I'm fortunate to know (online or not) some interesting people — whether they are other writers or artists in a different medium, or someone who practices some combination of many different interests ... and I want to showcase them here. Every month I'll feature someone who's doing some cool work in whatever field they are in. Hopefully the POSSE SPOTLIGHT will disseminate around, and my readers and others who might come here will get to know some people they might not otherwise have come across or considered. Many of them are featured under PEOPLE (look to the left.) At some point I might start to take questions from readers, as I announce the next Posse Interview a month in advance, and we can make this interactive.



Wednesday, December 08, 2010 4:28:13 PM

Our first Posse Interview is with ANDREW LIPTAK. He is a self-proclaimed "geek" (more on that in the interview), military historian, Stormtrooper and many other things. His blog covers his "thoughts on Science Fiction, History, and the world around [him]," often in a fascinating way. He is also a regular contributor to SFSignal. You can follow him on Twitter as well. This interview was conducted over emails.

7 - What's the last military movie you got excited about? (Not necessarily SF?)
Hm, not many, because I'm not really into war films. The last one that I was excited for was the HBO series, The Pacific, but that was a bit of a letdown, compared to what they did with Band of Brothers a couple of years ago. I am looking forward to Battle: Los Angeles, about Marines going up against an alien invasion in LA. It's been billed as Black Hawk Down meets Independence Day. It should be a fun thing to watch, if anything.

a) I'm surprised you're not into war films! Is it just because when it comes to film your preferred "genre" just isn't the thing you study heavily?
Well, it's more that I haven't gotten around to seeing a wide variety of the films in the field. There's a lot of classics that I need to see, have been told to see, but it's a matter of having the compulsion, opportunity and energy to all intersect at the right time. I love historical dramas - John Adams from HBO was excellent, as was Band of Brothers, and I'm slowly getting into Mad Men.

8 - What do you think is lacking in military movies? (Not necessarily SF?)
I'm not really sure: I'm not well versed in the genre. I hated Saving Private Ryan because it became a jingoistic, and stereotypical story on war. The action was good, but not the story. Band of Brothers was a much better example of what should be out there.

9 - Is there any particular era of Military History that you're geeked out about than others?
The modern 20th Century, encompassing The 1st World War, Spanish Civil War and the 2nd World War, with the rise of fascist and communist powers and modern warfare, and the transition between that style of warfare and the battles of the Cold War. The ideological battle that has been fought connects a lot of these events, and it's alarming at how much warfare has changed over the past hundred years, not only technologically, but ideologically, and the motivations for fighting.

The fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 has changed things drastically, and I'm fascinated by the ongoing conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. This style of warfare is very different from what we're used to over the past century, (again, in motivations and ideology, not necessarily when it comes to the technology and tactics) and the West has been unable to adapt to the changes and change adaptations accordingly. This shift towards counterinsurgency-style fighting is one that is very interesting, because it encompasses a lot of elements that we don't usually think about on the battlefield.

a) What are your thoughts on military video games? The genre there is obviously very big. How do you see those involved game campaigns affecting modern culture as a whole and our view on warfare? I saw a video online about the RollingStone reporter who embedded with troops in Iraq, and how much of the soldiers there were weaned on video games and thus interacted with the real war through that lens. Obviously they were disillusioned very quickly.
There's a fun story with that. As machines have taken a greater impact on the battlefield, the designers designed the controls to be very similar to that of a PlayStation controller. I'm not particularly big into video games (although I do love the Halo games). I think that it's scary at how realistic some games are, where the U.S. Army's used them for training. I suspect that it depends on the use and objective of the games, but they can be a useful tool, or one that hinders training. ▪▪


Wednesday, December 08, 2010 3:33:36 PM

Our first Posse Interview is with ANDREW LIPTAK. He is a self-proclaimed "geek" (more on that in the interview), military historian, Stormtrooper and many other things. His blog covers his "thoughts on Science Fiction, History, and the world around [him]," often in a fascinating way. He is also a regular contributor to SFSignal. You can follow him on Twitter as well. This interview was conducted over emails. Read on!

PART 1 | Part 3
This is PART 2.

4 - Your blog's set apart, in a way, because you also include music reviews, as well as academic essays and book reviews. What kind of music are you passionate about? Do you have a musical background?
Anything that catches my ear, really. My computer at home has a lot of musics on it, with just about every genre, (except A Cappela or Barber Shop Quartet - can't stand those!) represented. I tend to like Rock, Indie Rock and soundtracks, but there's a lot there that fascinates me. Lately, I've been collecting songs that relate to Science Fiction and Fantasy - there's a lot out there.

a) What are some of the SF/F-themed artists that you've discovered? Readers here might be interested to seek them out!
Oh, there's a bunch. Jonathan Coulton and John Anaelio come to mind right off the bat, but then there's the classics like David Bowie and Iron Maiden. I've made some other discoveries, and Jed Whedon (Writer for Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible) released an album called 'History of Forgotton Things', which is excellent, Rasputina is awesome if you're into Cello / Steampunk indie rock, The Mountain Goats have a great rock album called Heretic Pride (Lovecraft in Brooklyn is fantastic!) Josh Ritter's 'So Runs the World Away' has some great speculative elements, and of course, Anais Mitchell's wonderful album Hadestown, which I like to describe as an indie-folk opera retelling of the legend of Orpheus in a post-apocalyptic setting.

5 - What's the last military SF/F Book you got excited about?
Not many, honestly - I just picked up New Model Army, by Adam Roberts, because it has an interesting premise. The last series that I really loved was Karen Traviss's Wess'Har Wars, which was an excellent series of boos that covered a lot of ground. There's been a bunch of books out lately that fit along the military lines that I've read - smart, political, well reasoned stories that will stray into military lines. The next one up for me is The Dervish House by Ian McDonald.

6- What do you feel is lacking in Military SF/F?
A story beyond the need to show a lot of action and people shooting at one another while the authors pontificate on their knowledge of guns and kit. There's some stories out there that I've found to be good versions of this, such as John Scalzi's books, but for his works, there's others like John Ringo's, which I'm struggling to get through because it's just so badly written and conceived of, with poor characters, story and dialog.

I talked on io9 about this sort of thing: I think what's most needed is for an author to have a clear view of what he's telling, and to understand, and think through a lot of what is required for military actions. I'm not talking about the intimate details of logistics, guns, organization, but about how things are used, and why things are used in the way that they are. Basically, if you're going to propose futuristic technology, don't use navel tactics from the 1800s to carry them out. Warfare is a dynamic and ever changing element.


Wednesday, December 08, 2010 3:27:40 PM

Our first Posse Interview is with ANDREW LIPTAK. He is a self-proclaimed "geek" (more on that in the interview), military historian, Stormtrooper and many other things. His blog covers his "thoughts on Science Fiction, History, and the world around [him]," often in a fascinating way. He is also a regular contributor to SFSignal. You can follow him on Twitter as well. This interview was conducted over emails. Read on!

1 - You're an essayist, writer, blogger, reviewer, military historian, fan, self-described geek. What are your origins of these various interests? Were these specific individual moments that led you to these pursuits?

A lot of my interests have their roots from when I was in High School. There were earlier things that set the foundation. Two of my great uncles were in World War II, which left me with a bit of a fascination for 'The War', while I had been read the stories of Merlin and Arthur as a child, while reading some of the condensed versions of the classics: War of the Worlds and Edgar Allen Poe held a certain fascination for me.

What tipped me over the edge for Science Fiction was seeing Star Wars for the first time in theaters when the Special Editions were released to theaters, when my dad took me. I was glued to the screen, and we went back to see The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi over the next couple of weeks. Over the next couple of years, I watched the films countless times and read every book I could get my hands on. As I finished out those books, I turned to other science fiction stories: Dune, Foundation, numerous others that I borrowed from my high school library. One of my high school English teachers encouraged the habit, and we read books like Fahrenheit 451.

Military history came from a similar vein. I had watched the film Pearl Harbor, and wanted to learn more about the actual history behind it, so I read 'At Dawn We Slept', by Gordon Praunge, before moving onto a number of the narrative friendly stories, such as Stephen Ambrose's 'Band of Brothers' and Hampton Side's 'Ghost Soldiers'. Another high school teacher encouraged this, but it wasn't until my final year of my undergraduate studies that I worked extensively with the subject. My senior thesis detailed the experiences of Norwich University students and alumni at Operation Overlord (better known as D-Day) in 1944. This landed me a trip to Normandy with the school's board of directors, where I essentially acted as a consultant and explained the Norwich involvement on the battlefield. It was a fascinating trip, and when I went to work at Norwich University, I took my Master's in Military History from them, where I learned much more about the subject. It's a bit ironic, considering that I'd sought to avoid military history while an undergrad, because the influence was everywhere: I wanted to study social history more than military history, but as I earned my Master's, I learned that there's no clear divisions.

a) Which stories of Merlin and Arthur -- Malory, Chrétien de Troyes, or...?
Actually, the earliest one was 'Merlin and the Dragons' by Jane Yolan, or rather, an audiobook of the story - My mother drove me and my brother to school, and inevitably, we'd listen to it, hundreds of times. I actually just found the story on the tape in our attic. It's a fun story about Merlin as a kid, and it ties into the mythology somewhat.  

b) How do you feel about all of George Lucas' reiterations of Star Wars? 
I honestly don't care one way or the other, and I don't understand all of the fuss surrounding it. Star Wars was something that launched me into science fiction, but it's also a highly profitable franchise, and that seems to dictate things now. I don't have any particular issue with that, because it's a franchise that I enjoy, and the continued attention keeps it coming.  

It's a crowd pleaser, and I wish that the crowd wanted something a bit better. There's a lot of people who would argue that, but when you look at how profitable the franchise continues to be despite those complaints, it says something. But then again, Star Wars has never really been brain candy on the level of films like Alien, Moon and Inception, and that's okay. 

c) You mentioned reading the classics in the genre by Asimov, Herbert, etc ... do you prefer the "Golden Age" SF to the modern? 
I prefer whatever's a good story. I still really love the 'Golden Age' stories, but there's an incredible wealth of stories out there that are coming out now, with an understanding and relevency for the modern day. Something that I've come to understand is that art of any type is formed within a modern context - your audience has to relate to, understand and draw meaning from it. So, a book that came out at the height of the cold war dealing with an oppresive regime might carry with it a reduced or different meaning after the fall of the Soviet Union, whereas a book that comes out today that's dealing with something like global warming might not have worked for an audience in the 1950s. At the same time, there's some authors who have been rediscovered lately who's stories were really far reaching. 

This isn't to say that someone reading a book from the 1950s won't get anything from it - far from it, the 1950s wasn't all that long ago - but audiences might relate to it differently. I know some authors such as Asimov are looked at through different filters. 

d) The veterans of WWII are becoming few and far between, sadly. Do you feel that there's a risk of the upcoming generations growing farther away from the history of their grandfathers? And what would be the fallout of that? 
World War II is a strange war because of the sheer amount of attention given to it. It's a simple war to understand, but it's extrordinarily complicated in how things happened. Hitler was bad, killed a bunch of people and the good guys came in and flattened him. Japan was bad and we went and kicked them off their islands and bombed the hell out of them. However, you then look at the scale of the war: there was fighting on four continents (if you can consider the pacific region a continent) massive implications for everything from industry to government, not to mention in the ways that people learned to kill one another. 

Are we at risk of upcoming generation smoving farther away from history? Sure. As we move further away from the event, it'll recede further into the history books until the 1st and 2nd World Wars are lumped together, along with the Spanish Civil War and maybe a couple of others. 

Part of this fear, I think, comes from the type of culture that we live in: information dense. We want as many stories as possible about everything, and for the second world war, we've got them. That is part of a larger problem, I think, because it's so hard to sift through everything to figure out what's relevant.  

The important lessons of the 2nd World War aren't really from combat, in my opinion, it's the steps that led up to the war, how the war was conducted, and the aftermath. I'm not sure that's what we're clamoring for.

2 - What makes a "Geek" to you? What's the difference, between a "Geek" and a "Nerd" (If there's one)
I tend to base a lot of what I think of this on the book 'American Nerd' by Ben Nugent, published a couple of years ago. I see someone who is very passionate about a subject - any subject - as being a geek. There's the social connotations about this, where the more derogatory elements come from, which I tend to ignore. Nugent described nerd-like tendencies to also include trouble in social situations, which I can somewhat agree with.

3 - How would you describe the 501st Legion (and your involvement in it) to someone who has no frame of reference for a hobby like that?
It depends on the frame of reference. Star Wars is so ingrained in our popular culture, it's hard to find someone who doesn't know about the films. To describe it? I usually tell people that it's an international group that dresses up as the bad guys, and we do charity work at the same time. My involvement is Storm Troopers and Clone Troopers, I have one of each, and I'm building a second Clone, from the TV series, Waxer, for my girlfriend.

a) So you craft your own costumes? What sort of charity work do you do through the Legion?
Yep. I put together my own Stormtrooper and Attack of the Clones Clone Trooper. (The movie sucked, until the clones showed up) I bought kits from people. In the case of the storm trooper, it was pre-cut, and all I had to do was glue it together. The Clone was a whole lot more in terms of time and hours put into it. I had to take the rough cuts, trim them, glue, sand and bondo them (to make the limbs seamless), then paint it (8-10 coats, from black to gray to white), and then rig all the internal stuff, further trim and fit it, and then absolutely ruin the white paint job by kicking pieces up and down the drive way and attacking it with sandpaper. The result is something I'm quite happy with, and a lot of people seem to like it. Everyone looks at me and comments that I've been through a battle or something. The suit's been through a lot - tons of troops (including parades), it's been run over by a car and fixed a number of times. It's due for an overhaul at some point. 

I'm currently building another clone, despite telling myself that I'd never do it again, for my girlfriend, a clone that's toon-accurate. That's almost done, save for a couple of touches. I've also been ordering parts for a couple of Stargate SG-1 outfits for the two of us, Daniel Jackson and Vala Mal Doran, respectively.