The Conventional War In The Air, 1970s

I’ve come across a declassified CIA document from 1972 illustrating a speculative Soviet air campaign in a Cold War turned conventionally hot. Having just emerged from the nuclear monomania of the past decade, it shows the weaknesses of the Soviet air forces in what was new territory for them. Almost everything was either too short-ranged, too vulnerable, carried too small a bomb load for conventional war, or a combination of the above.

That being said, it still would be very formidable to oppose, especially by the standards of “we only need to hold the air above the North German Plain for a few days”.

Sabermetric Roy Hobbs

What would a more “plausible” Roy Hobbs resemble? A part of me wants to say Bob Thurman or Chuck Hostetler. Those were two players who entered the big leagues past the point where most players retire as position players. Of course, neither matches Hobbs’ “shot and returned with thunderous flash much later” story. Thurman was kept out of the major leagues by segregation while Hostetler only got a spot due to the World War II roster crunch.

Hostetler hit for more average, with no home runs (although that could be due in part to the materially deader ball of the wartime period). Thurman hit for more power with a lower average. Hostetler had slightly more stolen bases. Both were pinch hitters/backup corner outfielders. Hostetler had a degree of infamy for failing on the bases in Game 6 of the 1945 World Series and costing the Tigers the win-yet with ultimately few hard feelings or remembrances as they won Game 7 anyway (this would have been the fate of Bill Buckner had the Red Sox won in 1986).

Could you make a book about a fictional version of someone like one of those two, a old low-list role player either hit (Thurman) or helped (Hostetler) by circumstance? Of course. And, in my opinion, such an unusual but not overly powerful standout would arguably be more interesting than a super-player who dominates the league until his character lets him down.

Weird Wargaming: OPFOR as “Actors”

In some of my Command scenarios, I’ve depicted exercises. Many similar scenarios use the “characters”, the foreign platforms they’re simulating. Therefore there would be a lot of Soviet origin fighters. And there’s no problem with that. But I’ve decided to do things a little differently in my own.

I’ve decided to frequently use the “actors”, the western units painted up as “aggressors” to play the enemy during the operations. Part of this is just for the sake of distinct novelty, and part of it is to provide a non-contrived way for advanced western platforms to fight each other.

A general substitution rule I’ve used is this.

MiG-21F-5
MiG-23F-20
MiG-29F-20, F-16
Su-27F-15
Su-24F-111

There are of course even more variants, but those are the general ones.

The next part is setting the side proficiency of the OPFOR to “Ace”, the highest one. It’s there to simulate both highly trained crews (hi Jester and Viper) and give the player more of a challenge.

That’s my small personal guideline for exercise scenarios.

Tank Fiction

The comparative lack of “tank fiction”, especially non-historical tank fiction, compared to other types of thrillers isn’t really that surprising to me, but it is a little bit disappointing. I can see why that’s the case, because tanks have less (literal and figurative) flexibility than dismounted people, and because they can appear in books without being the absolute center of everything.

Still, when it does appear, I tend to like tank fiction. Tin Soldiers, a tank novel extraordinaire, is arguably my favorite post-1991 technothriller. Although this raises the question of how prominent a tank or other AFV needs to be in a book for it to be considered true “tank fiction”, especially once one gets past the easy cases.

Nuclear World War IIIs

So I figured: How true was my stereotype of “conventional” WW3s? I decided to take a look and see. For this exercise, “yes” means a full nuclear exchange, “partial” something like say, Hackett’s infamous plotnuke, and “no” means the war stays completely conventional. This is an incomplete, unscientific list, but still.

  • Hackett-PARTIAL
  • Red Storm Rising-NO
  • Team Yankee-PARTIAL
  • Red Army-NO
  • Chieftains-YES
  • Black’s “Effect”-PARTIAL
  • Kirov-YES
  • Arc Light-YES
  • Red Hammer 94-YES
  • Bear’s Claws-PARTIAL
  • Cauldron-PARTIAL
  • War That Never Was-NO
  • Ronsone/Watson’s Red Storm-PARTIAL
  • Zone-PARTIAL
  • Weekend Warriors-NO
  • The Red Line-PARTIAL
  • Andy Farman’s Armageddon’s Song-PARTIAL
  • Wingman-YES

Besides the possibility of me remembering wrong, the line between “Partial” and “Yes” is sometimes blurry-for instance, I had a hard time deciding whether or not to include Arc Light as “Partial” or “Yes.” And in Team Yankee, which follow’s Hackett’s plot, the nukes are offscreen. Still, it was a little surprising how few outright “no’s” there were and how many “Partials”. It’s just the biggest “no” was Red Storm Rising.

The Lack of Mainstream AH WW3

So, a look at alternate history conventional World War III novels revealed a very small number of them. Even smaller is the number of novels that were alternate history, took place after 1980, and made by larger/mainstream presses. Granted, like in that previous post, I used only the most unambiguous examples. But even I was a little surprised by the number I ended up with.

Zero.

I found two games that fit the criteria. These were World in Conflict and Eugen’s Wargame series. But those are games, and I think they’re a different paradigm. If I wanted to stretch things, I’d go with the Command and Conquer: Red Alert games. Those are kind of like including the Wingman novels in with Hackett and Bond, but they’re alternate World War IIIs.

Yet I’ve seen no actual novels, and if they existed, they’d probably be well below any “too obscure to really ‘matter'” standard. Everything has been either futuristic or contemporary. What I find very telling is the case of Walt Gragg’s The Red Line. That was crudely transformed into a “contemporary” setting instead of being sold as alternate history.

And the big-name AH authors have stayed away. Harry Turtledove has made a series about a 1950s World War III but not a 1980s Fuldapocalypse. The closest Robert Conroy came to one was a book (and one with nukes involved) set in 1963. Of all the topics that other authors choose when they dip into alternate history from time to time, the “conventional WW3” simply isn’t one of them.

Now, there are several reasons I’ve theorized for this. Perhaps the biggest is that it’s a small genre to start with, and there’s little incentive to not go for either a conflict that actually happened or a contemporary one, both of which have more mass appeal. There’s far more of a hook and comfort (as weird as it is to say) with a realistic nuclear conflict. The second-biggest is that much mainstream AH is generally meant to be metaphorical, to represent some contemporary issue through the lens of a different past. To be frank, the prevailing style of most conventional World War III fiction is not the ideal medium to express these. About the best you can get is something directly related to the military in some way.

So this makes printed alternate history World War III something that’s the domain of enthusiasts, for better or worse. While I already knew that to be true in general terms, I didn’t know the extent until I counted it. And the reverse is also true-Tom Clancy, Larry Bond, and Harold Coyle quite understandably did not write tales of a Cold War gone hot a decade or two earlier.

The “Shoot The ___” Genre

Along with “Spacesuit Commando”, one of my derogatory terms I use is “shoot the terrorist”, and its 70s counterpart, “shoot the mobster”. Now, like with “spacesuit commando”, I’ll admit it’s a nebulous term that I use when I feel like it. And there are plenty of books with a formulaic setup but good execution.

That being said, If I had to make a checklist of the usual elements of a book I consider “shoot the ____”…

  • The book doesn’t have the best execution (no pun intended).
  • The book has a trendy enemy (terrorists! mobsters!) as its antagonist, and one not done particularly well.
  • The MacGuffin is something dull and mundane like a nuclear bomb and/or poison gas-if that.
  • The book is too out-there to be truly realistic but too sedate to be truly out-there, in prose and action.
  • The book just doesn’t feel lively.

The Case For Flawed Ambition

Of all the literary attitudes I’ve had that have changed since I started blogging, I think none is bigger or more important than how I’ve approached ambition. In the past, I’d had this attitude that if the execution was subpar, the ambition wasn’t worth the effort. It was better to aim for something attainable, so the thinking went.

Now, well, I’ve found myself enjoying works of fiction more when they aim/aimed to be highly ambitious, even when their execution is obviously flawed. Part of this is me now knowing how many “51%” books there are, knowing there’s no shortage of competent but middling fiction. From that perspective, something distinct, or even trying to be distinct, can stand out more. If nothing else, it’s a lot more fun and/or interesting to review. Repeatedly saying “this is formulaic but competent”, even if true, isn’t the most fun.

Another part is that it just felt better to write such out-there stuff when I wrote the two Smithtown books. Previously, I’d wondered why authors who had a good amount of creative control sometimes tended to go more out-there into “Arkansas vs. The Blimps” territory as their series’ progressed. Now, I need not wonder.

Fuldapocalypse Second Anniversary

Today is the second anniversary of Fuldapocalypse’s first post. It’s been a great experience, even as it’s long since outgrown its original goal. An inherently diverse blog is a lot easier to write for than an inherently restrictive one.

Sometimes I wonder just how far I could have gone if I’d stayed with my original goal and just pressed on reading and narrowly analyzing as many conventional World War III tales as I could handle. But that would have been far more forced and far less pleasant than what the blog ended up becoming.