Review: Soldier of Gideon

Soldier of Gideon

soldierofgideoncover

The Casca series takes its path to the Arab-Israeli wars hinted at in the first book. Soldier of Gideon is a “modern” Casca, as opposed to the ancient Cascas. Taking place in the Six Day War, it’s typical of later Cascas-formulaic but good.

The action-packed book is in this kind of particular subgenre of war story that’s more gory and grisly than a John Wayne-style sanitized work, but still far more over the top and spectacular than a truly grounded novel. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s interesting.

(Sidenote: For whatever reason, historical war fiction isn’t usually my cup of tea. I’ve read good examples, but it just doesn’t grab me the way action-adventure or even technothrillers do. That being said, I have read enough to tell which slot Soldier of Gideon fell into)

The Arab armies seem to use primarily western equipment (to the extent that only Jordan did in the historical war)  with a few IS-3 tanks thrown in as level bosses challenging encounters. Casca and friends go to every theater of the war. In the process, Sadler demonstrated both his greatest strength and greatest weakness as the series dragged on.

The greatest strength is managing to maintain dramatic tension and fluid excitement in a story that features A: A historically decisive blowout victory, and B: An immortal protagonist. This is no easy task, and it’s a sign of Sadler’s proficiency that Casca never devolves into the “unironic One Punch Man” that it could have.

However, the other side of the coin is the almost complete lack of interest in using the immortal protagonist who’s lived for thousands of years, met every important Eurasian historical figure in that time, and is linked personally to Christianity as anything but a placeholder to build period pieces around. While cheap thrillers like these aren’t philosophical works, the wasted potential is still very high.

That said, as cheap thrillers, the Casca books still work, and work well.

 

Review: Hellfire in Haiti

Hellfire in Haiti

codysarmy2

If I had to pick a favorite entry in the seven-book Cody’s Army series, Hellfire In Haiti would easily win. Nothing else has the same mix of action, fun, and good villains. I never had as much entertainment out of a Cody’s Army book as I did here.

The entire Cody’s Army series feels to me like the action adventure novel version one of those knockoff fighting games that tried to piggyback on the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat-not bad , but the incredibly obvious influence is still there, and it could only have existed in the middle of a very big pack. Still, none of the Cody’s Army books are unreadable, and this one in particular is a highlight of the entire genre.

Hellfire in Haiti sort of recycles its main plot from an earlier Cody’s Army book, Philippine Hardpunch. There, a former buddy of Marcos plots to reconquer the Philippines. Here, a former buddy of Duvalier plots to reconquer Haiti. The former book simply didn’t punch as hard as it could (I had to say it). This delivers a Mike Tyson haymaker.

Army member Rufe Murphy is kidnapped and subjected to a voodoo ritual, adding to the over-the-topness of this book. The villains in this book are excellent action-adventure fodder. There’s main villain Clairvius Bourreau  the ex-death squad leader and drug lord who enjoys dressing in showy outfits. And there’s his American ally Wes Taggart, a psychotic former Vietnam unit-mate of protagonist John Cody. That brought a smile to my face as Taggart reminded me of some of the sort of dubious “hard man who breaks the rules” “protagonists” of more recent war-fantasy novel.

And the final battle featuring the Army vs. Bourreau’s stronghold stands as the literary version of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando. It’s easily one of the best climaxes I’ve read in an 80s action-adventure book. Cheap thrillers, especially ones of the time, don’t get much better than this.

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.

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: 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.

Review: DC Firestrike

Cody’s Army: DC Firestrike

Picking out cheap thrillers that would stand out from the pack is tricky. When I looked for examples of a second-tier 1980s action series called “Cody’s Army”, I deliberately aimed at the book with the most ridiculous setup (this is not a new activity on my part). Shooting terrorists in _____? Boring. Been there, done that. Shooting terrorists who’ve stormed DC and kidnapped a president? Now that’s something.

So DC Firestrike it was.

Who and What

So, the book stars action hero John Cody and his band of super-commandos, none of whom are that interesting. Opposing them are supervillain Libyans and their local gangster allies, who are only interesting in terms of being cringeworthy. Most of the book is flopping around in a disjointed plot and the actual kidnapping of the president doesn’t take place until over halfway through. I wondered if this was the setup for some kind of cliffhanger, but no, it’s over in a rushed finale.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

By the standards of 80s action novels, this is surprisingly infodump-free, at least concerning the descriptions of firearms. I think one of the few things that irritated me was how the author flipped back and forth between “magazine” and “clip” with no consistency.

Zombie Sorceresses

Well, this is par for the course as far as 80s action novels go. I think the biggest contrivance by far is of course leaving these few supercommandos to be the exact rescuer when you’d have airborne divisions combing the countryside, but this is the kind of series that doesn’t have to be logical.

Tank Booms

Most of (note the word most of) the action is pretty paint by numbers action-adventure. I say this despite not having read that many books in the genre. It’s that blatant. However, the conclusion is weird in that it’s actually somewhat realistic. Instead of the big 80s action battle, the heroes move in quickly, decisively, and unflashily.

I think this is a coincidence in that the author was clearly running out of space and just needed to wrap things up quickly, and so it turned into something more plausible by parallel coincidence.

The Only Score That Really Matters

Except for the unintentionally realistic conclusion and over-the-top premise, this is pretty much Middle Of The Road 1980s Action Novel. Not that that’s a bad thing.

 

Review: Wingman

Wingman

Mack Maloney’s Wingman kicks off a post-apocalyptic fighter pilot series that is pure undistilled, full-strength, high-dose 80s ridiculous fun. I was reminded of everything from Iron Eagle to Area 88 to just goofing off in the Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations scenario editor.

Who and What

Wingman is the story of Hawker Hunter (the name is not a coincidence), a fighter pilot who flies in the shattered remnants of the US after an apocalyptic third world war. It is the story of his super F-16. It is the story of Hunter fighting lots and lots and lots of stock 1980s Post-Apocalyptic Bandits and enemy fighter aircraft of both western and eastern design. It is the story of Hunter bedding beautiful woman after beautiful woman. It is the story of Hunter going to various theme park apocalypse cities and places.

It moves very well and has all the characterization you’d expect from a cheap thriller. And that’s all it needs.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

The infodumps are there, but they don’t really feel like that much of a burden. The book flows very breezily, and it feels like everything is part of the fun. I feel obligated to say that a lot of technical description is (brace yourself) not the most realistically accurate.

If you have strenuous objections to this, please do not read the book. Otherwise, enjoy how an F-16 equipped with six 20mm Vulcans and ship-busting Sidewinders can blast its way through the competition.

Zombie Sorceresses

It would be easier to say “what did the zombie sorceresses not have to set up?” when describing the plot of this book. Most of the aircraft in this book have the same names as historical ones, and that’s about it.

It’s crazy. But it’s a good type of crazy.

Tank Booms

With the exception of a clunky out-of-the-cockpit action scene in the middle of the book, the action is ridiculously over the top and well-done. Yes, it’s as out-there as everything else, but it’s fast and novel.

The Only Score That Really Matters

This is one of the most fun cheap thrillers I’ve read in a while. I highly, highly, highly recommend it.

Review: Red Storm Rising

Red Storm Rising

This is it. For my fiftieth post on Fuldapocalypse, I’m going to review one of the tentpoles. Red Storm Rising is something I’ve written about before, but I figure it’s time to review this classic. And it’s very hard-surprisingly hard, even, to review.

This is because, while I have an interest in the subject, I have almost the exact opposite knowledge and life context than a member of the target audience back in 1987 would have had.

Who and What

A terror attack that knocks out the USSR’s biggest oil refinery triggers a Third World War. The Soviets invade Western Europe and Iceland. It stays conventional throughout the of the book, and we see characters from all branches and ranks throughout. To me it’s a basic outline for World War III tales. To a reader back in 1987, it would be fresh and fascinating, especially from someone whose only view of recent war was Vietnam.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

This book does get infodumpy. However, once again, I think it’s worth noting to the context. To someone like me, it tends to be either noticing an understandable inaccuracy in the infodump or going “Ok, I know what a Motor Rifle Regiment is, you don’t have to explain” (or something like that).

A layman reading this in 1987 would not have the same issues at all.

Zombie Sorceresses

Now this is the weakest part, whether it be in 1987 or today. The cause-and-effect clunkiness of “Lose the refinery, our oil-exporting economy is smashed”, “we need to seize the Middle East”, and “But NATO could stop us so we need to invade Europe first” is the weakest part of the book. The Politburo scene is cringeworthy in the extreme.

Sometimes a ‘handwave’ is necessary, but Clancy dwelled on it for too long. Red Army has a few chapters of preparation but is deliberately vague on how the war started, while Team Yankee uses Hackett’s backstory but doesn’t go into detail, starting the action very quickly. This lingers too long, but not to a truly monstrous degree.

The other one, the invasion of Iceland, is something that’s actually handled well in the book. It’s a jury-rigged expedition that barely succeeds because of how unexpected and out-of-character it is. The issues of supplying and reinforcing such a distant holding are not shied away from.

Tank Booms

From a later reader who was born in 1991, the action is merely middle-of-the-road at best.

For someone in 1987 who hasn’t read this kind of book before, it’s, if nothing else novel. This is, I think, the biggest reason the book hasn’t aged so well, and it’s not Clancy or Bond’s fault. Here are all these new things for someone whose last image of war was Hueys flopping around in the jungle: Nuclear submarines! Tomahawks! Nuclear submarines with Tomahawks! M1 tanks! Reactivated battleships! Smart weapons! Stealth Aircraft!

Then comes the Gulf War and every subsequent intervention where these things become simply routine and normal. The novelty factor is completely lost on a modern reader, especially a wargame-informed one.

Speaking of wargaming, the classic Harpoon board game was used in its creation, blending two elements that have always been close together. It’s at least interesting as an example of different media types joining together.

The Only Score That Really Matters

So, I want to give an unbiased evaluation of Red Storm Rising. Completely without context, it’s a somewhat middling story that isn’t the best in the genre but is still better than a lot of the lesser copycats.

In context, it’s an extremely important work, even if it influenced a niche more than mainstream thrillers. This was one of the commercial high points of the ‘conventional WWIII’ niche, and it’s still good enough to easily be worth checking out.

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: 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.