Review: Olympus Rises

Olympus Rises

After reading a novel dragged down by trivialities like “technical realism”, it was an amazing experience reading one that threw all that aside in favor of crazy action. The first entry in the Code of War Series, Jim Roberts’ Olympus Rises is such a story, dealing with a supervillain sci-fi mercenary army and the modern soldiers who end up fighting it. Like the Black Eagle Force series before it, this is not the most fundamentally sound book. And while this goes without saying, anyone bothered by a lack of plausibility probably won’t like this.

However, that doesn’t matter. This is a very, very fun book and I had a great time reading it. Sometimes you just need jetpacks and mecha-ninjas. The many cliches and references I saw actually enhanced the experience in my views. It’s that kind of book, and that’s the kind I frequently take to reading.

Review: Vortex (Larry Bond)

Vortex (Larry Bond)

Larry Bond’s Vortex is a tale of war in southern Africa, as a revanchanist South Africa seeks to retake Namibia, with the opposition of Cuba and the Americans drawn into it. My first proper Larry Bond novel in some time, I wanted to see how this, his last pre-Soviet collapse novel went. And the answer, sadly, is “not too well”.

I knew his style, and, starting this blog, thought it was a lot more common than it actually was. I knew it’d have a lot of conference room scenes. I knew it would have a very long opening act to set up the war everyone knows is going to happen. I knew it would hop around viewpoint characters a lot and focus on each and every part of the war. Yet I wasn’t prepared for how excessive all of it would be. This is the longest, clunkiest, and, I hate to say it, worst Larry Bond I’ve read.

It takes over a hundred pages just to get to the conference rooms. The book has this weird “too hot and too cold” feeling where it stays for a while on a low-rate cloak and dagger plot in the first half and then explodes into too many tangled threads in the second. Naturally, all of this makes the ending too contrived and neat.

This is a shame because the premise-expanding on a real conflict with truly interesting participants and tactics in a theater of war genuinely unfamiliar to many Americans-is a very good one. Which makes it being squandered in this huge mess all the worse. Bond has written much better than this, and his other works have similar-level battle scenes without the structural failings here.

Review: The Hamfist Trilogy

The Hamfist Trilogy

George Nolly’s Hamfist Trilogy consists of a compilation of novels set in the Vietnam air war, as written by a veteran of the Vietnam air war. The books are weirdly breezy and good-natured for war novels, which sets them apart. Especially since it also tries to be generally realistic-Mack Maloney this is not. This is a passion project, for better and worse.

Thus it sometimes feels sloppy. The tone can sometimes come across as overly rambling and not the most suited for the story Nolly is trying to tell, with the first person perspective not always helping. But it gets enough of the basics and little details right that I enjoyed reading it. And I say this as someone who often doesn’t go for straight historical fiction.

Review: Whirlwind

Whirlwind

The 56th book in the Kirov series and the conclusion of its third World War III arc is Whirlwind. By this point, the same issues present in any other installment are there. The prose is what it is, and the “time travel soap opera mixed with wargame AARs” is familiar as well. A large chunk of this book doesn’t even pretend to be a conventional narrative and just recaps the war in detail.

While this (supposedly) second-to-last arc in the series doesn’t just nuke everything and overwrite the timeline like its predecessor, it leaves an uncomfortable feeling. The talk about how weapons and doctrine in-universe evolved gave me the impression that Schettler would pull the football yet again and have yet another four-books-too-long wargame sim. Especially because the main ship plot does have a lot of genuine promise.

The concept of the titular ship’s crew going back in time to stop delightful supervillain Ivan Volkov from destroying the timeline is a great one, and I know very well that you could merge such a plot with wargame scenarios. But even my patience is wearing down with the formula. The circle could be squared if the ship and its crew got a good final conclusion while allowing the toy box lets plays to continue, but I’m not really confident in that happening.

Review: The Rules of The Game

The Rules of The Game: Jutland And British Naval Command

In the seventh game of the 2001 World Series, Mariano Rivera faced Tony Womack, giving up a game-tying hit and setting the stage for Luis Gonzalez to win the series for the Diamondbacks. In that plate appearance, Womack triumphed. In the rest of their careers, it was quite potentially the greatest relief pitcher ever (Rivera) against a poor hitter whose sole virtue was speed in baserunning (Womack). A sample size of one doesn’t lead to good results.

Unfortunately, this is what Andrew Gordon tries to do in The Rules Of The Game: Jutland and British Naval Command, a history epic that is equal parts awe-inspiring and frustrating. When younger, I hung on this book’s every word. Now, it comes across highly erratic. See, the writing quality is still amazing. The research and attention to detail is excellent as well. In terms of historiography, Gordon stands out.

It’s just a shame that in terms of slant, he stands out as well.

Gordon is one of the few historians who stands with David Beatty over John Jellicoe, and his defense is weird. In the actual book, Gordon points out Beatty’s flaws -he put the slower but most-armored Queen Elizabeth battleships in the back of his formation, he didn’t coordinate more, he was a ‘difficult’, arrogant person that nobody liked, and so on. And yet he still supports the BCF commander on “his heart was in the right place” grounds. You know, he was scrappy, and he had that clutch spirit.

With a bias towards a decisive victory that never truly needed to happen, the book comes across as not what it could have been. Gordon takes that sample size of one (hey, remember the time a relief pitcher with only two career plate appearances managed a double off of Randy Johnson? The time Muggsy Bogues blocked a shot from Patrick Ewing?) and seems to just miss the forest for the trees-or if he doesn’t, he barely dwells on it.

This book is still a huge accomplishment and one very much worth reading. It just needs to be understood that it’s not exactly the most neutral in tone.

Review: Tier One

Tier One

Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson’s Tier One is the first installment in a series that, like a surprisingly high number of Fuldapocalypse review entries, I learned about via negative comments. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by such books before, so I decided to give this tale of a SEAL turned super secret super commando a try. Of course, I’ve also often found them to be just as bad as they said.

This is not a good book, but it was a strangely enjoyable one. The action was passable but not the best. The main character comes across as a ‘difficult’, unlikable person. And the plot-well, the plot seemed like it was trying to check each and every box of what a stereotypical modern thriller would contain. This was enough to make it swing all the way around from “cliche and bland” to “weirdly interesting”. Thus Tier One is the kind of work I cannot recommend but did not mind reading.

Review: Persuader

Persuader

Lee Child’s Persuader was the first Jack Reacher novel I read. It was also one of the first real “action novels” that I read. This wasn’t an adventure novel, or a science fiction novel. No, this was contemporary red blooded action! Because of this, the book has a special place in my heart.

The actual book is still kind of “51%” in the full context-it doesn’t really stand out with hindsight after reading countless other books (including those following a similar formula). But I still think the success of it and the whole series is deserved. It promises action, and it delivers. Who knows how many people got into cheap thrillers after reading a Jack Reacher?

Review: My Next Life as a Villainess Vol 2

My Next Life as a Villainess: Volume 2

The second volume of My Next Life as a Villainess deals with Katarina now going to the actual academy setting of the game and demonstrating her biggest character trait of absolute obliviousness towards romantic attraction (the fandom joke is that black holes are less dense than her). One of the biggest and best buildups in the first volume was foreshadowing the game’s protagonist, Maria Campbell. The second doesn’t disappoint when she actually appears. Katarina is clueless to the fact that her being actually nice has already butterflied almost all of the original game’s plot away, and equally clueless to how Maria is now attracted to her.

The plot is worse when it tries to go for more genuine danger and drama, simply because it conflicts with the tone of the rest of the story. But even that’s not too bad. While I can understand why that would be included, it’d probably have been more preferable to just focus entirely on its heroine worrying about nonexistent “death flags”.

It also has a good conclusion as Katarina survives the “game” and hears Maria’s confession, which she of course doesn’t get. When I read that this was the original planned ending, it didn’t surprise me at all. Of course, it was successful enough to continue, but just as how The Sum of All Fears serves as a good stopping point for Jack Ryan, so does this for the series (boy, never thought I’d be directly comparing those two).

The structural issues I mentioned in the past volume are still there. But after seeing so much of setting munchkinism, and coming from an online community where this kind of thing is a stereotype, I love the concept of someone who tries to munchkin the setting and it doesn’t work out (well, in this case it does, but not in the way Katarina thought or intended). While I probably won’t read too far beyond the original end, I still enjoyed this series as a break from tanks exploding.

Review: Sins of the Fathers

Sins of the Fathers

My love of books of all kinds has led me to Susan Howatch’s Sins of the Fathers. This tale of intrigue in a Wall Street tycoon family puts the “block” in “blockbuster”, both in terms of the whole book and individual paragraphs. It’s not an easy book to get through. Characters talk and monologue in giant, close to unreadable segments. And nearly every one of the characters is unlikable. I get that you’re not supposed to truly “like” them, but they’re unpleasant in a bad rather than a good way.

It’s just a chore to get through yet another man with more money than morals complaining about the “plastic society”, or yet another pregnancy drama. Howatch doesn’t even succeed in making the stakes seem that high. You could take away nearly all of everyone’s assets and make it about store owners in a small town plaza and it wouldn’t feel any different. There’s never the impression, beyond a few luxuries, that these are people who hold the financial world in their hands.

It’s a shame because I love the concept of a giant family saga, an internal struggle of the titans that mixes the personal with the societal. It’s just this is not it. In fact, this might be one of the worst books I’ve read in some time.

Review: Storied Independent Automakers

Storied Independent Automakers

Charles K. Hyde’s Storied Independent Automakers tells the tale of the American-owned car companies that were not the Big Three. It’s a story worth telling, because they illustrated just how ruthless and consolidating the car industry is. These car companies went under or were bought out at the height of the domestic auto industry’s success (one ironic silver lining was that many of their left-hanging dealers turned to import brands and proceeded to make a fortune from them).

They had one brief moment of popularity due to a completely artificial boom when World War II resulted in years of pent-up demand. And now and then they managed to pull an innovation out that gave them a temporary edge (like compacts for AMC) until the big three caught up. But that was mostly it, and other than that it was all uphill. Hyde rightly points out it was impressive that they lasted as long as they did, and gives credit where it was due.

Though written in a history book tone (ie, it’s not exciting for anyone other than me), Hyde’s book is light enough to be readable while still containing lots of well-researched statistics on cars. It tells the story of an overlooked but important part of the auto industry’s history. Any enthusiast should enjoy it.