The Worst Villains: Guns of the South

Some of the worst antagonists in an otherwise readable novel would have to be the South African time travelers in Harry Turtledove’s Guns of the South.

As a plot device to give the Confederates AKs, they work. As fighting antagonists once they turn on their former patrons and teach them why small arms are still at the bottom of the modern war food chain, they also work. As characters, they are utter failures.

In terms of character development, they’re cartoonishly evil, so they can make the Confederates look better in race relations in comparison. In terms of competence, they choose the dumbest, clumsiest, and most backfiring way possible of trying to kill Robert E. Lee once relations sour.

They’re still not as bad as SCP-682, my personal least favorite villain of all time, but they’re definitely up there, especially since they’re not the products of an internet whim or a Bad Fiction Spotlight subject, but rather in an otherwise alright book.

(That this is one of Turtledove’s best books says something about him).

The Ashes Series

The author William W. Johnstone created the Ashes series of postapocalyptic books, made at the height of the 80s survivalist craze.

These are almost worthy of a Bad Fiction Spotlight, but they’re too conventionally bad.

Here’s how every single Ashes book goes. Mary Sue extraordinare Ben Raines (who is supposed to be head commander but leads from the front way too often-don’t worry, he’s safe) and his super-army of “Rebel Tri-Staters” see the creep of the week and kill him in a brief battle. Or fight the strawman armies of the creep of the arc in a brief battle. If Ben Raines falls in love with a woman, she gets killed. Oh, and there’s rants about types of people Johnstone-I mean Raines, doesn’t like. The end.

(The battles are very, very brief.)

I think the biggest problems are the really easy logistics (hero and villain alike can move everything they want overseas, including armored formations(!)), and the fact that there’s thirty five of those things made.

Plus, they’re so stupid, vile, and cliche that they become fun. And not in a “pick everything apart” way, a normal reading way.

Types of Bad Fiction

There are several categories of Bad Fiction.

Category 1: This is the sad mediocrity. The prose is often functional, but bland. The plot is functional, but bland. Often it has the feeling of being done for money or obligation, and thus suffers for it. Occasionally fun to to read if one doesn’t have anything better, but not fun to talk about.

Cat 2: This is the kind of bad fiction that’s heartfelt but terrible. There’s more sincere effort then Cat 1 Bad Fiction. But it’s still ultimately bland. These are generally sloppy amateur projects with bad prose. Most bad fanfiction falls into this category.

Cat 3: This is the sort of bad fiction that has effort behind. Lots and lots of real effort. Now, maybe the effort is a sort of ‘draw a tree but miss the forest utterly’ effort on worldbuilding for its own sake and details. Maybe most of the effort is spent arguing about the work rather than working on it. Maybe all of the above is true. Category 3 Bad Fiction often has just enough technical competence to not be dismissed outright.

I try to focus my Bad Fiction Spotlights on Category 3 Bad Fiction.

Sedans

Sedan sales have been dropping. After helping my family move, and seeing the cargo stuff hatchback and crossover cars bring, I can see why.

Adam West and Batman: A Memorial

Actor Adam West, best known for his role on the 60s Batman TV show, has passed away. RIP.

The show was actually close to the comics of the time. It was the Silver Age, and Batman was collateral damage in DC pushing the Comics Code to eliminate horror comics. So, you probably couldn’t get much “better” in storytelling than what they got.  Besides, the show actually helped turn an obscure villain-the Riddler-, into a major foe thanks to Frank Gorshin’s classic portrayal.

Bad Fiction Spotlight: Victoria

Now, a little under two years ago, I found a book by the defense commentator and author William S. Lind. The book was called “Victoria: A Novel Of Fourth Generation War”.

I was expecting, at best, a book that would be illuminated by its author’s genuine fame as a military expert and advisor to Gary Hart, and at worst a conventional crazy right wing novel. What I got was -something else.

I had to mock it. So mock it at Spacebattles I did. (As with everything I’ve written a long time ago, I feel a little embarassed by it and wish I’d done some things better. Oh well.) It was written right after Lind fell from grace dramatically in the wake of the Gulf War, and his bitterness shows. Boy, does it show.

 

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. I figured a pair of pictures would be worth two thousand words. These are shots from the bloodiest battles in American history.

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American artillery position, Battle of the Bulge, 1944.

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Union burial crew, Antietam, 1862.

Book cleaning

So, I’ve been helping my mother move, and have been cleaning out my old books. A lot of memories returned. Good books, bad books, and everything in between.

The in-betweens are getting tossed.

  • Legitimately good books are occasionally going with me. I was keen on saving Stephen Baxter’s Exultant, one of my formative science fiction works. And save it I did.
  • Legitimately mega-bad books all stay with me too.

The books getting removed are mostly mediocrities, or ones from series I no longer have an interest in but did back in the day-the embarassingly large number of Warhammer 40,000 ones certainly qualify.

I was so foolish-an online history

One website has left a bad impression on me, because I was a mark in it. It set back my writing talent by a noticeable amount. Now it’s apparently reaping what it has sown.

So, that site was the Project A.F.T.E.R. Forum. It mocked fanfiction. It mocked a lot of fanfiction, and a lot of bad fiction. I like mocking bad fiction. I found it with a detailed mock of the infamous Salvation War[1]. I fit in. What could go wrong?

A lot. They had a blanket dislike of all fanfiction[2], a dislike of nearly everything popular. Maybe the writing should have been on the wall when I checked out something they were mocking and unironically enjoyed it. But I was younger and busier. I kept my ideas in my head because I had this (paranoid and unwarranted, but still present) fear of – “Oh no, they’ll find that Coiler’s writing fanfiction.

I grew past it. It got more mean-spirited, the most aggressive members broke off to form a new endeavor, and then the rest of the site just went down. Not literally, but figuratively. If one registered user is on, it’s amazing.

Now, looking back at it, I realized that Stardestroyer.net collapsed in an almost identical fashion. I’d washed my hands of that site when its true decline started so I didn’t have a front-row seat like PA, but could see it.

  • Snipe at easy targets. In SDN’s case, it was creationists and overrwrought Star Trek fans. In PA’s case, it was the legitimately awful fanfiction.
  • Get a huge sense of superiority from your mocking of said easy targets. Keep a ‘nerd attitude’, for lack of a better term, but have zero empathy. “My nerd stuff is good, yours isn’t”-I think you can see that.
  • Then, after the bitterness increases, you inevitably turn on each other. Either partisans of the losing side or just normal observers inevitably leave, and the whole place falls apart.

SDN has, as of this post, only eight registered human users online. Spacebattles has over two thousand, and even its spin-offs have many, many more. I think its effect on my writing might have been overstated, but it was there, and I feel bad for it.

[1]It’s here for what it’s worth. Ironically, googling “M2 Bradley” brought me to SDN, and then to Spacebattles (long story).

[2]I don’t hold that against them. Nor do I wish even the abrasive ones any ill will-I still listen to some of their podcasts some of the time.