By Colin Salt
Robert Radcliffe's Red Hammer 1994 is an alternate history novel about a Russo-American World War III. Unlike some of the others I've mentioned previously, this features a proper nuclear exchange without really bothering with that "conventional restraint" stuff. While I've said many times that one of the biggest eye openers for me is that there were very few conventional World War III books at all, there also aren't that many that have the general tone and theme of a Larry Bond-style technothriller while letting the nukes loose-but not in an apocalyptic way. This and Eric Harry's Arc Light (which does not qualify as alternate history given its publication date) are two of the few that do this.
This book has the strengths and weaknesses of such a technothriller. It goes into detail, gives a broad scope viewpoint about what a nuclear war involves, and gets many of the technical issues right in ways that a lot of popular authors wouldn't. Of course, that also means clunky pacing, "characters as cameras" that exist just to show the reader various pieces of equipment rather than being developed in their own right, and tons and tons of exposition.
As for the plausibility, it's up to you to decided whether a large but not apocalyptically large nuclear exchange is less believable than a World War III staying conventional from start to finish. I could accept that as what Radcliffe wanted to tell, and that's more important than spherical cow "how many B-52s can dance on the head of a pin" arguments. There is one set piece that I did find a little too iffy, and that's the impoverished early post-Soviet Russia still being able to deploy a giant force of super-Spetsnaz into North America. The ending is also very abrupt and disappointing, and not in a "it did go apocalyptic" way.
In many ways, this is like Mike Lunnon-Wood's Long Reach, another post-1991 technothriller I reviewed here. It's imperfect (and this book's prose is worse than Long Reach's, IMO), but it's also a work in a very underutilized, hard-to-write niche that does demonstrate genuine talent. Such books are very rare, and even a "mixed" one is still something to be treasured. Especially one that's unambiguous and unashamed alternate history instead of trying to be "contemporary".