A Thousand Words: Scanners

Scanners

The 1981 David Cronenberg film Scanners, about people with psychic powers, is a perfect movie to review in October. It’s also an underappreciated movie. See, it has Cronenberg’s trademark twisted body horror done in a way that’s suspenseful and not overexaggerated. It also manages to be excellently paced and creepy.

However, most people only know Scanners for the scene where a man’s head explodes. While that is well-done, there’s so much more to the movie than that. It’s well worth a watch.

Review: Kill Shot

Kill Shot

Every so often, I dip back into the Mack Bolan pool, with Kill Shot being my latest attempt. And I always come back to the realization that most of the Gold Eagle ones aren’t worth checking out when so many other, better cheap thrillers exist. And this was no exception.

Not only does Kill Shot do nothing to separate itself from the “Twinkies of literature” pack, but it’s worse than the norm due to its setup. As a “SuperBolan”, it’s longer than the normal throwaway Executioners. However, length does not equal substance or any other advantage in this case.

Even readers of action thrillers can do a lot better than Zombie Bolans like this.

Review: Wheels

Wheels

Arthur Hailey’s Wheels, published three years after Airport, turned its attention to the auto industry. While I’ve been a fairly new study to the aircraft industry, I’ve been interested in cars for much, much longer. So I knew I had to at least try this book. Especially because there are bizarrely few novels about the auto industry’s shenanigans. The biggest names are just this and The Betsy, which barely counts as a coherent book.

This is only somewhat more focused than Robbins’ scattershot, crazed novel. And it’s less focused than Airport. While that had a big broad soap opera and industry exposition that concluded with a rushed thriller plot, this is nothing but a Detroit drama. Or to be more specific, a series of Detroit dramas that range from car design to the struggles of a poor assembly line worker to the not-exactly-scintillating subject of middle class adultery.

I can respect this book for what it is-a lot of the research holds up, even if Hailey once again fell for futurist wonders being just around the corner (room-temperature superconductors in this case). It does work as a snapshot of an utterly rotten industry that was practically begging for the imports to come and whip it into shape (Published in 1971, the only reference to Japanese cars is a Subaru 360-esque “four wheeled motorcycle” that no one likes). But it doesn’t really work as a practical narrative.

Review: Airport

Airport

Author Arthur Hailey had a gimmick. He would find a certain field, research it massively, and then build a thriller and/or pop epic around said filed. One of his most famous and successful novels was 1968’s Airport, which inspired the movie series and the parody Airplane!. In it, an airliner is threatened by a both literal and figurative perfect storm of everything from horrible weather to a blocked runway to angry neighbors to a man determined to kill himself and blow up the plane-for the sake of insurance, nothing political.

Hailey spent a gargantuan amount of time on research, and it shows. I’ve always wondered if him being around in the age of the internet would have made his endeavours quicker and easier, or if it would have just prompted him to go even further down the rabbit hole. My hunch is the latter. There’s a lot of well-done and accurate depictions of airport operations (and a lot of weird-in-hindsight 1960s futurism, such as talk of superlifter cargo planes being thought of as something that would render sea freighters as obsolete as ocean liners and passenger pods being loaded into civilian C-5s).

The biggest issue is that the pacing is incredibly slow and lethargic for about four fifths of the book, then it hurriedly sprints to its conclusion. Maybe it was deliberate to try and be suspenseful, but if so, it didn’t work. The second biggest issue is that the characters are dull and dated-most obviously shown in a subplot where one of the main characters gets a flight attendant pregnant and the resulting drama.

This is a decent product of its time, but it’s still a product of its time and not the most recommended for later readers. It comes from an age when air travel was still something novel, and where readers would be less familiar with it. It’s not Hailey’s fault, but the book has aged terribly in that regard. Now it just comes across as 80% Herman Melville’s Airport Tales and 20% A Brief Disaster Novella, neither of which can really stand up.

Review: Africa Burning

Africa Burning

Back when I was young, I made a horrendously negative review of Gavin Parmar’s Africa Burning, talking about how little sense the tale of a giant army of T-90s and M113s (really) appearing in the Chadian desert to charge up into the modernized, reformed, opened Libya made. (Boy did that “prediction”, made pre-2011, about the direction of the country, age poorly).

Now, well, I have a soft spot for this amateur Ian Slater/technothriller/shoot the terrorist-wannabe novel. It reads like someone acting out their action hero fantasies after seeing and reading a lot of relevant fiction, and the earnest, genuine quality of it has made me smile. I may not recommend actually reading it, but at least I don’t have a bad feeling towards it anymore.

Review: Tehran’s Wars of Terror

Tehran’s Wars of Terror and Its Nuclear Delivery Capability

The worst book cover deserves to be seen in all its “glory”

Stephen Hughes’ The Iraqi Threat was a letdown. This is even more of a letdown. Trying to move through the smoke of the infamously secretive post-revolutionary Iranian military (with their five million new systems that appear in every new parade) would be a worthy and very useful endeavor. This not only fails in that regard, it acts like it doesn’t even try.

First off, I’m a “you can’t [usually] judge a book by its cover” type of person. I can understand having a bad cover or a crude cover. But this is an exception, because the cover of Tehran’s Wars of Terror is, without a doubt, the worst I’ve seen of any military reference book. And one of the worst I’ve seen period.

The cover is perfectly representative of the absolute slapdash mush inside. The Iraqi Threat at least had a central theme that it followed. This is just a rambling collection of various articles that are connected with only a vague link to Middle Eastern warfare. It doesn’t even work as a basic “know your enemy” primer because it’s so gargantuan and aimless. I feel surprisingly confident in saying that it’s quite possibly the worst military reference book I’ve read. And if not, it’s certainly down there.

Review: Praxis Tacticum

Praxis Tacticum

Canadian retired colonel Chuck Oliviero has released the new Praxis Tacticum. It’s one of those “mean 51%” books, being incredibly erratic. Much of the actual content is not objectionable-ie, “learn to face someone who isn’t a low intensity, technically inferior opponent”. Some of it is stuff even unqualified armchair general me picked up-me being the OPFOR addict I am, I’ve seen journal articles complaining about the rigidity of the OPFOR in practice compared to its flexibility in theory that he states. And some of it, however much I’d disagree with, is at least defensible and understandable. Oliviero is much, much more of a “manueverist” than I would be.

Plus, anyone who wants to simplify documents and instructions into something that isn’t in field-manualese has their heart in the right place.

However, the execution does not come across as ideal. For something aimed at lower-level commanders, it feels far too pretentious and buries the important stuff (stuff like how to do rapid drills and move a unit very quickly without outrunning your supply lines), in a mess of pompous mush. His decision to have a flexible, winning OPFOR (good) turns into an embrace of exercise munchkinism. This also has its heart in the right place (again, an opponent with the ability will seek to disrupt your setup and can often succeed) but I had the uncomfortable feeling that it was just him wanting to show off his supposed genius, crossing the line too often from “spar in an unconventional way” to “spar in traditional boxing and then instantly launch a Masvidal-Askren flying knee to crush your partner before patting yourself on the back.”

And this is the biggest problem. There is a very, very, very obvious barely disguised subtext of resentment that he didn’t get to be in charge throughout the book. High technology is treated with skepticism, unless it’s on tracks. Like everyone, Oliviero comes across as unavoidably biased-but he takes it to extremes.

I would recommend this for enthusiasts or intellectuals who have a full grasp of the context surrounding this book. Yet from my limited viewpoint, I actually would not recommend it to his target audience. It comes across as too slanted and inefficiently written.

Review: WW III

WW III

It’s finally time to review the third major archetype of World War III fiction. Ian Slater’s WW III embodies the “what realism?” school of fiction. In fact, he may be the least technically astute technothriller author out there-and you know I don’t say this lightly. Slater embodies frequently going into huge technical detail on some kind of weapon or vehicle-and getting said details wrong.

Anyway, the plot itself is a simple “Second Korean War and Fuldapocalypse big war thriller”, only with a ton of jumbles. Besides his technical inaccuracy, Slater’s work is also defined by its incoherence. In longer series this translates to absolutely no sense of continuity. Here it’s just sloppiness.

And yet this book is oddly fun in a Tommy Wiseau/Ed Wood style way. It’s a good game to see when Slater actually gets a technical comment right. Seeing the adventures of Mary Sue lead-from-the-front general Douglas Freeman is amusing, even if Slater fills the rest of the NATO cast with drooling doofuses to make him look better. Every fan of these kinds of World War III should really read this, if only to appreciate the virtues of the books that, whatever else, got most of the basic details right.

Review: The Iraqi Threat

The Iraqi Threat And Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction

In the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, Stephen Hughes released an unofficial sort of OPFOR compilation called “The Iraqi Threat And Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction.” As the intelligence forces of the world found out after the war, getting any kind of accurate information on a country both as secretive and as slapdash as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a very difficult challenge. So I can forgive Hughes for any inaccuracies in the book, just as how I can forgive pre-1991 western sources on the USSR for not having information that was only unclassified/found out later.

What is significantly harder to forgive is the layout of the book. It’s, to be frank, a total mess. A lot of the most important parts on Iraqi (conventional) capabilities are lifted from an NTC document but strewn about in a way that makes them less understandable. Likewise for his pieces on Iraqi equipment. And militias. And so on. About the only thing really interesting and coherent is a huge section on mountain formations and defenses, which is applicable to far more than just Saddam’s Iraq.

But that can’t save the rest of the book, which is just too poorly organized to be much good. Even accepting it as a product of its time, it’s still effectively unusable, unlike many other OPFOR documents.

Review: Olympus Rises

Olympus Rises

After reading a novel dragged down by trivialities like “technical realism”, it was an amazing experience reading one that threw all that aside in favor of crazy action. The first entry in the Code of War Series, Jim Roberts’ Olympus Rises is such a story, dealing with a supervillain sci-fi mercenary army and the modern soldiers who end up fighting it. Like the Black Eagle Force series before it, this is not the most fundamentally sound book. And while this goes without saying, anyone bothered by a lack of plausibility probably won’t like this.

However, that doesn’t matter. This is a very, very fun book and I had a great time reading it. Sometimes you just need jetpacks and mecha-ninjas. The many cliches and references I saw actually enhanced the experience in my views. It’s that kind of book, and that’s the kind I frequently take to reading.