I was less than 100% effective at work today, because I foolishly bought Ghost Fleet by P.W. Singer and August Cole, and read till 2:30AM. I just now finished it. Is it a great book? No. But it’s a ripping naval yarn, an old-fashioned war story. Also: Rail gun!
Warning: Spoilers! But I read a few spoilers in advance and found they didn’t take the edge off, much.
Tl;dr · A near-future China with a government somewhat different from its current regime launches a war of aggression against the U.S.A. and scores big early wins, based in part on technological excellence and also plenty of back-dooring and root-kitting. Insurgency follows, and finally a big set-piece battle.
Respectful disagreement · Lead author Singer is a US defence insider, and he sure sounds like he knows what he’s talking about; at least on military-tech issues.
Having said that, I think that US/China war is not entirely implausible and you don’t need to posit either a new Chinese regime, or continued dysfunction in the US military’s acquisition process, to get there. It goes like this:
The Chinese economy gets in really serious trouble and a substantial chunk of the people lose faith that they’re going to be richer next decade, and decide they’ve had it up to here with corruption and pollution and censorship, and they hit the streets.
The government decides (correctly) that their best bet is to play the nationalist card, and launches Operation Reclaim Taiwan.
The US honors its treaty obligations and wades in.
There ya go, not that much of a stretch at all. But Ghost Fleet has a scenic backdrop that many will know, and is much prettier than Taiwan.
Problems · The characters; well, a couple of them strain up against the boundaries of the page, but nobody ever quite made it into that third dimension, for me anyhow; and some are just toons. The dialogue, well, let’s just say it’s not Elmore Leonard. In particular, none of the Chinese characters gets much authorial love (that one really bothered me).
What’s good · The choreography and plotsmanship is very competent; the story keeps moving right along. A few characters are fun; notably Carrie the Black Widow, Markov the Pushkin-loving anti-insurgency expert, and Vern the battery-tech geek.
You gotta love the American Mujahedin (that’s what they call themselves), sprinting away from IED explosions on mountain bikes.
But seriously, it’s mostly the tech, the battle set-pieces, and the cool weapons. Me, I’m a pacifist, I’ve never felt the slightest military urge and am glad to be a citizen of a nation which won’t see war in my lifetime, nor my children’s. But a lot of the best stories are war stories.
And most of all, a really really big rail gun is about the coolest thing ever. This book has the biggest.