The AH conundrum-Solved?

A long time ago, I made a post wondering why there was so little “middle-tier” alternate history. Why was there so little alternate history that wasn’t either blatant or technical. There was a discussion to this end on Sea Lion Press some time ago, and (at least partially) from seeing and participating in that, I had an “ah-hah!” moment that might help explain the reason why.

The reason is simple: What would be “middle-tier” alternate history isn’t sold as or even considered alternate history most of the time. Using a ridiculously expansive definition, anything that isn’t an explicit reenactment/retelling of a historical event can be considered “alternate history”. A fictional city? Alternate history. A fictional political leader? Alternate history. A never-was weapon or car being used because the author liked it? Alternate history.

Even in lesser cases, where there’s a clear timeline divergence, itĀ couldĀ be considered alternate history, but isn’t. For instance, since the timeline diverged in the 1980s with the arrival of Scion, Worm could be considered alternate history.

The sad truth (for alternate history fans) is that there isn’t much gain in labeling something alternate history. It’s known, but it’s known as a genre where the divergence is clear and blatant. For a more mainstream audience, it’s been shown that it’s better off being labeled as just what its genre is-a thriller, a mystery, or whatever it might be.


John Dies At The End

Now, it’s a little awkward that the surreal “classic” John Dies At The End is a book that’s struck near and dear to my heart.

On one hand, it’s a rambunctious romp of pure silly goofiness mixed with legitimate cosmic horror and a very wry writing style I’ve enjoyed.

On the other, well. First, in terms of legit offensiveness and tastelessness, it always toes and too often crosses the line. Second, well, it’s just a crudely bound volume of stories published one at a time on the internet long long ago, so don’t expect much in the way of cohesiveness.

The very crude nature of the book somehow makes it click-the two sequels have most of its weaknesses but very few of its strengths, so I don’t recommend them (in fact, the drop in quality between John Dies At The End itself and This Book is Full of Spiders is the single largest I’ve seen in any direct sequel).

If I had to write a big academic book…

If I had to write a big, academic, meticulously researched history/analysis book, I think it would be on the way the sort of story type I call the “cheap thriller” evolved throughout the centuries, from the beginning of modern printing all the way to the present. It would be an excuse to read lots and lots of cheap thrillers, and I find the trajectory of what’s popular and what isn’t at what time period legitimately fascinating.

A writing strategy

For my newest in-progress book, I’m trying a slightly unconventional writing style. I’m initially putting all the chapters in separate documents so that I don’t feel overwhelmed and can, if I only have the time or motivation for a “nibble”, can contribute to the chapter where I feel the most enthusiastic.

So far it seems to be working and I’m avoiding the “stare at the processor, do nothing” effect that has plagued my other writing for too long.

Watsonian Vs. Doylist

The “Watsonian” vs. “Doylist” logic is used to describe something from “in-universe” or “out-of-universe” terms.

Watsonian. In-universe. “The government has been neglectful and that’s why the supervillains keep escaping.”

Doylist. Out of universe. “The authors need opponents for their superheroes and that’s why the supervillains keep escaping.”

Sometimes one works a lot better than the other.

The Wail Rid I Row Project

So, now I have time to put together something that I’ve wanted to do for a while. Namely, start up an anthology of World War III fiction. The details can be viewed on my secondary blog devoted specifically to it, the Wail Rid I Row Project.

(Wail Rid I Row is an anagram of World War III.)

This is a passion project, everything will be free. I’ve been too critical for my own good-I want to help make fiction, not destroy it. I have modest expectations, but you never know.

The Tank Crew

Tank crews can make for an underappreciated fictional niche. There’s enough of them to be more than an individual (ie, pilot), yet not enough to get out of hand. You get between three and five crew to a tank (again, barring the edge cases), and there’s less need to perspective hop.

An Alien Era

Today is my 27th birthday. And I think my date of birth might explain why I have a sudden fascination with Cold War fiction.

Because it’s after my time. I was born the year the USSR fell, so the world I entered is a lot different. Looking back on it is like looking back at something different, something that has changed so quickly. And fiction tends to reflect fact. From a literary perspective, it feels interesting to study a genre, even one as “fluffy” as the technothriller, to see its ups and downs.

It’s very fascinating.


Submarine Fiction

With the release of The Silent Service DLC for Command, I figured I’d talk about submarine fiction. Now, the genre includes traditional classics like Run Silent Run Deep, and of course, a submarine novel kickstarted the technothriller genre as we know it.

Submarine fiction is a sort of genre that’s interesting in the context of how it adapted to the post-USSR period. It was a very hard, very uphill struggle. Probably more so than any other subgenre of technothriller, because not that many countries even have subs, much less modern ones.

Small fry? You’d be lucky to get anything more than a Kilo or Type 209.

Nuclear submarines? Only six countries operate them, four are democracies, and three of the four are NATO members.

So the methods I’ve found authors use are:

  • Give the enemy a “thingy”. That is, the weaker opponent has a submarine (or submarines) as well. Is it a Kilo/209? Is it an upgraded Kilo/209-style submarine? Is it a newer, quiet submarine?
  • Make the story part of a big great-power conflict, in some form or another.
  • Go full sci-fi or weird and make it unconventional in some form. Larry Bond’s Cauldron is a mild example of this, whereas Joe Buff‘s submarine novels are an extreme example.
  • Finally-have a submarine that’s hijacked/hacked/rogue/stolen/otherwise in the hands of the antagonist. This is one of many examples, as is this.

Obviously, they can mix, these are not hard and fast categories by any means. The only thing that really feels “natural” is the great-power conflict, and that has its own issues and hangups. The others can still be done well. As with any genre, a skilled author can turn a questionable setup into a delight, while a bad author can get a story handed to them on a silver platter and mess it up. But the obvious handwaves and possible pitfalls are still there, and still clear.

An additional one that I think exists for submarines regardless of the time period is that they’re “all or nothing”. You can destroy individual protagonist tanks or aircraft easily enough, but, for the most part, either all the submarine’s crew makes it, or none of them do.

Submarine fiction is an interesting technothriller niche, that, thanks to the real exclusivity, seems to amplify the issues the genre has had. And that’s legitimately interesting to me.