In INTO THE GUNS by William C. Dietz (author of LEGION OF THE DAMNED), meteors strike the earth and wipe out the U.S. government. In the ensuing chaos, military units find themselves cut off from the chain of command, and the Southern states plan secession. The result is a setup for a second American civil war.
I read the synopsis and thought, wow, count me in. Here’s what I liked and didn’t. First, I’d heard Dietz is a master of military sci-fi, and his skills are on full display here. The guy writes supremely well, carries a story, gives you likeable characters, and delivers detailed action. I also enjoyed the ideas behind the North and South getting ready to fight. What’s at stake is the strategic petroleum reserve, which in the South. The South wants to keep it for itself, the North says it belongs to the whole country and wants it shared. The South wants to reconstitute as a confederacy incorporated like a business, with a CEO, board of directors, and voters become shareholders–in short, a version of libertarian government where corporations and the rich can buy votes and dominate decision-making. The North wants to spend money on a massive reconstruction program to repair the damage and rebuild the country.
Dietz portrays the North in a more favorable light, but I was just grateful for once not to read a second civil war novel in which dirty liberals try to steal everything under the direction of Black socialists who want to disarm patriotic citizens and create a Marxist one-world government. Seriously, I’ve read one or two of those, and they’re basic right wing wish fulfillment. They don’t require willing suspension of disbelief from the reader so much as an unquestioning ideology, one in which the world is divided between evil liberals and plucky patriots.
Despite what I liked about it, I had some reservations. Within days of the attack, gangs attack and begin to overrun major military bases. One military unit, run by one of the book’s protagonists, finds itself under attack by a nearby town that wants its fuel for itself. While this created opportunities for Dietz to show off his excellent skills as a military fiction author, I found it hard to believe that within days of disaster, gangs or even small towns would find the wherewithal and strength to take on U.S. Army units in their bases, much less win. Civilians don’t come across as very nice people in this novel. Most of them are selfish looters. The President is a civilian but for one odd reason or another ends up going into combat with the troops much of the time.
A final issue for me was the timeline and pacing. The country falls apart, everybody starts attacking everybody else, military units go rogue and turn mercenary (strangely resisting the chain of command when it begins to reassert itself), and the South plans secession in a timeline that seems to be highly compressed for the most part but then suggests time is jumping ahead quite a bit. This is apparently a series; I would have hoped the first book would deal with the meteor strikes and their aftermath, leading up up to the civil war, and the second book get into it. That being said, the quick pacing keeps things moving.
In the end, you just have to regard it as pulpy military adventure fiction and run with it. If you’re good with how some of the events bump fast forward, and the dubious realism of how the country responds to the crisis in its first months, you’re in for a fast-paced, action-packed read.