The Spanish Moroccan War in hindsight

About a decade ago, young me read a tale that would spark an interest in alternate history. That story was A Spanish-Moroccan War in 2002. With a decade of hindsight, with a decade of me both more interested in and more disillusioned by alternate history (long story), what do I think of it?

Well, my first thought is “time to sim some of it in Command”, because boy is something like that meant for Command. In fact, it was the appeal of simulating such slightly unconventional (to an American) conflicts that drove me into that sim in the first place (My very first editor experiment was a Spanish-Nigerian clash over Equatorial Guinea in the 1960s-certainly as far from the GIUK Gap in 198X as it gets.)

But as for the story on its own terms…

  • In some cases, it’s like an style TL, for better or worse. What makes it “better” is that it’s detailed and scope limited. It’s an hour-by-hour recap of a war lasting a few days, and apart from an epilogue, that’s it. I think what’s made me sour on such a writing model is that it’s increasingly not done well-big events are brushed past in a few paragraphs (or less!) while history divergences monstrously in a way that’s clearly “because the author thought it”, and there’s often a lack-of-effort streak visible. This is not the case here.
  • It’s also novel, and a conflict that isn’t some mega-dystopia or other clear trend-follower. This combined with the limited scope means it manages to avoid both the “Nazi Confederates Take Over The World” and “Reads Like The Minutes of A Finger Lakes Historical Society Conference” extremes that plague the genre.
  • That being said, this kind of story is meant to be experienced an installment at a time as a kind of serial, and having access to the whole thing at once takes a lot of the drama away.

It’s interesting to look back on, at least.


The Hunt For Red October

I’m finally reading the original book version of The Hunt For Red October. As a kid, I repeatedly watched the movie. Can’t believe it took me as long as it did to get into the actual book, but I finished it.

Having gotten through my initial first read-through, I’m sharing my thoughts. I’m not posting this at Fuldapocalypse because it’s deliberately meant to be more an off the cuff first impression than a structured review.

Granted, the deck is a little stacked with stuff that was beyond Clancy’s control. Like his RSR co-author Larry Bond, he has a big “after you’ve read so many imitators, the original doesn’t seem so original” effect. There’s a vastly different cultural context-high tech military equipment is routine rather than novel now. There’s the “all or nothing” problem that’s inherent to submarine fiction as a whole. And it feels a little harsh to slam someone’s first novel. So I’ll admit there’s some bias here.

Still, reading it supports the feeling I had when reading Red Storm Rising.

Said feeling is that Tom Clancy was a decent-at-best author whose success came more from being able to tap into the zeitgeist of the time than any true writing skill, and that his work doesn’t age well even compared to other 80s cheap thrillers.

Now he’s not a terrible or unreadable author by any standard, and it’s easy to see his appeal. If it was written later and/or by someone else, The Hunt For Red October would still be a good enough submarine novel. But it has two big problems.

  • Infodumps and plotlines. Plotlines, dogfights and at-sea antics. And infodumps. Frequently outdated and/or inaccurate (that’s not a big deal to me) infodumps that cross the line, in my opinion, from “understandable” to “self-indulgent” (that is a big deal to me) .
  • Supervillain Soviets. Reading the infamous “Politburo Chapter” of Red Storm Rising was not a pleasant experience, and I saw a lot of stuff like that in The Hunt For Red October.

It’s why I think the movie is better. The book just has so much “fluff” to trim that the movie could do so without compromising the basic quality of it. The movie is also, in my opinion, less reliant on the rapidly dated “wow-look-at-this-supertech” factor.

Yet for all its problems, it’s still quite readable and is very good as a “historical” document for what an archetypical thriller of the time was like. So I can’t be too hard on it.