Review: Brute Madness

Brute Madness

Ledru Baker’s Brute Madness is the kind of book I haven’t read in a while. The kind of novel that’s both ridiculously stupid and ridiculously, stupidly fun. A hardboiled Cold War spy thriller about a nuclear scientist and a woman, this book has action, adventure, and… well, what made me see the book in the first place.

That “distinction”, and one that made me go “I have to see this” when I heard it was the claim that the book had some of the worst sex scenes ever written. I was not “disappointed”. In fact, the book has the audacity to make such a scene its very first paragraph. Wow. Adding to the uh, experience is Baker’s constant repetition of the word “erect” to refer to things like someone standing up, something with obvious Freudian connotations.

The book overall is an ultra-trashy cheap thriller. But it’s a fun ultra-trashy cheap thriller. There’s definitely a place out there for horribly so-bad-its-good books like this.

A Thousand Words: The Blue Max

The Blue Max

A classic World War I aircraft film, 1966’s The Blue Max is the story of Bruno Stachel, a self-absorbed, vainglorious fighter pilot in the German military. How does it hold up today? Well, I think it suffers from being a product of its time, although not in the way one might think.

For its time, the aerial flying sequences and acting are very good. For its time, it’s an edgy and hard-hitting movie compared to the stereotypical John Wayne fluff of war movies past. Yet by modern standards, it pales in comparison to what post-Vietnam war films have to offer. Still, that’s through no fault of its own and it’s still a very good historical fiction film.

As an aside, I’ve heard it’s one of the few movies to depict largely realistic air combat maneuvering. Later movies have gone for more visually impressive but less practical aerobatics. This goes for wider, bigger turns. It may be a virtue made out of necessity with the lower-performance planes involved in production, but it’s still interesting to see.

The Big Baseball Business What-If

There’s an underappreciated what-if concerning the business of baseball that I’ve considered worth exploring. Too much sports alternate history simply shuffles players, teams, and outcomes around. It feels both obvious and unsatisfying to me, the equivalent of the Red Sox unloading not just Babe Ruth but the entire core of what would become the 1923 champions on the Yankees or the A’s “Mustache Gang” all leaving in free agency when they got the chance. This is something different and could have changed the entire business model to be more like what’s in our time a vastly different type of sports.

In the 1950s, the Dodgers were intrigued by a company called Skiatron, offering pay-TV services. The technology did exist at the time but was very rudimentary. The possiblities were obvious. After all, even at a dollar per game, a six figure audience could translate to that much every home game, a huge sum at the time.

In OTL, this did not come to pass in this form. Besides the obvious ferocious opposition from the existing broadcasting industry, Skiatron’s technology and finances just weren’t viable at the time. But if something like that could be done (and I don’t know the exact plausibility-I’m not that kind of technical expert), it would be, no pun intended, a game changer. The obvious is that there’d be a big jolt of money, getting the historical broadcast windfall in earlier.

There are easy ramifications. There’d be more money in the sport, which would increase the pressure by players to get more of the growing pie for themselves. A historically unsuccessful team that used this to its advantage would result in the championship races being different. But there’s also more thoughtful ones.

One on-the-field change I could see resulting from this could be in pitcher usage. Here I’m kind of extrapolating from the “overworked for the sake of attendance” policy of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych (which may have contributed to his severe injury). I’m also extrapolating from boxing and MMA, which historically have leaned the most on PPVs. Put simply, more people have been willing to pay to see Connor McGregor than to see Valentina Shevchenko. And I’d bet more people would be more willing to see Sandy Koufax than Ned Garver.

Another, sleazier one is the notion of small-market/poor team owners simply giving up and advertising the players on the opposing team for the PPV spectacle. “Hey, [Small City], do you want to see the Yankees? The Dodgers? The [other good team with an exciting player]?” There are possibilities here.

Review: Dune

Dune

It’s finally here. The time has come to do a review of Dune, Frank Herbert’s legendary science fiction classic. Arrakis is a very long way from the Fulda Gap. This book is not the usual fare of this blog. Even beyond that, it’s pretty tricky to get a really solid opinion on, because it has two qualities that are both richly deserved.

On one hand, it deserves to be a classic. It’s one of those sci-fi books that has genuine depth, and you can see how enduring and influential its setting is, even little factors like me thinking that Jabba the Hutt had to be inspired by Vladimir Harkonnen. Compared to spacesuit commandos and Kenneth Bulmer making up five million words for “plot-creature”, this is the real deal.

Unfortunately, it’s also a novel that’s written in an overly long, overly flat manner. While it has the imagination to back it up, its prose is still over-descriptive. And while this obviously isn’t Herbert’s fault, Dune has been famous enough that seeing its world doesn’t bring about the sense of wonder it would have to a far more fresh reader.

Dune is both of those things, which makes it very hard to actually judge. But science fiction is richer for it having existed. It can be an apple that stands alongside the pulpier oranges.

The Beginning of Conventional WW3 Plans

I’ve talked sometimes about the “you’ve seen so many imitators that the original doesn’t seem so original” effect with regards to fiction. When reading this translated, declassified 1969 Soviet lecture on conventional operations after the monomanical focus on nuclear weapons earlier that decade, I’ve found it applied to history as well. Because a lot of it just seems like later pieces on how a large force would fight conventionally. And there’s more interesting things to it as well.

  • “A future world war is first and foremost a nuclear war.” Similar pieces illustrate that while the Soviets had made plans under the assumption that a World War III would start conventionally, they did not believe that it would end conventionally.
  • This is for front and army level operations, with one frequently replacing the other. This I’ve seen a lot of in translated Soviet field regulations, to include two unit names being used interchangeably, one an echelon below the other. The assumption I’ve always had is that it’s a concession to heavy casualties because your “front” will quickly be worn down to the size of a paper-strength army, your army worn to a paper-strength division, and so on. I could be wrong.
  • The stated rate of advance is 35-40 kilometers a day, a slightly lower one than their later 40-60.
  • Airborne forces are to be used.
  • The “going over to nuclear weapons” section specifically brings up the opponent pushing the button as soon as they start losing badly.
  • With typical Soviet precision, the article estimates “A fighter bomber division is capable, in one day of combat with two to three sorties, of inflicting destruction (up to 20 percent losses) on one to two enemy brigades.”
  • As always, there’s the boilerplate necessary propaganda statements and the obligatory (if quite understandable) reference to World War II.

A Thousand Words: The Sumerian Game

The Sumerian Game

Putting this in the “A Thousand Words” category might be a little awkward because this is a text-based simulation, but The Sumerian Game and its successors like Hamurabi (spelled that way due to programming limitations) were among, if not the first, long-form strategy/management games. Using text-based inputs and randomization, you could either succeed massively or fail just as massively.

As my family enjoyed the classic Simcity games when I was younger, I thought it was very interesting to find what started it all, or at least what popularized it all. Like OXO (A tic tac toe simulator playable on one of the first computers), this stands as a piece of gaming history. Simulations had to start somewhere.

A Thousand Words: They Saved Hitler’s Brain

They Saved Hitler’s Brain

This movie is probably best remembered for its title-the originally shipped one the “The Madmen of Mandorus” is not nearly as clear or memorable. In that movie, the Nazis, facing defeat, cut off Hitler’s head while keeping it alive, fly it out of the country, and keep it safe in the fictional Mandorus until they can launch their evil plot to take over the world with poison gas.

Besides the title, there are two more things that make this movie stand out. The first is, of course, the novelty of Hitler’s head in what looks like a glass cake container. The second is what turned it from “The Madmen of Mandorus” to its most famous name.

The movie needed to be lengthened for TV, so an additional, completely unrelated opening act was filmed with UCLA film students. Since pop culture and film technology had changed so much in the few years, it stands out dramatically. All that amounts to in terms of actual plot  is a bunch of people with bad post-Sgt. Pepper Beatles mustaches getting in and out of cars before they all die. Then the actual movie starts, and, barring the Hitler Head, is a conventionally bad B-movie. It’s very stupid all around, but it’s the kind of distinctive “fun-stupid” that’s enjoyably bad.

A Thousand Words: Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove

Welcome to A Thousand Words, my attempt to expand Fuldapocalypse into visual media. Since this is a blog that’s technically about World War III, I figured I’d open it up by reviewing the movie that probably, more than any other, represents World War III in popular culture. This movie, obviously, is the Stanley Kubrick/Peter Sellers classic Dr. Strangelove.

The movie itself is excellent. I could complain about how some of the humor seems a little forced at times, but the positives vastly outweigh the negatives. It’s a classic for a reason.

What I find more intriguing is how utterly different Dr. Strangelove is from, say, Red Storm Rising. The entire plot centers around nuclear war, as opposed to the sidestepping most of the “WW3s” I knew did. It’s started by an American general, and there are only a few characters. Granted, some of this is the movie format at work, but still.

Review: Seven Days In May

Seven Days In May

Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey’s “foil the American coup attempt” novel Seven Days in May is one of those interesting books. I’d liken it to seeing the original Street Fighter, Wolfenstein 3D, Command And Conquer, or any early, genre-defining video game.

On one hand, it’s clear to see how much of a foundation it set for countless “Nation In Crisis” thrillers to follow.  One the other, well, even after accepting that this is the kind of book that isn’t centered around explosions, it’s still too dry for my tastes.

It’s almost exactly like seeing an old fighting game, realizing what it laid out for the genre-and then finding that in actual gameplay, it’s a clunkfest where a special attack is almost impossible, but if you can pull it off, it’s an instant match-winner. The prose is stuffy even by the standards of the time, and even by the standards of nonviolent political novels, I’ve seen better-written suspense elsewhere. But at the same time, I’d think it would come across as far fresher if actually read at the time it was originally published, and can appreciate it for its historical value if nothing else.

Review: War Against The Mafia

War Against The Mafia

I figured I’d go straight to the source. Don Pendleton’s War Against The Mafia is what kicked off the Mack Bolan series. This spawned hundreds and hundreds of books-by one rough calc, a Mack Bolan novel of some form or another has released every thirty days. And this isn’t even counting the even more numerous knockoffs throughout the decades, including a certain Marvel Comics character who likes wearing shirts with skulls on them.

The modern cheap thriller as we know it owes its origins, or at least its popularity, in no small part to Pendleton’s tale. So I knew I had to check it out.

Who and What

This tells the story of super-veteran Mack Bolan as he wages the conflict depicted in the title. Reading this, I feared that this would fall victim to the “seen so many imitators that the original doesn’t seem so original” effect. And in some ways it came to pass and in some it didn’t.

The stock two-dimensional cheap thriller characters I recognized instantly. This is definitely not a series that started highbrow and was cheapened by the mass market. But the prose was different, and not necessarily for the better. It feels kind of clunky, and it’s the style I’ve recognized from other books written in the 1960s.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

There aren’t that many extraneous infodumps here compared to a lot of later cheap thrillers. Especially not infodumps about weapons-for the most part it’s the caliber, the brand name, and not much else. At most.

There’s still plenty of infodumps, and they serve as part of the hindering style of writing mentioned above, but a lot of them are at least germane to the plot. I think the worst explanation came from telling and not showing Bolan’s exploits in Vietnam.

Zombie Sorceresses

Whatever contrivances are needed to make an action hero occur here. Bolan in this book isn’t the absolute strongest or most capable compared with some later heroes-he feels more human and vulnerable than The Survivalist’s John Rourke, for instance-but he’s still very much a larger than life figure.

While the blurbs alone make it clear that the zombie sorceresses are a lot busier in later Bolan books (let me put it this way, you can only fight mobsters so many times), they can take it easier in his debut.

Tank Booms

The action is not bad, and there is lots of it. But the writing style just makes it not feel as action-y as it could have been.

The Only Score That Really Matters

War Against The Mafia is worth reading if only for its influence. But it feels more like something that was just in the right place at the right time than something that could stand on its own terms. It would probably just be a middle of the road action adventure thriller like so many of its follow-ons undoubtedly were.

Still, I enjoyed reading it. It’s not a bad book by the standards of its genre, as clunky as its prose could be in places. I’m undoubtedly biased by having read so many adventure thrillers that were at least indirectly influenced by it.