The Spacesuit Commando ‘Genre’ of Books

I’ve mentioned what I call the “spacesuit commando” genre on Fuldapocalypse before. It’s an arbitrary, slightly snide term I’ve made and used for this type of lowbrow military sci-fi I’ve read far too much of. If I had to give a definition, it’d consist of…

 

  • The background is dystopian, often excessively and pointlessly so.
  • The characters only use power armor that doesn’t seem to actually do anything.
  • The main character is either explicitly placed in a SUPER SPECIAL SPACESUIT COMMANDO unit, or whatever unit he ends up in is treated like a SUPER SPECIAL SPACESUIT COMMANDO unit, even undeservedly.
  • There’s excessive training sequences, checking the “I read Heinlein” box.
  • The main character gets promoted ridiculously high ridiculously fast.
  • A lot of the dynamics (for lack of a better word) feel weird, like the author didn’t do the most basic research.
  • The antagonists have absolutely no development whatsoever, even by the low standards of cheap thrillers. The generic “eat everything bugs” are actually slightly better in that it’s at least justified in-universe. Human/sentient opponents are painted with the same brush.

 

And yet, “spacesuit commando” stories are the ones I do read en masse. Part of it is just accessibility (most of them are on Kindle Unlimited, and there’s a “feedback loop” of getting more spacesuit commando books in my recommendations once I’ve gotten several). Part of it is that a story can have many elements of it and still be good (or at least better than some of the others). But the most ridiculous side of me likes them because of the formulaic cheese if I want an absolutely mindless read.

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.

 

The Terror of Saltybet

You are someone. You may be a superhero, or a supervillain,  or a student, or a monster of some kind. Whoever you are, you are going about your daily business. Then suddenly, you are transported. You are thrown into a strange place, fighting someone who is usually a totally strange person/monster/road sign by your standards. And you have this insatiable urge to fight them, as they do to you.

Sometimes it’s just one fight-you either win and go back, or lose and go back. But sometimes it’s a big long tournament. You have to go the distance. And you see them-them. The people in the audience. To them it’s-a -game? A casino?

Ok, so I thought it would be fun to do a piece seeing what a Saltybet match is like from the character’s perspective, using the most disruptive method I could think of.

The Fall of Gold Eagle

So, I found a Nader Elhefnawy blog post on the shuttering of Harlequin’s Gold Eagle imprint for “men’s adventure” cheap thrillers in 2015 (although Harlequin has continued to release new Mack Bolan ebooks since then). Besides the increasing diversity in media as a whole, the genre is mentioned in the post as being squeezed both from above (from bigger-market, less assembly line-ish cheap thrillers) and below (from independent/self-published ones).

Now the indies and the big-timers both have structural weaknesses and strengths. As for how the Gold Eagle Bolans (and similar professional assembly line fiction) held up, I’ll have to read them. Even Ahern’s Survivalist doesn’t really match up, as that was a giant serial made by one person, not 27 standalone books made by different ones.

Time Flies

A small anecdote. I remember when A Song of Ice And Fire/Game of Thrones was this updating yet niche series you basically already had to be a fantasy nerd to know about. Then came the TV show. Then came the actual books turning into literary vaporware, becoming a sort of punchline that is to books what Half-Life 3 and Duke Nukem Forever are to video games.

So yeah, it’s progressed (or regressed) a lot.

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.