In Ghost Fleet, authors P. W. Singer and August Cole describe the story as “A Novel of the Next World War.” Such a predictive subtitle led me to look at the publication date, June 2015. A reader in 2018 can adjust and interpret to taste. An author’s note prior to the foreword cautions that this is not a novel of prediction; it is fiction. This book came to my attention from colleagues in Indonesia where it seems to be attracting attention. At 418 pages, Amazon lists it as political fiction. The Amazon price is USD 2.99 and is free with a Kindle Unlimited subscription. Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans
Several short, choppy anecdotal items set the scene for this novel. I think of them as “segment” headings. Readers might find these convenient or might think of the headings as annoying and distracting shifts from an easy-to-follow continuing narrative. Readers will not find these in the Table of Contents which lists only Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 along with a Copyright, Title Page, Foreword, Authors Note, Epilogue, and Acknowledgment. A typical segment heading is “U.S. Navy P-8, Above the Mariana Trench, Pacific Ocean.” (p.5). I had no problem with this way of indicating shifts in perspective or orientation. I mention it here because after reading a few negative reviews of this novel, this feature seemed to bother other readers.
This could be a textbook for fighting insurgency. This time it is the Americans who are the insurgents. Throughout this novel, Americans will give much credit to and acknowledgment of the lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq. As a military veteran, I was fascinated by the anecdotes surrounding camouflage and deception tactics employed by insurgents, Americans, used to fighting and surviving in a high-tech environment. In this novel, the benefits of high technology are stripped away, first from one side, then from another.
The scenario of China in an alliance with Russia attacking the US first through electronic means is a scenario I find disturbing, fascinating, and realistic. The underlying cause of the war is the Chinese discovery of a rich resource in the Mariana Trench, a resource that they want to fully exploit without consulting the US. The war was not a last-minute impulse. The Chinese had been preparing for years by “poisoning” computer chips sold to defense contractors who then supplied the chips to the US military. So much for low-bid contracting. These chips could disable US weaponry systems but could also steal technology about weapons on which they were employed. This enabled China to reverse engineer US technology, possibly improve it to create a mirror military force and then, when the battle was joined, fight a weakened US military with something that looked like US weaponry.
The Chinese began the attack by launching a manned satellite with a weapon and a mission to eliminate all US satellites used for communication. Once this was done, a combined force of Russian and Chinese attacked US forces in Hawaii and other Pacific locations. US forces could only respond by piecemeal initiatives of any attack survivors. High tech weapons systems, dependent on GPS guidance, were useless. There was the Chinese and Russian occupation of former US territory. Watch out Russians! Remember the Hitler-Stalin pact of WWII.
For fans of military technology, this is a great read. I am not a fan of military technology but I am a student of counterinsurgency so this novel captured my attention from the start. How could the US survive, let alone prevail? Will WalMart save the forces of democracy? This novel will give some answers while providing an interesting spy story. The Black Widow has replaced James Bond as my favorite spy.
On a different kind of technical note, there are lots of superscripts in this novel that lead to endnotes reporting all the research the authors did in the construction of this fiction novel. This will aid folks who want to know about more of the high-tech weapons used and will also explain some military jargon. There is old school military jargon I felt familiar with, the kind used by retired Navy Chief and now defense contractor Mike Simmons. Then there is the more up to date jargon used by “Jimmie” Simmons, Mike’s son and a Captain of the Zumwalt where the two were to acrimoniously serve together in a determining battle. Family issues between the two form an interesting background character story throughout the novel.
There are many historical quotes to ponder from SunTzu. When competing Chinese generals battle each other in staff meetings using quotes of this recognized military and political genius, they illustrate the universal truths Sun Tzu offered as each general cherry-picked the quotes that would support individual competing agenda. There are other notable phrases I enjoyed. On command: “It’s never about choosing the best option; it’s about choosing the least bad of the bad options.” (p. 125). There is one phrase I found that I consider true but also a two-edged sword: “We need to become again the country that breaks the hard problems, that sees the virtue in innovation and the reward in risk, …” I would add the caution that the effort must be focused on a goal. Helter-skelter innovation for the sake of innovation and risk for the thrill of risk without a defined goal is almost government by Twitter. I digress.
In this heavy technology novel, I found only one thing to criticize or disapprove of; I didn’t like the “viz.” Read the novel to see if you agree. It appears throughout the story and I found it an escape mechanism to see things that would not otherwise be seen at times that were too convenient. The “viz” is also socially rude. Mike Simmons and I agree on this. But we are the same age.
This is a novel of fiction, not a call to action. The authors explicitly state military vulnerabilities. Perhaps we will see another book that focuses more on the civilian population. This book began such an examination with the emergence of low-tech companies to solve logistical problems. The authors began to describe the life of non-combatants with the family life of Jimmie Simmons. There is rich material for another book. The authors have written an entertaining and frightening tale. I look forward to seeing more of their writing. I gave this only four-plus Amazon stars because of the “viz.”