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.

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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.

In Praise of the Krasnovians

Now, as my writings on both here and Baloogan Campaign have shown, I have a fondness for the “OPFORs”, the representations of the enemy from the Circle Trigons to the present.

opforbriefing

This painting is of Krasnovian soldiers and is definitely not one of OPFOR soldiers in Fort Irwin.

Now, part of it is for their historical worth. It’s interesting to see training in history, interesting to see how accurately the doctrine of the enemy being simulated was portrayed, and interesting to see how it compares to the paper doctrine of the “Blue Force” trainees.

But another part of it is, ironically enough, in literary terms. Because of the very “fake” quality of the concept. The exercises themselves of course were not meant to win Nobel Prizes in literature. The OPFOR states were meant only as an openly artificial foe in an artificial fight.

Note the statement “openly”. Having slogged through an Augean stable of bad 198X World War III fiction, I can say that seeing something that’s just openly, plausibly, unconcernedly, an artificial creation feels refreshing in its honesty. Given how many bad works of fiction both prop up the Soviets (or other opponent) as a similarly artificial pop-up target in practice and are treated by their fans as something otherwise, there’s a part of me that just wants to see:

“A Krasnovian Tank Army is approaching. Are you a bad enough dude to stop the Krasnovians?” Cue the Abrams/T-80 slugfest.

Plus I think it adds a bit of humor, a knowing wink. And the genre badly needs works that lighten up a bit.

Good Fiction Spotlight: Raven One

So, I’ve torn into enough bad military fiction to go, “What about good military fiction?” And so I’ll answer it by pointing to a guilty-pleasure cheap thriller favorite ebook of mine: Kevin Miller’s Raven One.

Written by a naval aviator, it covers the adventures of a few aircraft carrier pilots as they fight in the Middle East. Now I’ve mentioned it before, but thought I should go into some more detail as to why I like it so much.

It’s not perfect, it still has some perspective-jumping, still has a lot of technical overdetail, still isn’t exactly the deepest in its plot or characterization. But it’s got a recognizable main character. Some of the perspective shifts make sense, as it shows the team of fighters in an individual battles. It feels overall like part of a whole. The enemy is given a handicap to make them stronger, not weaker, while at the same time not being monstrously overhyped. And for the jargon, there’s a sense of immediacy, of being there in the fighter with the heroes.

Having seen the pitfalls of what the genre can fall into, I can say that Raven One avoids a lot of them. And for that reason alone, it’s well worth a read.

World War 3 1987 Blog

I will share, for your pleasure and amusement, a blog that I recently found providing a “play-by-play” of a theoretical World War 3, the classic fiction and wargaming topic.

This is Third World War 1987. By my incredibly low standards (read: I’ve seen so many downright awful World War III stories on the internet that anything exceeding them is at least good in perspective) it’s good, and certainly readable. Not the best, but far, far, from the worst either.

 

Naming an Army

This is another piece of mine on military unit names. It kind of follows along with the last one I did.

This is on naming the army. Not the overall title for the army as an overall organization, but naming the exact equivalent for “Field army“, or even “army group“.

For the etymology, I thought back to the overall theme, of a [villainous] group with a kind of bizarre obsession with the ancient and traditional. The name of an army/army group equivalent would be from a (likely ancient) language, the word taken directly as a loan rather than adapted. And it would not be any directly military-related one there, but something like “assembly” or “federation”.

The image invoked is images of ancient peoples, on the steppes or in the forests, the kind unfairly referred to as “barbarians” by outsiders, forming a coalition of their warriors to campaign. And the reason I got there, or how the name-developers got there in-universe, has to do with the nature of such ultra-large units.

Regardless of national culture or doctrine, extremely large units like army groups and/or field armies are always considerably more ad hoc than the smaller ones in the same country. They’re determined by resources and location. So if it’s ad-hoc, a little like an ancient coalition, that opens the door for it to receive the name of one.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Of course, the question is how much an author should use a possibly confusing author-coined name rather than a familiar one. It’s tough to answer, but is easier in that the names this term would be replacing are themselves looser and to many people more unfamiliar than clearer small units.

The Last Horse Cavalry Manual

I’m currently reading FM 2-15, April 1941.

A US Army manual that is quite possibly the last, and certainly one of the final manuals devoted to horse cavalry in depth. It’s interesting to see the ultimate expression of a soon-to-be-obsolete practice.

For all my knowledge, I still don’t have the full frame of mind to accurately synthesize it with both older horse and later motorized operations, but I can see the passing of an era nonetheless.

Horse cavalry in a mechanized age fits my love of oddball formations, which may be why I’m as interested in it as I’ve been.

The public-domain field manual can be accessed here

Esperanto

I like Esperanto, even if it’s just a mishmash of European languages.

I don’t know enough about linguistics to make an exact comparison, but it sounds like a Romance language, vocabulary wise, similar to Italian and French. Like the Circle Trigon Aggressors who spoke it, the language has an air of both artificiality and creativity to it.

(Circle Trigon Aggressors had a unique insignia system, however, theirs was, especially in the 1945-1960s period, acheived solely by repurposing existing US ones. High ranking Aggressor insignia involved a mix of major’s leaves and cavalry branch sword insignias.)

Indian Ocean Fury

Gunner98 has released two new Command scenarios for testing. This one is the Indian Ocean Fury set, taking place in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. (The out of order numbers are no cause for alarm, simply because some scenarios take longer to make than others)

The two are Indian Fury 1: Persian Pounce and Indian Ocean Fury 3: Socotra Scramble.

Both are as big and complex as you’d expect. I’ve noticed that Gunner98 throws in a lot of minor nations as allies to the USSR-everyone from Algeria to Finland to Eritrea has thrown their hat in the ring in his various “_____ Fury” scens. I don’t know how much of this is motivated by plot concerns and how much of it is motivated by gameplay ones.