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.

A Thousand Words: Billy The Kid VS Dracula

Billy The Kid VS Dracula

When I saw the title of the 1966 film Billy The Kid vs. Dracula, I knew I had to watch it. With a name like that, you know you’re in for something special. And this indeed was something very special. A vampire Western that hits every single cliche of both genres, the story is that Billy The Kid has reformed (!) and aims for a new peaceful life, but his fiancee is threated by Dracula.

Actually, there’s one point in which the movie is surprisingly progressive for its time: The inevitable Native American attack on the stagecoach is explicit as only happening because Dracula killed one of the previously stated as friendly ones and blamed it on the other passengers. Apart from that, it differs in how stupid and clueless everyone, including female lead Melinda Plowman, is. I was rooting for the vampire, especially because John Carradine (David’s father) delivers one of the few good performances as the monster.

This is very much a B-movie with B-movie problems, but its pure weirdness means it’s worth a watch.

Review: Day of Confession

Day of Confession

Alan Folsom’s second thriller novel was 1998’s Day of Confession. Following the “big” so-bad-its-good shoes of predecessor The Day After Tomorrow, it stumbles. Badly. That involved a bizarre plot centered around giving Adolph Hitler a head transplant. This, like a 1990s technothriller out of Central Casting, involves Catholic Church higher-ups launching a conspiracy to take control of China.

(Look, this is what you get when you don’t have a definite opponent. You can get Cauldron or you can get stuff like this.)

Anyway, this more mundane premise dooms the book. It has all of its predecessor’s weaknesses, like so much of the book just being people going places. But by having a more boring thriller plot, it lacks the crazed strengths that made Day After Tomorrow such a good bad book. The writing isn’t the worst ever, but there are better thrillers out there.

Review: Forever And Five Days

Forever And Five Days

Fitting the “lurid true crime” genre exactly, Forever and Five Days tells the story of female lovers and serial killers Gwen Graham and Cathy Wood, nurses aides at a Grand Rapids care home who murdered several patients. The story of a questionably run facility filled with dispirited elderly people, the description of Alpine Manor would be creepy even if there were no murders.

The saga of Graham and Wood is yet more proof that serial killers are not Lex Luthor evil geniuses. The two made so many unsuccessful attacks that their prospective victims openly claimed people were trying to kill them, only avoiding suspicion as long as they did because many old people were delirious.

While it has the weaknesses of the sensationalist true crime book, this also has the strengths. If you like historical stories of serial killers, I’d recommend this.

Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

Ok, so after I read Battle Royale, I knew I couldn’t just not read the other famous “teenagers in a death game” book. So despite not being in the demographic, despite having little interest in it when it first came out, and despite so much else, I read through Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.

What’s interesting is that it’s flawed in the exact opposite way of Battle Royale. That was too broad, focusing on the adventures of countless doomed students away from the main characters. This is too narrow, focused entirely on a first-person narrative from protagonist Katniss.

Especially because, to be frank, she comes across as a dullard. The kind of person who’d be bland trailer trash in anything but the post-apocalyptic semi-sci fi setting she’s written in. I’ve long thought that first person is one of the hardest perspectives to write action novels in, and this did not exactly convince me otherwise.

I don’t want to be too hard on this, since I’m obviously not really the target audience. It’s written well for what it is, but it’s an orange read by someone who likes apples.

Review: Lavi

Lavi

Engineer John Golan decides to tell the story of the IAI Lavi fighter in the book of the same name. It’s a very frustrating, “mean 51%” book. First, the good part. The aeronautical engineering stuff (which takes up an understandably large portion of the book) is well done (if over my head mostly). Likewise, the story of its development and cancellation, with tumult and controversy in both America and Israel, is also well told.

The problem comes from the slant of the book. In terms of bias towards the Lavi, Golan feels the same way about it as Arrian did about Alexander the Great. It’s understandable for an engineer to feel that way: The Lavi being a clean-sheet design meant that there was more it could with less size in the strike role than the adapted F-16. But this also leads to tunnel vision and avoiding the context. Which is that an expensive toy may not have been the best option overall for a country with a reduced conventional threat and in an economic collapse at the time (inflation in Israel was reaching near-Weimar levels).

There are also a few “brown M&Ms” (oversights that raise some eyebrows for me). Golan speaks of the Osirak raid as “setting Saddam’s nuclear program back a decade” (if anything, it accelerated it), and takes the 10-1 kill rate in the Korean War at face value. More annoyingly, it falls too much for the “Pentagon Reformer” arguments.

Finally, relying on fighter pilots gave me the exact opposite thought than Golan intended. His impression of the Yom Kippur War veteran pilots leaning so hard on the Lavi was that of pragmatists who’d been through the worst of war. My impression was of them (understandably) wanting a gold-plated plane while not being able to see the forest for the trees. As Bill James put it “The trees really are not, when you think about it, in a very good position to evaluate the issue.” It gets to the point where you probably wouldn’t know from this book alone that the Bekaa Valley air battle was the squash it was with the “worse” aircraft.

Still, this is an interesting book on an interesting plane. For aviation enthusiasts, it’s well worth a read.

Review: Funland

Funland

Horror legend Richard Laymon’s Funland is a tale of terror at an amusement park. Or at least it supposedly is. What it actually is is a story of a war between crazed hobos known as “trolls” and a gang of teenage delinquents fighting them. Oh, and love triangles.

The only real “horror action” occurs very late in the book. Other than that, it’s just a conflict between groups of totally unsympathetic people. That the small spurts of action are indeed good is what makes this a slightly better horror novel than the last one I reviewed. But only slightly.

Would it really hurt to have people who you can actually support? Even conventional horror story victims would be better than the waves of creeps and vigilantes that we got.

Review: Teacher’s Pet

It’s October, so I figured I’d do some more horror novels on Fuldapocalypse. I also figure I’d start at the bottom. Because Andrew Niederman’s Teacher’s Pet is definitely down there. And not in a good way.

The plot is simple. Mysterious tutor Mr. Adam Lucy (Hmm, do those first three letters remind you of anything else?) arrives in a town and mysterious creepy stuff happens. Mr. Lucy could be the Antichrist, a mere demon, or an alien (or a combination?). The book goes for the “what you don’t know is creepy” approach, which I could respect more if it wasn’t so shallow.

See, there really isn’t much gore or excess. There is, however, a large quantity of the dreaded activity that sends a shudder down every reader’s spine when a book uses it. Although not in a “that’s scary or chilling”, more like an “oh, no, the author really did that ‘literary’ trope again?” I speak of the infamous middle class adultery.

This is not a good book. It’s not a good horror book, and it’s not even that good a book to mock. It’s just-weirdly mundanely bad.

Review: Primary Target (Jack Mars)

Primary Target: The Forging Of Luke Stone

A prequel to the Luke Stone adventure novel series, Primary Target is one of those books that somehow manages to hit every single genre cliche and then some. Reading this gets the most cookie-cutter action hero imaginable, almost literally every single type of cheap thriller villain showing up at some point, and 51% action.

In other words, I loved it. This is the best kind of 51% book, and it’s the perfect type of novel to relax one’s mind in between deeper and more fulfilling books. I recommend this as silly fun.