Guest Blogger – March 2017
Research, Research, Research!
“I am always doing this in your books… learn so much! I get lost in research…”
“The detail in this series in immense…”
“I feel like I’ve traveled the globe!”
Early reviews for Enemy Within are coming in, and so far, I’m thrilled to say they’re all outstanding. Thank you so much, ARC readers and bloggers!
One thing that comes up in each ARC review is readers reacting to the level of detail that has gone into the stories. I spoke last month about my past, and how that had led to the authenticity of the Washington DC and law enforcement/Secret Service aspects. And I have certainly traveled far and wide, and I made sure to put locations I’ve been to in each of the first two (and a half!) Executive Office novels – Enemies of the State and Enemy of My Enemy (the ‘half’ being Interlude).
Transporting a reader to the sands of the Middle East, having them walk along the dusty, dim overhang of a souk, and getting them to lick their lips because they feel chapped in the sun— that’s one of my major goals. If I can make a reader feel a chill while describing the Arctic, or smell the scent of the sea, I consider that a victory.
In order to do that, however, one needs massive, massive amounts of research.
In my upcoming novel, Enemy Within, much of the action took place in locations I have, sadly, never been. I’ve never sneaked into the frozen, ice-covered Kara Sea, and I’ve never gazed over the Pacific Ocean from the shores of Simushir Island. I’ve also never personally had to navigate the treacherous ice keels and dangerous Arctic waters over the North Pole.
The devil is in the details, and with so much detail going into the first two novels, I knew expectations were high for the same quality in Enemy Within. And, let’s be real. I totally get off on the research, too! I love it. Research for Enemy Within was no exception. I dove in, researching for a month solid before I even wrote a single word down.
I wanted to talk about two locations in Enemy Within: Simushir Island and the Arctic Ocean.
Simushir Island isn’t on most maps. It’s a tiny, tiny island in the middle of nowhere. South of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, east of Sakhalin Island, north of the northern Japanese Archipelago. Can you picture it yet?
There it is!
Here’s what the island looks like from overhead. At the northern end lies Broutona Bay, a flooded caldera with a narrow, artificial opening, blown by Soviet engineers. Within Broutona Bay, Kraternyy Naval Base, a secret Soviet nuclear submarine base, existed from the 1970s until the mid-nineties.
Simushir Island is the spit of land that Jack, Ethan, Sergey, and the rest of the insurgency are racing for, to meet up with the fleet of submarines President Elizabeth Wall has sent from Pearl Harbor. Sasha, too, is trying to get to Simushir, and find Sergey again after they were separated at the end of Enemy of My Enemy.
A dour, drab, and dreary place, Simushir Island gives off a creepy vibe. Abandoned and decrepit, it is constantly fog-shrouded, and the volcano looms over the caldera and the ghostly base.
“They docked at the rotten remains of the Soviet submarine base, tying up to a broken pylon and side-stepping gaping holes in the wooden boardwalk. On the shore, sand shared space with tumbled gray boulders, like giants had stopped playing a game of jacks and abandoned the beach. Decrepit Soviet barracks squatted behind a broken fence, fallen down in most places. Once painted the gleaming, bright pastels of Soviet luxury, the buildings were more chipped paint and rust than anything else, windblown, with broken windows and caved-in roofs.
The sub base sat in a large caldera, a round depression blown out from a long-extinct volcano. Flooded, the caldera was a perfect deep water pool, and Soviet engineers had breached a hole in the narrowest bit of land, creating an access point to the Pacific. It was isolated, protected, and obscure. All things that a covert nuclear sub base should be.
The rest of the island was a wasteland. Dark crags of granite and black earth, scrub grasses, moss, and loam. The caldera’s twin volcano rose to the south, disappearing into the low-slung clouds. Oppression littered the island, the death and decay of the sub base casting a malaise over the land itself. Even the birds seemed off, squawking at the arrival of the humans like they were alerting some larger, menacing presence.
The place was undeniably Russian. If a place could be carved from the spirit of a people, Simushir could have been carved from a stoic, sullen Russian heart, and breathed to life with the dour soul of her people.” – Enemy Within, Tal Bauer
I hope you enjoy reading about Simushir Island, and exploring the abandoned base with our heroes!
Next, I want to take you to the Arctic.
Madigan has moved into the Kara Sea, an Arctic sea north of Russia, fully within the Arctic Circle.
Here’s what it looks like.
Getting to the Kara Sea is difficult. Jack, Ethan, and company, must travel north, from the Kuril Islands and Simushir Island, up through the Bering Strait, and then across the Arctic Ocean.
Let’s focus on the Bering Strait.
(Keep St. Lawrence Island in your mind. There’s a last, quick stop there before our heroes enter the Bering Strait.)
The Bering Strait is one of the most treacherous crossings in the world. Shallow waters choked with ice, heavy currents, and low water clearance all make it a dangerous passage.
And, just beyond, in the Chukchi Sea, the underwater topography turns to an ice-filled jungle.
Look at Wrangel Island, and beside that, the underwater Herald Canyon, on the far-left side of the above diagram. Herald Canyon is one of the only passable options for a nuclear submarine to transit through the Chukchi Sea and into the Russian Arctic Ocean.
“They didn’t know what would be waiting on the other side of the Strait. During Anderson’s brief, the captain outlined every possible scenario, from empty polar seas all the way to Madigan to a silent Akula lying in wait, a Russian hunter-killer submarine of their own. What did Madigan have at hand? What had Moroshkin taken over the pole with him to Canada? What elements of the Russian Northern Fleet had defected during the coup, and who had simply pointed their boat as far from Russia as possible and tried to flee the calamity? No one knew the answers. Unknowns stacked against their operation, giant question marks that could spell disaster.
Beyond the Strait, geography opened up a triangle of terrible waters. Undersea mountain ranges of plunging ice thrusting downward from the polar ice cap created caverns and jungles nearly impossible to navigate. Shallow waters and shoals narrowed the potential routes to one: Herald Canyon, to the starboard of Wrangel Island, a barren rock in Russia’s desolate Siberian Sea.
Herald Canyon was a notorious ice maze. Even in summer, the ice never completely melted, and the shift and slam of the bergs and the ice sheets sent slabs of ice deep into the waters. The ocean floor was shallow, still a part of the continental shelf off of Russia. A flat plain that rose and rose, trying to pin submarines like butterflies to the bottom of the ice, trap them and strangle each boat out of their depths.
The deepest pass through Herald Canyon was the Wrangel Trough, an ancient riverbed that had once cut through the Siberian Plains when the Sea had been a steppe that linked Russia to America millions of years ago. Successfully navigating through the Wrangel Trough would turn them into salmon swimming upstream, dodging the shallows and the plunging ice, squeezing through passes barely large enough for their hull, and praying that they were alone.
Under the ice, sonar, Honolulu’s eyes and ears, barely worked. The Arctic wreaked havoc on sound and sonar. In the open ocean, American submarines could pick out the sound of a toilet flushing on a cruise ship, and the footfalls of a guard walking a perimeter, the hushed whispers of a drug deal going down. Sailing into the Arctic was like putting a blindfold on and earplugs in, and spinning someone around until they were dizzy. Mazes of ice jungles, floating icebergs with keels that plunged hundreds of feet into the waters, ice sheets that rumbled and crunched, and wild sea life all created an undersea opera of acoustic chaos. Sonar displays looked like snow on an old television set. Making sense of the undersea world was a nightmare. The mix of fresh water from the ice and salt water in the depths bounced sound waves like a hall of mirrors. And when the sea floor dropped out beneath them, sonar reflections and refractions bounced off the bottom of the ice and into the depths.
At best, they could see the bottom of the ocean and the bottom of the ice and figure out a way to navigate through the pinched corridor.
Ethan and Jack hung behind the navigator and the plotting table. Ethan kept one hand on the small of Jack’s back, and his eyes fixed to the sonar display. He held Jack for his own sanity. Planning this mission out, they’d always talked about what to do once they got up on the ice. When they were already in the Arctic. They’d never thought about how dangerous it would be to even get there. What if they slammed into an ice keel? Or if they got trapped in the twisting ice canyons and narrow passages with no way out?
What if a Russian sub found them and blew them to bits when they were pinned? It would be a long, dark dive to the bottom of the Arctic Abyss, and when the sub hit crush depth, those waters would burst in, freezing them while they drowned, suffering twice over at once.
Ethan swallowed hard and scooted even closer, wrapping his hand around Jack’s hip…” – Enemy Within, Tal Bauer
And then, you have the Arctic Ocean itself…
My research truly took me around the globe, in a very literal way! Not only was I exploring these far, far, far flung locations, I had to navigate through them as well. How did a submarine transit the Arctic Ocean? What were appropriate bearings and headings? How did a submarine travel under the ice cap? What would they be looking for, and how would the ice make the journey more difficult?
“Fast ice was an Arctic submariner’s dream.
The hardened ice cap above, more than eighty feet thick, was solid, firm enough to withstand the drifts and slams of ice that built up from Siberia and pushed into the Arctic Ocean, pressing over the top of the world on its way to Canada. Nearer to Siberian shores, the crash of ice sheets slamming into the polar ice cap sent deep ice ridges down into the seas, blades the size of city blocks that a submarine could slam into, or shear herself apart on.
But over the top of the world, the bottom fell out beneath Honolulu as she passed over a triplet of plunging basins. The Makarov Basin, the Polar Drop, the Nansen Basin, where the ocean floor was a terrifying seventeen thousand feet or more beneath them. Ancient undersea mountain ranges divided the basins, soaring ridges that rose up and tried to tickle Honolulu’s belly. They were in such deep waters that even with the thick ice above and the mountain ridge below, Honolulu sailed through the waters with open seas above and beneath her.
It was ball-shrivelingly terrifying. If anything went wrong beneath the ice cap, they’d plummet to the bottom and vanish from history forever.
Fast ice also went on for what seemed like an eternity, even more so with a stuck rudder and two straining helmsmen. Anderson rotated men in to hold the shuddering yoke stable as each team drenched themselves with sweat, struggling to hold a steady course.
Finally, Boomer shouted that the ice above was thinning and that he’d found a polynya, a section of ice-free waters in the middle of the vast Arctic. Or, almost a polynya.
“Brash ice and slurry, Captain.” Floating icebergs and slushy ice like a melted snow cone.
“We can punch through.” Anderson turned to Roller, back at the helm. “Bring us to a stop under that opening. Roll into the jammed rudder, and then reverse engines and push her into the current. I want us dead in the water. Keep us trim.”
Roller nodded and popped another three pieces of nicotine gum into his mouth. His jaw never stopped moving, a manic chewing that made him seem like a hamster. But, he brought the boat to a standstill, just inches off the center of the polynya.
“Well done, Roller. Take us up to periscope depth.”
“Periscope depth, aye.” Roller’s biceps shook, but his hands were steady on the control yoke, working in tandem with the planesman.
Ballast blew as an alarm rang three times. Honolulu began to rise. Anderson stood by the periscope well, and when it rose, he ducked down and swept in a circle, scanning the ice above. He pulled back. “Mr. President. Care to take a quick look?”
Jack ducked down and pressed his eyes to the scope. Floating ice chunks the size of small cars bobbed in the seas, colored from soot black to gem-like turquoise to arctic white. Swells sent slurry over Honolulu’s rounded black deck, leaving trails of ice like snow covering a driveway. The bob and weave of the ocean returned, the roll and sway of the deck beneath his feet as the sounds of a million ice cubes cascading against the hull plinked and rattled through the Conn. Jack stepped back.
Roller moaned, his head in his hands. “I hate the swells.”…” – Enemy Within, Tal Bauer
The Arctic scenes, and the submarine scenes (aboard the USS Honolulu), are some of my favorites. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them! Strap in with Jack, Ethan, Sergey, Sasha, Adam, and Faisal on their final showdown with Madigan, deep in the Arctic.
Enemy Within releases March 28th at Amazon and major ebook and print retailers everywhere.
Win and ARC of “Enemy Within” from Tal Bauer
Comment below this post what you would like to see Tal blog about in future posts.. the sky is the limit.. I will pick to random people to get an ARC of Enemy Within – All you have to do is comment below for your chance to win!!
Contest will Close Monday
3/20 at Noon EST
Contest is now closed – but you can still comment and tell Tal what you want to have him blog about–
Winners of the ARC of Enemy Within are
Please check your emails