Tag Archives: Arthur C. Clarke

Is Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 Short Story “Superiority” a Parable for Today?

Peter Lobner

Sir Arthur Charles Clarke was a British science fiction writer, science writer and futurist who became recognized worldwide for his great many short stories and novels, which have captivated readers since the early 1950s. You might know him best as the author of “Childhood’s End” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.

Sir-Arthur-C.-Clarke  Source: http://amazingstoriesmag.com

In the short story “Superiority,” which was published in his 1953 story collection, Expedition to Earth, Clarke describes a spacefaring federation of planets involved in a protracted war with a distant adversary, with both sides using comparable weaponry. The allure of advanced weaponry and “a revolution in warfare” led one side to allocate their resources away from traditional weaponry and invest instead in fewer vessels with advanced weapons systems that were sure to turn the tide of the war: the Sphere of Annihilation, the Battle Analyzer, and the Exponential Field.

As you might guess, the outcome was somewhat different, because:

  • The new systems was “almost perfected in the laboratory”
  • There were unforeseen complications and delays during development of the operational systems
  • There were unforeseen support and training requirements that compromised the operational use of the new systems and introduced new vulnerabilities
  • The new systems failed to deliver the expected “force multiplier” effect
  • There were unforeseen consequences from the operational use of some new weaponry

The adversary won the war with a numerically superior fleet using obsolete weapons based on inferior science.

Take time now to read this short story at the following link:


Bill Sweetman has written an interesting commentary on Arthur C. Clarke’s “Superiority,“ in the 14 March 2016 issue of Aviation Week and Space Technology. His commentary, entitled, “Timeless Insight Into Why Military Programs Go Wrong – The history of defense program failures was foretold in 1953,” finds stunning parallels between the story line in “Superiority” and the history of many real-world defense programs from WW II to the present day. You can read Bill Sweetman’s commentary at the following link:


Considering SAIC’s long-term, significant role in supporting many U.S. advanced war-fighting and intelligence system programs, many of us were the real-world analogs of the thousands of scientists, engineers, and managers working for Professor-General Norden, the Chief of the Research Staff, in “Superiority.” In Bill Sweetman’s commentary, he asks, “Is ‘Superiority’ a parable?” Based on your own experience at SAIC and elsewhere in the military – industrial complex, what do you think?

If you still haven’t read “Superiority,” please do it now. It’s worth your time.