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.

Review: Morning Noon And Night

Morning, Noon, and Night

Sidney Sheldon’s Morning, Noon, and Night is one of his later books, beginning with a ruthless billionaire falling into the sea off of his yacht and dealing with the subsequent power struggle. It is also one of his worst. How so? First, the obvious needs to be stated. Like every single other one of Sheldon’s books, it’s “gilded sleaze” with simple, easy prose. However, this takes things in different directions. And they’re not good directions.

The prose seemed even more bare-bones than the norm for the author, going from a strength to a weakness. More importantly, the book tried to be an outright thriller at times instead of a “pop epic” chronicling a tawdry saga of wealth and romance. Sheldon’s writing style just isn’t suited for pure thrillers, and this exaggerated version of it was even worse.

Also, the stakes seemed petty (with the wealth of its centerpiece character told more by telling than showing), and the plot was confused with a lot of loose threads and super-quick wrap ups. Sheldon has written a lot better, so I don’t recommend this book.

Review: Soviet Military Operational Art

Soviet Military Operational Art: In Pursuit of Deep Battle

David Glantz is one of the most famous and prolific western Sovietologists. In his 1991 Soviet Military Operational Art, he took a big yet close look at their conduct of campaigns, from theory to practice, from the revolution to the then-present. As with everything he’s written, it’s dry history. But it’s excellent for what it is.

Special focus needs to be given to his looking at the more obscure and lesser-known periods of Soviet military history, such as the revolution and Russian Civil War itself, the interwar period, and the immediate post-WW2 one. These tend not to get as much attention as WWII itself and the 1980s hypothetical WW3s, but are just important historically and frequently very different tactically. Looking at the layout of a Russian Civil War division, so different from the formations I knew, I thought “this was like when baseball pitchers threw underhand”.

The book is still a little dated in some areas, and has a few issues. I think the most glaring one is Glantz overstating the effect of the Stalin purges. While they didn’t help the Red Army, looking at later Russian sources gives me the impression that its biggest problem was expanding too much too quickly and that the purges were just the icing on the cake. Khrushchev-era politics would give an obvious incentive to blame Stalin directly for as much as possible.

But this is a small issue and the book itself is still excellent.

Review: Vati

Vati

R. M. Meluch’s Vati is a short story originally printed in the Alternate Generals anthology and since republished as a standalone ebook. It’s an alternate history with the divergence being Werner Moelders surviving and getting the wunderwaffe into service. Of course, the war still does not end well for Germany, with the Allies turning to something that makes a very, very big boom.

Although written before The Big One, and with likely no cross-pollination, I can’t help but think of Vati as “TBO done right”. Less rivet-counting technical accuracy to be sure, but a far more concise and far more literary way of illustrating the same point-“give the Germans their wunderplanes and see what good it truly does them.” Even without comparisons, this is well worth a read.

Review: Vortex (Larry Bond)

Vortex (Larry Bond)

Larry Bond’s Vortex is a tale of war in southern Africa, as a revanchanist South Africa seeks to retake Namibia, with the opposition of Cuba and the Americans drawn into it. My first proper Larry Bond novel in some time, I wanted to see how this, his last pre-Soviet collapse novel went. And the answer, sadly, is “not too well”.

I knew his style, and, starting this blog, thought it was a lot more common than it actually was. I knew it’d have a lot of conference room scenes. I knew it would have a very long opening act to set up the war everyone knows is going to happen. I knew it would hop around viewpoint characters a lot and focus on each and every part of the war. Yet I wasn’t prepared for how excessive all of it would be. This is the longest, clunkiest, and, I hate to say it, worst Larry Bond I’ve read.

It takes over a hundred pages just to get to the conference rooms. The book has this weird “too hot and too cold” feeling where it stays for a while on a low-rate cloak and dagger plot in the first half and then explodes into too many tangled threads in the second. Naturally, all of this makes the ending too contrived and neat.

This is a shame because the premise-expanding on a real conflict with truly interesting participants and tactics in a theater of war genuinely unfamiliar to many Americans-is a very good one. Which makes it being squandered in this huge mess all the worse. Bond has written much better than this, and his other works have similar-level battle scenes without the structural failings here.

Review: The Rules of The Game

The Rules of The Game: Jutland And British Naval Command

In the seventh game of the 2001 World Series, Mariano Rivera faced Tony Womack, giving up a game-tying hit and setting the stage for Luis Gonzalez to win the series for the Diamondbacks. In that plate appearance, Womack triumphed. In the rest of their careers, it was quite potentially the greatest relief pitcher ever (Rivera) against a poor hitter whose sole virtue was speed in baserunning (Womack). A sample size of one doesn’t lead to good results.

Unfortunately, this is what Andrew Gordon tries to do in The Rules Of The Game: Jutland and British Naval Command, a history epic that is equal parts awe-inspiring and frustrating. When younger, I hung on this book’s every word. Now, it comes across highly erratic. See, the writing quality is still amazing. The research and attention to detail is excellent as well. In terms of historiography, Gordon stands out.

It’s just a shame that in terms of slant, he stands out as well.

Gordon is one of the few historians who stands with David Beatty over John Jellicoe, and his defense is weird. In the actual book, Gordon points out Beatty’s flaws -he put the slower but most-armored Queen Elizabeth battleships in the back of his formation, he didn’t coordinate more, he was a ‘difficult’, arrogant person that nobody liked, and so on. And yet he still supports the BCF commander on “his heart was in the right place” grounds. You know, he was scrappy, and he had that clutch spirit.

With a bias towards a decisive victory that never truly needed to happen, the book comes across as not what it could have been. Gordon takes that sample size of one (hey, remember the time a relief pitcher with only two career plate appearances managed a double off of Randy Johnson? The time Muggsy Bogues blocked a shot from Patrick Ewing?) and seems to just miss the forest for the trees-or if he doesn’t, he barely dwells on it.

This book is still a huge accomplishment and one very much worth reading. It just needs to be understood that it’s not exactly the most neutral in tone.

Review: The Stars Shine Down

The Stars Shine Down

Sidney Sheldon’s The Stars Shine Down is the story of ruthless businesswoman Lara Cameron, her rise and fall as she builds a real estate empire and gets entangled with everyone from mob lawyers to piano players. It’s the type of gilded trash melodrama I know very well after reading so many of his books. This one, released later in his life, feels a little less than his at his best. It’s still a very readable book, and it’s still well ahead of The Other Side of Midnight. Yet there’s just so much that brings it down. And it’s not just the formula being familiar to me by now.

The plot is a little more scattershot than what Sheldon was capable of in some of his other books, and the ending feels a little rushed. There are a few weird choices like the decision to have all the Scottish character dialogue in clunky phonetic writing that subtracts more than it adds. Sheldon focuses too much on the nuts and bolts of Lara’s building development, something he doesn’t write well.

One legitimately good part is its main character, with Lara drawing both opposition and sympathy. As Sheldon at his worst wrote characters as either dumb, naive dopes or ruthless Machiavellian masterminds, having someone who can truly have elements of both strikes me as a solid achievement. The protagonist is arguably Sheldon’s best I’ve read so far. It’s just the book around her isn’t.

Gulf War Anniversary

On the 30th anniversary of the 1991 Gulf War, I have these things to say.

  • The question of how successful the Iraqis could have been if they’d attacked into Saudi Arabia during the earlier part of Desert Shield is an open and disputed one. Even after the historical war, American commanders had different opinions.
  • While I believe it played a role in the decline of the technothriller, I don’t want to overstate it. According to the analysis of bestseller charts by Nader Elhefnawy, the technothriller was already on its way down significantly in 1990. My opinion is that it wasn’t the one-sided nature of the war so much as how it made high technology weapons look routine and normal.
  • Another part of this belief is that “big war thrillers” both continued to be published post-1991 (Cauldron, The Sixth Battle, etc…), and that they were always very rare to begin with.
  • Of course, I don’t think the Gulf War helped the technothriller either.
  • The very first time I used the word “Fuldapocalypse” was in a message board post on the Gulf War, where I mentioned the Americans were “revved up for a Fuldapocalypse“. It turned out to inspire the name of this blog.

Review: Armor Attacks

Armor Attacks

John Antal’s Armor Attacks is essentially a choose your own adventure book about a tank platoon. Created as a training tool, it was originally released shortly before the Gulf War. Thus it provides a window into Fuldapocalyptic tank battles.

The premise is that the Krasnovians (or, as they’re called in the book, the “Threat”-essentially a Soviet-style OPFOR) wants to seize the Middle East, and the Americans (and you) must stop them. While it shouldn’t be fair to criticize what’s clearly just a setup for the instructional vignettes he wants, I should still point out the Melville-esque prose clearly leaves something to be desired. Everyone talks in unrealistically robotic, exact terms. It’s understandable, but I still didn’t really like it in that sense.

At least this doesn’t do what Antal did in his first proper novel, Proud Legions, and try to make the reader’s unit the absolute conflict-defining centerpiece. The low, dirty place of the reader is emphasized, and rightfully so. Which is a good thing, as the actual vignettes/choices are well done.

I was “genre-savvy” enough to make some of the right decisions when I tried a run through of one of the scenarios. Tanks are more vulnerable to artillery than you might think, so don’t stay in one spot too long. Taking on a company of T-72s with a platoon of M1s is totally viable, even with 105mm M1s (I have the feeling that this would have been less intuitive pre-Gulf War). And so on.

However, and this may have been the legacy of The Henry Stickmin Collection and its “failure is just as good and entertaining as success” mindset at work, I also attacked up the middle. It didn’t go so well. In fact, I’d have loved for one of the scenarios to be a “Kobayashi Maru” one where you get wiped out no matter what you do.

The newest digital edition of this book does the orginal one better by showing the instructor’s material used. To me at least this was fascinating and interesting. For anyone interested in tanks of the period, I highly recommend this book.

A Thousand Words: High Seas Havoc

High Seas Havoc

Data East’s High Seas Havoc is one of the many 1990s mascot platformers. In fact, it was so generic at first glance that when I saw footage of it and wanted to look further, it took some effort to do so. Still, looking at it closely shows some interesting things and some that are very well-done.

The title character, a sailor seal (no, not that kind) has to save the damsel in distress and Macguffin Gem from an evil pirate lord. The opening part is a sort of semi-soft attempt to sort of, maybe a little, come close to Sonic. There’s slopes but not really any mechanics to take advantage of them. The base mechanics are a lot different too-most notably, you have a refillable health bar instead of anything like rings. Then the game gives up on that and goes back to being a completely traditional platformer. It also becomes a lot harder.

Though janky (the main character really needed to be able to use the sword he was shown as having in the box art instead of relying on an iffy flying kick) and having all the issues of a “B-list” game, this is never outright bad. Certainly it’s not a rushed absolute low-effort game like too many other trend-following platformers of this time. And this especially shows in the music. Emi Shimizu’s soundtrack is one of the most underappreciated ever, with my favorite track being “Cold Paradise“.

The level that song plays on, Frozen Palace, is also something to behold. It’s a variant on the typical “mechanical works” level, albeit with freezers and water instead of the usual molten metal. Combined with hovering meditating dogs (yes, really) as some of the enemies, it’s definitely the most unique stage in this game. The rest is more generic, but the graphics are still well done for the time.

There is some undeniable “inspiration” from Sonic and the game is in the same basic field, but it’s different enough thematically and gameplay-wise to not be considered a mere lazy ripoff. Probably the biggest issue besides “cartoon animals” is the gem Macguffin, and that’s small. And did I mention the soundtrack is amazing?