Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Shinobi III: One of the Best Video Games Ever Made



It has been a while since a video game post. Strap yourselves in because this week I'm gonna talk about something cool. The originator of '80s cool: Ninjas.

Coming back to the subject of video games, I once again turn to the classics. This time I want to talk about the Shinobi series, particularly the best and most underrated entry in the franchise. This is about Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master.

Sega has dropped the ball on many of their classic series since leaving the hardware market, but few did they let down more than this one. Essentially huge in the arcades, Master System, and the Genesis/Mega Drive, this series was well known in the early '90s. Shinobi stars a mysterious ninja named Joe Musashi as he saves the world from demonic beasts and beings who threaten the innocent and hope to drag the world into Hell.

This is actually the last game in the series starring Joe as future entries would star different characters unrelated to the original protagonist (though one game starred his father) and they went on to have different focuses in gameplay and atmosphere. But the original series peaked with Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master. And it was quite the peak.


What makes Shinobi III (Super Shinobi II in Japan) so different from the rest of the series, and in my opinion puts it far above the others, is a combination of factors from the atmosphere, controls, and level design. There isn't really another game like this one, and most Sega fans go for the much stiffer and overly difficult Revenge of Shinobi instead, so it isn't really given its due. But it deserves so much more.

The first is how good the atmosphere is. It captures the solitary feel of a lone man out to stop a malevolence just out of sight of the normal world. The story is essentially about Joe Musashi finally cornering the last of his ancient enemies all alone on an abandoned island that houses dilapidated military bases, buried experiments, and enemies hidden in plain sight. It feels like an endgame for a ninja. This entry is very quiet in its mood with ninjas flipping and jumping everywhere with sudden spurts of violence punctuating the empty spaces and culminating in a final battle that is out of this world.

I'm not sure how to describe how this game makes you feel like a ninja better than any other does. You're not out in the open like Ninja Gaiden. You're not anime edge cool like the 3D Shinobi games or Naruto. You're not immortal or overly powered like every other '90s action series. You're the embodiment of every cool 80s ninja piece of fiction: you have the tools but you're still not invincible.

Shinobi III comes together with its aesthetics to make you feel like a warrior, and a cool one, but not a ridiculously over the top one. Of course you still ride horses, wall jump, throw projectiles, and surf, like the best '90s games, but the context you do it in makes all the difference.


The controls too are really tight. The Sega Genesis had a disadvantage over the Super Nintendo in that it only had three face buttons (later six, but it was too late to make a difference for most gamers) to the SNES's select button, four face buttons, and two shoulder buttons. This meant a lot of games shared between the systems needed control adjustments for players. Sega's first party games rarely suffered from the problem and Shinobi III is one that excelled with only three face buttons.

For the most part.

Joe can jump, throw kunai, and use ninja magic (ninpo) as his base attacks. He can also run, jump kick, high jump, throw a wheel of kunai, slash his katana, wall jump, and block attacks. He does all this with only three buttons. The amount of variety is insane and allows you to deal with enemy encounters in a variety of ways--such as trying a no kunai run for extra points and a high score or learning how to use invincible frames with the running attack or attempting to combo enemies and juggle your position with jump kicks. There is a lot to do and far more than any previous Shinobi game or ninja game period.

Of course this also comes with a downside. Because of the limited button real estate you can't always do what you want without inputting the wrong command. For instance, the katana is short range and requires being close to use, but it deals FAR more damage than throwing a kunai does. Risk Vs. Reward. But they are mapped to the same button. You can only use the katana if you are right beside an enemy or out of kunai altogether which can sometimes lead to the wrong attack being used. And there is no option to change the controls to change the mapping. They are always tied to the same button.

Late ports like the 3DS version allowed players to remap throw kunai and katana to different buttons which makes accidentally using the wrong one impossible, but the base Genesis game gives no option. It's quite annoying to lose out on bonus points because the wrong attack came out.

The high jump is also finnicky, requiring precise timing to master and makes a late stage level much harder than you'd think at first, but that's true for a lot of old platformers. It's about skill and mastering the controls. Once you do you'll hardly notice the timing, and it will become like second nature. There is just a learning curve to using it.

Nonetheless, these controls are tight.


The level design is even better, taking the player from gorgeous forests and mountains through empty plains and hidden bases in the underground to dark mansions and flying airships, and the designers take full advantage of each setting. You jump and swing through small labyrinths of metal, you platform on falling boulders, and you battle with monsters and robots that have really inventive patterns and attacks to master. These levels are tight.

The designers take advantage of advanced tactics, too. You can frequently learn to jump kick combo into hanging on the ceiling, or figure out the best places to wall jump to get better time through the levels. You can take them slowly, or learn to use the run and time your way through enemy attacks like a real boss ninja. The game rewards you for learning by making you look cool. This is key for an action game.

About the only tricky spot is, as mentioned earlier, learning the high jump, but that only really becomes necessary in the late game. By the time you get there, it should almost be second nature to have it down. If not then you can replay earlier levels until you have it down. You have much space and time to learn.

Also, the final boss is incredibly difficult compared to everything else in the game. He's not Ninja Gaiden hard (nothing in this game is) but he is an obvious spike in challenge that can frustrate with multiple forms. It did not feel like he was as fine-tuned as the rest of the game was. He is quite the beast.

But you still have to make it to him to make any complaints, so this is a minor quibble at best.


All these pieces come together to make one of the best action games of the 16-bit era. And since we're talking about the era with the two best video game systems ever made that says a lot. Shinobi III is up there with the 16-bit Mario and Sonic games, Mega Man X, Super Metroid, Contra III and Hard Corps, Rocket Knight Adventures, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, Gunstar Heroes, and the other greats. If you haven't played it you really missed a gem.

It is a shame that this series was buried by Sega's incompetence, because it does deserve to be one with higher fame than it currently has. After one entry on the Saturn (with Mortal Kombat style graphics), it was resurrected on the PS2 with a 3D action game that had little to do with the originals and more to do with jumping on the Devil May Cry edge bandwagon. The sense of scale and adventure of the original games was totally lost by focusing only on combat in small arenas. After a spin-off/sequel of that game and one more sidescroller years later on the 3DS, Shinobi just vanished. It never got a Dreamcast entry like it deserved. It never got so much as a mention outside of a cameo in the last Sega racing game with the likes of Ristar and Skies of Arcadia. It was as if it just disappeared.

And maybe that's how it should be. Ninjas come and move in the shadows, disappearing when the task is done. Joe Musashi came, thrilled us all, and left back where he came from. The man did his job and vanished. Isn't that just like a ninja?

But Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master remains one of the best games ever made released on one of the best systems ever put out at the peak era of console gaming. Not even the passage of time and the forgetful game press could rob it of its title, try as they might.

Play it, enjoy it, and beat it. Shinobi III is a masterpiece.



In other news, Silver Empire has a giveaway going on for the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War film. If you're into superheroes, I highly suggest checking it out. There are quite a few prizes involved! It's free so check it out.

And if you like action stories, I have one of my own. A distant planet. Dames. Gangs. Fist-fighting. Mud Men. What else could you want?

Thursday, 19 April 2018

The Ghost Still Walks ~ A Review of the First Phantom Novel by Lee Falk


This has been some time coming. I read the first Phantom novel a while ago and wanted to review it, but never quite had the chance. But since I'm currently in the middle of several other writing projects, and without the time to write a more in-depth post, I figured I should finally write about it. The book deserves the attention, especially with all the pulp talk going on.

In 2016, Hermes Press got together and decided to reprint the original 15 novels starring the pulp icon of The Phantom. For those that don't know, The Phantom is a legendary hero who operates in the fictional country of Bangalla in the deep jungle. He has no superpowers but has trained his whole life to be strong, swift, and smart, with the ingenuity of his ancestors. You see, this Phantom is actually the 21st to bear the name as it is a title that passes from father to son. This gives the impression of an immortal hero to those who whisper his name. The Phantom lineage actually goes back 400 years of men who look eerily alike. Kit Walker is the protagonist of the majority of the stories and this novel is the story of how he assumed that mantle of his ancestors.

The first book was written in 1972 based on the comic strip that started in 1936. It is difficult to tell that so much time has passed when reading this. The Phantom is actually one of the first line of superheroes that came from the pulps with the likes of The Shadow and The Spider, only he originated in comic strips.

Avon Publication decided, back in the early '70s to create a line of novels based on the character. This run lasted until 1975. They are all based on Lee Falk stories, though Falk himself only wrote the novel version of four or five of them. The rest were done by the likes of Basil Copper, Frank S. Shawn (pseudonym of Ron Goulart), Warren Shanahan, and Carson Bingham. Alfred Bester was originally approached to write novels, but passed and recommended Ron Goulart instead. While it would have been nice to see what Bester could have done, what we got was a series of high spirited adventure novels with one of the most exciting heroes of the the pulps. The Phantom translates perfectly to prose form.

This first story of The Phantom is about a boy named Kit Walker as he grows from an infant, describing his odd upbringing as a baby in the jungles of Africa to his education and budding romance of his teenage years in America, up to when he realizes it is his turn to become the legendary hero he sees in his father. As such, this is not so much a superhero novel (though there are heroics, and some excellent stories of heroes contained within) but a coming of age story that is surprisingly innocent and pure in intentions.

The story was clearly written originally in the pulp days as there are no graphic descriptions of violence or sex, there is no amorality, and the book is free from a cynical view of the world. It feels like an old pulp novel. Simply put, Earth is a place with good people and bad people, and things are better when good is allowed to roam unmolested by darker forces. Good is good; bad is bad. When he is called to do the right thing, Kit does so because of his upbringing and what he learned from his father. In the end he also makes a decision to abandon something that would personally benefit him in order to instead do what he should, and he is not rewarded in any way for doing so. This ends the story on not the chipper and irrationally optimistic view one ascribes (incorrectly) to Golden Age hero stories, but on the realization that heroism is sacrifice and bloodshed, and a battle between good and evil that will never end on this Earth. And yet the hero must keep getting up again regardless.

On a personal level, I found myself absorbed in reading this novel. Lee Falk's description of The Phantom's lineage, Bangalla's fascinating culture itself, and Kit's adventures learning to be a man, paint a vivid world of adventure where peril peeks around the corner, and good is overwhelmingly preferred to evil despite its lack of obvious material benefit. It's not a long read, but it hits quite well and is a good reminder as to why The Phantom is one of the defining pulp heroes even now so far removed from his creation. Pure heroes are hard to resist even for the most cynical human. This first book is a great origin story and place to start with the character.

Now for the negatives. I would say this revolves around Hermes Press's edition in particular. The covers are all reproductions of the original art from George Wilson, but they are rather washed out despite the great pulp-era illustrations. Another issue is the actual text is not Justified for reasons I cannot imagine. Finally, the release dates for every novel so far has been wrong and delayed from its supposed release leading me to get several of them months behind schedule. I have no clue as to why Hermes Press does these things, but they are issues and they should be mentioned. The book itself has no real negatives to it other than the short length which might perturb some.

Nonetheless it is nice to see pulp works get reissues like this. The original 15 Phantom novels are short and punchy but haven't been easily available in a long time. The character presents a moral, yet harsh, worldview of the sort modern heroes mistake for emptiness. The prose is snappy and paints quite the picture for being written in the 1970s and feel far more like the character's original 1930s origin point. There's little else to say, it is a fantastic read.

All in all, if you're a pulp or superhero fan then this is for you. Lee Falk does not let his audience down.

Recommended.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Friday



Be prepared for an awkward post. I wish I knew what my point was in writing this. For some unfathomable reason the posts I have backed up and the ones rolling around in my head just don't feel right for this week. So I'm going to go back.

Way back.

When I first started writing seriously years ago, before starting this blog or buckling down into creating stories, things were much different than they are now. This would be around 2010. Retrowave had just gotten off the ground, Superversive and the Pulp Revolution were still far off realities, certain customer movements had still not been prodded to life, the internet hot not yet become a competitor for television, and the pendulum was still swinging in one direction. Eight years is a long time, and yet so much has changed. Remember that this is the same decade we are currently in.

I first started writing because I wanted to read stories nobody was creating anymore. Heroism and villainy had been muddied up, stories of wonder were sneered at, and the types of tales that inspired me as a boy to dream had been canned for bland and safe subversion meant to dumb down tastes. Writing was always an activity I liked to do in my spare time, but I'd never taken it seriously because I didn't think I would have a way of sharing what I wrote. Remember, the indie and small pub explosion hadn't happened yet back then. My impression of a writer was the one every bad teacher foisted upon me: the tweed jacket wearing nihilist who spat on tales of wonder for the dead end of realism. It was all about "realistic" stories of pessimistic urbanites crying into their pillows about sexual dysfunction and their worthless lives. Real literature! There was no room for fun, and traditional publishing made it extra clear with the morally sick and tremendously dull door-stoppers they were putting out. So this is the climate I started writing in when I was a youngster tucking papers into binders.

But this isn't about just me. Thankfully. I'm going back further here, so bear with me.

When I was a child, I was by far the least creative among my friends. We lived to play, talk about, and absorb ourselves in adventure tales: stories off far off (and close!) places of wonder where monster and men brought terror across the land and it was up to the heroes to save it. No setting was off limit, and no one cared if there was a difference between a lightsaber or a dragon. It was all the same. I even remember one game where MacDuff and Lennox from MacBeth were involved in stopping a kidnapping that spiraled into taking down a conspiracy to overthrow the king. I didn't say we were normal kids. We were all like this. But despite all that, writing was just something I did for fun. After all, I could still walk into a comic shop or rental store to get a story I wanted and I still (somehow) had in my head that real writers didn't write that fun stuff anyway.

Things change. Rental stores came and went, comics are on the way out, no one goes to the cinema anymore, and TV cables are being cut more and more by the day. Those I grew up with didn't seem to notice. Of all of them, I'm the only one who writes or talks about this subject now even though most of us did at one point. I don't hold a grudge or say this to hold my head high, I merely point it out because things change and so do priorities and people. I started writing more because I noticed the change, and wasn't happy with it. Who would be? I know I wasn't alone in that assessment, but finding anyone who wanted to do anything about it was a fruitless endeavor. So I just started writing my silly stories and scrambled to get better.

And then something happened recently that had me rethinking everything.

On Good Friday I lost someone very important to me who really liked my little fun tales. Pray for her, please. She always pestered me for the next story no matter how much I told her it was coming. I've since been rethinking why I'm writing at all. Am I still the same boy who wants adventure, or am I a man who wants to spread that sense of wonder to others? Am I writing just to prove a point? No, that isn't it. If I wanted to prove a point I would invest in writing essays. Then I could focus on a thesis more clearly than in these posts. Writing is about connecting. I connected with her and made her day a little brighter with the story of a kid who can transform into a magical knight. Did that make it all worth it? I think it did, if even slightly.

I'm not writing into a void. There is a whole world of people hungry for wonder and adventure again. It's no longer about teenage me writing into binders and wondering if any of this is even worth it. If I stopped today, there would be many others taking up the pen regardless. Things have changed.

So now that happenings on the cultural level are improving again does this mean I can just hang it up and go back to the way things were? After all, people are very much creating stories I like again. Those that destroyed all I enjoyed as a child are now suffering heavy losses in the market and from customers who are sick of their games. Every day there's a story of someone else deciding to take matters into their own hands. Nothing is saying that I have to keep going. Surely I don't have to write the stories I want to read anymore.

But I do.

You see, the secret with writers is that they can't stop. Once you put in the time to finally get off the ground and people unrelated to you tell you you're doing okay and getting better it is already too late to pump the brakes. It's too tough to stop. I will write one thing and two more unrelated ideas will sprout up. They don't stop. I also get excited reading old authors and new works and planning how I might be able to tackle certain ideas myself. Writing is a spiderweb for flies like me. One you're in you don't get out again.

The fact of the matter is that there's still work to be done: work that probably won't ever be finished. I'm writing and editing at least three different novels and five different short stories, and awaiting on news of other projects to see where to proceed with those. I'm not at a loss of things to do. The train keeps rolling.

It is like Friday every day. I'm sure you understand my meaning. Friday is the best day of the week, just before the weekend, when anticipation of what is to come hits fever pitch and the possibilities are endless. Everything you worked toward is just ahead and waiting for you. This is the general mood. It's a great time to be doing what I'm doing.

I doubt the younger version of me could imagine quite what's going on right now. This is a whole different world now, and it's still changing.

But some things never change. Adventure and wonder still retain their timeless draw. That is a truth that will always remain the same no matter how much certain types wish to exterminate it.

Does it mean things are perfect? Not even close. There's much to work on, much to polish, much to learn, and much to do. But it's not all in vain. Eventually the weekend will be here and we can go home.

I look forward to it.



Reminder that if you join my mailing list you'll get a short story for free. This tale of a super-powered vigilante fighting dark magic can be acquired there or on amazon for a dollar. Please check it out. It was a lot of fun to write, and I hope you enjoy it just as much.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Sword & Wonder! ~ A Review of "Swordsmen in the Sky"



I've gone on about pulp many times on this blog to the point that most are probably sick of it. By now you're either well aware of how good it is or you're rolling your eyes and stubborn in your unwillingness to read anything from before 1980. Either way you've heard me bang on about it a lot. But there is one book I wanted to review to really drive home how great this old stuff is.

So here is a perfect example of what is great about those old adventure stories condensed into one tiny 200 page paperback. Released by Ace Books in 1964, edited by Donald Wollheim, cover by Frank Frazetta, and with stories by Poul Anderson, Edmond Hamilton, Leigh Brackett, Andre Norton, and Otis Adelbert Kline, this small anthology is the entire package. It is also available for cheap on amazon. If you want a good sampler of pulp's best, you can't get much better than Swordsmen in the Sky.

Here you get stories centered on the core of wonder and excitement. It is like Edgar Rice Burroughs never left us. The stories are all uniform in intent and style,  with clear protagonists and antagonists, marvelous settings and fantastical sights, and all feel as if they could have been written at the same time.

But they were not.

Whereas it is painfully easy to tell stories released in the '80s, '90s, '00s, and (especially) the '10s apart from other eras, pre-1960s fantasy all has uniform love of the good and beautiful, and hatred of the ugly and evil, with an eye on Higher Things. These works have a stronger feel of timelessness to them than stories meant to cater to current trendy lingo and political trends. Each one of these five stories was originally released between 1933 and 1951, and the near two-decade gap really doesn't show to a new reader. They all feel very much as if they could have been written specifically for this anthology. It is an impressive feat that Mr. Wollheim accomplished here.

Genre doesn't matter. Sword & Sorcery, Science Fantasy, or whatever meaningless category you want to shoehorn these stories into, is irrelevant. They are pure adventure and are focused on one thing: delighting and uplifting the audience to higher places. These were all written in the clear style and influence of Edgar Rice Burroughs which means plenty of wonder, romance, and action, to go around. This style predates any pointless genre gulags that were invented later. It's all about the action and adventure.

Enough about that. It's time to talk about the stories.

The first story is also the newest. Swordsmen of Lost Terra by Poul Anderson, released in 1951, is a story about Celtic-like tribes battling each other for supremacy in a world where the planet doesn't rotate on its axis. It eventually turns into a tale not too dissimilar from Burroughs with derring-do and evil schemes to thwart the heroes. There's also a magical (or is it?) bagpipe and more blood and carnage than you can shake a stick at. I have been repeatedly impressed with everything I have read by Mr. Anderson and am floored at how easily he could flow between meaningless genre boundaries as if they didn't (and they don't) matter. His thought process is one to consider for one writing action and adventure tales. I believe this originally ran in Planet Stories. If you like John Carter, and I can't imagine why you would't, this is for you and is a great piece to begin with.

Second in the anthology is People of the Crater by Andre Norton, from 1947. A pilot joins and Antarctic expedition during peacetime, which seems simple enough. What starts as a mere investigation soon becomes an adventure of alien technology in a forgotten world. This was the author's first published genre work and it is easy to see why she soon became as popular and beloved as she was. Even if not typical of what would make her popular, this story shows a deep understanding of the sort of romance and wonder that Burroughs perfected and illustrates perfectly why it came to dominate so much of popular entertainment over the past century. Even now so far removed from its creation this story shows just how much was lost when wonder was ejected from genre stories for "realism" and screwdrivers. They literally don't make 'em like this anymore.

Leigh Brackett's The Moon That Vanished, originally published in 1948 in Thrilling Wonder Stories, is next. It's a Venus story with plenty of action to go around! This one starts out in a dive where a man named David Heath is drunk out of his gourd and wishing he was dead. Heath has lost his love and is killing himself over it when he is given a task to guide a temple maiden and her guard to the Moonfire. The Moonfire is a place Heath had been to once before: a mysterious location that can apparently turn mortals into gods. So why didn't Heath take it for himself? Oh, you'll see. This is the best story in the collection and one of the best pulp stories I have ever read. Action, adventure, fantasy, and romance fill this story's relatively short length. There's also some terrific character development to had and an ending that is very powerful. It goes up there with Black Thirst by C.L. Moore as one of my personal favorites, and I would recommend this collection for this story alone. It's that good.

Following that comes the shortest story in the collection, A Vision of Venus by Otis Adelbert Kline, which had first been put out in 1933. I've heard this described as a slight effort, and while it does not compare with the other stories in the collection, it fits in perfectly with the purpose of the anthology. In seven short pages the author goes through every beat of a Burroughs tale filled with fantastical adventure, wonders, and romance, and doesn't miss a step. Only a professional could manage to encapsulate that much in such short a space between much longer tales. The story is what the title says: Dr. Morgan gets a vision of a far off place of fantasy beyond his world and finds something far beyond him. As a piece of adventure, this story wildly succeeds and is a perfect fit for this anthology.

Ending off is a story from the World Wrecker himself. Edmond Hamilton's Kaldar, World of Antares which came out in 1933, is an adventure like only he could do. A man named Merrick is transported to a new world where he instantly becomes leader of a race of men on a planet with multiple red moons (and one green) where Spider-Men from beyond the mountains threaten to destroy the people. He is their prophesied savior, and falls into the role in a way that surprises even him. One of the weapons Merrick uses is a sword that happens to be powered by light that destroys whatever it slices. It's a light-sword of some kind. Now that's a weapon for a pulp! The story is lightning fast with a fascinating world and a scope that only a someone like Hamilton could muster in such a short length. I was a bit disappointed that the story ended: I wanted more! As the last story here, it is the perfect choice to end the anthology.

What is fascinating about these stories is how hard they are to put in a box. I've seen some try to state that they are fantasy... until a certain magical device is "explained" and then it instantly becomes science fiction. I have seen the exact reversal applied to other stories as well. This is silly. Instead of attempting to classify and straight-jacket tales of wonder and excitement with genre labels that clearly don't fit it is easier to see that these stories are part of a tradition. These are older than John W. Campbell's influence--even the ones written when he was gate-keeping!

Here's a bit of truth: none of the stories here were advertised as Science Fiction or Fantasy. You will not find those words in any of the product descriptions for this anthology. What they are advertised as are "sword-and-wonder adventures" from "expert writers of interplanetary derring-do" which is incredibly accurate to the breathtaking tales included within. Some version of the word "adventure" is used five times to advertise this to the buying public. The only time Science Fiction appears here is in the biographical entry for Donald Wollheim. Fantasy is not used a single time. Not even as an adjective for the many uses of adventure.

So then what are these stories? Surely they have to be called something. Easy answer: they are Adventure stories. What else would they be? Action & Adventure is a genre without boundaries where any exciting thing can happen and wonder is paramount. These stories epitomize that freewheeling spirit Burroughs made his own.

Each of the five tales attempt to encapsulate big and all-encompassing themes of mystery, ineffable terror and danger, romance, wonder, adventure, and whiplash motion, all in a short length. Burroughs had attempted to plug into those gigantic feelings and notions at the same time he is looking into the face of concepts and beings way bigger than our simple small worlds. These are stories that attempt to bottle that awe and excitement for an audience that can get just as excited reading about it as the author does writing it. These are stories of the gigantic, tales that can't be contained.

And that joy is infectious.

I would be hard pressed to find anyone who read a collection like this and didn't find themselves inspired and excited by the end of it. Unless they are dead inside, or expecting more from fiction than to uplift and instill wonder, then this should brighten even the darkest cynic's day. This is exactly what pulp has always meant to do, and maybe that's why some people just don't like it. Maybe this is why they tried to bury it.

Regardless of that, Swordsmen in the Sky is one of the best and most exciting anthologies out there. If you have not these stories before, you could do far worse than reading them here. This is the type of book that could start a revolution of the imagination.

What else is reading for?

Highest recommendation.



In other news, I have released a short story for free for readers of my newsletter. It is the tale of a vigilante in a superhero world who comes across dark forces beyond powers. You can sign up and get it for free, or buy it for a buck on amazon. Your choice. Either way, thank you for reading this post and I will see you on the next one!

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Pop Has Eaten Itself


I had the misfortune of watching the first episode of a new Netflix show with a friend. I didn't particularly want to watch it, but was told it was incredibly embarrassing. Not being one to enjoy such things I brushed it off. Until he told me what happens. Then I had to watch it.

The program was called Everything Sucks! and is supposed to be a Wonder Years or Freaks and Geeks of the 1990s. For those that don't know it is a look back into the height of a now dead era using the lens of that same time period to connect it to modern audiences. Only this one is being made by Millennials, so you already know what you're getting. On top of it, they show a clear lack of understanding of the time period. They set it in 1996, the year before the decade fell off a cliff, and used writers that clearly were either stoned their entire teen years or were never actually alive during the decade. Because the '90s were not like this.

Everything Sucks! is painful in every area, but above all it was the accuracy to the time period that grated on me. The series displays how serious it takes its concept within the early moments. It barely tries to connect to the audience.

First example: it was so accurate to the year 1996 that the very first song played in the very first minute of the series was not released until 1997.

And it goes downhill from there.

The 1990s were a fairly dull decade, but it was also very faddish. Trends flashed into existence in the blink of an eye and were gone just as fast. You can't have kids wearing flannel, messing around with Gak, referencing the "new Star Wars" re-releases, listening to the "new" 1995 Oasis album, and playing with slap bracelets as if they all happened at the exact same time. Because they didn't. But you can pretend they did if you're just using the 1990s as a cover for your terrible and extremely predictable hacky Current Year drama in between shallow 1990s "I clapped when I saw that!" references.

Because that's all this show is.

The series is not funny, is entirely obvious and full of tropes that were played out when the last over-hyped forgettable Netflix drama came out, and even the camera work is the same stale Arrested Development aping that won't go away already despite coming on two decades old. Oh yeah, and it was not a style used in the 1990s. It was a '00s invention. But hey, I already showed how seriously they took their own concept. Accuracy was not going to happen.

It definitely doesn't look like the era, but it doesn't sound like it either. The characters are exactly what you think they are at first glance with story arcs you can see coming from a mile away because they're the same ones Hollywood has been peddling for nearly 25 years now. There's nothing here. Nothing is new, but nothing is a throwback to what it was like to live at the time, either. If anything, this series just shows how bad entertainment has gotten since 1996. Every bad trope here was one introduced in the late '90s that has been hammered into us relentlessly since. If you meant to appeal to those who miss the way things were, then this is definitely not the way to do it.

Everything Sucks! is a belly flop of nothing meant to sucker in people who lived in the 1990s but might not actually remember them fully. Possibly it is meant as revisionism to give the audience a version of the decade that "should" have existed. But they underestimated how much Gen X and Y remember from the '90s that Millennials never could. I was half expecting to see someone wearing parachute pants while mentioning going to a 98 Degrees concert. Because it was that likely to happen. It reads like someone who just grabbed any cliche they could and threw it in a blender.


Not even close, Boomers.

This series is about as accurate as the terrible Simpsons episode based on the 1990s where Homer is in a popular grunge band at its peak at the same time he is looking at a billboard featuring the Sonic Adventure designs of Sonic the Hedgehog and Amy Rose. If you were alive at the time then you know why that scene above is wrong, and you know how little thought was spent writing it. Amazing for The Simpsons, a series that was in its height during said decade, to get this so wrong. But this seems par for the course for Baby Boomers and Millennials when it comes to the '80s and '90s.

Stranger Things worked with the 1980s setting because it was baked in to the plot. This was crucial for the series to work. It needed to be set in that era for the plot beats, style, aesthetics, and character archetypes to work, and it failed when it shied away from it (such as the 1990s tough girl character of Max that broke canon with the style) meaning that the choice of year was crucial to how the story had to work in order to stay consistent. The Duffer Brothers clearly respected the decade enough to do it justice. There is a reason Stranger Things was a hit.

Everything Sucks! couldn't even bother to learn that there were two songs released in 1996* that they could have used for a theme song that were both called Everything Sucks instead of a grunge era song used that doesn't fit at all. But the song was popular at the time, so maybe someone will remember it and clap! That's all the thought that was put into it. Even the logo looks more like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Juno than it does any actual '90s logo. Because that's the audience they're going for, and not who they pretend they're aiming at. There is no effort here to try and understand that long gone era and how it might differ from this current crap one.

They want to cash in on '90s nostalgia without doing the work to understand what people clicked with in that time. It's disrespectful to the era and those who lived in it. But it was never about connecting to those people. It was always about shallow pandering.

A lot of this has to do with the propping up of Nerd Culture, which is, thankfully, on the way out.

I highly recommend this entire series

Shows like the above are no longer about the original purpose of art or entertainment: to connect to your fellow man. Pop culture is now about masturbation. It is now about little more than useless trivia and empty references for a small niche group. There is no more relating to the majority of those around but about glorifying the self (and their "like-minded communities") over others. Connections to those unlike yourself are no longer important: thinking inward is. Propping yourself up is. Making sure you feel good and have high self-esteem is. It's all about the self and how everything relates to you: not how you can relate to others.

It is all about eating yourself.

But empty nostalgia over setting is the point. They have nothing else. Hollywood can't stray from the bad habits they've developed. They have no stories to tell except being wistful for a youth that was apparently just as terrible as the present they are currently living in. There is no semblance of hope to escape their prison of misery.

It reveals a very ugly view of life that is becoming more obvious with each passing flop of a drama they release. It's really no wonder why audiences are checking out of these sorts of stories and leaving Hollywood behind. No one wants to see this narcissistic group of creators talk about themselves and only themselves and their tiny worlds. Hollywood does not have much else.

This is all pop culture is now: a decrepit and fat anaconda devouring itself until there's nothing left.

Unless you weren't alive at the time, you would have to be a moron to not know what the second poster is talking about. Hollywood is banking on you being a moron.

My recent speculation that we have reached the end of pop culture is well on its way to being true. Creators have lost the urge to connect with their audience and are set with rehashing the same stale slop while trying to gussy it up by playing with the audience's longing for a time when their pop culture wasn't this unabashedly terrible. But putting lipstick on a pig doesn't change it into a beautiful woman. Hollywood thinks tricking the audience into swallowing the medicine is enough to get them to keep taking it. They don't appear to be aware that the audience is quickly seeing this for what it is, and they don't like it.

There is no attempt to correct the ship, and that's why they're going to die.

They have nothing left to add, nothing to tell or say that hasn't been said hundreds of times. They rehash the same character archetypes without any sense of knowing why they exist, and continue to mindlessly subvert their own tales into meaninglessness. Self-reflection is possible only through explicit sex, pointless offensive language, and references to a childhood that is remembered as well as a fourth grade play.

Shows like Everything Sucks! only prove how little the "important" people Hollywood have left to say. There is no acknowledgement of the different ways those who lived in that era thought or how they believed and lived: it is all filtered through (post)modern thought with a thin veneer of past paint to make their barge look like a sailboat. But there is no sailboat, and there never was one. They could have built a sailboat instead, but they refuse to, and they're never going to.

This is all they have left. Dated messages from a quarter of a century ago and references to decades long past in an attempt to squirrel money out of the few audience members who accept mediocrity out of the thought that it is either this or nothing. Hollywood think this is good enough.

The decade where pop culture died.

It's well beyond narcissism and has fallen straight into parody. It's one thing to think they're the smartest and most progressive idiots to ever live this pointless existence, but it's entirely another to think the past is so worthless that they feel the need to smear their own fecal matter all over it in order to drag it down to their pathetic level. Material like this doesn't even rise to narcissism. They're too self-obsessed with infecting the past that they don't realize that instead of making the past look worse they make themselves look stupid and the present worse. Disrespect for the past tends to blind one to preventable gaffs.

Entertainment has devolved past narcissism into pure nihilism. Narcissism is looking in the mirror and wondering how that handsome devil got to be so gorgeous. Nihilism is looking in the mirror and wondering how to make that handsome devil ugly while still desperately insisting he's handsome to anyone who will listen. Not only is it nonsensical, it is locked in the karmic wheel of stupidity without a way out. The same mistakes are repeated over and over ad infinitum. You can see this with any piece of media out now whether a remake of something old (tweaked for modern sensibilities, of course!) or a new franchise with the same "fresh" characters and subversive plot out of 2003. Pop is eating itself.

Actually, it's way past that point now. Pop has devoured its tail and is busy slurping down its own stomach. And it expects you to call it brave, progressive, forward thinking, and art, while it whores out the same tired tropes audiences were sick of in 1999. Ironic.

Well, no. (Post)Modernism is dead and has been a rotting corpse for some time now. All that's left is to say the last rites and give it a burial . . . or a bonfire. We've already walked away, so let's put the body where it belongs, and leave it in the cold ground. No one cares about navel gazing into the abyss, so leave them alone to do it. All that's left is for them to eat themselves into the void.

Then finally we might be free of pop culture's self-obsession and can build something new in its place. It's about time, don't you think?



*In case you were wondering, these are the two songs I meant:




But everything doesn't suck. The pulp revolution is still in full swing. Give my entry in the movement a try. It's definitely one of the most action packed works you will find.


Tuesday, 20 March 2018

2018: The Year of Anime?


I've been very hard on anime on this blog since I started here. There's a reason for that, as anyone who has followed the medium for more than a decade knows. What was once an unstoppable industry ended up sabotaging itself. Over the years it has nearly buried itself in its own hubris and poor decisions. I even wrote a post comparing anime to the popular MCU (which itself cited an article glomping on to the dying moe trend as a way to make its own fallacious point) and why they weren't actually that different. Or were. I stand by it, anime and the live action Marvel movies have much in common, and it appears like they have more in common than ever before.

But times have changed.

I'm not the only one who thinks that anymore. While 2017 was a bit of a letdown to previous years: 2015 and 2016 showed more of the spirit anime was known for at its peak. Things were improving. But after 2017 I began to feel that might have been a fluke. That quickly changed.

I don't think anything prepared me for 2018's offerings and announcement.

It might also help that this year is the 50th anniversary of Weekly Shonen Jump which lead anime companies to go all out licensing properties old and new for anime projects. It wasn't just Jump, but other classic properties and newer manga and light novel properties which are way above series from recent years. The industry might still prefer adaptions over original content, but that has been the case for a long time now. Nonetheless, they still picked good ones to use.

Keep in mind, I'm only writing this three months into the year and during what is easily the weakest season of said year. The fact that I still think highly of 2018 says a lot about what is coming.

But before I get there, let's travel the time warp. I'll be using anichart for my source. What exactly was anime like during this time decades ago?


1998



Yes, let's first go back twenty years to 1998, possibly the best and one of the most important year for modern anime fans. What exactly made it so, however? Was it just the quality of programs, or was it that the western market really was that weak?

It was both.

Action shows were dying in the west, hampered by everything from aping certain shows (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) or being hampered by political correctness (watch any TV drama from that period now) and cartoons that had fallen far from Gargoyles and Batman: the Animated Series. There was not much to look forward to at the time. While this was happening here, in Japan they were still in a 90s golden age in regards to anime and manga that extended from the '70s through the '80s.

They were still unstoppable.

What exactly did they have? Well, maybe you know the following names. This was what was produced in 1998.

Cowboy Bebop
Trigun
Outlaw Star
Cartdcaptor Sakura
Serial Experiments Lain
Master Keaton
Yu-Gi-Oh! (original)
Bubblegum Crisis 2040
His & Her Circumstances (Kare Kano)
Sorcerous Stabber Orphen
Initial D
Record of Lodoss War (TV)
Lost Universe
Silent Mobius
Fancy Lala
Gasaraki
Nazca
Weiz Kruz
Princess Nine
Night Walker
Legend of Basara
Shadow Skill
Eat Man '98


They are not all my sort of thing, but rarely do you see that much of a spread for different audiences in one year anymore. All of these were released in the west with some semblance of success, as well. This also doesn't include long running shows that were already running at the time from previous years. Nothing was out of the ordinary for the time. It's a solid list.

Of course not all was great. This was also the year of Brain Powerd, the reminder that Neon Genesis Evangelion had all but destroyed mecha anime for the foreseeable future (thankfully Big O was in the following year) and this was still a time when there were far less production companies and timeslots available. Nonetheless, what was allowed out was typically of higher quality to compete with each other.

It's no wonder many people still enjoy what was put out in 1998.

But even now you would be hard pressed to find a year where there is more than 10, never mind 20+ anime worth looking into. You were guaranteed to find something you would enjoy at least a little. This is far above a normal year these days.

Now let us jump ten years into the future where we jump into the thick of a strong downturn.



2008



Ten years removed from the last entry we have a much different climate. This is where the industry began to feel worldwide decline as they tried their hardest to combat growing piracy by catering to otaku. They did this at the cost of the normal audience and overseas customers. Obviously that tactic wasn't sustainable, but it also ended up biting them long term.

People still buy Cowboy Bebop and Trigun. Heck, they still buy Yu-Gi-Oh! of all things. You won't find anyone talking about Clannad these days unless its for nostalgia or to compare it to another visual novel adaption. And that was the biggest series of the year. There were no commercial smashes overseas in 2008.

But I digress. I can't pretend I'm not including this year to rub salt in the wound of an awful period, but I really, really detested what the industry became in the '00s. Regardless of taste, it was a bad time. The idustry chased many people away, contracted many art styles into one blobby mess, and ended up ruining their worldwide presence in the process. In every respect, the '00s took the momentum the '70s, '80s, and '90s (even the '60s) gave, and fumbled it so hard that the '10s have mostly been dedicated to cleaning the mess up.

Unfortunately, it also allowed an impression of the medium form based on very limited examples from a very specific time period. The image of anime as dark murder porn was replaced by one of fetishistic voyeurism. While the first was unearned, it is difficult to argue with the latter if you did not know better.

Let me first pick out the best of the year and set it aside.

Clannad: After Story
Code Geass R2
Kaiba
Gundam 00: Second Season
Toradora
Spice & Wolf
Natsume's Book of Friends
Aria: the Origination
Skip Beat!
Soul Eater
Slayers Revolution
Michiko and Hatchin
Macross Frontier
Golgo 13


You might have noticed two things. The first is that there are no big new action adventure series that aren't already based on existing franchise or turned out awful *COUGH*R2*COUGH* and the second is that what is there in the genre pales in comparison to said older entries. The list is also smaller and considerably less exciting than what has come before.

Now, while I didn't post everything in 1998, I also didn't leave out a whole lot. There were a handful of forgettable shows, but not much outright terrible. For 2008, you can see for yourself how much trash there really was. Scroll down at your own peril. It gets worse. This is also the year that gave the world Strike Witches and Linebarrel.

Of those listed above, I can't say any of them are personal favorites, though about half are quite good and worth your time. (I won't say which to avoid a potential flame war!)

The issue is that none are anything particularly great save one or two, and with such a high crap ratio it's hard to argue they are even worth seeking out. It is quite the fall from where the medium was a decade prior with so much trash and glut to clutter the landscape. Is it any wonder sales fell and many walked away?

And it had been this way for many years.

Now let's take one final look at the still-developing 2018.



2018



A strange year deserves a strange header.

Starting last year there were a lot of announcements for upcoming series that were quite surprising. Not only were there new series ordered for streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime, but many old manga were given anime adaptions for the first time, and some classic series were given revivals and new series. There was a lot announced that would surprise even the casual fan from a bit more than a decade ago.

You would have to make a double take to be certain you weren't seeing things. Are things turning around? All signs are pointing to the affirmative.

What does 2018 have? Well I'll get to that. The first thing to remember is that any of these could end up becoming trash, so I'm listing them based on pedigree of announcement or the status of the property in question. But even if some are, they still outnumber the exciting material from a decade ago. A lot of this is assumed, but I've seen so much of this before that I can usually tell beforehand if it's worth my time.

So, here it is. 2018 in a nutshell.

Pop Team Epic
Violet Evergarden
Overlord II
Golden Kamuy
Devilman Crybaby
Steins;Gate 0
Darling in the FranXX
Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card
A.I.C.O. Incarnation
Banana Fish
My Hero Academia: Season 3
Karakuri Circus
Attack on Titan: Season 3
Juushinki Pandora
Record of Grancrest War
Dororo
Captain Tsubasa
Megalo Box
Pluto
Vinland Saga
One Punch Man: Season 2
Cutie Honey Universe
Gurazeni
Double Decker!
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: New Thesis
Muhyo & Roji's Bureau of Supernatural Investigation
Full Metal Panic: Invisible Victory
Hinomaru Zumou
Boogiepop & Others
Lupin III: Part V


Once again, I can't promise how all of that will turn out, but if even half of it is as great as it looks, 2018 will be a great year. And there's still yet more I didn't list! Some might not even release until next year, but it is still enough that they were even revealed among what is coming out. I'm not even interested in all of the above, but it's quite the interesting list. It offers a lot more to the average customer and knows what the majority of the audience comes to anime for.

The fact is that there's a reason Japan is doing this. It's fairly obvious.

You could say all of this is for nostalgia's sake, but that isn't quite right. You could see even back in 2008 that there were some nostalgia-centric series based on old franchises. That didn't stop dropping sales or people walking away. You could also say 2018 relies too heavily on adaptions, except that the anime industry has always relied on manga for its biggest successes. The fact is that the industry has never tried this hard to court the average watcher of anime since the early '00s before they turned their backs on them.

Take note of what you see here.

New series by Shoji Kawamori (Macross, Escaflowne), and Ryo Mizuno (Lodoss War, Rune Soldier), unadapted classics of their genres like Banana Fish and Karakuri Circus, and new seasons of worldwide popular hits like My Hero Academia and Attack on Titan (keep in mind, Japan didn't do seasonal anime ten years ago, never mind twenty) all show a clear focus when taken together. Then there are the straight remakes which are not as plentiful as you would think: there are only three in that list. What's more interesting is what they chose to greenlight that is new. New sequels of old properties like Full Metal Panic!, Boogiepop, Lupin, and Cardcaptor Sakura, also help send the message. Japan really wants that audience back.

Then there is the recent slate of movies. Japan for the longest time has not really done much in the way of anime movies, but what they recently announced speaks volumes as to their hopes. Mazinger Z. Dragon Ball. My Hero Academia. City Hunter. If there is a bigger hint at their target being the worldwide market and the average fan I have never seen it. This is too obvious.

What 2018 says to me is that Japan is trying, and somehow succeeding, in getting its groove back. I never would have expected this a decade ago. Should the year live up to its promise I will be beyond delighted but until then I can only speak to intent. And that intent says a lot.

While Hollywood revels in remakes that miss the point, Japan hasn't lost the plot. They have carefully chosen what they know sells in their homeland and overseas and have made sure to put the right people behind those works to give the customers what they want. The public wants action, adventure, romance, and excitement. They want the out-there animation, direction, and plots classic anime was known for. Its not just that they want the old things back--they want the spirit the old things had. That is why this list is not as heavy on remakes as, say, Hollywood. They have a better idea of their audience. There is plenty new coming out, and plenty with the spark the old had back in the day.

I'm not clamoring for a Trigun remake (or sequel) and I hope one is never made. But that doesn't mean I don't want those involved in that series to go on and make new works with that same spark they made it with. I don't think I'm alone either. All I want are good stories.

Japan looks to be course correcting itself and regaining its footing. Here's hoping they maintain it. While 2017 was a bit of a step back, 2018 is a great leap forward.

I can hardly wait to see how the year turns out. I only wonder how 2019 will look as a result.




And if you like excitement and action in strange worlds, you will probably enjoy my most recent book.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Rev it Up!: A Quick History of the Pulp Revolution

You can find this book here.

*NOTE: This post exists for two reasons. The first is for those newcomers who might have missed just where this whole thing came from, and the second is for those of us who need a refresher. I claim no credit for, or leadership in, the Pulp Revolution.*

If there is one thing the last decade has shown, it is that most people are unsatisfied with the way things are. Entertainment, especially, no longer entertains but instead caters to niche fringe groups that are desperate to shed their roots and destroy their origins for the offhand chance an Important Person will acknowledge them. There is not one industry not currently suffering from this problem now, and it was little better years ago.

But what if the problems stemming from today are actually symptoms of a much older sickness? What if you can trace it back using the words of those who deliberately tried to tear down good things in order to build worse ones? What if they succeeded and no one around you wanted to admit it?

Wouldn't you want to do something?

Well, the Pulp Revolution is about that first and foremost. It is about doing. It is about reclaiming things lost deliberately and calling attention to a legacy in danger of being forgotten. It is about going backwards and building again.

That is what the PulpRev is.

But where did it start?


Beginnings

In a dusty little saloon called Tabletop Gaming there was this movement called the OSR. For those puzzled by acronyms, it stands for Old School Revival/Renaissance. It stands for exactly what it says it does. Judging from my description of the Pulp Revolution, you might know where this is going.

I'm going to include wikipedia's definition to shoulder the blame should I get any of this wrong and to make sure I don't miss anything, but it does line up more or less with what it is:

"The OSR was made possible by Wizards of the Coasts' release of their Open Gaming License in 2000, which allowed the free and unapproved use of large amounts of creative and rules mechanic material related to the Dungeons & Dragons game. 
"Broadly, OSR games encourage a tonal fidelity to Dungeons & Dragons as it was played in the first decade of the game's existence—less emphasis on linear adventure plots and overarching metaplots and a greater emphasis on player agency. Frequently they are built around older rules systems made available by the OGL. As such, the OSR label includes most Dungeons & Dragons retro-clones; most OSR games are variants of either the 1974 original Dungeons & Dragons rules (OD&D)—such as Swords & Wizardry—or the 1981 Basic and Expert sets of Dungeons and Dragons (known as B/X, or Moldvay/Cook, after those sets' primary authors)—such as Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy RPG, and Lamentations of the Flame Princess."
It was a movement meant to bring the hobby back to its roots as many had seen their favorite pastime devolve and melt into a puddle of grey goo. If anyone has ever played 4th edition (or *cough*3rd*cough*) then they know where the sentiment came from.

So it only stands to reason that in this climate that someone would take it a step further. If the game that changed so much can in itself be warped so far out of its original shape and intent . . . what about the literature that inspired it in the first place?

That would be the pulps, and that is where things get interesting.

There is a bit of a cosmic jest here. The pulps were what inspired D&D in the first place. It was the love of the stories and the wonder of imagining yourself in an adventure in those worlds. Pulp worlds were exciting, invigorating, and creative. Who wouldn't want to play games based on that? That is what makes this turnabout funny. Now it was a revival of said gaming that was inspiring a return to pulps, the original inspiration.

Gary Gygax, the man behind the game, created a list of books. These were the books he recommend players read to get ideas for games just as they inspired him in the first place. It was not just a suggested reading list, but one based on the type of stories the game was meant to be based on. These were the books that inspired one of the biggest games and with the heaviest influence in pop culture of the later half of the 20th century. In other words, these books were important.

And no one was talking about them.

That's where we begin.


Revving Up

The catalyst to the Pulp Revolution arising specifically were several things from different places.

First, a gamer named Jeffro Johnson began a series of posts on the Castalia House blog detailing his read-through of the entirety of the Appendix N list.

If you want an idea of Jeffro's passion, I highly suggest following the Appendix N tab on the Castalia House blog and reading what you find. If he isn't talking about going the Full Mr. Peanut, he's talking about something nobody else is. And that was very important for a lot of those in the PulpRev.

These articles led discussions both out in the open and behind doors, and left some of us contemplating on our own direction. It wasn't just on the works themselves, but on the entire era in question. Many began digging and searching for answers.

At one point genre fiction was without boundaries. They could be anything from science fiction to fantasy to horror to sailor stories to even being about trains and still retain an energy and love of mystery and wonder that simply no longer existed. Anyone who looked into this was taken aback by the revelation.

Where did all that go? Why had we fallen so far away from where we started, and why were the roots dug up and replaced with weeds that have long since choked out anything fresh?

This is the drive of PulpRev.

Jeffro's work was one of the starting places for this movement. Personally, I am very thankful for it. However, Jeffro also mentions other places the Pulp Revolution came from. It was not just based on his work.

"But there are many significant actors involved here, all of whom worked together to make the Pulp Revolution happen:

  • *There is Larry Correia, who not only ignored what his writing teachers told him… but who also pulled off one of the greatest pranks in science fiction history. He got a lot of people talking about something that wasn’t immediately obvious
  • *There is Edgar Rice Burroughs, who single-handedly set the tone for fantasy, science fiction, pulp, comic books, role-playing games, and Star Wars.
  • *There is Gary Gygax, who created a time capsule that preserved that vision in the face of an industry and gatekeeping establishment that was hellbent on seeing it extinguished.
  • *There is John C. Wright, who never got the memo that Appendix N style fantasy was out of style.
  • *There is Alex Kimball, who offered to pay semi-pro rates for people that wanted to bring back more of it to the short fiction scene.
  • *There is Daddy Warpig, who observed that something was happening and called it what it was before anyone could grasp its significance.

"That’s quite a list!"

I will try to talk a little about a few of the above shortly.

Of course, pulp fiction has never fully gone away. But that isn't without lack of trying. It has been used as little more than an insult or a cheesy aesthetic for those who hated them. It has been used as an insult by those who never bothered to read the original works. Pulp became a synonym for trash, and nothing else. The Tarantino movie didn't help. The tradition of genre fiction actually goes back through the pulps and the penny dreadfuls all the way to at least Poe. By ignoring the pulps you are cutting the line of tradition and thumbing your nose at it. Those who trash it have no idea what they are actually doing.

Pulp fiction was what written entertainment mainly was before the 1950s. But they are not what you were told they were. There were different genres mixing together, stories were built to satisfy the reader first, there were crazy genres based on things like railroads, and this is where the origin of most every modern entertainment you enjoy came from... without the edges sanded off. This is where George Lucas swiped from to create Star Wars--every single piece of it--and a lot of the old stuff is better than what he put out. This is where the modern fantasy, horror, and science fiction story kept its links to the past while still striking out in new directions without fracturing links to each other in the process. This is where ALL tabletop and video games get their roots from: name a game, and it has its feet firmly planted in Pulp Town. Comic books are direct descendants of the pulps. Television shows like Star Trek and the Twilight Zone? Yes, them too. Anime and manga had direct ties to the Pulp tradition, even running translated pulp stories in the very first issues of Weekly Shonen Jump--the most popular entertainment magazine in Japan. Foreign comics like bande dessinĂ©e as a whole get their inspiration from the same place. Pulp was a worldwide thing, not regional. Every piece of entertainment you enjoy comes from the pulps: all of that great material you love that no longer exists and has been deliberately destroyed over the years comes from these things.

These things were important. Pulp was the entertainment world.

And no one was talking about it. When those in the Pulp Revolution started talking, they also started thinking about it more and more. Then they began digging, and they didn't like what they found.

This goes back far

Another reason the Pulp Revolution happened is, and this will be controversial: the Sad and Rabid Puppies movements and both their successes and failures.

Now, please don't clog up the comments about either of these. I was there for both and I was paying attention. A third hand report you heard from a biased geek news website is not going to sway me on this. I've already been called a liar for reporting on what my two lying eyes have seen before.

Here's the short version, and the true one. Larry Correia started Sad Puppies because he wanted to prove that World Con was a clique. It was just for fun, but the clique exploded with rage. He was correct, and he succeeded in showing it if only by their reaction. It went on for two more successful years, the third year being run by author Brad Torgersen. It then ran its course.

Vox Day started Rabid Puppies because he saw an opportunity to strike back at that petty crowd and hit them where it hurt. Also, to have fun. He wanted to destroy any illusion that their club meant anything except for their tiny, shrinking, and dying base. Space Raptor Butt Invasion is now a Hugo Nominated work. He succeeded.

That's all there is to either movement. Their goals had been met, and both Larry and Vox shook the dust from their feet and moved on.

But there were fall-outs to these campaigns. Vox Day walked away having accomplished his task, but Sad Puppies continued on in gutted form a little longer as a recommended reading list and faded away. There was also some infighting that ended up splintering any remaining interest most had in it. For all intents and purposes, it's dead and it's done.

But it did leave its mark on those paying attention.

Some history on Sad Puppies

Why so many people supported them in the first place is reflected in what was nominated by the small clique, oblivious to the outside world, and what was actually selling to normal people. A lot of people were disillusioned with how goopy and empty genre fiction was becoming and wanted to find better than what the big publishers like Tor were putting out. That was when a lot had a sinking realization.

There was no real alternative.

The big publishers were putting out sleeping pills as books, and finding anything in the independent world was nearly impossible. There was a hunger there, but nothing to satiate the stomach. Unless you liked subversion, you just weren't being offered much aside from table scraps.

But that was a big motivator in why the Pulp Revolution took off.

The third reason it happened, and this is going to sound strange, was the recent cultural shift over the last three years.

As I've said, entertainment is in a bad place. For a long time many of us just sat on the sideline twiddling our thumbs and hoping for things to get better. Surely someone would waken from their slumber and wonder why nothing was getting better, realize they had fallen far from where they started, and work to get back on track.

But it never happened.

Video games were getting streamlined to oblivion as loudmouth political wanks began bullying customers. Genres were wiped out. Good developers were destroyed. Game journalists were getting by on nothing but the fact that they knew the right people. And we all just sat by and hoped it would get better. It only got worse.

Comics were getting more and more insular and up their own rear. They no longer courted new audiences, and when they did it was for an audience that didn't exist instead of the one that walked away. Comic shops were closed as Marvel continued to allow their employees to mock customers online and over-ship books to said stores. We just expected it would work itself out. It hasn't.

Movies recently just had their worst Summer box office since the 9/11 tragedy. They remake and subvert old properties constantly and end up making inferior products that critics (suspiciously) love while audiences clearly do not. Their "stars" are self-important and full of themselves, and as recently uncovered are almost all involved in covering up gross sins. Television is in exactly the same boat. But many still think it'll turn around. It isn't going to.

All of these have led to fan and customer movements that range from GamerGate to ComicsGate to the recent kerfuffle and justified backlash over Star Wars: The Last Jedi. What do all three have in common? They were all gas-lit to try to deflect the argument and hide behind strawmen. Anyone who has seen all three of these and still pretends there is no pattern is beyond saving at this point.

Then there is the literary industry.

Oh boy.

Books are not immune to any of the above. For this, I'm going to hand it over to author Brian Niemeier:


And with the book industry is where we find our first break in the storm clouds. While the big publishers are failing like every other industry, the indie market actually has the biggest chance it has ever had, and it was only really being realized a little as a few years ago.

These major factors converging were what lead to the Pulp Revolution. This is where it comes from.


Cruisin'

You had things like Appendix N discussions, blogs focused on pulps, writers creating new stories, and even new magazines based on standards the old ones had. I can't say they were all tied directly to the Pulp Revolution in their origins specifically, but they did show up at the table at the right time. They were all very much sharing the same goal.

This would be the part that I would mention people directly, but I don't want to forget anyone or say the wrong thing. Let's just say that if you can look around for PulpRev in any search engine you will find someone in it. It encompasses more than a small group, and is always letting in those who want to contribute. No one can co-opt it because the movement exists only to revive the old and link it to the present to move toward the future. Removing any one step in this process causes it to fail.

The Pulp Revolution goes beyond a small handful. Yes, you too can be PulpRev.

However, I will link to one podcast in particular, hosted by Geek Gab. This is an episode with Jeffro Johnson, Science Fiction writer John C. Wright, and rant-master extraordinaire Razorfist on pulp. This is a good encapsulation of the sort of thing the movement tries to strive for. Listen to their excitement and enthusiasm and tell me there is nothing to this thing.



At this point it is important to mention that the Pulp Revolution is not related to any other pulp movement, including New Pulp. Those movements exist to carry on a style of story for a specific audience and has a niche focus. The PulpRev exists to revive, re-energize, and kick in doors to the wider world. It is not a peaceful movement, and it is not complacent.

The revolution first started as more of a revival focused on reading and discussing old pulps and relishing how good the stories are and cursing the fact that they were buried for so long. It was peaceful at the time.

It is no longer.

In 2016 many people began to write. Some were inspired by the new magazines that sprung up, some by simply reading an old pulp story that had been buried, and others by discussions and realizations that the competition was so weak that there was nothing left to lose. Pulp or death.

That's just it, though. There is nothing left to lose. Entertainment is dying. Art is dying. The past has been discarded, the present is a toilet bowl, and the future is as uncertain as ever. You can either wallow and cry, or you can get up and slay the wizard before you. Guess which one PulpRev has chosen?

So start creating.

Let's finish this off with a quote from Jeffro himself.

"Pulp Revolution is not a group you associate with. It’s something you do. It’s reading old books and discussing them. It’s blogging and podcasting. It’s continuing the conversations that spring up on social media. It’s writing new pulps and putting them up on Amazon. 
"It’s not anyone’s place to tell anyone else they’re pulp revolutioning wrong. There is no gatekeeper. This whole thing is happening because there are no gatekeepers! And unlike the Sad Puppies, there is no one that can imperiously tell anyone, “hey… we built that.” Nobody built it. It just happened. When people find out the truth about the pulps and start reading them for themselves, they are overcome with a desire to create. Games. Stories. Criticism. It’s awesome. Nobody orchestrates this."

The solution is simple: Revolution! Go back to what was lost and pick up from the torn threads. It will take some time, but it isn't impossible.

It is inevitable as long as you're willing to fight.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

March Update!

I hope you're ready for an update.

One of my regrets of last year is that I didn't release enough material despite how much I actually wrote. A had a handful of short stories release and one book, all of which I received positive reaction from. I am not disappointed in anything put out, merely that it wasn't enough.

But this year will be different. I'm planning to get out the gate sooner than I did in 2017.

For a preview, I'm working on several different projects (some of which are not mine to announce) and am aiming to have several released before the end of the year. 2018 is going to be a bigger year for me and this blog. I can't reveal much yet, but I can promise it'll be worth the wait.

For now, however, I do have something to announce.

On March 27th I will be releasing my next work, Knives in the Night, a short story. It will be available for a dollar on amazon. But, that is on amazon. It will be available for free if you sign up for my mailing list. And it will be made available earlier, as well.

I told you I'm starting this year out stronger.

Here is the cover art by the great Kukuruyo:


Want to know what it's about? Read on!

This story takes place in my Hero Magic universe which is the same as previous stories of mine. This is a world of heroes and villains, but also one of hidden darker forces that lie under the surface. Knives in the Night is the story of a vigilante dealing with just such a problem. If you enjoyed Someone Is Aiming for You and Lucky Spider's Last Stand then this is for you.

Knives in the Night stars Walker, a man with the power to appear invisible. He hunts the night for someone important to him that disappeared a long time ago. He stalks the night evading the authorities and those who would do him harm. But this night is different. In the middle of his mission he stumbles across a situation where sinister forces are at play. The sudden appearance of villains, inexplicable magic, and a mysterious woman, all arrive at the same time to disturb his task. Now he has a new problem.

Will he be able to survive the night, or is he doomed to dwell in the dark? In a world of superpowers, there are still things that go bump in the night.

You can pick up Knives in the Night for a dollar when it comes out at the end of the month. Or you can sign up for the mailing list (that pop-up exists for a reason!) and get it a bit earlier, and for free. Either way, I hope you decide to give it a read.

This series is definitely going in interesting directions.



And until it releases you can always read my last book.