I cleared out my bookshelf on Sunday and found “Das Boot“, the mostly autobiographical novel of Lothar-Guenther Buchheim. In (my native) German at least, its a phenomenal read. The movie is good, but the book still blows me away in its attention to technical detail and narrative style. But most of all, the terse, brutal language that accompanies the claustrophobic life under water caught between the thrill of the hunt and the sheer terror of being hunted.
See, a German submarine was unsurpassed as a stealthy hunter and – at the beginning of the war – outstanding at sneaking into enemy convoys and launching their torpedoes at unarmed ships – then disappear. But once detected, they were basically helpless. ASDIC – the precursor of SONAR grabbed a submarine as long as it was in its range and with its depth charges, a destroyer-class ship could drop depth charges all day long “bis die Muetze des Kommandanten hochkommt” while the submarine had no real means to fight back.
Sounds familiar? Its exactly how we Wormhole dwellers hunt haulers and miners in W-space. Stealthy, with superior fire power but once we are decloaked and once we are identified, we have very little chance of getting away.
Something else. Watch the clip again, roughly at 3’33” – the thrill of the hunt has overcome the angst, the claustrophobia, the boredom and all doubts that the crew may have about their mission or their political leaders. The actors seem exhilarated by charging their flimsy but stealthy boat towards the freighters – oblivious to the ever-present danger of enemy combat ships (I read enough about the U-boat war that I believe that part to be true, btw, not just fiction). The launch of the torpedoes, the glee when they hit, the awe over the scene of destruction and then the sudden, brutal realization that there are still living human sailors on the burning wrecks. The book is far more explicit about that last transition. The submariners shoot at a silhouette – no, strike that – they did not even “shoot”. They “lanced” a torpedo. Its all very clean, wrapped in naval and engineering terms. But all this deliberate distancing comes to an end when the crew sees helpless sailors swimming in the burning ocean.
And this is what I am getting at with my little fiction project. The emotions surrounding the exercise of power over others, the thrill, the remorse, the redemption.
Ok, ok, EVE Online is a game. There should be no remorse when I shoot a hauler or miner. But even hardened hunters like our friend Gerandor displays a peaceful side. I had thoughts about the fairness of our game style myself (I am over it) and while there can be no moral comparison between moving torpedo-shaped pixels towards covetor-shaped pixels in the game and shooting real torpedoes at real ships with real men on it, I believe that the projections we have in our minds follow similar tracts.