Thursday, March 17, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: HAWKER #1 Florida Firefight by Randy Wayne White

Full disclosure: I was offered a free copy of this ebook by the publisher in exchange for a review. You can buy Florida Firefight on Amazon by following this link.

I'd never read any of the HAWKER novels back in the day, so the new ebook version was my first exposure to the series, which starts from a premise well-known to anyone who likes vigilante fiction from the '60s through the '80s. Courts are soft on crime, lawyers are all scumbags, and cops are either incompetent administrators gunning for a run on a political ticket in the future, or tough, hard-bitten streetwise crusaders trying to keep the criminal element in check, while constantly being undermined by "the system". Meanwhile, gangs of violent psychopaths and drug dealers roam the city streets like some kind of Tolkien-esque invasion of orcs and goblins.

Enter Hawker, a cop who doesn't play by the rules, blah blah blah. He kills a bad guy against orders and winds up resigning from the force, only to be hired by a reclusive millionaire to become a one-man vigilante army. You know the deal - the Punisher, but with better financing. To start the series off, Hawker goes to Mahogany Bay, a south Florida town where some Colombian drug-running bad guys are pushing around the townsfolk while using their land for smuggling purposes.

Hawker goes down there and purports to be the new owner of the Tarpon Inn, a formerly successful tourist spot which has definitely seen better days. He immediately gets into a fight with some of the Colombians and gets his butt kicked, but then beats up their leader and pulls a gun on them. He soon hooks up with a Native American woman named Winnie Tiger who is a biologist working in Mahogany Bay, and the only one who helps Hawker when he first encounters the Colombians. There is sexual tension from the get-go, and eventually they have sex. Of course.

I don't really need to give the shot-by-shot plot structure of the book - that's easy enough to find and it's a short book anyway, with a quick enough tempo that ensures an engaged reader will zip through it in a couple of evenings or a lazy Sunday. There's a good amount of gun porn and the violence is suitably visceral, with people getting shot, stabbed, punched, blown up, set on fire...even violated with an air tank and inflated to death (more on that later). While the body count isn't extreme, it is substantial enough to satisfy those whose primary reason for reading such fare is the satisfaction of punks and thugs getting their comeuppance.

And, to be fair, the plot did take me a bit by surprise. Hawker doesn't just go to Mahogany Bay and start slaughtering Colombians. Instead, he actually spends a couple of months in the town, working with the locals to bolster both their pride, and the town's economy. One of the more satisfying scenes in the book involves the townsfolk attacking the Colombians' stronghold and giving them a thorough whupping - sans killing, for the most part. Hawker had cautioned the locals against turning into killers, and there is an impressive amount of restraint and moral obligation there. Of course, even in the few moments where Hawker himself tries non-lethal means to deal with his foes, circumstances conveniently force him to proceed otherwise, and he does the lion's share of the killing in the book, aided by the Tarpon Inn's cook and bartender, both of whom are more than they appear.

I also really enjoyed Hawker using a (in 1984 terms) advanced computer system to track down information about the various players in the situation and gain an information advantage over them. Most of the protagonists in these books, if they do computerized information gathering at all, outsource that to some nerdish ally who is a "computer genius". While Hawker was trained by such a genius on how to do this, he does do it all himself, employing some convenient hacking software and an old-school phone modem to search various databases, even planting a false identity at one point to establish his cover. I hope this is something that continues throughout the series.

Unfortunately for readers in 2016, there are a lot of cringe-worthy parts in the book. Without exception, all of the "good guys" are white, while all of the "bad guys" are minorities. Even the alluring ("mystical" of course) Winnie Tiger is secretly in cahoots with the bad guys. There's one white German bodyguard of a bad guy, but Hawker hints that he thinks the guy is gay, calling him "...a candidate for AIDS disease.", a line that was so stunning, it took me a moment to even grasp its full, historical, implications. There's also a "hulking mulatto" named Simio (...really...?), given all the usual apelike descriptive portraiture, who likes to inflict pain as a strongman for the Big Bad Guy of the novel. Hawker kills him in a horrible fashion when Simio's pants split at the backseam during a fight, exposing his buttocks, and Hawker rams the nozzle of an air tank in Simio's backdoor and turns the valve, inflicting horrific trauma upon Simio's insides. I'm sure a Freudian could write a paper on that scene alone.

Setting aside racial and homophobic issues for gendered ones, there are four female characters in the book. Winnie Tiger, the mystical Indian woman who has sex with and then tries to kill Hawker, two large-breasted blondes who both die only after their shirts are ripped open to expose their assets in death, and Hawker's ex-wife, with whom he has dinner with before going to Florida, and who he almost, but I think does not, has sex with. She factors into about three or four pages of the book and is then completely irrelevant, making me wonder why she's even included except as a possible means to make Hawker seem more three-dimensional. Police Sergeant Dee Dee McCall (HUNTER television series, debuting the same year - 1984 - as this book) would not be impressed with the gender politics of Florida Firefight.

If you can get past these usual, rather uncomfortable artifacts (and if you made it past the first chapter, I'm sure you can), this is still a satisfying read for fans of such "serial vigilante" books. The ebook edition is well-formatted and there aren't any OCR typos that I noticed, typical for Open Road Media's products, which are usually very well done.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Wonderful World of Tanks

A little over a month ago, I finally caved and installed World of Tanks, an online game where you and fourteen other random Internet People fight fifteen other random Internet People in a head-to-head death match, as you each command a tank and drive around a map, smashing through stone walls and knocking over trees while blowing each other up and setting each other on fire.

I've never been that interested in playing online games. I grew up in an age where video games were something you either played on your own, or with a friend using another controller, as you sat in your living room bathed in the television's glow and ate junk food while punching each other in the shoulder because your friend managed that last takedown combo before you did. When, after college, I first began to explore online gaming while playing Quake Online or Ghost Recon, the novelty of fighting against some random Internet Person soon wore off.

Someone's about to have a bad day...

People in general are rude, insensitive jerks who hate their fellow man, but when you add in the anonymity of the Internet, plus a game where you're trying your best to kill each others' digital avatars, the worst in people really comes to the fore. In the last month, I've been insulted in ways I'd forgotten about since junior high school, and while the nostalgia is cute for a moment, it soon sours in the belly and you realize you're approaching the big 4-0 and someone out there still wants to insult you like it's 1990. Thankfully, the wisdom of age - and countless online flame wars - tempers my replies, and I usually tell them they're being adorable and just move on.

On the other hand, I have to admit, World of Tanks is kind of fun. The game features tanks from all the major powers of WW2, and the tanks start with the old, pre-war models (some of them nothing more than prototype tanks) and gradually progress in "tiers" up to tanks from the '70s and '80s, in a ranking of Tiers 1 through 10. In the early games, your range of tiered tanks will be pretty narrow - Tier 1 tanks face off against each other, while later Tier 2-3, and by Tier 5 you might be fighting anyone from Tiers 3-8, depending on the tank you're in (even in a specific Tier, some tanks rank higher than others and get matched against a higher Tier more often).

Just some dudes waiting to kill some other dudes. No big whup.

In addition, there are five categories of tanks: Light, Medium, Heavy, Tank Destroyers, and Self-Propelled Guns. The three weights of tanks are just that - abstract categories that usually match up with historical categories of tanks. For example, the British Crusader tank is a Light tank, while the Churchill is a Heavy tank, and so on. Tank Destroyers often look like tanks, but their armor isn't as good and they're more vulnerable, while their guns are better and their range of vision superior, Self-Propelled Guns are artillery pieces that lob huge explosive shells high into the air, and while they're easy to kill up close, they rain down death from a LONG distance away.

And there's a lot of death to be had, for sure. Tanks have armor, of course, but in WoT, they're pretty good about assigning different armor values to different parts of the tank. The frontal armor is usually the thickest, while the sides and rear are thinner. Sloped armor plates can often bounce incoming shells, while things like tank tracks are easy to cripple with "critical hits". Sometimes a hit to a tank's engine area can set the engine on fire, causing the tank to slowly lose points until it blows up. Crew members can also be killed or wounded, which causes the functions of the tank relying on that member to be worsened. For example, if the driver is killed, another crew member has to take his place, and the overall performance of the tank is now worse.

About what my tank looks like two minutes into most games...

When I first started playing WoT, I joked to myself that this was "research" for my upcoming PANZER series of WW2 adventure novels, but I didn't really believe it. Now, after just passing my 1,000th battle mark, I realize that while yes, it is just a game, it does give some insight into tank tactics. The importance of using terrain to your best advantage cannot be stated enough, especially if you're in a light "scout" tank. Staying behind hills, using depressions in the earth to go hull-down (meaning only your turret is visible), and otherwise remaining unseen (or at least unhittable) are incredibly important. You also very quickly learn how to "sneak and peek" with your tank, because driving boldly at the enemy and relying on your armor is a surefire way to wind up dead very fast.

Overall, it is a fun game that provides a little excitement now and then. It is free to play, although you can spend money to get upgrades faster (I refuse to do this), and it seems like many players consider this poor sportsmanship and the sign of a garbage player. And, while it is frustrating to have to "grind" through a bunch of games in a bad tank in order to earn enough experience to move on to a better one (there is a tree-like progression of Tiers for each country's tank development), there are very few tanks that are absolute garbage. For example, the M3 Lee is absolute garbage. I hate that stupid tank. Hate it.

I hate this tank so much. So very, very much. This image, like all above, grabbed from various Internet sources.

If you play as well and want to say hello some time, you can find me on WoT as "Badelaire". My schedule is rather irregular though, so there is little likelihood of a match-up, but you can always view my terrible statistics.