What’s the key? What makes a combat scene really “authentic?” Pain. There’s an old saying in the Recon community: “Recon ain’t fun.” It’s pain and agony and suffering, only faced with the grit and perseverance to get through it and survive, to kill the enemy before they kill you. Over on Tom Kratman’s wall on FB, the subject has come up of a young woman on a panel at Life, The Universe, And Everything 2017. She claimed at one point that “gamers can write good action scenes, because we’ve experienced that.” No. No, you haven’t.
“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.
That’s right. I’m already hammering away at Brannigan’s Blackhearts #4 – Frozen Conflict. If you’ve finished Enemy Unidentified, you might have a bit of a hint of what this one’s about. I’m trying a bit of an experiment this time around; I’m working on this one simultaneously with working on The Unity Wars. Write Frozen Conflict four days a week, work on The Unity Wars two days a week. We’ll see how it works out. Now, back to the word mines.
I got talking action movies with a buddy recently, and we got on the subject of where the line of realism versus entertainment lies. We’re both combat veterans, and we’ve both seen long periods of mind-numbing boredom and moments of chaotic weirdness that happen in combat. There are often comments on action movies, and action novels, about how “realistic” they are. And while some things are easy to quantify, some elements aren’t so much. Including the question, “Just how ‘realistic’ should a piece of action entertainment be?”
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 know, I haven’t been posting here much. Need to get on that. Probably need to do some scheduling. But I’ve been busy. Very. I’ve got another new series in the works, and it’s more than a little different from anything I’ve done before. I’ve played around with military action adventure, horror/fantasy, and heroic fantasy (though y’all haven’t seen that much of that yet). But this is going to be science fiction. Now, the funny part is that I originally started tinkering with writing, back in high school, with science fiction. I still have notebooks (somewhere) of notes, starmaps, and starship diagrams from those days. I had an entire sweeping timeline of wars between alien empires and human-alien alliances. It was, to borrow a turn of phrase from Nick Cole and Jason Anspach, WingCommanderNotWingCommander with a leavening of StarWarsNotStarWars. In fact, Task Force Desperate started out as a mil-fic backstory leading into the “21st Century Chaos” that was part of the backstory of what that epic evolved into. (It isn’t anymore; the Praetorian Series became very much its own thing.) What I’m working on now isn’t that particular epic. It’s much more “The Clone Wars meets The Horus Heresy with
So, a week and a half after Fury in the Gulf‘s release, I see I still have some learning to do when it comes to making Amazon’s algorithm sit up and do tricks. Working on it. There might be a new push just before launching the pre-order for Brannigan’s Blackhearts #2 – Burmese Crossfire next month. As for Burmese Crossfire, it still has one editing pass to go, plus I have to get the preview for Enemy Unidentified done to put in the back. As I’ve been thinking about Enemy Unidentified and the later books in the series, there might be some adjustment in the planned schedule. There seems to be more of an arc forming in my head, contrary to the original idea for the series. (I’ve already established some continuity with characters–no, not everybody’s going to survive–so this won’t be quite “’60s TV show episodic.”) With the series sitting where it is, I’m adjusting to an every-sixty-days schedule for releases. This will allow me to work on a couple of other projects, one of which has already been started. Not going to say too much about ’em yet, since they won’t be launching for a little while (February
What’s the difference? In reality, less than one might think. In general, I think, the “Action Adventure” genre, as exemplified (and coined) by Don Pendleton’s Executioner series, which spawned multiple spinoffs and inspired others (there is actually a flashback in SOBs #3, Butchers of Eden, in which Col. Barrabas remembers a night fighting back to back in Vietnam with Sgt. Mack Bolan), has generally been looked down upon as cheap, poorly-done “pulp,” with even less merit than comic books. “Techno-thrillers,” ostensibly started by Tom Clancy with The Hunt for Red October, are considered better quality and more realistic, though still sneered at by the literati (I had a high-school English teacher speak dismissively of Clancy as “pop-lit.”).
From a piece by John C. Wright, from a few years ago: In none of the stories I just mentioned, even stories where the image of Our Lord in His suffering nailed to a cross is what drives back vampires, is any mentioned made of the Christ. Is is always an Old Testament sort of God ruling Heaven, or no one at all is in charge. So why in Heaven’s name is Heaven always so bland, unappealing, or evil in these spooky stories? I can see the logic of the artistic decisions behind these choices, honestly, I can. If I were writing these series, I would have (had only I been gifted enough to do it) done the same and for the same reason. It is the same question that George Orwell criticized in his review of THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH by CS Lewis. In the Manchester Evening News, 16 August 1945, Orwell writes that the evil scientists in the NICE [the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments, who are the Black Hats of the yarn] are actually evil magicians of a modern, materialist bent, in communion with ‘evil spirits.’ Orwell comments: Mr. Lewis appears to believe in the existence of such