Realm Makers Announces New Anthology: ‘RealmScapes: Heroes of the Realm’

Realm Makers Media is excited to announce its first anthology endeavor, RealmScapes: Heroes of the Realm.
| Jan 18, 2019 | 1 comment |

Pottstown, PA: Realm Makers Media is excited to announce its first anthology endeavor, RealmScapes: Heroes of the Realm.

The book, edited by award-winning editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail, is scheduled to release in July and will launch at this year’s Realm Makers Writers’ Conference, in St. Louis.

The anthology will feature stories by Kathy Tyers, L. Jagi Lamplighter, Wayne Thomas Batson, James Chambers, Steve Rzasa, Paul Regnier, and Jeffrey Lyman. These bestsellers and anthology veterans are crafting fantasy and science fiction stories that will explore the many facets of heroes and heroism.

To fund the project, RMM is running a Kickstarter campaign that will close on February 12. If the campaign raises funding beyond its initial goal of $6000, Realm Makers will be able to open submissions to backers and Realm Maker members as a paying market. The number of stories will be determined by the final funding amount, but Realm Makers is prepared to include up to 15 stories total in the final book, should backer enthusiasm provide the means.

Individuals interested in supporting positive fiction with a speculative bend can visit the campaign at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1833656501/realmscapes-heroes-of-the-realm . Please consider becoming a part of the growing Realm Makers mission of educating, connecting, and publishing today’s most talented speculative fiction authors.

It’s important to note that Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing funding platform. If the project reaches its funding goal over the 28-day campaign, all backers receive their rewards and the book goes into production. If not, Realm Makers Media receives no funding and the project will be shelved. The success of this inaugural project will shape the future of RMM’s publishing endeavors.

As an outgrowth of the Realm Makers conference and bookstore, Realm Makers Media aspires to offer publishing opportunities to talented writers of fantasy, science fiction, horror, steampunk, and all the imaginative genres in between. At present, the goal is to publish a biannual anthology.

Celebrating a Story Published in Iraq

A single story published in Iraq isn’t much by itself–but perhaps points the way to future opportunities. God willing.
| Jan 17, 2019 | 4 comments |

This post will take a moment to celebrate what is in fact a minor matter: the publication of a single flash fiction story (“The Extent”) by only one author (“Kerry Nietz”) in a single Iraqi literary magazine (“Bien Nahreen” i.e. “Between the Rivers”). Of course only God knows if this single story will bear any greater fruit in the future of even more stories being published in Iraq and elsewhere. But I hope it does–and I’ll explain why.

Let me start by talking about some of my personal history: I spent January through October of 2008 mostly in the so-called “Green Zone” located in Baghdad, Iraq. Post the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, a section of the capital city was reserved for the use of the United States and other international partners who formed what we all called the “Coalition,” who were in charge of Iraq at that time. This international group gave the area its correct name, the “International Zone,” a place that was “green” as in permissive (to travel through), but only in terms relative to the rest of Iraq.

The IZ, pronounced as separate letters (as those of us who were there often called the “Green Zone”), was at its greatest length around seven kilometers long and about two wide at the narrowest, an irregularly shaped strip of land along a bend of the west bank of the Tigris River. The zone was walled off from the rest of Baghdad, except for controlled security checkpoints, but it was not cut off from Iraqis. Some 2,000 Iraqis who lived in the IZ before it was separated from the rest of Iraq continued to live there. So individual camps with walls and security checkpoints existed within the IZ for foreigners, places that Shia militias and others subjected to rocket and mortar attacks.

Myself and officers I worked with posing outside the entrance to Phoenix Base, in the IZ.

So, on a typical day, as I’d walk back from work at Phoenix Base in the IZ (which bordered an Iraqi headquarters camp also in the zone) to the separate camp where I lived, Blackhawk, it would not be unusual for an Iraqi teenage boy to ride up on a bicycle and call out to me, “LT, LT, you wanna buy Saddam money?” (I was a First Lieutenant at the time and the Iraqi kids all seemed to know how to read our ranks.) “You wanna buy movies?”

Sweating in the IZ–me at the Iraqi Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 2008

I wore my helmet (or carried it with me at times) and body armor and a pistol as a side arm while in between IZ camps, required to dress like that by a policy mainly inspired by rocket and mortar attacks. Very uncomfortable when it got up over 120 degrees, which was a common temperature for an Iraqi afternoon. So on most days I wasn’t too interested in buying anything. Though on a few occasions I “window shopped” while trying to practice speaking what little Arabic I knew, letting a grinning Iraqi teenager show me old-style Iraqi money with Saddam Hussein on the bills, something Americans and Brits and our other allies in the IZ must have bought in large amounts, because that was usually the first thing they offered to sell us. But the second thing was usually pirated DVDs.

I never bought any of the cash decorated with Saddam’s mustachioed face, but I actually did buy a few DVDs. Some of them had horrible quality, some weren’t bad, but all of them were copies of almost exclusively American movies pirated and made into DVDs in China, then sold back into Iraq (and other countries), where a tiny fraction of them were offered to an American soldier by Iraqi teenage boys.

An Iraqi teen talking to a US Marine. Photo credit: www.marines.mil.

If you’re an American who hasn’t traveled overseas much, you might presume that Iraqis would mostly watch movies made in their own country, just as we watch movies produced in our own nation. But that’s mostly not the case. American movies are a massive international export, seen all over the world–even in countries where people can’t afford to see them in theaters or pay for regular DVDs, via pirated copies.

In fact, even countries with a strong tradition of making their own movies, like France, are awash with made-in-USA culture. And this is also true to a somewhat lesser degree for books and music made in the USA.

But note this is mostly true for the mainstream popular culture. Authors like George R. R. Martin and Anne Rice are translated far more than authors writing with Christian themes (though of course some Christian authors get translated and sell overseas).

I think this creates an opportunity for Christians who write speculative fiction–because at least some foreigners are used to receiving fiction made in the USA, are used to accepting and having interest in fiction our nation generates. Especially our speculative fiction. That implies in my mind a great opportunity exists to sell stories in other countries and to perhaps even find credibility as Christian authors we may not enjoy in our own nation.

Though my interest in overseas publication isn’t primarily about sales or credibility. It happens to be the case that some of the most popular products of our culture overseas are morally very grim, devoid of godliness. Wouldn’t it be great to reach the world with stories that instead subtly or overtly find a place for Christianity? Expressing something that points to a better and higher calling?  Making use of an already-established international interest in speculative fiction generated in the USA, metaphorically hacking the system of entertainment that already exists of American culture flowing overseas–inserting into the system our own program?

This is a notion I’ve been talking about for several years now. In that time I’ve had two books translated into Spanish, but neither released yet due to issues with revision of the stories. Likewise, friends have translated a short story anthology into Portuguese, but editing issues remain. And several projects in French are ongoing, likewise facing issues of editing and polishing. I’ve had to accept things haven’t happened as fast as I want–I’ve had to accept that God tells Christians to say, “God willing” concerning the future for a very good reason. We never know for certain what tomorrow will bring, which is something it’s only wise to humbly acknowledge (even as we continue to work and pray).

But in the midst of me learning and growing in understanding, God showed his ability to work the unexpected. Through an online writer friend (Sarah Witenhafer) who knew an Iraqi translator (Ahdraa Naser) looking for help editing a book of Iraqi poetry translated into English (which I helped with), I made a connection that allowed for a particular Kerry Nietz flash fiction story to be translated into Arabic and published in an Iraqi Literary magazine. I was not some sort of mastermind astutely manipulating these events–the events just took place, via what would seem to be a set of accidents…but which I trust to be the providence of God.

Screenshot of “The Extent” translated into Arabic.

This is like a single seed dropped accidentally on unknown soil and sprouted up unexpectedly. It’s not a crop able to feed a multitude and in and of itself, it’s not hugely significant. But it shows it’s at least possible for the good seed to grow in the soil that had been unknown. Which inspires a little celebration: yes, this is possible! At least to a small degree, yes!

God willing, someday soon many more opportunities to plant many more stories written by Christian authors (both from the USA and elsewhere) into foreign soil will present themselves. I’m looking forward to that day. But in the meantime, please understand while I’m celebrating what’s already happened. Thank you Sarah, thank you Ahdraa, thank you Kerry, but most to the point, thank you, thank you, God!

More Is (Not) Better

There is the rare movie that can extend to behemoth lengths without losing power or charm, but the key word in this statement is “rare”.
| Jan 16, 2019 | 4 comments |

There is a moment in The Last Jedi that evokes the famous Battle of Hoth: the pursued, outnumbered rebels, in the temporary shelter of their fortress; the gleaming, mechanized army of the New Order; the battle lines drawn across the snow. You recognize the battle about to be commenced, and you can’t help but feel a measure of amazement that not only is the movie still going on, it evidently intends to go on for at least another half hour.

Excessive running times are one of the annoyances of modern movies. They’re a particular hardship in bad movies, of course, where (to paraphrase the great C.S. Lewis) length of minutes is only length of misery. But they dampen good movies, too, stirring up restlessness just when the story is rousing itself to its climax. There is the rare movie that can extend to behemoth lengths without losing power or charm, but the key word in this statement is rare.

The length of movies is constrained by the inherent nature of movies. Movies, first created exclusively for theaters, are designed to be experienced in one sitting; in the theater it is impossible to stop the show and come back later, and even in the home it tends to spoil the effect. Now, human beings can only stay seated for so long. The time that they want to stay seated is even less. Movies that run on too long will end up competing with various biological impulses pinging in the brain: move, get up, stretch, think about dinner, you’re hungry, you’re thirsty, you know where the bathroom is in this place? This is not a battle that movies easily win.

Permissiveness toward movie lengths creates two negative dynamics, one in the creators and one in the audience. Creators are freed to bigger and more ambitious projects, but they are also freed to self-indulgence and lax workmanship. If you are forced to cut, you cut the worst, and if you are allowed to expand, you expand to the worst. It takes only a little experience of movies to know that audiences get more below-par scenes than we do gems from extended running times. Think of those disappointing trips through the bonus features, where you watched the missing scene and then quietly reflected to yourself, “So that’s why it was cut.”

Long movies create a different dynamic within the audience. They often lower the audience’s tolerance; a two-and-a-half hour movie must work harder to justify itself than a movie that ends well short of two hours. Certain types of missteps, and even disappointments, are magnified. If you found the action sequences repetitive, if the dialogue rambled, if you thought that side-quest to the casino enragingly pointless, and the movie was 40 minutes longer than it was required to be – couldn’t they have cut it?

A popular justification of long movies calls it giving the audience its money’s worth. Yet quality, and not length, makes the show worth the price. It is a well-publicized truth, all childish measurements aside, that more is not always better. And so a request to the creators, if they will have it: When you find yourself able to extend a film well past the two-hour mark, consider carefully: Should you?

‘The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas’: A City Without Guilt

Ursula K. Le Guin’s imagined utopia has one terrible condition, and two responses that both ignore this evil.
| Jan 15, 2019 | 15 comments |

I listened to a lecture series called How Great Science Fiction Works, from The Great Courses.

I was actually more of a sci-fi fan when I was a child. This was the time of the first Star Wars movies and the first Battlestar Galactica series. Often I would go to the library and find books about Tom Swift, and even older stories about Lucky Starr and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. Even though I’m not very much into sci-fi now, I still found those lectures fascinating and informative.

One of the lectures focused on utopian and dystopian stories, and the lecturer, Gary K. Wolfe, begins and ends this lecture by referring to a particular story, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, Ursula K. Le GuinThis was enough to pique my interest in this story, and to read it for myself.

“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” is a very short story, though it may be called a story in only the loosest of senses. It is more a description of this city called Omelas on the day of its Festival of Summer, and what they people are like, what activities they will engage in on that day, and their overall happy and joyful state.

In fact, the author treats Omelas like a tabula rasa. It’s if she were creating the city as she wrote about it. She even invites the reader to assist in creating this paradise.

Omelas sounds in my words like a city in a fairy tale, long ago and far away, once upon a time. Perhaps it would be best if you imagined it as your own fancy bids, assuming it will rise to the occasion, for certainly I cannot suit you all.1

There is, then, a fluidity to this fictional city, as Omelas becomes, not one person’s utopia, every one person’s utopia. And while I would guess the author would not agree with every element anyone else might put in or leave out, that is of secondary importance to the overall point.

For while Omelas is a paradise on earth, it is a paradise that comes with a price.

One person in the entire city is not happy. This single child (whose gender isn’t named) lives shut in a small room under one of the buildings. Its room offers no comforts, not even even a toilet where it can relieve itself. This child is alone and no one speaks to it. The only care it receives is that someone gives it a little food each day. The child is mentally deficient, so it doesn’t understand the reasons for this treatment. Yet, somehow, the happy state of all of the other people in Omelas depends upon this one child’s misery:

“They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.”2

The conditions are firm: “The terms are strict and absolute; there may not even be a kind word spoken to the child.”3

But not all the people of Omelas can accept this arrangement. So this story essentially gives us two kinds of people. One group knows about the child and may pity it. They may even wish they could do something about its condition. But in the end they do nothing to help that child directly. The second group, for reasons left unstated, walks alone through the streets of Omelas. They pass through the beautiful gates, the farmland outside the city gates, and head toward the mountains, never to return.

Le Guin tells the story in such a way as to make the reader feel sympathy for the city’s people. They are not unfeeling, uncaring monsters who rejoice in this child’s sufferings. But the truth is still that they accept the terms of this mysterious agreement, they enjoy their good lives while accepting that they do so only because of the one being left alone to suffer in misery. And so it seems that it is those who walk away from Omelas who are the better, more noble people.

A few years ago, I did a small bit of research into North Korea. I read books and online materials about people who have escaped that place. They told stories of starvation and oppression, and the dangers they faced trying to find a better life in another place. It was very eye-opening. Though I had some small knowledge, mostly only that North Korea was a bad place, my research gave me a stronger idea of what those people suffered and what the people still there are suffering.

When it comes to a place like North Korea, I feel no need to blame someone for wanting to leave. This nation’s problems cannot be solved by one common person. I want to make that point, because when I look from that real-life place to the imagined utopia of Omelas, I find myself less sympathetic to those who walk away. That’s because they merely walk away. I think that way because of two reasons given in the story itself.

The first is simply that there are not just two kinds of people in Omelas. There is a third: the child itself.

Those who walk away from Omelas may consider themselves noble for leaving behind that place and setting off on their own, though they may not know where they are going. But the truth is, they are not really any better than those who stay. Those who stay in Omelas enjoy the good things of the city, and those who walk away decide they cannot enjoy them any more. The truth. however, is that nothing has really changed. Omelas is still Omelas. It’s still a corruption, still a lie, still a place based on lies.

This brings me to the second reason. The author reveals several important facts about this city. She describes the religious practices of the people of Omelas—practices that avoid graphic details but are clearly shown to be sensual and sexual. “One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt.”4 Later, when telling us about why this one child is isolated and made to suffer and why no one can do anything about it, she adds:

“If the child were brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, if it were cleaned and fed and comforted, that would be a good thing, indeed; but if it were done, in that day and hour all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed. Those are the terms. To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of the happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed.”5

These are the lies: that there is no guilt in Omelas, and helping this child would let guilt into the city.

Because the truth is much the opposite. Even if one wants to disregard the obvious and gross immorality the author describes when talking about the religious practices of this city, the people of this city are still guilty of this one child’s wretched condition. They are guilty of being selfish and valuing their own pleasures over the good of this child. Instead of loving their neighbor, this child, they love themselves. They are guilty of blinding themselves to their own guilt, for while they may think themselves without guilt, they are simply believing a lie.

And those who walk away from Omelas have not escaped their own guilt, for while they may walk away from Omelas, they also walk away from the child, leaving it in the same miserable condition. Their leaving has no affect at all on that child, and would be cold comfort indeed if it could somehow know about their actions. Their cold nobility is as selfish as the others’ acceptance of the conditions.

Omelas isn’t a utopia. It is a place filled with guilt.

Where, then, is the fourth kind of person? Who will offer this child the forbidden kind word? And who will take that child from its filthy prison and take it to the sunlight? Will this hero clean and feed and comfort the victim while all the lies of Omelas burn down all around them?

Or, to ask the question another way, where is the true church of Christ doing what it should be doing, preaching the law to destroy our illusions of our own goodness, then preaching the gospel to show us where our sins may truly be washed away?

  1. Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” Kindle Locations 73-75.
  2. Ibid, Kindle Locations 126-130.
  3. Ibid, Kindle Locations 138-139.
  4. Ibid, Kindle Locations 88-89.
  5. Ibid, Kindle Locations 134-138.

Realm Awards In Progress

Why not consider nudging a writer you know whose book you love, to consider entering this contest? Why not make a decision to read the books that are eligible for the Alliance Award, so you can be part of the nominating process.
| Jan 14, 2019 | 2 comments |

Writers and publishers, the Realm award, the primer speculative fiction award, is in progress. Well, more accurately, the submission process is in progress.

The Realm Makers organization is currently accepting submissions, and the judging will begin shortly after the cutoff deadline. Here’s what the Realm Makers web site says about the award:

Realm Makers is excited to announce that submissions open January 1st for the annual Realm Awards, created to recognize the most excellent fantasy, science fiction, horror, supernatural/paranormal, or debut novels written by Christian authors for adult or young adult audiences in the previous calendar year.

New this year, both publishers and authors can submit their books into the contest. However, every author submitted by a publisher must respond affirmatively to our statement of faith. We will send a separate form to any authors who need to complete their publishers submission acknowledging our statement of faith.

Books must be published in 2018, either traditionally or self-published. They must be 60,000+ words, unless they are young adult which can be 50,000+ words. The entry fee is $35, and the author must be willing to sign our Statement of Faith. Submissions will be accepted for three weeks, until Jan 21st at midnight EST.

When the scores are in from the second-round judges, the top scorer in each of the five categories will win the Realm Award for that category. And the top five scorers overall, regardless of category will move on to compete for Book of the Year.

Did you catch that date? Submissions will be accepted until midnight (Eastern time), January 21. That’s in one week, folks. One week!

Unfortunately, I could not find the Realm Makers statement of faith online. There is a contact page and I’m sure anyone interested in reading the statement to help decide if they can sign off, will receive a copy in a timely fashion. But don’t delay!

Another award which I’m guessing has the same deadline is The Parable Award. This is for best cover, 2018:

Submissions open January 1st.

Realm Makers exists to encourage Christians in all areas of speculative arts. The Parable Award is for excellence in cover design. Authors OR artists may submit entries.

To qualify, books must be in the genre of fantasy, science fiction, horror, or related subgenre, created for a Christian author’s book, published in 2018, either traditionally or self-published. The cover must be in good taste, as defined by a Christian worldview. Fee per entry is $25.

Of course there’s one more award sponsored by Realm Makers: The Alliance Award. This is one readers select and will begin a little later, which gives us all time to read more speculative books:

Submissions open March 1st.

Readers have their say in what speculative fiction novels they loved the most from 2018.

Only READERS can nominate books into the contest. Anyone submitting nominations may choose up to three books.

Books must be in the genre of fantasy, science fiction, horror, or related subgenre, published in 2018, either traditionally or self-published. They must be 60,000+ words, unless they are young adult which can be 50,000+ words.

There is no entry fee for this award. The winner of the Alliance Award will receive a certificate of recognition.

The key here is to start reading now! If you have a favorite author or a favorite speculative genre, be sure to read any books that came out in 2018 so you can participate in the nominating process.

I don’t know about you, but I love book awards season, which always starts with this submission/nominating process. But I’ve yet to hear of a book win an award without first being submitted or nominated.

Why not consider nudging a writer you know whose book you love, to consider entering this contest? Why not make a decision to read the books that are eligible for the Alliance Award, so you can be part of the nominating process.

Now is the time to act.

Speculative Fiction Writers Guide to War, part 15: Combat Support Training

A modern military provides special training for those in uniform who support warriors in action. Understanding combat support will add depth to the war stories you create.

Travis P here. Our last two posts have discussed training, the last one on the topic of combat arms training and the one before that on high-end capabilities, which are particular types of weapons that require a team (usually a large one) working together in a complex way to make an individual weapons system operate. This week we will discuss the training of combat support specialists, people who wear military uniforms and are trained in the basics of combat, but whose primary job is to support the war fighters rather than fight themselves. (Note that modern military studies distinguish between “combat support” and “combat service support”–I’m rolling both those terms together under the name of “combat support.”)

The earliest imaginable form of combat support would stem from ancient tribal warfare in which warriors (let’s be honest, they were almost always men) went out to battle and the wounded among those who survived to return home would be bandaged and given herbal remedies by village healers (who were, again, simply telling the truth, usually women). This generic type of scenario that played itself out throughout tribal societies across most of the globe is based on non-professional warriors, what I’ve previously called “barbarian” warriors (with no insult intended).

Early human literate civilization, the Mesopotamians, were the first to specifically train warriors to fight as a full-time profession. There’s no direct evidence I know of that they also incorporated combat support specialist into their military. Yes, by the time of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, a military we know a great deal about, it’s evident the Assyrian Army marched with various types of combat support personnel, to name only some of them: cooks, baggage handlers, chariot wheelwrights, healers, scribes who managed supplies and record keeping. But these activities were handled mainly by slaves or free non-military personnel. It wasn’t soldiers in combat armor, with combat training, performing these tasks, with one likely exception.

Assyrians attack the Judean fortified city of Lachish. Note the tower where Jewish bowmen are shooting down at the Assyrians, who are driving up a complex weapon with a long pole (a siege engine), which is itself riding on a ramp that was constructed by Assyrian engineers while defenders shot at them. (In this time-compressed image, Judean prisoners of war are shown impaled on stakes in the background, while women and children are shown peacefully leaving the tower to be exiled to Assyria, events that probably happened after the battle was over.) Part of a relief from the palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh. British Museum, London.

Military engineers, who were responsible for building ramps and bridges and various other instruments to breach enemy defenses may have been wearing armor and trained in combat. After all, their construction projects, such as the ramp leading to the wall of the Israelite city of Lachish, allowing access to siege engines that would destroy the wall (one of the high-end weapons systems of their day), was built under enemy arrow attack. It’s at least possible the engineers supervising the build represented a specific branch of the Assyrian military, military engineers. But not enough Assyrian history has been preserved to be certain of that.

By the time of the Roman Empire, there’s no longer any doubt. While the Roman army also employed non-military combat support personal (especially slaves/enemy POWs), Romans made use of military engineers, men in armor who were trained both in fighting and also what we can think of as the non-military profession of engineering, to support ongoing combat by building various kinds of structures. (Note that combat engineering, which is essentially blowing things up or otherwise destroying them, wasn’t its own specialty yet. Roman military engineers generally constructed devices rather than destroyed them–devices with war-related purposes, but still.)

The advantage of having your combat support personnel receive military training themselves is based on the fact it didn’t take ancient people long to figure out you can ruin an army by attacking its supplies, or baggage train, i.e. its combat support. The ancient solution to this problem was to divert combat troops to guard duty, protecting the supplies and support personnel.

Over a long period of time, militaries came to realize it’s actually more efficient to train the support personnel to defend themselves and to give them a common background with the combat arms personnel, allowing them to be integrated into combat units, where their early intervention is much more efficient than keeping military and civilian worlds entirely separate. The “early intervention” phrase especially applies to combat medics (a.k.a. corpsmen). A medical person in uniform in a combat formation can provide immediate life-saving help much more effectively than hoping a warrior survives wounds until the battle is over or he can be taken to the rear, when he can finally see a healer. But this also applies to a wide variety of other specialties–if it’s better to have your engineers or cooks or logistician or whomever nearby than far away in many situations. Which means it’s better to have them in uniform. (By the way, the person responsible for putting medics in combat units for the first time was Dominique Jean Larrey, a surgeon who served in Napoleon’s army.)

A military member with a non-combat job can be ordered into danger where civilians would be hesitant to go–and where they might have no idea what to do if they came under attack. In the Twentieth Century, the idea of training combat support troops really took off, modern militaries increasingly embracing the notion than they should be able to provide for themselves with support personnel in uniform. In World War I, roughly two-thirds of US troops were in combat specialties, only one-third support. By WWII, the support outnumbered the combat troops by 60% to 40%. In Korea and Vietnam, the WWI proportions flipped, so that only one third were combat forces and two thirds combat support. For the Cold War military in Germany, only 25% of the troops in uniform were combat arms specialists–75% were combat support.

The post-911 conflicts have hired more on-site civilian contractors to do jobs that belonged to combat personnel in the 20th Century militaries, so that in Iraq as of 2005, 40% of the US military forces in the country were in combat specialities, but if you take the civilian contractors into account, combat specialties accounted for only 28% of all United States military personnel in Iraq in 2005. (The source for the numbers quoted here are from a study for the US Army by John McGrath.)

It could be that the trend to reduce the number of combat support personnel increases over time. Though it could be that militaries of the future will turn both combat and non-combat roles over to robots and automated systems, in certain jobs, non-combat specialists are unlikely to ever be replaced (e.g. troop transport pilots), whereas in other jobs (e.g. cargo truck drivers), robots will likely take human jobs as soon as it’s feasible to do so. All things considered, he proportions of combat to combat support personnel should stay about the same for the foreseeable future.

Why do I bring all of this up?

First of all, I want the readers of this series to be aware of the existence of combat support military personnel. Many readers of this site are fantasy writers and fantasy worlds usually parallel medieval or ancient models of warfare. So your stories may not include non-combat specialists who are part of military organizations, i.e. personnel who receive military training. Yet the things the combat support specialists do need to be done by someone else. You need to keep that in mind.

Second, you should be aware of how already-existing speculative fiction has a times focused on combat support specialties. Star Trek has done so extensively, as Travis C will mention.

Third, this article intends to make you aware of the challenges of training someone to be fully proficient in a job that is essentially a non-combat profession, such as the military version of being a paramedic, but at the same time being proficient at warrior skills. It isn’t easy and for certain combat support specialties training can last much longer than combat arms training–usually, of course, the combat support troops are not as good at combat. But still, they can and do engage in combat as needed–and while they are in general in not as much danger as combat specialties, they can and do get wounded and killed in action. (Note Hollywood has produced at least one major movie that focused on the actions in combat and training of a combat support soldier–Hacksaw Ridge.)

Scene from Hacksaw Ridge, the graphic WW2 movie about a Christian pacifist who saved 75 lives during brutal combat. Image credit: The Catholic Sun

Fourth, I want story makers to be aware that stories can be told from the point of view of combat support troops–and such stories are not necessarily less interesting than hearing about the most elite troops fighting as consummate professionals. This especially relates to the fact many groups in the history of Christianity have been pacifists–but as combat support soldiers, they could be thrust into a combat situation nonetheless (as per Hacksaw Ridge and my own science fiction short novella on Amazon, Unknown Biologic). 

Travis C here with some helpful illustrations of our combat support topic. To highlight Travis P’s last point, my favorite series in recent years is Glen Cook’s The Black Company, which is told through via point of view of the mercenary company’s doctor, who happens to function as the Annalist or historian. In this role, Croaker has first-hand knowledge and a legitimate reason to describe the deeds of the Company, and I feel the series is better because of that unique viewpoint.

If you’re in the world-building phase, it’s worth spending a little bit of time thinking through what combat support functions need to be identified and further worked out before the story progresses. Readers will tell if you’ve created a military juggernaut of combat capability that has little support structure and would never actually last a day in the field. That said, you also don’t need to develop detailed doctrine about supply depot procedures for turnips (unless that supports the story, of course!) A few things to consider:

  1. What functions need to get accomplished? Travis P mentioned several: medical, logistics of moving troops and supplies, the supplies themselves, quarters for troops, repair and maintenance of equipment, other engineering needs, etc.
  2. Who is going to accomplish those functions? Regular troopers, trained but non-fighting personnel, volunteers, families, slaves?
  3. Does the success of, or lack/failure of, one of those functions become a necessary plot element in the story?
  4. If so, what additional detail should be developed to add color to the picture?

If you answered “Yes” to question 3, then there’s lots of great examples in literature and media demonstrating unique ways to include this information, weave it into the story world, and really impact the audience. Here are 3 that come to mind:

Make It Easy To Identify Combat Support

The three colors of Starfleet uniforms, marking specialties. Image Credit: memory-alph.wikia.com

In particular during The Next GenerationStar Trek used color to train its viewers to identify the various roles found across the Federation’s Starfleet. Three primary colors: red, blue, and gold, were an easy way to distinguish between Command, Sciences (including medical), and Operations. Red and Gold uniforms kept the ships running and may and may not have been directly related to combat, but blue uniforms were a clear sign of a combat support specialist.

As an audience, we had expectations for any character depending on the color of their uniform. Red represented leadership and tactical training, blue an intellectual mind and appreciation for research and exploration, and gold the detail-oriented mind of an planner and engineering expertise to run a warp core. As expected, the writers of successive iterations of the Star Trek universe then flipped those expectations on their heads. The interplay between divisions yields great plot lines to explore ethics and relationships among characters.

Every George R.R. Martin reader knows the Night’s Watch has its own maester to perform record keeping and healing. The clink of their maester’s chain identifies those trained by the Citadel.

A maester and his chain. Image credit: gameofthronesfandom. fandom.com/wiki

There’s probably a unique way you can easily help readers identify with the combat support functions, understand how they are different from the combat arms characters, and help build structure in your world.

Understand the Tension Between Combat Arms and Combat Support

That’s probably not a surprise, but I think it’s safe to say even the “barbarian” form of combat support garnered no small amount of tension. One party is doing the fighting, right in harm’s way, and subjecting themselves to imminent danger. The other side is waiting in the wings, perceived as being away from danger, but likely at more risk since the enemy knows how critical these roles are. Grunts are just dumb killers. Support are just scared weaklings incapable of doing more. You likely know these tropes already.

We’ve used Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives several times already, but here’s an example of the use of bridge crews (manned by slaves, unprotected from enemy fire, yet vital to movement of the armies across the Shattered Plains) to meet a critical support function with significant contrast to the armies and Brightlords conducting combat. Sanderson not only uses Kaladin as one of his main characters, but also uses the tension between organizations to drive the plot forward.

David Farland’s second book of the Runelords series, Brotherhood of the Wolf (not to be confused with a film with the same name), does an excellent job of using the connection between Runelords who take endowments of power to those who give up those powers ( called Dedicates) to drive the story forward. The military cannot function without the enhanced abilities of strength, metabolism, wit, and senses that the Dedicates give up. At the same time, these Dedicates are ideal targets for military action since killing a Dedicate will immediately remove that attribute from the bearer. The Dedicates require significant protection, at the cost of military flexibility. Farland excellently uses this interplay to develop characters and add tension to the plot.

Change Your Point of View

Lastly, and in line with my shared favorite, consider if you should add a different point of view to your story. We’ve all heard stories told from the perspective of the knight, the lord, the king, the starship captain, the great-grand-poobah. We’ve also watched the unlikely hero become a military mastermind (and as we’ve discussed earlier in the series, just how unlikely that is). What about the war told through the eyes of the frontline surgeon? The sapper digging under the castle walls? The cook hearing everyone’s stories at the end of the fight? The engineer keeping the hypercore going on that rust-bucket starfrigate? It may not be the primary point of view or main character you develop a story around, but these secondary characters can add a lot of detail in interesting ways as interludes, prologues and epilogues, or even just scenes spread through the story.

Just like the combat arms functions, combat support has its own training needs that can add even more detail to your worlds. Maybe as backstory, maybe as a source of tension between combat functions, maybe just for fun. Being honest about how the military works in the context of your world is vital to building meaningful engagement with a reader. Plus, it’ll help you when you’ve got a few more chapters to fill and want a way to show, not tell, what’s happening in your military stories.

Bird Box: Here’s Lookin’ at You, Kid

Is the only way to survive life’s brutal realities to willfully blind oneself to the truth, as in “Bird Box”?
| Jan 9, 2019 | 6 comments |

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE BIRD BOX AHEAD. DO NOT READ IF YOU PLAN TO WATCH THIS FILM.

Like most people with a Netflix account, I have seen The Bird Box starring Sandra Bullock. And like many people who watched it, I was underwhelmed. I haven’t read the book so I can’t compare the two versions, but let me say that I have a high threshold for suspension of disbelief (my public professions of love for Michael Bay movies should be sufficient evidence) but even I found the central concept of The Bird Box hard to swallow. Invisible ghosts/spirits/aliens/demons/somethings that make you kill yourself only if you look at them? At least the main idea of The Happening with Mark Wahlberg made sense (humans are a disease and the Earth dispatches antibodies to kill off the infection). The Bird Box seems to be the result of a common problem in the literary brain: I have this cool idea; now how to make it into a story? Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

A very clever marketing manager somewhere came up with the idea of the “Bird Box Challenge” on social media and made it look like it just spontaneously showed up on the interwebs. This dull and predictable challenge has helped propel the film’s popularity and has spawned a number of memes which are sure to remain popular for a month or two. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t hate the movie. It was decently well-done and there were a few crazy moments, but when you step back and look at the whole picture, it’s hard to keep a straight face. I just wish Mark Wahlberg would have shown up with his trademark look of confusion and blurted, “It’s Happening…again!”

Bird Box

Image copyright Netflix

In the movie, if someones sees whatever those “things” are, they are driven to suicide. Yet some people, the mentally ill and psychotic, are compelled not to kill themselves, but to force others to look and die. And the entities are also sensed by animals (a good means of protection is keeping a bird in a box, sort of like a caged canary in a coal mine). When the bird gets agitated, it means one of the invisible monsters is around.

Applications for the film’s symbolism are abundant. Is the only way to survive life’s brutal realities to willfully blind oneself to the truth? Are dangerous principles only harmful if we give them any attention? Is it safer in the dark than in the light? Let’s take a closer look through the lens of Scripture and the Christian walk.

What could the suicide-inducing monsters symbolize, if we were to ascribe meaning to them that transcends the screen? They could be regrets or traumatic memories. In any instance, it is not healthy to focus on such things, especially as Christians. Psalms 103:12 tells us that God has removed our transgressions from us as far as the East is from the West. It doesn’t mean that past sins didn’t happen, but God remembers them no more (Is. 43:25) and neither should we (Phi. 3:13). Dwelling on our sinful past hurts our faith, or can turn us toward bitterness and malice, wanting to inflict that hurt on others as well, especially if we think they deserve it.

Image copyright Netflix

Suppose the invisible monsters symbolize sin. Is being blind to sin a good thing? Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 14:20 to be like innocent babies when it comes to evil, but like mature adults in our thinking. We should not know the ins and outs of sin or be proud of our detailed knowledge if we lived in sin in the past. It should not be viewed as shameful for a Christian to have no experience with particular sins. On the other hand, we should not deceive ourselves in thinking this or that sin doesn’t exist or isn’t all that bad. This is where thinking as adults comes in. Like the world in The Bird Box where the air is swarming with these malevolent creatures, sin and demonic powers are everywhere and it is only God’s grace and angelic protection that lets us make it through each day alive. We should be keenly aware of the horrors of sin around us, especially in the lives of those close to us. Yet we don’t have to get our hands dirty to minister to them. We don’t have to “look” in order to help them see Christ. Many people believe that you need to get down in the gutter to reach people that low. Perhaps for a short time, but you don’t have to act like them, talk like them, and live like them to somehow win them over for Christ. He doesn’t need our help to save anyone’s souls. Living lives innocent of sin has a stronger witness than any “marketing plan” we could come up with.

If you still want to see The Bird Box, go right ahead. For me personally, though, some things are better left unseen.

EStephenBurnett.com: Week One of Weekday Blogging, Complete

On this new web portal, explore topics like Aquaman’s “cheesiness,” the widow’s mite misinterpreted, and a weird search term.
| Jan 8, 2019 | 4 comments |

Wow—I’d forgotten what a rewarding challenge that is, to blog once every weekday.

In this case, my new daily website articles, Monday through Friday, are being released for my new personal platform at EStephenBurnett.com.1

This shouldn’t take away from my Tuesday work at Speculative Faith (and certainly not Lorehaven Magazine). If anything, this means SpecFaith readers can expect even better content from me. Now that I’m covering, say, some nonfiction biblical articles, general geeky and popular culture, and other topics at my own site, my SpecFaith articles can focus more exclusively on our mission.

In fact, we’ve just added our revised mission slogan to the site’s logo at the top left:

EXPLORING TRUTH THROUGH STORIES FOR GOD’S GLORY.

Possible exception: today’s article, which previews the last week’s stories over at EStephenBurnett.com. Can you please pray real quick that I can keep up this exhilarating pace?

Jan. 1: Jesus’s People Need Fantastic Stories

Jesus’s people need fantastic stories.

We need them like we need food, water, air, love, and above all, Jesus himself.

Really? Can we say we “need” fantastic stories? Why not just say “want” or “can use”? [Continued …]

Jan. 1: Tim Keller: Jesus versus the ‘Religious People’?

Tim Keller (accidentally?) reinforces the old myth that the Pharisees and Sadducees were “Bible believers.”

No, they weren’t.

Jesus constantly called the Pharisees to task for not believing the Old Testament, which pointed to Himself as its fulfillment.

Also, it’s tiresome to hear an (accidental?) “irreligious versus religious” people mantra.

In fact, everyone is religious in some way. [Continued …]

Jan. 2: Aquaman Isn’t Simply ‘Big Dumb Fun,’ So Why Do Critics Claim It Is?

Most people, when they hear “cheesy,” think about low quality. They think of poorly made Christian movies, in which characters don’t speak or act like they’re in any place resembling the real world. Or they think of formulaic Hallmark movies for Christmastime.

Aquaman doesn’t qualify for any of those. The movie is well-made and makes its aesthetic choices by design, not by accident. And where it follows any “formula,” this is simply the classic hero’s journey played underwater.

Only if you believe the superhero genre is intrinsically cheesy would you apply this label to Aquaman. But then, why apply the label at all?

Which also leads to my question of why people, with good intentions, call Aquaman “(big) dumb fun” or “cheesy.” [Continued …]

Jan. 3: People Keep Finding SpecFaith By Searching for ‘Spells’

christian magicTwo of the most popular 2018 articles on Speculative Faith share a surprising connection.

It’s the word “spells.” [. . .]

So why are these two articles so popular?

I’m not sure. But I am concerned about recent headlines, such as “millennials are ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology.” I hope that, in an occult-crazed culture, these two articles are not popular because people are actually searching for “Christian white magic” or Progressivist spells. To try out. [Continued …]

Jan. 4: The ‘Widow’s Mite’: It Might Not Mean What You Think it Means

Right after Jesus observes the widow, he foretells the Temple’s destruction (Luke 21, verse 5 and onward). This is hardly a natural followup to praising the charitable recipient of a heartfelt gift—to prophesy its doom!

But even more telling, just before this account, in Luke 20: 45–47, Jesus specifically warns against legalistic, authoritarian scribes. Jesus says that, among their other sins, they “devour widows’ houses” (verse 47). After such a warning, it would make no sense for Jesus to suddenly switch themes. Why would Jesus turn around to comment about this good widow who gave all she owns to support this (suddenly good?) religious cause? [Continued …]

Jan. 7: ‘Young Justice’ Fans Actually Got the Show Renewed, So Why Do Some Still Complain?

Last Friday, the new season [of the animated superhero series Young Justice] debuted with the title Young Justice: Outsiders. With one “catch.” (If you could even call it that.) DC had chosen not to host Young Justice season 3 on a preexisting streaming service, such as Netflix (where many fans, including myself, first found the story). Instead DC debuted the season exclusively on its own relatively new media/streaming service, DC Universe.

Plenty of fans are overjoyed with this. But plenty of fans are not at all whelmed. [Continued …]

On a final note, here’s one action item I neglected to share in last week’s update!

Given the rising backlash against social media control of content, we at SpecFaith would greatly appreciate if you subscribe by email to this site. You can bypass the social-media middle man, and receive daily Monday–Friday updates each time we share a new SpecFaith article. Also, you can get free access to download Lorehaven Magazine. (Those updates are a bit less frequent, mostly to announce new issues.)

Godspeed!

Stephen

Havok: The Rise of a Phoenix

Adventure requires action, and Havok Publishing wants to take you on an adventure.
| Jan 4, 2019 | 1 comment |

Entertainment is changing. Literature is changing.

I received a bestselling YA novel for Christmas. It was written entirely through a series of fictional letters, medical notes, and top-secret government files. LitRPG is bridging the gap between the written word and video games, and it’s exploding in a big way. Heck, people are so hungry for something new that they’re turning to text messages for their fiction!

So when I had the opportunity to take over Havok Magazine, I knew I wanted to take a fresh direction. And I knew I’d need help.

Havok: rebirth

Thankfully, the Christian fiction industry has a wealth of talent combined with a sense of camaraderie and shared accomplishment. This is not always the case in the secular market. And so, we called first on Havok’s existing staff to form the new framework. Then we went on the Realm Makers community to fill in the gaps, and Havok Publishing was born.

Months of brainstorming with Cerberus (the nickname Lisa Godfrees, Teddi Deppner, and I call our combined braintrust) brought us more challenges than we could have imagined. (Creating a new model from the ground up tends to have that effect.) But we’ve fought through them, and now we’re ready to show our creation to the world.

Havok Publishing exists as an ongoing competition in true gladiatorial style, providing exceptional, hard-hitting, flash fiction (always 1,000 words or less) with a speculative flavor to the widest audience possible.

As of January 1, we post a new story every weekday on GoHavok.com, allowing readers to vote and comment on their favorites across a variety of daily genres (Mystery Monday, Techno Tuesday, Wacky Wednesday, Thriller Thursday, and Fantasy Friday) and monthly themes. And the best stories are published bi-annually in a Havok anthology alongside some of today’s biggest and best writers. In fact, our season one anthology (slated for publication in July 2019) will include stories from DiAnn Mills, David Farland, James Scott Bell, Kerry Nietz, and Robert Liparulo!

Discern amongst the Havok

But now that you know how we work and what genres of fiction we publish, you’re probably wondering what style of stories you can expect. As I said before, we aim to reach the widest audience possible. And so, we publish tight, clear, entertaining, and culturally relevant fiction while keeping everything PG-13 or lower. But more important than that, we publish stories that don’t glorify sin.

So what does that look like in practice?

Well, for example, a story may have an alcoholic main character. But the theme and plot will show his brokenness without making it sound “cool.” He may or may not find redemption from his alcoholism in the story. But the story will most certainly show his behavior as a vice, a corruption. And this same principle is applied to every sinful act, whether its nature is sexual, violent, avaricious, prideful, or otherwise.

So as you can see, Havok fosters friendly, respectful competition with a community of talented writers and voracious (but oftentimes time-constrained) readers. Our basic content is free to the masses, and a few bucks gets you a ton of extras as a member of the Havok Horde.

Our stories are always exciting and speak to the human experience. Sometimes they tackle worldly topics. Yet they strive to shine the light of truth, hope, love, and beauty on everyday struggles.

In short, there’s nothing ordinary about Havok. We’re mashing genres and themes together on a daily basis. We roll out these stories for free and allow readers to form their own community. We’re offering cash prizes to writers and readers alike. And we’re doing it all right now.

So be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and most importantly, head to GoHavok.com to join in on the party!

Speculative Fiction Writers Guide to War, part 14: Combat Arms Training

Militaries by their nature develop specialized branches of combat arms and train their warriors to master particular war-fighting specialties.

Travis P here. After a lengthy departure from the Guide to War that Travis C and I are working on, I’m picking up our subject again with more on the topic of training. The next two posts will break down some training issues that relate to professional armies (because barbarian armies train, but not systematically in the way as pros do). This week will look at the training of “Combat Arms”–that is, the instruction required for people who handle weapons that directly or indirectly kill enemies. This training has been throughout history in general organized by weapon type, by system of transportation combined with a weapon, and to a degree, by the philosophy of how to use them–otherwise known as “military doctrine.”

This kind of training has gone through a variety of transformations over time, based on general types of weapons systems, transportation systems, and military doctrine in use. These historical patterns demonstrate models that can apply to fictional worlds.

First, let’s discuss historical transformations a bit. The city-states of ancient Sumer were the first nations to use their agricultural surpluses to hire full-time, trained soldiers. At first, all their soldiers fought on foot, but from the very beginning of trained armies, they differentiated according to weapon type, some carrying spears, some with battle axes, some with daggers (all wearing long cloaks and copper helmets for armor) and some using slings or bows. (See link on the Sumerian military for ancient artwork and more info.)

But soon, the Sumerians learned to put armed men in four-wheeled wagons drawn by either horses or donkeys, and also put armed men on river boats, linking weapons with types of transportation for the first time. The arms used with the transportation at first were of the same type used on land–axes, daggers, spears, and bows. At first, the fighters in the back of the wagons or boats probably had the exact same training as those who fought on the ground. But using them off a new platform created new challenges and eventually spurred the development of new training.

Ancient Roman versus modern Italian infantry.
Credit: Youtube.com

At even the most basic level, a military will have infantry soldiers, human beings walking into combat, with at least several basic types of weapons, including weapons designed to kill at a distance weapons and weapons designed to kill up close (i.e. “melee weapons”). (Spears and throwing axes and a few other weapons can be effective both up close and from a bit of distance). Infantry soldiers may hitch rides from various vehicles (which requires at least a bit distinctive vehicle training), but if they fight on their own feet, they are still considered infantry. Even if they carry modern, computerized weapons, they are in the same category as a Sumerian in a long cloak and a copper helmet, sporting a bronze-tipped spear. Infantry, when given the opportunity to seek shelter and fortify, are the best at conducting defense. Infantry can fortify towers, hills, and other strong points or create new strong points by digging trenches, or foxholes, or throwing up barriers. Though in the open, infantry are vulnerable to cavalry attacks.

But most militaries in the history of the world have incorporated some sort of fighting attached to a transportation system into their military. Whether by wagon, by chariot, on horseback, or (in modern times) in lightly armored vehicles, these faster-moving soldiers have had tactics in common from Sumerian times to the present. These tactics include scouting ahead of the infantry, attacking enemies in the rear (or their supplies), or attacking as shock troops to crush the morale of the main body of enemy forces. This branch of the military, of course, is the cavalry. Cavalry units are generally much better at attack (and scouting) than they are at defense.

Naval forces have shared a great deal in common with cavalry units in their tactics, but not long after naval forces came into use, the ship itself was used as a weapons system–ramming into enemies–in a way real horses are usually reluctant to do. Naval ships probably rammed one another long before they developed special devices helping them do so (like those of a Roman trireme). In so doing they pioneered a different kind of weapon, a crew-served weapon, one that requires more than one person to operate. Navy forces have also had their own type of Infantry that are trained to operate on and off ships–marine infantry, or in the United States, simply the Marines. In certain times and places, marine infantry were nothing more than regular infantry put on a ship, but there are advantages to training marines a bit differently–if nothing else, they need to know how to swim.

Roman Trireme with drawbridge to help marine infantry and a ship-sinking ram.
Credit: Romae-vitam.com

Boarding ships with marines or aggressive sailors is one way to destroy an enemy ship, but navies have always sought other shipboard weapons to destroy enemy vessels. Rams became fire weapons and fire weapons became cannons and those in turn led to torpedoes and missiles. Many naval weapons fall in the category of high end capability weapons as discussed in the last post, but not all do. Deck guns are not necessarily that advanced, even when they require a special crew to serve them.

What started with naval weapons crossed over to the land. Ancient armies first discovered that their calvary-type units, so effective against infantry out in the open, proved to be nearly worthless against fortified infantry. While an overwhelmingly superior number of infantry usually can take a position only held by infantry, it’s very difficult and bloody. Crew-served weapons on land, siege weapons or engines, were invented to break through strongholds. Siege weapons early on included towers Mesopotamian engineers assembled, catapults, and giant stationary crossbows called ballista. Siege weapons would eventually lead to the development of artillery, the third major branch of ground force combat arms, after infantry and cavalry.

In Roman times the ballista was the most common kind of artillery, serving the basic purpose of extending the range of Roman troops to strike individual enemies through directly firing at them. Catapults, which the Romans also knew about, hurled rocks over walls in high arcs (as did the slingers in ancient Assyrian armies) into besieged cities or camps, indiscriminately killing or injuring anyone who happened to be where the rocks fell, causing enemy casualties by indirect fire.

The artillery branch of the military consists exclusively of crew-served weapons, weapons that require training for a group of operators to be able to function, but which may not represent high end capabilities, depending on the nation that owns them. Once the artillery branch gained cannons, the two basic roles of direct and indirect fire remained important. Direct fire was mostly used against fortifications (and in the navy, against enemy ships), and is responsible for the fact castles are no longer effective in warfare, while indirect fire was lobbed in various ways into mass formations of enemy or locations enemy might be. Today, artillery is mostly concerned with indirect fire, but has systems that are capable of direct fire (especially guided rockets and missiles).

Table showing different types of units fighting each other in Napoleonic Wars. Credit: Slideshare.net/MrJ

The three main branches of ground forces: infantry, cavalry, and artillery (if we allow artillery to include siege weapons), dominated all battlefields everywhere in the world in almost all professional armies, from the time of the Sumerians up until the 20th Century, in particular in the Napoleonic Wars. The 20th Century saw the development of what we could perhaps think of as land ships–vehicles with armor like ships that can move over terrain, with weapons integrated into the structure of the vehicle itself. These weapons, otherwise known as tanks, form their own distinctive military branch, armor.

I earlier commented that military doctrine (or the concepts or philosophy behind the use of weapons) affects training as much as the particular weapon warriors train for and as much as the transportation system attached to weapons use. I’m only going to illustrate that point here, with a comment on military doctrine as it affected the training for tanks.

Tanks were first designed to cross trenches in World War I under enemy artillery and machine gun fire–in effect, their original purpose was to breach a specific kind of infantry defense. Later, between the world wars, the British in particular developed slow-moving tanks with the purpose of supporting infantry and faster-moving tanks with the purpose of taking over some of the roles of historic cavalry units. Military doctrine affected both the design of weapons and their use. But note that Blitzkrieg, the German doctrine of using armor units to first punch through strong defenses alongside infantry the way the first tanks did, then to rush behind enemy lines to cut off enemy formations from their supply chain, the way cavalry units historically did, made tanks much more effective beyond whatever design advantages German tanks may have had. In fact, the French tanks of the early forties are generally considered as suitable for Blitzkrieg as the German tanks were, or even more so–yet since using tanks that way was not part of French military doctrine (they felt tanks should be distributed among the infantry to help them defend themselves when in the open), French tank crews were not trained on how to conduct Blitzkrieg. So they didn’t use their armor that way–much to their disadvantage.

French Char B1, nemesis of German tanks (but poorly employed). Credit: tanks-encyclopedia.com

Note that armor as a military branch happened at the same time as another branch, military aviation, which both supported ground troops and in specialized formations, supported naval units (and later took on the role of fighting other air units). Modern combat arms to this day include infantry (including elite infantry, i.e. special operations forces), cavalry, armor, artillery (including artillery designed to attack aircraft), and military aviation. And of course each of these branches also exist to a certain degree within navies, including marine infantry, elite marine infantry, fast small ships like cavalry, large heavy-hitting ships that are a bit like armor and artillery rolled into one, and of course naval aviation. Each particular specialty in combat arms having its own distinctive training.

Ground attack from space.
Credit: Klaus WIttmann via ArtStation.com

While the names will change, we can expect futuristic militaries, say space-based ones, to have multiple branches that run in parallel with military organizations and systems we already know. Starships designed to fire weapons at planets or lob indirect weapons into regions of space will functionally be like artillery, even if that’s not what they will be called. Fast moving formations of spaceships like cavalry will still be needed–shipboard infantry will probably be needed, as well as ground assault forces. The equivalent of an air force would be landing craft able to operate in planetary atmospheres, passing through the air as a bridge between space and ground.

A dragon attacking the ground in Game of Thrones.
Credit: LA Times

Fantasy militaries can meet the needs of different branches of combat arms in different ways. Dragons could combine the capabilities of air forces and artillery. Mer-people could form a distinctive branch of underwater marine infantry. Magic could provide indirect fire weapons. Etc.

The point for this post though is that unless you write a story that portrays a society so futuristic that knowledge is directly downloaded into military members (or a society with powerful magic able to do the same thing), each one of these fighting military specialties will include its own training, which is quite distinct from other kinds. Each type of training requires time, which means that any one character can probably only master one type of fighting, or perhaps two–but not everything (a possible exception to this might be found in elves or other species that live very long lives–but even elves would have reasons to specialize in particular weapons, lest they fall behind the skill level of other near-immortals who chose to specialize).

For cavalry and other military branches for which a transportation system of some kind is key, knowledge of that system, be it the back of a horse, a chariot, a dragon, a ship, or a fighter plane, is probably the most important element of training. Knights and samurai spend a lot of time with horses–fighter pilots need to spend a lot of time in the air–sailors develop their skills over prolonged periods at sea. There’s an enormous difference in the capabilities of well-trained, seasoned veterans than newbies who are fresh to the fight.

For artillery and similar forces that rely on technical skills, their training embraces a wide variety of things that are not directly dangerous to the enemy, including maintenance of weapons, their operation–even the mathematics required to accurately lob an artillery shell. (In this regard, artillery and related weapons skills is most like the high-end capabilities training we discussed in the last post).

Infantry troops, the most basic element of the vast majority of all militaries in world history, though they may someday be supplanted by combat robots or something similar, are the ones that most require the kinds of battle hardening and psychological conditioning that we’ve discussed in previous posts. But they also require training in their weapons systems, how to operate them, how to use them even under stress, and note that infantry weapons training does include crew-served weapons, especially machine guns and mortars (which are really like small artillery).

Note that the training required for combat arms introduces the concept of combat arms itself. While we will say more about combat arms operations in future installments, for next week we’ll discuss those types of skills that militaries train for that support combat without directly killing enemies, like medical and maintenance specialties. 

Travis C here with a rather sideways example of the distinctions we’re discussing with combat arms. We’ll introduce another related term, combined arms, in future posts. Combat arms is a way to describe the individual components of the military forces within your world-building. Combined arms describes a military philosophy of “combining” two or more of those functions in a way that the enemy cannot effectively defend against one without exposing itself to the strength of another. Also distinct from supporting arms, when two or more of the combat arms support each other in a mutual manner but can be defended against jointly (think of soldiers under their shields as a defense against either arrows or rocks – supporting arms, versus cavalry and archers working together that shields alone might not withstand – combined arms). Before we get to that complexity we need to understand the individual components well enough to describe their strengths, weaknesses, and how they developed into a cohesive force through training.

I feel confident we all have a series of books, TV series, and movies that depict the traditional categories of combat arms Travis P described earlier. Whether it’s battalions of orc infantry in formation on the Pelennor fields, the Rohirrim cavalry charging down the slopes outside of Helm’s Deep, the great mobile engines of the Telmarines, the dragons of A Song of Ice and Fire, or the vessels of the fleets of the Empire, the Rebel Alliance, or the Federation, we have many examples that clearly align with our conceptions of these combat arms categories. The fact they exist is clearly shown, though all too often we miss out on the reality of how such units are trained. We only see the great, climactic battle-to-save-the world, and not as often the training that occurred before hand.

As much as I hate to reuse an example, Brandon Sanderson really hit this nail on the head with his Stormlight Archive series and the plotline of Kaladin Stormblessed.

Kaladin Stormblessed
Image credit: Alex Allen via Stormlightarchive.wikia.com

As we follow Kaladin through the first two books, he is a slave in one of the armies campaigning on the Shattered Plains. One of the worst duties for slaves was to be part of the bridge crews used by certain Brightlords to cross over the chasms common to the Plains. Without bridging units, the regular armies could not cross the chasms to engage in direct action with the Parshendi and capture the Gemhearts much sought after by the Alethi nobility. Since the Parshendi are indiscriminate in their targeting of troops, and the bridge crews are provided no defenses, this duty is effectively a suicide mission.

Kaladin recognizes two challenges the bridgemen face. First, there is no organization and training involved with their role. It’s chaotic every time a bridge departs, with limited order provided by the slave masters. Second, without any hope of surviving, there is no motivation for the crew to do anything other than the minimum possible. After all, why try harder if you are only going to die?

Sanderson uses this context to provide a plotline that follows Kaladin as he leads by example and trains himself first, then others in basic military disciplines and builds cohesion within Bridge 4. Slowly, results begin to show. More of the men survive each bridge run. Minor changes result in significant improvements to their odds. The discipline builds up a sense of camaraderie among the bridge, and Kaladin is able to demonstrate the effectiveness of his methods in training for other bridges. A severe conflict is raised between the Brightlords of Sadeas’ camp, the lord who primarily uses slaves as bridge fodder, and Kaladin who is trying to save as many of his brethren as possible.

Kaladin also goes on to train his bridge crew in the use of the spear. He falls back on his own soldier training from his previous life in Lord Amaram’s army as a means of further developing the basic skills his team can rely on. The spear represents a useful tool on the battlefield, a means of standardizing a training regimen, and a way to baseline the troops. If nothing else, they can all use this most basic weapon and contribute as members of the infantry.

It’s only later in the storyline that we see the crew introduced to new weapon systems (like one member gaining Shardplate and a Shardblade) and assuming their role as guard force. Something that should stand out is how those soldiers evolved from beaten-down slaves to an elite bridge crew to training spearmen to trusted guards. Sanderson shows us that development over a long, winding, maybe overly detailed story that helps us bond with favorite characters and invest in them, creating an even greater emotional commitment to a simple storyline of two races at war with each other.

In modern military forces such training occurs after the most basic military training activities (i.e., boot camp), and builds upon the foundation created there. This is especially true of combat arms units that employ crew-served weapons, where there is a unique combination of individual technical skill and teamwork necessary for a successful crew. It’s hard to achieve this before basic military disciplines are a part of a soldier’s life. Some specific skills we see throughout history:

  • Infantry setting a shieldwall
  • Cavalry charging in an organized and synchronized manner
  • Archers firing from horseback for skirmishing
  • Operation of any siege engine (catapult, trebuchet, onager, ballista, etc.)
  • Pike or halberders setting a spear line against cavalry
  • Archers firing in sequence and by verbal order
  • Vessels and aircraft being capable of firing with limited or no interference among allies

Any of these can make a great plotline, even simply backstory, for your characters who come from or are involved in a military setting. And as Travis P mentioned, your unique world-building will have new opportunities to do the same, whether it’s magic, a new weapon system, or other plot elements.