Monday, September 24, 2012

The Choice of Nuclear Retaliation: An interview with military thriller author Noah Beck

1) Please tell us about your book, The Last Israelis.

The novel is a military and psychological thriller ripped from today's headlines. Iran gets a nuclear weapon, and a variety of circumstances leave history up to 35 ethnically and ideologically diverse men aboard Israel's nuclear-armed submarine. They must unite to survive the threats at sea before confronting an unthinkable and deeply divisive dilemma.

2) Your novel has been described by some as a character study. Please share a bit with us about your main characters.

The complex mix of characters sharing the cramped hull of a submarine is very much a microcosm of the diverse Israeli society sharing a tiny country. There are two grandsons of Holocaust survivors but with diametrically opposed lessons and worldviews produced by their similar family histories; their clashing ideologies make for some of the most intense conflicts in the story. Among the other characters are: two native Arabic speakers (a Christian and a Druze), the son of Persian Jews who escaped from the 1979 Iranian revolution, an Ethiopian who crossed Sudan by foot as a child to reach Israel, religious Jews who serve on a mostly secular crew, and an officer who is secretly gay and struggles with whether to come out to his crewmates.

3) Techno-thrillers thrive on versimiitude and that often necessitates detailed populated by research. What sort of research was involved in writing this book?

In late March, I began watching submarine movies and realized that I would need to interview people who had actually served on an Israeli submarine. I got on a flight from the U.S. to Israel and was quickly amazed by how flat hierarchies there are – even with something as rigid as the military. With just a few friendly introductions, I was soon interviewing the former commander of the entire Israeli submarine force (who had himself captained countless missions). I also found and befriended one of just a handful of Ethiopians to have served on a submarine. Of course, most of my questions were artfully dodged (for security reasons) but these veterans were immensely helpful in keeping various story details realistic. There was also a ton of Internet research involved but by far the most interesting and rewarding aspect of my research was my interviews with the ex-submariners.

4) There are some very influential authors and books that have focused on lone submarines bucking the odds. Indeed, the continuing popularity of this particular sub-genre can even be seen in the American fall television line-up with the show Last Resort. In writing your book,are their any authors who influenced your style?

There are only so many plot permutations that any submarine thriller can realistically take, so there are bound to be other novels in that genre that contain basic similarities. To the extent that "The Last Israelis" may seem similar to anything else, it is a function of the limited plot possibilities for the genre rather than any specific influences that inspired me. Everything I wrote was dictated by the elements comprising the novel: the original characters that I had imagined specifically for this story (with their different worldviews, family histories, habits, etc.) and the dramatic possibilities that present themselves when Iran gets a nuclear weapon and these very diverse men must together confront the unthinkable.
5) Normally, I ask authors what inspired their books, but given the subject matter, I think anyone who pays a bit of attention to the news, in so far as it relates to Iran and Israel, can figure out what inspired the book. So, let's take a step back. Some techno-thriller authors produce works based on concerns of the day just to mine the dramatic possibilities of such events. Others explore their own political and personal concerns. Is this book more of the former or the latter?

The answer is both. I originally conceived of the story in 2009 as a concept for a screenplay about a doomsday, military showdown between Israel's Dolphin submarine and a nuclear-armed Iran. The premise was boiling with dramatic potential and the issue deeply troubled me. But writing a screenplay that within months becomes a widely released film is like Ayatollah Khameini taking a phone call from me and agreeing to dismantle Iran's nuclear program: impossible. So the project of authoring a screenplay that might influence the public debate on an issue that (in my overly optimistic assessment) would become moot in a few years seemed futile. But by the end of March of 2012, after I was still hearing the same type of weak talk and indecision about the Iranian nuclear issue, I resolved to drop everything and work on the story as an e-book, which can be released instantly. By 2012, e-books had also gained a far greater acceptance in the market, so self-publishing my novel seemed like a viable strategy for disseminating my doomsday warning about the perils of a nuclear Iran.

6) If you were somewhat politically motivated, why approach this topic in novel form versus non-fiction form? Did you have any concerns about some readers perceiving it as propaganda?

The format of a novel that is heavily based on history, current events, and researched facts has several advantages: a) it can be as informative as a policy paper but far more engaging and entertaining, b) it can explore certain issues in far greater depth, and c) it can conduct certain thought experiments in substantial and profound detail. As for the charge of propaganda, that is inescapable when the topic is at all political or controversial, but I did my best to present a diversity of political views and well-balanced debates about the core questions that the novel plumbs.

7) Please tell us about any of your other upcoming books.

I am toying with the idea of a thriller that is much less controversial (in the sense that it won't be about any hot issue dominating the headlines) and will be more in the genre of science fiction with a focus on questions of memory and perception. I realize that this sounds rather vague and abstract but that's partly because I haven't begun brainstorming about the idea in earnest and partly because I'd rather wait until I've written something before announcing that I've written it!

8) Do you have any links to any excerpts you'd like to share?

The first two chapters are available at this link:


Thanks, Noah.

You can see more from Noah at

The Last Israelis purchase links for various vendors are listed at

No comments: