Review: The Gamekeeper’s Night Dog

The Gamekeeper’s Night Dog

David Putnam’s The Gamekeeper’s Night Dog is one of the weirdest alternate history novels I’ve read. And yes, I have read every single Kirov novel. None comes close to this… thing. Really, to talk about it in conventional literary terms is almost beside the point. It’s middling in terms of quality and is a little too bloated, but why talk about that when you have such a befuddling premise?

See, in the 1890s, protagonist David Banner (no relation to the Hulk) has the Judeo-Christian God appear in a dream from His home in the black hole in the center of the Milky Way. A nightmare scenario (aka actual history) awaits if the last of the classic English Bulldogs (always capitalized in the book) goes extinct. There’s exposition where World War I, II, and even III is shown, with animal cruelty activists being portrayed as the equals of history’s worst monsters.

Also, apparently the divine value of a nation comes from the kind of dog that it has. Yes, it’s a weird book. Anyway, man and dog alike uplift the world, fight a very different Boer War, and continue to battle in an ahead-of-its-time World War I. We get loving depictions of bulldogs ripping men and animals to pieces. In fact, most of it is basically just bulldogs in “action”. The question remains: How do you even judge this book? My answer is simple. You can’t. It is not a novel so much as a very bizarre artifact.

The Hungry King

High-intensity warfare uses up a LOT of artillery shells. Like, a lot. How much? Well, these charts from the Light OPFOR Tactical (for eastern calibers) and FM 101-10-1/2, 1987 edition (for western calibers) give a notional example. They’re not identical-the OPFOR norms chart is shells fired towards a target while the FM 101-10-1 one is shells used up by a certain artillery piece per day-but they both show how much metal and explosive is going to fly (the answer: A lot).

Artillery is called the “king of battle”, and the king can get very, very hungry sometimes. Moving large quantities of heavy, highly explosive shells is no small feat, and to succeed or fail with that task means the difference between victory and defeat. A conventional Fuldapocalyptic World War III in the 1980s would have a massive quantity of artillery shells fired every day.

Review: OPLAN Fulda

OPLAN Fulda

Time to return to this blog’s roots with intelligence veteran Leo Barron’s new OPLAN Fulda. It’s a 1989 conventional World War III novel. In other words, what this blog was made to cover. So how is it?

Well, it’s pretty obvious that this was written by a military intelligence veteran. One passage where a Soviet army commander muses on the two difference courses of action his subordinate division commanders have chosen for their attack is the most blatant, but the tone is clear throughout the whole book. This means there’s too little fog of war for my liking and a lot of Melville-esque passages (complete with footnotes in many cases).

There’s also the usual suspects. There’s the contrived excuse for a war, conference room scenes, and jumping viewpoints. However, and this is important to note, the execution of all this is not bad at all. In a hard genre to do right, Barron succeeds.

The action is good and appropriately messy. Nuclear weapons are not handwaved aside (and the escalation makes sense!). The focus is an intricate one on both the Americans and Soviets instead of swerving away to some British or Dutch unit elsewhere at the worst possible moment. Oh, and it gets the tank designations right.

Because of this, I’m delighted to recommend this book to all World War III enthusiasts. Stuff like this doesn’t come along too often. So when it does, I feel great in reviewing it. The best praise I can give this is that it’s helped inspire me to make a “big war thriller” for my next draft after two mostly nonviolent works.

Review: Blue Masquerade

Blue Masquerade

T. K. Blackwood’s Blue Masquerade is a treat I knew I had to read. First, it’s one of those beasts that are as rare as left-handed baseball catchers or male calico cats-the conventional World War III novel that takes place as an alternate history after the Vietnam War. That its premise involves two of my personal tropes I wish got used more often made it even more appealing.

The first premise is that instead of the USSR backsliding after a successful August Coup or something like it, it reforms enough to avert such a thing. This happens here. Don’t expect to see MiG 1.42s or robot-turret supertanks here-it’s just the classic tanks and BTRs/BMPs. Still, it’s heartening to see this gimmick after wanting to for so long. The second is Yugoslavia, the tinderbox of Europe, being the catalyst for the war. This is a lot more plausible than some other World War III novels you may have heard about.

As for the substance of the book, I would call it a “51% World War III big war thriller”. It gets enough of the basics right and never comes across as truly “bad” in any way. That being said, I have seen everything it does being done better in other books. However, I’ll adjust for context, since this subgenre is extremely hard to do well. In that case, a 51% book is quite the accomplishment, like a baseball pitcher having a positive win-loss record while playing for an otherwise bad team.

If you like alternate history, conventional World War IIIs, or both, check this out. For another opinion, see Alexander Wallace at Sea Lion Press.

Another Missing World War III Tale

There’s another type of story that seemingly just doesn’t appear in the conventional World War III niche (as far as I can tell): Stories centered around those with neither political or military capability. And by that I don’t mean the opponents in later Tom Clancy novels. The poor innocents caught up in the heat of war are often used in historical wartime fiction, but seem at best only in parts of conventional Fuldapocalypses (ie, Bannon’s wife in Team Yankee).

I think the biggest reason is well, no real incentive to do so. I don’t really have the best knowledge, but I can speculate that historical fiction writers don’t need to use an inherently contrived “Cold War hot but not that hot” setup to tell such a story. There’s plenty of historical conflicts that readers will understand better, and if a fictional one is needed/wanted, making it small, contemporary, or both can offer more of a hook.

So it’s a catch-22. The subgenre would benefit immensely from outsiders bringing their perspective. But most outsiders, even cheap thriller writers, don’t have much motive to write such a thing.

Review: Invasion Downfall

Invasion: Downfall

DC Alden’s Invasion series is infamous. After reading Downfall, the first installment in the series, I soon found that this infamy is completely deserved. First, the obvious part: This is a book about an Islamic superstate invading the UK. And it has the politics you’d expect from such an invasion novel. Yes, there’s a lot objectionable about it, including the “traitorous fifth column in waiting” trope taken to extremes even by the standards of the genre.

Of course, I found something else objectionable, which is that it started off in a conference room. And we see a lot of those, and not in a well-handled way. At least the “setup phase” isn’t too long, even if what’s going to happen is completely obvious.

When push finally comes to shove, the military action is not exactly a rival to Larry Bond. The enemy uses a surprisingly bland array of mostly western equipment (not helped by later editions trying to make it “contemporary” by erratically changing names), and there are iffy set pieces like an E-3 letting itself get in range of a short-range missile. The infamous “strong but weak” trend that I was already on thin ice about picks up. “The horrible hordes can easily overrun England-but they can lose multiple strategic aircraft in one battle with named characters.” Like a slightly less intense version of Joly’s Silent Night, nearly all of the British military is incapacitated by irregulars before the conventional forces land.

Just a little bit more research and/or imagination would have made the battles a lot better. As would having the opponents actually earn their victory in Operation أسد البحر. The actual book is a “get the conference rooms right, but not the battles” mediocrity.

The Camouflage Sweepstakes

For some time after the fall of the USSR, the independent Russian military was known for its huge array of often-mismatched camo patterns. Even after the “digi-flora” standardization, this remains true to a degree (as in other armies-look at the classic “Woodland vest over desert camo” look in the Iraq War.)

For the camo sweepstakes of a surviving Red Army, I see a few options.

  • VSR-93. This pattern historically was in development when the USSR collapsed. There’s no reason why an intact, better-funded USSR wouldn’t be able to standardize.
  • TTSKO. This was an existing camouflage pattern widely continued by ex-Soviet republics.
  • For a more fanciful idea, a type of early digital camo could be adopted. As it stands, one was adopted by an ex-SSR, with Latvia’s “LATPAT” camo. Although not to the degree of the American Dual-Tex, the “pixels” are still significantly bigger than most other digital patterns.
  • Something else. Even in Russia itself, the Interior Troops adopted many patterns that could easily be used for the regular army.
  • Simple legacy pattern uniforms.
  • A combination. The GENFORCE-Mobile concept gives me the idea of the Mobile Corps and Airborne Forces having “fancier” uniforms.