Every so often a new technothriller set on the premise of a Cold War era NATO-Warsaw Pact war comes around. The number of contemporary titles on the market now pales in comparison to the number of books available back in the technothriller’s golden age of the 1980s and early ‘90s. The quality of the more recent releases has also diminished noticeably. Gone are the days when writers such as Larry Bond, and Tom Clancy would effortlessly weave plot, techno-jargon, and realism together to produce a book that caught the imagination of millions and rocketed to the top of bestseller lists. Twenty First Century technothrillers are new animals entirely. Most of them contain plots that center on terrorist attacks, pandemic viruses, aliens, or something similar threatening the US, or the world. A superhero like special-operations type usually steps out of the shadows then and saves the planet from annihilation, while getting the girl and saving a handful of orphaned pets in the process. No realistic characters, detailed battle scenes, or peek at what the future might have in store a few years down the road.
After reading an advance copy of Northern Fury: H-Hour, I do believe the heady days of the technothriller could be returning. Bart Gauvin, and Joe Radunzel, the authors of this novel, have done their homework, and constructed a traditional Cold War era technothriller, the likes of which have not been seen in over twenty years. There are some key elements of the book which make it unique from many of its predecessors. These range from the time period that the work is set in, to plot development, and character presentation.
Northern Fury: H Hour offers readers a speculative look at how the early ‘90s could’ve turned out had the August Coup been successful and Mikhail Gorbachev deposed in 1991. The alternative possibilities of this time period have not been explored too deeply by military fiction writers, which is a shame. Gauvin and Radunzel accept the challenge though, and present an engrossing look at the political and military machinations from the end of the coup in 1991 through to the first day of hostilities in February, 1994.
Without revealing too many details, I’ll summarize the pre-war section of the book briefly: Following the coup, the new leadership of the Soviet Union inherit a nation suffering from deep economic malaise, and a military that is deteriorating significantly with every passing day. Former Soviet Socialist Republics, and satellite nations once controlled by Moscow are breaking away from the mother country at a rapid clip. The new Soviet president, and his followers want to restore the Soviet Union to its former glory. The only way to do this is through war. From 1991 through early 1994 the Soviet Union devotes its economic resources to rebuilding the military, and surreptitiously brings itself into a position of strength on the global geopolitical chessboard. NATO suspects something is going on in Moscow, but in the three years or so following the August Coup, the alliance’s political unity has diminished. A consensus cannot be reached concerning what the Soviet Union’s intentions are or how to respond to them. When the balloon finally goes up, NATO is not as prepared as it should’ve been.
Character development moves at a respectable pace through the pre-war section of the book. The cast of characters is large, and has a decidedly international flavor. Unlike many of the NATO-Warsaw Pact technothrillers written in the ‘80s, Northern Fury is not an American-centric book. The cast of characters come from many NATO nations and the Soviet Union as well. The story is told through the eyes of these men and women who are, for the most part, military and political figures. The characters are full-bodied though, not the cardboard one-dimensional cutouts some readers might expect.
Once the shooting starts, Northern Fury: H-Hour takes us through the first twenty-four hours of fighting in two specific geographical areas: NATO’s Northern Flank, and the New York City metropolitan area. Yes, you read that right. The Soviet’s kick off hostilities in part with a major effort against the United States, aiming to sew confusion, and disrupt operations in the major US ports on each coast. The Soviets anticipate that this will disrupt US efforts to reinforce Europe in the coming days and weeks.
A bold act on the part of Moscow, and an equally audacious move on the part of the authors to go somewhere few writers have gone before. Gauvin and Randuzel don’t portray the arrival of hostilities on US soil in a Red Dawn-esque fashion. There were no paratroopers landing on football fields in Staten Island, or anything else that might make readers jump up and scream “Wolverines!!” This Soviet attack was largely conducted with special-operations groups, and KGB agents, with a big assist from the Red Navy. Personally, I was pleased, and impressed to see New York and New Jersey play such a prominent role in the book.
I grew up in New Jersey and the winter of 1994 was a memorable one. It ended up being one of worst winters that the area had seen in years. Northern Fury’s events, and battles there took place in many locations that are personally familiar to me, from the Jersey Shore to Breezy Point in Brooklyn. For the most part, the authors nailed the details on the area circa 1994 perfectly, aside for a few minor gaffs that can be overlooked.
The fighting on the Northern Flank, however, is really the main event of the book. Land, air, and sea combat rages across Northern Norway, the Barents Sea, and Norwegian Sea. It is described in great detail, and the flow of events are paced well. There were no sections where the story bogged down because of lengthy descriptions of weapons, tactics, or some piece of frivolous information. The Norway scenes are where the writers’ years of military experience begin to shine. Battle details, the actions, and dialogue of the characters in uniform are accurately portrayed.
Northern Fury: H-Hour’s most noteworthy element is in its inspiration. The book stems from a series of scenarios designed by the authors for the PC wargame Command: Modern Air & Naval Operations. CMANO, as its known, brought the Northern Fury series of scenarios to life. The game platform, and scenarios became an incubator for the book. The process used by Gauvin and Randuzel highlights the unlimited potential and imagination wargames can bring to literary, video, and digital projects centered on warfare.
In conclusion, I strongly recommend picking up Northern Fury: H-Hour when it comes out in early May of 2019. World War III technothrillers about NATO and the Warsaw Pact going to war back in the Cold War days are always great reads, especially when they are well-written
Northern Fury: H-Hour is well-written, and will leave readers eagerly awaiting the next installment of the trilogy.