Review: Steel Gauntlet

Steel Gauntlet

Steel Gauntlet is Starfist at its most cheesy ridiculous. Take the MARINE FIGHTING MAN bias and add a bunch of other hangups and you get this book.

Who and What

So, the MARINES are sent to deal with a power struggle where Space Corporate Saddam Stand-In Marston St. Cyr has rebuilt an army of ancient, previously forgotten vehicles called “tanks” and used them to seize total control of a resource-rich world. Once they get past the weasely politicians and non-MARINES, the MARINES have to fight a giant tank army. And I use the term “tank army” literally.

You have the MARINES, the non-MARINE weasels, the puppy cute space pet-kicking (literally) supervillain, the damsel in distress.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

There are more than a few infodumps here, and not just of the “MARINES awesome, other branches bad” variety. The infodumps about the past of armored warfare in-universe are particularly cringeworthy-especially since I detected an author rant at more than one point.

Basically, tanks never tried to counter increasingly penetrative ATGMs through indirect means (active protection systems, jammers, or just better tactics), instead plopping armor on until the “M1D7” reached 360 tons, twice as much as the infamously unworkable Maus. It could barely move and the “Straight Arrow” anti-tank thingies smashed it anyway. Although in what I hope was a typo, the “Straight Arrow’s” stated penetration value is equal or less than second-tier Cold War ATGMs like the Dragon and Metis.

So tanks went bye-bye, until now. Now having to face “new” tanks, these centuries-old weapons (which are infodumped as having a guidance system, but are treated as ordinary bazookas in-practice) are reverse-engineered, so it’s like fighting people wearing armor with reverse-engineered big muskets.

Zombie Sorceresses

Well, the contrivances run very high here. The MARINE FIGHTING MEN have to face challenges, but the enemy has to behave in a way that doesn’t actually diminish the MARINE FIGHTING MEN. There’s a lot of “Oh look how much danger they’re in” statements that don’t sound credible, to put it mildly.

Tank Booms

There are lots of tanks booming. Their guns boom, and they boom when they explode. In the category of literal tank booms, this book has even Team Yankee or Tin Soldiers beat.

The action is not bad, but most of the first three-quarters of the book involve MARINE FIGHTING MEN destroying unsupported tank formations. The enemy artillery is stuff mounted on tanks, the enemy “infantry” is mentioned as dismounted tank crewmen (who still fall victim to our heroes as easily as their rides do), and the enemy tanks are prey for the MARINES. There’s a ridiculous “copy an amphibious landing with hovercraft” scene at the start which just seems redundant given that they’re landing from space.

The gap between theoretical and actually perceived danger is very big in this book. There’s lots of “Oh no, the undersupported MARINES are facing enemy reinforcements” statements, but almost every battle is just them hitting badly-handled tank-pure formations and wrecking them.

Then (after yet another swipe at the non-MARINE branches), the final act consists of a cloak and dagger plot and chasing Space Corporate Saddam Stand-In Marston St. Cyr himself through the mining tunnels. Here it declines a bit, as the axe-grinding combat gives way to simply decent-ish cheap thriller action.

The Only Score That Really Matters

This is one of the highlights of the Starfist series. Seeing MARINES battle a strawman distorted tank force makes for a delightfully laughable tale. The tropes tip over into unintentional cheesy fun, and the book is all the better for it, helped by better fundamentals than the Starfist series sometimes has.

It moves so far so earnestly that I somehow enjoy it.

 

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: Proud Legions

Proud Legions

Proud Legions is a book featuring another Korean War, the second of two feared “major theater war” locations in the 1991-2001 period. Its author, John Antal, had written several “choose-your-own-COA” ones beforehand and composed extensively for Armor Magazine. That combined with his own tank experience in South Korea made me eager for the book. I instantly thought of comparisons to Tin Soldiers, another armor-veteran composed book that ranks as one of my favorite post-1991 thrillers. How would it stack up?

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We get the usual supervillain opponents and the usual equalizer gimmicks-in this case, super-EW that scrambles all the high-tech doodads and “S-300s”. The action also hops around between a lot of viewpoint characters, but no worse than other technothrillers.

Rivets

I was reminded a lot of Team Yankee here. Normally this would be a very good thing, as Team Yankee is one of my favorite cheap thrillers of all time. However, this reminded me of one of the weaker parts of Team Yankee. Namely, the “Herman Melville for tanks” part complete with long detailed descriptions of what a tank unit commander would do, followed by a map illustrating the action-to-come in case we missed it.

And while it can get overly detailed in places, it can also get vague and/or inaccurate. For instance, part of its explanation for the lack of air power is the North Koreans having a huge number of “S-300” missile systems, something they have only acquired recently in real life. The problem wasn’t that they got them earlier, it was that they were treated like tactical systems running with the field forces instead of the operational/strategic ones they are.

They come across as being treated like SA-6/11/17 style battlefield SAMs from their description. While not that big a deal, I still noticed it.

Zombie Sorceresses

For most of the book, the zombie sorceresses don’t need to work beyond the usual limits of the genre. Yes, the foes are abnormally belligerent, yes, their scramblers potentially work a little too well. But both of those are easily justifiable for literary reasons.

What I felt was the most contrived part of the book had to do with the protagonists. Antal seemed to be working harder than ever to make the hero and his unit supremely (and probably unrealistically) relevant. This was especially true of the climax, where plotnukes are the least of its problems.

The “Wha?”

The characters and plot are serviceable by cheap thriller standards. I didn’t get much of a feeling out of them, but I wasn’t expecting to. The action on the other hand, is both good and problematic.

The good part is that it’s fast-paced and visceral. There bad parts start with it possibly being a little too gory for its own good. This isn’t to deny that war is brutal and gory, it’s just that I found the contradictions between “gore, grime, and oh this is horrible” and “look at the Abrams go! It made a company of BMPs go boom boom!” a little jarring.

A bigger one is straining to make a battalion of M1A2s more relevant by itself to the conflict as a whole than it probably would be. Team Yankee, however (over?)effective its protagonists were, was not trying to have a single company win World War III on its own. In Tin Soldiers, the “it’s all we got” protagonist force felt at least somewhat more justified in being decisive. So they’re at the main junction to prevent a super-breakthrough.

And-they perform a leadership strike at the end. It’s not “they went all the way up to Pyongyang.” It’s “The marshal of the North Korean army, who’s staged the coup and started the war, has moved south to take personal command of the decisive battle, and they’re there to fight against him.”

What makes this still more problematic is the location. Tin Soldiers was in perfect tank country against a mechanized opponent that had just a bit of effects. This is in more closed terrain against a lesser-equipped enemy. Seeing them deal with constant masses of infantry and artillery in an asymmetric battle would be more interesting than the (realistic, if better-case) scenario in the actual book where they smash up an enemy tank brigade that has far inferior equipment, but then that one battalion wouldn’t be as decisive as Antal clearly wanted it to be.

Having spent four paragraphs criticizing the action, I want to end this section on a more positive note. When there is close-in-infantry action, as opposed to the plot-action or Abrams’ destroying everything, it’s written very well. I especially liked a scene where someone in command of dozens of the most powerful armored vehicles still has to fight with a pistol at one point. It’s actually realistic-one time the colonel commanding a “Thunder Run” into Baghdad in the 2003 Iraq War had to do just that.

The Only Score that Really Matters

I’m being harder on this book than it deserves. It’s still a good read for anyone who wants a tank-exploding cheap thriller. The problem is that my expectations were higher than they probably ought to have been. There was Antal’s pedigree as a nonfiction tank writer, and I think that both it and the effectiveness of other novels by people with similar-but-lesser credentials made me think it’d be better.

It’s still readable, good for a first prose novel, and by the standards of cheap thrillers overall is effective. But it has issues, and those issues aren’t just that Harold Coyle and Michael Farmer left some big shoes to fill.

 

Review: Line of Control

I decided to go on a hunt for new thrillers. By chance when looking them up, I found Line of Control by Mainak Dhar, where after coups in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, they ally to reheat the conflict with India. This was an Indian technothriller. I was intrigued.

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Dhar has read his classics, and it shows. After a few chapters, the structure is very clear to anyone who’s read Clancy, Bond, or the like. I was reminded more of Larry Bond than anyone else. I think it was because Dhar, unlike more specialized authors, went all the way from infantry to air and naval crews to spies to leaders.

Although I will say this- in one very crucial way, Dhar manages better than Bond. Much better.

Rivets

Of course, with the classic inspiration comes the classic drawback. Sometimes, especially in air-to-air combat, the listing of exact numbers and ranges gets a little too high. It isn’t the absolute worst, and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the novel as a whole, but it’s there and it grated a little.

One silver lining is how the setting of the book allows for considerable novelty in terms of equipment without being contrived in the least. The protagonists are using largely Soviet/Russian systems, while the antagonists are using mainly American ones, with F-15s as their secret techno-weapons.

Zombie Sorceresses

I didn’t really feel that much “zombie sorceress” contrivance in the book. It existed, but never truly beyond the norm for the technothriller genre as a whole. When one of the biggest issues apart from the belligerency of the antagonists (which is part and parcel of the whole genre) is “they found enough irregulars to launch a corps-sized conventional attack”, it’s pretty good.

A lot of it I think has to do with the setting. When you have two real-world enemies that are much closer in power as-is, I don’t think you need nearly the amount of contrivances or “equalizers” that occur in a post-1991 technothriller with the US as the protagonist country.

And then there’s dealing with the nuclear weapons. But that’s done in a literary way that made me excuse anything.

The “Wha?”

On one hand, this has the usual thriller tropes. It has lots of viewpoint characters, perhaps a few too many. It has lots of subplots, bouncing around a little too much. The characters are stock thriller ones.

And yet, it never felt like Dhar put a character in without a purpose he intended for them. There may have been a few too many subplots, but there’s just enough characters to fill those plots without being excessive. Furthermore, Dhar handled a very, very difficult issue for technothrillers in an effective way.

Dhar takes the “stop the nukes” plot and makes it the final climax of the book. He doesn’t brush past them with a handwave. And he doesn’t do what Larry Bond did in Cauldron and just remove them with a super-counterforce strike early in the book. There’s the conventional battle and then the fear of escalation. While I could nitpick the plausiblity of how it played out, it worked in literary terms.

The Only Score That Really Matters

I liked this book. It has infodumps, conference room infodumps, a buildup to something you know is going to happen, and other faults of the genre. But it also has the strengths of it, handles some elements very well, and has a setting that’s novel to a filthy Yankee like me.

I recommend it.

Review: Arc Light

Arc Light

Arc Light by Eric Harry is a good but uneven World War III tale. Even at its worst, it never dips below the genre median, and at its best it goes in a novel direction that takes a big concern head-on instead of sidestepping it. While this might seem (and is) praiseworthy, it left me wanting the whole story to be more consistently good.

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Arc Light has two “parts”. One is bold, the other cliche.

The first part is the nuclear war. This, for all my small quibbles, handles the defining weapon of the Cold War excellently. The initial strikes are described in massive detail, and the threat hangs uneasily for the rest of the book. Instead of either handwaving nukes aside altogether or, worse, dropping a few contrived “plotnukes” (Hackett’s Birmingham-Minsk exchange is a picture-pefect example), it launches a big but survivable nuclear “counterforce” strike while keeping the unease of follow-up strikes there.

The second part is a totally conventional military cheap thriller. It’s not outright bad or unreadable, but it has most of the genre tropes there. Multiple viewpoint characters (though, I will say, not too many), and worse, contrived, tinny political scenes that only serve to set up the action that everyone knew was coming anyway.

Rivets

The rivet-counting concerning the nukes is present and annoying. Annoying in the sense that they alternate between well-described horror of nuclear war and clinical, dull infodumps. A lot of the nuclear infodumps have the “I know what the formal name of a Scud TEL is” feeling, where it sounds like the author using the story to demonstrate what he knows instead of using what he knows to help make the story better. But, in an excample of how conflicted this book can be, they’re interspersed with genuinely gripping descriptions.

The rivet-counting concerning everything else is just irritating, especially when large battles and plot-progressing moments are told in nothing but infodumps.

Zombie Sorceresses

While I’m sure the zombie sorceresses were at work with the setup, the important part was that it didn’t feel as contrived as it had been. It has Russia as the opponent and its nuclear exchange dominates the book without being too big.

I’d say the biggest zombie sorceress intervention came in politics and the Americans invading Russia. But even that I forgave, for it was more novel.

The “Wha?”

This kind of wobbles a lot. The low-level soldiers are handled very well. The noncombatants are handled decently, at least in a well-intended way. Anything political turns into either infodumps or Larry Bond-wannabe “they set up what you knew what would happen” scenes.

Arc Light feels like it’s trying to tell a big Red Storm Rising-style story while using a fairly small number of viewpoint characters. The former is acceptable, and the latter to me is laudable. But what this means in practice is that a lot of the story is told in either infodumps or maps. It either needed more characters (which are not necessarily bad if handled well) or a smaller scope.

The Only Score That Really Matters

This takes the eccentricities of 90s techno-thrillers and manages to use them well. But it still could have been more. At times it feels like a gritty genre-amplifier and at times it feels like a routine Larry Bond knockoff.

It’s kind of befuddling. Arc Light will have a gritty infantry battle that has down and dirty bleeding and confusion, and then it will have a classic conference room infodump. It will show something with great skill-and then tell anyway. A giant tank battle is explained in an infodump.

But it still tries to move outside the narrow genre limits and mostly succeeds. In particular, it handles WMDs without them ever feeling like “plotnukes” there to just add a bit of cheap drama. It just could have used a little more focus and a lot less tinny politics.

Review: The Defense of Hill 781

The Defense of Hill 781

Time to start off October by reviewing an unconventional favorite of mine. Like many stories in its genre, The Defense of Hill 781 is nothing but an excuse to show tanks exploding. Unlike many stories in its genre, it accepts and embraces this as a form of Duffer’s Drift style ‘edutainment’.

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The book diverges from the formula by going right to the action and doing so in a form of various “learn from failure as well as success” vignettes following the classic Duffer’s Drift style formula. It’s not a conventional thriller or even a conventional story, and this works in its favor exactly.

Rivets

The Defense of Hill 781 has a lot of detail. However, in its specific context, it’s understandable and forgivable. This is meant as an instructional piece, and thus it needs to be detailed. So while the detail can be clunky, it’s not “I know how many wheels are on a Scud TEL and what the proper name of that TEL is.” It’s relevant to what needs to be taught.

Zombie Sorceresses

This book has the humorously named protagonist A. Tack Always thrown into a ‘real’ purgatory of the National Training Center to fight the infamous Krasnovian OPFOR. It is completely artificial and makes absolutely no pretensions of being anything else.

The “Wha?”

So The Defense Of Hill 781 does not have a conventional plot, nor does it have conventional non-lecturing characterization. What it does have is detailed yet visceral battles that redeem the lack of this.

Instead of robotic “Fifty T-62s and ten M60s were destroyed” infodumpy battles, you have the main character running around trying to find a radio after each of his comm sources is either jammed or outright destroyed. This grit and pain is what lets author James McDonough play to his strengths and make the lack of “fluff” a strength rather than a weakness.

The Only Score That Really Matters

The Defense of Hill 781 is one of those “either you like it or you don’t” books. If you want any kind of plot or characterization whatsoever, it’s no good. But if you want to see well-written battle scenes in training aid-level detail, and I did, this is a good tale that is completely without any extraneous fluff. It doesn’t always work, but it does here. This stands out of the pack as a unique and varied contribution to the 1980s mechanized combat genre.

 

Review: Tin Soldiers

Tin Soldiers

I’ve talked before about Michael Farmer’s Tin Soldiers on my main blog, and his debut thriller pictures a regional war quite different from a Fuldapocalypse. But it’s worthy of a detailed review for two reasons. One is that it, published in the early 2000s, remains a picture-perfect example of the tropes of post-USSR technothrillers. Another is that it, although hardly flawless, is by and large an example of how this can be done right.

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Tin Soldiers, sadly, manages to be both divergent and cliche at the same time. A rejuvenated Iraq is making another go at Kuwait, and the first line of defense is the main character’s comparably small unit.

What makes this interesting is how it follows the classic “balancer tropes” mentioned here almost to a t. The American forces present are small at first, and the Iraqis have sneaked-out satellite footage and, more importantly, advanced Abrams-busting ammunition for their tank guns. The “crisis overload” is also there to a degree with a small subplot about a rapprochement with Iran that goes nowhere and ultimately is handwaved away.

Political shenanigans are there and “make up” for being less important to the plot by being horribly written. So is a shoved-in “save the helicopter pilot damsel in distress” subplot that rivals even the capture scene in Chieftains for being out of place. Perhaps fitting for a genre on its last mainstream legs, Tin Soldiers manages to fit the formula exceedingly well.

Rivets

This isn’t too bad in terms of rivet-counting. There are mostly familiar platforms, so there’s less need to describe them, and I didn’t feel that bothered by the infodumps that did take place. It’s not perfect and it’s not vague, but somehow most of it flows.

Zombie Sorceresses

This is a book that has all of the usual technothriller contrivances, all the odds-equalizers, and all the stock characters to set up. And yet the final nuclear-chemical escalation was the only one where I went “come on”.

Somehow it felt like the zombie sorceresses didn’t need to intervene as much as they had in other books. Perhaps using a country that was already suited for a regional conflict as the antagonist made it feel better than say, Cauldron did. Perhaps using an “equalizer scenario” of a stronger enemy force in theater against a limited reinforcement that has been feared since the time of TF Smith works better than some of the goofier ones.

They’re still there, but the zombie sorceress hand isn’t as visible in Tin Soldiers, I found.

The “Wha?

The characters are mostly stock. The hero, the supporting hero, the generals, the slightly sympathetic villain, the inept weasel ally, and the politicians. The scenes with politicians on either side are cringeworthy. Farmer’s fictional American president comes across as a figure written as a “bad dude with bad taste” by someone whose cultural clock stopped in 1979.

The low-level characters, while less developed, are at least sufficient for the course of the book. But the real treat is the action itself. Barring the “look at the stealth fighter go” scenes, the final Dale Brown style WMD escalation, and the save-the-girl side-plot, the tank battles are well written. Yes, the book has its share of technological gee-whiz. But it also has more than its share of basic grit, where tanks are very vulnerable.

Also like Team Yankee, a limited theater means that the story becomes more focused and tight.

The Only Score That Really Matters

Tin Soldiers is the perfect example of this category. On paper, it’s got every flaw a military thriller in general and a post-1991 one in particular would have. Its digressions into romance and politics go from awkward to slightly disgusting and offensive. The prose and flow isn’t the smoothest. And yet, in spite of all that, I like this book.

When the tanks get to exploding, it’s at its perfect height. The tank battles themselves are, for the genre, well-done. It manages to maintain a decent scope in those parts, not feeling like it hops around too much and succeeding at the difficult task of making a viewpoint between either “squad in the dirt” or “big picture”. And while it may have just been a happy coincidence, the tank battles against the early T-72s with super-ammo have just the right level of threat, showing that there’s much more to a tank than just how strong the gun is and how thick the armor is.

Tin Soldiers is still a cheap thriller with more than its share of unforced flaws. But it does a lot right, and is one of the best post-1991 “regional war” thrillers I’ve read.

Review: Team Yankee

Team Yankee

It’s time to review a classic of the genre. In my opinion, it’s a deserved classic. It’s time to review Harold Coyle’s Team Yankee.

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Team Yankee is outright stated to use the backdrop of Hackett’s Third World War (although in practice the most important thing to come from it is the Birmingham-Minsk nuclear destruction). That of course was one of the genre definers. And the book itself remains mostly formulaic and dated in hindsight as a genre-definer itself. So yes, there’s a lot that’s familiar. Not just viewpoint characters but also the general gimmick.

But familiarity and even being too formulaic are not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, Team Yankee manages, likely unintentionally, to actually use this quality to its advantage.

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In my first impression, I stated that the book can get a little too “Herman Melville but for tanks”. I stand by the impression. At the time and/or for an audience that didn’t know as much about tanks or the way they they were used, it wouldn’t be as bad. So like with a lot of infodumpy fiction, I can forgive Team Yankee for that.

Zombie Sorceresses

Here’s where it gets weird, but not in a bad way. See, in theory it should have all the issues Hackett had with contrivances-plotnukes, the setup, and so on. But….

The “Wha?”

Ok, here’s how the book becomes more than the some of its parts. It manages to flip the zombie sorceress over her head in a judo throw, turning what might have been a weakness into a strength. The book moves very fast and starts very fast, using Hackett as a convenient plot-filler. The war starts at the end of the first chapter, a relief compared to some other tales with excessively long, ill-handled setup segments.

There’s bumps of course. The wife subplot gets in the way somewhat, there’s still a few too many viewpoint characters, and the Soviet characters exist to twirl their mustaches. But it manages to have something a lot of other thrillers don’t-coherence.

The Only Score That Really Matters

Coherence makes Team Yankee more than the sum of its parts. A lot of other stories feel like bowls of ingredients. This feels like a cohesive meal. A lot of the theoretical dislikes are still in place (viewpoint characters, etc…), but it feels like a steady, cohesive road as the tanks roll through Europe. That’s sadly something I can’t say for too many other stories in the genre. Team Yankee is still ultimately a cheap thriller with tanks exploding, but it’s a good cheap thriller with tanks exploding.

But Team Yankee is not just good on its own terms. It’s one of the two books, alongside Ralph Peters’ Red Army, that I’d recommend to any aspiring WW3 author. The two are night and day. Team Yankee is a triumphalist star-spangled American victory, Red Army a grittier Soviet win. They both give an idea of how to make an effective World War III story using two very different tones.

Review: Chieftains

Chieftains

Chieftains is an early WWIII novel (published in 1982, likely written before that) starring the titular tanks. I figured it’d be good for an initial review, as it falls nicely in the middle. It’s well-known but isn’t quite on the same level as some of the “classics” like Red Storm Rising itself. It’s also more in the middle literature-wise.

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Chieftains actually avoids many of the tropes that would make up the Iceland scale. It stays concentrated on the ground and ends in a nuclear blast. However, I believe this to more the result of its early publication, before the genre really gelled, than any degree of brilliance on Forrest-Webb’s part. It does have a lot of hopping viewpoints, mostly for the worse.

Rivets

The rivet-counting doesn’t (mostly) go into too much detail about which battalion went where, but it does go into heavy technical detail with unit designations and gun barrel sizes. Here’s where the sloppy, uneven quality of the book comes into being. The descriptions of British equipment are mostly accurate, but the American and Soviet equipment descriptions-aren’t. Especially with hindsight.

An East German Su-15 (an interceptor that served only in the specialized Soviet Air Defense Force, and which would never flown over foreign soil), fires an AA-8 missile (in reality a light air to air missile), at a ground target, to give one particularly egregious example. All sorts of prototypes and prototype names get to the front, and there’s even occasionally something like pure sloppiness, with a reference to a “T-60” tank. Including a lot of the detail and getting it wrong just seems pretty dubious-either do the research or be less “specific”.

Zombie Sorceresses

The zombie sorceresses are mostly in the background here. The war starting is glossed over, and the final nuclear blast is vague enough to not fall into my pet peeve of “plot-nukes”. To its credit, the explanation for the war starting is vague and contrived, (NATO will soon climb out of its pit and the Soviets must strike when they can) but still handwaved past quickly to get to the action. This is well-handled, and the low-level focus of the book keeps their hands from showing.

The “Wha?”

Like with the technical details, Chieftains is wildly inconsistent in literary terms. The same trend holds. British scenes and characters are mostly good, while the Americans are less so, to put it mildly. Given how Forrest-Webb portrays the Americans, I shudder to think at how he would have handled Soviet viewpoint characters. Thankfully, he doesn’t have them. The characters are serviceable by tank novel standards, and the disruptions are never that immense-the story still flows, and flows very well in spite of them. It does end too quickly even given the circumstances-its ending is like if Dr. Strangelove stopped right after the guy rode the bomb down.

The entire American segment could be cut without hurting anything. The occasional cut away from the British tank unit could be cut without hurting anything. And, finally, the “capture scene” could definitely be cut.

The action is gritting, bloody, and effective-except for the “capture scene” where the tank regiment’s commander is captured, has a flashback to sleeping with a colleague’s wife after being told of it by his interrogators, gets shot, gets up, and then shoots up the camp like an action hero, killing his torturer in a cinematic way with grenades. It’s out of place. Very out of place.

A small issue is the tone. A lot of the time it has an implicit anti-war tone simply by showing the brutality and gore first-hand, but it has a clashing explicit “this is why we need more money for the Army the politicians starved” message sometimes that also gets in the way. Bigger than that by far is the prose. Forrest-Webb’s writing is kind of clunky and he loves his exclamation points a little too much.

The Only Score That Really Matters

I liked this book. It’s a good tale of tanks exploding, and it’s got a degree of real grit to it that a lot of otherwise well-written books don’t have. I would have loved it if it wasn’t for the unevenness and sloppiness. But the sloppiness is there, and while some of the unevenness is forgivable, more of it is not.

This is a good tale, but it could have been a great one with some polish that it simply doesn’t have.