This MOAA Member's Novel Is About To Hit The Big Screen

This MOAA Member's Novel Is About To Hit The Big Screen
About the Author

Rob Colenso is a pop culture enthusiast and Marine veteran from the Washington, D.C., area. 

All it takes is a quick look around the living room to get a sense for the incredible patience and attention to detail of Cmdr. George Wallace, USN (Ret), president of MOAA's Mount Vernon (Va.) Chapter.

There are the glass-encased models Wallace built, of course: Cold War-era submarines and a Revolutionary War-era fighting ship. But what his wife, Penny, is more likely to point out is the furniture that graces their cozy home in suburban Alexandria, Va. - largely pieces her husband made by hand. 

No surprise, considering Wallace is a retired Navy commander who spent his career serving aboard submarines - a corner of the sea service well known for exactly those traits required of his handiwork.

But where that attention to detail also shines is in Wallace's writing. He's a best-selling author of submarine thrillers, including Firing Point (Berkley, 2012), the basis of a big-budget action film hitting the big screen this fall called Hunter Killer. For the uninitiated, Wallace's writing simultaneously offers a master class on submarine operations, ripped-from-the-headlines plot lines, and richly detailed characters.

Set to open Oct. 26, Hunter Killer features a star-studded cast that includes Gerard Butler, Linda Cardellini, Gary Oldman, Common, and Michael Nyqvist. At the production's helm is Alan Siegel, who also led the action thrillers Law Abiding Citizen, Olympus Has Fallen, and London Has Fallen.

While Hunter Killer is a leaner story than Wallace's original 702-page Firing Point, the accuracy of the screenplay has earned strong support from the Navy, which provided a technical consultant for the filming. Some of the complexities of the novel were left on the cutting room floor, but what remains is a tense thriller that weaves together U.S.-Russia political intrigue, special operations derring-do, and undersea combat into a high-stakes chess match.

Firing Point was Wallace's second book, and another collaboration with coauthor Don Keith, a successful author in his own right who Wallace says complements his writing strengths. After publishing the Cold War-focused Final Bearing (Forge Books, 2003), Wallace and Keith decided to mix things up a bit.

“A large part of what we were doing … was, 'Hey, let's tell the story of what submariners do, go back to the Cold War, so let's make it modern times.' ”

The story revolves around an incident under the polar ice cap, in which an American nuclear sub is tailing a mysterious new Russian boat, only to find that as both are under way, the Russian sub sinks to the ocean floor. After it moves in to provide aid to the survivors, the American sub sinks as well. As in any good thriller, this was no accident, and in fact is part of a broader international conspiracy. But as larger-than-life as the plot can be in a military thriller novel or action movie, Wallace's rich details stay true to the life of the deckplates sailor. This carries over to the movie, too, he notes.

“We went over and watched them film on set in London … and I watched Gerard Butler play the CO, Joe Glass, and he was dead on,” Wallace says. “What I saw in London was extremely good. I swore I was in the control room in Hawaii. It was that good.”

The accuracy, though, only goes so far. If you go looking for Wallace in any one of the characters in Firing Point, you won't find him. As an author, he draws heavily on his own experiences serving on active duty from 1973 to 1995. But if you ask him whom he most strongly identifies with among his characters, he cites what he calls “a minor character,” the engineer from Final Bearing. “I'm not the CO of the Toledo in Firing Point.” 

Still, there are themes in his books that will resonate with veterans and today's servicemembers alike, and that's by design, Wallace notes. In Firing Point, he weaves a thread throughout the book of leaders making tough decisions with little to no information.

“It was very intentional,” he explains. “That's certainly part of the command experience, if you will. You are constantly making decisions based on little or no knowledge. But at the same time, I was writing Firing Point to be the story of an entire crew. … I wanted to tell the entire story.”

As for lessons to offer young officers or sailors, Wallace is quick to note teamwork. 

“So much of submarining is teamwork. The CO is the quarterback, for the lack of a better term,” Wallace says. “To realize that you're part of a team when you're on board, when you've got your dolphins on, everybody on board depends on you for their life. … I would put that as probably one of the overarching themes of all of my books.”