Review: Wet Work

Wet Work

Mark Hewitt’s Hunter series continues its crazy in Wet Work, the fifth installment. It gets harder to review a later book in a long series unless the quality changes massively in either direction. This is not the case here. Like most of its predecessors, it’s a sprawling technothriller with a ridiculous main character who makes John Rourke look like an everyman in comparison.

Thankfully, one thing about this book is different and better. The final action set piece is actually tense and well written. But even that can’t break it out of the pack of “I love reading them, but don’t really recommend them for other people” that the first four established.

Review: World War III 1987

World War III 1987 Blog

Now that the main war has finished, I feel comfortable reviewing the World War III 1987 blog. Now, I must admit that I’m benefiting a lot from the context I’ve learned since I’ve started Fuldapocalypse. Part of it is that there are too few 198X Cold War Hot works of fiction instead of the too many. But another part of it is that web serials (which this ultimately is) and traditional books are apples and oranges. Or, to be more accurate, the relationship between them is like that between baseball and cricket, boxing and mixed martial arts, or rugby and American football. All involve hitting a ball with a bat/pileups of burly players/beating one’s opponent up, but anyone with knowledge of both would admit to big differences and often a lack of overlap.

Likewise, writing a book and writing a serial both involve creative writing, but they also have different priorities and require different skillsets to really excel at. And I can say that as a serial, the WWIII87 blog succeeded very. The first thing a serial needs to do-and I mean needs, is be punctual with updates. While there were understandable human slip ups, the update schedule was nonetheless brisk.

The update schedule was good, and so was the content of said updates. I could quibble with a lot of things, but I don’t really have the heart to go “no, the combat power of that division was (X) instead of (Y)” or nitpick minor technical details or circumstances. There are just too many soft factors and confounds in a hypothetical Fuldapocalypse to really call any one outcome plausible, especially given the unlikeliness of a sustained conventional conflict (Cold War era field manuals from both sides are very clear-a third world war is likely to start off conventionally, but highly unlikely to end that way). Let me just say I’ve read substantially worse and leave it at that.

I do have to take issue with the plotnukes, which do the Hackett style of “trade two cities” (Madrid and Gorky/Nizhny Novgorod), and which serve as a Deus ex Atomo at the end. Though even there there isn’t a real good way to do them. I think the least contrived option, which I really haven’t much of in other fiction is to have them deployed tactically against field formations but not strategically against targets in cities or deep beyond the front (kind of like a local version of Arc Light’s skewed extreme counterforce strikes to make a large exchange survivable). Like faster than light travel in science fiction, you just have to try and stay consistent and run with it. And I’ll admit the nuclear ride, when the story goes there, is a little bumpy to me. There’s also a little too much focus, IMO, on detailed actions in the peripheral theaters, which made the pace on the truly important Centfront somewhat slower than I would have liked.

That being said, this is a good effort and my hat’s off to the writer. My personal journey since starting Fuldapocalypse and reading so many books has broadened my mind, and the serial has progressed throughout this blog’s existence. Congratulations and good work!

Review: Blown Cover

Blown Cover

The fourth book in Mark Hewitt’s Hunter series, Blown Cover is a book where I did not want the crazy to stop. The crazy was the entire point of the series, and for it to become just another middling thriller would be taking the “Captain Beefheart Playing Normal Music” issue to extremes. Thankfully, the crazy becomes, if anything, even crazier.

There’s Amelia Earhart conspiracies, Hindenburg conspiracies, the same conspiracies in the last three books, and more. And this book even has a -shock- actually well written action set piece. There’s a genuinely effective action scene where the protagonist has to struggle his way to the cockpit in a depressurizing plane that’s truly well written. Yes, there’s hundreds of pages of clunky crazy surrounding it, but still.

So yes, I had genuine fun with this book. It might even be my favorite so far in the series, just because of how excessive it is. I like excessive cheap thrillers.

Review: No Need to Know

No Need to Know

The third in Hewitt’s Hunter series, No Need to Know is every bit as out-there as the first two (if not more). Once again, I’m in the somewhat unusual position of not recommending them for other people while having a blast reading them myself. The conspiracies don’t stop in this book, and neither do the set-pieces.

In fact, this is actually better paced if anything than the second and especially the first book. While it’s still overly long, it feels like it flows better and doesn’t have that many outright dull moments. Ok, except those involving the details of operation the YO-3 airplane, which is obsessed over throughout the series.)

That sounds like faint praise. And the inherent flaws of the first two are still there. But still it’s nice to see an author’s craft get genuinely better.

Review: Shoot Down

Shoot Down

The second of Mark Hewitt’s Hunter thrillers, Shoot Down is somewhat different from the first in terms of setup. Almost the entire W.E.B. Griffin style pop epic is gone in favor of just a then-contemporary cheap thriller. Unfortunately, this just means we get a thriller twice as long as it should be. And with all the issues and then some.

And yet, I have not just finished this book with its “shoot the terrorist” plot, I’ve even moved on to the third installment. Because this is flawed in an interesting way, and I want to see how uh, “interesting” it becomes. But I still don’t recommend this series for “normal” readers.

Review: The Tiger Queens

The Tiger Queens: The Women Of Genghis Khan

Another walk off the beaten Fuldapocalyptic path for me is historical novel The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thornton. First, this is another obvious “this is something I’m not the target audience for” book. So I may be biased in that regard. Nonetheless, I found it a little disappointing.

The book is about the Mongols. Which leads to the greatest issue I found. The biggest problem isn’t the plot or characters, it’s the writing. Even taking that it’s basically historical chick lit into account, the prose is way too flowery for something about the rise of the Mongol Empire.

Still, this isn’t a bad book, it’s just not one for me. Which I kind of expected. Oh well. When you walk off the beaten path, sometimes you encounter prickly plants.

Review: Taiwan’s Former Nuclear Weapons Program

Taiwan’s Former Nuclear Weapons Program: Nuclear Weapons On-Demand

David Albright and Andrea Stricker’s 2018 book on the abandoned nuclear weapons program of Taiwan tells the true story of one of the biggest nuclear programs that never resulted in a functioning bomb. The authors themselves note the similarities to the previously-reviewed underground South African program-and the huge differences.

The big catalyst was, unsurprisingly, the mainland’s successful deployment of nuclear weapons in 1964. What followed was a decades-long game that lasted as long as the Taiwanese military regime itself, where it tried to slip nuclear construction ability under the nose of the Americans who feared escalation. A tale of both technical and political detail, it’s excellently told.

Where I differ book is in its conclusion. Albright and Stricker argue that the Americans were fully in the right in stopping the program. To me, I would feel a lot more comfortable about Taiwan’s security if it had the ability to make Shanghai and other close, large cities disappear in a fireball. Many Taiwanese themselves made legitimate arguments against them that were quoted in the book: It would trigger the PRC to rev up earlier, and Taiwan was so small that they’d be vulnerable to a counterforce strike. But I still think a submarine deterrent would go a long way.

Still, opinions aside, this is a great look at an underappreciated weapons program.

Review: Special Access

Special Access

The first in the Duncan Hunter series of aviation thrillers is Special Access. This book is very right-wing and very bad. It’s not terrible because it’s right wing, if that was the case 4/5ths of Fuldapocalypse review subjects if not more would be bad. There’s only a little overlap between “slant” and “reason why I didn’t like it”, but even that little is more than most trash fiction.

Special Access starts off being obviously inspired by W.E.B. Griffin. In fact, it apes his structure so much that despite only reading one unconventional Griffin novel in full, I still saw the resemblance immediately. It’s a long progressive stride through years and years. Only with stalling on a short period and then racing ahead with clumsy timeskips. The main character is a total Mary Sue, but that’s the least of this book’s problems.

Once in the “present”, the politics reach the level of the posthumous “William W. Johnstone’s” novels. The president (the novel was released in 2013) is a foreign-born terrorist agent. Muslim terrorists have thoroughly infiltrated the government. You get the idea. Not only is the tone like those “literary masterpieces”, but so is the structure. It’s a clunky cheap thriller, and even though the action set pieces are better than any posthumous “Johnstone” novel I’ve read, that’s not saying much.

So this is basically two books in similar but not exact genres, both of which have massive flaws, jammed together. It’s like those times when people try to combine sporting events and concerts and they both fail. With bad athletes and worse musicians. I would even go so far as to say that this is the worst book I’ve read in some time.

Review: Events

Events

The debut published work of Sea Lion Press author Charles E. P. Murphy, Events tells the story of alternate British prime ministers as they deal with the economy, other familiar problems, and, uh, alien invasions. The book is told in a deadpan pseudo-historical fashion, complete with footnotes that reference made-up history books. Anyone who knows internet alternate history will see the style being poked at instantly.

And this is the novella’s biggest issue: You need to be in an extremely small, insular community to really appreciate it. Otherwise, the obvious joke will just get repeated. “Oh, this prime minister dealt with an alien attack and then (insert mundane historical political problem here). And then this prime minister did (___)….” Even though it’s very short, the gag wears out its welcome by the third alien invasion.

But if you do know internet alternate history, the joke becomes better. A genre with a frequent rivet-counting “how many B-52s can dance on the head of a pin” obesssion and which cares absolutely nothing for conventional plot or characters gets skewered by Murphy treating made-up nonsense as if it was a meticulously researched order of battle for 1863/1942/1985.

Of course, the book also gets soured a bit by Poe’s Law (there is no parody of something that cannot be equaled in extremes by a sincere expression of the same). Since many internet alternate history timelines often portray events rivaling flying saucer wars in terms of divergence unironically, this can feel like just a handwaved in timeline that happens to be tongue in cheek. And (thankfully) without wikiboxes.

This is a first novel, so I can forgive its flaws. But it’s still made by and for those who follow a specific niche.

Review: Kill Shot

Kill Shot

Every so often, I dip back into the Mack Bolan pool, with Kill Shot being my latest attempt. And I always come back to the realization that most of the Gold Eagle ones aren’t worth checking out when so many other, better cheap thrillers exist. And this was no exception.

Not only does Kill Shot do nothing to separate itself from the “Twinkies of literature” pack, but it’s worse than the norm due to its setup. As a “SuperBolan”, it’s longer than the normal throwaway Executioners. However, length does not equal substance or any other advantage in this case.

Even readers of action thrillers can do a lot better than Zombie Bolans like this.