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Literature / Vortex

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Vortex is a 1991 novel by Larry Bond and Patrick Larkin. An entry in the Possible War genre, the novel was set in The Apartheid Era in South Africa. In this Alternate History, a successful attack by the African National Congress kills the moderate leaders of South Africa, enabling a reactionary government led by Karl Vorster to take power. Vorster promptly pulls a political 180, returning the country to strict apartheid, suppressing the media, and leading South Africa into a war with its former colony, Namibia, and her Cuban and Angolan backers. As the forces of Apartheid and Communism battle one another for control of the world's strategic minerals, and South Africa slips further and further into chaos, an American intervention may be the only way to salvage anything from the ruins of what was once Africa's most prosperous country.

The novel has a large cast. Some of the more important ones include:

South Africans

  • Karl Vorster and his henchmen Erik Muller and Marius van der Heijden.
  • Henrik Kruger, Kommandant of the 20th Cape Rifles and the main viewpoint character for the SADF.
  • Captain (later Major) Rolf Bekker, 44th Parachute Regiment.


  • General Antonio Vega, Commanding officer of Cuban forces in Angola and the South African theatre. The primary Cuban POV character.
  • Senior Captain Victor Mares, 8th Motor Rifle Battalion. Serves as the POV character for Cuban field operations.


  • James Malcolm Forrester, Vice-President of the United States of America.
  • Colonel Robert O'Connell of the 1/75th Ranger battalion.
  • Lieutenant-General Jerry Craig, Commander of the Allied South African Joint Task Force.
  • Ian Sherrfield, an American reporter who leaks the truth about Vorster to the world at large.

The novel sold well and received good reviews. It was followed by Cauldron, Bond's third novel with Larkin.

Tropes Appearing In This Novel Include:

  • The Alliance: Anti-villainous example. South Africa's aggression against Namibia is opposed by a broad range of Third World East Bloc powers, most prominently Cuba, but also including Angola, Libya, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, along with the ANC and the Namibians themselves, and with the Soviet Union acting as The Team Benefactor.
  • Alternate History: Would now qualify as this, due to the relatively peaceful collapse of apartheid in Real Life.
  • America Saves the Day: American intervention disables Vorster's nuclear arsenal, forces the South Africans to the table, and prevents the Cubans from winning.
  • Amoral Afrikaner: Vorster's entire cabal.
  • Antivillain: Many of the South Africans and all of the Cubans, especially Antonio de Vega, and Victor Mares (the latter of whom is downright heroic).
  • Awesome Personnel Carrier: Averted. Both the South African Ratels and the Cuban BTR-60s are hideously vulnerable. From the Namibian perspective however, this trope may well hold true, as it's Cuban BTR-60s from Victor Mares' 8th Motor Rifle Battalion that defend the road to Windhoek against the oncoming SADF.
  • The Big Bad: Karl Vorster
  • Bigger Stick: How the Americans are able to gain the edge over Vega. His T-62s, BTR-60s, and MiGs are no match for M1 Abrams', M2 Bradleys, or F-18 Hornets and he knows it.
    • Indeed, Vega orders Cuba's retreat from South Africa after the U.S. carpet-bombs his position with B-52 bombers, nearly killing him.
  • Blackmail: Emily and Ian use Erik Muller's homosexuality to blackmail him into giving them information on the Blue Train massacre.
  • Butt-Monkey: The ANC. They're used by Vorster and his cronies, easily defeated by the SADF, looked down on by Vega. Many of them eventually try to defect from the socialist forces, and are imprisoned by Vega for their efforts.
  • The Chessmaster: Antonio Vega whose perfectly timed and multi-pronged invasion of South Africa brings Vorster's government to the brink of collapse.
  • Collateral Damage:
    • The Cubans attitude towards the South African civilians (white or black) who are killed when they unleash nerve gas upon enemy positions. Naturally their ANC allies do not see it that way and later exact vengeance.
    • When the U.S. Army Rangers airdrop into the nuclear plant to take it from the SADF, many of the paratroopers are killed by hard landings and other accidental mishaps before they can even fight the enemy proper.
    • When a Cactus Surface-to-Air Missile launcher strikes a C-141 Starlifter, callsign Sierra One Four, the aircraft crashes into Pretoria's southern suburbs, causing enormous property damage and more than one hundred South African civilians either dead or dying. Not only that, but burning jet fuel from the crashed plane causes a fire to a "quarter-mile stretch of Pretoria".
    • When the USS Wisconsin faces off against SADF artillery hidden in a mountainside, the impacts of 16-inch shellfire weakens the mountain enough that it crumbles down onto the artillerymen, killing them.
  • Colonel Badass: Henrik Kruger and Robert O'Connell.
  • Cool Plane: The Cubans have the MiG-29 "Fulcrum", the Su-25 "Frogfoot" ground-attack craft (think of it as the Russian version of the A-10), and the Mi-24 "Hind" gunship helicopter, which plays a vital role in destroying South Africa's border defences and then pursuing them inland. The American have the F-14 "Tomcat" and F/A-18 "Hornet" launched from the decks of their carriers.
  • Dark Messiah: Vorster views himself as a messianic figure, out to save South Africa for God. A number of his followers also see him in this light, ascribing to him the ability to see the future and commune with the Almighty.
  • Deadly Gas: Vega responds to South Africa's nuclear attack on his men by using gas against particularly stubborn pockets of resistance. The effects on local civilian populations are not good.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Vega. To quote the book, "it was said that even Castro felt the edge of the general's icy sarcasm from time to time."
  • Defector from Decadence: Chris Taylor and Henrik Kruger go this route, revolting against the Vorster regime.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Erik Muller, South Africa's director of military intelligence, who enjoys beating up black boys and then having sex with them.
  • Dirty Communists: Bond portrays Vega and the rest of the Cubans this way, though they are also portrayed as Magnificent Bastards.
  • The Dragon: Rolf Bekker to Muller and later Vorster.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: After being defeated and preparing to head home to Cuba, Vega is randomly killed in an ambush by black guerrillas still pissed off about his use of gas. Its a pretty lame way for a guy that cool to go down; it's as though the author suddenly remembered, "oh yeah, he's evil, I better kill him."
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Vega is a ruthless commander with only a limited regard for civilian casualties. The South African regime absolutely disgusts him, however, and he finds their racism not only vile, but baffling. He honestly can't understand where they're coming from.
    "Racism. What nonsense. Why he had black Cuban officers on his own staff, good men every one of them."
    • Even some of the racist South Africans find the AWB and their thuggery, such as hanging civilians, despicable.
    "'My soldiers may not like what they have seen of the AWB and its fanatics, but that does not make them liberals in matters of race.'"
  • Eviler than Thou: How the Americans view the South Africa/Cuba part of the war.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The conflict between Vega and Vorster is portrayed this way. Vega is definitely A Lighter Shade of Black, however.
  • Failed Future Forecast: The Soviet Union is shown as still existing in the book's future 1990s (circa 1993/1994), when it collapsed in 1991, though it is shown as weak and crumbling apart. The Soviet Union is still shown as being Communist, when the Communist Party was actually banned shortly after the book came out.
  • A Father to His Men: Vega, whose pride in his soldiers and concern for their safety is a notable part of his characterisation.
  • Four-Star Badass: Antonio Vega, who defeats the South Africans, and nearly beats the Americans to Pretoria, using only second-line equipment like the T-62 and BTR-60.
    He did also have some more modern equipment like the T-72 and BMP-1.
  • Fragile Speedster: Most of South Africa's armored cars, and Cuba's BTR-60s APCs, and BRDM-2 recon vehicles. They're fast, but possess only a few millimeters of armour, and go up in flames when struck by shells, missiles, or even heavy machine guns.
  • The Fundamentalist: Vorster is a fundamentalist member of the Dutch Reformed Church, and opposes any attempts at integrating the Church.
  • General Failure: Adriaan de Wet of the South African army and Colonel Sese Luthuli of the ANC.
  • Glass Cannon: The Rooikat and Eland armoured cars that form the core of South Africa's strike force are heavily armed but very lightly armoured.
  • Graceful Loser: Vega. When his last chance of beating the Americans to Pretoria dies, and his forces suffer a devastating B-52 attack, he just turns his surviving columns around and quietly heads home for Cuba. Though it's not like he had much of a choice-Word of God states that at least 50% of his troops were casualties, either dead, wounded, or shellshocked.
  • Grew a Spine: Adriaan de Wet, bootlicker and General Failure finds his courage during the last few chapters and tries to convince Vorster not to go through with his plans to destroy South Africa's economy.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Calling Vorster "volatile" is putting it mildly.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Henrik Kruger and the 20th Cape Rifles, and most of Cape Town (led by Major Chris Taylor) revolt against Vorster and his thugs.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Victor Mares is very deprecating about his ability to stop the South Africans, and is always convinced that his battalion is inches away from being slaughtered. In reality, he single-handedly holds up the South African advance, saving Namibia in the process.
  • Hot-Blooded: Kruger's cavalry commander, Major Daan Visser, who gets his command massacred when he outpaces the rest of the battalion to charge after Victor Mares' men.
  • It's Raining Men: Both the Rangers and Rolf Bekker's men are elite parachute troops.
  • Karmic Death: Erik Muller, Vorster's head of military intelligence, is responsible for covert operations, torture and in his private time is a sexual sadist. He himself is tortured to death once Vorster finds out he is gay and a pedophile.
    • General Vega is killed while withdrawing from South Africa by a black rebel who was angry over his use of chemical weapons on civilians.
  • Kick the Dog: Vega's use of gas and lack of concern for the civilian casualties is meant to remind us that the Cubans are not the good guys.
    • The Cuban soldiers also urinate on the corpses of civilians that had been thrown into mass graves after being killed in Cuban artillery strikes.
  • Large Ham: Karl Vorster. He often likes to go screaming on long-winded racist tirades when things don't go his way.
    The President’s rages were legendary, and even the carefully filtered data he saw was often enough to send him into orbit.
  • Last Stand: Subverted. Victor Mares and the 8th Motor Rifle Battalion believe they're setting up for one, when The Cavalry, in the form of a column of GAZ-69 jeeps, BTR-60s, and truck-towed antitank guns arrive.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Ian Sherffield's girlfriend, Emily van der Heijden is the daughter of Marius van der Heijden, one of Vorster's top henchmen.
  • Majorly Awesome: Major Chris Taylor, who leads Cape Town's revolt against the Vorster regime and Major Rolf Bekker, Vorster's personal bagman. Senior Captain Victor Mares, one of Cuba's best soldiers is promoted to Major around the time of the invasion of South Africa. Averted by Major Daan Visser, a hotblooded moron who gets his command massacred, and Major Willem Metje, an intelligence officer who ignores evidence of the Cuban military buildup in Mozambique and Zimbabwe until it is too late.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Vorster claims that intermarriage between whites and blacks "can only result in a reversal of the evolutionary process."
  • Mêlée à Trois: Between South Africa, the United States, and socialist forces, led by Cuba.
  • Mighty Glacier: Thanks to the limited availability of antitank weapons in the region, Vega's T-54/55s and T-62s become this when facing off against the South Africans. Slow and prone to breakdowns due to age and obsolescence, they are nevertheless far too heavily armored for most South African weapons to put them out of commission and their main guns will shred South Africa's armoured cars.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The South African AWB, of which Vorster is a member. Their symbol is a three-armed swastika even. Vorster himself becomes increasingly Hitler-esque as the novel progresses.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The story is set in the near future from when it was released. A U.S. character mentions that the next presidential election was more than three years away and that the new millennium (2000/2001) hadn't arrived yet, and Perestroika is in its seventh year (having begun in 1985), probably placing the story's setting in 1993, as Nelson Mandela's release is mentioned in the story and he was released in 1990.
    • If 1993 is correct, then the book correctly predicted South Africa transitioning to democracy in 1994.
    • Some aspects enter 20 Minutes into the Future territory, as the MV-22 Osprey is shown being used by the USMC in large numbers (it didn't enter service until 2007).
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Haymans is either an F. W. de Klerk expy or his successor in a retroactive alternate history.
  • Nuke 'em: The South Africans nuke Cuba's Third Brigade Tactical Group when they realise conventional forces will not be enough. The American invasion is concerned chiefly with shutting down the South African nuclear weapons. Later, Vorster threatens to contaminate South Africa's mines with radioactive dust.
  • Oh, Crap!: The reaction of most South African officers when they realise that the Cubans have joined the war in Namibia, and again when they cross the border into South Africa. The Cubans and the Americans meanwhile have this reaction when Vorster shows the world he's willing to use nuclear weapons on his own soil.
  • Only Sane Man: Helmoed Malherbe, the South African minister of industry who tries to stop Vorster's military adventures. After he is fired, there's no one in the cabinet who even tries to keep a check on Vorster, though in the last chapters, Adriaan de Wet tries.
  • Police Brutality: A fact of life in South Africa, made worse by the Vorster regime.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Even Kruger and other heroic South Africans demonstrate some less than enlightened attitudes when it comes to dealing with the country's black population.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Vorster, and the rest of the villainous South Africans. The word kaffir gets thrown around a lot, as does Uitlander when referring to foreigners and South Africans of English descent. Vorster's essentially racist against anyone who isn't Afrikaner.
  • The Political Officer: Most South African units are assigned an AWB officer who monitors them for signs of defeatism. Kruger loses his right-hand man when one of them overhears him criticising Vorster.
  • President Evil: Karl Vorster, who allowed his predecessor to be assassinated, turns South Africa into a fascist police state, and eventually tries to destroy his own nation in a suicidal fit. That's on top of being a racist SOB out to undo any positive steps that the Haymans government had taken towards integrating the country.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Vice-President Forrester for the Americans, and General Vega for the Cubans. The South Africans lack these, which is part of their problem.
  • Reds With Rockets: Almost all of the equipment used by the Cubans, Angolans, and Libyans is of Soviet manufacture. Most of it is also second line stuff—T-54/55 and T-62 tanks, BTR-60 armoured personnel carriers and BMP-1 mechanized infantry combat vehicles, AK-47 and AKM rifles, and MiG-23 fighters, though some more modern machinery (for the time period) does put in an appearance, most notably the Mi-24 Hind, the MiG-29 fighter, the Su-25 fighter bomber, and the T-72 MBT.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Vega's plan to take advantage of South Africa's weakness at home and invade them from bases in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Mozambique. It works too, leading to the virtual collapse of the South African economy and the crippling of their war effort.
    • When Vorster's involvement and complicity in the Blue Train massacre is made public, he gives a televised speech that more or less boils down to "so what if I let terrorists kill my political opponents for personal gain?!" It does not work out the way he wants, however.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The novel's portrayal of the ANC.
  • Sanity Slippage: Vorster's mental state deteriorates considerably as the book progresses. By the end he's ready to trigger national Armageddon, just so that he can spit in the faces of the Americans and the Cubans.
  • Secret Police: What the AWB becomes under Vorster.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Rolf Bekker is a Psycho for Hire who joined the army because he enjoys killing blacks. Most of the AWB men come off this way once they get their hands on any real power.
  • The Strategist: Vega, who's one of the smartest characters in the book when it comes to conventional warfare. Unfortunately for him the Americans come in fresher and bring a lot more firepower.
  • Suicide by Cop: Marius van der Heijden, one of Vorster's henchmen, and the head of the South African police. He tries to force Kruger—a friend who he had once hoped would become his son-in-law—to kill him, and when that fails, is shot by an American corporal while trying to shoot Kruger.
  • Tank Goodness: This being a war story, they appear, and play a pivotal role in Cuba's stalling of the South African offensive. Since the SADF has few tanks (with most of their striking power being concentrated in the heavily-armed/lightly-armoured Rooikat and Eland armoured cars) and little in the way of antitank capability, Soviet-made, Cuban & Angolan-driven T-54/55s and T-62s are able to take a serious bite out of South Africa's forces, requiring massive amounts of firepower from the SADF to stop.
    • It is mentioned that most of the SADF's Olifant tanks (the best model of tank they have) were sent to fight in Namibia, thus leaving few available to fight the Americans and Cubans in the eastern part of South Africa.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Major Johnathan Sasolo tells Vega point blank to his face that he believes that the ANC should cut all ties to the Cubans and that Vega was using them as the Soviets used the Cubans. Vega has him arrested, and Word of God states that he was shot not long after.
  • Villainous BSoD: Vorster has one after his defeat. He recovers in time for his trial, then slips back into again once the verdict is handed down.
  • Villainous Valour: Many of the South African and Cuban soldiers display tremendous valour. Senior Captain Victor Mares and the 8th Motor Rifle Battalion provide a classic example, holding the road to Windhoek against all odds, despite the steady destruction of their unit.
  • We Have Reserves: Vorster tries to use this tactic, wrecking his military in the process. Vega does not and does everything in his power to conserve Cuban lives, though he's less concerned about civilian casualties.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: While the Russians are portrayed as greedy, conniving, fair-weather Communists, Bond's Cubans don't get much worse than this. All of them are genuine believers in Communism, who really think that they are going to make life better for South Africa's black population.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: At least, hero from the point of the ANC. The final straw in their already strained relationship with the Cubans is their use of nerve gas against entrenched South Africans defending a city. The attack not only kills the defenders, but inflicts heavy black civilian casualties as well, which prompts an attempted Screw This, I'm Out of Here! among the ANC.
  • You Have Failed Me: Vorster institutes these policies, arresting or executing officers and ministers who don't succeed in their tasks. Castro also has a reputation for this among the Cubans, with even Vega cautious about pissing him off.