On this page I’ll be as comprehensive as possible about my inspirations for the story. Should you enjoy these kinds of things, you might enjoy the story; however it is not necessary to become familiar with any of these things in order to understand the story.
Our Real Life
World War 2: The Solstice War draws heavily from the Second World War for its setting, as well as from the historical events of the First World War that preceded and rendered the coming conflict inevitable. Politics, technology, popular culture, people and historical events from 1917 through 1945 are referenced and played with in the story. The year 2030 D.C.E in the story is analogous to 1941-42 in the real world. My interest in World War 2, and specifically in the equipment and tactics of the period led to the creation of the story.
However the Solstice War is not a completely realistic portrayal or a faithful, parallel re-imagining of the Second World War, and it is not meant to be. It is, first and foremost, meant as a fun and interesting story tailored to my personal interests and how I think war stories should be told. Where realism and coolness clash in my writing, what I think is cool will win.
Should you be able to find it, I strongly recommend you watch “The Soviet Storm,” a multi-part documentary series about the Great Patriotic War between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, produced in Russia, translated by the BBC. Containing accurate, unbiased and thrillingly detailed accounts of all the major battles (including obscure ones like Rzhev) with a focus on the Soviet perspective, it is my all-time favorite WW2 documentary. Charming reenactment scenes with well-equipped actors and cute CGI tanks round it out nicely.
Warhammer 40,000 “Imperial Armoury Series”: This will sound really weird, but these books were the first time I really felt that detailed war stories that did not shy way from showing the gritty strategic warfare of a fictional setting could work. A lot of published genre fiction really failed to get me sufficiently excited about their accounts of warfare. Tom Clancy routinely put me to sleep. Most war movies did not show enough war from a soldier’s perspective to really interest me. The Imperial Armoury books’ campaigns were weirdly detailed fictional accounts of warfare in the Warhammer 40k setting, and I loved it.
My favorite book was “The Siege of Vraks.” It is a long, really stupid but awesome as heck story about world war one style trench warfare playing out between the Imperial Guard’s Death Korps of Krieg and an entrenched heretic army on a doomed world. It was this book that made me think “wow, you actually can just write a long form prose fiction about soldiers and tanks and artillery on a massive scale without sacrificing the on-the-ground details of the war and if you do it right it can be fun and interesting. This owns.”
So you can thank these incredibly expensive, weird tabletop game books for The Solstice War. Never thought you’d see the day you’re glad for a Warhammer book, huh?
Gary Grigsby’s War In The East: There are many games like this one, but War In The East was my introduction to Big War, Hard Strategy wargames where little NATO symbol chits gather in long lines and duke it out. Difficult to learn and almost impossible to master, this game is not for the faint of heart, but it greatly influenced the kind of information I desired to accrue about the Second World War. To this day, I crack a smile as I read an Order of Battle or a Table of Organization And Equipment. I have played the Stalingrad encirclement map so many times, and I still fail it pretty frequently! Read the manual if you’re gonna try this.
Someday, if I indulge in publishing the ToOE for every Ayvartan and Nochtish unit on the information pages of this site, you can blame Gary Grigsby for this. But you can also blame this game, in part, for the Solstice War; or hopefully, thank this game, instead.
Command & Conquer: One of the grandparents of the real time strategy genre, if not THE grandparent of the genre, Command & Conquer is my most loved video game series of all time for its exciting stories about the war between the GI Joe-esque factions, GDI and the Brotherhood of Nod. They’re not incredible stories, but they’re so fun, exciting and campy that I cannot help but love them. They get me really hype, I love the setting so much.
One big thing I took away from C&C was showing both sides of the conflict, and reserving judgment for the reader and for the perspective characters, rather than declaring it as a grand narrative voice. Finding ways to tell stories where the factions win and fail but not totally definitively, so you can walk away from it and tell more stories, and so you can develop all of the characters, good and bad, and let the reader get excited for both.
Company of Heroes: A company-level real time strategy game based in World War 2. While the sequel, revolving around the Soviets, failed to live up to the strengths of the first game, the series as a whole gave me a good fix of World War 2 combat, and helped me to really visualize how these battles could work, not only as an interactive game, but as pieces of a story. Setpieces like the defense of Carentan in “Carentan Counterattack” inspired a lot of my planning and writing in The Solstice War, and how I interacted with historical information to develop “scenarios” that I can write as entertaining fictional battles.
The “tank war” Chapters of The Solstice War are inspired by a Company of Heroes 2 cooperative 2-player map called “Brody Tank War” that is pretty much what it says on the tin. I imagine the Kalu Tank War and the Benghu Tank War, and future Tank War chapters to come, would make great real time strategy co-op game maps in a COH style game engine.
Valkyria Chronicles: A delightful anime style action-strategy-rpg hybrid with awesome and unique third person shooter, turn-based combat and a lovely presentation. Valkyria Chronicles draws heavily from World War 2, and its soft watercolor anime aesthetic and subject matter made it an instant success in my eyes. It is not without its flaws, however.
All of the main characters are pretty bland; the side-characters, who barely get any story to them, manage to be more interesting, and their canned reactions in combat display more humanity than the main characters display in lavish cutscenes. In addition there is some very poorly handled plot points alluding to the holocaust and antisemitism that just make me cringe every time it comes up. However, the gameplay is so good. So good!
This game definitely influenced how I visualize stylized and fun small unit combat.
It’s also in a way how I visualize characters. I am much more inclined to an animated, than realistic, aesthetic for The Solstice War. I imagine if there were ever official character designs for The Solstice War, I’d want them to look like Honjou Raita’s Valkyria Chronicles characters, who are colorful and fun and can be very visually distinctive even in uniform.
Anime & Manga
Mobile Suit Gundam: The original 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam is one of my all-time favorite anime series. It is very much a product of its time, with wonderfully janky animation, melodramatic storytelling, and a suite of technology handwaves that is amusingly strange and creative (those minovsky particles and their radar disruption! now we can only use unguided ordnance in our hyper-maneuverable giant robots!).
The Universal Century and the One Year War between the Principality of Zeon and the Earth Federation is perhaps my favorite fictional conflict in any media, rivaled only by the brutal warfare between GDI and the Brotherhood of Nod in Command & Conquer. Its treatment of technology, with bitter military rivals in a constant arms race that wows the viewers with a dripfeed of new, amazing technologies every few episodes and story arcs, and its focus on small units within very large engagements, without losing sight of the bigger picture as the conflict escalates, very much inspired The Solstice War.
Gundam serves as a wonderful template for war fiction. Its larger than life characters might not be realistic, and their relationships may be a little flat and contrived, but their brooding, volatile and ultimately vulnerable personalities in the face of massively brutal space warfare makes them memorable and entertaining to follow. I much prefer these “anime people” and their soap opera-esque relationships to the stereotypical western soldiers, who are coolly competent and action-oriented but ultimately empty inside.
If you’re a gundam fan, keep an eye out for references! There’s a few in there.
Code Geass: An astoundingly melodramatic and flamboyant mecha “war” anime (honestly more of an “insurgency” anime, but hey, guerilla warfare is still warfare). Its blend of “real robot” style combat with the mysterious, supernatural powers of its protagonist, and his hypercompetent tactical and leadership abilities mixed with his colorful attitude, make it an extremely entertaining show, even as it careens into all-out nonsense and tears its own plot to pieces by the end of its second season. Could’ve been great, but is still “ok.”
Not without its faults (there is a lot of pandering and fanservice and the series does basically nothing with its cool female characters), the show still broadened my thinking about the kinds of people and personalities, and the kind of writing, that makes for entertaining, if not necessarily grounded or realistic, war writing. Code Geass was extremely charming and amusing in presentation, but it could turn around and be suddenly brutal and emotional, and its many, constant shocking swerves gave it a unique pacing.
Code Geass was perhaps my first introduction to characters I consider pretty obviously queer coded being allowed to have dramatic and central roles in a war fiction.
Utawarerumono: You might know this as “Underwater Ray Romano” if you’re a child of the weird 2000s internet. I will be up front about it, this anime is pretty bad, and I don’t recommend you actually watch it. Undoubtedly though, it shaped my thinking about “anime war stories.” Though it had many problems, such as the women characters being defined almost solely by their relationship to a male hero, and though it’s based on a pretty horrible erotic video game, the idea of a tactician who uses a knowledge of war to gather allies, accrue power and defeat enemies while building and defending a vulnerable community always interested me. I still listen to its poppy, emotionally-charged opening song “Musouka” from time to time while writing The Soltice War. While watching it, I always thought “I can do so much better than this schlock.” Now I am doing that.
Yuri Genre: I’ve always been fascinated by the yuri genre, probably because of my own nascent feelings on gender and sexuality at the time I encountered yuri fiction. Yuri is a term for lesbian stories in anime and manga. While it is associated most strongly with schoolgirls who blush and wonder if two girls can really be in love, the genre is very broad, and its themes have great cachet in anime nowadays, to the point that “yuri pandering” has become a thing. A regrettable thing, because I’d rather have real queer stories than queerbaiting.
Yuri can be both very innocent and naive, soft and cute, as well as heart-wrenching, and visceral. There is a lot of angst associated with it, and tropes that hit deep for fans and to gay people in general — the sense of longing and the trepidation of loving another for fear they can’t love you back, the inability to discover yourself in a society that doesn’t value you, the overwhelming pressure to conform to heterosexuality, and the idea that someone you love could go on to have a “normal” life and forgetting you and your “weirdness.”
Women in society have a very different, vulnerable and dangerous place than men do, and as such the character of Yuri is different in a way that’s difficult to explain from its counterpart, Yaoi (gay men stories), though I’ve also enjoyed some Yaoi stuff. Both Yuri and Yaoi did a lot to inform my development of gay relationships in my fiction, because they tend to have more variety than the almost universally tragic stories in western queer writing; as well as being queer writing that’s accessible to children and teens, and which has little to not real equivalents in western fiction, and especially western comics.
I actually got my start in writing by writing yuri and yaoi fanfiction on the internet. Those tropes have long since remained with me, and while I subvert and play with them a lot, certainly you’ll recognize some charming stock phrases and other references to Yuri and Yaoi stories in The Solstice War, which focuses a lot on gay and gender variant characters.
There are way too many things I’d consider Yuri or Yuri-esque that I’ve watched and enjoyed, but it’s hard to recommend it. I think most people would think they’re pretty dumb stories, or weird. One that I think I can recommend to almost anyone is Akuma No Riddle, which I recently watched and greatly enjoyed. It works as just an action show, but it’s also very highly “shippable” for yuri fans. Qualia The Purple is an astounding manga with lesbian themes and a hell of a lot of science-heavy science fiction. A weird as hell show that I enjoyed with some yuri stuff if you squint is Sora No Woto, which has a military aesthetic but is very much not about war at all, actually. All of those inspire me in different ways.
So if you’re a yuri or yaoi fan, keep an eye out for references! There’s a metric ton.