I've finished a few more books since the last rant, and don't really have much to show for it here. I'm a little further along with my thoughts on Down and Out in Purgatory and haven't even thought about what to say about The Bassoon King, Dragon Teeth, or All You can Worry About is Tomorrow. But I also read an eBook in the middle of the aforementioned physical books. And because I was asked nicely to read it and offer an opinion, I'm going to put that up first. There are also a bunch of other things I'd planned to blather on about other than books, but I'm struggling to find the motivation to do it.
Operation Hail Storm
I've never really been all that drawn to military fiction. Admittedly, I did read the first chapter of a Tom Clancy book many years ago, but didn't really find it interesting enough to continue beyond the first chapter. And I've read a Brad Thor novel, The Athena Project I think, which wasn't horrible, but just wasn't really interesting enough to inspire me to seek out other Brad Thor novels. And I've read one Steve Berry novel, The Lincoln Myth which I enjoyed more for the historical aspects than the military (the main character is an ex-spook). Another of Steve Berry's novels, The Patriot Threat, is on my to-read shelf. He and Dan Brown (Origin is also on on my to-read shelf) are very skilled with the intertwining of history and fiction. They both have a strong American Treasure or Indiana Jones vibe (which is a good thing).
So when I was approached by yet another author, Brett Arquette, looking for feedback on his military-fiction novel, Operation Hail Storm (published in 2017), I wasn't sure how interested I'd be. But the little I read about it online gave it sort of an anti-Big Government slant, so I figured it couldn't be any worse than DW Ulsterman's Mac Walker ebooks (all of which I've read and enjoyed). So I decided to give it an honest try.
Operation Hail Storm starts slow. And is mired down in technical details about operating drones, the details of an imaginary clean nuclear power solution, and too many other topics that I didn't really want to know about indepth. Here's an early scene in which the protagonist's crew is spying on a North Korean target from afar with a fleet of drones.
Typically, Hail would ask for a weather briefing from Mercier, but Hail could tell from Styx's HD video feed that it was a beautiful morning in Kangdong. The sun was shining brightly, and in the background the trees and bushes showed little signs of wind. The sensitive microphone on Styx picked up birds chirping, dishes at Kim's table being set and somewhere in the distance a dog barking.
"Is everyone good to go?" Hail asked his crew.
"Yes, sir," was heard all around.
"OK," Hail said in an uplifting tone, "Here goes nothing."
"What's the status of B-52s?" he asked.
Knox flipped through a few screens, read some data and said, "The B-52s is ready to strike."
Hail nodded his head.
"Please open the hatch on Aerosmith," Hail ordered.
Knox pressed an icon labeled HATCH RELEASE and announced, "Hatch is open."
"OK. Launch the B-52s," Hail told him.
"Lifting off now," Knox reported.
From the top of the micro-drone called Aerosmith, a pico-drone code-named B-52s emerged.
The pico-hub was twelve millimeters long, or roughly half an inch. It was oblong in shape and seven millimeters wide. Two tiny rotors spun ferociously at its sides and made a sound like a bee. The craft even looked like a bee, hence its name B-52s. The tiny drone was light blue and off white. If it were viewed from the ground, the light blue would blend with the sky, and if it was viewed against the pool bricks, then the white would help to mask its appearance.
"Communications?" Hail asked.
Shana Tran checked the signals and responded, "We are five by five."
"Bring up the feed from B-52s on large screen number one," Hail instructed.
Renner touched a few icons on his monitor and a bouncy video appeared above them.
"Wow," Hail exclaimed. "Having a little trouble there, Alex?" Hail asked.
"Man, this bee drone is a bitch to fly. It's too small to hold any auto-correcting electronics, and even the slightest wind wants to blow it away."
"And--" Hail asked.
"And there is no problem flying this little thing," Knox told him. "It just takes a lot more flying skill than the other drones."
"Good man," Hail told him.
The crew watched the video as a clump of pine boughs drifted to the left of the screen and then disappeared from sight behind the drone.
"This is the hairy part," Knox told them. "If I just touch one of these itty-bitty rotors to a single pine needle, then this thing is toast."
Ahead were more bunches of pine needles. To the tiny drone, they were massive obstacles that had to be negotiated and avoided.
The video wasn't smooth or stable. The little drone seemed to jump and drift as Knox did his best to make his way out of the tree.
"Almost there," Knox announced as he jammed his feet deep into his foot pedals.
The overly-detailed technical explanations and excruciatingly-detailed inaction scenes definitely detracted from my overall enjoyment of the book. As did much of the weird, formal dialogue between characters or dialogue that didn't seem to fit the characters. And there were no indentations or paragraphs in the eBook or spaces between paragraphs, so that made reading a little more effort than it had to be. But it wasn't all bad. I enjoyed much of the book.
Operation Hail Storm's primary characters are Marshall Hail & Kara Ramey. Both are pretty non-sympathetic in just about every way, but one - they both lost their families in a 9/11-like attack (that takes place well after 9/11) referred to as THE FIVE.
It got its name by reference. It got its name by every person who ever brought up the subject, starting with the words The Five. FIVE commercial jets were shot down in FIVE different countries, by FIVE surface-to-air shoulder-held rockets, by FIVE separate terrorist organizations, within FIVE minutes of one another. When newscasters talked about the incident, it always began with THE FIVE airpaces that were - etc. - etc. - etc -
Hail is a middle-aged, MIT genius who started out saving the world (and making a ton of money in the process), but took a turn and re-devoted his life to ending bad guys when he lost his family. Kara is a spook who had one motivation for becoming a spook - to find the dirtbags who were responsible for taking her parents' lives. She's much younger than Hail, and seems to be modeled on Marvel's Black Widow Marvel character (specifically the version played by Scarlett Johansson, but she just embodies the comic character so it's not really her specifically, I guess1).
She reminded him of a movie star he had seen in an old movie. Nicole Kidman popped into his mind, but this lady was like the porn star version of Nicole Kidman. She was tall with curves that went on for miles, and she moved like a panther. She was wearing some sort of full black body stocking outfit. Over the stocking, she wore a short straight black skirt that hugged her frame. Over the upper part of the stocking, she wore a tight black vest that did little to obscure her ample breasts. The body stocking must have been put on by unzipping it from the front and then stepping into it, because a good four inches of the zipper remained unzipped showing off the woman's cleavage. Her red hair and brilliant white skin looked amazing against all of the black. But Hail guessed she already knew that.
It's interesting that even though both characters are moving in the same direction, there's no end of conflict between them due to their much different methods for achieving the outcome.
She said, "I don't think you get it, Marshall. This means a lot to me. Believe it or not, I'm not colored red, white and blue. I do not work for the CIA because I love my country or I want to make a difference or any of that crap. I'm doing what I do in order to find out who killed my parents, and Kornev is the only link I have to that information. Do you understand?"
Hail spoke, "I understand, but do you realize how crazy that sounds?"
"Oh," Kara huffed, "and kazillionaire making it his life mission to exterminate everyone on the FBI's terrorist list isn't crazy?"
Hail considered her counter and said "Well, maybe you have a point."
"Marshall, let's face it. We're both screwed up individuals. I've got a demented program in my brain that just keeps running and so do you. There are plenty of other assholes in the world you can kill, so all I'm asking is that you refrain from killing my special asshole, and I promise I will help you kill more of yours."
Ironically, the story isn't really anti-Big Government - it's more pro-killing-bad-guys-without-oversight. Which is another problem altogether. And one that an overly-bureaucratic government is sure to have. If you enjoy books where bad guys die and good guys win, you're likely to enjoy Operation Hail Storm. It's not a terrible read, but it's not really a series I'm likely to continue.
1 Speaking of Black Widow and the comic-version of the character, nobody does it better than Joe Chiodo. I have the Daredevil/Black Widow: Abattoir graphic novel out amongst the thousands of other comic books I pay no attention to. I even talked about this book many moons ago.