Review: Sixth Fleet

Sixth Fleet

meadowssixthfleet

I look at the Sixth Fleet series by David Meadows. Looks like it could be to naval warfare in general what Tin Soldiers was to tanks and Raven One was to aviation. Then I look at the publication date-2001. I start to have a bad feeling. Still, I shouldn’t stereotype 2000s technothrillers, so I go ahead anyway. Then I read the book in full, and yipes.

It’s very much a 1990s technothriller at heart. Regional enemy (Libya) with a super-gimmick? Check. Hand-wringing over defense cuts? Check. COMPUTER DIGITAL WARFARE? Check. Even leaving all of that aside, the prose is just very, very clunky and any scene with a character who isn’t American is rather “dubious”.

Worse still is how the first book is meant as the opening act in a long series. This means the pacing goes from “bad” to “REALLY REALLY BAD”. I’ve seen better pacing in later Survivalist books than here, and instead of Ahern’s flights of fancy, there’s a generic “mustache twirlers with super-gimmicks” story with the usual technothriller viewpoint jumping.

I wanted to like Sixth Fleet but just couldn’t. The fundamentals are too iffy, the subject isn’t that conceptually interesting, and its pacing is just horrifically slow and uneven. In many way, it feels like the stereotypical late-1990s/2000s technothriller writ large.

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.

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.

 

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.

 

Review: Strikemasters

Strikemasters

Mack Maloney’s Strikemasters follows in the footsteps of his earlier “Wingman” books, being set much later and with a much different background, but maintaining the elements that made that novel so much fun.

Who and What

The book can be summed up as “Special Operations Forces in super-powered C-17s fight terrorists in a super-powered mountain fortress.” It’s the sort of bombast that characterizes Maloney’s work and makes it able to navigate the dark technothriller decade of the 2000s without many problems.

And to his credit, Maloney is not afraid to throw challenges and imperfections at his super-characters and super-planes. He’s not afraid to kill central characters off. Doing this while going full-crazy ahead might be dissonant on paper, but it works here, being a writer who can have his cake and eat it too.

Of course, the characters, good and evil, are little but shallow stereotypes, but this is the kind of book where this isn’t that big a deal. And the last part of the book is a little rushed. But this also isn’t that much of an issue.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

Yes, we do get huge, loving descriptions of the super-tech. Why did you ask?

Zombie Sorceresses

Like every Mack Maloney novel, this book is full of bombastic, ridiculous super-contrivances. But it strangely doesn’t feel as contrived. A lot of technothrillers are stuffed with what Nader Elfhefnawy rightly calls the “illusion of realism” . As they became steadily more ridiculous, this issue amplified. The pure bombastic unrestrained “go for it” attitude of this book and Maloney’s others solves the problem.

Tank Booms

The action, as mentioned above, manages a good balance between “over-the-top” and “challenging”. It could have failed in either direction. It could have had a jarring effect of flaws clashing with the “look at the superplane go!” It also could have had the superplane effortlessly cakewalking to victory. Strikemasters did not fall into either pit, and is all the better for it.

The Only Score That Really Matters

This is another excellent Mack Maloney title, with him being able to leverage his strengths to make a tale of super C-17s doing superpowered feats in a well-told fashion. Highly recommended.

 

Review: Carrier – Enemies

Carrier: Enemies

The “Carrier” series was a long-running series. When searching for books in it to read and review, I followed my famous rule: When in doubt, go for the most outlandish. The enemy of this book, the fifteenth of the series, is…. Greece. How could I resist?

Who and What

As the Greek-Macedonian conflict (at least a strange version of it) heats up and a news helicopter is brought down by a Greek Tomcat on a false-flag mission, Admiral Matthew “Tombstone” Magruder and the carrier USS Jefferson goes to the region to enforce peace while a reporter who survived stays on the ground amidst the Macedonians. And that’s about as coherent as it gets.

There are really two parts of this book. The first is essentially applying the technothriller “top-to-bottom” viewpoint style to the “low budget assembly line book” quality level. So there’s the conference rooms, the scrambling reporter, the subplots, and the aviators themselves, all done in a slapdash style. For instance, the main antagonist is a general but is called an “admiral” in one passage. Then there’s the small problem of the book’s ending being abrupt and simply unfinished. That’s the boring, bad part.

The second is the goofy part. Greeks with bad names flying F-14s. An evil general launching a ridiculously obvious (to the reader) false flag plot. A main character with the nickname “Tombstone.”

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

There really aren’t that many “The F-111F triggered the Pave Tack and dropped a GBU-12B straight on the Spoon Rest” moments in this book. There are, however, a lot of conference room scenes.

Zombie Sorceresses

The zombie sorceresses were changing everything from Greek aircraft procurement to naming customs to the nature of the Greece-Macedonia conflict to well, almost everything.

Tank Booms

The actual action isn’t the best. Most of the dogfights between aircraft feel like fanfiction of the Top Gun movie from someone who has that and maybe one other technothriller as their sole source for aerial combat, and there isn’t much “adrenaline”, for lack of a better word. Constantly cutting back to conference rooms doesn’t help.

The Only Score That Really Matters

Like Ian Slater’s USA vs. Militia series, this book is the kind of thing someone like me would find more appealing than a “normal” person probably would. The plotting and action is too dry, badly done, and generic to hold that much appeal, but the premise and excesses were music to my ears. But even they can’t stop the very bad fundamentals this book has.

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.

Review: Hangfire

Hangfire

Sadly, Hangfire has to rank as one of the lower entries in the wildly uneven Starfist series. The basic premise-intrigue on a world that’s a combination 1950s Cuba and Westworld-style historical theme parks-is good. Unfortunately, this just makes the rest of the story worse.

Who and What

To infiltrate a mobster-ruled resort world of debauchery named “Havanagas” (I told you it was based on 1950s Cuba), the government turns to… MARINES, of course. Also, there’s intrigue on a colony world as aliens invade it.

The relative cohesion of Steel Gauntlet is lost, and the group of tangled, clunky subplots I’ve seen in worse Starfist books are in full force.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

There are a few infodumps here, but not that many. The problem is that the potentially interesting focus (The Space 1950s Cuba) gets sidelined.

Zombie Sorceresses

Hard to judge, save for all the MARINE contrivances.

Tank Booms

There really isn’t much action involving the MARINES. This is a shame because the chance to throw them into a Murderworld-style deathtrap amusement park would be amazing. Instead there’s intrigue that isn’t too well-written, a tiny bit of action, and an arena scene that is ridiculously foreshadowed. The barely related alien invasion is nowhere near as good, so of course it takes up a big chunk of the book.

The Only Score That Really Matters

While I’ve read worse Starfist books, this seems disappointing as well as bad. What should be a romp through Mobster Murderworld ends up treating that tamely while devoting a ton of time and space to uninteresting aliens invading an uninteresting world and fighting uninteresting battles to set up an uninteresting arc.

It’s a shame.

Review: Season of Slaughter

Season of Slaughter

It’s time to fast forward several decades from the debut of Mack Bolan. Now he’s the well-established king of the adventure novel with many spinoffs and many, many more novels to his name. A more recent Bolan, 2005’s Season of Slaughter, is the subject of this review.

Who and What

Bad guys do something very bad at the beginning. Mack Bolan and company move to stop them from doing more bad things. Simple cheap thriller plot, simple cheap thriller characters. Although I have to say there are a lot of characters here, contributing to the “overstuffed” feeling of the book. I have a slight hunch that some may have been there to let a casual reader notice that the spinoffs existed.

The prose unsurprisingly feels like an action movie in words. Characters firing Desert Eagles and skidding safely away from mammoth fireballs.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

There are the usual gun infodumps, and a very, very detailed infodump about a super-helicopter used by the protagonists. Only a few of these infodumps go to ‘waste’ in that they’re totally irrelevant, but many of them are gratuitous. Of course, this entire book is gratuitous.

Zombie Sorceresses

Apart from the action novel contrivances, the choice of villains is less zombie-sorceress than you might think in one way. It’s an alliance between Islamist terrorists and white supremacist terrorists. This is handled with a surprising amount of deftness-it’s treated only as a teeth gritted alliance of convenience against someone they both hate and nothing more.

Of course, they’re coordinated by a cartoon anarchist group and backed by supermercs, so the zombie sorceresses reassert themselves there.

Tank Booms

The “overstuffed” nature of the book is nowhere more apparent than in the action. There’s a lot of action scenes shoved together into this fairly small book, from fistfights to helicopter dogfights. The action can still be blurred and clunky at times, but one advantage of the many characters is that it allows for diverse fights.

And to be fair, this kind of book is the kind where you expect lots of action. I’d rather have too much action in a cheap thriller like this than too little.

The Only Score That Really Matters

This is an assembly-line book, and it shows. But it works as an assembly-line cheap thriller. The first Mack Bolan was a late 1960s cheap thriller, while this is a 2000s cheap thriller. This has explosions and Mack Bolan action, and that’s what’s asked of this kind of story.

 

Review: Flashpoint Quebec

Flashpoint Quebec: Operation Joint Suppression

Lots of cheap action thrillers take place in the Middle East. Lots of cheap action thrillers take place in Eastern Europe. But Michael Karpovage’s Flashpoint Quebec: Operation Joint Suppression is a military cheap thriller that takes place in the exotic and ferocious land known as Canada. Just from the premise, I knew I had to get it.

Who and What

A US Army unit of the 10th Mountain Division is sent into Canada to fight a battle against Quebecois militia that have been reinforced with stolen Abrams tanks and French-supplied missiles. They fight the battle.

This is an independent 2003 book, so it has some very rough prose and a general lack of polish. The best example of this is the excess of extremely long, blocky paragraphs throughout the entire book. The characterization is either nonexistent or extremely blatant (one Quebecois fighter is this beer-drinking teenager who shows up, destroys a transport plane, and then dies.)

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

This has the perils of “misdirected research”. There’s infodumps, including a very long one on the mast sight of the OH-58 Kiowa. Yet there’s also unforced errors like very off LAV gun calibers and a sabot round (CAPITALIZED in the book when it shouldn’t be) acting like a HEAT shaped-charge round.

Zombie Sorceresses

Just the entire premise of the book, for one. And the Quebecois having tanks and super-missiles.  And the whole ‘French Sphere of Influence’ thing. This is all handled very matter-of-factly without either comedy or drama.

Tank Booms

The action is sincere and detailed but unpolished. There’s some misguided infodumps, and the prose feels a little flat. In a well-intended but ultimately unsuccessful attempt at making it look “gritty”, Karpovage simply lays on the gore.

The Only Score That Really Matters

This is a well-intended book that nonetheless takes a ridiculous situation completely seriously and doesn’t have much polishing. It’s not the worst, but I still view it, like Ian Slater’s USA vs Militia novels, as more of a novelty showing a strange opponent even by post-1991 thriller standards than anything else.