Review: Dodgebomb

Dodgebomb

Darrin Pepple’s Dodgebomb is a historical fiction novel about the Iraq War. I will freely admit that plain historical military fiction, as opposed to alternate/never was conflicts, just isn’t my favorite (sub)genre. Nonetheless, this is a very good book.

The work of a veteran, it shows. Everything rings true, and it’s overall a well-written piece. Occasionally there are overly clunky paragraphs and/or descents to Herman Melville levels of detail, but those are small nitpicks. This is an excellent novel and I highly recommend it. Often it’s hard to describe how I like something as opposed to how I didn’t like it, but trust me-I liked this book.

Review: The Triple Frontier

The Triple Frontier

Marc Cameron’s The Triple Frontier is the ideal appetizer for his Jericho Quinn thrillers. A nice 51% snack that’s short, inexpensive, and takes place in a great setting (you can do some much with the Paraguay/Brazil/Argentina border area), it was the book in the series I read first. I wanted to get a taste of it in a short novella format before I moved on to the full thrillers.

That I have moved on to said full thrillers speaks a lot about the quality I found. It’s not perfect or the best cheap thriller out there. But it is a good cheap thriller.

A Thousand Words: Title Bout Championship Boxing

Title Bout Championship Boxing

The Title Bout Championship Boxing computer game, released first in the early 2000s, is very strange. It’s had development stop (and start, and stop), had the rights change hands, and yet the initial, stable version can still be legally bought and updated. Even in gameplay terms, it’s the kind of game that I like but I can see why many others wouldn’t.

It really can be summed up as like an MCOAT for boxing instead of military equipment. All you can do is set up the parameters and watch the simulation go forth, with a combination of characteristics and luck simulating the outcome of the matches. This leads to a very deep but very narrow type of game.

So yes, you can simulate Tyson vs. Ali, but save for giving vague and not necessarily follow-able instructions, you really can’t do much except watch. For “normal” players I can see the limitations. But for someone like me who likes seeing different outcomes for their own sake, it’s a very fun and enjoyable game.

Review: The Bodyguard Manual

The Bodyguard Manual

For those wondering why I seem to be reviewing so much about bodyguards/security contraptions, the answer is a combination of general curiosity and writing research. The first needs no explanation. The second is because I have a character in my WIPs who’s both extremely wealthy and extremely paranoid (beyond the totally justified concerns someone of wealth would have about security). I wanted to look at the excesses to see what they looked like. And Leroy Thompson’s The Bodyguard Manual is nothing if not excessive.

I can forgive some sensationalism. After all, a genuine manual on executive protection would have to be as long and detailed as a military field manual-and about as exciting to read. This does go into detail on the basics and the tactical templates. But there’s an impression that Thompson is just getting past the boring, realistic, “if it comes to force at all, you’ve already catastrophically failed” details before he goes to the good stuff. And boy is it good.

The general theme of much of the book is that if you are a bodyguard, you will have near-unlimited resources, and you will need them, because the principal [client] is being threatened by a Predator and an entire clan of techno-ninjas. Thompson talks about helicopters, tons of agents there, and exotic weapons that I’ll get to in a bit. If I was to give him the benefit of the doubt, I’d say that his stated experience in protecting military officers means that he’s used to dealing with military-grade threats where you do have lots of assets but also face much more capable threats. However, I have a hunch that the target audience for this book isn’t really aspiring protection officers.

There was an obsession with submachine guns. The biggest red flag I saw was a constant positive reference to drum magazines. Not only do they have a justified reputation for being clunky and jam-prone (see how the Thompson and PPSH both phased them out), but they go completely against the (accurate) stated info that bodyguards should be as low profile as possible. My favorite weird superweapon is his recommendation that, if you can’t get a Barrett .50 caliber rifle or equivalent for legal reasons, an elephant gun should be used to deter vehicles from attacking the principal’s estate.

After reading this, I can see where the “these guys aren’t like the people in action movies-they’re better” annoyance I’ve read in countless cheap thrillers comes from. One of the gun sections is basically “a badass bodyguard with a submachine gun scything down the villains-in controlled single-digit shot bursts”. It’s the definition of having ones cake and eating it too.

Is this a book I would recommend if I or anyone I knew sincerely wanted to be a bodyguard? No, definitely not. But is this a very fun book that can be very inspiring for cheap thriller authors? You bet it is. I had a lot of entertainment reading this book, and the review is the most fun I’ve had writing one in a while.

A Thousand Words: Wario Land 4

Wario Land 4

When I was a kid, I got a Game Boy Advance, and one of the available games that early in the product’s life cycle was Wario Land 4. It’s still one of my favorite platformers ever, and learning about it and the character’s history has made it even better.

Wario’s origin apparently came from the Game Boy team loathing having to make a Mario game, viewing him as this ugly mustached intruder. So for Super Mario Land 2, they made an ugly mustached intruder. By a good coincidence, flipping the letter “M” in Mario led to a viable pun in both Japanese (Warui) and English (War) for a villain. Wario became popular enough to get his own games.

The excuse plot is Wario finding about an ancient pyramid and then heading off to plunder it. He travels through paintings into various dimensions (it just dawned on me now that this is a parody of Mario 64), and goes on weird escapades. This is a well-done game. The platforming is very good, and the colorful setup manages to work around the GBA’s infamous dark screen without being too obnoxious. It also ditches the outdated arcade holdover “life” system completely-if you die, you just get pushed back to the hub and have to restart the level.

What’s made me extra-fond of this game is that it’s the first that I mastered. I remember how fun it was to be able to effortlessly beat bosses that used to give me trouble, and recall being able to constantly stunlock one boss as a moment of pride. (Also, it was actually hard to accidentally get the worst ending, but I remember being “bad” on purpose to do so as yet another challenge). The GBA had a lot of clunkers, but this was not one of them.

Review: The Modern Bodyguard

The Modern Bodyguard

Peter Costerdine’s The Modern Bodyguard is an excellent research resource for realistic “executive protection”. Written in a typically sharp, slightly sneery British style, it delivers the blunt realities of the job, especially for civilians who lack both financial and legal resources compared to government personnel. For instance, it points out that private security, especially traveling private security, will almost always be unarmed for legal/political reasons (at least as of the time of writing).

It’s not perfect, and it says something about the type of genre that even Costerdine goes into tirades about various types of firearms. But its positives outweigh the negatives substantially. If you’re curious about realistic, limited-resource protection, I cannot recommend this book enough.

Review: Blood Brothers

Blood Brothers

I’d thought I’d read all of the books in the Black Eagle Force series, but no. There was a semi-spinoff series, the Mark Ingrham one. Blood Brothers is the first installment. Upon finding that out, I knew I had to get it. And I did. How was it?

Well, first, like every other Black Eagle Force book it is goofy, tasteless, and ridiculous. If I had to really rank them, I’d say this is a little worse than most of the rest. There are two reasons for this. The first is just because a lot of the structural issues are still there. The second is that there’s less focus on the unique “super-VTOL” elements and more on conventional action hero action. This isn’t a deal-breaker, but I’d recommend reading the “proper” BEF novels first.

Review: Nonstate Warfare

Stephen Biddle’s Nonstate Warfare aims to debunk the myths around warfare featuring nonstate actors and point out that there really isn’t as clear a line as thought between “conventional” and “unconventional” warfare. As I’ve been annoyed by the use of the terms “Hybrid War” and especially “4th Generation War”, I was eagerly awaiting this book. However, I found the execution significantly flawed.

Now, the premise is sound and well supported, which makes the flaws in outcome all the more severe. Basically, even the most mass-mobilized total wars with the clearest defined front lines have an irregular and/or deep element (he uses the excellent example of partisans on the Eastern Front in World War II). Likewise, even non-state elements can and have fought battles with large forces, heavy weapons, and the aim to hold territory. Very few people would dispute this. Biddle also points out that the progress of industrial-age technology means that ill-equipped irregulars can have weapons that the most advanced world powers didn’t have a few decades prior.

None of this is really controversial, and simply stating that would make for a very short book. What would be useful would an example of middle-level armies that don’t fit categories very well. Biddle does do this, with his descriptions of the Sadrist militias in the Iraq War and Adid’s forces in Somalia fitting well. He also has an interesting analogy with a spectrum from “Fabian” operations (a reference to the Roman strategy of avoiding defeat) to “Napoleonic” ones (a reference to seeking decisive battlefield victory). To be snarky, Fabian operations to excess are Kalib Starnes spending the entire MMA fight running away from Nate Quarry, while Napoleonic ones are the bandit in a Bethesda game charging the player in super-armor.

Unfortunately, this is written in clunky academese. Biddle uses a rigid scale to rank various forces from “Fabian” to “Napoleonic”, one that I found to be too rigid for an inherently arbitrary judgement. His writing is full of hair-splitting and nitpicking of what honestly feels like a strawman that everything is either phalanxes on a field or nothing but backstabbing. There’s weird hangups like a fixation on force density for its own sake, obsession on individual technical examples (so Adid had TOWs? So what? Even in 1993 it wasn’t like they were stealth fighters), and not enough focus on non-state forces supplied by state ones.

I wanted to like this book. And I don’t disagree with the overall point. But it could have been made just so much better. This feels like an academic squabble in academic language, when a plain-text history of case studies with “conventional irregular armies” would have been far more suitable in promoting the argument.

Review: Hit And Fade

Hit And Fade

The second book in the Forgotten Ruin series, Hit And Fade features the timeshifted Rangers going against something close to the original Fuldapocalypse “mascot”. Not a zombie sorceress, but a lich, a zombie sorcerer. I guess his sister was off provoking a Third World War and disabling the nuclear warheads.

The book is very similar to its predecessor in terms of quality, which makes it a little hard to review (in contrast to the original). All of what I’ve said about the good and bad parts has been stated already, and it doesn’t feel that different. If I had to say something, I’d say that the contrivances in worldbuilding add up when repeated, and that there aren’t enough new good qualities to make up for that.

Still, this is not a bad book. Its flaws are not insurmountable, and if this was the first in the series that I’d read, I’d probably feel differently. If you want to see Rangers fighting a skeleton mage, you’re in the right place.

Review: Brute Madness

Brute Madness

Ledru Baker’s Brute Madness is the kind of book I haven’t read in a while. The kind of novel that’s both ridiculously stupid and ridiculously, stupidly fun. A hardboiled Cold War spy thriller about a nuclear scientist and a woman, this book has action, adventure, and… well, what made me see the book in the first place.

That “distinction”, and one that made me go “I have to see this” when I heard it was the claim that the book had some of the worst sex scenes ever written. I was not “disappointed”. In fact, the book has the audacity to make such a scene its very first paragraph. Wow. Adding to the uh, experience is Baker’s constant repetition of the word “erect” to refer to things like someone standing up, something with obvious Freudian connotations.

The book overall is an ultra-trashy cheap thriller. But it’s a fun ultra-trashy cheap thriller. There’s definitely a place out there for horribly so-bad-its-good books like this.