Review: Fortunes of War

Fortunes of War

While Stephen Coonts is one of the classic technothriller writers, I’d actually never read any one of his books in full until now. Picking Fortunes of War, a late 1990s technothriller after his sales had peaked, is kind of like wanting to start listening to Yes with Big Generator.

Now that that shoved-in prog rock reference is out of the way, I was interested in this because of its depiction of a second Russo-Japanese War. One of my Command Live scenarios deals with such a thing itself, so I was curious to see how a spectacularly successful author handled it.

Who and What

Let’s see, an unconventional opponent (Japan) with some sort of super-gimmick weapon (Super fighter aircraft),  attacks a helpless Russia for zombie-sorceress induced reasons. This is very 1990s technothriller. In fact, this is one of the most 1990s technothrillers that ever technothrilled in the 1990s, even more so than poster child Cauldron. The 90s contrivances are there, and the technothriller “snapshot and superweapons” model, going from aircraft to submarines to dogfights to knife/fistfights is there.

Apart from that, it’s a little iffy with characterization (even by the standards of the genre). The American “Volunteer” F-22 pilots are too numerous and the book too short to really examine in depth. One final bit of serendipity happens in this novel. The villainous Japanese Prime Minister is named “Abe“-I was reminded of The Hunt For Red October having a “Putin” in it as well.

DEEP HISTORY OF TEM

This is slightly less infodumpy than the absolute worst the genre has to offer, although it’s still very, very description-heavy. One interesting part is that Coonts can leverage two pieces of genuine but “new enough to be exotic and techno-thrillery” technology-the F-22 and JDAM-style munitions.

Zombie Sorceresses

Ok. Apart from the geopolitics (Belligerent Japan, Russia being worse than it was even at its 1990s nadir), and the technology, the big zombie sorceress contrivance is in nuclear weapons. Russia has disarmed (almost) all of its nuclear weapons as a foreign aid condition so that the conventional invasion of Siberia, but kept a few for the plotnuke climax. Japan has developed a few in secret, also for the plotnuke climax.

Tank Booms

There are two types of action scenes in this book. The first are the aerial combat scenes, something which the Distinguished Flying Cross recipient Coonts knows very well. The second are the technothriller/action scenes like fistfights or anti-submarine warfare that he doesn’t have as much firsthand experience with. And it shows.

Even the former are let down a little by a few too many exact-detailed “and the missile exploded in exactly 2,003 fragments, turning the enemy plane into 1,200 fragements and its pilot into 320 fragements” scenes.

The Only Score That Really Matters

By the standards of 1990s technothrillers, this is very good for what it is. It’s technically competent and has its authors expertise in his subject matter carry it above the pack. But in some ways it feels more artificially stilted, like its creator’s most vigorously creative days are behind it. So, suspiciously like 1980s Yes (to swing back to progressive rock).

Still, it makes me want to check out Coonts’ earlier books, and that’s endorsement enough for me.