Review: SEAL Team Seven

SEAL Team Seven

st7 coverjpg

This book about a certain amphibious special forces unit is quite possibly one of the best 1990s military/techno-thrillers I’ve read. It spawned a huge series, and I can see why. SEAL Team Seven is very, very good.

The book tells the story of Lt. Blake Murdock, the son of a powerful political family (while present, the clunky politics in this book aren’t too bad) and his titular team as they’re called to action in a big crisis. Because this is a 90s thriller, the antagonists are a zombie sorceress-assisted mix of renegade Japanese and renegade Iranians who’ve taken control of a freighter loaded with plutonium. SEAL Team Seven has good fundamentals and manages to have its cake and eat it too.

It starts with a well-written battle in post-Desert Storm Iraq. Then the opening act introduces and humanizes the characters. When the main conflict starts, the action is highly well done and manages, for the most part, just the right mixture of “grounded” and “fantastical”.

SEAL Team Seven isn’t literary fiction or anything like that, it’s still ultimately just a cheap thriller that has a lot of cheap thriller components and cliches. But it’s an excellent cheap thriller.

Review: Casca The Eternal Mercenary

Casca 1: The Eternal Mercenary

Casca The Eternal Mercenary

So the Casca series is a little off the Fuldapocalyptic beaten track for me. But really, I of all people couldn’t resist a series written by Barry Sadler of ‘Ballad of the Green Beret’ fame with the premise of “The Roman soldier that stabbed Jesus with the spear is fated to be a soldier/warrior forever”, fusing the Longinus and Wandering Jew mythologies. That part brings a very different song to my mind.

The first book opens in Vietnam where the main character heals ridiculously fast from a seemingly fatal head wound, and one “hypnotic narrative” later, returns to nearly two thousand years in the past. After the event, he gets in a fight with his “sergeant” over a girl and ends up with a deep wound… …which heals, because in practice, he turns into essentially Marvel’s Wolverine without claws. Cue a long stretch of time where he fights throughout dynasties of Roman history, then a final scene in the then-present where Casca/Casey has escaped from his Vietnam hospital-and is fighting in the Arab-Israeli wars.

This is very much a pop-historical “sword and sandal epic” rather than trying for any serious attempt at realism, and is all the better for it. Casca becomes a slave, he becomes a gladiator, and he enjoys a bit of peace before returning to his horror.

One of the low points of the book is its cultural er- insensitivity. While an action novel in the 70s is not going to top anyone’s “most progressive” list, this has a few moments that made me raise eyebrows. The walking stereotype Chinese martial arts master (yes, in ancient Rome, it’s a long story) who teaches Casca I was more bemused by than anything else. I went ‘uhh….’ at both the vicious savage African gladiator whose victims included (of course) a young blonde woman and the man whose marriage improved after he started hitting his wife.

But even the worst I found tolerable, because it only felt offensive and not offensive and creepy. This is, after all, a 70s action novel. And what it does well, it does very well. The Eternal Mercenary can make its action dramatic even with an immortal protagonist, and that’s no small feat.

Casca: The Eternal Mercenary is lightweight sleaze, but it’s good lightweight sleaze.

 

Review: The Saudi-Iranian War

The Saudi-Iranian War

saudiiranianwar

As my first Command LIVE scenario was a conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, when I saw Ted Halstead’s The Saudi-Iranian War, I knew I had to check it out. I was sadly disappointed.

The Saudi-Iranian War is a technothriller through and through. Not only does it depict a military conflict with jumping viewpoints at all levels, but it does so through the lens of technological spectacle. It reads like a cargo-culted classic technothriller that manages to have even less of a human element than the stereotype would predict.

Halstead takes us on an all-tution paid semester in Rivets 205 at tem wur cool leg. The book just starts with character after character after character saying what they’re going to be doing, along with such important DEEP HISTORY details as the horsepower of a jeep’s engine. It’s the worst kind of knowledge-detail, the kind that goes “I know [or looked up] the exact designation of a Scud TEL, so I’ll write it out”, rather than leveraging any of it into making an actually better story.

The early part of this is rote description, metaphorical conference room scenes, and literal conference room scenes. It’s about as exciting as it sounds.

Halfway into the book, the “action” finally starts. If, by action one means “there’s descriptions of tanks, followed by descriptions of tanks firing, with a description of the exact shell [ie, M829A2] the tank fired.” Not only are the large battles treated purely as deterministic clashes of military hardware, but they’re also dull to the point where I’ve read more melodramatic Let’s Plays/AARs of various wargames. The smaller scale “cloak and dagger” stuff is also not ideal, but even it’s still better than the big battles.

Perhaps the most disappointing part is the setup. Iran hopes to defeat Saudi Arabia via a series of technothriller set pieces. Everything just feels like it’s one isolated, stilted technothriller set piece after another instead of anything that seems like it’s genuinely flowing. The tanks are a technothriller set piece. The aircraft are a technothriller set piece. The WMDs are a technothriller set piece. Not helping matters for a story so centered around military equipment is said equipment being a mix of “The Wikipedia page for Saudi and Iranian equipment”, plus a few shoved-in ‘exotics’ like T-14 Armatas and J-20s.

I’d recommend something like Raven One for a modern technothriller where an Iran with an expanded arsenal is the opponent. The Saudi-Iranian War just feels like a rote, box-checking IKEA Technothriller that has far more of the genre’s bad parts than its good ones.

 

Review: Worm

Worm

This is a weird story to be reviewing on Fuldapocalypse, and it’s a weird context. But Worm has been so crazy on Spacebattles to the point where the mods had to make a separate forum specifically for Worm fanfics.

Worm is a story about a teenage girl in a rough and tumble city who, after being shoved into a filthy locker by bullies, develops superpowers. Much, much, much more happens after that.

Worm has a lot going for it. It’s a superhero story that keeps the basic archetypes everyone knows and loves while shedding every last piece of baggage the big two comics have dragged over decades. The powers are interesting and distinct-for instance, the closest prominent figure you can find to the main character’s power set of insect control is a boss in Metal Gear Solid 3. There aren’t lazy “Superman” or “Batman” figures made with the minimum distinction. The characters are well developed and sympathetic in a truly dark world. It sounds very good……

 

……until it’s actually read. The fundamentals are ‘iffy’ enough that it becomes a slog. Especially early on, events happen and pass very quickly, not helped by the prose. But on the other side of the coin, the story as a whole is over one and a half million words long-longer than War and Peace and Atlas Shrugged combined. And I’ve found the prose to be simply dull.

In no small part because of this, every flaw in the worldbuilding comes up in a way that it wouldn’t in a better story. The biggest issue I’ve found is trying to have its cake and eat it too. Worm goes into a huge amount of in-universe detail to try and justify its common superhero-vs-supervillain tropes. To me the amount of raw effort required has the effect of making it seem less, rather than more plausible.

But I don’t want to be too hard on Worm-I can see its appeal, and consider it “not for me” rather than outright “bad”. It just didn’t really “click” for me, and I don’t want to read a million+ words of something that didn’t do that.

 

Review: Terror Descending

Terror Descending

terrordescending

When I browsed the Stony Man Executioner spinoffs on mackbolan.com , I followed one of my personal rules-when in doubt, go for the most ridiculous. Upon seeing the ridiculous commentary about Terror Descending, I went “go for it” and got it.

A 1960s relic left-wing terror group is using B-52s disguised as 707s to hit targets around the world with the aid of Cray supercomputer-launched cyberwarfare, and the Stony Man Farm team must stop them. This zombie sorceress-licious premise made me get the book. One reviewer compared it to a Mack Maloney book-this especially made me want to get it.

Terror Descending has the problem of “going into big technical detail and getting it wrong” with a vengeance. “F-17 Eagles”, F-22s staging from aircraft carriers, B-52s being “common” with thousands built, B-52s being disguisable as 707s, “Chinese-made Stingers”, and “MiG-8” fighters. And that’s without the “interesting” aircraft procurement this world has made (Austria uses F-14s). Oh, and despite the book being released in 2009, “Yugoslavia” still exists. This would have been more of a problem if I had the slightest expectation of genuine realism out of this book. Fortunately, I did not. The Mack Maloney comparison is very apt indeed.

Terror Descending, like the previous Gold Eagle Bolan Season of Slaughter, is rather overstuffed. There’s everything from skinhead gangs to airstrikes to a dogfight over Chad to every single flashpoint in the world from the Aegean to the Korean DMZ flaring up to South American prisons. And that’s just the villains. Having to use both Able Team and Phoenix Force as the heroes doesn’t help matters. While workable, the action isn’t good enough to really compensate for all of these flaws.

Still, I’d rather have “fun/crazy bad” than “dull bad”, and Terror Descending is definitely the former.

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.”

Review: Technokill

Technokill

The novel Technokill is easily the worst Starfist novel I’ve personally read. Back a few Thanksgivings ago, I had to pass the time and chose this book, which had been sitting unread on my shelf until then. Welp.

Who and What

This is the story of MARINES, bird-aliens, and criminals selling forbidden weapons to the bird-aliens. It’s long. It’s dull. It has weaving, tangled subplots. It has descriptions of twisted fetishes of various characters that feel like they’re as long as the few “battles”.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

This isn’t that much worse than the rest of Starfist, at least.

Zombie Sorceresses

At least nothing beyond the normal Starfist MARINES in Space Vietnam with a few gadgets contrivances.

Tank Booms

Ok, so at the height of this book, the MARINES face the challenge of (hold on to your seat belts) bird-aliens with these. And not some futuristic equivalent, the description is very close to the actual takedown .22 survival rifle. Even the (literal) tank army in Steel Gauntlet was better and more intimidating. The battle isn’t even that well-written and has no gimmick to make it better than it would seem. Then there’s an afterthought (literal) spacesuit commando scene that’s equally underwhelming, even by the series’ standards.

The Only Score That Really Matters

This is the low point of the Starfist series for me. It’s mostly just dull, and not in a good way. The low-powered opponent is only slightly amusing and doesn’t make up for the bad fundamentals.

 

Review: Cody’s Army

Cody’s Army

Earlier on this blog, I reviewed a later Cody’s Army book, DC Firestrike. Now I got the chance to read the first installment.

Who and What

Cody’s Army tells the story of former CIA super-agent John Cody, who mutinies after one dirty job too many , only to be roped back into the “game” and teamed up with Texan “Hawkeye” Hawkins, Brit Richard Caine, and pilot Rufe Murphy to create a top-secret 80s action super-team. Their first mission-save hostages on a plane that’s been taken to Lebanon.

It’s mostly the 80s action stuff known well (perhaps fitting, the characters are ‘B-List’ versions of creator Stephen Mertz’s other big hit, the MIA Hunter novels), although I had to smile a bit at the series title-an “Army” of only four people. This reminded me of the World War II joke about how the “[single digit number] Tank Army” was called that because it had only [a single digit number] of tanks in it”.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

Regrettably, I could see the trend here (and it’s a trend that by and large did not exist in the first wave of action adventure books in the 1970s) of going into huge detail on some existing piece of military hardware-and getting it wrong. Seeing the names of real rifles being applied in a weird way and worse, seeing a UH-1 with “40mm cannons” in turrets. (I could assume they meant grenade launchers, it’s the only way I can make sense of it)

Zombie Sorceresses

While this is full of 80s action novel stuff and some eyebrow-raisers like the protagonists using a B-52 as a normal transport, what was the most zombie sorceress about it to me involved characterization. John Cody goes from being a war-weary recluse to an eager fighter in the course of a single chapter.

Tank Booms

From the opening to the ending, the action is as ridiculously gory and over the top 80s as you might expect. It’s good enough for this kind of novel, especially as it ends with a particularly satisfying and spectacular helicopter dogfight.

The Only Score That Really Matters

This is still the start to a B-list 80s action series. But it’s a fun start to a B-list 80s action series, and works for anyone who likes the genre.

Unstructured Review: The Valor Series

Valor Series

One of my first “get me through a vacation” books was an omnibus containing the first two volumes of Tanya Huff’s Valor series of military sci-fi. At the time, I was impressed by how an author who was clearly new to the genre could write something well. Now, some time later, I’m even more impressed. Other authors of either fantasy or (surprisingly) contemporary action have stumbled, in my opinion, when they turned to the difficult genre of military science fiction. Huff, for the most part, did not.

Oh, it has its pitfalls. Some of the prose is a little “flowery fantasy”-esque, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a line in one of the later books that about how drones were obsolete compared to a “good pair of eyes” because they kept getting shot down (when the alternative is losing those eyes). But those are tiny compared to the advantages.

Heroine Torin Kerr is a good enough protagonist, especially by the standards of the genre. Huff tends to keep her in smaller, fantasy adventure party sized engagements that she’s comfortable with and work very well. And the series takes out a lot of the “brown M&Ms” that plague the ‘spacesuit commando’ subgenre (that I groan at but still somehow read and like anyway). For instance, while other, worse military sci-fi books have the main character promoted ridiculously high ridiculously fast, Kerr starts as a staff sergeant and ends the series as a… gunnery sergeant.

For these reasons I recommend the Valor book. Sure they’re lightweight, but they’re lightweight in a good, solid way.