Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Ghost Fleet by P.W. Singer & August Cole

Lowdown: WW3, starring China against the USA, as a cyber/techno war.
Back when yours truly was a little boy he picked up a book by a previously unfamiliar author called Tom Clancy. That book, Red Storm Rising, caused a paradigm shift in my reading habits, leading me to put down the previously dominant science fiction in favour of the military thriller. In retrospect I consider that to have been a bad move, a step that had me neglecting the imaginative in favour of the cheap thrill. Yet I do hold a warm spot for the detailed technicalities of warfare that Red Storm Rising was so full of and, yes, I was sad to hear of Tom Clancy's passing even though I am almost certain we do not see eye to eye in the battlefield of politics.
All that is to say that when I heard of Ghost Fleet, it immediately sounded like Red Storm Clancy. Could it be, or did my ears deceive me?
They didn’t. Ghost Fleet is a straight page out of the Clancy book, a military thriller whose strength comes from its detailed descriptions on how the chip at the bottom right corner of an anti aircraft missile makes the difference. The only difference, as far as I could tell, was in Ghost Fleet’s more modern nature: taking place a decade or two from now, the cyber element of warfare is much more dominant than it did in Clancy’s books. I also think there is a difference in page numbers in Clancy’s favour, although I’m not sure since it’s hard to judge an ebook’s length.
Setting wise, Ghost Fleet takes place in a world where the current Communist Party that’s ruling China has been replaced by a sort of a corporate/military junta referring to itself as The Directorate. Once that Directorate discovers huge reserves of natural gas in the middle of the Pacific it is compelled to rise up to the call of history and take ownership; given the USA is bound to disagree, it is also compelled to join hands with Russia and knock American opposition off the map. It does so quite effectively, knocking off the American aircraft carriers quite quickly (pretty much the opposite of what the Japanese did in Pearl Harbor). The only cards left up American sleeves are its old fleets of ship and jets [read: today's fleets], the ones less reliant on computer controls. Would those be up to the task of redemption?
This is a very rhetorical question, given Ghost Fleet was written by Americans and for Americans. The question turns even more rhetorical with the book’s descriptions of the Chinese as unimaginative / uninspiring, as opposed to the oh so resourceful Americans. Clearly, nothing has changed since Clancy’s days (including the fact this book still needs to sell the bulk of its copies in America). Seriously, though, the book’s collection of single dimensional characters is an insult to literature.
I also have my grievances with the setup. A world like the book's, in which the US Dollar is equal to the Euro and the Yuan, is a world where the USA could not exist the way it currently does by virtue of the fact it has been bankrupt since Nixon’s days; it's only relief has been sustaining itself by printing more money. That’s something the world accepts through American military might and a China that keeps piling those dollars up. Clearly, it is not even in China’s interest to have the dollar lose its status. And that’s aside of the fact the Communist Party does not appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
If there is any message to take home from Ghost Fleet, it is to do with the dire need of America to further invest today in its military might so as to prevent such potential conflicts with China and Russia. Tom Clancy, who openly credited the USSR’s demise to Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars, would have probably approved that message. I do not.
Overall: The thrills of this techno thriller cannot hide the shortcomings of its core assumptions or its literature. 2.5 out of 5 red crabs.

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