Review: Concrete Jungle

Concrete Jungle

Getting the latest Brannigan’s Blackhearts novel was about as easy a decision for me as a panda’s decision to eat bamboo. After devouring Concrete Jungle, where the Blackhearts go to Prague, what do I think? It’s very sad for me to say this given how much I absolutely adore the series, but I did feel this was lacking compared to past installments. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s still a decent 51% (or more?) cheap thriller. Everything I like about them is still there. And it’s very hard for any series to remain completely electrifying for twelve installments.

But I did feel that this is the (comparative) worst of the series to date. Most of the enemy gimmicks are either reused from earlier books or mundane. For instance, in the the bulk of the novel, the Blackhearts fight-Eastern European mobsters. Mobster-slaying is as 70s as disco and bad mustaches. And I felt that the lucky breaks/narrative contrivances the protagonists got this time were a little too obvious. Yes, they were always there, but they were concealed a lot better in earlier installments.

This series has been on a great run, and nothing can take that away. But still I hope it isn’t jumping the shark completely.

Review: The Tiger Queens

The Tiger Queens: The Women Of Genghis Khan

Another walk off the beaten Fuldapocalyptic path for me is historical novel The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thornton. First, this is another obvious “this is something I’m not the target audience for” book. So I may be biased in that regard. Nonetheless, I found it a little disappointing.

The book is about the Mongols. Which leads to the greatest issue I found. The biggest problem isn’t the plot or characters, it’s the writing. Even taking that it’s basically historical chick lit into account, the prose is way too flowery for something about the rise of the Mongol Empire.

Still, this isn’t a bad book, it’s just not one for me. Which I kind of expected. Oh well. When you walk off the beaten path, sometimes you encounter prickly plants.

Review: Pros and Cons

Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL

Jeff Benedict and Don Yaeger’s Pros and Cons is a 1999 book about the massive instances of NFL players who had criminal records. These players were not just chosen in the draft in spite of their criminal backgrounds, but were often shielded by their teams to great extents. So far, that does not sound surprising, being just a few years removed from the OJ Simpson trial. But they deliberately avoid talking about the obvious “superstar power” and instead focus near-entirely on how the teams twist to protect criminal players who are not stars by any definition of the term.

It’s well-researched and has many harrowing examples. But it comes across as flawed for two big reasons. The first is that it ultimately feels sensationalist for the sake of sensationalism. This is of course a massive inherent issue for true crime books like it. But it seems to go further in that it assumes its readers are holding to a hopelessly outdated “Gee whiz, look at that Mickey Mantle, so nice and clean” mindset that I can assure you was not present even in children at the time of the book’s release (I know this because I was one at the time. I can tell you that I knew more about Dennis Rodman’s off-court antics than about what made him good on it).

Which leads to the second not-its-fault problem. This is like a book on unrestrained warfare-released in 1913. The internet was a paradigm shift in how these inevitable incidents were processed and viewed, and arriving just before it really broke out massively makes it horrendously dated.

I can’t really recommend this book. It’s a dated true crime book that’s basically redundant by this point.

Review: Advance To Contact 1980 (Ronsone/Aaronson)

Advance To Contact 1980

The time has come to finally return to the starting theme of this blog. A 1980s World War III book is being reviewed here, Advance to Contact by James Ronsone and Alex Aaronson. This is a very Larry Bond-esque book taking place at an unusual time (beginning of the decade, or as I like to call it NATO Hard Mode) and in unusual places like Iran and Central America. Operation Eagle Claw succeeds-and things spiral from there.

Of course, I have an obligatory rivet-counting nitpick. Eagle Claw was more or less completely unworkable and it was probably for the best that it failed as early as it did. Reaching the city itself would just lead to massive collateral damage and the deaths of the hostages. Eagle Claw succeeding is like Operation Sea Lion succeeding in terms of plausibility.

But for the sake of the story, I’ll gladly it slide. Different theaters certainly beats Germany and the North Atlantic. Especially when the geography leads to different types of battles than giant mechanized blasts in the Fulda Gap.

As far as literary quality, this is a little rough but very forgivable. While at times it gets clunky, this is an extremely hard genre to write well. It certainly did not stop me from enjoying this book, and I look forward to the next installment.

Review: The Wandering Warriors

The Wandering Warriors

Rick Wilder and Alan Smale’s The Wandering Warriors is a very goofy novel. In it, a 1940s baseball team finds itself isekaied to Ancient Rome. Hijinks ensue. Lots of hijinks. Ok, lots and lots of hijinks.

This silly book has a silly premise and a silly conclusion. But it’s a lot of fun. Don’t read it expecting any kind of historical accuracy, serious study or culture clash. Read it for the ridiculous fun of a baseball team teaching Romans to play baseball in the Colosseum.

If you like out-there time travel fantasy, this is the book for you.

Review: Taiwan’s Former Nuclear Weapons Program

Taiwan’s Former Nuclear Weapons Program: Nuclear Weapons On-Demand

David Albright and Andrea Stricker’s 2018 book on the abandoned nuclear weapons program of Taiwan tells the true story of one of the biggest nuclear programs that never resulted in a functioning bomb. The authors themselves note the similarities to the previously-reviewed underground South African program-and the huge differences.

The big catalyst was, unsurprisingly, the mainland’s successful deployment of nuclear weapons in 1964. What followed was a decades-long game that lasted as long as the Taiwanese military regime itself, where it tried to slip nuclear construction ability under the nose of the Americans who feared escalation. A tale of both technical and political detail, it’s excellently told.

Where I differ book is in its conclusion. Albright and Stricker argue that the Americans were fully in the right in stopping the program. To me, I would feel a lot more comfortable about Taiwan’s security if it had the ability to make Shanghai and other close, large cities disappear in a fireball. Many Taiwanese themselves made legitimate arguments against them that were quoted in the book: It would trigger the PRC to rev up earlier, and Taiwan was so small that they’d be vulnerable to a counterforce strike. But I still think a submarine deterrent would go a long way.

Still, opinions aside, this is a great look at an underappreciated weapons program.

Review: Special Access

Special Access

The first in the Duncan Hunter series of aviation thrillers is Special Access. This book is very right-wing and very bad. It’s not terrible because it’s right wing, if that was the case 4/5ths of Fuldapocalypse review subjects if not more would be bad. There’s only a little overlap between “slant” and “reason why I didn’t like it”, but even that little is more than most trash fiction.

Special Access starts off being obviously inspired by W.E.B. Griffin. In fact, it apes his structure so much that despite only reading one unconventional Griffin novel in full, I still saw the resemblance immediately. It’s a long progressive stride through years and years. Only with stalling on a short period and then racing ahead with clumsy timeskips. The main character is a total Mary Sue, but that’s the least of this book’s problems.

Once in the “present”, the politics reach the level of the posthumous “William W. Johnstone’s” novels. The president (the novel was released in 2013) is a foreign-born terrorist agent. Muslim terrorists have thoroughly infiltrated the government. You get the idea. Not only is the tone like those “literary masterpieces”, but so is the structure. It’s a clunky cheap thriller, and even though the action set pieces are better than any posthumous “Johnstone” novel I’ve read, that’s not saying much.

So this is basically two books in similar but not exact genres, both of which have massive flaws, jammed together. It’s like those times when people try to combine sporting events and concerts and they both fail. With bad athletes and worse musicians. I would even go so far as to say that this is the worst book I’ve read in some time.

A Thousand Words: Billy The Kid VS Dracula

Billy The Kid VS Dracula

When I saw the title of the 1966 film Billy The Kid vs. Dracula, I knew I had to watch it. With a name like that, you know you’re in for something special. And this indeed was something very special. A vampire Western that hits every single cliche of both genres, the story is that Billy The Kid has reformed (!) and aims for a new peaceful life, but his fiancee is threated by Dracula.

Actually, there’s one point in which the movie is surprisingly progressive for its time: The inevitable Native American attack on the stagecoach is explicit as only happening because Dracula killed one of the previously stated as friendly ones and blamed it on the other passengers. Apart from that, it differs in how stupid and clueless everyone, including female lead Melinda Plowman, is. I was rooting for the vampire, especially because John Carradine (David’s father) delivers one of the few good performances as the monster.

This is very much a B-movie with B-movie problems, but its pure weirdness means it’s worth a watch.

Review: Events

Events

The debut published work of Sea Lion Press author Charles E. P. Murphy, Events tells the story of alternate British prime ministers as they deal with the economy, other familiar problems, and, uh, alien invasions. The book is told in a deadpan pseudo-historical fashion, complete with footnotes that reference made-up history books. Anyone who knows internet alternate history will see the style being poked at instantly.

And this is the novella’s biggest issue: You need to be in an extremely small, insular community to really appreciate it. Otherwise, the obvious joke will just get repeated. “Oh, this prime minister dealt with an alien attack and then (insert mundane historical political problem here). And then this prime minister did (___)….” Even though it’s very short, the gag wears out its welcome by the third alien invasion.

But if you do know internet alternate history, the joke becomes better. A genre with a frequent rivet-counting “how many B-52s can dance on the head of a pin” obesssion and which cares absolutely nothing for conventional plot or characters gets skewered by Murphy treating made-up nonsense as if it was a meticulously researched order of battle for 1863/1942/1985.

Of course, the book also gets soured a bit by Poe’s Law (there is no parody of something that cannot be equaled in extremes by a sincere expression of the same). Since many internet alternate history timelines often portray events rivaling flying saucer wars in terms of divergence unironically, this can feel like just a handwaved in timeline that happens to be tongue in cheek. And (thankfully) without wikiboxes.

This is a first novel, so I can forgive its flaws. But it’s still made by and for those who follow a specific niche.

Review: Day of Confession

Day of Confession

Alan Folsom’s second thriller novel was 1998’s Day of Confession. Following the “big” so-bad-its-good shoes of predecessor The Day After Tomorrow, it stumbles. Badly. That involved a bizarre plot centered around giving Adolph Hitler a head transplant. This, like a 1990s technothriller out of Central Casting, involves Catholic Church higher-ups launching a conspiracy to take control of China.

(Look, this is what you get when you don’t have a definite opponent. You can get Cauldron or you can get stuff like this.)

Anyway, this more mundane premise dooms the book. It has all of its predecessor’s weaknesses, like so much of the book just being people going places. But by having a more boring thriller plot, it lacks the crazed strengths that made Day After Tomorrow such a good bad book. The writing isn’t the worst ever, but there are better thrillers out there.