Review: Operation Arctic Storm

World War 1990: Operation Arctic Storm

I have a little bit of queasiness towards reviewing self-published ebooks. Often they’re, even if well-intended, lacking in quality. I’ve felt I’ve made too many sneery reviews of internet fiction that wasn’t even commercialized, and want to move towards being fair.

That being said, I’d gotten William Stroock’s World War 1990: Operation Arctic Storm long before I started this blog, so it wasn’t like I’d just plucked it out. I should have known what I was getting into, because I’d read another book by the same author that was as dubiously written as it was one-sided.

So why review it? Well, because it’s organically bad, and that for all I want to review good fiction, I need something to compare it with. Plus there’s one scene that’s something I wanted to share because of its ridiculousness.

Icelands

This is a pretty “Icelandic” tale (Soviets start, conference room infodumps, etc…), not helped by the portrayal of the Soviets that somehow manages to make Tom Clancy at his worst look like Tolstoy.

Rivets

Stroock listed a long series of references and advisors at the beginning of the book. They did not help in making it accurate, and especially failed in making it un-stereotypical. There are technical inaccuracies that range from small nitpicks (elite paratroopers and SPF still using “AK-47s” instead of “74s” in 1990?) to massive ones (see the “Zombie Sorceresses” section below) and the dialogue is extra-clunky.

There isn’t that much “The T-64BV1K was hit by an M829A1 round”-style exact equipment specification infodumps, but that’s only a small silver lining.

Zombie Sorceresses

Besides keeping the war conventional, the zombie sorceresses also make the Soviet advance into Germany stopped at the Weser very quickly. This by itself isn’t that implausible. This is 1990, at the absolute height of NATO’s power.

What is more implausible, not to mention slanted (and then some) is the one-sidedness of how they were stopped. Apart from treating GSFG 1990 equipment like Iraqi export equipment, there’s things like a single fourteen-tank company of Abrams’ being able to hold off a whole operational maneuver group for half a day. Worse, in the highlight battle, Soviet paratroopers lose to armed civilian Alaskans.

The “Wha?”

The plot and pacing of this book is clunky. It’s about half tinny infodumping by stereotypes and about half poorly written battles. And they intersect, with the initial halt of the West German invasion being told via a Politburo infodump that is written with such “fervor” that I was nostalgic for the Politburo infodump at the beginning of Red Storm Rising.

But there’s one scene-one scene that pushes the book into the surreal, and was the tipping point for me writing this review.

That’s a scene where the Soviet paratroopers in Alaska find someone’s NES and play various video games, including Tecmo Super Bowl (which is mislabeled as Super Tecmo Bowl). It’s either a clunky effort at comic relief or just there to be there.

The Only Score That Really Matters

Ok, there’s no other way to say this. This book is to WWIII novels what Plan 9 From Outer Space and The Room are to movies. Something so bad it becomes slightly amusing, at least to gluttons for punishment like me.

I’m very reluctant to call something the “worst ever”-I’ve used that term in the past with far too much shortsighted hyperbole. But it’s definitely one of the worst World War III stories I’ve read. At least it gave us Soviet paratroopers playing Tecmo Super Bowl.

Review: Pursuit

Pursuit

Pursuit is the thirteenth(!) installment in Jerry Ahern’s Survivalist series, the first of which, Total War, I reviewed earlier on this very blog. The Survivalist changed dramatically from start to finish, and Pursuit is representative of this change.

Icelands

Well, on one hand, Pursuit has the series at a crossroads between the pure post-apocalyptic survival it was in the earliest books and the sci-fi action it would become in the latest ones, with the only constant being Rourke shooting lots of people with his beloved Detonics pistols. It has action novel cliches but little else. Certainly a story that starts with the main character piloting a high-tech one-crew “minitank” and ends with a visit to a geothermally fueled paradise colony doesn’t seem like it has much in common with Clancy or Bond…

-But on the other hand, most of it takes place in Iceland. And the Soviets invade Iceland! And it was published one year before Red Storm Rising to boot!

So it’s literally Icelandic. 😛

Rivets

The rivet-counting is reduced to sci-fi infodumps and the usual exact detailed descriptions of firearms anyone who read the series will know as routine by now.

Zombie Sorceresses

Now it gets crazy. Ahern, to achieve his dream of writing backdoor sci-fi with a publisher who wanted modern action adventure, set a massive chain of events in motion. An atmospheric fire-wave would destroy most life on the surface.

Rourke and his family/friends acquired a suspended animation serum and used it after entering his underground “retreat”, leading to a five hundred year time skip. Since then, survivors from other underground shelters (including in the Soviet Union) and from the Western “Eden Project” launched into outer space to return five hundred years later, have repopulated the world, giving Rourke more targets to shoot plot opportunities.

The result was a tech-boost and a supply boost.

The “Wha?”

Now this part isn’t really changed. It’s still ridiculous 80s action, and there’s still some survival there. However, the characters have solidified and so has the series financially. Since by Ahern’s own admission it was a “soap opera”, get ready for cliffhanger endings and long meta-arcs. And soap opera character drama, including things like Rourke’s selective use of the suspended animation process to age his children up to pair them off with fellow adventurers he wasn’t related to (and, conveniently, get them to action hero age), and his wife’s dislike of that.

What has changed, and it’s a gradual change that has progressed ever since Rourke found his way back to the “Retreat”, is that it becomes less and less about actual survival and especially scrounging.

The Only Score That Really Matters

If you’ve made it through the twelve previous books in the Survivalist series, you probably know what to expect. It’s 80s action, and it grows ever more fantastical and less directly post-apocalyptic with each installment.

It’s something, and in this case it was an Icelandic something.

 

 

Review: Total War

Total War

It does not take a PHD in literary theory to guess why interest in postapocalyptic stories rose as the Cold War heated up in the early 1980s. One of the most infamous is Jerry Ahern’s Survivalist series, starring the Detonics miniature 1911 pistol-and the man firing them, John Rourke. Reviewing Total War, the first book in the series, I found it very good for what it is.

Icelands

Ok, I want to take a second to argue that my original category of “Icelands” may be obsolete. I’d envisioned it as applying to a much narrower group of stories than I ended up reviewing on this blog. It was designed for a very short continuum between Hackett’s Third World War and Team Yankee. It was not designed for something like this, a pulp adventure thriller. So I may be doing a revamp of my whole post structure, and if I do, “Icelands” is the most likely category to be changed or revamped.

That being said, Total War is very much an 80s pulpy cheap thriller. Just those words should give you a hint of what to expect.

Rivets

This is one of those “it tells you exactly what kind of gun it is” books, be it a revolver or Detonics pistol. It has a lot of lists (including a description of Rourke’s survivalist lair), a lot of long descriptions of scrounged gizmos. Yet they don’t really get in the way of the fast-paced action.

Zombie Sorceresses

Pretty much what you’d expect from a post-apocalyptic thriller in terms of contrivances. The nuclear blasts are actually handled fairly reasonably, especially given the genre. They’re not the biggest issue. If I had to give one issue that’s the most contrived, it’s how waves of bandits for our hero to fight appear out of nowhere like it was a Bethesda Softworks video game.

The “Wha?”

This flows good for a first installment. We go from Rourke fighting in Pakistan to an infodump about his survivalist lair to the nuclear war, to him and his wife both fighting bandits.

One thing I was impressed by was how even-handed he was by action novel standards. For an American cheap thriller written in 1981, Ahern portrays some of the Soviet characters with surprising deftness and sympathy.

The Only Score That Really Matters

Ok, this is basically a western version of Fist of the North Star, except instead of going “ATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATA omae wa mou shindeiru”, Rourke simply shoots his opponents with his Detonics pistol. If you think that’s tacky, this book isn’t for you. If you like it even a tiny bit, it is.

Furthermore, Ahern is surprisingly good on some of the literary fundamentals. The book is short and moves quickly. The “clunky first setup part” only exists to a small degree here. And while Total War isn’t exactly Peters’ Red Army, its Soviets are considerably less supervillain-y than a lot of other novels in this time period.

Total War is worth a read if you like cheap 80s action.

Review: Axis of Evil

Axis of Evil

As much as I may like to review classic WW3 books, I cannot stay in Cold War Germany forever. So to avoid burnout, I decided to go full circle. The origins of the technothriller genre are in the “invasion novels” of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Anglo-American invasion novel has, given the logistical issues faced in crossing water, always had an air of unreality to it.

Besides taking the basic tone over, some tales had the invasion happen directly, with Red Dawn being the most famous example. Although mainstream invasion tales declined, independent writers were happy to fill the gap. Searching for a hidden gem amongst the-er, “mediocrity” (to be generous), I found Axis of Evil, the (supposed) story of an EMP-spearheaded invasion. I figured it’d be a good enough test case. As it turned out, the genre wasn’t quite what I’d thought, and it had quite a few problems.

Icelands

As this isn’t a “classic” World War III novel, the Iceland system doesn’t really apply here. However, the thriller parts are comparably formulaic by the standards of the genre, and I would have seen everything coming even if it wasn’t the first in a long series.

Rivets

This book is surprisingly rivet-light. There’s details but not too many details. Perhaps I’ve just read more rivet-company storage warehouse-level stories, but this isn’t too bad. It earnestly tries to be human, not mechanical.

Zombie Sorceresses

Seeing an EMP expert give the foreword made me suspicious. My suspicion was “it will be technically, nominally accurate for the main event, but everything else will be completely ridiculous.”

I was right. I don’t know enough about EMPs to question it, but I was willing to let any inaccuracy slide for the sake of the story. Everything else, though? Yeah. My suspicions were well-founded.

Granted, the Anglo-American invasion novel, as opposed to the continental invasion one where a legitimate threat is more plausible, as always needed some zombie sorceress intervention to get going.  Likely the sobering threat of real conflict in the Eurasian continent makes fanciful threats less likely and appealing, but that’s a topic for another time.

This has 20,000 North Korean commandos infiltrating into the US without the slightest suspicion through the Canadian border that the country foolishly neglected to wall off as well. (You can guess the politics of this book, if the genre wasn’t a clue enough.) But the zombie sorceress contrivances are compounded by a massive plot decision.

The “Wha?”

The zombie sorceress handwaves are best handled as a setup that is quickly moved past, and that even those who dispute it can recognize as vital to the setup. Yet the “I’m gonna make this a long series” effect means it’s dwelled on. And dwelled on. The pacing is execrable. The EMP itself doesn’t happen until the literal end of the book, as a cliffhanger.

It can be forgiven as setup for the action to come, at least if the setup was any good. There’s a fourth-rate “thriller plot” as American operators battle the Iranians and North Koreans, a huge quantity of political infodumps, and, most importantly, Texan bull riding. Oh yes, that bull riding. This is a very Texan novel. The bookends literally involve someone attempting to ride a particularly ferocious bull. The characters are either stereotypically Texan or stereotypically anti-Texan, if you know what I mean.

 

The Only Score That Really Matters

I don’t want to be a Sneering Internet Critic. The whole point of this blog is to be fair and evenhanded, not hyperbolic.  It’s just-I didn’t find this book to be that good even by cheap thriller standards. Some of it might be that it’s more of a “survival novel” than the “invasion novel” it initially came across as, but the problems go far deeper than a mislabeled genre. Even accepting that its politics would be what they were, the action is pedestrian, the infodumps annoying, and the characters still ill-developed author mouthpieces. But the worst part by far is the pacing, clearly designed to drag out the story over as many installments as possible.

A cheap thriller can be many things and still be enjoyable. But it cannot be slow-paced, and it cannot be dull. By failing here, Axis of Evil fails on a fundamental level.