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.


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.


The Twilight 2000 Campaign And More Thoughts

From my travels across the internet, I’m proud to share the Twilight 2000 Polish Campaign  that I found while looking at the WW3 1987 blog. It’s a good AAR/let’s play of the game at its best.

I’ve blogged about Twilight 2000 in largely critical terms before, but the initial Polish/German campaign setting is the game at its best. There’s talk on the about page of maybe, if/when the players survive, taking them back to the continental US.  Now here I have a recommendation, if that indeed happens (it’s a big if). Ignore the actual 1.0 modules on the continental US and go homebrew.

Maybe it’s because I like the idea of them returning to a battered but largely peaceful homeland as a proper reward. Or maybe it’s because the North American modules I’ve seen basically seize the always-existed dichotomy I mentioned in my previous post and take it to 11. They’re something. In fact, if the game’s plot had existed only of them, I might even consider them worthy of a Bad Fiction Spotlight.

The later v1 modules have the impression of turning more and more from the “survival and maybe solve some local disputes” theme to a full-blown and ultra-blatant Adventure Friendly World. (That was always there, as it would be in any tabletop RPG, but it was more subtle and interesting).  Even a lot of other T2000 fans have been disdainful of the North American modules, one not unreasonably comparing them to “bad Mad Max”.

Having read the “Kidnapped!” module, I can see it. The first is a description of the megadrought that’s about to strike North America. I’ve heard grumblings about its plausibility, but from an in-universe perspective, there’s worse things. Where I think the megadrought goes wrong is that it’s a clear attempt from an out of universe perspective to up the stakes and become “darker” still. So yeah, there’s a megadrought, and food/water is going to become worse yet. I guess that means the scenario will be about…

Seizing a fascist-populist leader in his supervillain’s lair in West Virginia? You don’t say.

The “Kidnap Carl Hughes, the leader of New America” part is incredibly gamey and has obvious contrivances throughout. There’s the necessary evil of an adventure tip, and then there’s the lair itself. In true game fashion, the lair down to its final bunker is drawn out in massive detail, but to balance it for the players, it’s accessible. Hughes conveniently happens to be in the most vulnerable parts of the lair throughout much of the day, and infiltrating a secure complex run by a mega-paranoiac is suspiciously easy provided the players have the right clothes.

Then there’s a second lair that is long-deserted and only exists to provide clues to get the players to the real lair (yet is also massively detailed in its description).


There’s more on New America itself and even the MilGov/CivGov split (in short, the former is clearly there to be a convenient supervillain faction, the latter there for contrived drama), and how it’s handled, but that’s for another time.


Michael Farmer’s Tin Soldiers

So, I read Michael Farmer’s Tin Soldiers and for the most part enjoyed it. It’s a cliche “cheap thriller”, but it’s not a bad cheap thriller in spite of its flaws. If you want to see tanks firing and exploding, it has that.

So, it’s a post-USSR technothriller, which means it plucks an opponent of the week, in this case a sanctions-less, aggressive Iraq. There’s a war, and that’s pretty much all I need to say about the overall plot.

The best part of the book is the middle portion. It reads like a somewhat clunkier Team Yankee, but the upgraded T-72 vs. M1A1 action is good, and the way Farmer evened the odds is something I appreciate. The beginning is pretty stock technothriller (a combination of training scenes and infodumps in offices and conference rooms), and the end drags on too long, contains the shoved-in damsel in distress love story, and a bit of near-Dale Brown escalation.

Still, Tin Soldiers is not a bad book if you like cheap thrillers or tanks.

Team Yankee

I’ve just finished Harold Coyle’s Team Yankee, the classic tank novel.

By its own terms, it’s not the best book.

It’s like a micro-scale Red Storm Rising. (I don’t mean in tone, or obvious setting, I mean it’s a decent but dated and over-jargoned book). It’s a little too clinical. Too much explanation of attacks and formations and stuff in detail, like Coyle wanted to show off what he knew. At times I thought “this is like Melville, only with tanks instead of sailing ships”.

The characters away from the main group aren’t that good. The wife subplot seems superfluous, cutting to an A-10 pilot or headquarters officer is a little jarring, and the occasional Soviet viewpoint character exists basically to go “curse those dastardly Americans!”

And yet when comparing it to the later WW3 imitators I’ve seen on the internet and self-published fiction, it comes across as better. For while it has the flaws mentioned above, it also has one thing a lot of the later ones don’t-a truly consistent narrative. The viewpoint disruptions aren’t too bad, and some are indeed tied in to the main action, which cannot be said for others. This alone makes it worth a read.

The TO&E Paradox

Here’s one of the most interesting paradoxes.

-The TO&E of a unit tells a lot about what the unit is, what it’s capable of, and what it does.

-Any unit that has been in the field for even a slight amount of time will NOT be matching its on-paper TO&E. So, if a unit’s paper strength is 51 tanks and 173 APCs, even a bit of experience in the “rough” will reduce that, if only to mechanical breakdowns. So it’s one of those “use a bit of common sense” deals.

Bad Fiction Spotlight: Red Dawn +20

Of all the Bad Fiction Spotlights, Red Dawn +20 is one of the loosest. It’s closer to the Infinite Loops, being a loose internet construct rather than the single work of one person. So it consists of over a thousand pages spread across multiple web boards, and the two closest cases to a definitive piece are the TVTropes Page and this summary.

And through a combination of accident and design, it ended up with the poorest tone you could have. Granted, the entire “invasion novel” genre does not exactly lend itself handily to Nobel Prizes for Literature, and it’s hard to move anything that decentralized in a deliberate path anyway. So, it does end up kind of like the Loops in another form, in that it’s barbel-led between two extremes. I guess being done on a whim with detail-oriented users leads to that. And as it’s (technically) part of a more grounded genre, those extremes are weirdly interesting to explore.

First, except for the setting, it has very little in common with the classic movie it’s nominally a fanfic of. Red Dawn is darker than its reputation suggests, and, more importantly, is not Red Storm Rising: Western Hemisphere Edition.

More importantly, it simultaneously brings to the forefront…

  1. Fantasic and sometimes juvenile fantasies.
  2. Long, technical infodumps and dry recitations.

I shouldn’t have to explain how these clash.