Review: Threat Level Alpha

Threat Level Alpha

The sixth book in the Dan Morgan series, Threat Level Alpha is unfortunately a step back. The first problem is that the book reverts to the mean of “shoot the terrorist”, and a clumsy attempt to raise the stakes by making the threat supposedly more dangerous simply doesn’t work. The second is that there are two basically unconnected plotlines in the book.

There are better books in this series. I do not recommending reading this one. It may very well be the worst entry in the Dan Morgan series that I’ve read so far. Read the other five books instead.

Review: Rogue Commander

Rogue Commander

The fifth Dan Morgan thriller, Leo Maloney’s Rogue Commander solidifies his status as the “second-best Jon Land.” Like I’ve said before, this series is the closest I’ve gotten to the excessive fun that was Blaine McCracken and Land’s other heroes. The subject matter is more mundane than Land’s, but the structure, especially the excellent “slow reveal” is very similar and just as effective.

This book in particular emphasizes another trait shared with Land-the swerve where characters dramatically show they were on the opposite side then previously implied. In this case, the titular “rogue commander” is all but stated to be someone-and then, in the climax, revealed to be-gasp- someone else. It’s silly, it’s ridiculous, it’s not high literature in the slightest-and it’s very very fun.

It still isn’t the best in the Dan Morgan series (that would be Black Skies as of now), but you could still do worse than this as your first entry into Maloney’s action hero fantasy. It has everything good about Dan Morgan, and all the fundamentals are solid.

Review: WW III

WW III

It’s finally time to review the third major archetype of World War III fiction. Ian Slater’s WW III embodies the “what realism?” school of fiction. In fact, he may be the least technically astute technothriller author out there-and you know I don’t say this lightly. Slater embodies frequently going into huge technical detail on some kind of weapon or vehicle-and getting said details wrong.

Anyway, the plot itself is a simple “Second Korean War and Fuldapocalypse big war thriller”, only with a ton of jumbles. Besides his technical inaccuracy, Slater’s work is also defined by its incoherence. In longer series this translates to absolutely no sense of continuity. Here it’s just sloppiness.

And yet this book is oddly fun in a Tommy Wiseau/Ed Wood style way. It’s a good game to see when Slater actually gets a technical comment right. Seeing the adventures of Mary Sue lead-from-the-front general Douglas Freeman is amusing, even if Slater fills the rest of the NATO cast with drooling doofuses to make him look better. Every fan of these kinds of World War III should really read this, if only to appreciate the virtues of the books that, whatever else, got most of the basic details right.

Review: Silent Night

Silent Night: The Defeat of NATO

I thought that the well of classic Fuldapocalypses had run too low. Then I found out about and read Silent Night, a 1980 story about a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. Written by WWII tank veteran Cyril Joly, it, as the title suggests, tells the story of NATO’s loss. There’s a reason why this book is not mentioned alongside Red Army in the list of “bad guys win” novels. Or talked about much at all.

That’s because it’s a terrible book. First the prose is clunky and none of the characters sound natural. Then there’s a ton of conference rooms, hopping viewpoints around everywhere and a tone of forced “solemn darkness”. It honestly reminded me of the online TLs/fanfics I’d read and gotten too angry about-but this was published in 1980. Of course, one thing about it is incredibly different and that is the nature of the war’s conduct.

Basically, 99.9999% of the work is done by infiltrated-in irregular forces, ranging from external operators to local collaborators. They smash bases, kill or capture commanders, and generally break NATO completely. By the time the Soviet conventional forces cross the Inter-German border, they’re facing only a tiny amount of scattered, light resistance. I’d compare it to the Iraqis in 2003 or the final stages of World War II in the west-but that would be an insult to the Fedayeen Saddam and Volkssturm.

After the cakewalk conquest, the later portion of the book involves a clear author rant where he suggests that NATO dramatically reduce its conventional forces in favor of fortifications with “micronuclear” launchers. Then it ends with an OOB dump to add “character.”

There’s a thing called survivorship bias, where you get nostalgia because you remember the good and not the bad. People remember Red Storm Rising, Team Yankee, Red Army, Chieftains, and Hackett for good reasons. They do not remember this, and it’s also for good reason.

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.

The Seventh Marine Division

So with the help of the Spatial Illusions Unit Symbol Generator, I set to work making an alternate historical USMC formation. First, the very name. The name “7th Marine Division” is deliberate to symbolize its fictional nature. In real life, the USMC never had more than six divisions even at the height of World War II.

The 7th Division itself is basically an administrative formation that would never actually deploy in full as one manuever unit. Even its subunits are often unlikely to deploy in full at any one location. Its “line” formations are the following.

  • The Parachute Regiment, a sort of revival of the Paramarine concept. The heaviest formation in the 7th Division (in that it has the light artillery and vehicles that an airdroppable regiment/brigade elsewhere would), it functions as a parachute-qualified light airborne formation.
  • The SOF Regiment, which essentially is just the real MARSOC under a different structure type.
  • The Raider regiment, which unlike the real renamed “MARSOC” is meant (at least on paper) to be a more direct-action focus formation comparable to the traditional Army Rangers.

I’m sure there are very good reasons for not adopting an organization or formations like this in real life. Oh well. This is for thriller fiction and wargaming, after all.

The Men’s Adventure Weapon That Could Have Been

There exists a Hungarian rifle called the GM6 Lynx. This semi-auto bullpup represents an attempt at making the comparably least bulky .50BMG rifle available. Although given the size of the cartridge, that’s a very tall order. It’s all relative.

Anyway, I bring this up because I find it interesting and not just for its own sake. My first thought to using this in fiction would be as an anti-monster gun, because it would be the comparably least clunky attempt to harm big beasties (given how the original King Kong eventually succumbed to lighter .30-06 bullets, a few people with these could probably take him down.) But then a different thought came to my mind. This gun came at the wrong time from the wrong country for fictional prominence.

See, men’s adventure writers unsurprisingly often focused on size and “exotic” qualities over practicality. Mack Bolan used a .460 Weatherby elephant gun. The Desert Eagle is actually reasonable compared to the infamously buggy Automag, but that was the weapon of choice before the former came into being. So my thought is “if a comparably small .50BMG rifle that wasn’t from a then-Soviet-aligned country existed at the height of the men’s adventure boom, you bet every action hero would be using it a lot.”

As it stands, a predecessor to the GM6 by the same manufacturer, the GM1 (which looks a lot more like the classic PTRD/M82 style .50 rifle), appeared in Phantom of Inferno, used by Ein on a sniper mission. The gun was almost as long as she was tall. It has since been used in fighting games as her super move.

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: Silent Assassin

Silent Assassin

The second Dan Morgan thriller (albeit the third I’ve actually read), Silent Assassin is an awkward novel. By itself, it’s a decent enough cheap thriller that does decent enough cheap thriller things. The action is never worse than passable, and some of the set pieces, like an ultra-secret facility on Long Island of all places, made me smile. Yes, it’s cheesy and ridiculous, but that’s what cheap thrillers are for.

However, having read two other books in the series, it felt like it was a step up from the first book, but not as good as the third. Reading it gives the impression of an author trying to find a footing that he would get in the next installment. So I would recommend, unless you found you really liked this series, to just start with Black Skies.

The Uses of Big Pistols

Giant pistols have very, very limited applications, especially with the development of first submachine guns and later short carbines. The only semi-practical use I can think of for the giant Dirty Harry-style monster is hunting/defense against large angry animals.

Otherwise, well, even before the advent of widespread body armor, pistols were very limited to the point where many troops have unhesitatingly just taken extra rifle ammunition to fill the space and weight that would have been taken by them instead. The only other niche role is as a backup/close weapon for someone who carries around something bulky (ie, a big launcher/machine gun or piece of heavy equipment). Except even there there have been better options. Especially since a big pistol would almost certainly require an exotic caliber that would be harder to resupply.

Of course, cheap thriller writers are infamous for just giving their characters the biggest guns possible. Before the Desert Eagle, Mack Bolan wielded an Automag and a .460 Weatherby rifle, something that Jerry “Detonics .45” Ahern took issue with.