Review: Pacific Storm

Pacific Storm

The Kirov series is over fifty books long and counting. But the third entry, Pacific Storm, was planned as a potential stopping point, according to the introduction of a later entry. And while I normally criticize series from Jack Ryan to the Survivalist for passing good opportunities to conclude, it’s for the best that this one sailed right by it.

After having fought through the Mediterranean in the second book, the missile cruiser battles in the Pacific in the third. Besides the issues with the prose, the encounters fall short because the disparity between World War II ships that don’t know what they’re dealing with and a futuristic warship that does means that all the battles have to be contrived in some fashion. Pretty much the only things that work are various surprise gimmicks, close range, and pure numbers, and that’s barely enough to sustain a three-book series.

The ending still involves sequel hooks, but features the ship going back to its present with its crew having realized they started the (nuclear) World War III by firing on an American submarine. When they see the submarine after their “excursion”, they avoid attacking it. Meanwhile, their experiences have changed the “past” significantly. This would be a perfectly good conclusion that still gave room to continue, but it would have concluded three stilted, modestly out-there books. Instead, the series got bigger, more complicated, and, yes, better.

Review: Hitler Invades The United States

Hitler Invades The United States

I’d thought that Hitler Invades The United States was going to be just a dime-a-dozen work of internet alternate history. I was mostly right, but one part of it was a lot weirder than I thought, and that part both makes it lower quality and more interesting to write about.

The point of divergence is that the Germans delay their campaign so that the wunderwaffe can be ready. With said wunderwaffe, they easily take over the USSR. Then they launch a successful and “essentially unopposed” (exact words) invasion of Britain. Then it comes time to-guess. It’s not exactly the most plausible or original World War II alternate history story out there.

The story itself is a clunky mess of what you’d probably get if you only looked at the most shallow and popular sources of World War II, and then decided that an American invasion had to happen. The Axis invades the US and is only stopped when the Americans drop a nuke on Nuremberg-at which point the war ends instantly. But the real “star” is the conference room.

Barring a few “recollections” from participants, this book is entirely conferences and meetings, written in a fashion that feels like the script for a stage play. I know this genre has a lot of conference room scenes, but this takes the cake. And they’re not even done well.

What I think makes this interesting to look at is how something like this compares with Robert Conroy, who also wrote technically inaccurate alternate history tales of the US getting invaded. At least with Conroy you had a proper novel, even with often-subpar execution.  Here, it’s the kind of “semi-exposition” alternate history that in theory should be used in places where a normal narrative wouldn’t work, but in practice I feel is used likely because it’s easy to write.

What this has in conclusion is the negative elements of two types of alternate history “traditions” (as per Alexander Wallace’s excellent article) amplified at the same time. One perceived negative element of the “print tradition” is that it’s less plausible and tends to focus on the most visible and obvious trends, like the American Civil War or World War II. This is that. However, it also has the issues with storytelling (and then some) that the “internet tradition” can have. The result is the worst of both.

Review: Kirov

Kirov

Having started later in John Schettler’s massive series, it’s taken me quite a while to actually pick up the original book. I had very low expectations and somehow managed to still be disappointed by Kirov. This might seem strange, but it makes sense.

The book stars a “Frankenstein-Kirov” assembled from the rest of the class on a live fire exercise during a period of heightened tension before it’s timeshifted back to World War II. I’d heard this book was a tinny Final Countdown/Axis of Time knockoff. I suspected this book would be a tinny Final Countdown/Axis of Time knockoff. I was right.

So why the extra disappointment? Well, the structural issues from later in the series I saw were there from the start. The descriptions are over-detailed, the action scenes are too precisely described, and the dialogue is still extremely clunky. Worse, it’s more concentrated, for lack of a better word, instead of being incredibly spread out. The plot has the main characters acting in ways intended to set up battles in a forced way.

Finally, though the timeshifting, feuding and cosmic changes are there from the start, the main scenario of “modern ship fights a 1940s fleet” just isn’t as interesting as the the places the later books go. So even knowing what I was getting into, I found the first Kirov book to be a letdown.

Review: HMS Ulysses

HMS Ulysses

A rightful classic, HMS Ulysses is, in my opinion, the greatest naval action novel of all time. Author Alistair MacLean, a veteran of the Royal Navy in World War II, could draw on a lot of personal experience, and it shows in this masterpiece. People who know their naval history can look at the obvious parallels between the actions of the book and the ill-fated Convoy PQ-17 (which MacLean served on), but that doesn’t change its effectiveness.

The way MacLean sets a tone is hard to describe, but he succeeds brilliantly. The travails of the convoy, in no small part thanks to the PQ-17 historical experience, are both dramatic and plausible-seeming. The feat of squaring the circle cannot be applauded enough. Historical military fiction, at least to me, has had the issue of “it’s going to be either realistically dull and un-dramatic, in which case I’ll read a history book that makes no pretense at narrative, or it’s going to be exaggerated, in which case I’ll read a cheap thriller that doesn’t have to be bound to an existing war.”

This avoids both of them by throwing one (plausible) German threat after another at the convoy and emphasizing the wear and tear the climate and stress imposes on the sailors. I cannot recommend this book enough.

Review: Operation Sea Lion

Operation Sea Lion

The most infamous invasion that never was, Operation Sea Lion holds a special place in the annals of alternate history. Richard Cox’s book takes a 1974 wargame of it at Sandhurst and turns it into a Hackett-esque big picture tale. This can be described as a World War II version of The War That Never Was, taking simple wargame results and giving them a tiny fig leaf of “plot” via various vignettes.

Not surprisingly to anyone knowledgeable about alternate history, the wargame, despite deliberately going easy on the first wave (to have a substantive ground element at all) ends with the Royal Navy cutting the lines and the Germans defeated. It’s not Cox’s fault, but something with the outcome never in doubt is hard to make exciting for someone who knows the context.

That being said, this remains an amusing little historical alternate history footnote. It’s aimed at a popular audience who wouldn’t necessarily know the context, and is at least more literary than a rote after action report of the wargame itself would have been.

 

Review: Daughters of the Night Sky

Daughters of the Night Sky

nightskycover

With Aimie Runyan’s Daughters of the Night Sky, Fuldapocalypse moves into yet another new genre-the Romance Centered Around Night Witches. It’s a little tricky to review, but I’ll try. The first “issue” is that this is obviously chick-lit, which is not something normally associated with the Eastern Front, for good reason. That the heroine falls in love with an artist is kind of the icing on the cake.

The second issue is that it feels like chick-lit and not like characters who are actually in the middle of a horrendous world war. What this came across as was “romance characters, plus add a few obligatory flying scenes and the occasional stereotype like a reference to blocking detachments.” While the author admits she wasn’t that knowledgeable about Russia or military aviation, it just feels too generic.

And that brings me to the third issue, which is that the actual flying isn’t very good. While I wasn’t expecting Dale Brown and while it’s actually admirable to not try and dwell on something you admit you don’t have much knowledge of, this still falls short. The problem is there’s too much of it and not enough research.

It would be like if a writer was making a story about American football (hey, I’m posting this review on NFL Draft day) and only knew the basic positions, such as quarterback and receiver. This would be obvious to those who read it and knew even a bit about the subject matter, but the writer still insisted on showing several games. This is like that, only with Polikarpovs instead.

As a whole, this is just a fluffy romance novel with World War II flying scenes and the characters having Russian names.

 

Review: The Dragons of Dunkirk

The Dragons of Dunkirk

dragonsdunkirkcover

Damon Alan’s The Dragons Of Dunkirk grabbed me the moment I looked at the cover. Naturally, I thought of Harry Turtledove’s Worldwar series, only with fantasy invaders instead of sci-fi ones. I also thought of an early Fuldapocalypse review, Dark War Revelation, only set forty years earlier.

So, the German supernatural unlocking goes horrifically wrong, leaving the world exposed to a classical fantasy realm ruled by an ancient wizard (but not a zombie sorceress, sadly). Multiple characters of both sides take in the conflict as it ensues.

There’s a lot this book hasn’t done well. The dialogue is a little stiff, and the action not the best. The worldbuilding on the fantasy side isn’t the most truly distinctive.The characters, while adequate, aren’t more than that.

But what it does do well outweighs that. Alan manages to keep the conflict between a magical and technologically advanced side balanced in a way that doesn’t seem too contrived. (I’ll just say that bullets are something they can withstand to a big degree, but artillery shells are something else).

It has a great concept and an execution that, though imperfect, doesn’t squander it in any way. What’s not to like?

 

Review: Himmler’s War

Himmler’s War

I decided it was time to read one of the most infamous names in alternate history. Entering one of my “moods”, I figured, “go for Robert Conroy, and reverse your order of preference.” Normally I’d pick out the most bizarre premise, and Conroy, with his flock of “US gets invaded” novels, certainly has a lot of those. But for this, I chose the most cliche and shopworn one of all-Himmer’s War, which features that obscure and understudied conflict, World War II.

The divergence is simple to explain-a lucky hit from an off-course Allied bomber kills Hitler after D-Day, the titular SS head takes over, and proceeds to change the war, viewed from the usual top-to-bottom viewpoint characters.

Now it was probably a big mistake reading one of David Glantz’s books on the history of the Red Army right before this, especially with the scenes involving the Soviets. This is one of the most pop-historical, “wehraboo” books ever.

  • In about a month, the Germans can conduct major reforms and become better (sort of).
  • Stalin agrees to peace just because Bagration is slowing down.
  • Stalin agrees to give the Germans huge numbers of T-34s in exchange for one collaborating general. Oh-K?
  • The Germans build an atomic bomb before Skorzeny sneaks it to Moscow and detonates it, killing Stalin.

And then in the later part of the book the Americans just bulldoze their way across the Rhine anyway and win quickly, throwing in a “noble Clean Wehrmacht Rommel” to save the day and neatly clean up the potentially messy aftermath, because Conroy realized he didn’t use that particular World War II alternate history cliche yet.

That part of the book is legitimately interesting because it’s where Conroy’s failure as an alternate historian intersects “perfectly” with Conroy’s failure as a writer. It’s the sort of thing that, ideally, would take two books…

…Or zero, because, alternate history aside, Conroy’s writing isn’t the greatest. His characters are all cliches of some sort. The dialogue is horrendous. And finally, his writing of battles leaves something to be desired. Given that he’s writing a book taking place during a war, this is a big problem. Add in too many characters for their own good and minor, useless subplots like FDR having a stroke and barely living to his next inauguration.

There’s a reason why Conroy has the reputation that he has, and it’s a justified one. Even as “soft alternate history” and as a cheap thriller, Himmler’s War falls short.

 

Review: Atlantisch Crusaders

Atlantisch Crusaders

Collin Gee’s Atlantisch Crusaders tells an alternate history tale of World War II. Namely, it tells the story of an armistice in the west that leads to the formation of an Anglo-American volunteer unit in the Waffen-SS that joins Barbarossa. Now the reputation of World War II fiction, especially concerning those two letters, had me on very, very high alert. I was not going to give it any slack.

In literary terms, it was neither as bad or good as I feared. Historical war fiction isn’t really my cup of tea (I read this primarily because of the alternate history aspect and likely wouldn’t have if it had been a straight historical war novel with volunteers from another country), so I’m not the best judge. It’s not as bad as it could have been (the writing isn’t too bad) but it’s not also not as good as it could have been (the writing is dry and a little AAR-y). So if this was the story of a totally fictional war between Teutonia and Krasnovia without any other context or baggage, I’d have dismissed it as a “49 to 51%” book and left it at that.

But it isn’t. And alarm bell after alarm bell roared in my mind as I read this book. There’s a mention of the “unique comradeship that set the Waffen-SS apart from other forces” early on. Then they cross the border, and the words “hordes” and “human waves” are used to describe the Soviet counterattacks. To be slightly fair, the book does take place in 1941, when the skill gap between the two armies was at its height-but remember, no slack.

But then there’s the whitewashing. One of the first things the legion sees as it enters the USSR is the aftermath of a massacre-committed by Stalin’s security forces. Then there’s tale after tale of captured members of the Atlantisch Legion and their brutal, cruel fate at the hands of the Soviets. It’s not ahistorical, but the one-sidedness combined with the overall tone of the book made me uneasy, to say the least.

In contrast, it takes about 2/3s the length of the book before some of the SS volunteers finally commit an atrocity-and it’s one they’re quickly punished for, and one which many feel “uneasy” about. There’s the handwringing of “oh no, these war crimes are happening”, with the whole “Look, we’re the good noble warrior Waffen-SS, we’re not the murdering Totenkopfverbande-SS” dodge.

Even the nature of the battles the legion fights, with many spectacular affairs against Red Army regulars and their huge arrays of tanks and artillery, is both suspicious (being rear area security is more likely) and contributing to the “wehrabooism” of it all. It read like a western Cold War depiction of the Eastern Front-but it was written very recently. And the rest of the book is not good enough-not nearly good enough- to make up for the moral queasiness I felt with this.