The Big Idea: Myke Cole
Magic can do many things. It can raise fire. It can rain down dragons. It can make things move with the power of one man’s mind. But how does it stand up to bureaucracy? What if that bureaucracy is of a military bent? These are some of the things author Myke Cole has thought about. Some of the result of thinking is in his debut novel Shadow Ops: Control Point, which mixes magic with the modern military to produce unexpected results. Here’s Cole now to talk more about melding the world of spells with the reality of military regulations.
You read a lot about war. You see it on film and TV constantly. I got cast as a “fighting extra” in the new Batman flick because of my military background. Once we wrapped up shooting, one of the casting agents told me, “We’ll most likely be calling you again. Military types are the most frequently used extras in the business.”
Military schlock is all over the media. You see the explosions, hear the agonized shouts. You hear heart pumping catch phrases:
“You do it for the guy standing next to you.”
“I’m a part of something bigger than myself.”
“Watch your six!”
And so forth.
You know what you don’t hear so much?
“Get in the manual.”
“I know it’s noon, sir. You still have to wear your reflective belt.”
“I don’t write the regs, son. The semi-colon is in the wrong place. You have to fill out the form again.”
Here’s the thing about the military (and not just the US military, but pretty much all militaries). It’s gigantic. You are trying to get hundreds of thousands of people, with all their quirks and neuroses and agendas to move in a united direction, with the price of failure usually pretty damned high. I have trouble getting five friends to agree on where to meet for drinks. So, I understand the contortions an organization that size must engage in to accomplish its goal.
Here’s what the military does to get all those fish swimming up the same stream: It writes rules, and then it sticks to them. Like all ginormous bureaucracies, it’s conservative, rigid and really slow to change. And like all major corporations (and it most certainly is one), it talks a lot about family and putting people first. And it means to, it really does. But you can’t accomplish a mission that big that way. People are complicated and troublesome. They zig when they should be zagging. So, instead, the military puts process first. When the soldier comes up against the regs, guess who wins?
And that’s the big idea behind Control Point.
I began what turned into a lifelong career in and around the military in the American military’s nerve center, the Pentagon. That labyrinth of paper, databases and regulation is so massive that the telecom workers get from point A to B by bicycle. And when you’re a nerd walking those halls (and we’re talking a nerd’s nerd here. Raised on Dungeons and Dragons, graduating to comic books and eventually the kind of compulsive reading that sees you spend your entire weekly allowance on mass market paperbacks off the Borders wire rack) what do you wonder?
Well, the first thing you wonder is where they’re hiding the aliens. Or which office door leads to the underground chamber where they’re training Storm Shadow from G.I. Joe. But after you’ve worked that stuff out, you start asking the cool what-if questions that are the genesis of all genre writing.
What if all the elves, rangers, wizards and goblins I loved from D&D were wandering these halls? You know that Ministry of Magic from Harry Potter? What would the COCOM (Combatant Command) equivalent be? How would the Senate appropriate funding for it? Would there be a special sub-committee? Okay, fine. Only a nerd living in DC would ask those last two questions, but you get the idea.
And, of course, I already know the answers. The military in spite of all its limitations, does some amazing things. You like satellite communications? The Internet? Space travel? Air travel? Military had a hand in all of that. Not to mention being one of the strongest forces for social mobility in America. I’ve been activated twice in the last three years. The first time was to clean up an oil spill. The second time I got to help respond to Hurricane Irene. The military is an incredible force for good.
But rigid. Process oriented. Risk and change averse. More importantly, it’s the arbiter of violent power, reserving that ability for the state. If something is to be hurt or killed, it’s the state’s job to make that happen through its military. That power isn’t supposed to accrue to individuals. When it does, you have an insurgency.
Go ahead, put magic in that mix. Give the power to fly, or call lightning, or raise the dead to your average Joe. How do you think the military would cotton to it? Add in the vested financial interests of all the “beltway bandits,” Eisenhower’s famed “Military-Industrial Complex,” the Haliburtons, the Northrop Grummans, the McDonnell Douglases. There are billions of dollars invested in the current system, and those who make the laws respond to that.
So, yeah. The military does amazing things, but it serves its mission first. What do you think happens when an individual, someone without power or money or influence, suddenly manifests an ability that threatens the state-based military’s monopoly on violence?
Well, they’ve got a reg for that.
Process over people. Just add magic and see what happens.