So, I read A Game of Thrones

I recently read A Game of Thrones. My impression was “not for me.” Not necessarily bad, but just not for me. GRRM isn’t quite the best at pacing or immediacy, and I’ m not the biggest fan of the premise.

It’s kind of how I feel about Worm as well-not hated by any means and I can understand why people like it, but just has a premise I personally don’t find the most interesting mixed with iffy pacing and fundamentals. That I’m not normally the biggest fan of fantasy makes it harder to progress through a megaseries too.

So, yeah, it’s not bad but not for me.

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Reading Red Army

So I read Ralph Peters’ Red Army, one of the fewer classic World War III novels I hadn’t read yet. A part of me doesn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. This is better-written than many of its contemporaries and well-intended. It isn’t just the grit of the battles that works, but how Peters, unlike so many other writers in the genre, goes light on the technical terminology. It still has a little too much viewpoint-hopping, but flows well. In that, I’m reminded of Team Yankee doing a similar thing, and both books are good “counters” to each other[1].

However, I still have some criticism. A lot of the characterization is done through telling and not showing, and while the viewpoint hopping is smoothed over, it still exists. Also, I think the two main parts of the book are at cross-purposes. The intent is to tell a ground-eye-view story that humanizes the Soviets and a cautionary tale of how NATO could lose. They don’t quite gel, and a lot of the high-level viewpoint characters are infodumpers that make it a little ham-fisted.

The last major comment I have is that the book has a lot of its power lost when read by a history enthusiast several decades later. All the “classics” have this issue too, and it’s not the fault of their writers. But the big “punch” of this is a softball to someone who already knew about the issues that plagued NATO for its entire Cold War existence that the book brings up.

But this is still a worthy Cold War Hot novel that any enthusiast should pick up. I still recommend it.

[1]IE, two good but fundamentally different Cold War novels, idealized American vs. ideal Soviet, star-spangled spectacular American win vs. gritty Soviet win. The readable but horribly erratic Chieftains (let’s say I’ll just be talking more about that book later) can’t quite serve as Coyle’s foil. This can.

A genre I’d never write?

So, for the August 2018 #TheMerryWriter challenge started by Ari Meghlen and Rachel Poli, the second day’s question was “Is there a genre you would never write?”

It was a tough question to answer. My tastes are incredibly varied already and can change a lot. A desire to move away from fire-eating hyperbole on my part made it even harder. Finally, the vague nature of what constitutes certain “genres” at all makes it tougher.

I don’t want to say I’d never write a certain genre, but certain ones are lower on my priority list. The one I tweeted was “classic Westerns”. I’ve never been terribly interested in them past watching The Magnificent Seven as a child, and if I’m not into reading them, then writing them, well, yeah.

However, a lot of genres I would gladly write-the adventure genre, part of the “cheap thriller” genre I love, has been clearly inspired by classic Westerns. So genres are not easy to separate.

Other genres low on my list:

  • Outright horror, especially cosmic horror. Not really for me, but I can see the appeal.
  • Contemporary romance. For the most part I’m not in the demographic, so that’s pretty self-explanatory.
  • Mysteries. Argh. The problem is a spectacular true crime book by The Wire creator David Simon called Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets. With that being as piercing as it is, traditional mysteries look especially formulaic and unrealistic. That being said, I do like the concept more.
  • Zombies. At least shambler zombies. Too often they become a “theme park apocalypse”.
  • Urban Fantasy. Fantasy overall is fairly low, but urban fantasy is even lower. I like it in theory, it’s just too often I see it falling. It might just be me seeing poor examples, but I think a lot of the time it tries to have its cake (modern relatable characters and the fantastic!) and eat it too (too neatly segmenting off the societies), and that annoys me.
  • Legal thrillers. I’m not a lawyer, self-explanatory.

This is of course my personal taste and I have nothing against the genres or anyone who likes them. And my opinion could very well change again.

Xenonauts

So, time to use a weird analogy where I compare alien-fighting turn-based strategy games to cars.

The original X-COM is a quirky old British sports car. Yes, it’s unreliable and the dashboard looks like it was designed for some bizarre species, but it has an undeniable feeling of fun, with the strange suspension part of the thrill.

The new XCOM is a modern performance car. Still a premium, somewhat niche product, and definitely smoothed out compared to the old classic, but keeps enough of the “feel” to be both practical and exciting.

Xenonauts, the X-COM spiritual sequel, is an econobox without power windows. It’s still a car, and it’s ultimately filling the car roles, but it’s dull and tedious.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Xenonauts ultimately isn’t a bad game, just as how a basic point-a-to-point-b econobox that’s reliable and has good enough cargo room and mileage ultimately isn’t a bad car. But it’s just… bland. I was “spoiled” by the new XCOM using the same basic concept in a “Streamlined” fashion. This is just the original X-COM with the worst excesses polished off.

There’s two problems with this mechanical approach. The first is that enough issues remain from the old X-COM-the two worst being garbage-tier rookies and a clunky “time units” system for determining what you can do in a turn-that the gameplay experience can drag. The second is that the very polish drags away a lot of the goofy charm of the original X-COM, where you start with rookies who exist as grenade tossers and stun-rod zappers and plan to lose half of them in every fight, and end with super-psychics who never have to leave their starting positions. Instead, it’s just-bland. Harder and blander.

And the visual design has to win some kind of award for being “bland”. It’s a combination of “as close as we can get to the original X-COM without legal trouble, but without anything silly” and “generic military base”. I generally don’t care about graphics, but this was still a big issue. The only good thing is the excellent music.

It’s playable, and something true X-COM style fans can enjoy as a part of the experience. But it’s just bland.