The Book of Face

As I mentioned below, I’ve finally started to take this author thing seriously. One of the things I’ve been working on is creating a public Facebook page. My intent is to use it to augment the info I put out on this site.

I’ve fought doing this for years. One of the reasons for my borderline crazy luddist streak were observations I made while playing in the sand. On my very first deployment to the Middle East I lived in a sea of tents on a broad desert plain. There were two phones for thousands of guys with a long line and a five-minute time limit. Besides that, you could always write. Turns out that the primitive state of communications back then were for the better.

There is such a thing as too much communication. On my second tour, shortly after the invasion of Iraq, the internet was up and running and there were labs where you could sit and email. Depending on circumstances, you had the potential for at least weekly contact with your loved ones, and the phone service was better than in the nineties. I had the opportunity one time to witness a heated exchange with a man whose wife had run off and he was unsure where his children were. Me and forty other people watched him melt down. It was awful.

Then there was my lonely, boring tour in 2008-09. I sat in the desert with a rifle platoon and we did nothing for an entire year. The Book of Face was frequently consulted by my Joes, I learned more about their personal and sex lives than I ever wanted to know. Some dudes posted operational photos and got in big trouble with Battalion- of course, they were monitoring what my guys posted. I swore I would never have a FB account after my year spent twiddling my thumbs and monitoring my guy’s antics.

Finally, there was my 2011 experience. On the small firebase/base or whatever you want to call it, we had a small internet lab. Guys sat and watched on FB as their lives passed them by, they drove themselves crazy with the parties they missed, their children’s first steps, and who exactly their girlfriends or wives had just friended. On one memorable occasion one of my guys caused a huge social media stir when he commented on a rocket attack against our little home. It wasn’t a big deal, just some jerks who dumped a 107 rocket in our compound. But boy did it cause a ruckus at home.

So I swore off FB. I thought it would be forever. Then I wrote a book, followed by another. I learned that I needed tools to interact with my readers, and a big, whopping, important tool is Facebook. So I buried my luddite axe, and I joined the 21st century.

If y’all want, check it out. I’ll post different stuff on there than here, and will keep it reasonable fresh.

Thanks again!

The AK-47 in space

cdr-gaffars-akThis article will not go into tedious mechanical or operational descriptions of the AK-47, hands-down the most prolific weapon on the face of the globe. You can find that type of info all over the internet without even trying. Chances are that wherever you live, there is an AK nearby, whether legal or not. It’s the common denominator in conflict zones globally, I have encountered them everywhere. Long after we are dead, I do not doubt that the durable Kalashnikov will be still soldiering somewhere.

I would make the argument that the AK is the weapon of choice for space colonists. The subject has been raised in a least two books that I know of, S.M. Stirling’s “The Sky People,” and my own first book, “In the Valley.”

Here’s why I make the argument, based off of my admittedly subjective experience. One, the AK is a killer, and nothing but. When you hit something with the AK, it goes down. The full-metal jacket 7.62×39 M43 round makes graphic wounds, it does not lack for stopping power. If the first round doesn’t do it, the next six will. Two, the AK is childishly easy to use. Literally. Many conflicts in Africa and Asia are fueled by children warriors who have been given an hour or so in instruction on their weapon, and that weapon is usually an AK. Three, the Kalashnikov is very, very simple to maintain. It can be repaired with a rock and a multi-tool, it doesn’t need much cleaning or lubrication. Four, the AK is simple to manufacture. A colony on a new world would be starting from scratch, basic designs for locally produced weapons would be a must.

After all, the basics for human habitation of new worlds would be shelter, food and water, medical care, and security. The AK would meet the “security” test.

There are some cons to using the AK, of course. Its biggest flaw is accuracy. You can expect that a properly zeroed AK can usually hit a man-sized target at 300 meters, but it’s not going to do better than that. Ever. Another flaw is ergonomics. The AK’s magazine change is awkward, it requires some practice to get it right. In contrast, the M16 family’s mag changes are intuitive, easy. Some also hate the safety/selector, but I don’t have a major problem with it. Also, the original AK doesn’t have the option of using cool optics, but that problem has been remedied in recent years. Finally, the bolt does not lock open upon firing the last shot, there is no visual cue for the shooter to realize that he or she has run dry. With experience and some tricks, that negative can be overcome, however.

All weapons choices are compromises, but I think the AK family would be a useful addition to the space colonist’s toolbox, along with shovels, hoes, etc.

What do you, the reader, think?

Automation

I stumbled across an article in the news today which touches upon something near and dear to me- namely, what can we do to improve the lives of people going forward into the future, near and far.

If you read the article, which is about automation in the workplace, you will find that automation won’t entirely replace human labor, but it will remove the repetitive, the boring, and the dangerous. Unfortunately, that will probably eliminate a lot of jobs and workers. What will arise to employ those displaced workers, no one quite knows. Policymakers hope (BTW, hope is not a plan) that new technologies and industries will arise to employ the unwashed masses, or if that fails, there will be social nets for everyone.

Social nets can only be maintained when there is a demographic and economic base to support them, of course.

There’s also kind of a problem with the loss of jobs. It’s basic human dignity. Common sense, right? You go to some kind of employment, you work your hours, and you bring home a paycheck to provide for your family one way or another. Your life has meaning, you actually do something.

I have known many who took great pride in doing jobs that were repetitive, boring, or dangerous. Jobs that will be, or have been, replaced by machines.

Living where I do, I have watched whole armies of steelworkers and coal miners have their entire existence chopped from underneath them. They have little prospect of a better life for their families. “Retrain”, people say. Tell that to a fifty year old press operator who knows nothing else. “Go to college” is another. What of the person who can’t do much more than simple math? “Start a business,” the chorus goes. Well, many people want no part of that, either.

The simple truth is that way too many are being left behind by our supercharged age, and our policymakers need to pull their heads out of their collective backsides and realize this.

Technology and innovation is fine, it’s what drives us forward as humans. We need answers, though, to some crucial questions. What will people do? Where will people do it? What jobs do we find for people who lack talent? Education? Motivation?

My solution is a massive emphasis on space expansion, but of course I would say that. I’m one of those crazed science fiction authors. I think it’s doable, though, and a lot of top-flight people are working on the problem right now. It would be nice if all the plans become commercially viable before the bottom potentially drops out on what we have now. Of course, in placing faith on “space,” I fall into the same logical trap as the policymakers I mentioned above (i.e. I make the assumption that technology will increase employment across the board). But hey, at least I have an idea. I’m not convinced that our elected officials have one.

Time will tell. We live in a world of unparalleled opportunity and danger. Let’s make that “worlds,” we’ll be better for it. With that effort, we’ll come up with something for people to do.

As my Grandma used to always say, “Idle hands do the devil’s work.”

With increasing tempo, automation is idling too many hands.

 

 

Stone axe simplicity

Simplicity is a must in combat, whether it’s the weapons involved, or the planning. Complex, fragile things fall apart when the bullets start flying. That’s why I was gratified to see the choice the Army made in its latest small-arms acquisition.

The US Army has recently made the announcement that the Sig Sauer P320 will be its next service pistol, they have dubbed it the M17. Some half of a million units will be ordered, the people at Sig are probably doing cartwheels of delight.

I have never fired the P320, but I do have some experience with its predecessor, the P226. It’s a dead reliable, very serviceable weapon. If the M17 is anything like the 226, as seems to be the case, it’s a fine choice for the Army.

Here’s why the M9 needed to go. First, let me say that the M9 is an awesome range pistol. It’s accurate and it has plenty of firepower. Its ergonomics are very good, it’s an easy to manipulate weapon. However, it tended to accumulate “moon dust” and grit in its locking lugs, and the magazines were prone to gumming up, too. This could lead to the unpleasant situation where your pistol doesn’t work when you need it most.

I’ve carried and used the M9 a lot, and its OK if you maintain the crap out of it in field conditions, the same as the M4. In terms of ergonomics and accuracy, both weapons get my thumbs up. The problem is the maintenance. In my opinion, this area is grossly underrated in weapons tests.

When an army hands a weapon to a soldier, it will be abused and used in ways the manufacturer could not have foreseen. It will be neglected, covered in mud or sand, and ran without lubrication or cleaning. If the weapon cannot perform reliably in the conditions I listed above, then it is of limited use. Yes, soldiers can be trained and supervised in minimizing the abuse of their tools, but there are always those who will be too tired, too lazy, or too stupid to take care of their piece. I’ve seen it again and again.

By adopting the Sig pistol, the Army seems to have chosen a winner. If it beat out the Glock, in my opinion the gold standard for reliability and simplicity, it has to be good. Time will tell, however.

A war story

Usually I’m not going to go on a tear like this with posts, but I figured I’d get some content out there so that new readers can get a feel for what’s going to happen here in the future.

A key part of my life is my experience in combat. Those experiences also color my writing.

Here’s a day in the life of Jason.

It was a brisk early morning in the Hindu Kush mountains, on a lousy firebase that no-one remembers. The air was gray with the predawn, the sun had yet to peek out behind the mountains. I stood unwashed in front of a line of MAT-Vs and Hummers smoking cigarette after cigarette. My gear was stowed in the turret of truck 3-4, I was killing time. The stink of diesel fumes was barely extinguished by my noxious plume of tobacco smoke, the grumbling of the trucks drowned out most sounds.

Today, I would serve as my commander’s gunner. Kind of a weird job for a lieutenant, but I was pretty good with a machine gun. I was his personal shotgun, I took pride in my job. But damn was it deadly.

A couple of days before, I had witnessed an IED strike against a convoy of ANP (Afghan National Police) guys. We were in an area that had only one road in or out, and the horrible path was absolutely not safe for traffic. It was uncleared by any engineering assets. As we left, I was gunning again. We had to drive through the crater the IED had made. I nearly pissed my pants in fear, I could see myself dying as I flew through the air.

The memory made a strong impression on me.

So here I stood, ready to go out again. The guys made their ways to the trucks, I threw aside my latest butt and climbed up on the hood of my ride. I slid into the gaping maw of the turret and put on the gunner’s harness, it was a confusing mass of safety straps and buckles. By this point in the tour, however, I had it on and fastened in seconds.

I loaded my weapons, my little team “dual gunned.” That means that there was a heavy hitter in the turret, usually a M2 or Mk19, and then a little gun, either an M-240B or a PKM, depending on the mission. The guns were clean and ready, my ammo was straight and there were full belts loaded. My weapons were good.

I put on my communications headset and blew into the mic. I was ready. I heard some chatter, the sun began to peek above the nearby mountain.

All of a sudden, my hands began to violently shake. My eyes teared up, one thought scrolled through my mind. Today, the little voice said, today you die. This is your last sunrise. I pulled out another smoke from my sleeve pocket with my trembling hands, I had to brace my arms against my grenade launcher to get the damn thing lit.

I breathed in the comforting smoke as tears rolled down my face. I heard a voice through my headset. It was my commander, seated below. All that he could see of me was my legs. I was glad.

He spoke. “Guns, you up?”

My reply was terse. “Roger, sir.”

Without further ado, truck 3-4 rolled out on another combat mission.

 

 

 

Hey, readers.

I am always looking to hear from you. I see my books as a constant improvement project, they get better the more feedback I get. If you’d like to talk about the books or whatever, just click on the “contact” page and fill out the blocks. I do answer reasonable (and some unreasonable) emails. If you don’t want to fill out the stuff on the page, just shoot an email to thevalleyseries2011 at yahoo dot com. I’ll get back with you.

As always, its an honor.

Latest book developments

My second book launched in June (The Captain’s Cauldron), it was a good launch by my standards. I had committed to writing a trilogy in the Paul Thompson (The Valley) universe, so unlike after In the Valley I didn’t mess around with planning for the final book, Immolation.

In August of this past year, after attending my first con, I began to lay out an outline for number 3. Then I took a couple of months to think about it, and I started fleshing out my concept for how the chapters were going to tie together. Finally, in December, I sat down and started to seriously write.

I have a bad thing when I start hammering on the keys in a novel. I go into a frenzy and I am consumed by the BOOK until its done. It’s ridiculous. I even wrote a couple thousand words on Christmas Day. But by about the second week of January, the rough draft of Immolation was complete, at about 94k words.

It’s now going through the beta phase, that’ll last until about the end of February. I have a select crew of readers picking over the book’s carcass as we speak. My plan is to have it off to the publisher by the middle of March. It’ll go through another round of slow-roasting there.

I can say with a fair degree of confidence that Immolation will be ready for the general public by June of this year.

And with that, Paul Thompson’s tale will be complete.

Age is the disease of the fortunate

Welcome to my new blog, it’s my first foray into the howling wasteland of the blogosphere, so bear with me.

Why am I doing this? Because I finally started to take this whole author thing seriously- it only took three years or so with two books published. You can get them here. I don’t know what my problem was, maybe it was a case of getting over my retirement from the Army, or being unable to take my work seriously.

But after selling a thousand odd books and getting a lot of feedback by some really cool people, I have started to think of myself as a writer. It’s time to commit, as opposed to dabbling.

So here’s a pledge I’ll make, to you the reader. Number one, I’ll post to this website weekly unless some crazy life issue comes up. In that case, I’ll tell you. Number two, I will continue to write, I’ll tell it as I see it. Finally, I will inform my readers of the latest developments with my work, I’ll keep you all in the loop. Only cool kids know about this site, anyway.

What’s with my header picture? It’s not spacey at all. Well, no, it’s not. My books are based in an era where humanity has expanded into the galaxy, but the protagonist is one of the guys who has to get down onto various planets and do the dirty work involved. The picture fits with that theme. The hand you see above is my hand, the machine gun is a PKM, and the black flag was torn from my sleeve. I was gunning in Afghanistan, and the PK was my secondary weapon, my primary was a Mk19.

That picture is a part of my past, and it colors my actions today. So it’s relevant. Also, John Birmingham was gracious enough to feature it on his blog, I was honored that he put it up there.

I have no idea what I’ll write next week, maybe it’ll be some lame picture of my dog, maybe it’ll be some rant about who knows what.

In any case, stay tuned.