Review: National Security

National Security

As something that’s very much a “51%” book, Marc Cameron’s National Security is hard to really review in depth. The first full-length Jericho Quinn (what a name!) book, it fits in the category of “light but fun.” In fact, it’s arguably a better example of the “The ultimate 51% book” than Marine Force One, my past go-to novel, was.

If one was to play a drinking game for cheap thriller cliches in this book, they would die of alcohol poisoning less than halfway through. Everything from the antagonists to the hero, to the way the hero’s operation is set up is there and very familiar to genre enthusiasts like myself. There’s even the weird weapons like silenced .22LR Glocks and air-launched Tomahawks. It’s dumb, it’s sometimes tasteless, and it’s the kind of book I love.

A Thousand Words: BUSTAFELLOWS

BUSTAFELLOWS

So, it should be obvious that I’m not the target romance fiction aimed at women. But romance fiction that doubles as a crime thriller? Call me intrigued. So when I saw the Blerdy Otome Review of BUSTAFELLOWS (the official title is in ALL CAPS), I felt like I should check what’s still a crime thriller out. Hey, if an otome game took place in a conventional World War III, I’d look at it (I’d be seriously interested in how someone who came from the opposite background as most technothriller authors would handle it.)

Anyway, BUSTAFELLOWS takes place in the fictional NYC stand-in of New Sieg, where a reporter who can send her mind back in time and bodyjack someone in the past to change the present (the implications are addressed, and it’s portrayed as more limited and less powerful than it could theoretically be) gets involved with five possible love interests/vigilantes. While a visual novel doesn’t have much in the way of gameplay per se save for selecting choices, I have to say that this is one of those “PC version as a total afterthought” ports with a bizarre control scheme. Oh well. I got used to it, and the actual game ran fine.

The good news is that this is the rare “Romantic Suspense” that actually succeeds in balancing “Romance” and “Suspense”. The bad news is A: I think there’s a bit of culture clash that’s iffy but still bears little ill will (I’d expect the same from an American production that tried to tackle East Asian socio-political issues), and worse, B: The tone zigzags too much from “too serious” to “too goofy”. But these aren’t deal-breakers and I found it worth my money.

Review: A Pius Man

A Pius Man

Declan Finn’s A Pius Man is a very weird thriller. It was intended as a conservative Catholic response to The Da Vinci Code and its array of knockoffs, yet delays in the publication of the book had the unfortunate effect of making it appear after the trend had already gone away. So it’s like a scathing critique of disco music-that came out in 1989.

As for the book itself, it’s an awkward mixture of conventional thriller (see the central casting Thriller Protagonist!), out-there thriller (See the pope in his super-armor confront raised-from-childhood KGB assassins!), and a self-serious defense of Pius XII’s historical record that reads like a mediocre undergraduate essay. All this is clumsily shoved together.

I still wouldn’t call this book really “good”. But it’s at least different and a little distinct. Your liking of it will depend on your liking of difference for its own sake. It’s the “mean 51%” compared to stuff like Marine Force One or other rote “shoot the terrorist”‘s “median 51%”.

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: Threat Level Alpha

Threat Level Alpha

The sixth book in the Dan Morgan series, Threat Level Alpha is unfortunately a step back. The first problem is that the book reverts to the mean of “shoot the terrorist”, and a clumsy attempt to raise the stakes by making the threat supposedly more dangerous simply doesn’t work. The second is that there are two basically unconnected plotlines in the book.

There are better books in this series. I do not recommending reading this one. It may very well be the worst entry in the Dan Morgan series that I’ve read so far. Read the other five books instead.

Review: Rogue Commander

Rogue Commander

The fifth Dan Morgan thriller, Leo Maloney’s Rogue Commander solidifies his status as the “second-best Jon Land.” Like I’ve said before, this series is the closest I’ve gotten to the excessive fun that was Blaine McCracken and Land’s other heroes. The subject matter is more mundane than Land’s, but the structure, especially the excellent “slow reveal” is very similar and just as effective.

This book in particular emphasizes another trait shared with Land-the swerve where characters dramatically show they were on the opposite side then previously implied. In this case, the titular “rogue commander” is all but stated to be someone-and then, in the climax, revealed to be-gasp- someone else. It’s silly, it’s ridiculous, it’s not high literature in the slightest-and it’s very very fun.

It still isn’t the best in the Dan Morgan series (that would be Black Skies as of now), but you could still do worse than this as your first entry into Maloney’s action hero fantasy. It has everything good about Dan Morgan, and all the fundamentals are solid.

Weird Wargaming: Supersonic VIP Jets

Every so often, a supersonic business/VIP jet proposal emerges, often derived from high-performance fighters. One of the most interesting was a plan to use the MiG-25 of all airplanes to make a very fast transport. (It wasn’t that serious of a design, but still…)

Now, I can think of a few legitimate, cost-is-no-deterrent users (both governmental and private) who would benefit from moving a few people or a small amount of material around very quickly. But other than that, in private hands I can honestly see supersonic bizjets as being knowingly ridiculous status symbols. Like the supercar that never goes above the speed limit or the SUV that never navigates anything more than a small hill on the road, it’s the symbolism that counts.

And then there are the Jon Land-style super-conspiracies, who of course would have the fastest, shiniest, most capable aircraft imaginable…

Review: High Rise Invasion Volume 1

High Rise Invasion Volume 1

The manga High Rise Invasion was recommended to me, so I decided to give the first volume a try. The premise of this volume is extremely simple-schoolgirl Yuri Honjo ends up in a strange world of nothing but skyscrapers and masked killers. Essentially the entire volume’s plot, save for the last few sections where other sane characters appear, is of Yuri running around and fighting.

It’s shallow but I can forgive it. Remembering that it’s meant to be read one chapter at a time in a magazine serial helps a lot. That and the fundamentals being done well (the art is good and so is the action) makes this worth the cost. I’ve read plenty of shallow but worthy cheap thrillers in text form, so one in comic form can work as well.

Review: Give Us This Day

Give Us This Day

I bought Tom Avitabile’s Give Us This Day in a grocery store. It should have been a bad sign. Sometimes “grocery store books” are good. This one was not. Even by cheap thriller standards. No, make that especially by cheap thriller standards. The action scenes have the exact same (flat) tone as the rest of the book, for starters.

Anyway, we get secret agent Brooke Burrell as she shoots…. terrorists. Yep, it’s a “shoot the terrorist” novel, and the execution is nowhere near good enough to make up for the bland premise. The writing is done in rambling, really blocky paragraphs and constant jumps in iffy formatting. No one is particularly interesting.

This is the kind of book the mainstream technothriller devolved into in the 2000s. It combines “technology” and viewpoint hopping with watered down action and no sense of a big picture. There are just so many better cheap thrillers out there.