The Line Between Real and Rambo

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?” Continue reading “The Line Between Real and Rambo”

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Why I Write Mercs

 

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. Continue reading “Why I Write Mercs”

Busy, Busy

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 a leavening of Hammer’s Slammers and Lensmen.”  It’s proving a bit more difficult than Brannigan’s Blackhearts; I’ve got to figure out more on the fly–there’s less that I can simply draw on from either quick research or personal experience.  Still, it’s coming along, and the wider series is getting quite a bit of an arc (several arcs, actually).  I’m pretty stoked about it, though it won’t be out for a few months (I’m planning on stacking the first several books before releasing the first, and I’ve got more Brannigan’s Blackhearts to write in between).  There will be a website for the series, with background notes, some free fiction, and even concept drawings and suchlike.  It’s not ready to go yet, but I’ll be spreading it around once it is.

The other thing about this series, since I’m genre-jumping, is that it won’t be released under my usual name.  David J. West, with his “James Alderdice” pseudonym has had some success in getting to an audience that he wouldn’t have otherwise.  Pen names are a long-standing tradition in pulp fiction (which, let’s face it, is what I write, regardless), and the way Amazon’s algorithm works, they are a useful tool.  In the interests of that algorithm, I won’t say what the pen name is going to be just yet, but I will eventually.

Back to the word mines.

Status Update

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 at the earliest), but I will say that I’m going to be genre-jumping.  One’s military space opera, and the other will be heroic fantasy.  More to come later.

Now back to the word mines.  Thanksgiving weekend wasn’t especially productive, not that I’m complaining.

Action Adventure vs Techno-Thriller

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.”). Continue reading “Action Adventure vs Techno-Thriller”

The (Literary) Problem of Evil

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 spirits, and of benevolent ones as well. He is entitled to his beliefs, but they weaken his story, not only because they offend the average reader’s sense of probability but because in effect they decide the issue in advance. [emphasis mine] When one is told that God and the Devil are in conflict one always knows which side is going to win. The whole drama of the struggle against evil lies in the fact that one does not have supernatural aid.

I myself happen to think Mr. Orwell’s criticism is utter rubbish.

Is Milton’s PARADISE LOST lacking in drama because one know which side is going to win? What about the story of the Passion of the Christ in any of its versions, including the child’s fairytale version as told in THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE? Or what about any and every version of Dracula? While there may be modern versions where vampires are driven away by leather-clad vampiresses in shiny coats shooting explosive bullets while doing wire-fu backflips, in the older versions of the tale, it was the crucifix that drove off the evil spirits. Merely having God Almighty on your side does not remove the element of doubt nor the element of drama.

This is something that I’ve had to deal with with the Jed Horn series.  Steve Tompkins said in his introduction to Kull: Exile of Atlantis, “a writer who avails himself of the name ‘Atlantis’ gives away his ending.”  Similarly, the ending is already established by the mere presence of the Crucifix.  THE sacrifice has been made, the war is already won.  How can you tell a scary story with that backdrop?

The war is won, but battles may still be lost.  And that is where the tension in the Jed Horn series ultimately lies, not only in the fear of being physically squished, tormented, or eaten by the monsters, but by the possibility that the characters might just fall, that this battle might be lost, regardless of the ultimate victory having already been won.  The Battle of New Orleans was fought after the War of 1812 was officially over.  Our own battles with the darkness are no different.

I tried to establish this in A Silver Cross and a Winchester, way back in 2013.  The demons won’t succeed in bringing about the actual end of the world until God says otherwise.  But they can still cause a great deal of harm in the meantime, which is why they must be opposed.

Go read the rest of John’s essay; as usual, he is rather more eloquent than I.

Jed Horn #4, Older and Fouler Things, is three weeks away.  Go pre-order it.

The Barrabas Run

Part of my “creative process” (damn, I hate that term) often involves reading in the genre I’m going to be working in.  Call it “setting the tone.”  I’ve had a few standbys for the shooter genre, ranging from Larry Correia’s and Mike Kupari’s Dead Six series, to Jack Murphy’s Deckard series, to Jack Silkstone’s PRIMAL series, among others.  Brad Taylor’s Pike Logan series has been pretty good (though I’m way behind on that one), along with Dalton Fury’s Kolt Raynor series.  I’ve also gone with some of the older books, such as Forsyth’s The Dogs of War, which I reviewed last week.

Part of the inspiration for the upcoming Brannigan’s Bastards has been the old Pinnacle/Gold Eagle Action-Adventure series, such as The Executioner, Phoenix Force, Able Team, and Stony Man.  But a larger part, among those old pulp shoot-em-ups, has been the Soldiers of Barrabas, or SOBs. Continue reading “The Barrabas Run”