Creativity comes through individuals but no one successfully creates alone. It is mysterious only to outsiders who can't see how it is done and mystify it further by calling it genius. No one has it all life through; their creativity takes off when they find their distinctive technique and their niche in the world of rivals, audiences, and downstream followers. And one learns it by getting deep inside a network of intellectual and artistic life, recombining and flipping techniques to produce something resoundingly new. Creativity via Sociology shows how they do it.

Monday, April 8, 2024


The Faust story is one of the all-time classics of literature. A man sells his soul to the devil for something he most desires. Marlowe's reputation stands beside Shakespeare because he wrote The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus. 


It has a terrific opening. Faust in his midnight study, fed up with medieval manuscripts, decides to turn to magic. He draws diagrams on the floor, reads incantations, steps into the circle, and --- sound of thunder! Mephistopheles   appears in the smoke.


The devil is one of the great theatrical roles, combining melodrama, comedy, and theology. It was played by the same actors who caused a sensation in Marlowe's Tamburlaine; who played the arch-villain in Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy; for whose acting style Shakespeare wrote the roles of Richard III and Shylock in Merchant of Venice. Mephistopheles is evil and obscene; he smells of sulfur and faeces; he also is a gentleman, debonair, clever and sophisticated. Whatever else he is, he is not dull; he has the attractiveness of norm-breaking, where the action is; not least, sexy in a time of sexual repression. He offers what Faust wants-- what Faust doesn't even know he wants-- knowledge, power, and beautiful women.


The Faust drama also has a great closing act, when the devil comes back to reclaim his payment. The problem is, what to put on stage in between. It is basically a two-character play. Marlowe has us following Faust and Mephistopheles around, playing jokes by turning invisible in taverns, bearding the Pope, a mix of low-comedy knock-about and high politics. At the end of 24 years when Mephistopheles comes for his soul, Faust hasn't gained much for it-- mainly a look at Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman of all time. There is no plot tension and no sequence, just an awareness that the last act is eventually coming.


Probably the most successful version of the Faust story is the 1950s Broadway musical Damn Yankees, about a frustrated fan who shouts he'd sell his soul to the devil if his team could ever beat the New York Yankees. This version has a concise plot, as the middle-aged fan becomes a young man and a mysterious  where'd-he-come-from baseball super-star. It also has a female lead, who sings Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets... and who is in thrall to the devil because he made her the sexiest woman in the world after being the ugliest woman in Providence, Rhode Island. The middle part of the play writes itself, and the final scene comes on the last day of the season in the decisive game against those damn Yankees. But this dramatic flow is exactly what is missing in Marlowe, and later on in Goethe's extraordinarily long (10 hours) Faust.


For Marlowe, Elizabethan audiences would have enjoyed the political parodies in the slapstick scenes. Faust is supposed to be a real historical person, a monk in Wittenberg, the city where Luther launched the Reformation as a rebellion against the Pope in 1517. The Middle Ages were coming to an end, the dawning of the age of science-- which made its early appearance in magic, alchemical laboratories and occult numerology guiding the planets that became the astronomy of Kepler. From a medieval point of view, it was selling your soul to the devil to overturn theology in favor of magic, trading Heaven for life on earth. Hence the ambivalent attraction of the devil.


When Goethe rewrites the play 200 years after Marlowe, the scientific revolution is further along; the last vestiges of the Middle Ages are falling with the French Revolution overthrowing monarchy, and Napoleon spreading revolutionary reforms throughout Europe. A contemporary of Goethe was William Blake, writing The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Blake extols a anti-puritanical religion of the body, recapitulating the antinomian power of the devil. Blake's most famous art is his image of a beautiful nude Satan, and his most famous poem blends the holy and the dangerous:


Tiger tiger, burning bright

In the forests of the night...

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?


But Blake, like Marlowe, is a triumph of flashes and excerpts. Blake's illustrated tracts are rambling and unreadable, a jumble of maudlin and histrionic, an attempt to create a new religion in a secular age.


When Goethe publishes his Faust: eine Tragoedie in 1808, he is already established as a novelist, playwright, poet and much else. Among other things, he is the director of the court theatre at Weimar.  He knows very well what is the problem with Marlowe's play: it needs a clear dramatic development between the first act and the final curtain. Goethe supplies this with a love story, but in this case a highly realistic one, with a very nasty twist. Soon after making a deal with Mephistopheles, Faust encounters a fresh, pretty girl on the street. (Mephistopheles says, on the side, that for Faust every woman is Helen of Troy.)  Margarete (soon to be nicknamed Gretchen) knows not to take candy from strangers. But Faust is now 30 years younger, a good-looking gentleman; he romances her, and eventually seduces her. Then he abandons her to go off with Mephistopheles to see the world. Her brother angrily accuses her of being no more than a street whore. We learn that Gretchen is pregnant; then she is in prison, having killed or abandoned her baby (it happens off stage); and she is executed for infanticide. In Goethe's last act, angels forgive her and take her up to heaven. In the final scene, Faust is carried off to Hell, and a voice calls out from above: "Heinrich! Heinrich!"  It is the first time that we hear Faust's personal name.


This is the version of Faust that gets made into an opera: by Gounod (1859) with plenty of soprano parts, Faust as a lyrical tenor and Mephistopheles as a baritone.


But Goethe is unsatisfied, and keeps on revising his Faust Tragedy until 1832, when he publishes Part II just before his own death at 83. He has been working on it his entire life as a writer. The first scene dates back to the early 1770s, when he rocketed to fame with his novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, about a middle-class young man in love with an aristocratic woman; rejected by her social milieu, he commits suicide. The novel goes viral, setting off a wave of imitative suicides. The literary movement in Germany was called Sturm und Drang-- storm and strain-- later renamed the Romantic movement when it spreads to England around 1800, producing such magic incantations as Coleridge's Kubla Khan and anti-heroes like Lord Byron. By 1830, Goethe has outlived them; he is as old as Faust is in the last act of his play.


Faust Part II  feels like the summing up of Goethe's life, everything he has learned and everything he wants to say. Strangely, it falls back to Marlowe's sprawling, aimless-seeming middle section. Part II by itself is 7 hours long if read on the stage. And what stage could possibly produce it? Scenes call for grand palaces, with endless rooms; for jagged mountain peaks and valleys; for battle between Emperors with enormous armies; for Helen of Troy in a palace ridden with ghouls; for castles in the sky. As a successful theatre director, Goethe must have  known this. What was he thinking?


Practically speaking, Goethe does not envision the enormous sets and painted backdrops of aristocratic masques and opera. His scenes are so long because most of the dialogue consists of word-painting. He sacrifices much of the action to the description of what things look like. His characters, Faust, Mephistopheles, Helen, the ghouls, step out of character when it is their turn to describe the castle turrets rising one above the next, the streams and waterfalls tumbling rocks in a tumult, the whirlwinds and howls and cherub-voiced choirs they are hearing-- and that could hardly be produced in the most lavishly funded theatre hall. Goethe can get away with this because among his many talents, he is above all a great poet. His lines have rhythm and rhyme that pulses along; kept from being boring by changing length and meter from time to time-- punchy four-beat couplets; long stately 12-syllable  alexandrines when he is trying to render ancient Greece; singing choruses; snappy word-play and dirty jokes when Mephistopheles gets the lines. Goethe keeps this up at incredible length-- some 300 pages in the German text, about 12,000 lines of verse, and as far as I can tell, never missing a beat.


This also means that whether or not this is put on a stage, it is above all a play for reading. And reading at leisure, reading the rhythm to yourself if not out loud. The poetry takes over; the plot-- and Goethe can produce some surprising twists-- does make you wonder how each episode is going to turn out. But mostly you have to go with the poetry, for the sheer pleasure of it.


It has been said that poetry is the part that disappears when it is translated. And unfortunately that is true. Most of the great world poetry--- at any rate the long narrative poems--- goes flat in translation. You have to learn some Italian to enjoy Dante's Divine Comedy; otherwise it is just a catalogue of cruel stories expressing the political and religious prejudices of the Middle Ages.  Virgil's Aenead always struck me as an inferior imitation of Homer (who is good enough in plain prose translation), probably because my Latin is so poor, but also because Homer already used up the best stories.


Fortunately for English-speakers, the rhythms and rhymes of English and German are not so different; there are some excellent poetic translations of Faust (especially Bayard Taylor) that are quite wonderful in the word-painting sections. And with a moderate knowledge of German, you can read the corresponding German text out loud with even greater pleasure in the word-music. I would compare it with reading Milton's Paradise Lost.


We could count this as another one of the devil-centered stories, even if that is not what Milton intended. But he was writing just after a failed religious and political rebellion, when he was the principle recorder and spokesman for the rebels. The most interesting character in the story is Satan; the best scenes are when he is on stage. There is great word-painting; cosmic scenes like the best of Marvel Comics only done seriously; nature scenes of the pristine Garden of Eden; battle scenes between God's angels and fallen angels. There are also hundreds of pages which-- from a dramatic point of view-- are flat and boring. Like Faust, it has a great beginning; then a lot of padding--- the messenger Angels spend whole Books foretelling what the rest of the Bible is going to say, and what the reader already knows. And the war scenes lag with too much speech making, parliamentary style, no doubt the kind of thing Milton had to take down as parliamentary secretary; but even redeemed by his stately rhythms, it is tedious when it comes to moving the plot.


I suspect that Milton is what Goethe had in mind, at least stylistically, for the five long acts of Faust, Part II. It is great narrative poetry, told through the mouths of characters standing on an imaginery stage. Above all, great word-painting, combined with the top poetic virtues-- rhythm, beat, music, memorable phrase and image. Milton may be the model for Goethe's literary architecture; but Goethe's verses are crisp as Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner  and the best of Byron's autobiographical narratives, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, and (that other devil-is-a-gentleman) Don Juan.


Goethe must have been dissatisfied with his 1808 version, ending with the harsh tragedy of Gretchen. He wants the Faust story to say something bigger. Spengler would later label the entire history of the West as the Faustian spirit: striving for knowledge and power, no matter the cost; overthrowing God, conquering the earth. Nietzsche, too, would echo Faust; so would the creative destruction of Schumpeter's entrepreneur. The Gretchen story would have been a follow-up shocker to the Sorrows of Young Werther. Now Goethe re-titles it Part I, and sets out to re-do the whole story on a more cosmic level.


Part II looks rather like Marlowe's material, vastly expanded and treated more seriously. Look at the parallels:


Marlowe Acts I and II: alternates between Faust's study where he makes a blood contract with the devil; and low-comedy scenes among the servants who borrow Faust's magic books and get into scrapes by turning each other into apes and dogs. Goethe Part I starts off similarly alternating between Faust and lower-class scenes; after signing the pact, Faust and Mephistopheles go to a wine-celler where they play pranks on the drunks by turning themselves invisible and spooking them into beating each other. Then they visit a witch's kitchen-- inhabited by apes-- where she brews a potion to make Faust younger.


The rest of Goethe Part I is the story of Gretchen's seduction. It is interrupted near the end by Faust and Mephistopheles in a mountain wilderness-- it is Walpurgis-Night, what we would call Halloween, without trick-or-treating but souls of the dead howling in the mist, witches accosting them. It turns into a series of satirical skits, making fun of generals, merchant hucksters, and pretentious authors. There is no Walpurgis-Night in Marlowe, but the satirical interpolations are much the same. After this, Goethe takes us abruptly back to Gretchen in prison; followed by Faust carried off to Hell.


Marlowe Act III and IV: Faust and Mephistopheles fly across Europe to Rome. In disguise they witness the Pope deposing a rival. Turning themselves invisible, Faust and Mephistopheles disrupt the ceremony, fomenting quarrels among the cardinals and frightening them with fire-crackers. The travelers then visit the palace of the German Emperor, where Faust is received as a famous magician; the royals love his conjuring up images of ancient heroes-- rather like the pantomime masques then becoming fashionable entertainment. Faust provides some rollicking fun by sprouting horns on the heads of the courtiers; the Emperor calls it excellent sport, but the embarassed lords ambush Faust at night. Little do they know that Faust is wearing a false head; and when they cut it off, he rises from the dead and sprouts another head. Mephistopheles joins in with more devils throwing fireworks and chase the assassins away.


Goethe Part II doesn't take on the Pope (no longer topical in Germany), but the Emperor's palace gets an entire Act I, a mini-play well over an hour of stage time. We get a pot-pourri of scenes. Mephistopheles offers the Emperor a plan to save the regime's finances-- get everybody digging because there must be buried treasure underground. Then a series of personified allegories, talking flowers, wood-cutters, the seven Graces, drunks, faeries, astrologers, you name it; all with their own poetic verses.


Act I winds up with a thread of plot continuity when an astrologer calls up a vision of Helen of Troy. Faust is stirred to action when told that it is a play called The Rape of Helen. "I'll rescue her, and make her doubly mine!" he cries. But when he touches her spectre, it explodes and Faust falls unconscious. While he dreams, Mephistopheles is back in Faust's laboratory, growing a homunculus in a bottle (Vincent Price horror movie stuff). We're off into another peripatetic phantasmagoria, this time called "Classical Walpurgis-Night" since we are visiting ancient Greece, with its centaurs, shape-shifting Proteus, nymphs and sirens. (Now in Act II, another hour-plus mini-play.) A theme is starting to emerge: Faust is becoming voracious for women-- but the world of magic is nothing if not deceptive, and they always fade out of grasp. Act II comes to an end as the sirens sing: "Hail, Adventure rarely ended!"


Before embarking of Goethe Act III, let us switch to Marlowe Act V, Conclusion. Faust is back in Wittenberg, nearing death. Knowing his contract is about to expire, he starts getting religion again, while good angels and scholars urge him to repent. Mephistopheles pulls out his trump card: a vision of Helen of Troy. Faust is hooked:


One thing, good servant, let me crave of thee,

To glut the longing of my heart's desire,

That I have unto my paramour

That heavenly Helen which I saw of late

Whose sweet embraces may extinguish clear

Those thoughts that do dissuade me from my vow,

And keep my vow I made to Lucifer.


Here we get the lines that make Marlowe famous:


Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,

And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?

Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.

Her lips suck forth my soul: see where it flies.


That's it. In the next scene Faust is carried down to Hell.


Now what does Goethe do with this? Helen never gets to speak a word in Marlowe, and is on stage for less than a minute. Goethe invents an entire new plot for her, taking up 90 minutes of Act III. The Trojan War is over; Helen's agrieved husband Menelaus brings her ashore at their homeland in Sparta. He tells her to go the palace, and prepare things for a great sacrifice of propitiation to the gods. Helen finds the palace ghastly quiet, having been empty all the years away at war. She encounters a ghoulish woman, anciently decrepit, descendent of a magical serpent, who tells her that the sacrificial victim to be killed is Helen herself, followed by the slaughter of her serving maids. But as the women ascend the mountain to the sacrificial place, she hears that another lord has visited from his mighty castle far up the mountain peak. She ascends further, and it is--- Faust!  His realm far exceeds the Greeks in splendour-- Goethe even inserts a disquisition on architecture to show how building became more advanced with Gothic cathedral-raising techniques. Menelaus and his army try to attack, but are blown away by Faust's modern artillery. We even get a musical Ode to Joy:


Hark the music, pure and golden;

Free from fables be at last!

All your Gods, the medley olden,

Let depart! their day is past.


But now Faust, united with Helen at last, faces the facts: Helen is ancient, fading as a ghost, and disappears.


We could end here, but Goethe isn't through with the Emperor theme, so we get Act IV. The Emperor is still having financial troubles; his realms are in rebellion. Everything is political chaos. On the other hand, if he can restore peace and security, the people will be thankful. All he has to do is defeat a coalition setting up a rival Emperor, whose armies are now attacking. Emperor A's headquarters are up a mountain, guarded by hidden valleys, where his troops lie in wait to attack the invaders' flanks. The names sound like medieval history at the time of the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa who fought the allies of the Pope; but the resonance for an audience in 1832 would have been the recent venture of Napoleon and the uneasy period of Restoration, now starting a new round of revolutions. At any rate, Goethe's plot turns from one side to another: it looks like we're winning-- no, they're making a surprise counter-attack; we've taken the enemy camp-- no, we're surrounded; no, here comes the Emperor after all, handing out victory bonuses. Above all to General Faust and his advisor Mephistopheles for helping us to victory. Act IV ends satirically in the scramble for spoils.


Marlow Act V, final scene: thunder; enter devils. Faust's last words:


My God, my God, look not so fierce on me.

Adders and serpents, let me breathe a while.

Ugly hell, gape not, come not, Lucifer!

I'll burn my books! Ah, Mephistopheles!


Goethe Act V: Faust in extreme old age. He is a wealthy lord, with ships full of treasure. But all he cares about is the project of his waning years: to hold back the sea with dykes, reclaiming the land for agriculture. He no longer cares about sorcery, only what can be accomplished by human thought and labor. Mephistopheles tries to tempt him; scorns him for his mundane concerns; evokes the memories of their good old days. Faust declares his final words before he dies:


The result of wisdom stamps it true:

He only earns his freedom and existence,

Who daily conquers them anew.


We are in a completely different world than Marlowe's. Even Mephistopheles recognizes he's out of date:


Once, I alone secured my prey

In all things we must feel the spite!

Transmitted custom, ancient right--

Nothing, indeed, can longer one confide in.


A poetic chorus ends on a pantheistic note:


Alles Vergängliche

Ist nur ein Gleichnis;

Das Unzulängliche,

Hier wirds Ereignis;

Das Unbeschreibliche,

Hier ist es getan;

Das Ewig-Weibliche

Zieht uns hinan.


These are probably the most quoted words in German literature. Translated, not quite satisfactorily: Everything transitory is but a semblance; what is insufficient comes to pass; the indescribable happens here; the eternal feminine leads us higher.


Is this Idealist philosophy, in the era of Kant's followers? But Goethe mocks the likes of Fichte and Hegel. Is Goethe a materialist? Yes, but it's a materialism of the body and the mountain climber, forest and mill-stream. He is the arch-Romantic-- he launched the fashion; but also Classical, appreciative of good form and the ancient Greeks. Is he religious, or anti-religious?  Goethe lived a long time, participated in and shaped all sorts of movements. He was an intellectual/artistic chameleon; perhaps too much for his own good. But the purpose of great literature isn't hero-worship; it's the experience literature gives you. I think Goethe would have agreed with that.


Sunday, April 16, 2023


 The 21-year-old airman arrested in Massachusetts April 13 for leaking Top Secret documents was at the nexus of two huge networks: military communications, and on-line games. Similar scenarios circulate on both, and the same demographic—young men who grew up in the on-line era—run both of them.


The arrested airman worked in an Intelligence Support Squadron, maintaining Air Force communications networks. And since all the armed forces and intelligence agencies are linked, to share information and avoid the comparmentalization that failed to detect the 9/11/01 attacks, he could access anything. What hit the headlines first were revelations that arms deliveries to the Ukraine were held up in the logistics chain. The documents surfaced on the Minecraft computer game, where players compete with enemies in building up logistics.


From an early age, millions of boys spend most of their time in on-line fantasy worlds of adventure, violence, war, espionage and crime. Many acquire advanced skills, ranging from computer technology to hacking; valuable alike in the dark side and in today’s cyber-tech military. The arrested airman played games such as an apocalyptic zombie game, and a tactical shooter game; and took part in chat groups on technical advice for computer glitches as wsell as military history and geopolitics. His real-life war information was leaked by other participants to popular game communities, and eventually through Russian intelligence into the real world. [WSJ; NYT; April 10-14, 2023]


Or what is the real world, and what is a fantasy version of it? The blurring between the two has become inevitable: high-tech soldiers who are gamers; and gamers who mimic high-tech war.


Fiction sometimes anticipates reality. Five years ago, I published a novel, Civil War Two.  It is a thought experiment about what would happen if the U.S. Civil War of 1861-1865 were fought again today, with high-tech weapons. An excerpt:




Three a.m.  Forward Operating Base, Utah National Guard, outside Malad City, Idaho.


            Warning, warning,” said the voice inside Specialist Jared Smith’s earbud. “Unidentified helicopter traffic, twelve o’clock, 13 miles. Closing fast. Enemy armored vehicles, eleven o’clock to one o’clock, multiple columns, 11 miles.”

            The handheld screen flashed the same message. Jared touched the screen. A map came up: a filigree of roads amid dark spots for hills: bright yellow dots of traffic speeding down the roads; other dots in red, representing air traffic, approaching more rapidly. He touched again, brought up a visual image, zoomed for a close-up: armored personnel carriers, heavy tanks rolling across the fields. Zooming still closer: the mouth of a cannon became visible,  emitting flame as a shell departed in his direction.

            Warning, warning, enemy tanks opening fire,” the computer voice said. “Closing to three miles. Take evasive action. Recommend counter-attack with all available weapons.”

            “Counter-attack!” Jared said aloud. “Fire anti-tank guns. Launch Apache helicopters!”

            “Smith!” Sergeant Page’s  voice broke in. “Get off that video game and pay attention to the UAV feed.”

            Reality filtered into Jared’s consciousness. Heavy sweat ran down the back of his neck, under his battle dress. The Ground Command Station felt hot and clammy, even though the air conditioning was pumping, dripping condensation from the vents overhead. He and Sgt. Page were seated side by side with barely inches between, inside a square windowless box on the back of an army truck. Electronic equipment crammed the  drab beige space.

            Three monitor screens filled the wall in front of them, along with dozens of instrument dials and control switches. One monitor showed a map display that traced the flight path of their pair of Hunter Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.  A second monitor gave video feed from the UAV’s on-board TV camera, a real-time view that would have been full life-like color if this were daytime. Another monitor was switched to infrared night surveillance, picking up heat sources on the ground, which could be computer enhanced and compared with templates of possible sources, then turned into identification messages.  Just now the monitors were showing nothing interesting, as far as Spec. Jared Smith could see.

            Sgt. Hiram Page was the remote control pilot of their pair of oversized toy model planes. But just now the UAVs were on automatic pilot,  as usual when nothing was happening, programmed to patrol systematically over the terrain between I-15 and the diagonal spur of I-84 cutting through the mountain ranges of the Sawtooth National Forest fifty miles to the northwest.  There were many threads of little roads and unpaved tracks between the Ground Command Station and the outer fringes of the UAV’s patrol territory, crossing the grasslands and the mountain valleys that became steadily more barren further west, where southern Idaho turned into the fringes of the Utah desert.

            “Shit, there’s a lot of roads to cover, considering there’s nothing there,” Jared complained. “And why are there so many people driving around, at this time of night?”

            Sgt. Page put down his book. “Watch your language. Truckers like to drive at night. Especially when it’s a hundred degrees in the daytime. And I’d say not much cooler in here right now.”

            “Don’t they know better than to drive in a war zone?” Jared said.  His hands moved habitually back to the video game, then stopped under Page’s disapproving stare.

            The three weeks they had been encamped at Malad City had not been what Jared expected. Instead of rushing into combat, blasting away, escaping death, maybe getting wounded, coming home to show off his bandages and tell his friends about it-- instead of the wonderful story he was getting ready to tell, it was nothing so far but sitting in this hot little room being bored. 

            Even the Idaho locals seemed to know nothing was going to happen-- they went right on driving around in their pickup trucks, going to work, shopping, going to parties, whatever they did for fun out here in the farm country. While he and his unit were on combat alert, no leaves allowed, full combat dress all the time. It was getting old. Everybody knew nothing was going to happen.

            Eventually new orders would come down, the Utah National Guard brigades and the rest of the Idaho expeditionary force would move somewhere else. Maybe we’ll find the enemy then, Jared thought, reaching for his video game. Or maybe we’ll be sitting around somewhere else being bored.

            “Hey, look at that!” Jared said. The infrared display showed a green blob on a road 20 miles away, the thick penumbra glow of a ghostly balloon. “Something really big. A tank, or a tank on a HET, by the speed it’s moving.” A heavy-equipment transporter moved tanks on a giant truck-bed with a lot less fuel.

            “That’s probably just construction equipment. Somebody getting ready to work on the highways soon as it gets light,” Sgt. Page said.

            “Don’t you think we ought to call Captain Squires?”

            Sgt. Page swiveled in his chair towards the closed door at the back of the command station, then shook his head. “Squires about bit my head off last time I went to him in the middle of the night with one of your false alarms.”

            “We could blast that tank-hauler right now,” Jared said. “Our Hunter has a laser-guided munition on each wing. I’d sure like to see what that looks like hitting its target.”

            “Grow up,” Page said. “This is no video game. Those munitions aren't cheap, and this is the only Hunter team on this front. This is valuable property.  You talk Captain Squires into wasting one of those on a useless target and they’ll take it out of your hide-- and mine too.”

            “Look,” said Jared.  “There’s another one. That’s a lot of traffic on that road. Could be a whole enemy battalion.”

            Sgt. Page peered at the screen.  “A battalion is much bigger than that. And that reminds me,  that’s the second time you got me in trouble. Two weeks ago, when our reinforcements from Fort Carson arrived at night, you thought it was an enemy attack because they were driving around on the west side of I-15 looking for places to park.  That alert went all the way to General Cruz, and the Captain was definitely not happy about what came back down.” 

            Page looked at the screen again, shook his head definitely.  “See, they’re coming from the south. Probably the reinforcements from the Utah National Guard that everybody’s been waiting for.”

            He opened the door, reached back to pick up his book, and started outside. “That AC unit sounds like it’s about to break down. I’m going to get the tech to work on it. Keep your eyes on those monitors, Smith, and stay away from that video game.”

            There was definitely traffic out there, Jared could see. Some of it was coming up the little roads from Utah, and some of it was looping almost due east now, on highway 37, heading toward Malad City. He’d like to see what the IR feed looked like for the roads closer in, all those little back roads in the farm country and in the mountain valleys on the west side of I-15; some of them coming out of the Indian reservation outside of Pocatello.

            But the Hunters were on autopilot, and they were sweeping the area further west, cruising quietly at 110 knots, methodically sending in strip after strip of video of a aerial view several miles wide. If Sgt. Page were here, he could take over manual control and bring the UAVs nearer their own positions, to see what could be coming up on them in the dark. 

            Jared was tempted to climb over to Page’s seat and take the remote pilot controls; he had seen him operate them often enough, how different could it be from a video flight simulator? But if Page caught him, there really would be hell to pay. 

            Jared picked up his video game.  It was almost brand new, called “Civil War Two.”  It was the most realistic war game Jared had ever seen, and he had been playing war games ever since he was four years old. Not just monsters or unrealistic icons, it had the sight and sound of real war, from the monitors and map displays on down to the video feed as you actually experienced it. At least, how Jared expected to experience it, since he had never yet been in combat. The voice in his earbud started up again, “Warning, warning--”

            “Smith, what did I tell you?”  Sgt. Page was back. The AC units were working no better, and a blast of hot air had entered the command station while the door was open. “Give me that video game.”

            Jared resisted having the book-sized game tugged from his hands. “Listen, Sergeant, it’s no worse than that religious crap you’re always reading.”

            “Watch your language!” Page put the Book down hurriedly on his seat and ripped the video game away from Jared.

            The command station monitors were bright and full of green glowing shapes, moving rapidly.  The Hunters had gone on methodically covering their swath of territory, scanning nearer and nearer to the USA Army front along I-15, and the volume of traffic heading their direction was now plain to see.

            “That’s disobeying a direct order, Smith,” the Sgt. said. “I’m putting you on report, as soon as this shift is over.”

            “Why don’t you put me on report right now?” Jared tried to stand up in the cramped space. There were scarcely room to swing a punch. Jared landed a glancing blow and Page pushed him back into his chair.

            The command monitors were now flashing bright red messages: 




            In their jostling, a switch had been hit. The Ground Control station computer had switched to audible mode. The computer voice rang out:

            Warning, warning, alert, alert!  Enemy fire incoming!

            An explosion shattered the wall of the Ground Control Station. The monitors went out and then everything in Jared Smith’s consciousness was dark.




            Most of the troops were asleep in their windowless pods, the portable quarters of the well-equipped modern army, with air conditioning on and doors shut.  Soldiers who weren’t asleep were listening to music on headphones or playing video games, sealed off from the hot night.  Chattering of helicopters came near.  Soldiers shrugged, swore, turned over to burrow their heads deeper into bedding. The military was always moving something day or night, among bases strung out over 50 miles with mountains in between, commanders flying in and out, shifting reinforcements and logistics.  The helicopters persisted overhead.





Excerpt from “Year Two: Technowar.”  Randall Collins. Civil War Two. 2018. San Diego: Maren Ink.