The Genre I Haven’t Read

I’ve read a lot of books of many, many different types, as this blog makes clear. However, there’s one genre I simply have demonstrated no interest in for a long time.


Now, this isn’t a dislike of them, just a personal taste. And as always, personal tastes can change. But my disinterest in westerns has been remarkably consistent for a remarkably long time. While I had to have read at least one western, I can’t remember the title of any off the top of my head. I can remember the title of one that I bought a long time ago, Whiskey River, but also that I didn’t actually read it. This may be the only genre where I’ve seen more movies than read books in. Because I have seen (and enjoyed) the classic Westerns The Magnificent Seven and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

As for why, even I’m a little baffled. But I think it’s because they’re ultimately historical fiction (which isn’t really my favorite) and in a specific historical period that also isn’t exactly the one I’m most interested in.

The “Shoot The ___” Genre

Along with “Spacesuit Commando”, one of my derogatory terms I use is “shoot the terrorist”, and its 70s counterpart, “shoot the mobster”. Now, like with “spacesuit commando”, I’ll admit it’s a nebulous term that I use when I feel like it. And there are plenty of books with a formulaic setup but good execution.

That being said, If I had to make a checklist of the usual elements of a book I consider “shoot the ____”…

  • The book doesn’t have the best execution (no pun intended).
  • The book has a trendy enemy (terrorists! mobsters!) as its antagonist, and one not done particularly well.
  • The MacGuffin is something dull and mundane like a nuclear bomb and/or poison gas-if that.
  • The book is too out-there to be truly realistic but too sedate to be truly out-there, in prose and action.
  • The book just doesn’t feel lively.

The New Scale

So, here’s the new formal scale. The older one was a little too restrictive.

Who and What

This is the new introduction part, replacing both Icelands and “The Wha?'”. First it gives me a chance to summarize the plot, and I can point out if it’s cliche or not, formulaic or not. Second, I can say the exact subgenre it belongs. Third, I can talk about the characters and flow.


This is a joking reference to the game Undertale, where going to a bizarre town of dog-cat-rabbit thingies leads to the talk of a “Deep history” that is never explained or elaborated on further, save for one picture.

So, what information included in the book is actually relevant to it? It replaces “Rivets” in that it (hopefully) doesn’t just say that infodumps exist, but how smoothly they’re integrated into it.

Zombie Sorceresses

Unchanged. They’re still keeping the nukes from detonating and setting up weird situations post-1991.

Tank Booms

How good is the action (if there is any) or the conflict? I figured this deserved its own category, since cheap thrillers need good action to succeed and any story needs conflict.

The Only Score That Really Matters

Unchanged. This is the only score that really matters.



Fuldapocalypse Blog Plans

Fuldapocalypse has been very, very effective for me. Going in, I expected to be reviewing on a very narrow continuum from Hackett/The War That Never Was on one end to Red Army on the other. To distinguish the works in this one narrow, specific, subgenre, my formal scale would be useful in determining just how they differed.

Then I started branching out. I think it was my review of Axis of Evil that proved surprisingly good-while I didn’t think that highly of the book itself, I liked that I branched out from the “classic 198X WWIII” genre. This was coupled with me realizing that military/techno/action thriller fiction was a lot more varied than my previous narrow perspective had indicated. And that was a problem for my scale. It’s wonderful for me, but it’s not so much for a very strict scale.

The Scale

Obviously, “The Only Score That Really Matters” is fine. So is “The wha?”, although some stories are meant to be more character-based than others.

I have a little bit of an issue with “Zombie Sorceresses”, although I’d think it’s a matter of bias. I think a contrived scenario is more easily “swallowed” by me if the surrounding story is good or if the reveal is handled well. And I think a problem happens, as has happened in this blog, a story that’s explictly paranormal happens.

Then there’s “Rivets”. I think my biggest problem with “Rivets” is that this genre tends to be very infodumpy, and almost everyone already knows this. It’s like going shopping for giant SUVs and being told that they don’t get the best gas mileage. Yes, it’s true, but it’s also not exactly shocking. I feel like I’m repeating myself. “Yes, this has a lot of infodumps in it”. “Yes, this also has a lot infodumps in it.” “Yes, this also has a lot of infodumps in it”.

But the biggest and most jarring one is “Icelands.” It’s both too prescient and too inaccurate at the same time. At one end, it can be like “Rivets”, where I’m repeating that a book in a genre has most of the cliches from that genre. Not exactly shocking. At the other, well, the Iceland Scale itself feels irrelevant if applied to a genre other than “Red Storm Rising knockoff.”

Then there’s the lack of an ‘action’ category in the scale. It’s kind of folded into “The ‘Wha?'”, but given that cheap thrillers live and die based on how good the action is, I figure it deserves more focus.

So I might change some scale categories and see what works, and I also want to do some “unstructured reviews”, particularly of books where the scale categories may not apply. (For instance, if I was doing a review of an outright science fiction novel, both “Icelands” and “Zombie Sorceresses” would be out of place, the former for not really applying and the latter for being redundant.)

Which brings me to…

Book Review Plans

I’ve been mostly winging it with Fuldapocalypse. I’ve figured that since I want to have fun first and foremost and would probably get sidetracked anyway, I wouldn’t make a rigid “review schedule”. But I’ve become more selective about what I want to review here. If my reaction to it is formulaic, I don’t want to just instantly review the latest blog-suitable book I read.

Thankfully, I have a pile of previously read and accessible books I can use to tide me over until the new releases emerge soon (fingers crossed). There’s a few cheap thrillers, including one by an author I like (you’ll know if/when I review it) upcoming, and there’s also the biggie. The real biggie.

Northern Fury. I’ve been following the Command scenario set for a while, and seeing a novelization of it is amazing. However I personally feel about it (and it’s obviously too early to judge a book that hasn’t been released yet), I wish its creators the absolute best of luck. A weird part of me even wants to deliberately hold back on reading “conventional” WW3 books before Northern Fury H-Hour’s release so that I can be more unbiased.

That’s probably thinking too hard-after all, my mind is heading towards less “Icelandic” books already, and the goal is to have fun here.

I’ve been having a lot of fun with Fuldapocalypse, and hope to have even more fun with it as I experiment and read more and more!


Why I Liked Them

Why I Liked Them

So, it’s been difficult for me to explain why I did like something, as opposed to why I didn’t. Hoping to do a very positive review, I found myself diverting towards whole paragraphs of nitpicks. So I’m deciding to take three books I liked-one a well-known classic, two obscure, and list only what they did right. The three books are Ralph Peters’ legendary Red Army, Kevin Miller’s Raven One, and Peter Nealen’s Frozen Conflict.

Besides me liking them a lot, I think they represent a sort of “big-medium-small” continuim. One’s an epic theater-spanning World War III, one’s a medium regional clash with a carrier squadron, and one’s the comparably small tale of a mercenary squad. Thus seeing how each of these stories works in a different subgenre is interesting.

I’ve talked about them before, but figure this challenge would help.

Red Army

Ralph Peters’ classic has many things right, but I view what it’s done the best is a flawed victory. It doesn’t portray every single thing about Soviet doctrine of the time as ideal,  it doesn’t have supertech effortlessly ripping NATO to pieces, and it especially doesn’t have the characters acting like it’s a cakewalk either. On the contrary, most of them die and die horribly. By allowing for vulnerability and failure, it makes the success all the more convincing. The Soviets have to earn their victory, it isn’t handed to them on a silver platter.

I don’t want to call anything my absolute favorite, but as of now, Red Army remains my favorite 198X WWIII story, and one of my favorite high-level, multiple viewpoint thrillers.

Raven One

Raven One, a recent thriller, is excellent at scale, managing to do a lower-end aircraft-centric story very well. It focuses on one squadron of F/A-18s and their pilots battling Iran, and manages to stay very tight. It doesn’t try to turn a regional conflict into a global one.

Furthermore, this leads to something else it does very well-antagonist equalizers. I think that Raven One has one of the best. Whether by accident or design, Kevin Miller created gimmicks-a MiG 1.42 super-fighter and some high-end ECM devices on the Iranian side-that serve to challenge the characters well without feeling too contrived.

The squadron is the centerpiece of the story, and what matters is the ability to challenge the squadron, not the US Navy as a whole. In this Raven One succeeds beautifully, and its pacing doesn’t hurt either.

Of all the post-1991 technothrillers I’ve read, Raven One is one of the best at managing the challenges of that time period well. This is no small feat.

Frozen Conflict

I could really use any of Peter Nealen’s thrillers as my example, but Frozen Conflict, where his mercs romp in the former USSR, is perhaps the most suited for Fuldapocalypse. Besides being well paced, they do several things excellently. These are logistics, tone, and characterization.

In terms of logistics, Nealen takes something generally boring and actually integrates it well into the story. As the ragtag mercs shop or scrounge for their weapons and equipment, it feels like it reinforces the rough and tumble plot rather than interfering with it.

And it also reinforces the tone. The tone is pitch-perfect. It’s gritty and grounded with some over-the-top feats, but it keeps the stakes in their proper element. I particularly liked how a simple BTR-60 in Frozen Conflict with only a 14.5mm heavy machine gun is rightfully portrayed as a devastating threat to the light infantry heroes.

For characterization, it makes me feel for the heroes. In one of the bloodiest books in the series, I felt for them when several characters died, even the one who was written as something of an ass.

Because of this tightness and caring, Nealen’s stories remain some of the best low-level “infantry” thrillers I’ve read.


So there you have my explanations of why I enjoyed several military thrillers as much as I did. This was a very fascinating exercise and I hope to do more of this positive regard in the future. It really helps me a lot with something I’ve long had trouble with.

Why 1985?

In his review of Dark War Revelation, the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Reviewer remarked  “(it’s always 1985 in these books for some reason)”. So, why is it always 1985?

One possible reason is (even subconciously) imitating Hackett’s original The Third World War: August 1985. Another,as argued by the WW3 1987 blog is that 1985 is the most “fair” of the time periods. Still another may just be that it’s the middle of the decade, so it’s an easy number to reach.

But yes, 1980s WWIII stories often appear in 1985.

Technothrilllers and WWIII

Technothrillers and WWIII

There is obviously an extreme amount of overlap between the two, but as someone who’s read a lot of both, I don’t think that every World War III story is a “technothriller”, and every technothriller certainly isn’t a World War III story.

Technothriller is hard to define. In some ways (and keep in mind I love weird analogies) it’s like progressive rock-hard to truly explain but often identifiable as part of a genre if viewed/listened to[1].

Also like progressive rock, the technothriller genre was arguably something of a specific time, was ultimately niche at heart, contained elements that would seem to make it unfavorable to a mainstream audience, was generally scorned by serious critics, had a seemingly imaginative premise turned too into follow-the-leader[2],  fell into decline both from outside factors and its own excesses, and was lucky to last as long as it did at the top of the charts.

Ok, I might be taking it too far. But still.

The decline of the technothriller can be studied in several critical articles. Among the reasons given, by both them and me are:

  • Simple changing tastes and trends. (This is probably the most realistic answer, but the least complex. Oh well.)
  • The fall of the USSR contributing to those changing tastes and trends by sapping the technothriller of its immediacy and forcing them to be more contrived.
  • Said contrivances becoming more and more blatant[3], combined with the genre staying with a “big picture” format not as conducive to grubby brushfires as a small-scale focus would be.
  • High-technology stuff in the post-Gulf War period becoming ubiquitous, losing its earlier novelty value. Smart bombs and cruise missiles? Those were routine now.
  • The genre arguably being more suited to video games like the Splinter Cell series than books.
  • The genre arguably being niche to begin with and only staying in mainstream consciousness due to two things happening as it emerged. Those being the beginning of the digital era and the intense late Cold War (the argument in this article).

So for specifics, it’s easy to find perfect overlap. Red Storm Rising, the archetypal World War III story, is also an archetypal technothriller. But even at the time, there were examples on both ends that did not fit neatly into the other’s niche. One of the best-executed was Ralph Peters’ classic Red Army, one of my favorite World War III tales.

Not only is Red Army decidedly gritty and focused on a Soviet victory, but Peters frequently takes care to not go into details about bits of hardware. This helps add to the immediacy and fog of war a lot, but makes it feel less like a techno-thriller. But even in the more conventional examples, there’s differences. Larry Bond’s 1989-published, ultra-formulaic Red Phoenix[4] is still a regional conflict, while the genre-booster of The Hunt For Red October is focused on avoiding the Third World War rather than starting it.

_ _ _ _ _

As the technothriller began to decline from mainstream bookshelves, the World War III subgenre, already a niche-within-a-niche, did so as well. But it fell back on a smaller but very stable base. The wargamers.

Red Storm Rising was famously aided by the original Harpoon board game, and the setting became popular among wargamers for very obvious reasons. Even beyond politics, its appeal is great, for it allows for massive battles of tanks, artillery and aircraft impossible in any regional clash.

This, combined with the influence of the existing 1980s classics, had many effects on how the subgenre developed. But what was more important was the increasing “decentralization” of publishing as a whole. The technothriller/world war genre got a small bump in the mainstream market as the rise of China and resurgence of Russia from its 1990s slump brought “high-tech”, high-end conflict back into vogue.

But beyond that, self-publishing and the internet made it far more easy for “niche” fiction to spread[5], which meant that all kinds of thrillers-World War III, cheap thriller, homage technothriller, all could flourish. In some cases, this pulled the heirs of Clancy and Hackett closer together, in some cases it pushed them farther apart.

How this new paradigm manifests in the actual stories varies considerably, and thus it can only be examined on a case by case basis. But there is a trend throughout the period-the technothriller and World War III stories are never entirely together, but never entirely apart.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

[1]At its most broad, prog rock can be defined as “any rock music made in the 1970s with synthesizers.” Likewise, technothrillers can be defined as any thriller book featuring high technology while not reaching the level of outright science fiction. It’s not helped by Tom Clancy, its forefather, not liking the term and insisting he didn’t create or expand a new genre.

[2]For technothrillers, it was Clancy and Bond. For prog rock, it was the hordes of Yes copycats.

[3]See the opponents in Cauldron.

[4]If I had to list a single commercial book that had the most and most obvious technothriller tropes, it would be Red Phoenix. Note that this does make it necessarily bad, just formulaic, at least in hindsight.

[5]On a personal note, it was internet published/posted military alternate history that played a gigantic role in getting me into this kind of genre to begin with.