Over at SLP, I have a new column about the various decades where a hypothetical World War III occurs.
I had a good 2018, all things considered. Were there bad parts in it? Of course. But on the whole, and especially in my creative endeavors, I had a good 2018. And I’m not just talking about the two Command LIVE scenarios I made or Paint The Force Red.
I’ve said it before, but starting up Fuldapocalypse was amazing and one of the best things I’ve done all year. First, I’ve had a lot of fun writing some of the reviews. Second, it’s been a huge eye-opener and horizon-broadening device for me. I was expecting to get variations on Hackett/Clancy/Bond, but the path took me to outright science fiction and more. I’ve had to throw aside the preconceptions and stereotypes of my past “Iceland Scale” and rework my entire review setup because of it. It’s fun.
But I’d argue a better part of Fuldapocalypse is getting me to write positive reviews. I have an instinct to be critical even of things I like. Peters’ Red Army remains my single favorite World War III story, yet I was prepared to write several paragraphs about its weaknesses and only one or two about its strengths. I’ve found that blog has helped me a lot. It’s also helped me become more selective-if it’s not review-worthy or if I’d just repeat myself for better or worse, I generally don’t review it.
Because of Fuldapocalypse, I now know how broad the “cheap thriller” genre is, and how much broader the military action subgenre is than I thought. I’m not complaining. And I think I’ve approached even works I still am highly critical of better.
So in creative terms, I had a pretty good 2018.
Over at Fuldapocalypse, I have a new review of an early (2000) self-published WWIII book.
So I have made my first serious essay on Fuldapocalypse, talking about how the WW3 and technothriller genres interwined, and taking a divergence to look at one of my other guilty pleasures-progressive rock, and how it’s oddly similar to technothrillers.
All right, time to launch a set of rapid-fire fiction reviews. Two paragraphs per book at most.
- Tinderbox by Rachel Grant
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.
- Agent Lavender by Jack Tindale and Tom Black
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.
- Storm and Steel by Brad Smith
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”.
- Total Victory by Mark Walker
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.
- The Last Panther by “Wolfgang Faust”.
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.
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. 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.
Team Yankee has the same problem, but has a flowing action story to go with it. This does not.
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.