Newsletter #84

NEWSLETTER 84: January 6, 2015

Dear People,

Happy New Year, all of you. I hope that you’re doing well and that 2015 goes well for you, whatever that means in your terms.

Things with me are fine. I said in the most recent newsletter that I was spinning my wheels after finishing the last volume of The Books of the Elements for Tor. (I had also done two novelets, but short fiction works wholly different intellectual muscles and is a break rather than part of the job.) Since then I got traction and am well on the way to having a plot for the next RCN space opera.

I mentioned Diodorus Siculus and Quintus Smyrneus as the classical sources I’d been looking at for inspiration on the plot. I added a third, Livy, and he was the charm. Livy’s description of the run-up to what became Rome’s war against Antiochus the Great is full of amazing political and diplomatic maneuvering, enough material for a dozen space operas. All I need at present is one, and I’ve sketched out the plot for that.

My next job is to break the settings into scenes and (where necessary) expand the scenes into a working outline. I have a lot of work to go, but that’s all it is: work. There’s no magic involved. There’s no magic anywhere in the process, though there is skill and a great deal of work.

I ride myself pretty hard when I’m spinning my wheels, calling myself lazy and incompetent–because after the fact, there’s nothing particularly difficult about writing. The thing is, when I look at the shelf of my published work I see that it’s longer than the comparable shelves of most other writers. I’m not lazy (or incompetent) by the standards of my profession, even if I don’t measure up to my own expectations.

Books of mine coming out soon are the mass market of The Sea without a Shore, the most recent RCN space opera; and the hardcover Into the Maelstrom, the second book of the Citizen Series written by John Lambshead from my outline (based on the life of George Washington). There may be some other reprints or the like, but none of them come to mind at the moment.

The books of the Citizen Series are quite good. They don’t read like my own work (though I’m heavily involved in the writing), which wouldn’t be a problem if my name weren’t first on the cover. (Eric Flint’s Belisarius novels don’t read like me either, after all.)

I understand Toni’s reasoning in putting my name first, but I think it was a mistake from long-term marketing reasons as well as sending me ballistic when it happened before I was told. If my name had followed John’s, no one would have expected the books to read like me. I was wrong to be furious about the change in billing, but my instincts were correct.

That’s a digression. The important thing is that I had fun plotting Into the Maelstrom, and I also had fun reading John’s development of my plot.

I don’t go to many conventions, but I try to make World Fantasy Con when it’s in North America. WFC is the business convention of the fantasy/SF field. If I weren’t a businessman as well as a writer, I wouldn’t be debt-free and living in such a nice house. In 2014 WFC was in the DC area (Crystal City), and I was able to take care of business in a fashion that I couldn’t have done as well by phone. I left the con feeling relieved.

Besides business, though, I had a good time meeting people (many of them already friends) and meandering around the dealers’ room. That was also in large measure a matter of meeting friends, because I know most of the regulars in the dealers’ room quite well.

Not all the dealers are regulars, of course. Twice in the course of the convention I had dealers (in almost identical language) say that that they knew me from my work but that they’d had no idea of the breadth of my knowledge of literature.

Understand, this was just ordinary conversation, discussing Arthur Morrison’s work while I bought a copy of a non-series short story collection of his, or telling a woman who wanted to read some Lord Dunsany that The Book of Wonder (which she was holding) was a good place to start, but that the stories had been written around the Sime art rather than the artist illustrating the stories in the usual manner. I can’t think of anything I’d said that was surprising information for someone attending WFC to have, especially for someone who was old enough to have attended the first WFC in 1975.

I’m afraid that because I write space opera with a lot of action (and have written Military SF with a lot of violence), people who know me only from my work assume that I’m narrow. I’m not narrow.

Strange, yes, and probably nuts; but I’m about to complete reading the Clayton issues of Astounding (1930-33) and have just read (in translation) Flammarion’s 1888 SF novel Omega. (Reading all the Claytons is, I think, unusual even for a frequent WFC attendee; if only because most of the stories in the Bates-edited issues are pretty bad.)

There are a few pictures from WFC on the website; nothing earthshaking. For the heck of it, my next Ovid translation project is the Remedia Amoris. It’s been forty (or fifty?) years since I read it, and I just felt like it. It’ll be a while before it goes up on the site, however.

Finally, I’ve been asked about the report on CIA torture by people who know I was an interrogator in Nam. I have strong opinions on what CIA (and the lawyers CIA used) did. I regret if what I’m going to say offends anybody.

I’m not a saint. I’m not pleased now with some of the things I did in Country; I was very angry at the time. The person I was then might’ve been willing to do pretty much anything that would work.

Torture doesn’t work.

The current CIA Director has said we’ll never know whether they’d have gotten the occasional valuable information they did without torture. That’s technically true because they tortured everybody. If you toss a grenade into a pond, you get some stunned fish floating to the top and you’ll never know whether you’d have gotten them with a hook and line.

The other thing you won’t know is how many fish died on the bottom because their swim bladders were burst. You lose more fish that way than float, and I strongly suspect the same is true of torture.

Effective interrogation requires the interrogator be fluent in the subject’s language. You talk to him, you learn where he’s coming from, and you correlate what he says with everything else you’ve got.

Some people flat aren’t going to talk. Knocking them around isn’t going to change that. Even the hardest-line hostile might be willing to discuss the Koran with you, though, and that’s an entry point. Some army interrogators behaving professionally in Afghanistan were able get the clues that led to killing Bin Laden.

CIA got their current techniques from Shin Beth; the Israelis got them from the Gestapo. The Germans had very good interrogators, but the good ones weren’t the beasts squeezing victims’ skulls till they cracked. Those were monsters, and the interrogators using brutal techniques for Israel or CIA are monsters–incompetent ones.

Now, back to staring at my rough plot. Again, I hope 2015 will be a great year for all of us.

–Dave Drake

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