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.

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?”

On Larry Bond

One of my personal in-jokes is how few Larry Bond books I’ve actually read and reviewed on Fuldapocalypse, which is either two or three as of this post. The books are Cauldron, Red Phoenix, and Red Storm Rising if you count it. This combined with the increasing diversification of the blog makes me sometimes go “Boy I’ve reviewed more [insert genre or author that’s nothing like him] books than I have Larry Bond’s”.

Bond, along with Hackett himself, is the most “Icelandic” of the authors I’ve read on Fuldapocalypse. The most tied to wargaming. The most determined to have a “broad-front”, top-to-bottom perspective with a bunch of viewpoint characters.

And well, I have to say he’s not the most impressive, at least judging from the sample size I’ve seen. Not the worst by any means, but you’ll notice how “meh” I sound in my review of Red Phoenix. I’ll be fair and say that I think a big part of it isn’t his fault. In short, I know too much about the subject matter to be impressed the way a “normal” reader might be.

And yet, from the broader perspective I’ve experienced, my respect for him has actually grown. For Bond’s work remains distinct. There are lots and lots and lots of more “normal” cheap thrillers, and it’s, to be frank, not the hardest genre to succeed in. There are much fewer “big-war thrillers”, and it is a harder genre to do right.

Larry Bond can’t be faulted for trying. And there’s certainly room in the literary sphere for books in his style alongside the spacesuit commandos and terrorist-shooters.

The Three World War IIIs

After long since realizing how few conventional World War III stories there actually are out there, I nonetheless have a classification system for the very small genre, perhaps because there’s very few. They fall, perhaps fittingly, into three main categories.

Literary

“Literary” World War III includes Red Storm Rising, Team Yankee, Red Army, Northern Fury H-Hour, and even some more uneven ones like Chieftains and Arc Light. What these have in common is:

  • A “big picture” writing style featuring lots of viewpoint characters.
  • A sincere attempt at both narrative and at least nominal accuracy.

Not surprisingly, these are the rarest and hardest to do right. In fact, I think those above examples are most of the books that fall into that category.

Pulpy

“Pulpy” World War III is basically stuff like Ian Slater, Martin Archer and Joel Fulgham, as well as the shameless Wingman and Zone novels. These are distinguished by a lower-brow form of writing and/or not knowing/caring about accuracy. Some books may have aimed at being “literary” but ended up as pulpy in practice, while others (like anything by Mack Maloney) were knowingly that from the start.

“Wargamed”

“Wargamed” World War III, for lack of a better word, is the kind of story that, by virtue of me being exposed both with wargames themselves (which can over-represent WWIII, as I show in this Sea Lion Press post.) and internet alternate history (which lends itself to dry “TLs”) I thought was present much more than it actually was.

This is the stuff that follows in Hackett’s footprints. If characters exist at all, they’re either human cameras to illustrate aspects of the conflict or conference room speakers. Every order of battle is spelled out in exact detail.

Obviously there’s going to be edge cases of all sorts, but those are the three big categories.

The Survivalist’s Legacy

I really think the review of the first Survivalist book, Total War, was the moment that Fuldapocalypse really broke out of the cage I’d originally put it in. I’d already been tiptoeing away from the specific “198X conventional World War III” books, but even then had just pushed mostly to other “big war thrillers”.

This was something where I acknowledged in the review that my entire paradigm wasn’t made for something like this. It wasn’t immediate, but it put me on the path to first changing and then eliminating the formal categories altogether. It also made me review (and read) a lot of “Men’s Adventure” books, a subgenre that I intend to write a lot more about.

Oh, and for whatever weird reason, I binge-read the entire series. I’m still strangely impressed by that.

 

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.

The Fuldapocalypse Year in Review

This has been a great year for Fuldapocalypse. Not only have I completed many reviews, and many diverse reviews, but the blog finally broke free of the shackles I’d initially imposed on it. After tinkering with the narrow scale a bit, I just tossed it aside entirely in March without any regret. Of course, my reviews became a lot more off the cuff and looser without that structure, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

It’s definitely not a bad thing that Fuldapocalypse has become a general fiction review blog with an “analytics of World War III” side-section. As I’ve said before, I would have literally run out of books had I kept trying to do that.

While I did not read a 27-book series in one binge, I did read all eleven Blaine McCracken books and all seven Black Eagle Force books.

What were my favorite literary discoveries of 2019? It’s a little hard to figure out given how much I read, but here they are.

-Northern Fury: H-Hour.

I knew very much of the Command scenarios this book started from, but was impressed by the novel itself. It managed to not fall into the pit of being just a thinly-veiled lets play, and flowed well. This is how to use wargames well for writing.

-Blaine McCracken.

If the Survivalist was last year’s “binge read a long series”, McCracken was this years, with me devouring all eleven books in short order. Jon Land tosses aside such frivolities as “plausibility” and “logic” in favor of ridiculous set-pieces. And I loved them.

-The Draka series.

This has been an infamous series in internet alternate history for a long time. Reading the actual books was something weirdly relieving, cutting through the decades-long telephone game to find. I had the suspicion that they were less than their reputation beforehand, but reading them confirmed it.

I’m left with the conclusion that, weirdly like the Spacebattles-favorite Worm, the Draka series became internet-famous for having a legitimately distinct setup and a variety of timing/circumstance-related things that had little to do with the prose itself. It’s mostly just “the bad guys win” and “bizarro-America, a continent-sized superpower founded on tyranny” used as the (interesting) setup for middling sleazy pulp in a variety of genres.

-The Casca series.

Ah yes, it’s one of those series where the background of “Guy who sang The Ballad Of The Green Beret makes a cheap thriller series about an immortal Roman soldier” is more interesting than the bulk of the books themselves. The first two books will never be more than trashy cheap thrillers, but they’re still good trashy cheap thrillers.

Everything beyond that is incredibly formulaic and risk-averse, even by cheap thriller standards. The immortality gimmick is just a way to get the same dull character into whatever pop-history period the book demands.

-Marine Force One.

David Alexander’s Marine Force One is perhaps the single most middling piece of fiction I’ve read. It’s so mediocre, so “51%”, that it actually stands out somehow. Thus it makes a good benchmark for other “51% books”, especially action thrillers, that I’ve weirdly come back to time and again.

It’s been a great year for this blog and for me in terms of reading. See you in 2020!

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.

 

 

 

The Fuldapocalypse 100 Post Special

So Fuldapocalypse has reached a hundred posts. What a ride.

As I’ve said many times before, I went in to Fuldapocalypse expecting a very narrow spectrum where Red Army was on one end and Hackett’s The Third World War was on the other. The formal scale was in part to get me to be more rigorous in my reviewing and in part because I thought the works would be so inherently similar that I needed to highlight their differences.

Almost immediately, though, I became burned out. As I branched out, my scale gradually faded away. “Zombie Sorceresses” aren’t really relevant in outright supernatural stories, and don’t work when the story is implausible and ridiculous from the get-go. Eventually, I just resorted to an inherently “unstructured” review system-and it’s worked out very well. If I want to mention a story is “rivet-countery” or has a huge “zombie sorceress” contrivance, I can just say so in the review without having a formal section.

So, what I have learned from Fuldapocalypse? A lot, but the biggest is…

There’s a lot fewer “World War III” stories than I thought.

Blame my weird tendency to read the imitators first. Take my wargaming background and looking on only a few places at first, and a narrow tendency emerges. After all, if all I see is infodumpy Hackett xeroxed fifty-times stories, it’s like someone only reading fanfics and concluding that Pokemon is about betrayal. Understandable given the narrow perspective, but not really accurate.

Even at the height of the 1980s boom, there were still were a lot more books about stopping World War III than fighting it. And frankly, to me it’s a lot more fun to see the different, the strange, and the classic-but-unread. If I have to choose between either:

  1. zigzagging between feminist superpower stories, basketball mysteries, conventional thrillers, and classic vigilante adventure stories (all of which I’ve reviewed here), with World War III novels when I feel like it…
  2. Reading the entire collected works of William Stroock for the sake of reading something concerning World War III.

I’m definitely going with Option 1.

Even “cheap thrillers” can vary to the point where depending on the era, the prevalent cliches are going to be almost the exact opposite of an earlier/later time. Or there’s an individual work that stands out from that time period.

Reviewing good books is more fun than reviewing bad books.

I’ll review bad books on Fuldapocalypse. But I’ll be honest, I feel a lot better about going “this is an obscure book almost no one has read, and it’s really good” vs. “this is an obscure book almost no one has read, and it’s really bad.”

Part of it is that if I had more fun reading a book, I’ll have more fun reviewing it. Part of it is a feeling that I’m (consciously or not) just selecting easy targets to smash, especially more obscure authors, and an increasing feeling that it sometimes isn’t really fair to do something like that. Well-established authors are another story-I had zero hangups about ripping Executive Orders to pieces.

But part of it is that I think I’ve outgrown my old “deliberately look at something I know is bad to see just how bad” (to a degree), and have come to love sharing hidden gems. I think it may be me being more of a writer (or Command LIVE scenario creator) myself and thus being on the other side of the critic/author divide, so I’m no longer the fire-breather I’ve been in the past.

That being said, as a writer/content creator, you will get criticism. You will get unfair criticism. You will get unreasonable criticism. That’s just how it goes.

The worst titles to review are the uninteresting ones

Uninteresting does not necessarily mean “bad”. In fact, many books I personally enjoyed I struggled to review. Thus the paradox emerges. A solid title in a series I’ve reviewed a past installment in leaves me having to work hard to write something other than “Like Book X in Series Y, Book Z in Series Y is good to read”.

Meanwhile, a book I didn’t like and could think of a very solid, distinct reason why I didn’t like it can easily get a review.

The most and least-reviewed decades are…

At least according to the tags, and as of this post, the number of books reviewed by decade are…

  • 1970s and earlier: 5
  • 1980s: 19
  • 1990s: 20
  • 2000s: 16
  • 2010s: 31

So the “technothriller heyday” of the 1980s is actually the middle of the road.

Reading obscure books is more fun.

I’ve noticed obscure [e]books come a lot more easily to me than big-name thrillers. It obviously depends on the individual book, but I’d think the biggest reason is they’re too long for their own good. I’d rather, all other things being equal, read two 300-page books than one 600-page one. Or three 200-page books. If only because it gives me a chance to review and ever so slightly widen the exposure of an author if that 200-300 page book happened to be good. This isn’t to say there aren’t good long books or bad short books, but it’s a matter of overall taste.

The second biggest reason is there are only so many real big time authors, and I don’t want to read too many books by the same wri-wait a second….

Somehow I read Jerry Ahern’s entire Survivalist series. I might be crazy.

Yeah, I don’t really know how this happened. Maybe blame the season and the fact that the books acted as a valuable time-filler. Maybe blame Ahern writing it as a serial and me going “ok, what’s happening next?” Maybe blame Ahern being surprisingly good with the literary fundamentals, so that even the worse books didn’t feel bad to read and I could always get through them quickly.

I also think reading the entire ‘epic’ has made me less judgemental. Let me put it this way- reading and enjoying dozens of ridiculous pulp tales is a pretty glass-filled house to be throwing stones from.

I’m torn on when to try and read more Jerry Ahern books. On one hand, he could write and some of the premises look good. On the other, well, aren’t two dozen books by one author more than enough. I mean, the Casca series has around the same number, and I’ve liked many-but not enough to want to go “Yep, I want to read every last one of them”.

And finally…

Fuldapocalypse has been a fun experience.

I’ve really loved how Fuldapocalypse has turned out. It’s legitimately broadened my scope of literature I’ve read, given me the chance to write lots of reviews, and given me a lot of fun.

If I had to list the best author I’ve discovered after I started Fuldapocalypse, it’d be Mack Maloney. Maloney has managed two things. The first is providing a scope that’s (for the most part) between the small-unit thrillers and the giant worldwide technothrillers/army books. The second is having a sense of fun and imagination.

But I’ve found many more good writers after starting this blog. And I’ve had many fun experiences with writing about what I’ve reviewed here, good and bad books alike.