In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place: and in the sky The larks still bravely singing fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the dead: Short days ago, We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved: and now we lie In Flanders fields! Take up our quarrel with the foe To you, from failing hands, we throw The torch: be yours to hold it high If ye break faith with us who die, We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields Composed at the battlefront on May 3, 1915 during the second battle of Ypres, Belgium by Lt. Col. John McCrae The ghosts come back a little, today. I realized while at the local Memorial Day ceremony just how long the list has gotten. Men I knew well, men I only knew in passing before they were gone. Men who died in combat. Men who died in training. Men who took their own lives. Not a lot to say about it, today. Fair winds and following seas. We have the watch.
I’ve had to do some research into possible near-future weapons systems for a couple of series, now. If you’ve read The Colonel Has A Plan, you might have noticed that the Marines under Colonel John Brannigan are using M27s and LSAT machineguns instead of the current M4s and M249s or M240s. Similarly, the Marines at Camp David in Lex Talionis are armed with M27s. Now, arming Marines with M27s is an easy choice, since the Marine Corps recently announced a wider deployment of the glorified HK 416s, but it touches on a common theme when writing near-future military fiction. Including new weapons and gear that isn’t necessarily in common use yet helps to establish your setting.
“Timeliness” is a temptation that I think most military/spy fiction writers have to deal with. “Ripped from the headlines!” and “Prophetic!” are compliments that reviewers have used for works in the genre going back to Tom Clancy, at least. Those same phrases have been applied to some of my own work, and I’ll admit that it can be somewhat affirming (though often in a grim sort of way) to see events move in a generally similar direction to that predicted in one of your novels. It shows you that you read the situation fairly accurately.
No, this isn’t about InRangeTV opening an account on PornHub. (Yes, apparently that’s a thing. No, I haven’t gone looking for it, nor will I.) This is about the facet of much Action Adventure writing known colloquially as “Gun Porn,” wherein the author includes (and often lovingly describes) various cool and interesting firearms in the story. This isn’t particularly new; a lot of Louis L’Amour westerns describe interesting (and sometimes obscure) weapons that aren’t commonly found in the run-of-the-mill western (particularly on screen). But as with any element of storytelling, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it.
Mercenaries haven’t really been a staple of mainstream thrillers since the ’80s. Tom Clancy introduced Jack Ryan, an analyst, as the hero of his techno-thrillers, and it seemed to set the tone for much of the genre to come. Harold Coyle’s heroes were mostly tankers. Dale Brown’s were bomber pilots. As the GWOT got started, even the more shadowy operatives, like Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp and Brad Taylor’s Pike Logan were still directly operating within the government apparatus, if so black that they “didn’t exist.” So, why did I go with mercenaries for the Praetorian series, Kill Yuan, and the Brannigan’s Blackhearts series? Well, I think that has several answers.
I cannot let 9/11 go by unremarked. It is the single event that defined my adult life. While I knew no one who died that day, much of my life after was dedicated to the pursuit of those 19 hijackers’ fellow fanatics, and I have buried friends in the course of that war. It is a war that began long before any of us were born, and will likely continue. It is unpopular to say that there is a war between Islam and the West. Islam, truly devoted Islam, has been at war with all and sundry for 1300 years. Are many Muslims not at war? Of course. Far more Muslims have died to crush ISIS than Americans. But the historical record remains. Even when we are at peace, sooner or later, that peace will end. The hijackers did not choose September the 11th at random. It was not a date that simply came up in the course of planning and logistics. Like all fanatics, they sought to make a deeper statement in their act of mass murder. September 11 was the day before the anniversary of the Battle of Vienna. In 1683, the Ottoman Empire, then the Muslim Caliphate
Tim Lynch, over on Free Range International, which I’ve read off and on for years now, makes some points related to not only the recent kerfuffle over the Erik Prince/DynCorp proposal for privatizing the war in Afghanistan, but about professional soldiers in general. It is a point that I’ve tried to make, in different ways, with both the American Praetorian series and Kill Yuan. Have you not heard about this? Of course not because it counters the legacy media narrative about so -called “mercenaries” while illustrating the uselessness of the United Nations in combating terrorism. Eeben Barrlow and his men are not mercenaries in any sense of the word. There is not a snow ball’s chance in hell that Joseph Kony or any other terrorist organization could hire them no matter how much money they paid. They are former military professionals who, although retired, remain military professionals willing to endure primitive conditions for months on end to teach their expertise to appropriate clientele. The concepts that Prince is talking about and that Feral Jundi and I have been writing about for years work. All of us know that because all of us have done it. The only question regarding the
Lex Talionis is now up to eleven reviews on Amazon, and still hovering somewhere in the 300s-400s in its category. This review in particular caught my eye. This is the kind of thing authors like to hear; it means we did our job and put the reader into the middle of the action. If you haven’t checked the book out yet, hopefully that will convince you to give it a shot. And if you have, be sure to leave a review!
The 35th Life, The Universe, and Everything conference, my second, has come and gone, and it was a blast. I got to sit on a few panels, hang out with Larry Correia, Jim Curtis (OldNFO online), and a few others, chat briefly with James Minz (executive editor at Baen), and along the way let the gears turn, leading to several new ideas, refinements of old ones, and possibly get some new, or new-ish projects rolling. (There should be audio of Kill Yuan forthcoming in the next few months, for instance.) Most of the panels I was attending (as opposed to being a panelist), I was sort of half-listening, half letting the gears turn. That’s how the back-cover byline for Lex Talionis changed halfway through the “Hook” panel. Originally intended to be “The Hunters Have Become The Hunted,” which fits, but has been used before, it will now be “War And Politics Have Consequences.” There were a couple of weird parts. There was a member of the “Writing Action Scenes” panel, who will remain nameless, who asserted that video gaming provides the real experience of being in a fight. (I may or may not have seen Larry twitch toward a double-handed
Some reflections on this subject have started, in part because of how long it’s taken me to get into Lex Talionis, in part because of a few of the reactions I’ve gotten to the announcement that the fifth book in the Praetorians series will also be the final one. After all, my primary audience seems to be focused on the Praetorians, so why not keep telling stories about Jeff and Co.? There are a few reasons. For one, when I started the Jed Horn series with A Silver Cross and a Winchester, I found that I just needed a break, a different outlet for my mind. That need hasn’t gone away, which is why I’ve been alternating between series and genres for the last couple of years. I’ve also made the statement that I’ve put Jeff and his boys through some pretty harrowing stuff over the last four books. I was starting to touch on how it was wearing on Jeff as a man (not a Mack Bolan superman) in The Devil You Don’t Know. That’s coming out in spades in Lex Talionis. Most real-world shooters only have so many years of running and gunning before they either go contract