Friday, July 22, 2011

The First REAL Avengers

Coming in late August to Amazon Kindle eBooks...

Corporal Thomas Lynch won fame at the Battle of Arras, and felt the shame of defeat at Dunkirk.  A year later, as a member of Britain's elite No. 3 Commando, Lynch wants nothing more than to go back over the Channel and kick open Hitler's Fortress Europe, guns blazing. 

Introduced by his commanding officer to the enigmatic Lord Pembroke, Lynch is offered a chance to be part of a special team of hand-picked Commandos.  Their assignment: sneak into occupied France and ally with the French partisans to fight back against the Nazis. 

Lynch readily accepts the challenge, but when the mission goes awry from the very beginning, and the motives of the partisan leader become suspect, the Commandos begin to wonder about their role in the mission: trusted allies with the partisans, or worms dangling as bait for a much larger fish?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summer Action Adventure Movie: Rain Fall (2009)

While on vacation last week I found myself browsing Netflix's instant queue, and I came across Rain Fall.  I knew that Barry Eisler's first novel had been turned into a movie at some point, but that the movie hadn't made it onto the big screen in the States; it appears that it was only shown in commercial theaters in Japan.  Curious as to how Eisler's noirish assassination thriller had been adapted for film, I fired up the movie and sat back to watch.

And by watch I mean, I spent about half the time reading my Kindle, looking out the window bored, and contemplating if I was wasting time that could be better spent writing.  The film is a serviceable thriller, with the usual government conspiracy, some techno-thriller bells and whistles, some gunplay, some knifeplay, some karate or judo or whatever it's supposed to be, and some other boilerplate moments here and there.  Gary Oldman does his best to play a barking, frantic CIA supervisor running this little operation, but in the end it feels like he's just redressing his character in The Fifth Element with a pair of glasses and a cheap suit, but without any of the flash or quirk that made Zorg a fun villain. 

The biggest flaw in the movie is that it really has very little to do with the book itself, and more importantly, it is missing the "soul" of the novel.  Eisler, for all his "I was in the CIA and I learned about self-defense from a guy nicknamed Animal and I get romance writers to rubber-stamp my often creepy sex scenes" nonsense, is able to capture a very surreal vision.  His characters operate in the Shadow World of espionage, assassination, mercenary operations, and other highly illegal shit, but at the same time, they have relationships, enjoy good music and drink great single malt whisky.  Eisler's books are one of the reasons my collection of single malts has been maintained so well over the years, and the image of the lone wolf assassin chilling in a dark, smoky Japanese jazz club, sipping an eighteen year old single malt while ready to kick ass at a moment's notice, just plain works.

But the movie adaptation has almost none of this cool.  There is about fifteen seconds of jazz in the whole movie, the character lacks any kind of panache or style at all, and in fact, the movie makers completely change the character's identity and background.  John Rain in the novels is in his fifties, wears glasses, was a Vietnam veteran and carries with him an older man's sensibilities, style, and sophistication.  He's careful, cautious, and deliberate, well aware that most of the men who hunt him are almost half his age.  The experience and gravitas that the novel's Rain carries with him allows him to turn the tables on his more aggressive, reckless opponents, and seeing this play out is very engaging.  On the other hand, the John Rain in the film is just another "highly trained operative" blah blah blah.  He's a two-dimensional, cookie-cutter character that adds nothing to the film and takes away so much of the spirit of the book that it is, in fact, embarrassing that this fate could befall such an excellent novel.

So although this is a "movie review", I actually recommend people skip the movie completely and go read Eisler's book (the Amazon link above takes you to the novel, not the film).  Although it has its faults, I still think the John Rain series is one of the best modern espionage thriller stories of the 21st century.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Review: An Army At Dawn by Rick Atkinson

For the last couple of months, I've been saturating myself in "all things World War Two".  From watching HBO's The Pacific and re-watching Band of Brothers to reading E.B. Sledge's With The Old Breed, through movies and pulp novels and several Fairbairn manuals as well as an ever-growing pile of Osprey books.  Much of this is both self-education and refreshing my knowledge of the war, as well as research for my next big project, but it is all fascinating and entertaining, if at times shockingly grim.

My latest WW2 read has been Rick Atkinson's An Army At Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943.  This rather massive volume (the paperback runs 768 pages) is a very engaging, almost literary look at the Allied invasion and eventual conquest of the North African theater of World War Two.  This is a part of the war that I was not terribly familiar with, except from some of the early battle scenes in Patton and in playing through the early British missions in Call of Duty 2, so this was going to be a great education for me.

And what an education it was.  In 1942 America had just thrown its hat into the ring after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but our military might was less like Captain America and more like shrimpy Steve Rogers, pre-transformation.  We had some pluck and a resolve to take the fight against the Axis, but our military was woefully obsolete, not only in terms of much of our equipment, but in our training methods, our officer corps, and most importantly, our manpower.  America was 17th in terms of the world's armies as of 1939, but in six short years we would come to dominate the globe.  That enormous transformation has its genesis in North Africa, and Operation TORCH. 

But TORCH was definitely an ugly baby.  Reaching Atkinson's book, it is a miracle the Allies were able to win in North Africa; no one had the foggiest notion of how to launch amphibious assaults with a modern combined arms army, and not only were we fighting against the Germans, but the Vichy French were duty-bound to defend their African colonial territories against "Allied aggression".  Friendly fire casualties were enormous, hundreds of men drowned before they even made it to the beaches because no one knew how to get them ashore correctly, and once ashore, no one had prepared supplies and logistics to take modern combat operations of this nature into account.

And even when men made it onto the beach and eventually took the ports, there was the actual conquering to be done.  As is noted by Atkinson and other authors, our soldiers in North Africa "had not yet learned to hate" and hadn't yet learned the "profession of killing".  This is nowhere more true when reading about those early armor battles; pitting Stuart tanks and their 37mm "squirrel rifles" against German Panthers and Tigers makes for some really cringe-worthy reading, and in many places you simply have to put the book down, take a deep breath, and reassure yourself that it all works out in the end.

On another note, this was the longest e-book I've read, having purchased and downloaded the volume onto my new Kindle.  Although the merits of a e-reader vs. a simple paperback can be debated ad nauseam, the Kindle is far, far lighter and more compact than the roughly pound and a half of the paperback version of the book.  Virtually "shrinking" big, heavy books like this into a slim, lightweight package is clearly one of the advantages of the Kindle.

In conclusion, if you are looking to begin a well-researched, well-written account of the American experience in WW2, this is the place to start.  Atkinson's "big picture" concept behind writing his Liberation Trilogy (of which this is the first volume) is to show the growth and evolution of the Allied forces in general, and the American Army specifically, from a largely incompetent train-wreck into a massive war host capable of defeating two of the largest, most aggressively militant nations on the same time.  I think with An Army At Dawn, Atkinson has succeeded in the first of his objectives.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Joe Kenney is a God Among Mortals

Why is this book-reviewing machine made flesh a resident of the divine realm?  Because he finds and reads - nay, devours - such delightful trash as David Alexander's Phoenix #1: Dark Messiah.  You all really need to go over to Joe's blog and read this review ASAP, because Joe considers this one of the most over-the-top action pulps he's ever read.  And considering he's read titles I've never even heard of, that is a gold-leaf seal of approval from deep in the heart of Texas.

Joe was the fellow who brought us the review of Penetrator #1: The Target is H, which appeared in Hatchet Force Journal #1.  He's got dozens of amazing reviews up on his blog, Glorious Trash, and since I have been following his reviews, I see now that I must really step up with my A-Game if I'm going to compete in the pulp review arena. 

Joe points out in his Dark Messiah review that the five novels in the Phoenix series are now available as an e-book compilation.  One of the most awesome (in my mind at least) aspects of the new e-book revolution is the e-pubbing of titles that have been out of print for years or even decades and lack any real justification for a new print run.  After all, what 21st century publishing house would print this stuff and distribute it to brick & mortar bookstores? Sadly this won't be possible with every series (although, Gold Eagle Books, if you released your old Able Team and Phoenix Force titles as e-books you would make bank), but for many this would be a wonderful occurrence.

I just picked up the Phoenix Rising e-book compilation, and if you like lurid post-nuke trash as much as I do, you should too.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book Review: THE DEAD MAN #5 The Blood Mesa

This time around, Matt Cahill finds himself in the American Southwest, trudging through New Mexico.  While hitching a ride, Matt notices a blood-red mesa off in the distance, and feels a now-familiar calling to go investigate.  Walking on foot, he encounters a man and a woman with a broken down flatbed truck.  The woman is pretty and friendly to boot.  The man is quarrelsome, suspicious, and to Matt's eye, half his face is falling away from the evil rot Matt is able to see.  Much adventure ensues.

The Blood Mesa is not an extraordinarily complex story.  In fact, I would say it's the most linear and straightforward of the DEAN MAN stories so far.  But this doesn't make it bad, or detract in any way from my enjoyment of Reasoner's yarn.  Cahill journeys with his new acquaintances to the top of Blood Mesa (can anything good ever come of going to a place with the word "blood" in its name?), where an archaeological dig is taking place, examining an abandoned Anasazi village.  The Anasazi, as anyone who reads weird adventure stories and creepy folklore can tell you, disappeared very suddenly from the southwest with no real reason that anyone can pin down - the Roanoke settlers of aboriginal American tribes.  What makes the Anasazi even more ripe for weird/horror story fodder is the archaeological evidence found around some of their abandoned camps; namely human remains that appear butchered with tools and gnawed upon by human teeth.  Yes, that's right - the Anasazi are suspected of being cannibals.

All of this, as well as the appearance of the diabolical Mr. Dark early on in the story, and you've got a nice recipe for trouble.  Matt's axe comes into play in a big way over the course of this adventure, one of the most brutal and violent entries in an already brutal and violent series.  The story riffs off of some creepy western themes, with a hefty dose of cannibalism, whacko/zombie-movie mania, and did I mention there's a few sticks of dynamite thrown in for good measure?

I have recently read a couple of James Reasoner's novels, and I consider The Blood Mesa another excellent yarn from the Texan author - it is highly recommended.