Review: Scorpion’s Fury

Scorpion’s Fury

I decided to take a chance on more obscure military sci-fi and Scorpion’s Fury was one of my picks. I was not disappointed.

Who and What

The book tells the story of a giant scorpion-like mech dragged into action and the recruited ne’er do wells crewing it. They fight aliens in their giant mech alongside other giant mechs.

This had some of the technical boxes of the “spacesuit commando” annoyance checked. Semi-dystopian background, basic alien enemies, etc… But it was averted through two things. The first was lulls in the action that gave time to build up the characters in a badly needed way. The second was giant mechs stomping about instead of just tissue paper power armor.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

This does have its share of explanations. Thankfully most of them seem very relevant and not just detail done for the sake of detail.

Zombie Sorceresses

Besides just the sci-fi universe contrivances, the biggest I thought of was “why give misfits in relics such a prominent role.” I understood the literary reason and it wasn’t a big deal, but still.

Tank Booms

This was definitely the highlight of the book. It takes a giant scorpion-mech stomping around and makes it (and its crew) simultaneously fun, aggressive, vulnerable, and strong.

The Only Score That Really Matters

Do the words “giant scorpion mech” appeal to you? Then you’ll like this book.

 

Review: Dying Art

Dying Art

I decided to read and review Dying Art, the very latest (as of this post) Mack Bolan novel. The Gold Eagle line used to be for action what the rest of Harlequin was for romance. Now after the December 2015 closure, it’s reduced to a Mack Bolan every few months.

So how does the absolute latest Executioner stack up?

Who and What

There’s a plot featuring Mexican cartel leaders, art thieves, mercenaries, and contractors making a super-railgun. Despite less action, it feels better paced than Season of Slaughter (written by a different author) was and considerably less “overstuffed”. But it also feels less exciting.

The characters are archetypes that were old when the original Pendleton Executioners were young. But there’s no attempt at fun exaggeration. They’re just not the most interesting people. And this version of Mack Bolan himself is one of them.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

It’s less infodumpy than Season of Slaughter, which actually reinforces the “IKEA Thriller” feeling. It’s because everything is played very safe overall.

Zombie Sorceresses

Even the zombie sorceresses are in a lethargic mood in this book, putting everything into place but not going an inch beyond it. The way it’s set up has all the drawbacks of something over-the-top (How many low-level down and dirty crime thrillers have super-railguns in them?) without the advantages (the actual action and villains are bland and pedestrian).

Tank Booms

The action also has the same “generic” problem that plagues the rest of the book. It’s still action-movieish, but it’s not as wild and over-the-top or crazy (or even just as good) as others in its genre. Mack Bolan still fights a lot of people and ultimately uses the super-railgun for good rather than ill.

The Only Score That Really Matters

This works as the kind of throwaway reading it was meant to be. Dying Art is readable and smooth-flowing, and what it does have is good enough. But it feels even more “check the boxes on the assembly line”-y than many past Bolans and has neither has the talent nor the outlandishness to stand out from the very, very large pack.

Review: Unseen Warriors

Unseen Warriors

While I’ve read some books in Gavin Parmar’s Unseen Warriors series before, it was only very recently that I actually read his debut. As an early independent novel, it has issues but manages to be better in context.

Who and What

A group of what appear to be ordinary American soldiers suddenly and quickly find themselves in a “Black Ops” unit. The main protagonists are sent to “Black Ops”, which has a camp in Russia, as a form of semi-punishment after getting in a fight in Seoul.

Then from there it’s a disjointed mess of action that involves everything from nuclear blasts (multiple ones over the course of the book, similar to Dale Brown) to firefights to dogfights to infantry-vs-tank. This is a first independent novel, and it shows in the prose with inconsistent descriptions and grammatical issues-the most obvious is referring to martial law as “Marshal Law”.

In terms of characterization, it ends up being clunky cheap thriller characterization but still earnestly tries-something that can sum up the entire book very well.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

Unseen Warriors starts with an infodump on how the US military adopted a version of the G3 rifle for their own use after the 5.56mm rifles [that they’d used for decades] somehow proved unsatisfactory. It continues in this style throughout the entire book. As an example, it has Mi-35s (export Hinds) referred to sometimes as Mi-34s (a real but totally different helicopter).

Zombie Sorceresses

Pretty much the entire book (and the later series) has their heavy hand. Tanks appear everywhere and ignore logistics and concealment. The main characters just go into a “Black Ops Unit” like that. Terrorists can have gigantic arsenals that no one noticed before, even with stuff that would be hard to conceal and raise lots of red flags. Nuclear bombs are treated very cavalierly and continuously used. The jumping around plot doesn’t help.

Tank Booms

The action is well-intended (see a pattern?) but suffers from several big problems. The first is its constant repetition (including the gore), the second is the clunky prose, and the third is that it’s hard to tell the exact context sometimes thanks to the careening, weaving plot.

The Only Score That Really Matters

Judged purely in isolation, this book and series are not the best. My first impression while reading one of them long ago was that the writing style was poor, the action repetitive, the premise and plausibility ludicrous, and thus it was hard to get into.

However, as an early earnest effort, it feels better. After all, I’d rather have a sincere amateur effort (and Parmar has improved in later Unseen Warriors books, especially in terms of flow and pacing) that was clunky and zombie sorceress-heavy than a cynical commercial effort that was also, as many 2000s technothrillers were, clunky and zombie sorceress-heavy.

Unstructured Review: Marines Crimson Worlds

Marines: Crimson Worlds

So, as part of my holiday book odyssey, I devoured a huge quantity of trashy military science fiction novels. And Jay Allan’s Marines: Crimson Worlds kind of fit the bill for what I got too much of. If Starfist was “mainstream military sci-fi cliche bingo” this was “self-published military sci-fi cliche bingo”. If not worse. Marines Crimson Worlds is the sort of book I derogatorily call “spacesuit commando”, and after reading just a few of these I got a very clear guideline for how a lot of these (I must be fair and say not all) went.

Now it’s important not to overstate. This kind of book is the literary equivalent of a Nissan Versa or Mitsubishi Mirage. So comparing this to the classic writers like Heinlein or Haldeman is totally unfair. Even comparing it to (early) Tom Clancy is unfair. No, this is best compared to the Mack Bolan-spinoff style ‘contemporary’ action. And it still falls short. Part of it is combining an infodump-heavy format with a first-person view, but that’s not all of it. If I had to boil it down to two points, I’d say these have:

  • Excessive training sequences. This I can pin on Heinlein and people who didn’t get that the training was, for better or worse, the actual point of Starship Troopers. Cheap trashy military sci-fi tends to involve excessive training sequences in ways that cheap trashy contemporary thrillers don’t. This is a self-imposed higher bar to clear.
  • Bad antagonists. How can you get worse than the cackling supervillains of cheap thrillers? Answer: Popup targets with no reason for existing save to provide something for the heroes to fire at. I’d compare it to video games, except most video games have better and more-developed opponents. Marines: Crimson Worlds is particularly bad because the opponents are other humans and not even “generic aliens out to kill everything”.

Marines: Crimson Worlds has all this and even more of the tropes I’ve noticed. Some vague dystopian background, the main character being a super special champion who gets promoted ridiculously high ridiculously fast, and action that falls into the “military sci-fi pit” of neither being grounded nor over-the-top (this is a particular problem with ‘spacesuit commando’ novels where the only real gimmick is power armor that doesn’t seem to do anything) and thus appearing merely dull. The supporting characters in Marines: Crimson Worlds are, for the most part, nothing but blank names.

While I’ve spent the last five paragraphs slamming the novel, I’ll say that it at least worked as a mindless time-passer. But only that, and I’d in most cases prefer a contemporary action novel for the same purpose.

Review: The Target Is H

The Target Is H

Of the Mack Bolan knockoffs, one of the most unfortunately named is “The Penetrator”, written by Chet Cunningham and Mark Roberts. Snicker-worthy name aside, this managed to reach dozens of entries, starting with 1973s The Target Is H.

Who and What

Ok, so Vietnam veteran Mac-ahem, Mark Hardin (as if the title of the series wasn’t Freudian enough) battles heroin-smuggling mobsters. That’s basically the entire plot of the book right there. Hardin himself is a typical action hero with a few colorful sidekicks, and the mobsters sound like unintentional parodies of gangster movies. Still, the minimal plot never feels clunky.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

Compared to say, the original War Against the Mafia, The Target Is H has a lot more detailed descriptions of its weapons and a lot more (comparably) exotic weapons. It’s an example of what the genre would later become (to excess).

Zombie Sorceresses

The contrivances are the usual “exotic weapons, exotic cars, and dozens of goons slaughtered by the hero” action ones. Hardin is slightly more vulnerable than some of the later superhuman action novel protagonists, but only slightly.

Tank Booms

The action is what one would expect from the genre, and executed well by those standards. It is, however, closer to later cheap action thrillers than the debut Mack Bolan book in terms of tone and the hero’s capability.

The Only Score That Really Matters

This is better than its goofy name might suggest, and is recommended for any fan of 1960s-1980s action novels.

 

Review: Defcon One

Defcon One

Joe Weber’s Defcon One is a late Cold War technothriller with one unintentionally prescient scene and a lot of iffy clunkiness.

Who and What

This is a very stock technothriller. It’s also a very boring techno-“thriller”. Which is a shame because its nuclear “almost-war” could have been better in defter hands. Instead it has supervillain Soviets and makes what should have been a second Cuban Missile Crisis look very boring. It’s technically competent, but also dull and feels from start to finish like it’s just going through the motions of what a technothriller is supposed to be. “Superweapons. Check. Action. Check. Conference Rooms. Check. Lots of Viewpoint Characters [who aren’t developed even by genre standards]. Check.”

The creepy and unintentionally prescient scene is having the Space Shuttle Columbia get damaged in space and then be destroyed during reentry. The book was published in 1989, 14 years before that happened in real life.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

Not only are there lots of infodumps in Defcon One, but they feel sort of-forced. Like it’s “I have to describe what this aircraft engine is”. Weber is a former Marine aviator, but at least in this book he fell too often into the trap of “I know the exact designation of a Scud TEL, and I’ll share it” that some writers with genuine expertise fall into.

Zombie Sorceresses

Let’s see, the initial push, the too-neat final resolution of this (even Arc Light did better), and the general “supervillain Soviet” trend. A goofier premise might have helped it along.

Tank Booms

There’s some fighting at sea, having spies run around in the USSR, and having the occasional superweapon-beam destroy a space shuttle. The action describes the biggest problem that DefCon One has-it’s too exaggerated to be a good grounded highbrow story, but too tame to be a good cheap thriller.

The Only Score That Really Matters

Defcon One is well-put together, especially for the first novel that it was. I just found it dull and kind of an “IKEA Technothriller”. It has the contrivances and structure of a technothriller, but surprisingly few actual thrills.

 

Review: Created The Destroyer

Created: The Destroyer

The Remo Williams Destroyer series has been one of the biggest “rivals” to Mack Bolan, starting with 1971’s Created: The Destroyer, and continuing for a massive number of books. I figured that, like with Mack Bolan, I’d start at the beginning.

Who and What

Police officer Remo Williams is saved from death row by secret agents, trained under a martial arts master, and then seduces a woman to stop her criminal father. It’s that kind of book.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

The prose in this book is very, very purple. It’s purpler than a king’s wardrobe. Thankfully, while it’s overwrought and ridiculous, it doesn’t get in the way of a smooth read.

Zombie Sorceresses

You know, I just felt I had to put the word “EVERYTHING” in this section. It’s that kind of book. And that kind of series.

Tank Booms

The action suffers from a bit of the same overwroughtness as the prose, but it’s still very good. The series is a martial arts one, which is a fun change of pace from some of the gunpowder-filled cheap thrillers I’ve read before.

The Only Score That Really Matters

This book is unfortunately a product of its time and has some uncomfortable racial stereotypes and slurs. Beyond that, it’s a raucous, goofy cheap thriller, and I could see why it spawned the mega-series it did.

Review: Invasion USSR

Invasion USSR

A later book in Stephen Mertz’s “MIA Hunter” series, Invasion USSR features Mark Stone and his ‘crew’ doing something that’s long been the bane of megalomaniac tyrants-invading Russia. I liked it.

Who and What

An American journalist in Moscow has been kidnapped by the Soviets. Are Mark Stone and friends bad enough dudes to rescue the journalist? That’s pretty much the entire plot of the book.

The characters are basic cheap thriller stock. The only protagonist who stands out is not Stone himself, but vulgar Texan Hog Wiley.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

This is also lightweight, and not very infodumpy by the standards of the genre. Even if the choice of cars (if nothing else) seemed rather questionable for something that’s mostly taking place in Moscow. And Hinds having “40 mm” cannon.

Zombie Sorceresses

The zombie sorceresses have to let three foreigners run loose and rampant through the Soviet Union without attracting the entire MVD. They accomplish this unforgiving task.

Tank Booms

Let’s see, there’s the heroes having women flash the guards to distract them while they shoot, there’s escaping a helicopter-borne battalion, there’s nonchalantly shooting down helicopters, and so on. It’s very 80s action movie.

But it’s done well for an 80s action story. The sense of tension and feeling is there, and there’s just enough danger to make the heroes look not totally unstoppable.

The Only Score That Really Matters

As far as low-cost cheap thrillers go, you can do a lot worse than MIA Hunter: Invasion USSR.

Unstructured Review: X-Wing Series

As a kid, I inherited (and read) a lot of my family’s old Star Wars novels. The most relevant to Fuldapocalypse and most fun are the X-Wing novels by Michael A. Stackpole and the late Aaron Allston. For books that are both movie tie-ins and video game tie-ins at the same time, they’re actually really good.

Especially Allston’s. The Wraith Squadron series are a combination Dirty Dozen and fighter story (and yes, fighter pilots somehow turn into effective commando-spies. But this is Star Wars), and manage a degree of emotional height (Allston’s not afraid to kill off developed sympathetic characters) and comedy (such as someone having to fly into battle with a giant stuffed Ewok in his lap-long story) without feeling jarring at all.

Stackpole’s books are more formulaic, less daring, and he has the tendency to take game mechanics a little too literally, but they’re still solid and still better-scaled than a lot of the other Star Wars books of the time period (which have all the antagonist problems of 1990s technothrillers and then some).

Technothriller authors could do worse than read these. They’re good examples of how you can manage a decent-sized cast and medium-scope story, and they’re fun.