back to article DHS calls in sci-fi writers as consultants

The feds at the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have this week called in some self-described "deviant" consultants to aid them in the battle against terrorists, illegal immigrants, smugglers et al. The deviants in question are a group of science fiction writers, namely Jerry Pournelle, Arlan Andrews, Greg Bear, Larry …


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  1. John Latham

    Running Man

    "the suicide-747 attack on the US Capitol at the end of Tom Clancy's bestselling 1994 airport doorstopper Debt of Honor"

    ...and Stephen King ended the Running Man (1982) with the protagonist flying a plane into the Games Building.

    Can't remember how they treated it in the film.


  2. Patrick Bateman


    I just hope they don't get Stephen King to advise them on climate change...

    Seems silly and harmless enough, unless they start coming up with "exploding remote-controlled anal probe/speach analyser devices implanted at birth" kind of stuff.

    Why not just read New Scientist!?

  3. Morely Dotes

    Scoffing? or..?

    "Still, Heinlein also predicted nuclear-powered rocket ships, household robots which could "put dishes away after the dishwasher was through", human colonies throughout the solar system and beyond, "Beanstalk" orbital elevators etc etc. Not to mention a dystopian future for America in which a crazed religious zealot would establish a theocratic dictatorship."

    Nuclear-powered rockets are a reality - what do you suppose drives the ion engines on a couple of the probes currently flying around the Solar system, for example. The robot is a mere matter of economics - Honda's bot could put away dishes if it were programmed to do so, but letting the humans do it is still far cheaper. NASA is working on the human colonies, albeit under severe budgetary constraints because, presumably, Congress doesn't know about the vast supplies of sweet crude on Mars, and has offered a prize and held at least one competition (which was duly reported in _El_Reg_) for beanstalks.

    And the crazed religious zealot is in the White House right now.

    So obviously, SF authors not only can, but regularly do, predict the future with with fair accuracy.

    What's needed is a genetically-tailored virus that cures religion; that will take care of the martyrdom problem *and* eliminate one of the wedges driving humans apart in places where they desperately need to hang together.

  4. amanfromMars

    I made this up....:-) .....Isn't everything?

    "The writers weren't paid.." which is why they have monkeys reading the present scripts, probably.

    A course, a course, my kingdom for a course? Yeah, but thirty pieces of silver up front, Pay as You Go, gets you to the starting line, mate.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Laser beams

    "(Robert Heinlein) has a passage in Friday (1982) in which he gives a fairly prescient idea of how computer networks could operate in looking for information" - but still decades after Murray Leinster's "A Logic Named Joe", from 1946, which was about an internet terminal that goes haywire and started giving out access to information on anything, including poisons etc, because it believes that information should be free. Leinster envisaged a network of machines getting all their information from "the tank", a central database of everything, but the general idea was the same.

    "None of my kids are old enough to be int'rested, but Joe bypassed all censor-circuits because they hampered the service he figured logics should give humanity. So the kids an' teen-agers who wanted to know what comes after the bees an' flowers found out"

    I remembered reading about "a satellite that beams solar energy to earth" in those old "world of the future" books from the 1970s. There were NASA drawings of solar panels out in space, beaming energy down to earth. It looked a bit risky, and I imagine it would be unthinkable nowadays, although the article was at pains to stress that the energy density at the receiving station was very low (the beam was spread out).

  6. Andrew Kirch

    Executive Decision

    The suicide 747 Attack was in Executive Decision at the beginning.

  7. Tom

    Glorifying Terrorism

    I suppose they haven't heard about the book "Glorifying Terrorism", recently released by a different group of prominent sci-fi authors, otherwise I'd be betting the DHS would be attempting to have detailed conversations of a slightly less nice nature with every sci-fi author they could find.....

    Publishers website for the book is at

  8. Steve

    Didn't they do this once before ?

    I seem to remember hearing that the US hired (or tried to ?) sci fi types to write many of the briefs for the original SDI (Star Wars) brouhaha, possibly including Arthur C Clarke.

    But then again, I also seem to remember picing up the impression that the whole SDI thing was just black propaganda designed to make the USSR spend itself to death, so maybe I've been hanging around with the wrong crowd :-)

  9. Graham Marsden

    Be careful what you read...

    Hmm, maybe someone's recently watched "Three Days of the Condor" starring Robert Redford as a "Reader" for the CIA whose job is to go through SF and technothrillers in search of ideas they can use.

    Of course someone maybe should remind them that Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle were responsible for pushing Reagan into the Strategic Defence Initiative which, when it turned out to be completely implausible, suddenly (in a neat piece of ret-conning ) turned into an amazingly cunning plan to bankrupt the Soviet Union by getting them to waste as much money as the USA had on trying to develop unfeasible technology. Yeah, right...

    PS Andrew Kirch - I think you're thinking of "Executive Orders" the Clancy book that immediately follows Debt of Honour and which deals in part with the aftermath of the attack)

  10. Brett Brennan

    SSPS power satellites

    Back in 1976 I interviewed some folks at NASA's Lewis (I think) facility in Cleveland, Ohio about the Satellite Space Power System proposal, which was targeted for deployment via the space shuttle some time in the late 1980s or early 90s. The design was quite elegant: I believe it was a 1GW platform that would directly transform solar radiation into a microwave beam collected on the ground by a very large dipole array out in the country. (Suspended above cropland, I believe). The cost was projected to be competitive with a similar size nuclear plant. And as a previous poster noted, the microwave radiation density was very low.

    Most surprising, the efficiency of this system was well over 90% end-to-end. The collector/microwave emitter itself was something like 97%, with minimal losses to the receiver on the ground. And as safe as the radiation we get from cell phones today.

    Alas, Challenger ended any hope of this even being tested.

    On the other hand - Heinlein also described placing nuclear power plants in orbit beaming power to earth ("Blowups Happen" in Expanded Universe) - for safety reasons. I've seen no mention of this possibility in the "green" press, even as nuclear becomes more and more of an option for carbon reduction. Could it be that there's too little opportunity for graft and corruption if we could safely remove most of our "dangerous" energy production off-world?

  11. lee harvey osmond


    OK I confess that I have actually read "Footfall", which as cited was co-written by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

    That actually featured a coven of sci-fi writers being used as a thinktank. Isn't this all getting a bit recursive?

  12. Ricky H

    small bootnote if I will.....

    Your article says "The DHS was formed as a response to the outrages of 9/11"

    I found this news clip from Faux news which would suggest that "Homeland Defense" was a newly created organisation, and existed before 9/11.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    heinlein v al qaeda

    Glad I wasn't invited to the party. All I can think of is easy ways for terrorists to disrupt the united states with low-tech portable weaponry and a couple dozen guys.

    Why attack a guarded, fortified, and structurally robust nuclear power station? If you could knock down about three specifically selected high tension lines on a hot day, you could black out 50 million people for as long as it took to re-string the lines. And you would drive away from the unguarded rural point of attack to do the same thing to the other coast. You could do that all year before they eventually caught you at random.

    Why blow up a plane-load of fuel? Instead drive to within half a mile of three or four refineries and drop mortar rounds in until you hear a satisfying "foof"! If you could do a reasonable amount of damage, you could disrupt fuel supplies nation wide. Firing mortar rounds in Iraq is kinda scary, because the army has cool radar-controlled counter-battery artillery, but I bet none is deployed in Texas.

    Why gather expensive radioactives for a dirty bomb? There must be something cheaply available that is radioactive enough to set off the simpleminded detectors that civil authorities have purchased. Yeah, you wouldn't be able to deny the city to its residents for 100 years, which would surely make your name known in heaven, but you could scare the living crap out of 2 million infidels who would kill one another trying to rush out of town. You could sprinkle the same stuff on every container ship leaving the foreign harbor of choice and freak out the border guards. It should be a high value port in Japan or Taiwan. Since it takes weeks for the ship to cross the ocean, you would be long gone before the first alarm shrieked.

    We rely way too much on our infrastructure, and allow it to be profitably non-robust. Securing against these threats isn't all that expensive (not cheap for sure, but not all that expensive in the grand scheme of things). But I betcha we'll have to get clobbered a few times before we bother. Infrastructure slightly hardened against casual terrorist attacks might have interesting and useful properties in a natural disaster too. Too bad.

    I wonder if there are cheap ways to defeat the bad guys too. Something like making the electricity and phones work, and giving every family a computer and an internet connection so they can get their own news. Or like raising their standard of living to the point where they have something to lose if the country goes down the toilet. Or educating their women. Bwah ha ha.

    Sci-fi writers are a waste of time. They're just like the pentagon, all high tech and no sense.

    I guess I'm glad the bad guys don't really want to hurt us, because they insist on rules of engagement that result in their own deaths. Extremists. Oy!

  14. Iamfanboy

    Actually, the first time was in the 1940's....

    At the end of World War II, there was a group of scifi writers in Princeton called together by Robert Heinlein at the behest of the Navy. They never came up with much, because the war ended quickly enough, but it's a precedent.

    Here's the relevant paragraphs from Barefaced Messiah, the most definitely NOT official biography of Lafayette Ron Hubbard:

    While he was at Princeton, Ron was invited to join a group of science-fiction writers who met every weekend at Robert Heinlein's apartment in Philadelphia to discuss possible ways of countering the Kamikaze menace in the Pacific. They were semi-official, brainstorming sessions that Heinlein had been asked to organize by the Navy, in the faint hope of coming up with a defence against young Japanese pilots on suicide missions. 'I had been ordered to round up science fiction writers for this crash project,' Heinlein recalled, 'the wildest brains I could find.'

    The whole book (and it's actually a good read) is here:

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  16. Nexox Enigma

    RE: Executive Decision

    The plane crash actually happened at the end of Debt of Honor, with Executive Decision starting right when Debt ended. I've always wondered why more people didn't point out the similarity between 9/11 and Debt of Honor though...

  17. Torben Mogensen

    SF as predictions

    While SF authors have predicted a lot that more or less came through (read, for example, H.G. Wells' "When the Sleeper Awakens"), they have also predicted a lot of things that haven't come through and likely never will.

    This is not to say that they are bad SF authors if they predict nonsense -- some of the best SF stories are based on taking a notion to absurd extremes or starting with absurd assumptions for the sake of spinning a good yarn.

    The main problem lies with people who think SF is all about predicting the future and judge its merits only on how well it succeeds at that.

    That doesn't say that making a think tank of SF writers is a bad idea. SF writers have more imagination than most people (certainly more than the average bureaucrat or military person) and are (mostly) able to tell fiction apart from reality. The actual people chosen for the panel (those that I recognize) are rather old in the tooth, though. They would do well to select some younger (but still degree-holding) authors.

  18. Tom Cooke

    Life imitates art...

    A clear example of life imitating art - the article mentions "Footfall", wasn't it in this sci-fi novel that Pournelle et al imagine, guess what, sci-fi writers hidden under Cheyenne Mountain saving the world from intelligent space-faring elephants.

    I'm all in favour, personally.

  19. Derry Thompson

    Impact Armour

    Niven wrote about impact armour in "The Ringworld Engineers" published in 1980.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not a good idea

    " ... an antibiotic that cures martyrdom ... "

    No, really not a good idea. Martyrdom is a form or means of death, and while an antibiotic that cures death would undeniably be quite impressive, it would only give them the chance to blow themselves up twice.

    Now, an antibiotic that cured the *desire for* martyrdom might be a different matter....

  21. Colin Jackson


    Indeed, Footfall contains a segment where a bunch of sci-fi writers (thinly disguised avatars of Heinlein, Pournelle and Niven themselves) are drafted in to discuss 'alternative' ways of dealing with the alien threat. Presumably some DHS wonk read the book and thought it sounded like a neat idea. It couldn't possibly be that Niven and Pournelle are so full of their own imagined self-importance as to push the idea themselves, could it?

    If you want out-of-the box WORKABLE ideas, talk to undergrad engineers, while they still have the imagination and enthusiasm but before they've had the conformity of a university education beaten into them.

  22. Steve McKinty

    Space elevators

    "Still, Heinlein also predicted ... , "Beanstalk" orbital elevators etc etc."

    Heinlein didn't predict the orbital elevator, it showed up earlier in Arthur C Clarke's "Fountains of Paradise" in 1979 and NASA list a first reference in a Russian story of 1895, see

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    DoHS nerd tank

    Hmm, sci-fi writers at DoHS, okay I suppose, but wouldn't they be better off at the Pentagon? In which case there's a space for Tom Clancy, Dale Brown, Jim DeFelice, Patrick Robinson et al at DoHS - I'd argue they'd be better to have on board.

    Speaking of Mr Clancy - Andrew Kirch - you're quite right. The JAL 747 is down at the start of "Executive Decision", because this book follows on from "Debt of Honor" where Capt Sato crashes his plane into the Capitol in the last couple of pages of that book. And am I the only one who gets a mental movie with Harrison Ford, when I'm reading about Jack Ryan?

    Where is Tom Clancy these days, hopefully not enjoying at stay at Gitmo, seeing as he obvious was inspiration for the terrorists? (joking - badly! sorry)

  24. BlueMatt

    Certainly not the first time

    During WWII, Dennis Wheatley was an advisor to the War Ministry and wrote a paper, 'Resistance to Invasion' (May 1940), on how Germany might attack Britain and other countries. I remember reading it in the preface of a later edition of one of his novels, but I don't recall which one at present (perhaps 'The Scarlet Impostor').




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