Thursday, September 29, 2011

Review: "Kaiserfront" by Heinrich von Stahl

The cover. It should have been warning enough...
 Review - Kaiserfront: Die Schwarze Macht

Bede-duuduu, bede-duduuu... welcome to The Twilight Zone.

You know, from time to time I come across novels that are just so way out there, I find them hard to categorize. How far out, you may ask? Well, far enough for my reaction to be:

Oh, fuck me, why the hell do I keep doing this?

That's what I've been asking myself since the very first moment I opened this book's cover. Well, I know why... but still, why?!

The most important qualification up front: this piece of fiction has been published solely in German so far, and if heaven choses to smile down on us, that's where it will remain, meaning 90% of the people reading this review will never have to suffer through the real thing. Consider this a look into the little shop of horrors eastwards across the Atlantic Ocean. It's also a sad indicator for the state of the whole German-speaking AH-scene.

Alternate history in is a genre producing a rather scarce supply for the German market, with few of the international greats being even translated, so I chose to take what I could get. And, in fact, the basic idea behind the book is as simple as it is intriguing for an alternate history scenario: what if the German Empire won the Great War, and what if there's still a Kaiser in power in 1949?

There's so much potential in that idea, so much space for the butterflies to play in. Perhaps 1918's Michael Offensive worked? Maybe the Italians didn't switch sides? Maybe Austro-Hungary remained united and started somehow solving its problems?

Of course not. This is going to be long and painful, so steel yourselves. Take a deep breath. ...ready?

In 1917, the Kaiser abdicates in favor of his son, who creates "Kastrup" (Kaiserliche Schutztruppe), which is basically the SS only for Imperial Germany. Over the coming two years, they shoot socialist workers left and right, beat down strikes, and generally make sure that any attempt of a socialist/democratic revolution in Germany drowns in its own blood. Because that works so well, Germany starts a spring offensive in 1919 (Home Fleet has lost 90% of its strength in a last grand battle with the High Seas Fleet, which it annihilated), breaking through the lines with new armored fomations. By April, France has surrendered, monarchy is restored, with the new king Louis I sweaing fealty to the Kaiser. In July, Italy surrenders. Austro-Hungary is merged with the Reich in November.

In 1921 the Kaiserreich lands 800,000 men in Egypt, beginning the conquest of the whole of British Africa, which is finalized in 1924. In 1926 the Nordic League is founded, soon encompassing basically the whole of northern and central Europe under Germany's leadership. The year 1941 sees the detonation of the first nuclear bomb in German-Lybia.

And all the while I thought: If I had posted such a timeline on AH.com, they would have ripped me to shreds, and with good reason.
Europe in the drug-induced reality of the "Kaiserfront" setting.
1949. Well, the story starts with a German bomber squadron sent out from Iceland to destroy the American nuclear facilities in California (because only Germany can be trusted with nuclear weapons) while a German moon mission is underway. Each of their Horten B1s can carry 50 tons of bombs, and they are to drop 450 tons of cluster bombs on the Silverlake installations. Naturally, they succeed, but witness that almost at the same time someone firebombs the nearby town of Rosamond, killing most of the 10,000 inhabitants. One of the German bombers gets shot down, the crew captured.

Chestbeating macho-monarchists that they are, the "Kastrup" and the Reich come up with an ingenious plan: bomb the crap out of the base the prisoners are held at, land paratroopers there to break them free, then return to Germany. Naturally, they succeed. Again.

Meanwhile, the fleet of the Nordic League (Germany & its clients) is in international waters to pick up the returning moon capsule (whose retro-thrusters failed to fire). But unexpectedly, the Soviet fleet appears on the scene, prompting the Germans to launch a first strike lest the Reds get too close to their retrieval mission. Naturally, they succeed. Again. Spectacularly, without even losing a ship of their own.

Logically, the Russians do not take too kindly to such things and amass their forces along the border, despite German warning that should they commence hostilities, they would nuke the troops concentrations.

Alas, the Germans want no war, and the Kaiser hopes a demonstration of their new weapons system will deter the Russians: their new land cruiser. Guys, I know this all sounds as if I'm making this up as I write, but I'm not.

The LK-1 land cruiser is a nuclear-powered vehicle, 45 meters long, seveteen wide and thirteen high. It's armed with a dual 38cm turret, a single 12.8cm turret, 8 dual 8cm AA guns, "additional secret systems for air defense" and 12 machine guns against infantry. And yeah, it weighs 2,200 tons and can drive under water...
1949. Now with more combat 'mechs.

The Germans also are the only ones with a nuclear deterrent... which fails, because the son of a worker shot in the 1918 riots becomes part of the failsafe program and creates a backdoor in the German nuclear authorization program that deactivates all warheads on his command.

The UK, the USA and the USSR all declare war against the Kaiserreich. 6 million men of the Red Army with 30,000 tanks cross the eastern border (and into Finnland). The British use 1,800 "Lancaster" bombers to annihilate the German nuclear center in the Lybian desert (they succeed, but lose all their bombers). It seems all is lost.

The novel ends with the leader of "Kastrup" driving to a secret base where he is only allowed entrance after a genetic sample is taken and tested to prove his identity...

* * *

You know, there's 'wank' and then there's 'wank'. There's your average Trekkie wanking the power of the Enterprise. There's Karen Traviss wanking to the idea of sweet, sweet Mandalorian man-juice. And then there's Kaiserfront. In the league of wank, Kaiserfront is the leader of the:

“Oh my god, my hands are burning and my wiener is a glowing lump of charcoal”-category.

Almost everybody of the German protagonists - and I mean everybody - is a member of the nobility. I swear, the whole cast is made up of "von XYZ"s. Then there's the whole issue of Nordic mythology and Nordic ethnic solidarity which really wasn't a thing in the Kaiserreich at all. All those military operations have names like "Wiking"; the airbase on Iceland is called "Midgard", and so on.

Yes, the Kaiserfront series does have a "Sealion".
Guess how it ends?
Enough? Ah, but there's more!

Just when you thought it couldn't get any more ridiculous, Kaiserfront 01 keeps on giving, and it gives us... aliens! Because, as we learn through flashbacks, in 1925, after the Germans had conquered the whole African colonial empire, the British were dug in with 20,000 men (!) in a fort in the Sudanese desert. So "Kastrup" takes the fort in a combined glider & tank assault with a force of less than 2,000 men, and beneath the fort, in a hall "measuring at least 4x10 kilometers" the British have been studying... alien spaceships!

Regardless of the absolutely ridiculous plot, it's the astonishing lack of imagination and seriousness that makes me mad:

Why are the international leaders of Great Britain, the United States and the USSR in this alternate 1949 reality Winston S. Churchill, Harry S. Truman and Josif Stalin?

Why is all equipment a virtual copy of the historical WW2 designs and concepts, which came only into being because of WW2?

Why is there a Guderian leading panzers, why is there a von Braun in charge of a space program?

Then, there's the actual quantity of written words you get for your money.
Kaiserfront 01 is script size 12, book format 7.5x4.8 inches at roughly a hundred and eighty-five pages of written text. I bought Kaiserfront via Amazon.de at its standard price of €12.90, which, depending on the exchange course, is between 18 and 19 greenbacks. For 53,000 words.

The sad thing is: Kaiserfront wants to be great. It wants you to take it serious. It's like a twelve year old who programmed his first web page and now thinks he's the second coming of Bill Gates' – when in fact he's just another teenager with a lousy website full of junk. There's even a fake Folder for the Media (use Google Translate), which was included in the book as its own little booklet, its content more or less repeated in this book trailer (watch it; even if you don't know German, this tells you all you need to ever know about Kaiserfront).

With all the shoutouts to historic personalities, to supposed Nazi Germany Wunderwaffen, to things you will only find on speculative pages like Luft46.com it comes across as incredibly lousy and lazy, an impression only deepened by the unbelievably bad prose. Even the Landserhefte - dubious dime novels about WW2 - tend to have better prose than Kaiserfront. I've got to know, I actually bought one to compare them...

As for the author, Heinrich von Stahl (yeah...right^^). Let's just say its almost 100% certain that it's just another pseudonym for the guy who wrote a really thinly-veiled Nazi series a couple of years ago under the nome de crap Torn Chaines. How anyone can in all honesty write stuff like that - and even more, how he can find a publisher for it - is beyond me. I feel like part of my belief in justice as well as part of my brain have died reading this. It's just that astonishingly bad.

Verdict: F. How anyone can read and like this is beyond me. This is just stupidity condensed into print.

* * *

The War Blogger hails from his lair over at, unsurprisingly, The War Blog. He also runs a Blip.tv channel and has published his first alternate history novel Wolf Hunt in 2011.

3 comments:

  1. I may need to use your bit on different kinds of wankage. Sorry you had to suffer and read this.

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  2. Bloody well right.
    The truth ist: the Author is in fact the owner of the Unitall-Verlag. nobody else ever likes to publish this kind of bullshit

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  3. Es interessiert Sie vielleicht, dass zwischenzeitlich eine weitere Kaiserfront-Reihe herausgekommen ist: "KAISERFRONT EXTRA".
    Bisher ist ein Band erschienen, aber zwei weitere erscheinen im Dezember 2016.
    Dachte mir, Sie sollten das wissen.

    ReplyDelete