Sometimes, the hallmark of a truly bad setting is it making the heroes weak or their enemies strong, often inadvertedly. So, revisiting an old “classic”, I found it was even worst in that regard than I previously knew.

I knew TBO was a bad setting. I knew it gave the Germans ridiculous logistics.

But still…

  • Advance to the Don and Volga Rivers to the point where they serve as the frontlines while the Soviets/Russians are still actively resisting.
  • Stay there in the wake of the Russo-American armies for 4-5 years.
  • Keep their warlord states in South Russia going for close to a decade after Germany proper is nuked, and they have to be pushed out of them.

Yeesh. For a series intended to debunk the Wehraboo Wunderwaffe, this doesn’t look so good. But somehow it got even worse.

  • Pull off a Crimea-style amphibious sneak attack to quickly occupy Britain.
  • Keep mobile forces running around as fire brigades to shore up the undermanned line for those 4-5 years. And do so effectively, without the counters the Allies historically developed.
  • Inflict 1.3 million combat deaths on the Americans alone without suffering similarly monstrous losses.
  • Finally, when they do flee into the Middle East, serve as the only viable force of the strawman Muslim superstate that can do anything except riot and rant.

There’s a backwards reason here, and it’s to make the story possible at all. The initial forum post that led to it (a kind of ‘strategic decision game’) described it as follows.

“How is this for a strategic scenario?

We’re in 1947, the US has successfully tested a nuclear device (and managed to keep a lid on it). They’ve built up an arsenal of around 60 devices, all Mark 1s of average 10 kiloton yield (up a bit, down a bit, things weren’t terribly precise back then). They have a production rate of around one Mark 1s per month with a single 15 kiloton Model 1561 every four month. Coming up is the 25 kiloton Mark 3 (one a month from mid-1947) and the 50 kiloton mark 4 (one a week from the start of 1948 ) . This is a somewhat faster production rate and reflects an acceptance of wartime engineering standarsd rather than peacetime. It means the devices shorter lives. By the way, Super (fusion device) is on the way.

Bomber force will be 500 B-36s, all jet equipped (the B-36s have priority for jets precisely because of the nuclear device). B-29s are there but mostly face the Pacific.

In Europe, the Germans occupy from the Urals to the Pyranees and from the UK to North Africa. They range into but do not hold the Sahara. In the east they have a hell of a partisan warfare problem in the occupied territories. That requires a major force commitment. Western Europe is relatively peaceful. Spain is doing a balancing act – pro-German enough not to be invaded by Germany, not pro German enough to be pounded by the US.

At sea, the Germans aren’t so lucky. The US Navy and what’s left of the RN have swept the seas of the German fleet. The Atlantic is a US lake. The US carriers are pounding the Western edges and there isn’t much the Germans can do about it. Of their submarines, only the Type XXIs can do anything useful and they are hunted mercilessly. The older subs have an at-sea lifetime of hours rather than days. There are no transatlantic convoys to sop up Allied resources so everything goes into an attack fleet.

In the air the German jets had a temporary transcendence in 1944/45 but thats fading fast. The P-80 and the new Grumman F9F are marginally inferior to the latest German jets but they are enormously greater in numbers. Both the allies and the Germans have a problem; there isn’t enough jet fuel. This forces them to keep piston engined fighters in the inventory (historically correct by the way – that problem took until the late 1950s to solve – know you know why the ANG kept Mustangs so long). The US carriers are running in, grabbing local air superiority, smashing targets and the defenses then pulling back out to sea before the germans can concentrate to match them. The areas the Germans stripped to do that then get hit by another carrier raid. The Germans know the B-36 is coming and are trying to do something about it but they have problems. Their older piston-engined fighters are useless; they can’t get up high enough and fast enough to intercept. They have specialized high altitude piston engined fighters but they are too lightly armed and the performance differential is too low. The jets have a better chance but they have problems all of their own. Oddly the German plane that is best suited to a B-36 interceptor is the He-219. It has the speed, altitude, firepower and endurance to be a threat. The Germans are building them again (despite its shortcomings) and they have replaced most of the older twin engined fighters. They’re taking a beating from the carriers though.

The Germans have spotted something else. A stripped recon version of the B-36, the RB-36 has been making runs all over Germany. They’ve tried to intercept and failed. Whatever’s going to happen is about to start. They’ve heard a codeword but don’t know what it means. That codeword is “Dropshot”.

Hows that for a base. If we can all live with that strategic situation, we’ll go ahead and plan a nuclear war.”

So, it was trying to ram a square ‘plausible’ scen into a round ‘pure hypothetical exercise’ hole. The result was-well, that. But that still doesn’t explain why Stuart insisted on the warlord states holding out.

Or the way they’re described in TBO itself, which seems to me like layering stuff from the real war on without thinking of the ramifications. The story lists fuel shortages, the same turf wars that hurt German production, the loss of so many pilots that the Germans were forced to stuff kids into He-162s like in the real 1945, to the point where a 21-year-old is one of the oldest members of his unit (TBO, page 11)-and yet, because the story calls for them to hold the line until the super-bombers break the stalemate, they somehow hold the line.

As for the postwar divergences, well, the Middle Eastern ones can be sadly explained as not wanting to give any credit to Muslims.

This sort of ‘analysis’ is why I bizarrely like reading bad fiction.

All Bad Things…

So, I finished reading The High Frontier, the de facto final work in The Big One series, chronologically speaking. The setting technically continues in the form of its longstanding infodump timeline, but Stuart has turned his attention to World War II and said it’s doubtful that there’d be any novels chronologically after this one.

The book, featuring the end of the Easy Mode Cold War, did not have the entertainment factor that I had when rereading Lion Resurgent. Maybe it was that I was “prepared” for the novelty. Seeing “I’m briefing Reagan and he likes it!” fantasies isn’t as amusing the second time around. Maybe the book itself was just more dull.

I should have felt “that’s it, now good riddance”.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

And yet I felt a surprisingly bittersweet feeling when I read the end. Seeing the weird elements I knew and ‘loved’- the repeated bashing of NASA and ballistic missiles, the equivalent of seeing Brezhnev personally lead a campaign into Afghanistan and then get killed in action, the equivalent of the August Coup plotters trying to nuke a space station-and knowing that was the conclusion made me, if not sad, at least-fulfilled. From here on out it’s bad battles in a conflict I know and have little interest in.

Mockably bad works like this are rare, and now that I’ve seen it to the end, it’s over.

And at least it ended on a good stopping point. Tom Kratman’s Carrera series de facto ended (or at least slowed down) on a cliffhanger.


Rereading Lion Resurgent

So I read a bad book again. This was rereading it, and I honestly had more fun looking at it again than I expected.

When I first read the book Lion Resurgent several years ago, my first thought was that it was dull even by the standards of The Big One series it belonged to. That it was unmockably bad, and in an Amazon review, I even called it “the flat-out worst book I’ve read”.

I decided to read it again. Why? I had nothing better to do.

I was “pleasantly” surprised.

  • The book has, very early on, a briefing given to President Reagan. Not only are there a million “Look how much better he was than Carter” claims, but that it’s the Mary Sue Seer giving the briefing puts it over the top in terms of wish fulfillment. “See, I’m-I mean, the guy I know is giving briefings to Reagan and he’s liking them!”
  • Then there’s the “plot”. Like watching a scene in an action movie where the hero has to try to act, this can be unintentionally funny. There’s a death scene that is, with apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, extremely foretold. Then there’s a spy plot that’s about on the same level as the shoved-in footage in They Saved Hitler’s Brain where “agents” with bad post-Sergeant Pepper Beatles mustaches spent several minutes getting and out of cars before the ‘real’ story began.  The icing on the cake is a plot with South Africa whose sole contribution is-delivering armored vehicles.
  • Then it was back to drudgery with the main story of the alternate Falklands War. Everything has to be explained, even something as simple to show and not tell like the missiles are missing their targets. 
  • In my first reaction, I said the following about the battles. “The Americans get a “look we’re awesome” scene like they do in all the books, the British take more casualties but you have as much attachment to them as you do to CMANO units so it doesn’t have any emotion”. This was unfair to the units of Command.
  • The most interesting part-Packard and Studebaker are still in the passenger car business. A part of me was going “Well, even with a different market their survival is dubious because they historically failed at the height of the domestic industry’s power.” That’s what I was thinking of. Cars.
  • The whole thing has a sort of detachment to it-like Stuart’s trying to tell of naughty seductions, but it’s told through the filter of an old military encyclopedia, with exactly as much emotion.
  • The plots don’t connect. Not just mechanically, but creatively. It’s like there’s a story of a conspiracy of long-lived “immortals” mixed with a military story. Like mixing some of the Assassin’s Creed plots together with The War That Never Was.


The book is still very bad, but I had fun with the reread.

Bad Fiction Spotlight: The Big One

This is one of the first bad fiction series I found out about online, read for myself, and then criticized. So it’s kind of special-in multiple meanings of the term, of course.

This series is called The Big One. Written by a naval analyst named Stuart Slade, they’re both the most uninteresting (badly written with not a hint of excitement in the battles, obvious chapter-by-chapter webfiction turned to self-publishing with only a hint of the battles), and strangely interesting (the whole mystique around it).

So, first an examination of the “what.”

The timeline begins in 1940, with Lord Halifax seizing power from Churchill in a parliamentary coup. Then he makes peace with Germany, who then deploy “guards” to England, in a prelude to a Crimea-style taking of Britain(!). The US enters the war, fights on the mega-Eastern Front, Stalin is killed and the USSR reverts to Russia, and the war drags on until 1947, where a huge fleet of B-36s easily nukes Germany into utter ruin.

That was the “sane” part of it. The work had originated from a what if forum post, and turned into a sort of mix. Part of it was showing off the power of the early Cold War nuclear bomber fleets, and part of it was debunking the “wehraboo wunderwaffe” exaggeration of WWII Germany, showing that if the US enters the war, it will just be nuked even with artificial advantages.

Then things get crazier and crazier.

With Russia turned into a cuddly, fuzzy, Britain Special Relationship-level teddy bear, the opposition is dubious. First you get the holdout Germans who’ve managed to keep their logistical state in southern Russia going for a bizarrely long period before taken out in a final Russian ground offensive. They flee into the Middle East-

-And ally themselves with an anachronistic “Caliphate” that is blasphemous to any form of Islam, given that Stuart simply copy-pasted the Taliban organization over everything, and made things even worse by making Khomeini the “first among equals”. The goal is simply to turn a region that’s a decades long-puzzle of complexity into a pop-up bombing target that in terms of competence, makes the 1991 Iraqis look like aces in comparison.

(This was written around 2003-2004, for historical reference)

The other opponent is “Chipan”. A mix of the lazy “China absorbs its conquerors” pop history-gimmick and plot device, it’s a mix of China and Imperial Japan. Yes. The goal is to A: Neutralize both, and B: provide a “Cold War” against a state that has all the USSR’s weaknesses but none of its strengths.

One guess if it succeeds.

The US itself is a min-max army of nothing but nuclear bombers, aircraft carriers, and Marines for the obligatory ground battle.

All the books beyond the original suffer from being a sequence of events, where Stuart simply takes a snapshot of everything happening in the world and stuffs them all together in a way that makes sense for a posted-one-at-a-time forum work, but not in an actual novel.

The characters have no characterization. At best they’re one-note stereotypes, and at worst they’re just unit names. The battles-well, for anything American, it’s going to be an effortless victory, and for anything non-American, it’s a dull “LP-esque” description that makes the battles in The War That Never Was seem gripping.

The few recurring characters are a mix of forum member self inserts (one particular one being a “C. J. O’Seven”), and the immortal Mary Sues that make sure the timeline goes right. The leader is known as “The Seer”, and I’m sure it’s a coincidence that one author username was “Seer Stuart”.

These magical realist immortals have the historical lineup of presidents, to make sure the right decisions were taken. Of particular note is Robert McNamara, who is viewed as an evil man for cancelling the B-70 in real life, and thus is to be taken out-not just written out, but put into office so that he can be shown how wrong he was.

The books themselves would be a small diversion.

What’s more interesting is the internet drama around them.

Stuart was a massive panderer, which is why the hard-right cold warrior was able to stay at left-wing Stardestroyer.net for so long. By downplaying his views and presenting himself as the True Expert in a board that loved “true experts”, he stayed.

This sort of “true expert” phenomenon led to a weird condition where the books as written were obvious forum-pandering works. However, after they were completed, they turned into Serious, Important Works that had to be defended. Why, that book wasn’t a stompfic, it was a story of people trying to minimize the damage from an unavoidably bad outcome! It wasn’t celebrating the Massive Retaliation doctrine, it was criticizing it! The Seer wasn’t a self-insert, he was based on other people in “the business” Stuart knew! Honestly!

Then came the Salvation War series. These featured a seemingly un-mess-upable plotline: a Doom-esque struggle of modern weaponry against literal demons. (It was no coincidence that SDN had a reputation of being incredibly anti-religious).

Stuart messed it up.

The humans win easily with boring battles, then win slightly less easily in the sequel. That’s basically it.

At that point, SDN turned on him. First, people began openly criticizing the work, in a place apart from the main thread where it would be drowned out by cheers. Second, the true ‘horrors’ of the tiny board he had been based on became known, and his reputation as an unorthodox but still powerful “expert” dropped there. Third, there was the Publishing Incident.

According to Stuart, he was in the process of getting a huge advance from a publisher to legitimately set the books, but then someone posted the story on the internet for download, and the deal collapsed. That someone was an insulted religious fundamentalist.

No one believed the story, and Stuart ended up being outright banned, his works treated with mockery thereafter in the declining SDN.

Was there any lost potential drowned out by the sea of sycophancy? In the original The Big One itself, a tiny bit. But very tiny. It’s at least more focused due to fewer plotlines, as opposed to later events where, between a bomber being shot down over the Middle East (thanks solely to McNamara’s evil intervention, of course), and the response to that, the reader gets an unrelated chapter including a long infodump on the politics of arms sales to Taiwan.

So, probably-not.