Home > Books > Red Dragon Rising: Blood of War by Larry Bond and Jim DeFelice

Red Dragon Rising: Blood of War by Larry Bond and Jim DeFelice

Red Dragon Rising Blood of War

Ah, yes, you are calmly saying to yourself. This is another of the team-writing efforts which bring the excitement of war into your homes without the need for television or the blu-ray machine. All you need for this to work is a pair of reading eyes and an imagination. Except. . . The opening title is, “Personal Chronicle: Looking Back to 2014”. Because I have a memory like an elephant, I remember reading Looking Backward: 2000-1887 by Edward Bellamy which was, appropriately enough, considered political science fiction (later rewritten as Looking Backward from the Year 2000 by Mack Reynolds which is more economic science fiction). But, if the premise of such books is they are an historical account written in the future about events that have yet to take place, we should properly label Red Dragon Rising: Blood of War by Larry Bond and Jim DeFelice (Tor-Forge, 2013) military SF. Except, to my innocent eye, the technology on display is substantially what we have now, so it lacks the key feature which is supposed to underpin the genre. There’s no new technology. Since this is an extrapolation of what might happen if China goes through a period of drought and civil unrest because it no longer has agricultural autarchy, perhaps this should be considered an alternate history novel (albeit this is also considered a subset of science fiction). Such books are predicated on a “what if”. . . what if Spain had assumed dominance in Europe after the assassination of Queen Elizabeth (Pavane by Keith Roberts), what if the South had won the Civil War (Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore), and so on. This produces a fork in the timeline and a chance to suggest how history might have changed.

Larry Bond posing with an unexploded bomb before defusing it

Larry Bond posing with an unexploded bomb before defusing it

 

The Red Dragon Rising series of which this is the fourth and presumed last in the series, has economic chaos not only in China, but also the US where petrol is more than $14 a gallon during a new recession following the bursting of another bubble. The Europeans have comparable economic problems as a result of collapsing world markets. The essentially pragmatic Chinese decide the rice bowl of Vietnam will potentially keep a lid on their political problems. Anticipating little resistance, the Chinese mobilise and cross the border. The primary series characters are President George Greene, Mara Duncan (CIA), Major Zeus Murphy (Army), Josh MacArthur (civilian scientist), Dirk Silas (US Navy) and Jing Yo (Chinese assassin). Essentially, the basis of the tetralogy has covert US military support for the Vietnamese Government while the basis of a cease fire is sought. Conveniently, Josh MacArthur has evidence of a Chinese atrocity which faked the casus belli so he has to be smuggled out of the war zone, while on land and at sea, Chinese progress is frustrated. Adding to US difficulty is a rebellious Congress threatening impeachment for fighting a war without approval.

Jim-DeFelice catching up on his reading

Jim-DeFelice catching up on his reading

 

The delivery vehicle is written to a very precise formula. In saying this, I’m not making an adverse criticism. Every book designed to fit into a genre must, of necessity, match reader expectations. So this is beautifully crafted individual action scenes against the big picture context. Although Zeus Murphy proves indestructible in a series of engagements, most of the military descriptions have a high-adrenaline quality showing American heroism at its most inspiring. Fortunately, although out gunned and less well trained, the Vietnamese are also allowed to do quite well while a multinational group of CIA operatives do what’s necessary to break Chinese morale north of the border. If we look beyond the natural desire of American authors to show national pride in their military personnel and hardware, there’s a nice balance struck between the human emotions of those involved and the rigours of war. People do care for each other and bond under difficult circumstances. For the most part, this feels credible. If there’s a false note, it lies in the journey taken by Jing Yo. Throughout the series, he trails after Josh MacArthur and, in this final book, finally catches up with him. I think my favourite sequences are at sea. I was born close to the mouth of a strategic river which came in for heavy bombing during World War II. Both my father and uncle served in the Royal Navy so I grew up with oral histories of their experiences. So reinforced by fairly extensive reading of naval fiction when I was young, I find the tactics of this form of fighting fascinating. Again, the US destroyer proves remarkably unsinkable but I forgive this pandering to national pride. At the end of the book, the Chinese must be vanquished. The big picture of how we get there is more important than individual losses in credibility. As a commentary on some aspects of Chinese culture, this feels plausible. So I remain something of a fan of Larry Bond and his various co-writers. Red Dragon Rising: Blood of War is top-class military fiction (with science fiction overtones).

 

For reviews of other books involving Larry Bond, see:
Exit Plan (with Chris Carlson)
Red Phoenix (with Patrick Larkin)

 

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

 

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  1. December 30, 2012 at 2:39 am

    One of the deepest ironies of US history is its military. The revolutionaries and politicians who founded the US held a visceral distrust for government (more precisely, distant, centralized government). It saw large standing armies as a threat to liberty and an invitation to tyranny, not to mention a drain on the economy, so the US Constitution envisioned a small professional national army and slightly larger navy–kept honest by state militias of citizen-soldiers just as well armed as the army. Thus the Second Amendment. This model held up even after the Civil War, but lost out to the necessity of fighting the Cold War (how much of a necessity this really was is open to debate) and the development of nuclear weapons, which tipped the military balance completely toward the national military.

    We ended the Cold War with the Godzilla of all militaries, uncontested battlefield supremacy, both dry and wet, and nobody remotely able to fight in our weight-class. Economic necessity will eventually fix this imbalance between what we need for defense and what we actually have; meanwhile, writers of modern military fiction are stuck with the difficulty of fixing up a challenging Bad Guy for our military to fight. Handicaps are almost always involved, and if you think Larry and Jim have done a good job that is high recommendation indeed.

    • December 30, 2012 at 2:54 am

      Although the jingoistic tone of the book grates on me, this tetralogy is actually attempting to chart the development of a war of necessity. With the changing weather patterns, Chinese agriculture can’t cope and they have food riots to contend with. The Vietnamese rice bowl therefore looks an easy and tempting target. They invent a casus belli in the first book but the Americans are able to rescue a key witness who can undermine the legitimacy of the claim. Then it’s up to the US military advisors, a SEAL with a mission, and the CIA to beef up the Vietnamese resistance and prevent any excessive response. So we’re not exactly in a gung-ho military scenario. Although there’s some fighting, the books are an application of Sun Tzu’s proposal, “The best victory is when the opponent surrenders of its own accord before there are any actual hostilities… It is best to win without fighting.” To that extent, I think the authors are doing a good job in projecting a plausible threat to world peace. In this case, the Chinese are simply desperate and not the classic bad buys of more routine military fiction.

      • December 30, 2012 at 7:05 am

        Nice to know the Chinese are not depicted as mustache-twirling Manchurian Machiavellians.

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