Making a WW3 contemporary

So, Walt Gragg’s The Red Line is a book whose influence on this blog and my understanding of conventional World War IIIs in general was underappreciated. In fact, at the time I didn’t even know it. I just saw a World War III thriller that was clearly set in a Cold War gone hot but had its setting clumsily and obviously pushed into being “contemporary”.

Over two years and countless books later, I saw just how rare (to the point of being essentially nonexistent) mainstream World War III novels were that:

  • Took place after the Vietnam War.
  • Took place a significant time before the publication date of the book.
  • Were mostly conventional.

This also extends to Larry Bond-style “big war thrillers” in general. To appeal to more than a niche, they have to either piggyback on a well-known historical conflict (ie World War II), or be contemporary in some form. And after looking at and studying the issue, I’ve found that it really isn’t that hard to adapt any kind of missile-age war to a contemporary setting. And the beginning of the “missile age” can be roughly put as around the time of the…. Vietnam War. How about that?!?

For a start, the same geopolitical rivals have been more or less there for some time, and the absolute most you have to do is some kind of post-1991 technothriller enemy gimmick. Second, if it’s known that the audience won’t know/care about the technical details and/or inaccuracies, swapping names and using the same basic “feel” can be done with relative ease. It doesn’t hurt that a lot of military platforms have served for a very long period of time (just look at the B-52) in a way that the ones of the World Wars mostly didn’t.

Review: The Chosen One

The Chosen One

Walt Gragg’s The Red Line was one of the first books I reviewed on Fuldapocalypse-and how could I not, with it being a Russo-American World War III, the kind that was supposed to be the blog’s bread and butter? Now his second book, The Chosen One, is out. And I felt I had to review it.

So, an Algerian man somehow becomes recognized as the “Madhi”, gets a huge army, is able to unify most of the Middle East, equip said huge army, and launch a conventional World War III. It doesn’t take place in the Fulda Gap, but the book does have all the hallmarks of the “big-war thriller” that I had in mind when starting the blog.

It has tons of viewpoint characters from top to bottom, lots of battles, a focus on air, land, and sea (via a cruise missile strike on the American fleet), and the general tropes of the subgenre. So I can say I feel very comfortable in declaring this a World War III book.

A lot of the big-picture stuff doesn’t make much sense (even in a spherical cow lines on a map way), which I’d be more forgiving of if it wasn’t brought up repeatedly in conference room exposition scenes. It’s not quite at the level of The Red Line’s convoluted way to turn the clock back to the 1980s, but it’s still there in force.

There are a few too many viewpoint characters for the book’s own good, they’re not exactly the least stereotypical, and they make the pacing jumbled (the kind of thing I sadly expected). Part of this is a cutaway to the antagonist’s stereotypical childhood. I’ll just say that A: I was reminded of Life Of Brian, and B: you shouldn’t be reminded of Life of Brian in what’s supposed to be a serious story.

As for the actual action, it’s strange. The prose descriptions are ridiculously melodramatic (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but still, given the tone, it clashes), but it also has more than its share of dry weapon over-description as well. There’s also anachronisms with the weapon names (which isn’t so bad if you don’t mind every enemy tank being an “M60” or “T-72”) and tactics (which is understandable but still a little out of date to see carrier aircraft flying at low altitude and having trouble hitting hardened shelters).

It’s not the absolute worst, but it’s still not what it could have been. The conclusion is also a stumbling point, which has a firefight inside an Egyptian pyramid (Ok?) that’s taken seriously and focused on while a big tank battle occurs elsewhere and is only mentioned in passing (not ok), and ends with a really, really blatant sequel hook.

This is a sort of oddball novelty-it has the roughness and er, “quirkiness” of some of the more uneven independent “big-war thrillers”, yet it’s a mainstream publication. And regrettably, its fundamentals just aren’t good enough to be more than an oddball novelty.