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Tactics of Defiance

On Monday night, I watched the debut of a new series called Defiance –– and I must say, I had fun. The show comes with an intriguing concept, some very enjoyable characters, a number of familiar themes, and a robust framework. I’ve heard people liken it (favorably or unfavorably) to everything from Firefly to Babylon 5, and I think there’s merit in many of those comparisons. I look forward to seeing what the writers and cast do with this new world. For instance: will Sheriff Hank Rearden and Mayor Darla end up together?

Yes, that was an Atlas Shrugged vs. Buffy joke. I apologize.

After viewing the premier, a His Majesty’s New World reader on Twitter made an interesting (and spoilery –– be warned!) observation: the battle at the end of the episode seemed rather similar to the engagement in The Badlands –– the fight in which the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the black soldiers of the 25th United States Infantry, the Nepalese men of the King’s Own Gurkhas, and the 15th Ludhiana Sikhs, all try to stop a Hubrin column from reaching Pacifica.

Hubrin and savages against Gurkhas? Advantage to the men from Nepal. Obviously.

There are definite similarities. In both cases:

• The protagonist forces take position along the heights on either side of a pass, and seek to use their firepower to contain their enemy.

• The enemy forces begin scaling the cliffs to counterattack.

• The assault vehicles in the pass begin counter-fire against the protagonists, with some success.

• The battle is turned when a powerful weapon is deployed by an alien ally (a delightfully snarky Doctor in Defiance, the far friendlier Saa dragon Sass in Badlands).

Structurally, the battles have a lot in common –– and this was pointed out on Twitter, followed by the flattering (and, I should point out, not accusatory) question: “I wonder if their writers were slightly influenced by [Badlands].”

My guess: almost certainly not.

I’ve got quite a few novels under my belt by now –– some science fiction, others alternate history. Over the course of all those stories, I’ve had occasion to write numerous battles, and I’ve learned that certain principles of land warfare are timeless. One of them is simple: when you have the inferior force, you must take advantage of everything available to you –– terrain especially. When writers apply such principles to the scenarios they’re plotting, very similar-seeming answers can sometimes emerge.

In The Badlands, I knew the Hubrin would attack the American Pacifica Territory –– it was clearly an easier target than the better-organized Selkirk Mandate. Because I’d drawn up the map for the new world long before the series was plotted, I also knew the aliens would have to come through the badlands to reach Pacifica –– terrain that could protect their savages from the kind of volleys Sir Julian Byng used to defeat them at Farpoint… but which could also trap them, and slow them down.

Sass was much friendlier than Defiance’s doctor when it came to saving the day. Also, she’s much larger, which makes her cool.

Recognizing all that, and realizing the invasion had to be stopped, I turned the problem over to the characters –– Waller first, then Sir Andrew Skeen –– and they applied their military sense to the situation. Having fought in the passes of Afghanistan (and knowing what happened to the Light Brigade in the ‘Valley of Death’) they naturally decided to set up an ambush. Since Sass had so effectively deployed a weapon in The Expedition, it seemed obvious she’d contribute firepower to this battle as well.

So the Battle of the Badlands evolved organically from the demands of the plot, and the experience of the characters –– people well-schooled in tactics and strategy.

I expect the defense of Defiance was similarly grown. Recognizing that the plot required a stricken frontier town to be somehow protected against a powerful enemy, the writing team probably just let their characters loose. Those individuals were as familiar with tactical reality as Skeen, and picked the best possible ground for a defense. Then, needing a way to multiply the town’s firepower, they went to the logical source: alien tech.

These were altogether sensible solutions to the plot problem they’d been presented… and they fit naturally into the multi-species, quasi-post-apocalyptic, partly-old-west world in which the characters lived. Obviously, the town was saved, and the series can go on.

So indeed, the battle in Defiance seemed similar to the engagement in The Badlands… and if anything, I’m glad. It’s tangible proof that another writing team, confronted by a similar challenge, might reach the same general conclusion I did. Of course, I’m sure those writers developed their plan carefully, consulted experts, and did research –– they’re professionals.

As usual, I just lazed around until some fictional characters chose their own fates.

Anyway, the fact that we ended up with similar strategies does confirm that, whether in the 1920s or the 2040s, you have a better chance of defeating superior alien infantry if you hold the high ground… and if you have powerful alien friends of your own.

But… hang on.

Since it’s a tradition these days for ‘creators’ to seize upon any vague similarities between their plot and the plots of expensive shows or films, I officially accuse Defiance of stealing all my ideas. Give me lots of money and stuff. Immediately. Well, okay, soon. Come on. Please?

Oh fine, but when I watch next Monday, I’ll be holding such a grudge…