The Tiers of Fighters/Opponents

So, boxing (and to a lesser degree mixed martial arts, though that is an inherently higher-variance sport) has developed a sort of tier system for its numerous fighters. Title Bout Boxing, through its auto-scheduler enabling you to run numerous simulated matches, is good for determining just how good fighters in one tier can fare against those in another. What I’ve found is that cheap thriller opponents can also fit into these categories.

  • Tomato Cans. The bottom of the barrel. They’re set up in deliberate squash matches, most often for the purpose of artificially inflating a fighter’s record. Or providing a spectacle. Tomato cans are always ranked as “0” in Title Bout Boxing, and the only way they can defeat any kind of significant fighter is through an injury/cut/occasional fluke knockout.
  • Journeymen. The middle of the pack. These are the low-tier filler fighters which everyone has to pass through, and which define the median that people diverge from. In Title Bout, they’re ranked 0-2, and aren’t quite as hapless as tomato cans against clearly superior opponents.
  • Gatekeepers/Trial Horses. These are fighters intended to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Barring the above lucky moments, they aren’t expected to credibly challenge for a title themselves. But they can determine if a prospect is all that or not. In Title Bout, they’re typically ranked 2-4.
  • Fringe Contender. This is where the lines start to blur. In-game, they’re a 5-7 ranked fighter who can occasionally win against superior opponents “legitimately” (I’ve found that being able to win via decision is a mark of legitimacy, as are knockouts/TKOs that aren’t due to cuts). Often they’re genuine champions by national/regional standards.
  • Contender. 7+ ranked fighters in-game who can consistently win legitimately, even at low percentage chances overall, against other contenders. I chose the game’s 7 rating as the line because that’s the in-game rating of Ingemar Johanssen, widely considered one the weakest world champions ever.

As always, perspective is important. Even tomato cans are better at punching than any normal person, and the difference is simply a matter of degree. Someone good by lower standards can still be the equivalent of a tomato can against an all time legend.

Announcing My Newest WIP Novel: The Sure Bet King

What have I been at work on the past couple of months? The answer is a novel in progress, and one devoted to something that’s totally different from the typical scope of Fuldapocalypse. I’m making a mostly nonviolent “pop epic” (the greatest inspiration I can see is Sidney Sheldon) about a sports betting “tout”. Touts are basically people who sell picks/betting advice. It is not a profession with a good track record or reputation, to put it mildly.

I can’t give a formal arrival date for the novel yet as it’s still far from complete even in rough draft form, but rest assured that I’ve been hard at work on it. It’s a very exciting experience-this novel has been very fun to research and very fun to write.

Making a WW3 contemporary

So, Walt Gragg’s The Red Line is a book whose influence on this blog and my understanding of conventional World War IIIs in general was underappreciated. In fact, at the time I didn’t even know it. I just saw a World War III thriller that was clearly set in a Cold War gone hot but had its setting clumsily and obviously pushed into being “contemporary”.

Over two years and countless books later, I saw just how rare (to the point of being essentially nonexistent) mainstream World War III novels were that:

  • Took place after the Vietnam War.
  • Took place a significant time before the publication date of the book.
  • Were mostly conventional.

This also extends to Larry Bond-style “big war thrillers” in general. To appeal to more than a niche, they have to either piggyback on a well-known historical conflict (ie World War II), or be contemporary in some form. And after looking at and studying the issue, I’ve found that it really isn’t that hard to adapt any kind of missile-age war to a contemporary setting. And the beginning of the “missile age” can be roughly put as around the time of the…. Vietnam War. How about that?!?

For a start, the same geopolitical rivals have been more or less there for some time, and the absolute most you have to do is some kind of post-1991 technothriller enemy gimmick. Second, if it’s known that the audience won’t know/care about the technical details and/or inaccuracies, swapping names and using the same basic “feel” can be done with relative ease. It doesn’t hurt that a lot of military platforms have served for a very long period of time (just look at the B-52) in a way that the ones of the World Wars mostly didn’t.

The Sum Of All My-Next Lives?

So bizarre crossover fanfics are nothing new. Yet this ultra-bizarre crossover fanfic idea/fusion has just leapt into my mind after seeing a few strange similarities and having my eyes light up. It’s My Next Life As A Villainess/Hamefura and-the “Ryanverse”, specifically (gulp) The Sum of All Fears. Granted, part of the appeal is just the strangeness.

The first spark is the reincarnation of “Monkey Girl” (her pre-reincarnation proper name is never given but that nickname is) being weirdly crossover-friendly. It’s impressive that it’s character-focused. Take a good-natured and sometimes right-twice-a-day (her obsession with farming, thinking she would have to fend for herself, was actually sound) but clueless about human relationships person who thinks the world runs on video game logic, and there’s a surprisingly high number of things you can do with it.

The second was how the original pre-reincarnation Katarina was a vindictive, hate-sink villainess. Who else fit that bill? Elizabeth Elliot, whose novelty made her one of my favorite technothriller antagonists. So there was a bizarre mutual overlap already. But my brain didn’t stop there. Oh no, because of the thought of bringing otome game logic to one of the most male genres in existence just felt amazing. So The Sum of All Hearts would star analyst Cathy Ryan. She’d have a man named Jack as one of several love interests, having to pursue one of them while at the same time trying to stop a nuclear war. It would be something.

Granted, the specifics would probably wreck it, but why worry about such things as “details” and “plausibility” when you have such a delightfully mushed-up concept? And hey, it’s not really any farther from Clancy’s original tone than some of the other “Tom Clancy’s” label franchises are.

(Come to think of it, “Rainbow Six” [with that number of love interests] could be the title of a romantic game…)

The Most Prominent World War III Books

So what World War III novels have had the most effect on me? Let me see…

Red Storm Rising

Yes, this starts with Tom Clancy and Larry Bond’s epic. I shouldn’t have to explain it. However, there’s stuff I’ve noticed that I might as well share about it. It may be the most prominent book, but it really hasn’t made that many copycats. Hackett is the greater “template” in terms of the war’s conduct. RSR has the war stay conventional from start to finish, and most others have plotnukes of some kind. RSR has an invasion of Iceland that not a lot of other ones have. It’s a little strange that the more dry Hackett has had the most influence on future narratives while the more conventional book of RSR has had more on future wargames, but that’s how it went.

The Red Line

This has significance I totally missed when I first read it. I could understand that creating a weird backstory to have an 198X war in the “present” was there to make it more marketable. Yet it was only after seeing that alternate history WWIIIs have very few works and none by big names that I saw it was arguably necessary. This is why broad perspective is important!

Team Yankee

This I think put the first nail in the “litmus test” coffin. See, my pet peeves were “it has to be bad if it has lots of technical descriptions and lots of viewpoint characters.” Team Yankee had those. And it wasn’t bad at all. Which makes sense in hindsight because it’s still ultimately a star-spangled cheap thriller and cheap thrillers rely near-completely on execution.

Red Army

Oh, it’s just the best World War III novel of all time, in my opinion.

“Effect” series

By reading Harvey Black’s novels so soon after Red Storm Rising, they played a big role in convincing me that the conventional World War III field was bigger than it actually was. I guess it’s like watching two baseball games with knuckleball pitchers back to back, and not seeing any more games for a while after that.

Survivalist: Total War

See, Jerry Ahern’s massive opus technically counts as a World War III novel. And when I read it, I saw something so totally different, a ridiculous and amazing “Western Fist of the North Star”. This book basically made Fuldapocalypse what is now.

Kirov Series

What I found the most likeable about these books was that they worked (to me) while having everything I thought I’d dislike about everything. The pure audacity of the series, and how it uses wargaming sandboxes in a style I’m familiar with makes up for well, a lot of stuff. Even the most mundane and legitimately worst arc in the series is still the result of time travel shenanigans.

The Yearly Blog Year In Review Post

So 2020 happened. The worth of this blog in getting me through a lot of stress this year cannot be overstated. It’s been an amazing experience. What’s also been an amazing experience is seeing just how me becoming more broad-minded about fiction has manifested. What might have been exactly the sort of thing I would dismiss with a firebreathing sneer. Now I read and enjoyed it. I’ve been reading and reviewing far more alternate history than I had in the past as well.

I also feel comfortable with how I stopped the Creative Corner. That blog was becoming nothing but filler posts for the sake of a perceived obligation, and I found that once I made the conclusion post, it just felt right to concentrate entirely here.

There’s two book series I read this year that really stand out. The first is John Gilstrap’s Jonathan Grave series, which happened at the right time. I was having what I call the “D-Day Effect” where something big and covered you’ve previously dismissed becomes novel simply because you haven’t experienced it. This has happened to me and “grocery store books”, and this series was proof that some mainstream successes are deserved.

Of course, the second and much bigger series is Kirov. This is weird. Not just in its “three mediocre Final Countdown/Axis of Time knockoffs turning into a combination of wargame lets play and time travel soap opera” content, but in how I enjoy it without necessarily recommending it for others to read. But I enjoy it nonetheless, and love how I took so much to a series with a ton of jumping Steel Panthers Characters, wargaming lets plays, and World War IIIs (plural). Knowing that I embraced a series that, before the beginning of this blog, I would have done nothing but sneer at has warmed my heart.

However, there’s also been a bittersweet side to this blog, and that’s in seeing a lot the distant vistas close. Seeing the conventional World War III subgenre at its limits and piecing together what happened to the “Men’s Adventure” fiction that seemingly disappeared after 1990 can be fun, but it can also evoke a feeling of “that’s it”? Then there’s also seeing that some pieces of fiction are just easier and more interesting to actually review than others, even if they’re both equally fun to read. If the blog goes in the direction of those, so be it, but I feel obligated to bring that up. While I obviously haven’t completely dropped them, a “51%” thriller just isn’t as good to review or analyze as an ambitious, conceptually interesting work.

This brings me to the announcement. My answer to “what do you do if you’ve seen all there is of conventional World War III?” is “Write your own take on it.” So I’ve started writing my own supernatural/weird-tinged conventional 1980s World War III novel.

This concludes my 2020 posts on Fuldapocalypse.

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.

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.

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.