Review: Postwar AANW

The Anglo American Nazi War: Part 2

The first installment of The Anglo American Nazi War, published as Festung Europa, has been reviewed on this blog before. Because the postwar part is A: different, B: worse, and C: deliberately not included in the published version, I figured it deserved a separate review.

The wartime portion can fit, slightly awkwardly, into a certain form of pseudo-historical fiction. For fans of conventional World War IIIs, it can be compared somewhat to Hackett and The War That Never Was. It’s a description of a conflict that didn’t happen written in the style of recounting one that did. There is thus a tiny connection to fiction in general, albeit with the thread leading to another very small niche. It also fits into “AH as a genre.”

The postwar installment lacks even that connection. It’s a pure example of internet alternate history, and one of the big problems I’ve had when trying to review is that internet AH is an extremely insulated subculture that lacks almost any tie to normal literary storytelling. How can you critique the characters if there are none? I’ve had to strain to explain it, with the best I can give being “The outline of a de facto fanfic that uses ‘history’ as its setting”. If that sounds unusual and bizarre, it is.

Internet AH has a reputation for its installments being extremely short, something that actually sets it apart from other serialized web-fics that have a deserved reputation for often leaving War and Peace and Atlas Shrugged in their dust where length is concerned. The more substantive wartime portion takes up over 86% of the words written in the story. What’s left is a series of short infodumps.

Here’s what happens. In an utterly ruined Eurasia, everything from the Channel-bordering regions of France returning to British semi-rule as crown dependencies to the US annexing the Russian Far East as “Western Alaska”, with it later becoming a state, occurs. There’s both a “Russia” and a “Soviet Union.” The remnants of Germany are divided into many Morgenthau Plan-style restricted microstates. All this is told in blocks of exposition that somehow feel even flatter than the wartime ones. Which is a shame because there’s both comparison to another alternate history (in this specific case) and a huge amount of lost potential.

The world that develops is one where the US builds lots of superweapons the author clearly likes, adopts a full-on might makes right policy, has the path cleared for cakewalks despite its historical postwar advantages and lack of historical rivals, and uses them frequently against totally ineffectual opponents who exist purely to serve as live-fire targets. This is very much like The Big One, except it lacks the utter audacity and, in something you’d never have hear me say earlier, literary skill of that series.

Instead of using the power of Mary Sue project management to get the superweapons into service without breaking the bank, postwar AANW just has the US continue to run what amounts to a total war economy, falling victim to the “nine women can have a baby in a month” fallacy of funding always equaling results. Instead of having immortal manipulators with catlike eyes provide unrealistic policy continuity, postwar AANW just has a lazy unshakeable consensus emerge. Even after the US destroys several German cities with space weapons after their uprising had been conventionally suppressed, the result is not a “you kicked them when they were down” backlash similar to the real one (however fair or not) over the atomic bombings of Japan, but rather the even more hawkish party gaining support.

What should be an audacious, massive divergence that could easily serve as the foundation for a distinctive work instead is summarized in only around two dozen pages worth of actual text. This is a shame because the premise of a superweapon-obsessed US that never truly left the wartime era (and its ugliness and excesses) behind could make for a great “AH as a setting” story. It could be a highbrow book about generational change, with the upheaval making the historical 1960s look tame. It could be a thriller as the nation with a bazooka suddenly faces problems requiring daggers.

Instead it’s just the outline of an even more biased late Tom Clancy novel mixed with map trinkets. Instead of being made into a potentially tasty meal, the ingredients were just placed in a bowl and left there, next to other bowls full of uncooked flour, eggs, and spices.

Review: Righteous Kill

Righteous Kill

For all the prominence of the “go back in time to kill Hitler” trope in popular culture, there are surprisingly few books that feature it as the main plot point. Ted Lapkin’s Righteous Kill is one of them. The book has a delightfully simple plot-Israeli commandos go back in time to kill him.

The book has its flaws. The prose can be clunky and frequently descends into “I know the exact designation of a Scud TEL” level infodumps. This is also not a neutrally toned book, to put it mildly, and the ending is a little too neatly tied up. But these flaws are outweighed by its strengths, which is to say it manages to pit 2010s troops the author thinks are awesome against 1940s ones and still feel like a credible fight. This is not an easy feat, and it’s to Lapkin’s great credit that he succeeds in pulling it off.

This is both a fun book and a good one.

Review: The Mission

The Mission

The 57th Kirov book, The Mission is a delightful change of pace. For a start, the absolute basics are changed. It’s less of a long, big, every-tank-and-every-missile wargame lets play like the past two seasons. This alone makes it preferable to the formula that was wearing out its welcome after sixteen previous installments.

The setting is also different. And by different, I mean “a lot more awesome”. There’s not only a change of scenery back to the Russian Civil War and airship fights, but the ridiculous goofy time manipulation and mystical elements come back with a vengeance. It reminds me of the later Payday 2 metaplot, and I say this as a total compliment.

This book was a lot of fun, the most I’ve had with Kirov in a while.

Review: The Great Martian War: Invasion

The Great Martian War: Invasion

Scott Washburn’s The Great Martian War: Invasion is a fan-sequel to Wells’ classic War of the Worlds, with the Martians returning for more. There is one piece of bad news about this book and one piece of very good news. The bad news is that the execution never progresses beyond “decent”. This book is very Larry Bond-ish in its big scope, and that’s not always a good thing.

But thankfully, the good news makes up for it. Which is to say that the premise of “Theodore Roosevelt, tanks, and 75mm quick-fire guns against Martian tripods” is such a great one that it only needs a decent execution to be a solid, enjoyable novel. And that it is. The military balance is set up in such a great way, having neither the (deliberate) lopsidededness of either the original or Edison’s Conquest Of Mars.

How can you not recommend a book of this nature to any fan of alternate history or classic sci-fi?

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: The Clone Republic

The Clone Republic

A (comparably) long time ago, before the rise in self-publishing, I read a novel called The Clone Republic, the first in a series of military science fiction books by Steven L. Kent. And in hindsight, it seems kind of impressive in how it nailed a type of story that would later appear in much greater numbers. It’s a strange kind of impressiveness, but impressive nonetheless.

Even at the time, I never thought this story of a futuristic clone army was never more than a merely satisfactory cheap thriller. But it really fits the niche of what I’d call a “spacesuit commando” novel because of its “genericness”, limited technology, and weird touches. For instance, the clones don’t know they’re clones, believe themselves to be genuine orphans, and all but the main character biologically self-destruct (!) if told they’re a clone.

So this book and its series is in the “weird nostalgia segment” for me. Then it may have stood out a little by being so generic (!). Now it wouldn’t diverge from the considerably bigger pack. Still, I had fun with it.

Review: The Iron Dream

The Iron Dream

Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream is an alternate history satire of the er, “issues” in lowbrow fiction. In it, Adolph Hitler doesn’t go into politics, instead becoming a pulp science fiction author. The book primarily consists of an in-universe novel involving the manly men of Heldon triumphing over hideous mutants and their masters, the mind-controlling Dominators. Does this remind you of anything?

This book is not subtle in the slightest concerning its message of the er “dubious” parts of adventure fiction. I could feel a tone of “Ok, here’s a very obvious reference? Do you get it? Ok, here’s another one. Get it? And to make absolutely sure that you get it, I’ll have an in-universe epilogue that explains everything”. My own reaction was “I get it! All right, I get it. Seriously- I GET IT.”

Thankfully, it’s quite understandable why Spinrad is so forceful. The stories of people not getting it despite his best efforts speak as to why. But it’s also dated in some ways. First, the type of exact “thud and blunder” prose/story he was parodying is now long obsolete. Second, it’s interesting to see a huge example of something coming not that long after its publication that was both prominent and different from the tone-Star Wars. Star Wars features a multispecies alliance of often-ugly aliens fighting a human-dominated empire. It may be a single example, but it’s the biggest example.

Beyond that, I can still understand and sympathize with the message. It’s one of the reasons why, while not a deal breaker, I tend to not like science fiction that has alien species’ introduced purely to be antagonists. However, I’ll admit it also feels a little like punching down at a very easy and very obvious target.

Nonetheless, this type of satire is very hard to write well. I know this firsthand. Of all the parodies of conventional WW3s I’ve tried to write, all of them I’ve junked as being too inaccurate and/or mean spirited. So Spinrad probably succeeded as best as he could, and the biggest satirical part does come across as him knowing his source material well.

Review: Recruit

Iron Legion: Recruit

David Ryker and Daniel Morgan’s Recruit is a military science fiction novel of hugely missed potential. While not an “exact” spacesuit commando book in that its main character controls too high-powered a mech (which is still part of the problem), it’s still one in spirit, especially given the opportunity it has. Which really works against it.

In execution, the prose, while satisfactory, isn’t the best. And it has the usual implausibilities and inaccuracies, including one that jumped out at me of the main character having his emotion crisis and self-doubt during, instead of the more realistic and dramatic after a big battle. But those are forgivable.

What isn’t so much is the opportunity it had, using its in-universe premise, of having the potential to make a story centered around someone who was at the very, very bottom. The main character is initially slated to go into the highest-casualty branch of the Space Military. The most expendable and least glamorous, something legitimately interesting. But nope, instead the protagonist is just so good that he becomes a spacesuit commando instead. Which is a shame. It’s still a passable cheap thriller, but it could have been so much more.

Review: Dune

Dune

It’s finally here. The time has come to do a review of Dune, Frank Herbert’s legendary science fiction classic. Arrakis is a very long way from the Fulda Gap. This book is not the usual fare of this blog. Even beyond that, it’s pretty tricky to get a really solid opinion on, because it has two qualities that are both richly deserved.

On one hand, it deserves to be a classic. It’s one of those sci-fi books that has genuine depth, and you can see how enduring and influential its setting is, even little factors like me thinking that Jabba the Hutt had to be inspired by Vladimir Harkonnen. Compared to spacesuit commandos and Kenneth Bulmer making up five million words for “plot-creature”, this is the real deal.

Unfortunately, it’s also a novel that’s written in an overly long, overly flat manner. While it has the imagination to back it up, its prose is still over-descriptive. And while this obviously isn’t Herbert’s fault, Dune has been famous enough that seeing its world doesn’t bring about the sense of wonder it would have to a far more fresh reader.

Dune is both of those things, which makes it very hard to actually judge. But science fiction is richer for it having existed. It can be an apple that stands alongside the pulpier oranges.

Review: Manhounds of Antares

Manhounds of Antares

Having read the first arc of the Dray Prescot series, I had anticipated what I was in for when I started Manhounds of Antares. I expected horrendously purple prose, a first-person narrative of constant action, and a plot driven by cosmic contrivances. How accurate were my predictions?

For the first, the prose is a teeny-tiny bit better than in the Delian Cycle, but it’s still very, very, purple and overly blocky. For the second, it was pretty much exactly what I’d expected. For the third, it was somehow slightly worse than before, as Prescot is teleported around multiple times by the Plot Star Lords in ways that feel especially forced and jarring. Another returning element is Bulmer’s broad but shallow worldbuilding. consisting entirely of creating pseudo-wondrous names and species.

And yet I’ll readily admit this book served its purpose for me as a light read with a tone and prose style considerably different than the “contemporary action” books I’ve been reading. I’m just not sure I’d recommend it to others.