Army officer's book allows gamers to play along with plot
By DEBBIE KELLEY | The Gazette | Published: July 29, 2019
(Tribune News Service) — Soldiers in an Army infantry battalion stationed in Romania got used to seeing one of their senior officers, Maj. Joel Radunzel, typing away on a laptop juiced by a battery pack — in a field tent.
“Trying to make time to write is tough,” Radunzel, a 2002 graduate of Rampart High School, said in a phone interview from Bulgaria, where he’s deployed as part of the European Deterrence Initiative.
But creating an alternate-history thriller of what plays out when the Cold War doesn’t end, and World War III erupts between the Soviet Union and NATO, has been easier than the West Point Military Academy alum thought.
The ideas have flowed from his mind to his fingertips and onto the 600 pages of his just-published first novel, “Northern Fury: H Hour.”
Co-written by a retired Canadian Army officer, Bart Gauvin, the book is the first in a series of three novels about historical and hypothetical events seen through the lives of several characters, from the leader of the Soviet Union to fighter pilots, mechanized infantry officers and Coast Guard commanders. It’s available in paperback or for Kindle devices on Amazon.com.
“It’s not a one-sided story; we’re telling the story of Russian, American, Canadian and Norwegian characters,” Radunzel said. “We don’t have good and evil characters; good and evil are at war in each of the hearts of the characters.”
The setting: the Arctic front in Norway and Iceland, where land and sea combat unfolds.
And war gamers can get in on the action.
The two authors met not while fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, but on a discussion forum for the realistic simulation video game “Command Modern Naval/Air Operations.”
Gauvin was building battle sets, or scenarios about controlling military forces.
“I enjoyed the scenarios he was telling and spontaneously starting writing stories about them online,” Radunzel said.
Gauvin liked what Radunzel was portraying from his ideas and contacted him about pairing up to write a book.
“Northern Fury: H Hour” took four years to finish.
The co-authors struck a deal with Matrix Games to enable gamers to simulate the battles in the book through playing “Command.”
The format is how the authors developed the battles in the book — by simulating battles in a video game setting to see if they made sense before putting them in the book.
The dual-medium presentation means “people can read the book, and then they can also find the battles on the forums for free, play through them and see if they can do better than our characters,” Radunzel said.
Best-selling author Tom Clancy used the same technique with the war game “Harpoon,” in his book “Red Storm Rising.”
“War provides an interesting backdrop,” Radunzel said. “It puts people in extreme situations and makes them make decisions that really matter, and that’s interesting to people.”
Combined arms operations and NATO’s diverse alliances present challenges for the characters in Radunzel’s book.
“For people who haven’t been in the military, it’s appealing to get a peek into the military life because it’s so different from what a lot of people experience in everyday life,” he said.
In some parts, fiction mimics real life. “It’s fun, and surreal in a way, to be doing ‘Army things’ and at the same time writing about those same things in fiction.”
One difference is that the book takes place in cold climates, while everywhere Radunzel has written in the field on deployments has been hot — with the exception of Iceland, where he was assigned a few years ago on temporary duty. There, “I got to see the places I was writing about and modify the story,” Radunzel said.
He also got to apply his undergraduate and graduate geography major and his expertise in military maps and the history of military maps.
He produced the maps featured in the book and ensured geography plays a key role in the plot.
“We find sometimes people don’t always pay attention to the terrain they fly over,” he said. “We made it the theme of overcoming the elements and difficulties of operating in extreme places in wintertime.
“You can make history, like in our book, but you have to live with your geography — geography explains why we keep going back to conflict in Eastern Europe.”
As the son of missionary parents, who now live in Colorado Springs, Radunzel lived in Russia for four years when he was a child, resulting in “a lot of respect for the Russian people and their culture.”
Radunzel, 35, said he learned about the importance of writing and the tools of how to write from an English teacher at Rampart High School.
From a Rampart football coach, he was taught to work hard on and off the field.
“I felt like that’s where I learned the most life lessons.”