So what World War III novels have had the most effect on me? Let me see…
Red Storm Rising
Yes, this starts with Tom Clancy and Larry Bond’s epic. I shouldn’t have to explain it. However, there’s stuff I’ve noticed that I might as well share about it. It may be the most prominent book, but it really hasn’t made that many copycats. Hackett is the greater “template” in terms of the war’s conduct. RSR has the war stay conventional from start to finish, and most others have plotnukes of some kind. RSR has an invasion of Iceland that not a lot of other ones have. It’s a little strange that the more dry Hackett has had the most influence on future narratives while the more conventional book of RSR has had more on future wargames, but that’s how it went.
The Red Line
This has significance I totally missed when I first read it. I could understand that creating a weird backstory to have an 198X war in the “present” was there to make it more marketable. Yet it was only after seeing that alternate history WWIIIs have very few works and none by big names that I saw it was arguably necessary. This is why broad perspective is important!
This I think put the first nail in the “litmus test” coffin. See, my pet peeves were “it has to be bad if it has lots of technical descriptions and lots of viewpoint characters.” Team Yankee had those. And it wasn’t bad at all. Which makes sense in hindsight because it’s still ultimately a star-spangled cheap thriller and cheap thrillers rely near-completely on execution.
Oh, it’s just the best World War III novel of all time, in my opinion.
By reading Harvey Black’s novels so soon after Red Storm Rising, they played a big role in convincing me that the conventional World War III field was bigger than it actually was. I guess it’s like watching two baseball games with knuckleball pitchers back to back, and not seeing any more games for a while after that.
Survivalist: Total War
See, Jerry Ahern’s massive opus technically counts as a World War III novel. And when I read it, I saw something so totally different, a ridiculous and amazing “Western Fist of the North Star”. This book basically made Fuldapocalypse what is now.
What I found the most likeable about these books was that they worked (to me) while having everything I thought I’d dislike about everything. The pure audacity of the series, and how it uses wargaming sandboxes in a style I’m familiar with makes up for well, a lot of stuff. Even the most mundane and legitimately worst arc in the series is still the result of time travel shenanigans.