Reading Good Books

So, I am in a weird position where both Frank Herbert’s Dune and A Game Of Thrones sit unread on my shelf, whereas I’ve downed a million cheap thrillers. It’s time for me to start reading the classics.

So, I’m putting myself on a book-reading moratorium (at least of cheap thrillers) until I finish both of them. Thankfully, I read very fast. And of course I’ll give my opinions.


Another Issue of Scale

It’s very easy to be “spoiled” by World War II sizes, where even second-stringers could handily field large formations (by the standards of later armies), and where the 90 division US Army was not unreasonably criticized as being too small.

Even Cold War armies appear small compared to those[1], something that I need to keep in mind when making my guilty pleasure OOB lists.

[1]In terms of number of divisions, of course. In capability, they’re far superior.

Lincoln Town Cars

I’ve seen a lot of Lincoln Town Cars around where I live. In fact, although it might just be memory bias, I’ve seen more Town Cars than the related Crown Victoria sedans. Or it might not be, since the lower-budget Crown Vics probably had less effort put into maintaining and preserving them than the luxurious Town Cars.

I’ve never actually ridden in one and probably never will, although I’ve heard they’re the ultimate in squishy American comfort.

Hyper cup phone

Dr. Mortimer Lafayette Blake Gordon had a hundred million eyes watching him.

“Good morning, my friends and brothers. Today, I am proud to announce the newest product from Dr. Gordons’ Communication Projects. This is the Dr. Gordon’s Hyper Cup Phone.

The phone can be cupped in your hand with greater ease than the Dr. Gordon’s Super Cup Phone or those available from rival phone firms. It has faster processing power than the Dr. Gordon’s Super Cup Phone. It is second to none.”

Dr. Gordon took a breath. The TV cameras saw.

“And, as always, the Dr. Gordon’s Hyper Cup Phone can attach with a pair of Dr Gordon’s Earphones to all past and present Dr. Gordon’s Weed Trimmers.”

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Written for this prompt.

The Nintendo Direct

So, the newest Nintendo Direct was released.

Nothing for the new mainline Pokemon and Fire Emblem games that we still know very little confirmed knowledge of save for the fact that they exist. (Either E3 or a standalone announcement, I suppose, which makes sense given their size and prominence). So, that disappointment was there-if you can call it a disappointment.

As for me, well, it was like “ok, stuff that looks kinda neat, stuff I’m not really interested in, oooh-No More Heroes, ok, ok, Undertale for the Switch-Whoa! Ok, ok, hmm, that was decent, port announcements, ok, uh, uh, so I suppose it’s-uh, wait-SMASH BROTHERS! WHOA BABY IT’S SMASH BROTHERS!”

It is, indeed, the announcement and reveal of the newest Smash Bros. My delight can hardly be contained.

Submarine Fiction

With the release of The Silent Service DLC for Command, I figured I’d talk about submarine fiction. Now, the genre includes traditional classics like Run Silent Run Deep, and of course, a submarine novel kickstarted the technothriller genre as we know it.

Submarine fiction is a sort of genre that’s interesting in the context of how it adapted to the post-USSR period. It was a very hard, very uphill struggle. Probably more so than any other subgenre of technothriller, because not that many countries even have subs, much less modern ones.

Small fry? You’d be lucky to get anything more than a Kilo or Type 209.

Nuclear submarines? Only six countries operate them, four are democracies, and three of the four are NATO members.

So the methods I’ve found authors use are:

  • Give the enemy a “thingy”. That is, the weaker opponent has a submarine (or submarines) as well. Is it a Kilo/209? Is it an upgraded Kilo/209-style submarine? Is it a newer, quiet submarine?
  • Make the story part of a big great-power conflict, in some form or another.
  • Go full sci-fi or weird and make it unconventional in some form. Larry Bond’s Cauldron is a mild example of this, whereas Joe Buff‘s submarine novels are an extreme example.
  • Finally-have a submarine that’s hijacked/hacked/rogue/stolen/otherwise in the hands of the antagonist. This is one of many examples, as is this.

Obviously, they can mix, these are not hard and fast categories by any means. The only thing that really feels “natural” is the great-power conflict, and that has its own issues and hangups. The others can still be done well. As with any genre, a skilled author can turn a questionable setup into a delight, while a bad author can get a story handed to them on a silver platter and mess it up. But the obvious handwaves and possible pitfalls are still there, and still clear.

An additional one that I think exists for submarines regardless of the time period is that they’re “all or nothing”. You can destroy individual protagonist tanks or aircraft easily enough, but, for the most part, either all the submarine’s crew makes it, or none of them do.

Submarine fiction is an interesting technothriller niche, that, thanks to the real exclusivity, seems to amplify the issues the genre has had. And that’s legitimately interesting to me.

Larry Bond’s Red Phoenix

Larry Bond is a figure to whom wargaming and military fiction owes a lot. His writing suffers from a very peculiar problem, in that it feels cliche and clunky, in a way that isn’t his fault. In short, he is a victim of his own success.

It was this feeling I had when I was reading the classic Red Phoenix. I’d heard it was a superb technothriller. I read it and found it to be a middle-of-the-road one. It was like Cauldron, a slightly later book I read, only with a more plausible and grounded opponent. Maybe my hype aversion kicked in, but it just felt-normal. Not rising above the pack, but in it, and not nearly as focused and flowing as Coyle’s Team Yankee. But this is not a Bad Fiction Spotlight, and in total isolation, it would be a good cheap thriller.

However, I did not approach this in total isolation. Bond is, even more than Clancy, a poster child for “having seen so many imitators, the original doesn’t seem so original”. The multiple viewpoint characters, the descriptions, the every section of every theater, the political “””intrigue”””, all of it is there. He definitely helped pioneer it. At the time it would have been better. But now I’m thinking “and this is how the trends I disliked got started [or at least popularized]”, because of how influential he was.


It’s not Worm

So, there’s a dirty little secret about Worm fanfiction, the kind that has taken SB/V by storm so much the mods had to make separate boards. I didn’t realize this secret because I (wisely) stayed even farther away from the fanfic scene than I did from the original story, but then I found out once I discovered more.

It’s not based on Wildbow’s original story.

It isn’t. A lot of Worm fanfic writers admit to having never read the original. Now, under normal circumstances, I would denounce that. And I still do. But even if it’s hard to defend, I can at least understand why people wouldn’t want to slog through a story that’s about as long as War and Peace and In Search of Lost Time put together. And has terrible pacing and other fundamentals.

And going for more fanfics makes it more flexible, since there’s nothing in the way. This explained everything when I came to that conclusion in one of the many Worm discussions. It explains why Wildbow’s later stories, including Worms own sequel, have generated basically nothing in terms of Spacebattles fanfics. It explains why everything is so divergent and why certain elements are latched on to beyond the usual “fanon” misunderstandings.

Wildbow writes, long dark, fantasy stories. The Worm fanfic writers write in a superhero sandbox, and the original work might as well have been an RPG sourcebook that was never meant to be treated as anything more than a vague guideline for the GM to fill in the blanks.

Now I’d be honestly interested to see what the main stories were that sparked this “fanon Worm”, the critical mass of early fanfics. Because it’s them and not the main story that are the real source material.