I loved it. If you enjoyed the Tom Clancy school of the 1980s and would like to see them redone with modern and future technology, just go buy it.
Longer, more considered review.
It's lucky Tom Clancy wasn't able to put hyperlinks all the way through his books. Not in the early years, anyway. This is what they would look like. A military thriller in which every mention of weapons technology is hyperlinked to an explanatory source. But even more than that, there are hundreds of other inexplicable links which break up the experience of just letting the story carry you along. It's an artefact of the authors' deeper purpose — to spin a cautionary tale for policymakers as much as for readers. But seriously, I really didn't need the footnote explaining how Arnold Palmer had been commissioned to design that golf course on which Marine Corps Osprey's were setting down. Just land the damn aircraft and start blowing things up. Sheesh.
I bring this up before even getting to what Ghost Fleet is about because those footnotes are going to piss a lot of people off. I tried to turn them off on my Kobo but couldn't find the appropriate checkbox. Maybe it would be easier on a Kindle or an iPad.
That minor aggravation aside (I stopped noticing them the same way we train ourselves not to see banner ads online) and with all the usual caveats, I really did enjoy this book.
Ghost Fleet is very Red Storm Rising, one of my favourite Tom Clancy books. It's set in the near future, the exact date being left vague, but feeling like twenty years out to me. That's long enough to bring a lot of cutting edge technology into the mainstream, but not so far removed from our present concerns as to morph into science fiction. China is ascendant, but the Communist Party has been swept away. The emergent hyperpower is ruled by a nationalist cabal of billionaire tycoons and the military. The US is not just in relative decline; a series of foreign policy misadventures and economic travails find it in absolute decline. China's ruling clique, which styles itself as the Directorate, discovers vast reserves of natural gas on the floor of the Pacific in an area still controlled by America. They decide the time has come for Washington to learn a few ugly realities about the new blanace of power. Or what the old Sovs would have called 'the correlation of forces'.
And so we come to the point, or rather the first point of this novel, a tour de force of just how US could be driven out of the Pacific in our lifetimes. The Chinese plan is not far removed from scenarios being war gamed by all of the great powers right now. The guilty pleasure of Ghost Fleet is seeing the scenario-building worked out in narrative form.
Like Clancy, Singer and Cole deploy a broad canvas with a lot of storytellers. They do return to a couple of favourites however, a Navy captain who fights his LCS out of Pearl Harbor when the Pacific Fleet is attacked there, his old man, a retired Navy chief petty officer who is recalled to service with thousands of other old salts when the 7th Fleet is destroyed, a female Marine who turns insurgent when Hawaii is invaded, a Chinese-American scientist whose research holds the key to a counter-attack, and one of my particular favourites a British-Australian billionaire turned space pirate. (Seriously, this character is great fun and provides the only comic relief in an otherwise pretty serious endeavour). There are dozens of others.
No it's not Tolstoy. It doesn't even make a pretense at being fine writing. A lot of the secondary characters are just Lego pieces to click into place when building the story, and although the writers take some time with their favourite characters to fill out their back stories and emotional lives, it's largely a paint by numbers exercise.
So fucking what. You don't judge these books by the standards of Tolstoy. You judge them on their own merits, and I judged Ghost Fleet to be such enormous fun that I decided to take a day off work to finish reading it in one big, guilty binge. It helped that I had a bit of a hangover after the Melbourne Writers Festival. I was able to convince myself I would not have done any worthwhile work on my own books. Also, it made me think I should really write some more stuff like this.
A lot of the pacing, character, and formatting problems (those hyperlinks!) fall away as the story begins to accelerate under its own momentum. By the time the US has put together its counterstrike (the second real point of the book) most of the lumpiness of the early narrative has smoothed out and it's a fast run to a very satisfying conclusion.
I enjoyed it. I'm happy to recommend the purchase.
Amazon affiliate link. (Hardback. But go the ebook).
Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War