Eating Authors: Richard Fox

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Richard Fox

The roller coast of life has picked up speed in the last couple of weeks. Less oblique references and more details can be found in posts to my social media feeds, but suffice it to say that I have been on the receiving end of a nonstop series of highs and lows. I’ll mention two in specific here, at either end of the spectrum: On April 14th the world lost Gene Wolfe, one of the greatest authors in our field. Over the years, I had the great pleasure to spend some time with Gene, even sitting down to a couple of meals with him. The man is gone, but the residue of his genius remains and if you haven’t read his work stop what you’re doing and go pick up a copy of my personal favorite, Soldier of the Mist. On the other side of roller coast, in a month’s time I’ll be headed back to China to be a Guest of Honor at Another Planet Science Fiction Convention (APSFcon) in Beijing. I’m blown away by this invitation and the chance to spend time with authors and fans on the other side of the world.

Closer to home, amidst the emotional rise and fall of life’s thrill rides, some things continue along more normal lines. That’s my official segue for introducing you to Richard Fox, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest. Like me, Richard’s up for a Nebula Award at next month’s conference (though fortunately for me, he’s been nominated in the Short Story category and I’m in Novelette). He’s also a past winner of the Dragon Award for Best Military Science Fiction, which he received for his Ember War saga.

Richard is a graduate of West Point and spent ten years on active duty in the US Army as a Field Artillery and a Military Intelligence officer, receiving the Combat Action Badge, Bronze Star, and Presidential Unit Citation. Unsurprisingly, his fiction tends towards military SF, with forays into space opera, thrillers, and military history.

He’s a card-carrying member of that growing group of Indie authors (c.f., Michael Anderle and Craig Martelle) who’ve distinguished themselves with successfully financial careers, large back lists, and a talent for bringing other authors along for the ride as co-authors.

Last week he released Gott Mit Un, Book 5 in the Terran Strike Marines (co-authored with Scott Moon). I think that brings his total number of titles to around thirty, with at least one more due out soon.

LMS: Welcome, Richard. Please tell me about your most memorable meal.

RF: There I was, no kidding, at Camp Doha, Kuwait, in 2004. I was a 1st Lieutenant in the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment (3rd squadron, Wolfpack) and we had just crossed the border from Iraq after fifteen months in country.

The Ember War

We didn’t know it was going to be a fifteen month tour. We were the second wave of troops into the country and we secured parts of Baghdad as best we good. The original plan was for us to be there just a few months—or home by Christmas!—then head home. A couple months turned into six, which turned into a year. After the year, a new unit took over our old mission but did we go home? No. We were extended for another three months to put down a rebellion through central Iraq.

After fifteen months, we finally were sent south to Kuwait to load our gear up and send it back to the United States. We spent a dusty day on a road march out of our base in Diwaniyah and crossed the big berm into Kuwait, handed off some equipment and slept in the desert, the next morning we drove to Doha, where we parked our gear and were given a brief break as the senior leaders figured out what we had to do next.

I don’t know if you’ve ever done much off roading, but after a whole day and another night in the sand, we were filthy. Hours of sweat in Iraq summer heat and a fine coating of dust made for some foul soldiers.

Terra Nova

Another lieutenant friend of mine named Rob Brown had been stationed at Doha many years ago and knew his way around. We had a few hours until the brass got a plan together. While our soldiers hit the showers, Brown grabbed me and took me over to the PX (Post Exchange, the Army’s version of Walmart) where there was a food court. There had to be two of us, as one couldn’t take his rifle into the PX.

So, Brown leaves me at front of the PX to watch our rifles while he went inside to get us food. Real, honest to god, food. The last fifteen months had been MREs (Army meals in a bag), the best Army mess halls could manage in a combat zone and whatever we could get off the Iraqis.

I sat out there waiting, feeling rank from days of congealed sweat dried against my skin and through my uniform, and it took me a while to realize that me and my unit were really on the glide path home. We’d be back in the states in another few days, but this was the first time I was willing to believe it.

Brown came back with a whole pizza and a couple of these nasty Diet Cokes that are bottled in the Middle East and never tasted right. He sat it down and we proceeded to eat. Now, Anthony’s Pizza (which is the PX brand of pizza restaurant) is not going to win any quality awards on most days, but then…then it was something magical. It was a taste of home, of freedom and escape from the war.

Iron Dragoons

Brown was just as dirty as I was, but we didn’t really care as we sat there scarfing down grease wedges. Doha was home to thousands of soldiers that didn’t deploy to Iraq: logistics and support soldiers who would never see combat and would spend their entire tours on a base with plenty of creature comforts.

Some of these soldiers and USAF types walked by, and we got some looks. Very clean individuals, chubby from mess hall ice cream and regular trips to the PX for snack food. They looked at Brown and I like we were Mongol barbarians, sitting in the Chinese emperor’s court.

He and I had just finished a long combat tour, and we had that air of alertness and this ‘fuck around and find out’ attitude we needed when dealing with potentially hostile Iraqis all the time. No one complained about the two of us, with our rifles, polishing off a whole pizza between the two of us.

But that meal was something else. It was a victory celebration for finishing the fight. It was our chance to be almost normal after fifteen months of ‘the suck.’

I still love pizza.

Thanks, Richard. There’s something iconic about pizza as a metaphor for victory. But I have to ask, what were the toppings?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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