Sunday, June 03, 2012

I Know That I'm Wrong...

...about everything I said,
But here it goes again...

Busy, busy, so much gone by and yet - so little to talk about. But I'm sitting here in the USO Internet Cafe (*contains no actual cafe) with nothing to do, it's 6 AM back home and nobody's going to be awake for a while, and I've done my daily k - Sunday is Letter To Wife Day - but I might as well write anyway. Also, this is the last opportunity for a decent internet connection for about a OPSEC, since we won't be coming back here anytime soon and wireless connections in our other two ports of call this deployment are... fickle.

So... hi.

Very little has changed since my last update, really, except to add "more so" to everything I said before. It was hot - now it's more so, as summer inevitably looms. I have, in fact, written a poem about it - a little bit of doggerel I tossed off for my friend Allison, and I'll throw that in at the end of this, just for S&Gs, since that postcard should have reached her by now.

I mentioned that I was losing weight - I've lost more. I'm down from about 310# at the start of this trip, with a definite weigh-in of 308 at one point in the early weeks, to 286 1/2 yesterday when I checked. Losing fat has also come with a gain in muscle - I've been hitting the weights pretty hard - so I've probably lost more than twenty pounds thus far. I've got a long way to go before I fulfill Goal 1, but since we're only halfway through the year and I'm almost halfway there, I figure I'm off to a good start.

We've been working - and now, more so. Our regular captain is on leave, and the temporary captain doesn't have his hangups about offering overtime - so, we've been able to get some extra work in on the evenings, and scuttlebutt says this may be a regular thing soon. Even if it isn't, our operational tempo has been pretty steady, and while I can't talk about our customers in detail (as much as I'd like to gripe about the unprofessionalism and sheer incompetence displayed by a Left Coast MSC T-AKE we recently fueled), I think it's safe to say that situation is unlikely to change.

I've been reading... a lot. Finally got around to reading A Perfect Blood, the latest Hollows novel from Kim Harrison (*contains no actual Hollows... I'm wondering which novel actually had that rundown, magic-infested neighborhood featured prominently in it; it's been a while...) - short review, not the best of the series, not the worst, takes a little while for the main character to get over her whinging and resume arse whupping. I've been managing about a novel every day to every other day, and keeping up with my nonfiction reading, as well. So, that's coming along. I've also been catching up on movies, something I don't watch much when I'm home, and I've made it most of the way through the current run of "Lie To Me" thanks to my generous, loving, adoring wife.

I've been writing... well, this one's a "more or less so," rather than a "more so." We had a week there where I was working twelve hour plus days pretty constantly, so I didn't have much time to keep up with the daily accounts; a lot of days, I don't quite have the motivation (or the willpower, to be honest) to push myself to a thousand words. Some days, like today, I comfortably pass that, but they're far fewer in number. I have managed to come up with not one but three ideas for this year's NaNoWriMo; I played around with the idea of enrolling in Camp NaNoWriMo this month, but decided that I had enough on my plate already without adding in insane deadlines. Besides, the last time I was on this ship (2007), I finished out NaNoWriMo with projectile vomiting and dire rear from hell. I'm not saying the two were related (there was Djibouti involved), but I'd really rather not take the chance...

And that's about it, really. One of the things about life at sea, you fall into a routine; every day is much like the one before is much like the one after, or as I mentioned to a friend who made the mistake of giving me a bellyfull of TGIF optimism, "At sea, every day is Monday." I actually took a half day today, seeing how it's a)Sunday, b) my last opportunity to get some quality internet time for a while (and I'm trying to download Wikipedia to my computer, a Quixotic quest if ever there were one...), and c) my cheat day on my diet... not that that's gone particularly well. Nothing appetizing for lunch, nothing appetizing for dinner, breakfast was barely tolerable... I may head over to the Seaman's Center for a pizza later, but that's about as far (or as much money) as I really wanna spend. One good thing about the coming month; plenty of opportunity to save.

An Ode To Dubai (and the rest of the Burning Lands)
Gray sand, gray sky
The dust flies thick;
Breathe soupy air
And cough and spit
Hammer sun strikes
And we sway and sick
What do you mean,
"Summer's not here yet?!"

Saturday, April 21, 2012

It's been a while since I could hold my head up high...

And it's been a while since I first saw you
And it's been a while since I could stand on my own two feet again
And it's been a while since I could call you...

And it's been a while since I've written. I've got a pretty good excuse, I think - I'm halfway around the world from where I started, with computers that won't connect to the internet, won't e-mail home, are in fact little more than glorified paperweights. I've been keeping up with my writing, and there are a couple of days of rants, whines, and digressions that probably could have been turned into blog posts with a little spit and polish. We've had a couple of days in port where I could have posted them off, so I guess my excuse isn't all that good.

But here I am again, so here we go again.

It's been fifty days, as I write this - more, by the time it gets posted - since I've seen my family. I've heard their voices a couple of times, in phone calls and Google Voice sessions, but it's an awfully long time without being able to see their faces, without being able to hold them, and it'll be longer still until I get the chance again. I'm about a third of the way through my personal commitment to this deployment; one hundred six days and a wakeup to go. Less, by the time I post this, wherever we might be when that happens.
So, OPSEC. Operational security. I can't talk about where we are, I can't talk about where we're going, and I can't talk about what we're doing. Pretty simple, overall; it goes along with the old "loose lips sink ships" theory, where a drunken mariner in a bar mentions his ship's sailing tomorrow, and some Nazi spy radios the U-boat waiting outside New York harbor. In today's world of cell phones and internet, it's a pretty pointless adage - I can't count the number of times I've come into port to find the local cab drivers and bartenders already expecting us, knowing when we're leaving, knowing when we'll be back. You know, things the brass hasn't bothered to told we poor mushrooms yet. But that's neither here nor there; I disagree with it, but I'm going to follow it. 'Cause the last time I goofed, I got my tail reamed out by the Old Man, and that's something I'd like to avoid happening again.

I think I can tell you that it's hot, and it's dusty, even as far out to sea as we are. That the gas flares from distant oil platforms give the air a particular tinge that's unmistakable, that the breeze is a cool blessing, and that as miserable as it is right now, it's nothing compared to what it'll be in three months - or two months - or even one month, as the summer heat really begins firing up, and the sun becomes a merciless hammer that drives you to your knees the moment you step out of the airconditioned skin of the ship, that sucks the air out of your lungs and dries the sweat on your brow into an instant salt crust. I've mentioned time and time again that I'm headed for the Burning Lands, and it really is an apt name... especially when there's a hundred percent humidity, and you're stewing in your own juices with no way to cool down.

Yeah, that's going to suck.

But - we're not scheduled to go to Somalia's Next Door Neighbor, that country whose name I use as an epithet whenever we visit, who stinks of camel dung and fires and a million unwashed bodies squatting on the breakwater rocks defecating in the same water they will, a moment later, use to wash their bodies... so, that's a plus.

Ship's e-mail is FUBAR. This isn't effecting our work - we've got a thousand and one methods of communicating with the rest of our fleet, and we haven't even been forced to resort to flashing lights or signal flags yet - but it's the only way I have to communicate with home, so it really irks me when they can't keep it operating. I've been writing a lot of letters and postcards, but with something like a two week - or greater - turnaround time between sending them, when we get to port (which might be two weeks or more after they were written in the first place), it's a very slow, very tedious method of communication. My letters become more like tiny journal entries, trying to cover the events of a week gone by in a digestible format, knowing that whatever I speak of is already distant past to the person reading it. Except when I tell my wife I love her, and miss her, and hope she gives my Squeaker a thousand kisses for me. That's pretty current, no matter when she reads it.

Anyway, that means the only word I get from home is when we pull into port, something that happens only when we have work to do... cargo to load, fuel to load, garbage to discharge. Unlike the Navy, we seldom get "liberty" ports. This means I don't get to go ashore and use the internet - provided I can find wifi, which thankfully has been far more present this deployment than any other I've been on, a sure sign of the steady march of progress - until we're done working for the day. One of those double edged swords, they've been pretty tight with the overtime this deployment, trying to get the most out of us on regular time and shutting down operations when they threaten to go past 1700. So, I'm not making quite as much money as I'd hoped, the whole reason I set out on this bloody adventure in the first place, but I get more time to do stuff, and more time to communicate home... once the wife wakes up, given that I'm eight hours ahead of her and my 1700 knock off is her 0900 alarm clock.

I've actually gotten bored enough to be creative, lately... more than my regular writing, that is, which probably fits somebody somewhere's definition of creativity. I've been doing a lot of work with paracord, making sheaths for my Leatherman and knife... thinking about doing some for flashlights and stuff, plus shipmates have started asking me about making stuff for them. So, that's cool.

I'm losing weight. That's cool.

And I'm out of time for this update, which is less cool, but will hopefully lead to cooler things.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

If you miss the train I'm on...

You will know that I am gone
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles
A hundred miles, a hundred miles
A hundred miles, a hundred miles
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles...

I'm sitting on my couch with my daughter in my lap and my wife at the other end. Christina is playing with her computer; Squeak is almost comatose, up past her bedtime, blinking wearily at the ceiling. We're listening to "Cabin Pressure," a BBC radio comedy she picked up because it features Benedict Cumberbatch - the actor who portrays Sherlock Holmes on the BBC show, "Sherlock," with which she's been quite obsessed of late. "Cabin Pressure" is hilarious, but it's not doing much to help my mood.

We've just spent a lovely evening with the family; dinner at my parents', with my aunt, grandmother, brother and future sister-in-law, and my mother-in-law. Plus, of course, Chris and Squeak. Dinner was Mexican; Chris made enchiladas, my dad had the fixings for tacos/nachos/burritos set up, plus a rather tasty chili. Conversations were had, mancala was played, and many laughs were laughed.

The clock ticks ever closer to midnight, and my departure.

We're gone early tomorrow morning; not too early, within the ordinary working hours, but I'm expected aboard early enough to make it a hassle for Squeak and Chris to wake up, drive in with me, and then drive the car home. Likewise, it would be a major hassle for them to have to come retrieve my car from the base if I drive myself in tomorrow morning. So... tonight it is. I'll spend my last night at home, sleeping aboard. All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go...

Perhaps that should have been the Peter, Paul, & Mary song I chose for this entry's title; but since I'm not leaving on a jet plane (this time), I figured I'd go for another classic. I'm not leaving on a train, either, but I've used some of the best 'sailing away' songs for previous entries. One of my favorites: The Wanderlust by Heather Alexander. Used the last time I deployed on USNS Supply, four and a half years ago.

Squeak is asleep. So are my legs. I hate to wake you up to say goodbye...

This never gets any easier.

The Bear departed the ship's company a week or so ago, and last I checked I haven't acquired a new cubemate - snoring, or non. I doubt this situation will last, but it least it means I might actually get some sleep tonight, if my mind and body calm enough to let me sleep. We've got a busy couple of weeks ahead of us before we depart the U.S., most of which I figure I can't discuss on an open forum - enough to get a jump start on restoring my bank account to a healthy balance, and certainly enough to save money at a time when gas prices are spiking. I keep telling myself this is a good thing, and sometimes, I can even feel it. I tell myself I'm looking forward to this, and that's a little harder to swallow. I tell myself that my time abroad will fly by just as quickly as the last few months here at home have, and that's the roughest one to believe.
Here we go again.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Book Review: "Discount Armageddon," by Seanan McGuire

I just posted this to Amazon, but it's entirely possible that they'll edit or reject it. So, in case I have to go back and curtail some of my previous comments, I thought I'd go ahead and get the original post out here.
Early, But Worth Waiting For

I keep going back and forth on how to start this review, which you might notice is going up a couple of weeks in advance of the actual release date. I'm not a prereader in the normal sense of the term, haven't received an ARC and I'm certainly nobody from whom you'd expect to see a blurb on the cover; I'm just a guy whose wife knew he enjoyed Seanan McGuire's October Daye series, so she preordered the first Incryptid novel when it was announced. And Amazon, in blithe disregard of release dates, sent it on to our greedy hands well in advance. Which is great, except for the fact that the NYT Bestseller list focuses on week one for its ranking system - and here we are in week -2, receiving our books, generating all of these sales. It's astoundingly unfair to a novel that deserves accolades and praises, and it's a resounding shame.

And yet, at the same time, I can't help but enjoy a guilty frisson of pleasure because I got to read it first. It took me less than six hours to consume this tale of monster hunting, monster cataloging, ballroom dancing and assorted deeds of derring-do, not because I'm a freakishly fast reader (although my wife would be one of the first to point that finger - "J'accuse!") but because it was, quite frankly, that good. This should come as no surprise to other readers of her Toby Daye series - Ms. McGuire is a talented author, with equal skills in creating memorable characters, spinning witty dialogue, and laying out a gripping storyline that catches you quick and rockets you along the rails (and sometimes above them, below them, or to one side or the other as you do those crazy, hairpin Wild Maus turns) to the conclusion.

"Discount Armageddon," on this note, does not disappoint; our heroine, Verity Price, is a daughter of the infamous Price family, who broke from the genocidal Covenant generations past to make their own way in the secret world of the supernatural. Far from being monster hunters, the Prices are monster catalogers - cryptozoologists, bound to study and protect the hundreds of races of unrecognized creatures, the Cryptids, living in the nooks and crannies of the daylight world. Some of these beasts are dangerous animalistic predators, and for the good of anything edible around them (i.e., humans), they must be contained or destroyed. Many of them are sentient creatures who just want to live their lives in peace - to bake pastries, to accumulate gold, or to eat pigeons in the park. The Prices are the unsung champions of the Cryptid world, believed a myth by most, hunted by some; and yet, despite this fantastic world to which she belongs, this is not the life Verity chooses. She is, at heart, a ballroom dancer; she has even managed to win something of a reputation in her field, thanks to reality television, dogged persistence, and an insanely deprived sleep schedule as she rushes to fill her family and professional obligations, both. Now living in New York City, far from friends and family, she finds herself in the middle of a Cryptid crisis that could very well threaten all she's tried to build for herself; the Covenant has come to the city, and Cryptids are disappearing. Especially young, female Cryptids...

Old hands in the Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance genre will see the romance subplot coming from a mile away - from first meeting, perhaps, as I did. On the other hand, the betrayals and twists in the plot - and there are a couple - are both richly layered and cunningly laid, and are likely to catch the reader as much by surprise as they do the characters. This is an enjoyable beginning to what promises to be an enjoyable series, and is to be looked forward to by all fans.

Which leads us to another point, one only tangentially related to "Discount Armageddon," and that is this; people are bastard covered bastards with bastard filling. Because Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other distributors have released the printed copies early, but not the e-books, the author - who has no control over the release date of any of her material - has been the recipient of vulgar abuses and threats. It shouldn't have to be stated in any sort of civilized society that threatening physical violence over an intangible offense, especially one that does no actual harm (like having to wait two weeks for a story - two weeks to a release date that has not altered). And because the author is a woman, of course, many of these threats and taunts take on demeaning and sexually aggressive tones. This is, quite literally, behavior that should have been curbed in kindergarten. It's behavior that, quite honestly, makes me ashamed of my gender, and ashamed to hear these people refer to themselves as fans. The story, and a plea from Ms. McGuire, can be found here - - but it's no exaggeration to say that the people in question have nothing more than my complete and utter disdain and contempt.

TL;DR version of the above: people suck, this book does not. Read it. Enjoy it. Don't be a bastard to the writer, because it discourages her from producing more such fantastic stories.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

We're leaving together...

But still it's farewell
And maybe we'll come back
To Earth, who can tell?
I guess there is no one to blame
We're leaving ground (leaving ground)
Will things ever be the same again?
It's the final countdown...

So, I've got those predeployment jitters. We're down to less than a week now - just a few days, really - before we head up to New Jersey for the big loadout, and get ready to go overseas. For purposes of operational security, I won't be naming any dates. I'll simply vanish into the mists, and the next you'll hear of me will be from across the seas, unless I'm sufficiently motivated enough to e-mail an update into here from somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic.

Which, to be honest, I probably will. We're going to be undergoing the usual "beginning of the deployment" training sequence with some of my absolutely favorite people in the world, the Afloat Training Team, and I'm sure I'll have lots to talk about. That last sentence is so dripping with sarcasm I may have to change my sheets tonight.

I'm looking at two days off this week, which is a big happy booster for me. I've still got some things I'd like to do before we leave - eat all the food ever, for one thing, plus restocking on coffee. Pack some things, although not as much as you might think; my parchment, ink, and nibs to write the weekly letters home to my wife (the first time, by the way, that said letters will be addressed "to my wife" - the last time I deployed, we were only dating. Ours was a brief engagement, and it didn't start until I met her in the airport on my return to the States). Maybe some books, although I already have several on the ship, plus my Kindles, and I have to weigh the costs and weights of carrying hardcopy books with me; they'll either be left on the ship, shipped home, or carried back in my luggage. Either which way, they're likely to be a burden. My electronics; inevitably, I get the urge to play a PSP or DS game while we're underway. Most of the time, the two systems languish, abandoned, somewhere around the house. So, the first task there will be finding them, and their games. Should be fun. I'm sure there's something else I'm forgetting - laundry detergent, perhaps, or shampoo/body wash. I can buy either from the ship's store, or from Navy Exchanges on our way across, but eventually we're going to find ourselves in the Burning Lands, and getting American cleaning supplies is generally costly and difficult.

Two days off is also two more than I've had since I finished small arms, Friday before last. I worked straight through this past weekend, and the Sunday before; not only that, but most of this week has been fairly hectic, as we've been dealing with various inspections and overhauls in preparation for our trip, not to mention being somewhat shorthanded as people attend to their last minute details, training and personalwise. One day last week was an overtime nightmare, as we swapped out numerous fire suppression bottles in the engine room that had come up low on inspection; low, not empty. The damned things still weight well over 250 pounds apiece, and their full replacements were closer to 300. The most convenient way of getting the new ones in, and the old ones out, of the engine room involved a Bolted Equipment Removal Panel - a BERP - which, unfortunately, could not be simply left open at the end of the work day, so the task could be completed the next day. Or the day after. No, we had to plough straight through once we'd started, which is how I ended up working a 17 hour day, finishing up at 1 AM. And then had to report for work at the regular time that morning, and work most of a regular day, running around with contractors. (We worked late enough, as a matter of fact, that when I came in the next morning I found my partner sleeping in our office, sprawled across several chairs - he hadn't bothered to go home, or even to take a shower or switch out of his dirty coveralls. I did all of the above, but he got way more sleep than I did. We both made it to work on time and drank roughly equal measures of coffee, so I guess that worked out for the best).

Despite this, I managed to devour the final book of the Parasol Protectorate series, "Timeless" in a little less than six hours yesterday; this, despite the fact that I could only read it during free time or while waiting for something else to happen, while juggling a fair to moderate workload. Walked around with it in my pocket, for the most part, one of the advantages of paperbacks - they tuck away a lot easier than an e-reader, even my Kindle Fire. Don't get me started on the Kindle DX... comfortable and easy to read it may be, but easy to carry? Only if you're used to tucking a legal pad around with you, and I've yet to find a pocket I can comfortably stuff it in. Anyway, "Timeless" was an excellent read, full of the characters and adventures we've come to expect of the Parasol Protectorate, and answered many long lingering questions raised over the course of the series' plot; and yet, I can't help but be disappointed in it as the conclusion of the series. There are future novels to come, some of them set in the same world, so I can't help but hope that perhaps we'll simply be turning, as other novels have done (Kelley Armstrong's "Women of the Otherworld" series most notably) and following other characters for a while; Timeless certainly did have more scenes from the point of view of not-Alexia than I can recall from the other stories, although perhaps it's merely time interfering with my memory.

I finally got around to reading my nonfiction book of the month, a memoir/treatise on forensic anthropology called "Dead Men Do Tell Tales" that my wife found while we were wondering about the viability of pulling fingerprints off fingertips that had been swallowed - a path of inquiry inspired by a Castle episode, if you're curious. I followed this up with reading Tucker Max's free set of stories, "Sloppy Seconds" which impressed me enough to actually cough up the $5 to buy "I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell". He's an asshole, but he's a funny asshole; considering most of the stories seem to consist of at least twenty to forty percent hyperbole, I think I can live with that.

Other than that, there isn't a horrible amount exciting going on in my life; work, home, read, poke at writing, get to sleep too late and get up entirely too damned early (although still well behind my alarm) to repeat the whole process over again. I'm trying hard not to be irritable or mopey over the fact that I'm leaving home, friends, and family for nearly six months; at the same time, I'm trying hard not to grab my wife and daughter and simply hold them like I'll never let go. I haven't started listening to my Homesick Blues playlist yet ("Sloop John B," "500 Miles," "10,000 Miles," "Far Away From Home" and other songs of that ilk) but I imagine it won't be long before I'm humming them, or singing them under my breath. I'm enjoying those things I know I'll be missing - food I can choose for myself, sushi, unfettered internet access - and trying not to think too hard about how long it'll be until I can see them again. I keep telling myself I'm ready for this. It's not like I haven't done it before. It's not like I won't do it again.

Sometimes, my job really sucks. At the end of the day, though, nobody's shooting at me and my wife and daughter are living decently because of it. I guess that's about all one can really ask for.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Help I'm slipping into the Twilight Zone...

Place is a mad house, feels like being cloned
My beacon's been moved under moon and stars - 
Where am I to go, now that I've gone too far?
And you will come to know -
When the bullet hits the bone...

The following rant contains spoilers for Psych season 6, Castle season 4, and Firefly, episode 1. Reader discretion is advised.

Here's another one of those gun related media cliches that annoys the bejesus out of me. Our hero (or one of our heroes) has his weapon drawn; facing him is a villain, also with their weapon drawn. Villain may have a hostage at which they are pointing their weapon, or they may be pointing it at the hero; either way, we have a Mexican Standoff, that great dramatic cliche. Except these particular scenes are inevitably examples of both "Fridge Logic" and "The Idiot Ball," and often times require out of character behavior as our hero inevitably surrenders to the villain, or allows them to escape, thus increasing the dramatic stakes of the story. This is cheap, and smacks of creative and intellectual laziness; more bad messages from Hollywood storytellers.

The first example to pop up here is the recent Psych episode, "Neil Simon's Lover's Retreat". Carlton Lassiter, ace detective and semi-psychotic gunbunny, walks into the hotel room of a suspect to find said suspect holding two of his ("friends" is a mighty strong word to use involving Lassie, so we'll merely say "more than casual acquaintances") at gunpoint. Lassie has his weapon drawn and on the aggressor rapidly, and orders him to drop the gun. The suspect instead instructs Lassie to drop his gun, and to show he's serious, cocks the hammer on his weapon - which looks to be a 1911 or Hi-Power, both of which are single action firearms (it's also possible it's a Dan Koonan - the gun was explicitly mentioned to be .38 Special, which is an incredibly rare caliber to find in a semiautomatic. The Koonan, a 1911 derivative, is the only one I know. It's far more likely that a writer botched his research when he tried to be special, and the gun in question is a 1911 in .38 Super. In all of these cases, though, it's a single action firearm and cannot be fired unless - tada! - the hammer is cocked.) Lassiter lives to shoot people - it's perhaps the defining aspect of his character, save perhaps for the fact that he will always be upstaged by Shawn - and yet, one scene break later, we find Shawn and Juliet freeing their two friends (and Lassie) from a steam room, having surrendered to the enemy.

When I point out that the weapon is single action, and therefore must be cocked, and therefore was not ready to fire without a gross movement of the thumb that requires breaking the proper firing grip (and also, on most 1911s, will result in disengaging the grip safety while you do so), I both refer to my earlier entry where I waxed eloquent on how hammers and slides are not "drama switches," and I also point out that Lassie would have recognized this - probably on sight, as he's more gun obsessed than I am - and should have taken appropriate action.

And at the risk of contradicting an earlier comment I made to a friend, where I remarked on the extreme difficulty of aiming for non-vital points as opposed to the often lethal center of mass, and how more people should visit a range and actually shoot a gun rather than demanding cops perform ridiculously difficult, nigh on impossible, trick shots to the weapon or arm rather than shooting to stop and winding up with dead offenders - Lassie was all of five feet from the guy. He could easily have put a slug in his shoulder before he cocked the hammer, thus ending the episode quickly. Which, of course, is why he didn't.

A second example, the season four episode of Castle, "Cuffed". Detectives Ryan and Esposito have discovered their friends and partners, main characters Beckett and Castle, imprisoned beneath the floor in a suspect facility. As they go to rescue their friends, who are in danger of being immediately eaten (it makes sense in context), the criminal foe throw down on them. Words are exchanged, including the dramatic pump of a shotgun. This situation has a little more leeway than the last; the risk of getting shot in a confrontation is higher, the reward of immediate capture of the criminals that much less. There are three bad guys, and only two police detectives, and the cops are armed with handguns whereas at least one criminal has a shotgun. Letting them go makes a little more sense in context, especially since they can be caught later - which, of course, they are. Except...

Reactions under stress are variable; different people react differently, and the same person will react differently to two different situations, even when they're outwardly the same. There was a police officer murdered during a traffic stop whose name I sadly forget, who could only scream "drop the gun! Drop the gun!" as the perp retrieved a rifle from his vehicle, loaded it, and began shooting. It wasn't until the murderer actually began to fire that the officer took steps to return fire and defend himself, and by that time he was quickly overwhelmed - all of this caught on tape. Similarly, one of the four victims of the 1970 Newhall Massacre was found with spent shells in his pocket - when he reloaded, rather than dumping the empties he'd caught them and pocketed them, a habit learned in training, which may have cost him precious seconds - and his life.

With all of this caveated, it still raises the question of why Detectives Ryan and, most especially, former Special Forces combat veteran Esposito - both of whom have been in numerous shootouts in the past, just over the course of the four previous seasons - would stand idly by and allow themselves to be threatened; more to the point, would move their weapons to allow the criminals to flee, blindly trusting that they wouldn't simply be gunned down by the desperate to flee villains who had already murdered at least one person. It defies belief - except, of course, that it doesn't move the story along, or allow the next scene to play out.

That most notorious gun writer, researcher, and advocate Colonel Jeff Cooper said, in his book Principles of Personal Defense, "Speed is the absolute essence of any form of combat... on the very instant that we know that our assailant intends us serious physical harm, we must work just as fast as we can. If he has shot at us, we must hit him before he can shoot again. If he is holding us by threat of force, we have the edge of reaction time over him... the perfect fight is one that is over before the loser really understands what is going on."

A great example of this is the pilot episode of Firefly, and one of the reasons that I adore the show. Federal agent Dobson, who has already demonstrated his ruthlessness, lack of professionalism, and ineptitude by shooting adorable engineer Kaylee, is attempting to escape the Serenity and has taken crazy girl River hostage. As he stands there, gun on the girl, monologuing about how anyone who attempts to stop him will have the girl's death on his head, returning captain Malcolm Reynolds shoots him. No hesitation, no speech, he simply draws and plugs the man on his way up the cargo ramp; immediate reaction, immediate result. One can argue that this scene is a demonstration of Mal's recklessness, and that's entirely possible. Had he missed, had he failed to stop Dobson with that one shot, River might have been killed, or another crewmember; on the other hand, had Dobson escaped, the whole crew would have been imperiled, River might have been killed anyway, and by the by, there's a ship full of cannibalistic rapacious and rapist Reivers about to descend, and can we get this ship in the sky now?

This is probably one of the reasons Firefly was cancelled so quickly; as with so many things Joss Whedon, it delighted in turning the cliches upon their heads. And it is for this reason that it is so gravely missed and needed on today's television.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

That's when I reach for my revolver...

That's when it all gets blown away
That's when I reach for my revolver
The spirit passes by this way...

So, lately I've been reading Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels. I'd call these guilty pleasures, but the sad fact of the matter is, I feel very little guilt over this; sure, they're formulaic, episodic, and fluffy chick-lit, but they're also entertaining, quick reading, and might give me some ideas I can utilize for my own writing. After all, everything's grist for the mill, everything's a tool for the toolbox. Unfortunately, I realized early on that she was going to commit a grave sin - I refer, of course, to Ms. Evanovich, not Stephanie - and yesterday while I was reading Seven Up, it finally happened.

Somebody used the safety on a Glock.

Now, pretty much anybody who knows me knows that I'm something of a gun nut. I know guns; I work with them, not on a daily basis, but regularly enough (as a matter of fact, my job this week is annual small arms training; I get to spend what looks to be a chilly, damp week on a range out in Pungo, shooting guns instead of, you know, actually working for a living. Class doesn't start until nine, and it's a much easier commute for me - not to mention, no searching for parking on the overcrowded Navy base. It's like a vacation, only I still get paid). I didn't grow up with them; my parents don't much like them, and I wasn't allowed to play with toy guns when I was a kid, which is probably at least part of the reason I have a gigantic arsenal of Nerf and airsoft guns now that I'm an adult. They are, however, something that's interested me since my early teens, and something that even before I owned or used any, I had read and studied a great deal about. I'm probably not the best person for this particular rant, and I'm no doubt treading over ground that's been beaten down many a time before, but it's one of those battles that will no doubt continue to be fought over, and over, and over again.

The cause of my frustration is this; Glocks don't have safeties.

Somebody, no doubt, read that last sentence and immediately headed for the comments box to point out the number of intrinsic safeties on the Glock "Safe Action" pistol, to complain about how Glocks have an undeserved bad reputation due to the number of people giving themselves "Glock leg" due to carelessness, or conversely, to complain about how horribly ugly or unsafe Glocks are. This rant isn't about Glocks, safe the above mentioned bit, that Glocks do not have (manual) (thumb operated) safeties. One could advocate that this is pretty much Glock's thing; their lack of safety and long trigger pull strongly resemble the old cop standby, the double action revolver, and their uncomplicated, straight forward method of use (draw weapon, point, shoot) are one of their great advantages. I've heard a gun shop clerk advocate not having a manual safety as a plus for a weapon, since under stress and fear for your life you might forget to deactivate it or fumble while trying to. I don't personally have a dog in that fight; I prefer my guns to have a manual safety because I like that extra step between "inert metal block" and "dangerous bang stick", but I follow the four rules as religiously as I can, so having or not having one shouldn't make much of a difference.

I'll digress quickly into the four rules here, for those who haven't seen them. They are, in no particular order and of equal importance:

1) Treat every gun as though it were loaded.
2) Keep your finger off the trigger until you're willing to fire.
3) Don't point a gun at anything you don't intend to shoot.
4) Be aware of your target and what lies beyond it; bullets travel.

The point of the four rules is that you can be breaking one at any particular time, and the other three should be in effect to prevent you from killing someone; you have to break several for there to be catastrophic effects. And yet, people are harmed almost every day through carelessness and neglect.

But to get back to the point of all of this, and end the digression; Glocks don't have safeties. The Glock semi-automatic pistol, in it's many different calibers and loadings, is probably the most popular handgun in America - possibly the world, overall, although I imagine one or another of the Warsaw Pact firearms has that honor, due to sheer number available, in much the same way that the Kalashnikov does. Law enforcement from local to federal levels favor it, private citizens buy them in droves, and probably the only reason the military hasn't switched from the Beretta 92F/M9 to the Glock is that aforementioned lack of manual safety. Uncle Sam likes his Misguided Children (and the rest of 'em, too) to have plenty of steps between paperweight and bang stick; it cuts down on paperwork. Two seconds of research (, wikipedia) could point this out in a heartbeat. Yet writers continue to namedrop the Glock, and continue to have their characters activating or deactivating the nonexistent safety. Before the rise in popularity of the Glock, this was common on revolvers, another firearm that lacks any sort of manual safety; I suppose there might be a revolver out there with a thumb safety, just as there might be a Glock out there with the same. These would be a custom job, and rarer than hen's teeth, and unless one is present at the same writer's college all of these novelists have been going to, I fail to see why this error keeps popping up.

Sure, it's a small thing. But it's a glaring, grating omission, a failure to do basic fact checking, an error that could easily have been avoided - and there's no reason for it. Bad writing, in other words, or perhaps worse, lazy writing.

Back in 1990, a pulp novelist named Michael Newton wrote "Armed And Dangerous: A Writer's Guide To Weapons" It's a cute book, a good though shallow overview of various popular weapons of personal destruction, with a couple of errors that are mostly only of importance to the real nitpickers among us. Sadly, though, it's dated; the field is ripe, especially after the developments of the last ten years, for a new edition. This blog doesn't have the scope to cover all the ground a book of that caliber (forgive) should, and I doubt I have the knowledge to do so, but I figured I'd throw out a couple of the most egregious offenders here really quickly, and hope that somebody, somewhere, might learn something. These are as they occur to me, in no particular order.

Number one, Glocks don't have manual safeties. We've covered this, but I'll repeat it again, simply because it's so often repeated. If there's a round in the chamber and you pull the trigger, using a proper grip with your finger engaging the little second trigger inside the primary firing trigger, the gun will go bang. If your finger's not on the trigger, the gun is not supposed to go bang.

Number two, you can't put a suppressor on a revolver. First off, suppressors don't silence a gun; they merely lessen the sound to, as they say, a dull roar. Two, firing normal bullets out of a suppressed gun still results in a sonic crack as the bullet breaks the sound barrier. Bullets go very fast, in case you missed it, most things propelled by an explosion do. And third, most revolvers (all but one, actually, the Russian Nagant revolver, which is a curiosity) don't form a gas tight seal between the cylinder and the barrel when firing, so there's still a bit of gas and noise leakage from the gun, thus allowing sound to escape.

Number three, it's not a clip. It's a magazine. With again rare exception (the WWII era M1 Garand for example), you use a clip to put bullets into a magazine, the magazine is what actually goes into the gun. Clips are generally optional, a way to speed feed a magazine; unless you're fond of single-shooters, magazines are not. More on this here.

Number four, with the caveat that it's generally television that's guilty of this particular sin, the slide on a semiauto and the pump on a shotgun are not drama switches. Trying to use them like cocking the hammer on a double action revolver or a SA/DA pistol like the M9 doesn't work; they don't suddenly make the situation more serious, they mean the guy was threatening someone with an unloaded pistol before that. I illustrate what I mean with this scene from The Big Lebowski (warning, naughty language ahead), but I can think of scenes from Psych, Supernatural, and a couple other shows.

My friend Jared pointed out one I'm going to use for number five here, the slide lock/reload phenomenon. The bad guy has the heroes on the ropes, with gun aimed, and when he goes to pull the trigger - click! He's out of ammo and didn't realize it. Except the vast majority of semiauto pistols (and inevitably the one they're using in this scene is among them) have their slides lock back when the magazine runs empty, a handy visual cue that it's time to stick in a fresh one and get back to work. This one is growing less common - at least, I haven't seen it quite as often. Still, if you're a writer and you'd like to use this particular cliche - use a revolver.

Number six, any gun wherein the impact of its projectile will send a man flying will probably have the same result on the person flying - something along the lines of the "Noisy Cricket" from Men In Black. Newton's Third Law. It should be pointed out that most of the energy in a kinetic projectile is spent penetrating the thing it hits, or else ricocheting off; not much is transferred to the media, hence the reason you don't generally see people sending milk jugs or pop bottles flying when they shoot them (they tend to explode, instead). If the target is wearing an armored vest that stops the bullet, the force will transfer over and knock them back; otherwise, the main reason people tend to fall down when they get shot is because of shock/pain, not because they're getting blown off their feet. Consult your local physicist for more info on this.

I'm rapidly approaching 2,000 words here, and I'm sure I could go on for hours - but the key thing here, the really important thing, is that most of these errors are simple. They're things that could be picked up in a matter of moments with a Google search and some free time, and they're mistakes that could be avoided with a little thought. They're little things; but they're so obvious and glaring to those in the know that they can easily remove you from the mood the story is trying to set you in, disrupt your chain of thought, and nag at you. A hair in your soup isn't horrendously insanitary, but it's digusting, and it ruins your enjoyment of the soup; these little errors are the same thing, and there's no excuse for a published author, with the back up of editors, prereaders, and a score of previously published books under their belt, to make them.