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.

Jumpchain

So, I’ve known it existed for a long time, but have only recently begun to examine the phenomenon known as “Jumpchain”, a kind of internet choose-your-own-adventure story. This post on a jumpchain blog explains it far better than I could.

Being so focused on using and taking advantage of various setting powers, it’s no surprise that jumpchains are popular on Spacebattles. I’ll admit I was reminded of the Infinite Loops, in that both combined fantasy with rules.

On one hand, viewed as an actual story vehicle, it has everything from power creep (the original “victory condition” of the endjump and planeswalker spark went from being an epic struggle with an epic reward to a readily munchkin-able condition that gives something the jumper will likely already have, for one) to (for not all, but too many jumpchain writers) making the actual adventures themselves play second fiddle to describing and arguing about the builds.

But as a munchkin fantasy? I can feel the guilty pleasure, and the weaknesses described above are totally understandable. So I just can’t bring myself to dislike jumpchain.

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.

Alpha Kat and 90s Cheap Thrillers

So, I just finished breezing my way through the cheap thriller novel Alpha Kat by William Lovejoy. The book was first published in 1992, and it shows. it’s a very early 90s thriller, which is to say that it has to desperately dig for antagonists (in this case a drug lord poised to take over Southeast Asia) and ways to weaken the heroes (they’re commissioned to use their prototype super-planes rather than being part of the regular military). The book itself isn’t terrible, especially by cheap thriller standards. But it is awkward in terms of pacing and the ending is a little too “quick”.

Now it says something about the kind of books I read that I’ve read enough 90s cheap thrillers to really get “ah-ha, this isn’t just a 90s technothriller, it’s an early 90s technothriller.”

And yet, I don’t mind this. It’s endearing to see something flawed instead of something playing it safe all the time. It’s inspiring, even, because of my love of the unconventional in Command scenarios. So yes, two cheers for the early 90s technothriller.

 

The Tank Army Out Of Nowhere

It may be implausible, but I love the concept of the tank army out of nowhere. I’ve seen it in a few cheap thrillers of dubious quality, and if the context allows it, I love it. It’s just a sign that the author simply does not care about those silly things like “logistics”, or “direct plausibility”.

Where I think I love the tank army out of nowhere (again, assuming the right context, which boils down to not taking things too seriously) has to do with my own hang-ups, where I’ve been too focused on “plausibility”. As a literary tool, seeing the tank army out of nowhere without any explanation save for a lame excuse (and sometimes not even that) makes me think “Ok, here’s tanks-this is going to be ridiculous, whether the author intends it or not.”

And I like ridiculousness in my fiction.

If I read normal fiction

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.