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Cold Allies by Patricia Anthony
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Cold Allies (1993)

by Patricia Anthony

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In a word: silly. In another word: boring. Maybe it was my mood of the day. Maybe it's because I've been reading so many excellent military sci fi books lately. Whatever the case, when I started reading this book, I was immediately put off by what seemed to me to be the author's lack of knowledge and professionalism. Further, the book didn't seem as realistic as I want my military sci fi to be. Wait. Let me back up. Some of it actually was. A future Earth, suffering from easily believable accelerated global warming that has so increased the rate of desertification that the Arab world, faced with starvation, has created an Arab National Alliance army and has invaded Europe. The European forces are a nervous group of Russian, Ukrainian, Pole, German, and other European countries, with the US as a hesitant ally whom their partners worry might pull out at any moment, as things aren't going very well over there either.

Enter one Sgt Gordon and his CRAV, the first real futuristic weapon in an otherwise boring book of near-current twentieth century weaponry. The CRAV is a VR controlled mini-tank that is a reconnaissance and attack vehicle. Gordon is attached, seriously attached, one could say in love, with his. And while his is out surveying dead bodies one day, fa, la, la, he spots a floating blue orb coming toward him and wonders what it is. Then he is ripped from his VR equipment and suffers a near breakdown.

That's about all I could take. It was frankly pretty laughable. The floating blue orbs are aliens who appear on both sides and you don't really know if and who they're fighting with or for. You do know that after they've been somewhere you find dead bodies with puncture wounds and bodies drained of all fluids. So they're vampire aliens. Yep.

This book has a really low rating on Goodreads. That doesn't necessarily mean it's bad. I've read some poorly rated books and enjoyed them. However, I just didn't think this would be one of them. I was laughing too hard in serious spots. I couldn't take it seriously and it wasn't remotely believable in parts where it was desperately trying to be. Maybe I'm being too critical. Maybe I'm unfairly comparing this book and this author with some of the best military sci fi writers out there. But if you're going to write in that genre, shouldn't you strive for the best, to be the best, for the best book? Do you want to pump mediocre, at best, crap out there just for a couple of bucks? I don't think so. I read the first several chapters and gave up. One star and not recommended. ( )
  scottcholstad | May 23, 2016 |
My reaction to reading this novel in 1994. Spoilers follow.

My disappointment with this book is probably partly due to the hype surrounding this book. I’ve read several reviews praising this novel for its depiction of future war during a Greenhouse crisis, a war in which both sides try to exploit enigmatic aliens who show up.

I was intrigued by the plot and by one of the characters. Linda Parisi is a purveyor of charlatan ufo literature and drafted into Army service. I expected a humorous treatment of the situation but didn't get it.

The future warfare stuff was only adequate. I had some real problems with the Arab mission to knock out Allied military satellites with a large, truck mounted laser. Why does the firing have to be done at night? Why not mount the laser on a plane? Do considerations of trajectory really necessitate putting the laser in the Pyrenees and not ground based in an Arab country? Is the laser so weak it has to fire from a mountaintop? It’s an important plot point for much of the book (half to two-thirds). I did like the virtual reality aspect of the Computerized Robotic Assault Vehicle (CRAV) and its operator Gordon Means (his mission is to stop the Arab laser cannon). He’s a lover of sf movies, a gaming nerd, and understandably involved in teleoperating the CRAV to the point where he is traumatized at the prospect of losing it and combat feels real though he’s hundreds of miles away. It’s a realistic portrayal of what such combat via telepresence would be like emotionally. (For instance, watching troops die you can’t help with the CRAV.) To be fair to Anthony, she does include other realistic military details like noting the logistical problems of the Russians and the antiquated nature of Arab hardware.

But these are only minor elements of the story. The crisis of the Greenhouse Effect is mainly shown by references to characters’ family members killed in migration or by famine. The scene set in a Colorado refugee camp was competently done but certainly nothing new. (There probably are a small number of ways you can depict such a place.) The characters didn’t interest me much. I liked Means and that was about it. Parisi, far from being humorous, is an absolutely self-centered con-woman with no compassion or empathy for anyone else – especially when their behavior does not absolutely conform with her sense of propriety. (Thus she mentally criticizes refugees for looking disheveled, thinks nothing of demanding unreasonable favors of her agent, criticizes people in a drought plagued city for not maintaining their lawns.). Maybe Anthony thought her outrageously humorous. I didn’t find her boring. But I didn’t like her or find her interestingly hateful. The other characters – Arab, Russian, American generals; a downed pilot; a medical doctor; a young boy – were not that interesting.

Neither was the plot which involves American military efforts -- ultimately successful as the aliens cause a snowstorm which cripples the Arab siege effort at Warsaw -- to use the aliens as a terror/real weapon against the Arabs. (An effort that puts Means in a sort of schizophrenic state.). I think the problem lies in Anthony’s prose which, while brief and sparse, attempts to evoke emotion for the characters and story through constant allusions to their past and the aliens. Yet, there’s just not enough prose to do this, and the writing is too “literary”, constantly trying to do variations on the meaning of the aliens and themes having to do with cold (Alienation, greenhouse effect, death, loneliness). Anthony said in a recent interview that she didn’t know what the aliens represented till she was two-thirds of the way through writing. It shows in long scenes of surrealism where the aliens intrude on characters mind. These are not bad scenes. In fact, they’re the best part of the novel as you get a sense of an alien intelligence trying to probe the human psyche while pretending to be a dead mother and a gentle father that never existed. (I also liked the sort of dog-like relationship they develop with Means.) Yet I thought this part of the story didn’t mesh well with the rest of the war tale or the Parisi subplot or the American General Lauterbach who desperately wants to believe in and talk to aliens, (He recruits Parisi.) but he’s perfectly willing to exploit them to beat the Arabs. (I didn’t think his emotions of guilt at this or the conflict allegedly in his soul was really depicted.).

I was also annoyed when the aliens’ nature was not revealed. (They simply leave after tampering with the sun to eliminate the Greenhouse Effect.) Granted leaving aliens mysterious and enigmatic and unexplained is one of two techniques that can be used with aliens (the other is to explicate their nature wholly or partially) and is a valid technique. Here, though, it only adds to the sense of a book full of literary pretensions but undeveloped emotion and half finished plots. ( )
  RandyStafford | Mar 30, 2013 |
A hovering blue light interacts with people as the world is focused on the next world war.
  AZ_Dude | Feb 4, 2007 |
Showing 3 of 3
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Patricia Anthonyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Elson, PeterCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Brien, TimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Charlie Ryan, editor Aboriginal Science Fiction, who pulled me from the slush pile and gave me his kind, tireless encouragement. And to Mary Ryan and Laurel Lucas and the rest of my extended family.
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Autumn, Near Ksaverovka, Ukraine

The artillery shell passing overhead made a noise like tearing paper. It was a huge sound, the noise God might have made rending the sky in two.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0441000185, Mass Market Paperback)

As the Arab national army advances through Spain and the Ukraine, and the United States struggles with severe climate problems, a European soldier fighting in the Pyrenees has a close encounter with an alien intelligence. Reprint. AB. K.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:50 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Complete and unabridged recording of this classic Dahl tale, read by Lynn Redgrave. A book about 'real witches' - the ones that absolutely loathe children and are always plotting to get rid of them. Great new Quentin Blake cover and new author biography.… (more)

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