It was six years ago this day that I started the process to make the Creative Corner. Three years ago I started Fuldapocalypse. Blogging has been very, very good.
Fuldapocalypse has reached five hundred posts. To mark the occasion, I figured I’d do a post on something that was the reason this blog even exists at all-criticism. Here goes.
- Critics have the right to be as sneery and abrasive as they want in their reviews. As a writer, I’ve found valid points which I’ve incorporated from harsh, bad-faith reviews. The signal can be separated from the noise. Even as a reader, one of my favorite authors I found from a harshly negative review.
- Writers have the right to ignore criticism they consider invalid. If you’re writing a literary romance and someone complains that the book doesn’t have enough explosions in it, you know that’s not what you’re writing.
- However, both should ideally hold themselves to a higher standard.
- Some works of fiction lend themselves more easily to criticism than others. This is why I have such a big insistence on creative control over what I review here. I don’t want this to become a chore, and knew that if reviewing was mandatory, it’d lose its quality.
- The ideal work to review is something that’s flawed in an interesting way. Something flawed in an uninteresting way is arguably the worst type of fiction to review.
- Perspective matters. My absolute favorite Bill James essay of all time, Inside Out Perspective, is a beauty. The difference between inside and outside is the difference between getting angry at one repetitive World War III timeline after another that you don’t see much direct criticism of on its website, and realizing that there are more action hero thrillers released in one month than there are conventional World War III stories overall-even with the most slanted accounting.
- Basically, from the inside, you see things as being bigger than they actually are.
- I’ve said repeatedly-being a critic has not made me a better writer in my eyes, but being a writer has made me a much better critic. Me the writer has written things in my books that me the critic would denounce if done by someone else.
- Remember: Sample size matters. A lot.
- Fuldapocalypse has been eye-opening, enlightening, and a lot of fun.
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.
I was interviewed on Sea Lion Press about this blog. You can see the interview here.
For the 400th post on Fuldapocalypse, I decided to use this occasion to finally get around to something I’ve been wanting to do for a while-links to the ebooks that I’ve written.
You can see all my ebooks, from the early novelties to my Sea Lion Press novels, on the My Books page on the top of the blog. Enjoy!
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.
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?”
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.
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” 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” 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” 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.
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.