Saturday, June 30, 2012

Shepherd492 reviews: EndWar

EndWar (David Michaels) 

            EndWar, yet another adaptation of a Tom Clancy videogame authored by the pseudonym David Michaels, tells the story of the Russian invasion of Northern Canada, and the efforts of the United States and Canadian civilians to repel the invaders. Poorly researched and thought out, EndWar is brainless and fast paced fun, but a far cry from a potential world war scenario.
            Those looking for a comprehensive, in depth, and plausible world war 3 scenario will be thoroughly disappointed in this book. It avoids the complicated realities of the world in favor of a simple ally/enemy system: Russians bad, USA/Canada/"Euros" good. China, North Korea, Africa, South America, the Middle East, Australia, and individual European countries simply do not exist in this near future tale. Accordingly, there is next to no effort spent developing a back story to the events beyond the fact that apparently the war has been waging in Europe for an indeterminate amount of time, and that Saudi Arabia and Israel have blown each other apart. The lack of finesse used creating a comprehensive picture of the world in 2020 is jarring, but after realizing that this is basically an action movie, and by no means a political thriller or all encompassing work of speculative fiction, some of the disappointment does wear off.
            As for what actually does take place in the story, there are roughly six different story arcs, all of which involve the action in Northern Canada, and all of which are told primarily by American operatives. Each has an incredibly unlikely element that ruins plausibility in order to up the "heroics" level and suitably show up the Russians, but the worst involves one fighter plane taking on an entire sky worth of helicopters and surviving, getting shot down, then evading the encroaching Russians long enough to be rescued. The other plot lines aren't quite as ridiculous, but there is nothing particularly inspiring about any of them. The plot isn't very coherent and functions more as a mess of random battle scenes, including the rapid fire point of view swaps that are quite frustrating, but as a way to get as many different types of scenarios in the book as possible, it is an adequate style.
            The obligatory weapon of mass destruction plot device is present here, but not in the way you would expect. No mention is made of the concept of mutually assured destruction that so dominated the Cold War and continues to loom large over warfare today. Instead, the Russians and Americans are more content to battle it out with conventional weapons and mostly infantry based tactics. While the complete omission of such an important piece of warfare in the 21st century is puzzling, the way the required nuke is worked into the story is downright laughable. The threat comes not from the U.S., Canadians, or Russians, but instead a random group of eco-terrorists that were formerly covertly working for the Russians. In the final one hundred fifty pages of the book, it is revealed that two nukes have been planted in different Canadian cities and that the eco-terrorists will detonate them in 48 hours to strike a crucial blow against the Russian's desires. Of course, because both sides working together to diffuse the nuke would be ridiculous, we instead learn that if the Russians stop fighting the Americans, the nukes are instantly detonated. Throwing a nuke into an otherwise concise story free of such cheap plot devices (even MAD works quite differently as a plot point than rogue nuke that must be defused) needlessly complicates a simplistic but enjoyable story. Additionally, this inclusion leads to a frustrating cliffhanger ending for the otherwise all but wrapped up story, and sets the stage for the inevitable sequel novel.
            Even with all these flaws, it is a quick read due to the breakneck pacing that permits almost nothing in the way of character development or more quiet moments. The book is almost entirely action, and for better or worse this makes for a quick and easy read. Granted, most of the action makes no sense, but if you like explosions, survival against "overwhelming" odds, and as much clich√© heroism and unabashed patriotism as can be fit into one self righteous novel, then you've come to the right place.
            As one might expect, there isn't much time or thought in developing characters for this novel. This is mostly done through some prologue style scenes early in the book, a few flashbacks, and allusions to potential back story and motivations lacking for most of the story. The American soldiers were the typical mix of young heroes in the making, with absolutely no flaws whatsoever, and grizzled proven heroes, with absolutely no flaws whatsoever. Each one of them comes equipped with pointless emotional baggage that gets referenced once then thrown away when the shooting actually starts. Nothing as offensive as the "girl from Arkansas" in H.A.W.X., but the book's focus clearly isn't on characterization.
            Antagonists are a major disappointment. We get a look inside the macro level politics of the proceedings as our erstwhile American president tries to talk the laughably indecisive Canadian prime minister into actually defending his country from invading Russians (this was actually a plot point...if you are Canadian or European, do not read this book) and when the Russian leaders call up our president in order to make silly taunts and unlikely compromises. That isn't all of course, as we are subjected to a captured Russian officer who borrows the intimidating prisoner routine straight from the likes of Hannibal Lector, scaring people with all the gruesome personal details he has dug up about them, and appearing utterly unflappable in the face of indefinite imprisonment and various mind games, but unfortunately never eating anyone's face. And then there is the matter of the eco-terrorists, and namely the leader, Green Vox. The character is briefly introduced early on, then shows up again when he is needed for the story, only to be killed immediately after. It is an embarrassing showing and in no means the makings of a competent or intriguing antagonist. Of course, due to the fact that it is a world war and not some vendetta story, the focus is more on the Russian military as a whole, and that is where the opposition really falls apart.
            The action is far from realistic, and bears more than passing similarities to the plot of games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and World in Conflict. The Soviet Spetznaz, special operations soldiers used sparingly and for important missions in the real world, are treated as generic frontline infantry cannon fodder here, while even the lowliest and most unskilled American soldier is capable of great feats of heroism, mowing down scores of Spetznaz with little difficulty. Additionally, the small unit tactics eschew a realistic invasion force, instead hypothesizing that the Russians would invade an enormous country with nothing more than special forces, light vehicles, helicopters, and a navy consisting of four ships. Whether or not this was the reality Michaels envisioned is irrelevant, because this is all our protagonists are presented with as opposition, and the laughably minor amount of force put into such a momentous undertaking, along with the half baked planning which seems to present itself as exceedingly one dimensional and easy to grasp, do little to present the allegedly overwhelming odds supposedly encountered by the various heroes. There is plenty of fighting to go around here though, with submarine warfare, infiltration, search and rescue, defensive operations, and dog fighting all being featured at some point or another. The submarine scenes are poorly plotted and explained, but the rest of it is solid fun. Especially entertaining is when a city of Canadian civilians, with the help of one and a half squads of American special forces, is able to repel the Russian invasion quite handily. The action here isn't the tasteful, harrowing take on war that leaves you asking real questions about fighting and caring deeply for the characters involved, but the fast paced, disposable, far fetched cinema that works as light entertainment and leads to unintentionally hilarious things like submarines magically repairing themselves and bases exploding for no rhyme or reason. It is fun in its own way, but like the set up and back story, more geared towards simplicity and convenience than depth.       
            As for the writing itself , it is the typically low quality work seen in the Tom Clancy video game tie in novels to date, though unfortunately there is no contrived romance here to make fun of. Characters do quite a bit of crying out in this book, and the verb covers everything from actual exclamations to simple commands, observations, and even questions. Repetition is a noticeable flaw in the writing, but the simplistic and unimaginative nature of the work doesn't exactly lend itself to spectacular sentence structure or vivid and poignant details. Additionally, the book does do a rather amusing job of inventing scenarios where it can tell you about all the wonderful things that (this or that random knife) can do. Like in Ghost Recon, the in-prose advertisements are funny, but not exactly the stuff of high brow or relevant reading.
            Despite being harebrained and completely unrealistic, EndWar does have a charmingly stupid, fun feel to it that prevents it from being on the same level as an utter abomination like H.A.W.X., but by no means is this anything more than 400 pages of endless, mindless action.
Final Score

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