Saturday, January 15, 2022

A (Somewhat) Realistic North Korean RED DAWN

The YouTuber The Alternate Historian, whom I know from my former days at the Internet's premiere alternate history forum, posted on Twitter recently about making a video discussing a realistic war between the U.S. and North Korea. In the Homefront video game and the 2012 Red Dawn remake the North Koreans manage to land forces on the American mainland and actually take control over much of the continental United States.

Sufficient to say, that isn't going to happen. North Korea's air force is obsolete and owing to lack of fuel, their pilots have little training time. North Korea's navy is primarily focused on its own river and coasts. They're realistically not going transport a whole army to the American mainland and good luck keeping them supplied even if they could get here. Their army is large, but their equipment is obsolete. Their main strengths are masses of artillery threatening the South Korean capital, their nukes and ballistic missiles, and their cyberwarfare capability.

(North Korea's nuclear capabilities seem much more advanced than I'd earlier believed...I thought at best they could manage a "Super-9/11" on one or two cities on the West Coast and then they'd be annihilated, but what the Council on Foreign Relations describes is something more like what's depicted in this faux Congressional commission's report on a North Korean nuclear attack. Yikes.)

So how could you have a realistic Red Dawn where it's the North Koreans of all people landing on the American mainland? Commandos. Before I left the alternate-history forum, I suggested the "more realistic Red Dawn" story would be a small North Korean force taking over an isolated small town in the rural West Coast. In my idea they'd be hidden aboard a civilian ship, while TAH suggested on Twitter they could use submarines. North Korean cyberwar techniques could be used to conceal their approach to the West Coast. The goal isn't to actually conquer the United States; the goal is to seize a town during an international crisis as a bargaining chip to get the U.S. to back off militarily, lift sanctions, etc. Northern California is rather isolated (a large land area with few roads) and if they take a large number of civilians hostage, that would complicate any response from the California National Guard or the regular U.S. military. That means the locals will have to liberate themselves, and so we enter Red Dawn territory.

And that's when things get tricky. There are lots of guns to be had in the rural U.S., even in Democratic states like California, but a force of North Korean regulars is going to have much heavier gear even if they're dramatically outnumbered. I'm imagining them herding captured civilians into camps beneath a battery of portable artillery and then defending said artillery with machine guns. A few dozen guys with rifles might be able to make life difficult for North Korean infantry patrols or do hit-and-run on isolated enemy positions, but good luck with successfully attacking this.

Fortunately, northern California is a major haven for illegally growing marijuana, and the local weed baron "just happens" to have some mortars. Think how mobster Eddie Valentine flips on the evil actor (and Nazi spy) Neville Sinclair in the climax of the film The Rocketeer--like Eddie, this man might not have a problem making money illegally, but collaborating with a totalitarian enemy is something else entirely. A bunch of irregular infantrymen bum-rushing machine guns isn't going to end well for them (and even a successful attack would give the North Koreans time to slaughter the hostages with artillery), but a surprise mortar bombardment could cripple the guns or kill their operators, wreck the machine gun positions, etc.

And that gave me the idea for an analogue for the traitor Daryl from the 1984 version. I'm imagining some young Twitter tankie (an apologist for authoritarian anti-American regimes--think Western leftists defending China's repression of Hong Kong or Xinjiang or Russian bombing of Syrian rebels) initially collaborating with the North Koreans. He erroneously thinks they're "anti-imperialist" or believes the U.S. provoked the North Koreans into this crazed long-shot gamble with economic sanctions or military drills. 

Sufficient to say, the scales fall from his eyes real fast. Although the guerrillas initially don't want his help, he's read the Anarchist's Cookbook and knows how to combine chlorine and bleach to make a crude chemical weapon or can make other chemical concoctions ISIS-style. Putting the trust the North Koreans gave him to good use, he sets off the chemical bomb in the North Korean headquarters at the same time the guerrillas use their new mortars to destroy the artillery the North Koreans are using to hold the townsfolk hostage. If the guerrillas or their weed-baron allies have got some decent machinists, they could make gas shells to make absolutely sure the gun crews are dead.

(Daryl could have some Redemption Equals Death for having been a collaborator initially, or more creatively, survive and everybody believes he was the Wolverines' inside man the entire time.)

I've got a lot going on, so I'm not going to try to pitch this to Hollywood (which wouldn't be interested, especially with the failure of the Red Dawn remake) or even write a book. Still, it might be interesting.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Book Review: SWORD AND PLANET (2021)

"Sword and Planet" is a sub-genre mixing science fiction and fantasy tropes that, although one of the oldest in modern SF (think the Edgar Rice Burroughs stories featuring heroic Earthman John Carter on a habitable Mars) doesn't get the attention it merits. Fortunately Baen put out Sword and Planet, a collection of several such stories, which I got the pleasure of reviewing. Here goes...


The collection starts out with a bang with Tim Akers' "A Murder of Knights." Basically a member of a high-tech knightly order has to investigate some sinister doings and finds himself facing off against something abominable, with a very bloody deadline. It seems like an origin story for a particular character and according to a conversation I had with the author, there's more content out there set in this universe. The fact my first reaction to the story was to see if there was more of it reflects very well on this collection.

Another story I enjoyed was R.R. Virdi's "A Knight Luminary" in which a trainee knight in a future war with a machine intelligence *still* hasn't manifested the psychic powers he needs. He and his fellows investigation an outpost that's gone silent and, as can be expected, things go very, very wrong.

"Bleeding From Cold Sleep" by longtime Warhammer 40K author Peter Fehervari features a fugitive member of what are essentially humanity's Cossacks (the vanguard of human expansion against a myriad of alien races, the first of which are based in a more pulp-fiction version of our own solar system) and just why he's a fugitive. It turns out there's a threat much, much closer to home.

In T. C. McCarthy's "The Test," a world that has regressed into a medieval state features a king, his son who reminds me a lot of Prince Hal from Shakespeare's HENRY IV, and another son who'd like to usurp him. And did I mention there are monsters and priests using advanced technology? This was fun too.

Rounding out my favorite stories is the novella "Queen Amid Ashes," set in author Christopher Ruocchio's SUN EATER universe (which begins with the novel Empire of Silence, the first of several). Our hero Imperial noble Hadrian Marlowe and his companion, the foreign cyborg doctor Valka, and their Imperial troops must liberate a world under attack by the predatory alien Cielcin, but there's much more going on than an alien invasion. There are some very vivid descriptions here.

Unfortunately, not every story in the collection is so grand. I loved the Deathstalker novels when I was in middle school, but Simon R. Green's "Saving The Emperor," which describes the origin of the titular Deathstalker noble family, was disappointing. I had a hard time following Susan R. Matthews' "Operatix Triumphans."

Still, no collection is perfect and I would definitely recommend this one. 8.0 out of 10.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

New Year, New Cover for THE THING IN THE WOODS

The first cover for The Thing in the Woods, originally published by Canadian small press Digital Fiction Publishing, was assembled from two pieces of Adobe stock art I found for the publisher. However, the cover for its independently-published sequel The Atlanta Incursion was illustrated by artist Matt Cowdery and laid out by designer Mikio Murikami. Although the fonts are the same, the illustrative style is very different and this is something that has been remarked upon.

Well, since Cowdery's art has been highly praised by pretty much everybody I run into at in-person events and he has done the cover for the planned third novel The Walking Worm, it's time to make the whole "Long War" series consistent. Furthermore, according to some writing podcasts I listen to, a new cover is a good way to spike sales for an older book.

So here's the current version of Cowdery's cover for Thing, featuring male lead James Daly and female lead Amber Webb (her first canonical image) confronting the titular horror.


I consulted with some of my friends and fans and a common theme was that the monster, the totem poles, and the two human characters blended together too much, so the artist is working on tweaking that now.