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.

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.

 

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.

 

 

The Dead Generals Chronicles is Out

So, I’ve decided to take the plunge into Kindle publishing. My first foray into the world of self/e-publishing is The Dead Generals Chronicles, a brief work of “psuedo-history” that “analyzes” the deaths of fictional generals in fictional conflicts. Anything more would be a spoiler.

It is my first such book published, and I do not intend for it to be the last. This is my first toe in the pool, so to speak.

You can get it here.

Wunderlogistik

Sometimes, the hallmark of a truly bad setting is it making the heroes weak or their enemies strong, often inadvertedly. So, revisiting an old “classic”, I found it was even worst in that regard than I previously knew.

I knew TBO was a bad setting. I knew it gave the Germans ridiculous logistics.

But still…

  • Advance to the Don and Volga Rivers to the point where they serve as the frontlines while the Soviets/Russians are still actively resisting.
  • Stay there in the wake of the Russo-American armies for 4-5 years.
  • Keep their warlord states in South Russia going for close to a decade after Germany proper is nuked, and they have to be pushed out of them.

Yeesh. For a series intended to debunk the Wehraboo Wunderwaffe, this doesn’t look so good. But somehow it got even worse.

  • Pull off a Crimea-style amphibious sneak attack to quickly occupy Britain.
  • Keep mobile forces running around as fire brigades to shore up the undermanned line for those 4-5 years. And do so effectively, without the counters the Allies historically developed.
  • Inflict 1.3 million combat deaths on the Americans alone without suffering similarly monstrous losses.
  • Finally, when they do flee into the Middle East, serve as the only viable force of the strawman Muslim superstate that can do anything except riot and rant.

There’s a backwards reason here, and it’s to make the story possible at all. The initial forum post that led to it (a kind of ‘strategic decision game’) described it as follows.

“How is this for a strategic scenario?

We’re in 1947, the US has successfully tested a nuclear device (and managed to keep a lid on it). They’ve built up an arsenal of around 60 devices, all Mark 1s of average 10 kiloton yield (up a bit, down a bit, things weren’t terribly precise back then). They have a production rate of around one Mark 1s per month with a single 15 kiloton Model 1561 every four month. Coming up is the 25 kiloton Mark 3 (one a month from mid-1947) and the 50 kiloton mark 4 (one a week from the start of 1948 ) . This is a somewhat faster production rate and reflects an acceptance of wartime engineering standarsd rather than peacetime. It means the devices shorter lives. By the way, Super (fusion device) is on the way.

Bomber force will be 500 B-36s, all jet equipped (the B-36s have priority for jets precisely because of the nuclear device). B-29s are there but mostly face the Pacific.

In Europe, the Germans occupy from the Urals to the Pyranees and from the UK to North Africa. They range into but do not hold the Sahara. In the east they have a hell of a partisan warfare problem in the occupied territories. That requires a major force commitment. Western Europe is relatively peaceful. Spain is doing a balancing act – pro-German enough not to be invaded by Germany, not pro German enough to be pounded by the US.

At sea, the Germans aren’t so lucky. The US Navy and what’s left of the RN have swept the seas of the German fleet. The Atlantic is a US lake. The US carriers are pounding the Western edges and there isn’t much the Germans can do about it. Of their submarines, only the Type XXIs can do anything useful and they are hunted mercilessly. The older subs have an at-sea lifetime of hours rather than days. There are no transatlantic convoys to sop up Allied resources so everything goes into an attack fleet.

In the air the German jets had a temporary transcendence in 1944/45 but thats fading fast. The P-80 and the new Grumman F9F are marginally inferior to the latest German jets but they are enormously greater in numbers. Both the allies and the Germans have a problem; there isn’t enough jet fuel. This forces them to keep piston engined fighters in the inventory (historically correct by the way – that problem took until the late 1950s to solve – know you know why the ANG kept Mustangs so long). The US carriers are running in, grabbing local air superiority, smashing targets and the defenses then pulling back out to sea before the germans can concentrate to match them. The areas the Germans stripped to do that then get hit by another carrier raid. The Germans know the B-36 is coming and are trying to do something about it but they have problems. Their older piston-engined fighters are useless; they can’t get up high enough and fast enough to intercept. They have specialized high altitude piston engined fighters but they are too lightly armed and the performance differential is too low. The jets have a better chance but they have problems all of their own. Oddly the German plane that is best suited to a B-36 interceptor is the He-219. It has the speed, altitude, firepower and endurance to be a threat. The Germans are building them again (despite its shortcomings) and they have replaced most of the older twin engined fighters. They’re taking a beating from the carriers though.

The Germans have spotted something else. A stripped recon version of the B-36, the RB-36 has been making runs all over Germany. They’ve tried to intercept and failed. Whatever’s going to happen is about to start. They’ve heard a codeword but don’t know what it means. That codeword is “Dropshot”.

Hows that for a base. If we can all live with that strategic situation, we’ll go ahead and plan a nuclear war.”

So, it was trying to ram a square ‘plausible’ scen into a round ‘pure hypothetical exercise’ hole. The result was-well, that. But that still doesn’t explain why Stuart insisted on the warlord states holding out.

Or the way they’re described in TBO itself, which seems to me like layering stuff from the real war on without thinking of the ramifications. The story lists fuel shortages, the same turf wars that hurt German production, the loss of so many pilots that the Germans were forced to stuff kids into He-162s like in the real 1945, to the point where a 21-year-old is one of the oldest members of his unit (TBO, page 11)-and yet, because the story calls for them to hold the line until the super-bombers break the stalemate, they somehow hold the line.

As for the postwar divergences, well, the Middle Eastern ones can be sadly explained as not wanting to give any credit to Muslims.

This sort of ‘analysis’ is why I bizarrely like reading bad fiction.