Category Archives: The View From the Deck Plate
A few days ago, a reader dug up an old entry from my Sea Story archives, and wrote a nice comment about some hijinks from his own Navy days. In the process of replying to his comment, I looked over my old story and found myself chuckling a couple of times.
Not hysterically funny, but smile-worthy. That’s all the excuse I needed to polish up the story and share it here.
Duck-Nappers At Large…
About halfway through a Westpac deployment, AJ, one of the guys in my division, received a care package from home. In addition to the usual assortment of snacks, family snapshots, and miss-you notes, it contained a stuffed duck. (The cute and cuddly toy animal kind, not the taxidermy kind.) The Sonar Gang aboard USS Towers was known for having a twisted sense of humor, so AJ wisely decided to hide his fluffy buddy from the rest of us, to protect it from horrible pranks. Despite his best efforts, it was only a matter of time until the little quacker was duck-napped.
I won’t say that I was in on the snatch, but I will admit to being a co-conspirator. Once we had possession of the duck, we decided to hold it for ransom. AJ had a stash of Australian candy bars in his locker, and we hoped to ransom the duck for some Polly Waffles. Foolproof, right? That’s what we thought.
Our brilliant plan quickly ran into a snag. Word of the duck-napping had gotten around, and AJ began receiving anonymous notes from several sources—all claiming to have custody of the missing duck.
We realized that, tf we were going to cash in, we would need proof that we were the real duck-nappers. We figured we’d take a photo of the duck and attach it to a ransom note made from letters cut out of magazines; just like in the movies. Unfortunately, digital cameras hadn’t been invented yet, and we couldn’t find anyone aboard with a Polaroid. After several hours of fruitless searching, I got a brilliant idea… If we couldn’t photograph the duck, we could Xerox it.
As the originator of this brainstorm, I was elected to do the dirty deed. A buddy let me into the Administration Office after hours. Safely inside with the door closed, I shoved the duck under the lid of the copier and began trying to get a good copy of it. The bulk of the stuffed toy made it impossible to get the lid lowered properly, so too much light kept getting in and washing out the image. We flipped off the light switch and were happily Xeroxing the duck in the dark, when the door opened and the lights came on.
It was the Executive Officer, dropping by to pick up some paperwork. He looked at me. Then he looked at the duck squashed into the copier. Then he looked at the stack of duck images in the out-tray of the machine.
He stood there for about ten seconds, then he gave a heavy sigh and turned the light switch back off. Standing there in the dark, my face illuminated only by the shuttling green glow of the copier light, I didn’t know whether to laugh it off or try to explain. I expected the XO to leave, but he just stood there, silhouetted in the doorway.
Finally, he shook his head and spoke softly. “I’ve got a leak in One-Alpha Oil Purifier. I’ve got two idiots who missed ship’s movement. I’ve got a stack of overdue reports on my desk, and a Second Class Electrician’s Mate who likes to dress in women’s clothing every time we pull into a foreign port. Now, I’ve got perverts Xeroxing farm animals in the dark. Why did I ever agree to take this job?”
He closed the door and walked away.
Jeff Edwards is back, with twice the action! Twice the excitement! Twice the suspense! And more cute little umbrellas than ever before…
(Please disregard everything in the previous paragraph, except for the part about cute little umbrellas.)
It’s true that my latest book is hitting the shelves just in time for Christmas, but it’s not exactly your typical Jeff Edwards adventure novel. The Lonely Little Bumbershoot is a children’s story, co-written with my wife Brenda, and beautifully illustrated by the amazingly talented Brise Birdsong.
If you’re looking for cutting-edge naval combat action or a dystopian future detective thriller, this ain’t it. But if you’re interested in a heartwarming family-friendly tale about love, loss, and the journey toward a new life—this just might be the book for you.
We hope The Lonely Little Bumbershoot will bring a tear to your eye, and a smile to your lips. (It still gets us every time, and we’ve lost count of how often we’ve read it.)
Wishing you all the blessings of a joyous Christmas, and a happy and prosperous New Year.
On a recent business flight to the east coast, I happened to end up sitting next to a young woman on her way to Army basic training. When she discovered that I was an old retired Navy goat, she spent most of the flight picking my brain about what to expect in boot camp (and afterwards). I admitted that my own days as a boot were more than thirty years behind me, and that Army basic training and Navy basic training probably aren’t much alike. But I did my best to give her my honest impressions about military life—the bad as well as the good.
When the meal cart rolled by, she whipped out a voucher check issued by her Army recruiting station, and tried to buy a boxed lunch. The flight attendant, a man of about my own age, politely pointed out that Delta Airlines only accepts credit cards or debit cards. Her voucher check was no good on the plane.
The young recruit tucked away her meal voucher and resigned herself to finishing a coast-to-coast flight with only airline peanuts to eat. I wasn’t about to let a soon-to-be soldier go hungry, so I reached for my credit card and told her to order whatever she wanted. When I tried to hand my card to the flight attendant, he shook his head. “Nope,” he said. “This one’s on me.”
He handed the recruit a boxed lunch and a couple of snacks, and then trundled his cart down the aisle before I could catch his name. I looked for that flight attendant when the plane landed in Atlanta, so I could thank him for his kindness, but he was nowhere to be seen.
If anyone from Delta Customer Relations happens to read this, it was Delta Flight 1692, on October 21st. The male attendant on that flight showed generosity and support for our troops in a very simple, but utterly unmistakable way. He didn’t ask for recognition, and he didn’t even stick around long enough for me to thank him. Whatever his name, I’d like to shake his hand if I ever see him again.
As far as I’m concerned, there were at least two heroes on that plane. One was a young woman, leaving home for the first time, embarking on the first steps of her service to our country. The other was a man who went a little beyond the scope of his job to do both the right thing, and the kind thing. Not the sort of deed that wins medals, or gets chiseled into stone monuments. But exactly the kind of quiet and genuine support that our troops deserve.
And that earns you a heartfelt Bravo Zulu from an old Navy Chief.
My second David Stalin novel, Angel City Blues is now live in paperback and Kindle formats. (For the first 90 days or so, the e-book will only be available on Kindle, but there are free Kindle reader apps out there for just about every phone, tablet, and computer imaginable.)
If you’ve only read my military fiction, this is VERY different. Still plenty of action, adrenaline, and cool hardware, but set in a dystopian future version of Los Angeles where the only politics that matter are the protocols of survival on the street.
At the time of this posting, Angel City Blues has exactly ZERO reviews on Amazon.com. That will change shortly, as various readers decide that they like (or loathe) the book. Sooooooooo… Just to make things interesting, I’ve decided to host a little giveaway. I still have a small stash of first edition hardcovers of the first David Stalin novel, Dome City Blues (retail cover price $24.99). I’ll be giving them away to the first 10 readers who write reviews of Angel City Blues on Amazon, and then email me at email@example.com to let me know that they have completed the dirty deed. I’ll even spring for the shipping.
Do they have to be favorable reviews? Of course not. By all means, shoot with both barrels. If you hate the book, say so. Give it one star, and then lay out the highway flares to warn other readers away from the danger.
My only condition is this… You have to actually read Angel City Blues first. Or at least enough of the book to know that you don’t want to read the rest. (If that turns out to be two and a half paragraphs, so be it.)
Ready? You know the rules. Go to it.
A few days ago, I had an interesting conversation with a man who chairs a working group that evaluates the effectiveness and reliability of autonomous systems. The gentleman in question is a semi-retired physics professor with an IQ well into the genius range, as well as more than four decades of practical experience as a technical consultant to government and the defense industry. He also happens to be blessed with the kind of hardnosed common sense that can sometimes be lacking in members of the academic elite. In other words, this man is just about the smartest person I’ve ever met.
So I was a bit surprised by something that came up when our discussion wandered to the topic of arming autonomous machines. The learned gentleman showed a solid grasp of the technical challenges involved in creating self-governing hardware and software systems, and he had some thought-provoking things to say about the ethical implications of trusting actual battlefield weapons to the decisions of self-controlling robots.
We talked about HAL 9000 from 2001 a Space Odyssey, Skynet from the Terminator films, and the WOPR (whopper) from the movie War Games. My professor friend offered the opinion that, after many years of fictional speculation, reality has finally caught up with the imaginary threat. That was the part that surprised me—his assumption that armed autonomous systems are a brand new problem. But the problem isn’t new. It isn’t even particularly recent. Killer robots have been around by the tens of thousands for well over half a century.
Anyone who has ever worked with acoustic homing torpedoes will know exactly what I’m talking about. They’re fire-and-forget weapons. We point them toward the enemy and turn them loose. It’s their job to seek out the target ship or submarine, evaluate its characteristics, and then get close enough to destroy the unlucky vessel with a massive blast of military-grade explosives. Along the way, the torpedo must make a complex series of life-or-death decisions, with no human guidance whatsoever. We depend completely on the weapon’s ability to make the right choices at the right time, and there is literally no way to stop the torpedo if it decides to go after the wrong target.
Some torpedoes can be guided remotely by a human operator through a trailing wire, but once it’s off the leash, a modern acoustic homer is nothing more (or less) than a robot with a bomb. There’s no way to call it off, no way to alter its direction or priorities, and—despite what you may have seen in certain submarine action movies—there’s no remote destruct mechanism. It’s a fully autonomous system with a lethal cargo that makes most drone strikes look like small arms fire.
Here’s an excerpt from the prologue of my first novel, Sea of Shadows, that sums up the situation pretty clearly…
It had no name for itself. It was not even aware of its own existence. It waited in its shipping canister, cradled as snugly in the cylindrical steel container as a high-powered bullet in the chamber of a rifle. Cold. Sightless. Unfeeling. Not sleeping, merely unawakened.
R-92 was a state-of-the-art acoustic homing torpedo. It was a cybernetic predator: an electro-mechanical killing machine. Fast. Smart. Unbelievably lethal. Every component, from the shark-like hydrodynamic form of its fuselage—to its multi-spectrum acoustic sensors—to the axial-flow turbine that formed its engine, was optimized for the undersea environment. Its brain was a fifth-generation digital computer, hardwired for destruction with a machine-driven relentlessness that no living predator could match. R-92 and its brethren had been honed for the chase and the kill by two and a half centuries of technological evolution.
But R-92 knew none of these things. It simply waited.
Fiction? Yes. But only in the sense that the particular torpedo called ‘R-92’ is a product of my imagination. The description above could apply—with near-perfect accuracy—to any one of a hundred torpedo models that are currently in use by navies around the world.
The earliest models saw combat in the early 1940s, when Nazi U-boats used them to attack convoys of Soviet merchant ships. In the seven or so decades since, the acoustic homing torpedo has become smarter, faster, and a hell of a lot more deadly.
I’m not suggesting that the emerging debate over autonomous killing machines is somehow unimportant, or even irrelevant. Far from it. This is a serious topic, with implications far beyond anything I can imagine. I’m saying that the debate should have started decades ago, because the killer robots are already here, and they don’t look anything at all like Arnold Schwarzenegger.