Defenders of the Danube

The narrative of the Soviet-Romanian War in All Union focused largely on the northern front, where advanced mechanized units burned through the Romanian countryside in a rapid (but not bloodless) stomp. However, by far the hardest going was the southern front, a push across the Danube with Soviet and (majority) mobilized Bulgarian troops.

Shown here are several of the Romanian defenders in fortifications prior to the battle. Most of the troops in the fortified positions were mobilized Patriotic Guards , almost all from areas ineligible for the (itself stretched and mobilized) regular army: Women and men both too young and too old for “regular” service.

There was very little standardization for these desperation formations in terms of either equipment or uniforms. The blue uniforms designed for the Patriotic Guards can be seen in these [pseudo] photos and drawings of them in the fortifications prior to the war, but so can plain and camouflage uniforms.

All pictures made in Stable Diffusion.

Note: Stable Diffusion, at least the models I use most, is currently not very good at doing exact military equipment pieces well. Hands are pure genius in comparison. Hence why I don’t have them actually holding weapons. You can justify it by saying that the Securitate was afraid of mutinies or wasting ammo. -C

Review: Cody’s Return

Cody’s Return

Stephen Mertz was the main man behind the “Jim Case” pen name adorning the front of the Cody’s Army books in the 1980s. Since he didn’t have the exact rights to the men’s adventure stories featuring John Cody, he made a new character named (brace yourself) – Jack Cody! Who also had thrilling action adventures! What a coincidence! The late Chet Cunningham did something similar with “SEAL Team Twenty”, and it predates self-publishing by quite a bit when authors worked for multiple firms. (In fact, there were times when the throwaway series couldn’t even keep the main character’s name consistent!)

Cody’s Return, in spite of what the name implies, is not the first book in the series. It is, however, the first book in a self-declared trilogy that centers around a crazed arms dealer and his even more crazed girlfriend/cult leader.

The thing about the original Cody’s Army was that, with some exceptions, it was very much a middle of the road series that had all the weaknesses of its format. Which is to say that something like a classic men’s adventure novel is extremely shallow even by cheap thriller standards. And this is the case here as well. This isn’t always a bad thing, but it does make it hard to pick one over another.

What makes this worse is that the book is aiming for a huge plot that it’s trying to stuff into too few pages. I get it’s the intended beginning of a trilogy where the author has complete control, but even in that circumstance it still feels too poorly done. Which is a shame. The plot of nukes, crazies, and colorful characters is something that almost needed a meatier book to do right.

Mertz is a champion of the genre, but he’s done better.

Review: The ISIS Solution

Released at the height of the 2010s anti-ISIS campaign, The ISIS Solution is a short book by several SOFRep authors, which include such familiar names as Jack Murphy and Peter Nealen. It offers critique and recommendations, and since I knew their books well, I wondered how their nonfiction commentary would go. As commentators, they’re pretty good novelists.

As the saga of “Mean” Joe Greene’s transformation from the best defensive lineman to the worst football commentator ever attests, being good in one field doesn’t translate to being successful in another. Granted, some of this is due to the book being short and aimed at a much broader audience than actual security analysts. But more of it is due to a phenomenon I’ve seen sadly too often.

I call this Fire Joe Morgan-ism (not surprisingly, Morgan was another athlete who went from brilliant player to dubious commentator). There a group of spicy screenwriters (seriously) who dabbled in baseball analytics took pride in dogpiling on all the old crusty baseball hacks who didn’t know any stat beyond batting average. It basically amounts to going ahead of the absolute worst baseline (sportswriters in that case, network talking heads in this one) by showing that you do have genuine knowledge of it (military operations/baseball stats), and then doing a little dance and a victory lap because you’ve overcome such an easy target.

Granted, this probably wasn’t as surprising as I’d thought. Murphy’s books ranged from “blatantly political even when good” to “unironic Metal Gear Solid plotline”, while Nealen’s commentary attempts in Maelstrom Rising sank it a lot compared to the far more apolitical Blackhearts series. But it’s still disappointing, and there are a lot better sources out there.

Erika Wishes You A Happy Pride Month

To celebrate the beginning of Pride Month, here’s Erika from Pokemon, made in Stable Diffusion. The implications of which way she goes are nothing but a massive coincidence (I don’t think mid-1990s Japanese developers were even aware of the implications, and don’t know how solidified the rainbow symbol was). But still: All-female gym, and she gives the Rainbow badge.

I’ll just say that I haven’t been the only one to make that headcanon connection. Happy Pride Month!

A Brief History (And Explanation) of Rocket Tossing

Anyone who has recently seen any footage of helicopters in Ukraine has witnessed what I call “Rocket Tossing”. The helicopter lifts its nose, fires off a ton of rockets indirectly, and then peels away. It has the impression of an improvised, ineffective tactic. But it’s not the former and is arguably not the latter.

It’s important to note that doctrine of the 198X Fuldapocalypse era, both western and eastern, details rocket tossing at length. The huge helicopter losses of Vietnam, the precedent of the Iran Iraq War (where the tactic was used constantly), and that air defense wasn’t exactly getting worse all made for sound reasons to know it. So indirect helicopter fire isn’t that surprising.

So how effective is it? Well, it’s basically a light multiple rocket launcher that can fly. Unguided multiple rocket launchers are area weapons, optimized to cover a large piece of land quickly at the expense of long-term rate of fire. (This is why rockets are considered ideal for chemical warfare). Ideal? Not really. Cost-effective? Probably not. But useless? Nah.

A Thousand Words: Battle Circuit

Battle Circuit

One of the last arcade beat em ups that Capcom released in the wake of Final Fight, 1997’s Battle Circuit was obscure for many years until its availability in the Capcom Arcade Stadium collection. This is a shame, because of all the successors to that masterpiece, Battle Circuit is the best I’ve played.

The plot is simple: In a sci fi future, control one of five bounty hunters as they pursue a bunch of colorful villains. The quirkiness and silliness of the genre shows in both the heroes and villains. You can choose between Cyber Blue, a pretty normal anime hero, Captain Silver, a Plastic Man/Mr. Fantastic style stretch-armer, and three goofballs: Catgirl Yellow Iris, walking Venus Flytrap Alien Green, and the weirdest yet: Pink Ostrich, the titular bird with a girl riding on its back (it’s unclear who’s the brains). Similarly, the bosses are just as ridiculous. They start with a disco Elvis impersonator and go through such things as a woman and her giant mandril, an all-female biker gang, and a robot samurai riding some giant beast. The final boss can only be described as looking like an evil Santa Claus.

But what makes the game amazing beyond these characters and their beautiful sprites/animations is how it’s both easy and deep. Sure, it can be played like Final Fight. You can jump around, throw, and do sweep attacks that cost you health. But each character has a lot of moves, and they can be upgraded between levels if you’ve earned enough coins-which you get by landing lots of hits on enemies. Mastering each of these moves makes things a lot more fun. Especially as the characters have their styles, with Alien Green being the slow grappler a la Haggar and Yellow Iris being the rapid “Guy”. All can jump and power up with a special gauge, the effects of which range from gaining more power to recovering health to becoming very durable for a brief time.

There are a few snags. The first is that the characters are not exactly balanced compared to each other. Cyber Blue is the cheap easy mode character. Not only is he intuitive and strong, but his upgraded sweep attack damages everything on the screen. Bosses can be cheesed by just powering up (which increases his strength) and then spamming that move. Meanwhile, Pink Ostrich is very weak normally, only has a flight power of dubious use, and is hard to control. The others fall between those extremes. The worse one, I’d say, is that the segments between the bosses are kind of minimal and forgettable. There’s only a few enemy types and no real engaging set pieces. It’s not really bad, but it doesn’t have the spark the rest of the game does.

Also the third boss is a blander giant robot with very wonky hit detection that’s just frustrating and not fun. But hey, five out of six aren’t bad.

If you like any kind of beat em up, you deserve to check out Battle Circuit. It’s an amazing underappreciated game.

Review: A Killing Truth

A Killing Truth

Author DV Berkom, a self-proclaimed lover of thriller novels, begins her Leine Basso series with A Killing Truth. Short and sweet, the love of its author for the genre shows obviously. The negative side of this love is that this tale of a female assassin doesn’t exactly break much new ground or push any authorial limits. It’s firmly in the 51% middle of books of this nature.

But it’s also positively in the 51% middle. If you want a good cheap thriller, this is the book for you. Everything about this that needs to work does, and I had a great time reading. I look forward to reading more of Berkom’s work, as it’s clear that she knows what makes a thriller good.

And that’s two positives of loving the genre to one negative. I’ll take that.