An Unusually Influential Book

One of the most influential books I’ve read has been Bobby Akart’s Axis of Evil. It was the third book I reviewed on Fuldapocalypse, the first two being the classic World War III novel Chieftains and the more modern The Red Line.

Now, Axis of Evil was not a particularly good book in my eyes. But I owe it a huge amount of gratitude nonetheless, for it turned Fuldapocalypse into a far more diverse blog. Opening the door to more than the narrow Hackett-to-Peters big WWIII spectrium I’d originally planned was a wonderful thing.

My favorite part of book blogging

I’ve done a lot of book blogging and reviewing even before Fuldapocalypse started, and far and away my most favorite part is finding a hidden, obscure delight of a book and thus being able to share it with the internet. Oh, I like reviewing big-name books from time to time, and they can be good.

But they’re not the most fun to review. The most fun to review are when I look for the book with the most zombie sorceress induced “Arkansas vs. the blimps” premise, find it, and then discover that it’s actually a good tale beyond it. There was Team Yankee and Tin Soldiers, the classic tank novels. There were many more good authors I found. The crowning glory of this was the Survivalist, where I took the plunge and read over two dozen books of ramping-up-crazy.

In fact, one of the biggest “problems” I have with my blog is as follows. Do I continue reading existing authors, which are harder to review for even if good (because you’ve already said what exists about it) or take a chance on unknown ones (which can be very good or very bad)? It’s ‘tough’, but it’s a good ‘problem’ to have.

The Spacesuit Commando ‘Genre’ of Books

I’ve mentioned what I call the “spacesuit commando” genre on Fuldapocalypse before. It’s an arbitrary, slightly snide term I’ve made and used for this type of lowbrow military sci-fi I’ve read far too much of. If I had to give a definition, it’d consist of…

 

  • The background is dystopian, often excessively and pointlessly so.
  • The characters only use power armor that doesn’t seem to actually do anything.
  • The main character is either explicitly placed in a SUPER SPECIAL SPACESUIT COMMANDO unit, or whatever unit he ends up in is treated like a SUPER SPECIAL SPACESUIT COMMANDO unit, even undeservedly.
  • There’s excessive training sequences, checking the “I read Heinlein” box.
  • The main character gets promoted ridiculously high ridiculously fast.
  • A lot of the dynamics (for lack of a better word) feel weird, like the author didn’t do the most basic research.
  • The antagonists have absolutely no development whatsoever, even by the low standards of cheap thrillers. The generic “eat everything bugs” are actually slightly better in that it’s at least justified in-universe. Human/sentient opponents are painted with the same brush.

 

And yet, “spacesuit commando” stories are the ones I do read en masse. Part of it is just accessibility (most of them are on Kindle Unlimited, and there’s a “feedback loop” of getting more spacesuit commando books in my recommendations once I’ve gotten several). Part of it is that a story can have many elements of it and still be good (or at least better than some of the others). But the most ridiculous side of me likes them because of the formulaic cheese if I want an absolutely mindless read.

When I Judged Books By Their Covers

I’m normally not the biggest cover enthusiast when it comes to books. But the covers at least played a role in delaying my interest in Mack Bolan novels for a while. First the background, where there were these things called “bookstores”, and all of the Executioner/SuperBolan/Stony Man books were still chugging along in print, unlike now where the latter two are cancelled and the first is reduced to a few ebooks a year.

I knew who Mack Bolan was because I knew he was the basis of the Punisher. So that brought a slight bit of name recognition. My impression of the Bolan books I saw on the shelves was… iffy. And it wasn’t because I was sneering at the concept-I was every bit the fan of escapist lowbrow fiction I remain today. I was more into science fiction and the occasional technothriller instead of contemporary action.

So I saw the Gold Eagle Bolans on the shelf, and they just seemed, from the cover, description and title, meh. And keep in mind the comparison books I usually ended up actually buying were things like Starfist books, which had dubious plots and even more dubious covers. But the Starfist/Baen covers were at least dubious and distinct.

The Bolans I saw were somehow both overly garish and overly bland at the same time. Don’t just take my word for it, look at the initial covers for later Executioners and Superbolans. (For what it’s worth, the later Stony Man covers hold up considerably better, but I don’t remember seeing those, probably because I didn’t know the connection at the time).

I never took the plunge-I checked the back blurbs a few times but never actually sampled, much less bought a then-new Bolan. And if I had, it’d probably have stayed a one-and-done novelty. Only much later, after Gold Eagle closed in December 2015 and after I read War Against The Mafia did I take a chance on the Bolans I’d previously passed up.

 

My Book Backlog is Done!

So, every book on my big backlog I’ve read or at least sampled and then put aside to read later. Some of them made it to Fuldapocalypse or are in the review ‘stack’, others did not and will not.

Perhaps the most famous entry is Heinlein’s original Starship Troopers. The most charitable things I can say about it are that it probably aged poorly and that I understand how it can scratch a “he gets it” itch for veterans because of its realistic depiction of boot camp drudgery. Otherwise, I didn’t like it. It has this overly “bouncy” and somewhat rambling writing style that I found to knock down both the boot-camp-coming-of-age main plot and the modest amount of actual action.

My military sci-fi itch is pretty much subsided-of the four remaining books, three were military sci-fi. I did find Jonathan Brazee’s works good for my current ‘cheap thriller’ tastes and will be checking out more of them, but I think it best to put the remaining “guy in armored space suit” books on the back burner until the genre fatigue wears off. Those made up the bulk of my holiday purchases, so returning to the delightfully technothrillery Thunder of Erebus was a good ‘grand finale’.

Going forward, I have two general priorities. One is slightly more highbrow works of fiction-I love cheap thrillers, but think going a little higher would be helpful. I definitely plan on reading and reviewing the classic Forever War, for one example. The other priority is tanks, because while some of the books had tanks in them, none were really in a starring role. So I’m planning on reading more tank books (and yes, that includes sci-fi tank books).

This whole experience was fun, and I hope to encounter more literary gems.

The Fall of Gold Eagle

So, I found a Nader Elhefnawy blog post on the shuttering of Harlequin’s Gold Eagle imprint for “men’s adventure” cheap thrillers in 2015 (although Harlequin has continued to release new Mack Bolan ebooks since then). Besides the increasing diversity in media as a whole, the genre is mentioned in the post as being squeezed both from above (from bigger-market, less assembly line-ish cheap thrillers) and below (from independent/self-published ones).

Now the indies and the big-timers both have structural weaknesses and strengths. As for how the Gold Eagle Bolans (and similar professional assembly line fiction) held up, I’ll have to read them. Even Ahern’s Survivalist doesn’t really match up, as that was a giant serial made by one person, not 27 standalone books made by different ones.

Back to a Big Book Backlog

Ok, so now I’m back to a big backlog of books to read. It’s not a bad problem to have. Now, to be fair, almost all of them are cheap thrillers. But I like cheap thrillers, so it’s only fair that I read stuff in a style that I like.

Besides, the cheap thriller genre can be surprisingly diverse, I’ve found. It can encompass everything from throwaway potboilers to gritty and genuinely thought-provoking tales like Peters’ Red Army. And even the former can be incredibly fun.

And even I don’t read only cheap thrillers.

 

Time Flies

A small anecdote. I remember when A Song of Ice And Fire/Game of Thrones was this updating yet niche series you basically already had to be a fantasy nerd to know about. Then came the TV show. Then came the actual books turning into literary vaporware, becoming a sort of punchline that is to books what Half-Life 3 and Duke Nukem Forever are to video games.

So yeah, it’s progressed (or regressed) a lot.

A Military Sci-Fi Craving

So, I’ve been having a military sci-fi craving, with most of the books I’ve recently started being those. Maybe it’s just a fad of mine. Maybe it’s just that a lot of them fall into the niche of being both cheap thrillers and involving something different than the usual ones, so I can have my cake and eat it too.

I’m not thinking any worse of the “normal” cheap thrillers, and I’m still reading lots of them, but it never hurts to try these new ones. I’ve had times when I like military sci-fi before, and this is another, I suppose.