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Coiler's Review of Agent Lavender (and other SLP books)

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Location
Nu Yawk
#1
Ok, so having read Agent Lavender, I figured I'd give a review of it. Now, normally I'd put it in my review thread, but since it's an SLP book, I decided to make a new one here (I may make later SLP reviews in this thread too). It's a very good book, even for a filthy ignorant Yankee with little knowledge of 1970s British politics like me.

However, I'm very critical even of stuff I like, so I might as well state my criticisms first. One isn't really the book's fault-at times it gets a little too "inside baseball for 1970s British political enthusiasts" and detailed of political stuff I wouldn't get. But this is to be expected, just as how romance would be expected in a romance novel. The bigger fault involves the main character. While normally good with keeping a sardonically humorous tone but not going too far, I found a lot of scenes with Wilson himself crossed the line into outright goofiness. I think the fight with Lionel Crabb kind of took my suspension of disbelief too far.

That being said, the good far outweighs the bad. The story moves well and manages to take an out-there premise while staying (mostly) grounded. But I think the best strength of it is not just that the research was done but how it was applied. A lot of alternate history uses the story as a vehicle to show off the research. This used the research as a way to bolster the story, and it is much, much better off for it. It's an example of taking the best of both story-first and divergence-first alternate history, and I think the "implausible" divergence actually helps it in that sense.

So, I say well done. This might have been what launched SLP in the first place (I don't know the press' history that much), and if so, it's a very good starting title.
 

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Location
Nu Yawk
#3
I'm doing more SLP reviews. Next up is Festung Europa: The Anglo American Nazi War.

This was actually the first SLP book I got, long long before this forum existed. Having done a reread in depth, I can review it now. As I said earlier, I'd describe it as a version of The Big One without the "baggage" and "antics" (which is to say Calbear was a better sport and far more forthcoming with the contrivances)

Which is to say, it's a dry tale aimed to show the eventual doomed fate of the Third Reich, and being accurate in general terms while still having some obvious contrivances and iffy scenes. Unlike TBO, it's unashamedly pseudo-historical from start to finish instead of being packed with flat cutouts and forum username characters. This has its ups and downs. One of the "downs" is that it falls into the pit a lot of these timelines do-since there's essentially no literary content, critiques have to be on plausibility grounds, which means that stuff that may have been overlooked gets focused on.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

So, first the good. This has a lot of detail put into it, and Calbear wasn't afraid to show a grinding fight, instead of just the "Look at the B-36 go" super-fantasy.

Now for the bad. The worst part is the Germans themselves, and I don't just mean morally worse. The contrivances and iffiness center around them, and there's two giant, giant parts that stick out and kind of soured me on the book. The first is that yes, the Germans are inept, the product of being run entirely by a politicized SS that has swallowed and replaced the Heer. Now, as the person who mocked Victoria and William Lind, the grandfather of compound-word Wehrabooism, I yield to few in my dislike of WWII German wundertaktik fetishism. But even I think Calbear moved too far in the opposite direction. A Germany that wins on the top its game is, sadly, not going to descend into near-Iraqi levels of clunkiness in a mere decade. The contrivance is to make this mega D-Day possible and not have it turn into a TBO-style nuclear blast, so the Germans have to keep dropping the ball.

The iffy part, also concerning the Germans, is how it has an uncomfortable Clean Heer feeling throughout. This is similar to how Turtledove's Guns of the South had that sour feeling of Confederate apologism. But at least there Turtledove was trying to just make the protagonists sympathetic for a modern audience. This doesn't have that literary rationale, and does have the "Good honorable Old Prussian Heer and Rommel The Kind" in full blast. As for all my criticisms of Calbear, he does not come across as a mega-Wehraboo himself, it's a mystery. Unless his research sources were incredibly dated and he took them at face value.

(I'll be blunt. The OTL Heer, especially the top of its hierarchy, was loyal to the end and gladly complict in the worst atrocities.)

There's a few more beyond that. The small parts on American tank tactics, for one, is a classically dated view that comes before the revised research of people like Nicholas "The Chieftain" Moran (since Calbear didn't have a time machine, I can't blame him for being dated, but it still sticks out), and knowing what he's said about the Alaska class cruisers, specifically mentioning one as being sunk during a battle comes across as just petty.
 
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Creekmench

A shade of indigo
#4
I don't see the SS not using fanatic Heer Officers rather than retiring them all nor do I see them losing that knowledge that quickly maybe around the 80s?
 

Burton K Wheeler

Itinerant Frontier Hobo
Location
garbage can
#5
I don't know that I buy those specific criticisms of Festung Europa.

First, the contrivance of the incompetent Nazis. It didn't really feel unbelievable that hand-picked Nazi fanatics would be predictable on the operational level. The Germans are presented as very competent at the battalion level and below, it's just higher, where politics are more important than tactics, that they break down. In a lot of ways that just read as "Pacific War transplanted to Europe" to me. It didn't seem particularly shocking or contrived to me.

The Clean Heer thing did feel a bit jarring, especially in the passage where the German colonists in Ukraine are fighting British/Indian troops, but I read it more as contrasting the older war veterans with the young guys who grew up under Hitler. There wasn't any attempt to pretend that any senior German officers were more noble because they'd started their career in feldgrau instead of black. I would say that the book goes a bit too far in blaming everything wrong in Germany on the SS, but there aren't really any clean Germans.

No particular comment on the U.S. tank tactics thing, since I broadly agree with you. The OTL U.S. Army learned a lot of hard lessons at the Kasserine Pass and in Sicily and I don't really see "they suddenly saw the light just like OTL and fixed everything in a year" as very plausible.

The loss of USS Guam was more an injoke than anything. German defenses should be capable of sinking at least one major Allied surface combatant, making it one of the Alaskas was an Easter Egg of sorts. He didn't say it sank because of poor rudder design or anything that looked like axe grinding.
 
#6
I greatly enjoyed "F.E.: A./A.N.W.", cursing the Nazis and the S.S. on the ruination of Paris etc, and feeling uncomfortable chills down my spine at the herbicide spraying of Berlin and Nurnberg, not to mention the firebombing of the Black Forest.
I am drawing fan-art of the book, which I may post on DeviantArt soon and maybe here too.
I pinned down what I think is the point of divergence in the story: 18th or 19th September 1941. Please could you tell me if I am right?
 
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Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Location
Nu Yawk
#7
My newest SLP book review: "Hondo: This Is CFB Cold Lake."

All I asked for was a cheap thriller. And I got a cheap thriller. The dogfighting and land fighting isn't the absolute best, but it's better than a lot of stuff in the same genre. There's a few wincing moments like him repeating the "crew-eating autoloader on Soviet-designed tanks" urban legend that should have gone away the moment footage of a T-72/80 interior emerged, but that's it. Not high literature, but didn't have to be, and was better than it could have been, especially as it was written on a lark in response to a video game novelization.
 

Tabac Iberez

Impetious
Published by SLP
#9
So are these still ongoing, or has it stopped for some reason? I'd love to read a review of A Century Turns that isn't "Five stars, needs more waifus and politics".
 

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Location
Nu Yawk
#10
So are these still ongoing, or has it stopped for some reason? I'd love to read a review of A Century Turns that isn't "Five stars, needs more waifus and politics".
Still ongoing, I've just been reading more non-SLP books. I'll be happy to read and review A Century Turns.
 

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Location
Nu Yawk
#11
Sorry for any wait, @Tabac Iberez .

A Century Turns:

I liked it. The individual scenes ranged from "ok" to "very good and fun". You did a very good job with the action and the tone, changing it without being too jarring. However, I thought there were a few too many infodumps stuffed into too small a space. Because of that it felt a little like a vignette or series of vignettes at times instead of a proper story. Still, it didn't interfere with me ultimately enjoying it.