Larry Bond’s Red Phoenix Series

Bond2

With writing Partners – Patrick Larkin and Chris Carlson

About the authors:

Larry Bond

Born: 1952

Education:

B.S. – Quantitative Methods, St. Thomas College, St. Paul, Minnesota

Officer Candidate School, Newport, Rhode Island

Military Background:

Served for six years with the US Navy

Website: http://www.larry-bond.com/

Pat_LarkinPatrick Larkin

Education:

B.A. – English, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

Website: http://www.patricklarkin.net/

chris_carlsonChris Carlson

Education:

B.S. – Mechanical Engineering, University of Minnesota

Nuclear Power and Basic Submarine Officer Training

Military Background:

Served for over 20 years with the Navy Reserves and retired in 2008

Thriller Sub-genre: Military Technothriller

The Simon Review

For a reviewer of techno-thrillers, I knew eventually I was going to have to review a military techno-thriller series especially since the military thriller, starting with Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October, gave birth to this genre. So when I was given an opportunity to get a free copy of Larry Bond’s newest addition to his Red Phoenix series, I had to jump on it like a politician on super PAC money. Larry Bond was a cowriter on Tom Clancy’s second novel Red Storm Rising which was released in 1986 and was a tremendous success. Bond then went on to write his own novel Red Phoenix in 1989 which hit the New York Times best seller list for several months and established Larry Bond’s place among the top military thriller authors. Now it is 2016, 27 years later and Bond is releasing a follow-up of Red Phoenix, entitled Red Phoenix Burning.

Both novels deal with the tensions between North and South Korea.  In Red Phoenix, the North Koreans take advantage of student uprisings in South Korea and political shenanigans in Washington D.C. to orchestrate a blitz known as operation Red Phoenix to unify Korea. Twenty seven years later, North Korea is once again in the limelight in Red Phoenix Burning, but this time the North Koreans have an arsenal of nuclear and chemical weapons at their disposal. However, in this go round the North is not attacking the South but instead are attacking themselves as an all-out civil war takes place. Both the US and especially China are quite concerned on what will happen with the North Korean’s stockpile of nuclear weapons and who will take control of them.

Thrillers have received the bad rap of being plot driven with poorly developed characters and after reading Larry Bond’s Red Phoenix series, that distinction now makes perfect sense.  In Red Phoenix, there are only a handful of characters that have the slightest amount of character development. One of the main characters is Kevin Little, a recent ROTC graduate, and as wet behind the ears as one can be, who is assigned his first commanding role along the DMZ when Red Phoenix was implemented. Little is very dependent on his platoon sergeant and Second Lieutenant Rhee Han-Gil, a South Korean to guide him through his assignment. Eventually he becomes good friends with Rhee, as they both share the scars of battle. Another main character is pilot Tony Christopher who develops a romantic relationship with Anne Larson, an army civilian and computer expert. I don’t believe romance novelist Nora Roberts will be asking Larry Bond to co-write with her anytime soon. Of course, no military thriller would be complete without at least one badass general which would be General Jack McLaren.

Some of the characters from Red Phoenix are making a show in Red Phoenix Burning, namely Rhee Han-Gil, who has a significant role as the commander of the Ninth Special Forces ‘Ghost’ Brigade. Kevin Little and Tony Christopher are there but have a significantly diminished role. There are two new characters, Cho Ho-jin, a North Korean citizen that is a spy for the Russians, and Kary Fowler, who is a missionary in North Korea and is the daughter of Blake Fowler, who played the role as a national security advisor in Red Phoenix. Cho and Fowler develop a relationship that I feel is one of the highlights of Red Phoenix Burning and shows that Larry Bond may actually know how to develop decent characters.

I found Red Phoenix to be a very long book and difficult to get through, without decent characters to rally behind, I found the techno-heavy battle scenes to lack luster which made me wonder why this was such a hit back in the eighties. After doing some research, I found that the military thrillers were very popular back then and was probably as a result of the political climate of the Reagan administration. Reagan help to bolster the military which took a tremendous morale punch after the Vietnam War. A new respect for the military occurred along with a growing conservative movement which I am sure help to drive sales for military thrillers at the time.  In the military thriller the American characters just needed to be highly patriotic and outstanding citizens whereas the communist which included the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea where sneaky, conniving, and evil.

A lot has happened in the last 27 years, two gulf wars, 911, ISIS, and a significant economic crash. American attitudes have changed significantly with a growing sense of distrust in our government which is now being reflected in our recent political race. Red Phoenix Burning may not get quite the reception that Red Phoenix had 27 years ago, but I think that those that enjoy military strategy will find it to be an enjoyable read especially with the latest show by Kim Jong Un. Bond does seem to be trying to reach out to a broader audience by developing better characters and I believe that he does achieve that to a certain extent particularly with the new characters. It would be to an advantage to read Red Phoenix before Red Phoenix Burning mainly to get a better understanding of some of the main come-back characters. Additionally, Bond changed history in Red Phoenix which has some influence in Red Phoenix Burning.  Though Bond does maintain recent events that are now happening in the Koreas, he does incorporate some of the events that occurred in Red Phoenix. Without knowing this, it may be confusing to those that are history buffs and have a good understanding of the Kim regime in North Korea.

Simon’s pick:

Most Favorite Novel in the Series- Red Phoenix Burning– because the characters had more depth

Least Favorite Novel in the Series- Red Phoenix– because it was way too long with shallow characters

What about the science? There is not really much in the way of science in this series but plenty of military technospeak.  Bond along with his co-writers have done their stint in the military and are quite familiar with the technology. Unfortunately, this is not my area of expertise so I cannot judge on the factuality of their comments on the technology.

The Technical Word in Review: Red Fuming Nitric Acid- Nitric acid (HNO3) is a strong oxidizer and is formed when nitrogen dioxide (NO2) reacts with water.  Nitric acid will stay dissolved in water up to concentrations of 70% nitric acid with most commercial products having a concentration of 68%.  At concentrations above 86% the nitric acid forms fumes and then is known as fuming nitric acid and can be designated as white fuming nitric acid (WFNA) and red fuming nitric acid (RFNA) depending on its concentration and composition.  WFNA is the closest thing to pure nitric acid and has a maximum of only 2% water with purities as high as 99.9%. RFNA has a concentration of 84% nitric acid, 12% nitrogen tetroxide, and 1-2% water with the nitrogen tetroxide giving its blood red coloration.

Because it is a strong oxidizer, RFNA has been used as a rocket propellant because it spontaneously ignites a hypergolic fuel when the two come into contact without the need of a triggering device. RFNA is often referred to as inhibited red fuming nitric acid (IRFNA) because the RFNA contains a corrosion inhibitor that blocks the corrosive properties of RFNA on its storage containers.  A common inhibitor used is a particularly nasty compound known as hydrogen fluoride (HF).

IRFNA was predominantly used as an oxidizer in missiles during World War II and throughout the 1950’s, with safer oxidizers taking its place by the late 50’s.  However, during the wars with Iraq, the Iraqis used IRFNA with their Scud missiles and the noxious fumes from the IRFNA may be one of the culprits blamed for some of the Gulf War illnesses that many of the veterans experienced.  It is believed that the North Koreans are also are using IRFNA in their missiles.

RFNA
Firefighters working on a red fuming nitric acid spill

Image from Firefighternation


In addition to the risks associated with armed defenders in tight spaces, any conventionally armed missiles would have seven-hundred-kilogram explosive warheads, and all the missiles were fueled with two corrosive chemicals: red fuming nitric acid and hydrazine. Since the missiles were not filled with fuel until just before launch, large quantities of those deadly chemicals had to be stored somewhere inside.- Red Phoenix Burning

Books in the Series by Order:

Most Favorite in the series: Red Phoenix with a score of 4.00

Least Favorite in the series: Red Phoenix Burning with a score of 3.73

Based on overall ratings from Goodreads, Barnes and Nobles, Library Thing, and Amazon (US & UK)

Red_Phoenix#1-Red Phoenix- 1989

Listed #125 out of 549 on Goodreads Best Technothriller Ever Book List

First Line:

They found the North Korean tunnel shortly before dawn.


Characters

Kevin Little: Second Lieutenant in Red Phoenix and Colonel in Red Phoenix Burning, starts as an ROTC graduate assigned to the DMZ in South Korea

Tony Christopher: Air Force pilot

John ‘Jack’ McLaren: General that commands all the South Korean and US forces in South Korea

Blake Fowler: A staffer on the National Security Council in Washington, D.C.

Anne Larson: Army civilian and computer expert, love interest for Tony Christopher

Rhee Han-Gil: Second Lieutenant for the South Korean army and is Kevin Little’s right hand man, takes a greater role in Red Phoenix Burning.

George Putnam: The president’s national security advisor


The Setting

North and South Korea, Washington D.C., Moscow USSR, China


In the aftermath of a series of student riots in Seoul, the U.S. Congress rushes a bill into law calling for the complete withdrawal of American troops from South Korea. This sets off a chain reaction: North Korea attacks across the DMZ, Russia supports North Korea, the Chinese remain neutral, and the United States fights again alongside its South Korean allies. The full range of ground, air, and naval forces take part in vicious combat, first to hold off the North Korean onslaught, then drive them back.


He clasped his hands behind his back. “Tell me what you think of Red Phoenix, Comrade General.”

Cho shrugged. “I helped draft the plan during my last tour on the General Staff, Dear Leader. It was a good plan then and it’s a good plan now. In fact, I believe that it offers our best hope for a successful liberation of the South.” He frowned as one of Kim’s boots splashed mud across his uniform trousers.

“I see.” Kim’s voice was flat, uninterested. “This plan calls for a surprise attack across the so-called DMZ- an attack launched right out of our barracks. Why?”

“Surprise is the handmaiden of victory,” the general quoted.


Looking for a review of Red Phoenix?  Check out:

Thinking About Books

The Books That Time Forgot

The Rellim Zone


Amazon Rating-US: 4.46 out of 5 stars based on 575 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 4.44 out of 5 stars based on 80 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 3.97 out of 5 stars based on 10,593 ratings

Barnes & Nobel Rating: 4.50 out of 5 stars based on 35 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.55 out of 5 stars based on 93 ratings

Total Score 4.00 (updated 4/13/17)

 

machine_gun

 

Red_Phoenix_Burning#2-Red Phoenix Burning- 2016

First Line:

A gust of wet wind blowing off the Sea of Japan sent acrid vapors from the plant’s tall stacks swirling through the maze of rusting sheds, massive steel piping, and storage tanks.


Characters

Kevin Little, Tony Christopher, Blake Fowler, and Rhee Han-Gil

Kary Fowler: Aid worker with the Christian Friends of Korea and Blake Fowler’s daughter

Cho Ho-jin: North Korean citizen who became a spy for the Russians

Tae Seok-won: General for the KPA


The Setting

North and South Korea, Washington D.C., China


North Korea has one of the world’s largest standing armies, capable of unleashing a massive arsenal of chemical and nuclear weapons. With an unstable government, under absolute dictator Kim Jong-un, North Korea more closely resembles an organized crime ring than a real nation-state. Millions live on the edge of starvation while Pyongyang’s ruthless generals, crooked bureaucrats, and vicious secret police wage a covert war against each other to expand their rival fiefdoms. RED PHOENIX BURNING explores the implosion of this corrupt regime – a coup that triggers a bloody civil war among the North’s brutal factions. The world is dragged into a violent and rapidly widening confrontation amid North Korea’s shattered ruins, bringing it to the edge of an all-out war that could engulf the entire civilized world.

Fans of the original Red Phoenix will be delighted to see favorite characters like Colonel Kevin Little, Brigadier General Tony Christopher, and Colonel Rhee Han-Gil returning to battle, older and wiser, alongside new cast of heroes and villains. Red Phoenix Burning will also offer readers a deeper look behind today’s headlines of turmoil and uncertainty—a look made all the more profound by the in-depth knowledge of war, military technology, and geopolitics brought to bear by Larry Bond and his co-authors.


Looking for a review of Red Phoenix Burning?  Check out:

John’s Notes

Navy Thrillers.com

The Books That Time Forgot


Amazon Rating-US: 3.65 out of 5 stars based on 200 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 2.82 out of 5 stars based on 78 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 3.94 out of 5 stars based on 401 ratings

Barnes & Nobel Rating: not rated

Library Thing Rating: 4.00 out of 5 stars based on 1 rating

Total Score 3.73 (updated 4/13/17)