by Henry Mosquera
Mark Twain once said, "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't." That's probably the single greatest lesson I learned from writing "Sleeper's Run." Just because something is true and/or based in truth, it doesn't mean people will believe it.
My first thought when someone questions the believability of certain elements within my novel is, "what are the qualifications to make such an assessment?" This is not a facetious remark, but an honest question. I spent many years researching my book, trying to ground it in reality. I read reputable sources, talked to relevant people, watched factual documentaries, and even managed to train in some of the skills presented in my work with the intention of having a better understanding. These efforts didn't make me an expert in any of these fields by any stretch of the imagination, but opened my eyes to their realities.
Case in point, Tony Gilroy, the writer and director of "The Bourne Legacy," faced some of the same issues I encountered in my novel (follow the link below to read Gilroy's interview). I dare say that perhaps Mr. Gilroy and I are the sort of geeks who love reading about special operations, intelligence, secret projects and covert missions. Not the grand adventures depicted in fiction, but the sobering real-life accounts. This, in turn, fuels our own imaginative works. How many people do you know jump into an analysis of Operation Neptune Spear right after it became public, and had a better assessment of how it went down and who was involved than the media? I'm an outsider to that world, a couch commando if you will, but a well-versed one at that.
Yet, Gilroy, a successful and seasoned screenwriter (he wrote all three previous Bourne films, among others), understands that “what it is” and “what is believed” are two completely different things. Me, on the other hand, I thought that the closer I got to reality (i.e. special operations training and capabilities, the unnerving ease of most computer hacks and document forging) the more believable my novel would be perceived.
Of course, we are talking about fiction here. The probabilities of one man--no matter how well trained and experienced--evading an international manhunt are slim at best. And some of the science presented in the book is completely speculative, based on real experiments and proposed theories, but speculative none-the-less. That's where fiction steps in; to fill those gaps and to show us characters and situations far removed from our mundane lives.
Take for instance, Jack Reacher, the protagonist from Lee Child's widely successful novel series. Reacher is an ex-military police man from a fictitious unit, which supposedly handles special operations cases. Some of the skills he uses in the novels are not in line with the mission and capabilities of the military police. However, most readers can care less. What they have is a really cool character that can handle any situation.
Are there real people out there with the kind of training Jason Bourne, Aaron Cross and Eric Caine have? Sure, just read the real life accounts of men like ex-CIA officer Robert Baer, SEAL Team 6 founder Richard Marcinko, or former Delta Force operator Eric L. Haney, to name a few. How about true larger-than-life people? Theodore Roosevelt, Howard Hughes, Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemingway come to mind. Is there technology--both synthetic and biological--today that blurs the line between fact and science fiction? Check out DARPA's website, for instance. Those nifty climbing gloves Ethan Hunt uses in "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" are based on one of their projects called "Z-Man." Let's not forget that the now-ubiquitous reality of unmanned drones was nothing but farfetched fantasy not so long ago.
Fiction can be entertaining, and on a good day, though provoking. To me, the best fiction is the one grounded in reality. There's nothing wrong with wild flights of imagination; it's just a matter of preference. Yet, I find it ironic that our society, which is largely informed by fiction, has developed a sort of selective skepticism.
Keep on running!