Review: North Korean Tactics

North Korean Tactics

One of the best OPFOR manuals I’ve seen, and one of the most recent, is ATP 7-100.2, North Korean Tactics. The manual itself is a good read, and the “Breaking Doctrine” podcast that comes along with does a great job explaining how both it and other OPFOR documents (a long weird guilty pleasure of mine) have come into being.

Thus the manual isn’t a direct “They will do this” the way that some of the more overly rigid Soviet-inspired ones were. But it does show the characteristics of the secretive country (light infantry, high willingness to take casualties, artillery over tanks, etc…) and has to focus on its specific qualities instead of just lumping them in with a generic OPFOR designed for challenge above adherence to any specific country.

It’s not perfect, but it’s intriguing and well-done, showing the seeming contradiction of mass asymmetric warfare in action. Ones for China and Iran are planned, and I’m awaiting them. (There’s one for Russia announced, but it’s kind of in limbo. My hunch is that the need for something so specific is less for a country that’s already studied and already fairly close to the generic OPFOR).

Review: On The Path of Songun

The Armed Forces of North Korea: On The Path of Songun

It’s been a while since I read a really, really good military nonfiction reference. Thankfully, Stijn Mitzer and Joost Olieman’s The Armed Forces Of North Korea: On The Path Of Songun takes the cake. The product of the same people behind the legendary Oryx Blog of military intelligence, this took a while to finally get going. Thankfully, it’s well, well, well worth the effort.

So why is it so good? Well, for a start, it’s incredibly well researched, written, and photographed. It’s not an OPFOR manual or a ridiculously broad order of battle chart. What it does do is go into legitimate detail and depth about the KPA and its rise, fall, and rise. What made me absolutely fall in love with this was how this is the rare military book that doesn’t fall into either extreme of “unstoppable or helpless”. When I saw the self-proclaimed intent to the debunk the notion that the KPA wasn’t/isn’t a threat, I feared it would go too far in the opposite direction.

That was not the case. I was treated to a very evenhanded look that amounts to “Yes, there’s modernization, yes there’s legitimately advanced indigenous developments, but as of now it’s limited and foreign support is undoubtedly there” and doesn’t hesitate to point out their shortcomings and material issues. The authors are even good at pointing out what they can verify and what they can’t, a must for dealing with a country as secretive as North Korea.

For enthusiasts, general audiences, wargamers, and anyone, really, this is a great book that I highly recommend.

Review: Axis of Evil

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.

Icelands

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.

Rivets

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.

Zombie Sorceresses

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 “Wha?”

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.