Twig has concluded

So, the final chapter of Wildbow’s story Twig was posted yesterday. Now the fans are understandably eager for Worm 2.

I found Wildbow’s comments on his own work to be very fascinating and illuminating. Give them a read. As for whether or not Spacebattles will become even more overrun with wormfics-I stand by what I previously wrote.

(Also, the belief that Arc 20 was going to be the final one turned out to be accurate. Whether it was truly prescient or just crying wolf until a lupine beast finally appeared is a difficult question).

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That annoying feeling

Since for a variety of reasons I haven’t been able to get a good sleep, I might as well share the annoying feeling I’ve had a for a really long time. Which is that I feel stuck when I’m actually sitting down preparing to write, fully awake and alert, but when I’m laying in bed trying to sleep, then my mind is buzzing with ideas and thoughts. Ouch.

Bad Fiction Spotlight: James G’s WW3

On alternatehistory.com, there have been published a handful of World War III in 198X stories by user “James G”, formerly known as jimmygreen2002. The finished stories are:

Lions Will Fight Bears

For Queen and Country

National Volksarmee

Fight to the Finish

Going West

Spetsnaz: Week of the Chameleons

And I really don’t like them. Even I don’t know exactly why. Applied in isolation, they’d just be dry sequence-of-events war fics. And they even have better prose than a lot of them-which may be the problem. Because somehow, mysteriously, through a way I might not even recognize, they push¬†every single¬†one of my buttons in a way that Red Storm Rising itself, many of its imitators, and even fellow 198X WW3 stories on AH.com do not.

(To give credit where it’s due, Week of the Chameleons isn’t as bad as the rest. I think it’s structural, being inherently more interesting.)

Why? I think it’s a melding of the board culture and text itself into a group of factors that, all together, make it something that stands out from the pack. It’s a bunch of little things and slightly-worse-than-normal stuff that adds up.

  • First there’s the obvious. Clunky prose, little characterization, a sequence of events plot with little flow, and a nonsensical background. But if this alone were the criteria, it wouldn’t be enough.
  • I’ll start with the prose. It’s just good enough to make me take the stories more seriously. This isn’t like say, bashing a fanfic with bad prose and grammar where the narrator overslept and had to get an unusual choice as his first Pokemon. This series has enough skill to get it to a higher threshold for taste.
  • The prose is clunky, but what’s worse than the usual overly descriptive descriptions and infodumps is the tone. There’s a sort of feeling of forced Deep, Solemn Seriousness that goes through every update of every story. And while I can get most of it (I mean, it is about World War III after all), even a story in that setting would benefit from different moods.
  • The characterization is, interesting. First, like the prose, that there’s characterization at all means I view it from the perspective of a story and not a pseudohistory. But a lot of the characterization-when mentioned at all, is not only in shown-not-told infodumps, but infodumps that feel like the description of how many T-___ tanks or ____-class sloops were made before the war began. It’s a writing trait I find telling.
  • The plot, well, the plots start with the usual ridiculous ways to get the war to start, and I can forgive those. They have no flow, and cut from a scene that individually offers a bit of at least potential poignancy to another update that does nothing but remind the reader that yes, Military Unit _____ does in fact exist. It’s a great example of bowl-of-ingredients writing, where all the individual parts are there but the whole is not.
  • Lots of undeveloped viewpoint characters. This almost goes without saying.
  • Action I feel absolutely no involvement in. Far too clinical. It’s more even-handed than an outright nationalist fantasy, which paradoxically makes it worse instead of better. Imagine if an 80s action movie had semi-realistic firing at the occasional muzzle flash (but without any drama) and then cut back to some general at his desk at random intervals and you get the idea.
  • The setting, well, hmm. It’s basically the same story in the same place repeated multiple times with slightly different names. I’ve said some bad fiction resembles a dry, overly literal let’s play/AAR. This feels like different LPs of the same game with different time and difficulty settings. Oh it’s easy mode this time. Or hard mode! Map X as opposed to Map Y!
  • And it’s like the stories set out to hit every single cliche that the niche genre had. That’s how many of them there are.

Those are the main issues with the stories themselves, with “take a genre cliche, make each genre cliche slightly worse than the norm, then pile them up and make it just ‘big’ enough to judge by a literary standard” pushing them over the top. But maybe it’s the AH.com board culture that sets it apart, as my dislike of the stories grew with the dislike of the site. That could be a reason why I feel the way I do. I can’t say I’m unbiased given that I’ve been in arguments in the threads, so I don’t want to go into detail about those. And I feel like I shouldn’t make an appeal to that-the stories should speak for themselves.

So yeah, that’s them. I wonder if my personal biases and experiences skewed them from mediocre to terrible in my own eyes, or if the works by themselves merit a Bad Fiction Spotlight.

The Magnificent Forward Observers

Poor me.

I know too much for a Seven Samuraiinspired battle to be both realistic and dramatic. At least against an army, which is what I was going for when I thought of the concept. Because against a larger and at least somewhat disciplined force willing to take any sort of loss, seven people are going to get crushed effortlessly. The best they could do, and this assumes they have the support in the first place, is hide and call in reports and fire support similar to the Marines at Khafji.

Now, against er, “irregulars”, as was the case in the original inspirations, it’s a different story. Still implausible, but they’d likely be far less skilled, and more crucially, have a far more timid risk calculus. Which is to say, there’d be more pressure to just “give up” and loot an easier target rather than take huge losses for the sake of a victory. The historical record of militia shows that, in general, they’re much worse at attacking than they are defending.

But could one still make a good story out of either a semi-plausible or outright implausible version, against either type of opposition? Of course! As long as it was well-written and fit the tone of the overall work, any sort of setup can work very well.

WVGCW 2K17 impressions

As I type this, the first full episode of WVGCW in 2K17 is airing. And it’s as incredible as I hoped it would be. Some types of 2Kuality have disappeared, but others have emerged to take their places.

It’s well worth the viewing experience. The game may have changed, but the goofiness and 2Kuality has not.

Twig ending and the Worm dilemma

Although Twig has not officially concluded, much less Worm 2 having started, the first epilogue of that story has been posted.

The question of whether I should try to get into Worm 2 is tough. I tried to get into Twig a bit, but it just didn’t really grab me, however thematically interesting. Reasons I’d want to get into Worm 2 are:

  • I could be pleasantly surprised.
  • I want to know more about Spacebattles’ favorite weird niche webfic.
  • Most importantly, reading it as it starts means I’m not buried by a gigantic overload of previous chapters.

However, the reason why I wouldn’t, and why I haven’t, are twofold.

  • Wildbow (the author) has prose that’s just “meh”. Not terrible, but not the most gripping.
  • The pacing of the stories isn’t very good, which combined with their (admirably) fast update schedule means I catch up on several chapters of nothing.

That being said, I’ll still give it a try, and if nothing else, I might be motivated to read through the many updates of Worm 1 while Twig winds down. Maybe I’ll find it an acquired taste. It’s certainly happened before with stuff that didn’t seem good at first impression.

 

(W)VGCW returns!

So, VGCW has ended in an appropriate style, and its “developmental” show EDBW has followed suit.

However, Women’s Video Game Championship Wrestling has continued, and they’ve gotten around WWE 2K17’s lack of a create-a-story mode in the following way:

I’d been advocating doing something like this, but it’s still a little jarring. Oh well, it’s the best they can do given the technology and in-game resources that they have.

Good Fiction Spotlight: The Defense of Hill 781

It’s time for another Good Fiction Spotlight, in light of all the “Bad Fiction Spotlights” I’ve done. This Good Fiction Spotlight goes to James McDonough’s The Defense of Hill 781.

The book is intended as a late Cold War version of the classic Defence of Duffer’s Drift and is styled as such. The action is evenhanded, detailed, and possibly a little over-detailed. But here’s what sets it apart. Instead of trying to move away from its inherent artificiality, it embraces it completely.

There are very good reasons for this in the proper context-it’s meant to be educational and show the equivalent of a “battle” in the National Training Center in detail-this isn’t attempting to illustrate a full World War III or any other story in any other sense. It’s not like I think McDonough made a deliberate stylistic choice to focus the story entirely on a completely artificial engagement. It was just the nature of a Duffer’s Drift-style tale.

However inadvertedly, the book nonetheless is the closest in-print work to the kind of artificial OPFOR thriller I talked about wanting to see-making no pretentions about being anything more than what it is, and having a sense of humor that stands out in an otherwise serious genre.

Nothing Vulgar about this conlang tool

I have discovered an excellent tool for conlanging that has helped me get over the hump of trying to come up with names and basic places.

That tool is called Vulgar. It has a free/demo version and a relatively cheap full version. At the push of a button, you can make a gramatically distinct and coherent language with a distinct vocabulary. Just tweak a few phonemes, and it can be distinct without resembling garbled English full of apostrophes.

For making names in non-English languages, it’s helped me tremendously. All I need to do is fire it up, yank a few terms that could easily be applied to proper names, and there I have it. I highly recommend Vulgar. For those who know linguistics, it’s not a substitute for a hand-built conlang and was never intended to be one, but it’s invaluable nonetheless.

 

What makes a good rogues gallery

Ok, I think I’ve found the superhero with the best rogues gallery, in my opinion of course. Spider-Man, and not just because I grew up with him and he was my family’s favorite hero.

I think there’s two big reasons.

  • A good power set. Spider-Man is in a sweet spot, strength-wise, where you can pit both low-end nominal humans and strong supervillains against him without it seeming too implausible. This isn’t like (and I know I’m using DC here) Superman where his foes have to be either cosmic or kryptonite-based, or a Daredevil/Batman/Punisher where they have to be weaker.
  • The lack of an “evil counterpart” for a while. Evil counterparts are tricky. They have to eventually lose, but they’re symmetric so the fights frequently become less than ideal. The Hulk (Abomination) and Iron Man (A parade of power-suited villains) are notorious for this. It took Spider-Man decades to get a direct evil counterpart in the form of Venom, and even he’s better than most.

 

This, mixed with silver age creativity, makes Spidey’s villains memorable. Sadly (or maybe not sadly), Marvel has had an aversion to making new villains for a while. I’ve heard part of it is a reluctance by writers to create something they won’t have financial or creative control over, but that doesn’t explain all of it. I think it’s just because the comics themselves are doubling down on being niche, while the movies still have decades of material to mine.