Friday, February 23, 2018

Book Review: The War in 2020

Book Review: 'The War in 2020'
by Ralph Peters

3 / 5 Stars

‘The War in 2020’ first was published in hardback in 1991; this Pocket Books mass market paperback (607 pp) was published in January 1992.

I remember reading the paperback version when it first came out, and thinking that its scenario was quite reasonable for the times; how does the novel fare when re-read some 26 years later, just two years away from 2020 ?

The framework of the novel posits that, in 2020, the United States and the West are economically, politically, and militarily weakened from decades of combatting various Small Wars instigated by a resurgent Japan. As the novel opens, Japan, protected by an impregnable ‘Star Wars’ space defense system, is casting a covetous eye on the mineral wealth of Siberia. 

Rather than risk their own military in any adventurism, the Japanese have carefully co-opted the Iranians, the Arabs, and Central Asian states into forming an Islamic Coalition. The goal of the Coalition is simple: expel Russia from its Asian territories, preferably with as much bloodshed as possible. Once the Russians are eliminated, then all of the territory of the Soviet Union east of the Ural Mountains will be open to Japanese exploitation.

Author Peters’s central premise is that by 2020, Russia has continued the downward slide begun in the early 1990s, becoming an Orwellian nightmare of poverty and decay. The outgunned and outnumbered Russian ground forces still surviving in Central Asia are fighting a valiant, but ultimately hopeless, delaying action against this Muslim Coalition.

Despite the poor prognosis for Russia’s survival, the United States has decided to break with decades of hostility and suspicion towards its former rival in order to provide aid, in the form of the Seventh Cavalry and its new ‘wonder weapon’, the M-100 model tilt-rotor attack aircraft. Secreted in an abandoned factory complex in Omsk, the Seventh prepares for a massive surprise attack on the encroaching ground forces of the Muslim Coalition - and their Japanese advisors.

For Colonel George Taylor, commanding the Seventh, the forthcoming assault is not just an effort by the US to prop up Russia and prevent complete Japanese hegemony over global resources. It’s a chance for revenge: payback against his earlier defeat at the hands of Japanese proxies in southern Africa.

But as the Seventh goes into action, Taylor and his troops will discover that surprise attacks can be a two-way street……….and the loyalties of politicians and allies easily can be switched……….

Upon a second reading, ‘The War in 2020’ came across a mixed success. The combat sequences are the best thing about the novel: well-written, suspenseful, and with an authenticity superior to that of most techno-thriller novels. The depiction of the near-future World is a reasonable extrapolation from the state of affairs in 1991, and the military technologies outlined in the novel are not so far-fetched that they give the book a contrived atmosphere. Authors Peters, who is a former US Army Foreign Area Officer, is quite accurate with some of his geopolitical predictions, particularly those involving Islamic fundamentalism.

Unfortunately, author Peters intersperses his combat sequences with an equivalent number of lengthy ‘character development’ segments. These segments are overwritten, filled with metaphorical, often poetic language that is incongruous in a technothriller. The presence of these characterization segments routinely leeches momentum from the narrative; in fact, the Seventh Cavalry doesn’t fire a shot until page 341 out of 607: more than halfway through the book........... !

Summing up, ‘The War in 2020’ is a 600+ page novel with content divided equally between the genres of melodrama and technothriller. Make sure you have the patience for this type of construct before tackling this book.

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