Review: Coup D’Etat

Coup D’Etat

Chris Nuttall’s Coup D’Etat is a book I knew I had to get when I saw the premise. A princess of a Middle Eastern country wrangles western mercenaries to overthrow it in a modern Dogs of War (explicitly cited as an influence, and obvious enough even without the citation)? Sounds good enough. The possibility of a thriller that can be more than just a small group of commandos? You betcha!

The premise is thus very good. The problem is that the execution is not. First, the main character comes across as an uncomfortable Mary Sue, and his opinions along with a more important portrayal cross the line from “hardened realist” to “creep”. But the bigger problem is the setting.

Taking place in a petrostate is a good, and arguably great setting. Having a fictional one so you don’t need to step on real toes and can make it to your needs is another good literary tool this book uses. The problem is that, well…

Say you had a fictional US state in the Old South for your story, and it was portrayed as being composed entirely of corrupt redneck bosses, uneducated and bigoted rural poor, Klansmen, and oppressed African-American sharecroppers who are used entirely as a mentioned prop to show how bad things are without actually being elaborated on. Replace that with the contemporary Middle Eastern equivalents and you have “Kabat”, the oil kingdom the novel takes place in. Compounding the worst true elements of an environment for the sake of fiction isn’t necessarily bad, but here it is. It takes away the stakes by making it look like an irredeemable and worse, dull wasteland. Pretty much any character who isn’t a power broker, trigger puller, or supervillain is used as nothing but a pop-up attraction in the freak show obstacle course.

Granted, you could reasonably argue that I’m overthinking the backdrop for an action thriller. Except this isn’t a very good action thriller. Not just because the prose is only decent at best, but because so much is devoted to the setup and exploring this dubious setting. So this book fails at being a suspense thriller and it fails at being an action thriller. It aims very high and falls very, very short.

A Thousand Words: Money Plane

Money Plane

Adam “Edge” Copeland and Kelsey Grammer’s Money Plane is the story of an attempt to rob a flying super-casino. It fails. Not the heist, the movie. This is an extremely stupid movie. And it’s not even that stupid in a fun way. It’s just inept. Even if one follows the reasonable assumption that action movies do not have to make sense, it’s a failure. Its suspension of disbelief refuses to be followed.

For instance, in-universe, a “master thief” doesn’t seem to know how many people crew the average commercial cockpit. Out of universe, a professional wrestler is squandered by having him spend the bulk of the movie sitting at the controls and talking. In-universe, there are no staff on this supervillain plane and no one goes to check on the cockpit even after the plane shakes and diverts from its original course. Oh, and almost all the resistance comes not from the plane runners but from other gamblers.

The film is very short but still feels overstuffed, not knowing if it wants to be a serious heist movie or a silly heist movie. None of the protagonists are very developed or charming, and even Grammer’s performance is a little too forced. The people behind the titular super-plane are squandered: The actors who play the “concierge” and “bookkeeper” on the plane actually do their supervillain roles well, but the movie bizarrely shifts away from them and towards unfunny “wacky” guests like a cowboy who ends up shooting himself in the head (it’s a long story). I wanted to like this movie, but it really doesn’t work, even as a dumb action movie.

Review: Deep Sleep

Deep Sleep

Steven Konkoly’s Deep Sleep is a tight, excellent spy thriller. When agent Devin Gray finds out that his recently deceased mom has uncovered the mother of all conspiracies, the game is on. I loved this book. I really did love it. I’ll even let its “the action wants to be just a little grounded while the backdrop of the conspiracy could have been written by Jon Land” dissonance slide.

One thing I loved about this book was its personality. For the heroes and villains alike, this felt more personal, close, and intimate than a 51% book where the action hero crushes a ton of faceless goons. Not that I mind such books, but it’s good to have variety.

Combine this with the spectacular set pieces that do exist and you have a rarity. A book that can have its cake and eat it too. I highly recommend reading this.

Review: OPLAN Fulda

OPLAN Fulda

Time to return to this blog’s roots with intelligence veteran Leo Barron’s new OPLAN Fulda. It’s a 1989 conventional World War III novel. In other words, what this blog was made to cover. So how is it?

Well, it’s pretty obvious that this was written by a military intelligence veteran. One passage where a Soviet army commander muses on the two difference courses of action his subordinate division commanders have chosen for their attack is the most blatant, but the tone is clear throughout the whole book. This means there’s too little fog of war for my liking and a lot of Melville-esque passages (complete with footnotes in many cases).

There’s also the usual suspects. There’s the contrived excuse for a war, conference room scenes, and jumping viewpoints. However, and this is important to note, the execution of all this is not bad at all. In a hard genre to do right, Barron succeeds.

The action is good and appropriately messy. Nuclear weapons are not handwaved aside (and the escalation makes sense!). The focus is an intricate one on both the Americans and Soviets instead of swerving away to some British or Dutch unit elsewhere at the worst possible moment. Oh, and it gets the tank designations right.

Because of this, I’m delighted to recommend this book to all World War III enthusiasts. Stuff like this doesn’t come along too often. So when it does, I feel great in reviewing it. The best praise I can give this is that it’s helped inspire me to make a “big war thriller” for my next draft after two mostly nonviolent works.

A Thousand Words: Nightmare Reaper

Nightmare Reaper

The just-fully-released Nightmare Reaper is a love letter to both roguelikes (games built around randomized content) and classic “motion shooters”. With that frantic gameplay mixed with a background that involves a trapped young woman’s troubled, twisted dreams (the game takes place in said dreams), it could be called Doom Nikki.

I’ll admit this is not usually my kind of game, but I’ve found that losing can be surprisingly fun (it is extremely generous by roguelike standards in terms of how much dying in a level costs you-or, in this case doesn’t). Of course, besides the traits of a Doom-style shooter, the roguelike randomization means the game’s difficulty can become a lot more luck than skill based.

Still, if you love Doom-style FPSes, this game is definitely for you.

Review: Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing

Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing

It started with an unfitting title. Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing by Allison Winn Scotch is the worst book I’ve read so far this year. I regret reading this book. A lot. Granted, I’m not the target audience and got it under the misunderstanding that this would be a political thriller instead of… what it is.

What it is is a terrible whiny melodrama starting with a gossipy, social dagger of an open letter. It might have made sense and been salvageable if the title character was a councilwoman in some small/medium town preparing to run for mayor instead of a US Senator in NEW YORK preparing to run for president. I know the New York media and…. yeah. Trust me. It’s about as accurate as an Ian Slater novel is about modern warfare.

And none of the characters are likeable. So because of that, I have to label it “worst book of the first three months of 2022 reviewed on this blog.” I mean, would you not think highly of a book that’s basically just a self-absorbed character navel-gazing?

Life Imitates Art

The Kirov novel Eagle Rising, previously reviewed on Fuldapocalypse, has a wargamed out (mostly via the excellent The Operational Art of War) Russian all-out invasion of Ukraine in 2021 with largely realistic OOBs-that ends after a few weeks with the Russians grabbing a chunk of the country but falling short of their objectives and descending into a grinding stalemate. There are of course differences, often erring on the side of spectacle like a brigade-sized air assault into Dnipro at the beginning and, most bizarrely, a counteroffensive crossing the border to hit Belgorod.

It’s described in the book itself after the initial big battles as “All Tyrenkov [the time-traveling Russian leader] has done is buy himself a long war there, and for a lot of blood and steel.”

Like Hector Bywater’s The Great Pacific War, this was strangely prescient in many ways. Even in small details like Ukrainian light infantry succeeding with hit and run strikes. Of course, the background is vastly different, involving a time traveler from the past (Tyrenkov) going forward , seizing control of contemporary Russia, and mistaking a potential future victory for a certain one. But the nuts and bolts are a tribute to both the TOAW simulation and the power of well-designed wargames in general.

Review: American Secret Projects: Airlifters

American Secret Projects: Airlifters

Craig Kaston and George Cox’s two volume series on American airlifters is one of the main reasons for the recent fascination I’ve had with these cargo-bearing beasts. Like a lot of books in the series, both are excellent. However, one of the volumes outshines the other, though through no fault of the authors.

The first volume is well-written and illustrated, but it describes a time period where, for the most part, it’s just variations on big-bellied freighter aircraft. The second volume has a lot of those too, but also has weird shapes, VTOLS, napkin company projects that make Mukhamedov and Stavatti look like Boeing and Airbus, and so much more.

If you have to get one book, get the post-1961 volume. But both are well worthy of any aviation history enthusiast’s bookshelf. Fair warning-you may twist your brain into a pretzel trying to estimate just what some of these oddballs can and can’t transport. It’s what I’ve been doing a lot, and I have no regrets.

Review: Journey’s End

Journey’s End

Amazingly, surprisingly, the Kirov series has gotten a formal conclusion with Journey’s End. I’d predicted that there was no way for the series to end gracefully after 64 clunky volumes. And my prediction turned out to be accurate. A lot of this is de facto flashbacks to each ill-developed member of the crew. The final battle is just a wargamed clash like the hundreds before it. The hanging threats of Volkov and the aliens are dealt with hurriedly and contrivedly.

The conclusion is “a generally happy ending is stuffed in at the last second due to yet more time travel technobabble.” Schettler was clearly desperate to finish Kirov so he could write a fantasy novel series (which are no stranger to giant, bloated, sagas), and it shows. Still, that a 64 book epic with millions of words was completed at all is no small accomplishment.

The Differences

Just as how Hector Bywater’s The Great Pacific War got a lot of specifics from the later conflict off but the general feel of a Japanese-American war completely right, I figured I’d look at my Soviet/Romanian War (which I’ve outlined) and see the differences.

  • First, the absolute biggest. Instead of being against an elected government and earning massive condemnation, this is against the odious regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. The prevailing outside sentiment would be sympathy for Romania’s people, but very little for their government.
  • Second, the force structure of the invaders is different and both stronger and weaker. Belarus has been replaced with Bulgaria, which has mobilized a gargantuan army in and of itself-albeit an army that still uses T-34s (really, there were units with those, as in Romania, up until the very end). Whereas the Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics, for the most part (especially in its Mobile Force units), is a lot deeper than what I’ve seen from the Russians IRL in terms of substantive modernization (where a lot of old equipment, and, more importantly, stuff like few night vision devices and still using unsecure commercial radios beneath their shiny digi-flora uniforms)
  • Third, the invasion is a lot smoother out of the gate (note that I’m not speculating on the ultimate outcome in real life as of now). This is because, if nothing else, Romania is a lot smaller, less populous, and the invasion force is a lot bigger. Oh, and said horrendous Romanian government leading to apathy rather than near-unified disdain.

However, one thing that did appear in fiction and fact is the use of high-risk to the point of questionable VDV (Airborne Forces) operations. Of course, given their prominence, this is of little real surprise. Also, writing this post was tough, as is anything in a fluid, confusing situation.