The Forward Detachment Protagonist

The “Forward Detachment” seems effective as both a tactical formation and a storytelling one. The Soviets (understandably) formalized it to a greater extent, but the basic concept has been used in any army with a fast-moving component. In oversimplified terms, it’s a task force (often a reinforced battalion) used for racing ahead of the main body and seizing/destroying something to aid its advance.

And I think a unit like it is an ideal place to put a protagonist (or antagonist, if the goal is to stop the forward detachment). At least in theory, it solves a lot of issues. It’s small enough that the component characters can be developed without fading in, but is big enough to have a large conventional battle. It can be dramatic and have a clear MacGuffin/goal without sacrificing too much in terms of plausibility.

 

My Book Backlog is Done!

So, every book on my big backlog I’ve read or at least sampled and then put aside to read later. Some of them made it to Fuldapocalypse or are in the review ‘stack’, others did not and will not.

Perhaps the most famous entry is Heinlein’s original Starship Troopers. The most charitable things I can say about it are that it probably aged poorly and that I understand how it can scratch a “he gets it” itch for veterans because of its realistic depiction of boot camp drudgery. Otherwise, I didn’t like it. It has this overly “bouncy” and somewhat rambling writing style that I found to knock down both the boot-camp-coming-of-age main plot and the modest amount of actual action.

My military sci-fi itch is pretty much subsided-of the four remaining books, three were military sci-fi. I did find Jonathan Brazee’s works good for my current ‘cheap thriller’ tastes and will be checking out more of them, but I think it best to put the remaining “guy in armored space suit” books on the back burner until the genre fatigue wears off. Those made up the bulk of my holiday purchases, so returning to the delightfully technothrillery Thunder of Erebus was a good ‘grand finale’.

Going forward, I have two general priorities. One is slightly more highbrow works of fiction-I love cheap thrillers, but think going a little higher would be helpful. I definitely plan on reading and reviewing the classic Forever War, for one example. The other priority is tanks, because while some of the books had tanks in them, none were really in a starring role. So I’m planning on reading more tank books (and yes, that includes sci-fi tank books).

This whole experience was fun, and I hope to encounter more literary gems.

My Creative 2018

I had a good 2018, all things considered. Were there bad parts in it? Of course. But on the whole, and especially in my creative endeavors, I had a good 2018. And I’m not just talking about the two Command LIVE scenarios I made or Paint The Force Red.

I’ve said it before, but starting up Fuldapocalypse was amazing and one of the best things I’ve done all year. First, I’ve had a lot of fun writing some of the reviews. Second, it’s been a huge eye-opener and horizon-broadening device for me. I was expecting to get variations on Hackett/Clancy/Bond, but the path took me to outright science fiction and more. I’ve had to throw aside the preconceptions and stereotypes of my past “Iceland Scale” and rework my entire review setup because of it. It’s fun.

But I’d argue a better part of Fuldapocalypse is getting me to write positive reviews. I have an instinct to be critical even of things I like. Peters’ Red Army remains my single favorite World War III story, yet I was prepared to write several paragraphs about its weaknesses and only one or two about its strengths. I’ve found that blog has helped me a lot. It’s also helped me become more selective-if it’s not review-worthy or if I’d just repeat myself for better or worse, I generally don’t review it.

Because of Fuldapocalypse, I now know how broad the “cheap thriller” genre is, and how much broader the military action subgenre is than I thought. I’m not complaining. And I think I’ve approached even works I still am highly critical of better.

So in creative terms, I had a pretty good 2018.

A Military Sci-Fi Craving

So, I’ve been having a military sci-fi craving, with most of the books I’ve recently started being those. Maybe it’s just a fad of mine. Maybe it’s just that a lot of them fall into the niche of being both cheap thrillers and involving something different than the usual ones, so I can have my cake and eat it too.

I’m not thinking any worse of the “normal” cheap thrillers, and I’m still reading lots of them, but it never hurts to try these new ones. I’ve had times when I like military sci-fi before, and this is another, I suppose.

Long Series

There’s two main ways a long series can decline, I’ve found.

The two are:

  • Type 1: The author’s heart isn’t in it. It’s continued for financial or just sunk-cost thinking reasons, it might be farmed out to ghostwriters who only care about the paycheck, and there’s just less passion.
  • Type 2: The author has become successful and/or confident enough that they can go hog-wild, any editorial or self-restraint goes out the window and the whole thing can turn into a vanity project the writer likes more than the readers.

Note these are not incompatible (author is tired so they make it more ridiculous to help themselves through it…), and Type 2 can shift into Type 1 pretty quickly.

Having read all 27 (!) books in Jerry Ahern’s Survivalist series, it devolved into Type 2 around the tenth or eleventh book once it kept going past a good stopping point and stayed there for the entire rest of the series.

Harry Potter got hit with Type 2 pretty hard after the third book, in my opinion, while a lot of mystery novels tend to become Type 1-as did Janet Evanovich, sadly. (I loved one of her early Stephanie Plum novels despite not being the target audience, but looking at a later one showed she’d lost her touch)

 

Two Big Challenges With Long-Running Series

Long-running series have two large issues that I feel are somewhat, but not always inevitable. The first is the “Elite Republican Guard” (named after Bill Hicks’ famous Gulf War joke), and the second is “Arkansas vs. The Blimps” (which I named after a Twilight 2000 module).

The Elite Republican Guard involves the antagonists, or antagonist situations, getting less credible as the series goes on. Arkansas vs. The Blimps involves them getting more outlandish. The two are not incompatible.