniability of their involvement, which had the effect of increasing the effectiveness of their regular military when they rolled in. Futuristic science fiction stories should include hybrid warfare as something that nations (or planets) would at least know about, if not perform. But while these ideas are modern and aren’t likely to be going away, let’s not rule out fantasy worlds having their own versions of hybrid warfare. Because story worlds that include the practice of magic could have lots of nasty ways to strike out at an enemy covertly while maintaining plausible deniability. Though of course, not everyone would want to fight a hybrid war, even if they could. Remember what I said above about Genghis Khan as a bit of joke? (and what’s not funny about a brutal invasion? Hey...just kidding) Where I said he’d have only two possible actions? That example shows that nations are not just shaped by their technology, what they are capable of doing, but by their culture, what they’re interested in doing. And it gives a speculative fiction writer some room to be creative with alien and demi-human or magical races. Aliens or demi-humans etc. might have very different ideas about what is and is not legitimately part of a war (or peace) than humans have–and what methods can be considered “fair game” in war. And obviously if that race even wants to play fair. Which is something worth considering when thinking about your aliens/demi-humans/magical creatures. Travis C here: Hopefully it’s clear that when you hear “war” it could mean almost anything. If you are an author, you will need to define what you mean and try to stay consistent. If you are a reader, you’re already mentally doing the analysis to figure out “What exactly is going on?” and hoping the author gives you enough detail to draw a conclusion. Even with a sweeping multipart epic like Game of Thrones or The Stormlight Archive, it’s challenging for an author to paint the entire spectrum from peaceful military-to-military training all the way through “No, really, this is the end!” Armageddon-esque battles. As an example of a spectrum of conflict at work, I’d like to use a softball: J.R.R. Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth. Tolkien’s writings are extensive and provide sufficient material to draw from, but for those who haven’t enjoyed the pleasure of The Silmarillion, I’ll draw from the Peter Jackson envisioned story as told in each trilogy: The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (or as I call it, “A Movie About a Book I Once Read Called The Hobbit That I Can’t Remember That Well But Thought Would Be Cool In Three Movies…”) I digress… Let’s look at the easy side first: Everyone Not Mordor. What’s this ranger doing Bree? Peacekeeping operations? (Credit: New Line Cinema) Middle Earth in The Hobbit and early in The Fellowship of the Ring displays many evidences of what we’d consider pre-crisis activities. There is “a shadow growing in the East”, but many people are getting along with their lives just fine. Tolkien’s vision of the Shire is perfect in this regard. What brewing conflict? More importantly, I’ve got to get these garden plots taken care of… Through seemingly miraculous means, the good people of Middle Earth unite against the orcs of Angmar and goblins of the Misty Mountains. Some of these forces are clearly prepared for combat (elves & dwarves), and given their long lives they have experience on their side, so we’ll assume there’s some active training happening in the background. The humans of Lake Town appear disorganized yet motivated to defend their own, having suffered the consequence of fighting against Smaug those many years ago. Fast forward to The Fellowship of the Ring. We see several former allies acting as nations might during a time of peace that anticipates future conflict. As we leave the Battle of the Five Armies, we have an agitated group of elves all intent on vacating Middle Earth (well, many of them). The dwarves have withdrawn to their strongholds. Yet each of the major kingdoms of men realize conflict is coming. The most obvious is Gondor. We see evidence that Gondor, more than any other nation, has experienced a progression from the low intensity end of the spectrum. What were initially peacekeeping operations across the river from Osgiliath have now become border defense. Orc raids test the defenses and consume Gondor’s waning resources and attention. Military-to-military ties with Rohan have been broken due to a classic case of “Where were you when…” Lord Faramir’s efforts to hold Osgiliath, and his brother Boromir’s actions before that, have clearly escalated from peacekeeping and surveillance of the enemy to shows of force (i.e., having troops garrisoned at the ford) and limited engagements. Garrisoned at Osgiliath, Faramir’s efforts to secure the border between Gondor and Mordor have failed. Border security has morphed into a limited war on the Pelennor. (Credit: New Line Cinema) As the story progresses we see Gondor’s posture change from light defense to besieged, fully recognizing that Sauron’s timeline for a campaign is much shorter than the Steward anticipated. In the opening battle of the campaign, Sauron’s forces rout the garrison at Osgiliath, then fully circumvallate Gondor. It’s only through active intervention by unexpected allies that Gondor is saved as full-scale combat operations break open on the Pelennor Fields outside Minas Tirith. We saw a similar situation in The Two Towers, as Rohan’s roving horse warriors, the Rohirrim, react to increasing threats to their borders by orc raids. As Éomer (and his cousin before him) try to press King Theoden to escalate their actions, he is met with resistance and ultimately must chose exile to maintain a semblance of border protection. This quickly progresses to the siege at Helm’s Deep and the quick deployment of Rohan’s army to support Gondor. Now let’s change places to the less-easy, but beautiful, examples of conflict spectrum provided by Isengard and Mordor. In The Fellowship of the Ring, we witness the rise of Isengard as Saruman extends his influence and schemes in concert with Mordor. As his tower Orthanc becomes a seat of military power we watch, quite truly, the shaping of Isengard’s forces and resources as Saruman prepares to leave diplomacy and scheming behind and embark upon a conventional war against his enemies. Orc raids, seen in Fellowship, extend into Rohan. Human allies are sought and brought into his armies in what we’d call coalition operations. An information campaign aids Saruman in winning discontented men to his side, and he wields his most effective weapon, Wormtongue, against the only significant threat in the region. Once Theoden is free from his prison, the clock winds down to the Battle of Helm’s Deep and the retaking of Isengard by the Ents. What we don’t see in The Two Towers is a progressive escalation up to the conventional battle. We know Isengard has been active, but it’s not shown on the screen (and not significantly developed in the book). In my opinion, that’s alright. Tolkien was trying to tell a different story that one of a military escalation of force. Yet, we have seen similar events in our own time, when a nation throws the majority of its eggs in one basket and embarks on a military objective knowing that, if successful, their single credible threat would be eliminated long enough to secure the ultimate purposes of the nation. The risk of failure doesn’t outweigh the value of success. Would that Saruman might have sent his forces elsewhere. Lastly, we have Mordor. I’d like to go back in time a bit though, and let’s think of how we arrived here. Sauron crafted the Ring and its kin. Nine kings gave their kingdoms and lives in service to Mordor. That’s a powerful alliance. Mordor’s strength, while thrown back in the Battle of Dagorlad (the opening sequence to The Fellowship of the Ring), continued to grow in its protected realm. Sauron observing the Battle of Dagorlad from Mordor, an example of a limited war escalating into a theater war against a combined army of allies. (Credit: LOTR Wikia) Then we witness the stirring of Sauron as he puts a new plan into motion. The dragon Smaug is tempted to align his strength with Mordor (at least in the cinematic interpretation). The Nine are found again and given back their fell powers. Orcs and goblins have joined forces against men, elves, and the scattered dwarves. By the time Frodo and Sam enter the picture, we have an active Mordor pressing the borders of Gondor. Sauron’s emissaries have successfully brought Umbar and the Easterlings into alliance. With forces moving in the open, we witness Mordor showing its strength to any who would see. By The Two Towers we watch Sauron’s campaign against Gondor unfold, going from raids and strikes to a persistent attack against Osgiliath, to the opening movements that signal at least a limited war (taking Osgiliath as a foothold) and ultimately the Battle of Pelennor Fields (Gondor) and later, the Battle of the Morannon (Battle of the Black Gates) when Sauron is overthrown. Whew. Hopefully you’ve seen a few examples in the canon of Tolkien to quench our literary thirst. Certainly we could make our analysis even deeper, but space limits us here. Tolkien created a world where war escalated quickly yet contained many elements of a spectrum of conflict. Another example might be Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive, where we enter a world already deep into a protracted war, with flashbacks that help the reader understand how it reached that stage, with clear progression of military actions, as well as brilliant examples of hybrid warfare that involves information and public opinion among the participants. I also hope we’ve piqued your interest in the subject. It was always a favorite of mine in my strategy & war classes. I recommend searching for “spectrum of conflict” to see other examples that may be helpful in how you plan your next book or series with war as a key element. Now back to those X-Y plots and charts I’ve got brewing….
Travis P here. We started the discussion of warfare by first looking at basic motivations for war, what essentially causes fighting. Then we followed up with a higher level of causes of war by looking at the types of calculations a nation must make in regard to other nations, especially in relation to balance of power, before deciding to enter a war. But when a nation goes to war, what exactly does that mean? It’s helpful here to define warfare itself a bit as broadly as possible, while still making it clear that armed conflict happens at different levels and includes different types of fighting. The most ancient concepts of warfare really involve two different levels of war–strategy and tactics. Tactics means how to use combat power in the best way on the battlefield in a single fight or single engagement. Tactics is heavily focused on weapons systems and how to employ them most effectively. Of course issues other than weapons feed into tactics–tactical supply is an issue. Troop training will manifest itself in tactical situations. Tactical situations also require troop movement and the ability for units to communicate with one another. Strategy is the use of combat power at a national level, looking at all the forces a nation can muster. Strategic considerations are thoughts a ruler could have such as, “How can I make my enemy surrender? How will I keep my troops fed all winter? Where will I get new troops next year? How can I leverage my alliances to help me get draw the enemy from a key mountain pass I need to take?” Things like that. While the strategic level of thought about war is by nature focused less on weapons systems than the tactical level is, weapons systems still matter. Though strategic considerations of what a good weapon system is may be quite different from a tactical level analysis. For example, during World War II, the German Army’s Tiger tanks were far superior to the US Sherman tank at the tactical level. They had better armor, a better gun, well-trained crews, and an excellent communication system. They were very deadly to Sherman tanks–US tankers dreaded going up against Tigers. However, at a strategic level, the Tiger was a terrible tank. It took much more time to produce than a Sherman tank; it also required more maintenance, and used more fuel. The US could produce and supply five Shermans for the cost of one Tiger–and while a Tiger tank was better than a Sherman, it wasn’t five times better. The United States Army overwhelmed the Germany Army with sheer numbers as a result (though most armies try to build weapons which are effective both at the tactical and the strategic level). Modern warfare has defined a third level of warfare, the operational level. Operations develop campaigns–note a campaign is a series of engagements linked together. At the operational level, military planners assign specific units to specific missions that fall in line with the national strategic plan. This is where generals and admirals and other senior military personnel work most of the time in a modern military. (As opposed to the top leaders of government, who in modern democracies are civilians, who are in charge of the strategic level of warfare.) Note that the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of warfare can be used to talk about nearly everything that happens in a war. Tactical communication is focused on the radio in a soldier’s hand–at the operational level communication concerns how separate units get in touch with one another, whereas a strategic look at communications would look at how the entire military communicates–such as by satellite systems. Tactical supply might be the amount of ammo in the back of a military truck; operational might be supply depots, a system of trucks, and routes and movement, while strategic could be movement of ships from the home country to ports in a distant country, national rail assets, national food production, etc. You may have heard nuclear weapons called “strategic weapons” and the reason why is that even a single “ordinary” nuclear weapon affects an entire country at the national level. While there have been efforts to develop extra-small “tactical nuclear weapons” (which might be used to destroy, say, a single aircraft carrier), generally speaking, nuclear weapons form a special case in which a type of warfare really only exists at the strategic level. There is one nominal outcome. With nukes, there are no campaigns for operations to be involved with and no specific engagements to win. Not in our current world. By talking about nuclear warfare, we’ve slipped into talking about warfare types. Though there are many different types of warfare that can’t really be given full consideration until we talk a bit about the psychology of war. But for now, let’s look at some types of war through the lens of the levels of war, as we already did with nuclear weapons. Worth mentioning first because it helps make the difference between strategic and tactical levels even clearer is aerial bombing. A single aircraft (or a few) dropping bombs to help a ground unit defeat an enemy in an engagement is the use of tactical bombing. The type of bombing that happened in WWII, where hundreds of bombers would go out and destroy entire cities to reduce enemy industry nationwide were examples of strategic bombing. The operational level of war becomes king during maneuver warfare, which is where armies attempt to take valuable terrain and supplies behind enemy lines (i.e., maneuver to gain an advantage). Maneuver warfare also seeks to destroy an enemy’s willingness to fight by separating them from what they need to win the war. Operational planning is vital to maneuver warfare–oh, of course tactics and strategy also matter, but maneuver war is won and lost with the kinds of plans that top commanders develop and execute. Think Erwin Rommel or George S. Patton. A war of attrition, in contrast to maneuver war, is where opposing armies seek to destroy their enemy’s ability to fight with greater numbers. This is how zombies fight–or in far too many science fiction movies, aliens. It’s also happened in the real world. In World War I, a great deal of attrition warfare happened, a specific example being when German commanders decided that the way to break the stalemate on the Western Front was to send so many troops at Verdun that the French would be “bled white.” The plan didn’t work, though it did kill about 150,000 soldiers on each side of the fight. In ancient and Medieval times, the siege of a city qualified as attrition warfare. Sun Tzu recommended against besieging cities, by the way (The Art of War book 3, 3-4)–and in fact, most military commanders would agree with the idea that attrition warfare is best avoided, except as a last resort. Note though if used, a war of attrition will usually be won for strategic reasons, i.e. who can afford to lose the most troops. A form of warfare that’s quite different from a war of attrition is a guerrilla war. Guerrilla means “little war” in Spanish and the term developed after Napoleon’s France invaded Spain (1807-1814). Spanish guerrillas (and those who fight like them since then), who were more often than not civilians, employed hit-and-run tactics, seeking to keep larger forces off-balance, and won not by eliminating the enemy’s ability to keep fighting, but by making the enemy’s presence so costly that they were unable to stay. This kind of war is more commonly called “Asymmetric Warfare” in modern military terminology (because the two sides of the conflict don’t have equal or symmetric power) and is closely related to a war of revolution or a counter-insurgency. The still-ongoing war the USA has in Afghanistan is this type of war. In this kind of war, all the fighting happens at the tactical level, since there are no masses of enemy forces to maneuver around operationally and there are no centers of industry to bomb strategically. Yet while all the fighting in a guerrilla or asymmetric war happens at the tactical level, the decision of the more powerful opponent to leave or go is actually a strategic decision. Note there are many other types of warfare, from cyberwar to chemical war to psychological war and numerous others. Yet by talking about the basics we hope to impart an understanding that war happens at different levels, with different considerations at each level. And that different types of warfare have particular strengths and weaknesses across the different levels of war. Travis C here to continue the discussion. As Travis P opens this topic, we see three common levels that we describe warfare: strategic, operational, and tactical. We also describe several types, or “flavors”, that you as an author might want to consider, and as a reader you may encounter. To some degree, every story that involves war has these three levels playing in the background. You may not see it, may not need to show it, but the big gear is turning the little gear all the way down. For this week, I want to analyze the Star Wars story world through the lense of one particular movie, Rogue One. We should be able to show a wide variety of levels and types all in one compact unit, with the advantage of knowing the broader story. For anyone who hasn’t followed Jyn Erso’s story, be forewarned… spoilers follow. Rogue One tells the story of how the Rebels gained the technical plans for the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate planet-killing weapon system. Jyn’s father, a weapons developer turned pacifist, has been taken by the Empire and made to complete the Death Star. The Rebels learn that an Imperial defector knows the location of Galen Erso and has a message for his daughter, and so bring Jyn into the plot. With a trusty band of untrustworthy misfits, she goes to the moon Jehda to learn more. We see Imperial troops conducting patrols through Jedha City, followed by an extremist group of Rebels who conduct insurgent (or guerrilla) attacks against the Empire. Constabulary duty mixed with insurgents? Beautiful. We later see the tactics of a small unit attempting to infiltrate the research facility on Eadu, as well as the technical storage vaults on Scarif. Troop movement, calls for fire, aerial support (what we call close air support), and employment of various tactical weapon systems are all on display. Tactical Action from Rogue 1 While we witness several convenings of the Rebel leadership, military and civilian, it’s on Scarif we also see the operational level of war play out. While the Rebel leaders debate what actions to take since learning the Death Star is operational, the Admiral Raddus deploys the fleet to Scarif to aid Jyn’s party and attempt to take down the Empire forever. Movements of this type, especially when supporting major vessel-on-vessel action while maintaining support to ground operations, are good examples of seeing the operational level in play. Multiple missions on-going, largely coordinated (or at least monitored) by a central command station. Operational Level in Rogue 1--fleet command Lastly, we recognize the strategic element at play. If the Empire has a strategic weapon system like the Death Star, it’s game over for a Rebellion. We see several Rebel leaders effectively bow out of the fight when they learn the weapon system is operational. If the Death Star can be taken down though, if the weakness placed within by Galen Erso can be exploited, then the Empire can be shown to be defeatable. An alliance of like-minded people can bring down the giant. While chronologically we must wait for Episode IV, A New Hope, to see the plot run to fruition, the foreshadowing of the Death Star’s defeat leaves us on a high note. For science fiction authors, you’ll always be in good shape to begin from the three major levels and derive your campaign actions from there. Certainly you will have technologies more advanced than today’s modern standards, but you can probably find a relative place for them at the strategic, operational, or tactical level. A recent example I’m reading is John Ringo and David Weber’s March Upcountry. What happens when every junior Marine has a kiloton-sized explosive projectile at their disposal? The Death Star--a strategic weapon If you are a fantasy author, you may not need to consider the operational level of war at all. When the king or queen marches with the army and commands from the front, there is a natural marriage of strategic and operational concerns and activities. King Theoden is able to make decisions for all of Rohan while in the saddle as well as direct the Rohirrim on the front. You may need to consider what role, if any, magic has on warfare. Is it the equivalent of a strategic nuclear weapon, or is it so commonplace that it blends into tactics like any other weapon? One of my personal favorites is Glen Cook’s The Black Company series, where the company has wizards embedded with them who are capable of doing pretty powerful things, but are often overshadowed by greater thaumaturgy at the strategic level. Next week we’ll pick this topic up again as we introduce a spectrum of conflict and a progression, or escalation, of war. We’ll have the opportunity to demonstrate the shades of gray that lie between the simple levels and types described here.
Readers, the Guide to War continues! With Balance of Power this time–though the title doesn’t quite mean what it seems to mean. Note that I will be leading off these topics with commentary that fellow author Travis Chapman (who, by the way, is an instructor of Nuclear Engineering and Thermodynamics at the US Naval Academy) is going to review and tweak, to which he will add specific “case studies” or illustrations that I will review and tweak, my words at the beginning of a post that will transition into his words at the end. To get back to “balance of power,” please remember that the first post I wrote on this topic I now wish I’d called “part 1, Basic Drives” (or maybe “Basic Impulses”) because I tried to identify the root urges that cause people to organize themselves to fight. That is, what it is they are trying to achieve or obtain. With the title “Balance of Power” I’m picking out the key element of what I may call in the book “Reasons for War” (or maybe “Reasoning Leading to War”)–but which I won’t do now because I used “Reasons” in the last post. The particular phrase “balance of power” is getting special attention because something happens to groups of human beings, whether tribes, kingdoms, or large modern nations, when there are a number of them in contact with one another and war is a possibility. Nations (or tribes, etc.) in such cases have to pay careful attention to not just to what they want, what drives them in the direction of seeking war–they have to pay careful attention to their own relative power verses their enemy or enemies. That means they need to be able to evaluate the nation they plan to go to war with in terms of its ability to fight–but they have to keep in mind what other nations around them are doing, in case any of them might intervene, lest their declaration of war end in disaster. This kind of reasoning is briefly alluded to in the New Testament (Luke 14:31-33), in which Jesus mentions how a king calculates if he can beat an army of 20,000 with 10,000 soldiers and sends off a delegation of peace if he can’t (Jesus used this kind of calculation to illustrate a point about being a Christian disciple). This case is representative of the simplest possible kind of war–one nation against one nation. Credit: Hendrik Willem Van Loon Note though that it was absolutely normal 2,000 years ago (and even long before that) for nations to engage in calculations of war regarding a wide variety of things, including in particular the balance of power. A great deal of military strategy involves (and has historically involved) considerations of how one particular nation sizes itself up against others–the minimum calculation stemming from one nation verses one other, but which in most cases extends to include other nations (tribes, etc.) in the area. Because with very few exceptions, humans fear all their neighbors uniting against them. This leads to a number of observations, the first of which was alluded to by in Luke 14: 1. A nation will generally negotiate with an aggressor nation because of fears of losing a war. Or if they feel they could win the war, but the cost of winning is too high. So while some people claim human beings naturally negotiate and then go to war when the negotiations are unsuccessful, the actual situation is more complex. Just going to war without any negotiation seems to be the first impulse of warlike nations–but a rational analysis that they could lose the war (which provokes healthy fear), brings them to the negotiation table. And only then, after negotiations are developed as an instrument to avoid the bad consequences of war (but not to avoid conflict itself) does a breakdown in negotiations start a war. 2. At the risk of sounding obvious (but for a purpose), nations generally choose to engage in war when they believe they can win, when the balance of power is in their favor. No human group goes to war simply because they have a military that’s superior (or perceived superior) to a potential enemy. But once the basic impulses (or reasons) for war as explained in the last post come into play, nations with superior military forces are much more likely to engage in war than weaker nations. This idea brings a couple of interesting corollaries: a. Totally pacifistic groups that survive as such generally have little impact on the balance of power among surrounding nations–that is, often enough, being weak reinforces being meek. b. Nations are more successful with negotiations when they don’t need them (because they are strong enough to win anyway). c. Assessing the power of one’s own nation versus that of other nations is a major activity for military planners, because it’s vital to know if ten thousand really can beat twenty thousand. 3. Nations sometimes decide to go to war because they miscalculate the balance of power, especially in overestimating themselves against their enemy(ies). This is why Sun Tzu in the classic Chinese work on warfare, The Art of War, lists spies as the most important part of any Army (The Art of War, chapter 13)–because a good spy network can determine if circumstances justify warfare (or if they don’t). The WWI Balance of Power Chain Reaction–from a public domain cartoon of the period. 4. Nations often seek alliances with other nations if they perceive themselves to be too weak to maintain a balance of power on their own. Once a balance of power is established among groups of nations through alliances so that both sides or all sides see themselves are roughly equal to one another, they are less likely to go to war. Yet, as in World War I, this creates a situation in which a single relatively small incident can cause an entire alliance to go to war over any particular friction between any of the various parts of the coalitions involved. (As the number of relationships grows, the chance of a spark does not grow proportionally, it’s more like exponential growth.) So a great deal of activity among nations, both in the real world and in fiction, seeks to establish or maintain a balance of power–and when they fail to do so–or even if they succeed, the problems stemming from balance of power considerations often lead to warfare. Note when we’re talking about balance of power at the national level, there are three basic ways a nation can evaluate itself: 1) Below average to some degree, 2) at parity with surrounding nations, and 3) being in a state of greater power. “Power” might not be limited to ability to conduct warfare–it can also mean economic power, perceived cultural or ethical power or position, numerical power (greater population or controlled territory), or geographic power (i.e.,holding territory that has the most value, like key mountain passes or navigable waters). Obviously a nation (or any group of nations) might possess a bit of any of these, or all of them. So with the three basic tiers mentioned above, we see the following inherent conflicts: Lower nations trying to bring down those in higher positions Lower trying to achieve parity with others Lower fighting for the scraps between each other–or adopting a pacifistic attitude Higher stations trying to hold their positions against internal disruption Higher stations trying to eliminate potential competition from below Parity nations try to climb one rung higher than a peer Parity nation trying to pull up a lower nation to their level (often via an alliance or coalition) This complex set of relationships above is in fact based on one nation against another at any given moment and doesn’t list every possible situation: the dynamics of alliances and coalitions are generally even more complicated, but have many of the same elements. Both sides of a potential conflict have a story to tell about why they chose to go to war and their own perception of how things reached the point of conflict–which provides plenty of story material for any author. Travis C here. Any nation (and we’ll assume a nation here, but it could be any organization of entities) will have a certain calculus going on as they consider their position on the hierarchy of power. You should realize it’s calculus too, not just basic algebra, and a good deal of statistics. In the modern world, it is often literally math, with military planners doing calculations of force, weapon effects, measuring changing conditions, and mapping varied courses of action and their likelihood of success or failure. For fantasy literature the calculus will likely happen at the planning table and in the minds of key stakeholders weighing the odds (think of King Theoden stating Rohan will not risk open war). I propose that in most science fiction settings you might add an element of AI support to our modern practices (cue C3PO calculating the odds). Only you will know to what degree you’ll need to analyze all sides of the conflict to determine the impact it has on your story. The desert between Calormen and Archenland. One of my favorite examples of this calculus is found in C.S Lewis’ A Horse and His Boy. We witness a peek behind the curtain as Lewis truly shows, not tells, the analysis of nations when we meet Shasta in the company of the Narnians while in the nation Calormen’s capital, Tashbaan. The Narnians suspect Prince Rabadash of ill dealings and speculate what might occur should they escape Tashbaan. Narnia is no match for Calormen sword for sword (differing relative positions of martial power). However, Narnia and ally Archenland are protected from the brunt of Calormen’s army by geography. To launch a major campaign against Narnia, Calormen must either cross a vast desert (logistically challenging) or embark by sea for an invasion (likely to be met with resistance ashore and hard to pull off at such a distance). The Narnians conclude the risks associated with escape are worth it; they doubt Calormen will retaliate in any meaningful way. Now we jump ahead and learn the Tisroc, supreme ruler of Calormen, will back a minor expedition by Prince Rabadash to take the small kingdom of Archenland by way of the same desert. A small force may successfully cross the desert and maintain sufficient strength to overthrow an unexpecting Archenland. The Tisroc, without Prince Rabadash’s knowledge, accedes the venture may not carry, but if it does and Rabadash conquers Archenland, then Calormen can slowly build up a military force on Narnia’s doorstep, making way for a future campaign. He also weighs his relative political strength in Tashbaan when he admits that should Rabadash fail, he’ll write the whole thing off as a boy’s rash temper. Surely he knows the Calormen news cycle to assure himself of an evening headline “Wild Prince Rabadash Goes Off The Handle; Archenland Protests Military Exercise In Desert” is one he can recover from. The Tisroc… Lewis uses the varied geography between Tashbaan and Castle Anvard to drive the major characters until we reach a satisfying conclusion. We see the roles of individuals, small units, and ultimately three major nations, two in alliance, all collide in a beautiful story that displays evidence of a well founded conflict between nations. It’s also worth noting that Lewis plants a seed here. The argument of the Tisroc, that Narnia can be taken by seemingly unnoticed infiltration, comes to pass in The Last Battle. Small gatherings of Calormen, under the guise of merchants, slowly gain a foothold in Narnia and ultimately allow the receipt of Calormen’s army by sea in the taking of Cair Paravel. A strong analog to the way that seemingly minor, yet persistent, sin can gain a foothold in our lives. Since Travis P opened us, I’ll close this one out. We’ve combined efforts and hope to bring you an outstanding series on the nature, conduct, and consequences of the spectrum of conflict we call war. We have an outline of topics to cover in a shared voice. We hope to do this through two contexts: first, as writers of speculative fiction, and second, as authors of fantasy and science fiction in particular. Hopefully you can keep your Travises straight. It’s going to be a great journey together!

From the Art Files

Cool images that were part of the process to build covers or other key artwork that you won't see elsewhere. Enjoy!


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