Review: Exxoneration

Exxoneration

The American invasion of Canada finally begins in Richard Rohmer’s second book on the subject, Exxoneration. The previous installment, Ultimatum, ended with the US announcing its intention to annex Canada. Here, it moves ahead.

As far as its literary quality goes, I’ll just say this: I’ve read field manuals that were less cumbersome and infodumpy. Seriously. The mega-padding is still there, including such things as aircraft takeoff instructions. And the er, “lopsided” nature of a Canadian/American armed conflict means the book has to twist to have its cake and eat it too.

There’s only one fairly brief semi-battle in the novel itself. In it, the Canadians ambush a flight of American aircraft landing at Toronto who falsely assume the invasion will be unopposed. Basically, the Canadians need to win but there’s obviously no way for them to win conventionally so they have to rely on American public opinion (plausibly) promoting a backlash however the tone of the book is such that it wouldn’t do to have Canada devastated by war, so the only onscreen conflict needs to be short and neat.

Most of the book is just about the later efforts by Canada to purchase Exxon (hence the title). Needless to say, this is not exactly the most scintillating topic. While a better author could have made it exciting, Rohmer does not.

I want to compare this to Mike Lunnon-Wood, who wrote about slightly ridiculous to highly ridiculous scenarios in a matter-of-fact manner, but Lunnon-Wood’s prose is significantly better than Rohmer’s. It takes some effort to make a book about a Canadian-American war dull, but Rohmer does so.

Review: Ultimatum

Ultimatum

Richard Rohmer’s Ultimatum is the story of the U.S. invading Canada as written by a Canadian. More precisely, it is the buildup to the invasion, the haggling, set in the backdrop of the 1970s energy crisis as the embargo-facing US confronts resource-rich Canada. Because of this, the novel takes the form of one conference room scene and exposition drop after another. It’s a book meant to show events, not characters.

It’s also a book that, although fairy short, features ridiculous amounts of padding. Part of this can be justified in that its format is that of “events/setting-first”, but even by those standards, it has a lot of stuff beyond it. There are incredibly long Herman Melville -style infodumps on everything from the nature of the Canadian government to pipelines to transport aircraft. A subplot involving two bomb-planters is about the only time the book leaves the meeting room, and even then it somehow feels like it could be cut without really missing anything.

Although I will say that a plot involving native saboteurs destroying oil infrastructure, helping lead to a large, somewhat contrived war is basically Red Storm Rising more than a decade before the real Red Storm Rising was published. I don’t know if Tom Clancy saw the plot and I think it’s likely just a coincidence, but it’s still an interesting combination. And in some weird ways it’s actually more plausible than Red Storm Rising, given that seizing Canada directly is more straightforward than “invade Europe so we can seize the Middle East later.”

However, the actual war will have to wait for the sequel, Exxoneration. Here, the book simply ends with the declaration to annex Canada. Thus, it’s all setup.

In terms of quality, this is a very dated book, and I’m not just talking about the politics. It’s entirely meant to capture a zeitgeist, giving curious readers a look at the wheeling and dealing towards an event. This was a time period where the US openly studied seizing OPEC-held fields by force, after all. But this type of work, especially one as “matter of fact” as this, has a very short shelf life, and the result is a historical curiosity.

A Thousand Words: Red Dawn

Red Dawn

The 1980s classic invasion movie, Red Dawn is a strange beast. While it rightfully ranks up there with Top Gun as one of the most iconic and remembered movies of its generation, I found it had some fundamental issues. And no, it’s not anything dealing with the actual premise.

The production values are very good. The acting is, at the very least, sufficient. Yet the movie’s biggest problem is its conflicting tone. There’s two types of invasion stories, what I call “grim invasion” and “pulpy invasion”. Grim invasion is what most of the original invasion novels were, while pulpy invasion is something out of, well, guess.

Red Dawn sort of awkwardly teeters between elements of both without really settling into one or the other. While not a deal-breaker for the movie, it sours it somewhat and leaves me with the feeling that picking one type, likely pulpy given the concept, would have made for a better story. That being said, the film is still well worth a watch.

Review: Hitler Invades The United States

Hitler Invades The United States

I’d thought that Hitler Invades The United States was going to be just a dime-a-dozen work of internet alternate history. I was mostly right, but one part of it was a lot weirder than I thought, and that part both makes it lower quality and more interesting to write about.

The point of divergence is that the Germans delay their campaign so that the wunderwaffe can be ready. With said wunderwaffe, they easily take over the USSR. Then they launch a successful and “essentially unopposed” (exact words) invasion of Britain. Then it comes time to-guess. It’s not exactly the most plausible or original World War II alternate history story out there.

The story itself is a clunky mess of what you’d probably get if you only looked at the most shallow and popular sources of World War II, and then decided that an American invasion had to happen. The Axis invades the US and is only stopped when the Americans drop a nuke on Nuremberg-at which point the war ends instantly. But the real “star” is the conference room.

Barring a few “recollections” from participants, this book is entirely conferences and meetings, written in a fashion that feels like the script for a stage play. I know this genre has a lot of conference room scenes, but this takes the cake. And they’re not even done well.

What I think makes this interesting to look at is how something like this compares with Robert Conroy, who also wrote technically inaccurate alternate history tales of the US getting invaded. At least with Conroy you had a proper novel, even with often-subpar execution.  Here, it’s the kind of “semi-exposition” alternate history that in theory should be used in places where a normal narrative wouldn’t work, but in practice I feel is used likely because it’s easy to write.

What this has in conclusion is the negative elements of two types of alternate history “traditions” (as per Alexander Wallace’s excellent article) amplified at the same time. One perceived negative element of the “print tradition” is that it’s less plausible and tends to focus on the most visible and obvious trends, like the American Civil War or World War II. This is that. However, it also has the issues with storytelling (and then some) that the “internet tradition” can have. The result is the worst of both.

Fuldapocalypse 200 Posts: The Logistics Of Red Dawn

So for my 200th post on Fuldapocalypse, I’m going to be looking at the contrivances in Red Dawn. This may seem like an unfairly easy target. And it is. But I figured I might as well take a look at it anyway.

So, first getting a staging point for the giant invasion. You have to get across the Atlantic with at least some of the US Navy in the way. The most common is the “Red Mexico” solution.

So, the PRI government has to collapse (at least slightly possible given Mexico’s economic problems and upheaval in the 1980s), and an explicitly pro-Soviet government has to take over (with the US doing nothing, politically or militarily). Then they have to move the invasion force in. Now, even in the USSR, high-end divisions don’t grow on trees. My hunch is taking some of the high-category divisions from inside the USSR itself-and you’d have to stripmine a lot of them to the point of jeopardizing operations in Europe.

Now comes the issue of moving them there. A declassified CIA document argued it’d take two or three months even with no interference to move two armies (6-10 divisions) to Syria. The Atlantic is bound to be much tougher. Another argued Cuba could move 10,000 troops locally. The highest figure for intervention is 25,000 , or about a corps (given the smaller size of Cuban divisions)-and it drops to a “few thousand” of the lightest troops with the US Navy in the way.

A smaller, but still very present issue is concealment. Trying to keep it the invasion force hidden isnt’ the equivalent of trying to go “we’re landing at Calais”, it’s “we don’t have anything in Britain at all.” Take a country that remains one of the most tied-in with the US and has never had a giant mechanized army. The Soviets would need to hire the same people from Dark Rose or Day Of The Delphi who managed to stash a bunch of tanks in empty parts of buildings and keep them there undetected until it was too late.

And if the US military is reduced to the point where it can’t interfere with this giant, fragile tail… then like Jerry Ahern’s Survivalist, it’s probably been reduced to the point where the Soviets can just walk in and take it (conventionally).

Of course, the original Red Dawn isn’t the kind of story where you worry about such a thing. I really doubt John Milius was calculating supply norms as he wrote and directed the movie.

_ _ _ _ _ _

There is an interesting “North American theater” possibility. Handwave in a Red Mexico and equip it, like Cuba and Nicaragua, with surplus hand-me-downs. If it can keep American heavy divisions stateside (and it probably would) at the cost of some equipment that’d probably just erode in depots, they’ve won before the first shots are fired. There could be engagements along the Rio Grande. But that isn’t Red Dawn.

Alternatively, if somehow the zombie sorceresses can move a significant number of the Soviets in, then a bizarro Case Blue to knock out the oil industry in the Gulf Coast seems more reachable with a scrounged-together front. From the border, the 570 km to Houston fits in the radius of a typically planned Soviet operation, and there’s never been better terrain or infrastructure for armored operations. But that still isn’t Red Dawn.

It can be naval-based and involve stockpiling (and shielding) a giant amount of landing craft in Cuba, conducting a preparatory campaign, and then storming across the Florida Strait. But that still isn’t Red Dawn, even if it’s almost as implausible.

Or the Soviets can somehow choose Colorado as a goal and get the supplies/forces to make it up there. They can, with the aid of their plotnukes, reach the Mississippi river and Rocky Mountains, but still can’t knock out enough of the American heartland to prevent an ultimate (implied) American victory. That is Red Dawn, but it’s not remotely “plausible”, even with hordes of handwaves.

One Red Dawn fanfic project listed a gigantic invasion force that’s actually bigger than the GSFG. I’ve been harder on that project in the past than it deserves-it’s clearly just a fun internet collaboration, and to occupy the entire country would indeed need such a gigantic army (for comparison, another estimate of the force necessary to conquer Iran alone was 20-25 divisions, with 30-40 to continue the invasion to the Arabian Peninsula). It’s still squaring a circle. Oh well.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Strangely enough, specific order of battle details and North American invasions in general seem to work more in games than in actual books. In wargames, exact detail is relevant, and if you need 50 Soviet division counters to fill every hex, you have those 50 division counters. In less “crunchy” games, the invasion plot (read: Call of Duty’s memetic “Teleporting Russians”) is a clear excuse for set pieces (like Red Alert 2’s Allied campaign which leads you from one landmark to another).

This was a fun post to write. Happy Holidays!

Review: Conquistadors

Conquistadors

As far as post-apocalyptic invasion novels go, Black Autumn: Conquistadors is surprisingly good. Oh, it certainly has all the political baggage of the genre, and at times it’s too realistic for its own good (for instance, giving the villain a fleet of tanks to capture, then hampering them for lack of fuel), especially given how it’s ultimately still a story of Heroic Americans Fighting Back.

But it has legitimate advantages. The antagonist comes across as one of the best I’ve seen in this type of book, even if he leads from the front far too often. The action and pacing are effective. Finally, it being a postapocalyptic invasion novel instead of a “normal” one, like the Survivalist, actually makes it more “believable”, because removing the conventional opposition via apocalypse takes away the biggest objection.

The authors have the experience and writing style to make it stand above the pack. Not dramatically far above, but still better by cheap thriller standards. And a lot of the issues are with the genre as a whole, not the specific writing.

Invasion Fiction

So, the World War III Blog series on Red Dawn has gotten me to write a piece on invasion literature, especially Anglo-American invasion literature. Now a part of my thoughts on invasion fiction, specifically Anglo-American invasion fiction, stretched back to Jerry Ahern’s Survivalist. There the Americans get the worse of a nuclear exchange and the Soviets invade. Now a part of me was thinking this:

“The 1981 book, not far removed from the infamous ‘Malaise Era’, might illustrate how even in the most star-spangled genre, a sense of American pessimism was still present.”

But another part of me was thinking this:

“You’re overthinking this to a huge degree. All it is is a way to put Russians in the path of John Rourke without that pesky “Army” or “Atlantic Ocean” being in the way.”

The point is that, whatever it was, this was very different-about as different as could be-from Clancy/Bond-style war thrillers. To the point where it basically broke the narrow grading system I’d set up for the blog. And this was before the series turned into science fiction.

It was also a type of invasion novel, Bobby Akart’s Axis of Evil, that took the first step in moving Fuldapocalypse away from a narrowly focused review blog to a general one. And it was the best decision I could have made. So invasion novels are pretty rooted on Fuldapocalypse.

In my eyes and reading, there’s basically two types of invasion novel: Grim invasion (ie, Tomorrow series) and pulpy invasion (ie, early Survivalist). There’s of course overlap, but the categories seem a little clear. The classic pre-WWI invasion novels fall into “grim invasion” (“See the fate that will befall us if we don’t fund the army!”) while many later invasion stories aimed at pure entertainment fall into the latter. In fact, I’d argue that the biggest issue I had with the original Red Dawn was how it sat a little awkwardly between the two, not having the clearest tone.

Review: Strike Force Red

Strike Force Red

strikeforceredcover

C. T. Glatte’s Strike Force Red is an alien World War II. The book might invite comparisons to Harry Turtledove’s Worldwar series, but is actually much different.

Aliens, wishing to take over the world to repair their damaged spaceship, land, kill Hitler, make Stalin into their pawn, and then proceed to form a League of Evil with everyone from Mao to Vorster on their side before sending a Soviet army to invade Alaska. Opposing them are, of course, the Americans with anachronistic P-51s (with even more anachronistic female pilots) and Sherman tanks.

So, I’ll get this out of the way. Historical war novels are generally not my thing. Especially not World War II novels. I’m just weird in how I judge them, and a lot of my feelings on the genre can be boiled down to “if I want to read about a historical conflict, I’ll read a history book”. So I’d be lying if I said this bias wasn’t slanting my review.

That being said, this book has a lot of wasted potential. High on the list are the aliens themselves. They’re mustache twirling puppy kickers who fail to be anything but the sort of “pop-up antagonists” usually reserved for spacesuit commandos. They’re not complex or developed or deep. Improving them would be easy as sincerely believing their rule to be ideal for humanity’s improvement (like XCOM’s Ethereals) or being able to be better than Stalin and thus inspire genuine loyalty among their subjects would make them more interesting. Or both-they clean up and improve in authoritarian and/or war-torn areas, earn the loyalty of the populace, and then find that wealthier, freer countries don’t take as kindly to them.

Barring that, they could at least be entertaining space opera megalomaniacs. They’re not. The aliens come across as being like washed-up actors who are desperate for a paycheck, so they put on the rubber alien suit and phone in their lines for the B-movie they hate but do anyway for the money.

But even higher is the technology, which seems very unimaginative. I don’t expect a deep examination of industrial capacity in the 1930s, but going straight to P-51s and Shermans in 1940 because those are the most famous is both inaccurate and dull. Likewise for T-34s and “MiGs”. The alien technology is rarely exploited and, in practice, amounts to just a way to get a Soviet army over to Alaska. It’s like a Fuldapocalyptic story where in 198X, a zombie sorceress full of magic explicitly appears and starts World War III-and all she does is torture animals for fun and move a motor rifle brigade to Iceland.

This book should have featured multi-turret tanks with deathrays against American Heroes in pulp science contraptions. Instead it’s just a rote war drama with all of the potential it had in its plot left unexploited.

Review: The Pact

The Pact

pactcover

Robert Patrick Lewis’ The Pact is the tale of Special Forces operators representing the only viable defense against a Russian-Chinese-Iranian invasion of the United States. The good news about this book is that Lewis is a Special Forces veteran who brings his knowledge to it. The bad news about this book is that Lewis is a Special Forces veteran who brings his biases to it.

The plot is the same kind of basic invasion novel plot that was old when Teddy Roosevelt was young. After the EVIL LIBERAL GUN GRABBERS have had their way with the US, the enemy alliance swoops in with computer attacks and unconventional warfare that naturally goes off without a hitch, save for the intervention of the special forces vets who’ve planned and built the lairs and stockpiled the equipment needed (against the advice of their nagging wives, of course). Then they fight back with the aid of a Freemason counter-conspiracy.

The first problem is that the action in this book is too realistic for its own good. I can’t blame a genuine veteran for writing what he knows, but come on. Axis Of Evil invasions and Freemason-operated super-bunkers do not exactly go well with detailed, nominally realistic operations. It also has a lot of “have your cake and eat it too”, such as one scene where it’s mentioned how hard it is to shoot down a helicopter with an unguided weapon-but oh look, they did it anyway.  Finally, realism or not, it isn’t the best written.

The second and bigger problem is that the main character is totally insufferable. He spends the entire first-person book monologing repeatedly about how awesome special forces are and how awesome he is. Repeatedly and constantly. It had the opposite effect on me, giving the impression of an arrogant swashbuckler who’d be foolishly overconfident if not for plot shields. The scene where the heroes find a former EVIL LIBERAL GUN GRABBER politician turned prisoner and execute her while smiling didn’t really help matters either. The icing on the cake is when the main character turns out to have the same name as the author. Really.

And those plot shields are there, from the “conveniently lucky” (the enemy neglecting flank protection) to the blatant (an M2 Bradley falling right into their laps). It’s a problem I’ve noticed in, of all things, some of the more out-there modules in Twilight 2000. If the mechanics/style is supposed to be realistic and grounded but the plot calls for the protagonists to do extraordinary things, you need a lot of pure contrivances for them to succeed. It’s a very tough tightrope to walk, especially when the premise is stretched to the level it is here.

Even by the standards of the “invasion novel”, there’s better works in the genre out there than this one. I’m not going to say it’s impossible to mix the concept of a Jerry Ahern novel and the rigorous execution of say, a Duffer’s Drift-style work like The Defense of Hill 781. But it would require a considerably better author than the one who wrote The Pact.

Review: The Battle Begins

The Battle Begins

battlebegins

So, a part of me, probably the same part of me that went “OK, read a long Jerry Ahern series in order”, said “OK, now read another, slightly less long Jerry Ahern series in order.” So it was time to go to the Defender series, namely the first installment, The Battle Begins.

Instead of John Rourke, ex-supercommando and high-powered gun nut, we have David Holden, ex-supercommando and high-powered gun nut. Cue a large amount of action as he and a group of “Patriots” fight back against a plot that can best be described as “Cyrus from The Warriors actually put his mega-gang war plan into action, and he was sponsored by the Kremlin.”

This has many of the same strengths as The Survivalist. Namely, it’s 80s action in novel form with a sincere attempt at humanizing its protagonists that isn’t seen as often as it should be. When the inevitable Detonics .45 pistol showed up, to me it was like the scene in a Zelda game when Link grabs the Master Sword. And the final battle is in a nuclear power plant with a computerized voice counting down the seconds until meltdown, with said meltdown able to be stopped by pushing one button.

Yet it has some of the Survivalist’s weaknesses as well, and then some. First, it’s a lot more politicized than the Survivalist ever was, and while the portrayal of the Soviets in Total War was decently evenhanded, the portrayal of the antagonists in this book is not. Ahern put a lot of effort into trying to dodge the uncomfortable racial implications by blatantly diversifying his heroes. He put very little in trying to make their opponents even slightly sympathetic. But then again, this is a 1980s action novel, and at least it’s not that much worse.

The phrase “at least it’s not that much worse” can arguably be applied to this book as a whole. Is it better than The Survivalist? No. Would I recommend it over the Survivalist to someone for their first Jerry Ahern book? Is it still a perfectly readable ridiculous over the top 1980s action novel? You bet it is.