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Von Neumann’s War: John Ringo and Travis S. Taylor

Ah Baen. I know what I’m going to be getting when I pick a Baen book up. Action and right wing politics. Going into Von Neumann’s War we get both of these from the very start. To be fair to both authors the politics aren’t quite as jaw droppingly awful as, say, Tom Kratman, but they are pretty obvious.

Brief synopsis, Mars is turning grey, rockets scientists investigate, conclude we’re going to be invaded, hire a Hooters waitress to run part of their project, prototype rockets, satellites and weapons with 100% success rate.

Anyway, the action starts in Iraq with the alpha male of this particular book being generally awesome and fantastic whilst escorting a group of international “eggheads”. Quick note at this point, If there’s one thing this book likes more than being a good honest member of the USA, it’s being an engineer as opposed to a scientist. In his endeavours he is ably assisted by his First Sergeant who, judging from the number of superfluous references to his skin tone, is a walking embodiment of a Spinal Tap album.

The action then switches to a Hooters bar where a group of engineers and scientists discuss the reduction in Mars’ albedo, whilst being served by a waitress paying her way through university by working in Hooters. I don’t really have any problems with this, I’ve discussed enough science/technical work in pubs and bars myself. Perhaps not a Hooters but I’m sure some of the people I’ve worked with would have quite like to discuss it in hooters. I would have had more of a problem with the Hooters waitress being the main female voice through the entire book but apparently it’s based in reality (of some sort) so whilst I have my suspicions about this I’ll just let it slide. Although a Russian mail order bride does feature more heavily towards the latter half of the book. I’ll just leave that there.

Without wishing to give too much away, plans are formed, planets are investigated and technology is prototyped and pushed into production remarkably quickly.

As for the writing itself, it’s a strange combination of reasonable action scenes, extended discussion about rocket building, satellite design and weapons manufacture all wrapped around a clich├ęd story with weak characterisation, limited to no character development and a universe which is so centred on the USA I feel that reading it has earned me a green card.

Just a small example, the first 70 pages or so of the tale is the USA reacting to Mars’ changing albedo and sending a probe to Mars (very fast! as the inside cover of the jacket helpfully explains). Throughout all this time no other country appears the slightest bit worried as we go blithely about our daily business, perhaps all our telescopes have been packed away or something…

Another major issue is the pacing. The switch from “difference in Mars’ albedo” to “INVASION!” seems fairly abrupt as well as the ending being so sudden it gave me whiplash.

Good points? It’s more jingoistic rather than outright xenophobic, some of the technology is neat, that’s about it.

Bad Points? Pacing, jingoism, characterisation, author biases, a sprinkling of Deus ex Machina when needed, combination of bad science plus overly technical engineering.

I didn’t like it, which is a crying shame as I was in the mood for some light hearted pulp adventure. Hey ho.

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