Review: Advance To Contact

Advance To Contact

advancetocontactcover

In the early stages of Fuldapocalypse, I reviewed Andy Farman’s Stand To, a World War III tale. Or rather, a sleazy spy tale that became a World War III tale that involved everything I thought I’d be seeing en masse on Fuldapocalypse, and then some. Lots of descriptions. Lots of viewpoint characters. Lots of meticulously described battles.

Now I’m in one of those full circle moods. I still had the remaining books in the series left unread, so I decided to return to that mostly untapped World War III vein and read the second Armageddon’s Song book, Advance to Contact.

Farman has had decades of legitimate expertise as a soldier and police officer, and indeed the infantry fighting scenes in this book sometimes actually work. The key word here is “sometimes”. Often they blur together (since the characters are so forgettable and interchangeable). Often Farman fills it with infodumps on the exact levels of equipment and/or author lectures on whatever topic is technically relevant. Often the viewpoints are yanked away and yanked back. Often they’re overdescribed to the point where it loses its focus. Still, I should give legitimate credit where credit is due. There’s one scene with doomed Belarusian soldiers where he actually writes well, doesn’t get too infodumpy, and keeps the ‘camera’ focused on them instead of jumping a continent away after a few paragraphs.

Another instance of deserved credit is that the plotting and pacing is a little better than in Stand To. The war is underway, so the goofy spy plot is less prominent and the viewpoint jumping merely at the level of “exaggerated technothriller” rather than the wrenching shifts of Stand To.

That being said, it still has most of the problems mentioned over a year ago in the review of Stand To. The times when details are gotten wrong (given the ridiculous amount of description) are annoying. Farman doesn’t focus on where he’s most skilled and comfortable but instead gives giant air/sea battles. There are bizarre events like B-2s being used as tankers and Tu-160s as special forces insertion craft. The dialogue for anyone not in the military is frequently awkward. And the pacing is just glacially slow.

Still, like with the first book, I couldn’t feel mad about this and frequently felt amused. This is an earnest series by a first-time fiction writer. It’s just that what could have been at least a rival to Chieftains with some more focus turned into this clunked-together technothriller kitchen sink.

Review: Stand To

Andy Farman’s Armageddon’s Song series starts with Stand-To, published in 2013. It’s-something. It tries to be a post-USSR thriller, but that description does not do it justice. It’s something. I’ll put it that way.

Icelands

The spy-novel intro is out-there, but then it manages to devolve into a sort of meta-WWIII against a Sino-Russian alliance, diverging from formula via pure spectacle and some very bizzare national alignments.

Rivets

Stand To might as well be the rivet capital of the world. It has, especially after the war starts, infodump after infodump after infodump after infodump after infodump after infodump after infodump after infodump after-you get the idea. I’ve seen outright pseudo-historical summaries that have fewer infodumps than this. Far fewer.

Infodumps on everything from artillery trajectories to squad tactics to equipment to chemical suits to chemical paper to radar types to training to repeated rants about how the British military is underfunded and underequipped are tossed clunkily onto the pages.

Zombie Sorceresses

This book opens with a ridiculous spy-novel plot involving femme fatales so tasteless and ridiculous they’d be rejected from an Austin Powers movie, and just incredible sleaze as tasteless as it is ridiculous. Then once the war actually starts, well, it has a Slavic ex-Soviet republic, deeply divided, with parts of it allying with the Russians but the bulk of it siding with the West.

It’s Belarus. That other big former SSR you might have thought was the culprit from the description is barely present, but the Czechs have flipped and are the spearhead of the enemy into Western Europe (so that the opening lines can still be in Germany).

Then there’s plot-nukes that open the war but don’t distract from the chemical-conventional clashes (and infodumps). The zombie sorceresses were very busy here.

The “Wha”?

First, the prose isn’t very good. There’s typos galore, everything is spelled out in amazing detail, and it makes gory deaths seem yawn-inducing. Second, the characters zig-zag from the raunchy spy novel caricatures of the opening to the flat infodumped “there to provide an anchor for the action and nothing else” ones of the proper war. Even when there’s a hint of personal struggle, it’s right back to more infodumps.

Second, the entire story takes a 180 turn from the bad spy novel tone to the infodumpalicious actual war.

The Only Score That Really Matters

And yet I felt amused by this. This is raw, unpolished, unfiltered-something. It earnestly combines infodumpy “boom boom goes the tank” action with sleazy spy novel stuff. It honestly felt a little novel in its excess. This kind of fiction at its worst tends to be either ultra-infodumped and over-researched or slapdash with stuff done for the fun of it. Stand To somehow manages to be both at the same time.

For normal readers, I wouldn’t recommend it. But for someone like me who enjoys such spectacles, it was amazing. It takes a lot of effort to shock me with too many infodumps, but this managed.