Axis of Evil
As much as I may like to review classic WW3 books, I cannot stay in Cold War Germany forever. So to avoid burnout, I decided to go full circle. The origins of the technothriller genre are in the “invasion novels” of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Anglo-American invasion novel has, given the logistical issues faced in crossing water, always had an air of unreality to it.
Besides taking the basic tone over, some tales had the invasion happen directly, with Red Dawn being the most famous example. Although mainstream invasion tales declined, independent writers were happy to fill the gap. Searching for a hidden gem amongst the-er, “mediocrity” (to be generous), I found Axis of Evil, the (supposed) story of an EMP-spearheaded invasion. I figured it’d be a good enough test case. As it turned out, the genre wasn’t quite what I’d thought, and it had quite a few problems.
As this isn’t a “classic” World War III novel, the Iceland system doesn’t really apply here. However, the thriller parts are comparably formulaic by the standards of the genre, and I would have seen everything coming even if it wasn’t the first in a long series.
This book is surprisingly rivet-light. There’s details but not too many details. Perhaps I’ve just read more rivet-company storage warehouse-level stories, but this isn’t too bad. It earnestly tries to be human, not mechanical.
Seeing an EMP expert give the foreword made me suspicious. My suspicion was “it will be technically, nominally accurate for the main event, but everything else will be completely ridiculous.”
I was right. I don’t know enough about EMPs to question it, but I was willing to let any inaccuracy slide for the sake of the story. Everything else, though? Yeah. My suspicions were well-founded.
Granted, the Anglo-American invasion novel, as opposed to the continental invasion one where a legitimate threat is more plausible, as always needed some zombie sorceress intervention to get going. Likely the sobering threat of real conflict in the Eurasian continent makes fanciful threats less likely and appealing, but that’s a topic for another time.
This has 20,000 North Korean commandos infiltrating into the US without the slightest suspicion through the Canadian border that the country foolishly neglected to wall off as well. (You can guess the politics of this book, if the genre wasn’t a clue enough.) But the zombie sorceress contrivances are compounded by a massive plot decision.
The zombie sorceress handwaves are best handled as a setup that is quickly moved past, and that even those who dispute it can recognize as vital to the setup. Yet the “I’m gonna make this a long series” effect means it’s dwelled on. And dwelled on. The pacing is execrable. The EMP itself doesn’t happen until the literal end of the book, as a cliffhanger.
It can be forgiven as setup for the action to come, at least if the setup was any good. There’s a fourth-rate “thriller plot” as American operators battle the Iranians and North Koreans, a huge quantity of political infodumps, and, most importantly, Texan bull riding. Oh yes, that bull riding. This is a very Texan novel. The bookends literally involve someone attempting to ride a particularly ferocious bull. The characters are either stereotypically Texan or stereotypically anti-Texan, if you know what I mean.
The Only Score That Really Matters
I don’t want to be a Sneering Internet Critic. The whole point of this blog is to be fair and evenhanded, not hyperbolic. It’s just-I didn’t find this book to be that good even by cheap thriller standards. Some of it might be that it’s more of a “survival novel” than the “invasion novel” it initially came across as, but the problems go far deeper than a mislabeled genre. Even accepting that its politics would be what they were, the action is pedestrian, the infodumps annoying, and the characters still ill-developed author mouthpieces. But the worst part by far is the pacing, clearly designed to drag out the story over as many installments as possible.
A cheap thriller can be many things and still be enjoyable. But it cannot be slow-paced, and it cannot be dull. By failing here, Axis of Evil fails on a fundamental level.