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Engineers write defence against aliens manual

NASA consultants advocate sci-fi mujahideen tactics, call Sagan 'total jerk'

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A group of American aerospace engineers have written a book on how to defend the earth against alien invasion.

Travis Shane Taylor, Bob Boan, Charles Anding and T Conley Powell hold a variety of PhDs and other degrees in hard sciences and technology. All have worked on weapons and aerospace programmes for defence contractors, NASA and various parts of the US forces. Taylor and Boan also claim expertise in various kinds of technical military intelligence-gathering.

Their book An Introduction to Planetary Defense: A Study of Modern Warfare Applied to Extra-Terrestrial Invasion is out now in paperback, and getting a fair bit of play in the media.

John Ringo, who has written many bestselling sci-fi books on the theme of alien invasions, said in his New York Times review:

"Whatever your beliefs on the subject, and despite many of my own popular novels I am agnostic at best, the book also serves as an important primer on the potential future of warfare . . . It is tightly grounded in current day realities of war and extrapolates thoughtfully but closely about future potentials. It should be on the reading list of anyone who is serious about national security and the future of war."

There seem reasonable grounds for a bit of agnosticism around the possibility of alien invasion - during the accurately-foreseeable technological future, anyway. The authors are tangling with Fermi's paradox (if the aliens are coming, surely it's a bit odd they aren't yet here?) and the late Carl Sagan's belief that any species advanced enough to master star travel will have evolved beyond war.

But Taylor, Boan et al aren't worried. On page 54, Sagan is characterised as a "total jerk," which takes care of him.

As for the existence/distribution of aliens, the four engineers offer the following line of reasoning:

"We know that at least one star system (our own) within the Milky Way Galaxy has developed intelligent life . . . that suggests statistics of at least one civilisation per galaxy . . . So, there should be billions of star systems with intelligent civilisations."

Take that, sceptics.

Most of the book is actually about methods of warfare which humanity might use against the alien invaders. The book's authors seem to be big fans of Robert Heinlein's sci-fi; they have 45 pages on how the Sixth Column-style secret resistance network should be organised, and there are references to "mobile infantry" in combat spacesuits, suggesting that someone has been reading Starship Troopers as well.

On top of this, there's a sprinkling of mildly trendy military staff-college buzz phrases like "asymmetric warfare" (that one's fairly old, actually) and discussion of the mujahideen's war against the Soviets in Afghanistan - which the authors hold up as a model for human tactics against invading aliens.

It's often worth reading sci-fi when written by good storytellers, in El Reg's opinion. When it's sci-fi about war, it often helps if the authors have military backgrounds - as Heinlein did (and John Ringo, in fact). Likewise, we like technical writing by technical experts here at Vulture Central, and these guys are nothing if not technical.

Military staff-college bumf, on the other hand, is usually no fun no matter who writes it.

All in all, it might be better to just buy some sci-fi, or a book about weapons tech - or even, for the self-flagellant, a staff-college thesis or two (these last are usually given away free). An Introduction to Planetary Defense may not be for most of us. ®

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