Alternatehistory is down

So, I’ve been worried at the sight of one of my favorite websites being down for some time now.

Alternatehistory.com has been giving me an “unable to connect” error for some time, and it’s been kind of worrisome. There was no prior announcement (scheduled maintenance, etc..), and no Twitter like Spacebattles has to explain.

Two thoughts. The first is that I’m worried. The second is that when something like this happens, I never know how much time I’ve spent on a site until I can’t go there.

Coiler’s Crazy Colosseum (Celtic Centered)

As it’s St. Patrick’s Day, I have this Celtic themed fanon fight.

cloverforbattle

Clover (Payday 2)

vs.

hollyforbattle

Holly Short (Artemis Fowl).

 

(I’m guessing Holly will win because of her superior technology and magic, but the Payday Gang have done so much crazy stuff that you can’t count Clover out.) They’re thematic contrasts as well, with Clover as a notorious criminal and Holly a policewoman.

The Settings With No Foundation

The urge to make so-called “Fixfics” is strong among many fanfiction authors. They range from well thought-out trimming of the excesses to destroying the themes of the canon work in favor of cheap wish fulfillment. Take a guess which is more common.

That being said, I’ve both seen and hoped to write multiple fixfics. It’s tough, and depends a lot on the setting. One of the reasons why people gravitated to the Familiar of Zero setting is that it had a unique concept and strong foundation (fantasy set in a Renaissance setting, detailed enough background) and squandered it on silly antics. That was a good setting for a fixfic. There are bad ones too.

Some settings aren’t just adverse to fanfics overall, but especially to fixfics. Exactly what clicked when I was struggling to come up with a plausible fixfic of the infamous The Big One, remembered I was having similar struggles with the equally infamous Gate anime, and saw how oddly similar the settings were for a technothrilller with only one awkward supernatural element and a fantasy.

Both are horrifically nationalist works. Both go a step farther than the common patriotic thriller and work extra-hard to keep their nations from facing the slightest actual threat. And, most crucially, both have horrible worldbuilding that’s either uninspired, in the service of said “prevent conflict ASAP”, or both.

This makes fixfics tough. An author has to change a lot to make it more plausible/interesting, but that begs the question of why they wouldn’t just go the full length and write an original story unencumbered by all the baggage the existing setting has?

 

Bad Fiction Spotlight: Rumsfeldia

What do you get when you combine what had been a decent dystopia, a politically charged reaction, a “nothing-but-spine” setup, and cheerleading? You get Rumsfeldia, an alternatehistory.com timeline that is-something.

As a counter to the numerous bad right-wing stories I’ve covered in this setting, Rumsfeldia is a bad left-wing story. Following on from its predecessor timeline, Fear Loathing and Gumbo, the story begins with the titular figure becoming president. Then he proceeds to unleash capitalism (as defined by the hard left of a hard-left message board), launches a horrifically botched invasion of Cuba, and then is overthrown by “Christian Values” crusaders, and the US is now totally fragmented and….

The timeline becomes more sensationalist and inaccurate. Yet its background could still have worked well as say, the backdrop of a GTA game. (They share the horrifically unsubtle left-wing “satire”, at least). That it stands entirely on its own means that it stays terrible, for there is nothing to to it but-fetish.

One of the things I was reminded of was the (in)famous Left Behind series, or at least the excellent Slacktivist commentary. This seemed strange at first, but it was an issue of tone rather than story similarity. Two themes stood out for me when applied to Rumsfeldia. The first was that Slacktivist considered them worse than other Rapture-styled apocalyptic fiction.

While he would have still vehemently criticized said works and their authors from a theological and moral perspective, there was more respect in that while those authors viewed it with horror, LB’s LaHaye and Jenkins viewed it with a sort of snide triumphalism. 

The second was the desire to feel oppressed. No one wants to be oppressed, everyone wants to feel oppressed.

I found the same basic idea through a lot of Rumsfeldia. While filtered through the exact opposite political lens, both it and the commentary have the same sort of apocalyptic fetish as the strawman falls, with cheering, and, in Rumsfeldia’s case, a two-for-the-price of one double punch of both social and fiscal conservativism on a notoriously left-wing board.

Rumsfeldia is also an example of logrolling, where the timeline gathers momentum. Everyone is too involved now to say “THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES! SIDEWINDERS DON’T WORK THAT WAY! RUMSFELD WAS A SIMPLE ESTABLISHMENT TYPE ECONOMICALLY AND NOT A PSUEDO-RANDIAN!” And if someone did, it’d be drowned out.

What I think is worse than the timeline itself is the the imitators it’s spawned, catering to the same fetish with even worse writing.

The Fall of the Technothriller

I have recently read an extraordinarily good article detailing the ascent and descent of the military technothriller.

The article touches on many of the influences on the genre and speculates that the fall of the USSR was a gigantic blow to it. I agree, but think that they’re neglecting to mention what I consider my own theory for the fall of the story-that, as I said in my review of the prototypical example of the genre, the very ubiquity of high technology in warfare made it lose almost all of its novelty value. There’s also the substantial changes to the publishing business as a whole that are not mentioned, although out of fairness, that’s a totally different subject than what the author wanted to talk about.

Another feeling I have is that technothrillers may have simply burned themselves out. Reading multiple Dale Brown books, where the setups get increasingly ridiculous but the structural flaws mentioned in the article are never countered, gives me that feeling.

This might just be my contrarian attitude, but for all that I’ve enjoyed some of the classic technothrillers, the decline in the genre has not exactly been one that I’ve shed the most tears over.

Kind of like adventure games.

A Journey Through Ambiguity

Ok, I’ve been on a kick regarding nightmarishly ambiguous fiction. I don’t know why, but that’s what I’ve been on.

Sometimes, an ambiguous work of fiction is best left ambiguous. There’s a quote from an author (it might have been Tolkien, although given his love of detail, it doesn’t sound like him) that I vaguely remember as being how a landscape often looks more beautiful from far away.

Sometimes it can work, and sometimes it doesn’t.

 

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR YUME NIKKI, THE HOTLINE MIAMI GAMES, UNDERTALE, OFF, AND MONKEY ISLAND

 

 

 

 

_ _ _ _ _

On one extreme, you have an old horror/adventure game called Yume Nikki (lit. “Dream Diary”). The game has essentially no plot beyond “a young woman who won’t leave her home has creepy nightmares, collects twenty-four ‘effects’, and then throws herself off a balcony.”

The speculation gap was filled because of that, with countless interpretations of the strange characters, the history of the protagonist Madotsuki, and even the seemingly straightforward suicide ending.

The alternative approach to the ending intrigues me. I honestly think it’s more than just trying to shove a happy ending into a game that obviously isn’t a happy one in the slightest.

What the alternate theory amounts to is that even the ‘real’ world is a dream by itself, that Madotsuki is confined/trapped there (somehow), and that the suicide is only killing her “dream” self and waking up. There are countless pieces of “evidence” for this (many of which are things that could be explained ‘out of character’ as game engine limitations), but I think an appeal is that it gives the game a story more adaptable to a conventional narrative, and consider it telling that the manga adaptation went (mostly) with said theory.

Then there are the other popular interpretations of Madotsuki, one depicting her as a psychotic fugitive (one of the effects is a knife, and the player can use it)…

_ _ _ _ _ _

Rather than go even farther down the dream-rabbit hole that is Yume Nikki speculation[1], I’ll turn to another dark, bloody minimalist game-which did everything that I warned it shouldn’t do.

That game was Hotline Miami-the original. The original was a simple, confusing, game. The sequel explained everything. And not in a good way. Any sort of hideous speculation is gone, and in its place is just a nonsensical storyline of the USSR invading Hawaii, turning the US into a puppet state, “resistance” fighters with animal masks taking on mobsters, and everything being nuked at the end.

Behind the curtain was a clotheless emperor holding nothing but shock value. The questions and fog surrounding Jacket were gone, replaced by a entire leading cast.

(A part of me thinks that the entire game was just angry trolling by the developers. With a strong suspicion that their hearts weren’t in it and that they didn’t want to make a sequel at all, the reveal is just a “look-here it is-nothing but (insert expletive here)” moment. This may just be me being too cynical for my own good.)

_ _  _ _

With Hotline Miami being a perfect example of how not to maintain good ambiguity, an example of one that is “straightfoward” yet incredibly surreal is OFF (of which an excellent Let’s Play can be found here). The very setting gives rise to a lot of fan theories, and also does the more famous Undertale[2], where we know the Underground but little beyond it.

Even the more “non-surreal” Payday has its own mystery moment-the strange Dentist’s Loot[3], which is a heavy case with the infamous eye-pyramid, that is never talked about in any detail. What it is, and why it ended up in a casino vault is deliberately unclear.

 

_ _ _

I’ll conclude this rambling by talking about what I think is an example of something that became ambiguous when it wasn’t meant to be. Yes, I’m talking about the Monkey Island II ending. I said people were overthinking it-call me a hypocrite.

There’s obviously no way of telling for sure, but I have a suspicion that the ending was the result of muddled changes. My guess is this: The writers use the ‘it was just a kid’s fantasy in a theme park’ ending they’d originally wanted to use in the original. But it doesn’t work in a long-installment setting the way it would in a standalone game. So, spurred by either by LucasArts’ hand or their own, they change it to the “illusion” ending that the later games used.

However, with the scene becoming famously bizarre, the developers make the understandable decision to run with the romance of it. After all, it’s far more fun to hint and wink rather than admit that it two unambiguous ones mashed together through the need to accommodate a series.

At least that’s what I think.

And I have some weird theories of my own, which I hope to share.

_ _ _

[1]”rabbit-hole” is not an unintentional pun, there’s a lot of fan art crossing over Yume Nikki with American McGee’s Alice, thanks to the many similarities.

[2]Probably the most dubious and loudest claim is the “Sans is Ness from Earthbound” one. Look it up yourself, I think it’s garbage not worth discussing further.

[3]One of my many bizarre theories is that the Dentist himself is a being from another universe. No one knows anything about him, and he’s the only one able to fence the most famous diamond in existence successfully.

Rereading Lion Resurgent

So I read a bad book again. This was rereading it, and I honestly had more fun looking at it again than I expected.

When I first read the book Lion Resurgent several years ago, my first thought was that it was dull even by the standards of The Big One series it belonged to. That it was unmockably bad, and in an Amazon review, I even called it “the flat-out worst book I’ve read”.

I decided to read it again. Why? I had nothing better to do.

I was “pleasantly” surprised.

  • The book has, very early on, a briefing given to President Reagan. Not only are there a million “Look how much better he was than Carter” claims, but that it’s the Mary Sue Seer giving the briefing puts it over the top in terms of wish fulfillment. “See, I’m-I mean, the guy I know is giving briefings to Reagan and he’s liking them!”
  • Then there’s the “plot”. Like watching a scene in an action movie where the hero has to try to act, this can be unintentionally funny. There’s a death scene that is, with apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, extremely foretold. Then there’s a spy plot that’s about on the same level as the shoved-in footage in They Saved Hitler’s Brain where “agents” with bad post-Sergeant Pepper Beatles mustaches spent several minutes getting and out of cars before the ‘real’ story began.  The icing on the cake is a plot with South Africa whose sole contribution is-delivering armored vehicles.
  • Then it was back to drudgery with the main story of the alternate Falklands War. Everything has to be explained, even something as simple to show and not tell like the missiles are missing their targets. 
  • In my first reaction, I said the following about the battles. “The Americans get a “look we’re awesome” scene like they do in all the books, the British take more casualties but you have as much attachment to them as you do to CMANO units so it doesn’t have any emotion”. This was unfair to the units of Command.
  • The most interesting part-Packard and Studebaker are still in the passenger car business. A part of me was going “Well, even with a different market their survival is dubious because they historically failed at the height of the domestic industry’s power.” That’s what I was thinking of. Cars.
  • The whole thing has a sort of detachment to it-like Stuart’s trying to tell of naughty seductions, but it’s told through the filter of an old military encyclopedia, with exactly as much emotion.
  • The plots don’t connect. Not just mechanically, but creatively. It’s like there’s a story of a conspiracy of long-lived “immortals” mixed with a military story. Like mixing some of the Assassin’s Creed plots together with The War That Never Was.

 

The book is still very bad, but I had fun with the reread.