Review: Advance To Contact 1980 (Ronsone/Aaronson)

Advance To Contact 1980

The time has come to finally return to the starting theme of this blog. A 1980s World War III book is being reviewed here, Advance to Contact by James Ronsone and Alex Aaronson. This is a very Larry Bond-esque book taking place at an unusual time (beginning of the decade, or as I like to call it NATO Hard Mode) and in unusual places like Iran and Central America. Operation Eagle Claw succeeds-and things spiral from there.

Of course, I have an obligatory rivet-counting nitpick. Eagle Claw was more or less completely unworkable and it was probably for the best that it failed as early as it did. Reaching the city itself would just lead to massive collateral damage and the deaths of the hostages. Eagle Claw succeeding is like Operation Sea Lion succeeding in terms of plausibility.

But for the sake of the story, I’ll gladly it slide. Different theaters certainly beats Germany and the North Atlantic. Especially when the geography leads to different types of battles than giant mechanized blasts in the Fulda Gap.

As far as literary quality, this is a little rough but very forgivable. While at times it gets clunky, this is an extremely hard genre to write well. It certainly did not stop me from enjoying this book, and I look forward to the next installment.

The Boss Baby Effect

There’s an internet meme I think is surprisingly profound. This is the “Boss Baby” meme:

I’ve seen the “Boss Baby Vibes” effect in many an insular fandom. It seemed annoying, until I realized that I had fallen for it too with my initial reviews of Fuldapocalyptic fiction. Reading Red Storm Rising and third-tier knockoffs of that first had massively skewed my perception of that subgenre in particular and cheap thrillers in general.

So now I can sympathize with people who are just comparing what they see to what they know.

How Big Would The Mobile Forces Have Been?

The GENFORCE concept featured an eastern OPFOR divided into legacy “Basic” and more advanced, mixed, “Mobile” forces. Yet how many formations of the latter would plausibly exist in a nation the size of the USSR?

I found a possible answer in a 1985 CIA analysis called “Trends And Developments in Warsaw Pact Theater Forces, 1985-2000” (a great source for a continued Cold War in its own right). The mobile combined arms corps, effectively a big division, is mentioned.

Obviously assuming a surviving USSR and Warsaw Pact, the document estimated that nine such corps would be ready by 2000. Three of these would be in the western theater, two in the southwestern, and one on in the northwest. Two would be in the Far East and one in the south/middle east.

180,000 personnel would be needed from a napkin calc of corps numbers x paper strength of each corps. It’s actually closer to the actual number than most because existing tail assets could be used to support them. However, there will be undoubtedly more people than that necessary, especially to have them achieve their full potential.

The problem isn’t getting that many soldiers. It’s getting that many good soldiers, especially because these mobile corps are specifically designed to be better and more complex tactically than previous line formations. And because they have to compete with the airborne and naval infantry for the best inductees.

Interestingly, the document itself also mentions the possibility of the tank divergences continuing, with the basic forces (word choice deliberate) getting a less exotic model and the mobile corps getting a more out-there one. This would also coincidentally make two bureaus/plants very happy instead of one, so I can see it happening.

It’s an interesting document in any case.

Review: Crimson Star

Crimson Star

The third Maelstrom Rising book, Peter Nealen’s Crimson Star takes the action to the American west. With the collapse into anarchy and invasion underway, the Triarii have their hands full. Having read this, I feel like it is both a lot better and a lot worse than the first two books.

First, the good. It’s written in third person, which is so much more suitable for a work of this nature. So much. Granted, the viewpoints are a little too restricted (try telling pre-Fuldapocalypse me that I’d think that), but it’s still a huge step that makes it so much better to read. And of course the action takes advantage of the larger scope, with lots of vehicle units and large forces. It is as good as anything else Nealen has done.

Now, the bad. The annoying slobbering over the Mary Sue protagonists reaches new heights. Any alternative to them is viewed as a completely incompetent obstacle. The narration does everything but say that their training was a combination of “SEAL, Ranger, Special Forces, and gutter fighting.” It got irritating, and it would be even more so if I hadn’t adjusted my expectations. After all, it sold itself as Larry Bond. By now, it’s actually Jerry Ahern’s The Defender updated to the present with more realistic battle scenes.

Do they balance each other out? My answer is: I still want to read the next book in the series. Make of that what you will.

Review: Holding Action

Holding Action

Peter Nealen’s second installment in the Maelstorm Rising series, Holding Action is an attempt at a bigger-scope war than the small-unit ones that make up a lot of his other books. Here it’s a clash in Poland in a campaign very clearly inspired by Larry Bond’s Cauldron (which was reviewed by the author and read for inspiration). And I’m sad to say I found it somewhat lacking.

The first and biggest problem is that the book is both written in first person perspective and clearly wants to be a big-scope tale. This square peg and round hole do not exactly align properly. And it’s not like the reader gets an excellent character study from it: The biggest trait I remembered in the main character was him being Catholic.

The second is that the Triarii, the “military NGO” that the protagonists serve in, feel like Mary Sues in ways that Brannigan’s Blackhearts never did. The Blackhearts are a bunch of expendable, disposable people doing underground dirty work. These are propped up as the centerpiece of fighting, more so than the bumbling regular American army. And listening to the narrator extol their awesomeness and the regular army’s weakness doesn’t exactly help matters either. The third and least important is that the setting tries to walk a tightrope between “plausible” and “distinct” and doesn’t really stay balanced.

That being said, the actual nuts and bolts action is as good as always, and I don’t fault Nealen at all for trying something very ambitious. It’s just that when you aim high, there’s a greater risk of falling short. This is a definite “uneven 51%” book. And there are worse things I could have called it. Besides, it’s fun to review an actual conventional World War III novel and go back to the blog’s roots.

Cold War Kitona

The Fuldapocalypse has traditionally been opened with a vast set of Soviet special operations that involve varying degrees of risk, realism, and audacity. Red Storm Rising famously had one such jury-rigged gamble resulting in the capture of Iceland. I’ve found another possibility that would involve my two obsessions of past and present: Conventional World War IIIs and commercial airplanes.

While the Second Congo War is about as far in terms of tone and nature from a Fuldapocalypse as it’s possible to get, its opening act nonetheless could have been lifted from the pages of a technothriller. In Operation Kitona, Rwandan and Ugandan troops seized four airliners and flew west to sever the DRC’s links to the outside world. The initial landing worked, but external support for the Congolese government doomed the offensive, plunging central and southern Africa into a long, bloody, and horrific war.

So it’s not too terribly farfetched to imagine planes being filled with “unruly passengers” happening to land at important dual-purpose airports at the worst possible prewar time…

Review: Red Front

Red Front

The conventional Fuldapocalypse begins in earnest with Red Front, the second book in the Iron Crucible series. After the Yugoslav opening act in the previous entry , this follows the war everywhere from the Atlantic to… outer space. Author T. K Blackwood continues a solid Bond/Red Storm Rising style narrative in this installment.

This has the issues that a big perspective WWIII has, but it also has the strengths, and Blackwood succeeds in a genre that’s incredibly difficult to write well. The book ends on a cliffhanger, but it’s not an unsatsifying one. With a ton of varied battles in a type of novel that doesn’t come along very often, I can say that I highly recommend this to fans of the “conventional WW3” genre.

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.