[book report] Meditations on Violence
 

I first came across Rory Miller through his (I believe self-published) ebook Violence: A Writer's Guide. But he's written other books, and Meditations on Violence is one of them, which I picked up for a refresher. I've read one other that he co-authored, Scaling Force. The first book is a sometimes-jumbled overview of the author's experience of real-world violence for the benefit of writers doing research. Meditations on Violence and Scaling Force are written for violence professionals (e.g. cops, soldiers, corrections officers). Miller himself is a corrections officer and violence professional, and it was his real-world experience that I wanted to read for research purposes.

If you're reading for writing-research and not to further (e.g.) your preparation for self-defense situations, it's pretty much your pick as to which one you want, as the content tends to overlap a lot. Violence: A Writer's Guide tries to cover the most topics, but is necessarily a survey. Meditations on Violence is more focused on explaining the realities of coming under attack, limitations in martial arts and self-defense training protocols, and, most especially, coming to grips with violence in the real world. It's been a while since I've read Scaling Force, but I believe its focus is on using the appropriate amount of force to deal with a given situation, mostly in a self-defense or law enforcement type of context. I'm finding that Meditations on Violence is my favorite of the lot, although Violence: A Writer's Guide is also nice to have on tap.

Caveat: Because of the nature of the topic, these books will not be for delicate readers. Miller is not graphic for the sake of it, but some of the examples get pretty ugly. For example, in Meditations on Violence, he cites a criminal [EDIT: WARNING for extreme child harm] "unq phg bcra n onol jvgu n gva pna yvq naq encrq gur jbhaq. Vs fbzrbar pna qb gung, qb lbh guvax ur jvyy urfvgngr ng nyy orsber tbhtvat lbhe rlr bhg be ovgvat bss n svatre?"

(Use rot13.com to decrypt, but this really, really is not for the weak of stomach.)

My primary purpose in reading was for research for the hexarchate books (in this case, a refresher for Revenant Gun), although I do find Miller's philosophy of life weirdly soothing. (To be absolutely clear, the most violent incident in my life was getting thrown into holly bushes in a stupid fight when I was in 5th? grade, and I'd like to keep it that way.) So it's not like I have the personal experience to tell about this stuff, but some of this seems like reasonable common sense. For example, in fights depicted for entertainment, audiences want a "fair" or closely-matched fight that gets drawn out for reasons of choreography or drama. As a writer I'm an entertainer, so this is a constraint on me. On the other hand, multiple characters in the hexarchate books are in violent professions (Jedao is a particularly good example [1]) and I don't want them to be completely stupid about it if possible. One of Miller's points is that a threat is, for preference, going to attack when the odds are overwhelmingly in their favor--ambush, from surprise, with the terrain and numbers lined up on their side. They're not going to deliberately try to get you into a fair fight. Things like that.

[1] I will admit that Jedao spends a lot of time in Ninefox Gambit dicking around, if you'll pardon my French, but he does have an ulterior motive, which is that it gives him more time to screw with Cheris because Reasons.

Another interesting thing that Miller discusses is how many people freeze when attacked, and how it's crucial to break out of that if you're going to have any chance of surviving. (If you instead fight or flee, you're probably in much better shape.) I once had an interesting discussion with L., a local gamer and former Navy man, and he said that he has never understood people who don't fight back--even if you die, wouldn't you want to go down fighting? I'm sure there are people who consciously choose not to fight for whatever reason, but the literature makes me strongly suspect that a lot of people (especially people who are in violent situations, or violent situations of a given type, for the first time, or are otherwise taken off-guard) freeze because instinct takes them there, and conscious decision doesn't have a whole lot of say in it. I imagine that if there were any reliable way of telling who was prone to freeze or not that first time short of putting someone in a violent/combat situation, armies would be all over it already? (Does someone have research on this?)

I will note that Meditations on Violence and Scaling Force both talk about something that I pretty much disregarded for writing-research purposes, which is the problem of legal use of force in self-defense situations. Miller is an American writer and is writing from that standpoint, but basically, states/jurisdiction differ on how much force you can justify in what situations. He gives one example where in some location (probably multiples), even if you pull a knife and hit someone with the handle rather than cutting them, that still counts as deadly force because a knife is considered a deadly weapon. Heck, I did Ryu Kyu Kempo briefly (and not very well) in college, with baby steps into saijutsu, and I remember a sai practitioner getting into trouble just for practicing a solo sai kata in a public park because that was illegal. (Personally, since I no longer remember the one sai kata I ever knew, I would rather take a baseball bat into a fight than a sai. I don't know enough sai to do any good with it, and the baseball bat has the advantage of mass and reach.) The hexarchate's culture and legal system is not based on American law so I have much more narrative freedom here.

In any case, highly recommended for writing-research purposes. Ironically, I can't speak to the utility for the intended audience, although what makes me inclined to trust most of Miller is the fact that he emphasizes NOT GETTING IN THE SKEEVY SITUATION IN THE FIRST PLACE IF YOU CAN HELP IT, which is very Sun Tzu-ian, and a principle I learned in 9th grade avoiding someone who wanted to be my boyfriend after they would not take no for an answer--I couldn't do anything about the classes I was in with him, but damn sure I never allowed myself to be caught alone with him, I knew all the back paths on that campus, and I always knew where the exits were just in case. Would anything bad have happened? Maybe not. But I'd rather be safe than sorry, as they say.

Thanks to the generous person who donated this to the cause. I hope this book report was of interest to y'all, lovely patrons!