Good Fiction Spotlight: Raven One

So, I’ve torn into enough bad military fiction to go, “What about good military fiction?” And so I’ll answer it by pointing to a guilty-pleasure cheap thriller favorite ebook of mine: Kevin Miller’s Raven One.

Written by a naval aviator, it covers the adventures of a few aircraft carrier pilots as they fight in the Middle East. Now I’ve mentioned it before, but thought I should go into some more detail as to why I like it so much.

It’s not perfect, it still has some perspective-jumping, still has a lot of technical overdetail, still isn’t exactly the deepest in its plot or characterization. But it’s got a recognizable main character. Some of the perspective shifts make sense, as it shows the team of fighters in an individual battles. It feels overall like part of a whole. The enemy is given a handicap to make them stronger, not weaker, while at the same time not being monstrously overhyped. And for the jargon, there’s a sense of immediacy, of being there in the fighter with the heroes.

Having seen the pitfalls of what the genre can fall into, I can say that Raven One avoids a lot of them. And for that reason alone, it’s well worth a read.

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The Weirdest Crossover

On AH, I saw a story called Night Witches and dismissed it as something to throw in the pile of mediocre 198X World War III. Then, seeing the story on Fanfiction.net again much later, I saw the context. It was a crossover/AU/Fusion with the cartoon Daria. And I was like “wah”?

I love weird crossovers, but that was something even for me. Really, really something.

Although the mere fact of the story’s existence is far more bizarre and interesting than anything inside it (The entire plot is that the cliche checklist of 198X WW3 is checked off and Daria flies an F-111), it can be seen on Fanfiction.net here.

World War 3 1987 Blog

I will share, for your pleasure and amusement, a blog that I recently found providing a “play-by-play” of a theoretical World War 3, the classic fiction and wargaming topic.

This is Third World War 1987. By my incredibly low standards (read: I’ve seen so many downright awful World War III stories on the internet that anything exceeding them is at least good in perspective) it’s good, and certainly readable. Not the best, but far, far, from the worst either.

 

Naming an Army

This is another piece of mine on military unit names. It kind of follows along with the last one I did.

This is on naming the army. Not the overall title for the army as an overall organization, but naming the exact equivalent for “Field army“, or even “army group“.

For the etymology, I thought back to the overall theme, of a [villainous] group with a kind of bizarre obsession with the ancient and traditional. The name of an army/army group equivalent would be from a (likely ancient) language, the word taken directly as a loan rather than adapted. And it would not be any directly military-related one there, but something like “assembly” or “federation”.

The image invoked is images of ancient peoples, on the steppes or in the forests, the kind unfairly referred to as “barbarians” by outsiders, forming a coalition of their warriors to campaign. And the reason I got there, or how the name-developers got there in-universe, has to do with the nature of such ultra-large units.

Regardless of national culture or doctrine, extremely large units like army groups and/or field armies are always considerably more ad hoc than the smaller ones in the same country. They’re determined by resources and location. So if it’s ad-hoc, a little like an ancient coalition, that opens the door for it to receive the name of one.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Of course, the question is how much an author should use a possibly confusing author-coined name rather than a familiar one. It’s tough to answer, but is easier in that the names this term would be replacing are themselves looser and to many people more unfamiliar than clearer small units.

The Last Horse Cavalry Manual

I’m currently reading FM 2-15, April 1941.

A US Army manual that is quite possibly the last, and certainly one of the final manuals devoted to horse cavalry in depth. It’s interesting to see the ultimate expression of a soon-to-be-obsolete practice.

For all my knowledge, I still don’t have the full frame of mind to accurately synthesize it with both older horse and later motorized operations, but I can see the passing of an era nonetheless.

Horse cavalry in a mechanized age fits my love of oddball formations, which may be why I’m as interested in it as I’ve been.

The public-domain field manual can be accessed here

My New EBook Is Out

So, I’ve scrounged together a new ebook, the first volume in what I hope to be an ongoing series of goofy, Todd’s Super Racket Adventure.

Available here , it was something to write. I completed it in the following way.

  • Taking stuff that had been floating in my mind, often for years and years. This was important-I wanted to turn it into an extant, complete story.
  • And more importantly, simply letting it flow. Outlines and a strict flow are necessary for many works of fiction. Not this one. As long as I had the very broad strokes, I could plop in the set pieces at my leisure. And insert them I did.
  • This was a blast to write. When I got writer’s block I simply had to wait until a goofy set piece emerged in my mind, then adapt it ever-so-slightly to fit Todd and write it.

This is not a work that will win any prizes for literature (Or cover art, with my MS Paint-created masterpiece on the front). But I enjoyed writing it, and I hope its audience enjoys reading it just as much.

 

Urban Dead

I loved this game, and was fortunate enough to play it at its height. But I can also see the reasons for its decline.

The free browser zombie game Urban Dead was an example of player-driven gameplay. With no NPCs, humans and zombies could organically fight for territory, set up groups and plan battles with real consequences. It was a unique and fun experience.

It was also a horrifically and inherently unbalanced game that managed to give both sides gigantic advantages, in likely unforeseen ways. Individual humans could do far more than individual zombies. Zombies essentially cannot communicate in game at all, and it’s far easier for a human to build barricades than a zombie to destroy them. In individual play, a human can do a lot more.

However, groups of zombies are more or less unstoppable. Because they can just stand up after being killed, in a weird “DETERMINATION”-style system that preceded Undertale by a decade, the only method of actually beating them was to outlast the willpower of the players controlling them. And zombie metagamers turned the in-game communications weakness into a strength, setting up out of game networks.

Because of the PVP nature of the game, any balance changes were bitterly contested, making the community an often unpleasant place. This, combined with the inherent limitations of the game, made the playerbase drop.

There are other factors, most notably the game being incredibly beginner-unfriendly. But its balance was, in my opinion, the biggest reason.

Now, it’s exacerbated. A human can hide in a heavily barricaded building and be safe in normal play (too bad there’s little to do), to a ridiculous extent. Yet with even malls being virtually empty, a small organized group of zombies can attack with basically no resistance. Like its namesake, the game is reduced to shambling on.

But it was fun in its heyday. I remember playing it when I was younger, finding it through (what else) Spacebattles.

Worms and Twigs

One piece of webfiction in particular holds a peculiar trend. The work of fiction would be the web serial Twig, by “Wildbow”, the author of the Spacebattles-favorite superhero epic Worm. The trend is for fans to declare that the storyline must be almost over.

The claims that Twig must be ending soon first started appearing in earnest around Arc 10. Now Twig is at Arc 20. And there’s talk that, honestly, really, Wildbow’s close to finishing it off.

When browsing through the Worm community, I’ve found an explanation that I felt made a lot of sense. People want Worm II, Wildbow’s announced sequel to the initial blockbuster, and they’re so eager that they want Twig to be over.

I admit to being one of them. A story I could follow a chapter at a time could get me to know the setting better than having to dig through a gigantic million word archive. At the same time, I’ve always felt Wildbow has had pacing issues, and thus I’m not surprised Twig has gone the way it has.

The morbid question I have is “will Worm II overload Spacebattles even more?” According to a running thread, around 15-20 of the top stories in Creative Writing are Worm-centric. I personally feel that if it catches CRWs attention again (which is not a guarantee-Pact has only two fanfics written on Spacebattles, and Twig has zero), most of the “victims” will be other wormfics.

So I guess I’ll have to wait and see. For what it’s worth, Worm itself ended after 31 arcs, and Wildbow’s next work, Pact, wrapped after 16.

Alternate History’s Missing Middle

While I’ve blogged a lot about Alternatehistory.com as a website recently, I’ve been similarly disenchanted with the genre as a whole. Even by my critical standards, I can only find a few works that I actually like.

First, it’s an inherently smaller genre, so the portion that falls into Sturgeon’s Law is going to be bigger and the sparks of brilliance smaller in number. Perhaps. But I think it goes deeper. I think the genre is limited, potentially inherently so.

It’s like Arcade, who’s very good for individual filler issues for low-to-mid level superheroes, but fails utterly whenever he’s used for anything else. That might be a weird comparison, but I’m about weird comparisons.

See, I find alternate history to be a perfect example of the “barbel genre”, which gravitates towards one extreme or the other, with little in between. To be fair, the “middle” is the absolute hardest to get right, as you have to find just the right balance between skimping and splurging. But I’ve seen very few ones that even try, and most of the ones that do are just changing the setting to something slightly more obscure.

So, on the low end, you have what I call “Turtledove AH”, which is a sort of often implausible one that focuses more on prominence in popular culture. The two biggest are “South wins in the American Civil War” and “Axis wins WWII”. Harry Turtledove popularized this genre, but it is not limited to him. This genre has its worldbuilding be shallow and not terribly concerned with plausibility, and its plots frequently used for unsubtle commentary on contemporary politics. Often historical events are transposed full force into the alternate history even if it doesn’t make sense.

That’s one end. It’s aimed at people who won’t know the implausibility, or won’t care. At least they tend to have decent plots.

On the other end is what I call  “Online AH”, a sort of hyper-niche story where there’s more attention to detail, less on plot (if any exists at all), and the change itself is the be-all-and-end-all of the work. This is the kind that’s prevalent on AH.com proper, and has plenty of pitfalls of its own. The standard of worldbuilding is set so high that even small implausibilities stand out, there’s zero attraction to someone who isn’t already interested, and the chapter-at-a-time online nature means it, much like fanfiction, can be overwhelmed by fans or write itself into a corner.

What would the missing middle be? Probably look at a more obscure divergence, and leverage it into an interesting and distinctive story. Some of the late Robert Conroy‘s books tried this, but they failed and sank into cliche. Oh well.

Why do I think this is the case, that the genre’s so “barbel-y?” I think that economics might play a role, that there’s a difference between commercial authors (not unreasonably) wanting something that will sell, and obscure niche authors (also not unreasonably) wanting something they know a lot about, to an audience they know will read it.

But it could also be that the nature of alternate history itself provides an object that’s hard to blend in. Either it stands as a metaphor for something else (Turtledove) or becomes the center of everything (online). This is also an imperfect theory, but it might work.

Whatever the reason, it’s something I’ve noticed.

 

Esperanto

I like Esperanto, even if it’s just a mishmash of European languages.

I don’t know enough about linguistics to make an exact comparison, but it sounds like a Romance language, vocabulary wise, similar to Italian and French. Like the Circle Trigon Aggressors who spoke it, the language has an air of both artificiality and creativity to it.

(Circle Trigon Aggressors had a unique insignia system, however, theirs was, especially in the 1945-1960s period, acheived solely by repurposing existing US ones. High ranking Aggressor insignia involved a mix of major’s leaves and cavalry branch sword insignias.)