I am very sorry for the delayed response. I love these threads and want to contribute but they become overwhelming!
Action Stations is one of my favorite Wing Commander books, maybe my favorite today after Freedom Flight. I think the broad criticisms you hear are pretty accurate… Dr. Forstchen's the-military-knows-best politics are ridiculous and he simultaneously reuses far too many puzzle pieces he already checked off in Fleet Action (many of which were… borrowed… from Starship Troopers and the like) while also failing to actually re-read his own previous book to get right some tiny details, names, etc. that he had previously INTENTIONALLY SET UP wrong… but that's all pretty minor overall. I love the tone of the book, the introduction of the pre-war era grows Wing Commander so much … basically, there's a lot to talk about going forward!
A couple of personal stories from back in the day, of potential interest to no one!
* One of my first 'jobs' in the Wing Commander fandom (at the late, great Introspection's Wing Commander Home Sector) circa 1996 was coming up with interview questions for a sit down with Dr. Forstchen. The world was VERY DIFFERENT back then and the idea that we were actually going to get to talk to the man whose name was on our favorite books was just insane, the whole thing made us kids so impossibly happy. But I remember specifically that he mentioned he talked about Action Stations for the first time and I felt like we had the scoop of the lifetime! Here's the old piece where he introduces it to the WC fandom for the first time: https://www.wcnews.com/articles/art39.shtml
(Note that he wrote the book in summer 1996 but that it wasn't printed until 1998. Crazy!)
* I bought my first copy of Action Stations from Barnes and Nobles brand new website because they were the first to get it in stock. I was a junior in high school at the time and it arrived in the morning before I left for school… but I had been chosen by my AP Biology class to represent the school at a two day biology lecture series at Howard Hughes Medical Institute. So of course I brought the book to the lectures and spent the entire day ignoring them to read it. Little did I realize that the entire thing was being videotaped and copies were sent to the participating schools… so months later we got a VHS tape and every time they'd cut to the crowd you could see my head was down reading Action Stations!
* Some years ago, Dr. Forstchen and Newt Gingrich did a book tour for their first Gettysburg novel. They were doing a reading and Q&A at Politics and Prose in DC and Joe Garrity of Origin Museum fame and I went to try and meet Dr. Forstchen, bringing with us copies of Action Stations to get signed. Unfortunately he ended up being sick and so only Mr. Gingrich appeared… but he kindly signed my Action Stations "Sorry Bill wasn't here, Newt." (I know, he sucks now but it was a really nice moment at the time.)
One question folks have constantly is: what the heck is going on with the cover?! For years self assured SF readers would turn up their nose on the Usenet and explain that it must be a 'slush' cover where they don't have a budget for new art and just use something generic. Well, those people were stupid and wrong! The actual story, which should've been apparent by the fact that it's the same artist as Freedom Flight, End Run, Fleet Action, is that the painting was contracted as the cover for the fourth Wing Commander novel… Heart of the Tiger. Baen ultimately got access to the Sam Yeats painting to use with that book and so saved the painting they'd initially commissioned to replace it. Which is why the Action Stations cover looks like an off-brand Wing Commander 3… because it was!
The German version, which reuses an award winning SF painting from CJ Cherryh's Rimrunners and
The Czech version with some cool spaceships (original painting): https://cdn.wcnews.com/wcpedia/images/Cz-ActionStations.jpg
Now for the discussion questions!
* From the Foreword, when was this historical fiction published approximately? What status do you presume the Confederation and the Kilrathi Assembly of Clans were in during this era?
It says that it is eight years since the end of the war (2669), so it should be around 2677. That's four years after Wing Commander IV and G. Tolwyn's suicide (I suppose we do not have to distinguish Tolwyns this time!).
* Why few have felt comfortable about approaching the topic of Admiral Geoffrey Tolwyn, VC, MOH, DSC, KCB? Also, the author (Mr. Forstchen) listed the names of Alcibiades, Benedict Arnold, etc. What kind of writing technique is this?
I do not know if the writing technique has a formal name but I call it the 'sci fi list' and both Dr. Forstchen and I seem to love it for world building. You list off several familiar historical items and then you have one or two more that are only historical to the character… great way to build lore and immersion fast. I wrote a WCNews article that includes this instance with much more detail here: https://www.wcnews.com/news/2017/02/26/the-art-of-the-sci-fi-list
With regards to Tolwyn, I think it's getting across the idea that it's still a raw nerve; it's so close that there's a strong, recognizable historical bias. Dr. Forstchen compared Tolwyn to MacArthur and I think you can see exactly that… he has gone from being a widely lauded figure in his day to being fairly reviled in many quarters today. I think Colonel Schwarzmont recognizes that's the case with Tolwyn, with many of those living in 2677 being people who feel they personally owe him their own lives for his heroism in the Kilrathi War or people who vehemently hate him for what he did after the war.
* I was troubled by a sense that, after more than thirty years of conflict, Admiral Tolwyn had become an entity that lived solely for war. What do we learn from this?
At the risk of seeming to criticize the great academic works of Colonel Schwarzmont, I think it's an overly simple analysis. The idea that war destroys the people who take part in it isn't wrong at all but it's also not unique to Tolwyn. There's more to his genocide, which I think was born more out of a fear he couldn't escape than it was some love of war.
* What do you think of the recently declassification of the documents from the Kilrathi Imperial Archives?
Frankly I'm surprised the Kilrathi Imperial Archives even still exist, given the state of Kilrah in 2677! (But this was written in that brief era in the 1990s when the Iron Curtain had fallen and suddenly historians with sufficient money could access endless former secrets in the former Soviet Union!)
* Why Col. Wilhelm Schwarzmont said Baron Jukaga highly controversial? And What do you think about the kind assistance of Baron Vakka nar Jukaga (Baron Jukaga's son)?
Jukaga is a case where the opinion of him in universe and the opinion of him among readers must be completely different. You and I know he wasn't the one who pushed to restart the war, you and I know he saved Earth at the last moment… but anyone in the Wing Commander universe in 2677 knows him only as the mastermind behind the false peace and a kil whose last recorded actions were not saving the homeworld but demanding the fleet surrender… and their perspective on history goes on to say that threat was delivered, with a dozen or more inhabited planets rendered lifeless and many major cities on Earth flattened. So the idea of working with Jukaga's son would be controversial to say the least!
As for Jukaga's son: what a weird case he is! A character who seems incredibly important to the Wing Commander universe but that (like Kruger's ex wife and a few others mentioned like the surviving McAuliffe pilot) ONLY exists in this prologue. Very interesting writing technique, anyway!
* This book (Kilrah Tugaga Jak-Ta Haganaska duka McAuliffe) is worthy of serious consideration in spite of its detractors in the realm of academia and postwar Kilrathi apologists. Why there was detractors?
I think this is largely following how American historians treated Japanese scholarship on the Pacific War; many first hand memoirs were rejected by the American establishment because they were seen as either too biased or too intentionally pandering to popular myths… but of course, when is history not so?
* ... it is a mystery that has fascinated historians on both sides of the conflict. What do you think people think about this mystery in universe?
I'm wracking my brain here but my recollection is that Action Stations doesn't actually suggest an explanation for who revealed the orders? Which would make sense since Schwarzmont can't write about it if he doesn't know what but it's an odd choice to take in a novel! I guess we'll find out when we get deeper into the book… maybe!
* ... a war that claimed more than thirty billion lives on both sides How many versions of this casualty figure do we know?
Two or three! Action Stations says 30 billion (which is far too low!) while the Wing Commander Prophecy guide says 9.5 trillion (which is far too high!). There's also a timeline update written for the post-Wing Commander III bible which says '12,432,187'... that's not published but it's also way too low for a thirty year war that involved the total extermination of at least dozens of planets. I updated that 12 million to the Prophecy numbers when we did the Star Soldier timeline expansion, giving it a specific number of 9,500,012,432,187 on both sides. Which again is too many, reasonably speaking!
My head canon is that the 30 billion in this intro refers to those killed in the initial Kilrathi offensive, which the later part of the book does seem to agree with (we're told 30 billion people are left in occupied Kilrathi space at the end). So it's not "a war that claimed more than thirty billion lives" it's "the origins of a war" that claimed them.
* Do the in-universe author Col. Wilhelm Schwarzmont and Baron Vakka nar Jukaga have an academic cooperation?
You know I never considered it but reading very closely I think they do not, or at least the book does not say they do. Schwarzmont's initial statement is "declassified documents… and the kind assistance of Baron Vakka nar Jukaga… have been instrumental in helping US to see…" which reads more that he is apploading Vakka nar Jukaga's efforts and not a direct interaction. And then when he mentions him again it's to thank his "study" rather than anything specific between the two.
I will read the prologue and add my own notes in the next post!