Invasion Fiction

So, the World War III Blog series on Red Dawn has gotten me to write a piece on invasion literature, especially Anglo-American invasion literature. Now a part of my thoughts on invasion fiction, specifically Anglo-American invasion fiction, stretched back to Jerry Ahern’s Survivalist. There the Americans get the worse of a nuclear exchange and the Soviets invade. Now a part of me was thinking this:

“The 1981 book, not far removed from the infamous ‘Malaise Era’, might illustrate how even in the most star-spangled genre, a sense of American pessimism was still present.”

But another part of me was thinking this:

“You’re overthinking this to a huge degree. All it is is a way to put Russians in the path of John Rourke without that pesky “Army” or “Atlantic Ocean” being in the way.”

The point is that, whatever it was, this was very different-about as different as could be-from Clancy/Bond-style war thrillers. To the point where it basically broke the narrow grading system I’d set up for the blog. And this was before the series turned into science fiction.

It was also a type of invasion novel, Bobby Akart’s Axis of Evil, that took the first step in moving Fuldapocalypse away from a narrowly focused review blog to a general one. And it was the best decision I could have made. So invasion novels are pretty rooted on Fuldapocalypse.

In my eyes and reading, there’s basically two types of invasion novel: Grim invasion (ie, Tomorrow series) and pulpy invasion (ie, early Survivalist). There’s of course overlap, but the categories seem a little clear. The classic pre-WWI invasion novels fall into “grim invasion” (“See the fate that will befall us if we don’t fund the army!”) while many later invasion stories aimed at pure entertainment fall into the latter. In fact, I’d argue that the biggest issue I had with the original Red Dawn was how it sat a little awkwardly between the two, not having the clearest tone.

Command Took Me To Fuldapocalypse

So, Command: Modern Operations is now released. I was more than just an eagerly waiting enthusiast or even a beta tester. I had the privilege of writing the manual for it.

I have a celebratory post on the Creative Corner, but I wanted to talk on this blog about something a little more important to it. See, it’s almost guaranteed that without my interest in the original Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations and thus without the subsequent leap into military history/fiction that followed from that, this blog, Fuldapocalypse, would not exist.

Many World War III books are tied to wargaming. Red Storm Rising was famously assisted by Harpoon. The War That Never Was is more or less a novelization of a Newport wargame. More recently, Northern Fury H Hour started off as part of a Command scenario set before becoming a solid novel. And so it makes sense that wargaming would lead me to this blog.

How Many World War IIIs Are There?

So I diversified Fuldapocalypse because of a sense that I’d get burned out if I just tried to read Hackett/Red Storm Rising-style World War III novels. But there’s a bigger, much bigger issue. See, even if I had the endurance for reading them all, I’d face the issue of, no joke, outright running out of books in the genre to read.

Here’s the rough classification for what I meant.

  • The series must be a military action novel.
  • It must feature a large worldwide war, usually against Russia and/or China, that still stays (mostly) conventional.
  • It must be “big-picture”, have a lot of detail on units/formations and the like, often going from viewpoint character to viewpoint character.

I haven’t done (if it was even possible) a count. But going by a restrictive interpretation, I’d say I’d be running out of books, or at least scraping the bottom of the barrel pretty quickly. It’s a little surprising just how many books do not meet all three of those categories.

At least among traditional commercial presses, I’d be pretty comfortable saying there are probably less than 50 books of this type ever, and definitely less than a hundred. Even with indies, I’d have to amplify the numbers by reviewing every individual book in a series.

A Happy Fuldapocalyptic Birthday

It has now been a full year since I made the introductory post on this blog. Looking back at it, well, I think this line hasn’t aged well at all-and thankfully so.

“The lines will be a little blurry, but stuff like special forces or otherwise [sic] irregular thrillers probably won’t make the cut.”

I’ve said this many times before, but broadening the scope of this blog has been great for it and great for me. It’s even had a salutary effect on the nominal subject-because I’ve been reading so many other non-WW3/”big picture war” stories, when I do read them, I can look at them in a proper context I didn’t feel I had when the blog started. Not feeling any burnout at all also helps. So, happy birthday, Fuldapocalypse. You’ve earned it.

 

 

 

The Military Techno-Thriller: A History

The Military Techno-Thriller: A History

I absolutely loved Nader Elhefnawy’s “The Rise And Fall Of The Military Techno-Thriller.” So when I found that he’d written a recent big-picture overview of the genre , I was delighted and eagerly snapped it up. Rather than starting with the classic ‘invasion novels’ of the late 1800s, Elhefnaway moved even further, beginning in the 1600s.

Thus begins a multi-century tour de force, deftly pointing out not only the books themselves but also the cultural context behind them. This book is both long enough to be comprehensive (mostly) and short enough to be easily readable, making it the best of both worlds.

The picture it paints of the “techno-thriller” per se is of a genre that could only really thrive at one very specific sort of time. It has to exist in a period of heightened military tension that can’t spill over into any sort of massive backlash and a period of novel technology at the same. Such a period existed around the turn of the 20th Century and in the 1980s. At least in the latter case, it was not sustainable even without “events”, and with the “events” (ironically consisting of a war in the first period and a peace in the second), both were doomed.

There are a lot of fascinating insights that made me go “a-ha”, for lack of a better term. Elhefnawy’s statement that “Full-scale great power war scenarios like Clancy’s Red Storm Rising, Coyle’s Team Yankee or Ralph Peters’ Red Army (1989) were in the minority” matches what I found after starting this blog-my “blind man touching the elephant” background in wargaming and alternate speculation made me think the ‘big-war’ subgenre of that sort was considerably larger than it actually was. Another insight I found intriguing was the notion that Red Army was as successful as it was because it was novel in large part compared to other Fuldapocalyptic tales. And the tone of the writing, being frequently critical but never sneeringly dismissive, works very well too.

I think my biggest substantive disagreement with Elhefnawy’s conclusions is his depiction of the technothriller now. He mentions the “rise-of-China/return-of-Russia” change in geopolitics, but argues that “Nonetheless, the cultural trends evident in the 1990s proved quite robust”. I think that shift gave the the technothriller a bigger bump in popularity than he gives it credit for, especially given the headwinds it’s had to work against (the fragmentation of publishing and pop culture).

And while I don’t want to nitpick the omission of certain areas in something that’s meant to be a general overview, there’s a few I where thought more detail could have been warranted. In particular are what he calls the “vigilante novels” (ie, Mack Bolan). These are interesting in that they provide a parallel track of pop culture that both stood apart from and moved closer to the technothriller across the length of time. That phenomenon gets a segment but deserved more. There’s also the long-term “squeezing” of the mainstream publishing industry, and a deeper look at how that and the push for big, higher-margin books both helped and hurt the technothriller would have been nice. (It’s mentioned several times, but never in too much depth).

Still, these are just very small critiques for an excellent book that examines an overlooked genre through a variety of interesting perspectives in a highly readable way. I cannot recommend The Military Techno-Thriller: A History enough for fans of the genre.

Guns of Cheap Thrillers

I’ve found there are three main categories of firearms writers use in cheap thrillers. I want to note that all three can be done well or done badly, and that even them being chosen poorly is almost never a story-breaker on its own.

Category A: Generic

Common to people with little knowledge of the subject matter, Category A firearms tend to be fallbacks on the most generic, widely used, and widely known boomsticks. Stuff like “M-16s, AR-15s, AK-47s, Glocks”, and “RPGs”.

Done Well: Common weapons are common for a reason. In many, arguably even most cases, you don’t really need to know the exact details. Just “the guard had a Glock” or something along those lines can do in many cases. Or even less.

Done Poorly: When it’s clear the author wasn’t doing much research and just took what they heard. This is clear when it’s accompanied by an incorrect caliber or some other fairly obvious detail, ie, one thriller with a “.25 Glock”. Often this is a “brown M&M” (from an infamous Van Halen contract that had a request for a bowl of M&Ms but no brown ones to make sure the contractors were reading it closely) that shows something else is off.

Category B: Specific

This ranges from knowing the specific kind of what a certain country/organization uses to the kind of exact descriptions [certain obscure AR-15 variant by certain obscure company] in [certain obscure caliber] with [certain obscure accessories] firing [exact weight of the bullet].

Done Well: In many cases, it’s more accurate to have someone who, for whatever reason, doesn’t use the most common firearm. It can add legitimate flavor and be a “bowl without brown M&Ms” in a good way.

Done Poorly: Besides the inherent issues with overly detailed exposition, this can be jarring if its combined with bad research in regard to something else. That something can even be other weapons-I’ve found super gun-exposition and terrible detail in anything bigger than a belt-fed MG. It’s like a sports story where the car used to drive the characters to the stadium is overly detailed (“A 1999 Ford Crown Victoria LX with a 4.6 liter V8…”), but then once they get there, says “And then they watched the Yankees win the Stanley Cup with twenty dunks.”

Category C: Exotic

There’s a lot of overlap with the first two categories here, but I feel it’s worth mentioning. Basically, “exotic” weapons that are very big (Desert Eagles! .44s! .44 Desert Eagles!), operate on a very unconventional system (The infamous G-11), or both are a staple of classic action-adventure fiction.

Done Well: I don’t fault an author for wanting to throw in their favorite obscure “pieces”, I do the same in a lot of my CMANO scenarios with aircraft and ships, and especially if they know what they’re doing, it can be fun. Like knowing the impractically of a Desert Eagle but giving it to a Ziggy Sobotka-esque dummy as a sign of his style-over-substance personality, or knowing the legitimate advantages/capabilities of an exotic and using it.

Done Poorly: This can have the flaws of either category, amplified by the nature of the weapons themselves. The “common exotics” lean more to Category A, while ones the author has a specific liking to move more to Category B.

 

The Fuldapocalypse 100 Post Special

So Fuldapocalypse has reached a hundred posts. What a ride.

As I’ve said many times before, I went in to Fuldapocalypse expecting a very narrow spectrum where Red Army was on one end and Hackett’s The Third World War was on the other. The formal scale was in part to get me to be more rigorous in my reviewing and in part because I thought the works would be so inherently similar that I needed to highlight their differences.

Almost immediately, though, I became burned out. As I branched out, my scale gradually faded away. “Zombie Sorceresses” aren’t really relevant in outright supernatural stories, and don’t work when the story is implausible and ridiculous from the get-go. Eventually, I just resorted to an inherently “unstructured” review system-and it’s worked out very well. If I want to mention a story is “rivet-countery” or has a huge “zombie sorceress” contrivance, I can just say so in the review without having a formal section.

So, what I have learned from Fuldapocalypse? A lot, but the biggest is…

There’s a lot fewer “World War III” stories than I thought.

Blame my weird tendency to read the imitators first. Take my wargaming background and looking on only a few places at first, and a narrow tendency emerges. After all, if all I see is infodumpy Hackett xeroxed fifty-times stories, it’s like someone only reading fanfics and concluding that Pokemon is about betrayal. Understandable given the narrow perspective, but not really accurate.

Even at the height of the 1980s boom, there were still were a lot more books about stopping World War III than fighting it. And frankly, to me it’s a lot more fun to see the different, the strange, and the classic-but-unread. If I have to choose between either:

  1. zigzagging between feminist superpower stories, basketball mysteries, conventional thrillers, and classic vigilante adventure stories (all of which I’ve reviewed here), with World War III novels when I feel like it…
  2. Reading the entire collected works of William Stroock for the sake of reading something concerning World War III.

I’m definitely going with Option 1.

Even “cheap thrillers” can vary to the point where depending on the era, the prevalent cliches are going to be almost the exact opposite of an earlier/later time. Or there’s an individual work that stands out from that time period.

Reviewing good books is more fun than reviewing bad books.

I’ll review bad books on Fuldapocalypse. But I’ll be honest, I feel a lot better about going “this is an obscure book almost no one has read, and it’s really good” vs. “this is an obscure book almost no one has read, and it’s really bad.”

Part of it is that if I had more fun reading a book, I’ll have more fun reviewing it. Part of it is a feeling that I’m (consciously or not) just selecting easy targets to smash, especially more obscure authors, and an increasing feeling that it sometimes isn’t really fair to do something like that. Well-established authors are another story-I had zero hangups about ripping Executive Orders to pieces.

But part of it is that I think I’ve outgrown my old “deliberately look at something I know is bad to see just how bad” (to a degree), and have come to love sharing hidden gems. I think it may be me being more of a writer (or Command LIVE scenario creator) myself and thus being on the other side of the critic/author divide, so I’m no longer the fire-breather I’ve been in the past.

That being said, as a writer/content creator, you will get criticism. You will get unfair criticism. You will get unreasonable criticism. That’s just how it goes.

The worst titles to review are the uninteresting ones

Uninteresting does not necessarily mean “bad”. In fact, many books I personally enjoyed I struggled to review. Thus the paradox emerges. A solid title in a series I’ve reviewed a past installment in leaves me having to work hard to write something other than “Like Book X in Series Y, Book Z in Series Y is good to read”.

Meanwhile, a book I didn’t like and could think of a very solid, distinct reason why I didn’t like it can easily get a review.

The most and least-reviewed decades are…

At least according to the tags, and as of this post, the number of books reviewed by decade are…

  • 1970s and earlier: 5
  • 1980s: 19
  • 1990s: 20
  • 2000s: 16
  • 2010s: 31

So the “technothriller heyday” of the 1980s is actually the middle of the road.

Reading obscure books is more fun.

I’ve noticed obscure [e]books come a lot more easily to me than big-name thrillers. It obviously depends on the individual book, but I’d think the biggest reason is they’re too long for their own good. I’d rather, all other things being equal, read two 300-page books than one 600-page one. Or three 200-page books. If only because it gives me a chance to review and ever so slightly widen the exposure of an author if that 200-300 page book happened to be good. This isn’t to say there aren’t good long books or bad short books, but it’s a matter of overall taste.

The second biggest reason is there are only so many real big time authors, and I don’t want to read too many books by the same wri-wait a second….

Somehow I read Jerry Ahern’s entire Survivalist series. I might be crazy.

Yeah, I don’t really know how this happened. Maybe blame the season and the fact that the books acted as a valuable time-filler. Maybe blame Ahern writing it as a serial and me going “ok, what’s happening next?” Maybe blame Ahern being surprisingly good with the literary fundamentals, so that even the worse books didn’t feel bad to read and I could always get through them quickly.

I also think reading the entire ‘epic’ has made me less judgemental. Let me put it this way- reading and enjoying dozens of ridiculous pulp tales is a pretty glass-filled house to be throwing stones from.

I’m torn on when to try and read more Jerry Ahern books. On one hand, he could write and some of the premises look good. On the other, well, aren’t two dozen books by one author more than enough. I mean, the Casca series has around the same number, and I’ve liked many-but not enough to want to go “Yep, I want to read every last one of them”.

And finally…

Fuldapocalypse has been a fun experience.

I’ve really loved how Fuldapocalypse has turned out. It’s legitimately broadened my scope of literature I’ve read, given me the chance to write lots of reviews, and given me a lot of fun.

If I had to list the best author I’ve discovered after I started Fuldapocalypse, it’d be Mack Maloney. Maloney has managed two things. The first is providing a scope that’s (for the most part) between the small-unit thrillers and the giant worldwide technothrillers/army books. The second is having a sense of fun and imagination.

But I’ve found many more good writers after starting this blog. And I’ve had many fun experiences with writing about what I’ve reviewed here, good and bad books alike.

Tank Losses

The Soviet calculations for tank losses in a World War III were incredibly high by the standards of “smaller” wars, around the level of each front losing 6-15% of its tanks every day (and even more when facing either nuclear or advanced smart weapons)[1]. Interestingly, their theorized APC/BMP loss rates were substantially lower despite thinner armor. This probably has to do with tanks leading the attack and thus being more likely to hit minefields and the like, as well as being the first targets.

“Loss” does not necessarily mean “permanently destroyed”, and one of the crucial determinants is who holds the battlefield, since that can turn a knocked-out but repairable tank into a permanent loss.

Still, even the best-case scenario still involved more than a division worth of tanks being knocked out each day, and this in a period where the Soviet advantage over NATO was arguably never greater.

 

[1]See “Generic Enemy: Mobile Forces Part 1, Operational Art And Tactical Doctrine”, pg. 11-18, par. 1141, “The Front Offensive Operation, CIA/DO Intelligence Information Special Report, 15 June 1979“, pg. 316, and “Front Offensive Operations“, pg. 369”.

A new tagline

You may notice this blog has a new tagline. It used to be “Reviewing the Third World War on the page and screen.” That was made way back in last August when I thought it’d be a very narrow review site. Of course, now it’s anything but narrow. So I felt a new tagline was appropriate. Now it’s the more appropriate “Reviewing the Third World War and much, much more.”