Review of Able Sentry: The Next War – Kirov 50

Able Sentry: The Next War (Kirov Series Book 50)

Having finished the 50th volume of this long-running serial, I feel compelled to do a full-series reflection. When I began this series the running total in the series was in the mid-thirties. I read Kirov with an eye to how it was possible that the author could find material, let alone sustain a reader’s interest for the such a stretch. The simple fact, and credit to John Schettler, he has and does. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series but asked myself at the end both these questions and couldn’t fathom it. In fact, as I jumped into the second volume I began to lose interest and put it aside for a while and then eventually decide to finish that book. Am after 50 reads well glad that I did.
If you are unfamiliar with the series, it is a combination of military history and time travel. Schettler has constructed a unique and relatively complex sense of how the threads of time, paradox, parallel universes lapse back, flow in waves and gain in momentum yet remain bound to a certain law. This system underlies an ever-evolving series of alternate histories where men (and a woman or two) are joined in battle on the sea, land and in the air. There is a colourful and well-developed band of characters that are well developed and consistently maintained over a vast scale and scope. The author skillfully integrates a cast of historically situated and known actors with a band of made-for-Kirov players. The battlecruiser Kirov is resurrected from post-cold war scrapping and revitalised as the pride of the Soviet Navy. Through rifts in time created by nuclear explosions, combinations of naturally occurring elements or massive natural cataclysms are drawn through rifts in the time-space continuum. They engage with historical events and participate in out-of-time circumstances, all the time wrestling with the implications of circumstances and actions and trying to better understand the makeup of a world that contains these anomalies.
Increasingly it seems obvious that the author is playing out an elaborate war game that brings socio-political and economic factors into play. He occasionally prefaces the volumes with reflections on the real world and also increasingly doesn’t hold back on his opinions. I would sense he may well have lost some readers over these opinions in fairness.
So why am I still reading? I look forward to each new instalment and do worry about a day when the series ends. I still greedily consume these books in a day or two and there is something in the crafting that clearly has seized my interest. I wonder about many are out there that share this. I am presuming these sell, although have a sense that Schettler is really pursuing a journey of passion for himself.
This 50th volume – and such seemed to deserve discussion and celebration – does not disappoint. The setting is a scant few years in the future where a rising wannabe superpower that has achieved economic dominance seeks (possibly presumptuously) to achieve ultimate economic triumph through military means. We are in a future only marginally alternate from our own, and Schettler plays out his machinations as part of a grander scheme, but one that is documented is fairly minute detail. The author has shared the tools he uses to do this and it only enhances the wider enjoyment of the novels. These operate on a variety of layers and this grand conception is both evident in the novel but also seems (At least for me) to add to enjoyment and appreciation.
China decided two volumes ago to make a play to seize global chokepoints for the flow of trade and energy. They were hoping to leverage the various international relationships – and specifically, weaknesses created by the demand for energy (and a slightly alternate reality wherein the cold war didn’t happen – small point really) to act fast, hit hard make gains and consolidate to hold. Some of the time-travelling complications emerge and play havoc with the larger objectives, and play out in a tense (and well researched) factual exploration of the play of battle. It’s fascinating to consider, overlayed with continuing rich characterisation and just enough questions to take us along and crave the next instalment.
If you like military history (especially naval at the outset) you’ll enjoy this series. If you appreciate the richness of a good alternate history broadly conceived then this series may well satisfy your wants. Finally, if you appreciate the potential of combining these two with a less than obvious reflection of modern-day military-economic developments and issues, the Kirov Series is a highly recommended read.

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