A Thousand Words: Money Plane

Money Plane

Adam “Edge” Copeland and Kelsey Grammer’s Money Plane is the story of an attempt to rob a flying super-casino. It fails. Not the heist, the movie. This is an extremely stupid movie. And it’s not even that stupid in a fun way. It’s just inept. Even if one follows the reasonable assumption that action movies do not have to make sense, it’s a failure. Its suspension of disbelief refuses to be followed.

For instance, in-universe, a “master thief” doesn’t seem to know how many people crew the average commercial cockpit. Out of universe, a professional wrestler is squandered by having him spend the bulk of the movie sitting at the controls and talking. In-universe, there are no staff on this supervillain plane and no one goes to check on the cockpit even after the plane shakes and diverts from its original course. Oh, and almost all the resistance comes not from the plane runners but from other gamblers.

The film is very short but still feels overstuffed, not knowing if it wants to be a serious heist movie or a silly heist movie. None of the protagonists are very developed or charming, and even Grammer’s performance is a little too forced. The people behind the titular super-plane are squandered: The actors who play the “concierge” and “bookkeeper” on the plane actually do their supervillain roles well, but the movie bizarrely shifts away from them and towards unfunny “wacky” guests like a cowboy who ends up shooting himself in the head (it’s a long story). I wanted to like this movie, but it really doesn’t work, even as a dumb action movie.

Review: Deep Sleep

Deep Sleep

Steven Konkoly’s Deep Sleep is a tight, excellent spy thriller. When agent Devin Gray finds out that his recently deceased mom has uncovered the mother of all conspiracies, the game is on. I loved this book. I really did love it. I’ll even let its “the action wants to be just a little grounded while the backdrop of the conspiracy could have been written by Jon Land” dissonance slide.

One thing I loved about this book was its personality. For the heroes and villains alike, this felt more personal, close, and intimate than a 51% book where the action hero crushes a ton of faceless goons. Not that I mind such books, but it’s good to have variety.

Combine this with the spectacular set pieces that do exist and you have a rarity. A book that can have its cake and eat it too. I highly recommend reading this.

A Thousand Words: Postal 2

Postal 2

Running With Scissors’ 2000s “masterpiece”, Postal 2 is a game about a man in a small Arizona town whose goal is just to complete mundane errands. However, a lot of stuff gets in the way. This game is infamous for its tasteless dumb humor, its gore, and the ability to use cats as silencers.

The humor is either dated, unfunny, or both. It’s very much in the style of the shock-the-oldies Dennis Rodman meets Bart Simpson style of the time. The actual gameplay, especially in the plot missions, combines two of the worst elements of turn-of-the-millenium FPSes: A post-hitscan, pre-regen system where combat is a deterministic exercise in power ups, and wandering through very similar hallways.

And yet, there’s stuff that’s genuinely good about it. Part of it is that, off the beaten path, it provides the opportunity for silly spectacle. This is helped by the open-world element being genuinely good. Almost all buildings are enterable, there are locations that have nothing to do with the main missions, there’s plenty of easter eggs, and a silver lining of the combat is that there’s often legitimate power ups (and hence reasons to explore) in the nooks and crannies. Another small part is that there’s just a hint of slyness in just wanting to do chores but getting confronted by everyone from creepy mascots to Gary Coleman.

This is a stupid, clunky, awkward game. And it’s fun.

Review: The Russian Way of War

The Russian Way of War

One of the biggest surprises of the initial part of the 2022 Russo-Ukrainian War was that the former did not fight according to its paper doctrine. At all. Lester Grau and Charles Bartles The Russian Way of War is an excellent attempt at explaining said doctrine for a western audience. As anyone who’s studied them knows, they’ve left quite the paper trail. While sources like the VDV Textbooks Collection can provide them online in Russian fairly handily, this translates them to English.

And it translates them to English well. I have a few quibbles. The biggest is the authors taking an overly optimistic view of vehicle adoption, perhaps taking propaganda sources a little too much at face value. But the rest of it is well-done and evenhanded. The only real “problem” I’ve noticed is that I’ve read so many OPFOR documents that much of what they’re saying is already familiar.

But that’s a good “problem” to have, and I was still enlightened by this book. Every wargamer wanting to do missile-age combat involving the Soviets/Russians should read this.

Review: OPLAN Fulda

OPLAN Fulda

Time to return to this blog’s roots with intelligence veteran Leo Barron’s new OPLAN Fulda. It’s a 1989 conventional World War III novel. In other words, what this blog was made to cover. So how is it?

Well, it’s pretty obvious that this was written by a military intelligence veteran. One passage where a Soviet army commander muses on the two difference courses of action his subordinate division commanders have chosen for their attack is the most blatant, but the tone is clear throughout the whole book. This means there’s too little fog of war for my liking and a lot of Melville-esque passages (complete with footnotes in many cases).

There’s also the usual suspects. There’s the contrived excuse for a war, conference room scenes, and jumping viewpoints. However, and this is important to note, the execution of all this is not bad at all. In a hard genre to do right, Barron succeeds.

The action is good and appropriately messy. Nuclear weapons are not handwaved aside (and the escalation makes sense!). The focus is an intricate one on both the Americans and Soviets instead of swerving away to some British or Dutch unit elsewhere at the worst possible moment. Oh, and it gets the tank designations right.

Because of this, I’m delighted to recommend this book to all World War III enthusiasts. Stuff like this doesn’t come along too often. So when it does, I feel great in reviewing it. The best praise I can give this is that it’s helped inspire me to make a “big war thriller” for my next draft after two mostly nonviolent works.

Review: The Profession

The Profession

Steven Pressfield is known for his ancient fiction, but in The Profession he moved to contemporary (technically near-future) action. Or, rather, inaction. Because most of the action is in flashbacks and most of the book is just the main character moving around and monologuing about how wonderful and awesome these near-future supermercs are. It’s almost “A combination of Special Forces, Ranger, SEAL, and gutter-fighting” bad.

When I saw the book was written in first-person, I feared that it would be like some of Peter Nealen’s writing: Good but dragged down by an ill-suited format. Here, the book is so shallow that the format is basically beside the point. It’s like Angola running a man defense instead of a zone one (the textbook basketball strategy against individually better players) against the Dream Team. It still doesn’t matter. Even the basic prose is bad with its giant overdescriptive blocks.

The main character is a misogynistic ass of a Mary Sue intended to represent (and appeal to the fanboys of) the dubious Universal Warrior claim the author loves. The setting, well, anyone who knows anything even slightly deeper will have issues with it (for instance, even a casual scholar of Central Asia like myself could spot a lot of flaws with his description of Tajikistan). And the writing just feels so detached, inauthentic, and over-described.

Finally, I felt sort of insulted by the whole slobbering over the central man-on-a-horse, concluding with an “I admire its purity” plot twist. The track record of military strongmen is more like Thieu and Galtieri than Ike and Schwarzkopf. It doesn’t lead to martial virtue over civilian weakness, it leads to tunnel-vision paranoia.

A Thousand Words: Nightmare Reaper

Nightmare Reaper

The just-fully-released Nightmare Reaper is a love letter to both roguelikes (games built around randomized content) and classic “motion shooters”. With that frantic gameplay mixed with a background that involves a trapped young woman’s troubled, twisted dreams (the game takes place in said dreams), it could be called Doom Nikki.

I’ll admit this is not usually my kind of game, but I’ve found that losing can be surprisingly fun (it is extremely generous by roguelike standards in terms of how much dying in a level costs you-or, in this case doesn’t). Of course, besides the traits of a Doom-style shooter, the roguelike randomization means the game’s difficulty can become a lot more luck than skill based.

Still, if you love Doom-style FPSes, this game is definitely for you.

Review: The Bear And The Dragon

The Bear And The Dragon

Tom Clancy’s The Bear and the Dragon is not just the greatest technothriller of all time, but also one of the greatest novels of all time. With its accuracy and evenhanded portrayal of various cultures, it transcends the shackles of genre fiction to create a new class of literature. Not since Vasily Grossman has a writer truly understood and shown the effects of war in its entirety-

-AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

-Just kidding, by all accounts it’s even worse than Executive Orders. April Fools!

Review: Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing

Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing

It started with an unfitting title. Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing by Allison Winn Scotch is the worst book I’ve read so far this year. I regret reading this book. A lot. Granted, I’m not the target audience and got it under the misunderstanding that this would be a political thriller instead of… what it is.

What it is is a terrible whiny melodrama starting with a gossipy, social dagger of an open letter. It might have made sense and been salvageable if the title character was a councilwoman in some small/medium town preparing to run for mayor instead of a US Senator in NEW YORK preparing to run for president. I know the New York media and…. yeah. Trust me. It’s about as accurate as an Ian Slater novel is about modern warfare.

And none of the characters are likeable. So because of that, I have to label it “worst book of the first three months of 2022 reviewed on this blog.” I mean, would you not think highly of a book that’s basically just a self-absorbed character navel-gazing?

Review: A Pius Stand

A Pius Stand

The concluding volume of Declan Finn’s Pius Trilogy, A Pius Stand gets still weirder yet. A giant invasion force in the thousands is organized by the International Community League of Evil. It attempts to storm the Vatican, but its soldiers do so in a type of vehicle that sets the tone for the book as a whole. Instead of lavishly described tanks, the League of Evil rides in…..


these

Don’t believe me:

Instead of walking up the middle of the Via della Conciliazione, they drove up the streets on either side—the Via dei Corridori, and Via Borgo Santo Spirito. And, since bringing in armored personnel carriers was too expensive, it was just cheaper to bring their soldiers to St. Peter’s Square with local buses. With each bus driving down the street side-by-side, this amounted to 140 buses shipping in seven thousand soldiers between both streets.

Once the battle actually starts, it’s a goofy spectacle that’s far more Home Alone than Zulu. This is due to the desire of the main characters to keep it as nonlethal as possible. There are Hollywood booby traps, stun beams, and, most ridiculously, cavalry charges with ex-stuntmen. Meanwhile, a League of Good consisting of everyone from NYPD officers to Israeli commandos to the IRA to mobsters (!) fights back and helps defeat the League of Evil.

Like I’ve said about the first two (comparably) tamer installments, this is not exactly anyone’s idea of a good book. But I’d take something weird like this over a thousand shoot-the-terrorist novels any day.