I once had evening chow with a guy who had survived the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. For those of you too young to remember, this was a huge event in it’s day. It was the first of the Muslim suicide bombings (so far as we were concerned) and the biggest one day lose of life the Marine Corps had suffered since Veitnam. I asked him about it.
He told me that he was asleep in his rack and was woken up when a voice asked him, “Have you cleaned your rifle yet?” He hadn’t as it turned out, which is near sacrilege to Marines. He tried to shrug it off and go back to sleep but “Marine guilt” wouldn’t let him. As there was no light available he sat down in the window sill and broke down his M-16 to clean it. The over pressure from the blast blew him out of the window. He was the sole survivor of his platoon.
I wonder if Ringo had heard that story?
Monster Hunter Memoirs: Sinners is the middle book of the Monster Hunter Memoirs Trilogy by John Ringo and Larry Correia. Which is to say it’s mostly by John Ringo and Larry Correia did some editing here and there.
It definitely reads like a John Ringo book. And it quite possibly represents the current high watermark for the author.
I followed the creation of this series on Facebook. Ringo started posting some fanfic of the MHI-verse, lost control of himself and went into a white heat.
There was a preexisting contract for a collaboration when Larry Correia was just starting out. Baen likes to pair a new author with an experienced author. Ideally this will be a mentoring relationship. This worked out very well between S. M. Stirling and Jerry Pournelle. However, there are times when it has failed. Basically, because the senior author just dugout an old outline and threw it to the junior partner, letting him do all the heavy lifting unassisted.
In the case of Ringo and Correia some initial discussions had gone nowhere, and they simply continued on their own various individual projects without ever getting around to the collaboration.
When John Ringo goes into a white heat, he will produce 150,000 words in the space of a week. That is not an exaggeration. However, he requires the muse to descend before he can do this. And he is more totemistic than a New Guinea witch doctor about getting in touch with his muse. This is the curse of any white heat writer.
Hag-ridden and when he is at the height of his creativity and begging for the Loa of Writing to possess him the rest of the time.
Speaking as a plotter, I both envy and pity the white heat writer.
Regardless, a few years ago the muse did indeed descend, and Ringo chugged out the Monster Hunter memoirs trilogy in about six weeks.
Memoirs is written first person by the character of Chad Gardenier, a monster hunter who was active in the 1980 and into the 1990s.
We are first introduced to memoirs by the regular MHI cast member, Milo. Chad’s memoirs are discovered and brought to his attention. Milo becomes extremely nostalgic in consequence and goes to look at “Chad’s plaque.” This tells longtime fans of the series two things, one, that Chad is dead and two, he likely died the night of the infamous Christmas Party, (it’s the MHI version of the Red Wedding).
While I will be concentrating on the second book, I feel I should make a few comments about this trilogy as a whole
There was an attempt to make this series work as a proper trilogy, with each book acting as one of the acts of a three-act play. This attempt largely failed due to a lack of directed antagonism towards the protagonist. An antagonist was provided in the form of Chad’s brother Thornton. The problem is we rarely hear about him after the first few chapters of the first volume and he doesn’t make a personal appearance until the third when Chad kills him. And honestly, Thornton was drastically weak as a character, he only became evil because Chad could pick up girls and he couldn’t. The pity of it is, Thornton could have provided an interesting character exploration of the Gamma Male as a Necromancer.
The MH: Memoirs series followed the usual pattern for a John Ringo trilogy, first book is an intriguing start, the second book is the best of the series and the third kind of peters out because Ringo was running out of energy when he was writing it. Again, the curse of writing in a white heat.
Chad Gardenier has been frequently accused of being a Mary-Sue. This is not quite accurate, while Chad is clearly a fantasy self-insert character for John Ringo, he’s more James Bond than Bella Swan. He’s a Gary Stu. He is much more defined by, ‘what he does,’ than simply, ‘who he is.’ The rules of the universe don’t suddenly bend just to make him look better. And frankly, having a Gary Stu as the star of the show is perfectly in keeping with the established traditions of the Monster Hunter cosmos (see, Owen Pitt). Chad is intriguingly enough a devout Christian. Ringo has done that once before but it’s still nice to see in a protagonist instead of a side character.
In the first book Chad was established as an Alpha male pickup artist. * This caused him some minor problems in the first book but creates a major one for him at the start of the second. In the MHI-verse elves live in trailer parks. Like her human counterpart from that neighborhood, an elf-maiden is usually wearing a tube top and daisy-dukes and you really, really need to ‘card’ her before having any kind of serious fun. Chad did not. The elf girl was only forty and that got her whole clan after him. He had to get out of Seattle, so he requested a transfer. As it was MHI needed bodies in their company hotspot of New Orleans. So off Chad went to the Big Easy.
Now, I am on the record as loathing, detesting, and despising subverting audience expectations. In truth, what subverting expectations really means, is denying your audience emotional gratification. You can make an argument for doing so, depending on your story’s ambition and other mitigating circumstances. But the current mania for this practice is nothing but pretension trying to make up for a lack of talent.
However, in Monster Hunter Memoirs: Sinners, my expectations were subverted in the best way possible. I love Larry Correia’s books, but there was no getting around it when Monster Hunter memoirs came out things were becoming a little bit too staid in his universe. The creative burst of inventing a new setting was running out.The rules were now firmly established and were beginning to fall into cliche here and there.
Ringo took the established tropes of this world and turned them on their head in New Orleans. The two biggest rules of Correia-world were that (a) MHI had to work in absolute secrecy and (b) the Monster Control Bureau was implacably hostile to monster hunters.
When Chad arrives in New Orleans he quickly discovers that MHI team “Hoodoo Squad.” Has quite a rep with the local street gangs. When Chad is met by another hunter at the office he is reluctant to leave his car in an obviously bad neighborhood. The other hunter slaps a Hoodoo Squad emblem on the back of Chad’s bumper and tells him, that should cover him.
That was nothing compared to the shock of Chad being brought to meet the local MCB office. That was normally something that hunters would avoid doing like the plague. But turning Chad’s world upside down, MCB agents were friendly and cooperative. Their local boss, Castro, views Hoodoo squad as a valuable resource.
The purpose of the MCB everywhere else in the country was containment of the knowledge of supernatural, to prevent the spread of that knowledge. Because, “If you know that all you need to get back at your high school bully is a ritual and some virgin’s blood you will find a virgin and get that blood.” In New Orleans that mission was an abject failure. Everyone in that city knew that the supernatural was real. They were also terrified of it which was why Hoodoo Squad were the biggest heroes in town.
Complicating their mission was the fact that some unknown force was supercharging the hoodoo of New Orleans. Weak practitioners who would normally struggle to raise a simple zombie were calling forth mighty shadow demons. **
This book is definitely more memoir in format than novel. It is in the main, a series of vignettes that finally culminates on Mardi Gras night, when Hoodoo Squad and New Orleans MCB go down fighting side by side against a threat was trying to kill everyone at the biggest party in the country.
What really sells John Ringo’s books are the characters and the prose. Some people lift an eyebrow when I mention his prose but it’s a major selling point for Ringo. His characters feel like military men. His books frequently take me back to a world I left a long time ago. His words carry a grubby joi de vivre that knows what it’s like to have a good laugh over early morning instant coffee in a canteen cup while you are waiting for things to get loud. The tension is there and it has the right amount of coil built into it.
And Ringo’s characters are all deeply individual. It takes very little time for you to get to know them. And they meshed quite well with the urban fantasy setting of mid Eighties New Orleans creating a self-contained world. When a zombie got dragged into a pond by a gator, Chad thought, “I’ve found there are three ways to get anything done in New Orleans: one, ask Remi to make arrangements. Two, call Madame Courtney. Three Shelbie got a cousin. Which one would you pick?” I loved that line.
Ultimately, this is a Gary Stu story. And the fun of those is putting yourself in Gary’s shoes. So Chad’s progression to from crippled survivor of Beirut to well-off hunter with a gentlemen’s gentleman, while a little out there was definitely the primary reason to read the book in the first place.
Okay, I’m done here.
*This was written before Chad and Stacy became meme fodder.
** This was part of the Thornton subplot and it went nowhere in that book.