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 AH.com 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 July 20 Plot

Today is the 74th anniversary of the nearly-successful attempt to kill Hitler.

A lot of alternate history in popular imagination tends to focus too much on “For Want of a Nail” style events. Those have existed, but the July 20 Plot was not one of them overall. The conspirators were not Adenauer-ian liberals, but nationalists who the Allies would never have negotiated with. Moreover, the plan was extremely unlikely to succeed in gaining control of the government even if Hitler had died-the result would probably have been either Goering or, if he had died or been ousted in the chaos, some military junta ruling Germany for the last year of war.  Likely, very little would have changed.

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.

 

 

The AH conundrum-Solved?

A long time ago, I made a post wondering why there was so little “middle-tier” alternate history. Why was there so little alternate history that wasn’t either blatant or technical. There was a discussion to this end on Sea Lion Press some time ago, and (at least partially) from seeing and participating in that, I had an “ah-hah!” moment that might help explain the reason why.

The reason is simple: What would be “middle-tier” alternate history isn’t sold as or even considered alternate history most of the time. Using a ridiculously expansive definition, anything that isn’t an explicit reenactment/retelling of a historical event can be considered “alternate history”. A fictional city? Alternate history. A fictional political leader? Alternate history. A never-was weapon or car being used because the author liked it? Alternate history.

Even in lesser cases, where there’s a clear timeline divergence, it could be considered alternate history, but isn’t. For instance, since the timeline diverged in the 1980s with the arrival of Scion, Worm could be considered alternate history.

The sad truth (for alternate history fans) is that there isn’t much gain in labeling something alternate history. It’s known, but it’s known as a genre where the divergence is clear and blatant. For a more mainstream audience, it’s been shown that it’s better off being labeled as just what its genre is-a thriller, a mystery, or whatever it might be.

The Soviet Pentomic Division

In the late 1950s, the United States adopted the ill-fated Pentomic Division layout of organization for its army. While going through declassified CIA documents, I found that (assuming the CIA document is accurate, the necessary caveat) around the same time, the Soviets were seriously considering adopting a similar model with a similar justification. The document in question is here.

Here’s the important picture. The proposed “Soviet-Pentomic” structure is on the left.sovietpentomic

The big thing that makes the two similar is skipping conventional battalions in favor of regiments/”Battle groups” with a large number of companies in them. I thought it interesting at any rate, a minor footnote in organizational history.

 

Hackett’s The Third World War

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve finally read Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War. The best I can say about it is that it set up the (minimal) backstory for Team Yankee, enabling Coyle to concentrate fully on the action without as many infodumps.

Compared to it, I consider Red Storm Rising and Larry Bond’s own works to be Nobel Prize-worthy by comparison. If I think Cauldron or Red Phoenix would be considered mediocre middle-of-the-road technothrillers if they were written later and by someone else, I think The Third World War would be a bottom-of-the-barrel example if it was written later.

First, it’s incredibly dated. And not just dated in the sense of politics, or dated and biased in its supervillain Soviets[1]. Its problem is that if a reader (especially a reader with hindsight) knows anything about the subject at hand, there’s no “wow” factor. This is a problem with Red Storm Rising. It’s a bigger problem with Hackett.

Why it’s a bigger problem is the near-total lack of any kind of narrative control, as it wobbles back and forth from token gap-filling cutout characters to complete infodumps. The character scenes, especially the Soviet ones, are almost painful to read. It has contrivances. One is NATO’s victory, which I’ve heard was changed from the first drafts. A far bigger one is the Minsk-Birmingham nuclear exchange, where nuclear war is treated like hitting batters with baseballs (you hit one of my cities/batters, I hit one of yours, and it stays “under control”). The contrivances would be forgivable if there wasn’t so little “meat” that they stand out. It feels like only the most half-hearted attempt at sorta kinda looking like a story was made.

All of my annoyance buttons are pushed. I’ve seen its legacy, which makes it not only a dated book, not only a thinly veiled “more spending on the army, please” tale, but a bad influence. Granted, it may not bear that much responsibility, but it couldn’t have helped from people who saw it as an example. I believe it to be an example of how one should not write a WWIII story.

[1]Team Yankee has the same problem, but has a flowing action story to go with it. This does not.

 

The Tank Crew

Tank crews can make for an underappreciated fictional niche. There’s enough of them to be more than an individual (ie, pilot), yet not enough to get out of hand. You get between three and five crew to a tank (again, barring the edge cases), and there’s less need to perspective hop.