Saturday, June 08, 2013

Dale Brown, Storming Heaven, and Shadows of Steel


Opening Passage for Storming Heaven:
"What you're about to see," the talk-show host began, "is a videotape of what is a historic but tragic occurrence--the last time since World War Two that territory of the United States of America has been attacked by a foreign power. Our guest today says this can and will happen again, and he should know. You will see a videotape log of the control room of an American drug-interdiction station, located just off the east coast of Florida. Roll the tape."

Opening Passage for Shadows of Steel:

The attackers were first spotted on radar only twenty miles from Abu Musa Island; by the time the chief of the air defense radar unit issued the air defense alert notification, they were seventeen miles out. Because this was the morning of Revolution Day in Iran, only a skeleton crew was on duty at the Islamic Republilc Pasdaran-i-Engelab Revolutionary Guards air squadron base, and the pre-Revolution Day cleectrations had eneded only a few hours earlier--response time, therefore, was very slow, and the attackers were within missile range long before the Islamic Republic Air Force F-5E Tiger II fighter crews could reach their planes. The order to commit the Pasdaran's British-built Rapier anti-aircraft missiles and ZSU-23/4 antiaircraft artillery units was issued far too late.

Summary: I expected the two works to be rather different, but they were almost jarringly so. There are certain structural similarities -- beginning with news excerpts, ending with the threat neutralized but the new threats sliding into place, multiple and mostly forgettable protagonists with distinct roles. But Storming Heaven was by far the inferior story. Beyond the interest of reading a book about airplane terrorism written prior to 9/11 (that pretty much sums up the plot), there wasn't anything interesting about it. Shadows of Steel, about elaborate cat-and-mouse games between the U.S. and Iran as they slide toward war, was fairly enjoyable. The protagonists were more interesting, the antagonists less cartoonish (and, in the case of the Iranian President Nateq-Nouri, likable enough that one wishes there were more of him), and it probably helps that it's military fiction about military operations rather than military fiction about domestic security. The theme of the book, as represented in the title, is also stronger. The problem with storming heaven is that it is a lunatic's game (a point remarked on even by one of the bad guys), so to the extent that it works it just makes the villain look crazy; and, at the same time, it's not a particularly great metaphor for dropping bombs on airports, although works decently as a metaphor for a luciferian (but, again, lunatic) attack against the entire apparatus of American domestic security. The 'shadows of steel' in the second book, however, is an excellent description for American stealth planes, and does an excellent job of capturing the book, which is about what is essentially a shadow-war between Iran and the U.S., an anticipatory war played out of the public eye, a shadow of things to come, in which both sides are hampered by not being able completely to see full capabilities of the other side. The politics of the latter book are also more interesting -- the Iranian politicians are apparently less idiotic than our own in the other work, although the constant Clinton jokes of the earlier book (the unnamed President is a wishy-washy type dominated by his politically ruthless wife, who is involved in a major real estate scandal that consumes her attention, thus forcing the President to think on his own) are mildly amusing.

So, yes, that's about the story: Storming Heaven, airport terrorism by a crazy man; Shadows of Steel, U.S.-Iranian cat-and-mouse with stealth bombers and an Iranian aircraft carrier.

Favorite Passage from Storming Heaven:
"Mr. President, I think the FBI can handle this crisis without having to resort ot this extreme military option," Lowe said, holding up her copy of the plan Hardcastle had proposed to the Secretary of Defense. "You're talking about surface-to-air missiles, fighters escorting commercial airliners, free-fire zones around major citiies and airports...?" She shook her head in disbelief. "Ludicrous. This is not some damned Dale Brown novel, this is real life."

Favorite Passage from Shadows of Steel:
In thirty seconds, the first attack was over--and Jamieson realized he hadn't done a thing, hadn't even touched the throttles, and his right hand was resting only lightly on the control stick. They'd needed no evasive maneuvers, no threading their way around terrain trying to hug the ground to hide form enemy radar, no coordinated defensive maneuvers.

It was so sterile, so robotic--almost inhuman. Shadows of steel, death from nowhere, from everywhere...

Recommendation: Storming Heaven is just not any good; skip it. Shadows of Steel is probably not good enough to go out of your way for unless you really like Tom Clancy-type fiction, but if you happen upon it, it's not bad at all. There are weird character moments and a bad sex scene (unlike the bad sex scene in the other work, however, it is mercifully short and undetailed), but the story is pretty good, the suspense is maintained, the antagonists are reasonably intelligent and sometimes quite clever, and you actually have some room to develop some sympathetic connection with some of the characters.

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