Friday, 9 November 2012

Arnageddon??? And the Salvation War

Well dear readers I'm pleased to say that here comes another interesting (and very unique) review for you today. I recently finished the story Armageddon??? by author Stuart Slade. To say it is unique would be an understatement of earth shaking proportions. The story has quite a simple premise (one apparently set off by a comment on a discussion board) and one which readers of any stripe will find intriguing. Stuart simply asks; what would happen if the forces of Hell were unleashed on Earth? All Earth would be unleashed on Hell he says. This is made rather startlingly apparent in a number of amusing and fascinating ways.

Though to start out I will say this, the series has recieved both praise and hate for a number of reasons, many being unfounded, and much of the arguments and various counter arguments can be had out on the stories tvtropes page so it's worth a look. Armageddon??? and it's sequel Patheocide can be found here in rough form as they will sadly probably never be published to an indicent regarding internet piracy. Though they are in rough form they are still well written and prosed with only minor spelling and language mistakes so easy to read and well worth it too.

As a minor note there will be spoilers in this review, not major ones mind you, but if you read anything on the tvtropes page you'll see rather quickly what it's all about.

The Good:

Armageddom??? starts off nice and briskly sometime right after a mysterious event know as The Message in which it has been decreed that all mankind must lay down and die and surrender themselves to Satan by the order of Heavan. Many do simply lay down and die, but not all. In fact most of huamnity decides to stand up and fight.

That is exactly what we see happening when the novel starts off as a demonic herald is flying through the sky and is shot down (and much to the relief of everyone watching) killed by modern weaponry. This scene is pivotal as it proves demons can be killed and gives humanity hope and eggs us on to fight back.

From here the story progresses into a number of believable and insanely well written battle scenes. The author shows how the world would have to pick up the slack in order to fight the armies of Hell. Massive mobilizations are called on levels not seen since World War Two, entire sectors of the economy are turned around or changed towards weapons production, and more importantly, that of spare parts for the existing military equipment. They also institute the draft again, and form a militia, which clearly shows just how dire (and life changing) the situation is.

Then we have scenes where mothballed equipment is pulled out the hanger (or in a humorous example 'liberated' from a museum) and made ready for battle again.

The portrayal of the humans as being incredibly badass is also a nice touch, though the jury really is out on whether parts of this story about David Petraeus are fan wank or hero-worship. The author also does not skimp in his writing about real life people and their situations and nearly every big name shows up in varying degrees, George Bush, David Cameron, Vladimir Putin, and Queen Elizabeth all get some good screen time along with a bevy of memorable fictional characrers as well. Some such as kitten (a person not a cat) are very interesting and show the authors willingness to be unconventional in how he makes his heroes, while others like Tucker Elroy and other military men are the usual hoo-rah but lovable military. Then we have some zany scientists and researchers that are quite fun (get into the parts about DIMO(N) I gaurentee you will love them, so no spoilers there).

Then we have the portrayal of the denizens of Hell, and ooh boy is it awesome! The author constructs a well thought out, reasonable, and excitingly fresh look at how Hell is run, structured and inhabited. He mostly used classical sources to get an idea of the head honchoes, the looks, and their powers. I have to say this was probably one of the most well done parts of the novel. For literary reasons of course he couldn't have them simply as all powerful and amazing monsters, instead he gives them a distinct series of strengths and weaknesses. For instance demons are huge, big, scary monsters and most stand at around six feet tall, the Greater Demons and rulers of hell are simply giant! There are also many forms of demons, the regualr demons who can shoot lightning from their tridents (and like all demons regenrate wounds, a full clip from an M-16 barely slows them down much to the infantries dismay early on) harpies who fly and shoot fire, succubus who...well take a guess, naga who can shoot more powerful bolts of lightning and generate portals to and from Hell, and gorgons who are basically Medusa's but with portal generating powers of their own. Then of course there are a variety of hell beasts like rhinolobsters and wyverns.

Hell itself is run as a kingdom lorded over by Satan who has his lesser dukes beneath him jockying for position, and then beneath that are the warrior class who are basically the dukes muscle men, and beyond that are lesser demons who are the demonic equivalent of serfs. It's an amalgamation of a medieval society with bronze age technology. The torture of the damned and Hell's running of that system is well explored and I will not elaborate just so I can pique the readers curiosity.

It's also got a bronze age outlook on war, and when that meets up with 21st century technology, firepower, and doctrine...well you can guess how that goes.

To be fair though the demons are no slouches and many are intelligent and have wonderful initiative and ingenuity, but they are simply outclassed in many ways in the open field. On their home turf... well that's another story. They do manage to get a number of truly horrifying strikes at Earth as well, proving they aren't completely harmless.

To Stuart's credit he also does an excellent job describing the sheer terrifying power of modern weaponry. One actually feels sorry for demons on the recieving end of artillery strikes or for harpies torn apart by dog-fights with F-16s. The aftermath of an artillery barrage and seeing what happens when a HEAT round goes off in tightly packed ranks is truly gruesome.

Modern military for the win ya'll.

The story also contains some wonderful humour and wit which I just can't bring myself to spoil for the potential reader. Needless to say it is good!

The Bad:

Now the story gets a bad rap from many who say that humans are to overpowered in the story and Stuart made the demons to underpowered. I have to angrily disagree with this criticism, barring sheer supernatural intervention (like instant healing or outright invicibility) Stuart did an excellent job of taking real life stories and legends about what we percieve as a demon and how it would look, tweaked it a bit to conform to the laws of physics and set them loose. What happens is predictable. Stuarts excercise really shows that modern firepower really can overpower anything the demons can muster. It's an excellent take on what human weapons as we have right now could do to nearly any supernatural force!

Though I myself do have some criticisms of the story.

The author is clearly what we would call a gear head, and he does take lengthy breaks in the narrative to lovingly describe the inner workings and effects of each weapon he puts in the pages. While in principle there is nothing wrong with this, I have to object to how often it was used. It did slow the narrative down unnecessarily at points and it sometimes seemed like I was slogging through technical jargon that didn't serve any real purpose in the story other than to prove how much the author knew. I applaud the author's indepth knowlegde, but felt it would have been far better to skip much of the excessive detail and 'dumbed down' certain points merely for the sake of brevity.

Another point is that while the badass humans is pretty awesome, they did some things too right, too early. For instance the massive mobilization of the economy takes a number of weeks and somehow derelict factories are up and running practically overnight with the American juggernaught starting up again. It looks good, but realistically it would take at the bare minimum a year to get our modern industry to even close the World War Two levels that the author describes. So too does the science community react far to quickly to the sudden changes in the laws of physics and reality (our human ingrained skepticism is still a factor and 'seeing is believing' still applies). The speed and ease with which the scientific community reacts to these massive changes (and begins studying very specific aspects of demons) is much too fast to be realistic. I found that one of the demon's main strengths (the ability to possess peoples minds) was discovered and defeated with unbelievable ease. The scientists literally had nothing to go on before the Hellgate opened and the demonic legions were let loose, but yet they can counter this ability and study demons with little or no imperical data to go on? Give me a break! It also served as a big suspense killer and robbed the demons of what could have been a big game changer for the opening stages of the story! That was a personal let down for me and one that really stretched my suspension of disbelief to the breaking point.

The other is the authors bias, which while not intolerable, it still seeps through. For one thing he makes a number of personal jabs. One particularly irritating and worthy of Micheal Crichton type pettiness, is at another internet figure whom advocated M113 as the armies main fighting vehicle. That character is prompty drafted and shipped to Alaska to dig latrines.One must also remember that this is a story where the most religious people on Earth do simply lay down and die. He also takes some digs at countries (particularly the Israeli Armed Forces) he doesn't like as well as ideas and practices and people he finds irritating, which while not entirely bad is somewhat off putting to potential readers.

The other big UGH for me regarding his writing is his handling of many real life characters. For instance he has George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice survive The Message, now both of these people in real life are extremely religious and did allow their faith and beliefs to influence their politics in both overt and minor ways. That they lived through The Message was something extremely unlikely to me, and that's not just my politics talking. Though to make a point for my politics, this was an administration marred with dozens of unhealthy economic choices, incredibly bad military decisions, and was one which had advisors who were very questionable in their actions and were constantly jockying for position and influence on affairs. The smooth sailing, well reasoned and nearly infalliable way the government reacts is at huge odds with the lackluster and screw up prone administration in real life.

One point where I had to laugh in bitter irony is where there is a suggestion that people who are Nephillim or refuse to wear anti-demon headgear be rounded up and detained. Bush immediately vetoes this idea and speaks about infringing on liberties and chastises the person who suggests it. I was sorely reminded of things like the Patriot Act in this scene and couldn't help but find the whole exchange ridiculous.

Another unceccessary and poorly done plot point is when Richard Dawkins is rescued from Hell. This is because he is a friend of a government scientist who is angry about it, unusual care is taken to extract him and then put him in the hands of people who are willing to look after him. This after they have been portalling into Hell talking to soldiers and others who had been killed by demons or in the fighting, and it had occured to no one to pull any of them out!? They also don't discover a crucial plot point about people in Hell until this time which is also rather remarkably stupid (I mean come on if you were killed in battle and in Hell would the first thing you wanted to do was be supplied with weapons and told to start an insurgency rather than, y'know, GET OUT OF HELL!?). It was one part in the story which I immensely disliked and found to be more than ridiculous. Though I suppose it can be forgiven as Dawkins is still portrayed as somewhat of an egotistical knob. Still really, really ridiculous from a rational and practical perspective though.

The Verdict:

Despite some claims, Stuart did give the demons a fighting chance, and despite others he really has his military stuff down to a T. Stuart is an excellent writer who has crafted an intriguing world full of war, violence, heroism, and has unleased Earth on Hell.

It reads well, has its own excellent brand of wit, and is a masterpiece of war fiction.

Despite some plot flaws and issues of skepticism I have to say that the story reads very well and I will certainly be reading it again.

I give it a four out of five stars.

I am currently reading the sequel title Pantheocide and will be reviewing it later on.

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