The View From the Deck Plate
A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Trident Media Group about the possibility of hosting an excerpt from the new Larry Bond novel on my blog.
My reaction was fairly predictable.
Larry Bond? The Larry Bond? Military strategist extraordinaire? Inventor of the Harpoon strategy game used to train Surface Warfare Officers? The man who collaborated with Tom Clancy on RED STORM RISING? That Larry Bond?
Um… Yes. Yes, I would be interested. Sign me up. Now. Immediately, if not sooner.
I’ve been a huge Larry Bond fan since 1989, when his novel RED PHOENIX kept me tearing through the pages to find out just how badly the shit could hit the fan if the conflict in Korea went hot again. I’ve been waiting for a follow-up novel for about twenty-five years, and it’s finally here!
Larry Bond and his coauthor, Chris Carlson, are back with RED PHOENIX BURNING. This time, the North Korean regime has imploded, and the resulting power vacuum can only lead to a throw down of epic proportions.
I can’t wait to read it. Which brings me to the Bad News / Good News part of this blog.
The Bad News is that the excerpt they sent me is short. Really short. As in short enough to be kind of frustrating.
The Good News is that the nice people at Trident Media are going to give away copies of RED PHOENIX BURNING to five of my blog readers.
So, check out a little slice of the book, and then stick around for instructions on how to win.
UPDATE: Thanks for all the great comments! Our five winners have been selected. (The rest of us will have to buy our own copies.)
They were getting close, perhaps two hundred meters from the hill, when Guk reported, “We’ve found a body. It’s Chinese.”
That brought him up short. The others with Rhee had heard the report as well, and he signed for them to remain in place. “Confirm Chinese,” Rhee transmitted.
Guk responded immediately. “Digital pattern fatigues, weapon is a suppressed QBZ-03.”
Chinese weapon, Chinese uniform. The pieces fell into place instantly. Pathfinders, sent to seize and hold a strategic chokepoint, like a bridge, were a tactic as old as war. And the others must be Kim faction troops guarding the bridge.
“Engage the Chinese,” Rhee ordered. “Self-defense only against the other side.”
Rhee had barely finished speaking before Ban’s rifle boomed. Even with a muzzle brake and a suppressor, it sounded like a thunderclap. Rhee kept the glasses to his face long enough to see what was likely a Chinese soldier fall, and brought his own weapon up to cover Ban as he hurriedly shifted position forward. Oh was firing as well.
It was another two bounds before they saw any return fire, coming from the Chinese positions. It struck close to Rhee, who was in front, but Ban’s rifle boomed again and Rhee heard Ban report, “Target down.” The Kim side of the firefight was silent, but Rhee could hear the fire from his men, and Guk reported, “Engaged, two down.”
They kept moving forward, up the hill slope, team members staying low and bringing a lethal crossfire down on anyone that shot back.
Finally, they were near the crest, and Rhee saw a dead Chinese soldier, one of Ban’s victims, given the size of the hole in his chest. He switched back and forth between the IR goggles and the night vision binoculars, looking for enemies. All the nearby heat sources belonged to his men or freshly dead Chinese.
Guk’s voice warned, “Coming in from your right,” and the lieutenant and Corporal Dae joined the other three.
What do you think? Pretty damned cool, huh?
All you’ve got to do to win is write a non-SPAM comment on this blog, telling us a little bit about your favorite Larry Bond novel. Or, if you’re new to his work, go ahead and say so. (Every Larry Bond fan has got to start somewhere.)
The first five people to comment will receive a free copy of the book from Trident Media Group. The rest of us will have to pick it up when it hits the stands in two days.
So… I’m working away on Steel Wind Rising, happily tapping out a chapter about the nuclear fast attack submarine, USS Albany, when I come across a highlighted note-to-self in my story outline. It’s the kind of prompt that I often leave for myself: a simple reminder that more research is needed before I can finish writing the chapter in question. In this case, I need to alleviate (at least some of) my ignorance regarding radio antennas aboard Los Angeles class attack subs.
I know I’ll eventually have to make a phone call to someone who actually knows about submarine antennas, but I want to prepare for the conversation by reading up on the subject ahead of time. Basically, I’d like to ask good questions and avoid wasting the time of my expert.
I start with my usual stack of reference books: Combat Fleets of the World, Jane’s Fighting Ships, Jane’s Submarines, the submarine edition of Weapons of War, and even The Complete Idiots Guide to Submarines. Despite the excellence of these resources, I learn very little of interest beyond the fact that the hardware I’m interested in is designated as the ‘AN/BRA-34 High Data Rate Antenna’.
And off to the interwebs I go. I type ‘AN/BRA-34’ into my search bar, and Google immediately does three things:
First, it actually provides some potentially useful links to web pages about submarine radio systems. Good. That’s what I came here for.
Second, Google offers suggested revisions to my search terms, just in case I accidentally conjured up dumb old attack submarine antenna hardware when I was actually looking for some cute and sexy brassieres. Did I perhaps mean ‘BRA SIZES 34’? Or maybe ‘BRA 34C’, ‘BRA 34 DDD’, or ‘BRA 34 DDDD’? (I’m curious as to why the keyword algorithm skips over cup sizes A, B, D, and even DD. It’s like anything beyond a C-cup requires at least three letters to be interesting. But that’s another blog for another day.)
And third, Google AdWords floods my search sidebar with links and photos offering lingerie for sale. The ad contextualization software is so determined to put some kind of merchandize on my screen, that it burrows into the middle of alphanumeric military nomenclatures to find the only fragment it can hang an advertisement on.
I’m so put off by this intrusion of crass commercialism into my legitimate research that I only click on three of the bra advertisements. You know… for purposes of accuracy and authenticity.
So far as I’ve been able to determine, none of the featured brassieres can access EHF SATCOM from periscope depth. I guess that means I’ve still got a phone call to make.
PS: Steel Wind Rising is flowing quickly now. A finished first draft is not very far in the future, if I can stop clicking on lingerie ads that is.
Lately I’ve been searching for the title of a particular book. It’s a fish-out-of-water story about a family who moves from (I think) Manhattan to a small town in New England, where they struggle to acclimate to life away from the big city. The style is humorous, with occasional moments of drama and poignancy. I believe the title has something to do with crickets, but I could be wrong about that.
I read the book when I was about 16, and I’ve wanted to re-read it for a while now. The problem is that I can’t find the damned thing. I have no idea who the author might be, and my attempts to conjure up the title via Google have been pathetic. (Try Googling various combinations of book+Manhattan+New England+humor+crickets. You’ll get plenty of search results, but none of them have anything to do with the book I’m struggling to identify.)
On a whim, I just tried the same keywords on Bing, with no better results. Although Bing did come up with an entertaining Huffington Post article about students who got caught releasing hundreds of crickets in the halls of their Pennsylvania high school. A nice five minute diversion, but it got me no closer to my goal.
It’s not Google’s fault, or even Bing’s fault that I can’t find the book. It’s my fault for typing in crappy keywords. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything better to offer. Those are the best clues I’ve been able to come up with.
Until about a year ago, I had a better search engine for half-forgotten books. One that could summon up titles and author names from the most tenuous of hints. One that knew how to ask intelligent questions to help me zero in on my literary quarry.
It was my mom.
One phone call to my female parental unit could solve nearly any book-related puzzle.
“Hey Mom, remember the paperback you loaned me, about the convent that inherits an abandoned house from a mobster?”
“Let’s see… That would be The Nun in the Closet, by Dorothy Gilman.”
“Mom, what was the title of that book about the two Renaissance-era ghosts who pretend to be actors, and play themselves in a biographical movie about their own (past) lives?”
“Hmmm… I think that’s The Far Traveller, by Manning Coles. Or maybe it was Coles Manning. One or the other… Either Coles Manning, or Manning Coles.”
I can’t count the number of times I called Mom to ask a question about a particular book, and she nearly always had the answer. That woman knew books. Her memory was a bit iffy on subjects like basic cooking, phone numbers, and where she parked her car. But ask a question about fiction, and she was a superstar. She could remember author names, story lines, titles, and all the fiddling little plot twists that most of us forget. She was a walking card catalog. (If you don’t know what that means, go look it up.)
Mom and I were light years apart on politics, childrearing, and a hundred other topics. But we were in sync when it came to books. She didn’t just love them. She was obsessed by them. And she managed to pass that lifelong obsession on to me. We could both talk for about books for hours, and we frequently did.
I loved the literary search engine hidden inside of my mother’s head. It was always there when I wanted it, just a phone call away, and most of those of those calls led to delightfully rambling conversations about reading, writing, and the nature of storytelling.
But all of that is gone now. Or rather, my mom is gone, and that wonderful library of memories is gone with her.
Even now, a year after her passing, I find myself forgetting that the number stored in my phone’s speed dialer doesn’t belong to her anymore. If I hit the call key, the person who answers won’t know anything at all about the pirate adventure story I read in eighth grade. The new owner of Mom’s phone number won’t remember the book about the fish-out-of-water family that moves to New England.
So I make do with Google as best I can, even when I don’t remember enough about an old book to summon up a decent set of search terms. And I try very hard not to think about the incredible resource that’s suddenly missing from my life.
It’s official! The Kickstarter is now live, and the Fountain War Book project is a go!
The rumors are true. I’ve been invited to write a military science fiction novel based on the computer game EVE Online. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this.
EVE is a fully-realized virtual universe… Nearly 8,000 unique star systems, swarming with asteroid belts, mining ships, research facilities, industrial complexes, pirates, and starships armed to the teeth. Imagine sweeping stellar empires, backstabbing politics, enormous fleets of warships, and battles of massive proportion.
Someone recently referred to EVE as “the largest collaborative work of science fiction in existence.” I’ve played the game, and I’ve seen what goes on there. That statement is not an exaggeration.
Below is the first sample piece I wrote for the project. If you like what you see, drop by our Kickstarter page.
It’s going to be amazing!
1 — REQUIEM FOR A TITAN (PRELUDE)
It was coming apart now. All of it… The plan… The months of careful preparation… The whole fucking thing…
Captain Darius Yaaah lowered his body into the pod, feeling the warmth of the semi-liquid amniotic gel enfold his limbs and torso. He gave a final encouraging nod to his bridge crew as the door of the armored capsule swung down to enclose him.
The interior of the pod was dark, but there was no need for lighting here. He wouldn’t be using his eyes to see.
With a series of muffled whines, the manipulator arms of the pod brought the slender interface cables into position, aligning platinum connector ends with matching jacks at the supraclavicular nerve bundle and five other key points in his cervical and thoracic spine.
Nano-fine connections mated, and the familiar ice water sensation rushed through Yaaah’s arms and legs as the mainframe’s neural interfaces synchronized with his central nervous system. The HUD projection unfolded itself in his brain, an ever-changing latticework of tactical symbols, tattletales, and sensor feeds, flickering and shifting in the blood-lit darkness behind his eyelids. Targeting data, engineering data, weapons statuses, crew reports, available power levels, heat loading, and a thousand other details.
This was usually the part he liked best—feeling two and a half million metric tons of Caldari Leviathan come alive—the enormous warship merging with his mind and his nerve endings—ready to jump the void between stars, or blaze into battle at the merest twitch of his whim.
That long-held pleasure was absent today. Soured by the knowledge that the whole situation was about to go to hell.
When it came (when the shit started to fly), even the massive armor and weaponry of his ship would not be enough to save him.
On the HUD, he could see last-second maneuvers as the fleet prepared for transition to hyperspace. Over fifty capital ships and supercaps, jockeying for position within the formation before jumping out of this star system to the midpoint cyno.
This was supposed to be a combat Op. The Imperium’s fleet sallying forth to rain havoc and destruction in some stellar system owned by the TEST Alliance.
But Yaaah knew that the mission brief was a sham. This entire fleet operation was a giant fucking trap, designed to lure a single ship to an ambush in the deep and trackless gulf of interstellar space.
The target was Yaaah himself. His ship too, but mostly Yaaah.
When the fleet came out of jump at the midpoint, every vessel in the formation would turn on him. More than fifty Dreadnoughts, Titans, Carriers, and Super-Carriers—all coming after his single Titan. Incalculable destructive power, focused on removing Yaaah and his ship from existence.
They knew. He had no idea how they’d found out, but after all of his caution and subterfuge, they had finally penetrated his cover. The bastards knew…
The Imperium’s intelligence branch had identified him for what he was: an infiltrator and a spy for Pandemic Legion.
Now it was time for the Imperium to plug their security leak. Eliminate the traitor in their midsts.
Yaaah had played the game well, but it was nearly over. He had, at best, a few moves left to make.
On the HUD he called up a window showing the bridge of his ship. His crew was practically vibrating with pre-combat jitters. Their faces wearing that strangely tense half-smile that signals the human body’s internal preparation for anticipated danger. Limbic systems ramping up for the coming fight with heady cocktails of dopamine, cortisol, and adrenalin.
His crew was expecting a battle, and they were going to get one. Just not the kind of battle they had in mind…
I re-watched Sleepless in Seattle a few weeks ago. I was flying home to Georgia to visit my family, and it was one of the complementary selections on the in-flight entertainment system. (The choices were Annie, Frozen, a straight-to-video Tinkerbelle flick, or Sleepless. I chose Sleepless.)
I enjoyed the movie—as I enjoy all Nora Ephron films—but about halfway through, I noticed something I’d never picked up on before. Whenever Annie (Meg Ryan) needed to park, there were always four car lengths of open curb in exactly the right place.
No need for parallel parking. No backing and filling. No circling the block and hoping for someone to vacate a spot. Always an empty parking space precisely where and when she needed one, and always four car lengths long. Enough room for Annie/Meg to zip right in on the first pass. No muss, no fuss.
It was a simple bit of movie magic, and one that made perfect sense for that genre of film. In the context of a romantic comedy, the ever-ready parking slots were both expedient and completely understandable. When you have less than two hours to create and resolve the complications of a human relationship, you don’t want to waste precious minutes of screen time having Meg Ryan search for a place to park.
I get that. If I had directed the movie, I’m sure I would have solved the problem the same way that Nora Ephron did—by leaving four car lengths of open curb at the end of every driving scene.
But I’m not in the business of writing and directing romantic comedies. I write techno thrillers. In my genre, the goal is not to simplify the world. As I see it, the goal is to show the world in all of its gloriously messy complexity. Military hardware and tactics? Complicated. The international balance of power? Damned complicated. Global Geopolitics? Unbelievably complicated. The frailties, ambitions, and prejudices of flawed human leaders? Insanely fucking complicated.
Given the kind of books I write, it only makes sense that at least some of those complexities should be reflected in the stories I create. Anything less would amount to spoon-feeding my readers, which would be an insult to their intelligence, not to mention a complete waste of my time.
I suspect that most readers of techno thriller fiction would agree with me on that point. So you might be surprised to learn that the mainstream publishing industry does not agree with me at all. It turns out that acquisitions editors for the major houses don’t want any of that nasty complex stuff in the novels they publish. At least not in my experience.
Over the past ten years, I’ve been asked variations of the same question from editors representing nearly every major house.
Is there any way to sort of “streamline” the political arc of this book?
Do you think the readers will be able to follow all of that technical information?
Aren’t all these subplots a bit confusing?
Couldn’t we get to the meat of the story quicker if we left out the historical underpinnings?
What do you think about drawing your protagonist and antagonist in sharper contrast?
Every one of those editors was doing his/her best to communicate through wink-wink-nudge-nudge circumlocution. Trying to ask the real question without ever having to speak the actual words.
The real question is this…
Can you please dumb this book down? You’re completely overestimating the intelligence of the book-buying public.
My answer to this carefully-avoided query has always been the same. No. Not at all. Not ever.
If an editor wants to talk to me about pacing, I’m all ears. Character motivation? Lay it on me. Dialogue? Description? Theme? Readability? Language? Absolutely! Any of those. All of those. Whip out that blue pencil and let’s edit the hell out of this thing. I’m willing to rewrite. I’m willing to polish. I’m willing to rip out twenty-five chapters and rework the whole damned thing.
As long as the goal is to weave a tighter, better, and more meaningful story. But if the intent is to dumb the book down, on the (false) assumption that readers are idiots, my answer is not just no. It’s hell no.
I happen to believe that the world we live in is complex, chaotic, and utterly fascinating. The politics are not cut-and-dried. No real person has the purity of good or evil depicted in cartoon heroes and villains. Sometimes cultural conflicts fester for decades (or even centuries) without reaching any kind of lasting resolution. And we can’t expect every detail to be tied up in a neat bundle by the time the end credits roll.
I also happen to believe that readers are smart enough to understand all of those things. That they can sift through the chaff to find the kernels of wheat. That they enjoy a story that isn’t written for the lowest common denominator.
And when they come to the end of the book’s journey, they don’t expect to automatically find four car lengths of open parking at the curb.