Tuesday 19 July 2022

War Stories


Three very different SF novels concerning warfare in the past, present and future.

No Retreat by John Bowen (published 1994) is a story of the aftermath of an alternative World War 2. The exact point of departure is never quite spelled out, but something goes wrong in 1942 leaving Britain defeated. The story begins in a very different 1990, with Britain thoroughly integrated into a German Empire which spreads across Europe. A community of die-hard “Free British”, preserving their traditions in exile in the USA, decide it is time to stir up a rebellion prior to liberating their homeland. 

The problem is that entry to Britain is forbidden, so the exiles don’t know quite what to expect. A small group of agents is landed by submarine and does manage to locate a local resistance group to work with, but are disconcerted to discover that the great majority of the British people are quite content with the status quo and regard their “liberators” as an embarrassing nuisance. It transpires that the initial horrors of strict Nazi rule have long ago been replaced by a tolerant regime of self-governance. The result has been well described as a wry narrative treading a fine line between thriller and black farce.


Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War by P.W. Singer and August Cole

I've re-read Ghost Fleet, published in 2015. It is set a few years into the future, and commences with a brief, devastating (but non-nuclear) assault on the USA by China and Russia, focusing on massive cyber attacks as well as physical destruction of US communication and monitoring satellites. Advanced technology proves to be a weakness for the US, with equipment like the F-35 fighter planes dependant on vast numbers of complex electronic chips - many of which turn out to have been made in China. The US loses, with China seizing the Western Pacific, including the Hawaiian Islands. A few years later, the US is planning its revenge…

The viewpoints include USN, Chinese and Russian officers, plus the leader of an accidentally left-behind US resistance group on Hawaii, and many other individuals. 

The authors are professionally involved in defence planning, and it shows. This story is very tech-heavy and realistic. A rather unusual touch is a 24-page Endnotes section which provides references for many of the ideas and proposed weapon systems. However, there are hazards in being too specific about such matters: much is made of the Metal Storm close-in defence gun, but in fact that proved unsuccessful and was dropped some years ago.

Novels with a plot like this are rare, and this one is a very good effort. 


The Misfit Soldier by Michael Mammay

Mammay provided a lot of fun (and obviously enjoyed himself) with his trilogy Planetside, Spaceside, and Colonyside. His new stand-alone novel is written in a similar laconic military style but instead of being a pensionable veteran,  the principal character - Sergeant Gastovsky - is an unwilling young space soldier with criminal tendencies whose main aim in life is to acquire enough money to buy himself out of his service contract. This requires far more money than he could possibly accumulate legally, but he regards this as a manageable problem and starts planning. 

Those who enjoyed Planetside are likely to enjoy this one as well, but perhaps not quite as much. The hero is not as sympathetic, the plot is more straightforward (with no aliens to add another dimension) and is rather more forgettable. Let’s hope that future stories return to displaying more inventiveness.


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