Dale Brown, himself a former air force captain, knows that a good techno-thriller succeeds by its careful blending of the hard realism of modern warfare with the fantasy of sci-fi's best alternative reality stories. In Battle Born, Brown takes pains to frame his reality with all the necessary details. He begins with an extensive, international cast list; three pages of contemporary excerpts from newspapers that address the instability of the Korean peninsula and, finally, an explosive battle simulation in the Nevada desert, rich with the techno-speak of modern warfare: "'Radar altimeter set AUTO, bug set to 830, radar altimeter override armed,' the copilot announced on the interphone. 'Both TFR channels set to one thousand hard ride. Wings full aft. Flight director set to NAV, pitch mode select switch to TERFLW, copilot.'"
As the novel unfolds we then learn of a people's revolt against the Communist leadership of North Korea. The South Koreans, already in possession of their first nuclear weapons after the failed kamikaze run of a North Korean pilot, take advantage of the weakness and destroy key tactical sites in the North, forcing a stunning surrender of the Communist leadership and the reunification of Korea. Now in possession of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, the once fractious Korean peninsula poses a serious threat to China and the world seems poised for World War III. Enter USAF Brigadier General Patrick McLanahan. As head of a new B-1B Lancer tactical strike unit based in Nevada, McLanahan and his men target and destroy enemy missiles. With their Top Gun dramatics, the Lancer unit seems the only safety between stability and global annihilation as Korea and China face off.
While all this seems a bit too fantastic and fast-paced at times, Brown's battle dialogue maintains a narrative intensity that keeps it all fun. He does seem to underestimate the impact (pun intended) of using nuclear weapons in warfare, though; the book is premised on a history that involves the Chinese having used them in strikes on Taiwan and this new tale treats the subject with somewhat less gravity than might be imagined. That said, one can't help but return to those opening newspaper clips from time to time and wonder if the seeds of Brown's world are indeed contained in the ominous tea leaves of current events. --Patrick O'Kelley