Review: Cadia Stands

Cadia Stands

Of all the Warhammer 40K factions, my absolute favorite by absolute far is the Imperial Guard (or as they’re supposedly called now, the Astra Militarum). So I had to read Cadia Stands, about the 13th Black Crusade (definitely) and one guardswoman’s struggle to survive and escape-supposedly. I mean, the saying correctly went “Cadia Broke Before The Guard Did”, meaning that the forces of Chaos had to literally destroy the world to win.

The book is kind of disjointed. There’s a lot of battle vignettes. Minka Lesk, the young guardswoman in question, is supposedly the main low-level character. But she’s mostly just basically there and little different from all the other Imperial viewpoint figures. So, did I not like it?

NO! HERESY! There’s little wrong with a bunch of battle vignettes, and this is the kind of subgenre that’s incredibly hard to get exactly right. So while it’s not the best, this is a perfectly serviceable action novel.

Review: The Cold Hand of Death

The Cold Hand of Death

Brent Towns’ latest Team Reaper thriller as of this post is The Cold Hand of Death. It can basically be described as the technothriller equivalent of gulping down an energy drink in a distorted physics chamber where time moves faster. It’s like the book never goes more than two pages without a shot being fired or something blowing up. There’s the usual world-in-crisis technothriller plot, but even this is warped up to ludicrous speed.

I’ve mentioned the previous installments as being fast-paced, but this takes them to a totally different level. It’s like comparing a fast propeller plane to an SR-71.

It just feels excessive. The writing is not bad. It aces the action scenes, and that’s what a thriller needs to get right. But the best action writers of all time would struggle to keep any book interesting if it had as many battles as this one. This is like a deep fried gummy candy. It’s not inedible, but it’s just not the sort of thing you’d want to eat/read lots of.

Review: The Reckoning

The Reckoning

David Halberstam was one of the most legendary historical writers. In The Reckoning, written at the height of the 1980s auto crunch, he turned his eyes on Ford and Nissan, trying to find what made carmakers on both sides of the Pacific go. Halberstam has a talent for writing. Unfortunately, that very skill makes it uneven.

It does a good job describing formative events like Henry Ford’s family drama and the 1953 labor dispute at Nissan that shaped not only it but the entire Japanese auto industry. It also does well when looking at individual workers caught up in the mess. Although I have to say that it’s very hard to write about the auto industry and not make it interesting. The field is just so inherently complex and full of colorful stories.

So what are the problems? Well, it’s dated for one. This isn’t as bad as it could have been. Yes, it’s a more than a little “JAPAN GOOD”, but certainly not to the excess of some other bubble era publications. After all, this shows the Japanese industry warts and all. It also aptly points out in its study of the South Koreans how the rest of Asia was cracking its knuckles and preparing to charge-which came to pass.

No, the biggest obvious problem is that it’s too “Bruce Springsteen”. Which is to say it has the tone of a wealthy suburbanite who idealizes the blue collar worker’s struggle too much. Its slobberingly positive portrayal of UAW head Walter Reuther is the most obvious part of it, with even sympathetic history works on that man being far more critical and full than Halberstam’s hagiography. This also leads Halberstam to idolize the “Manufacturing Men” over the supposed “bean counters” who nickel and dimed every car to pieces. (Not surprisingly, Robert McNamara in his pre SecDef days is there and scorned).

This leads to the next problem that someone with any kind of interest in the auto industry can see: It’s too centered around the capital-N Narrative of the Good Manufacturing Man being brought down by the Evil White Collar Consultant. The “Manufacturing Men” in both continents could get away with running hog wild simply because their industry was in a boom. Once it busted, they simply had to start penny pinching. After all, the first Japanese car company to close a plant and downsize was… Nissan. All this is combined with something that, for all his research, Halberstam didn’t actually have much familiarity with, and it showed. It’s also catnip for the mostly well-off target audience of the book.

Still, for all its problems this is something I’d definitely recommend.

Review: Knee Deep In The Dead

Doom: Knee Deep In The Dead

You might think that a classic video game with a plot of “run around, shoot monsters” would be hard to novelize. Yet a writer by the name of Dafydd ab Hugh (which is the most Welsh name ever) gave it a try in Knee Deep in the Dead. This could have very easily been a low-effort potboiler. The author would just type out the blandest adherence to the and some filler, submit it, collect the money, and never look back. This has happened with many other visual media adaptations.

But not here.

Knee Deep In The Dead has a lot of running around and shooting monsters. But it also has this very bizarre style (that grew even more bizarre in its sequels, from what I’ve heard) that is nothing short of endearing. It’s one of those books that kind of has to be read to be believed.

Is it “good”? Not really. Is it readable? Yes. Is it fun? Oh yeah. Should you check it out? In my eyes, you betcha.

Review: Invisible Armies

Invisible Armies

Author, historian, and (sadly) political commentator Max Boot takes the reader through thousands of years in Invisible Armies, his chronicle of irregular and asymmetric war throughout history. Let’s just say that I’m no fan of either his past or current viewpoints on contemporary politics and leave it at that. Not just because I don’t want to get political here, but because it’s basically irrelevant to the actual book. (Which is a huge point in its favor, I might add.)

Said book is a masterwork of popular history. It has the weaknesses of its format in that by design it can’t go into too much detail, and no doubt there are some inaccuracies that I couldn’t tell but which someone more invested in the subject matter could. But it also has the strengths of it in that the facts are presented in an extremely engaging way.

There’s one central point made throughout the book, which is that contrary to both recent high-profile examples with small sample sizes and “fourth-generation war” thunderers, the default outcome for an insurgency is loss. Most of the time, it either fails completely or can’t progress past its initial strongholds. There’s also the less novel reminder of almost all successful ones having the support of an outside state.

As something that both explains and demystifies unconventional war, I highly recommend this book.

A Thousand Words: Final Fight

Final Fight

Capcom’s 1989 Final Fight was not the first “beat em up” video game. It wasn’t the first popular game of that type, with Double Dragon taking that two years earlier. But it was an instance where the genre was-dare I say-mastered. With an excuse plot of “save the mayor’s daughter”, ninja Guy, tough thug Cody, and the former wrestling star and mayor himself, Mike Haggar, go off to wallop street goons in a thinly veiled New York City.

An action sports star in political office of that nature has come true twice , with former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura becoming governor of Minnesota and, more recently and relevantly, heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko becoming mayor of war-torn Kyiv. But I digress. Final Fight either introduced or popularized a lot of beat em up elements, the first being playable characters on a speed-power spectrum from Haggar (slow, strong) to Guy (fast, weaker). The second was the moveset, combining normal attacks, throws, and an all-round attack that costs the player health.

It’s amazing how A: This feels natural and effective, and B: All of this was accomplished with only one attack button. The fighting is fluid and forgiving in ways that a lot of similar games-even those made by Capcom itself-are not. Everything from combinations to attacking enemies by throwing other enemies at them just clicks. The one sour move is the grab attack (where you just hold and beat an enemy), which is both hard to do and of limited use given how many enemies are on screen at once. But everything else fits into its niche near-perfectly.

The graphics are amazing for the time and still look good by pixel art standards over thirty years later. The music a mixed bag, but it has some catchy tunes and it’s a rare instance of an arcade game from that period with actually good sound mixing. Others will often have the music drowned out by the action, which is not the case here.

Final Fight is a classic video game. And it’s a classic for good reason.

Review: Mercenaries in Asymmetric Conflicts

Mercenaries in Asymmetric Conflicts

I hate being disappointed by a book. But Scott Fitzsimmons’ Mercenaries in Asymmetric Conflicts was one of the most disappointing nonfiction books I’ve recently read. Or disappointing books in general, to be honest. It sounded good-studying the military cultures of different groups. When I started it, the stated influence of Kenneth Pollack made me even more interested.

Then the actual content emerged. The book is written in one of the thickest and least pleasant versions of academic-ese I’ve seen. If this was stylistic, I could forgive it as writing style is one of the most “natural” things and hardest to change. Plus, you know, it is an academic text.

But it also applies to more than that, which tips it over the edge. The book only talks about military performance in terms of different “theories”, as if they were some abstract phenomenon. It was one of the least helpful ways of approaching the matter, and almost the opposite of how Pollack did so in his own books.

Once the walls of jargon are slogged through, the final conclusion basically amounts to…. Well… Ok. The final conclusion is basically “Better trained and skillful armies with a good internal culture perform more capably, even if they’re at a material disadvantage.” That’s not exactly a big shock.

There is some good information on obscure in the Western Hemisphere African conflicts, but there are undoubtedly better sources on those that don’t involve huge amounts of pretentious analysis. I just can’t recommend this book.

Review: Louisiana Firestorm

Black Berets: Louisiana Firestorm

The Black Berets series was a range of now obscure 1980s men’s adventure novels. My first exposure to it was in Louisiana Firestorm, the fifth installment. I found it a sad disappointment. For an action novel series, there really wasn’t that much action, and what there was wasn’t that well written.

These are the perils of a quantity based series that has every book being short. It should come as no surprise that the listed author, “Mike McCray”, was actually two separate people sharing the pen name. One of those people, Michael McDowell, was also someone whose work included screenwriting for the movie Beetlejuice (!). Ultra-cheap thrillers seem to attract the weirdest array of people.

Unfortunately, McDowell’s presence in this series is far more interesting than anything in Louisiana Firestorm itself. You make as many shots as a quickie, throwaway mens adventure series does, and you’re bound to have a lot more misses than hits.

Review: Tomorrow’s Soldier

Tomorrow’s Soldier

David Alexander’s Tomorrow’s Soldier is a book that you’d expected to be dated based on its subject matter. It’s a 1999 popular account of the WARS AND WARRIORS OF THE FUTURE. And it is dated. It’s also somewhat shallow even by the standards of the time.

It’s still interesting, but isn’t really a rigorous study. The descriptions basically consist of trends that were obvious even at the time (ie, more digitization/etc…) and the obligatory description of wunderwaffe like power armor. This is a little less triumphalist than some other books of its nature, but it isn’t really more substantive.

This felt like a throwaway book even when it was written. And now it’s an older throwaway book. So I’m not really recommending it except as a curiosity. I do wonder if the same “David Alexander” who wrote this was the same “David Alexander” who wrote the ultra-middling Marine Force One. If so, it would be fitting.

Review: Fire and Maneuver

Fire and Maneuver

The second entry in James Ronsone and Alex Aaronson’s 1981 World War III, Fire and Maneuver continues its predecessor’s excellent work. While it does not bring the most novelty to the subgenre in terms of its structure, in execution it does very well, hopping between viewpoints in a way that’s both smooth and fast. And it actually has an M47 Dragon being able to destroy something in a stretch of logic that works for story reasons.

Jokes about the Cold War’s worst ATGM aside, this is a good entry in a scarce genre. If I had to make one criticism, it’s that long, exact system designations are used a little more often than I found credible. But that’s a tiny nitpick and doesn’t detract from the experience.