Good Fiction Spotlight: Brannigan’s Blackhearts

So, I’m delighted to note that I’ve read an obscure series worthy of a good Fiction Spotlight. Overjoyed. Because Peter Nealen’s Brannigan’s Blackhearts is just the type of cheap thriller that fits me right now.

The seriesĀ  is about the “adventures” of an ex-USMC colonel and his band of mercenaries. And it’s what I’d call a “cheap thriller”. But in a good way, for these books are what cheap thrillers should be like. I had good timing in that the latest book in the series was released after I’d started digging into the series.

The best part of the books is that they combine visceral yet exciting action with very good literary fundamentals. Not only is there action, but it’s varied action. The action goes from the forests of Myanmar to offshore oil rigs to the frozen fields of eastern Europe. It feels truly varied, and Nealen isn’t afraid to punch readers in the gut every now and then.

What Nealen also demonstrates is a welcome display of, for lack of a better word, restraint. Some of the plot setups feel a little contrived, but they aren’t dwelled on. There’s exact descriptions of the weapons, but not too detailed. Having read stories where the fundamentals weren’t there, it’s a treat to read ones where they are.

I must give a few obligatory criticisms. The villains aren’t that great as characters and the “shadowy conspiracy organization” meta-plot that’s developed in the later books has me raising my eyebrows with apprehension. But even these are worked around-the latter is streamlined in as a setup hook for the adventure, and the former work in the context of a thriller story. Plus these are still thrillers and not “high literature” by any standards.

But they’re good cheap thrillers, and I urge anyone who likes pulpy thrillers to read these.

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A look behind the scenes at Northern Fury

So, on the Northern Fury Project blog, scenario author Bart “Gunner98” Gauvin explains how the parts of the story become Command scenarios in the latest post. It’s an excellent post, and I’d like to add a few thoughts on it, from my own Command experience.

First, I cannot emphasize enough how much I agree with this sentence. “To make a good two-sided scenario, in my opinion, takes about three times as much effort as making a one-sided one, not to mention probably four times the playtesting effort.” Both of us have made two-sided Command Live scenarios, so we have experience with these. I’ve found that for trying to create a specific type of, for lack of a better word, “feel” in a scenario, trying both that and making it viable by both sides is far trickier-not impossible, but trickier-than having it be one-sided. And a lot of the Northern Fury scenarios aim for that kind of feel.

Second, briefings. I tend to be as basic about the briefings as possible, but now and then like to have some fun with them. Hint-they don’t have to be completely accurate…

Third, and this could be worth a post by itself, I’d be interested in seeing how the “canonical” losses are determined for a scenario set. The player could either succeed brilliantly or fail miserably. But how does that average into the assetsĀ  for the next scenario in the same place?

Still, a very fascinating, very effective post.

My First Post On Sea Lion Press

I’m delighted to now be a contributor to the Sea Lion Press blog. My first article is a review of an alternate history WWIII thriller, Harvey Black’s The Red Effect. Regrettably, it contained both of my big pet peeves for the genre: Too much perspective hopping and too long of an intro to a foregone event.

The post can be seen here.

Alpha Kat and 90s Cheap Thrillers

So, I just finished breezing my way through the cheap thriller novel Alpha Kat by William Lovejoy. The book was first published in 1992, and it shows. it’s a very early 90s thriller, which is to say that it has to desperately dig for antagonists (in this case a drug lord poised to take over Southeast Asia) and ways to weaken the heroes (they’re commissioned to use their prototype super-planes rather than being part of the regular military). The book itself isn’t terrible, especially by cheap thriller standards. But it is awkward in terms of pacing and the ending is a little too “quick”.

Now it says something about the kind of books I read that I’ve read enough 90s cheap thrillers to really get “ah-ha, this isn’t just a 90s technothriller, it’s an early 90s technothriller.”

And yet, I don’t mind this. It’s endearing to see something flawed instead of something playing it safe all the time. It’s inspiring, even, because of my love of the unconventional in Command scenarios. So yes, two cheers for the early 90s technothriller.

 

The Tank Crew

Tank crews can make for an underappreciated fictional niche. There’s enough of them to be more than an individual (ie, pilot), yet not enough to get out of hand. You get between three and five crew to a tank (again, barring the edge cases), and there’s less need to perspective hop.

Building and Destroying Tank Formations

A division-sized mechanized formation tends to have (as a rough rule of thumb that assumes a big Cold War sized division as the base), around 500-600 armored vehicles in it, with the ratio of tanks to APCs/IFVs depending on the exact type of unit, whether it’s a tank/armored or motor rifle/mechanized infantry unit.

So, as a very rough artificial measurement for an artificial country in an artificial setting, I can tend to just plop down a number of overall tanks and divvy them up.

The next part is figuring out how quickly those formations of tanks would get destroyed in actual fighting. It depends on the kind of fighting and opponent, and ranges from “a year” to “less than a day”.

Sea Lion Press

Sea Lion Press has, since 2015, been devoted to publishing alternate history. Named after the hopeless would-be German invasion of Britain in 1940, they have an extensive amount of published works.

And now, Sea Lion Press has embarked on an ambitious expansion, aiming to be, in their own words, “a crucible of activity in the counterfactual fiction world.” This includes articles (starting with one about their namesake), and a forum.

It’s well worth a shot. I’ve read some Sea Lion Press works and wish them the best of luck.

 

An Alien Era

Today is my 27th birthday. And I think my date of birth might explain why I have a sudden fascination with Cold War fiction.

Because it’s after my time. I was born the year the USSR fell, so the world I entered is a lot different. Looking back on it is like looking back at something different, something that has changed so quickly. And fiction tends to reflect fact. From a literary perspective, it feels interesting to study a genre, even one as “fluffy” as the technothriller, to see its ups and downs.

It’s very fascinating.