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 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: