Interview notes with Mr. Larry Bond (USN)
Interviewee: LtCol H. R. Rawlings
REF: Military Fiction & Contemporary Military Events
On 11 March, 2019 I was honored to interview one of the most storied military fiction authors and game designers of the past three decades. A former U.S. Navy destroyer and intelligence officer, his perspectives on military writing and contemporary events are foundational to anyone writing or reading topics of military concern today.
Mr. Bond graduated from St. Thomas College, St. Paul, Minnesota in 1973 with a degree in Quantitative Methods, A computer programmer for several years, he was selected for Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. Sworn into the Navy in 1975, he served at the height of the Cold War for six years. His tours included four years in the fleet aboard fast destroyers and two years to posts to Washington DC. After which he served in the reserves with the Naval Reserve Intelligence Program.
Mr. Bond’s time after the service has been just as fascinating, he has an established writing career in military fiction that spans over thirty years in hard hitting and fast paced adventure on the high seas, in the jungles of Africa and in the centers of political intrigue from Seoul, to D.C. to Moscow. His most recent work, Arctic Gambit – the 7th in the Jerry Mitchell series – sees our hero now the commander of COMSUBDEVRON FIVE: A missing submarine, nuclear blackmail, you need to read this, it’s the latest and greatest from military fiction mastermind Larry Bond and is available on Amazon right now! [LINK TO AMAZON]
With that introduction, Mr. Bond, let’s get right to some questions:
Question #1: You had a fabulous career in the Navy and in naval intelligence before moving into military fiction.
LtCol Rip Rawlings: What lessons do you still draw from your time in service? Are you better able to write characters into your novels after listening and watching many of your own interactions with men and women in the fleet? Do any of your earlier Naval career archetypes still pop up in your books? Conniving careerist villains, perhaps, whom you crossed swords with aboard destroyers or ashore, or everyday heroes who sacrificed for the crew and stood out as good persons to base characters upon?
LLB: My military service is unquestionably the biggest influence in my storytelling – not the knowledge of the ships and planes, but the many different kinds of people I met and worked with and sometimes had to deal with – their personalities and their approach to military service and different situations. I’ve never taken an individual I’ve met and dropped them bodily into one of my stories, but I’ve used parts of them, as well as myself, in many of the characters we’ve created. The hardware is fun, and the action exciting, but readers remember the characters.
Question #2: Mr. Bond, there is an immense resurgence in military and action fiction.
LtCol Rip Rawlings: We all know you contributed greatly to (I should just say “founded!”) a first epoch in military/techno fiction, how much have things in the market or in current events changed since you first wrote Red Phoenix or even more recently the First Team series?
LLB: The current techno-thriller era is only the latest surge in the genre. General Sir John Hackett created interest with his “Third World War” in 1986, and its sequel. In 1929, Hector C. Bywater wrote the excellent “Great Pacific War of 1931,” based on his extensive knowledge of naval affairs, and in the early 1900s and 1910s there were several novels written about “modern” wars between the European nations, some involving the USA.
If you want to mark the beginning of this era with the fantastic success of “The Hunt For Red October,” at that time the US had undergone a period of relative peace. While the Cold War occupied a central place in geopolitics, US forces rarely engaged in actual combat. Remember the commotion when the two Libyan Su-22s were shot down in 1981?
“Red Storm Rising” and similar books were extremely popular in the 1980s. The best ones combined the “what-if” factor of untried weapons with good story lines and strong characters. The bad ones spent too much time talking about muzzle velocities and fuse settings.
I noticed a distinct drop in popularity of the genre after Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990. Not only had the novelty disappeared (you could watch laser-guided bomb hits on the evening news), but readers were also reminded about the less-exciting side of war.
The emphasis also shifted as the enemy changed, from the Soviets in the 1980s to terrorism and rogue states in the 1990s and beyond.
Question #3: Co-Authoring and Wargaming.
LtCol Rip Rawlings: I am currently co-authoring a military fiction novel with the exemplary NYT #1 bestseller Mark Greaney and we’ve had a thrill of a time conjuring and piecing together our own novel, Red Metal. You had a similar experience co-authoring with Tom Clancy, can you speak about your experiences as a co-author? It’s well known that you did some war-gaming and simulation to gauge battle outcomes and sequencing, can you give some insight how you ‘filled in’ the blanks after you gained some tid-bit or detail from war-gaming?
LLB: I was more apprentice than co-author, and I learned from the master. We did wargame parts of RSR extensively, because there were so many factors interacting. The only way to see what was really important was to “bang the rocks together” and see what dominated. I’ve done it with other books, as well.
We never took the action from the game and transferred it directly into the book. We already knew who would win or lose the battle in the story, but the gaming helped us understand what kind of battle it would be. Consider it as just an additional step in researching a story. In “Red Storm Rising,” we gamed the chapter “Dance of the Vampires” three times (each time with a different outcome), but Tom came up with his own brilliant tactic, drawing on the games’ experience.
Question #4: You are best known as an author of military fiction, but you invented the game Harpoon.
LtCol Rip Rawlings: I am not ashamed to say I cut my teeth on that game (both the board game and the computer game) and found it to be an amazing primer to war-gaming in general. We used modified parts of the game and others at Infantry Officers course (on land of course) to open the doorway to making better informed tactical and operational decisions. What advice would you give to field grade/mid-grade military officers today about the use of wargames? I know we’re all eager for a Harpoon 5th Edition, but while we wait for you to develop a next version, what wargames would you recommend for today’s gamers and military planners?
LLB: I often attend a conference called “Connections” which brings together the military, commercial gamers, and “professional” gamers like RAND and Center for Naval Analysis. The goal of the conference is to find military applications that need games, and games that might fill important needs, not only for training, but also analysis and planning.
I constantly encourage military members of all ranks and command levels to play games, not just realistic games run officially by the military, but commercial games of ancient warfare all the way up through science fiction. Someone who is career military will be in the service long enough to see not just new weapons, but new enemies and new kinds of warfare. They need the flexibility of thought to recognize what the “rules” are in their current fight, and when they change. The increased knowledge of military history is a second benefit that is lacking in many US service members.
Question #5: Do you see similarities to the late ’70’s and early ’80’s?
LtCol Rip Rawlings: Current events seem to repeat the past and once again Russia and China have taken center stage in adversarial relationships with the U.S. What things are different, in your mind, from the days of the Cold War? Do you see any parallels?
LLB: Revanchist Russia and ascendant China are similar in some ways to the “bad old days,” but the Russian bear is very different from his Soviet predecessor, Russia is stretched thin, and no longer has the resources they once did. For example, on the naval side, they haven’t built anything larger than a frigate since 1989. No cruisers, not even a destroyer.
And even if the Bear was the same, the world is very different, and we are, as well.
Question #6: What do you believe the next conflict will look like?
LtCol Rip Rawlings: We’ve been ‘distracted’ as a nation with small wars for the past 17-years. Fighting in locations in Africa and the middle east. What do you believe the next conflict will look like? State vs. State, or proxy wars? More global terrorism?
LLB: I’m gonna be a pessimist and say “all of the above.” The risk of a “conventional” conflict is still low, because of the high cost in blood and treasure. Nation states and non-state actors can engage in “low-level” (“high-level” if you’re the one being shot at) conflict with minimal cost and relatively few casualties, compared to the casualty count from a full-on battle. Those small attacks may have minimal military effect, but their political effects can be huge, and that’s where decisions are made. In fact, any military action, large or small, has to be translated into political terms to have any purpose at all.
Question #7: What are you reading today?
LtCol Rip Rawlings: Any hot suggestions for your fans?
LLB: I’ve been reading a lot of history lately, as well as sci-fi. I’m a big fan of Greg Bear. And read “The Second Pearl Harbor,” by Gene Salecker, which is a story about a Really Bad fire in the West Loch at Pearl during WW II.
Mr. Bond, you are truly an inspiring author and as one of the principle authors of Cold War and Military/techno fiction, my hat is off to you, Sir. Thank you again for agreeing to this interview and I look forward to perhaps another interview in a year’s time.
LLB: Thanks for the kind words. I wish your blog and new book every success.
Thank you Sir, and Semper fi,
LtCol Rip Rawlings