Using Paratroopers

One of the biggest problems with using paratroopers besides the limit on airlift, and why they’ve just been high-readiness/at-least-theoretically higher skill infantry in real practice, is the cost-benefit with their operations. This is very tricky.

The Practical Reasons

Apart from situations where there just is no other way to move in quicker (ie, over bodies of water/other gaps), airborne landings, particularly on a very large scale, have faced the issue of either being unnecessarily risky and complicated for the task at hand or simply being too weak to accomplish anything (especially in a situation where everyone has a lot of heavy forces).

The impression I’ve gotten is that anything bigger than a company-sized landing force is dicey, and anything bigger than a battalion is really, really dicey. Yes, if everyone had giant Mi-26 sized helicopters and/or the landing forces had mechanized equipment of their own (ie, BMDs/Sheridans) it would help, but only somewhat.

The Literary Reasons

On the other hand, the literary reasons for big airborne operations are obvious. Just look at Band of Brothers, to say nothing of considerably more obscure works of fiction that range from Marching Through Georgia to Northern Fury H-Hour.

  • They’re big and dramatic all by themselves.
  • Because they’re often centered around (seemingly) important targets, it makes the actions of the protagonists look bigger.
  • Because airborne forces are inherently limited, it means drama can be maintained against a seemingly weaker opponent (a pretty extreme example of this is Marching Through Georgia, where the Draka are otherwise utterly superior to their opponents and paratroopers against a panzer force are the only way to have something even slightly even).

Review: Black Sea Terror

Black Sea Terror

Eric Meyer and Todd McLeod’s SEAL Strike: Black Sea Terror is a short story. The story of SEALs preventing a shipment of S-400 missiles to Syria, it reminded me of Chet Cunningham’s SEAL Team Seven novels. Or rather, it reminded me of a hypothetical Chet Cunningham SEAL Team Seven novel that was shrunk to a fifth of its size to fit in a magazine.

The S-400 system itself is treated as a multirole missile that’s somehow incredibly dangerous on its own (and no, it doesn’t have any kind of different warhead) instead of just being a high-end SAM. The action is just passably good enough, in a “small bag of potato chips” way.

In fact, a “small bag of potato chips” accurately describes the entire book. It’s tiny, insubstantial, and not truly “good” by any measure, but it’s still quite “edible”.

Review: The Gambit

The Gambit

Take a stilted first novel, add a difficult genre, and you have Brad Carlson’s The Gambit. This tale of Iranian plots and the Americans out to stop them reminds me of, if anything else, an even rougher version of Gavin Parmar’s Unseen Warriors. The problem is that technothrillers are harder to do right than small unit thrillers. I don’t want to be hard on the author. This is a first novel, I know firsthand how much effort writing any kind of long fiction is, and everyone has to start somewhere. But I have to be hard on the book.

There’s the clumsy prose, but there’s also the awkward pacing. There’s the action that falls well below even the standards of Marine Force One, but there’s also a ton of conference rooms and really rote instances of military equipment doing its thing (I hesistate to use the term “action” for the scenes describing it). There isn’t even an out-there premise. It’s just “shoot the terrorist” and stopping the most basic and mundane plots, all the while moving through something horrendously unpolished.

There are good independent first novels. This is not one of them.

Review: Bloodstorm

SEAL Team Seven: Bloodstorm

st71 cover

A Chet Cunningham SEAL Team Seven novel, Bloodstorm is a strange book. It features a globetrotting chase to hunt down loose ex-Soviet nukes, going everywhere from Libya using them in a Dale Brown-ist fashion to Afghanistan (in a pre-9/11 book) to Syria.

There’s the usual tons of weapon descriptions, including a “Bull Pup” (two words) that matches the ill-fated OICW in terms of what it does. Like Frontal Assault, this is a hyperactive thriller that zips around the world over the span of a comparably short book-and yet it still feels overly padded. Cunningham was no stranger to writing out large quantities of books very fast, and this feels like one of them, with a huge amount of  sloppiness. While a cheap thriller is better off moving too quickly than moving too slowly, there are better books of this type out there.

Review: The Ragnarok Conspiracy

The Ragnarok Conspiracy

Erec Stebbins’ debut in the INTEL 1 series is The Ragnarok Conspiracy. If you can accept A: Politics that are flipped 180 degrees from the stereotypical “shoot the terrorist” thriller (without spoiling much, it involves western antagonists destroying Muslim holy sites from the get-go), and B: Said politics being too-frequently pushed with all the subtlety of an after-school special, it’s not a bad thriller.

The political preachiness is a knock against it, but it’s not nearly bad enough to get in the way of a thriller with good fundamentals. Yes, it’s a rote thriller. Yes, its message doesn’t exactly go well with a main villain who’s the kind of person Blaine McCracken deals with on a daily basis. But I’ve definitely read worse.

 

Review: Never Die Twice

Never Die Twice

ndtcover

Mark Jones’ Never Die Twice is the first book in the Reaper Force: Viper series, detailing the adventures of cybernetically enhanced heroine Natalie Nicks. With short chapters and simple prose that reminded me of Sidney Sheldon of all people, it’s not the most technically adept book. Even by cheap thriller standards.

What it is, however, is a fun book. It lands on the sci-fi end of the technothriller spectrum, with a lot of “just barely sorta a little kinda maybe slightly plausible” technology. I’ve used the “homemade apple strudel” analogy before to describe something that you know isn’t the most well constructed, but is still quite enjoyable. And this definitely fits the bill. I mean, the book has a line about pitting humans against grizzly bears in races. Its backstory is basically that of The Bionic Woman. What’s not to like?

Review: USA Vs. Militia Series

USA Vs. Militia Series

Ian Slater’s USA vs. Militia series is one of those bizarre footnotes in military thriller writing that I just had to check out in full. A while ago, I reviewed Battle Front, which is actually the third installment. Having since read all five books, now I can give my opinion on the entire series.

I described Battle Front as “This book is about 5-10% crazy goofy, and about 90-95% dull tedium.” In short, this is applicable to the entire series, particularly the last two books. These involve more pedestrian hunt-the-MacGuffin plots with small unit heroes that serve as a perfect example of “Captain Beefheart Playing Normal Music Syndrome”. The most bizarre part is a general personally leading this formation, and it has all of Slater’s numerous writing weaknesses without the appealing strengths. If it consisted of two books with action somewhat below the Marine Force One line, I’d have barely given them a second thought.

But the series is more than that.

At its best, you have ferocious fights between the federal army and militia in technicals with add on “reactive armor” (Slater is, to put it mildly, not the best with terminology). You have Abrams’ deploying from C-130s. And of course, you have preternaturally well-organized and numerous militia romping through the country. To try and make them viable, Slater turns every federal commander and soldier who isn’t Mary Sue Douglas Freeman into hopeless bumblers. It’s still badly written in actual practice save for some bizarre prose turns Slater uses, but the novelty is still something.

There’s two more distinctive elements. The first is the politics. Now, normally you’d expect a book about a second American civil war to be monstrously political. This, surprisingly isn’t. Or at least it feels oddly detached, coming from an Australian-Canadian having to look across the border through a distorted, second-hand lens.

The second is a complaint I’ve heard a lot about Slater’s World War III series, and which I saw firsthand here-he has absolutely no concept of continuity. There are references to the Third World War, references to the Gulf War, jumping references to real events that happened before the book in question got published, contradictory historical references, and no real sense of overall progression. The series ends on a strange half-conclusion, with the out-of-universe reason for its stoppage obviously clear from its publication date of December 2001.

This series occasionally can be an interesting curiosity, but it’s a mere curiosity without much substance.

 

Review: Frontal Assault

SEAL Team Seven: Frontal Assault

By the time of Frontal Assault, the “Keith Douglass” behind SEAL Team Seven was veteran cheap thriller writer Chet Cunningham. To give an idea of how long and prolific his career was, Cunningham wrote half of the Penetrator books close to twenty years before this one.

Really, this whole book is “what if a classic men’s adventure novelist wrote a technothriller?” Because it is. It combines the very basics of a technothriller (high tech military weapons! Superweapons! Big-picture struggles!) with a bunch of set pieces as Blake Murdock and his team struggle to go against…. Saddam Hussein.

I admit to feeling just a little uneasy about books using then-living real people in them, even utterly unsympathetic dictators (Tin Soldiers and Proud Legions at least had fictional strongmen oust Saddam and Kim Jong-Il before beginning the plot). It’s not a deal-breaker, but it still feels tacky. Even if this genre is tacky.

There’s inaccuracies like “.25 revolvers”, the USMC still using M48 tanks in the 2000s, and other nitpicky designations, along with a strategic big picture that’s, um, well, less than entirely accurate. As for the actual battles, if original author William Keith tried to at least have a tiny bit of grounding and Direct Action at least got most of the designations right, this is just pure action spectacle with all one would expect from a classic pulp thriller writer. Any one of the set pieces could have made up an entire book on its own, so putting them all in makes this book feel both audacious and overstuffed.

But still, I had fun with this.

Review: Diamondhead

Diamondhead

diamondheadcover

Patrick Robinson’s Diamondhead is in some ways the perfect book for this blog. Robinson was one of the few authors to get going as a new technothriller writer after 1991, when the genre was imploding. Robinson also has a reputation for being well, not very good. After reading Diamondhead, I can say that, at least judged from that book, that reputation is accurate.

But there’s more to it. This isn’t just a clunkfest like say, a later Tom Clancy or “Tom Clancy’s” novel. It was strangely fascinating in how so many elements of the “cheap thriller” had, by the year 2009, just sort of mushed together.

The military details are ridiculously inaccurate, from SEALS riding into battle inside tanks (yes, along with the regular crew) to Sidewinders being used as air-to-ground missiles. Where this is particularly bad is the MacGuffin of the book, the titular missiles. They’re a new, formally banned as too cruel (wha?) type of anti-tank missile that burns the crew of any vehicle it penetrates-you know, like any other ATGM with a shaped charge that shoots something very hot into something with a lot of fuel and ammunition inside it.

But even beyond that, the genre kind of comes full circle back to the vigilante style as SEAL Mack Bedford (those are two truck brands) gets excoriated by the EVIL MEDIA, subject to a court martial that reminded me, no joke, of Phoenix Wright with all the loud “OBJECTIONS!”, before he gets his revenge on the evil French businessman/politician who’s been providing these super-missiles to rogue Islamist groups-and personally aiding in the first deployment of them. 

This plot could very well have worked as one of the classic “Men’s Adventure” thrillers. But unlike those, it suffers from the two things that plagued the technothriller-bloat and self-seriousness. At least with one of those books, you tended to get a brisk, smooth, “when in doubt, fight it out” style. This plods and clunks through unsuspenseful “suspense”, and then Mr. Truck just turns into John Rourke when the time comes for him to actually fight anyway. It has cheap thriller implausibility but not cheap thriller whimsy or bombast.

And the sad part is that more and more of the big-name, big-published “mainstream” thrillers (the kind I could find in the small book section of a local grocery store) are like this. There’s a reason why I review very few “big-time big-name” authors. Part of it is expense and part of it is me wanting to highlight obscure authors who need all the recognition they can get. But to be honest, a big part is that most of these thrillers are like Diamondheads in the ways that count.

Review: Kidnapped

Kidnapped!

Kidnappedcover

The Twilight 2000 tabletop RPG is a classic of the Fuldapocalyptic World War III genre. So it’s a little disheartening to debut it on this blog with what could easily have been the nadir of the franchise. But the “Kidnapped!” module is still a very interesting example of just a bunch of things all going on a bunch of different paths until it all just breaks.

The big “problem” is that T2K’s later modules were a victim of the very success of its initial premise. The initial European setting was a good way to square the circle of “we want you to be in the military, but we don’t want you to just have to follow orders and sit around until an artillery barrage kills you.” It was also a good balance between “We want to give you limited resources unlike a contemporary setting, but we also want to give you more toys than a full post-apocalyptic setting.”

Yes, this led to issues between the two tones of a “grim struggle for survival” and “like a classic tabletop RPG, only with tanks instead of dragons”. But I have to give GDW credit for making something distinct and adaptable. Then the question is “how do you follow up on that?”

Enter the North American modules, which became increasingly theatrical and bizarre. The “Airlords of the Ozarks” module made me use the term “Arkansas vs. The Blimps” to describe any long series that veers into craziness. It got to the point where it wouldn’t have been too surprising to see the heroes venture into an Upstate New York bunker to retrieve Adolph Hitler’s frozen corpse (as happened in the later Survivalist novels).  But Kidnapped takes the cake both for pure dissonance and poor design.

  • It starts with a description of the super-drought about to strike North America. Too bad the actual main focus isn’t about this Frostpunk-style societal triage. No, it’s about a Hitman/Splinter Cell-style “go and get a high value target”. The target is Carl Hughes, leader of the authoritarian New America, in his Shenandoah supervillain lair.
  • Hughes, the target of the adventure, does not get official stats or an official portrait. But there is a page devoted to a gang of Native American marauders (oh, you 80s action RPGs) and several pages devoted to an abandoned New American facility that does nothing but give a “clue” and a “We’re sorry, Hughes is in another castle” experience.
  • Is Twilight 2000 supposed to be semi-grounded? Good. Now plausibly take on a fortified lair with over a hundred guards and a target who needs to be captured alive (so you can’t just snipe him).
  • Naturally, to fit this mammoth Cadillac V8 into a Smart Fortwo and make the module even slightly viable, there are gimmicks like convenient gaps in the security camera coverage, guards who’ve lived and worked together for years being able to fall for players in simple disguises, and Hughes never going any more than one level deep in the four-level underground complex even when threatened.
  • There are lots of descriptions of places that are either irrelevant or “beef-gated” (too well guarded to realistically challenge), and the “listing of important characters” not only doesn’t have Hughes, but also doesn’t have anyone else actually living in Hughes’ lair. But it does have lots of throwaway bandits-of-the-week!

So Kidnapped! is something I’d recommend only for Twilight 2000 completionists or people fascinated by “How NOT to make an RPG module.” It’s at the point where, if people were running a T2K game in North America and the GM wanted them to take on Hughes, I’d recommend just writing a scenario from scratch instead of consulting this.

For a second opinion on Kidnapped, you can check the the Twilight 2000 Wargaming Blog. That opinion is also not complimentary.