Different Sports What-Ifs

Of all the theorized “what if this successful and physically talented athlete played a different sport” questions, the most interesting, in my eyes, is American football. This is because that sport involves a wide array of roles that each require a different physical quality and skill set.

The least satisfying is baseball, because the skill sets there are not immediately obvious. Yet you can argue that baseball is interesting because it has the most definite stats. Jim Thorpe and Bo Jackson were incredibly strong physically, but neither was more than decent as a baseball player. Looking at Jackson’s batting stats and just his batting stats, you’d see power but a ton of strikeouts and few walks-the sort of numbers you’d associate more with a Dave Kingman-style lummox over a wall-jumping acrobat.

Then there’s Brian Jordan, who was also a football-turned baseball player and was also a low-walk slugger, but didn’t strike out as often as Jackson did. However, there was an aspiring football running back who ended up playing baseball instead. And he was one of the best walk-drawers (and baserunnners, and players in general) of all time. I speak of Rickey Henderson. So I want to say that, for any obviously talented player in another sport, the likeliest path for them in baseball is the “low-walk slugger” approach, but Henderson’s path means you never know.

The Genre I Haven’t Read

I’ve read a lot of books of many, many different types, as this blog makes clear. However, there’s one genre I simply have demonstrated no interest in for a long time.

Westerns.

Now, this isn’t a dislike of them, just a personal taste. And as always, personal tastes can change. But my disinterest in westerns has been remarkably consistent for a remarkably long time. While I had to have read at least one western, I can’t remember the title of any off the top of my head. I can remember the title of one that I bought a long time ago, Whiskey River, but also that I didn’t actually read it. This may be the only genre where I’ve seen more movies than read books in. Because I have seen (and enjoyed) the classic Westerns The Magnificent Seven and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

As for why, even I’m a little baffled. But I think it’s because they’re ultimately historical fiction (which isn’t really my favorite) and in a specific historical period that also isn’t exactly the one I’m most interested in.

The Oderpocalypse

This could only have been produced in a very short time period, after the Berlin Wall and end of the Warsaw Pact but before the actual breakup of the USSR. Because of this, this RAND report looks interesting, especially in its “long-term” ramifications.

Having an intact, hostile USSR but no Warsaw Pact means that to threaten Germany, it has to move through Poland first, can only put two fronts against Germany directly due to Poland not being that wide (the third has to either be a reserve/second echelon or swing through the Czech Republic), and puts the initial front line considerably farther to the east, with the Oder river being the first big obstacle. It’s an interesting piece.

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.

What Happened To Men’s Adventure Novels?

So, what happened to the likes of “men’s adventure novels”? If the technothriller declined enormously after 1991, the smaller “men’s adventure” series seemingly just dissolved completely. But now, from my own readings, and from looking at Serial Vigilantes of Paperback Fiction and reviews/commentary of later “men’s adventure” books, particularly on Glorious Trash, I think I might have found it.

They did drop dramatically after the 1980s, and the reason, from pretty much everything I’ve heard and readabout, is economic. They were just too low margin. I should refer you to this post by thriller author Jack Badelaire about the details, and he brings up another reason I agree with, which is that visual media got better.

But whatever the why, what happened? Well, cheap thrillers did not stop being written by any means, as Lee Child can attest. Someone comparing Jack Reacher to a classic men’s adventure hero would find more similarities than differences. But as for those dime novels, the surviving ones sort of – shifted. A look at everything from page counts courtesy of Serial Vigilantes to review commentary to my own study finds three main things.

  • They grew longer and their MSRPs grew higher.
  • They became increasingly “militarized” for lack of a better word (another connection to technothrillers), a process that started with the team-based novels of the 1980s and grew more and more prominent.
  • They increasingly began piggybacking on the names of big-time authors.

Yes, what happened is that the men’s adventure book became the “Tom Clancy’s” book.

Some More Thoughts on The Sum of All Fears

My mind has recently turned back to Tom Clancy’s The Sum of All Fears, the book I used for the 1st Anniversary Review of this blog. That was a great choice, I’ve felt. The book was not only prominent, but mixed in the best possible way-I could really go into detail the way I couldn’t in just a “51% book”, however readable.

In fact, I had some more thoughts on it.

  • The book is somewhat unusual in that I found the first part (before the bomb explodes) almost as disjointed and clunky as the later Tom Clancy books, but the second part is a well-done finale.
  • In many ways, this is one of, if not the last books truly of the Cold War thanks to its timing.
  • It’s rare to find a perfect shark-jumping moment in fiction. This is one of them. There’s the obvious reasons of the USSR falling and sending the genre into a scramble mixed with Clancy becoming editor-proof at the same time. A more subtle one could be that the stakes were so high this time that, well, where you could go from there?
  • It’s also rare to find something that could serve as a stopping point for its series, but didn’t. The only other example as neat I could think of was the end of the first arc in the Survivalist.
  • Finally, I have to give Clancy credit for actually having the bomb go off. A lot of thriller authors would just have had the protagonists stop it before it did, and that would be that.

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.

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.