LTUE 2017 After Action

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 facepalm at that one.)  Since I was in the audience and not on the panel, I can now say what I was thinking at the time: No, there is no corellation between videogaming and real-world violence.  No one should think that Call of Duty experience equates to being in a real firefight.

Such moments aside, it was still a great time.  And thanks to Larry, again, I now have to find reasons to use the term, “Skin suit full of lizards…”

Why I’m Branching Out

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 (which in real life tends to be far less eventful and far more comfortable than what the Praetorians have been up to), or get promoted into more administrative and logistical jobs.  Even before that, far more time is spent in training than in actual combat.  I’ve developed a (admittedly small) reputation for realism, if compressed realism, as Dave Reeder put it, and to not show the toll that the high-risk, low-support operations have put on these guys would be straining that realism to its breaking point.

The fact is also there that the Praetorian series was born of a particular mindset, coming out of the Marine Corps.  Not to compare myself to David Drake (The man is a grand-master.  I am an apprentice.), but Drake once said that the Hammer’s Slammers series was born of a mindset post-Vietnam that he really didn’t want to go back to.  I’m not quite entirely in the same boat, but I increasingly find myself thinking along somewhat different lines than I used to.  Some of this will be reflected in Jeff’s own internal journey through Lex Talionis.

I have found in recent months that there are some themes that I can explore through somewhat more fantastical and speculative genres and settings that are harder to get into in the military action thriller business.  I have found my muse drawn in that direction more and more lately.

Also, from a purely mercenary standpoint, the mil thriller market is dominated by big names that I simply can’t compete with in the indie market.  The likes of Tom Clancy (and his posthumous ghost-writers), Brad Thor, and Vince Flynn (again, posthumous ghost writers included) are the sure-money bets that Big Publishing will back, and they are the sure bets that most readers are going to pick up.  The indie thriller market is a very niche one, and it’s hard to get noticed in the shadow of the rest.  So, diversification offers more options and a broader audience.

None of this means that I’m abandoning the shooter genre.  There are more near-future war stories on the horizon, albeit with new characters and new problems that need to be solved through speed, surprise, and violence of action.

There just might be more stories coming out in other, less familiar settings.

Memorial Day

Presented without further comment, a poem by my Recon Brother, Bryan Moulton.

Dedicated to those who have given all that they can in the defense of our nation, I offer my own humble tribute:

Morning rays, a golden hue, give to your pale visage
Shadows, banished by the day, lurk in angled lines and draws
I lie in peace amidst dew-dropped curves and blades on which you lie
A blanket, born of heavenly breath, warm and safe beneath the sky

An echo, a mourn, not seen but felt, a memory long ago
A flash of light, a flash of sound, age-faded but crisp and bold
Loving assault upon senses, dulled, these memories to the fore
O’ershadow the triumphant trumpets’ call to a friend in need no more

Eyes lift from the green to the playful draught, teasing brilliant stripes with ease
Starry night turns starry day, watched by timeless guardians, freed
A dance in the wind, the fabric plays, with its furl and snap of cloth
Watched over by beams of radiant gold, free of want and grief and wroth

Wondrous gaze falls to alabaster skin, in blessed relief, stark
By warmed touch, your closed eyes have kept me through the dark
A spot of color, here and there, my eye is drawn toward
As light’s embrace engulfs the forms lying there upon the sward

In it forms remembered touch, a soft caress of fabric bold
Nevermore to be prepared, to put hot iron to patch and fold
Hang up your cartridge belt, my friend, stow horn and save your shot
I recite familiar phrase, echoed in time, “I have the watch”

A duty ends, a soul at rest, I stand after the night
And turn my gaze to hallowed rows
Of marble ranks of white

My Review Of The First Ten Minutes of “Sicario”

It’s taken a while, but given the milieu of The Devil You Don’t Know, I’ve been interested in seeing Sicario.  (It usually takes a while for me to get around to actually seeing a movie.)  I’d heard mixed reviews, but given that the trailers for Sicario, Narcos, and Ghost Recon Wildlands, all of which deal with Latin American Narcos, came out right about the same time as The Devil You Don’t Know was released, it got on my radar.  I’m not well-known enough to be able to say I set a trend with talking about the Mexican Drug War again, but the coincidental timing was interesting.

Anyway, the other night, I gave Sicario a shot.  And, as you can probably tell from the title of this post, I didn’t make it very far.  It’s bad.

The movie opens with an FBI raid on a house in Arizona.  Now, the CQB tactics and weapons handling are atrocious, but it’s Hollywood, so that’s kind of to be expected.  Annoying, but not necessarily a deal-breaker.

It’s the rest of the scenario where the wheels really start to fall off.  For all the little cinematography tricks that they use to build up how ominous the whole thing is, none of it makes any sense.  The inner walls of the house are lined with corpses, all with plastic bags over their heads, shut up inside the drywall.  There’s an IED under the shed out back that goes off and kills two officers when they cut the lock and open it.

Why would there be bodies in the walls in a house in Arizona?  Not only is it an enormously labor-intensive way to hide bodies, it’s not even a particularly effective one.  You can smell a dead rodent in the walls of a residential house, never mind about fifty human corpses.  The cartels don’t work like that.  Where have the bodies in Iguala been found?  In the landfills.  Landfills, mass graves, or even barrels of acid are better choices for disposing of bodies, and these are all things the cartels have really done.  These people might be sick bastards, but they’re not stupid.  The scenario in Sicario was stupid.

After that, I couldn’t keep going.  The scenario was nonsensical, and everything about the writing and the cinematography just seemed to be trying too hard, while simultaneously not trying hard enough.

The Walker on the Hills Chapter 4

They didn’t lead us to the sheriff’s department, as I’d halfway been expecting. Instead, we headed back toward the interstate, and pulled off in the truck stop at the exit. Craig parked the cruiser back by the semis, then got out and waited. I looked over at Eryn, shrugged, and got out to go join him.
He was leaning against the hood of the cruiser, his arms crossed in front of him. “What do you know about Chrystal Meek?” he asked as I walked up to him.
I shook my head. “Bupkis,” I told him. “She’s a name that Blake gave us to find if we couldn’t meet up with him. That’s all we know.”
Craig frowned, looking down at the asphalt as if to gather his thoughts. “Chrystal’s…well, she’s been through a lot. I’d almost say she’s the one decent person in that blight of a town. A lot of people have tried to get her to leave, but she’s always been the type to say that it’s her home, that she can’t leave, you know? She’s stayed for her mom. Lord knows why. Her mom’s an abusive addict, nobody knows who her dad was, and she’s had a string of abusive boyfriends, a couple of whom I’ve had the pleasure of putting in jail.” He spat on the ground. “She kind of latched onto your friend when he came through town; I can kind of see why. He seemed like a decent guy. At least, until he left her here.” He squinted at me. “Now, I’m not sure it’d be a good idea for you to go barging in and telling her that your friends with this dude. Pretty sure it wouldn’t be good for her.”
I grimaced. Great. Drama. As much as I’ve had to deal with hair-raising, sanity-shredding things from beyond human ken, I still really hate a lot of human drama. I’m not a cold-hearted individual, at least not most of the time, but Chrystal was our only link to Blake and whatever was going on that had scared him enough to write a panicky, cryptic note to come out here and see him. And I suspected that whatever it was had to do with the sudden increase in psycho belligerence that the sheriff’s deputies had noted in Coldwell. I couldn’t leave this alone. Continue reading “The Walker on the Hills Chapter 4”

The Walker on the Hills, Chapter 2

Gravel crunched under my truck’s tires as we rolled up Ray’s long driveway in the dying light of the next day. Eryn was half asleep in the passenger seat, her head lolling against the window. It had been a long day.

There had been a lot of questions in the Forth Police Department. A lot. And no surprise, really. They had a missing kid, bleached human bones, a weird pile of ash and greasy rags, three very traumatized teenagers, gunshots, and two people from out of town who weren’t terribly forthcoming as to what they were doing there with the kids or what they’d been shooting at. Any cop worth his or her salt would be inclined to throw everybody in jail until they had answers.

Fortunately, we were saved a lot of time and heartburn by a curious side-effect of the hag’s spell. While the kids had appeared comatose, they were in fact completely aware of their surroundings the entire time. Hags are cruel creatures.

Continue reading “The Walker on the Hills, Chapter 2”

The Walker On The Hills, Chapter 1

Eryn sniffed the air as we stepped inside the entryway. “Do you smell that?” she asked.

I couldn’t very well have missed it. The stench, like a mix of mold, formaldehyde, and rotten eggs, had slapped me in the face as soon as we’d opened the door. “Oh, yeah,” I said. “Hag. Crap.” I took a deep breath, redolent of the stink, and steeled myself as I closed the creaky door behind us. “I just hope it hasn’t fed yet.”

The house could have been on a “Haunted Houses R Us” poster. Three stories, abandoned, with the porch sagging off the front of the house, all the paint peeling off, and not an unbroken window in sight, it was, of course, a prime attraction for the teenagers in Forth. The locals had stopped even bothering to try to lock the place up, since every padlock they put on the door ended up getting cut off with bolt cutters. Even if it hadn’t, the ground floor windows didn’t have any glass in them, so there really wasn’t any keeping people out, without putting a 24/7 guard on the place.

Eryn and I had gotten the call about this one because there was some suspicion that something more dangerous than just teenagers trying to scare each other in the dark was going on.

Continue reading “The Walker On The Hills, Chapter 1”