New Year Blogging

Happy New Year

Happy New Year. My rough Fuldapocalypse plans are as follows.

  • Northern Fury will hopefully release soon, and I eagerly await the chance to review it thoroughly.
  • My military science fiction collection has grown and I’m in that kind of mood, so expect to see a lot more of that.
  • Finally, I’m looking to review some “classics”-the earlier books that helped create and forge their respective (sub)genres. You’ll know them when you see them.

 

Getting this blog going was one of my favorite things of 2018, so here’s to 2019 in Fuldapocalypse!

Unstructured Review: Armor

Armor

To go back to military science fiction, John Steakley’s Armor is one of those cult classics. It’s exactly the type of book that Spacebattles would like, and it’s where I found out about it. So I got it, and I read it, and it’s really two books.

The first “book”, the story of Felix, is a tour de force. Unashamedly wearing its inspiration from Heinlein’s Starship Troopers on its sleeve, the Felix section starts with one of the greatest openings I’ve read, an excellent set piece of frenzied, futuristic violence. It lags only a little in the later Felix portions (in no small part because the opening is hard to top), but remains an effective tale of action.

The second “book”, the story of Jack Crow, is a far slower and far less interesting portion. While Jack Crow’s story would not be the absolute worst tale by itself and I can see why Steakley wrote it, it pales in comparison to Felix’s. At times it descended into outright annoyance, because I wanted to return to the amazing part and not the iffy part.

Still, even with the Jack Crow interlude, Armor deserves its prominent place in the history of military science fiction. It’s well worth a read and the opening is simply fantastic.

This is the last Fuldapocalypse review of 2018. Happy New Year to all readers!

Review: Lex Talionis

Lex Talionis

Lex Talionis is the final book in Peter Nealen’s American Praetorians series. I had incredibly mixed feelings about it, some of the most conflicted I’ve felt about any book. I appreciate what Nealen was trying to do, but I think he aimed a little too high.

Who and What

The Praetorians are back on American territory as they are forced to flee their home base and struggle to deal with the uncontrollable tides unleashed by feuding conspiracies. It’s tricky because the book has a whiplash-y zig-zagging amount of tone.

It’s trying to be a pessimistic social commentary and a slam-bang thriller at the same time. As a result, it suffers from a problem that I typically associate more with video games than actual books-a considerable disconnect between story and action.

I like, having suffered through too many “apocalypse as wish fulfillment” stories, that Nealen shows how brutal and un-wish-fulfilly something like it would realistically be. But then come the stock cheap thriller characters and over-the-top action. I like political commentary that tries to be more sincere and does succeed in hitting a few right notes-but then comes the exaggerated apocalypse. It just wobbles a lot more than all of Nealen’s other work I’ve read.

There’s also some other, smaller issues. While the fast pace makes for a good thriller, there’s a little too much place-hopping and samey action. There are a lot of character deaths, but they felt more like losing XCOM units [little but names] than Fire Emblem ones [developed characters] . As the series finale, it has to tie up its loose ends, and does so too quickly.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

This takes the first-person viewpoint perspective to its absolute limit. It’s very easy (IMO) to see why Nealen switched to third person in Brannigan’s Blackhearts. There’s a lot of infodumps to move thanks to the intricate plot, and having to tell it in a first-person book is rather-iffy.

Zombie Sorceresses

Here’s where I’m the most conflicted. On one hand, the super-conspiracy (by far the biggest zombie sorceress part) is handled as well as it could be. It’s not in full control and stopping it doesn’t stop the underlying national problem.

On the other, it’s still a super-conspiracy that can deploy armies of target goons that the heroes take out en masse, and one that ultimately sabotages the book’s own political message by taking it from a “somewhat exaggerated for the sake of drama and social commentary” that would be ideal for such talk to a cartoon gorefest.

It’s like trying to mishmash The Wire (declining human institutions) and the later levels of Payday 2 (action against conspiracy-led supermercs). Nowhere is this more apparent than the zombie-sorceress-licious ending, which manages to be both too bleak and too goofily contrived at the same time.

Tank Booms

It’s a Peter Nealen book, so the action is good. Unfortunately, it’s slightly worse than his other books. Mostly, this is because all the rest of the baggage takes it down. The action prose isn’t any better or worse than Nealen’s other books.

Normally, I’ve found, the dissonance between story and action is most notable in video games and has to do with the player’s freedom. IE, the main character is reluctant to resort to violence in-story but in-game you can nonchalantly mow down dozens of enemies.

Here, the setting argues for “low-end struggle for survival” but the action is country-hopping, truck-exploding, stronghold-storming, convoy-destroying, helicopter-gunning boom.

The Only Score That Really Matters

This is definitely a book where the whole is worse than the sum of its parts.

The “careful what you wish for” apocalypse is brave and noteworthy, but it takes the edge off the political commentary.

The political commentary is more sincere and highbrow than a lot of thrillers, but it drives the plot in a way that scrambles the action.

The action is Nealen’s usual “gritty but high-powered”, but it jars the political commentary as well.

In spite of these, I can’t feel bad about this. An author should never be discouraged to go on a different path and try something else out. The action is still quite serviceable, and the entire American Praetorians series is something of a fresh writer seeing what worked. The Wayne Gretzky-attributed quote of “you miss all the shots you don’t take” applies here. If it fell short, it wasn’t for lack of trying, and as a new writer myself, I can sympathize.

Unstructured Review: Starfist

Starfist

Ah, Starfist. I’ve wanted to do a piece on this series for a loooooong time. It is a series that deserves to be criticized, but with playful slaps instead of vicious claws. Starfist is something. That something is “military sci-fi cliche bingo”.

  • First is the technology, which is the height of “Vietnam but with a coating of laser and a gimmick or two”. It uses advanced technology neither in semi-realistic fashion (IE, drones, AI, etc…) or over-the-top fashion (giant mechs, etc…)
  • Then there’s the tone of the writing, which manages to be some of the most “MARINES!” type of prose I’ve ever encountered. I’ve read plenty of books by other veterans, and most don’t have a tone as “RAR! We’re MARINES, you know!” as this.
  • Then there’s the bias (to put it mildly) of the authors towards the MARINE FIGHTING MAN. It gets really, really, really bad.

That’s the baseline, which is enough to give this series a review. However, there’s something else that’s both a problem and an opportunity for giving individual books specific reviews. That would be the great inconsistency of the series. The prose is never truly bad by itself, and they never feel too long.

However, even in the small sample size I’ve personally read, the series has zigzagged from “Decent time-passing cheap thriller” to “laughably enjoyable thanks to the ridiculous yet self-serious action” to just plain bad. One thing that doesn’t help this is the tendency of the books to have long, barely connected subplots. Still, I can’t be mad at Starfist, for it is quite simply something, if only something that becomes so cliche it stands out.

Review: The War That Never Was

The War That Never Was

After some diversions, it’s time to review something that I had in mind when I started Fuldapocalypse. I knew of Michael Palmer’s The War That Never Was from the Command: Modern Air Naval Operations scenarios based on it. These motivated me to get the book itself. Broadening the scope of Fuldapocalypse has been very good, but this is as “World War III novel” as it gets.

This is something of a cult classic. If works like Red Storm Rising, Team Yankee, and Red Army represent the most mainstream that World War III novels got, this, apparently based on the Newport Global War Games, is a more inherently niche, wargamey work. And after reading it, it’s understandable.

Who and What

There’s a sort of semi-plot here. A wargame occurs in-universe in the prologue as a vague husk of a fig leaf of a justification. Then it’s mostly just a detailed sequence of events. The Central Front is mentioned sometimes, but most of the book deals with the events on the periphery-the northern oceans, the Mediterranean, and other theaters. Then there’s an epilogue that’s kind of sour. It’s a mix of political tract, “do you get the point, reader?” infodump, and shining light on the graphene-thin setup. Thankfully the epilogue is very small.

The characters are essentially placeholder names there to command or crew pieces of military equipment and lighten up the “after action report” ever so slightly.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

The entire book is basically one big infodump. But it’s not trying to be anything else, so the question of relevance is tough to answer. I’d say that as much as this sort of thing normally isn’t my style, there isn’t too much pointless infodumping. Yes, there’s detailed infodumps about forces, but the forces fight equally detailed battles.

Zombie Sorceresses

There’s the classic zombie sorceress handwaves of the war starting in the first place (although there’s no political elaboration, something I’m grateful for) and it staying conventional. The latter is even mentioned in the epilogue.

There are a lot of other prospective nitpicks, but the book stays grounded enough that I felt it was unfair to go too much in depth. The wargaming link helps it here. Trying out different, even seemingly low-probability courses of action is one of the reasons wargaming exists, and none of the paths it takes are really that outlandish.

Tank Booms

The book starts with a booming tank battle, but one shouldn’t be fooled. This is in many ways the antithesis of something like Team Yankee. The level of detached detail in this book is so great that it’s little surprise how eagerly Command (and Harpoon, and no doubt other wargame) scenario creators moved to follow it.

So reading a wargame AAR/Let’s Play gives an idea for how most of the battles turn out. Lots of detail, lots of exact detail.

The Only Score That Really Matters

Save for a few “hiccups” and vignettes like the epilogue and a few “character scenes”, The War That Never Was sticks to a niche and is unapologetic about staying there. This book is not for everyone, or even a lot of people. However, it is what it is and it manages to be interesting as a detailed snapshot.

I’ll admit for me there’s a huge “seen so many imitators the original doesn’t seem so original” effect here, but even someone as slanted as me can still appreciate The War That Never Was and its influence.

Review: Stone MIA Hunter

Stone: MIA Hunter

Stone: MIA Hunter is an incredibly 1980s cheap thriller that kicked off an entire series of 1980s cheap thrillers.

Who and What

This stars hero Mark Stone as he hunts for MIAs. And gets set up by the CIA. And beats up drug dealers with martial arts (I told you it was very 1980s). And travels around the world, from Asia to California to Central America to back to Asia.

The characters never progress beyond cheap thriller stock ones (not that it’s that bad) and the constant stream of world travel is a little disruptive to the narrative.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

Its infodumps are in the weird “middle of the road” part that affects the rest of the book. And it calls LAW rockets “Light Artillery Weapons”. Multiple times.

Zombie Sorceresses

Think of how much effort a zombie sorceress would need to make a 1980s action movie work, and you have what they need in this book.

Tank Booms

So the action in this isn’t bad, even if it’s not up to the higher standards of other cheap thrillers (it feels so weird saying that). It’s just in a strange place. Maybe it’s just the writing style (while the first book in the series, it’s far from the first book author Stephen Mertz wrote in the genre), but it’s in this awkward middle in terms of plot and tone.

It’s definitely not intended to be a grounded, gritty action-adventure story. But it doesn’t have the full pull out all the stops crazy gonzo action either. The martial arts vs drug dealers comes close, but the climax is less goofy.

The Only Score That Really Matters

This is a fun throwaway action novel. It’s far from the best, but I enjoyed it for what it was anyway.

Review: Doctors of Death

Doctors of Death

The latest Brannigan’s Blackhearts book, Doctors of Death, is finally in, and Peter Nealen launches another excellent book.

Who and What

The Blackhearts’ next mission takes them to Chad to search for missing doctors. Soon they find themselves entangled in a deeper, monstrous conspiracy. Lots and lots of action across multiple continents ensues.

The plot is very action-y and the characters interesting enough-they’re not deep, but have their own personality and, more importantly, they’re sympathetic and understandable.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

This is a very lean book. It either gets its infodumps over with early on or flows them into the narrative, and has fewer tangents. Even the plans of the conspiracy organization are told through more showing and less telling.

Zombie Sorceresses

Well, apart from the admitted exaggerations in the enemy plot and the way to get this small band over in the first place, the biggest zombie sorceress contrivance-by far-is the choice of main antagonists. It’s this giant international super-NGO conspiracy that’s appeared before, and I felt it a little annoying the last time. For a series that’s otherwise been mostly grounded, it’s somewhat jarring.

There’s also a few minor contrivances, like one of the main characters just happening to encounter a few gangbangers who naturally fall victim to his marksmanship in the middle of the book.

Tank Booms

The action here is excellent. Very, very good. There’s just the right combination of a little spectacle and a lot of grit. There are a lot of different enemies throughout the novel, and they feel both similar (the way any armed opponent would be) and different (their weapons and abilities).

While the conspiracy might be a little zombie sorceress in terms of background and tone, as an opponent it proves an interesting foe.

The Only Score That Really Matters

The Brannigan’s Blackhearts series is one of my favorite cheap thrillers, and this is another wonderful installment. My only concern is that the story might be getting a little too serial-esque (cheap thrillers work best in mostly standalone installments), but this is a small one.

 

Review: Battle Front (USA VS Militia)

Ian Slater’s Battle Front spun the 90s Technothriller Opponent Selector Wheel and it landed on “Militias”. While Slater has written some proper World War III novels, this is my first introduction  to him.

Who and What

Now, it wasn’t until sometime in that I found out this was one of the middle books in a five-book series. That explained some of the confusion, but I wasn’t that lost before. There is a Second American Civil War between the federal government and right-wing militias who are both cartoonishly racist puppy kickers and far more competent than they would have any right to be. On the federal government’s side is main character General Mary Sue-I mean, Douglas Freeman.

Now, the book kind of rambles and jumps around, but what was interesting (and good) to me was how it didn’t feel like an axe-grinding polemic. Nor did it feel like a parody either. It takes this crazy setup and plays it completely, sometimes boringly straight. Normally I’d praise a book for not being too political, but it just feels strange. Maybe it’s that the non-American Slater didn’t have a feel for American politics, but that doesn’t explain all of it.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

The book can get kind of infodumpy and it never seems to enter full gritty story mode. Furthermore, a lot of the infodumps are strange and frequently inaccurate (for example, one used ‘TOW’ as a generic term for anti-tank rounds. Not even missiles, rounds).

Zombie Sorceresses

The zombie sorceresses made American militias number in the hundreds of thousands, be unified, and be competent. The latter part required the most zombie sorceress intervention.

Tank Booms

The action is mostly dull and somewhat infodumpy, but it gets the occasional ridiculous moment, like how the evil militia are preternaturally competent (to drive the plot) and the ridiculous stuff like over-effective reactive armor (except it’s described as if it was inert add-on armor) on pickup trucks.

The Only Score That Really Matters

This book is about 5-10% crazy goofy, and about 90-95% dull tedium. Yet I’m a sucker for even a little bit of crazy goofiness. A lot of other readers might not be.

Review: Faith

Faith

Faith, by Kay Hadashi is not the most typical novel I’d reviewed on Fuldapocalypse. Still, its setting fits the theme of the blog, and it’s always good to have a change of pace.

Who And What

The book follows the career of heroine Melanie Kato as she joins the Air Force, becomes a medic, and serves in a pararescue unit. She’s assigned to Osan in South Korea, and has to deal with her personal life issues as well as her jumps.

This is a very different book from a normal cheap thriller. It’s really a personal/relationship saga that has the parajumper adventures as a backdrop rather than a parajumper adventure saga that has personal/relationship issues as a backdrop. Thankfully, the characters are good enough that it can succeed as that.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

There’s comparably few infodumps here, and even fewer irrelelevant infodumps. Most of what’s stated ends up being used. There’s a bit of awkwardness with military technology Hadashi clearly wasn’t familiar with. On one hand, this prevents a “This was an S-200VE battery…” exactness. On the other, well, I gritted my teeth a little every time surface-to-air missiles were mentioned.

The real infodump depth comes from medical scenes that Hadashi is familiar with. These never feel like they’re irrelevant to the story, but can get a little overdescriptive and clunky at times.

Zombie Sorceresses

The main character being a parajumper I could forgive for the sake of the story-she’s established (this is actually the second book in the series), and the author clearly wanted her in one. Some readers might complain, but I didn’t mind. Hadashi herself clearly states in the forward “liberties have been taken with the search and rescue drama.”

A full-scale Second Korean War never happens in the book. However, a lot of (frequently contrived) incidents that require her and her unit to jump north of the DMZ do.

Tank Booms

The action is kind of movie-ish. There’s surprisingly few North Koreans in any one place at any one time during the northern adventures. The medical infodumps are a little out of place compared to the vague action.

But it flows well and stays tense and gripping.

The Only Score That Really Matters

Faith is not a rip-roaring blast-away action-adventure novel. Once you have that in mind, it’s very good for what it is.

 

The New Scale

So, here’s the new formal scale. The older one was a little too restrictive.

Who and What

This is the new introduction part, replacing both Icelands and “The Wha?'”. First it gives me a chance to summarize the plot, and I can point out if it’s cliche or not, formulaic or not. Second, I can say the exact subgenre it belongs. Third, I can talk about the characters and flow.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

This is a joking reference to the game Undertale, where going to a bizarre town of dog-cat-rabbit thingies leads to the talk of a “Deep history” that is never explained or elaborated on further, save for one picture.

So, what information included in the book is actually relevant to it? It replaces “Rivets” in that it (hopefully) doesn’t just say that infodumps exist, but how smoothly they’re integrated into it.

Zombie Sorceresses

Unchanged. They’re still keeping the nukes from detonating and setting up weird situations post-1991.

Tank Booms

How good is the action (if there is any) or the conflict? I figured this deserved its own category, since cheap thrillers need good action to succeed and any story needs conflict.

The Only Score That Really Matters

Unchanged. This is the only score that really matters.