First and foremost, the goal of this book (or any of them) is to keep a reader glued to the pages of a sprawling global adventure, but at the same time, I think thrillers work best when, after a reader closes the book, that I leave them something to ponder and maybe even pursue some research on their own. It’s one of the reasons I include that “What’s True, What’s Not” afterword to the book. In this particular case, I wanted to shine a light on the next level or warfare, something we’ve even seen conducted during this last election. It’s not a war with boots on the ground, but one more covert, using technology and social media to spread disinformation and manipulate the news. In this very book, I had warned about Russia’s skill in this very arena. Little did I know it would prove to come true within a year of this book’s publication.
- This is not the first book in the Tucker Wayne series: Tell our readers how you created this character, his back-story and why you paired him up with military dogs?
Mostly, I wanted to honor these unique American heroes. Tucker Wayne is a former captain with the army rangers. After two tours of duty in Afghanistan, he leaves the service disillusioned after a bloody battle. Aided by members of his own unit, Tucker steals his war dog, Kane. Since then, Tucker has been adrift in the world with Kane at his side. After all he had seen in Afghanistan, he needed new horizons, new vistas, but mostly, he had a drive to keep moving.
To create this dynamic duo, I was lucky enough to participate in a USO tour of authors to military bases in Iraq and Kuwait back in the winter of 2010. There, I saw several of these war dogs in action. I was also able to meet and talk to a veterinary school classmate of mine who works with the veterinary corps out in Iraq. After that encounter, it got me thinking about writing this book, of honoring these unique war heroes on the page.
- Within the novel you allow readers to understand what Kane is doing and you single out different scenes so that readers feel his emotions and understand that he is quite unique and well trained to respond to Tucker’s commands: Why did you choose to do this?
I did this to highlight exactly how unique and uniquely trained military war dogs are. These dogs are truly amazing, and nothing depicted in this novel is beyond such heroes’ abilities. I also wanted to explore the deep relationship between dog and handler. While in Iraq, I heard over and over again a phrase used by military war dog handlers—It runs down the lead—describing how the emotions of the pair became shared over time, binding them together as firmly as any leash. And it’s that bond and ability for the two to operate as one that I wanted to explore in this novel.
To help emphasize this, I chose to write from the perspective of both ends of that leash. From, Captain Tucker Wayne, of course…but also from the perspective of Kane, his four-legged companion. I wanted to portray these stalwart war heroes as they really are—not just as soldiers with four legs, but as real dogs. In those scenes written from the viewpoint of Kane, I wanted readers to experience what it’s like to be a war dog—to be in their paws—to paint an accurate portrayal on how a dog perceives the world, how he functions in combat with his unique talents and senses.
- Doing some research on PTSD I did learn about Moral Injury and its definition: can you define these terms and tell our readers how they are the same and how they differ? Why do they pertain to Tucker?
Like with Kane, I wanted to explore what it means to be a handler of such a loyal and courageous creature. How would it effect such a person to lose a dog? Tucker leaves military service, but like many veterans, he can’t so easily escape the battlefield or the scars it leaves on a person—both body and soul. The psychological term “moral injury” is a specific subset of PTSD. It relates to the shattering of moral and ethical expectations—an injury to someone’s fundamental understanding of right and wrong— and according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, it can manifest as shame, guilt, anxiety, and anger, along with behavioral changes, such as alienation, withdrawal, and self-harming (including suicide). With this novel, I attempted to share this condition with readers, to get them to better understand the causes and consequences of someone afflicted with this aspect of PTSD. As with most veterans, there is no quick fix. For those afflicted, it’s an ongoing process to find their center again.
- Tucker is part of a group called Sigma headed by Ruth Harper and Painter Crowe: Why do they aid him and why does Ruth show up when things get out of control?
Ah, well, Tucker and Kane first appeared in a Sigma Force novel, titled Bloodline. For those that don’t know, Sigma Force is a covert group of former Special Forces who work as field agents for DARPA, the U.S. military’s research-and-development group. They’re basically “scientists with guns.” In that novel, a team from Sigma Force recruited Tucker and Kane off the streets in Zanzibar and pulled them into a huge adventure spanning the globe. For this service, the director of Sigma Force—Painter Crowe—promised Tucker that if he was ever in trouble to give them a shout. And that’s what happens in this book when Tucker has his back against the wall. Ruth is Tucker’s contact with Sigma, his gal Friday, so to speak…and maybe a little more. But only time will tell.
- This novel also raises the subject of drone warfare. Can a drone like featured in this novel really learn things while in the air? And where do you see this technology going in the future?
One only has to read the newspaper to understand and appreciate how prevalent the use of drones has become in modern warfare. Such vehicles are used more and more by all branches of the military, both for surveillance and for aerial attacks. They range in size from the massive Global Hawks to the small Ravens. But even they are only the tip of the iceberg. There is currently an arms race underway to develop new and improved robotic warriors, even those that can operate autonomously. Basically drones that can be sent out to kill with little or no human involvement. This raises a fundamental question: will the use of drones save lives or will the ease of their use—killing from afar—make us more likely to go to war? Will we begin to shoot first and ask questions later? Such moral questions are the subjects I wanted to explore in my latest book.
In fact, just last week 60 Minutes ran a segment raising these very questions, of how drones are already being built with artificial intelligence, becoming killing machines with the ability to fly on their own and learn from experience. It was frightening to discover how close to the truth the technology depicted in this novel has already become—and where it might lead should have everyone terrified.
- What is next for Kane and Tucker?
That pair certainly can’t stay out of trouble. They’ll be appearing next in a novelette, where they’ll be teaming up again with the heroes of Sigma Force. You’ll find this mini-novel as a part of an upcoming anthology of my short stories and novellas.
- Where can everyone learn more about your work?
You can find me on Facebook (where I probably spend too much time). But for a more comprehensive account of my previous books—along with what’s coming next, including movie projects!—check out my website (www.jamesrollins.com). Also, for anyone looking to write, there’s even a section of writer’s tips, compiling stuff I’ve learned over the two decades of spinning stories.