Saturday, April 6, 2013

Remembering David Bloom: Ten Years Later

(A decade is a long time, and, yet, one that can easily be remembered. Here, in 2013, we are marking the decade anniversaries of the Iraq War. One of the things that I always remember were the reporters embedded with our fighting forces, David Bloom in particular. Today, on the anniversary of his untimely passing on the battlefield, I am reposting the essay I wrote for and was published in the Houston Chronicle. Bloom died of a blood clot brought on by deep-vein thrombosis. It can be prevented, and you can learn more at Mr. Bloom, we all still miss you.)

April 7, 2003, 8:18PM (Tuesday)

The war came home for me Sunday.

I hesitate to write that sentence because the war in Iraq is almost 4-weeks-old now and there have been at least 108 coalition soldiers killed. Each one of those families already has the war at home with them. The war sits down to dinner in the empty seat of the missing father. The war is in bed with the newly widowed wife, the empty space next to her now a hollow hole in her heart.

I have no relatives fighting in Iraq. In this country of more than 280 million people and about 1.4 million people who serve in the all-volunteer military, I am one of many in America whose freedom is defended by someone nameless.

But those who cover the war aren't nameless, and one of the best things to emerge from the war is the reporting by embedded journalists in the field. With new technology and 24-hour news channels, the war --with its images of reporters in military gear – is simply always on. Yet, while I admire the courage of these reporters, some of them look out of place.

One reporter who seemed exactly in his place was David Bloom, a journalist for NBC. Ever since his unit -- the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division -- moved out, David was dirty. He was the first reporter to beam live images of the moving convoy of tanks. I remember seeing these images and being astounded that I was witnessing live war footage. He had a "boyish enthusiasm" when he described military details, and he knew his role exactly: Bring home the war to the American people.

But the war details were not the entire story. He also knew that his greater responsibility was to show America the lives these soldiers were leading. He let us know that MREs were not all that bad. He let us know how big a Bradley vehicle was and yet how cramped it could be when fully occupied. He let us know how dusty it was by never cleaning up for the camera. He let us -- the ones the soldiers were protecting --know what it was like to be a U.S. soldier in Iraq.

David Bloom seemed to always be on the air. Iraq is nine hours ahead of Houston, but no matter the time of day here, there always seemed to be the word "Live" on the screen. He was live during the middle of the night talking with Lester Holt, live during the Today show and even live during the evening news, giving Tom Brokaw the absolute latest. When I flicked channels between the three major network news channels, if David Bloom was on, I stopped and listened. He was, for me and for my wife, Vanessa, our favorite reporter, a friendly voice from the front line.

He died Sunday of a pulmonary embolism. Based on what I learned that day, he took power naps and would stay awake for hours. Perhaps that is why he seemed to always be on, live, no matter the program or time. The retrospectives told us that he was a driven man, one who always had to be where the action was. He volunteered for this assignment and, I think, broke the mold as a front-line combat reporter.

I was feeding my son when the news broke. I am used to nameless numbers when the media talk about casualties, men and women who have laid down their lives for me. But when the news anchor said David's name, my heart was pierced. Tears seeped into my eyes for a man I never knew but, somehow, knew. My wife cried, too.

The embolism was a noncombat death, but it really is a combat death. David went to Iraq partly out of a duty to his profession, but also partly out of a loyalty to this country. He is a casualty of war, just as are the other fallen soldiers. They all are heroes.

I have never been a soldier, but I am a writer and I know what that is like. David Bloom and the more than 600 embedded reporters are heroes to me. With them, the war is very close.

With the intimacy of television, perfect strangers can seem like friends to us. We viewers think of Dave or Jay, not Mr. Letterman or Mr. Leno. David Bloom's constant presence on the television, his mannerisms, his wit, his focus on the ordinary humanness of our soldiers made him seem like "David" to me, a person I knew on a first-name basis. And he was, in a way. That is the nature of television.

But on Sunday, upon learning that I'd never again hear his voice, upon learning that he left his family to go and do something bigger than himself, upon learning of his ultimate sacrifice for his country and his profession, he was Mr. Bloom. That is the nature of heroes.

The war came home for me that day.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Book Review Club: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

(This is the April 2013 edition of Barrie Summy's Book Review Club. For the complete list, click on the icon following this review.)

Let's get this out of the way at the start: Leviathan Wakes may be space opera, but it's not your grandfather's space opera.

Your granddad, if he were a mind, probably cut his teeth on Edgar Rice Burroughs, E. E. "Doc" Smith, Leigh Brackett, or any of the writers from the golden age of SF. Your dad probably cut his teeth on the likes of Michael Moorcock, Star Trek, Star Wars, or any of the things that have come in their wake. When you mention these authors or shows, certain things come to mind: spaceships, lasers, dreadful monsters, dashing heroes, and lots of derring do. Oh, and physics doesn't count because there's artificial gravity, warp drive, hyperspace, and all the usual stuff you associate with the genre.

Leviathan Wakes, then, is somewhat of a new animal. It's a space opera yarn for the 21st Century. It is not the only one, to be sure, but it is the first of its kind that I've read. Author James S. A. Corey (actually a pen name for the authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) has set the first of a trilogy (aren't they all?) in the near distant future and entirely in our solar system. I say "near distant" because it's a few centuries away, but not far enough that all the parts of this universe isn't too far gone to be recognizable. By setting the entire story in our own solar system ensures the reader that the tale will be on the frontier, but a believable frontier complete with all the human problems that we early 21st Century citizens can understand.

The story follows two main characters. Jim Holden, Earth-born, is the executive officer on the ice hauler, Canterbury. The 'Cant' receives a distress call from the Scopuli and, under common practice, they answer it. Holden leads a crew of three on their smaller shuttle to investigate. They find evidence of piracy and attribute the origin to Mars. On their way back to the mothership, however, the Canterbury is attacked and destroyed. Distraught with emotion, Holden sends a message across the entire solar system that all but accuses Mars of being the perpetrators. Naturally, this stirs up some animosity between Earth, Mars, and the Belt (the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter).

The other main character is Miller, a police detective born and raised in the colonized asteroid Ceres. Granted, he's your typical noir-inflected character, but he's tasked with a new, off-the-books assignment: Find Julie Mao and bring her back, by any means necessary, to her parents.

Well, as it turns out, Julie was on the Scopuli, so, naturally, you pretty much have Miller and Holden angling on a collision course both between themselves and the entire system.

This book gets a lot of things right. This is space opera on the believable level. Yes, there are lasers, but not any photon torpedoes. There is no light speed and it really does take a long time to get from place to place. The characters experience G-force pressure when accelerating, nearly to a dangerously high level. Communication is not instantaneous. A "live" conversation has scores of minutes in lag time. The space combat is brutal and not without a comparison to old-style naval combat. All told, these characteristics of the story give this tale life, a vision of the future that you don't get from Star Trek.

Each chapter is told from the POV of either Miller or Holden. For the first third or so, they are separated, enabling the authors to comment on the events from a distance. Once the heroes meet up, the authors can show and tell of the events from the different POVs. Holden is an earnest man who believes that, if everyone knew all the facts, they would choose the right course of action. Miller is the cynic, the real world man who knows that is rarely the truth. Together, these two world views clash and strive towards the conclusion of the book.

Leviathan Wakes is satisfying on a host of levels, but none more than this: I've easily transitioned to the second novel of the trilogy (Caliban's War) and eagerly await the concluding volume later this summer. If you have a taste for blockbuster space opera in book form, Leviathan Wakes is your food. Devour it and enjoy.
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