the punisher

Who are you?

Charles Purcell … lover, fighter, retweeter.
Also a journo with 20-odd years of experience, mostly with the Sydney Morning Herald. Oh, and author of two books: The Spartan and Game Of Killers: The Spartan.

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia.

Tell us about your new book, Game Of Killers: The Spartan.

It’s the sequel to the 2014 ebook military thriller, The Spartan.

What’s the plot precis?

“Millions died in the United States when a weaponised plague was unleashed upon the world. Now a new menace threatens the country just as it begins to recover.
The perfect assassin’s tool has been stolen from America’s high-tech labs.
No one is safe … not even the President.
And in the hands of the assassins’s leader is a legendary lost sword: the Honjo Masamune.
Now Tier 1 soldier the Spartan and his ex-Mexican policewoman partner Teresa Vasquez must save the President from being murdered by a bold new enemy – one that seems to be constantly ahead of them every step of the way.
If the President is killed, America will be brought to its knees and the world plunged into war. Plus the ghosts of the past have come to haunt the Spartan: Mexican cartels out for blood, elite operatives chasing revenge and a scarred US General looking to end their deadly grudge match forever.
Can the Spartan and Vasquez defeat their enemies and save America itself?”

Is it inspired by real-life events?

Yes. Particularly the so-called Thucydides Trap: that when a rising power replaces another one, the usual outcome is war. It has happened many times in the past, from Athens and Sparta to Germany and Great Britain.
In this case, we’re talking about the potential for conflict between China and the US. That is the ever-present backdrop for both of my books … what exactly it might take to tip them both into war.

You’re interested in history, then.

Yes, very much so. I studied history at both high school and university. I particularly loved ancient history. I don’t want to live like a Spartan – I’m too much of a pleasure-loving Athenian, fond of my modern comforts – but I do admire the Spartans.

Tell us about your hero, The Spartan.

He’s a Tier 1 soldier, mid-thirties, 250 pounds of tight muscle, cobalt blue eyes, steely brown hair shaped in a buzz cut.
His partner is Teresa Vasquez: special forces trained operative, possessor of the world’s only set of invisibility combat armour, late twenties, brunette, beautiful, smart.
Their job: protecting the United States from all its enemies, both domestic and foreign. And there are a LOT of enemies that fall into both categories.

You’ve written before about the age of the hero being over. How does that apply to the Spartan?

I feel he’s a lot like Ray Donovan, the baseball-bat wielding fixer from the TV series of the same name … a man whose time has passed.
Liev Schreiber once said of Ray: ““Ray is working on old software, functioning in a world that no longer appreciates men as breadwinners and warriors. And there is a lot of pain in that.”
The Spartan is a bit like that: a soldier and a warrior in a world where there’s not much of a place for warriors anymore.
I also feel he’s a bit like The Punisher, Frank Castle, a man on a lonely quest few understand. I love this quote from an emissary of The Hand from Punisher Max: Homeless, as he refuses to take the contract to kill The Punisher: “Frank Castle is an endangered species. And one does not hunt an endangered species. One preserves it. And marvels at its beauty. And on the day it finally succumbs and dies, one mourns its passing, knowing we may never see its like again.”
We like to admire these heroes, but essentially they are people at war with a world that fears and hates them. As Liev says, there’s a lot of pain in that.
So I like to think I’m paying homage to this endangered species before it disappears forever and all the fighting is done by robots or artificially enhanced soldiers.

You’re not a fan of the idea of the Singularity, then?

No. It sounds like a nightmare.

What was the toughest part about writing your book?

Overcoming the hoodoo of the “difficult” second novel.

What was the saddest thing you ever saw as a journalist?

I once saw a star of a comedy series that was huge in the ’80s and ’90s sitting at a comic book convention booth … and no one was going up to him to get his autograph. The look on his face said it all.

You’ve interviewed a lot of famous people: Chris Rock, Robert Downey jnr, Kathy Griffin, Jason Alexander. What quote from one of them stayed with you forever?

When I spoke to Woody Allen about what made him happy … and how we all distract ourselves from the knowledge that one day we will die.
He said: “It’s like what Auden said about death being the distant sound of thunder at a picnic: that’s what [life] is, you’re at a picnic but there’s a distant sound of thunder. You know some day you’re going to die.”

You’re a newspaper journalist. Are newspapers dying?

No. They just smell a bit funny, like a zombie extra from The Walking Dead.

Will there be a third book in the Spartan series?

Maybe. I have some ideas. I particularly liked what Hugh Jackman did with Logan.

What writers do you admire?

Lee Child, Mario Puzo, Don Winslow, Shane Kuhn, Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, John Birmingham from Australia, the guys from The Onion, Hilary Mantel, Tina Fey and probably too many to mention.

What’s something people don’t know about you?

I once hugged Lou “The Original Hulk” Ferrigno.
His arms were soft and strong. I felt so safe.

Any final words?

I hope you enjoy reading Game Of Killers: The Spartan as much as I did writing it.

Game Of Killers: The Spartan is now available as an ebook here and Print On Demand novel here. You can also buy the first instalment, The Spartan, here.

“Ray is working on old software, functioning in a world that no longer appreciates men as breadwinners and warriors. And there is a lot of pain in that.”
That’s Liev Schreiber talking about his eminently watchable LA “fixer” Ray Donovan in the superlative series of the same name.
I often think about his perceptive words as I see the changing roles required of men in modern society.
Because Liev is not entirely wrong.
The golden age of the warrior is passing.
Like mutant Wolverine riding off into the sunset in swansong Logan, the era of the lone tough guy riding into town to solve everyone’s problems with fists, guns or baseball bats is increasingly threatened.
Man’s one great advantage – his physical strength – is being eroded in a world where machines can perform manual labour faster and more efficiently.
On the big screen the fantasy still exists. We are continuously deluged with movies about mighty (albeit increasingly more-than-human) heroes, the latest iterations being the Avengers and X-Men series.
Yet back in the real world, the modern-day military superstar isn’t the human soldier: it’s the drone, delivering death from above, the missiles and cannons deployed by operators thousands of kilometres away from the battlefield.
These cubicle warriors pushing buttons in airconditioned comfort are not Wolverine or Ray Donovan types: rather they are ex-air force pilots, sent in to command the machines that have made them obsolete. There are now more drone pilots being trained than those that will ever see the insides of a cockpit.
For politicians scared of the bad press of humans coming back from overseas deployments in bodybags, the increasing use of drones is a blessing: not to mention the billions saved in ongoing human medical bills and pensions.
We stand on the cusp of an explosion in autonomous weapons systems and AI. How long before enhanced tactical devices – the proper robots of science fiction lore and Terminator fever dreams, not just drones and border-guarding sentries and SWORDS weapons platforms  – will be employed en masse in combat?
When that happens – when we outsource the fighting to the machines – part of the identity of man as warrior will also disappear. One of the critical pathways man has used to prove his strength, worth and courage for millennia will disappear.
No doubt it will be an emasculating experience.
Once again The Simpsons, which predicted the Trump presidency, saw the future.
I give you this quote from The Secret War Of Lisa Simpson: “The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today, remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots.”
The tale of Sparky The Hero Army Electrician does not excite the synapses of the male mind as much as say Conan The Barbarian. How will Hollywood make these technological functionaries seem heroic?
I have seen other signs at the coming action-man obsolescence in popular culture: in particular, the anti-hero The Punisher, whose widely anticipated TV series is coming soon to Netflix.
To quote the emissary of The Hand from Punisher Max: Homeless, as he refuses to take the contract to kill Frank “Punisher” Castle: “Frank Castle is an endangered species. And one does not hunt an endangered species. One preserves it. And marvels at its beauty. And on the day it finally succumbs and dies, one mourns its passing, knowing we may never see its like again.”
My own hero The Spartan feels the same psychic pain as Frank Castle and Ray Donovan. He is also an endangered species … and he knows it.
It is our duty to marvel at his heroism, along with that of Frank and Ray.
And on the day these heroes die, we will mourn their passing, know that we may never see their kind again.

My new military thriller Game Of Killers: The Spartan is available as an ebook here and a paperback here.