Book Review: Army Wives

Book Review: Army Wives by Midge Gillies

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway for the purpose of writing this review.  No other compensation was requested or offered.

Army Wives

The life of a soldier is hard and often dangerous, but the life of a soldier’s spouse has its hardships and hazards as well.  This book collects the stories of various British Army wives from the Crimean War (where wives sometimes shared tents near the front lines with their husbands) to the modern day, when social media allows spouses (now including husbands) to worry about the servicemember’s safety in “real time.”

After chapters on spousal travel and accommodations, the remainder of the book is in roughly chronological order.  There tends to be more information on officers’ wives than those of enlisted men, as especially in the early days they were more likely to be literate and thus leave behind letters, journals and memoirs.  Most of the women covered are ordinary people who rose to the occasion, but there’s also Lady Elizabeth Butler, who was a famous painter even before marrying a famous soldier.

The epilogue is about life after the army, both in the general sense, and the fates of the specific women used as examples in the book.  There’s a nice center section of pictures, many in color, plus a bibliography, end notes and an index.

As always, learning about the lives of people in unusual circumstances is fascinating, and there is quite a variety of women and outcomes represented.  The writing is decent, and some sections are emotionally affecting.

On the other hand, covering so many different stories means that some feel as though they’ve gotten short shrift.  Edith Tolkien, for example, gets two pages, mostly about the codes her husband (J.R.R.) slipped into his letters to let her know where he was.  And the section on soldiers who came home from World War One with facial disfigurements has no direct testimony from wives at all.

That said, this book should be of interest to those interested in military history (especially about women in military history) and those considering being the spouse of a military person.

And now, a video of the British Army Wives’ Chorus:

 

Comic Book Review: Our Army at War

Comic Book Review: Our Army at War edited by Joey Cavalieri

Back in the day, DC Comics had a fine line of war comics.  Primarily focused around World War Two, they paid tribute to the American military and the Greatest Generation.  Which is not to say that they were mindless patriotic propaganda.  The stories often depicted the costs of war, and to an extent the gray areas of combat.  The Comics Code of the time prevented them from showing gore and some of the atrocities of wartime, or going too far in criticizing the officers, but the stories often showed U.S. soldiers who did not live up to strict moral standards, and the human side of the enemy.

Our Army at War

Also, they had some of the best art at DC, with Joe Kubert as their iconic presence.  As I mentioned in my review of Weird War Tales‘ Showcase volume, sales of the war books started to fall in the 1970s with the unpopularity of Vietnam and a general revulsion towards the military.  At the same time, the Comics Code eased and (relatively mild) horror took a rise in popularity, resulting in “weird” elements being inserted in some of the lesser war books.

Eventually, the various series petered out.  While there have been war books for short runs since, they’ve never been the sellers they once were.  However, DC still has the trademarks for the titles, and some classic characters, so in 2010 the company published a handful of one-shots to keep the trademarks active.  They were combined for this graphic novel version in 2011.

Our Army at War itself leads off with “Time Stands Still for No Man” by Mike Marts and Victor Ibañez.  It compares and contrasts World War Two and the then-current Afghanistan War by following the stories of a volunteer soldier in each conflict.  The WWII section has Sergeant Rock and Easy Company, but they are mostly background, as are the mercenary Gods of War in the modern section.  It’s the most innovative of the stories in structure.

Weird War Tales is split into three shorts.  “Armistice Night” by Darwyn Cooke and Dave Stewart is a darkly silly tale of the annual get together of the ghosts of history’s great warriors.  “The Hell Above Us” by Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein spins a yarn of the sole survivor of a sunken submarine…and what he finds when he surfaces.  “Private Parker Sees Thunder Lizards” by Jan Strnad and Gabriel Hardman is one of those borderline cases–is the blinded, dying soldier conjuring up dinosaurs to battle the Nazis, or is it all a fantasy his buddy is enabling to allow Private Parker pass away with a smile?

Our Fighting Forces stars “The Losers”:  one-eyed and -legged PT boat captain without a boat Captain Storm; Johnny Cloud, the lonely Navajo Ace, and Gunner & Sarge, the sole survivors of their Marine platoon.  Four misfits assigned to the toughest missions, who somehow come out alive to nurse their survivors’ guilt again.  In “Winning Isn’t Everything” by B. Clay Moore, Chad Hardin & Wayne Faucher, they are assigned to take out an isolated Nazi air field, but the route mapped out for them is just a little too obvious.  Their innovative solutions may win the day, but is that for the best?

G.I. Combat is back to the weird with “Listening to Ghosts” by Matthew Sturges and Phil Winslade is centered on the Haunted Tank, a M3 Stuart tank with a commander named Lieutenant Jeb Stuart.  The lieutenant often sees and gets advice from his namesake, Civil War general J.E.B. Stuart.  Usually the ghost only warns of danger with cryptic utterances.  In this story, Lt. Stuart finds that his friendly rival Lt. Billy Sherman, who commands a M4 Sherman tank, has been killed by Nazi snipers, and he must use the unfamiliar machine to assist his regular crew, with another ghost whispering over his shoulder.  Notably, the iconic Stars & Bars flag flown from the Haunted Tank in the original series is absent in this story without explanation.

Star-Spangled War Stories represents the non-American contingent of the Allies with French Resistance fighter Mademoiselle Marie.  “Vive Libre ou Mourir!” by Billy Tucci, Justiano, Tom Derenck & Andrew Mangum has the beautiful and deadly anti-fascist parachuted in to a new Resistance group who she will lead in destroying key railroads.  But treachery is afoot–the local Maquis du Gevaudan would rather use the money Marie brought to buy rifles for direct combat.  More treachery ensues.  Non-explicit sex scenes and some kink, as well as the standard violent death.

It’s a decent collection, but inconsequential.  The Darwyn Cooke story is the most interesting.  I’d say it’s a good choice for someone who wants to sample DC’s war comics characters without needing to find spendy back issues.  Some great art.

Book Review: Soldiers Out of Time

Book Review: Soldiers Out of Time by Steve White

Spoiler Warning: This is the fifth book in the Jason Thanou series, and as such, this review will contain SPOILERS for earlier volumes in the story.  Starting with the very next paragraph, so you are on your own from here.

Soldiers Out of Time

The Special Operations Section of the Temporal Regulatory Authority has at last captured the Transhumanists’ time displacer, which they have been using in an effort to recapture control of Earth.  The hidebound Council declares that this means the war is over, and disbands the SOS.  Commander Jason Thanou isn’t so sure, but this does mean he can at last return to his homeworld and his actual military career.

But before he can actually get on the ship home, Jason and a handful of his friends are called in for a special consultation.  It seems that Transhumanist Underground operatives have been spotted on a distant alien world.  This is odd, as the Transhumanists normally have no interest in aliens.   So it’s off to investigate!

Soon Commander Thanou and his comrades are up to their necks in a Transhumanist plot to plunder 19th Century Afghanistan for slaves to create a new war world to overwhelm normal humanity.

Baen Books is known for what’s called “military science fiction”, a subgenre in which new technologies are applied to killing people and people-like objects in mass quantities.  While it can be quite thoughtful or delve into deep philosophical concerns, that’s not the primary thrust.  Generally these stories tend to feature strategy and tactics as influenced by the latest scientific imaginings, the camaraderie of fighting people, and stuff blowing up.

This volume is a fine example of the type.  In this instance, Earth was taken over by the Transhumanists in the 22nd Century, people who felt that Hitler and Pol Pot had generally the right ideas but didn’t understand that it was genetically modified cyborgs who should rule over humanity.  They were about as awful as one would expect until Earth’s colony worlds helped overthrow the Transhumanists.  The remnants of the former overlords want to come back into power, and want to use time travel to help them.

Due to the way time travel works in this series, they can’t change history–but they can work in the blank spots to create “time bombs” that will unleash their forces at The Day, a point still in the relative future.  Jason’s job has been to find these operations and stop them.  To make matters more complicated, there’s a race of aliens called the Teloi, who don’t have time travel…yet, but are effectively immortal, and believe themselves to be the rightful owners of the human race.

Commander Thanou is your typical hypercompetent protagonist, who is always more skilled/right than anyone else in the area.  The only times he is ever overruled, the person who does so will turn out to be wrong.  The main villain (an old enemy of Jason’s) does manage to get the drop on him a couple of times, but never through any fault of Jason’s/  This does get a trifle wearing.

The Transhumanists are big fans of rape (of women) and torture (of men) and show this off in the story.  There’s some period racism, religious prejudice and ethnic prejudice among the 19th Century folks, and some cultural posturing on the narrator’s part.  (Western Civilization is what let humanity survive to reach the stars, and Islam is inherently a warlike religion, which is only peaceful as a subversion.)

The story itself is exciting, and moves right along in a reasonably logical fashion, with some likable side characters.  There’s some characters that have wandered in from other stories, some of whom will be recognizable to any well-read person, and others more obscure.

Overall, this is a decent example of the military SF subgenre which I would recommend to those that already enjoy such things.  Beginners may want to consult the Baen Books free library at http://www.baen.com as the publishers have a generous selection of free stories and even entire books to download so you can see if this sort of thing is for you.  (Remember to actually buy something if you really enjoy it, print needs all the help it can get!)

Disclaimer:  I received this book free from the publisher because I am a book reviewer.  No other compensation was involved.

Book Review: What We Won

Book Review: What We Won by Bruce Riedel

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

What We Won

The Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan (1979-1989) was a turning point in history.  It was often called the “Russian Vietnam” as the Soviet troops found themselves mired in battle with an enemy that had little structure, struck without warning and enjoyed strong local support. The war drained men and material with little to show for it, and displeasure with the conflict helped bring about changes in the Soviet government that led to the end of the U.S.S.R.

The United States government, working through the CIA, primarily influenced the war by partnering with the Pakistani government to funnel arms and intelligence to the mujahedin who were fighting to free their country from Communism.  The author, a former CIA agent, explains who the major players in the war were, what they hoped to accomplish and the outcomes.  He shows why this operation worked so well, in contrast to other covert operations such as the infamously botched Iran-Contra deal.  In addition, there is some compare and contrast of the Soviet invasion and the current Afghanistan conflict.

There are holes in the story, of course.  Several key figures died even before the end of the war,  and many others never wrote down their stories.  Much of the details of covert actions are still classified by the various governments, and thus off-limits for public consumption.  But the author has managed to get quite a bit of new information, including access to Jimmy Carter’s diary of the time.  (Since President Carter wrote his memoir while the U.S. aid to the mujahedin was still a secret, his part in setting it up wasn’t in there.)

It begins with a brief history lesson on the many previous foreign invasions of Afghanistan, primarily by the British.  Then there’s an examination of the Communist government of Afghanistan, which was fatally divided against itself from the beginning.  It introduced much-needed reforms, but, well, Communists, which didn’t sit well with the large groups of strongly religious citizens.  When the Communists proved unable to keep from killing each other, let alone control the insurgencies, the Soviets decided to roll in with their tanks, thinking it would be just like Hungary or Czechoslovakia.  It wasn’t.

In addition to starting a land war in Asia, the Soviets had three leaders in a row whose health was failing, and a developing problem in Poland that kept them from moving sufficient troops and weapons down into Afghanistan.   In addition, it was the first time the U.S.S.R.’s troops had seen serious combat in decades, and they just weren’t up to speed.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani government was rightfully concerned that if the Soviets took over Afghanistan, they might well be next.  Especially if Russia could talk their other hostile neighbor India into helping.  So they were all too ready to arm the freedom fighters, directly delivering the aid and training provided by funds from America and Saudi Arabia.  However, they had very strong ideas about what kind of mujahedin they wanted to support, and their favoritism helped sow the seeds of discord after the war.

Which leads us to the Arab volunteers who came to Afghanistan to fight alongside their Muslim brothers in a jihad against the foreign and officially atheist invaders.  At the time, they were only interested in throwing out people who had come uninvited and unwanted.  Even Osama bin Laden almost certainly had no clue that in twenty years’ time he’d come to think that crashing airplanes into civilians was a good idea.  It’s emphasized that the Arab volunteers had no direct contact with the CIA or other American forces.

The closing section looks at why this particular operation was so successful for the U.S., what happened to the people of Afghanistan after the world turned its eyes away. and how we ended up in the Afghanistan mess we have today.

There are no maps or illustrations, but there are extensive endnotes and an index.  The writing is a bit dry but informative, and the writer’s biases don’t get in the way.  Recommended for those who wonder what’s up with Afghanistan, and fans of the movie Charlie Wilson’s War

Book Review: Tigerman

Book Review: Tigerman by Nick Harkaway

Disclaimer:  I received an uncorrected proof of this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Tigerman

Mancreu is dying.  This island in the Arabian Sea was once a quiet backwater, last colonized by the British Empire.   But a combination of industrial waste and volcanic activity have made the island a biohazardous ecodisaster waiting to happen.  A UN mission is just waiting for the final orders to evacuate the locals, and the British government has sent a final Brevet Consul to be the last watchman.

That man is Sergeant Lester Ferris, late of the British army in Afghanistan, a light duty for a man who’s seen too much war.  It’s a quiet post, having tea in the afternoon, making friends with a comic book-loving local boy, settling minor disputes and bidding farewell as those who choose to leave the island early trickle away.  And of course he very deliberately does not notice the Fleet of ships offshore, the ones who are taking advantage of a legal black hole to do things not allowed on land or sea.

But murder comes calling on Mancreu, and the situation seems to need something more than diplomacy.  It needs a hero straight out of the comics, larger than life and gifted with strange abilities.  Lester Ferris could be that hero, if he is willing to become Tigerman.

Good stuff:  The pacing of the book never feels rushed, without being too drawn out.  Even in the early expository bits, it doesn’t feel too slow or sloggish.  There are some lovely turns of phrase, justified by most of the people on the island having learned English from movies, and thus talking like characters, and by the atmosphere of Mancreu making everyone a little crazy.

Sergeant Ferris becoming Tigerman is almost plausible; he has “a very particular set of skills”, access to all sorts of interesting equipment, and just enough odd coincidences happening to him that he can believe this is something that needs doing.

The book managed to blindside me with a twist towards the end that’s not entirely original, but works well here.

Not so good stuff:  While I realize that American pop culture has steamrollered the world’s imagination, the fact that a British man in his forties makes no references whatsoever to British pop culture is weird.  I know for a fact that there is a long tradition of British comic books–Billy the Cat would seem to be an appropriate thing for Sergeant Ferris to think of when he becomes Tigerman.  But no, it’s American comics, American TV and movies.  I have to wonder if this book were deliberately written to appeal to American readers who might not get the references.

Some readers may find the “quirky” a little too thick for their tastes.

The book is due for official release 7/29/14.  I would recommend it for those seeking something a bit more “modern literature-like” in their superhero fiction.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...