Snippet Reviews: January 2020

New year, new set of snippet reviews.

Return of the Ottomans

Return Of The Ottomans is a clunky “Big war thriller” only distinguished by its premise. Turkey invading Bulgaria is more conceptually interesting and the action isn’t the worst in a nuts and bolts way, but jumping viewpoints and Steel Panthers Characterization at its worst bring it down.

The Fires Of Midnight

The Fires of Midnight is the last of the classic Blaine McCrackens, before Dead Simple knocked the series off course. While I now knew the formula in great detail, it doesn’t change that the formula is a good one-and that it includes an excellent finale in an excellent place.

Sword Point

I wanted Sword Point, Harold Coyle’s second novel, to be good, and it still ultimately is. Yet it has this awkward feeling of a one-hit wonder musician trying to make lightning strike twice. The same formula and theme is there, and it’s not bad. But it just doesn’t have the kick the initial installment has.

It’s still tanks going boom in a solid, flowing way. And the Middle Eastern setting is distinct. But it’s just missing something.

The Fuldapocalypse Year in Review

This has been a great year for Fuldapocalypse. Not only have I completed many reviews, and many diverse reviews, but the blog finally broke free of the shackles I’d initially imposed on it. After tinkering with the narrow scale a bit, I just tossed it aside entirely in March without any regret. Of course, my reviews became a lot more off the cuff and looser without that structure, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

It’s definitely not a bad thing that Fuldapocalypse has become a general fiction review blog with an “analytics of World War III” side-section. As I’ve said before, I would have literally run out of books had I kept trying to do that.

While I did not read a 27-book series in one binge, I did read all eleven Blaine McCracken books and all seven Black Eagle Force books.

What were my favorite literary discoveries of 2019? It’s a little hard to figure out given how much I read, but here they are.

-Northern Fury: H-Hour.

I knew very much of the Command scenarios this book started from, but was impressed by the novel itself. It managed to not fall into the pit of being just a thinly-veiled lets play, and flowed well. This is how to use wargames well for writing.

-Blaine McCracken.

If the Survivalist was last year’s “binge read a long series”, McCracken was this years, with me devouring all eleven books in short order. Jon Land tosses aside such frivolities as “plausibility” and “logic” in favor of ridiculous set-pieces. And I loved them.

-The Draka series.

This has been an infamous series in internet alternate history for a long time. Reading the actual books was something weirdly relieving, cutting through the decades-long telephone game to find. I had the suspicion that they were less than their reputation beforehand, but reading them confirmed it.

I’m left with the conclusion that, weirdly like the Spacebattles-favorite Worm, the Draka series became internet-famous for having a legitimately distinct setup and a variety of timing/circumstance-related things that had little to do with the prose itself. It’s mostly just “the bad guys win” and “bizarro-America, a continent-sized superpower founded on tyranny” used as the (interesting) setup for middling sleazy pulp in a variety of genres.

-The Casca series.

Ah yes, it’s one of those series where the background of “Guy who sang The Ballad Of The Green Beret makes a cheap thriller series about an immortal Roman soldier” is more interesting than the bulk of the books themselves. The first two books will never be more than trashy cheap thrillers, but they’re still good trashy cheap thrillers.

Everything beyond that is incredibly formulaic and risk-averse, even by cheap thriller standards. The immortality gimmick is just a way to get the same dull character into whatever pop-history period the book demands.

-Marine Force One.

David Alexander’s Marine Force One is perhaps the single most middling piece of fiction I’ve read. It’s so mediocre, so “51%”, that it actually stands out somehow. Thus it makes a good benchmark for other “51% books”, especially action thrillers, that I’ve weirdly come back to time and again.

It’s been a great year for this blog and for me in terms of reading. See you in 2020!

Review: Pandora’s Temple

Pandora’s Temple

After being buried for more than a decade, Blaine McCracken returned in Pandora’s Temple.

This book shakes off the cobwebs of Dead Simple and returns to what made the early McCrackens so excellent. Ridiculous MacGuffins, even more ridiculous action set pieces, giant plot twists, and more. A Blaine McCracken book works best when it’s utterly crazy, and this certainly qualifies as such.

It’s a little rougher and more “overstuffed” than some of the early McCracken novels (not that I’m complaining about too few ridiculous set pieces, it just feels a little clunkier), but is still an incredibly fun spectacle that can definitely sit along side them.

Review: Dead Simple

Dead Simple

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The ninth book in the Blaine McCracken series, Dead Simple marked a point where it took a very long hiatus afterward.

It’s easy to see why. This book devolves into “Captain Beefheart Playing Normal Music” in a way that no previous Blaine McCracken book did. McCracken is, in the early parts, treated as aging and vulnerable-a problem both in terms of thematic dissonance and how he’s back to his old self instantly when the climax happens. The moments of whimsy and craziness that make the series so amusing feel half-hearted at best. The storyline is closer to a mundane “shoot the terrorist” than any previous McCracken, the MacGuffin is the least interesting and most bland in the series to date, and its historical-treasure subplot felt awkward and out of place, like it was trying too hard to follow the exact path of a Clive Cussler novel.

If this was in isolation with a new hero named, I dunno, Bruce McDowell, I’d have considered it a decent, slightly eccentric, run-of-the-mill “51% thriller”. But in comparison to its gonzo predecessors, it can’t help but fall short. Leaving the series buried for over a decade before a fortunate revival might have been for the best if the alternative was to stagger on into mundanity, losing everything that made Blaine McCracken fun and distinctive to begin with.

Review: Day Of The Delphi

Day Of The Delphi

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Despite being the sixth in the series, Day Of The Delphi is actually the first Blaine McCracken book I’d heard of. How had I heard of it? Well, it’s quite a story. Shamus Young, one of my favorite video game commentators, had listed it as one of his least favorite books ever. Naturally, this piqued my interest and I found the greatest thriller protagonist name ever. A little later, I heard the name “Blaine McCracken” again, got The Omega Command, and never looked back.

As for Day Of The Delphi itself, it’s excellent-by Blaine McCracken standards. The previous entry, The Vengeance of the Tau was still good, but it suffered from having the first disappointing central gimmick in the series. McCracken returns to form in this ridiculous epic.

The tone of this book (and the whole series) can be summed up by a scene disappointing to me. The disappointing scene did not involve any inconsistency, by now routine super-gambits, or laughably inaccurate designations of weapons. All those are in the book, but they aren’t the disappointing part of it.

No, the disappointing scene was a fight in a slaughterhouse that failed to take advantage of the potential to use live cows as weapons. McCracken uses the ramrod to kill an enemy. It needed more “battle cattle”. Other than the lack of battle cattle, this was a ridiculous Blaine McCracken spectacle extraordinaire. Yes, even by the standards of other books in the series.

It doesn’t have a MacGuffin that’s weird, but it makes up for by having an incredibly ridiculous (the plan of this book’s super-conspiracy ranks as dumb even by the standards of Blaine McCracken super-conspiracies) main plot. Some might reasonably think that’s bad. To me, I view it as part of the fun.

Snippet Reviews: August 1-11 2019

It’s time for more snippet reviews.

The Omicron Legion

The fourth Blaine McCracken book, The Omicron Legion continues Land’s style of ridiculous plots, quadruple-crosses (yes, I’m using that word), and BLAINE MCCRACKEN action. If you liked the past Blaine McCracken books, you’ll like this a lot.

The Mercenaries: Blood Diamonds

This Peter Telep (under a pen name) novel would be a routine 2000s thriller if not for one thing-the dialogue. It’s ridiculously and constantly crazy. This wouldn’t be too big of a deal if the actual story was goofy to match, but it’s supposed to be a serious tale of weary mercs in the southern African wilderness.

While it at least it stands out a little because of that, this book really ought to be focused around a Macguffin giant magical diamond that can power a super-deathray, not a stash of normal ones.

Terror in Taos

One of the Penetrator novels, Terror in Taos serves up all the 1970s “vigilante vs mobsters” action one could possibly want. By the standards of the genre, it’s very good. The action, which includes hero Mark Hardin storming a desert castle, is good. There’s even a bit of semi-mystical Native American stuff that makes it even more ridiculously over-the-top and fun (yes, it could easily be tasteless and offensive to a modern audience, but this is a 70s action novel-what did you honestly expect?).

Review: The Gamma Option

The Gamma Option

The third Blaine McCracken book, The Gamma Option continues the crazy twists and turns, the crazier plot swerves, nonsensical politics, and surprisingly solid fundamentals that marked the previous two installments. It does yo-yo a little more into “amazingly stupid” (to give any detail on these moments and twists would be to spoil them, but rest assured-they are very, very, dumb)  but still has a lot of “stupidly amazing” moments. My favorite of these is Chekov’s Monster Truck.

See, Blaine McCracken notices a monster truck parked nearby when he goes to interview someone. I knew when I read the passage that the monster truck was not Jon Land’s attempt at some kind of weird literary metaphor, nor was it just a bit of background description. I knew that McCracken was going to end up driving it in a chase scene. And drive it he did.

This is everything I expected from a Blaine McCracken book, and it has all of the ridiculous appeal that makes reading them such a treat.

Review: The Alpha Deception

The Alpha Deception

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It’s not Jon Land’s fault that his first Blaine McCracken book left big shoes to fill. How does the second, The Alpha Deception, fare? In it, Blaine McCracken has another crazy adventure as he fights a rogue Soviet general with a death ray and an army of cheap thriller flunkies.

The book starts with a scene where a Hind-D helicopter is treated like it’s some kind of Airwolf-style superweapon. It only gets more ridiculous from there, from a fight with a pet panther to McCracken being subjected to a combination Dr. Evil Deathtrap and Greek mythology reenactment to a giant submarine/crab-mecha.

There’s a few stumbles with the plot. First, the ending is, well, a little Indiana Jones-y, and not in a good way. More important is the plot centered around the villain’s takeover of a small town and the resistance of its residents, which is far less interesting than McCracken’s own exploits (until, of course, they intersect). But those stumbles are very small, and The Alpha Deception maintains all the charm of the first book and then some.

 

Review: The Omega Command

The Omega Command

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Jon Land’s The Omega Command is the first entry in a series of thrillers starring someone with arguably the best thriller protagonist name ever: Blaine McCracken. It starts with a typical cheap thriller plot involving a space shuttle getting blown up, and then goes on a one-way trip to Crazyville, going from New England to Atlanta to secret mercenary islands to supervillain lairs to outer space.

Blaine McCracken is a “Rogue Agent Who Doesn’t Play By The Rules” cliche. The supporting characters are equal mixes of cliches and stereotypes. The plot can basically be described as this conspiracy theory pileup of escalations, swerves, and “twists” without foreshadowing. 80s Computer Technology is involved, and I would feel comfortable in saying that this is a technothriller. However, it is an off-the-wall bonkers goofy ridiculous monster of a technothriller, and I loved it all the more for it.

This was amazing to read. Simply amazing. Not really a “good” book in the true sense of the term, although the action and pacing essential to every cheap thriller were by no means bad. It was a spectacle, and an ridiculous, stupid, bizarre, and somehow totally satisfying spectacle at that.