Bennett Coles is the author of ‘Virtues of War‘ and served 15 years in the Canadian Navy as a bridge officer, boarding party officer, warfare officer, and navigator, and served a pair of tours in the Middle East as a UN Military Observer. A rising Canadian author, he led the maverick publisher Promontory Press, supporting Canadian and American writers.
While promoting his novel (which I clearly enjoyed) he recently had some time to sit down for an interview. Within he shares some of his inspirations for the novel as well as a shared love of my favorite military science fiction show on television – ‘Battlestar Galactica.’
ScienceFiction (SF): Bennett, thanks for making the time to talk a little about your upcoming work. First if you could tell us a little bit about what to expect from ‘Virtues of War’?
Bennett Coles (BC): It’s great to be here, thanks. ‘Virtues of War’ is an exciting adventure where the reader gets thrown into the brutal realism of combat and experiences the fear, pain and thrill of the central characters as they fight for their lives. But more than the military action, ‘Virtues of War’ is foremost a story about the people. It’s a character-driven tale which gets right into the minds of the young men and women of the Astral Force as they experience warfare for the first time. The story shows how war changes a person, and how decisions made by a single soldier in the heat of action can have far-reaching consequences for millions of others.
SF: What inspired you to bring this novel to life?
BC: My original inspiration for the series came on my first major naval deployment. We were off the Aleutian Islands and I was back aft watching helicopter operations amidst the storm and swell. I thought to myself: “This is really cool. But it would be even cooler if it was in SPACE!” From that moment on I started working on a concept for a military science fiction series.
SF: Having served in the Royal Canadian Navy how has your real life experiences focused your writing?
BC: I like to bring as much realism as possible to my writing. I was able to draw not only on actual experiences in my career to develop the story, but I was also able to take the doctrine, attitudes and customs of the RCN and develop a consistent and realistic culture for the Astral Force. My characters think, speak and act like real sailors and troopers do.
SF: What research into science did you need to put together for ‘Virtues of War’? How much of the writing was taking liberties with science and how much was grounded in it?
BC: I try to stay within the laws of physics as much as possible, and I read widely on the subject to try and get it right. In particular, I had great fun manipulating the 5-dimensional warped geometry theory of Dr. Lisa Randall and Dr. Raman Sundrum into an arena for anti-submarine warfare in space. Did I take liberties? Maybe. But I stayed true to the science in as much as anyone in the 21st century understands it. Readers will note that my ships have artificial gravity, but I figure that if humans in the 24th century can hunt vessels in the Bulk with graviton pulses, they probably understand that force well enough to create AG on board.
SF: There is a growing interest in military themed science fiction out there. What do you think the increased draw in recent years has been?
BC: With the major wars in Southeast Asia over the past decade and a half, many people on both sides of the Atlantic have been forced to consider the impact of war on us as individuals. Science fiction is a wonderful vehicle to explore the powerful themes of war, conflict and the human condition without becoming a political statement on a real-world conflict. By setting a military story in a science fiction milieu, these themes can be explored in a more pure way.
Also, and I almost hate to say it, I think we authors have a big thank-you to say to TV producers. In recent years there have been some truly outstanding science fiction shows, and one of the very best was ‘Battlestar Galactica’ – which impressed me for many reasons but mostly for the incredible military realism the producers insisted upon. Bringing military science fiction into the mainstream of popular culture has brought in a whole new group of fans.
SF: Who are some authors that you would also recommend for those interested in a more military themed piece of science fiction?
BC: John Scalzi’s ‘Old Man’s War’ is a great place to start. Other excellent military science fiction authors include David Drake, David Weber, and Joe Halderman. My personal favourite, though, is still Robert Heinlein’s ‘Starship Toopers’ – the grand-daddy of them all.
SF: If you could co-write a novel with any author living or dead what would your dream collaboration be?
BC: Tough choice, but I think I’d go with Arthur C. Clarke. His works were firmly rooted in hard science but presented such vast, sweeping ideas that as a reader you just had to sometimes stop reading to try and wrap your brain around what he had written. I think with my focus on complex characters and his command of big ideas, we could have kicked butt.
SF: How has working with Titan Books been for putting ‘Virtues of War’ together?
BC: Fabulous. They were very open to taking on ‘Virtues of War’ as their own title, even though I had originally self-published it in 2010. It was gratifying to think that Titan considered the book good enough to have a second, expanded shot at the market, and it was great fun working through the editorial on a manuscript which I actually finished about seven years ago.
SF: What can we expect to see from you next?
BC: The sequel to ‘Virtues of War’ will be coming out next year, and it will be quite a different tale. Whereas Book I explores the effects of war on young soldiers, Book II will show what happens when soldiers come home from war for the first time. It’s an entirely new battleground, and one which most soldiers are ill-prepared for.
SF: Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
BC: On behalf of all authors… If you read a book and like it, please take a few moments to write a review of it on Goodreads or somewhere else that other like-minded folk can see. Word of mouth is the most honest kind of marketing any book can get, and it’s the best way for other readers to find their newest favourite.