Ocracoke Post compares Vollmann and Stephen Crane, noting that their respective work falls into adventure journalism. J.M. Tyree offers some fascinating comparisons (both authors were attracted to prostitutes in their early fiction), pointing out that the books that critics have singled out “historical fiction” as their greatest accomplishments (Europe Central and The Red Badge of Courage).
I’d venture one further comparison. Both authors plunged themselves hard into exotic settings before writing about them. And yet with these two books, one might argue that they are the most imagined. Vollmann, of course, did not observe World War II, save through the copious books at his disposal. Crane never observed a single battle.
In fact, what makes EC such an interesting departure from previous Vollmann novels is the way that EC‘s “narrator as guide,” a stylistic device found to varying degrees in nearly all of Vollmann’s work, is even more imagined this time around. The “narrator” often serves as a proletariat who seems to know all the inside and intimate dirt about top Party officials and the like, often referring to the reader as “comrade.”
It would seem that the early real-world obsessions that both Vollmann and Crane essentially gave them license to invent the world of danger in their later ficiton.