World War III Themes In Contemporary Pop Culture Part III

Over the last decade, Hollywood has shown an increasing reluctance to make any films that might portray the People’s Republic of China in a bad light. The reasons for this are simple. The international market is of great importance for the major studios. China makes up a large chunk of that market, so appeasing the Chinese government has always been a given. As a result, there are no movies portraying a possible US-China military conflict on the market. The closest film would be the 2013 remake of Red Dawn, which was originally intended to be centered on a Chinese invasion of the United States. The studio producing the film became gun shy, however, and decided to make North Korea the villain instead. Yeah, Kim Jong Un invading America.

In the literary world, publishing houses have not been as reluctant to release works of fiction that paint China in a bad light. Unfortunately, there have only been a limited number of writers willing or able to pen effective novels detailing what a future US-China conflict might look like. Recently, with the relationship between Washington and Beijing continuing to deteriorate, there are indications that a number of technothriller writers are making preparations to shift away from terrorist group villain vs special operations hero books to plotlines centered on China as the enemy. Sadly, the number of writers with the ability and desire to construct a realistic US-China war technothriller (in one freakin’ book and not a series!) seems to be limited. 😊

Another issue is that the most recent releases seem to have characters designed with a politically correct DNA. Right gender, ethnicity, nationality, social beliefs, etc. Their warfighting abilities take a backseat and aren’t developed anywhere near as complete as their PC backstories. A sign of the times? Sure, but I’d much prefer to read about a damn good destroyer captain who happens to be a female, who goes out and sinks a Chinese fleet. Rather than a female destroyer captain who the author explains has overcome toxic masculinity for most of her life and is greatly respected by her crew because of it.  Examples like this are a clear case of an author’s pandering and really have no place in a technothriller. Even in this day and age.

So, as I did in Part II, I’ve selected two contemporary novels along with one rather older work about a US-China conflict in the near future and will provide a short summary of each. Along with my personal opinions of the books, for whatever they’re worth.

The War Planner Series- This series covers the extended buildup to a major war between the US and China, as well as the actual conflict. The main characters are the father and siblings of a Navy family. Meet the Manning clan. Papa is an admiral, his daughter is a helicopter pilot, and the two sons (no longer in the US Navy) work for different areas of the US military and government. Basically a 21st Century Winds of War type family. Remember Pug Henry and his dysfunctional bunch? Well, the Mannings are a politically correct emulation. The writing is good, and author Andrew Watts (a former Navy helicopter pilot of all things) has the ability to weave a believable story for the most part. But six books is a little extensive, especially when the first three are devoted to backstory and events leading up to war. The author kind of went off the rails there, sliding away from Tom Clancy and more towards Vince Flynn. Unfortunately, when all is said and done, Watts falls well short of Clancy. The war scenes are quite bland and centered around helicopter operations, intelligence operatives and special operations teams. Events such as an initial nuclear exchange are not developed anywhere near as well as scenes covering the takedown of Chinese commandos on US soil, or ASW helicopter operations. No author should need six separate books to cover the root causes, lead up to hostilities, and then the war itself. Years ago, guys like Clancy and Bond could pull it off in one installment of 600 pages or so.

2034– This work takes a look at a US-China conflict that occurs thirteen years from now. In short, it is a cautionary tale that presents a dark, yet plausible, future for the reader to absorb. Unfortunately, the end result is a convoluted mess that is not very techno or thriller, and does not put a great emphasis on the actual war being fought. To summarize the plot in a few more words: China and Iran attack US forces using cyber-weaponry that makes US aircraft and ships defenseless. A war breaks out, one that causes crippling losses to the United States and China and brings about a permanent shift in the global balance of power. India emerges as the world’s preeminent power. Admiral James Stavridis was 2034’s co-author. I’d have to say he did this project simply for a paycheck and some accolades, two things Diamond Jim lives for these days. The book is just bad. An unrealistic in the portrayal of future technologies or how the global pecking order might look in thirteen years.

Invasion– This is without a doubt the most unrealistic and implausible book of the three I’ve discussed today. But dammit, it’s also the most entertaining. Eric L. Harry wrote Invasion twenty years ago. It is about a Chinese land invasion of the United States that takes place around 2020 or so. Over a ten-year span leading up to the invasion, China takes control of Asia, the Middle East and somehow grows an army of 60 million troops. Through all of this, the US remains complacent under a two-term Democratic president (all too realistic). Only when China starts building supercarriers out of massive oil tankers does the US start to grow concerned. That’s when a Ronald Reagan clone is elected president in a massive landslide and declares war on China within weeks of his inauguration. The first few months of the war don’t go well, with the US Navy being all but decimated in an ambush off the coast of Florida. This opens the US southern coastline to a Chinese invasion from Cuba. Millions of Chinese troops land in Alabama and begin making their way up the east coast towards Washington. The war is decided in the climactic Battle of Washington DC on Christmas Day. A wonderfully entertaining story as long as you can suspend disbelief for a few hours. The images I conjured up of Chinese forces marching through places like Atlanta and Richmond were vivid and provided much fodder for short stories and game scenarios in later years. Check this title out.

16 Replies to “World War III Themes In Contemporary Pop Culture Part III”

  1. 2034 is appallingly bad and I can’t believe the Admiral did anything bu put his name in the cover. I can live with the magic cyber superweapon, but apparently the US armed forces have evolved into such an integrated services that there’s only The Navy (no Army, no USAF, no Coasties!) and only the surface navy as US subs only make a single appearance… to rescue survivors (wut!). Avoid.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Navy and Marines with their F-35s. That’s about it. Like I said in the post, I think the Admiral was just looking for a payday.

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  2. Have you read Ghost Fleet by PW Singer and August Cole? Good, plausible techno thriller details, lots of citations which I never expected in a fiction book like this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ghost Fleet was a good book. A lot of very plausible techno thriller details as you said. Some of the political events in the book were a little unorthodox but I did like it, nonetheless

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    1. Arc Light is a really underrated technothriller. Came out at the wrong time. Definitely check Invasion, you might love it too

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  3. “US Navy being all but decimated in an ambush off the coast of Florida. ” the real question is were they inclusive and were the pronouns under control?

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    1. 2034 was a disappointment, hopefully not too big of one for you. Invasion is a book you’ll like I think. Let me know your thoughts once you read it, Pete!

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  4. Invasion is a really entertaining story.

    I read the paperback in one sitting while spending the night at the SeaTac USO back in 2000 waiting for a flight to the RoK. I own five copies (I usually pick it up whenever I come across it at used bookstores) and have occasionally lent a few out (why I seem to hover at about five on-hand).

    I was thinking that Invasion really is the last great “Techno Thriller” from that period…except maybe Proud Legions which is not on the same scale. But thanks to google I see that Proud Legions actually predates Invasion. So what does that leave us? Maybe Ghost Fleet? Maybe When Angels Wept? Although that Cuban War what-if really does not hit the elements of the genre; although I really enjoyed that book as well. Maybe One Second After and it’s sequels…although it appears the author wanted us to experience the main character’s perspective regarding the rumors of the larger war and the occupation of the western United States.

    Good observation regarding the multi book series that publishers seem to be pushing on us now. Have you by chance read the China War series by David Poyer? It’s not great, but he is a contemporary of the Clancy heyday. Had it been published as one large door stopper (and possibly edited for story and reviewed for continuity) it might come close. Ultimately there was too much focus in some areas (shipboard politics) and too little in others (geopolitics regarding the collapse of South Korea and the Free Korean Navy and the Japan’s capitulation to China, alignment with Chinese war aims, and then re-entry to the Alliance. I did think the late Russian entry was a nice touch though.

    As always, great stuff and I am really looking forward to your book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Chris! I’ve just recently started Poyer’s China War series. I agree with you, its good but not great. Not enough geopolitics and too much ‘gee whiz destruction’ without the proper context or explanation. I haven’t understood the publishers reasoning for multi-book series. Readers lose interest after the first installment and by the third, interest is flatlined.

      Invasion is a book that’s ripe for a fresh look at given the direction the world is moving in right now. Might be worth a review soon.

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