Saturday, October 29, 2016

Book Review - Ghost Fleet

I just finished the World War 3 novel "Ghost Fleet" by P.W. Singer and August Cole and thought I might share my thoughts with you.

The Story of Ghost Fleet is set about 30 years in the future and pretty simple: After a coup that topples over the Communist Party in China, the new technocrat regime decides that it is their time to become the dominant world power. In a surprise strike the PLA invades Hawai'i and defeats the US military through deception and sabotage. Basically, they sneaked backdoors into some of the microchips they sold the rest of the world, and suddenly all your high-tech gimmicks are not actually doing what they are supposed to do.

The main set-piece of the story is the USS Zumwalt, the only completed and then prematurely retired US "stealth" ship, and there is another storyline about the occupation and resistance on Hawai'i.

I knew P.W. Singer from his very good non-fictional "Wired for War" book about drone warfare and was quite surprised when I found this novel with his name on it. So it is no surprise that this book heavily features autonomous robots and a lot of technology DARPA dreamed up. And while the action feels right and mostly well-paced, the narrative is kinda worn out. Nobody will be surprised how it all ends, and who dies and who lives. It seems to be a movement in this genre to move away from the, let"s say "holistic", style of Tom Clancy (covering everything from the commander in chief to diplomats to boots on the ground) to a more cinematic narrative. And while David Suarez largely succeeds in this (see Kill Decision), Singer and Cole deliver a mostly uninspired story.
At this point I have to mention some not very well crafted pop culture references and some plot points that seem to be attempts at some kind of comic relief, but they don't work very well (but to be fair, this part of the story gave me the best "Oh no they didn't!" moment in the whole book).

Another slightly annoying thing is that a lot (and I mean A LOT!) of events are mentioned in the book, but never explained... Well, while this is usually no big deal and just a way to make the fictional world more real, it becomes somewhat annoying in this book because I felt like I am missing pieces of history that led to the starting point of the book. Even major events like the break-up of NATO is just fed to the reader as a matter of fact without any further explanation, and that happens within the timeframe of the story!
 The lack of political "bigger picture" story also makes the end somewhat disappointing, but I don't want to discuss this as it would be a major spoiler.

So this book is no Red Storm Rising (for me still the benchmark for a WW3 novel), but it is also not a piece of pure Cold War propaganda like Team Yankee. The setting, although feeling somehow familiar from mostly FPS video games, is fresh enough to make this book worth reading. I got through it in just over a week (which is tremendously fast for me at the moment), so I guess the story sucks you in quite good.

All in all, it was an interesting read, informative and entertaining. If you are interested in near future warfare and can forgive the lack of an elaborate story and characters you should give it a try.

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