Hello Space Cadets! Today, I wanted to introduce you to another author from my Warrior Weekend Interview Series, James S. Aaron. He’s the author of The Sentience Wars series, which takes place in M.D. Cooper’s Aeon 14 universe. With three books published, the five-book series will take readers from 2900 to 3200, as sentient AI break free of humanity. A native of Oregon, Aaron joined the U.S. Army in 1993 at the tender age of seventeen and stuck around until 2005, serving as both enlisted and officer. Aaron is a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America and currently works in law enforcement. Aside from the normal stuff writers do, he also plays with solar power and aquaponics, protects his seventeen chickens from hawks and his poop gobbling Corgi, and curses the deer who chow on his garden.
Tell me a little about your military service?
I joined the U.S. Army Reserve when I was 17 as a 91F (Combat Medic/Psychiatric Specialist). It wasn’t until I started going to drill and telling other soldiers that I wanted to go to college that I learned about ROTC.
Since I had already enlisted, I went through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and then my advanced training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. While Combat Medic was fairly straight forward, the Psychiatric Specialist job trained you to be an orderly on a military psych ward. We learned about psycho-pharmacology, how to write nursing notes, leading group sessions and performing holds and take downs, among other things.
After the initial phase of training, our class was divided, and half went to Lackland Air Force Base to lead group therapy for Airmen, while the other half spent eight weeks working in the psychiatric ward at the San Antonio Audie Murphy Memorial VA Hospital. I went to the VA hospital.
For the first half of the training period, we wrote nursing notes but didn’t get to read the patient’s files. Afterward, we were able to find out why people were actually in the hospital. The patients varied from major depression to schizophrenia, PTSD-related anxiety disorders, to bipolar disorder and addiction. Every morning we weren’t sure what new person we would find in the holding room. I assisted with Electro-Convulsive Therapy (Shock Therapy) and was tasked with talking to the patients afterward.
A week before we were going to graduate the course, two soldiers in my class drove down to a town in Mexico where they had been buying steroids. When they couldn’t get steroids, they bought Ativan, an anti-depressant we issued to patients at the hospital. I had guard duty that Friday night, and got to watch as half my class got high on the Ativan and then didn’t make it to work the next day. They didn’t graduate, and I got to go home.
I spent two years in the 396th Combat Support Hospital cleaning weapons for direct-commission nurses and doctors while I was in ROTC. Having gone through basic training, I thought ROTC was a waste of time but did enjoy Advanced Camp at Fort Lewis, where we ran small unit tactics for six weeks. It was like Survivor, where we rotated through leadership and then voted on each other’s performance. If your peers didn’t like you, you got voted off the island.
I commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in Air Defense and was assigned to the Patriot Anti-Missile/Air Defense System. After the Officer Basic Course at Fort Bliss, TX, I was assigned to 2-1 ADA and arrived at my unit on the day they were holding an in-room inspection looking for racist tattoos. Before I even knew my soldiers, I had to go room to room making them strip down to their underwear, show me the insides of their lips, and search for racist propaganda.
I was a platoon leader, executive officer and then plans officer in my first battalion. We deployed to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as part of Southern Watch. It was hotter in Fort Bliss when we got home than it had been in Saudi. We were part of the Patriot Advanced Capability 3 test, which deployed a new missile now widely used today. One of the highlights of my time as a platoon leader was shooting down a short-range missile near the Trinity Site at White Sands, New Mexico.
I left Bliss just as Iraqi Freedom was gearing up, and arrived at my new unit, 5-7 ADA in Hanau, Germany. 5-7 was preparing for simultaneous deployments to Israel and Turkey, since it wasn’t known at the time if U.S. forces would advance through Northern Iraq, and 5-7 had a standing mission to defend Tel Aviv from missile attack. In the end, we went to Turkey and then to Israel, and then back to Germany. I returned to Israel several times in the next four years as part of that ongoing mission.
My time in Germany was in support of the NATO mission, with other operations in support of Iraqi Freedom. We deployed soldiers to Afghanistan and Iraq. I went into battery command in 2002, so I didn’t end up deploying individually to Iraq. But nearly everything in Germany that wasn’t otherwise committed shifted to support Iraq. One of our greatest accomplishments was providing security/logistics during the 60th Anniversary of D-Day Celebration in Normandy, France, where we were able to meet and honor those veterans.
I left the Army in 2005. My marriage had ended and my wife at the time brought my son back to the U.S. west coast. I had already missed a year of his life and didn’t want to miss any more, so I requested a discharge. Having joined the Army so young, I also wanted to leave because I needed to experience something different. It’s easy to blame the Army for your problems when you don’t have perspective. While my life has taken turns I didn’t expect, I accomplished some amazing things while in the Army, met great people, truly felt that I was part of something greater than myself.
I did try to join the National Guard in 2009 but learned I have hearing loss in my right ear (from firing boomsticks or generators, who knows) and would have required a waiver, so I had to let it go. I work in law enforcement now, so I’m able to experience the feeling of service in my work, but I still miss the Army.
How do you feel that your military service has influenced your writing?
For me, the Army was my second family, a way the world worked that made sense (even when it didn’t) and an opportunity to travel and take on huge projects that would seem impossible from the outside. As both an enlisted soldier and then an officer, I got to see both sides of how plans trickle down the chain of command. Becoming an officer made me responsible for other people, forced me to think about their worldviews and concerns. Basically, the Army helped me learn about human nature, and when I left, I always had those experiences to compare to other situations. That’s helped my writing immensely when developing characters.
Being able to travel was a huge eye-opener for me. I grew up in a dying logging town in Oregon, so seeing other parts of the U.S., and then Europe and the Middle East were huge developmental experiences.
Working with technology like Patriot, which everybody jokes are a communications system that fires missiles, has been a foundation of my science fiction. Understanding how weapons work, not just their capabilities and limitations but their deployment, maintenance and how soldiers feel about them, has helped me immensely. Training I didn’t think of as special at the time, from weird stuff like JTIDS tactical data systems, theater early warning, tropospheric communication systems, missile threat profiles, to mundane stuff like how to maintain a truck or put up a tent (few people in the Army can tie knots properly) has all played into the “background noise” I use for worldbuilding and story.
In my experience, soldiers develop a relationship with their equipment that outsiders don’t really understand. Even new soldiers don’t get it until they have to rely on a truck or a 50 cal to keep them alive. I think my battalion commander was in tears when we had to give up our M-60s, and I didn’t quite understand why until we prepared for Iraqi Freedom and it became clear we didn’t have anything between the M-249 and the .50 Cal.
Air Defense was also a mixed-gender combat arms, so we all lived together. It wasn’t a big deal. Laziness wasn’t really assigned to any gender.
For realism, the stuff I find more interesting in military fiction is how soldiers respond to situations based on their backgrounds, using their training and unit-cohesion as a way to overcome a problem. What I loved about the Army was that you had all these people who would never have talked to each other in the outside world, thrown together and made into a unit, using their knowledge and ingenuity with available tools to solve a problem. That stuff makes for great stories, to me.
When did you start pursuing your writing more seriously?
In 2013 I joined a local group of writers called the Wordos who were focused on Writers of the Future and short story markets. I wrote short stories for three years before I figured out that I prefer writing novels. But in that time, I took my knocks on how to write characters and stories that make sense. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to learn from authors like Kate Wilhelm, Jerry Oltion, Nina Kirki Hoffman, Eric Witchey and Bill Cameron, who are local and give their time to new writers.
Of all your work, which was your favorite to write?
Of my books out now,Lyssa’s Dream is my favorite. That was my first opportunity to create something new in Michael Cooper’s Aeon 14 world, develop situations and characters that were a mix of his ideas and my questions about the future. My main characters are heavily influenced by their service in the military and the desire to raise a family on the new frontier.
How many of your characters were inspired by your military service?
In the Aeon 14 Sentience Wars, Andy and Brit Sykes are both straight out of my experience. I had friends who were both soldiers, where mom deployed, and dad stayed with the kids, and vice versa. Doesn’t make either less bad-ass. It’s just the world we find ourselves in, and we have to adapt to survive.
How many of the specific scenes you wrote were inspired from your service?
There’s a scene where Andy Sykes visits the recruiting station for the Terran Space Force that’s fairly close to my experience of nearly joining the Marines.
Many of the scenes where the characters come together to develop and poke holes in a plan are inspired by conversations with my first sergeant and platoon sergeants, where I would offer some crazy idea and they would bring me back to Earth. “We could do that, sir, but we should also think about this. . .” I was always blessed with amazing non-commissioned officers who kept me out of jail.
Do you feel like your writing has served any therapeutic value for you? Has it helped you process your military experiences?
Anytime you agree to step into a leadership role, you’re going to experience some version of regret. I always wish I could have done something differently. When I was in command, I had two soldiers flip a 5-Ton on the Autobahn and shut down traffic for nearly 24 hours. Thankfully, they walked out out of the accident. The wrecked truck sat in the motor pool for six months (it was a million-dollar communications system) reminding me every day of all the ways I had screwed up what should have been a simple training exercise.
My relationship with my first wife, while never easy, seemed twice as hard because of the military, and writing has helped me process that.
I lost one friend in particular and recreating a bit of him as a character helped a bit. I have other friends whose lives certainly haven’t been easy because of the wars, and I use bits of them in characters and situations, as well. I figure if I write about their struggle, maybe the reader will be more empathetic to a soldier who’s having a hard time in the future. I’ve taken flak in reviews for writing about soldiers with kids, even in the future (as if humans are going to stop giving birth?) but I think that’s one of the most important stories to tell out of these current wars. The number of parents in combat is nearly the opposite of what it was even in Gulf War 1, and certainly Vietnam and World War 2.
Andy Sykes, hands down. He’s competent and cares about people to a fault.
If you would want to avoid serving with any of your characters, who would it be and why?
Cal Kraft is one of those guys who would toss you a live grenade because he thought it was amusing.
If you could serve in any of the worlds you created, which one would it be, and why?
I didn’t create the world, but Michael Cooper’s Aeon 14 is an amazing place. While my bit of it (2800 – 3500) can be bleak, it’s also got a core thread of optimism that really appeals to me. I like that it’s a future with a lot of the Wild West still possible.
Can you tell us how all of that has lent itself to your most recent release?
My latest release is Lyssa’s Flight, Book 3 in the Aeon 14 Sentience Wars. If you like the Expanse, these books are in your wheelhouse. The series has the gritty realism of a frontier story, powered by high-concept technology and corporate intrigue as humanity navigates a future where sentient AI are real and enslaved. (You have to read that in movie trailer voice.)
And since you’ve finished that novel, what are you currently working on and when do you expect it to be ready for publication? I mean, you don’t need sleep, right?
I’m currently finishing Lyssa’s Call, Book 4 in the series. It will launch on April 5, 2018.
How can people find you?
Amazon: James Aaron
E-Mail: James Aaron
Facebook: James Aaron
Twitter: I am bad at twitting.
Website: James Aaron
Newsletter: James Aaron
If this convinced you to find out more, look up James S. Aaron. I hope you all had a great time getting to know about James. Don’t be afraid to say hello here or on his website: jamesaaron.net. If he doesn’t respond quick enough, glitter bomb him! Mwahahaha!!
Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!
->As usual, all images came from the Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are screen grabs taken by JR Handley for use under the Fair Use Doctrine.