Shock and Awe

by David Isaak

This was weird. The idea is that some billionaire is gathering ex-military and paramilitary types in order to pull off nuking Mecca.

This is kind of the horse pill you have to swallow to read this. And one of the weird things about it, is that the book takes such care to craft the details about the various forms of munitions—and I have no idea if it’s right, but it’s convincingly portrayed—that you get the sense the author really cared about what he was writing. He didn’t just slap together a few preconceptions about firearms (which he totally could have). Even if he was wrong about the weapons (again, I’m not saying he is, I’m saying I couldn’t tell), he wasn’t lazy.

But…what a weird premise, in need of some fleshing out. “We’re going to blow up Mecca because that will neuter the Muslim threat.” Really? You know, I’m not even going to say that’s wrong; it seems to be a fantasy for some. But I without substantial backup, there’s a serious chance that your characters are just going to look like insane idiots.

But I got past that. Isaak is not a hack, as noted. So he rewards your reading with several very good sequences, and the plot hangs together pretty well at the low-level. (This is kind of the opposite of most novice writers, who rapid fire the high-level stuff at you with sloppy low-level know-what-I-mean stuff.) There’s decent suspense at several points, and you end up caring about the characters.

The characters are another weird point, though. A great many of them seem to have come from the redneck cliché store. I hate saying it because, again, a lot of work went into this, but it felt like the author was drawing heavily from popular media portrayals of gun enthusiasts, militia, etc. He fleshes them out as the story progresses, thankfully.

The last odd thing is the denouement. I won’t do spoilers—even though this is pretty incidental to the 400+ previous pages—but if you’re gonna do a batshit conspiracy theory type story, the payoff should be something other than the fairly pedestrain sorts of left-wing fantasies that typified literature of the Bush years. (This is not a spoiler, but it’s intimated repeatedly, for example, that Bush himself would kinda-sorta be happy to see Mecca nuked. That’s a bizarre claim.)

I still kinda liked it overall. I really felt like the author got into the action scenes in a way that most authors kind of glide over. Flaws aside, the book as such held together pretty darn well. I don’t think the book sold well—I think I got it when a friend of mine who was running a book review site forwarded it to me—and sadly the guy hasn’t written another one.

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