Review: Kirov


Having started later in John Schettler’s massive series, it’s taken me quite a while to actually pick up the original book. I had very low expectations and somehow managed to still be disappointed by Kirov. This might seem strange, but it makes sense.

The book stars a “Frankenstein-Kirov” assembled from the rest of the class on a live fire exercise during a period of heightened tension before it’s timeshifted back to World War II. I’d heard this book was a tinny Final Countdown/Axis of Time knockoff. I suspected this book would be a tinny Final Countdown/Axis of Time knockoff. I was right.

So why the extra disappointment? Well, the structural issues from later in the series I saw were there from the start. The descriptions are over-detailed, the action scenes are too precisely described, and the dialogue is still extremely clunky. Worse, it’s more concentrated, for lack of a better word, instead of being incredibly spread out. The plot has the main characters acting in ways intended to set up battles in a forced way.

Finally, though the timeshifting, feuding and cosmic changes are there from the start, the main scenario of “modern ship fights a 1940s fleet” just isn’t as interesting as the the places the later books go. So even knowing what I was getting into, I found the first Kirov book to be a letdown.

Review: Condition Zebra

Condition Zebra


The (supposedly) final arc of John Schettler’s epic Kirov series, now exceeding even The Subspace Emissary’s Worlds Conquest in terms of word count, begins with Condition Zebra. This is the story of a contemporary World War III, after the Kirov timeshifted away from another contemporary World War III, possibly making it the first series to have multiple World War IIIs in it.

Having read two books in the 49-and-counting series, I figured it would at least be the same as before.  I was wrong. It somehow managed to be worse. And it manages to be worse in ways that might be considered contradictory at first glance.

One one end, the basic nuts and bolts writing has all the problems of the past Kirov books (characters who exist solely to operate military equipment, rote technical descriptions of the battles that give away the wargames used to sim them, and overall clunkiness) and just feels sloppier, with the dialogue, grammar, and even structure seeming worse.

On the other, the giant timeline tangles get bigger, more confusing, and somehow more pointless-seeming than ever. Knowing the end result and purpose, it just feels like the developers of Madden, 2K, or The Show making up a gigantic plot about time machines and time-traveling team general managers to explain why past players can appear in a game with current stars.

Maybe it’s those above flaws and maybe it’s just that the novelty of seeing the world’s longest wargame let’s play has worn off after three books, but this doesn’t even seem bad in a bemusing way anymore. It’s just bad.


Review: Deep Blue

Deep Blue

Reading Deep Blue, one of the later John Schettler Kirov books, brought a strange feeling to me.

Reading it, I encountered all of the issues with Homecoming, the previous book in the series I’ve read. And then some. The almost interchangeable battles are over-detailed and underwhelming to an extreme. The plotlines are clunky and shoved together. By all “normal” accounts, I should have been dismissive at best and disliking at worst. But I just wasn’t. As I read through tons of time-travel shenanigans, I felt a sense of “woah. Wow”, for lack of a better phrase.

It hit me when the ship time-warped from the current near-future World War III to another near-future World War III, only with different equipment and different sides. Everything just then clicked suddenly into place.

This is kind of like the later Survivalists-if Ahern had meticulously simmed every clash in Advanced Squad Leader or something like that and recorded the verbatim results in the books. And the time travel isn’t just a small throwaway part-it’s a a big central element, with a huge effort towards enabling this kitchen-sink wargaming. It’s like having a zombie sorceress start a Fuldapocalyptic World War III, and devoting a lot of effort to her, her rivals, and her powers as you move from 1985 to 1988 to 1981 to a 1986 with the YF-17 chosen as the light fighter and the British using a different divisional structure.

I still don’t recommend the actual books, unless you like lots and lots of barely disguised wargaming AARs. But if I had to choose a series with a lot of novelty and effort put into it or a series that just clunks along without any of those, I’m definitely picking the former. The sheer excess of the Kirov series makes it at least interesting.

Review: Homecoming



John Schettler’s Homecoming is two things. The first is yet another entry in a ridiculously long soap opera Axis of Time knockoff with a Kirov battlecruiser sent back in time to World War II. While it’s been stated that this book could serve as a standalone beginning and people didn’t need to read the previous 40 (!) books to get it, I still felt a little lost.

The second is a contemporary World War III and a glorified let’s play/after action report of Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations (think a stiffer version of The War That Never Was). When I read the battle scenes, there was this suspicious part of me that went “ok, these are so rote and so exact that it looks like he was simming them through Command or Harpoon or some other wargame.” And it turns out that he was.

I was happy because of all my work with and use of Command. No matter what my feelings are regarding the literary quality of such a work, I felt happy and kind of proud of it being used in such a fashion.

As for leaning so heavily on wargaming itself, well, I’ve kind of adopted a more “glass half-full” approach to it. In the past, I’d have probably denounced it dramatically along the lines of “why should I read about a wargame when I can play it?”. Now, in no small part thanks to my horizons being broadened by many other books, I’ve softened somewhat.

I still can and will criticize books (like this) for being too much like a rigid let’s play/after action report. I still feel using wargaming as an exactly transcribed play-by-play (ie, 10 A-6 Intruders escorted by eight F-14 Tomcats launched to bomb ________…) rather than just to get a general feel for the situation (ie, “how much of a threat is ______’s air force to a carrier air wing? What’s a good figure for how many aircraft I should have the protagonist carrier lose?), isn’t the best way to go if one is making a literary story.

But at the same time, I’ve gotten a renewed appreciation for wargaming in fiction, even in cases like this. What I feel it does is add at least some more plausibility than would be the case in a less-researched book. And it simply isn’t the case that moving the “technical plausibility and detail” slider forward causes the “literary quality” slider to automatically go backward.

Leaving the battles aside, one of the biggest issues with Homecoming is the pacing, especially in matters of conversation. Let me just say that it’s easy to see why the Kirov series had 40 books before this one. It’s a shame, because a series that involves a time-traveling battlecruiser and properly wargamed-out divergences holds a lot of promise. It’s just the execution leaves something to be desired.