While I still dislike too-large numbers of viewpoint characters, I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re more a symptom than a cause of questionable writing by themselves. I say this because I’ve read a lot of good books that have their share of them.
Now, this could be just the stories themselves being good enough that I can brush past the viewpoint character issues. But I think the bigger issue isn’t too many viewpoint characters per se so much as too many environments. Team Yankee was able to flow well despite having, on-paper, a lot of viewpoint characters, simply because almost all the action was in the same general environment. It adds a sense of connection, a feeling of purpose, rather than just being a clunky “this happened here, then this happened here, and then this happened here…”
It’s obviously not hard and fast, and all boils down to that intangible writing art. It’s possible to have a bunch of environments that works better, and it’s also too possible to have a one-environment story that still ends up as clunky and dubious. I’d still recommend trimming the viewpoint characters, simply because it’s an easy solution, but I think they’re symptomatic of just too many environments and plotlines.
So, I’m delighted to note that I’ve read an obscure series worthy of a good Fiction Spotlight. Overjoyed. Because Peter Nealen’s Brannigan’s Blackhearts is just the type of cheap thriller that fits me right now.
The series is about the “adventures” of an ex-USMC colonel and his band of mercenaries. And it’s what I’d call a “cheap thriller”. But in a good way, for these books are what cheap thrillers should be like. I had good timing in that the latest book in the series was released after I’d started digging into the series.
The best part of the books is that they combine visceral yet exciting action with very good literary fundamentals. Not only is there action, but it’s varied action. The action goes from the forests of Myanmar to offshore oil rigs to the frozen fields of eastern Europe. It feels truly varied, and Nealen isn’t afraid to punch readers in the gut every now and then.
What Nealen also demonstrates is a welcome display of, for lack of a better word, restraint. Some of the plot setups feel a little contrived, but they aren’t dwelled on. There’s exact descriptions of the weapons, but not too detailed. Having read stories where the fundamentals weren’t there, it’s a treat to read ones where they are.
I must give a few obligatory criticisms. The villains aren’t that great as characters and the “shadowy conspiracy organization” meta-plot that’s developed in the later books has me raising my eyebrows with apprehension. But even these are worked around-the latter is streamlined in as a setup hook for the adventure, and the former work in the context of a thriller story. Plus these are still thrillers and not “high literature” by any standards.
But they’re good cheap thrillers, and I urge anyone who likes pulpy thrillers to read these.
So, on the Northern Fury Project blog, scenario author Bart “Gunner98” Gauvin explains how the parts of the story become Command scenarios in the latest post. It’s an excellent post, and I’d like to add a few thoughts on it, from my own Command experience.
First, I cannot emphasize enough how much I agree with this sentence. “To make a good two-sided scenario, in my opinion, takes about three times as much effort as making a one-sided one, not to mention probably four times the playtesting effort.” Both of us have made two-sided Command Live scenarios, so we have experience with these. I’ve found that for trying to create a specific type of, for lack of a better word, “feel” in a scenario, trying both that and making it viable by both sides is far trickier-not impossible, but trickier-than having it be one-sided. And a lot of the Northern Fury scenarios aim for that kind of feel.
Second, briefings. I tend to be as basic about the briefings as possible, but now and then like to have some fun with them. Hint-they don’t have to be completely accurate…
Third, and this could be worth a post by itself, I’d be interested in seeing how the “canonical” losses are determined for a scenario set. The player could either succeed brilliantly or fail miserably. But how does that average into the assets for the next scenario in the same place?
Still, a very fascinating, very effective post.
For my newest in-progress book, I’m trying a slightly unconventional writing style. I’m initially putting all the chapters in separate documents so that I don’t feel overwhelmed and can, if I only have the time or motivation for a “nibble”, can contribute to the chapter where I feel the most enthusiastic.
So far it seems to be working and I’m avoiding the “stare at the processor, do nothing” effect that has plagued my other writing for too long.
Happy Mother’s Day to all!
My second Command LIVE scenario, Commonwealth Collision, featuring a fleet of one British and two Indian aircraft carriers going against a Pakistan-China alliance, has now been officially released.
I’m delighted to now be a contributor to the Sea Lion Press blog. My first article is a review of an alternate history WWIII thriller, Harvey Black’s The Red Effect. Regrettably, it contained both of my big pet peeves for the genre: Too much perspective hopping and too long of an intro to a foregone event.
The post can be seen here.
So, I just finished breezing my way through the cheap thriller novel Alpha Kat by William Lovejoy. The book was first published in 1992, and it shows. it’s a very early 90s thriller, which is to say that it has to desperately dig for antagonists (in this case a drug lord poised to take over Southeast Asia) and ways to weaken the heroes (they’re commissioned to use their prototype super-planes rather than being part of the regular military). The book itself isn’t terrible, especially by cheap thriller standards. But it is awkward in terms of pacing and the ending is a little too “quick”.
Now it says something about the kind of books I read that I’ve read enough 90s cheap thrillers to really get “ah-ha, this isn’t just a 90s technothriller, it’s an early 90s technothriller.”
And yet, I don’t mind this. It’s endearing to see something flawed instead of something playing it safe all the time. It’s inspiring, even, because of my love of the unconventional in Command scenarios. So yes, two cheers for the early 90s technothriller.
A novel based on the Command scenario set Northern Fury has been announced. The official site is here, and the authors are interviewed here.
One of my favorite instrumental music artists is user “Duttonsayshi“.
Now he’s released a free album. Give it a listen!