A single spark can ignite a war that consumes the world.
Three Tibetan rebels
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The View From the Deck Plate
If a single U.S. Trident missile sub went rogue, it would instantly become the fifth most powerful nuclear aggressor on planet Earth. According to some estimates, that lone submarine would possess more firepower than the combined nuclear arsenals of India, Pakistan, and North Korea. More than enough warheads to start World War III. Maybe even enough to end it.
Of course the Navy has extraordinary safeguards in place to prevent this kind of nightmare scenario from ever occurring. Mechanical and electronic lock-outs, security protocols, safety procedures, psychological screenings, and all manner of protections that go well beyond both my knowledge and my imagination. But no defense is ever perfect, and all of our protective measures have one thing in common… They depend on the loyalty of human beings.
Which raises an extremely unsettling question… What happens when the humans fail? (Or worse, what happens when they deliberately sabotage the system they’re supposed to be protecting?) That’s a damned scary thought. It also happens to be one hell of a good idea for a military techno-thriller. I’d love to write that book. Unfortunately, John R. Monteith already beat me to it with his white-hot submarine warfare novel, Rogue Avenger.
Just in case you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading this book, allow me to quote from the jacket text…
THEY STOLE HIS FUTURE. HE STOLE THEIR SUBMARINE.
The accident changed everything… One moment, Lieutenant Jake Slate was going about his duties aboard the ballistic missile submarine, USS Colorado. The next second, he was sprawled on the deck plates in a spreading puddle of blood and hydraulic fluid. But it wasn’t the injury that ruined his life and doomed his military career. It was the rescue effort.
Now he’s being thrown to the wolves to cover up the misdeeds of a superior officer, and Jake doesn’t care for the role of sacrificial lamb.
Blinded by rage and unsure of his future, he finds himself at the center of a treacherous plot to hijack the Colorado and sell her nuclear warheads to a foreign power. Jake no longer knows who he can trust. He doesn’t know what the future holds. He really only knows one thing. He will have his revenge.
If that doesn’t give your pulse rate a little boost, you should consult your doctor, because you may be dead.
In addition to being a talented writer, John Monteith is a former U.S. Navy officer who served aboard a Trident sub. His knowledge and experience come through clearly in his writing. He’s done his time on nuclear deterrent patrols. He’s had plenty of time to think about what could go wrong, and he does an excellent job weaving some of his darker speculations into page-turning adventure fiction.
I first met John a few years ago, at a conference for the Military Writers’ Society of America. I was there to shake hands and meet other authors. He was there to accept an award for this novel. I picked up a copy from the display tables, leafed through a couple of pages, and suddenly I was hooked.
When I decided to start the Stealth Books imprint, John was the first author I invited to join. My goal from the beginning has been to attract smart authors who write smart books for smart readers. John certainly fits the bill, and so does this novel.
I can sum up my opinion of Rogue Avenger in seven words: I wish I had written this book.
Rogue Avenger is now available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com, along with John’s follow-on novels, Rogue Betrayer, Rogue Crusader, and Rogue Defender.
Click here to visit John’s website, SubThriller.com.
Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy
As a career Sailor, a writer of naval fiction, and a bit of an amateur nautical historian, I like to flatter myself that I’m fairly well versed in the history of the United States Navy. After reading Ian W. Toll’s handling of our navy’s formative years, I’m quite content to admit my own vanity and ignorance. Six Frigates, if I may abuse a metaphor, blew me out of the water.
I bought the book expecting to read descriptions of naval engagements in the age of sail, and Ian Toll certainly delivers in that area. He makes you feel the thunder of hurtling grape shot, and smell the hot iron and smoke of combat at sea. He also goes a step further, and pulls back the curtain on battles of an entirely different sort; the kind that rage across the debating floors of government.
Most books I’ve read about this period tend to gloss over the authorization and building of these famous first ships, skipping from the Naval Act of 1794 (which approved their construction), to their launchings beginning in 1797, to the USS Constellation’s historic defeat and capture of the French frigate Insurgente in February of 1799. Until Six Frigates, I happily agreed with the tendency to jump forward to the action. The Barbary pirates… The USS Constitution’s victorious engagements against HMS Guerriere, HMS Java, HMS Cyane, and HMS Levant. That often-referenced moment during the War of 1812 when some unknown seaman shouted, “Hurrah, her sides are made of iron!”
But Mr. Toll’s extraordinary history also captures the skirmishes that erupted before the keels were laid. It turns out that the politics of military procurement were every bit as nasty in the eighteenth-century as they are in the twenty-first. The decision to construct the U.S. Navy’s first purpose-built warships was a source of bitter contention. On the one side, the Federalist Party—formed by Alexander Hamilton—saw a strong naval force as an indispensable resource for a growing nation. On the opposite side of the aisle, Thomas Jefferson and the newly-emerging Republican Party were fiercely against building a navy. The country was still staggering under the debts of the Revolutionary War, and the Republicans argued that the cost of maintaining a navy would cripple the fledgling national economy.
Toll reveals that the challenges kept on coming, even after the appropriations were approved. The ship designer, Joshua Humphreys, decided that the major timbers and framing for the frigates must be cut from southern live oak, which was known for its extreme strength and durability. The right kind of trees could only be found in quantity along the Georgia coast, in areas that were little more than swamp. So the War Department ordered a ninety-man logging crew into the swamp to retrieve the needed timber. Within a week, nearly all of the workers were struck down by malaria. A visitor compared the stricken logging camp to an army field hospital after a hideous battle. Construction on the ships had not even started yet, and already the casualties were beginning to mount.
I could toss out more examples, but I won’t. My point is simply this… Ian W. Toll touches on many details that might have been overlooked by other authors. As a consequence, he brings an entirely new level of nuance to America’s evolution as a naval power. Six Frigates is easily one of the most informative and enjoyable books I’ve ever read about this chapter of our navy’s history.
I’ve been a HUGE fan of Clive Cussler novels since I first laid eyes on a paperback copy of Vixen 03 in a drugstore book rack, way back in the late 1970s. The green-shaded cover illustration sported the ghostly form of a Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter lying broken on the bottom of the sea, a column of air bubbles still rising from the crashed aircraft’s fuselage. I snatched the book out of the rack, flipped it over, and read the teaser text on the back jacket.
An Air Force transport plane with a lethal Top Secret cargo vanishes without a trace. A retired battleship pressed back into service for a final mission that could bring the United States to its knees. Politics… Intrigue… Adventure… My kind of stuff? Oh yeah. Oh hell yeah…
When the clerk rang up the sale, I wouldn’t even let him put my book in a bag. I forked over my cash and stuck the sales receipt between the pages as a makeshift bookmark. I walked out of that drugstore with the treasured paperback tucked neatly under my arm, secure in the knowledge that I had found something special.
I was not disappointed. The writing had my pulse pounding from the very first paragraph. The plot completely blew me away. I literally stayed up all night to read it. By the time I reluctantly turned the last page at about four in the morning, I knew I would be a Cussler fan for the rest of my life. Who needed James Bond or Luke Skywalker? I had discovered a stupendously badass character named Dirk Pitt.
When I found out that there were three more Dirk Pitt novels in print, I nearly had a seizure. This was in the dark days before the internet, and the words Amazon-dot-com had yet to be spoken on planet Earth. I spent endless weeks stalking the shelves of used book stores until I finally located copies of The Mediterranean Caper, Iceberg, and Raise the Titanic.
I blew through all three of my new treasures in a matter of days, and then began my long wait. I knew that Mr. Cussler was out there somewhere, pecking away at the keys of his typewriter and turning out more pages of adrenaline-fueled reading fun. If I watched long enough, sooner or later, another Pitt adventure was bound to surface.
And so it did… In another year or two, Night Probe came along. And then Deep Six, and Cyclops. The stories kept getting better, and old Dirk just kept right on saving the world from the kinds of villains that Bond only dreamed of.
The years turned into decades, and the Dirk Pitt stories continued to appear at fairly regular intervals. Treasure. Dragon. Sahara. Inca Gold.
I loved them all, but I was especially fond of Arctic Drift. It hit the shelves in 2008, the year that one of my own novels won the Clive Cussler Grandmaster Award. Clive himself presented me with the award check. His son and coauthor, Dirk (the namesake of my very favorite badass) handed me the trophy.
That was the absolute highpoint of my life as a Cussler fanatic. I had met the authors of my favorite books. Shaken their hands. Received their generous accolades, and the kind words of advice that they offered to me as a fellow author. I had reached the zenith. There was nowhere else to go. Nowhere higher to climb.
Or so I thought…
Then, a year or so ago, I received an early morning text message from retired Rear Admiral John Waickwicz. He wanted to know if I’d read Poseidon’s Arrow, the latest Dirk Pitt Novel. It was a Sunday, and I was having one of my rare sleep-in mornings. Rubbing my eyes until they were clear enough to make out the screen of my phone, I replied that I had not yet read Poseidon’s Arrow, but it was at the top of my to-be-read stack.
The admiral’s reply was short, but emphatic. “Read Chapter 26!”
I texted back two words. “Will do.”
I fired up my Kindle (no pun intended), settled into a comfy position on my couch, and started to read. I was tempted to skip ahead to Chapter 26, to find out what the admiral was excited about. But that’s just not the proper way to read a Dirk Pitt story. You have to savor it. No… Actually, you have to devour it. But you don’t jump ahead to the good parts, because they’re ALL good parts.
So I started at the beginning, flipping electronic pages as fast as my sleep-addled brain could gobble up the words. It took no time at all for the story to suck me in. Dirk was in rare form once again—jousting with bad guys, flirting with disaster, and taking in the world through those depthless green eyes that make certain women a bit weak in the knees.
I was so wrapped up in the action and intrigue that I completely forgot about the admiral’s text message. I didn’t need a reason to read this book. This was Dirk fucking Pitt! Reason enough.
Then I came to Chapter 26, and my eyes nearly bugged out of my head. Allow me to quote from the opening paragraph…
“The Gulfstream’s wheels touched down with a thump, jarring Ann awake. The excitement of the past few days had finally caught up with her, and she had slept since the plane left the ground in Idaho. She yawned and glanced across the aisle at Pitt, who sat engrossed reading a Jeff Edwards novel.”
WHAT? What was that?
Had my brain processed the words correctly? Dirk Pitt was engrossed in reading a Jeff Edwards novel? The stupendous badass of stupendous badasses was reading a Jeff Edwards novel?
I read the paragraph again. The words were still there, shining from the screen of my Kindle Fire like flaming beacons of badassery.
I’ve have a while now to get over the shock, but the joy and amazement have never faded. Dirk Pitt reads my books. How cool is that?
Trivia question of the day… What do Finding Nemo, The Matrix, Watership Down, The Hunger Games, Star Wars, The Lion King, and Harry Potter all have in common? If you’re a writer of fiction, you probably already know the answer… Every one of these films and novels follows a story structure known as the Hero’s Journey.
Also commonly referred to as the monomyth, the Hero’s Journey was first documented by mythologist Joseph Campbell in his 1949 nonfiction book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell’s thesis was that nearly all heroic myths—regardless of time period or culture—tend to follow a specific series of steps in a (largely) predictable order. Beginning in the ‘Ordinary World,’ the hero receives a ‘Call to Adventure,’ which he/she initially rejects. Then comes ‘Meeting the Mentor’ (also known as ‘Supernatural Aid’), followed by ‘Crossing the Threshold.’ After that, the proverbial game is afoot.
I’m not going to map out the entire cycle here. There are endless books, videos, diagrams, articles, essays, and blogs on the subject, many of which are available for free right here on the good old interwebs.
I’m more interested in the impact of Campbell’s famous myth structure on our perception of heroism. Specifically, does the continual reinforcement of the fictional hero pattern actually interfere with our ability to recognize real-life heroes?
Before we try to answer that, let’s look at how the monomyth structure made the leap from an obscure scholarly work to the mainstream of public consciousness.
In the mid-1980s, Chris Vogler, a story consultant for Walt Disney Pictures, wrote a seven-page memo titled A Practical Guide to the Hero with a Thousand Faces. The memo—which has since become almost a holy relic in the film industry—outlined the major points of the monomyth, and provided a map for folding them into the well-known three act structure used in nearly all commercial movies.
It’s worth noting that filmmakers were studying Campbell’s writings long before Chris Vogler came along. In fact, George Lucas worked directly with Joseph Campbell in the 1970s, during the making of the first Star Wars film, to ensure that the phases of the Hero’s Journey were being properly captured. This was six or eight years before Vogler wrote his famous seven-page memo, and Lucas wasn’t the first writer/director to be influenced by the monomyth.
Nevertheless, it was Vogler’s now-famous memo that ultimately kicked the process into overdrive. This was in the age of the fax machine, and suddenly Hollywood’s telephone wires were buzzing with faxed copies of the memo. Every studio executive, director, producer, screen writer, and talent agent was scrambling to lay hands on the document.
To say that the effect on filmmaking was transformational would almost be an understatement. If you don’t believe me, look at nearly any successful movie made in Hollywood since 1985. Let’s take The Matrix as an example. Call to Adventure? Check! Refusal of the Call? Check! Meeting the Mentor? Check! Crossing the Threshold? Check!
Beginning to see the pattern? It’s there, in movie after movie, and in book after book. Hell, I went there myself in Dome City Blues, without even meaning to. I’d seen the monomyth depicted so many times that it slipped into my subconscious. With no intent on my part, it influenced the shape of David Stalin’s heroic journey.
Does this make Dome City Blues a flawed work? I don’t think so. (Or at least I hope not.) I’m not one of the growing body of writers who are turning against Campbell and his theories. I don’t happen to agree that following the Hero’s Journey will automatically produce cookie-cutter stories. As Campbell pointed out, the tales of Gilgamesh, Beowulf, and Moses all map fairly well to the monomyth cycle. When you compare these to Finding Nemo, The Matrix, and Watership Down, it’s clearly possible to create wildly different stories within the framework of the monomyth. A writer can spend an entire career exploring the boundaries of the Hero’s Journey without ever producing two works that are recognizably similar.
So why have I been deliberately turning away from this time-honored structure in my military novels? I’m glad you asked…
For all of its usefulness as a storytelling device, I’m increasingly concerned about the impact it appears to be having in the real world. As we see the pattern repeated again and again, it becomes more and more reinforced in our subconscious minds.
This is how a hero acts.
This is what a hero does first.
This is what a hero does next.
This is how a hero defeats the enemy.
This is how a hero accomplishes the quest.
Somewhere in all those hundreds (and thousands) of fictional repetitions, we start to lose our ability to recognize real heroes. I had the privilege of serving in the company of real heroes, and I can tell you that their journeys bear very little resemblance to the mythic hero structure.
When the call to adventure comes, real heroes don’t even think about refusing. They pack up their gear, saddle up, and go where they’re needed. Real heroes are not chosen by prophesy. They step forward, and consciously choose to make a difference in the world. Real heroes rarely have great and mythic adventures. Instead, they maintain their equipment, continually train themselves and their coworkers, stand endless watches, and drill, drill, drill. Much of their lives amount to drudgery that wouldn’t play very well in a Hollywood movie. When the moment of conflict comes, real heroes don’t leap forward like avenging angels, brandishing swords, or lances, or magic wands. They concentrate on their own little piece of the struggle, carrying out their duties under enemy fire, or in dirty and life-threatening conditions, perfectly aware that their efforts will almost certainly go unsung.
And when they return to the ‘Ordinary World,’ they will not be heralded as figures of legend, nor will they be transformed into what Campbell called the ‘Master of Two Worlds.’ They will begin preparing for their next deployment, and waiting for the next ‘Call to Adventure.’
I hope my readers won’t take this as an indictment of the monomyth construct. That’s absolutely not my intent. I’ve enjoyed many movies and books that conform to the hero cycle. In my opinion, it’s a hell of a good way to tell a story.
I just want to remind the world that real heroes aren’t imbued with the mythic aura of Gilgamesh, or Beowulf, or even Luke Skywalker. Real heroes are more likely to resemble the man or woman standing next to you in the supermarket checkout line. If you’re looking through the lens of the Campbell’s monomyth, you’re never going to see them at all.