Review: Tales of World War III 1985

Tales of World War III: 1985

Looking back at the progression of this blog, I’m reminded a lot of the story of trying to make a cockpit design that could fit the “average pilot”, and then finding that no one actually met that criteria. I feel similarly when I look back at just how little anything actually met my stereotype.

Brad Smith’s Tales of World War III: 1985 series comes closest, edging out Larry Bond’s earlier work. It’s done by a wargame designer and thus features the wargame-friendly setting of 1985 Europe, with battles taking place in various parts of it. There’s a lot of technical description.

I don’t feel nearly as much negativity towards it as I would have and did in the past. Smith has sincerely tried to build characterization, even if the execution is still often clunky and the characters often Steel Panthers cameras in practice. And the wargaming at least takes the series above Ian Slater in terms of technical accuracy. But it’s still a 51% entry in a niche genre, the pilot who isn’t particularly good or bad but has the dimensions to actually fit well in the “average” cockpit.

Review: Fallen Soviet Generals

Fallen Soviet Generals

Aleksander A. Maslov’s Fallen Soviet Generals is a long, detailed, historical list of how general officers died in World War II. It’s a book I’ve mentioned before on this blog, but it deserves a full review of its own. Because the subject is interesting to me (for some reason), I enjoyed the book in spite of its obviously morbid topic.

This has the weakness of a dry history book. It’s not very lively or engaging for someone not into the subject matter, and it’s not helped by the book both being originally written in another language and being translated/edited by David Glantz, a legendary historian whose prose is nonetheless sometimes, er, flat. But it also has the strengths, meticulously categorizing how, where and when every single Soviet general died in the war.

The topic is interesting to me because, especially to an American (the US lost only twenty generals in World War II, less than a tenth the Soviet total) used to technology where they theoretically should be at less personal risk, the loss of a general officer seems like a strange aberration. Yet it clearly wasn’t, and there are many conflicts where it would be. Even for conflicts of a different technological type, Maslov’s book remains an excellent resource for how and why general officers could die in battle.

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.

Review: Serial Vigilantes of Paperback Fiction

Serial Vigilantes of Paperback Fiction

Bradley Mengel’s Serial Vigilantes of Paperback Fiction takes on the task of trying to catalogue many, many cheap thrillers. Mengel uses the term “serial vigilante” to describe what many call “men’s adventure”, and what would in many circumstances be labeled “action hero” on this blog. It’s an impressive feat.

Most of the book is lists and descriptions of various series’ in this subgenre. It’s a self-proclaimed encyclopedia, so its descriptions are broad and not deep. Interestingly, it provides page counts. Though a little dated thanks to to its 2009 publication date, this book has nonetheless been an invaluable resource for finding obscure series.

A Thousand Words: Time Gal

Time Gal

The 1983 video game Dragon’s Lair pioneered a feature to get around the then-primitive graphics of the time. Animated scenes would play via laserdisc while the player engaged in what are now called quick-time events. One of the more memorable versions of this is 1985’s Time Gal.

First, it has legitimately good-quality animation, no doubt due to the presence of the big-time Toei Animation doing the work there. Second is its premise. Basically, someone stole a time machine and Reika, the game’s heroine, must pursue him throughout many times, from the far past to the far future. Goofy anime antics and quick-time events galore ensue. There’s a tiny bit more depth in that from time to time, the game will briefly stop and allow the player choices, only one of which will succeed.

One of the more bizarre coincidences of the game is the one that ties it to Fuldapocalypse. The “AD 1990” stage features Reika avoiding M1 Abrams tanks and an AH-1 Cobra helicopter on a battlefield. The closeness of the then-future date to the actual Gulf War is uncanny, especially given how pop-culture to outright wrong everything else is.

This is a goofy spectacle that was meant to be a goofy spectacle. For the voice acting to be technically “better” or the animation to be more recent and even smoother would ruin the experience. And while many “interactive movie” games were cheap bandwagon-hoppers, this is not.

Review: Ripple Effect

Ripple Effect

I’ll be honest. The sole reason I was attracted to Ripple Effect was the name of its main character, “Bear” Logan. Given how I like thrillers with ridiculous character names, I figured I had to check this one out. So I did. And this time the “the more ridiculous the name, the better” explanation didn’t really work out.

It’s not bad, but it’s only merely adequate at best in a genre filled with adequate books. The only standout feature, besides the name, is how it jumps between first and third person perspective in its writing-something that I don’t think really adds anything. The action is adequate. The pacing is adequate. The characters are adequate for this kind of book. You get the idea.

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.

Review: Roadside Picnic

Roadside Picnic

It’s time to review another classic of science fiction, the Strugatsky brothers’ Roadside Picnic. It’s famous for leading to the “Stalker” movie and video game series, as well as gaining extra prominence after the Chernobyl disaster. But how does the book itself hold up?

Sadly, my thought after reading it is “not the best”. Maybe this is just the translation, but I felt constantly felt like the concepts were far better than the execution. The execution felt like it was either dull or pretentious with nothing in between, while the concepts of both “ultra-advanced aliens nonchalantly passing by” and “weird zone full of weirdness” are more interesting.

Perhaps this kind of higher-brow science fiction just isn’t my genre. But I could see why the book was both influential (because adaptations could take advantage of the really, really good concepts) and at least in some places less prominent by itself (because the actual novel doesn’t work as well).

Review: Philippine Hardpunch

Philippine Hardpunch

Of all the books in the Cody’s Army series, Philippine Hardpunch may be the most middling. Given the nature of 1980s “men’s adventure” fiction, that’s very forgivable. It could easily have been something worse than “middling”, and can still succeed as a time-passer. John Cody and his “army” of three other people still fight, and the result is still a competent cheap thriller.

That being said, in hindsight it falls particularly short. The later Hellfire in Haiti takes its basic premise (associate of a recently ousted, headline-grabbing dictator tries to retake the country, the “army” opposes him) and has a spectacularly better execution. Thus, this becomes one of those books that I’d put in the “only for genre ultra-enthusiasts” category. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s in a genre where there’s just so much available that it has to be really good to stand out. And sadly, this isn’t.

Review: The Ultimate Solution

The Ultimate Solution

Eric Norden’s The Ultimate Solution is a fairly early alternate history novel. A short book told in the style of a classic detective novella, it tells the story of an NYPD officer who, after the German victory in World War II and occupation of America, must track down a reappeared Jew, long after they were thought exterminated. Or at least that’s what the nominal plot is about.

The real meaning of this book is a trend in alternate history that this book was a pioneer in-use an Axis victory world as a way to express social commentary about contemporary society. This is the kind of thing that sometimes can be an insightful “mirror darkly” presentation, but often degenerates into massive axe-grinding.

Here it’s the latter, with a vengeance. Norden has the subtlety of Tsar Bombas preceding a parade of NASA Crawlers blaring Korn out of sonic blasters. Everyone is a (literal) puppy kicking monster. It’s so over-the-top it actually takes away from the message. Instead of “this is how good people can believe and do bad things”, it’s the far less profound or interesting “people here are bad”. And since most of the small book is devoted to this horrible horribleness of horrors, there isn’t really much else. This is the kind of book that’s interesting for its place in the chronology of its genre (in this case, alternate history) but has little else to recommend it.