Me and NaNoWriMo

I like the concept of NaNoWriMo. It’s just a shame that it happens at the worst possible month for me.

  • I have seasonal affective disorder, or at least what feels like it. So this time of year, regardless of what else happens, is extra-stressful for me. This is a problem because…
  • The hard truth is that I’ve found writing actual books to be (understandably) stressful, even if ultimately rewarding, while writing reviews is stress-relieving and fun. This is made worse by how I’ve found it very, very hard to read for pleasure while I’m in the middle of writing a book.
  • So doing something in November is the worst for me.
  • However, I have written at a similar pace to NaNoWriMo before. My two Sea Lion Press thrillers are only slightly-to-somewhat shorter (The Smithtown Unit is 45,000 words and Box Press 41,000), and they took a little less than a month to write. I probably could have gone over the word limit in the time limit if I pushed a little more. But there’s the issue in that I don’t want to make what should be a fun hobby too forceful.
  • Finally, I should note that I do get motivated to write when I find, for whatever reason, I’m not reading as much anyway, taking away the biggest disadvantage. This was the case when I made Box Press. I was in a reading slump so I figured-hey, why not write? And I did.

The Nature Of It All

This is the 300th post on Fuldapocalypse, and it’s fitting that it comes now, because well, I’m in what feels like a blog midlife crisis. I don’t want to overstate this, because the diversification of the blog, which I’ve talked about many times, means there’s no problem with supplying actual content. But there’s still a strange feeling in me.

See, there’s an increasing feeling in me that the well is running dry. I’ve said many, many times that there’s a lot fewer World War III books than I thought. And that’s only a little less true for “big war thrillers” in general. It’s a little weird knowing your views were distorted by a combination of one field where those tropes were common (wargaming) and an internet trend that, in hindsight, was no more significant or influential than a long-ago boomlet on Spacebattles of who-would-win matches involving lions (yes, this actually happened).

And yet, for the fiction of that type that actually exists, my initial wariness still often holds true. It’s still often a cross between conference rooms and paper-thin Steel Panthers Characters. Sturgeon’s Law still applies, and in any exposition-heavy format, I consider the “floor” to be lower than in a lowbrow action thriller. So I’m in the strange position of, regarding the supposed subject matter of this very blog, either having already read or having little desire to read a lot of the of “Icelandic” books I set it up to review. Not all-I still have some I want to read, and genres should never be discounted altogether. But a lot.

And what else that’s come to me is the sense that this kind of “big-war thriller” is just harder to write well than a conventional cheap thriller (I’m not saying it’s impossible, only harder). I’ve felt this way about alternate history, and think it’s also true here. You have to balance a good and reasonably accurate picture of the conflict/divergent setting with a good story and characters, and sometimes those are at cross purposes. It’s why, with my annoyance at there seemingly being too many “conventional WWIII” stories having long-subsided, I feel that there aren’t enough, and that there especially isn’t enough cross-pollination (which is understandable, but that’s a subject for another post).

So what I’ve been experiencing is something very much like the bittersweet feeling someone gets when they finally finish a long series that they enjoyed. I felt this way with the Survivalist. I felt this way with Blaine McCracken. I felt this way with video games and movies and TV shows that I liked. In all those cases I found later replacements (for the Survivalist, it’s responsible for getting me into an entire genre) but the feeling still remains.

And so it feels this way for here. I’ve reviewed, judging by tags and discounting essay posts, about 28 “World War III” books. They range from good to bad, from rote to pulpy to clunky to outright bizarre. I’ve experienced a huge range. In many ways I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to do. And while that sort of thing can bring about justifiable pride, it can also bring about a sense of understandable emptiness.

My feeling isn’t “what do I do now?”, since the answer (read and write about either other types of fiction or history/theory in general) is what I’ve been doing. Rather, it’s a simpler “So, that’s it? That’s all there was?”

Some Blog Updates

Just some blog updates here.

First, I found out about Never Was magazine, an online magazine devoted to alternate history, after they announced a partnership with Sea Lion Press. Signing up and liking what I saw, I’ve posted a link to it on the sidebar blogroll. Looking a little deeper, I saw a piece on a subject dear to Fuldapocalypse-World War III Without Missiles. I recommend checking it out.

Second, as you may have noticed from the Red Hammer Down review, I’m experimenting with changing the layout just a bit. Nothing too big, just something done for the sake of curiosity.

The Iceland Scale And The Origins of Fuldapocalypse

Back in the day when I was convinced that everywhere was being overrun by bad World War III stories, I made the Iceland Scale as part of my backlash. Now with a sense that I got too angry about it, I figure I should post both the scale itself and commentary on how it did and didn’t hold up.

This is probably going to be the longest post yet on Fuldapocalypse, and it’s been a long time in coming. This is something that I wanted to look back on. Now, with a lot of time on my hands and the last review of a “World War III” book being months old, I think it’s as good a time as any.

I’ve been worrying about how to say what I want to. Regardless, I still think this should be told, for it influenced the formation of this blog.

Here’s the scale itself:

BACKGROUND

-If the Soviets start the war: 1 Iceland
-If the Soviets do so in a way that, to the average reader, makes little sense: 3 Icelands.
-If there’s at least one chapter of “intrigue” leading to the shocking result that yes, in a WW3 book, WW3 starts: 5 Icelands per chapter/update.
-If NATO starts the war: -10000 Icelands

-If the third-person narrator delivers an infodump about forces deployed: 50 Icelands per infodump.
-If there’s a scene where a bunch of generals and leaders stand in a conference room and deliver a joint infodump about forces deployed: 600 Icelands per infodump.
-If the central and obvious protagonist is introduced prior to the fighting started: -20 Icelands

-If the war takes place in the 1970s or earlier: -100 Icelands
-If the war takes place in the 1980s: 1 Iceland
-If the war takes place in the 1990s or beyond, with a surviving/restored USSR: -5 Icelands

CONDUCT OF THE WAR

-If NATO wins: 1 Iceland
-If the USSR wins: -500 Icelands
-If the war ends in a nuclear apocalypse: -200 Icelands

-If the war remains conventional throughout: 1 Iceland
-If nuclear weapons are occasionally used in anger, but the war stays largely conventional: 150 Icelands

-If the Soviets invade Iceland: 1000 Icelands
-If the Soviets invade any part of the United States proper: 15000 Icelands

-If the battles focus around tanks or aircraft: 1 Iceland per battle
-If the battles focus around ships or submarines: 1 Iceland per battle
-if the battles involve gritty, close infantry firefights: -10 Icelands per battle

-If any part of the story takes place in Germany: 100 Icelands
-If any part of the story takes place in the Atlantic Ocean: 200 Icelands
-If any part of the story takes place in a theater other than the two mentioned above: -50 Icelands

CHARACTERIZATION

-If there is one central, total viewpoint character: -25 Icelands.
-Likewise, if the number of viewpoint characters numbers:
-2-5: 10 Icelands
-5-10: 50 Icelands
->10: 1000 Icelands
-If there are no “characters” in a traditional literary sense at all: 500 Icelands.

-If a character’s physical appearance is described: -10 Icelands
-If a character is given an infodump to serve as their sole form of development: 100 Icelands

-If a weapons system is described in more detail than the basic terms (ie, M1A1, T-80BV rather than M1/Abrams or T-80): 15 Icelands
-If a weapons system is given more description or development than a character: 100 Icelands

-If any characters are in a position of utter powerlessness-(civilians, routed soldiers): -25 Icelands
-If any Soviet characters exist as mustache-twirling puppy kickers: 10 Icelands
-If any NATO characters exist as mustache-twirling puppy kickers: -100 Icelands

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

So how did this come into being?

At the time I had read far fewer “cheap thrillers” in general and my exposure came in three places:

  • Wargames, where World War IIIs are over-represented compared to other types of fiction. (A study of scenario locations in Steel Panthers MBT had about 27% of them being “World War III” in some form, a ratio that is definitely not true of fiction in general).
  • Red Storm Rising itself and a few of the knockoffs, particularly Harvey Black and Brad Smith.
  • A boomlet of conventional World War III TLs/stories on alternatehistory.com.

In hindsight, the knockoff triple-xeroxed fanfiction of Hackett (or Clancy/Bond, or Coyle, or Peters, or Red Dawn) that appeared on AH really wasn’t that good, bad, or representative. It’s like trying to see what crime fiction is like by reading the entries in the Law and Order section of fanfiction.net.

But it’s what I was reading at the time.

What holds up?

I’d say the supervillain Soviets and longer weapons descriptions. That’s pretty much it for just cheap thrillers in general. For technothrillers, the conference room scenes are probably the biggest.

And there are “Icelandic” stories out there. There just aren’t that many. Instead of looking at overbearing cliches, I was accidentally focusing on a very small, very niche type of writing. I was the blind man touching one part of the elephant.

And what doesn’t?

A lot. First, the invasion of Iceland itself isn’t a staple even in World War III stories. It appeared in wargaming and Red Storm Rising. And really not that much else, even in that narrow niche.

A few instances had stories that were “Icelandic” but not necessarily bad. Team Yankee checks most of the Iceland boxes on paper, but is a smoothly flowing story that’s the exact opposite of the cumbersome “boom boom goes the tank” I’d seen on the internet.

But most of it was simply not “Icelandic” at all. And this includes almost all of the cheap thrillers that were actually written. Nukes aren’t handwaved away, they’re incorporated into the story in some fashion. As a look at the number of “Action Hero” and “Special Forces” tags on this blog shows, shooter fiction with an unambiguous main character leaves “big war thrillers” in its dust. By a gigantic margin.

Why is the “They invade the US” score so high?

This is probably the most personally biased score of them all. It’s not overly representative or even prominent in a few specific pieces the way Iceland was (the exception being Red Dawn). Rather, seeing rote rivet-counting descriptions of Soviet invasions of the continental US flared up one of my frustrations with internet alternate history.

I should note that this is one of the least connected to actual commercial fiction. It could not be further from the special forces raid in Northern Fury (a more workable scenario) or the invasion in the early Survivalist (something that didn’t involve rivet counting).

So why this? Well, internet alternate history has, as it’s grown, sort of shifted in a questionable way. The idea behind simply writing in ways that aren’t conventional narratives was so that writers, unencumbered by the need for plots/characterizations, could fill in a lot of details.

As the community diluted, this became a way to avoid detail, done by people who cared less about “plausibility”. The analogy I’d use is, of all things, car racing. A race car is not a practical car for everyday driving, and the people involved know it. But then people start building race cars. They have one seat and no amenities, but the focus is on that one seat and the shape and not how fast they can go. But at the same time there’s just enough residual race car focus to dull the edges. The cars aren’t in goofy novelty shapes, they’re just race cars that look like race cars but with engines that a stock 1992 Camry could outpace.

As AH’s own wiki states about fictional election results lists, “No offense, but very few people are impressed by your ability to make up fake percentages. For extra cliché points, present them through Wikiboxes. “

Likewise, seeing lists and lists of orders of battle and recitations for something I knew was both implausible and unsuitable for its genre prompted an overreaction in me. I say overreaction because it’s like treating fanfiction that ignores the genre of its base work in favor of sleaze and/or sloppiness as something unique or distinctly bad. Once you know the context, it’s unsurprising and arguably uninteresting.

I guess another analogy is like vs. debates tiering, where it’s something nominally “crunchy”, a field that can bring often unjustified aggravation quickly, and where studying the context of how something that should be technical became lowbrow is a lot more interesting than seeing the end result of questionable infodumps.

Does the Iceland Scale have any retroactive value?

It’s basically one of those fanfic “litmus tests” you see floating around on the internet. After all, the place that motivated it was essentially a fanfiction board, only with “history” as the setting .

And well, especially after writing creative fiction, and especially after seeing much more, I don’t really think so. I’ve been a litmus test skeptic because this kind of fiction tends to have the execution be important. It’s entirely possible to have what should be a rote “shoot the terrorist” premise but succeed with good execution. Likewise, take a “Clive Cussler’s” book that has on paper a goofy premise but is just dull.

Team Yankee has a lot of “Icelandic” elements on paper but is well-done. Even Red Army has a parade of viewpoint characters-and it’s also done well. Northern Fury H-Hour would probably rank very high given that it’s an explicit homage, and its execution was also done effectively.

I mean, this has been a little unpleasant for me to think about, which is why I’ve been holding off on writing this post or something like it for a long time. I got too caught up in board drama (which is a staple of AH.com), and it’s kind of a sign of how narrow-minded I was. As I’ve repeatedly said, the diversification of Fuldapocalypse was something genuinely good in a lot of ways.

Some time ago, I made this silly graphic to show how much my horizons were broadened. It’s true.

fuldapocalypseexpectation

What lessons do you think there are from the Iceland Scale?

These are kind of truisms, but…

  • Don’t get too caught up in any one fandom. While I think alternate history has some unique hangups, fandom drama is definitely not unique to it.
  • Don’t get caught up in something with small sample size, and always look for more perspective.
  • Broaden your literary horizons, even in the same basic genre.

When I wrote the Iceland Scale, I was convinced there were too many conventional WW3 stories out there. Now I feel there arguably aren’t enough. There’s certainly very few. A single very long series can outnumber the “conventional WWIII” genre, and a single prolific author can easily outpace the entire “big war thriller” type of book.  So upon seeing an “Icelandic” story, my thought is now less “Argh, another WWIII” and more “oh, it’s a niche story that probably isn’t for me”. So this horizon-broadening has been very positive. Not just for enjoyment, but for understanding.

How did this help lead to Fuldapocalypse?

Here’s how. Part of the reason for starting Fuldapocalypse was because I didn’t want to crowd out the Creative Corner. Of course, this ended up doing just that as my interests shifted, but that’s another story.

But another part of starting Fuldapocalypse came from me wanting to give these stories a more fair and critical shake. And I’ll say this flat out-I at first went about it the wrong way. My initial goal was “move past the board drama, look at ‘real’ published World War III books, and use a rigorous scale to see how they differed and what cliches they did and didn’t follow, so that your own emotion and opinions can mostly stay out of it”. It was trying to move towards a narrower slice of fiction, towards a more robotic litmus test.

Thankfully, it worked out. I soon grew tired with my self-imposed limitations and began, slowly at first, reading and reviewing stuff that wasn’t “Icelandic” at all. While it took a little while for me to throw off the shackles entirely, I did. And this is the reason why I made the post-instead of constantly obsessing over something, whatever its (lack of) quality, shouldn’t be obsessed over, this post can stand between whatever non-Icelandic works of fiction strike my fancy.

Personal Notes

So, in light of the coronavirus, especially since my father already has a lung condition that makes matters extra-risky, I’ve been preemptively holing up since starting to feel icky. What confuses matters is that I have pretty bad seasonal allergies anyway, and while I don’t feel the exact symptoms (as of now for instance I haven’t really been coughing), it’s better to be safe.

-What does this mean for Fuldapocalypse, barring some terrible development with me? Either this blog will be a lot less busy (if there’s other stuff I need to attend or am just too sleepy to do much) or a lot more (if I have nothing else to do except read hordes of cheap thrillers and have the motivation to review them).

Blog Updates

So I’ve made a few updates to this blog in light of it becoming my sole focus after halting new posts on the Creative Corner.

First and biggest is: Fuldapocalypse now has a proper domain.

Second and considerably smaller is that I’ve enlarged the tag cloud yet again. Hey, I’m reviewing a lot of authors and branching out into ever-more genres, so I felt it appropriate at this time. I might be making a few more changes, so don’t be surprised if the blog looks different.

Command Took Me To Fuldapocalypse

So, Command: Modern Operations is now released. I was more than just an eagerly waiting enthusiast or even a beta tester. I had the privilege of writing the manual for it.

I have a celebratory post on the Creative Corner, but I wanted to talk on this blog about something a little more important to it. See, it’s almost guaranteed that without my interest in the original Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations and thus without the subsequent leap into military history/fiction that followed from that, this blog, Fuldapocalypse, would not exist.

Many World War III books are tied to wargaming. Red Storm Rising was famously assisted by Harpoon. The War That Never Was is more or less a novelization of a Newport wargame. More recently, Northern Fury H Hour started off as part of a Command scenario set before becoming a solid novel. And so it makes sense that wargaming would lead me to this blog.

A Tag Change

For my 150th post on Fuldapocalypse, I’ve decided to make a few announcements. First, I made the tag cloud bigger again (It kind of needed to be). Second, I decided to break away from one of the most-used tags.

The “Infantry” category is perhaps the most awkward one on Fuldapocalypse. I first used it for a technothriller that did include infantry. Then it expanded to not only include special forces and sci-fi infantry, but also vigilantes and secret agents. The result was that, even though infantry “grunt fiction” isn’t exactly one of my favorite subgenres, “infantry” became one of the biggest and most used tags in Fuldapocalypse.

So while I’m not trying to edit existing posts, I’ve decided to specialize rather than generalize for “infantry”. So on the occasions that I do review ordinary infantry, I can keep the normal tag. Otherwise, stuff like “Secret agent” or “Special Forces” or “Vigilante” can work.

There’s obviously going to be tricky choices, but I think I can handle those on a case by case basis.

 

A Happy Fuldapocalyptic Birthday

It has now been a full year since I made the introductory post on this blog. Looking back at it, well, I think this line hasn’t aged well at all-and thankfully so.

“The lines will be a little blurry, but stuff like special forces or otherwise [sic] irregular thrillers probably won’t make the cut.”

I’ve said this many times before, but broadening the scope of this blog has been great for it and great for me. It’s even had a salutary effect on the nominal subject-because I’ve been reading so many other non-WW3/”big picture war” stories, when I do read them, I can look at them in a proper context I didn’t feel I had when the blog started. Not feeling any burnout at all also helps. So, happy birthday, Fuldapocalypse. You’ve earned it.