I prefer novels to almost any other form of literature. Though I learn more from true stories, a novel is a tale told as the storyteller wishes it could be. The following are three of my favorite stories written by veterans, stories that I either read in a voracious manner, or slowly and deliberately to absorb every word.
Tattoo Zoo, by Paul Avallone – I simply don’t have the words for Avallone’s book. Thus far, it is my FAVORITE war novel. Ever. I have already made a modest attempt to review the former Green Beret’s book here, but I cannot stress how amazing this novel is. Like many other authors, he has a personal website, and his is www.tattoozoo.wordpress.com. I HIGHLY recommend reading that content as well, particularly his article entitled “Flirting With Afghanistan.”
Paul Avallone’s novel kept me on the edge of my seat for the entire ride. His characters were extremely well developed, the action was detailed and realistic, and the plot was both believable and unpredictable. The reader is given glimpses into the methods of fighting a war in which we have decided not to win, and the toll that kind of combat takes on the average soldier.
I’ll include an excerpt:
“The main characters are the soldiers of what could be any infantry platoon, who are affectionately known as the “Tattoo Zoo.” During a series of events on patrol where those grunts act like every other grunt platoon would, they find themselves on the radar of the commander of all US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The general and his subordinates, faced with a probable media storm in the face of the platoon’s grievous ROE violations, then have to make the unfortunate (but not atypical) choice of standing behind their soldiers, or coldly allowing the problem of the platoon to be destroyed.
Despite the fact that the author has a background in Special Forces, this book is not a Tom Clancy Spec Ops thriller. The regular infantry grunts are the stars of this story. This isn’t a sexy high-speed low-drag SEAL, Ranger, or Special Forces novel, but an ode to the 11B/0311 infantry, the young boys who grow into old men in the span of one or two deployments.
Paul Avallone captures the essence of the grunts perfectly, particularly in the dialogue. It’s like Quentin Tarantino wrote a war novel, where the action is perfectly captured and mixed with the equally compelling words.
As a former infantrymen, I can tell you that we grunts are truly dirty, disgusting men who speak casually and graphically of both sex and killing. The author doesn’t hold back when describing the types of conversations typical in a combat zone. The dialogue can be very offensive to those who have never served with grunts in the killing zone, and shocking for them to learn that this is the daily language in the combat MOS. Grunts can be vulgar, and macabre, but they also have a sense of honor, strength, and decency that is displayed so very well in this novel.”
There are a great many quotes worthy of note in this book. I’ve included some of my favorites;
“Their four-dollar AKs are more effective than our billion-dollar B-2 bomber if you’re not going to use it. If you don’t have the cajones to use it. Who’s Santa Anna here and who’s the Alamo?”
“…learned of himself that he would not run away, that he could be very afraid and still not run from the sound of the guns, yet off the battlefield, away from war, he’s learned that a man again doubts his courage, needs to reaffirm it, become confident again of it, envies those who are in the midst of battle challenging themselves, feeling less of himself for being safely away from the battlefield, as if perhaps he was courageous in the past but would run this next time and the only way to be confident in one’s own courage is to be tested, placing oneself voluntarily again in war, in spite of the first-hand knowledge of one’s breathless, near immobilizing terror of the previous time.”
“Wolfe, down at the top of the trail, with his head just above the level of the ledge, has his eyes on Redcloud’s back, and he sees a man who he will willingly follow to hell. Will volunteer to follow to hell. Name the date, name the time, my ruck’s packed, let’s go.”
Any reader of military novels owes it to himself to buy this book. My experience reading can be likened to the first time I had ever viewed the movie “Braveheart,” or “Gladiator.” When the story ended, I could only sit in silent amazement. The only words I could utter were, “Wow.”
Scavenger (The Perseid Collapse Series), by Ross Elder (with Allyson Blake) – In the genre of action/thriller novels, there are a very few which have that most wonderful of characteristics; the reader cannot predict the ending.
Typically, in a work such as Ross Elder’s, the pages would be rife with shadowy special operations warriors, lame attempts at humor, uneducated political dialogue, and a conclusion easily predicted after the first chapter.
Ross Elder does none of this, and it is for that reason that I give him five stars.
His main character isn’t a Navy SEAL, or even an infantry veteran. He’s just a dude trying to survive a horrific collapse of civilization, and he’s doing a great job thanks to his years of preparations.
Elder writes on the “prepping” lifestyle with an educated hand, and one gets the feeling that there are useful tidbits of information thrown into the story. Granted, this isn’t a manual for how to survive an apocalypse, but the fact that Elder seems to actually know what he’s talking about definitely helps the story along.
If the reader is unfamiliar with Ross Elder, it would definitely benefit them to visit his website to get a better understanding of his opinions. After a glance at www.ross-elder.com, the reader will be able to see the seething hatred he shows for the III% movement, who is the antagonist in these novellas. His viewpoint is, again, well researched and very interesting. Continuing on with his website, the reader will find a great article about the Benghazi attack, as well as an excellent series on Russian influence in our nation’s media, entitled “The Patriot Deception.” Elder also has a non-fiction book entitled Just Stop, which addresses conspiracy theories. I look forward to reading that one.
I genuinely hope that he comes out with more books, as my only complaint about this series was that I read it too quickly.
Update: Ross Elder recently combined the three novellas into one book. Buy it.
The Last Centurian, by John Ringo – “Prolific” doesn’t really begin to describe John Ringo, veteran of the 82nd Airborne and current author of scifi/military thrillers. He has written and co-authored over fifty novels, all of which are excellent. He has an amazing series on a believable zombie apocalypse called “Dark Tide Rising”, which is quite possibly the most violent, hilarious, gory series I’ve ever read. His series called “Paladin of Shadows” is about a former SEAL who ends up running his own mercenary company in the Republic of Georgia, and though it’s extremely sexually graphic and violent, the plot line is excellent.
The Last Centurion is a stand-alone novel that I’ve easily read three or four times. The main character, who is never named, is a battalion supply officer. He’s not a Green Beret, a Navy SEAL, a Ranger, or a Jedi. He’s just a regular Army Captain who ends up in charge of a company of infantry soldiers after the entire US military is forced to come back home to deal with a worldwide plague. He and his company end up stuck on a FOB in Iran with weapons, vehicles, equipment, and supplies meant for a few brigades, and they are charged to defend it from the hordes of angry survivors in a combat zone.
There are quite a few battle sequences, involving Javelin teams, snipers, mountain troops, Gurkhas, and IED’s. Oh yeah, and there’s an international car chase. With tanks.
If you were to take the actions scenes alone, you would have a very entertaining story. Ringo can write about violence very well, but that’s not all he does. There are a lot of politics involved in why he was left behind, and why he had to fight his way out. There are a lot of leadership principles that are thrown in as lessons, despite the fact that this is a fictional account. The author even gets into economics and race discussions in this book, but in true Ringo fashion, it is far from boring. Ringo wrote this one as a first-person account, and did so in an extremely funny fashion. “Bandit Six,” the narrator, tells the story in an extremely informal manner, and the reader is given an amazing story as if the teller were face-to-face with them.
My favorite scenes include the main character’s creation of his own television show whilst driving through Iran, his description of their fictitious president (who is easily recognizable as a current politician), and the purging of Chicago.
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