Review: Onslaught

The Fae Wars: Onslaught

J. F. Holmes’ The Fae Wars: Onslaught is the story of magical evil elves invading the contemporary world with magic that can overcome technology. It’s just a cheap thriller, but it’s a fun cheap thriller. The action is constant and told from both sides, with both experiencing difficulties.

While the military stuff is frequently both contrived (foreign arms dealers getting a giant super-arsenal into New York City), and inaccurate (the human aircraft engage at far closer distances than they realistically would, for one), this isn’t the kind of book where one would quibble about such things. It’s a fun magitech war novel that should be treated as a fun magitech war novel.

Review: Invasion Chronicles

Invasion: Chronicles

DC Alden’s “epic” ends with less than a bang in the last two installments, gathered with the previously reviewed two in the Chronicles omnibus. The politics do take an interesting turn, and that’s that the Evil Continental Caliphate is actually too feminist. It has women in its military in exactly the same places as its opponents (including such non-nurse/clerk roles as AWACS radar operator and explosives technician). And of course the evil collaborator ex-lawyer turned butcher governor (and not a figurehead one either) is a British woman. This all felt deliberate on the author’s part. It wasn’t a redeeming quality or the act of adapting something else. It made “sense” given how more of the vitriol was aimed at the “traitorious British” than the actual invaders, but adds to the creepiness of the books.

The last two entries, Frontline and Deliverance, have all the same issues of their predecessors. The camera is either jumping around various viewpoints or focusing on big arcs involving unsympathetic characters. Having to combine these together leads to plot contrivances clearly designed to make them tied when they shouldn’t have been. Sending a super-secret stealth aircraft to rescue several AWOL squaddies on an ill-conceived raid into Birmingham is the biggest example of this.

The conclusive battle involves a clumsy attempt at Fortress London that’s designed to try to fit a square peg into a round hole. Having to tie the high and low level parts together means it couldn’t just focus on individual danger, and having the previous war be so one-sided means a broad-scope view doesn’t work. There’s more contrived, artificial drama and a very strange series ending that’s at best a sappy dream sequence and at worst implying that the whole thing was just a nightmare (that would explain the military inaccuracies at least…)

So yes, having read this entire series, I can say that it deserves the infamy and scorn it’s gotten. Even accepting its premise as an invasion novel with all the inherent baggage, this could have been executed a lot better. As it stands, it was not.

Review: Invasion Uprising

Invasion: Uprising

DC Alden’s Invasion: Uprising follows the Anglo-American counterattack into occupied England, and manages to be (even?) worse than its predecessor in all that matters. The only real highlights are some middling amounts of mediocre cloak-and-dagger stuff and a few C-list infantry firefights, neither which can make up for the collapse elsewhere.

First, the big battles come across as something that could have been written by post-Sum of All Fears Tom Clancy. They involve Americans with supertech handily crushing their hapless opponents. Needless to say, they’re not very good. The weird and slapdash enemy arsenal is still there, as is the politics.

Criticizing an invasion novel for its politics is kind of like criticizing a professional wrestling match for its melodrama. But I feel obligated to note that the book seems to direct less of its anger towards the invaders themselves and more towards the British who enabled and allied with them, in a message that is not exactly subtle. From a series that started off iffily, this book has the “achievement” of sinking lower.

Review: Invasion Downfall

Invasion: Downfall

DC Alden’s Invasion series is infamous. After reading Downfall, the first installment in the series, I soon found that this infamy is completely deserved. First, the obvious part: This is a book about an Islamic superstate invading the UK. And it has the politics you’d expect from such an invasion novel. Yes, there’s a lot objectionable about it, including the “traitorous fifth column in waiting” trope taken to extremes even by the standards of the genre.

Of course, I found something else objectionable, which is that it started off in a conference room. And we see a lot of those, and not in a well-handled way. At least the “setup phase” isn’t too long, even if what’s going to happen is completely obvious.

When push finally comes to shove, the military action is not exactly a rival to Larry Bond. The enemy uses a surprisingly bland array of mostly western equipment (not helped by later editions trying to make it “contemporary” by erratically changing names), and there are iffy set pieces like an E-3 letting itself get in range of a short-range missile. The infamous “strong but weak” trend that I was already on thin ice about picks up. “The horrible hordes can easily overrun England-but they can lose multiple strategic aircraft in one battle with named characters.” Like a slightly less intense version of Joly’s Silent Night, nearly all of the British military is incapacitated by irregulars before the conventional forces land.

Just a little bit more research and/or imagination would have made the battles a lot better. As would having the opponents actually earn their victory in Operation أسد البحر. The actual book is a “get the conference rooms right, but not the battles” mediocrity.

Looking Back At The World War III Timelines

So there were a few World War III timelines on alternatehistory.com , with my first one being Lions Will Fight Bears. Now, my story about them has already been told-at the time I hated them, now I think they’re uninteresting. As for their actual quality, well. They’re better than the likes of Stroock and Dragon’s Fury, and more nominally accurate than soft-WW3s like Ian Slater.

Trying to review them, as opposed to their triple-copycat New Deal Coalition Retained, proved to be tricky. I think it’s because, well, I’ll put it this way. Seeing something adopted into a totally different paradigm than its normal setting is inherently interesting. Just seeing double-xeroxed knockoffs of Hackett/Bond is not.

What I think I can say about them is this. First, they were written in a pseudo-textbook style that exacerbated any technical flaws and wasn’t really that interesting otherwise. This is an issue with almost all internet AH, and it’s what I’ve compared to a race car. If you’re going to have a kitbashed spaceframe chassis, a single cramped seat and no amenities, it’d better be fast. But regardless of its speed, that type of car is just easier to build.

The second part is that they were written in what was, with hindsight, an awkward transitional period between the “eagle” and “sparrow” styles. This I think led to the worst of both. You had authors with comparably little direct knowledge making slip-ups iffily. For instance, one contemporary Iran war TL had the IRIAF putting up a much bigger fight and being much more capable than it likely would have been but didn’t have forcing Hormuz as that big a deal-the opposite of the general consensus.

[Aside: Proper wargaming is great for avoiding these. I’m actually a little iffy mentioning Command because I’ve worked on it, but it’s worked. You can see how tough it is to push through a strait full of mines and smartly used anti-shipping defenses, and you can also see the Phantoms falling en masse while only getting the occasional lucky win. In my opinion, one of the best uses for wargaming/simulation is getting the general feel of the conflict, and avoiding stuff like that]

However, you also had these less knowledgeable authors being often co-opted by those who were more knowledgeable but also more biased (not just nationalist bias but stuff like HEAT Age veterans treating RPGs as superweapons in ways that more recent veterans have never done so) The result frequently felt awkward. Leaving aside any personal bias on my part and just looking at the works in their own terms still feels awkward.

The third was that well, the TLs constantly seemed like they were to maintain the formula, never really trying to step outside the lines. This is what inspired the Iceland Scale, and one can understand why reading the same thing with only minor technical tweaks and contrivances could make one frustrated. One example I can give is a Gorbachev heel turn, which to me felt “coming up with reasons for the Soviets to start the war instead of actually branching out and having NATO start it”. Or piling into Red Dawn knockoffs and treating them in an inappropriate rivet-counting way without seeing the literary issues this causes.

Still, they just feel, for lack of a better word, small. Small, and, in the words of the great Alexander Wallace, “sterile”. Thankfully, most of the works reviewed on Fuldapocalypse after its scope widening are not. It does feel a little disappointing to have something to influential be so middling and hard to review in hindsight, but that’s just the way it is. Not the best, not the worst, and not the most representative, but among the first I read.

Review: Assault By Fire

Assault By Fire

Ripley Rawlings’ Assault By Fire is an invasion novel. It’s an invasion novel that features that common staple of video games-the Teleporting Russians. Yes, via some kind of supercomputer (that’s the explanation given), the Russians can conduct a successful amphibious invasion of the US. This is a “pulpy invasion” book. And it is very, very pulpy.

Everything from a main action in Appalachia to WWII weapons to a knockoff of Vasquez from Aliens is there. And it’s somehow amazing. The rational part of my brain could not comprehend or make sense of how the invasion progressed, with me asking such questions as “where are the stated MiGs staging from?”. The part of me that eagerly read every Survivalist loved every page of it.

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.