Review: Cody’s Return

Cody’s Return

Stephen Mertz was the main man behind the “Jim Case” pen name adorning the front of the Cody’s Army books in the 1980s. Since he didn’t have the exact rights to the men’s adventure stories featuring John Cody, he made a new character named (brace yourself) – Jack Cody! Who also had thrilling action adventures! What a coincidence! The late Chet Cunningham did something similar with “SEAL Team Twenty”, and it predates self-publishing by quite a bit when authors worked for multiple firms. (In fact, there were times when the throwaway series couldn’t even keep the main character’s name consistent!)

Cody’s Return, in spite of what the name implies, is not the first book in the series. It is, however, the first book in a self-declared trilogy that centers around a crazed arms dealer and his even more crazed girlfriend/cult leader.

The thing about the original Cody’s Army was that, with some exceptions, it was very much a middle of the road series that had all the weaknesses of its format. Which is to say that something like a classic men’s adventure novel is extremely shallow even by cheap thriller standards. And this is the case here as well. This isn’t always a bad thing, but it does make it hard to pick one over another.

What makes this worse is that the book is aiming for a huge plot that it’s trying to stuff into too few pages. I get it’s the intended beginning of a trilogy where the author has complete control, but even in that circumstance it still feels too poorly done. Which is a shame. The plot of nukes, crazies, and colorful characters is something that almost needed a meatier book to do right.

Mertz is a champion of the genre, but he’s done better.

The Non-Russian SSRs and nuclear weapons

There is one argument, especially after the 2022 invasion, about Ukraine (and the other non-Russian ex-SSRs) and nuclear weapons. This goes: They gave up their nuclear weapons in exchange for largely meaningless and unenforceable diplomatic agreements, which was a mistake that Ukraine paid for and Kazakhstan might have.

Many informed nuclear commentators have pointed out that the launch codes/infrastructure were still in Russian hands, that Ukraine had no actual control, and that the ICBMs in particular were ill-positioned for deterring their former owners. This is all accurate, as is the staggering cost of making a usable nuclear program during a time of massive political and economic upheaval (Ukraine’s implosion in the 1990s made Russia’s look like a modest recession, and Kazakhstan had effectively no army of its own immediately after independence)

But there is another opposite fallacy, which is that the decision was more or less out of their hands. Because all the nuclear weapons were under Russian control, there was no real choice involved. This is also flawed. The nuclear weapons weren’t immediately usable, but to act like there was a Ward Of Russianism on them is wrong. Ukraine had extensive infrastructure and science on its territory (including a missile plant), while Kazakhstan’s uranium industry meant that it was already over the biggest hump for a usable bomb-the materials.

So it was not technically impossible for the non-Russian SSRs to maintain a nuclear weapons program. You can argue that it was politically and economically so, and probably correctly. But it was not a technical issue. The republics had agency, and they likely prevented a far earlier Russian invasion by relenting.

Review: C3

C3: Nuclear Command, Control, Cooperation

Written by former Strategic Rocket Forces officer Valery Yarynich, 2003’s C3 is an in-depth look at Cold War (and beyond) nuclear war command systems and their hazards. Although having access to then-secret info in Soviet times, Yarynich was no Viktor Suvorov and did not sensationalize (in fact, he provided one of the first detailed and level-headed descriptions of the infamous Perimetr/Dead Hand system). The result is one of the best nonfiction books on nuclear war that I’ve read.

As it is written by a former Soviet officer, you do get waves and waves of charts and equations that attempt to quantify something relating to military technology. But you also get lots of clear, simple explanations that make a layperson able to understand this well. In terms of everything from organizational charts to what the “nuclear briefcase” even is to why scissors were found to be a weak link in the command chain (seriously), it’s incredibly illuminating.

If you have any interest in nuclear war or command systems whatsoever, I highly recommend this book. I’ll also just say that it’s an excellent research resource…

Review: The Death of Russia

The Death of Russia

It’s uncommon but not unheard of for a book to have its premise done better by something else in more or less every single way possible. So is the case with The Death of Russia, an alternate history story told through exposition and snippets about Yeltsin dying in the early 1990s and the world sinking into chaos. AH enthusiasts will also know that Zhirinovsky’s Russian Empire was another alternate history story told through exposition and snippets about Yeltsin dying in the early 1990s and the world sinking into chaos. Both started off as forum timelines and then were commercialized.

The first issue one notices is the writing style. Namely, giant breathless blocks of text. The timeline tries to do the “snippets from in-universe books and the like”, but this falls flat because all the “sources” read exactly the same. The second issue is the relentless grimdarkness. While based on stuff that sadly did happen, this just feels gratuitous. There being no real characters or anything but pure exposition makes both problems all the worse.

Eventually things spiral into a nuclear World War III. However, it’s worth noting that a fake interview with Evangelion’s producer starts off the chapter in question. Since pop culture is an obsession of the online AH fandom, this is not exactly a good start. The strike itself is no Arc Light or Red Hammer 1994. I actually fell annoyed at how a (mostly) survivable nuclear war, a topic that fascinates me, was handled so badly. It’s handled with all the grace of a minor league sportsball game report. Namely, a minor league game report written by an basic computer program that saw the box score.

In fact, what’s honestly interesting about the final nuclear exchange, besides the teeth-gritting “it doesn’t work like that” inaccuracies, is how it demonstrates a critique I’ve had for a while now. In the footnotes, the author doesn’t cite those two novels, or any real study on a limited/counterforce-heavy big nuclear strike that would leave society survivable. No, it’s another timeline, an earlier one called Able Archer 83.

But for any normal reading, I’d just say “read Zhirinovsky’s Russian Empire instead”.

The Nuclear-Pentand?

The term “nuclear triad” is a familiar one. It means the three main delivery systems-aircraft, land installations, and naval ones. Or rather, the three main American delivery systems. See, it’s easy to see the grouping of three when you have only deployed three types of strategic platforms: Silos, aircraft, and submarines.

From this American point of view, mobile ICBMs in use by other countries fit into the land part of the triad, and the oft-proposed surface ship bases would fit into the naval part. However, the proposed anchored capsules on the bottom of the sea have more in common with silos than mobile submarines.

So in a different world where nuclear basing was more widespread, the term “Tetrad” or “Pentad” could be used. A tetrad of silos, mobile land missiles (whether via truck, train, hovercraft, or Wienermobile), aircraft, and submarines. Or a pentad of all that plus surface ships.

Weird Wargaming: The Emperor of Bombs

In Nuclear War Simulator, one of my favorite creations to use and drop is something I’ve called the “Huangdi Bomb”. The name, after Chinese for “Emperor”, is a pun on Tsar Bomba. Only this has a bigger boom at 75 megatons. It’s also, in the backstory, a lot more advanced and sophisticated. Unlike the publicity stunt that was the Tsar, the Huangdi is a mass-produced, deployable weapon capable of fitting inside either an H-6 or large ICBM without issue.

It’s also, judging by the maximum payload of the Badger and its yield (the classic yield-weight calculation), the most efficient nuclear weapon ever made. As it has a multi-decade lead on the other megabombs, this isn’t surprising. As for how and why such a beast is used, the theories for the gargantuan warhead are hitting extremely large targets, making accuracy issues irrelevant for simple countervalue operations, improving warhead efficiency in a big design before trying to apply it to smaller ones, and contributing to deterrence by intimidating would-be-opponents with its yield.

In various NWS scenarios, I have about twenty Huangdis made overall, in both air-dropped and missile carried versions.

Simulating the Arc Light Approach

First, a primer on nuclear war terms. Counterforce means military targets, countervalue means civilian ones. That being said, on with the post.

Eric Harry’s novel Arc Light, one of the first reviewed on Fuldapocalypse, has a way to get a large but survivable nuclear exchange. This is to have both sides aiming for an incredibly counterforce-centered approach. Doing such approaches in Nuclear War Simulator (and there are official scenarios that show such focuses being done) generally means something similar to the novel: Around a few million dead on both sides (especially depending on which way the fallout blows), but most “important” stuff still intact, as the damage is concentrated in remote bases.

Besides the obvious “but what if it goes beyond missile silos in the middle of nowhere” objection, there’s also context that the US and Russia/USSR are very big, which makes it more possible to have “remote” areas at all. Have a big fallout wave anywhere near the dense massively populated belt of eastern China and the toll rises dramatically. Do it basically anywhere across India’s generally “spread out” (for lack of a better word) populace or in a smaller country and the result is similar.

I have to repeat that the Arc Light approach is something I find a lot more acceptable (not plausible, I use acceptable as a better term) than the Hackett’s WW3 approach. The strategic exchange is aimed purely at military targets? All right, I can believe that. Tac nukes are used but nothing more? I can also accept that. But just a small number of countervalue targets (ie the infamous Birmingham and Minsk?) That’s harder for me to accept.

The Literary Consequences of Nuclear Proliferation

There is one country that, on paper, would be a prime candidate for nuclear weapons. It’s large, militarized, has had a reputation for what can politely be called “stubborn independence”, and directly bordered the USSR. The country in question: Turkey. Now, there has been constant talk and pushing for a nuclear arsenal from it as early as the 1960s. But it has not amounted to anything substantive in actual history.

That could very well have not been the case, and archrival Greece might have followed with an (attempted?) independent deterrent of its own. From there, the butterflies could spiral off. As someone who is no expert on the politics of that region, I will make no claims. But as an avid reader of cheap thrillers, I can safely say that in that situation, Turkey and maybe Greece would join the USSR and Pakistan as the countries of choice where the terrorists buy/steal/are donated nuclear weapons from in novels and their adaptations.

Actually I’m a little surprised that there’s been fairly little use of South Africa as a nuclear source given the apartheid government’s easy villain use and its genuinely successful weapons program. I guess the South African nuclear arsenal was too small (it amounted to only six Little Boy-level warheads) and more importantly, too obscure (it didn’t stay in the headlines long because the ANC government rapidly dismantled it with very little controversy).

Of course, if postwar Japan with its technology and piles of fissile material managed to go nuclear (some fire-breather rises to the top of the ruling party?), you can bet what a bunch of 1990s technothrillers would have focused on.

Review: Shanghaied on the Rio Grande

Shanghaied on the Rio Grande: A Novel of World War Three

Just looking at the suffix of this book made me go “I had to review this.” Granted, William Joiner’s Shanghaied on the Rio Grande is more like a short story. But it’s still a World War III invasion story. I thought the length of this would mean there was some kind of publishing mistake or the story was unfinished, but no. It’s wrapped up within its few pages.

This reads like a teenager with little knowledge of the military or geopolitics who read far too many 1980s adventure novels writing a fanfic of those. I do not mean this in a negative term. The Chinese seize control of the American nuclear arsenal and walk in, dominating and trying to force Americans to become Buddhists (seriously). Opposing them are heroic Texans, one of whom is named Billy Bob (also, seriously). The story wraps up incredibly quickly (as in two pages) once the Americans get their nukes back and rout the Chinese.

Is this stupid and offensive to Texans and Chinese alike? Yes. But is it fun? Also yes.

Review: An Untaken Road

An Untaken Road

Steven Pomeroy’s An Untaken Road is officially a book explaining why mobile ICBMs never caught on with the US military the way they did elsewhere. It’s that, but it’s also a history of the many, many, many different proposals for missile basing of all sorts. That alone makes it very good, especially since there’s a huge synergy with Nuclear War Simulator (after all, you can easily build and uh, “test-fire” a lot of the platforms described here).

At times the central argument can get a little pretentious and a little too focused on abstract themes. But as a pure source of information, this is excellent. There were a lot of nuclear missile base proposals right out of cheap thrillers, and this book is a great resource on them. It’s also a serious and informative look at nuclear war strategy. So I highly recommend it.