Review: The Han Solo Adventures

The Han Solo Adventures

Originally published in three installments from 1979 to 1980, the Han Solo Adventures by Brian Daley were the first books in what would become the Star Wars expanded universe. Star Wars fans tend to love them, and I’m one of them. Without restrictions or a desire to one-up the movies (I’m looking at you, Kevin J. Anderson), the books are a fresh fun romp through the Corporate Sector.

Daley can write everything from prison breaks to starfighter bouts to duelists well, and he does in these books. Every Star Wars fan, science fiction fan, or just fiction fan should read these.

Review: Carrying the Fire

Carrying The Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys

Long considered one of the two best astronaut memoirs (the other being Mike Mullane’s Riding Rockets), Carrying the Fire is the autobiography of Apollo 1 command module pilot Michael Collins. He got to go to the moon but not walk on it. Collins insisted on writing the book all by himself without assistance, and it paid off. Not only was he a capable pilot and astronaut, but he turned out to be an excellent author as well.

With both humor and majesty, Collins tells the story of flight and the moon program. Anyone interested in outer space should get this. It’s an excellent book and even greater autobiography. While it’s not nearly as fresh as it was in 1974, that’s a small and inevitable “problem” to have. This is a great book.

The Nuclear-Pentand?

The term “nuclear triad” is a familiar one. It means the three main delivery systems-aircraft, land installations, and naval ones. Or rather, the three main American delivery systems. See, it’s easy to see the grouping of three when you have only deployed three types of strategic platforms: Silos, aircraft, and submarines.

From this American point of view, mobile ICBMs in use by other countries fit into the land part of the triad, and the oft-proposed surface ship bases would fit into the naval part. However, the proposed anchored capsules on the bottom of the sea have more in common with silos than mobile submarines.

So in a different world where nuclear basing was more widespread, the term “Tetrad” or “Pentad” could be used. A tetrad of silos, mobile land missiles (whether via truck, train, hovercraft, or Wienermobile), aircraft, and submarines. Or a pentad of all that plus surface ships.

Weird Wargaming: The Emperor of Bombs

In Nuclear War Simulator, one of my favorite creations to use and drop is something I’ve called the “Huangdi Bomb”. The name, after Chinese for “Emperor”, is a pun on Tsar Bomba. Only this has a bigger boom at 75 megatons. It’s also, in the backstory, a lot more advanced and sophisticated. Unlike the publicity stunt that was the Tsar, the Huangdi is a mass-produced, deployable weapon capable of fitting inside either an H-6 or large ICBM without issue.

It’s also, judging by the maximum payload of the Badger and its yield (the classic yield-weight calculation), the most efficient nuclear weapon ever made. As it has a multi-decade lead on the other megabombs, this isn’t surprising. As for how and why such a beast is used, the theories for the gargantuan warhead are hitting extremely large targets, making accuracy issues irrelevant for simple countervalue operations, improving warhead efficiency in a big design before trying to apply it to smaller ones, and contributing to deterrence by intimidating would-be-opponents with its yield.

In various NWS scenarios, I have about twenty Huangdis made overall, in both air-dropped and missile carried versions.

A Thousand Words: Carrier Air Wing

Carrier Air Wing

Capcom’s 1990 Carrier Air Wing is a fairly standard side scrolling plane shooter. Except for one thing that elevated it massively in my eyes. That’s the surprisingly detailed and (in a visual sense) accurate depiction of military hardware. You can control either a Hornet, a Tomcat, or an Intruder (which is marked as an A-6F. Wonder if they knew of the never-was upgrade or if it was a happy coincidence because they chose the next letter after E.)

When I saw Tu-22 Blinders as enemies in the first level, I was in love. When I saw Yak-38s in a later stage, I was even more in love. This is quite possibly the most Fuldapocalyptic shmup there is, and I loved playing every second of it. Yes, there’s the sci-fi superweapons (such as a final boss that includes a Buran shuttle) but it’s otherwise very grounded-looking compared to other games of its time and nature.

This is basically a video game adaptation of a Mack Maloney novel. What’s not to like?

A Thousand Words: Progear


What do you get when you push an inherently limited genre as far as it can go? Probably something like Progear, a 2001 Capcom arcade “shmup”, the classic Gradius-type arcade game where you control a little spaceship moving around on a scrolling field. Only this “spaceship” is a World War I-type fighter plane, and the game has a very dieselpunk theme that I like. The graphics are very good, being (or at least looking like) beautiful sprites in an age of polygons.

The story is utter nonsense, and I have to wonder how much of it is due to iffy translations and how much is due to just limited information. Basically a group of young pilots have to fight off a conspiracy of posh Victorians led by a lion-man, and I’m not making that up. It feels like you only got ten seconds of a thirty-minute show and had to piece everything together from there. But this is a classic video game where such stuff was par for the course.

The gameplay is nothing to write home about, as it’s the same “fire away, use limited power ups, and try and dodge at least some of the impossibly large number of projectiles heading your way” formula. But that’s a fun formula for a reason. And whether by accident or design, one boss seemed to mock the formula. In a game where your ship faces right and only right, the boss tries to counter by…. moving to the left of the screen. Too bad you have homing missiles.

This is not a deep game, even by the standards of arcade classics. It’s not the most polished or fair game. But it is quite the fun game, and a sign of how far “handmade” graphics could go.

Review: A Dream Of Empire

A Dream Of Empire

A recent work of alternate history by someone with the pen name “Grey Wolf”, A Dream of Empire is about a war between 19th Century Britain and a surviving Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire. There are lots of characters. And there are airships. Because this is an alternate history work set in the 1800s, there has to be airships.

This isn’t bad, but it feels a little overstuffed and shallow. It’s trying to be a “big war thriller” and a spy thriller, but that’s hard to do with something that’s one third the length of a normal book, much less a big and sweeping one. That’s the literary critique. The alternate history nerd critique is that a Byzantine Empire surviving, Victorian semi-steampunk, and airships are all genre archetypes, if not cliches.

You could do a lot worse for the very low purchase price than this book. But it could have also been a lot more and a lot better than what it actually was.

Soviet Romanian War Aircraft Losses

For the Soviet Romanian War in All Union, since World War III 1987 is doing aircraft losses, I figured I might as well too. (Also, enjoy the Sovereign Union’s flag in picture detail!)

Sovereign Union

  • 22 aircraft lost in the war to hostile fire. Of those, three were lost in aerial combat, two to radar SAMs, and the remaining seventeen to AAA/MANPADS.
  • Around 10 more lost to friendly fire and accidents (the former being folded into the latter for obvious reasons)
  • 30 helicopters lost in the war to all causes.


  • 19 aircraft lost in the war to hostile fire. Two in aerial combat, the rest to AAA/MANPADS. Worse equipment, training, and heavy intense support of the Danube forcing contributed to the lopsided ratio.
  • 8 more to friendly fire and accidents.
  • 16 helicopters lost in the war to all causes.


  • The Romanian air force of around six hundred prewar aircraft was completely destroyed, save for thirteen confirmed escapes to Hungary and U̴̪͇̺͒̽̚ṅ̴̬͖å̶͇̦͚̈́u̷̧͓̞̿t̸̬͛͒̌h̴̳͆o̴̤̍̐͝r̶͈͑̊͘ĭ̶̡̈ͅz̸̜̗̤͒̾̇è̷̡͙̊̿d̶͍̖̄͗̑ ̷̡̩͋͆̊ͅC̴̨͂͗͜l̷̰̤͎̊͝͠ẽ̷͈̟̅̍a̸̱͑r̵̨̯̽̆ä̴̞̠́n̷͉̘͊c̸͓͇̪̍͆e̷͕̾̀͆ ̶̫͔͔͑D̵̢̻̊̽E̸͍̗͆͝T̵̘̽͆̚E̶̞͐̓͝Ċ̵̟́T̶̢̖̔Ę̸̋Ḋ̵̯̒.
  • Over four fifths of the Romanian Air Force was destroyed on the ground in the initial fire strike. Of the remaining not overrun/eliminated in the same way later, sixty one were downed in aerial combat, thirteen escaped to Hungary, thirteen more were lost to friendly fire, and only eight were taken out by the vaunted air defenses. (SAMs were on a tight leash as the planners knew there’d be a lot more friendly ones in the sky).

Operation El Paso

OPLAN El Paso was a proposed campaign in the Vietnam War to block off the Laos trails by land. One southern and two American divisions would deploy by air and hold the terrain. This corps-sized blocking force could theoretically do what no amount of airpower realistically could: stop the flow of troops and supplies south.

It may have been a missed opportunity to decisively change the (conventional) course of the Vietnam war-or a chance for the northerners to inflict a huge number of politically sensitive casualties on the Americans in a place where it was near its supply bases and they were farther. If one of the people responsible for the plan was skeptical that it could work, you know it could very well end up going the way of the similar Lam Son 719.

Review: Secret Luftwaffe Projects

Secret Luftwaffe Projects

Through diligent research and the uncovering of the original drawings and plans, Walter Meyer sheds some light in Secret Luftwaffe Projects. As a basic guide to the Luftwaffe wunderwaffe napkinwaffe, this is excellent. It also doesn’t pretend to be anything that it’s not, and doesn’t extrapolate or make wild claims.

But what it is is (deliberately) broad, shallow, and focused entirely on the basics. Each wunderplane gets a very short description of its role and a sheet of its (intended) stats. There’s no context or even reasonable speculation, but this isn’t the kind of book for this. It’s an encyclopedia of planes that never were, and in that role succeeds beautifully, complementing rather than competing with other books on the same subject.

And besides, it’s very fun to see all the crazy contraptions one after another. I recommend this book to any aviation enthusiast or anyone interested in the bizarre, because a lot of the planes here are just weird. But what did you expect?