When I do read fiction, however, my taste runs to political-military novels, in the Tom Clancy vein, detective stories, or novels set during any of America's wars . I have, for instance, read both of W.E.B. Griffin's two series, "The Corps" and "The Brotherhood of War". Indeed, it was that experience and the fact that I have a military background myself that led me to conclude, as the title of this blog suggests, that sometimes the authors of these books would benefit from what I call technical/tactical editing of their work. This, I believe, is especially true because such authors use the device of extensive and detailed descriptions of military hardware and its functions, chains of command and/or customs of the service to establish their own credibility or that of their characters---their "bona fides" if you will. Griffin does this to a fare-thee-well most of the time, but then he will drop the ball in a way that just drives me crazy. Two examples. In, "Call to Arms", the first book of "The Corps" series, he lays down, in excruciating and, I must say, mostly accurate detail all manner of military trivia, vehicle capabilities, cannon nomenclature, Japanese and American weapons characteristics and Naval and Marine Corps customs and terminology. But, in a scene late in the book, Griffin has his hero, Ken McCoy, "...chamber a round..." in his Thompson Sub-machinegun. The fact that the Thompson fires from the open bolt position makes this an impossible thing to do. One cannot chamber a round in this weapon. The round is chambered when the trigger is pulled and the bolt strips the top round off the magazine, rams it into the breech (or chamber) and discharges the round all as part of the same sequence of events.
In another series of books, "The Brotherhood of War" Griffin focuses on The Army. Throughout this set of books, Griffin refers, often, to the "Huey" helicopter and is at pains, at almost every turn, to explain to his readers just how the Huey got to be called by that name. The problem is that in every case that I can recall HE GETS IT WRONG!! Mr. Griffin consistently reports that the Huey is so called because its actual designation is "HU-l " and when pronounced as a word this became "Huey". This explaination is incorrect on both counts. First, the correct designation for the helicopter is not HU-l (that was used in the development phase), it is UH-l which stands for "Utility Helicopter" in Army parlance. The UH-l designation gave rise to soldiers calling the bird the "U-ey" and this name was subsequently bastardized, as soldiers are wont to do, into "Huey". Just as in a later war the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, designated the HMMWV became the "Humvee" or the "Hummer" once the soldiers got hold of it.
So, why would a guy who, otherwise, writes with such attention to detail make these mistakes? I don't know, but I have emailed my comments to the author on several occasions and never heard anything back. However, I don't want to leave you with the impression that I think Griffin's work is filled with errors. Far from it! He gets it right most of the time. What I can't understand is how he can make these few silly errors when everything else is so well done.
Not so the case with the author I am currently reading. This guy is Lee Child, the creator of Jack Reacher, modern day knight-errant and righter of wrongs. In a previous blog entry, I decried the broadbased knowledge and skill set attributed to Reacher by Mr. Child so I will not belabor it further here. Rather, I will cite some glaring examples of misstatement of fact from my current read, "Persuader", which call into question the omnipotence that the author attributes to his hero.
Towards the begining of the book, Mr. Child has Reacher impressing a good looking female Federal Agent with his knowledge of recent military history by ponificating on the origins of the Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) anti-tank round. Reacher informs us, the unwashed masses, that the APFSDS came about because, in Desert Storm and using the M-l Abrams Tank, we (the US) had shown the world all of our good stuff and after that conflict we had to come up with something better for the anticipated "next war". The "something better", he assures us, was the APFSDS with it's depleted uranium long rod penetrator. Nice story but dead wrong! The APFSDS was not only present during (not after) Desert Storm, it was well enough known that the soldiers gave it a nickname: "The Silver Bullet". It's effectiveness was undeniable and was well demonstrated in what came to be known as "The Battle of 73 Easting" as it is covered in General Bob Scale's book "Certain Victory". Strike One!
Shortly after this scene, Reacher helps the Feds pull off a faux kidnapping with the "bad guys" armed with DEA confiscated (that is to say real) Uzis. So far so good, except that Child then has the "bad guys" fire several magazines of 9mm blank ammunition to add realism. The problem is that, when using a real weapon, blank ammunition cannot be fired in full or semiautomatic mode without the weapon having been modified with a bulky, blank firing adaptor (BFA) which plugs the barrel so that the gases generated by firing can make the mechanism function properly. If a BFA has been installed on a weapon, it is very obvious because of its bulk and, thus, the hoped for authenticity is lost. Strike Two!
Next. One of the real bad guys in the book is an illegal arms trader and collector, and his collection includes what Reacher describes as "...Thompson grease guns." Now I am a big fan of the Thompson sub-machine gun which is chambered to fire the caliber.45 ACP round and, indeed, I carried one when I when I was an advisor to the ARVN in 1968. I also had, at that time, another sub-machine gun chambered in .45 ACP. This was the M-3 "Grease Gun", so named because it looks just like one and is definitly NOT a Thompson. My point is that there is no such thing as a "Thompson Grease Gun". The Thompson and the M-3 "Grease Gun" are two completely different weapons and as different in appearance as night and day. Strike Three!
Still not convinced? How about this? Late in the book, Reacher, who is always regaling people with his Army background (he was a Military Police Major ), explains that he is familiar with the requirements of cocktail parties and formal dinners because "...they played a big part in base life." Now, old Reacher can claim to have been a soldier, but NOBODY in the Army refers to his installation as a "base". Bases are where the Navy and the Air Force live. We in the Army live on POSTS! And no one who has been in the Green Machine for more than 15 minutes would make that error. Strike Four!!
You may think I am too hard on Child and his hero, but from my point of view, Child, through Reacher, has committed an unpardonable sin. This transgression appears in his latest book "A Wanted Man" and is the real reason for my considerable ire. In this most recent novel, Reacher actually has the gall to suggest that the Field Artillery is NOT the"King of Battle" (The wrath of Saint Barbara be upon him!!). Not only that, but he also makes reference to Fort Sill, the Home of the Field Artilley, and insists on calling it "Mother Sill", a moniker which, in my nearly fifty years of association with the Army and the Field Artillery, I have never heard before. But then he is (or was) an MP and one should not expect too much.