When Eric Yuwono appears on page 1 of Another Way to Die, we already know his job resembles that of James Bond. Never mind Yuwono more closely resembles John Cho in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle than Daniel Craig or Sean Connery. But who does he work for?
By Chapter 2, we know. He is an agent of Cybercommand, the intelligence wing of the Compact Military.
“Wait a minute, TS. MI6 and the CIA are civilian agencies. How can you have one as a military branch?”
Well, Corky, I’m the author. It’s why JT Austin’s father is a force admiral and not a rear admiral, lower half. (A rank designation, by the way, most Naval officers hate more than the commodore rank it replaced. You’re welcome, Navy folk!) But there is a method to my madness.
Russian leader and current Bond villain Vladimir Putin left the KGB as a colonel. The KGB, as most of you probably know, was the spy organization for the Soviet Union, the predecessor to the current Russian Federation. And while the CIA and MI6 model their internal ranks on the military while remaining civilian, the KGB did not. Nor does its successor, the FSB. (“New name,” quipped Robbie Coltrane in one Bond movie. “Same great service.”) So Russian spies are quasi-military and not bothering to hide it.
At the same time, there’s a cross-branch command at the Pentagon called Cyber Command. (And both Word and ProWritingAid insist I spell mine that way. Too bad, bots. You’re not the author.) They are tasked with protecting the nation’s digital infrastructure and waging cyber warfare on all enemies foreign and domestic. Originally, I thought we needed a Cyber Command branch long before we needed a Space Force. But I don’t work in Washington. If I did, I’d be in Leavenworth after my patience ran out. Which would be roughly two minutes after I stepped off the train.
But we’re not talking about the United States or Britain or Russia. We are talking about the Compact, a Federation-like entity five hundred years in the future. While analogs to an army, navy, and air force were easy enough to create, I wanted something to defend the digital realm, especially since humanity is linked only generated wormholes. In that circumstance, digital needed its own branch of the military.
But the first time we see a Cybercommand operative is Weiss in Warped, though Major Liu in Broken Skies refers to it. They’re doing spy stuff. James Bond stuff. Jack Ryan stuff. So, Cybercommand became a benign KGB and the Hackers for Justice of the Compact. And that’s where Eric Yuwono lands after the Amargosa Trilogy. He’s not a Marine. He’s a spy.
So, his adventure serves two purposes: One to show that aspect of war in the fifth century of the Interstellar Era, the other to give readers a break between two heavy stories. Let’s face it. For all its pulp elements, Royal Orders does put our characters through an ordeal. And Suicide Gambit promises to be a heavy story.
In it, Eric becomes two of fiction’s most famous spies: James Bond and Jack Ryan. In the beginning, he’s not only James Bond, he’s Daniel Craig’s Bond at the beginning of Casino Royale. When he reports back, he checks in with a flirtatious secretary, is briefed by a cantankerous boss who smokes a pipe, and is outfitted by a device genius with no personal life whatsoever. (And what she does have sounds boring.) Like Connery’s Bond in the first two movies, he has a Sylvia Trench in Davra, but they have decided to form a more perfect union. He has a Bond girl in Effie, his ship’s rather sophisticated AI.
Of course, Eric being Eric, he needs help from the Children of Amargosa. And Suicide. As Suicide puts it to JT in Checkmate, he has to “call mommy” to get himself out of trouble.
When I first made notes for this story, I had already outlined Suicide Run and was roughly three chapters in. It was not my intention to name Suicide and JT’s ship Goldeneye, but as you might already have guessed, that would have been one Easter egg too far. So, two ships bear the name in the first three books. Goldeneye might be an Easter egg if you’re new to the series, but it has history within the series if you already read the first three books of the Suicide Arc.
Of course, I had to upend the apple cart. Eric Yuwono is not James Bond, and he can’t indulge some of the Bond tropes. In the current climate, most readers would not tolerate him bedding every female who crosses his path, especially since he and Davra are practically married. So, having him try to keep cover when infidelity might be the best option became a source of comedy, Eric tying himself in knots to not sleep with the mysterious Cassandra but let her think they did.
Ultimately, as I said in the beginning, Eric becomes more Jack Ryan than James Bond. Ryan is based in reality more than Bond. Bond is an idealized composite of a famous MI6 agent named Reilly, another named Forrest (who is tuckerized as a traitorous agent here), Ian Fleming himself, and, believe it or not, Christopher Lee. Lee not only was Fleming’s cousin, one of the actors originally considered to play Bond, and later a Bond villain*, he worked for MI6 during World War II.
Ryan might have been wish fulfillment by Tom Clancy, but Clancy based his creation in research. The author loved digging into intelligence and military facts so much, one has to suspect he wrote his novels to justify his obsession. But Eric Yuwono, Cybercommand analyst, and TS Hottle, software developer, are not the same. Yuwono loves his intelligence role (and loves not getting shot at daily even more), but his creator would rather watch TV or read a book after a hard day of creating digital hieroglyphics.
One thing that always throws readers is the ranks. When I created Cybercommand, I wanted paranoia to bake into the service. They don’t have traditional ranks. In Another Way to Die, Yuwono is not a full lieutenant or a captain reporting to a force admiral or brigadier general. He’s an O-3 reporting to a G-1. Other branches have five-star ranks of Commandant, Fleet Admiral, and Air Marshal at the top. This one has a G-5. One beta who served 20 years in the Navy hates this. When I explained it, I said his comments gave me license to have the other Children of Amargosa make fun of the ranks. “You don’t have ranks! You have pay grades!” They also wear unadorned black uniforms and hide their ships even from those traveling aboard them.
It’s a weird construct, but we are writing a darker version of Star Trek‘s premise – more war, less exploration, and humanity is still flailing. Cybercommand is a product of that.
*One of the few things I love about The Man with the Golden Gun is the sight of the most famous Dracula after Bela Lugosi sunning himself on a beach.