Review: Arch Enemy

Arch Enemy

The fourth Dan Morgan book, Arch Enemy fits with the theme established by its predecessor. It’s kind of clunky and disjointed when it comes to specifics. There are too many plotlines and they’re just sort of shoved together at the end to wrap it up. On top of that, it just moves too slowly.

But in generalities, it’s exactly the kind of book that I love. The cheap thriller that isn’t afraid to have ridiculous set pieces and walk the tightrope between “amazingly stupid” and “stupidly amazing”. Its flaws weren’t enough to have me drop the book, and when it got to the secret oil tanker prison ship, I was grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

This isn’t a work of high literature, but it’s the kind of book I enjoy and enjoyed.

Review: Sporting Blood

Sporting Blood

Carlos Acevedo’s Sporting Blood is a nonfiction chronicle of boxers at their worst. Not at their worst in the ring, but at their worst out of it. His writing is excellent and well-handled (legendary boxing historian Thomas Hauser praises him in the foreword, no easy feat). It’s just the book can get a little repetitive.

There’s some interesting entries, like a 1920s prizefighter prolonging his career through quack medical surgery. But so much of the book is just one entry after another detailing how a boxer got beat up, lost his brain, lost his temporary money, lost his prestige, and sank back into the terrible life he came from. And then there are the stories of how many of them had terrible upbringings-the tale of boxing trainer Tony Ayala Sr. and how he treated his sons was especially disturbing. (Sadly but unsurprisingly, one of them became an absolute monster).

This isn’t the author’s fault, but it does make for melancholy reading. And it also details why the talent pool of American boxers shrank so dramatically after World War II. Because given a choice between that and another career, athletic or note, who would want to subject oneself to the vicious free-for-all of boxing?

Review: High Desert Vengeance

High Desert Vengeance

The fifth Brannigan’s Blackhearts book, High Desert Vengeance has the feeling of a “breather book”. Not the action itself in the American Southwest, which is as good as always. But rather in the personal scope and comparably close-to-home and mundane opponents when compared to the settings of the ones that came before and after it. There’s a tiny bit of “Captain Beefheart Playing Normal Music” at work here.

But only a bit. This is still solid in all the ways that matter, and I think the different tone is actually welcome in this case. While I think the series has done better, I still quite recommend this. It does everything right that it needs to, and remains an entertaining thriller.

Review: Stalin Strikes First

World War III 1946: Stalin Strikes First

I’ve said before that I don’t really consider 1940s World War IIIs to really be in the same genre as post-Vietnam ones. However, they still meet the very basic definition. One such work was World War III 1946, which was involved in internet controversy about its quality and plausibility before it got commercialized. The first printed installment is Stalin Strikes First.

This is not the most ideal story. The first issue is that its writing system just isn’t that good. It’s a mixture of snippets, conference rooms, and vignettes that never really rise beyond exposition. The second and more fascinating issue is how the war develops, with the Soviets skill on the ground being downplayed while they pull one superweapon in an area of historical weakness after another out of their hats. There’s also a bit of taking primary sources too literally, especially dated ones. Imagine a 1980s World War III where the Warsaw Pact armies could consistently move at their maximum on-paper speeds at the same time that NATO air power was inflicting its maximum on-paper attrition and you’ll get the idea.

This particular book has the Soviets winning the initial advance. And not through their existing strengths or through Red Army-style showing how they can be more than the sum of their parts. No, it’s through author fiat handing them one victory after another on a silver platter. There is obvious enthusiasm put into this book, but I still cannot recommend it. There are just so many better World War IIIs out there.

Review: Super Tiger

Grumman F11F-1F Super Tiger

The original F-11 Tiger was just one of many 1950s flash-in-the-pan fighters. But there was a developed upgraded version that could have given it more staying power. In this book, former Grumman test pilot Corky Meyer tells its story.

There really isn’t that much to say about the airplane from a macro-technical point of view. It was basically an F-11 with a slightly different shape and a J79 engine (made famous on the F-4 Phantom). This gave it massively more thrust, to the point where it could hit Mach 2 in ideal conditions and reach the practical limit of performance for most fighters. The other unusual feature was that it carried a pair of Sidewinders on the top of the fuselage. From this emerged several other proposals. Described are a basic single-seat, a two-seater with Sparrows, a multirole non-carrier export version, and a reconnaissance aircraft with cameras.

Of course, the best and worst part of the book comes from the story of how it failed to gain traction. While Meyer’s deep connection to the aircraft meant he could say much about it, it also made him obviously biased when it came to its prospects. He was not the best person to give a fair evaluation of why it didn’t go anywhere. The reasons were the US Navy not wanting another jury-rigged shoved-in fighter when the F-4 was almost ready, the Air Force wanting the raw power of the F-104, and export customers facing a mix of Lockheed sleaze, a sales effort that Meyer admitted was understaffed and inexperienced, and the turn-off of the Americans seemingly not wanting it for themselves.

It’s still ultimately hard to feel too much sorrow at the loss of the Super Tiger. While it may have been safer than the F-104, it would still be a 1950s design in an inherently risky role if used the same way, and the accidents would have piled up regardless. Its role was soon successfully filled by the F-4 in American service and the F-5 (which ironically became known as the Tiger II) with export customers. But it’s a fascinating footnote in aviation history nonetheless.

A Thousand Words: Requiem For The Phantom

Phantom: Requiem For The Phantom

The 2009 anime Phantom: Requiem For The Phantom is an adaptation of the “Phantom of Inferno” visual novel, the first work by infamous creator Gen Urobuchi. It tells the story of a young Japanese man and enigmatic girl turned underworld assassins with German number codenames, as they fall into a twisted world. It’s perhaps the best example of a “mean 51%” work I can think of, because of how zig-zaggy it is. A “median 51%” story would be bland but effective consistently, and this is anything but.

The production values and especially soundtrack are excellent overall. But the animation quality is surprisingly inconsistent. And the plot and characters are much more so. It wants to be this dark drama exploring the human psyche but it also wants to have tacticute girls and ex-East German supervillains bouncing around. This doesn’t always mix. A bigger problem is that so much of the story line is devoted to a fundamentally uninteresting conflict between various equally unsympathetic amoral criminals. It just became hard to care about, and the main characters spent more time moping than taking advantage of the agency that they theoretically had.

This is the equivalent of Dave Kingman or Chris Davis, a show that just swings and swings and either hits the ball hard or strikes out. While it often doesn’t succeed, I can give it credit for sincerely trying, and it was never outright bad enough that I didn’t want to watch.

Review: Deception

Deception

Zach James’ Deception is a debut thriller by a debut author. While it has some roughness around the edges and is a little clunky plot-wise in terms of jumping around between times and places, it does enough right to make me forgive it. I’ll even forgive the description of “Hudson Bay” as being close to New York and not close to northern Canada.

Hopefully the announced and obviously set up sequel will improve the writing fundamentals. But this is still a good action read and a good enough cheap thriller. Welcome to the community of thriller writers, Zach James!

Review: WagerEasy

WagerEasy

It took me a long time to actually read the sports betting-centric thriller/murder mystery WagerEasy by Tom Farrell. This is simply because I was writing my own book centered around that industry, and didn’t want any, however accidental, cross-contamination or subconscious comparisons. So I only took it up after I finished The Sure Bet King.

That being said, I needn’t have worried (at least in hindsight). WagerEasy is a first-person thriller where the same general subject matter is the only thing it has in common with my own novel. It’s very much an apple to an orange.

So how is it as a book? The answer is-very good, even with me not being the biggest fan of first-person narration or the “hardboiled” style it tries to go for.While I feared it would be just dreary and grubby at first, WagerEasy turns out to have high stakes in a clever way and effective action set pieces. In fact, one of the action scenes in the middle of the novel had me going “Really?” And I meant it in a good way. Like, this could have been written by Jon Land. And Farrell definitely knows his stuff concerning sports betting itself (although I was a little surprised there wasn’t more discussion of the reputation European sportsbooks have for banning/ultra-restricting winning bettors). So I enjoyed this a lot.

Review: ATP 7-100.3 Chinese Tactics

ATP 7-100.3 Chinese Tactics

After seeing the excellent work on North Korea, I eagerly awaited the next installment in the ATP 7-100 series on the most potential opponents. When ATP 7-100.3, Chinese Tactics dropped, I was not disappointed. Well detailed and well laid out, this is the first comprehensive unclassified analysis of the PLA in decades.

In some ways, being a far more advanced opponent that’s far closer to the fictional maximum-challenge “composite OPFOR” than North Korea is means that the tactics shown feel a lot more mundane and slightly less interesting. But showing the (deliberately overcomplicated and confounding) organization is where this shines. The modern PLA is organized a lot like the old “GENFORCE-Mobile” OPFOR with a bunch of brigades and combined arms battalions jumping straight to corps-equivalents with six line brigades each.

This is a great resource and I highly recommend reading it. Besides its topicality, seeing a force structure diverge from the classic Russo-American style is interesting to see and valuable for wargamers.