Flash Fiction Reviews, Vol 1

All right, time to launch a set of rapid-fire fiction reviews. Two paragraphs per book at most.

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. The military thriller genre can always use some outside perspectives. Sadly, and this more the fault of my expectations than the actual book itself, it ended up as a routine romantic suspense novel. Romantic suspense has always been an awkward genre, in my opinion, the inverse of adding a clunky romance to an otherwise pure action story.

Still, the book is well-written for what it is, and it just was me expecting a genre I wanted rather than the genre the book ended up being. Recommended if you like romance or romantic suspense.

This is the work that (at least partially) kicked off Sea Lion Press, and has the divergence that the conspiracy theory of Harold Wilson being a Soviet agent was true, leading to the already unstable scene of the 70s getting overloaded in a chaotic romp. While not perfect (it gets a little too “inside baseball for enthusiasts of 70s British politics, and a lot of the scenes with Wilson himself are too goofy), it nonetheless avoids almost all of the pitfalls a lot of alternate history has.

Namely, it’s a proper story, not a “get right to the good stuff in a six paragraph infodump” shortcut. It’s also an example of using research to help a story rather than using the story to show off the research. And by choosing an “implausible” divergence, it makes the reseach good anyway. Highly recommended.

This is a short World War III tank story featuring the often-underappreciated Bundeswehr. Smith struggles to overcome his wargaming “I must list everything” detail, but he makes a legitimate and good effort to make a proper story. The result was a good time-passer for me. It’s not a classic, but it doesn’t have to be. Recommended as a “cheap thriller”.

This is another short military fiction tale by a wargame designer. This is a good what-if to answer the ever-present “what if the Gulf War Iraqis were more compenent” question. It’s short and the main character is a little too Mary Sueish, but that’s understandable given the point the author is trying to make. Also recommended as a cheap thriller.

This is a terrible, wretched, creepy melodramatic fraud sold as a genuine World War II memoir. Even without historical inaccuracies, it’s a clear modern fake. The monstrous “Wehrabooism” (at one point the main character comes face to face with a literal ASIATIC HORDESMAN)¬† turns it from simply bad to creepy-bad.

The main character has the situational awareness to see huge tank battles, which always happen at close range in plain sight and always involve tanks and vehicles exploding and flying through the air in massive fireballs. The action is so over the top it becomes dull and predictable. Not recommended.

 

 

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My First Post On Sea Lion Press

I’m delighted to now be a contributor to the Sea Lion Press blog. My first article is a review of an alternate history WWIII thriller, Harvey Black’s The Red Effect. Regrettably, it contained both of my big pet peeves for the genre: Too much perspective hopping and too long of an intro to a foregone event.

The post can be seen here.

Larry Bond’s Red Phoenix

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.

 

This Is The Police Review

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

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?

Gate First Cour Review

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).

Recommendation:

Watch a bit for the novelty, and see if you like it more than I did.