The Magnificent Forward Observers

Poor me.

I know too much for a Seven Samuraiinspired 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.

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Twig ending and the Worm dilemma

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.

 

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.

The Weirdest Crossover

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.

My New EBook Is Out

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.

 

Changed Tastes

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.

The Worst Villains: Guns of the South

Some of the worst antagonists in an otherwise readable novel would have to be the South African time travelers in Harry Turtledove’s Guns of the South.

As a plot device to give the Confederates AKs, they work. As fighting antagonists once they turn on their former patrons and teach them why small arms are still at the bottom of the modern war food chain, they also work. As characters, they are utter failures.

In terms of character development, they’re cartoonishly evil, so they can make the Confederates look better in race relations in comparison. In terms of competence, they choose the dumbest, clumsiest, and most backfiring way possible of trying to kill Robert E. Lee once relations sour.

They’re still not as bad as SCP-682, my personal least favorite villain of all time, but they’re definitely up there, especially since they’re not the products of an internet whim or a Bad Fiction Spotlight subject, but rather in an otherwise alright book.

(That this is one of Turtledove’s best books says something about him).

I was so foolish-an online history

One website has left a bad impression on me, because I was a mark in it. It set back my writing talent by a noticeable amount. Now it’s apparently reaping what it has sown.

So, that site was the Project A.F.T.E.R. Forum [EDITED TO REMOVE DEAD LINK]. It mocked fanfiction. It mocked a lot of fanfiction, and a lot of bad fiction. I like mocking bad fiction. I found it with a detailed mock of the infamous Salvation War[1]. I fit in. What could go wrong?

A lot. They had a blanket dislike of all fanfiction[2], a dislike of nearly everything popular. Maybe the writing should have been on the wall when I checked out something they were mocking and unironically enjoyed it. But I was younger and busier. I kept my ideas in my head because I had this (paranoid and unwarranted, but still present) fear of – “Oh no, they’ll find that Coiler’s writing fanfiction.

I grew past it. It got more mean-spirited, the most aggressive members broke off to form a new endeavor, and then the rest of the site just went down. Not literally, but figuratively. If one registered user is on, it’s amazing.

(Update: And now it’s literally dead as well.)

Now, looking back at it, I realized that Stardestroyer.net collapsed in an almost identical fashion. I’d washed my hands of that site when its true decline started so I didn’t have a front-row seat like PA, but could see it.

  • Snipe at easy targets. In SDN’s case, it was creationists and overrwrought Star Trek fans. In PA’s case, it was the legitimately awful fanfiction.
  • Get a huge sense of superiority from your mocking of said easy targets. Keep a ‘nerd attitude’, for lack of a better term, but have zero empathy. “My nerd stuff is good, yours isn’t”-I think you can see that.
  • Then, after the bitterness increases, you inevitably turn on each other. Either partisans of the losing side or just normal observers inevitably leave, and the whole place falls apart.

SDN has, as of this post, only eight registered human users online. Spacebattles has over two thousand, and even its spin-offs have many, many more. I think its effect on my writing might have been overstated, but it was there, and I feel bad for it.

[1]It was here [EDITED TO REMOVE DEAD LINK] for what it’s worth. Ironically, googling “M2 Bradley” brought me to SDN, and then to Spacebattles (long story).

[2]I don’t hold that against them. Nor do I wish even the abrasive ones any ill will-I still listen to some of their podcasts some of the time.

Note: The board was phased out, but seems to have collapsed before its intended end-date. As such, I’ve removed now-dead links. As for PA failing, well, I could see it coming. It wasn’t exactly a surprise.