A reviewer who “gets it”

Writing, as I do, in the field of military science fiction, I’m always aware of a dichotomy in terms of reader expectations.  Many of them want a large dose of ‘gee-whiz’ in books in this genre:  big battles, lots of hi-tech, futuristic scenarios, and so on.  On the other hand, I’m a veteran.  I know from personal experience how the advent of new hi-tech weapons systems doesn’t change the basic dynamic that a weapon is only as good as those who operate it.  (OK, ‘smart’ robotic systems may change that, but so far they haven’t.  Drone warfare still requires operators . . . at least for now . . . and if there’s a moral or ethical requirement to “keep a human being in the loop” for kill/no-kill decisions – as, IMHO, there should be – then that’ll have to continue.)

To me a story should be more focused on the people involved in it than the technology they’re using.  After all, electronics are soulless.  They exist, they do their thing, then they shut down.  Human beings don’t do that.  We all have our faults and foibles and failings – and we also have our shining moments of greatness.  Most of us (including yours truly) suffer more from the former than we exhibit the latter.  Welcome to the human race!

In my books, I’m trying very hard to focus on the people involved, and only secondarily to discuss the technology in their environment and which they employ.  Some mil-sci-fi readers don’t like this approach, preferring a greater emphasis on technology.  That’s OK:  there are plenty of other authors in the field who write their kind of books, and who can satisfy their desires.  I want to portray the good and the bad in everyone (on both sides), show human growth and development over time, and show what war and violence can do to the human psyche.  (Heaven knows I’ve seen enough of that!)

I’ve noted that not many reviewers of my books, on Amazon.com or elsewhere, understand that point.  I’m always very pleased when someone does.  The most recent example is from my friend Cedar Sanderson, whom Miss D. and I are visiting at the moment.  Yesterday, while we were on the road coming here, she published a review of my latest book, ‘Forge A New Blade‘.  She understands my approach, and brings it out in her review, which made me a very happy writer.  If you’re interested in the subject, I urge you to read her review for yourself.  I think you’ll enjoy it.

(While you’re at it, try one of her books.  A great introduction would be ‘Pixie Noir‘, the first volume of a trilogy.  It’s quirky, ‘different’ and a lot of fun.)



  1. Definitely the "human factor" is what makes anything interesting, passionate, and dynamic. Anything else is purely perfunctory, technical, and clinical. Too much like video games, medical procedures and law books.

    And you are so right about "It's not just about high-tech. It's more about who's in control of it" …as is evidenced by the incompetence and dysfunction of so many businesses and government agencies who "do everything by computer" but often never double-check their data or delete obsolete information when doing updates.
    "A computer program is only as accurate and intelligent as its programmers."

  2. Ooops – I put this comment under the wrong blog post yesterday.

    I'll agree with your approach toward technology and characters in books, something I've noticed Neal Stephenson also does well. I'm about halfway through his latest, Seveneves, even more tech-heavy than his usual, but the way his characters are almost casually intertwined with the technology makes the technology and characters co-dependent in that tech is meaningless unless there's someone using it, which opens up all sorts of adventurous avenues to the creative mind. I noticed you increasingly did the same thing as the Maxwell series progressed.

    Forge is on the Kindle, but as yet unread; I've devoured enough words in the interim that I want to go back to War to the Knife and binge-read both in order lest I miss something.

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