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Myke Cole wrote an intriguing piece over on Jim C. Hines blog the other day.

It was entitled Uniform in the Closet: Why Military SF’s Popularity Worries Me. In it Myke opined that there is a widening gap between the citizens of this nation and our military. Which is especially troubling when you consider the concept of the citizen soldier and how ubiquitous it has been until these recent phases of U.S. history. Military service members, current and former, are increasingly being considered a breed apart. Myke posits that Military SF’s growing popularity is really a manifestation of people’s fascination with the ‘other’ that the actual military is becoming in our culture.

I couldn’t agree more.

One reason for that growing separation is the fact that so few of our nation’s citizens serve in the military. One reason for that, I think, is the legacy of the Vietnam war. So much political hay was made of the military during that period, so much of it blatantly negative propoganda that the stigma was ingrained into an entire generation and is being passed on today.

Returning vets in the 60s and 70s were greeted with everything from harsh words to oven cleaner in the eyes by so-called ‘peace activists.’ Today I have received almost universal thanks and compassion for my service, usually from people who would never ever consider serving themselves. Which is the very problem Myke describes.

“Love the soldier but hate the war” does nothing to help the reputation of the military as a whole since we are the one’s prosecuting the war that is being used as political leverage.

Myke talks about wearing one’s uniform in public. He’s right. It used to be common place. It isn’t anymore.

I myself have, in the past, been very annoyed when I saw soldiers trundling their luggage through the airport in uniform. American soldiers are all taught not to do that. Travel in civilian clothes, don’t draw attention to yourself or your mission. It is the baseline SOP to travel incognito.

When soldiers travel in uniform today most (not all) of them are doing it in the hopes that someone one will give them attention or buy them lunch. That pisses me off. Being in the service is not a license to beg or show off.

But if it became common place, sanctioned and encouraged by the military leadership for CONUS travel, all that would change.

Myke gives the two big reasons why it is discouraged: OPSEC and Force Protection.

OPSEC: If every single traveling soldier traveled in uniform it would be very difficult to draw any meaningful conclusions about operations or troop movements out of the noise. Frankly, the news organizations are more than capable of betraying all that anyway, not to mention the social networking sites.

We would lose nothing and perhaps, if Myke is right, gain a great deal by increasing the visible presence of our military in the general population. Certainly worth a try. (Though I am loathe to give up the comfort of traveling out of uniform)

Force Protection: If you are a soldier traveling CONUS incognito, you are less likely to be a target. The implication of this, of course, is that some other poor schmuck will end up being the target, probably a civilian.  There is an argument to be made that this is the moral parallel of putting your bomb factory next to an orphanage.

If some bad actor wants to target Americans and would choose a soldier over a civilian, good. Make it easy for him to target a soldier instead of a civilian and see where that gets him. It’s our job to take those kind of risks so joe civilian doesn’t have to. Why then are we hiding ourselves among joe civilian on our home territory in hopes that the bad guys will choose someone else?

Of course, with our current crop of enemies, they’d much rather hit civilians than someone trained to defend themselves. Less risky that way.

I’m pleased as punch that Military SF is growing in popularity. I want to sell books and I can write that. I hope it’s not a sign of bad things to come. But it could easily be.



Second Fanmail!

Ha ha! There are two of them!

I’m eventually going to have to stop counting these. I hope. But for now…I revel!

Far From Home

I’m not swedish. Nor am I a techno music sensation. Yet somehow this guy knows exactly how I feel right now. Nice one, dude.

Join me now in belting this one out at the top of our lungs. Ready! Go!

Dog in the Road

I hope you’ll forgive me for another post on an animal killed in the road.

My wife and I were returning from date night when we crested a hill and almost crashed into the back ends of about a dozen cars. They were all stopped in the three westbound lanes of Pioneer Crossing, Lehi Utah.

Moving erratically in the glaring beams of their headlights was a golden lab trailing a length of twine from his leather collar. The dog had a wide banner of blood painting his right shoulder and a leg he couldn’t use. By the time I made my way to him between the stationary cars he had collapsed.

I called to him from a few feet away. He looked up at me then tried and failed to rise. It was strangely silent there on the road. The rumbling of all those car engines seemed to emphasize the still of the  night, the harsh beams from their headlights the dark all around.

When I stood up with the dog in my arms I could hear him breathing, a bubbly sound. The stench of skunk rose from him. I carried him to the side of the road and the flow of traffic picked up and streamed off into the night. My wife pulled over and I put the dog in the back of our mini-van.

I started searching and calling on my phone, trying to find a vet that was open. The only place seemed to be in Orem, a good twenty minutes away. Before I could get hold of the hospital a mother and her son came walking up the road, the mother on her cell phone. They had been in the car that hit the dog and had come looking for him. The mother was calling the police dispatch. I told her I was taking the dog to an animal hospital and she asked me to call her to let her know how things turned out. She was obviously bothered by what had happened to the poor dog.

My wife and I were a good ten minutes on our way to Orem when I finally managed to contact the animal hospital. They were open but the woman told me they couldn’t treat any animals unless their owner’s were present. I assured her that I would pay for the dog’s treatment and sign papers to that effect if they wanted. Still no dice. She said, regret in her voice, that they legally could not treat an animal without its owner’s consent. My only choice was to call the police and have them send an animal control unit out to bring the dog to a shelter.

I was furious. I still can’t think of a good reason for such a law. But I had no choice at that point. They already knew who I was and that I was not the owner of the dog. So I called the cops.

They met us back where I’d originally picked up the dog. I went back to sit with the dog and found that it was no longer breathing. When the cops arrived they were unable or unwilling to put the dog in one of their trunks. So we followed the officers to the police station where they put the dog into the bed of the Animal Control vehicle where it sat in the parking lot. They thanked me for my trouble and my wife and I went home to clean blood out of my clothes and out of the back of the van.

The dog had been tied up with twine, presumably because it had gotten too close to a skunk. Stupid thing to tie a dog up with. There was no ID on the collar so no way to contact the owners.

It feels better having written about it. Thanks for listening.

Well, it definitely did not go to hell. I liked this book.

Everything I liked about it in the first 8 chapters: Hard SF sensibilities, a cool central premise, the fast moving short story pace, were maintained for the entire novel. All good. Highly recommended.

And in other news, Eric James Stone’s story “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” has been nominated for a Hugo award in the “Best Novelette” category. Huge congratulations, Eric!

I haven’t finished this book yet, so be warned that it may go completely to hell before I get there. I don’t think it’s likely but I’ll let you know either way. So far though, (I’m up to Chapter 8.) it’s a rocking good time with hard SF sensibilities striking sparks off of a whimsical  and amusing central premise.

Also, in the interests of full disclosure, Eric James Stone, the author, is my friend. I like his stuff in spite of that though, and I don’t think I’m in the minority.


John Steakley, author of Armor and Vampire$, as well as quite a few short stories, has passed away after a five year bout with cancer.

I first encountered John Steakley when I read his novel Armor. It’s a brilliant science fiction piece about a troubled and driven man fighting as a soldier in power armor against an inhuman and terrifying enemy. It’s also about Jack Crow, a con man, and his marks. The two worlds intersect in fascinating and compelling ways. Brilliant.

I’ve been through more than a dozen copies of Armor, re-reading them until they fall apart or loaning them to friends who never return them.

I never met John Steakley, which I regret, and I wish mightily that he had written a few more books.

Godspeed, sir.

OK, it’s seriously time

that I saw Nathan Fillion in something serious. Like a drama. Something more serious than Firefly.

Ooh, interesting

Scientifiction DOES predict the future.

Elephant Twirling LizardSo, I’m almost completely done with my second novel. This is the one I’m collaborating with Brandon Sanderson on. Working title: The Lurker.

I think I’ve smashed my face against, then managed to wrap my arms around, a writing principle worth sharing.

I started with a 10,000 word outline that Brandon wrote. We discussed the world and basic plot we would be working with for about four hours over two meetings before he wrote the outline.

I wrote my first novel with an outline too, a numbered list.  I can’t speak for Brandon on The Lurker but for me, coming up with an outline was a very mechanical process.

Arbitrarily I aimed for 120,000 words which translated neatly into 30 4,000 word chapters. My outline had 30 chapters in it. Three viewpoint characters translated to 10 chapters each. Three try/fail cycles worked out to three chapters per cycle per character, which I dutifully labeled as such on my outline.

Then I filled in the basic events for each cycle. What, exactly, were my characters failing and then succeeding at? What did their mini-arcs consist of and how did they fit into the big book-arc?  I already had a basic idea of what I wanted the book to be about and lots of cool scenes that had written themselves in my head and so forth. That made this process a mix of putting the pieces in their proper places and filling in the blanks.

The elephant tromped into the room when it came time to actually write the chapters so summarized on my outline. I stepped forward, hands outstretched, and started feeling that guy.

It was my book. I knew the basic shape.  So there was no, ‘Oh, this is a snake…’ garbage. But it was definitely a process of discovery as I wrote each chapter. Some details (a lot of them really) made themselves known, either springing from my subconscious or becoming obvious due to context. Others, also a lot, I had to forge and hammer out in the creative fires. And it was all fun to do.

Later I realized that things were much easier for me if I also outlined each chapter before I actually started in on the actual prose. In most cases, what I ended up with was less an outline for each chapter than notes on my brainstorming session for the chapter, roughly chrono-organized. Once I knew where I was going to that level of detail, getting there was almost all fun. The niftiest things pop up out of nowhere.

The principle?  Same as always. Just climb on and write.

TigerMy process is definitely more mechanical than a pure discovery writer, but less mechanical than some outliners. It’s mine, it works for me. It will probably change. And someday I fully expect to discover that it’s not an elephant at all but a bloody Tiger, and have to change everything.

Thus ends my very first POST ON WRITING.