Bright Star (1990)

Harold Coyle takes a look at some alternate history in Bright Star, the third book by this author. For the record, the library was out of the first two, so I decided to plunge right in at this point of the continuing series.

This book takes us through a fictitious chain of plausible events that pits Egypt in a war against Libya. Complicating matters is that the US and Russians are both involved in war games in the area when the hostilities break out. Next thing we know, we are on the verge of WW III as both sides amass forces. Particularly disturbing is a nerve gas attack that threatens to escalate things through the point of no return. The scary thing is that even seventeen years later, I could see much of this "what if" geopolitics happening.

Bright Star starts and finishes strongly, with a big saggy middle. The protagonist, Scott Dixon, a newly minted Lieutenant Colonel is seriously internally conflicted, and wonders if he even has a continuing place in the Army. I think the novel should have focused more on him. Instead, we have way too many side characters which are not of any consequence. We really don't need so much development on every Libyan sergeant that just dies a few pages later, for example. Complicating this is the author, obviously well versed on current military tactics and hardware, uses all the technical terms for it. To assist us civilians, he puts a glossary in the back of the book, but it doesn't list all the terms in the book. While I learned what a tank heavy battalion is, I'm still trying to figure out what a T-72 is. To clarify, he puts in diagrams of troop locations on maps, but uses the shorthand of the military, so again, I was feeling left out despite the partial explanation in the book.

It really takes no skill to obscure the obvious. A truly great scholar can take a complicated subject matter and make it approachable, easy and fun. Coyle would be wise to remember that. Plenty of other authors have been able to take on military subject matters without making them feel so confusing to those of us that don’t drive a tank for a living.

Before we write off Bright Star, it does have some redeeming characteristics. First, it covers tanks and tactics better than anything I've read before. Also, the last few pages talk about the difficulties of a long term occupation and trying to change an entire country. While this book was written in 1990, and the comments were about Libya, this is a message that has quite a bit of relevance today with our current situation in Iraq.

Overall Grade: B-


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