Dragon’s Fury (Jeff Head)
This book really needed an editor. The lack of competent editing took it from a ‘very good’ to ‘good, with some reservations.’ It’s probably worth noting that anyone who didn’t like The Third World War (a manuscript I wrote) is going to have a heart attack a few chapters into this book, so make sure that you’re sitting somewhere comfortable before you open the ebook or buy the paper copy. Confusingly, Dragon’s Fury is really five books and one complete hardcopy, but as the ebook is free online, you might want to read it first.
Anyway…in the early years of the 20th Century, the world is at war again. This time it’s the Chinese, allied with the Indians and Iran, which has somehow generated an ideology that has allowed it to appeal to most of the Islamic world. The Chinese have developed a radical new superweapon that can be deployed against American ships, with the net result of a series of heavy disasters, recurring terrorist attacks and atrocities for the Americans. If you read without knowing any of the technological and practical background, you’ll enjoy seeing a war on a scale that makes the Second World War look like nothing, but it was hard for me to suspend my disbelief as the story just kept expanding. A Chinese invasion of Alaska? Maybe possible, but on top of all their other commitments?
A problem I have noted before with American writers is that they have a tendency to make two basic errors; they treat the world as monopoler and regard, furthermore, that pole as the will of the United States. The story does have a handful of sympathetic enemy characters, but much of the story boils down to ‘US versus Pure Evil,’ with the addition of a supporting cast of worthless liberals and slimy Frenchmen (or at least the French government). The American characters are all brave, noble and true, from the Marty Sue President to the street children made good in the fires of war, with the exception of the worthless liberals mentioned above.
The writer shows no lack of imagination when outlining his war. What he lacks is a sense of perspective. One of the most irritating parts of the book, completely irrelevant to the overall story, is a tangent in which abortion is proved to be fundamentally wrong…just because someone manages to come up with proof that a baby in the womb, from the earliest days, has a soul. Or something like that; I lost track of the technobabble and I suspect that the author had the same problem. Regardless, somehow this translates into a perfect solution to the entire abortion debate, rather than merely adding yet another layer to the debate. Abortion makes me sick on a very basic level, but this solution fails to address any of the new problems and old ones with a new face – what would Mr Head say to a raped girl carrying her attacker’s baby? I have a suspicion that it wouldn’t be something helpful. Quite what this has to do with the Third World War is beyond me…
(There’s also a second jarring point in the whole abortion of an abortion arc. A self-righteous Christian researcher blocks research into foetal tissue that leads, eventually, to banning abortion. Logically, by the time the considerably smarter researcher breaks through the political blocks and proves abortion immoral, plenty of other babies will have been aborted – deaths caused, if accidentally, by the self-righteous moron. And yet the guy is completely unaware of this and congratulates himself on his approach to the whole issue. No one else even points it out to him.)
It’s not the only jarring moment in the book. Jeff Head references, as far as I can tell, himself – or another of his books, the non-fictional Stand at Kalmath Falls. This may be meant as an in-joke, but the references are neither cute nor funny. Time and time again, he belabours the same points, sometimes to good effect, but mostly as annoying as Turtledove’s endless repetition. I enjoy a good Clinton-bash as much as the next right-winger, but endlessly repeating the same points time and time again doesn’t help. Clinton’s fundamental problem was that he was a man unsuited to the times and unable to grasp the nettle in time to prevent growing problems, several of which exploded in the face of his successor. I am not actually convinced that there was anything actually malign about him.
The series does have some remarkable technological visions and ideas, some of which should be available any day now, but overall, the politics, the limited characterisation (particularly of the Chinese) and the tangents take down the score. It’s worth a read, but maybe not as a permanent fixture on my bookcase.