24 December 2014

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from FWS!

Happy Holidays from FWS! I hope that this blogpost finds you surrounded by loved ones, with presents ready to open, and Eggnog in hand. I wish to extend a very big thank you to everyone that reads the blogposts, comments on them, and spreads the word of the work being done here on FWS. This year has been the biggest for FWS in terms of comments, traffic, and emails. FWS finally broke the 2 million page views mark! Once again, thank you for all of that. This year personally has been one of great change. My first military science fiction novel Endangered Species was accepted for publication by Forker Media, I got my teaching job instructing refugee high school teenagers in World History, American History, and World Geography, and my wife and I welcomed our foster baby in September. With these highs, there were lows: my father died suddenly in March, the foster application process was tortuous, new job stress, and money issues...always money issues. In 2015, FWS will be welcoming my book rolling out, more blogposts (with better editing!), along with the new Masterworks of Military Science Fiction series. Here is hoping that 2015 is bright and full of hope to everyone that reads this!  

21 December 2014

FWS TV Review: Ascension (SyFy Channel 2014)

The "SyFy" Channel is often hit-or-miss when it comes to their original productions. On one hand, they had Battlestar Galactica, Blood-and-Chrome, and Dune. However, they made Sharknado...enough said. Recently, the channel has come under fire, and in response, SyFy greenlit the recent miniseries called Ascension and hopes were high that this miniseries would lit the fire for a full series, much like BSG. So, does this limited three-night television event restore the heady days of BSG or it is Sharknado in space? Well, there is the FWS review of Ascension.

The Plot
With the looming threat of nuclear war between the US and Soviet Russia, the nascent US Space Program develops a generational nuclear pulse propulsion starship that is capable of flight to the nearest star to Terra and supporting 600 humans for 100 years. This ship is the USS Ascension, and it was launched in 1963. Now, it is 51 years since Launch Day, and the mid-way point for the mission to Proxima Centauri, and the middle generation is having a tough time, and during the celebration of the 51st anniversary of the launch of the ship, a popular upper deck girl is found murdered by the use of a gun. Now, the XO of the ship is tasking with locating the murdered and the loose pistol before panic sets in.

For the most part, Ascension has beautiful sets, good production values, solid music, and Tricia Helfer; who turns in a nice performance. Added to this, is the interesting premise of the entire miniseries, a deep space colonization mission being launching in the 1960's, and the production does a nice job of showing the progression of an encased spaceborne society dealing with the realities of an 100 year long space mission. This is an mentality that the majority of adult crew are dealing with: being the "middle generation" of the ship's mission to Proxima Centauri. Nearly all will be dead by the time the ship arrives, and this is beginning to weight heavily on the crew's mental health. Added to this, there are some unique traditions and culture born onboard the ship that were a nice touch. through the three hour miniseries, I felt like there was an attempt to incorporate the concepts found in Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey with a shipboard classed society. Some of the character demonstrate the challenges of moving up the ladder to the upper decks were the minds make the decisions live and play, and not the work-a-day reality of the hard lower decks with the water recyclers and meat animals. This made the ship, the characters, and the events an interesting place to live.

I should have know within the first 10 minutes that Ascension was a loser. The beginning is slow, uneven, and completely not where the miniseries should have started off at and that is indicator of the entire miniseries. Then there was several interesting ideas that played throughout the first night of Ascension, and then by Night Two and after the big plot twist, the Earth storyline begins to dominate, and those promising story elements get squeezed out. The idea of the ship reaching the mid-way point and a go-no-go decision was needing to be made is dropped along with the lower deck/upper deck tension results in bombings, but it is somehow unsatisfying. Plaguing the entire miniseries is poor acting coupled with poor dialog ("the star child must be born"!) and transplanted ideas from other better science fiction that just do not work here. However, the element for me that was the standout "bad" element was the "Mad Men in space concept". I imagine that SyFy Channel executives were sold Ascension as "Mad Men in space" but the promise never materializes here. Yes, some of the costumes, media, technology are 1960's but that is all, and I felt lied to in a way, especially being an Mad Men fan. 

Without a doubt the worse element in the entire Ascension miniseries is the end of the Night One plot twist that is un-fucking-believably-bad. I was worried they would be pulling something like this...and they did, and it was bad. While I cannot talk about it without a major spoiler, it degrades the entire rest of the miniseries and alters the audience's mindset on the events unfolding on screen. It is sad the writers and producers decided to go there and ruin the integrity of the concept and overall plot. Nice job, SyFy Channel.

Should You Watch Ascension?
That depends...if you have already DVR'ed the miniseries and you have some time, and Rum and Eggnog handy, then it might be a good way to kill three hours. If you already know about the big plot twist, and you are still interested, than I would watch it...but overall, I am kind of meh about the whole thing, it wasn't that good, and as uneven as a holiday fruit cake. In the end, Ascension is a great concept ruined by poor writing and uneven pacing.

Will Ascension become a TV Series?
In a word, no. While the mini-series ended on a cliffhanger, the ratings were not good enough to warrant an entire series that will only deal more with the fucktastic plot twist and the "Star Child" storylines with the uneven acting. Sorry, SyFy Channel, we science fiction have already had our fill of storylines like that in Lost and BSG. SyFy Channel should just move on, find another project, and learn from this uneven science fiction miniseries.

Watch This Instead!
If you are wanting to watch something better than Ascension that as the same themes than 2009's Virtuality is the ticket. I love this failed TV series plot that was transformed into a TV movie of the week in 2009. This is a DVD I watch a few times a year, and very much enjoy every rewatch. Virtuality has a mixed crew of military and civilians on a 10 year journey to a nearby star in order to find a habitable planet. Much like Ascension, there is a murder onboard the ship, and the crew looks to one another as tension reach crippling levels. Virtuality is damn good sci-fi, and worth a watch.

13 December 2014

FWS Top Ten: Military Sci-Fi Uniforms

Since the beginning of science fiction military uniforms in early cinema and television, there has been the batshit-insane over-the-top type of uniforms or the more realistic. For much of my life, the world of futuristic military uniforms was dominated by the colored code uniforms of Starfleet, and these uniforms became important symbols of the show itself and the fandom at large. The domination of the Starfleet uniform is seen in most uniforms of other science fiction works, and were openly mocked in the very cool Galaxy Quest.  Certainly, fans of Trek identify themselves just by which uniform they don, the branch, and the rank. Given that FWS is devoted to military science fiction, I thought it was high type that we discuss MSF uniforms.  So, while I am busy writing the blogpost on Patrolling, here is my Top Ten military sci-fi uniforms.

1. The Movie-era Starfleet Uniform (2278-2350)
Star Trek has some of the most recognized and iconic uniforms in the history of science fiction, for better or worse. The majority of Starfleet uniforms are well designed and thought out, then there is the uniforms from ST:TMP...the horror...the horror. To me, the original cast movie-era uniforms are simply the best of any Trek uniform and the most striking, especially when compared to the uniforms seen previously Trek works. Also, it seems like this uniform would be easy to live with, unlike a number of the TNG uniforms, and you could "feel" like you were serving in a military organization with a uniform like this. According to behind-the-scenes information, the turtleneck quilted undershirt was made with a sewing process called "trapunto" and the during the production of ST:TWOK, there was only a single needle to sew the undershirts in all of the west coast, due to the process being out-of-fashion for many years. Due to this and other reasons, the undershirt turtleneck is often the hardest element for most cosplayers and even when these uniforms were seen on TNG, the turtleneck was deleted. Oh, and the "bomber jacket" variant is awesome.

2. The Enterprise-era Starfleet Uniform (2140-2161)
I make no secret that Star Trek: Enterprise is one my favorite Trek series, and that it's cancellation was the final nail in the coffin for my Trek fandom. In the days prior to Kirk and Spock, the beginning days of Starfleet saw the use of a jumpsuit-style blue uniform with colored division pipping and a home assignment patch, and a black Henly undershirt. To me, the Enterprise uniform seemed based on the NASA astronaut jumpsuits or USN submarine uniforms and they were an attempt to have a more realistic look than the TOS era uniforms. Much like the ST:TWOK era uniforms, I could wearing this and it being a livable uniform. 

3. The Stargate Atlantis Expedition Uniform (Seasons One-Three)

I was never much for the original Stargate 1994 movie, nor the SG1 TV series, but for some reason, the concept of Atlantis really appalled me, and I rather liked the uniforms of the multinational Atlantis Expedition. According to the wikipedia article, the 2004 Expedition designed the uniforms to separate the military element and the civilian element through the use of colors, and they rather look like Starfleet uniforms, and the in-show dialog mocked this as well. Once again, this looks like a uniform that you actually wear, but it seems more sloppy than more traditional military uniforms, especially the way that rebel-with-a-P90 Colonel John Sheppard wears it. After season three, the uniforms were altered, with some of the main characters getting black collar-less leather jackets.

4. The Classic Battlestar Galactica Colonial Warriors Uniform

This is one of the military sci-fi uniforms I grew up with and I've always felt that it was a damn-fine looking uniform with an awesome suede leather jacket. While the colors of the uniform were taken from fashions of the late 1970's, the sci-fi touches made the Colonial Warrior uniforms a real standout, even over the other Galactica crew. You weren't cool onboard the Galactica unless you were donning on of these bad boys. Some costuming website I've researched have said that until recently, this was one of the hardest and most costly sci-fi uniforms, due to the base light brown uniform and the suede material. Recently, Magnoli Clothiers offers an accurate "Galactica" jacket...for $750 and yes, I thought about buying one.

5. The Star Force uniform from Starblazers/Space Cruiser Yamato
When it comes to 1970's sci-fi cool uniforms, you cannot miss the original Starblazers Star force uniforms, bell-bottoms and all.  Much like the original Starfleet uniform, the Starforce crew is outfitted in color-coded "anchor" symbols with a white base color, while the Black Tigers space fighter pilots were the black base color. The only female onboard ship is Nova, and she wears the very tight yellow- and-black uniform that is either sexists or awesome, depending on your POV. Much like the movie-era Starfleet uniforms and the Colonial Warrior uniforms, the Star Force uniforms were part of my early exposure to military science fiction. For several Halloweens when I was in grade school, my mother made me a "Derek Wildstar" Star Force uniform. No one knew who the hell I was, but I didn't care, it was epic. The recent live-action film did a nice job of adapting it to the big screen for real people.

6. The 2063 USMC Uniform from Space:Above and Beyond
I make no secret on how much I fucking love this show, and very soon, FWS will be writing an entire blogpost to that very subject. In this 1995-1996 Fox MSF television show, the United States Marine Corps of 2063-64 wears a familiar base uniform throughout the show: the military OD flight jumpsuit with black mock turtleneck undershirt. Throughout the show, the 58th core cast dons these OD jumpsuits in the cockpit of the Hammerhead fighter and during on-planet dirtside operations, even on worlds that are ot atmospheric standard. This means that these jumpsuits are actually an streamlined environmental suit rather than just normal flight suit. Dotted with all manner of patches, pins, and pockets, the SAAB USMC jumpsuit is completely functional and most likely the most realistic military science fiction seen on-screen because the actually uniform used by the production crew was ordered from (according to rumor) US Calvary. Unlike many of the uniforms seen on this list and most other sci-fi works, the SAAB USMC flight jumpsuit is an easy, cheaper uniform to cosplay, but nearly no one would know who the hell you are dressed up as. Pity.

7. The House Atreides Military Uniform from DUNE (1984) 

Say what you want about David Lynch's 1984 DUNE adaption to the sliver-screen, the costuming was epic and that extends to the military uniform of House Atreides. While only seen on-screen for a short amount of time, the House Atreides military uniform is one smart looking uniform that hearkens back to the turn-of-the-century military uniforms of the European powers prior to the First World War. Unlike other uniforms seen on this list that are jumpsuits and rather sloppy, this is a proper uniform that calls you to attention with all the older military touches. Oddly, the 1984 unsuccessful LJN toyline of the DUNE film had the Paul Atreides figure in his House Atreides uniform and not the Freman stillsuit, which he worn more throughout the film, and unlike the film, the LJN figure is wearing an olive-hued uniform, not black. In the pre-production catalog photos, Paul's uniform is a Smurf blue. Sadly, I do not think that will see the like of the House Atreides uniform until a Honor Harrington movie is committed to film.

8. Earth Force Uniform from Babylon 5

During the renaissance of science fiction back on television in the 1990's, there were two sci-fi tv shows about space stations, one was the from the juggernaut of Star Trek and the other was set in a new universe of weird aliens and epic space battles. Unlike DS9, the uniforms of the Terran military were more much "military" looking and were not colored coded like the Starfleet uniforms. Under the snapping looking uniforms was a very-trendy white collarless dress shirt, which were all the rage back in the 1990's. There are many pictures of me in high school with collarless shirts, and a few still survive, lurking around the very back of my closet. While B5 may have been the cheaper cousin to Deep Space Nine, the production crew developed one of the better future military organization uniforms of all time.

9. High Guard Uniform from Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda

After the death of the original Trek in the 1960's, Gene Roddenberry developed a new show about Dylan Hunt, an astronaut who was placed into cryogenic freeze and awake in a post-apocalyptic future, and Hunt attempted to restore civilization. The basic plot elements were recycled and reimagined from Genesis II into Andromeda. In the series from 2000-2005, Dylan Hunt was one of the sole survivors of the Systems Commonwealth High Guard. From some of the series, Hunt would wear the uniform of the High Guard which is an older style uniform that a nice look on screen and while it took touches from the Starfleet uniform, it was it's own uniform. Oddly, in the first episode, the High Guard crew of the Andromeda buckled tunics are a redish color with tan pants, then once Hunt is awoke, he dons a black uniform. The uniform is completely abandoned by the 4th season. It is a shame that the series started off on a such an interesting note, and boiled down to nothing.  

10. The United Planets Uniform From Forbidden Planet (1956)
Here it is, the Granddaddy of all military science fiction uniforms: the United Planets steel-grey uniforms from 1956's Forbidden Planet. In this groundbreaking science fiction film, the 23rd century has humans united with faster-than-light space travel under the United Planets banner. In one of the earliest future human military organizations, we seen the soldiers of the United Planets don military uniforms in a fully grey hue with baseball caps, along with a short-sleeve variant. Unlike other sci-fi costumes, the uniforms of the United Planets is more realistic but futuristic.

06 December 2014

FWS Book Review: The Chimera Vector: The Fifth Column by Nathan M. Farrugia

There are novels that fit within the genre of military science fiction like a Lego piece, and then there are others that take the familiar themes of the genre and mix it with a variety of other themes from other genres. Take this novel, The Chimera Vector, it mixes an contemporary setting, counter-terrorism operations, elements of military sci-fi, and the shadowy world of espionage. This is the first novel within the techno-thriller series Chimera Vector: The Fifth Column by Nathan M. Farrugia that is now into its fourth book. This 2012 novel was given to FWS by the Australian publisher Momentum for the purpose of this review.  

The Setting of The Chimera Vector
After reading this book, I recalled a quote from The Matrix that seemed to apply to the setting "(th)is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth". The idea of an group operating in the shadows, controlling world events and global prospective on these events plays heavily in the current-world setting of The Chimera Vector.
The Fifth Column and Akhana are fighting behind the scenes to control the destiny of human society as we all drone onwards to work and Starbucks. This is all because Chimera Vector is set in our current world with the current problems, which makes the setting relatable. 

The Spoiler-Free Review of The Chimera Vector
In the pages of this “techno-thriller” novel, first time author Nathan M. Farrugia proves himself worthy of being a new voice in the genre of military thriller. Throughout my month-long read of The Chimera Vector, I was reminded of Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse while reading some of the trials of Sophia and how she thinks. Mr. Farrugia also proves himself in taking  often used plot points of shadow government, genetically tailor agents, and badass female agents with a fresh  prospective and engaging the reader. This was not just applied to Sophia as a ronin agent, split from The Fifth Column, but also with characters like Denton and Damien. All of these characters seemed to more than just empty shoes, and well written, making them more than just Starfleet Red Shirts. 
I especially liked they more realistic way that Mr. Farrugia approached the character of Sophia. She is not some warrior-Valkyrie-battle-princess-badass-sexy-bitch that is Black Widow or Max from Dark Angel; Sophia gets shot, cries, makes bad decisions, and eats. She also gets captured several times in the novel. Overall, the novel is expertly written with Mr. Farrugia drawing from his military experience leading to some detailed scenes that cover the range from the bloody results for gunshot wounds to simply European urban environments. His dialog was also worth noting, with lines worthy of my highlighter and a good laugh. While the majority of the novel is very good-to-excellent, it is not all sunshine and kitties. The overall novel lacks gravity to anchor down the events, especially later, when the plot thickens and the reason for the title is revealed. While Mr. Farrugia builds a foundation that is compelling and mostly well done, there is not enough of it to support the weight of the later story arch due to beginning. 
From those beginning pages, Sophia and her team are disavowed from the Fifth Column, and forcing her and her team to run for their lives as they search for answers. This is a solid military/spy thriller plot device, and it used effective in The Chimera Vector, but it is a little hallow. If we take 1996’s Mission Impossible as an example, Tom Cruise had about 20-25 minutes as an IMF agent, and much of the film is devoted to his survival and salvation as a disavowed agent. Sophia’s journey is similar, but like Mission Impossible, she is barely in the service of the Fifth Column long enough to support all of the elements in the later pages. I would have loved to see The Chimera Vector open with Sophia on more of several missions. This would have also helped the central concept of the shadow Fifth Column government and the Akhana resistance group. Another point, and it is a small one, is that too often Mr. Farrugia uses the proper full name of the firearm being used. While I love the fact that he uses proper weapons for the tactical setting, he could have used other proper noun for guns likes the P99. Theses few rough points of the novel pale in comparison to the rock-solid core, and author Nathan Farrugia has a bright future in any writing path he choices. 

The Hardware of The Chimera Vector
One of the standouts of The Chimera Vector is the firearms. Seriously. Mr. Farrugia puts real-world weaponry into the hands of his characters, and it says a great deal about the level of thought and detail. For example, Sophia's favorite weapon is the P99, but she will use a number of real-world weaponry throughout the novel. In the Chimera Vector, the weapons are stars along side the character. In the first few pages, there is a damn near pornographic scene involving an Barrett .50 sniper rifles. This weapons are one of my favorite elements and really adds some nice atmosphere in the novel. 

The Interview with author Nathan M. Farrugia
1. What was the genesis behind of The Chimera Vector, and world that the book lives itself, and Sophia?

It started when I was a teenager. I had this idea of two operatives, Damien and Jay, infiltrating a covert facility. It was just a really simple story, but as I grew older, went through the army and studied film and also writing, that story moved through ten evolutions over ten years. In its finished form, it became The Chimera Vector. Damien and Jay are still in the story but they’re secondary main characters and they don’t infiltrate the facility, because they’re already inside!

2. What impact does your military service have on your writing and how you examine other fictional military works (ie video games, books, movies)

There are pros and cons here. The pros: it helps my own writing and helps me think like my characters (who are far better trained than I am by a mile!) and challenges me to avoid common Hollywood tropes and actually think about how they would really resolve things. Often that can be more interesting and more entertaining. But the ultimate objective is that it will entertain.

The cons: it completely ruins my ability to enjoy an action movie or a first-person shooter game or a thriller novel. You need a huge suspension of disbelief to be able to re-engage with entertainment again otherwise you’ll laugh every time soldiers clear a room in Call of Duty, or drive yourself crazy trying to remember the last time you saw a movie where someone actually held a pistol properly. To me these are really basic things but they’re often overlooked because 99% of the audience will also overlook them, therefore they don’t matter. And if you’re unlucky enough to not be one of those 99%, then there’s only one thing you can do: let it go and enjoy things for what they are. It does mean you’ll enjoy things a lot less, but it also means you can appreciate the stories that do put the effort in even more.

3.  What are your favorite fictional military works across all types of media?

Film: Probably cheating since these are based on novels and manga, but recently I really enjoyed Ender’s Game and Edge of Tomorrow. Not everyone liked these movies but they worked perfectly for me.

TV: I’m not ashamed to admit Stargate SG-1! I also enjoyed Battlestar Galactica, even though I felt it lost direction in the final season.

Games: Deus Ex (the original), Half-Life 2 — both of these games have a heavy science angle too. They are to this day my favorite games of all time and I will forcibly recommend them to anyone. 

Books: Gridlinked by Neal Asher (first in a series), which is pretty much the far future version of my series. And Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (also the first in a series).

4. Why did you decide to have your main character be female and what impact does having an female character have on the writer and the story itself. Also, why was she named Sophia?

It more or less happened without my realizing it. I had a main character and hey, she was female. I named her Sophia, which is Greek for wisdom. I wasn’t sure if having a female protagonist would change anything for me as a writer or for anyone as a reader, but once I started writing her it really didn’t make a difference.

I think it’s great that more writers consciously try to push for a balance of genders in their stories, which usually means introducing more female characters than they might’ve otherwise. It’s hard for a lot of writers and I think it might be because they’re looking to the real world as a genuine example of gender balance, but the problem is the real world is grossly imbalanced.

This leaves many writers in a weird place where they have to actually imagine what “normal” should be. Some writers can do this quite naturally without any problem. But others tend to overthink it and try to create a “strong female character”, except they really don’t know what that is. So they often end up transferring just a few attributes from their male protagonists (strong! tough as nails! can do roundhouse kicks!) and applying them to their female protagonists. But they’re transferring all the dumb stuff instead of the important things, so they end up with an over-masculinized female character as some sort of awkward placeholder.

I find the best way is just to not think about what gender Sophia is. Because 99.9% of the time it’s irrelevant. When she’s solving a puzzle or escaping a pursuer, I don’t constantly think, ‘Hey, she is a woman’ every ten seconds, just as I don’t think ‘Hey, he is a man’ every ten seconds. If I did that, it would get in the way of my writing.

5.One of the details that I enjoyed from The Chimera Vector was how specific you were about the weapons. For example, Sofia uses an Walther P99,and an FN P90, along with that scene with soldiers carrying M4 carbines that the significant of that. This really sets your novels apart. Why did you decide to do this and how do you go about choosing a weapon for your characters?

It’s funny you should mention this because it’s something that really divides my readers. Half of them relish the specifics of each weapon and don’t like the vague and generic terms like “pistol” or “rifle”. The other half don’t like the specifics. So I’m always trying to keep the specifics without the language getting in the way of the reader. It’s a delicate balance.

In The Chimera Vector, almost everyone has access to some resources and weapons so there’s quite a bit of selection available to them. I went for some different weapons that aren’t usually seen, such as the FN P90. Although having said that, the P90 isn't a good example because it’s actually become quite popular. I even remember seeing it in Stargate SG-1. But the reason I chose it was because it has an unusual design and look, and it’s actually similar in a lot of ways to the rifle I was trained with in the Australian Army: the Steyr Aug. The Steyr is another unusual weapon and it’s not used often in film or literature. The Governor wielded the Steyr Aug in The Walking Dead.

For the most part, Sophia and her friends are operatives so their primary firearm is the pistol. It’s more easily concealable, but of course the range is limited and the stopping power isn’t as great as a rifle, and you don’t have as many rounds on hand. I always try to remember that if Sophia needs more than a couple of magazines then she’s in big trouble. But again, big trouble is usually what happens in these books!

In later books, resources grow more limited and the good guys are using whatever they can scavenge or steal.

6. Your book extensively deals with secret societies that hold a great power, and most of the world are oblivious of their power in their daily lives. What gave rise to this and explain why you chose the term "the Fifth Column" and "Akhana". 

I actually purposefully avoided secret societies for two reasons: they’re done to death and a few of them peaked with Dan Brown, and they’re a common trope in conspiracy fiction. The Fifth Column is not quite a one world secret government, but they are fairly tightly woven into the military industrial complex of most countries. They’re not as all-seeing and all-encompassing as many ruling governments in science fiction military settings, but they certainly want to be. The key distinction between most approaches to this and The Fifth Column series is that there is no secret bloodline or initiation into a cult or alien race. Those that are in control are genetic psychopaths, they’re just as real as the rest of us.

The Fifth Column is usually used to describe a group of people who undermine a larger group and it can be overt or clandestine. Which in a very twisted sense is what happens in these books, except instead of a small uprising of resistance fighters from the bottom of the chain, it’s a small selection of psychopaths at the top.

The Akhana on the other hand is a resistance of Fifth Column scientists and soldiers who defected. The meaning behind the word is Gnostic and Akhana is the female Aeon, which in one interpretation translates to “truth”.

7. The concept of psychopath in the novel was an intriguing one and something unique. I address in my own blogpost about super-soldiers. What inspirited this idea? 

A decade ago, I was reading about a small team of psychiatrists who worked in secret under Nazi and then Soviet occupation. They were trying to understand evil from a scientific standpoint and they found that there was a certain percentage of people who were born without a conscience and could not experience a wider range of emotions such as empathy or guilt. Some are easy to spot and usually end up in jail, while others are smooth operators and go their entire lives undetected. The team of psychiatrists witnessed these sorts of people finding their way into influential positions and wreaking havoc.

This team was decades ahead of any research in the West and even today we’re still playing catch up. Most people still believe a psychopath is a bloodthirsty serial killer or a Hannibal Lecter, which makes it easier for the real psychopaths to move through society undetected, leaving in their wake a trail of devastation through their various careers where they’ve manipulated their way to the top, and their personal relationships, where they’ve manipulated their partners into believing they’re to blame for everything the psychopath has done.

In the Fifth Column series, psychopaths are typically working in the higher echelons of the Fifth Column itself, while the operatives and super-soldiers are humans with a conscience, programmed to perform certain deniable operations. You can certainly have psychopaths as operatives. But with the exception of one or two types, psychopaths tend to prefer to manipulate their way into a higher, more managerial position where they can fulfill their primal desires of power and control by manipulating operatives to do the menial work for them. Working in an area where they can continually deceive people would give the psychopath a great deal of satisfaction, something they almost seem to feed off. Actually, it wouldn’t surprise me if the vampire myth is based on ancient knowledge of the psychopath.

8. What happened to the planned graphic novel? Will we ever see it or another project like it?

I hope so, it’s something I really want to do. It was my second Kickstarter project, which only raised half the needed funds back in 2011. Admittedly, I tried to do this before my first book was even released, so there wasn’t an existing readership there to help support it. I learned the hard way not to put the cart before the horse! I could probably try crowdfunding the graphic novel today and there’s a good chance it would be successful. But  creating a graphic novel is an extraordinary amount of work and not something I want to rush into.

If you want it to be completed in less than 2 years then you need multiple artists involved rather than just one. My plan was to have six artists involved, which raises the problem of different styles and consistency — do you purposely divide the artists into chapters with distinct styles or do the artists try to conform to one style?

I haven’t abandoned the graphic novel idea, it’s a big undertaking but I know it’s something that I will do in the near future. And when I do, I’ll probably fund it myself.

9. The concepts and central story elements seem to be a good fit for a television series...as anyone approached you about an Fifth Column show?

I’ve only had film offers so far, but I agree that it works much better for television. The budget might be a problem, but it would be nothing compared to the costs of something Game of Thrones. Extensive CGI can rack up costs very quickly, which is why you don’t see dragons in that series very often. For that reason, I’m glad The Fifth Column series is thriller with science fiction elements rather than full-blown science fiction or fantasy. Which gives the budget some room to breathe.

I’d rather see that extra budget go into the central action scenes that need it and also the combat choreography, which is usually underwhelming in Western television and cinema. The Matrix trilogy set that bar much higher, but over the past decade only a handful of movies really rose that challenge, like Scott Pilgrim vs The World.

10.Given some of the elements in this novel, which espionage agent is Sophia similar to? Jack Bauer? James Bond? Jason Bourne? Sydney Bristow?

Hmm, that’s a tricky question!

Jason Bourne would be the closest match, given that he is far more strategic and is the closest I’ve seen to an operative as defined in The Fifth Column series: someone who is trained as a soldier to a special forces level and also as an intelligence officer to an equally high level. Bourne begins as a diplomat but is later recruited and trained to become a part of a death squad, Medusa. Essentially, this is where he receives his standard military and special forces training combined. Later he joins a black ops element of the CIA, Treadstone, where he receives his intelligence training.

Sophia receives her training in the same order as Bourne. She receives her military training as a teenager and reaches a special forces level before adulthood. As an adult, she receives her intelligence training and works as a deniable operative for the Fifth Column for a number of years before things start to go awry.

11. What does the future hold for your Fifth Column Series? And are you exploring other military science fiction/techno-thriller book concepts?

I’m working on a new episodic series at the moment that includes both new and old characters. New readers won’t need to know anything about the previous series but existing readers will be able to continue the journey with their favorite characters, including Sophia and Denton.

12. While Sophia is clearly the main character, however, I gravitated towards Denton...why is that?

Denton is Sophia’s arch-nemesis and he’s also a psychopath. But he’s a very entertaining one. It’s not easy to create a person without a conscience, empathy or regret, and still be relatable and likable to us. But that’s where Denton flourishes. And it was actually by accident that so many people hated and loved him at the same time. He’s not as uptight or serious as most characters, his plans and schemes are grand and clever, he bakes cupcakes, and he says all the things no one else could say. You might argue that Jay does this too as he’s a bit of a joker, but Jay is restricted to being a good guy whereas Denton can dance across that line. Denton shifts from order and repression in the first book to chaos and insurgency in the later books — and he loves it. Sophia finds herself working alongside him as often as against him. So I think it’s the reluctant allegiance that wins us over too.

By the way, your novel forced me to eat a cupcake!

Blame Denton, not me!

Be sure to pick the entire Fifth Column series on Amazon.com!

Next Time on FWS...
Going on patrol is one of the core duties of soldiers since the dawn of organized combat, and it continues today, and will likely be something future soldiers do as well...or is it? In the next installment of FWS, we will be examining patrolling and its role in the modern military and military science fiction. Join as we get our boots dirty!

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