I’m delighted to announce my first post on the Red Storm Rising Wargamer’s Blog, a critique of several classic technothrillers. Elsewhere on the blog you can find an AAR and Detailed post on Canadian doctrine.
In no particular order, some of my least favorite antagonists in fiction:
SCP-682 (SCP Foundation)
“The Greek” (The Wire)
The Soviet Leadership (Red Storm Rising)
Andries Rhoodie/The Rivington Men (Guns of the South)
_ _ _ _ _
Missingno is just a glitch. It bugs me so much how a programming error can be treated by fans as some sort of creepypasta scary monster. It’s like making a Fallout or Elder Scrolls fic starring the Glitched Monster From ________.
Now this is what happens when “meme” powers become reality. The lizard is indestructible. That’s it. It’s dull and lame and boring.
That he’s in one of my favorite shows of all time illustrates that even good works of fiction can gave bad antagonists. A sneering one-dimensional mustache-twirler whose entire gimmick is that he’s greedy, “The Greek” is a bad character in a good story. “The Greek” is supposed to represent unrestrained capitalism, but Stringer Bell shows it in a much more balanced and nuanced way. And even his own lieutenant, Spiros, comes across as a much better and more charismatic character.
The Soviet Leadership
The Politburo scene in the beginning of Red Storm Rising has aged poorly and exists to set up the excuse plot for WW3. Sneering supervillain Soviets might work in a Red Alert game, but in a serious book, it’s a headdesk moment. Their entire plan is invading Europe so they can invade the Middle East later. And this is one of the things the copycats have copied. Ugh.
Guns of the South does many things right. One thing it does wrong is its antagonists. The Rivington Men are some of the worst antagonists. They exist to make the Confederates look better in race relations by comparison (ulp), and then, when they decide that Lee has to go, with all their futuristic technology, they… have guys with Uzis fire wildly in his general direction.
I have recently read an extraordinarily good article detailing the ascent and descent of the military technothriller.
The article touches on many of the influences on the genre and speculates that the fall of the USSR was a gigantic blow to it. I agree, but think that they’re neglecting to mention what I consider my own theory for the fall of the story-that, as I said in my review of the prototypical example of the genre, the very ubiquity of high technology in warfare made it lose almost all of its novelty value. There’s also the substantial changes to the publishing business as a whole that are not mentioned, although out of fairness, that’s a totally different subject than what the author wanted to talk about.
Another feeling I have is that technothrillers may have simply burned themselves out. Reading multiple Dale Brown books, where the setups get increasingly ridiculous but the structural flaws mentioned in the article are never countered, gives me that feeling.
This might just be my contrarian attitude, but for all that I’ve enjoyed some of the classic technothrillers, the decline in the genre has not exactly been one that I’ve shed the most tears over.
Kind of like adventure games.
Having mentioned the common trope of the Soviet Union launching an amphibious attack on Iceland popularized in Red Storm Rising, I was playing another Command scenario set with that premise when I saw something.
I can see the reasons for a Soviet invasion of Iceland being so common in potboiler fiction, regardless of the real (im)plausibility. Attacking Iceland is dramatic by itself. To have the invasion initially succeed also gives the “heel” (wrestling villain) the credibility they need to be more than a “jobber” (constant loser) so that the “face” (hero) can have an earned victory.
(Sorry, VGCW has inserted pro wrestling terms into me 😀 ).
But as I played, I saw the gameplay advantages an Iceland base gives. It makes sending aircraft to the North Atlantic far easier than it would be if the AI had to stage them from Kola, even with the refueling changes.
So at least for Command, gameplay reasons may be another (sometimes unintentional) reason for the popularity of the Soviets taking Iceland.
I got Red Storm Rising. How could I not get it? I’ve played Command, so why not get the book that inspired so many wargames? Why not read the traditional genre classic that simulated the battles in the Harpoon boardgame?
So I got the book and read it. And it was-mediocre. Not bad, in the sense of the horribly bad books I’ve read far too many times. But it just didn’t have the sense of “wow, this is a giant classic”. I think there are two main reasons for this.
The first is that the prose just wasn’t the best. The hopping-around viewpoints to show every front of World War III took away from a sense of continued immediacy, and even without that, the writing wasn’t the most powerful. Although a far different period, HMS Ulysses captured northern-latitude naval combat in a much more intense and well-written way. In addition to that, the book stumbled as well by giving an inevitably contrived explanation for starting the war (and a horribly composed Politburo scene), rather than just saying “The war started, now let’s fight it”, and going past it to the real draw.
The second was not the fault of the book itself. Rather, I think it has to deal with the context I read it in. A lot of things in it that were novel at the time, like Tomahawks and (inaccurately speculated) stealth fighters hitting key targets just don’t seem very awe-inspiring to a post-Gulf War reader who sees them as standard procedure.
Then there’s that I’ve seen so many imitators that the original doesn’t seem so original. To someone who’s seen many Backfire regiment vs. carrier group scenarios, I especially don’t have an interested reaction to watching one in a book. Also unsurprising is the Soviet invasion of Iceland-a pipe dream out of place for a defensive fleet, which only works in the book itself as a jury-rigged surprise attack. Yet after that book, Iceland landings are ubiquitous in WWIII fiction, as if standard Northern Fleet procedure was to attack it that way.
While not a totally bad book, through some things that are its fault and some things that aren’t, I just didn’t find Red Storm Rising the most engaging.