12 March, 2014

Guest Post - "The Military and Historical Fantasy" by Miles Cameron, Author of The Fell Sword (Traitor Son Cycle #2)

Miles Cameron has been on my radar since last year's The Red Knight, his debut fantasy novel, came out and I'm happy to present his guest post to you today. The Fell Sword, book two in the Traitor Son Cycle hit stores yesterday and some of the early reviews are just as glowing. 

According to Goodreads, Cameron is an "author, a re-enactor, an outdoors expert and a weapons specialist" and many of those skills are on display as he stars in the recent Orbit Books video, Epic Questions Answered. Here, he proves that a dastardly epic fantasy book, no matter the pagecount, is no match for a ghiavarina. And don't worry, they don't presume you know what kind of weapon that is, I know I didn't. 

Today, we bring you an article on Cameron's military career and its impact on his writing. Without further ado...

The Military and Historical Fantasy
Perhaps the question I’m most frequently asked is how my writing was and is impacted by my first career as an officer in the United States Navy.  I suspect the impacts are more profound than I can recount, but it’s worth a try to list them, and it is a great question. 

First, the modern military gave me an entirely new perspective on ‘history’ and its reality and our perceptions of it.  I had the chance on a number of occasions to be at the center of a CNN or BBC story, so to speak—I can remember sitting in the ready room of my squadron and watching CNN tell me (incorrectly) where I was and what I was doing in the first Gulf War; I can remember watching a CBC special with my girlfriend (now wife) about the war in Somalia that was so bad I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry; I learned that mass conspiracies involving assassinations and cover-ups aren’t possible (at least in western democracies) and that history isn’t even written by the victors—it’s written by the media arms of the victors who often don’t understand what just happened. 

The military did not teach me to write, but they did teach me to write very, very quickly, and to do so for a long time. Anyone who has written military reports should be nodding along by now.  The military taught me a great deal about leadership, and how men and women function in a crisis—and how some men and fewer women seek to create crisis because it is the only kind of situation in which they function; how a good leader may snap orders in a real crisis but can be surprisingly consensual in day-to-day situations. 

I learned that almost everything I’d ever read about combat was either inadequate or an out and out lie—because most of us don’t have a conscious ‘track’ through terror, but simply react with whatever training we have to survive.  Most of us.  I also learned that an essential element of war is humour—something has to take the edge off—and some of that humour is very dark indeed-too dark, really, for the ‘real’ world. In Africa I learned that the world in which we live in the West is delicate—the rule of law, the triumph of technology, even liberty--all are delicate.  Not to be taken for granted. 

I learned that it is the team that triumphs, not the individual, in almost any war situation; and that the best fed, best rested, best led team almost always wins, regardless of muscles or technology.  Muscles and technology can help you be well-rested and well-fed and confident, but they can’t win the day by themselves.  And I guess I learned that almost everyone is brave.  Human beings are scary predators, not easy victims. 

These are the perceptions I took away from the military—they help with everything from dialogue to experiential detail.  And—did I mention loving the sea?  I have been out in the North Atlantic in a storm.  And everywhere else—the sea is the ultimate Wild.

Thanks to Miles Cameron and Orbit. If your interest has been piqued, Orbit has posted a sample of The Red Knight, book one of the Traitor Son Cycle.