Review: Concrete Jungle

Concrete Jungle

Getting the latest Brannigan’s Blackhearts novel was about as easy a decision for me as a panda’s decision to eat bamboo. After devouring Concrete Jungle, where the Blackhearts go to Prague, what do I think? It’s very sad for me to say this given how much I absolutely adore the series, but I did feel this was lacking compared to past installments. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s still a decent 51% (or more?) cheap thriller. Everything I like about them is still there. And it’s very hard for any series to remain completely electrifying for twelve installments.

But I did feel that this is the (comparative) worst of the series to date. Most of the enemy gimmicks are either reused from earlier books or mundane. For instance, in the the bulk of the novel, the Blackhearts fight-Eastern European mobsters. Mobster-slaying is as 70s as disco and bad mustaches. And I felt that the lucky breaks/narrative contrivances the protagonists got this time were a little too obvious. Yes, they were always there, but they were concealed a lot better in earlier installments.

This series has been on a great run, and nothing can take that away. But still I hope it isn’t jumping the shark completely.

Review: Advance To Contact 1980 (Ronsone/Aaronson)

Advance To Contact 1980

The time has come to finally return to the starting theme of this blog. A 1980s World War III book is being reviewed here, Advance to Contact by James Ronsone and Alex Aaronson. This is a very Larry Bond-esque book taking place at an unusual time (beginning of the decade, or as I like to call it NATO Hard Mode) and in unusual places like Iran and Central America. Operation Eagle Claw succeeds-and things spiral from there.

Of course, I have an obligatory rivet-counting nitpick. Eagle Claw was more or less completely unworkable and it was probably for the best that it failed as early as it did. Reaching the city itself would just lead to massive collateral damage and the deaths of the hostages. Eagle Claw succeeding is like Operation Sea Lion succeeding in terms of plausibility.

But for the sake of the story, I’ll gladly it slide. Different theaters certainly beats Germany and the North Atlantic. Especially when the geography leads to different types of battles than giant mechanized blasts in the Fulda Gap.

As far as literary quality, this is a little rough but very forgivable. While at times it gets clunky, this is an extremely hard genre to write well. It certainly did not stop me from enjoying this book, and I look forward to the next installment.

Review: The Wandering Warriors

The Wandering Warriors

Rick Wilder and Alan Smale’s The Wandering Warriors is a very goofy novel. In it, a 1940s baseball team finds itself isekaied to Ancient Rome. Hijinks ensue. Lots of hijinks. Ok, lots and lots of hijinks.

This silly book has a silly premise and a silly conclusion. But it’s a lot of fun. Don’t read it expecting any kind of historical accuracy, serious study or culture clash. Read it for the ridiculous fun of a baseball team teaching Romans to play baseball in the Colosseum.

If you like out-there time travel fantasy, this is the book for you.

Review: Wings Over The Hindu Kush

Wings Over The Hindu Kush

Lukas Muller’s Wings Over The Hindu Kush shines a light on an obscure footnote in aviation history: The Afghan air forces (yes, plural) between the Soviet withdraw and Enduring Freedom. Leaving behind a large quantity of helicopters and aircraft, there were enough parts and willing pilots for the Taliban and its rivals to create air forces up until 2001. As someone aware of their existence and interested in how functional air units could be maintained from such “scraps”, this book was an easy purchase.

In a complex, fluid situation without the best documentation, getting the detail that Muller did was no small feat. The book isn’t the biggest or most absolutely detailed, but it does tell the story of these helicopters, Fitters, and Fishbeds. And it’s a very interesting story.

The strike aircraft were far from the most capable or effective (the transports in a place with poor infrastructure were far more vital), but their mere presence in such conditions was surprising. And this book clears up the surprise in a great way.

Review: Soviet Era Airliners

Soviet-Era Airliners: The Final Three Decades

In many ways, Aeroflot mirrored the USSR itself. Its breakup in 1991 scattered the massive airline’s assets across all the independent republics. Christopher Buckley’s Soviet-Era Airliners: The Final Three Decades tells the story of what happened to all the “Classics”, “Crusties”, “Carelesses”, “Clobbers”, and more. While the collapse of the USSR and the failure of its aviation industry to make a competitive product caused its new-build civil aircraft industry to fall apart instantly, there were lots of surplus planes around.

This book does a great job showing most of their fates. There’s lots of details and even more excellent photographs. If you like civil aviation at all, this is a great book. I was curious to see what happened to these flying trilobites, and now I know.

Review: Crimson Star

Crimson Star

The third Maelstrom Rising book, Peter Nealen’s Crimson Star takes the action to the American west. With the collapse into anarchy and invasion underway, the Triarii have their hands full. Having read this, I feel like it is both a lot better and a lot worse than the first two books.

First, the good. It’s written in third person, which is so much more suitable for a work of this nature. So much. Granted, the viewpoints are a little too restricted (try telling pre-Fuldapocalypse me that I’d think that), but it’s still a huge step that makes it so much better to read. And of course the action takes advantage of the larger scope, with lots of vehicle units and large forces. It is as good as anything else Nealen has done.

Now, the bad. The annoying slobbering over the Mary Sue protagonists reaches new heights. Any alternative to them is viewed as a completely incompetent obstacle. The narration does everything but say that their training was a combination of “SEAL, Ranger, Special Forces, and gutter fighting.” It got irritating, and it would be even more so if I hadn’t adjusted my expectations. After all, it sold itself as Larry Bond. By now, it’s actually Jerry Ahern’s The Defender updated to the present with more realistic battle scenes.

Do they balance each other out? My answer is: I still want to read the next book in the series. Make of that what you will.

Review: Sunrising

Sunrising

The wide and ever-expanding amount of genres covered by Fuldapocalypse has now extended to “Zimbabwean Historical Fiction” with Susan Hubert’s Sunrising. Openly inspired by the author’s own background, this is the story of a turn-of-the-century Englishwoman settling in Bulawayo. It’s not the type of fiction I normally read and review, so that might explain a lot of my lukewarm attitude towards it.

But I also think that it’s just too slow and relies too much on the self-proclaimed wonders of seeing Southern Africa as a way to attract attention. To me, I get the impression that the intent was “look at the train disrupted by elephants, wow!” but what came across to me was “I get it. Elephants exist.” That’s an example from one scene in the book and I could easily give more.

I don’t consider this a bad book, and am willing to accept that it being not my usual novel genre may explain my comparative lack of interest. But it feels like the kind of pre-widespread visual media novel that leans massively on its setting. It was published in 2020 but the style feels like a book made fifty years earlier. That’s not a bad thing, but it does make the book feel a little strange to me.

Review: Marque And Reprisal

Marque and Reprisal

I eagerly awaited the newest Brannigan’s Blackhearts book, Marque and Reprisal. After devouring it, I figured I had to review it. And it’s slightly disappointing. But only slightly. The issue isn’t the action or plotting (even if one “twist” of them getting betrayed is rather obvious). The issue is the setting.

Without going into spoiler-ish details, the villains feel like well, how do I put it? They feel like the kind of antagonists a mainstream action thriller would have. Which means the book fails to take advantage of both ends the series can go to-either gritty third-world mud fights or giant spectacles. They’re too out-there for the former and too mundane for the latter.

This is still my favorite thriller series ever, and it’s only a “disappointment” by the previous books massively high standards. But a part of it felt lacking nonetheless.

Review: Red Front

Red Front

The conventional Fuldapocalypse begins in earnest with Red Front, the second book in the Iron Crucible series. After the Yugoslav opening act in the previous entry , this follows the war everywhere from the Atlantic to… outer space. Author T. K Blackwood continues a solid Bond/Red Storm Rising style narrative in this installment.

This has the issues that a big perspective WWIII has, but it also has the strengths, and Blackwood succeeds in a genre that’s incredibly difficult to write well. The book ends on a cliffhanger, but it’s not an unsatsifying one. With a ton of varied battles in a type of novel that doesn’t come along very often, I can say that I highly recommend this to fans of the “conventional WW3” genre.