Book Review: Riding the Red Horse

Day, Vox and Tom Kratman, eds. Riding the Red Horse. Castalia House Press, 2014.

“And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.” Revelation or The Apocalypse of John 6:3-4 NKJV

What does the future of war hold? That question has been asked for a while now, often focusing on developments in military technology, and more recently in computer and communications tech (often one and the same). But the authors collected in this volume are looking at people and governments as much as technology. And what they see is, in many ways, a return to the past.

I discussed this book a little in a previous blog post, pointing to the concept of the generations of war and how 4th Generation Warfare is perhaps a touch familiar to those of us who study war as fought before the Peace of Westphalia and/or in places where that treaty never held sway.

Riding the Red Horse is a collection of military sci-fi and essays that address warfighting in worlds and futures where the old limits and techniques of post WWI military thinking no longer hold sway. Some of the essays focus on technology, others on defining 4th Generation Warfare, on gaming and war-planning (which overlap far more than most non-gamers, self included, might realize) and the role of technologies in 4th Generation War. The stories cover space battles, naval engagements, small-unit operations and spooks, and scenarios that may read in very familiar ways despite being set on distant worlds.

The quality of the stories and essays is uniformly high. Some I disagree with, some I found myself nodding yes to, and others left me with much to chew on. Authors include well-known writers such as Dr. Jerry Pournelle, Col. Tom Kratman, Christopher Nuttall, and Eric S. Raymond, as well as others who are known in their fields or to specialist readers but who are new to me.

The book aims at two groups of readers: those interested in military fiction and general information, and policy makers. One suspects (hopes?) that there is some overlap in the groups. Fans of military science fiction and military fiction in general will enjoy the stories and perhaps gain some thinking material from the essays. Those interested in policy and military development will find illustrations of the essay ideas in the stories. The fiction does not tie directly to each essay, but it is not hard to see the connections between the problems in the tales and the ideas and conundrums discussed in the non-fiction.

I recommend the book with a slight reservation. It is excellent and I enjoyed reading most of it, even the bits I disagreed with (one essay in particular, and that one I suspect I will check the sources he lists, because his argument is so far off the usual beaten historical track that I’m familiar with.) The reservation is that it’s not a “fun” book, despite the excellent stories. It is meant to teach and to spark discussion as well as to entertain. I’m familiar with many of the topics discussed because of personal interest and hanging out, so-to-speak, at the edge of the hard-core military sci-fi crowd. A reader looking for a good time might skip the essays. And some of the stories are current enough to elicit a wince.

Overall, I liked the book, I will be revisiting some of the essays and reading more of the various authors’ works. And kudos to Castalia House for including the list (in some cases partial) of the various authors’ works, and footnotes where appropriate. The e-book is well formatted, easy to navigate, and I appreciate the active footnotes.