Having a Personal Ending

What prompted this post was an announcement that Starbreeze/Overkill is beginning work on new content for Payday 2 again, as part of a desperate attempt to milk their lone cash cow even further to try and bide time for Payday 3 development. (It’s probably the least bad thing to do, but that’s another story)

Now that game, in its weird plot progression from story-less homage to classic heist movies to ridiculous tie-ins to what could have been a Jon Land novel just ended well. Having some sort of follow-on just seems like disrupting a good moment. Though I’m waiting until I see the content before I pass judgement on it specifically, I can feel comfortable saying that in my personal canon, the saga ends with confronting an evil dentist next to an alien MacGuffin in a cave underneath the White House.

And well, it’s not the only one where I’ve felt like I’ve had a stronger “personal ending”. There’s another, far more famous setting that I have a personal ending for, and, unlike Payday’s, it wasn’t originally planned as the official conclusion. That would be Jack Ryan. For all its other faults, The Sum Of All Fears is a near-perfect conclusion to the saga of Jack Ryan, Cold Warrior. And finally, I haven’t had much interest in the recent revival of the Survivalist series. I might check them out, but as far as I’m concerned, the story of John Rourke ended in Death Watch (if not the ninth/tenth book, a more ideal stopping point).

An area where I didn’t have a personal ending comes from the Blaine McCracken novels, mostly just because how disappointing the last-for-a-while installment, Dead Simple, was. I also don’t have them in many settings that are inherently open-ended.

But some settings/franchises/series just have a moment that seems so appropriate that I can’t help but go “That’s where it deserved to end.”

The World Series Champion Records

The World Series starts tonight. So I’ve been looking up the list of players with the most World Series championships .The leader is Yogi Berra with ten. You really have to dig a little to find players with a ton of rings who never played for the 1920s-1960s Yankees.

Two interesting standouts are the ever-slow aging Jamie Moyer (who was good enough to start a game for a World Series winner in 2008 at 45) and John Lackey (whose appearance on three different World Series winners years apart brings Robert Horry to mind).

Going Back To The Car Plant

I actually haven’t read any cheap thrillers I can remember that took place in car plants, or even had a scene that was inside a car plant. They’re big, there’s a lot of people there, and there’s a lot of automated heavy equipment that can spice up the more ridiculous set pieces.

What’s not to like? Even better, they can be everything from shiny, new, mechanized car plants to old, rusty, smoky and grimy ones. There’s a lot of possibilities for making the scenes work. I may have to include a significant scene inside a car plant for my next thriller project.

 

Happy 19th Birthday, Pokemon Gen II

So today is the 19th anniversary of Pokemon Gold and Silver being released in North America. Having played the Silver version ridiculously extensively when younger, I feel like Gen II remains my favorite to this very day. The grumpy you’re-no-fun part of me says it was because I was old enough to truly appreciate it but still young enough to have a child’s awe. Oh well. I still think it’s my favorite generation.

It just felt BIG. All the activities you could do made it feel big. That you had two regions made it feel big. The different day/night cycles and weekdays made it feel big. It felt big and lively.

When I got the Ruby version, yes, the graphics were much better. But the day/night was now a technicality and it just didn’t feel as big. Oh, it was probably as big or bigger in terms of actual tiles, but it didn’t feel big to me. Silver felt big. Silver felt really big.

I’d say Silver and Fallout New Vegas are my two favorite RPGs of all time.

 

Five Thrillers

I’ve read so many cheap thrillers that arrowing it down to just five I’d recommend right off the bat is difficult, but here they are:

Team Yankee by Harold Coyle

This is one of the best Cold War hot books I’ve read. It showed me the perils of box-check thinking, because on paper it has every indication of the kind of “Boom boom goes the tank” clunkfests I’d read on the internet. Yet in practice, it’s a smooth-flowing tale that illustrates the best possibilities of the genre.

The Alpha Deception by Jon Land

All right, so most of Jon Land’s books, especially the Blaine McCracken ones, are goofy, crazy, ridiculous and fun. It was very difficult to select the goofiest, craziest, most ridiculous, and most fun out of them. But if I had to, I’d say The Alpha Deception, because Land pulls out all the stops, even by his standards.

Burmese Crossfire by Peter Nealen

Take a love letter to the “Men’s Adventure” books of the past. Now instead of a revolving door of  for-the-money ghostwriters who glanced at one issue of Guns And Ammo, take a veteran with heart and a knowledge of when to be grounded and when to be bombastic. The result is something excellent.

Tin Soldiers by Michael Farmer

Ok, so this is driven up by context, because a 2000s technothriller is surrounded by mediocre-to-terrible neighbors. It also has its share of problems. But it manages to do right what a lot of other thrillers did wrong. This is no small feat, and it’s the technothriller book from that time period I’d be the likeliest to recommend.

Valor’s Choice by Tanya Huff

A military science fiction book that has almost none of the baggage associated with the genre. This, apart from being good (if a little derivative-you’d know the movie/historical battle it’s inspired by very quickly), is one of the best cases of a fresh face revitalizing a genre.

 

The Megabinge

Around this time last year, I began reading Total War, the first book in Jerry Ahern’s incredible, and incredibly ridiculous Survivalist series. I ended up wolfing down all of the 27 numbered books there. Since then, the closest I’ve come is Jon Land’s Blaine McCracken series, but that’s eleven books and I read them over a (somewhat) longer period.

I’m wondering if I’ll ever megabinge something like the Survivalist series again. I’d need a series that, besides being long, had these factors.

  • Was well written enough to keep me following it.
  • Had a serial format and a overall plot interesting enough to keep me following it.
  • Didn’t face competition from another author/series.

So I haven’t slopped into the mood, but you never know…

A wonderful find

So having theorized that Casca bore a lot of resemblance to a sword and planet hero, I found the name Kenneth Bulmer in the mix for “Casca Ghostwriters Prior To Sadler’s Death” (apparently he wrote the Casca books Panzer Soldier and The Mongol).

Bulmer’s biggest writing saga was, of course, the Dray Prescott series of…. yep, sword and planet books. How about that.

Casca: The Sword And Planet Hero

So I’ve been reading a few more Casca books. During one readthrough, it hit me: Casca is basically a sword and planet hero (think John Carter and knockoffs of that). Sword and planet heroes tend to start their adventures by getting some sort of anti-aging/immortality treatment. Either because of this or just from some intrinsic advantage (ie, “low gravity), they have just enough of an edge over their opponents. Their adventures are either standalone books or arcs that center around exotic set pieces.

Casca? Cursed to be immortal and gains rapid healing. Advantage over his opponents but not an overwhelming one? Of course. Standalone books where he’s in one (pulpish popular) “exotic” historical period after another? Exactly. Now, I don’t think this was intentional on Sadler’s part. But it still comes across that way.

Casca

I’ve reviewed a few of the Casca books at Fuldapocalypse. I guess I just couldn’t resist the notion of a series with the background of “Guy who sang The Ballad Of The Green Berets writes a series about an immortal soldier.”

Basically, it’s “the Longinus and Wandering Jew legends are fused into one person, who proceeds to have a lot of pulp historical fiction adventures.”And I do mean pop-culture pulp history. Trust me.

But as long as one accepts that these are historical popular pulp cheap thrillers and not expected to be the most accurate or deep, they often work. And they frequently succeed in turning tales of “Wolverine without claws” into something dramatic by emphasizing the ways Casca can be harmed rather than the ways he can’t be. They’re still often good as just fluff reading (although I’ve been on a “losing streak” with the latest few Cascas I’ve read).

But at the same time, the Casca series is just massively unambitious and formulaic. Now, normally, criticizing cheap thrillers for being formulaic is like criticizing candy for having lots of sugar in it. However, A: it’s a little worse even than the low norm, and B: the origins of Casca kind of set a higher standard. Imagine a series with someone who gets a form of superpowers from some religiously significant event-and then does nothing but shoot mobsters in one rote 70s thriller after another. It’s not even that over-the-top much of the time.

One of the secrets that reading a few Casca books will reveal is that its main character is surprisingly replaceable. You could write dozens of historical pulp novels with dozens of different main characters either connected by some Eternal Champion-style spirit/fate or just unrelated save for being pulp heroes, and about the only change you’d have to make is having them be concerned about dying outright and not just being trapped/harmed. There’s the millenia-old Brotherhood of the Lamb as a halfhearted attempt at recurring antagonists. That’s it.

This is like having the defending Super Bowl champions at 1st and goal and immediately deciding to kick a field goal. Yes you get points [readable books] where you possibly couldn’t have gotten any, but the opportunity for so much more was there.

I think of what a more serious and philosophical author could have done with such a figure (I mean, for one they could actually mention the religious implications in more than passing). On the other hand, I think of what a more bombastic writer could have done (Given that Jerry Ahern was desperate to stretch his writing legs and had plans for a continuous one hundred book series, having Casca’s struggle against the Brotherhood go from spears to Detonics to lasers would have been something).

Instead, the entire central gimmick, the one that attracted me (and no doubt others) in ways that a bunch of unrelated historical novels didn’t, is used for little more than not having to come up with new names and basic character backgrounds for each book. It’s a shame to let such potential go to waste.