Review: 38 North Yankee

38 North Yankee

Ed Ruggero’s debut novel, 38 North Yankee, tells the story of an American infantry company in a Second Korean War. It has its issues, but works a lot better than his later book, Firefall. That had a ridiculous setup it didn’t need. This is more grounded and plausible.

Ruggero’s legitimate veteran status both gives the book a degree of verisimilitude and makes it diverge too often into Herman Melville territory.  Most of the “box checking” elements are done right. There are viewpoint characters but not too many. There are things that realistically go wrong. Unlike John Antal’s significantly worse Proud Legions, he doesn’t overemphasize the important of the main character’s unit. This is one of the most grounded “big war thrillers” I’ve read.

However, it also has the weaknesses of being grounded. The viewpoint jumps and the over-detail (including maps) clashes with the fog of war inherent in such thing. And by aiming for the plausibility it does, it sometimes stumbles into the trap of “military action can be written in a plausible or engaging/exciting way , but it’s very hard to do both.” It’s a problem that neither writers of truly serious fiction nor Mack Maloney have, but which something of this nature does.

That being said, none of these are deal-breakers and the book is very much worth a read. It might be the best Second Korean War novel I’ve read, even more than Red Phoenix.

Another (but similar) opinion can be found on the Books That Time Forgot blog.

Review: Firefall


Ed Ruggero’s Firefall was a disappointment.

On paper, it had a lot to recommend. It was written by a veteran Ranger. I heard good things about his premier novel, 38 North Yankee (which I still haven’t read yet). Because of these, I had high hopes for it.

Sadly, it was a let-down for two reasons. The first was the simple prose. It’s just ‘meh’. Not absolutely bad or unreadable. Just “meh”, a middle of the road cheap thriller that was firmly in the forgettable middle of the pack. The second is the plot, a rare case when the post-USSR scramble for different opponents turned out poorly. The zombie sorceress in charge of coming up with the opponent pulled “neo-fascist German militia” out of her hat.

This made me disappointed in it. It probably made me disappointed more than I should have been, but still. The zombie sorceresses were purely and simply unnecessary. The list of potential opponents that can credibly threaten a ranger company/battalion is much, much longer than the remaining national-level challenges that technothriller writers tried desperately to find. What would be a mild opponent (in big picture terms) to a heavy brigade is something far worse to a light, unconventional one. In many cases, the ranger unit would need every force multiplier available to not just get crushed.

So what I was hoping for was someone using genuine expertise to lend a slightly fanciful story a hand. What I got was merely decent prose in service to a story that exemplified a bad trend in action/technothrillers. Namely, taking an out-there concept/threat and treating it in a bland, po-faced way.

Firefall is not bad, and viewed in another context it would work as a “51% book”, but I still found it disappointing.