The rise of drone warfare has not only opened up a new battleground for the military—it has also been a boon to military fiction writers. In a recent drone-centric novel, a character proposes an explanation of why drones are particularly frightening: almost instinctively, humans view drones as “insects,” and the newer ones, ever smaller, ever more lethal, are that most frightening combination, “insects with guns.” Scary, indeed.
Three recent novels explore this new subgenre. In Drone Strike (Harper, May) veteran military/aviation novelists Dale Brown and Jim DeFelice have incorporated drone warfare into their long-running series starring U.S. Air Force pilot Turk Mako. A top-secret development area in the Nevada desert is testing swarms of nano-drones, which are the size of “cheap desk calculators” and shaped like “a cross between lawn darts and studies for a video game.” The government sends Turk and his drones on a covert mission into Iran. Once the tiny drones drop from the belly of the mother drone, the action is dizzyingly swift.
Debut author Mike Maden’s Drone (Putnam, 2013) kicks off a series in which drones are used against Mexican cartels in a mission to eliminate the illegal drug trade. Readers will leave these pages contemplating potential new angles in drone warfare. And counterterrorism expert and author Richard A. Clarke adds to his growing list of insider thrillers with Sting of the Drone (St. Martin’s/Dunne, May), perhaps his best book yet. CIA officer Sandra Vittonelli oversees a roomful of drone pilots from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada as they battle terrorists in the hills of Pakistan. The terrorists team up with two Ukrainian hackers to combat the drones, and the resulting clash shows that while new technology often seems invincible, a clever, determined enemy can level the battlefield.
Readers can expect more drone-centric thrillers as novelists continue to mine the field, with forthcoming titles including Unmanned by Dan Fesperman (Knopf) and The Sheltering by Mark Powell (Univ. of South Carolina Press), both of which come out later this month. And when that vein begins to dry up, there are always invisibility cloaks and smart bullets, two projects well along their way through the military technology pipeline.
Do those sound far-fetched? If you had asked any number of writers 10 years ago whether model airplane–size weapons would become a major force in warfare, most of them would have said no way. But we should never underestimate the minds of military weapons technicians—or the writers who take up their creations and spin them into fiction gold.