Part of the reason I’ve taken so long to do this AAR is that I was having trouble trying to put the experience into words. It’s been two weeks since I loaded out of Indianapolis and began the long trip home…and I still find myself having a goofy smile for no good reason. If you crossed Toad the Wet Sprocket’s Walk on the Ocean with some goth synth metal fantasy power ballad all over a rolling dice track, that would probably be what my homage to “The Best Four Days in Gaming” would probably be. Which is ironic, because I didn’t do a whole lot (read none) of gaming.
So what was so great about it? More on that later.
TL:DR for those here for the “Go or not go…” from the author’s perspective: That hall is wait listed for a reason, and I did great fiscal murder there. With only books, my books, as in I couldn’t even take any anthologies there. No prints either. So, if you want a chance to hand out your swag at a con that has (conservatively) to 75,000 rabid gamers and can get into the author alley, go.
NOTE: I was wait listed and got into Author’s Alley late.
I will add this caveat, however: Lodging is going to eat you alive. If you are comfortable with Air BnB, several vendors had success with that. However, if you’re not comfortable with Air BnB, expect to spend upwards of $600 on lodging, and that’s if you don’t stay downtown. Which, for the love of God, stay downtown if you can. Technically, according to the hotel I was staying at and Mapquest, it should have taken 25 minutes to get downtown. Yeaaah, that’s not counting weekday rush hour my friends. Time is money, and in this case it’s worth that extra $10-$15 a night to be able to walk back to your hotel if necessary.
The tables in Author’s Alley were your standard 6-foot con table. As originally set up, the grey walls behind were angled in order to make them slightly more stable. This…this was a problem, as it sharply constricted the back area space, meaning I had to empty two of my book crates:
Despite the booth shock, load in (and load out) went really well. This was a con that took security seriously, and woe be unto you as a vendor or help if you did not have your badge during setup. Park in Parking Lot A if you go–it’s not that much further than the “Marshalling Yard” behind the building, and you won’t have to wait for a pass to park.
The crowd, as to be expected from the gaming community, was mostly (high and epic) fantasy fans, then about 75% of those sci-fi as well. The Butcher’s Blade print, as always, was a life saver. As my neighbors all observed, it made people stop and look, I could engage them in conversation, and at that point the magic usually happened. Again, if only I had apparently talked to the right person and been told “book related merchandise” was safe to sell.
Speaking of fantasy, it also helped that I had great neighbors. To my right was fellow sci-fi author Hans Cummings:
To my left was Fantasy Author J.J. Sherwood (here with your humble host and her hubs, Michael):
Good neighbors make any Con go well, and J.J. and Hans were awesome. Since J.J. did not do sci-fi, she sent folks over to me. As I lacked fantasy, I sent folks over to her. It went really well.
So, again, if you have a chance to do GENCON as an author, do it.
If you have a chance to go to GENCON as a guest? Well, now we get to where I talk about “tribe.” For those of you who don’t know, I’m a huge role playing game fan. (“Wait, wait…you dropped DnD references and names throughout An Unproven Concept.”) Being around 75,000 other people who shared the same passion was amazing. I spent most of the weekend talking to people with whom I didn’t have to explain phrases like, “Oh, so you’re a World War II buff as well? I shall now make my persuasion roll with advantage…” (and yes, she bought the alternate history anthology). Even better when you see familiar faces from the Kansas City area and do a mutual “Wait, what? Why are you here?!” Plus, there were cool books like this:
And a truly impressive charity set up:
In addition, there’s Critical Role Live (if you get your tickets early enough):
I was in a theater with over 2,000 fellow crazies when this brought the house down:
For those of you who don’t know who that is or why we were all ecstatic about a man in a pink suit on roller skates coming out with a headlight in his crotch, I can only point you here, then point you here, and say this has been one of the best stories I’ve ever consumed.
Finally, I got to see old friends after several years. To include my friend Quiltoni (“Queen of the Quilts” as I’ve been known to call her) and her merry band of booth helpers.
So to recap: Go to GENCON for the sales, stay for the community. It’ll probably be the best 4 days of your life, the people were awesome, and I have zero regrets about taking the plunge into Author’s Avenue (even with the spinning wheel of doom). I don’t know if I’ll do it next year (I have my sights set on a couple of other shows that might eat the leave), but it was worth it this year.
Jeff Bezos and the gang are not playing around. This is a strong action taken against click farms and other gimmicks that have had Amazon’s review / marketing features in the news for all the wrong reasons. It was starting to appear to some indie authors as if Amazon did not care so much about review veracity as long as the money was flowing in for sales. This would seem to indicate Amazon cares a great deal about protecting the integrity of its brand.
Getting reviews just got harder. If you have books in Kindle Unlimited, this probably means that getting borrower reviews may be more difficult. I know of at least one regular indie reviewer who is on a fixed income (hence why he does KU). It sounds like this is $50 total lifetime, but still–it’s just another barrier to having, say, people who borrow a book from the library give an author good buzz.
Grudge Killers. While I’ve yet to annoy someone enough that they thought it was worthwhile to create 20 different accounts to one star me, I know of several authors who have. Amazon had previously had a “We have neither the time nor the energy to get involved…”-view of this. However, I think in part this is due to several prominent figures getting just avalanched by fake accounts when they publish a memoir. Regardless of the reasons for the beef, this should make it harder for crap like this to happen.
Overall I think it is a plus. We’ll see how it turns out.
The Four Horsemen Universe (4HU) anthology your humble narrator contributed to is available! Click here to get military sci-fi written by both independent and traditionally published authors. If you like exploding space ships, mecha, or just plain carnage, go ahead and click here.
A local writer’s club runs a free internet short story site. I’ve had an urban fantasy short idea kicking around in my head for a bit, so I tossed a short up on the site. It can be found at the Confabulator Cafe. Feel free to poke around and read other authors’ stuff–there’s a lot of talent there.
There have been several developments in the indie publishing world as of late:
First, Draft 2 Digital is making a major effort to establish themselves as a major distributor competing with Amazon’s behemoth. A few weeks ago, there was the announcement of a new audiobook service that, unlike Audible, does not have a sliding royalty scale based on exclusivity. As someone who sells at cons, you best believe that caught my attention as I could theoretically get CDs pressed to sell at the booth and still have my books distributed on Audible, Itunes, etc.. No, I haven’t looked into it yet as I’ve been a mite busy, but I’ll probably get around to it soon.
These changes are big news for those who are considering “going wide” and eschewing KDP’s exclusive agreement. Why would someone do this, given that KULL will pay you for page lends? Well, perhaps because there’s been a rush of articles on how KULL’s pot (which is fixed) is being scammed, clickfarmed, and otherwise cheated in a way that hurts honest authors. This blog, in particular, got widespread attention among indie authors and content sites. Although I think there are completely legitimate ways that an author can bottle lightning and suddenly have a whole bunch of page views, I can see the author’s larger point that this looks suspicious as hell.
In any case, Amazon has announced that they are revamping the way borrowed pages are counted. If you’re in the KDP program, you should probably check your book’s pages and monitor to see if the new platform changes your page counts. Hopefully, this makes scamming the system far less lucrative, and also allows honest authors to have higher payments.
In World War II, just as in World War I, the United States had a little bit to get the lay of the land before joining hostilities. Unlike Great Britain, the United States did not have an independent air force in the years leading up to World War II. Indeed, the United States’ main air prophet, Billy Mitchell, got so uppity about airpower the Army court-martialed him. Still, even without someone going full Trenchard, the United States Army Air Corps was able to hoodwink Congress into buying the B-17 and B-24 ostensibly to attack ships at sea from high altitude. Neither bomber performed this task very well throughout World War II, but at least having the designs on hand meant strategic bombing was on the table.
Note I said possible, not prudent.A prudent person looking at the Battle of Britain and ongoing events over Western Europe might have said, “Mmm, maybe we should figure out this fighter escort thing.” But remember, this is the same Army organization that didn’t listen to Claire Chennault about the Zero (we’ll get to that for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about) and also didn’t relieve the guy who got his bombers all caught on the ground nine hours after Pearl Harbor. In short, if you had to list antonyms for dynamic, forward thinking organization that reacted quickly to military realities, the US Army Air Force circa January 1943 probably cracks the World War II Top Ten. (Number one is the Imperial Japanese Navy’s General Staff, for those wondering.) The USAAF was convinced that the reason the British and Axis had been smacking each others’ bombers around was that no one in Europe knew how to properly mount defensive armament or organize a bombing campaign. Good ol’ American ingenuity, as well as an eye wateringly massive industrial bases was expected to put the Old World right pretty quickly.
This fantasy was reinforced by the initial raids into Europe. By the time the Casablanca Conference rolled around, the Americans were truly ready to test their luck. Slight problem: Most of the RAF thought their plan was crazy. As in, I imagine the conversation between 8th Air Force Commander Ira Eaker and the British generals going something like this:
“So old boy, when shall we begin night training for your chaps?”
“Your heavy bombers? I mean, once this North Africa sideshow is over, certainly you’ll have dozens if not scores of bombers available to join ol’ Butch’s boys at night?”
“Um, did you read the doctrine I sent you? We’re going in daylight.”
*polite chuckle followed by look of sheer horror British Air Staff realizes Eaker’s serious*
Most of the RAF and Royal Navy, being unable to wrest bombers away from Sir Arthur Harris, thought the American Flying Fortresses and Liberators would make awesome anti-submarine aircraft. Or, failing that, the Americans would make great additions to tactical/operational raids into France. Harris, of course, figured the B-17s would make great additions to the night bombing campaign once they lost their armor and excessive machine guns. In any case, everyone but the USAAF thought going to bomb Germany in daylight sounded truly idiotic.
So great was British apprehension that Winston Churchill left for the Casablanca Conference planning to get Franklin Roosevelt to overrule his crazy generals. Unfortunately, Ira Eaker preached like a zealot and sold like a snake oil salesman. American bombers had the Norden bombsight. They were also hardier than their RAF counterparts and more heavily armed. Finally, appealing to Churchill’s sense of vengeance, Eaker dropped the money quote:
“If the RAF continues night bombing and we bomb by day, we shall bomb them round the clock and the devil shall get no rest.”
Was the USAAF that crazy, or just overly optimistic? Well, at the time, the Norden was a marvel of technology when first fielded. Put into production in the 1930s, it allegedly gave American heavy bombers an accuracy far superior to the Axis or Allied contemporary sights. Although apocryphal tales of it allowing bombardiers to drop their loads “into a pickle barrel” during testing were widely circulated, in actuality circular errors of probability (CEPs) of 500 feet were not uncommon during testing. Given the average size of 1940s manufacturing plants, American air zealots were certain that enough B-17s would start blowing German industry back to Renaissance.
Defensively, the bomber barons expected “Ma Deuce” to see them through. For those who are unfamiliar with American military slang, “Ma Deuce” is the nickname for, quite simply, possibly the best American machine gun ever fielded. I present the Browning M-2 .50 caliber machine gun:
I could go on for days about the M2. It’s been killing the Republic’s enemies since right after World War I, and it has made no distinction between Nazis, Kamikazes, Chinese Communists, Vietcong, terrorists…wait, sorry, got lost in the moment there. The reason for it longevity is that the M2 is not necessarily the best in any particular category, but is the epitome of “good enough to see you through.” For aerial warfare purposes, this weapon was basically the standard machine gun used by US forces throughout World War 2. Fighters mounted them in groups of 4, 6, or 8…but the B-17 / B-24 carried 10-16 (yes, 16!) depending on the model.
Thus, it wasn’t the excellence of the individual machine guns and expected accuracy of the young kids wielding them that gave the USAAF confidence. No it was the fact that when you start talking about an entire squadron full of machine guns, things get interesting. First, allow me to present 2 diagrams of what a B-17’s firing sectors looked like:
As if each B-17 was not bad enough, then Colonel Curtis Lemay helped refine a formation that made them even deadlier: the combat box.
Imagine, if you will, it’s January 1943, and you’re a German ace. You’re a bad mofo with over 100 kills to your credit. Spitfires have blazed under your guns. You’ve dusted Lightnings in North Africa. The Russians speak your names in hushed whispers while hoping their bladders don’t betray them. You’re familiar with American twin-engine bombers because, hey, Lend Lease (“Neutral my schnitzel!”). So you get scrambled to go attack some bogeys heading to northern Germany and you see that rolling ball of pain coming at you. What do you do?
Well, initially you open fire at too far a range because the B-17’s size makes it look closer than it is, get the living shit shot out of you and your wingman, and generally come back to base needing a change of underwear. From any one direction, you’re looking at ~40 machine guns wielded by angry American draftees. A large percentage of these men are used to hunting birds for literal survival, and 100% of them are pissed off they’re over Germany. Collectively they’re not super accurate, and fire discipline sometimes gets out of hand, but quantity of fire has a quality all of its own. By about the tenth penetration of German airspace, Adolf Galland is apoplectic in telling the boys at R&D they better figure something out.
Germans being Germans–they figured something out. The first steps were simple things like “Hey, maybe we should put more armor on our interceptors? It’s not like we gotta worry about escort fighters, so who cares if they’re clumsier?!” The second was to increase the number of cannons carried by both the 109 and the 190. While the closure rate was such that there wasn’t a huge range advantage of cannons over M2s (and most folks couldn’t hit at long range anyway) and the gun pods made the fighters clumsy as hell, the more damage done in a pass the better. Finally, the Luftwaffe resorted to improvised rockets. As in, “Hey, Wehrmacht buddies! We know you’re neck deep in Russians right now, but could we borrow some of your ordnance so your uncle doesn’t get whacked at the factory? Thanks! We promise we’re making our own rockets!”
As the saying goes, by July-1943 “shit got real” on both sides. For the Germans, both experienced and neophyte pilots alike were getting attrited by Farmboy Neds rolling a “100” on their to hit roll. Escort P-47s, despite their limited range, were still managing to take their own toll. Worse, even when they weren’t killing pilots, American bomber formations were causing so much damage to fighters that the Jagdwaffe‘s operational readiness rate was drifting into the 50-60% range. When squadrons were starting a week with 16 available birds then ending it with only 5 despite receiving 7 replacements, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize something had to give.
This incident gave the entire Nazi leadership the vapors for about two weeks. Given the American bombers just tooling around in daylight and the British playing “Come On Baby Light My Fire” in the key of Lancaster, Galland was forced to strip fighters from the Eastern and Mediterranean fronts. To say this was the last thing the German ground forces needed would be an understatement, but Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering, et. al. gave him no choice. Having come to to power spouting the (erroneous) “stab in the back“-theory, the Nazis wanted to give the German civilian populace no reason to give up. (“Um, you are aware there’s this Soviet bird of prey called the Sturmovik, right?”–German Panzer crewmen from August 1943 on.)
Sounds grim, doesn’t it? Well, the only people having it worse than the German Jagdflieger were American bomber crews. The German fighters were causing damage and getting kills. Complementing these slashing attacks, German flak was doing things like this:
Except, in most cases, the crews were not making it back to take commemorative pictures. All too often, the last time someone would see a flak damaged B-17 was in its death spiral, with friends and comrades trying to see how many, if any, chutes got out.
The German defenses were so strong that by August 1943 it was statistically impossible for an Eighth Air Force bomber crew to survive their 26 mission tour. As in, “The reason everyone remembers the Memphis Belle is the logic on why lotteries announce their jackpot winners: the powers that be want to maintain false hope.” From the American perspective, it seemed that the Germans improved their ordnance, their flak, and their skill at head on passes every mission. Each B-17 and B-24 that fell took 10-12 men with it. That started to add up in the KIA/POW/MIA columns in an alarming rate, affecting morale. Exacerbating this, like their German counterparts in the Battle of Britain, damaged bombers also brought back wounded crew members with them. Scenes akin to these these started becoming all too common across eastern England:
Two battles pretty much put the exclamation mark on the “Hey stupid, stop that!”-phase of the USAAF’s offensive: Schweinfurt-Regensburg and the Army’s return trip to the Schweinfurt ball bearing plants. Long story short, the USAAF’s targeting folks decided that ball bearings were the critical material for the Nazi war machine, and Schweinfurt was believed to be the “one shot, one kill” node of air power fantasies. So, the first time, the USAAF tried to be cute and launch a double penetration to split the German defenses on August 17, 1943–the one year anniversary of their first raid with B-17s against occupied France. The double mission went…poorly. Over 60 bombers were lost, and the 8th Air Force took almost a month to fully recover. Even worse, while the aircraft factory at Regensburg was devastated, the ball bearing plants at Schweinfurt were hardly touched.
For those of you who have seen Rocky IV, this point in the air campaign is analagous to where Apollo Creed’s manager was screaming “Throw the towel! Throw the damn towel!” The purpose of strategic bombing, the logic went, was to avoid bloodletting in large doses, not reenact the Battle of the Somme in the sky. Speaking of the British, the RAF was watching all this in sheer terror openly stating “We told you bloody colonials what would happen but noooooo.” Seriously, go read Harris’ and several other senior British leaders memoirs. Claire Chennault and other fighter generals, having tried for years to get the USAAF to focus on long-range fighter development, soundly cursed Hap Arnold’s mule-headed behavior and Ira Eaker’s poor choice of escort tactics. George C. Marshall wondered if the Allies would actually gain air superiority in order to allow a cross-Channel invasion.
So, in the face of all this, Ira Eaker doubled down on stupid. There are accounts of men actually screaming profanities at their leaders when the briefing map was unveiled on 14 October 1943. Like Union soldiers pinning their names and hometowns on their back at the Battle of Petersburg, men wrote last letters home, boxed up their stuff, and undertook all manner of tasks that would make their friends’ lives easier when they did not return. Everyone knew that the German defenses had only gotten stronger in the intervening two months since the last trip, with the attack almost certainly suicide. As the escorting fighters turned away at the limits of their range, the pilots could see a veritable horde of German fighters lurking in the distance just waiting for the B-17s to come closer.
As military debacles go, Black Thursday was just short of the Charge of the Light Brigade. Two hundred-ninety-one B-17s were launched. Of these, roughly 10-15 aborted due to malfunctions, leaving 281. The German fighter attacks were so intense that numerous B-17s ran out of ammo before even reaching Schweinfurt. The German flak concentration at Schweinfurt was considered the most dangerous to that date in the war. Indeed, the concentration was so dense that veterans of future raids to Berlin would still swear Black Thursday was the heaviest anti-aircraft fire they ever saw. Forced to fly straight and level from their initial point to bomb release (as they did in all missions), the B-17s were sitting ducks. Turning for home, they found themselves confronted with the same German fighters they had faced that morning after the latter had refueled and rearmed.
By the end of the day, the butcher’s bill was astounding. Sixty bombers were destroyed outright. Depending on the source, roughly 20 more were written off. Another 100 were damaged. These losses were not distributed evenly, and entire bomb groups basically ceased to exist. Personnel wise, casualties were horrific. Due to the extreme range of the mission, almost every critically injured bomber crewman died of wounds before reaching England. Almost 600 men were KIA, POWs, or MIA.
Starkly, by nightfall on 14 October, the Eighth Air Force had been rendered combat ineffective. Even worse, it had been for little appreciable gain. Having been sufficiently frightened by the first raid, the German war industry had built up reserve stocks of ball bearings, plus acquired more from neutral countries like Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Portugal. In the end, German production in general and of ball bearings in particular did not even slow despite many of the works being severely damaged.
The USAAF tried to put a happy face on things, but no one above Ira Eaker was amused. Given the scale of the disaster, something had to give. General Eaker was “fired laterally,” being sent to the Mediterranean Theater to take over a then nonexistent Fifteenth Air Force. Lieutenant General Jimmy Doolittle, leader of the famous Tokyo Raid, was promoted into Eaker’s place. Severely chastened, the Eighth Air Force began to examine how they could resume the offensive once 1944 came. Help, ironically due to a British request for a new fighter aircraft, was on the way:
Note: Usually I do a reading list at the end of each of these. Seeing as how I have an entire Strategic Bombing bibliography somewhere on my computer, this will likely get printed as an entirely separate blog entry.
I was surfing YouTube Tannerite videos. (Don’t ask.) In one of them, some farmers were using Tannerite to thin the local wild boar herd. That got me thinking…
“Y’all keep laying with that Tannerite, you’re going to cause some messed up stuff! You better quit it!”
“What the hell are you talking about? We’re taking care of our hog problem in a humane, thorough manner.”
“Okay, and how many times have you heard your Mom say, ‘When pigs fly’? I’m a shaman, not a rocket scientist, but judging from the stench of burnt bacon and raining pork parts, I’m pretty you just made a whole bunch of pigs fly.”
“The universe has a rhythm to it, you idiots. You say something will happen when pigs fly, it’s almost like you’re making a pyschic pact.”
“That’s stupid as hell.”
“Fine, fine, just remember we had this discussion later. Like when you’re bailing your mother out of jail in a week because she attempted to have conjugal relations with the happily married and very rich former captain of the chess club.”
“Come on, even your Mom admits she was a stuck up know it all in high school who liked breaking people’s hearts.”
“I’m not following how that means I’ll be bailing her out of jail.”
*shaman mimes catatonic older woman*
“I swear officer, I just don’t know what happened. One moment I was surfing classmates…next thing I know, I’ve tossed some security guy off the helipad and I’m ripping ol’ Horatio’s clothes off in front of an interview crew.”
“The damn hogs are getting out of control.”
“I got it, I got it. I’m just saying, put a roof on the damn drop pen before you shoot, okay? They’ll be just as dead if the blast goes _out_ rather than _up_. Slap some ball bearings around the bait drum and things will still be right as rain.”