On the Record with Brendan Wilson

SYCAMORE – While serving in the U.S. Army in Baghdad, Brendan Wilson was awakened one night as he slept in a reinforced bunker by a loud alarm and a warning about incoming fire. He heard two thumps and then silence.

His experience is the basis for the opening scene of his first novel, “The Achilles Battle Fleet.” The first part of the trilogy, “Book One: Mei-Ling Lee,” was published earlier this year. The book is independently published by Literate Ape Press and can be purchased online via Amazon.

Following 25 years of military service as a U.S. Army ranger and paratrooper, Wilson retired as a lieutenant colonel and then joined NATO where he served as a defense planner and diplomat for the next 15 years. During the course of his 40 years of work as a soldier and diplomat, he served in war-torn Libya, Ukraine, Kosovo, Bosnia and Iraq. A former coach and team captain for a military martial arts competition team, he holds master ranking (8th Dan) in three martial arts, and won the silver medal in the 2009 U.S. Open for Taekwondo.

In retirement, Wilson turned his efforts to filmmaking. He wrote and produced two award-winning short films, “Doug’s Christmas” and “A Child Lies Here” and served as executive producer for 10 episodes of the award-winning web series, “Greetings! From Prison” starring SNL’s Chris Redd. Moved by seeing human lives upended in war-torn areas, Wilson is earning his law degree and, once qualified as an attorney, plans to volunteer to help refugees. A former assistant professor who taught military history at the Univerity of Colorado, Wilson holds a Ph.D. in international relations and has about a dozen publications on defense-related topics. He is the father of two adult children.

Wilson spoke to MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton about his newly published book, “The Achilles Battle Fleet: Book One: Mei-Ling Lee” and how his background in martial arts and the military was merged with science fiction to create the novel.

Milton: What the novel is about?

Wilson: It’s a science fiction novel. The storyline is about a ragtag group of starships caught in a convoy in a contested area and it’s ambushed. The command group is killed, many of the vessels are destroyed and an old admiral, Jay Chambers, is the senior officer and takes charge of the surviving. The enemy is unknown, and they have a vastly superior technology. There is also a young commander, Mei-Ling Lee, who is a naval academy martial artist, and throughout the book, [the characters] go through a series of conflicts with the enemy. At the same time, there is a thematic element of sci-fi, a speculative interpretation of quantum field theory to describe what the enemy is doing.

Milton: Is the book completely fictional?

Wilson: Although it’s fiction, the story is really about the people and the stress they’re under, which forces them to work together. I had sort of an image of the initial battle in my brain, and I drew upon some of my experience in the military. I began writing the book when I was working as a defense planner. I had late hours, lots of travel and wrote it when I could. The story was in my brain, I just had to write it down. Once I started writing, the characters took off from there. I don’t usually consider myself a sci-fi enthusiast. I think most people are surprised when they learn that I wrote a book in that genre.

Milton: Would you describe the book as a typical science fiction novel?

Wilson: It’s more than a sci-fi story. It’s an adventure story about people and what happens to them when they’re forced to work together and make difficult decisions with no perfect solution that doesn’t have risk or potential for adverse circumstances. They have to make those decisions and work together, and over time, it changes their personality. They ask themselves, “Is this the person that I want to be, the person I was meant to be?”

Milton: Who is the character the first book is named after?

Wilson: Mei-Ling Lee is the captain of the martial arts team at the Naval Academy. I worked the idea that life is a struggle, it’s not meant to go your way, into her character. I added a little of my own martial arts and military background into her character. Later in the story, she’s given the chance to teach and train the fleet’s Marine commandos. I did something similar to that when I was in the military, in NATO in Belgium.

Milton: Have you studied martial arts?

Wilson: I studied martial arts for many years. At 16, I was cut from the varsity baseball team, and I joined martial arts. That was about 47 years ago, and martial arts has been near and dear to my heart ever since. I was an assistant professor of military science and military history at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I included some of my martial arts knowledge, as well as military history in the novel. History buffs will recognize some of the thematic aspects in the story from the history of Alexander the Great, Admiral Lord Nelson and the Peloponnesian War. The attack at the beginning of the book takes place on the 600th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Milton: Are you originally from the DeKalb area?

Wilson: I was born in Virginia, moved all over the place, went to high school and college in Virginia, and then moved all over the place. I was an Army brat, so I moved a lot when I was a child. After I finished college, went into the Army for 25 years. I was a paratrooper, army ranger, artillery officer, public affairs officer, strategic planner at NATO headquarters and a military officer for seven years. I retired in 2004 and took a job as a defense planner and did that for 15 years. In 2018, I was diagnosed with PTSD because I had been to Iraq 12 times. I was sent back to the U.S. for treatment. I originally traveled to Tallahassee, Florida. I called my daughter and she told me to come to Illinois, because there are plenty of facilities here. I did that, and she moved from Lisle to the Chicago area, so I started looking for a smaller town and hit upon Sycamore, sort of by accident. I volunteered to be an evaluator at [Northern Illinois University] for the regional history center, and the person I was matched with was a woman I had dated in high school in Virginia. It’s a really small world. We reconnected and have since married.

Milton: What are your plans for the future?

Wilson: Well, the book is a series, a trilogy, and I’m planning on writing two other books in the series. When I returned in 2018, I had two goals: I wanted to finish the novel and I wanted to finish law school. I picked up studying law again, and I’m now in my fourth and final year of law school. I’m supposed to finish law school in May, and I will write the second novel after that. I hope to use my law degree to help people in need, especially refugees. I really want to help people in need once I’m qualified to do that.

Katrina Milton

Katrina J.E. Milton

Award-winning reporter and photographer for Shaw Media publications, including The Daily Chronicle and The MidWeek newspapers in DeKalb County, Illinois, since 2012.