Ever wondered what "Black Hawk Down meets the X-Men" might look like? According to bestselling author Peter V. Brett, that's exactly what readers get in Myke Cole's debut novel Control Point the first in his Shadow Ops series from Ace. The praise doesn't end there, with another bestseller, Ann Aguirre, calling Control Point "hands down the best military fantasy I've ever read."
In Cole's novel, people are waking up with magical talents"”- storm-summoning, raising the dead, and fire-starting"”- and creating chaos because of it. Army officer Oscar Britton, a member of the military's Supernatural Operations Corps, is tasked with bringing order "to a world gone mad." But when he suddenly manifests a rare magical power, Britton must go on the run from his former bosses. As Britton evades capture and learns more about the world of magic, the stakes rise exponentially. Cole's career seems almost as exciting (and perilous) as the events in Control Point. As a security contractor, government civilian and military officer, Cole has been involved in everything from counterterrorism efforts to cyber warfare and federal law enforcement. After three tours in Iraq, Cole was recalled to serve during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
With that career background, readers may be surprised to learn that Cole, as he told Omni in an exclusive interview, "grew up with solid nerd roots: from Dungeons & Dragons to comic books to mass-market fantasy. You should be seeing the Terry Brooks, Tolkien and D&D in Control Point every bit as much as you see the Black Hawk Down."
Cole started writing as a kid, with fantasy a big influence: "My first 'book' consisted of transcribing the vinyl recording of Ralph Bakshi's old Lord of the Rings animated film when I had just learned to write competently. I never stopped writing from that point on. I got serious about writing for publication in roughly 1998."
Beyond the geek influences, "My fiction is an absolute product of my professional life," Cole said. "I'd be surprised if readers of Control Point don't see the Pentagon's military bureaucracy and Iraq's firefights in the pages. [But] my life as a writer has also informed my work, because it has taught me the value of digging in and persisting in the face of seemingly impossible odds. There's so much in common between the military life and the writing life that I'm surprised more people haven't drawn the comparison."
The idea for the Shadow Ops series came to Cole while working for the Pentagon in the late 1990s. "The Pentagon is regulation-central. Everything has a rule and a manual to look it up in"¦Well, add geek to that. I kept wondering 'What if Army Materiel Command was having to requisition magic wands? What if the contractors working here were gnomes? What would the regs say then?' Would there be a department set up to handle magic? How would the senate appropriate funds for that?" These kinds of questions drove Cole to write Control Point "as the only way to answer them."
Still, Cole acknowledged that it's his main character, Oscar Britton, who actually drives the novel. "This guy fascinates me"¦[he's] completely unmoored from any sense of home or sanctuary. He's stripped away from both his families (his real one, and the army). He's unfairly hounded and persecuted. He has every reason to throw up his hands and retreat into self-pity or frozen-despair." But, in the tradition of great heroes in fiction, "He faces the situation squarely and tackles it. He ignores how incredibly massive the problems facing him are. He puts one foot in front of the other. There's no guarantee he won't fail, and he accepts that."
"That, to my mind, is the very best of what military officers do," Cole said. "They often face the real possibility of being cashiered because of their decisions, but they make them anyway, because they've been trained to the point where making tough calls is instinctive. I admire the hell out of Oscar Britton (though I wouldn't want to be in his shoes). He is based on the very best I've seen from many officers, both in Iraq and stateside."
As might be expected, Cole also offers readers a variety of pulse-pounding action scenes. The obvious question is whether his military experience influenced those scenes. But Cole was quick to point out that while stationed in Iraq he wasn't "engaged in house-to-house firefights. Most of my experience was with 'indirect fire" (mortar, rocket or grenade attacks), much of which was 'danger close' (close enough that there's a real chance of being hit). I did experience inbound small-arms fire, but found the indirect attacks to be much more affecting.
The real influence of experience came from depicting garrison life in the novel and trying "really hard to capture the muddy, boom-fly-out-of-your-chair reality of sudden indirect attacks that I experienced in Iraq. Of course, the indirect in the novel is coming from sorcerous lightning or flame strikes."
Cole also wanted to avoid some of the mistakes he finds some writers make when depicting violence. "I find they oversell it in one direction or the other. Either the violence is completely white-washed (glorious, bloodless) or it's overly bloody and senseless. The truth, as always, is far more complex. Violence in war can be senseless and destructive. It can also be noble and judicious. Polarity serves fiction well, but I think the difference between good war stories and great war stories is the willingness to embrace complexity."
While Control Point focuses mostly on the U.S. military, Cole plans to open up the Shadow Ops series going forward. "Magic affects the entire world in the series. I was fascinated by what foreign militaries might be doing with it, and got to explore that a bit in the later books. [The follow-up] Fortress Frontier will give a fairly close look at how the army of the Republic of India uses magic, and I am hoping to explore that a bit further in [the third book] Breach Zone. I also have some ideas for looking at magic in the US Coast Guard in the Shadow Ops universe. I find that fascinating because the Coast Guard is the military, but is also federal law enforcement, so there's a whole host of laws and responsibilities that would impact how they use magic domestically."
A likeable and dynamic speaker, Cole will make an appearance at the USMC base in Quantico, Virginia, on February 15. You can also catch him at the Boskone convention February 17 through 19, and Balticon in May.