On Trying to Not Be Spoiled

I’m trying not to be spoiled by blockbusters until I finally read/watch/play them. It’s harder than it seems, but I’ve managed it on more than one occasion. I got most of the way through Undertale without being spoiled, and my experience was all the better for it.

Though I have to admit there’s little middle ground with games for me. It’s either a bumbling blind playthrough or a robotic walkthrough.

Another one where I wasn’t spoiled before experiencing it was the name of the traitor in Payday 2′ Hoxton Revenge. Then again, I only had a <30 minute mission to sit through, not a long, detailed game.

Character Evolutions

I have to admit my characters have changed and evolved. I try to write them down because otherwise I’d forget, so looking at a previous draft can seem mind-boggling.

I have a weakness of putting the worldbuilding cart before the story horse, and haven’t let a character flow naturally as much as I’d like. Still, maybe the development is the flowing process.

I even created a “Doombot System” to explain any discrepancies. The lead antagonist of every single one of my stories is both a powerful supernatural person and a variety of humans with the same name (they’re connected, it’s a long story). That way I can have multiple sets of power and personality on the same nominal figure without retconning anything. Maybe I was overthinking it, but I still like the concept.

Command Fiction: Elephant Tusks

Intro:

This Command Fiction vignette is based on the scenario Standoff-21, a futuristic version of the Black Buck air raids of Falklands fame. In real life the Nimrod MRA4 was cancelled, but in Command it exists as a hypothetical unit, including a variant armed with Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

This is kind of “Britain YEAH!”, which is weird because I’m American. Oh well.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Maybe they were white elephants all along, a last gasp of the British Imperial mentality. But as the Nimrods returned to the field on Ascension Island, one thought went into the mind of the technician watching them.

Even white elephants have tusks.

They’d flown through the tanker chain-far and away the hardest part of the mission-, released their Storm Shadows, and hit their targets on the Argentine mainland. Now the crews were getting ready to repeat the process.

They weren’t foolish enough to try and invade en masse, instead settling for a mixture of small ops. While the Army, Navy, and FDF had dealt with them, they weren’t stopping. The time had come to up the stakes and let Buenos Aires know what HM Armed Forces could do.

All it needed was the political go-ahead, and once that was achieved, they were off. Off without a hitch.

Now it could very well have been done more efficiently. But it was done. And what a suitable fiftieth birthday present for the Nimrod-for that was how long it had taken between its service introduction and something like the events to happen.

Command Fiction: Democratic War Theory

Intro:

For whatever reason, a Command scenario that has stayed in my imagination long after I released it was Regaining Honor. Perhaps it’s the unconventional drone gameplay or something else. While its description of the state of the Yemeni armed forces has turned out to be the exact opposite of what happened in real life, the circumstances-similar to real life but also different, have gripped me.

So I’m writing this “Command Fiction”, describing the aftermath of a scenario. There will be more of this, from multiple perspectives.

_ _ _ _ _ _

June 12, 2015.

The irony of it all. A Middle Eastern nation with little history of anything but authoritarianism holds a democratic election and hands over power. Under most circumstances, it would be cheerful.

Not today.

On April 2, routine drone operations turned into the largest aerial combat losses for the United States since the Vietnam War. Four American fighters, including two of the previously unbeaten F-15s, fell. In return, they shot down at least seventeen Yemeni planes. The regional buildup has accelerated, and now a fleet of warships sits off the coast, backed by hundreds of land-based aircraft everywhere from Jordan to Djibouti.

All against a military that, even before the loss of half its air force, was hideously weak even by regional standards. But every American from President Winslow down to the lowest-ranked enlisted knows that striking first after the event would be politically suicidal. Even the initial sweep and cruise missile strike (apparent an awkward enactment of a CENTCOM contingency plan for the loss of a crewed aircraft over Yemen) was considered by many domestic and international observers as overreacting.

An immediate snap election was called. The ruling YPP won 79 out of 141 seats in the Yemeni national parliament, allowing it to (theoretically) form a cohesive leadership without the awkward dealings and rumblings that characterized the past two years of civilian rule. No one believes its large victory to be the result of anything but fear and a desire for some kind of stability.

The YPP’s coalition partners accepted the defeat (at least for the time) and the new single-party cabinet was sworn in on June 10.

Unresolved issues include POW Jim Butterfield, an F-15 pilot captured during the air battle (Two were killed and a third was safely rescued).

The elected, civilian government chose to shoot down the drones as a political move-an irony that, for the claims of “democratic peace theory”, it proved more belligerent than its authoritarian predecessors.

Whatever, markets have jittered and oil prices spiked since the start of the crisis. While Yemen has little interdiction capability and the American buildup would make any attempt near-impossible, the instability is bringing fear. If Winslow hoped that a large buildup would reassure financial leaders, he is mistaken.

Barton Motors

How to keep a small American car company alive and independent? The thought kept going through my mind, and went to the forefront after the release of the latest open beta for Automation.

Barton Motors is one of my concept car companies. An independent auto manufacturer in New Jersey, it survives World War II and then…

Something. I want it to be a general purpose producer, at least at first. The only problem is that general purpose is in many ways the toughest segment. The only options for a poor independent once the artificial boom of the late 1940s subsides are:

  • Go head to head against the Big Three with fewer resources. This was tried by AMC’s Rob Abernethy in the 1960s, with predictable results.
  • Try to fill a niche. At first, compact cars were the niche, the problem being that every independent tried to pile into a small market. Then came AMC’s Ramblers, followed by renewed competition from the Big Three compacts and imports. This need not be limited to compacts-if an independent got a Mustang-style car before the Mustang (or something else), a similar logic would undoubtedly occur.

 

What I decided was Barton getting enough of a certain image to survive by going upmarket. Starting as a mass volume producer, it decides to live on as a low tooling cost, niche producer after one device fails. Of course, this means it goes from thousands to hundreds of employees, but at least it’s still in business for longer.

To my knowledge, there is no real life precedent (the closest is BMW, who built everything from tiny bubble cars to giant luxury vehicles before settling on the upper-mid premium market.) There was, however, an attempt-the Alchemy proposal for the MG Rover group, that would have slimmed it down to a low-production sports car company. This was rejected in favor of a politically preferable bid that kept the workforce employed in full, the disastrous Phoenix Four.

There’s skepticism that the original offer was actually viable-other British sports-car firms have gone decades without making a profit. But the theoretical precedent is there. I still wouldn’t bet on Barton surviving to the present. But you never know.

 

Strange Literary Tastes

I’ve found that I enjoy reading either “thrillers” that are utter trash or big, dry reference books. There really isn’t that much of a middle ground for me-it either has to be enjoyably interesting or enjoyably terrible.

I could think of a thousand reasons why that might be the case, but they seem to pale in comparison to personal likings of the moment. (Shrugs)

 

An exercise in excessive force

So, when repeatedly flipping through the Command scenario generator, I discovered the “South American Tuna Wars”. Reading more about it, my interest was raised.

(Long story short-Peru and Ecuador were seizing American tuna boats for unauthorized fishing in what was to become their Exclusive Economic Zones. In real life, the issue never progressed beyond small, often lifted sanctions before the US accepted the EEZ concept in the 1980s ).

It wasn’t making a scenario based on it (which would probably be either a nonviolent enforcement exercise in all plausibility) that held the most appeal to me. No, it was thinking of the concept for a deployment based on the notion that the two nations were preparing to sucker punch the Yanqui ships at any minute, and thus they needed a massive guardian force to counter that.

For basic screening, a few light warships, with endurance and then speed being the chief factors, would have done the trick. However, given their opposition in the early 1960s time frame, the following assesment was done by me.

  • Peru possessed a pair of cruisers. Therefore, a similar, if not bigger ship was necessary to counter them on the American side. For one editor experiment, I used a hypothetical surviving Alaska class, and for another, a conventional 8-inch CA.
  • Peru also possesses submarines, requiring ASW forces to have a surer counter. In an extreme case, American submarines themselves could be deployed.
  • Both countries have air forces, and therefore some defense beyond just increasingly ineffective AAA is necessary. A SAM warship, still fledgling even at this point, is a possibility.
  • Of course, there’s one ship that can do both ASW and air screening. Yep, they’re going to send in a carrier. Along with its immediate escorts, since what if they launched an attack on it?
  • And of course, the logistics vessels to support this armada.

And all for some tuna fish. This is a goofy exercise, but this take no chances and do nothing by halves attitude is a real one in real crises, and illustrates the reason for lopsided expenditures and deployments.

 

Working around a writing weakness

When looking around for new books to read, I remembered Tanya Huff’s Valor series, and got a new spin-off by, An Ancient Peace. Sadly, it wasn’t as good as the originals-my impression is that her heart just wasn’t in it. Or maybe my tastes have changed and it’s been too long since I read the original books.

Be that as it may, the books were little more than cheap thrillers with bad sci-fi tropes (apostrophe-ridden names, cliche alien design, etc…). But they were good cheap thrillers, and I bizarrely respected them more after seeing Huff’s background as a fantasy writer. She was not one with military experience, but was able to work around her weakness to an incredible degree.

How did she do that? By writing fantasy-adventurer situations with small groups and not conventional battles. The heroine takes part in exactly one big engagement, and it’s made deliberately short and vague before moving on to something she was more comfortable writing.  Such an admission of one’s own weakness is interesting and admirable, compared to numerous other writers who’ve overreached beyond their skills.

 

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?