Fatadin Mukhamedov

In one of those weird footnotes of aviation history, Mukhamedov, like Stavatti in the west, has been a maker of so-called “paper planes”. The company owes its existence to Fatadin Mukhamedov, a Soviet/Tajik engineer who had a successful career with the big bureaus (for instance, the Dushanbe center of Mikoyan) before striking out on his own. No actual aircraft were produced by the Mukhamedov bureau before Fatadin’s death in 2013, but the bulk had one specific shape.

Mukhamedov designed everything from fifth-generation fighters to gargantuan transports with the same distinctive circular inner wing. The most practical and achievable design was an advanced jet trainer/light strike aircraft for the competition eventually won by the Yak-130. Not coincidentally, the design may have found its way to Iran as the would-be HESA Shafaq. All of the other circular planes were just interesting and distinctive dreams.

But, in other timelines, dreams can come true….

A Thousand Words: Sonic Adventure

Sonic Adventure

I was a child when Sonic Adventure first came out on the Dreamcast. I was also one of the rare few who got to see it new and firsthand. At the time it looked impressive. Now with hindsight, it’s basically the Yak-38 of video games.

The Forger was basically a tech demo of a V/STOL fighter that got shoehorned into being an operational aircraft out of desperation. It was horrendously underpowered and unsafe. Likewise, this is a massively erratic way to show off all the things the Dreamcast could do more than an actual game. Sonic himself is a barely controllable pinball. Everyone else is there to represent something “new” and “amazing”. Tails can fly. Knuckles is there to have the same kind of collectathon gameplay pioneered in Mario 64. Amy-uh, does, basic puzzle stealth? Gamma the robot does third-person shooting by way of locking on, and Big the Cat infamously has that classic element of a speed game: Fishing. Slow paced fishing at that.

The cinematography in the cutscenes is utterly horrendous with the slightest point of comparison to anything else. And this introduced the storyline elements that would explode to horrendous proportions in Shadow and 06 and remain with the series even to this day. Which is to say, a combination of mystical mumbo-jumbo, Dr. Robotnik/Eggman messing with something he shouldn’t, and tons of new characters with each installment.

What I consider interesting is that Super Mario 64, made by Nintendo from a position of strength, did not do anything like this. It kept the same basic excuse plot as the past installments, and didn’t feel like it had to push anyone new very hard. Sonic Adventure, made by Sega from a position of weakness, had to stretch, and it failed in that regard.

The tragedy of this for the series was that instead of trying to improve the fundamental controls, Sonic Team focused on one gimmick after another. Mechs, teams, guns, telekinesis, anything but razor-sharp platforming. Adventure didn’t cause the famous 3D pit all by itself, but it started the process of digging.

World War 199X

The Zapad-99 exercise, the first massive maneuver conducted since the fall of the USSR, shows some interesting insight into the conduct of a World War III in the 1990s instead of the classic 1980s. The conduct of the exercise went essentially like this:

  • The OPFOR, or “Hypothetical Enemy”, as is the official Russian term for such things, launched a giant campaign in the Baltic/Belarusian region, overwhelming the overmatched CIS troops with air and missile power.
  • Kaliningrad was overrun by the Blueeaglelanders.
  • In the most famous and controversial part of the exercise, a limited nuclear “escalation by deescalation” after the fall of the exclave was conducted in which bombers attacked several important targets with cruise missiles. Two Tu-95s and two Tu-160s were successfully launched, and the missiles on those are enough to cause monstrous damage. (that’s 36 AS-15s with 200kt warheads. Ouch.)
  • Said targets are likely to be NATO bases in Europe and American bomber and logistics bases in the continental US.

To a degree, this era has already been explored, however imperfectly, in Arc Light and Red Hammer 1994. Northern Fury takes place in the 1990s but assumes a stronger, intact USSR and conventional weapons (at least for now…)

Review: Victoria

Victoria: A Novel of Fourth Generation War

Over the course of many years, theorist and commentator William S. Lind wrote a novel called Victoria. In the 2010s, he finally published it under the pen name “Thomas Hobbes.” When little doe-eyed me got the book, I thought “well, this sounds like a kooky bit of ‘Patriot Fiction’, but at least it’s got a renowned military commentator writing it. So the battles should be good.” What I actually got was a neoreactionary tribute to Old Prussia and a bitter axe grinding by a washed up charlatan who knew only the “ten of the last three financial crises” approach to critiquing military policy.

So the plot goes like this. Captain John [Mary] Rumford, of the USMC, cannot bear to hear a woman say “Iwo Jima” in a casualty remembrance ceremony because it was insulting to the dead (none of whom were woman). So he interrupts her, gets drummed out of the Corps, and meets William [Sue] Kraft. Then comes a frenetic pace as they cakewalk their traditionalist state to victory against one drooling opponent after another. The prose and pacing are actually decent-to-good, which makes the blows hit a lot harder.

However bad the politics (The book has African Americans “willingly” return to being happy farm workers, emphasizes the pure Spanish noble heritage of the only good Latina character, and has societal peer pressure stop the use of most Evil Modern Technology just to give two examples), what I found far more fascinating was just how bad the military aspect of it was. This was earnestly surprising to me at first. After reading more of Lind’s nonfiction writing, it wasn’t in hindsight.

I would sum it up this way: Lind can’t even do failure properly. The best example is this a scene involving the classic Briefing of Doom where Rumford falls asleep. Now the right way to do this would be to have it be badly done with a million terrible overproduced Powerpoint slides or something similar, leading an exhausted Rumford to, to his horror, doze off. Instead the actual subject matter of the briefing is treated as being at fault, with the narrator’s nap being a form of “and nothing of value was lost” contempt. What is the subject matter? Just minor, insignificant details like maps, roads, and local weather. You know, the kind of thing that an army, especially the wunderjager light infantry that Lind loves, doesn’t need to know.

In fact, this blind spot envelops the whole book in a way that’s actually a little funny when looked at. Rumford does not actually fight (the closest he comes in the entire book is having to draw his pistol when near the scene of a drive-by), and he doesn’t really command either. He just hovers around, jumps in from time to time, and gives advice. Almost like it was written by a civilian theorist who hovered around the military, jumped in from time to time, and gave advice.

I counted at least two arcs in the book where a light infantry sneak would have been genuinely effective. But Lind just did not want to write any actual battles. Just pointing at the scene, dispensing generalist advice (and/or coming up with a super-gimmick) and watching the stomp ensue. Lind makes Liddell-Hart look like Luigi Cadorna in comparison in both this and his nonfiction. Because of this, all of his potentially good points and legitimate critiques are squandered.

That Lind gets a lot of the fundamentals right just means the crazy is unfiltered. This book is both distinctive and a huge waste.

Review: Point of Impact

Point of Impact

Stephen Hunter kicks off his Bob Lee Swagger (aka Deadshot-13) series of sniper thrillers with Point of Impact. I was eager to finally get the chance to read this book, as I’ve heard good things about the series. I was not disappointed. This was a great novel.

Now, granted, there are some bumps. The amount of machismo in the writing’s tone is a little much even for me. More importantly, it has an awkward mix of “Herman Melville for snipers” where it talks about grounded, important setting up for a shot, and “Sniper John Rourke” where the main character can fight at the level of a video game hero and make very accurate shots in a very short amount of time.

But these are not deal-breakers by any means. The action is excellent. The book is long yet well-paced and never feels like it drags on. It has the “slow buildup” of Jon Land at his best applied to a much more serious plot and executed quite effectively. Finally, the big twist feels like an unintentional/accidental critique of the worst “shoot the terrorist” thrillers where the main character doesn’t actually have that much agency. This is definitely not one of those.

I loved this book. I recommend this book. It’s not the absolute best thriller I’ve read, but it’s definitely up there.

A Thousand Words: The Story of Ricky

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky

It’s time to review one of my favorite movies of all time. The story of The Story of Ricky is one of bizarre decision-making. A Hong Kong producer looked at a Fist of The North Star knockoff manga and bought the rights. Then came the decision to make the movie. However, it comes across as having almost all of the budget spent on fake blood. And most of the rest spent renting out the sets for the jail.

The plot is this: The titular character ends up in a prison and gets into fights. Actually, that isn’t quite right. There is only one properly choreographed bout in the entire film. The rest is just someone getting hit and cheesy, bloody special effects resulting. That’s basically how you can describe the entire movie, and it is amazing. Hearing the bad-as-you’d expect English dubbing is part of the fun.

This movie is, in its own stupid, horrible way, a masterpiece. It’s one of the best “B-movies” I’ve seen and if you don’t mind (fake-looking but still plentiful) gore, then you have to watch this. Don’t expect well, anything technically good from it. But do expect a lot of fun.

Review: WW III

WW III

It’s finally time to review the third major archetype of World War III fiction. Ian Slater’s WW III embodies the “what realism?” school of fiction. In fact, he may be the least technically astute technothriller author out there-and you know I don’t say this lightly. Slater embodies frequently going into huge technical detail on some kind of weapon or vehicle-and getting said details wrong.

Anyway, the plot itself is a simple “Second Korean War and Fuldapocalypse big war thriller”, only with a ton of jumbles. Besides his technical inaccuracy, Slater’s work is also defined by its incoherence. In longer series this translates to absolutely no sense of continuity. Here it’s just sloppiness.

And yet this book is oddly fun in a Tommy Wiseau/Ed Wood style way. It’s a good game to see when Slater actually gets a technical comment right. Seeing the adventures of Mary Sue lead-from-the-front general Douglas Freeman is amusing, even if Slater fills the rest of the NATO cast with drooling doofuses to make him look better. Every fan of these kinds of World War III should really read this, if only to appreciate the virtues of the books that, whatever else, got most of the basic details right.

Review: Super Tiger

Grumman F11F-1F Super Tiger

The original F-11 Tiger was just one of many 1950s flash-in-the-pan fighters. But there was a developed upgraded version that could have given it more staying power. In this book, former Grumman test pilot Corky Meyer tells its story.

There really isn’t that much to say about the airplane from a macro-technical point of view. It was basically an F-11 with a slightly different shape and a J79 engine (made famous on the F-4 Phantom). This gave it massively more thrust, to the point where it could hit Mach 2 in ideal conditions and reach the practical limit of performance for most fighters. The other unusual feature was that it carried a pair of Sidewinders on the top of the fuselage. From this emerged several other proposals. Described are a basic single-seat, a two-seater with Sparrows, a multirole non-carrier export version, and a reconnaissance aircraft with cameras.

Of course, the best and worst part of the book comes from the story of how it failed to gain traction. While Meyer’s deep connection to the aircraft meant he could say much about it, it also made him obviously biased when it came to its prospects. He was not the best person to give a fair evaluation of why it didn’t go anywhere. The reasons were the US Navy not wanting another jury-rigged shoved-in fighter when the F-4 was almost ready, the Air Force wanting the raw power of the F-104, and export customers facing a mix of Lockheed sleaze, a sales effort that Meyer admitted was understaffed and inexperienced, and the turn-off of the Americans seemingly not wanting it for themselves.

It’s still ultimately hard to feel too much sorrow at the loss of the Super Tiger. While it may have been safer than the F-104, it would still be a 1950s design in an inherently risky role if used the same way, and the accidents would have piled up regardless. Its role was soon successfully filled by the F-4 in American service and the F-5 (which ironically became known as the Tiger II) with export customers. But it’s a fascinating footnote in aviation history nonetheless.

Review: The Modern Bodyguard

The Modern Bodyguard

Peter Costerdine’s The Modern Bodyguard is an excellent research resource for realistic “executive protection”. Written in a typically sharp, slightly sneery British style, it delivers the blunt realities of the job, especially for civilians who lack both financial and legal resources compared to government personnel. For instance, it points out that private security, especially traveling private security, will almost always be unarmed for legal/political reasons (at least as of the time of writing).

It’s not perfect, and it says something about the type of genre that even Costerdine goes into tirades about various types of firearms. But its positives outweigh the negatives substantially. If you’re curious about realistic, limited-resource protection, I cannot recommend this book enough.