Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I read “normal” books. And in some cases I do. But-I feel like I’d have missed something if I hadn’t read the undiscovered gems, the hilariously bad monsters, and even the bland potboilers I dig through to get the former two.
That’s just my taste to find the weird and different, I suppose.
Twilight 2000, the classic semi-postapocalyptic tabletop RPG, is a very contradictory game, one of the most so I’ve ever seen.
See, the plot is good enough. It’s more realistic than many WWIIIs in that the nukes fly, but manages to stay intact enough so that all the cool toys aren’t taken away. And whatever the many plausibility issues, it works for the sake of setting up an adventure.
The problem is in the dichotomy. The mechanics have a detailed, often-realistic unglamorous focus on the dirty work-logistics, disease, and the like. Characters are quite vulnerable. This mixed with the shattered, post-nuclear war-bandit setting means it should be poised for a low-tier, somber look, right?
Wrong. Sharing equally with the dirty-work mechanics are detailed stats of individual guns, tanks, and artillery pieces, starting dubious already but taken to excess in supplements. The post-apocalyptic setting is there to provoke challenges, but it’s also clearly there to take away the command post and those pesky orders. The target audience and themes are for the “bored soldier and military enthusiast” crowd, not exactly something somber. It’s like This War of Mine was jumbled together with Medal of Honor Warfighter and printed, to use later video games as analogies.
And then some of the later supplements got-weird. I’m talking “save Arkansas from evil airships” weird.
It’s still fascinating, both as a product of its time and for the “excesses” and contradictions it has.
I know too much for a Seven Samurai–inspired battle to be both realistic and dramatic. At least against an army, which is what I was going for when I thought of the concept. Because against a larger and at least somewhat disciplined force willing to take any sort of loss, seven people are going to get crushed effortlessly. The best they could do, and this assumes they have the support in the first place, is hide and call in reports and fire support similar to the Marines at Khafji.
Now, against er, “irregulars”, as was the case in the original inspirations, it’s a different story. Still implausible, but they’d likely be far less skilled, and more crucially, have a far more timid risk calculus. Which is to say, there’d be more pressure to just “give up” and loot an easier target rather than take huge losses for the sake of a victory. The historical record of militia shows that, in general, they’re much worse at attacking than they are defending.
But could one still make a good story out of either a semi-plausible or outright implausible version, against either type of opposition? Of course! As long as it was well-written and fit the tone of the overall work, any sort of setup can work very well.
Although Twig has not officially concluded, much less Worm 2 having started, the first epilogue of that story has been posted.
The question of whether I should try to get into Worm 2 is tough. I tried to get into Twig a bit, but it just didn’t really grab me, however thematically interesting. Reasons I’d want to get into Worm 2 are:
- I could be pleasantly surprised.
- I want to know more about Spacebattles’ favorite weird niche webfic.
- Most importantly, reading it as it starts means I’m not buried by a gigantic overload of previous chapters.
However, the reason why I wouldn’t, and why I haven’t, are twofold.
- Wildbow (the author) has prose that’s just “meh”. Not terrible, but not the most gripping.
- The pacing of the stories isn’t very good, which combined with their (admirably) fast update schedule means I catch up on several chapters of nothing.
That being said, I’ll still give it a try, and if nothing else, I might be motivated to read through the many updates of Worm 1 while Twig winds down. Maybe I’ll find it an acquired taste. It’s certainly happened before with stuff that didn’t seem good at first impression.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On AH, I saw a story called Night Witches and dismissed it as something to throw in the pile of mediocre 198X World War III. Then, seeing the story on Fanfiction.net again much later, I saw the context. It was a crossover/AU/Fusion with the cartoon Daria. And I was like “wah”?
I love weird crossovers, but that was something even for me. Really, really something.
Although the mere fact of the story’s existence is far more bizarre and interesting than anything inside it (The entire plot is that the cliche checklist of 198X WW3 is checked off and Daria flies an F-111), it can be seen on Fanfiction.net here.
So, I’ve scrounged together a new ebook, the first volume in what I hope to be an ongoing series of goofy, Todd’s Super Racket Adventure.
Available here , it was something to write. I completed it in the following way.
- Taking stuff that had been floating in my mind, often for years and years. This was important-I wanted to turn it into an extant, complete story.
- And more importantly, simply letting it flow. Outlines and a strict flow are necessary for many works of fiction. Not this one. As long as I had the very broad strokes, I could plop in the set pieces at my leisure. And insert them I did.
- This was a blast to write. When I got writer’s block I simply had to wait until a goofy set piece emerged in my mind, then adapt it ever-so-slightly to fit Todd and write it.
This is not a work that will win any prizes for literature (Or cover art, with my MS Paint-created masterpiece on the front). But I enjoyed writing it, and I hope its audience enjoys reading it just as much.
In some ways concerning fiction, I’ve become far less judgemental. In others, I’ve become far, far more so. In some cases, it’s authors I used to like becoming bad, in others it’s me changing in tastes and sophistication, and seeing them as bad.
Three “rules” remain for me:
- The more something is hyped, the more skeptical I become.
- If something aims low, I will be less critical than if it aims high.
- I will find criticism of everything, even stuff that I like. But fiction without pretense is critic-proof.