on January 11, 2009
When I was shopping for a friend, I could have gotten him any technothriller I wanted. But there was an author I had heard about named Stuart Slade who's works I was curious in reading for myself. The problem with Stuart was not only had I heard mostly negative opinions about his work, but actually read one of his stories online. It just wasn't very engaging, and lacked that feeling of immediacy, the feeling that you were there. But I was still curious about his proper novels, and so got one for my friend, knowing that his standards were low enough that he would enjoy it regardless.
The book was named Crusade, and suffered from not very engaging writing, a lack of immediacy, one-sided writing, historical unrealism, awful characterization, and a sort of "this happened, then this happened, then this happened" narrative quality due to the many views the narrator focuses on. It was technically accurate. However, my response to its technical accuracy was basically "so what?"
Let me explain Stuart's background for why I feel this is the case. Stuart is a longtime military systems expert. This explains his technical accuracy, and his literary flaws.
The lack of immediacy and engaging writing comes from someone who has seen weapons systems as just different statistics going against each other, and battles just from technical histories. This detailed nature of his writing takes all the immediacy out of it. How can you be swept in the confusion of a fictional battle when the weapons and conditions are described in perfect detail? It just lacks that almost intangible sense of good battles. It also makes characterization poor, as military reports and technical histories are not known for their good characterization.
The other flaws are only indirectly related to Stuart's background. The historical unrealism is due to his personal militarist biases, and due to the fact that you can know a lot about one subject without knowing much about other subjects:
Example: He creates a ludicrous Muslim superstate in Crusade called the Caliphate that apparently only holds together because its members hate the rest of the world more than each other-without explaining why this is the case. The Caliphate's leaders are all a bunch of raving nuts that lack any sense of pragmatism or clear thinking, as they repeatedly attack the US military despite the US being more than willing to nuke the opposition into oblivion if they're attacked in the setting. The Caliphate is also much stricter than just about every real Muslim country, as it's outlawed all science (!), forbidden women to hold any jobs whatsoever, has warships shoot at boats of refugees who try to leave, and whose leaders generally act as unintentionally hilarious zealots.
Gee, guess what Stuart's opinion of Islam is?
The one-sided writing holds true in his battles. Now I'm not bothered by it technically (There's a naval battle in Crusade where the US Navy wipes out an inferior Caliphate fleet without taking any losses-given what I know of naval battles, it's realistic), but am bothered by it literarily, as a one-sided stomp is no fun. It also extends to his opinions-oh boy, another example is in order:
Stuart believes that planes are better at delivering nukes than large ballistic missiles, and that developing said missiles instead of higher-performance planes was a mistake. A plane flying very fast could be very hard to hit, and planes are more versatile, being able to be redirected or called off once they're flying, be used again after they drop their nukes, and can be used for other purposes besides dropping nukes. The reason why missiles were chosen historically is that they're more cost-effective, and the theory was that a nuclear war would only involve one salvo anyway, so you might as well go with what's more cost-effective. His argument favoring planes is totally valid, and I have no problem with that.
However, the historical figures that were responsible for developing missiles (most notable R. MacNamara, renamed McNorman in Crusade), are not portrayed as people who just made a bad decision, they're portrayed as cartoonish mustache twirling villains. For example, in Crusade during a meeting, "McNorman" is described as literally sneering "My calculations show that if we were using missiles instead of planes, and didn't spend the money on our missile defense programs, we could afford a decent army". It's not the literal text, but it's a decent enough approximation. "McNorman" shows similar villainous attitudes throughout the entire book. Stuart's background gives him strong opinions and biases, and his lack of literary skill means that he can't keep those biases in check.
Stuart Slade is an undeniable expert in military matters, and it shows in his writing, both positively and negatively. Unfortunately, expert military analysts do not necessarily make for good writers.