Review: Aurora Invasion

Aurora: Invasion

What better book series to review on the Fourth of July than the ridiculously star-spangled Black Eagle Force? Aurora Invasion is a later entry in Steinke and Farmer’s “masterpiece”, where the BEF battles a new opponent-aliens.

This is a weaker entry in the series. Part of this is because its authors never were the best in terms of literary fundamentals to begin with, something very true here as well. A bigger reason is that, believe it or not, the rest of the series is so bizarre that fighting UFOs is actually more grounded than some of the other stuff the BEF gets up to.

This is still a decent out-there cheap thriller, but there are better books even in its own series.

The Flying Aircraft Carrier: Not Just For Comic Books

Yes, there was a serious study on the possibility of equipping 747s with trapeze catches and stuffing them full of “microfighters” to serve as flying aircraft carriers that could reach any hot spot soon.

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Besides the expense and equally obvious safety issues, these microfighters were only benchmarked against the MiG-21 and their small size would make them harder to upgrade (although this could be mitigated by increasingly miniaturized electronics and giving them smart weapons that didn’t need to be carried en masse). Still, this is a similar gimmick to what the absolutely crazy (in a good way) Black Eagle Force series did with its fighters, and it’s great for fiction.

Review: The Fourth Reich

The Fourth Reich

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After the cataclysmic misfire of Blood Ivory, the Black Eagle Force series returns to its greatest form in The Fourth Reich.

Following in the wake of such great literary works as the Bionic Commando video game and that deep, haunting movie, They Saved Hitler’s Brain, the book pits the BEF against the high-tech Reich from its base in South America. Any book that has Hitler reawaken in a clone body and immediately demand to know where his mustache is can’t be truly bad.

And the BEF is never more in its element then when it’s dogfighting against Horten flying wings. This is the kind of enemy they were made to face. Thus this book, for all its slight clunkiness, remains as big a joy as Eye Of The Storm and Sacred Mountain were.

Review: Blood Ivory

Blood Ivory

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Blood Ivory is the fourth entry in the Black Eagle Force series, detailing the super-team in their super-VTOL aircraft as they face terrorist poachers and cruise ship hijackers.

It’s also where the series simply collapses like the Hornets did in one infamous 2009 playoff game. Almost everything good and distinctive about it isn’t there, and everything that’s bad and derivative about it is. The names get even worse, and the politics (particularly at the “climax”) go from “stupid, wish-fulfilling, and strangely charming” to “stupid, wish-fulfilling, and creepy”.

But those are the least of its problems. There are two bigger ones.

  • The fundamental flaws with the rest of the series are there, and made even worse by a descent into jumping technothriller plots.
  • Substantially worse, the central “more Mack Maloney than Mack Maloney” gimmick is tossed aside almost completely. Past BEF books, particularly the first two, had opponents suitable for the super-VTOLs. This one just doesn’t.

What’s left is what amounts to two intertwined fourth-rate “small unit thrillers” that have, you guessed it, most of the weaknesses and few of the strengths of that subgenre. They’re too silly to be good “serious” thrillers by far, and they’re too mundane to be good “goofy” thrillers.

It’s uncommon to have a book series misfire so dramatically in one entry, especially one without excuses like editorial pressure (this series is self-published) or changes of writers (not evident here). But this book misfires indeed. It’s like the time Captain Beefheart tried recording “normal” music, taking something where the eccentricity was the biggest draw and leaving only mush.

Review: Return of The Starfighter

Return Of the Starfighter

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It says something about how crazy the Black Eagle Force series is when a book with the premise of a Chinese catamaran supercarrier leading a would-be invasion of the west coast prompted in part by the Federal Reserve’s loose monetary policy is one of the tamer and more grounded entries. And yet, that is how Return Of The Starfighter felt. The BEF fights alongside restored and upgraded Cold War aircraft (like the F-104) to battle the invasion fleet.

The Black Eagle Force series is kind of like the literary equivalent of the Postal 2 video game. It’s rather “dubious”, makes no sense,  always teeters on and sometimes crosses the line from “tasteless” to “offensive”, and isn’t the best set up, but the pure spectacle is what makes it enjoyable.

Lose the spectacle and the series loses its appeal, turning into a too clunky, too descriptive, too infodump-heavy technothriller. Return of The Starfighter, coming on the heels of Sacred Mountain’s goofy-crazy ridiculousness, tones it down ever so slightly and ends up looking a little like an avant-garde band’s attempt to play “normal” music. That some of the plot and battle elements are inevitably repeating by the third installment also doesn’t help.

It’s still over the top and still has its sense of wonder. This series, thankfully, isn’t devolving into later-Clancy levels of over-seriousness and pretentiousness by any means. But for a series that runs on crazy, going closer to mundanity takes away the greatest fun. Even if the mundanity comes in the form of a two-hulled mega-aircraft-carrier.

Review: Sacred Mountain

Sacred Mountain

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The second book in the Black Eagle Force series, Sacred Mountain, takes a look at the over-the-top goofiness of the first and goes “all right, time to unleash the cheap thriller equivalent of the dubstep gun.”

The president is kidnapped by ninjas. Are the people of Black Eagle Force bad enough dudes to rescue her? That is the plot of the book, but the execution is something. See, the Mexican billionaire from the first book returns in his volcano-lair. And so does Osama bin Laden (see, it was his brother acting as a stand-in who died in Abbotabad). And so do a huge number of Russian mercenaries with their accompanying hardware. It’s like the opening scene of The Naked Gun, only stretched into a ridiculous, and ridiculously fun spectacle.

The book is still a little too long and clunky, it has a few typos including one of the character’s names being slightly inconsistent, and at times it got a little bit too tasteless. But it manages to be ridiculously goofy while taking the action just seriously enough, and I enjoyed it a lot for being “more Mack Maloney than Mack Maloney”.  It’s hard to go wrong where one of the protagonists is a dog in a suit of armor.

Review: Eye Of The Storm

Eye Of The Storm

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The first book in the “Black Eagle Force” series by Ken Farmer and Buck Steinke, Eye Of The Storm is a delightfully cheesy exercise in Mack Maloney-style military melodrama.

Starting a Super Secret Task Force With Super Tech and Super Planes, the men, women, and high-tech aircraft of Black Eagle Force battle a Mexican billionaire whose last name is an obscenity in Spanish (uh…) and who has a private island with a pyramid-lair and a gigantic arsenal of soldiers and military equipment (ok…).

I was impressed. Oh, it’s not the best ever. Even beyond its cheesiness, cliche-ness, and dubious character names, it’s about a hundred pages too long. But its downsides are thankfully much fewer than its upsides. I just really like Mack Maloney-esque “over the top but not really science fiction” military action, and when the action happens, it happens well.

The nature of the story means any “errors” or “contrivances” are easily forgiven. The BEF gets opponents of an appropriately challenging nature-no small feat. It has just the right amount of threat and “look at ’em go.” This is an excellent “popcorn book” and one I was overjoyed to uncover.