Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review via Goodreads - Generation Kill by Evan Wright - An Unarmored View of the Iraq War

Generation KillGeneration Kill by Evan Wright

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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When Rolling Stone correspondent Evan Wright covered Operation Iraqi Freedom, there could be no unit more appropriate to embed with than the 1st Marine Reconnaissance Battalion. Through Generation Kill” he shows that RECON Marines possess the strange dichotomy of all specialized forces, superior skill born of disciplined training that simultaneously breeds a machismo that is adolescent and irreverent. The units’ unsurpassed professionalism was displayed as they adapted to mission sets that were never intended for RECON – mechanized “movement to contact” in unarmored HUMVEES. The Marines dealt with these demands through comradeship only accessible to those who endure combat together, with the relief valve of dark humor, and at times, open castigation of their flawed superiors.

Wright is able to bring this view after two months riding with RECON from Kuwait to Baghdad and back again. He chronicles firefights and respites, heroism and jingoism. The whole story is raw, showing flawed and sometimes inept decision makers, and the impact of civilian casualties on the RECON Marines psyche. The reader emerges with great sympathy and respect, and a deeper understanding for the Marines’ service – the difficult decisions and personal sacrifices made in the most horrific of environments.

It should be noted that Generation Kill has a companion HBO mini-series and that the platoon’s CO, Nathaniel Fick, also wrote a memoir entitled One Bullet Away. All three paint a mutually supporting picture of RECON’s actions in Iraq.
Generation Kill is recommended as an important firsthand account of the earliest stages of Iraqi Freedom, to include foreshadowing of the longer war to come. It is a must read for anyone considering service in the Marine Corps, especially in the infantry or RECON battalions.

Generation Kill the book, mini-series, and One Bullet Away can be purchased at

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Book Review via Goodreads: Layer Cake

Layer CakeLayer Cake by J.J. Connolly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the tradition of "Ocean's Eleven" or Elmore Leonard novels,  Layer Cake's unamed first person narrator is a criminal the reader quickly admires. He is a good guy in a bad trade, a drug dealer who keeps a low profile, operating in the middle of the narcotics trade,  between mafia dons and street pushers. His goal is to make his fortune and retire by age thirty. As his birthday approaches, things get in the way of his plans...

Layer Cake is an enjoyable read. Those on the left side of the pond will need to plow through Brit slang, but you can still follow the dialogue through context.

Add this one to your summer reading list.

Note: I read a Kindle version with this paperback cover.

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Layer Cake  is available from Amazon.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Research When You Write!

I served for a few years as a graduate thesis adviser. During an introductory lecture,  I recommended to my students they pick a topic of which they are knowledgeable. This way they would have a strong foundation to start from.

Writing fiction is similar. There is a common phrase,  "Write what you know." Not every writer follows this rule. For example, I am always impressed with the literary skill, the imagination, of those who write fantasy and science fiction. Thus far,  I am not in this category. My first two novels are on subjects that I know intimately.  

Proximity follows a fictitious version of a  U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) detachment that I served on. The Recipient's Son takes place st the U.S. Naval Academy during the time that I was a midshipman there. The main character is even assigned to the same companies and lives in the same rooms where I dwelled. This is because for me, there are subtleties of living as part of 14th Company that are unique. Describing them served as a touchstone to my experience. It gave me a point to start from.

From that foundation,  it is important to maintain authenticity.This is accomplished through detailed research. For example, in The Recipient 's Son one of the main characters lives on a sailboat. To make sure even the most discerning eye is convinced of the stories realism,  I conducted exhaustive research on the sailboats available during this time frame. I started by looking at common boats of the right size and price. I wanted something that a JAG with a small inheritance could likely afford. After I settled on a Beneteau 43,  I searched for diagrams and photos on the internet.

A second layer of research that is important to the book's accuracy is verifying days and dates. For example, if an author writes that a character went to Mass on June 25, 1989,  it had better be a Sunday!

Finally, it is important to make sure that your writing does not include technology that was not yet available. For example,  I noted to a group of midshipmen in the class of 2012 that when I was a plebe we used an intranet at Navy,  and (at least I) had no knowledge the internet.

So,  do your will make for a much more interesting book and prevent readers from thinking,  " Hey, wait a minute!"