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.

 

 

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 Wail Rid I Row Project

So, now I have time to put together something that I’ve wanted to do for a while. Namely, start up an anthology of World War III fiction. The details can be viewed on my secondary blog devoted specifically to it, the Wail Rid I Row Project.

(Wail Rid I Row is an anagram of World War III.)

This is a passion project, everything will be free. I’ve been too critical for my own good-I want to help make fiction, not destroy it. I have modest expectations, but you never know.

An Alien Era

Today is my 27th birthday. And I think my date of birth might explain why I have a sudden fascination with Cold War fiction.

Because it’s after my time. I was born the year the USSR fell, so the world I entered is a lot different. Looking back on it is like looking back at something different, something that has changed so quickly. And fiction tends to reflect fact. From a literary perspective, it feels interesting to study a genre, even one as “fluffy” as the technothriller, to see its ups and downs.

It’s very fascinating.

 

Another Issue of Scale

It’s very easy to be “spoiled” by World War II sizes, where even second-stringers could handily field large formations (by the standards of later armies), and where the 90 division US Army was not unreasonably criticized as being too small.

Even Cold War armies appear small compared to those[1], something that I need to keep in mind when making my guilty pleasure OOB lists.

[1]In terms of number of divisions, of course. In capability, they’re far superior.

The Twilight 2000 Campaign And More Thoughts

From my travels across the internet, I’m proud to share the Twilight 2000 Polish Campaign  that I found while looking at the WW3 1987 blog. It’s a good AAR/let’s play of the game at its best.

I’ve blogged about Twilight 2000 in largely critical terms before, but the initial Polish/German campaign setting is the game at its best. There’s talk on the about page of maybe, if/when the players survive, taking them back to the continental US.  Now here I have a recommendation, if that indeed happens (it’s a big if). Ignore the actual 1.0 modules on the continental US and go homebrew.

Maybe it’s because I like the idea of them returning to a battered but largely peaceful homeland as a proper reward. Or maybe it’s because the North American modules I’ve seen basically seize the always-existed dichotomy I mentioned in my previous post and take it to 11. They’re something. In fact, if the game’s plot had existed only of them, I might even consider them worthy of a Bad Fiction Spotlight.

The later v1 modules have the impression of turning more and more from the “survival and maybe solve some local disputes” theme to a full-blown and ultra-blatant Adventure Friendly World. (That was always there, as it would be in any tabletop RPG, but it was more subtle and interesting).  Even a lot of other T2000 fans have been disdainful of the North American modules, one not unreasonably comparing them to “bad Mad Max”.

Having read the “Kidnapped!” module, I can see it. The first is a description of the megadrought that’s about to strike North America. I’ve heard grumblings about its plausibility, but from an in-universe perspective, there’s worse things. Where I think the megadrought goes wrong is that it’s a clear attempt from an out of universe perspective to up the stakes and become “darker” still. So yeah, there’s a megadrought, and food/water is going to become worse yet. I guess that means the scenario will be about…

Seizing a fascist-populist leader in his supervillain’s lair in West Virginia? You don’t say.

The “Kidnap Carl Hughes, the leader of New America” part is incredibly gamey and has obvious contrivances throughout. There’s the necessary evil of an adventure tip, and then there’s the lair itself. In true game fashion, the lair down to its final bunker is drawn out in massive detail, but to balance it for the players, it’s accessible. Hughes conveniently happens to be in the most vulnerable parts of the lair throughout much of the day, and infiltrating a secure complex run by a mega-paranoiac is suspiciously easy provided the players have the right clothes.

Then there’s a second lair that is long-deserted and only exists to provide clues to get the players to the real lair (yet is also massively detailed in its description).

Yeah.

There’s more on New America itself and even the MilGov/CivGov split (in short, the former is clearly there to be a convenient supervillain faction, the latter there for contrived drama), and how it’s handled, but that’s for another time.