It’s been a while, but I have a new Command: Modern Operations scenario up for testing, 2KW Sub Strike.
I’ve wanted to do a scenario set in a mid-70s Second Korean War where the north smells an opportunity in the immediate aftermath of Vietnam. After much thought, I settled on “do a submarine scenario”, which also plays to one of my favorite strengths of having the player be objectively outmatched and having to manage the best they can.
With a few diesel subs, you have to take on an aircraft carrier shielded by, among others, a hypothetical guided missile battleship and a brand-new Spruance destroyer. Are you up for it?
My love of books of all kinds has led me to Susan Howatch’s Sins of the Fathers. This tale of intrigue in a Wall Street tycoon family puts the “block” in “blockbuster”, both in terms of the whole book and individual paragraphs. It’s not an easy book to get through. Characters talk and monologue in giant, close to unreadable segments. And nearly every one of the characters is unlikable. I get that you’re not supposed to truly “like” them, but they’re unpleasant in a bad rather than a good way.
It’s just a chore to get through yet another man with more money than morals complaining about the “plastic society”, or yet another pregnancy drama. Howatch doesn’t even succeed in making the stakes seem that high. You could take away nearly all of everyone’s assets and make it about store owners in a small town plaza and it wouldn’t feel any different. There’s never the impression, beyond a few luxuries, that these are people who hold the financial world in their hands.
It’s a shame because I love the concept of a giant family saga, an internal struggle of the titans that mixes the personal with the societal. It’s just this is not it. In fact, this might be one of the worst books I’ve read in some time.
One thing I’ve noticed in the admittedly small number of conventional/mostly conventional World War III stories is that the decisive make-or-break battle is fought in the vicinity of Hanover, West Germany. And I have to ponder how much of it is realistic, how much of it is a coincidence (since there’s only so much room and it is in the northern sector) and how much of it is literary license.
Charles K. Hyde’s Storied Independent Automakers tells the tale of the American-owned car companies that were not the Big Three. It’s a story worth telling, because they illustrated just how ruthless and consolidating the car industry is. These car companies went under or were bought out at the height of the domestic auto industry’s success (one ironic silver lining was that many of their left-hanging dealers turned to import brands and proceeded to make a fortune from them).
They had one brief moment of popularity due to a completely artificial boom when World War II resulted in years of pent-up demand. And now and then they managed to pull an innovation out that gave them a temporary edge (like compacts for AMC) until the big three caught up. But that was mostly it, and other than that it was all uphill. Hyde rightly points out it was impressive that they lasted as long as they did, and gives credit where it was due.
Though written in a history book tone (ie, it’s not exciting for anyone other than me), Hyde’s book is light enough to be readable while still containing lots of well-researched statistics on cars. It tells the story of an overlooked but important part of the auto industry’s history. Any enthusiast should enjoy it.
Sidney Sheldon’s The Stars Shine Down is the story of ruthless businesswoman Lara Cameron, her rise and fall as she builds a real estate empire and gets entangled with everyone from mob lawyers to piano players. It’s the type of gilded trash melodrama I know very well after reading so many of his books. This one, released later in his life, feels a little less than his at his best. It’s still a very readable book, and it’s still well ahead of The Other Side of Midnight. Yet there’s just so much that brings it down. And it’s not just the formula being familiar to me by now.
The plot is a little more scattershot than what Sheldon was capable of in some of his other books, and the ending feels a little rushed. There are a few weird choices like the decision to have all the Scottish character dialogue in clunky phonetic writing that subtracts more than it adds. Sheldon focuses too much on the nuts and bolts of Lara’s building development, something he doesn’t write well.
One legitimately good part is its main character, with Lara drawing both opposition and sympathy. As Sheldon at his worst wrote characters as either dumb, naive dopes or ruthless Machiavellian masterminds, having someone who can truly have elements of both strikes me as a solid achievement. The protagonist is arguably Sheldon’s best I’ve read so far. It’s just the book around her isn’t.
Ripley Rawlings’ Assault By Fire is an invasion novel. It’s an invasion novel that features that common staple of video games-the Teleporting Russians. Yes, via some kind of supercomputer (that’s the explanation given), the Russians can conduct a successful amphibious invasion of the US. This is a “pulpy invasion” book. And it is very, very pulpy.
Everything from a main action in Appalachia to WWII weapons to a knockoff of Vasquez from Aliens is there. And it’s somehow amazing. The rational part of my brain could not comprehend or make sense of how the invasion progressed, with me asking such questions as “where are the stated MiGs staging from?”. The part of me that eagerly read every Survivalist loved every page of it.
There’s an underappreciated what-if concerning the business of baseball that I’ve considered worth exploring. Too much sports alternate history simply shuffles players, teams, and outcomes around. It feels both obvious and unsatisfying to me, the equivalent of the Red Sox unloading not just Babe Ruth but the entire core of what would become the 1923 champions on the Yankees or the A’s “Mustache Gang” all leaving in free agency when they got the chance. This is something different and could have changed the entire business model to be more like what’s in our time a vastly different type of sports.
In the 1950s, the Dodgers were intrigued by a company called Skiatron, offering pay-TV services. The technology did exist at the time but was very rudimentary. The possiblities were obvious. After all, even at a dollar per game, a six figure audience could translate to that much every home game, a huge sum at the time.
In OTL, this did not come to pass in this form. Besides the obvious ferocious opposition from the existing broadcasting industry, Skiatron’s technology and finances just weren’t viable at the time. But if something like that could be done (and I don’t know the exact plausibility-I’m not that kind of technical expert), it would be, no pun intended, a game changer. The obvious is that there’d be a big jolt of money, getting the historical broadcast windfall in earlier.
There are easy ramifications. There’d be more money in the sport, which would increase the pressure by players to get more of the growing pie for themselves. A historically unsuccessful team that used this to its advantage would result in the championship races being different. But there’s also more thoughtful ones.
One on-the-field change I could see resulting from this could be in pitcher usage. Here I’m kind of extrapolating from the “overworked for the sake of attendance” policy of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych (which may have contributed to his severe injury). I’m also extrapolating from boxing and MMA, which historically have leaned the most on PPVs. Put simply, more people have been willing to pay to see Connor McGregor than to see Valentina Shevchenko. And I’d bet more people would be more willing to see Sandy Koufax than Ned Garver.
Another, sleazier one is the notion of small-market/poor team owners simply giving up and advertising the players on the opposing team for the PPV spectacle. “Hey, [Small City], do you want to see the Yankees? The Dodgers? The [other good team with an exciting player]?” There are possibilities here.
The debut book in the Caitlin Strong series of thrillers, Strong Enough to Die is the first Jon Land book I’ve read in some time. How does she fare compared to Blaine McCracken? Well, it’s a tough question. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s still a little lacking compared to his earlier thrillers.
The plot has a lot of Land’s signature elements, and it’s not quite as jarringly mundane as Dead Simple was. By the standards of other thrillers, it’s a competent, somewhat out-there action novel. But by Land’s own high, past standards it’s not their equal. While the central MacGuffin fits, the action around it is more conventional than the craziness of the early McCrackens. The literary fundamentals being a little bit off compared to Land at his height doesn’t help either. The book just jumps around too much, and it’s too fragmented.
In isolation, I’d like this book. But its author has done better, and I’d recommend reading the Blaine McCrackens over this.
A (comparably) long time ago, before the rise in self-publishing, I read a novel called The Clone Republic, the first in a series of military science fiction books by Steven L. Kent. And in hindsight, it seems kind of impressive in how it nailed a type of story that would later appear in much greater numbers. It’s a strange kind of impressiveness, but impressive nonetheless.
Even at the time, I never thought this story of a futuristic clone army was never more than a merely satisfactory cheap thriller. But it really fits the niche of what I’d call a “spacesuit commando” novel because of its “genericness”, limited technology, and weird touches. For instance, the clones don’t know they’re clones, believe themselves to be genuine orphans, and all but the main character biologically self-destruct (!) if told they’re a clone.
So this book and its series is in the “weird nostalgia segment” for me. Then it may have stood out a little by being so generic (!). Now it wouldn’t diverge from the considerably bigger pack. Still, I had fun with it.
I felt it was time to check out of one of those “anime antics” settings that Spacebattles has a bizarre fascination with. In this case, it was Saturo Yamaguchi’s light novel series, My Next Life As A Villainess: All Routes Lead To Doom (these are notorious for their extremely long titles). Frequently abbreviated as Hamefura, this is the story of someone who is reincarnated as a video game character.
More specifically, it’s the story of a schoolgirl who stayed up too late playing her dating sims, which led to her death in a bicycle/car accident as she tried to hurry to compensate the next day. This led to her being reborn as Katarina Claes, the antagonist/rival girl in one of them set in a fantasy academy setting. Upon recovering her memories of her past life, and knowing that Katarina is fated to have a bad end in the game, the heroine tries to get a better fate.
This initial installment isn’t bad. I can see the “it’s a good concept even if the execution is ‘iffy’ ” that made appealing to fanfic writers. The prose is pretty well, matter of fact. I don’t know how much of that is due to translation issues and how much is due to the novel being intended to be smooth and easy to read (you could say it was meant as light literature). But it’s not a deal breaker, and neither are the “anime antics” surrounding Katarina and the inevitable boys. I had fun with it and it’s a nice change of pace from the usual fare here.