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.

Advertisements

“Crunchy”

I’ve found myself using the word “crunchy” a lot to describe settings with a lot of detail. I could think I read it somewhere, but haven’t been able to find someone else using it in that way. As for how I took to the word “Crunchy”, I think it might be two things.

  • A derivative of “number-crunching”.
  • A metaphor for density-it’s dense, “solid”, and thus crunches when you bite down.

A use of it in context could be “Worm has a lot of crunchiness to it, making it a favorite on a board [Spacebattles] that likes such things.”

Time to filter

When I write, there comes a time when I have to filter out the excess world-building, the kind that I think is neat but not really relevant to a story. At best, it’s just excess stuff. At worst, I think it gets in the way of characters and plot.

Though I don’t subscribe to the fallacy of “every day spent on worldbuilding research is one less day on writing”-sometimes inspiration strikes and sometimes it doesn’t.

The TO&E Paradox

Here’s one of the most interesting paradoxes.

-The TO&E of a unit tells a lot about what the unit is, what it’s capable of, and what it does.

-Any unit that has been in the field for even a slight amount of time will NOT be matching its on-paper TO&E. So, if a unit’s paper strength is 51 tanks and 173 APCs, even a bit of experience in the “rough” will reduce that, if only to mechanical breakdowns. So it’s one of those “use a bit of common sense” deals.

Worm’s Appeal and My Growing Distaste

So how did a minor but incredibly long story about a superheroine end up dominating Spacebattles to the point where it needed its own forum? (NOTE: I’m being a little vague and general due to the desire to avoid spoilers-I may go more in-depth later if I feel like it)

Well, even I can think the concept is interesting enough, and I think it could be due to some other factors:

  • This is not anything having to do with Worm itself, but rather its rivals. Big two superhero comics have the bar set so low that you need a microscope to see the gap between it and the ground. For all the many problems with its own structure and worldbuilding, Worm has a massive advantage in that it’s a contained narrative written by one person.
  • Unconventional superpowers. This is where I think Worm shares an unlikely fandom with the infamous Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. The characters have unconventional superpowers and use them, and the appeal is there.
  • A sort of “crunchiness” where people like the mechanics. Of course, as someone who dislikes excessive “crunchiness” where it doesn’t matter, this is not the case for me. But people do like it, especially on a place like Spacebattles.

So that’s what gets the appeal of Worm going.

However, I’ve found (and must say that this is my personal opinion), as I’ve read more of it, that Worm is worse than I thought at first. At least, later Worm is. Early Worm (which I define as roughly up to Arc 8) is still in the “not for me” category. Later Worm, well…

  • The powers get more and more contrived.
  • The stakes get raised far too much.
  • The story gets less believable and focused.

And then there’s the final plot twists, which when I saw them, I thought “you’d slog through a million and a half clunky words for this?

 

An unusual villainess

I changed my avatar on some sites to a strange villainess. That would be Limstella, the second-to-last boss of Fire Emblem [7] for the GBA.

To be honest, although I played the game as a child and loved loved loved it, at the time I only saw her as one boss among many. Now, I’ve grown to like her more. I think it’s the character design applied in greater detail by both official and fan artists giving her the semi-androgynous, creepy look with more justice than a 16 bit portrait.

As a deliberately almost emotionless drone, she doesn’t match her “sister” Sonia in terms of pure evil. What separates her from being just another speedbump is her death quote:

“I am not human. This body and this heart are constructs. Yes, as is this sorrow.”

Whether that’s a “why was I programmed to feel pain” quote, or an instance that there was something there that wasn’t in a mindless morph like Denning is up to the audience, and gives her (possibly unwarranted) attention. Still, she works as a minor villainess. (I even had a “Rosetta Stone” for a weird conlang by translating her name as “Starlight” in whatever language she was named in)

Supertanks

So, my big dilemma can be summed up in one work. Supertanks.

There are a bewildering array of paper supertanks that the fall of the USSR nipped in the bud. These, both western and eastern, range from conventional upgrades of previous-gen tanks (many of which were actually made, at least in prototype) on one end, to ultra-exotic “Crew of two and they’re both in the hull” designs on the other. 140 and 152mm monster guns, uncrewed turrets with innovative autoloaders, the list goes on and on. They’re interesting to see, and I’m wondering “If I’m making a semi-grounded fictional supertank, what real one should it most resemble?”

And yet, for one of my main antagonist groups, the question of supertanks gives way to the more important one of “are they the kind who’d have large formations of tanks at all, be they surplus or super”. That’s the question I should be asking.

Naming an Army

This is another piece of mine on military unit names. It kind of follows along with the last one I did.

This is on naming the army. Not the overall title for the army as an overall organization, but naming the exact equivalent for “Field army“, or even “army group“.

For the etymology, I thought back to the overall theme, of a [villainous] group with a kind of bizarre obsession with the ancient and traditional. The name of an army/army group equivalent would be from a (likely ancient) language, the word taken directly as a loan rather than adapted. And it would not be any directly military-related one there, but something like “assembly” or “federation”.

The image invoked is images of ancient peoples, on the steppes or in the forests, the kind unfairly referred to as “barbarians” by outsiders, forming a coalition of their warriors to campaign. And the reason I got there, or how the name-developers got there in-universe, has to do with the nature of such ultra-large units.

Regardless of national culture or doctrine, extremely large units like army groups and/or field armies are always considerably more ad hoc than the smaller ones in the same country. They’re determined by resources and location. So if it’s ad-hoc, a little like an ancient coalition, that opens the door for it to receive the name of one.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Of course, the question is how much an author should use a possibly confusing author-coined name rather than a familiar one. It’s tough to answer, but is easier in that the names this term would be replacing are themselves looser and to many people more unfamiliar than clearer small units.

Grand Colonels And Naming Conventions

So, for one of my innumerable exercises, I created a military rank called “Grand Colonel”. Much as how “Lt. Colonel” is a step down from “colonel”,  “Grand Colonel” is a step above. While some research did find that some countries do use the rank senior colonel, it doesn’t quite match my use of it.

My “Grand Colonels” command divisions, putting them in the same spot as a major general. I still haven’t come up with a better name for higher-rank generals that doesn’t use the exact term. Maybe I’d fall back on it, or use something like ‘corpsmaster’. However, I imagined how weird and different the term “major general” might sound if across the English speaking world, we were used to going from colonel to grand colonel.

Or forget colonels altogether. Since “Colonel” comes from the Italian word for “column”, someone commanding a similarly sized unit could get a vastly different name. I don’t have the linguistic skill to say what it would be without resorting to a robotic-sounding compound name, but still. Language development is full of weird quirks that get accepted as being totally normal. They’re interesting to study.

I once saw a conlang rank of “sub-general”-is it between colonel and general, or is it something equivalent to Lieutenant General? Could two countries with the same language family have one ‘sub-general as the former’ and one as the latter? Why not?

(Also,  while the officers are fairly consistent, I have the enlisted ranks in the same organization have a weird sort of craftsman like rank, with ‘private’ becoming ‘novice’ and higher enlisted ranks becoming ‘apprentices’ and ‘stewards’. So a sergeant major becomes a ‘Grand Steward’, linking it back to the ‘Grand _____’ precedent established by the grand colonel.)

Rivet Counting Addiction

Help, my rivet counting addiction has been triggered yet again. The culprit this time is the Micromark Army Lists, a very large list of orders of battle that range from the historical to the purely theoretical, from the musket age to the present. On Wargamevault (great site), they’re cheap, and I’ve been snapping them up en masse.

Weird how my cautious mentality gives way. I’ll waffle and hesitate over a cheap e-book, but have been wolfing down these dry lists like crazy. I’ve tried to get novel ones, but there have been a few duds I probably should have seen coming (You mean an unreformed ex-Soviet republic is going to organize its military on gasp-Soviet lines [that I already know a lot about]? .) In spite of that, the novel ones have been pretty informative…

Which is a big problem. I’m worried I’ll get too bogged down in rivet-counting minutia. In my Command scens, I’ve never been shy about brushing aside a specific unit’s availability by giving it a fictional name, and I’ve become even more inclined since writing that post. In other words, I might make a fictional aircraft carrier too.

But somehow I’m struggling mightily to translate that pragmatism to prose fiction.  But I’m still trying, and I still have hope I can use the informative quality of stuff like the lists to my advantage while not turning into either an infodump fest (“oooh, X has two battalions of ___ per division, unlike Y who only has one, improving its firepower but also hurting it logistically….) or just stalling out.

There is such a thing as too much research, after all, especially if it’s misdirected research.