Out Of The Dark – Snippet 12
Lieutenant Colonel Alastair Sanders wanted his star.
Well, to be fair, every lieutenant colonel or colonel wanted stars eventually. In his case, however, there was an added incentive to achieve general officer’s rank quickly.
No, he’d explained to one would-be wit after another, he wasn’t from Kentucky. He was from Wyoming. And he didn’t have any secret recipes, either. For that matter, he wasn’t even all that fond of fried chicken, thank you very much. Soldiers being soldiers, however, and officers senior to one being senior to one, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would be dogged by those putatively jocular inquiries until the hoped-for day when — oh, glory! — he would become Brigadier General Sanders.
Of course, he reminded himself as he regarded the orders before him with something less than ecstasy, there were always trade-offs, and there would be on that longed-for day, as well. Such as giving up assignments like the one he currently held. As the commanding officer of First Battalion, Second Brigade, Third Armored Division, he had what was the plum duty of his career, as far as he was concerned.
Even today, the Army’s transformation plan was still tinkering with the perfect setup for its modular brigades. And while it had discovered over the past few years that the format for its Stryker brigades was, indeed, well suited to fast, mobile warfare against guerrillas, insurgencies, terrorists, and low-intensity combat in general, it was rather less well designed than the enthusiasts had predicted for some of the other tasks it had been supposed to perform. In short, there was still a need for a heavy maneuver force, as well, as recent political events had tended to underscore.
That was what his combined arms battalion was supposed to be, and Third Armored Division had been reactivated less than two years ago specifically to increase the number of heavy combat teams. At the moment, his battalion’s table of organization and equipment consisted of his headquarters and headquarters company, two companies of M1A2 Abrams tanks, two mechanized infantry companies, and a mechanized combat engineer company.
Both of his infantry companies were mounted in the M2A3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, with all the updated digital electronics, and there was talk of assigning an organic helicopter gunship element to the brigade, although he suspected control would be held at the brigade level rather than assigned at the battalion level.
He’d just been informed that he was receiving three extra sections of ANT/TWQ-1 Avenger HMMVW-mounted antiaircraft systems for his upcoming assignment, plus two of the brigade’s three armored reconnaissance troops, mounted in the M3A3 cavalry variant of the Bradley, as well. Despite the fact that he didn’t care all that much for the assignment in question, he had to admit that was a potent, ass-kicking collection of combat power. Nor could he pretend he didn’t feel a deep sense of satisfaction as he regarded the fact that it was his, all his.
Well, his, the brigade CO’s, the division CO’s, and national command authority’s, anyway. Indeed, the orders he’d just received could be looked upon as a gentle reminder that those who commanded the United States military might occasionally have the odd little task they wished “his” battalion to perform. Unreasonable of them, perhaps, but there it was.
He didn’t really object to being reminded, though, and that wasn’t the reason for his discontent. No, the problem was where they were sending him. Or, more to the point perhaps, the reason they were sending him.
Herat, capital of Herat Province, just across the border from Iran. There hadn’t been much fighting in the province lately, other than the increasingly frequent pounces seeking to interdict the flow of weapons across the border from Iran. Most of those weapons were headed to points deeper inside the country, not Herat itself, however, and the provincial government (which was at least reasonably free of corruption and cronyism, as far as Sanders could see) had relatively firm control of the region. In fact, there’d been substantially fewer incidents in the city of Herat over the last five or six months than in Kabul itself. But internal Afghan bloodshed (or the lack of it) wasn’t the reason his battalion was being sent there.
No, the reason for that was the tension between the Iranian rÃ©gime and the West in general, and the United States and the State of Israel, in particular.
Sanders didn’t really think of himself as an expert on international relations and diplomacy, but the commander of a combined arms battalion couldn’t afford to be uninformed on such matters, either. For that matter, his superiors would have taken a rather dim view of such a state of affairs. Because of that, he was only too well aware of just how completely relations with Iran had gone into the toilet over the last few years.
The rÃ©gime’s brutal suppression of internal dissent — the “Green Movement” — had driven its relations with the outside world even farther into the wilderness. The mass executions which had followed the resurgence of protests in 2012 had completed Iran’s descent into pariah status, and the rÃ©gime had reacted by becoming even more hardline, even more repressive. The U.S.-sponsored embargo on gasoline shipments which had finally been agreed to after the 2011 assassination of Mir-Hossein Mousavi Khameneh by “parties unknown” had hurt the Iranian economy badly, and the rÃ©gime blamed it (and similar Western pressures) for the subsequent upsurge of street protests. There was probably some logic on their side this time around, Sanders admitted, although their decision to have Mousavi murdered — or at least to refuse to hold anyone accountable for it (except, of course, for the agents of the Greater Satan, which had undoubtedly ordered the crime specifically to implicate them) — damned well had a lot more to do with it. And even if the embargo was making things still worse, he wasn’t going to shed any tears over their fury and what had to be a steadily growing inner sense of desperation. Their response, however, had included dropping the charade of “peaceful nuclear power” and openly announcing their intention to acquire nuclear weapons as rapidly as possible.
Along, of course, with the renewed observation that the “Zionist entity” had no right to exist and had to be eradicated as soon as possible. Then there was that minor matter of the continued call for the universal caliphate which, for some odd reason, didn’t fill the non-Muslim world with joyous anticipation. For that matter, most of the Muslims of Sanders’ acquaintance weren’t particularly enamored of the notion of an Iranian-style caliphate.
Despite all of that, Russia (which had worked hard to build influence in Iran for over thirty years, since the fall of the shah) had continued to supply Tehran with nonnuclear military technology up until about eight months ago. At that point, the Russian government had finally given in to Western pressure. Moscow had retreated from the military relationship with ill-concealed resentment, but the parlous state of its own economy had meant it couldn’t afford too open a confrontation with its Western trading partners, especially when the combination of new drilling in the U.S., the unfortunate coup which had overtaken Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, general global conservation, and the current (relative) tranquility in the Sunni Middle East had conspired to drive down the price of their own oil so dramatically. So, as of six months ago, Russia had officially suspended all arms and technology shipments to Iran.
Intelligence suggested that China was now sniffing around the opportunities presented by the Russian withdrawal, but it didn’t look as if there was going to be much upsurge in Chinese influence in Tehran. For one reason, Sanders suspected darkly, because Russia hadn’t really disengaged as fully as the Kremlin claimed it had. And, for another, because China was currently much more interested in the possibilities in Pakistan’s oil-and gas-rich but penniless Baluchestan Province.
In the meantime, Iran had stepped up its efforts to supply weapons — and increasingly capable ones — to its proxy forces like Hamas. There’d been a significant upsurge in terrorist attacks in Israel and Iraq, as well, and there wasn’t much doubt that Iranian intelligence had been deeply involved in them. Add in the normal vituperation of its lunatic president (who would have believed they could have found someone worse than Ahmadinejad?) and the increased fervency of the mullahs’ calls for jihad against both the Greater and Lesser Satans, and there was a lot of room for anxiety. In fact, Sanders rather suspected antacid makers were doing land office business in Wonderland on the Potomac.
The hard part was trying to figure out how much of the anxiety was justified,
and recent Iranian “military exercises” had added to the ambiguity. There was a lot of discussion about the West’s avenues for bringing even more pressure to bear on the rÃ©gime, and the possibility of a complete naval blockade had been coming up more and more frequently of late. Personally, Sanders didn’t think the Palmer Administration had any serious intention of doing it, but the U.S. Navy clearly had the capability, and enough of that navy was forward deployed to the Red Sea and Western Med to make the mullahs understandably nervous.
Whatever the reason, their public belligerence had grown even more vitriolic of late, and Iran had recently reinforced its positions along its eastern frontier with Iraq despite its nominally friendly relationship with Iraq’s majority-Shiite government. No one took too much stock in the “friendliness” of that particular relationship, however, given Iraq’s continuing relationship with the United States and the last few months’ sudden spate of assassinations of Sunni government ministers, governors, and mayors. Even the Shiite Interior Minister, who’d apparently made the mistake of seeming too willing to conciliate his Sunni fellows, had been mysteriously assassinated, and fear that Iran was likely to try something genuinely irrational had risen accordingly.
In addition, Tehran had stationed a corps consisting of an armored division and a mechanized infantry division at Tayyebat in Razavi Khorasan Province, less than ninety miles east of Herat. It was unlikely that a single Iranian division of long-in-the-tooth T-55s and T-72s was going to jump off on an invasion of Afghanistan, especially given all the air power available in-country to knock it on its ass if it tried. Despite that, the Powers That Were had decided that presenting a rÃ©gime as . . . radically energetic as the current one in Tehran with something a little more noticeable than out-of-sight, out-of-mind F-35s might be a good idea.
Thus Sanders’ orders to go and be noticeable.
Of course, this was only the warning order, giving him time to hand over his battalion’s present responsibilities to its designated relief and organize the move. It was always possible the actual move would be canceled. In fact,
Sanders wished he had a nickel — well, maybe a dollar, given inflation — for every time he’d seen orders canceled or changed at the last minute. He didn’t think that was going to happen this time, though. There was too much tension in the air. By this time, tension was actually feeding upon tension in an accelerating feedback loop on both sides of the confrontation.
Given the current circumstances, his presence might simply exacerbate the situation. How much of the Iranians’ apparently irrational rhetoric was genuine and how much represented the actual intentions of the rÃ©gime had always been one of the really fun guessing games where Iran was concerned, and it had turned into even more of a case of paying your money and taking your choice over the last couple of years. So his orders were to deter Iranian adventurism without provoking Iranian adventurism, and to defeat any Iranian adventurism which occurred anyway.
Presumably it all made sense to someone in the Pentagon or, at least, in the Administration. In the meantime, his was not to question why.
And while he was busy not questioning, he supposed it was time to sit down with his S-3, and start planning the move.
If Weber thinks that he has made events even crazier than they are, he is wrong:
I though he was British with a name like “Alistair” until they mentioned where he was from, and wondered why he would want a “star” since it’s not that way in the British Army
Still, it profiles as wrong, since the real control in Iran is in the hands of the ayatollahs and supreme leader, and the President is a figurehead rabble-rouser, unless there was another revolution and the revolutionary guard replaced the ayatollahs or something
Hmm… I hope DW is not going to bitch at the democrats again. He did that in a couple of books, and it’s getting real old. But at least he is not as bad as Taylor, who somehow managed to blame Clinton the actions of China around 2020-2030.
This is part of the problem I have with a lot of newer military scifi: The intent to make modern current-day politics part of the plot, or a commentary thereof by the “Proven Right By The Plot” protagonists.
Now, I understand any decent near-future story would have to mention it, but between Taylor, Kratman, and Ringo… I just hope Weber isn’t going to be as blatant.
State of Disobedience was a good book, if you mentally editted out any relevance to modern politics. The Last Centurion could have been much better if it wasn’t a “Let’s create a scenario and set pieces that are straw men of the political opposition!”
That’s it. I’m getting back to trying to plot out Tree of Liberty, a good ol’ scifi space combat between Democratic-Republican rebels and Totalitarian Space Nazis.
unfortunately if this is set in 2012 then the November 6 United States presidential election will put politis in play, at least until the aliens come and maybe even after
Ever hear the “joke” about what happens when a liberal is mugged?
David Weber assumes that the Liberals are just as mad as Conservatives at what happens.
There is a clear reference which makes clear we are in 2013 or later, perhaps 2015.
Mind you, Colonel Sanders gets to command a tank unit of an Army that has no tested doctrine for ‘enemy has air supremacy’, did very poorly the last times this was the case even briefly, and gets to fight in an area noted for its lack of overhead cover not that this is likely to do any good.
@2 I heartily agree, not to mention that I do not like the politics of the people who do well in some of those novels. If you want an alternative while waiting for these to appear, my novel Minutegirls … well, the other side got proven right by plot, and the first side was run out of the country. Thoroughly. Of course, there have been a few readers who failed to process ‘military units are now named after great Americans’ and ‘Bella Abzug Brigade’ even while knowing who the late great Bella Abzug was.
@2 Consider the limits of character knowledge.
@3 IIRC, I got the impression that that was a result of Taylor holding a grudge over Clinton’s tech transfer to China, which you may recall IRL.
@4 I have trouble seeing how you found anything remaining of A State of Disorder after performing such an edit. Kratman is politics, and ASOD was a cautionary tale. (More or less ‘Given how polarized we are, don’t try to win the whole thing, and don’t go too fast, because there will be unintended consequences and you won’t like some of them.’)
Tree of Liberty sounds like a revisionist retelling of the American Civil War to me, with the Republicans of the ACW era being portrayed as Nazis. (Which is unfair, as the Republicans of the day, IMOAO arrogant opinion, were not the closest significant American cognates of the members of the German National Socialist Workers Party, not that the better alternatives don’t also have important differences.) I strongly suspect that is an error in my reading of your summery somewhere. (Are you aware that Democratic-Republican Party is more or less the original, antebellum, name of the Democratic Party?)
My thinking is that Weber wanted a scenario for the story, and didn’t think that setting it during the Cold War era would grab as many people. Near past would be counterfactual, and distant future also less likely to grab people. This text strikes me as being the bare minimum Weber could use to justify a true war fighting force overseas in the current environment and still respect himself.
@4 Weber, for a Baen author, is fairly middle of the road, politically, which is why he is more readable than the ones mentioned. The guy who never lets his politics interfere with the story is our website host, whose politics are familiar to my wife and close to the hearts of her family. The rest of that Baen military scifi bunch are way too rabid and not very good writers. Compared to Bujold and Lee & Miller they are not writers, just monkeys on keyboards, with no grace or charm in their words.
EVERYTHING is politics. You can’t escape it.
Remember politics is a compound word Poly is Latin for many and tics are small bloodsucking animals. A lack of politics would be political.
Politics is also perspective. While some may consider Weber right wing, I see him as a Liberal.
Those that ignore politics, like those that ignore history, are doomed to repeating mistakes of the past.
“Politics is war without bloodshed, while war is politics with bloodshed.”
“Fools say that they learn by experience. I prefer to profit by others experience”*
_Otto Von Bismarck
Being overly political leaves a book feeling terribly dated quite quickly. Then there’s the risk you literally get ahead of yourself, like the spate of SF books three years ago featuring female presidents who were caricatures of a certain former NY Senator.
Alastair? From Wyoming? Cody would have been a lot better name…
Looks like rural, mountainous areas are going to be the centers of resistance… the Balkans, Afghanistan. Places where a nuke or a KEW would just wreck the roads and kill 500 people or so.
Actually I think Weber’s read on the current Iran situation is pretty good. The Iran president is actually getting more independent these days and coming out from the Mullah’s control more and more. So I can see the situation as portrayed in this book as being accurate in a few years.
Also I agree with you all about the politics in a lot of the Baen books lately, but in the end politics do figure in our time as a significant factor in our ordinary life. The populace of the country is getting more and more divided in its politics and the middle is getting more squeezed. The same thing is happening in the media more and more and so to find it in SF books is not totally out of step with our current culture…unfortunately.
Personally, I wonder how many complaining about the Politics in Baen Books would be complaining if it was a strong Left-Wing slant to the Politics?
@12 Good call Drak-though I think Kratman is too lacking in nuance! As for Iran, I lived there in 1979 and I must say the ‘petrol embargo’ is spot on. It was the fuel strikes that brought down the Shah.
…Iran had recently reinforced its positions along its eastern frontier with Iraq …
Is my geography off? Iraq is to the west of Iran.
@16 This is from an early copy Drak has. There are some errors that are likely fixed in the final version.
I see politics in a lot of stuff.
It is easier to see the politics in something when the apparent politics differ strongly from one’s own. It is harder when the politics are very close to the same as one’s own. Whether or not one sees it does not mean it is there or not.
Politics is always potentially risible, and anything risible for some of the readership runs the risk of turning off readers.
However, something that is inoffensive and doesn’t run the risk of grabbing the negative emotions of readers also runs the risk of not grabbing the readers at all.
Writing near future stuff always runs the risk of being dated quickly, whether or not it is political.
@9 Strictly speaking, Bujold, Lee, and Miller may qualify as members of the set of ‘The rest of that Baen military scifi bunch’.
Are there any “mullahs” in Iran? Isn’t that an Afghan term? And further, isn’t a Sunni term, not Shiite?
@ 12 500 people and 1000000 sheep.
@ 17 the not so near future also. 20 years seems like it is so far off, then all of the sudden it is here. Take a look at the number of scifi books and movies where the date has already passed. Going back to the 50s and 60s is even more fun. I’m still waiting for my flying car.
@18 The Iranian dissidents refer to mullahs as ‘akhondha’ (ha is a plural usually used for inanimate objects) so I suppose we should say Akonds, it seems to mean ‘clerics’ in the sense of ‘those thieving clerics’ but come on who has heard of such a term.
When it comes to epic space opera, politics is unavoidable. And I don’t particularly care if an author regularly denounces a particular ideaology. I can handle everything Weber writes – even including his strong political preferences being shown in the makeup of the bad guys for his stories.
What I said specifically, quoting myself: “modern current-day politics part of the plot, or a commentary thereof”
The Last Centurion was a thinly veiled attack on actual people (Warwick? Please), and most of the Polseen saga is unreadable due to the commentary/attack on modern politics. This is particularly irking to me as I loved There Will Be Dragons, and a Hymn Before Battle was tolerable (not my favorite, but I could enjoy reading it.)
There is a difference between politics in fiction, and modern real world politics in fiction. The former I can enjoy, the latter I cannot.
@8: As an example of what I just said, A State of Disobedience had a majority of the issues generalized before I could start enjoying it. It became ‘Reformist attempt against semi-dystopian sliding government’ rather than ‘Valiant Libertarians against Crazy Pscho-Dems’.
To be more specific about Tree of Liberty, it is a story based on a specific series of events I had planned for my faction in a multiplayer Starfire 3rd Edition Strategic game, in which my fascist totalitarian dictatorship Kingdom of Bari would be reformed back into the much more liberal Republic that ended several decades before the game start.
@9 Flint very definitely interjects his politics, or at least his political philosophy. Just like with any other other authors, sometimes this works OK and sometimes it doesn’t.
@14 Drak, first of all the folks who would really be ticked off about a strong right-wing slant aren’t even reading Baen books, for the most part.
I like a good political rant from time to time. L. Neil Smith wrote some entertaining books (and some really boring rants). Ringo has written some entertaining books (and some really boring rants). Flint and Freer have written some entertaining books (and some really boring rants).
Personally I tend to prefer people like Drake, who probably have some political positions but above all seem to favor pragmatism over theory.
ps. And for non-Baen, nobody gets as wildly political as Kim Stanley Robinson. As with the others, some of his stuff is fascinating, and some is boringly over the top.
@Mike: “14 Drak, first of all the folks who would really be ticked off about a strong right-wing slant arenâ€™t even reading Baen books, for the most part.”
—Speak for yourself please. The right wing rants frankly irritate the hell out of me, particularly when they reduce the other side of the political divide to the most absurd of cartoon caricatures. Have you tried reading Ringo’s Paladin of Shadows series? It always makes me hope he’s writing it as over the top parody but I can’t quite convince myself of it.
And if you think Baen readers in general are all up for right wing politics being shoved at them you might want to check out what happened when the geniuses there decided they were going to slip some Tea Party manifesto into the Webscription a while back.
@21 I find that Ringo has a real story telling flair that carries me through his stories despite his political ideology (which is diametrically opposed to mine). An other interesting example is the Dies the Fire series by S.M. Stirling which actually has real life famous living people in it. The British Royal Family has Prince Charles being a waste of space while Prince William is a hero, and a current senior Australian politician features as well.
The Emberverse is good in otherwise having no real connection to modern politics, oreven specifically commentary on contemporary politics. Prince Charles was not a ‘waste of space’ as you said, but rather important focus for the rebuilding of England – Prince William eventually became a hero, molded by events. *shrug*
That being said, I’m reading Troy Rising, but I’m still kinda going … every time he bashes a cartoon straw man version of the opposite side of politics.
@26 I regard the Emberverse as being one of the better places to immerse in (along with Honorverse, 1632, Known Space and some of Turtledove). Agree to disagree about Charlie, as being a citizen of the British Commonwealth of Nations I may be confusing fact and fiction. Troy Rising is an excellent example being a great story but you do have to shudder at the non subtle fascist bias. As a life time union supporter I enjoy Eric’s approach of reform from the grass roots, but I suppose others might not agree.
I am in exact agreement with you, and fortunately we have fine writers like our host Eric, but what you are describing is the current American Republican Conservative movement in some part. They also have some nice people, though.
@9 “Weber, for a Baen author, is fairly middle of the road, politically, which is why he is more readable than the ones mentioned.”
Is that a joke? Weber’s portrayal of the left in the Honor Harrington books is such a one-sided caricature that he had to bring in Flint to write a sympathetic character because he couldn’t do it.
I don’t mind people writing from a conservative mindset. But Ringo, Kratman, and Weber can’t even comprehend why someone might be on the other side. It’s a motivational black hole for them. It makes for bad story-telling and I don’t particularly want to buy books from people who just obviously think I am stupid and hold me in contempt.
And I haven’t. My precious few entertainment dollars go to Flint and Mieville now. And it should be noted that neither Flint nor Mieville, despite being on the fairly far left, do anything like the sheer political pontificating of a Weber or a Ringo.