RogerBW's Blog

Countdown, Keith Douglass 04 June 2015

1994 alternate-world military fiction; sixth in the Carrier series. "Tombstone" Magruder is still CAG aboard USS Thomas Jefferson, which now gets involved in the Russian civil war of 1994+4.

It's a bit of a Message Book, this one. As well as the story of the intervention in the Russian civil war, which mostly consists of support missions for a UN-backed invasion aimed at taking control of the Polyarnyy submarine pens, there's a continuing secondary narrative dealing with the travails of female combat aviators aboard the Jefferson. Keith certainly seems to feel strongly about this, and at least as far as his sympathetic viewpoint characters go the attitude seems to be mostly "they're able to do the job, but the men can't cope with working and fighting alongside women and this is bad for morale".

There's a similar Message with homosexuals: it is clearly entirely impossible for the unthinking heterosexual majority to cope with the idea that a homosexual won't be thrown into passionate fervour by any naked male flesh he sees, and therefore allowing homosexuals to serve is a bad thing. (As at least one gay man has put it: "You? Please, darling.")

Yeah, OK, Keith was writing in 1994, when "don't ask, don't tell" was just getting started. But my reaction is more of an exasperated "can't you people just try to grow up a little" than a sigh for Vital Naval Traditions being undermined by them pesky politicians.

Anyway, that's the Message. The action is rather better. The latest neo-Soviet strong-man wants to use nuclear missiles to force the other side in the civil war to back down, and it's the Americans' job to stop them. First that means a defence of the carrier group against a massive air attack, designed as a distraction from an SSBN sortie; then it's an attack on the mainland, supporting a Marine assault, while the Soviets struggle to get another boat to sea. The carrier group itself doesn't take major hits this time, but plenty of planes go down, and it certainly isn't a one-sided fight. This is all happening around seventy degrees north, so ejecting means icy water and poor odds of survival. People make mistakes, especially as they get increasingly tired from non-stop alert status and flying, and sometimes it feels like a question of who's going to run out of endurance first.

All right, so the Soviets never called their Typhoons things like Lenin's Invincible Truth or Glorious October Revolution (or indeed even Red October). But maybe they should have. And maybe there's a bit where Keith is rather too obviously quoting tactics and countermeasures from Robert L. Shaw's Fighter Combat, but it is the definitive work on the subject.

If you've enjoyed previous books of this series, well, this is more of the same. The Message is dull but one can live with it. And there's no bizarre Gary Stu postscript as there was in the previous book. (There's also no significant use of a countdown.)

Followed by Afterburn, which I assume will at least include afterburners, since all the other books in the series have done so.

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