Larry Bond is a figure to whom wargaming and military fiction owes a lot. His writing suffers from a very peculiar problem, in that it feels cliche and clunky, in a way that isn’t his fault. In short, he is a victim of his own success.
It was this feeling I had when I was reading the classic Red Phoenix. I’d heard it was a superb technothriller. I read it and found it to be a middle-of-the-road one. It was like Cauldron, a slightly later book I read, only with a more plausible and grounded opponent. Maybe my hype aversion kicked in, but it just felt-normal. Not rising above the pack, but in it, and not nearly as focused and flowing as Coyle’s Team Yankee. But this is not a Bad Fiction Spotlight, and in total isolation, it would be a good cheap thriller.
However, I did not approach this in total isolation. Bond is, even more than Clancy, a poster child for “having seen so many imitators, the original doesn’t seem so original”. The multiple viewpoint characters, the descriptions, the every section of every theater, the political “””intrigue”””, all of it is there. He definitely helped pioneer it. At the time it would have been better. But now I’m thinking “and this is how the trends I disliked got started [or at least popularized]”, because of how influential he was.
I have been hearing reports that James Cobb, a long-time wargame enthusiast and journalist, has passed away.
One of his final reviews was of the Command Live scenario I made, Black Gold Blitz. RIP.
For the summer sale, I got This Is The Police, a police simulation game. I went in loving it, and came out feeling mixed about it.
First, what I liked about it:
- The gameplay is basically serviceable, and more about timing management than anything else. There’s an investigation mode I struggled with, and I was reminded somewhat of Black Closet’s similar but more detailed mechanics. It’s serviceable, but not enough to carry the player through the overly-long campaign.
- The dark humor brought a smile to my face. If the game was more open-ended, had “survive for this long”, and had officers asking to leave for the dumbest reasons and weird false alarms from callers with either too much or too little mediciation, I would love it. The problem is the main plot, which in addition to its own problems, contradicts the wacky hijinks to a huge extent-it’s trying to be both The Wire and The Simpsons at once.
Now for what I didn’t like:
- The game is too long, and has the “flail around blind and probably lose or robotically follow a guide and win” effect. Way too long. It could have been half as long as it was and still be as good.
- The story. Oh, the story. It’s too dark, the characters are cliches, and it doesn’t fit the dark humor goofball trend of the gameplay. Here should be this weird management simulator, and instead I get a fifth-rate wannbe-noir plot.
- There’s too much disconnect between the good man trying to hold the police together even as he’s sucked into evil that the main character is in the story, and the guy who had mobsters kill three officers so that he could sell their corpses to a mad scientist for cash I played in the gameplay.
The game is still fun and still worth getting (especially on sale), it’s just it could be more. For this kind of investigative game, if you can tolerate the high-school setting, Black Closet does it better mechanically.
It’s weird that I can rattle off a huge number of books I found bad, but when, in a conversation, it came to recommending ones I legitimately enjoyed, I had to struggle a bit.
Maybe I could recommend books I found enjoyably bad or mediocre to see if others liked them unreservedly?
So, the first block of the Gate anime I previously talked about is done. Forget the implausibility of it-how is it from an artistic perspective?
Even given the low standards (I’m not expecting anything beyond a shamelessly nationalist adventure story), it’s-mediocre at best. The biggest problem by far is the very frequent changes in tone. Multiple times within the same episode, the story goes from gory gruesome dark war to silly anime antics to its politics and back again. The latest episode, for instance, starts with dozens being burned to death by a dragon, follows one of the surviving elves as she melodramatically searches for the JSDF to help, has the princess who loves sleazy comics receiving a batch of ‘art books’, and has the JSDF soldiers complaining about how they can’t move to where the dragon is because it’ll just “give the opposition party ammunition”.
If this was done well, I might have been more tolerant of it, but for the most part, it isn’t.
The politics were also annoying. I actually don’t mean the politics on the other side of the gate (Reading Baen and similar books has mithridatized me towards far-right politics), but rather the laughable attempt at dramatizing it from the Empire’s view. My reaction, which has held up, was-“Why is there even a faction that still thinks they can win at all when they’ve just been on the receiving end of something that makes the Gulf War look like Borodino in comparison?”
There are a few mitigating factors beyond just the setting. The animation isn’t bad at all, and since it’s been adapted from something (adapted from a manga which was adapted from a novel), almost everything was in the original source material (which doesn’t excuse the problems, but explains them as not being entirely the anime producer’s fault).
Watch a bit for the novelty, and see if you like it more than I did.