Son, That Brig Has Sailed

by wjw on July 31, 2012

Brig of War, aka The Raider, is now live at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

Please download and enjoy.  They are DRM-free, as are all my reissued ebooks.

It was fascinating revisiting this book, which I haven’t read since I last corrected the proofs.  It was almost like discovering the writing of a stranger.  I’m not that person any longer, and I’m not that writer, either.

Not that the book is inferior or anything.  I think it’s quite good.  It’s just that the me that wrote it is no longer me.

People familiar with my bibliography have already noted that this is my third Privateers & Gentlemen novel, and wondered why I’m starting the reissues halfway through the series. There are a number of reasons.

First, this one takes place in the War of 1812, and 2012 is the War of 1812 bicentennial.  I wanted to steal some momentum from the many delirious War of 1812 celebrations going on across the country. *snicker*

Secondly, this is probably the book with the most going on.  There’s sea combat, foreign intrigue, duels, sex, politics, and more, all in 140,000 words.  So you’re really getting your money’s worth with this one.

Thirdly, this is the first in a trilogy about the same character, and the first two books in the series feature a pair of different protagonists.  So if momentum is going to be got, it will be got with the trilogy.

And lastly, this was the book where my writing took a quantum leap for the better.  Reading it now, I could practically spot the page.   I had to go back and rewrite the earlier scenes in order to bring them up to the quality of the later bits.

Something really clicked in my head when writing this one, something that made me a far better writer.  It was exciting to see that happen from the distance of thirty-odd years.

Privateers & Gentlemen, for those of you unfamiliar with the series, was my attempt to do for American naval history what CS Forester and Patrick O’Brian had done for the Royal Navy.  I believe I may have been the first to attempt this since James Fenimore Cooper, who was a serving naval officer and who wrote as many sea adventures as he wrote Leatherstocking tales, for all that the former are now forgotten.  (I read them.  They’re pretty good, though with the same faults as Cooper’s other fiction.)

I did a vast amount of research for the series, and I believe that shows.  (For the early U.S. Navy, I recommend Preble’s Boys by science fiction’s very own [and highly underrated] Fletcher Pratt, and The Naval War of 1812,  by the 23-year-old Theodore Roosevelt.)

One of the conclusions I reached about the founders of the American naval tradition may be summed as follows: Holy Christ these people were fucking batshit crazy!  Crazy even by the standards of Napoleonic-era warriors!

What these people did was sail around the oceans on incredibly complicated pieces of machinery running on wind and human muscle power, maneuver to within spitting distance of each other, and start firing off huge black-powder weapons in each other’s faces.  And if that didn’t work, they’d get even closer and start hacking at each other with limb-lopping chunks of sharpened steel.

But okay, you say, that’s par for the course for Napoleonic-era warfare.  Which is true.  They all did that.

But the Americans were even more extreme.  They were so combative that when they couldn’t find French or Tripolitans or British to kill, they’d start killing each other.

I suspect it’s the result of an inferiority complex vis-a-vis the Royal Navy.  The Americans had to be better.  They had to be better at warfare, of course, but they also had to be superior in everything else, including points of honor.

Stephen Decatur, the Navy’s earliest hero, died in a duel with a fellow captain over an incident that had taken place thirteen years earlier.  Uriah Phillips Levy— who later abolished flogging, and who saved Jefferson’s home at Monticello— fought no less than six duels with brother officers.  Richard Somers, accused of cowardice, proposed to fight six duels in one day, and actually fought three (being wounded twice) before his opponents reconsidered the matter of his courage.  (Mon dieu, even d’Artagnan proposed to fight only three!)

Speak a careless word in the wardroom, and next morning it’s a cutlass through your gizzard.  It’s the sort of thing that keeps you on your toes.

Yet these gamecocks went on to astonish the world and found the tradition that has given us the Navy of today.  (And what tradition is that, you ask?  Here ya go: Quality trumps quantity, so spare no expense to build the biggest, most heavily-armed, most technologically advanced ships on the seven seas.  Because it’s better to fight the enemy over there than over here, make sure the ships have the range and reach to get wherever they need to go.  Crew them with aggressive officers who are as ruthlessly competitive with each other as with the enemy [though fortunately they’re no longer expected to shoot at each other]).

Another element of naval reality of the period was that the officers of the United States Navy were an elite.   The contemporary American military is full of elite soldiers of one sort of another; but for most of American history, elites were looked on with deep suspicion.  Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans viewed the very idea of a Navy as subversive of American values.  We were a republic, not a monarchy: any elite military society could harbor anti-egalitarian sympathies and produce a king or dictator.  Both Adams and Jefferson purged the service of officers deemed politically unreliable.  So the American naval officers were viewed with deep suspicion by the very political leaders who sent them into combat.

It was a challenge to present the character of our early Navy— bloodthirsty, competitive, honor-mad—  values that are not precisely in sympathy with those of our contemporary society.   (Even in the contemporary military, I suspect it would be highly unusual for an officer to declare, “I seek glory”— in the Age of Sail, it would be a commonplace.)

My answer was Favian Markham, USN— a naval officer who is not entirely in sympathy with the values of his peers, but who is compelled for professional reasons to pretend that he is.  He’s not an antihero— he’s brave, competent, and scientific— but he’s much more a man of the Enlightenment than a Romantic hero, and probably more cynical than is good for him.

I hope you like him.

grs1961 July 31, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Okay, okay, I’ve bought it – now go and write something new! 🙂

Kathy July 31, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Having just read BRIG OF WAR as copy editor, I can highly recommend it! It’s got everything: sea battles, duels, political intrigue, sex, and even the internal psychology of the protagonist.

Foxessa July 31, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Also, 1790 to 1840, Americans drank more alcoholic beverages per capita than at any other time in history — even more than the Brits, in these globally hard-drinking decades. By 1820 the average American was drinking 7 gallons of alcohol a year — and that’s factoring in the presumably non-drinking population of infants and small children, slaves (who drank when they could but didn’t have that many opportunities, generally — and slaves were part of the census for political reasons that are in the Constitution), non-drinkers like Quakers, and certain classes of women.

The relationship between alcohol and eruptions of violence, particularly where weapons are present, has long been noticed.

Love, C.

Foxessa July 31, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Part of this officer elite business is that one of the first items of business when Jefferson ascended to the presidency was to basically abolish the U.S. navy as an unnecessary expense, declaring gunboats all that was needed — and without a navy the U.S. would be less likely to get pulled into overseas involvement.

In the meantime, however, the privateer action was huge, particularly out of the Chesapeake; those fellows were already taking on the Brits before the U.S. officially declared war with Britain in the War of 1812 debacle no one likes to remember — except for the navy and Andrew Jackson. There were a lot of very skilled and experienced personnel then, to draw upon when the navy was up and running.

Mostly though, it was the Barbary Pirates that taught Jefferson that this idea of his for governance — no navy — was another failure.

Love, C.

Not Todd July 31, 2012 at 6:31 pm

This will be my first e-book purchase. I really don’t want to buy some kind of portable device for reading books (I actually do most of my reading for pleasure at work, it’s that kind of job). Can somebody familiar with the various formats tell me whether there’s some reason I shouldn’t get the .pdf version? I can read .pdfs on either my laptop or desktop and I presume if I purchase from Smashwords I can copy the file from one of my systems to the other with no problem either with the systems or copyright. Am I correct in this?

wjw July 31, 2012 at 9:26 pm

The .pdf should work fine.

You could also download the Kindle version, and read it on the free Kindle reader that Amazon will give to you. Or you could download the free Nook reader from Barnes & Noble and read the .epub version.

I’d recommend either of the free readers as being easier on the eyes than a .pdf.

wjw July 31, 2012 at 9:54 pm

Foxessa is completely right both about American alcohol consumption and Jefferson’s gunboat policy.

For most of American history, it’s best to assume that every male in the room is half seas over all the time. It makes a lot of the behavior in Western frontier towns a lot more comprehensible.

Though as far as the Navy goes, I suspect an officer who couldn’t moderate his drinking wouldn’t go very far— or would stagger overboard in the first storm.

Jefferson’s gunboat policy is a perfect explanation of both why he was such a brilliant political theorist and a catastrophe as a politician. He had all the numbers on his side, and none of the practicalities.

You could spend a lot of money to build a deep-sea navy that would carry X pounds of broadside weight, and might go to some foreign country and provoke a war. Or, for a lot less money, you could take 2X or 3X pounds of broadside weight and distribute it among 200-300 gunboats, which would defend our coasts and harbors without the danger of starting a foreign conflict.

What Jefferson’s handy equation didn’t show was that the light gunboats were tossed around so much that they were useless as a gun platform, that any one of them could be sunk by a single shot, and that enemy warships could sail rings around them. Jefferson didn’t know that, and certainly wasn’t willing to listen to anyone who did.

The gunboats were perfectly successful, though, at enforcing Jefferson’s blockade of our own ports— which was another horrible idea that probably sounded good in theory.

Not Todd August 1, 2012 at 2:41 am

Have purchased the kindle version and tried out the kindle for pc program. Very nice! Brig of War is now next in my reading queue.

Brian Renninger August 1, 2012 at 3:56 am

I read the whole series a few years ago by getting them through interlibrary loan. Those were some pretty tattered and yellow paperbacks that came in mostly from a library in Ohio (IRRC). That said, Mr. Williams underrates himself — the first two are pretty good too. They are well worth the read.

And, may I add the P&G game is pretty good too.

Clyde August 2, 2012 at 7:52 am

Got it from Smashwords. Brig of War goes to the top of my reading list.

S.M. Stirling August 4, 2012 at 2:22 am

Jefferson is one of those guys who looks worse and worse the more closely you examine his life. A wonderful word-slinger; a lousy human being; a total failure at anything practical, whether administration or running a plantation. A compulsive record-keeper who never, not once, knew whether he was making a profit or a loss in any given year (usually he wasn’t.)

It’s crystal-clear in his disputes with Hamilton (a man I deeply admire) that he just plain didn’t -understand- the financial planning behind the debt-assumption mechanism, for example.

Jefferson’s idea of being rich was having lots of land and slaves.

Yet his life was enlivened with flashes of brilliance. The Louisiana Purchase, for instance.

S.M. Stirling August 4, 2012 at 2:25 am

The US Navy could be an elite because it was -small-. It had half a dozen frigates; the Royal Navy of the era had -hundreds- in commission at any one time, deployed everywhere from Ireland to Java.

Even after you figure in the relative populations, the USN was able to be enormously more selective.

The War of 1812 saw some American ship-to-ship victories; as a war of navies, it was no contest. The Royal Navy eventually fell across the Atlantic like an avalanche of anvils, ran the American ships down or into port, and clamped a close blockade on the entire coastline, raiding where it willed.

wjw August 4, 2012 at 5:00 am

Jefferson always gets a lot of credit for the Louisiana Purchase, and I’ve never properly understood why. Take advantage of some ambiguity in the Constitution to trade $11,000,000, mostly in tobacco and sugar, for 828,000 square miles of territory?

It’s a no-brainer, really. Though Jefferson would probably have criticized Hamilton if he’d tried it.

The British excuse their 1812 naval defeats on the grounds that the American ships were bigger and better, and therefore the fights weren’t fair. It always seemed to me that the builders of bigger and better ships ought to be credited with more skill and intelligence than their enemies, but then I’ve never seen the point of fighting fair, either.

wjw August 4, 2012 at 5:50 am

Incidentally, Napoleon promised the French people that the money would be used to build canals, but instead used it on plans to invade England.

I don’t know about the canals, but the invasion is still pending.

John F. MacMichael August 5, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Well, I bought it, read it and very much enjoyed it. Now to buy the next in the series!

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