Saturday, January 22, 2022

Apex Publications Is Having Big-Time Sale

The other day, I spotted a blog post saying that speculative fiction stalwart Apex Publications is "retiring" 42 titles and was offering a substantial discount until the end of January Given Apex's importance to the small-press scene and the business I've done with publisher Jason Sizemore, this was somewhat concerning, so I checked it out.



It turns out that Apex is reverting the rights to many of its older titles to their original authors, to "trunk" or republish as they see fit. Apparently they're not generating enough money to cover the administrative costs of maintaining them, paying the writers, etc.

From a business perspective, this makes sense. I've looked over the list (more on that below) and a lot of them seem to be short-story collections or shorter works. Collections are generally not strong sellers--on Amazon I've sold three copies of Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire in the last six-odd weeks in comparison to five sales of The Thing in the Woods and three sales of its sequel The Atlanta Incursion. And that's fairly unusual--Thing, TAI, and Battle for the Wastelands typically sell at least all right, while FSFF languishes. This is even more blatant at conventions, where I move lots of novel-length works but few copies of FSFF, my novella Little People, Big Guns, or, in recent years, The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2. I put all of my shorter work (with the exception of Battle prequel "Son of Grendel") on Draft2Digital for wide release and only "Ten Davids Two Goliaths" and "Discovery and Flight" (both set in Lindsay Buroker's Fallen Empire universe) seem to sell.

Since I'm a one-man show without any authors to continue to pay or actual employees (the artists, designers, etc. are all contractors), keeping FSFF and the other shorter works available for purchase is no big deal. However, if for every sale I had to do the paperwork, royalty computation, etc. for multiple authors, that wouldn't be worth the minimal return I get. However, I do have to store my convention stock and the fewer boxes sitting around my apartment the better.

I took a look at the books on the Apex list and here are some that interest me. Appalachian Undead is a collection of zombie stories set in, well Appalachia. It leads with a story entitled "When Granny Comes Marchin’ Home Again," which is certainly attention-grabbing, and even has another story alluding to a John Denver song. Harlan County Horrors operates in a similar vein, with lots of ugly doings in coal country. Breaking The World is about what might happen if the apocalypse actually started during the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco and certain sounds interesting. HebrewPunk is a group of short stories or novellas featuring characters based in Jewish tradition, culminating in all of them joining forces for a heist. Kentucky Kaiju is a Dungeons and Dragons-style monster manual for large creatures inhabiting Kentucky of all places. Severance is about the mishaps that can befall a generation ship bound for another star system. Stay Crazy has a pretty interesting concept--is this woman insane, or is there a being from another dimension recruiting her to fight another extradimensional being? Starve Better by Nick Mamatas is about the writing life; I already own it, but it's been awhile since I've read it. To Each Their Darkness and Yours to Tell also books about the craft of writing, and I'm seriously considering snagging that one while I still can.

My to-be-read pile (including several library books that might lead to fines) is pretty substantial as is, so I'm not sure which of these I'll actually purchase when all is said and done, but those all sound cool. However, if you're interested in helping out someone who's helped me, Sizemore has done a lot for my independent novelist career, including editing Battle back when I was still pitching it to publishers, connecting me with cover designer Mikio Murikami and laying out and assembling some very well-designed e-books.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

A (Somewhat) Realistic North Korean RED DAWN

The YouTuber The Alternate Historian, whom I know from my former days at the Internet's premiere alternate history forum, posted on Twitter recently about making a video discussing a realistic war between the U.S. and North Korea. In the Homefront video game and the 2012 Red Dawn remake the North Koreans manage to land forces on the American mainland and actually take control over much of the continental United States.

Sufficient to say, that isn't going to happen. North Korea's air force is obsolete and owing to lack of fuel, their pilots have little training time. North Korea's navy is primarily focused on its own river and coasts. They're realistically not going transport a whole army to the American mainland and good luck keeping them supplied even if they could get here. Their army is large, but their equipment is obsolete. Their main strengths are masses of artillery threatening the South Korean capital, their nukes and ballistic missiles, and their cyberwarfare capability.

(North Korea's nuclear capabilities seem much more advanced than I'd earlier believed...I thought at best they could manage a "Super-9/11" on one or two cities on the West Coast and then they'd be annihilated, but what the Council on Foreign Relations describes is something more like what's depicted in this faux Congressional commission's report on a North Korean nuclear attack. Yikes.)

So how could you have a realistic Red Dawn where it's the North Koreans of all people landing on the American mainland? Commandos. Before I left the alternate-history forum, I suggested the "more realistic Red Dawn" story would be a small North Korean force taking over an isolated small town in the rural West Coast. In my idea they'd be hidden aboard a civilian ship, while TAH suggested on Twitter they could use submarines. North Korean cyberwar techniques could be used to conceal their approach to the West Coast. The goal isn't to actually conquer the United States; the goal is to seize a town during an international crisis as a bargaining chip to get the U.S. to back off militarily, lift sanctions, etc. Northern California is rather isolated (a large land area with few roads) and if they take a large number of civilians hostage, that would complicate any response from the California National Guard or the regular U.S. military. That means the locals will have to liberate themselves, and so we enter Red Dawn territory.

And that's when things get tricky. There are lots of guns to be had in the rural U.S., even in Democratic states like California, but a force of North Korean regulars is going to have much heavier gear even if they're dramatically outnumbered. I'm imagining them herding captured civilians into camps beneath a battery of portable artillery and then defending said artillery with machine guns. A few dozen guys with rifles might be able to make life difficult for North Korean infantry patrols or do hit-and-run on isolated enemy positions, but good luck with successfully attacking this.

Fortunately, northern California is a major haven for illegally growing marijuana, and the local weed baron "just happens" to have some mortars. Think how mobster Eddie Valentine flips on the evil actor (and Nazi spy) Neville Sinclair in the climax of the film The Rocketeer--like Eddie, this man might not have a problem making money illegally, but collaborating with a totalitarian enemy is something else entirely. A bunch of irregular infantrymen bum-rushing machine guns isn't going to end well for them (and even a successful attack would give the North Koreans time to slaughter the hostages with artillery), but a surprise mortar bombardment could cripple the guns or kill their operators, wreck the machine gun positions, etc.

And that gave me the idea for an analogue for the traitor Daryl from the 1984 version. I'm imagining some young Twitter tankie (an apologist for authoritarian anti-American regimes--think Western leftists defending China's repression of Hong Kong or Xinjiang or Russian bombing of Syrian rebels) initially collaborating with the North Koreans. He erroneously thinks they're "anti-imperialist" or believes the U.S. provoked the North Koreans into this crazed long-shot gamble with economic sanctions or military drills. 

Sufficient to say, the scales fall from his eyes real fast. Although the guerrillas initially don't want his help, he's read the Anarchist's Cookbook and knows how to combine chlorine and bleach to make a crude chemical weapon or can make other chemical concoctions ISIS-style. Putting the trust the North Koreans gave him to good use, he sets off the chemical bomb in the North Korean headquarters at the same time the guerrillas use their new mortars to destroy the artillery the North Koreans are using to hold the townsfolk hostage. If the guerrillas or their weed-baron allies have got some decent machinists, they could make gas shells to make absolutely sure the gun crews are dead.

(Daryl could have some Redemption Equals Death for having been a collaborator initially, or more creatively, survive and everybody believes he was the Wolverines' inside man the entire time.)

I've got a lot going on, so I'm not going to try to pitch this to Hollywood (which wouldn't be interested, especially with the failure of the Red Dawn remake) or even write a book. Still, it might be interesting.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Book Review: SWORD AND PLANET (2021)

"Sword and Planet" is a sub-genre mixing science fiction and fantasy tropes that, although one of the oldest in modern SF (think the Edgar Rice Burroughs stories featuring heroic Earthman John Carter on a habitable Mars) doesn't get the attention it merits. Fortunately Baen put out Sword and Planet, a collection of several such stories, which I got the pleasure of reviewing. Here goes...


The collection starts out with a bang with Tim Akers' "A Murder of Knights." Basically a member of a high-tech knightly order has to investigate some sinister doings and finds himself facing off against something abominable, with a very bloody deadline. It seems like an origin story for a particular character and according to a conversation I had with the author, there's more content out there set in this universe. The fact my first reaction to the story was to see if there was more of it reflects very well on this collection.

Another story I enjoyed was R.R. Virdi's "A Knight Luminary" in which a trainee knight in a future war with a machine intelligence *still* hasn't manifested the psychic powers he needs. He and his fellows investigation an outpost that's gone silent and, as can be expected, things go very, very wrong.

"Bleeding From Cold Sleep" by longtime Warhammer 40K author Peter Fehervari features a fugitive member of what are essentially humanity's Cossacks (the vanguard of human expansion against a myriad of alien races, the first of which are based in a more pulp-fiction version of our own solar system) and just why he's a fugitive. It turns out there's a threat much, much closer to home.

In T. C. McCarthy's "The Test," a world that has regressed into a medieval state features a king, his son who reminds me a lot of Prince Hal from Shakespeare's HENRY IV, and another son who'd like to usurp him. And did I mention there are monsters and priests using advanced technology? This was fun too.

Rounding out my favorite stories is the novella "Queen Amid Ashes," set in author Christopher Ruocchio's SUN EATER universe (which begins with the novel Empire of Silence, the first of several). Our hero Imperial noble Hadrian Marlowe and his companion, the foreign cyborg doctor Valka, and their Imperial troops must liberate a world under attack by the predatory alien Cielcin, but there's much more going on than an alien invasion. There are some very vivid descriptions here.

Unfortunately, not every story in the collection is so grand. I loved the Deathstalker novels when I was in middle school, but Simon R. Green's "Saving The Emperor," which describes the origin of the titular Deathstalker noble family, was disappointing. I had a hard time following Susan R. Matthews' "Operatix Triumphans."

Still, no collection is perfect and I would definitely recommend this one. 8.0 out of 10.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

New Year, New Cover for THE THING IN THE WOODS

The first cover for The Thing in the Woods, originally published by Canadian small press Digital Fiction Publishing, was assembled from two pieces of Adobe stock art I found for the publisher. However, the cover for its independently-published sequel The Atlanta Incursion was illustrated by artist Matt Cowdery and laid out by designer Mikio Murikami. Although the fonts are the same, the illustrative style is very different and this is something that has been remarked upon.

Well, since Cowdery's art has been highly praised by pretty much everybody I run into at in-person events and he has done the cover for the planned third novel The Walking Worm, it's time to make the whole "Long War" series consistent. Furthermore, according to some writing podcasts I listen to, a new cover is a good way to spike sales for an older book.

So here's the current version of Cowdery's cover for Thing, featuring male lead James Daly and female lead Amber Webb (her first canonical image) confronting the titular horror.


I consulted with some of my friends and fans and a common theme was that the monster, the totem poles, and the two human characters blended together too much, so the artist is working on tweaking that now.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Making a HELLRAISER Musical?

I'm a regular participant in the Concellation Facebook group created to provide people who would have attended conventions canceled due to COVID with a social outlet. In late December I adapted my blog post about how Labyrinth is Hellraiser for kids into a YouTube video and posted it in the group. Someone asked if Hellraiser had a musical number, what would it look like? My response was that you could actually make a full-blown Hellraiser musical.


So here's where I plot out a Hellraiser musical. Some ideas for songs and sequences, complete with the relevant film clips.

*At the beginning, Frank Cotton has a musical number while he solves the Lament Configuration. He discusses how he's experienced every pleasure the world has to offer (with some pretty big hints that many of these pleasures are illegal and/or immoral) and now he's looking for pleasures beyond the world. As he solves the box and the boundaries between the worlds start to thin, an ominous chorus of the Cenobites join in. The song culminates in the solving of the box, the chain-attack on Frank, and the first appearance of Pinhead. Here's the relevant scene in the film.

*When Larry Cotton (Frank's brother) and his second wife Julia move into Frank's old house, we could have a three-person musical number featuring Larry, Julia, and Larry's daughter Kirsty from his first marriage. Larry is hoping moving back to Julia's hometown in Britain will help save their marriage, Julia is lamenting how boring it is to be married to Larry, and Kirsty (arriving later to help) sings about how she misses her biological mother and how much she dislikes Julia.

*Frank's resurrection from the floorboards of the room where he was taken to Hell, culminating in a terrible scream, might be an instrumental number. Alternatively, it could have Frank recounting in some kind of spoken-word fashion the horrible things the Cenobites did to him as his body reassembles itself from the floor.

*Bored at a party attended by Larry, some of his work friends, Kirsty, and Kirsty's new boyfriend Steve, Julia goes to investigate the strange noises in the attic, culminating in the encounter with the skeletal resurrected Frank. There's a duet between the two where Frank begs her to help him fully regain his body while Julia is torn between her disgust at this meatless bony monstrosity and her memories of Frank seducing her before her marriage to Larry. At the end of the song, she agrees to help Frank, provided no harm comes to Larry. Despite his obvious contempt for Larry, Frank agrees.

*We next have a musical montage number (possibly some kind of ballet?) of Julia luring men back to the house and killing them for Frank to feed on. Some near-misses where Larry nearly discovers what's going on and Julia has to come up with an increasingly bad series of excuses to conceal her and Frank's activities.

*Befuddled by his wife's odd behavior, Larry takes Kirsty out to lunch and they discuss the situation. This could be dialogue-only, or a sweet-natured duet between the two of them.

*Kirsty sees Julia bringing a man into the house and comes in, only to see Frank kill him and eat him. Frank then attacks her, either in a sexual fashion or to simply eat her too, but she's able to fight him off with the puzzle box and escape the house. She's taken to the hospital with the box, which she refuses to give up, and locked into her room by the staff, plays with it and accidentally solves it. This calls forth the Cenobites and we have a whole musical number about how the Cenobites are "explorers of the furthest reaches of experience, demons to some [and] angels to others" and how, since she's solved the box, Kirsty must come with them and "taste their pleasures." The terrified Kirsty manages to bargain with them, offering them Frank in return for herself.

*As Kirsty rushes home to warn her father, Frank and Julia murder him and Frank skins him. This is something that wasn't in the movie, but should have been, so the confrontation between the brothers and Larry's murder should be a musical number culminating in Frank's horrific appearance and Larry's death. Kirsty arrives and, momentarily deceived by Frank's disguise as her father, briefly encounters the Cenobites in the house as they brood over Larry's corpse. Frank attacks Kirsty, accidentally killing Julia (whom he feeds on as she's dying) and pursues Kirsty into the attic room where Larry's body is. There Kirsty tricks Frank into confessing his true identity and the Cenobites arrive to claim him.

*The Cenobites then try to abduct Kirsty anyway ("we have such sights to show you"), but she uses the box to banish them. Steve arrives and the two attempt to destroy the box, only for a vagrant to appear, take the box, and transform into a dragon before flying away.

You guys like? There's a ballet based on Dracula and a musical based on Evil Dead, so as long as the musical retains the film's score (or at least a version of it) and the best lines, this could be better cool. Heck, some of the film's best lines like "we have such sights to show you" could be the titles of songs.

(Also, check out the Myopia Movies episode on Hellraiser.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Origin of LITTLE PEOPLE, BIG GUNS, Or "A Lie Can Travel Around the World and Back Again While The Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes”

There's a supposed quote from American author Mark Twain about how, "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." Many times the first media report about something, regardless of its accuracy or whether the complete story is told, will travel far and people will ignore the follow-up. 

This article from NPR discusses the early coverage of the Sandy Hook school shooting, including how somebody else was mistakenly identified as the shooter and how some early reports claimed school officials actually let the shooter into the schoolSunil Tripathi was initially identified as one of the Boston Marathon bombers, only for it to come out later he'd committed suicide long before the bombing. More recently and speaking from my personal experience, I initially thought the episode with the students from Covington Catholic High School and Native American activist Nathan Phillips just involved a confrontation between them--the involvement of a third party (a group of street preachers affiliated with the Black Hebrew Israelites) didn't appear in any of the news I'd read until some time later. This article from The Atlantic breaks down how the major media failed to point out that the BHI preachers had initially confronted the Native Americans and then attempted to redirect the whole situation toward the Catholic students, instead focusing on student Nick Sandmann, who appeared to be smirking at Phillips while he plays the drums. Several media outlets ended up settling lawsuits with Sandmann, whom I remember being vilified online at the time (to the point the school closed due to threats) and even now.


And this is something that applies to my own writing, in particularly my horror-comedy novella Little People, Big Guns from Deadite Press. I got the initial idea for LPBG from a news story that claimed TV chef Gordon Ramsay had a gay dwarf porn star lookalike named Percy Foster, who was found dead in a badger den. However, the Huffington Post did some digging and found that not only had local police no idea what was going on, but nobody in the porn industry had heard of Mr. Foster, who should be more well-known given his stature and who he looks like. Furthermore, the initial reporting on the incident came from The Sunday Sport, a British tabloid that, among other things, has claimed a WWII bomber had been found on the Moon. However, the Murdoch papers picked up on the initial reporting and spread it all over the world. The story circulated online--here's a Facebook post from 2014 about it and here is a 2018 article from The Daily Mail. 2018--that's seven years after the incident was debunked. Lies can live forever on the Internet it seems.

However, even though it turns out the whole incident with Mr. Foster didn't actually happen, that got my creative juices flowing. The initial story idea (which just focused on the little people and the killer badgers), after some suggestions from then-editor of Deadite Jeff Burk, soon grew into a bizarre almost true-crime saga involving terrorists, car chases, and even an unnaturally large and dangerous animal. If you like your horror spiced with comedy or if your sense of humor trends very dark, I would recommend checking out Little People, Big Guns.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

My Late 2021 And Early 2022 Convention Schedule

Time to round out 2021 and ring in the first quarter of 2022 with the book signings and appearances I've scheduled so far. This blog post may change as I add events or if COVID leads to event cancellations again.

On Saturday, 12/18, I will be signing at Posman Books at Ponce City Market from 1-3 PM. Back when I had just The Thing in the Woods in the fall of 2017, I had a pretty decent signing there and I'm hoping that lightning strikes twice. Especially since now I've got a bunch more books to sell. :) If you want to let me know you're coming, RSVP on the Facebook event here. Bookstore signings tend to be pretty lucrative for me, since there isn't a table cost like there is for conventions.

As far as conventions are concerned, I will have a hall table at the Atlanta Steampunk Exposition February 11-13, 2022. I might also be speaking on writing-related panels, but that's still being worked out. Since AnachroCon has closed up shop, ASE is consolidating the Atlanta steampunk convention scene. :) And it's been two years since a big steampunk convention in Atlanta, so hopefully there'll be people eager to spend money. This will be the first time the Atlanta steampunk crowd will be seeing The Atlanta Incursion and "Son of Grendel," since those were published in 2020, months after AnachroCon. Hopefully they'll like the new additions.

The final convention I have scheduled so far is Toylanta 2022, slated for March 18-22. Here's where you can buy tickets online. I made a decent amount last time I was there, and with COVID vaccinations being more available and COVID numbers in Georgia declining (fingers crossed that Omicron won't change that), hopefully there'll be more people there. I attended the 2021 Toylanta and haven't put out anything new since then (more on that later), so hopefully there'll be lots of new people.

Between my busy teaching schedule and the fact I've fallen dreadfully behind on producing new books (I wanted to have the sequel to Battle for the Wastelands out sometime this year, but I'm at most halfway through it), I think I'm going to try to limit appearances to one convention or so per month. Also, given how quickly $0.35 per mile adds up, I'm going to try to limit my appearances to metro Atlanta until I've got more books to sell.

If you don't anticipate making it to any of these events, email me at mquinn1984@gmail.com and we can discuss an individual order. I can mail signed books anywhere in the U.S. thanks to Media Mail. Non-US orders I can do, but I'll need to build in additional shipping costs.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

LABYRINTH Is HELLRAISER For Kids

The other day I watched Labyrinth on the elliptical at the gym and while ironing some clothes. The thought hit me that it has a lot in common with, surprisingly enough, Hellraiser and its sequel Hellraiser 2: Hellbound. Beware spoilers for all three films.

Firstly, both franchises have significant stepmother-stepdaughter drama. Hellraiser protagonist Kirsty Cotton and her stepmother Julia clearly don't get along at the beginning of the first film and once supernatural forces get involved, it escalates into outright violence. In the second film, once Julia has been thoroughly corrupted, she explicitly refers to herself as the wicked stepmother and the evil queen and mocks Kirsty as "Snow White." Meanwhile, protagonist Sarah Williams is openly disrespectful toward her stepmother Irene in Labyrinth, and Irene clearly does not know what to do with her. Knowing her stepdaughter's interest in fantasy, Irene complains that Sarah treats her as a "wicked stepmother."

Furthermore, at the beginning of the film when we first meet here, I get serious Julia vibes off Irene. They're both dressed formally (albeit for different reasons--Irene and Sarah's father are going on a date and Julia just seems like an ice-queen in general) and their hairstyles are somewhat alike. Although there's more open hostility between the two than between Kirsty Cotton and her stepmother Julia in the first Hellraiser, Sarah is several years younger than Kirsty and significantly less mature. Perhaps Julia and Kirsty were similarly hostile when Kirsty was a young teen, although if that were the case I doubt Kirsty's father Larry would have been so foolish as to assume a now-adult Kirsty would want to live with them in their new town or later ask her to help him figure out why Julia is acting so strangely.

Later, when Sarah becomes frustrated by baby Toby's crying, she wishes the Goblin King would take him "far away from me." The crying abruptly stops and when Sarah goes to investigate, we see goblins in the walls, moving under mattresses, etc. That gave me major Hellraiser vibes, especially given how Kirsty's sinister uncle Frank Cotton's personal hell in the second film involved sensual women under sheets (who disappeared when he removed them), how doorways to Hell formed in the walls, etc. You can see some of that in the clips below.

Also, Kirsty in the first Hellraiser solved the puzzle box and summoned the Cenobites completely ignorant of what the box actually did. She was curious about this device that her undead uncle was so protective of, started fiddling with it, and then this happened. 


Like Kirsty, Sarah had no idea that her frustrated wish to be rid of her baby half-brother would actually summon a supernatural being. And although Jareth and his goblin cronies are significantly less rough than Pinhead and his crew are, there are definitely similarities:


The Goblin King is nowhere near as dangerous as Pinhead--the latter is a Dracula-like sadist who attempts to welch on his bargains, while Jareth is more whimsical and kid-friendly--but both are dangerous and sexual creatures with an unhealthy interest in the young, brunette female protagonist.

Oh, and there's that. Pinhead describes himself as his crew as "explorers of the furthest reaches of experience, demons to some and angels to others" and they subjected Frank to "pain and pleasure indivisible" when he was under their control. The almighty TVTropes describes the Cenobites as "the priests of an S&M religion." In the climax of Hellraiser, Pinhead attempts to abduct Kirsty, telling her that, "We have such sights to show you," while the in second film, he confidently allows Kirsty to freely wander his realm, informing her that, "We have eternity to know your flesh." 

The sexuality in Labyrinth is a bit more subtle given how this is a children's movie, but Jareth's infamous bulging crotch has been discussed at length online, we see David Bowie as Sarah's mother's new boyfriend in a newspaper (a romantic rivalry with one's own mother?), and Jareth gets very testy at the notion of Sarah kissing Hoggle, a dwarfish creature whom she befriends in the Labyrinth. This culminates in Sarah essentially getting roofied and dancing with Jareth at a ball, a scene that is downright rapey. And Jareth later straight-up propositions Sarah, telling her, "I ask for so little. Just let me rule you, and you can have everything that you want. Just fear me, love me. Do as I say and I will be your slave."

Finally, both franchises have elaborate mazes. Sarah must solve the titular Labyrinth in thirteen hours to rescue her brother from Jareth, while Kirsty briefly ventures into the Cenobites' realm when she solves the box in the first Hellraiser film. The second film features a more extensive exploration of the Cenobites' maze-like realm.

So although rarely does one associate a children's fantasy film (albeit one with some significant adult subtext) like Labyrinth with the sexual horror of Hellraiser, there are an interesting number of similarities.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Reflections on STRIKE TEAM ALPHA, 30-Odd Years Later

Staying over at my grandparents' house when I was a child in the early 1990s, I found my uncle's trove of 1970s and 1980s geekdom. We're talking Doctor Who novels (I specifically remember Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion), Dragon magazine, etc. And in particular a lot of tabletop war games, including Strike Team Alpha from 1978. That one was my personal favorite, largely because they had a dinosaur-like antagonist race called the T'Rana. Uncle John eventually let me take it home, but I misplaced it somewhere in my parents' house.


Well, after years of sporadically looking for a new copy (including finding and calling up the original creator, who sent me some pictures of game-manual artwork), I found one on eBay and ordered it (as part of a two-pack with Full Thrust, a British space-fleet tabletop game that's still in production today). Although I don't really like playing tabletop wargames, I do really enjoy the lore and I do remember liking Strike Team Alpha's storyline.

So on this merry Thanksgiving, I got the manual out of the plastic sleeve they sent it in and re-read it for the first time in close to 30 years. How did it hold up? Well here goes...

*The backstory predates Warhammer 40,000's "every faction is evil" darkness by nine years. Earth demands a 95% tax rate from asteroid colonists due to the massive self-importance of the people, or at least their leadership ("Earth being the self-acknowledged center of the Universe decided that its asteroid colonies were not paying the proper respect to the birthplace of humanity"). Colonies that cannot or will not pay are wiped out, prompting the surviving colonists to convert their habitats into generation ships and bug out for another solar system. Earth's population, rather than realizing their own greed and tyranny provoked this and failing to acknowledge the sheer courage this took, call this "the Exodus of Cowards." And when the belters foolishly reveal where they've set up their new homes, the result is the founding of a united Earth government that launches an incredibly destructive war of conquest. Like seriously, three-quarters of the colonists on Tau Ceti are killed in the opening nuclear attack and the subsequent "War of Reclamation" is specifically described in the manual as "a war of terror." One gaming scenario involves miners being used for forced labor rebelling and offering the metals they'd mined to mercenaries to help them re-establish self-government. And that's before the wars with the cat-like Sha'anthra (who wage wars almost for fun with other species or with each other) and the T'Rana (who are genocidal Explosive Breeders) kick off. And the outlying colonists, though they're clearly higher on the moral food chain than the Terran Federation, will often fight each other.

(The more I think about it, the more this sounds like Joss Whedon's space Western Firefly and its film adaptation Serenity.)

*Per the above, although the back-story isn't preachy and annoying, you can tell the politics involved. Not only is the initial exodus from Sol driven by a greedy centralized government that taxes people literally to death, but the Terran colonial occupation regime explicitly forbids ownership of energy weapons by private citizens or even local governments. As a result, colonial militias are equipped with broadly late 20th or early 21st Century assault rifles, machine guns, etc. despite the presence of literally predatory alien races, human pirates, etc. And many of the scenarios the game-book provides include colonial rebels and their hired mercenaries fighting collaborators and the Terran Federation years afterward. Live free or die, indeed. The game came out not long before Ronald Reagan became the U.S. President and reflects some of the zeitgeist of that era.

*There's an apocryphal quote out there that says amateurs talk about tactics and dilettantes talk about strategy, but professionals talk about logistics. And the logistics make sense. The game emphasizes small-unit combat because supporting a large army across interstellar space would be a nightmare. The frontier colonies are underdeveloped (likely intentionally, to keep them from rebelling) and the core industrial worlds are so far away. The supplies and gear for super-advanced weaponry used by the Terran Federation's Marines would have be carried across light-years. So campaigns would need to be short and sharp.

*Speaking as someone who is now vastly more knowledgeable about history than when he was eight, the war with the T'Rana looks a lot like WWII, particularly the last madness of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. We're talking an overly-aggressive enemy that fights to the death, literally eats their enemies, picks unnecessary fights that ultimately doom them, will destroy conquered territory rather than allow it to be liberated, etc. The end of the war looks like what would have happened if the U.S. had rejected both the atomic bomb and invading the Home Islands and decided to continue the conventional bombing/blockade...something that wouldn't work against something as large and self-sufficient as an entire star system. The T'Rana are (mostly) contained, but there are still raids.

*The game features tactical nuclear weapons, not just small nukes delivered by missile or aircraft that one might expect, but nuclear weapons deployed by individual soldiers. We're not just talking something like the infantry-operated Davy Crockett recoilless rifle that seems like something that would actually be useable (albeit unbelievably risky to due the fact a single infantryman or combat team could start a nuclear war), but nuclear hand grenades. The game was clearly devised in a time before precision-guided weapons that would allow more-accurate conventional weapons to be used in place of battlefield nukes. There are also fusion-beam weapons called "sunguns" that are sort of like flamethrowers, except one needs to wear anti-radiation protective gear.

*However, the game does feature something called a "battlerob," which is essentially a semiautonomous robotic light tank. Groups like Amnesty International have already spoken out against "killer robots," so this is something that's going to be a political issue in the future.

*The game also features rocket-propelled explosive ammunition, much like Warhammer 40,000's bolters.

*One of the play-testers was George Alec Effinger, a noted science fiction writer and winner of both Hugo and Nebula Awards.

*There are quite a number of typos in the manual.

Verdict: Still a fun world to blow things up in (and it was interesting that many concepts were used in later, more successful games), but finding a copy (and especially finding the Ral Partha figures designed for the game) is going to be a real pain. It'd be nice if there was licensed fiction set in this world (that's one reason I reached out to the original creator), but that seems a bit...unlikely at this point.

More Alternate History: The Latin Empire of Constantinople Thrives? The Yamato Goes Out Like A Boss?

Two more interesting alternate-history scenarios from the Internet's premiere forum. Just because I had myself banned from there six years ago (except for a brief drop-in back in mid-2017 to plug The Thing In The Woods) doesn't mean I can't read the public forums and funnel people to some worthy stories.

Yet Another Roman Empire: The Latin Empire of Constantinople-During the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the vindictive duke of Venice redirected the crusading army to Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. After various intrigues they ended up seizing control of the city, sacking it, and creating a Catholic empire controlling the city and its environs while Greek lords or Turkish invaders grabbed the rest. Although the "Latin Empire of Constantinople" was terminated after a century or so, many historians believe this was the point of no return for the Empire even though it didn't fall until 1453.

But what if the Catholic rulers of the "Latin Empire" had more outside support and were more competent? There are many historical cases of an empire ruled by a foreign conquest dynasty thriving, with Qing China being a major example. In this scenario, the intervention of France and Holy Roman Empire allow the Latin Empire to wipe out one of its major competitors early on, giving them a stronger territorial base and greater independence from the Italian merchant princes. The Latin Empire's ruling family also seeks to intermarry with the leaders of the various breakaway regions like Trebizond, playing the game of thrones in Anatolia.

How does it work out for them? You'll have to read the timeline to find out. :)

The Final Japanese Mass Naval Sortie: Operation Ten-Go-During the historical battle of Okinawa, the Japanese launched Operation Ten-Go, in which they dispatched the enormous battleship Yamato and much of their remaining surface fleet. The idea was that the ships would fight their way to Okinawa, beach themselves, and support the defenders with their massive guns until they were destroyed. In real life, the fleet was intercepted and utterly destroyed by air attack in one of history's great anti-climaxes. Here's a computer recreation of the Yamato's obliteration (complete with what might be gun-camera footage from the planes involved), complete with the absolutely ridiculous numbers of carrier-based aircraft that were brought to bear on the world's biggest battleship and its escorts.

 


However, in this scenario, the Japanese fleet is able to get more fuel from Singapore to Japan itself and dispatch more ships on the mission. This allows the Japanese fleet to weather the carrier attacks that in real history destroyed it and have one last surface engagement with the American battle line.

How does it go? Read to find out.