I originally shared my original story Ultra Violence as an anthology. It is now available in its newest and most updated glory on Amazon. Thank you to the readers who expressed your enjoyment and support for my first novel-length work. For newcomers, learn more about the story here.
What is Ultra Violence about?
Ultra Violence is the first book of a series, Tales From Venus. I set the story in a parallel timeline in which the space age happened the way people imagined it would in the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Humanity has terraformed Mars and Venus and turned them into lush and highly sophisticated civilizations in their own right. But the problems that people feared for much of the 20th Century have also come true. Overpopulation is wildly out of control and is fueling a steady stream of desperate refugees flowing from Earth to the other planets.
The Cold War also followed man to the rest of the solar system, and is on the verge of going hot. But rather than being a nuclear exchange between two blocs of countries, this nuclear war would consume three entire worlds. In my earliest conceptions of the story arc, I envisioned it all happening on a post-apocalyptic Earth, but that is just too bland and overdone. How about Mars? No, same problem. Everything is set on Mars. So I settled with Venus, and why not? For centuries, since the first moment people contemplated traveling to other planets, nobody knew of a reason Venus would be impractical to colonize. In an imaginary universe, anything is possible, so Venus as portrayed in Ultra Violence is just as habitable as Earth itself.
All of that is background fluff, much like geopolitics is background for us. The story is much narrower in focus. The theme is super soldiers. What if they existed? What would they be like? Would they be sane? America’s military is more lethal than ever before. Soldier for soldier, modern warfighters have much higher participation rates in combat and killing than they did in World War II and the conflicts before that. Thanks to a better understanding of science and psychological conditioning techniques employed in boot camp and the advanced combat training following it, our troops are much better at killing than any previous generation. But it comes at a cost. PTSD is massively higher and is getting worse.
Now imagine that, but with literal super soldiers. They are more than psychologically damaged by war. They go to war and it drives almost all of them violently mad. That’s where the story truly begins. Two ex-soldiers leave the service after participating in a government-sponsored genocide. One of them is about as sharp as a butter knife, but escaped the butchery with his sanity intact. His much more clever friend, however, wasn’t so lucky. He’s completely and violently out of his mind.
Taking care of a violently insane battle buddy is easier said and done, so they drift around the world in abject poverty… then that Cold War finally goes hot and none of that matters anymore. Suddenly, a young man who was so tortured he was a hair away from eating his gun is suddenly like a child in Candyland. There’s a whole new world just for people like him. No rules, no restraint, no nothing. He can do anything he wants. For the criminally insane, a world gone mad is the promised land.
So yes, Ultra Violence is about the villains. That felt like an odd way to kick of a book series and not the one I expected, but that’s how it happened. Like most of my writing projects, my original first chapter of Tales From Venus was growing too massive. I endlessly fleshed out my growing cast of characters with back stories that just refused to stop growing. It became too much. I had to cut out some content. But it was too good. I couldn’t just take all that nice copy and toss it in the waste bin to never see the light of day.
Then it hit me. There were two villains in particular, these two ex-soldiers. They weren’t even the main villains of the book, just a sort of mini-boss and his right-hand man for the heroes to defeat. But that dynamic duo was increasingly fascinating to me, and I eventually had to accept that their back story was too much to cram as a flashback into someone elses’s adventure. My two sadistic monsters needed a book of their own. That book became Ultra Violence, and was much more engrossing for me to write than I could ever have guessed.
What Is the Point of Ultra Violence?
It’s been a long journey, but this month I finally felt ready to take that proverbial “leap of faith.” So I took a deep breath, let it all out, and squeezed the trigger. Ultra Violence represents a significant personal milestone for me as my first serious foray out of my comfort zone in the realm of hard news, features, and commentaries.
Ultra Violence, its upcoming sequels, and the weird fantasy world all the action takes place in on the inside of my skull, is all centered around one question. How do people react in the most extreme circumstances imagineable? My take on that question is that extreme begets extreme, and that the extremes of human nature and morality are a see-saw. Good and evil balance each other out, the same person can exhibit extreme good at one moment and extreme evil at the next, or even inexplicably show both at the same instant. A soldier might cry when he’s forced to shoot a lame horse, but the very next day, that same man might be gleefully bayonettiong unarmed prisoners.
A second and, honestly, much bigger theme in Ultra Violence is a train of thought of mine that has effectively permeated all the fiction I’ve written since. Ultra Violence and my other stories are exercises in fatalism. Fatalism isn’t about destiny in the way most people define it, nor is it divine grace and salvation through grace as the Protestant sect of Christianity and its innumerable offshoots generally teach some variation of. I do believe that every person has a fate, and that fate is predetermined. Now I am not silly enough to ignore random chance. People die at birth, others die of childhood leukemia, and still others die from freak alignments of the swiss cheese model, like a drunk driver careening off the road and pancaking you in your living room. But that’s not what my narratives of fatalism are about. In Ultra Violence and my other stories, every character has a pre-determined fate that is as inevitable as sunset, with the character racing toward it due to personality traits and choices that he continually makes, for good or ill, and couldn’t stop even if he wanted to. That is fatalism, and every character of any significance is swept up in it.
How Did I End Up Writing This?
News, particularly news in the realm of military public affairs, which itself is one arm of the information ops world, certainly comes with its own perils, valleys, and pitfalls. Any one of these can cause self-doubt and a morbid fear of misstep. What if I made a glaring factual error that I had carelessly overlooked in my haste to meet the deadline? What if someone higher up in the food chain is upset by something I said, or worse, something that I quoted someone else saying and by extension getting him in a heap of trouble.
There are less serious but nonetheless annoying obstacles and failures inherit in that brand of writing and its related manifestations in photo stills and videography. A stodgy man at headquarters might decide it looks uNpROfeSsiOnAL for men and women clearing brush from the path of a wildfire to take a water break in t-shirts (yes, true story).
Another more serious stumbling block is the assumption founded on ignorance that passivity and in a perpetual state of reacting to the evolving information space, rather than proactively shaping the content and flow of information, will turn out any better than being static on the physical battlefield. A more serious incident occurred in the same emergency response operation as the t-shirt debacle. Some ballsy Army National Guard Black Hawk pilots rescued a group of firefighters who had become surrounded by a spillover of unforgiving fire, its speed and lethality further multiplied by the wind. A quick thinking rescue preceded by dropping thousands of gallons of water almost directly ontop of the iminent victims saved them from ugly death from scorching heat and smoke inhalation.
My partner and I by pure happenstance arrived at the camp within hours of the inident, putting us in a perfect position to take control of the story from the getgo; push a press release, direct curious reporters and bloggers to contact the headquarters public affairs office by phone, and if need be, escort visiting journalists as individuals or in a controlled press pool. It was an obvious and infallible course of action, but not in the cards for us.
See, the pilots had violated regulation. One isn’t supposed to drop water directly over people’s heads. It’s for safety reasons. Is the hazard of being injured by falling water worse than the hazard of a fire about to turn you into ash? No, but regulation is regulation. In a bureaucracy frozen by procedures set in stone and grim penalties from straying even slightly from those paths, people prefer to avoid taking the risk of taking such decisive action. They allow damage to the collective organization, but evade the risk of provoking that organization’s mindless wrath, a judgment sentenced and executed out by the mindless technocrats who enforce it. Is it stupid? Yes. Is it mad? No. There’s a logic to it. A stupid logic, yes. But logic and stupidity are not mutually exclusive, and never were.
For the curious reader wondering how this parable played out; well, it was a PR mess. The media caught wind of the story anyway, because how could they not? They reported the sensational rescue, and they reported it wrong. The most glaring inaccuracy was their misidentification of the involved pilots as Air Guard, not Army Guard. That was predictable, though a slightly savvy reporter could have clarified the exact service those helicopters belonged to had he picked up the phone and asked. But reporters don’t do that. They only ask questions they already know the answer… or know what they’re going to claim is the answer. If they don’t know the answer, they just don’t ask. I have met hundreds of reporters, and for the purpose of this little blurb my mind is racing to name one I met who I was impressed by, or at least recognized as adequately competent. Unfortunately, the witty line I had been itching to write here is ruined. I was going to say I can count the number of competent reporters I’ve met on one hand, but sadly, that’s not true. I can’t count them at all because the number is zero.
Just to clarify… Oh, dear media gurus who might share a story about my new book, please don’t think I was referring to you. No, quite the contrary. I merely said I haven’t met a competent reporter. I in no way implying that there are no competent guardians of freedom in the fourth estate of our democracy.
But anyway, I don’t miss those tribulations and migraines of the public relations world when I escape to my own imaginary world that spills out as a type away in odd hours of the night and early morning. But old concerns are not vacated, only replaced by new worries. What if people don’t like my book and think it’s dumb? What if they think I’m a bad writer? What if they’re deeply offended by what I said? What if a Twitter mob decides to “cancel” me?
In the end, I found peace. In no small part, supportive friends who read my book and gave genuine opinions on it, and well as the readers this very site who checked out my weekly entries of Ultra Violence, gave me the assurance that I hadn’t wasted my time producing rubbish. Some people like my book. Not everyone, that’s impossible. But some. After some reflection, I realized that some is enough. Even one person is enough. One person who likes what I write and finds some meaningful insight as a result of the exercise, that is one small change I can take satisfaction in. To want more is arrogant and self-serving. So here I am today.
Buy the Book!
Feverishly writing books at the rate I want to does require making some money from people actually buying those books. Yeah. Paperback is coming out this week, but the Kindle version is here in all its glory! Buy the virtual book, and I’ll give you a virtual hug. Most emphatically.
I also encourage you to follow me on my brand new Amazon author’s page. The platforms I invariably ask people follow all still apply, especially the newsletter, which I’ve scheduled to launch for its maiden voyage tomorrow.