Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dystopian Short Story: Retirement Day


RETIREMENT DAY

by

 R.A. Mathis

 

 

            Me and Grampa are eating breakfast together like we do every day. But today is special. I say, “Happy birthday, Grampa!” and give him a big hug.

He squeezes me tight and asks, “Do you know how old I am today, Jenny?”

            “Yup! You’re fifty-five, but I’m still eight.”

            “Do you know what that means?”

            “Today is your retirement day!”

            “That’s right.”

            “It also means we get to have a party!”

            “Yeah. I guess it does.”

            I’ve never seen a birthday party before. Grampa always tells me stories about when he was my age. He says they used to have a party for every birthday back then. They also used to have these things called kars and playnes that people used to go all over the place on things called vaykashuns. Grampa said he even got to see the oshun a few times. The farthest I’ve ever been is the wire fence around our apartment building.

            Sometimes Grampa draws me pictures of the places he saw when he was little. There are places with beautiful cities, green mountains, and blue water that stretches out as far as you can see. I keep them all under my mattress. They’re my favorite things in the whole world. I don’t think the places are real. I think Grampa makes them up just for me, but I never tell him that.

            Grampa doesn’t seem very happy about retiring. He’s been in his room for hours.

            There’s a knock at the door and Mommy opens it. There’s a man in a suit like the ones on tv. He has two of the scary black helmet men with him – the ones that watch us from the towers along the fence outside.

            The man in the suit smiles and says, “AF8075342631?”

            Mommy just stares at him.

            He smiles again and says, “I’m here for Mister Abner Finch. Serial number AF8075342631.”

            Grampa comes out of his room and says, “I’m Abner.”

            The smiling man says, “Of course you are. On behalf of our Generous Community Director, Benevolent Provincial Authority, and the Glorious Leader, I present your retirement feast.” He pushes a cart with a bunch of plastic containers on it into our apartment. “Happy retirement day! You are required to report to the courtyard for transport in three hours.” Then he and the others leave.

            It’s the first time I’ve ever had real meat. Mommy takes the roll from the plastic tube and cuts some slices. She puts two of the gray circles on my plate. There’s another container of yellow mush labeled ‘corn.’ Some green mush labeled ‘peas.’ Some white mush labeled ‘potatoes.’ Grampa taught me how to read. It’s our secret. He says I’d get in big trouble if anybody found out.

It’s the best meal I’ve ever had, but it’s not the way I imagined a birthday party. I’m the only one smiling. Mommy has the same stare she always does. She looks at me, but doesn’t really see me.

The last thing Mommy opens is the ‘cake’ container. It’s just big enough for all of us to have a piece, but I get two. Grampa gives me his. He’s not hungry.

            After the party, Grampa calls me into his room. It’s small. There’s just enough room for me to sit by him on the edge of his bed. He reaches under his mattress and says, “I have a present for you.” He hands me some small square papers. They have pictures on them. The edges are crumbly and yellow. “Don’t let anybody know you have these. I hate to think what they’d do to you if they found out.”

I ask, “Did you draw these?”

Grampa smiles. “No, these are called photographs. My father took them with a camera when I was your age.”

“Kam-a-ra?”

“It was a machine that drew exact pictures of whatever you looked at.” The fotografs look like the pictures Grampa drew for me. “I know you don’t believe these places are real, but they are – or were. See? That’s me next to the big tree. And that’s my brother and our mother.” His eyes look sad. “They were real, too.”

“Thank you Grampa, but I can’t keep these. You should take them with you when you retire.”

“No, they’re yours now. I won’t have any use for them where I’m going.” He presses them into my little hands.

            “My friend Katie says retirement means that they cut you open and take all the parts they can use then grind the rest of you up to make Nutrifeed. Is it true?”

            Grampa pats me on the head. “Let’s go outside for a nice walk before I have to go.”

            From the courtyard I can see other buildings through the wire in the fuzzy distance. Most are buildings like ours. Others I don’t know. But I know one of them is the retirement center. The wind is blowing from that direction today. It smells like dead things.

            The retirement bus rolls in the gate and stops close to us. It’s almost time.

            I ask Grampa again, “Are they really going to turn you into Nutrifeed?”

            Grampa hugs me tight and whispers, “Promise me you’ll find a way out of here. Promise me you’ll find the places in our pictures.”

            He’s crying. I am, too. “I promise, Grampa.”

            He kisses my forehead. “Don’t forget the things I taught you. Teach them to your children and their children.”

            “I will, Grampa.”

            “You’ll have to be very strong. Can you do that for me?”

            “Yes, Grampa.”

            “I love you.”

            “I love you too, Grampa.”

            He tells me to stay put and gets on the bus. So do a few others.

            I eat breakfast alone the next morning. His chair is empty. I want to cry, but I won’t. I have to be strong for Grampa. I will find a way out, but not today.

Today I’ll just be strong and eat my Nutrifeed like a big girl.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Review: Task Force Intrepid: The Gold of Katanga







Prior to reading Task Force Intrepid (Gold of Katanga), I knew little to nothing about this part of the world. Its politics, history, and economy were a mystery. This book was every bit as educational as it was entertaining...And it scores high in both regards.

The descriptions of the terrain and environment were so vivid, I was taken there from the first scene (which is completely riveting). As I read the opening scene, it reminded me of the opening sequence of Casino Royal hopped up on horse steroids and two pots of coffee.

Speaking of Bond, men's adventure fiction has been in serious need for revival for many years. I mean, how many times can you read the same old Mack Bolan books? The old stuff comes off as cheesy and clich├ęd to today's sophisticated audience. I remember reading one of Cussler's Dirk Pitt (cheesiest of cheesy names - pure Velveeta) novels a few years back and rolling my eyes at stuff like how snazzy Dirk looked in his turtle neck leisure suit or him smacking a secretary on the bottom and her giggling like a school girl (barf).

There's none of that tripe in this book. Dan Tharp is just what the doctor ordered. His writing is crisp, visual, action-packed, plausible, and intelligent--a breath of fresh air. Tharp and others like him are about to reinvent and reinvigorate this genre. If you want in on the ground floor, read Task Force Intrepid. I look forward to reading more from this talented author.

Five gold bars for this title. [][][][][]

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Warrior Poets

My novel, Ghosts of Babylon, was recently highlighted in Indie Review Tracker.

Karin Cox was kind enough to allow me to write a guest post about writing from a veteran's perspective.

The piece is called The Warrior Poets: How writing can soothe a troubled soul.

So far, this article has sparked some great feedback.

Thank you, Karin, for your kind words and support.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Book Review: Prince of Thorns


 
 
 

Amazing. Simply amazing. This is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. That fact that this is Lawrence's debut novel makes it even more impressive.

I enjoy many genres: sci-fi, fantasy, historical fiction, action and adventure…pretty much anything that grabs me and moves along at a good pace. Prince of Thorns certainly fits that bill. After reading the sample on Amazon, I ordered the book in hardback. I could tell it was going to be a keeper.

The prose is clean and direct, but colorful. The humor is also well done. Jorg (the main character) is completely amoral, but oddly likeable. He puts me in mind of Han Solo if he’d gone to the Dark Side. A comparison that also came frequently to mind was Alexander the Great—another flawed young genius with 'daddy issues' whose mind was unfettered by conventional thinking. Some of Jorg's ingenuitive solutions to seemingly insurmountable situations are reminiscent of Alexander’s feats at the Battle of Gaugamela (on a much smaller scale) or in untying the Gordian Knot. Some have criticized this book for being too dark or disturbing. They must’ve grown up on a steady diet of gumdrops and lollipops.

That being said, this is a real page turner. When there are other things you know you should be doing, this book calls to you like the last slice of chocolate cake. You just have to finish it.

I gave this book to my fifteen-year-old son as soon as I finished it. He’s not a big reader. He’ll read the stuff his teachers assign and that’s about it. I asked him to read the first 27 pages to see if he liked it. He hasn’t put it down since.

Lastly, I’ve also read the first three books of Georg R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones for all the TV fans). Those books are enjoyable, but you have to chew through two or three hundred pages of fat to get to the meat. Prince of Thorns is darkly delicious filet mignon from the first bite to the last. I’d better stop here and get a snack. All these food references have made me hungry.
 
I give it six out of five thorns ***** *  (in honor of Jorg, who never plays by the rules).

PS: My hardcover copy of King of Thorns just arrived. Word is that it’s even better. I can’t wait to find out.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Book Review: C.R.O.W.

 


 
     This story is told from the first person perspective of a fresh-faced recruit to the drop ship infantry, the future equivalent of the airborne infantry. The author is a veteran of the British infantry and it shows. Every page drips with authenticity (quite an accomplishment for a sci-fi novel).

     Richards' prose isn't polished as other works, but it shouldn't be. The present form preserves the grit, gristle, and overall hardship of war. Refinement would probably take away from its gruff believability. The equipment, technology, and tactics are well thought out and explained without interrupting the narrative. Small details like the main character wondering why drop pods can deliver troops to a planet's surface from orbiting spacecraft but can't keep its passengers cool will be familiar to anyone that's ever been in an armored vehicle in the summer. And in the future, the chow still sucks. Some things never change. An account written by one of Alexander's men would likely have similar observations. This book captures the timeless elements of soldiering.

     A great read.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

It's Alive...IT'S ALIIIIIIVE!!!

My new novel, Ghosts of Babylon, is now live on Amazon.com in both Kindle and paperback!


Ghosts of Babylon
 


Fast-paced, authentic, and with a hint of the supernatural, Ghosts of Babylon is a dark military thriller that skillfully takes readers on an exhilarating tour of the war-torn wastes of the Middle East.



It took a long time to get here, but it was worth it.
I hope you enjoy reading Ghosts of Babylon as much as I did bringing it to you.

Here's a review:

R.A. Mathis is one of those rare authors who knows what he imagines. A veteran of the conflict in Iraq, he knows what it means to be both hunter and prey. In a land where keen observation means survival, he gives us the sights, sounds, and feelings that have shaped America's longest war. In the tradition of Conrad and Melville, and with all the vivid authenticity and heartbreak of 'Hurt Locker' and 'Three Kings,' Mathis finds the God inside his details and makes those surreal patterns real. Anyone looking for the truth behind the headlines will find them in Ghosts of Babylon."

Jay Wurts
Coauthor of When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, Honored and Betrayed, and other works by modern warriors.
 
A portion of all book sales will go to the Wounded Warrior Project. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

From Arab Spring to Epic Fail



I hope you’re not planning a trip to see the Pyramids anytime soon.

Before we go on, I just want to make it clear that this post is not aimed at any religion, political party, president, network, ice cream flavor, vegetarians, electric cars, sports teams, or mythical creatures. It’s just an observation of our country’s miserable track record in Middle Eastern policy.

This post has been marinating on my word processor and in my mind since September 12th. So much has happened so quickly that it’s been tough to process. It’s even tougher to find words to address it all, but I’ll try…The last thing I saw on TV on September 11th was a montage of images from the 9/11 attacks followed by a brief mention of some trouble at the American embassy in Egypt and a diplomat being killed in Libya. The first thing I heard on the news the next morning was that Muslim extremists had stormed the American embassy in Egypt, burning the American flag (that was flying at half-mast in remembrance of the 9/11 attacks) and killed another four American diplomats in Libya, the ambassador among them. As of this writing, mobs are still gathered outside American embassies across Africa and Asia.

These are the same people the media rooted for during last year’s ‘Arab Spring.’ And it wasn’t just the media propping up this extremist takeover. Our own government called for regime change in both countries and actually provided air support to Libyan rebel forces until Gadhafi was captured and summarily executed.

Is it a coincidence that this all began on the same day at separate U.S. embassies in two countries? Was it a fluke that ‘spontaneous’ protestor in Libya had rocket propelled grenades and knew the exact location of the ‘secret’ safe house and that our ambassador was there that day?  Is it happenstance that it all happened on 9/11? I have my doubts. As the old intelligence community saying goes, “If you believe in coincidence, you don’t belong in Intelligence.” And then there’s the movie…Either this is a smoke screen to distract from incompetent foreign policy or this flick has succeeded in ticking off more people than Star War Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

 In the past thirty years, our Middle Eastern foreign policy hasn’t exactly been a study in how to win friends and influence people. Here are a few highlights:

·         Iran, a former ally, is now a terrorist state on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapon capability.

·         We supported the Mujahedeen against Soviet invaders only to see that nation taken over by the Taliban and turned into a haven for Al-Queda.

·         We invaded Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003. After a decade of war, Afghanistan is still a mess. We’ve left Iraq in danger of being set ablaze by old hatreds and Iran is stoking the flames (see my last blog post).

·         After the U.S. supported overthrows of their long-standing dictators, Egypt and Libya are set to follow in Iran’s footsteps with Syria close behind.

·         The entire Islamic world now seems enraged against us.

·         And in the middle of all this we’re giving our only ally in the region, Israel, the cold shoulder.

How can so many experts be so wrong? Again, I’m not criticizing any specific party or administration. What I’m pointing out is a chronic inability to understand Middle Eastern culture and psychology. Outside of a few occasions, our default setting can be summed up with, “If we’re nice to them, they’ll be nice to us.”

Here’s the problem: We keep expecting them to think and act like we do. By that I mean we expect them to behave like a democratic society. Virtually every country in the region has been ruled by iron-fisted dictators or monarchs for centuries. Under this violent dog-eat-dog culture, respect and fear are synonymous and both are gained through force and intimidation. You’re either a master or a slave – a wolf or a sheep. Kindness is weakness. So is mercy. And apologies amount to submission. It’s a tough, brutal place and negotiations for everything from the price of a donkey to nuclear arms agreements are conducted accordingly. We are all products of the world we grow up in. Their world is very different from ours. We must understand that going in.

Also, extremists don’t hate us because of anything we’ve done. They hate us because we exist. Period. You can’t expect irrational people to act rationally. You can’t trust someone who refuses to recognize your right to live. Either you live in fear of them or they live in fear of you. Remember what your dad said about standing up to bullies in grade school? Same goes here. Have you ever seen what happens when a little bully figures out he can pick on a bigger kid and get away with it? It ain’t pretty.

In an example of our push-over foreign policy, the Cairo embassy issued this scathing rebuke as the mob climbed over its walls and tore down our flag:

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims…

Yeah. That’ll show ‘em.

Dictatorships are very bad things. Always have been. But by helping to topple them in countries unprepared for the concepts of free speech and other basic human rights, we merely create voids to be filled by far worse things. The people we meant to help are ultimately harmed and our national security is invariable threatened. Sometimes it’s better to deal with the devil you know. Regime change can be a good thing if the people are ready and demand real freedom. Just look at the progress Eastern Europe has made since 1991. The Middle East, for the most part, isn’t there yet.

I’m not advocating war by any means. I actually think the best course is to achieve energy independence and make these countries irrelevant. Like we used to say in Iraq, “If these were carrot fields instead of oil fields, we wouldn’t be here.”

But for now the nest we can do is negotiate like the superpower we are (while we still are, anyway). To paraphrase a radio hosts recent comment, “Speak softly… and if you don’t have a big stick, you’d better grow one.”

Monday, September 10, 2012

Is Iraq Headed for Civil War?


Did you know the vice president of Iraq has fled the country and been convicted of murder? Odds are the answer is no. The media is paying little to no attention to a potentially explosive situation that’s getting worse by the day.

The BBC reported today (linked below) states that Tariq al-Hashemi, the Iraqi VP, was recently convicted of murder and sentenced to death in absentia. At first glance, it sounds legit. The court had plenty of witnesses and evidence against him. He ran from justice. Pretty cut and dry, right?

As Lee Corso says, “Not so fast, my friend.”

Remember how the Sunnis and Shias hated one another back in the old days? Remember when Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, slaughtered thousands of Shias after the 1991 Gulf War when they rose against him in anticipation of American support that never came? The Shias, who are the religious majority in Iraq and Iran, were pinned under Saddam’s boot for decades until the U.S. toppled the dictator in 2003. The same goes for the ethnic Kurds in the north.

Iraq’s new president is Shia. So is most of the new government. And it looks like payback is on the way.

Vice President Hashemi is Sunni. He claims that he’s been framed and can’t get a fair trial in Iraq. He says he’s being punished for pointing out that the new government is corrupt and being heavily influenced by Iran. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. The Iranians had their hands in Iraq when I was there in 2005. Even then, they were providing material, technology, and manpower to Shia insurgents. One of our sister units even captured a member of the Iranian Foreign Service (In other words, a spy) near the Iranian border. Iraqi Sunnis are now wondering if the other shoe is about to fall…across their necks.

The fact that Hashemi was briefly given sanctuary by the Kurds tells me they may not be digging what’s going on either. The whole situation looks disturbingly similar to the Balkans after the Soviet Union collapsed. The country is a tinderbox and has been for decades. Smoldering ethnic and religious hatreds only need the right spark to flash into a firestorm dwarfing Egypt, Libya, and Syria.

After everything our country has sacrificed to bring justice and freedom to Iraq, why are these developments being largely ignored by the U.S. media? The BBC indicates that it’s due to the pending presidential election. I hope that’s not the case. If so, it seems we are becoming more like Iraq than they are us.

Here is the link to the BBC article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19540960

Friday, August 31, 2012

Army Officers and the Warrior Ethos

     The blog On Violence recently posted a number of articles on the culture of the U.S. Army and why junior officers are so often portrayed as incompenet bufoons in popular media. http://onviolence.com/?e=618#comm The discussion also addressed the performance of actual officers and the high standards achieved by lieutenants compared to their enlisted counterparts. Some called it classist. Others claimed the young officers were just better than the rank and file. I think they all missed the mark and replied as follows:
    
     This is a fascinating subject that I’ve given much thought and observation to over the years. I spent nine years as an Army combat arms officer, starting in the active force and ending in the National Guard with an Iraq deployment thrown in for good measure. The following observations refer to active Army combat leaders. The National Guard is an entirely different animal.

     It seems to me that lieutenants perform at such high levels (physical, technical, mental, ethical) because they have to. Their commanders expect it and so do the men they lead. It’s a cornerstone of the ancient warrior ethos. As the old adage goes, ‘You can’t lead from the rear.’ The Army is not an aristocracy. It’s a meritocracy. Rank and personal respect are earned, not given. As such, a lieutenant is not an aristocrat. He’s a warrior leader. The alpha male. Anybody about to lead a gang of hot blooded meat eating trigger pullers into combat better understand that. An LT that falls out of a run, fails to qualify on the rifle range, gets a DUI, or goes down as heat casualty is perceived as weak and usually relieved on the spot. Oh, by the way, good enough simply isn’t good enough. You better at or near the top. If you aren’t, neither your men nor your commander will respect you. And that’s before you even get to the officer stuff you gotta do. No excuses. No slack. It’s a pressure cooker. It’s hard as hell. And it makes for a damn fine officer corp. The same is true of junior NCOs. While he may not beat the LT, that buck sergeant better be able to outrun, outmarch, and outshoot his men. Fear of failure is a great motivator.

      Imagine being tossed into a platoon where everybody has more time in the chow line than you have in uniform with the punch line, ‘You’re in charge, o’ green and clueless one.’ No time to ease into the role. It’s sink or swim. All will step on their cranks at some point, but the smart ones learn from their mistakes. Some fail, but most find their way. The bad ones stick out like sore thumbs and cause hardship for their men. The good ones forge on, do their best, and make their men proud.

     There’s another part of the warrior ethos that is almost universally ignored by popular media. It’s the concept of putting the troops first. A warrior leader at any level eats last, sleeps least, and takes all the blame. Field Marshal Sir William Slim put it best when he said to his subordinates, “I tell you, as officers, that you will not eat, sleep, smoke, sit down or lie down until your soldiers have had a chance to do these things. If you do this, they will follow you to the ends of the earth. If you do not, I will break you in front of your regiments.” The U.S. Army sums this up in four words: Mission first. People always.

     The movie (and the book) We Were Soldiers gets it right. For brevity’s sake (too late), I’ll just say that the Sobelesque LT was the minority just as in actual units. I try to reflect such truth in my own writing.

     As to why does the media portrays officers with such disdain…When do they ever show leaders differently? You name it – police chiefs, fire chiefs, CEOs, politicians, even fathers. All are portrayed as incompetent, corrupt, or both. I suppose they think it makes for better storytelling. The groupthink is that good guys & boy scouts are boring. Even superheroes are pretty screwed up lately. They all have to have a dark side or be deeply troubled. The last one I can think of that didn’t have some serious mental issues was Christopher Reeves’ Superman in 1978.

     The lead by example mentality is what sets our military apart. A platoon leader’s job is tough. A company commander’s is even tougher. The crucible of platoon leadership separates the studs from the duds and makes for tough, demanding, competent, and uncompromising senior officers. Sure, there are exceptions and even the good ones screw up. But I’ve worked in many arenas with all kinds of people. And the officers, NCOs, and enlisted soldiers in the Army remain the finest I’ve ever met. I count it as an honor to have served in such fine company.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Starship Troopers Reloaded

     Here's a link to preview the new CGI film, Starship Troopers: Invasion.
This version of Robert A. Heinlein's classic novel is being touted as the most faithful film adaptation yet. I hope they're right. I watched this clip and it's pretty action-packed, but action isn't what made this book a classic.
     I first read this book as a young armor lieutenant. It was required reading for every officer in our battalion -- ordered by the colonel himself. I'm glad he did. The social commentary Heinlein deftly injected was like nothing I'd ever read before (yes, that's an admission of a misspent, literary deprived youth). The depth of subtle (sometimes not so subtle) examination of our society and its virtues and flaws made a HUGE and lasting impression. The concept of citizenship, the roll of the military in society, and the culture of the military itself (Everybody fights!) are key subjects that stand out in my mind. It made me a fan of sci-fi and has impacted my own writing in a big way.
     Again, I hope this new work does the original justice. Reminiscing about this amazing book makes me want to read it all over again.    


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Death of the E-Book?

 
Hugh Mcguire gave a talk to TED (the lecture series, nit the talking teddy bear) a while back. His subject was the changing nature of the publishing industry. He speculates that e-books and print books will soon be joined by (and eventually eclipsed by) web-books. You can watch the video for the details.




He may be right, but I see some problems if his prediction comes true. Web-books sounds like they would work well for non-fiction, textbooks, and religious texts. The integration of photos, maps, graphs, etc would be a great addition to these types of books. But what about novels? If we really wanted pictures, wouldn’t novels already have them?
Fiction is about imagination. Linking to the image of a character or setting would not only hinder the reader from forming their own version of these thing in her mind, it would interrupt the flow of words and intrude upon the ‘realty’ the author worked so hard to create. After all, if we wanted a story ‘shown’ to us, we’d wait for the movie. I think this type of book would lead to lazy writers and less imaginative readers.
The other thing Hugh mentioned was the ability for everyone who reads a book to post comments for everyone else to see. I may be wrong, but this sounds like chaos. Are we really gonna turn Moby Dick and War and Peace into Wikipedia. There’s a reason e-books are so similar to print books…We love them. Reading is a very personal experience. We bond with the books we read (at least the ones we like). I’m sure many of you (like me) have stacks of tomes that we read long ago but can’t bring ourselves to toss out. Come on, admit it. You know you do.
I think e-books are safe for a while. At least the novels anyway. So download those e-books you’ve been waiting to read. Curl up on the couch with a blanket and a hot mug of cocoa on a rainy day. And read to your heart’s content.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Cover is Ready!

Just got the finalized cover art for Ghosts of Babylon from the publisher.
The novel should go live next month!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Oldies But Goodies

    
The e-book revolution has been a very, very good thing. The old gate keepers have been put aside. As a result readers and authors are enjoying unprecedented access to each other. If you're reading this, you are probably one of the growing numbers who buy their books almost exclusively online.

But there are some great older books that have been excluded in this digital tsunami. Team Yankee and A Canticle for Leibowitz are two such books. Both are classics in their genres and outstanding reads.



Team Yankee1. Team Yankee, Harold Coyle (1987): From Amazon.com – “A realistic depiction of World War III combat follows Captain Sean Bannion and the tank soldiers of Team Yankee as they battle the Russian invasion force, from Hill 214 in West Germany to the ultimate cease-fire.”
     Harold Coyle's first novel. The definitive novel of the great war that almost was. I read this as a young tank platoon leader and was blown away (no pun intended). The realism, grit, and heart of this novel showcase the timeless challenges, heartbreaks, and triumphs of soldiers from any era.






A Canticle for Leibowitz2. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller Jr. (1960): From Amazon.com – “In a nightmarish ruined world slowly awakening to the light after sleeping in darkness, the infant rediscoveries of science are secretly nourished by cloistered monks dedicated to the study and preservation of the relics and writings of the blessed Saint Isaac Leibowitz. From here the story spans centuries of ignorance, violence, and barbarism, viewing through a sharp, satirical eye the relentless progression of a human race damned by its inherent humanness to recelebrate its grand foibles and repeat its grievous mistakes. Seriously funny, stunning, and tragic, eternally fresh, imaginative, and altogether remarkable, A Canticle for Leibowitz retains its ability to enthrall and amaze. It is now, as it always has been, a masterpiece.”
     I first read this Hugo Award winning classic as high school senior. It was required reading for English class. This groundbreaking novel turned ne on to a genre that I enjoy to this day.


 
Do you have any old favourites that missed the digital boat? If so, share these lost treasures with the rest of us!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cookies!!!

This is a little off our usual topics, but who can resist the Cookie Monster spoofing 'Call Me Maybe'

Great Article from a Fellow GWOT Veteran

This article is by Joe Kassabian. He's a writer, soldier, and artist. It deals with the difficulties of going from a war zone to the home front.

http://voices.yahoo.com/putting-down-rifle-picking-where-left-11497002.html?cat=9

Check it out and send Joe a comment!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Publishing: An Industry Turned on Its Head

The publishing industry is in a state of upheaval. Duh. An hour’s worth of internet research can tell you that. The Net is packed with blogs chronicling the shifting sands of the industry. We can only be certain that nothing is certain.
Here’s a snapshot of the current situation as I see it. Traditional publishers are under incredible budgetary pressure. The number of titles they produce each year has dropped dramatically. This means each one has to earn more money. A book that loses money hurts more than it did a few years ago. Publishers can’t afford to take risks anymore. They need guaranteed sales. Luckily for them, there are two categories of books that can provide this.
The first are Non-fiction titles by widely known authors. Hence the glut of displays at your local book store touting titles ‘written’ by celebrities and reality show stars (Snooki wrote a book? I didn’t even know that chick could read!). Everybody knows their names and faces. The cover usually hints at the promise of inside gossip or something along those lines. These books have a short shelf life and probably won’t see many printings, but publishers can accurately predict how many they’ll sell.
The second group is made up of fiction written by the publishers’ stables of established authors. A publisher knows it will sell X thousand copies of anything with Stephen King’s name on it. The same goes for most established authors. They are known quantities and, as such, pose little to no risk for the publisher.
The big losers in this scenario are new fiction authors. It’s harder than ever for them to break into the ranks of the published. No one is willing to take a chance on them. This seemingly insurmountable obstacle to getting published coincided with another phenomena: e-books.
Since its introduction in 2007, the Amazon Kindle has been gobbling up market share faster than Pac Man after a power pellet. E-readers gave people the ability to shop for and buy books from the couch, bed, coffee shop…even from the bookstore for those with a penchant for irony.
As if that wasn’t enough, authors could now upload their own unpublished works for free and achieve instant access to a worldwide readership. The big publishers laughed. They were the gatekeepers, after all. Nobody would dare read an author without their approval. Well, people did read the books of these self-published Indie upstarts. They read a lot of them. The publishers were unmoved. To prove their superiority and protect print sales, they boldly offered e-book editions for the same price (higher price in some cases) as their print editions. They’re still doing this by the way.
Indie authors, on the other hand, are producing books of equal quality and production value to those of traditional publishers. And most are selling their novels for $2.99 or less. True, these indie titles are a mixed bag, but the market has done a good job of separating the wheat from the chaff so far. I’ve linked the blogs of several of the more successful indie authors on the left of my blog. Most have self-published best sellers. A few actually share their sales info. I’d lose control of my bodily functions over a fraction of their numbers.
Is this the end of traditional publishing? Maybe not.
A funny thing is happening more and more. These super successful indie authors are signing fat book deals with big publishers. Amanda Hocking, Tracey Garvis Graves, and E.L. James are just a few.
It makes good business sense for the publishers. These ‘new’ authors are a known quantity. They already have a following. The brand is established. And most of all, they have proven they can sell lots of books. Could it be that successful self-publishing (once stigmatized as the last resort of the truly desperate and untalented) is becoming the new gateway to traditional publishers? If you already sold 300,000 books on your own while earning 70% royalties, would you even want to sign with a publisher?
Who knows. The industry is changing so fast, it’s hard for any of us to know where it is, let alone where it’s going. But there are great opportunities for those aspiring authors willing to take a literary leap of faith. I don’t know how long this window will last, so if anyone is thinking of jump in. The only thing I have to say is, “Start writing!”

Monday, July 2, 2012

Book Review: A Storm of Swords

    
Don't worry. No spoilers here.
     I just finished reading A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin. The book is the third in his A Song of Fire and Ice series made popular by the HBO series 'A Game of Thrones.'
     This book picks up where the second season (which was based on book two, Clash of Kings) left off. I'd read the first two books and loved them, so naturally I was eager to start the third. I was soon disappointed by the slow going and almost gave up. As I said, the pace was frustratingly slow (much like the first 100 pages of A Game of Thrones), but I stuck with it because I'd already committed so much time to the series. Well, I'm glad I did.
     After a few hundred pages, the story went from zero to sixty faster than funny car on nitrous oxide. Every other chapter, I was saying things to myself like, "No way!" and "I don't believe it!"
     This is when the reader is reminded why this series is so popular. Martin breaks all the rules when it finally hits the fan. If you've read many books or watched a lot of movies, you can usually see a plot twist coming a mile away. Not here. This book took me completely by surprise not once, but several times. And I enjoyed every minute of it. I promised no spoilers and will stay true to my word, but I will say that this book is like the other two in this: No one is safe.
     What a great read! As soon as I finished the book, I immediately gave it to my wife to start. She's seen the first two seasons of A Game of Thrones, but hasn't read the books. Luckily, she should be okay since the show stayed very true to the literature aside from a few side details.
     In case you can't tell, I highly recommend this book.

I give it four and half swords  * * * * 1/2. It would have been five, but having to slog through several hundred pages of boredom to get to the good stuff had to be addressed. If you take that out, it would be one of the best books I've ever read. Maybe it is anyway.

     PS: I'm a little wary about starting the next book, A Feast for Crows. The reviews for it are less than stellar and most have the same complaint: Too slow and boring. The most recent book 'A Dance with Dragons' has received similar critiques.
    Being a slow reader, (it took me weeks...okay months...to read A Storm of Swords) I don't know if I want to invest as much time in the next books. I may just find a synopsis of them on the net to stay up to speed and wait for The Winds of Winter.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Powerful Cartoon

Thank you to all who served and continue to serve our country.

"We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence upon those who would do us harm.”
                                                                                                       
                                                                                                       George Orwell

                           

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Where are the novels about the war in Iraq & Afghanistan?

     I ran across an article today that asks a very interesting question: Where are the novels about Iraq and Afghanistan?
     The war is nearly ten years old now. Book stores and Amazon are running over with memiors, but where are the novels? Where are the attemptes to annalyze, understand, and explain the experience instead of merely reporting it?
     If you search Amazon for novels about the Global War on Terror (GWOT), you might get some Vince Flynn-style action and adventure titles, but nothing like Tim O'brien's The Things They Carried or even Crane's The Red Badge of Courage. I'd say Ghosts of Babylon is somewhere in the middle. Is there a market for modern war novels? I guess we'll find out.
    Here's the link to the story:  http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/06/wheres-the-great-novel-about-the-war-on-terror/240233/
Is the lack of modern war novels due to a change in readers, publishers, authors, or all three?
What do you think?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Website & Facebook Are Up!

As the title suggests, the website www.ramathis.com and Facebook page www.facebook.com/ramathis are up and running (okay...limping). Stop by and check it out!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Welcome to the Blog!

Welcome readers, writers, and lovers of words. This is a place where we can connect, share stories, and maybe even blow off a little steam.
Since this is my first post, I’ll give a little background. I’m a jack of all trades and master of none. I've worn many hats: student, construction worker, factory supervisor, soldier, teacher, and public official, but I've always been a writer. I increasingly used writing as an outlet after serving in the Iraq War. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to write. Eventually, a book (very slowly) began to take form. I hired an editor and set about seriously studying the craft. After much learning, frustration, and umpteen rewrites, the novel, Ghosts of Babylon, was finally finished.
My editor referred me to a top NYC agent and, incredibly, he signed me! In spite of the ninety-nine to one odds, I got an agent. I couldn’t believe it. But there was still one last hurdle to clear – finding a publisher.
Most of the big houses said the same thing. Good story. “Very authentic. Love the author’s strong voice. But we just can’t market this project right now.” Bottom line: No publisher.
After a few days and a lot of ice cream, I started reading blogs of authors like J.A. Konrath (http://jakonrath.blogspot.com) and others. I learned that many successful fiction authors like him, Vince Flynn, and E.L. James couldn’t find a publisher either and self-published.
So that’s what I’m going to do. Ghosts of Babylon will be on Amazon.com in a few months in paperback and e-book. I hope you enjoy it. If you do, please post a great review. If not, skip the review and use the book to prop up a wobbly table.