Thursday, 17 January 2019

The Heroes Unleashed!

Find it Here!

After a busy 2018 of planning, writing, editing, and effort, on the part of many different parties, I can now reveal what I've been dying to tell you about Heroes Unleashed.

It's finally here!

The first book in a new series (and overall universe!) is now out in kindle and physical forms. Inspired by a love of superheroes and a craving for more books in the genre, publisher Silver Empire got a few writers together to help cobble a whole universe worth of stories for you to dig in and heroes and villains to follow. And it starts here. Heroes Fall is the premiere book in both the greater Heroes Unleashed universe as well as the first in the Serenity City sub-series. A story about a battle between heroes and villains, and good and evil, is about to begin.

Morgon Newquist wrote this one so you know it's gonna be good. I hope you like your heroes, because you're about to get a heaping hot plate of 'em!

Here's what Heroes Fall is about:

He wanted to be a good man. Instead he became a hero. 
Twenty years ago, Serenity City's great Triumvirate of heroes - Achilles, the Banshee, and Pendragon - maintained a golden age of peace and prosperity. Then, in an instant, it all went wrong. The city's mightiest champion, Achilles, lost his mind during a showdown with the enigmatic supervillain Thanatos and went on a rampage across the city, leaving the Banshee dead and a swath of destruction in his wake before Pendragon could stop him. 
Today, as Achilles rots in solitary confinement, Victoria Westerdale investigates a new mystery. Why are young and forgotten heroes disappearing off the streets? Why doesn't anybody else care? And how is it tied in to those infamous events that brought the city's greatest heroes to ruin? 
And what's going to happen to them all after Achilles escapes?

I was fortunate enough to read Heroes Fall before its release and I can tell you that is exactly the type of hero story that's been missing from pop culture for awhile (aside from certain Marvel movies) and is exactly what you've been waiting for. It has everything you expect from a good hero story. Interesting characters, crackling action, and intriguing worldbuilding, are all here.

There are a few twists in this one, and some fantastic heroics an diabolical villainy. If you've been craving a good hero story then this is the one for you.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't point out my involvement in the project, but I wanted to post about this project beyond my obvious bias. This is a project that excites me regardless.

My involvement can be seen at the tail-end of the description:

The first of a new wave of superhero novels! Coming soon: 
Hollow City from Dragon Award nominee Kai Wai Cheah
The Phoenix Ring from Jon Mollison
Gemini Man from J.D. Cowan
Atlantean Archons from Richard W Watts

That's quite the lineup of authors (and there's more to come!), but I am humbled to be included among them.

Gemini Man is the series I'm working on, and the first book is called Gemini Warrior. It's a story about two reluctant heroes who get thrown into another world and have to fight their way back home. I don't want to take up space talking about my work, though, so I will just leave it at that for now. Suffice to say, you are going to be seeing even more fun from Heroes Unleashed after this initial offering, as good as it is on its own.

My involvement aside, this is a project that would excite me either way. With the comic industry imploding, and the dearth of original IPs coming out of Hollywood and the big companies, we've been needing more projects such as this. For those of us that crave hero stories, Heroes Unleashed is what you've been needing and Heroes Fall is the perfect place to begin.

We're just getting started! 2019 is gonna be great.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

The Belated Cirsova Issue #8 Review

Find it Here!

I am so far behind on reviews of 2018 material that it is incredible. It is why I can't rightfully nominate for the Planetary Awards this year. I have too many works I have not dived into or finished yet. So to make it up here is a review for an issue I started but lost then found again later. This is for Cirsova issue #8. I still have #9 and #10 as well as other books in my backlog to start and finish, so this might be the last one for a little while. This is what happens when you lose track of your reading pile.

Nonetheless, let us talk genre fiction. Does issue #8 continue Cirsova's streak of top notch heroic genre stories or is it a dud? Read on and see.

We start off with Slavers of Venus by Nathan Dabney, someone I am acquainted with online and have read other works of. He specializes in the sort of storytelling I like: fast, fun, and traditional, adventure tales. This one is reminiscent of Jack Vance's Planet of Adventure in which a spacefarer is stranded on a distant planet and must use his wits to survive. Against lizard men. This is the sort of thing that got me into reading the pulps in the first place, and I can easily see why it was placed at the front of the magazine. The first of two novelettes, this one is so fast paced you hardly notice its length, and it sticks with you until the end.

Second up is Littermates (Part 1 of 2) by J.D. Brink. I know Cirsova has stated that they aren't interested in serializations, but this is not one despite the title. Part 1 tells the complete story of a group of "littermates" (gene-spliced clones) that wreak havoc on a port station and space pirates that have to deal with the threat. Loony chaos ensues. I have not yet read Part 2, but I can tell you it is not due to any sort of cliffhanger on this one, but because as of writing this I haven't gotten to issue #9 yet. However, this one part is sure to leave you with a smile on your face.

After that we reach the next story titled Breaking the Accords by Amy Powers Jansen. A war on a mystical distant jungle world reaches its climax as gods get involved. This one features intense action and such a great setting that I wanted to see more of. The only weakness of this story was the title. It's just a flat name to stick such a lively story with. Nonetheless, I dug this one.

Continuing the streak of engaging stories is The Dream Lords by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt. I had a hard time trying to describe this. This is a story of a wanderer and his quest for revenge, a town ruled by dream gods that overlook two houses, and nightmares that creep into reality. The world and conflict is constructed so well that I wanted to see what adventures would unfurl from the ending. Perhaps Mr. Uitvlugt will grace us with a follow up. We can only hope!

Then we come to Only a Coward by Jennifer Povey. This is a story about betrayal, death, and revenge, which has a bit of a twist in the ending that you may or may not see coming depending on how many revenge stories you have come across. Either way the language is evocative and helps maintain the protagonist's feelings on their plight and adds to the heavy mood. It's my least favorite story in the issue, but that isn't saying much as I still do like and recommend it.

The cover story, Party Smashers by Ken McGrath, is essentially a grittier cyberpunk version of Dirty Pair, featuring two female main character mercenaries hired to take out a terrorist before he sets off a scheme. Of course, in buddy action comedy fashion, things quickly spin out of control from the premise. It's a violent story, and the scene depicted on the cover of the magazine actually leads to one of the most gruesome I've seen in the pages of Cirsova. However, it is still Heroic Fiction at the end of the day and the main characters do their best to get their man by the end. You just don't see it happen in such a wild way too often.

Promontory by Jon Zaremba is the second novelette in the issue and is like if George Romero and HP Lovecraft got together to make a short together. It's an end of the world/horror/action/lost world combination the likes of which is not seen very often. I want to write more about it but I don't think I can accurately describe what occurs without rubbing off some of the power of the tale's mystique and strange structure. However, the ending is not much like either of the two creators mentioned above which gives it a different take on the concept. Definitely a worthy inclusion. I quite enjoyed the ride.

The final story in the magazine is Going Native by J. Manfred Weichsel, and is easily the funniest story I have ever read in Cirsova. There were several moments where I burst out laughing despite my best efforts. This is a cautionary tale about promiscuous sex with aliens that has some funny lines, moments, and scenes, ending in a perfect wrap-up about the dangers of fornication and stupid youth that nearly had me on the floor. It comes across as an old PSA or very special movie, but is played straight without having to wink at the audience. At the same time it does manage its theme and weird aspect convincingly well. I'm not sure if it's my favorite in issue #8 but it's up there. It's difficult to write funny weird fiction without it coming across as throwing spaghetti at the wall or trying too hard, but it is pulled off so well here that it almost looks easy. Perfect ending choice for the issue.

All in all this was a great step-up from issue #7 and one of the better issues of Cirsova that doesn't really have any weak point to speak of. I enjoyed all the stories a good deal and recommend you read them all. Cirsova's reputation is only growing and is greatly deserved with material like this.

Once again, highly recommended.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Welcome to 2019!

The future I'm still waiting for.

It's the end of the decade! I'm sure out flying cars, wicked cool motorcycles, and trench coats will be arriving any day now.

It's a bit hard to believe that this year I will have been writing at this blog for five years now. Half a decade! This whole thing mostly started as an outlet to get thoughts and ideas written somewhere as I wrote novels and dealt with real life problems in the background. I wasn't sure it would last as long as it did, never mind for 300 posts. Little did I know how much things would change in such a short time.

But all that aside I suppose it is time for a general update post on where I am at. It's been a while since I made one of these.

Over the last year I wrote two novels, one is with my editor right now and the other is being heavily dissected and rewritten by me in the background while I am also in the middle of writing a new one. Pulp speed is still something I engage in, but it is not a method I can use to publish the content, merely produce it from my brain. Editors, artists, formatters, and readers, all have their own schedules and I can't do anything about it. As it is, I didn't get to publish a novel last year, but that will change for 2019.

I wrote seven short stories (and am currently near the end of an eighth) but I also wonder if I should keep my focus on them, much as I enjoy writing these pieces. They don't garner a lot of attention and there are so few markets who actually buy Action and Adventure stories that it's the equivalent of playing Russian Roulette in getting the work out there to an audience. I have a few more I absolutely want to write and put out (mostly to get a functional themed collection) but I don't think I will put as much of my attention into them going forward.

Because of all these choices I didn't get as much published this year as I would like compared to 2017. I only had three short stories released, one of which I put out myself via newsletter and amazon, and no novels. Compared to what I wrote that result isn't much. It's a bit of a disappointment, but at least I should have a novel out within the next few months via my publisher and a story or two in a collection or anthology on top of it. So my efforts for the year were not a total loss.

On the personal side, 2018 was not a great year. The first few months went well until I lost someone important to me at the end of March. That cloud hung over me for the rest of the year, spoiling much of the mood and stifling productivity that should not have been. Several others were lost along the way and I learned some things that were not pleasant, but were certainly necessary to learn. On the other hand, because of all this my motivation to move to a better location has been renewed. I don't think this will cut down on writing, whether blog or otherwise, but it should help me regain focus on what truly matters. 2019 will be an improvement.

Myself aside, the indie writing world sure was full of surprises this year. There is a new movement for mecha series starting up (Beginning as #AGundam4Us) it looks as if genre magazines are beginning to find an audience to be sustainable, at least in the short term, and several upcoming projects like Heroes Unleashed are beginning to spring up. Imagining this back when I started this blog back in 2014 was impossible. Things have changed quite a lot.

Though to be fair, this decade has to be the most dull one in my lifetime, especially if we're talking entertainment.

The top ten grossing movies of 2011 and the top ten grossing movies of 2018 are fairly interchangeable with each other. Even comparing it to a list from 1991 and 1998 would yield it shows a culture in complete stagnation. Case in point, the two movies this year that will probably be worth seeing from the big studios had their first entry release in 2012 and 2014.

That might be the biggest takeaway from all this. Compare entertainment and the culture of any decade from the first year to the last one.

Television... is dead. I don't have any way to spin that one. The networks are still offering the same swill from 2012 and 2013, just occasionally changing the title and actors involved. Reality television's stranglehold killed audience investment and single cam post-modern sitcoms successfully murdered traditional sitcoms and general audience interest with it.

The music industry is a dead man walking. It has no influence left, just as it had near the start of the decade. It has no superstars, no crossover appeal, and no performer than isn't completely interchangeable with any other one. Tik Tok by Ke$ha (a song I've never heart because this stuff is easy to escape now) was the highest selling single of 2010. 2018? God's Plan by Drake (another song I have never heard) and the same list of performers you've heard hundreds of times. Now, compare 1980 to 1988. Call Me by Blondie compared with Faith by George Michael. They aren't even the same genre.

But because of the rise of services like bandcamp that successful movements like Retrowave came about, and where many indie bands now put their work. You probably won't ever hear a new band come out of the labels before the collapse, but it won't be because they don't exist. It will be because the labels are clueless.

In fact, it is the mediums where the independent and middle market have a chance to succeed that are doing the best creatively.

Video games have had a creatively bankrupt decade, still milking games and formulas from 2008 (Batman: Arkham Asylum and Uncharted 2) as well as the ever-tired Grand Theft Auto template. About the only interesting console release was the Nintendo Switch which easily overtook the sales of every other console in the decade by simply offering something other than the same thing as previous systems with pwettier gwaphics that Sony and Microsoft did. However, within the last few years middle market studios, once nearly hobbled by the first HD generation, have made a return and are finally back on track. Games such as Cuphead, Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and Dusk, all released to rave reviews and offered something the AAA companies couldn't. Going into this year we should hopefully see more from the middle market as they overthrow the safe and tired mainstream from their undeserved pedestal.

As we enter into this last year of the 2010s I suppose that is the best takeaway from it. The dinosaurs are dying, and the new age is beginning. Let us just make sure we are not caught in the extinction event with them.

Happy 2019!

Monday, 31 December 2018

The State of Anime 2018

Here we go again.

Those that are unaware, I have been watching anime for over two decades at this point. I don't do this because I'm a "Glorious Nippon" type who hates anything western or because I'm obsessed with animation, but because unlike other mediums it is one of the few that managed to keep its core intact. Anime tells fantastical stories using 2D animation, a format all but ejected by the west, and has no real limit on what can be achieved through it. This means you get a lot of terrible messes, but also some classics you would not get elsewhere. Nonetheless, because of this I have tried to keep an eye on the industry through its darker moments.

There have been a lot of darker moments. Starting in the late 00s, around 2007, the medium began sacrificing imagination and energy for fetishism and low effort works that did not take advantage of the medium they were in. This continued a bit into the '00s, but series such as Tiger & Bunny and Psycho Pass did prove that there were those who didn't forget what it was about. The decade took a while to regain its footing, and I believe it finally did by 2015 with works such as One Punch Man, Ushio & Tora, and Blood Blockade Battlefront going back to its roots.

I've been recording the upswing in the anime industry in recent years on this blog. 2015 marked the first year in some time to try for more mainstream appeal again by remembering what made the medium great, and 2016 was an even better improvement over that with the most series worth seeing since near a decade. However, 2017 was a step back as if they were not sure about themselves. There were good series, however there were not as many and bad habits began to resurface. Despite that lesser year, 2018 was a definite improvement, returning to the high that was 2016. It definitely looks like they have decided on the right direction.

The industry still has its troubles. Home media sales are falling and piracy is as big a problem as ever, not to mention working conditions for animators and a reliance on fleecing a shrinking audience with low effort garbage. However, there are bright spots.

So let us have a look at the past year in anime and what is coming for the year ahead.


The winter season starts in January and runs until April. Usually this is the dumping ground for series that didn't make the much hotter Fall or Spring seasons for whatever reason, however there are sometimes high quality hits hidden here. Erased is one from 2016, and this year there was Megalo Box. But some new seasons of Seven Deadly Sins, Saiki K, Overlord, and Gintama also premiered here thereby making this season quite good for a winter season.

Carryovers from last year such as Garo: Vanishing Line, and the movie Mazinger Z: Infinity also added to make this a good season. On top of it Netflix exclusives such as AICO the Incarnation and Devilman Crybaby were surprising additions. This was also the season the controversial Trigger series (but I repeat myself) Darling in the Franxx premiered.

One also can't forget about the absurd Pop Team Epic which took the anime world by surprise and confounded stuffy shirt critics. It was quite the winner. But, as mentioned, the highlight of the season, by far, was Megalo Box.

Megalo Box was made for the anniversary of Ashita no Joe, one of manga's seminal series and a classic anime on top of it. It's an original series that takes the concept and themes of the original series and does them homage by telling a brand new story with those elements. So while the original is about a young punk struggling to find his place in an unforgiving world, this is about a down on his luck man in a cyberpunk future struggling to find his purpose in a world where humanity is slowly being deconstructed and replaced with better parts.

This was one of the best anime I have seen in years with an ending that is surprisingly controversial considering the conclusion of Ashita no Joe. But its themes are perfectly congruent with the original, and it added enough of an original spin to make it both a perfect tribute and totally fresh idea. It was accordingly ignored by the anime media.

That was only the first season of the year.


Spring of course was buoyed by My Hero Academia which already is a great start to build a series around. However, it wasn't alone. New anime of classics like Captain Tsubasa, Gegege no Kitaro, and Legend of the Galactic Heroes were welcome additions, but new seasons of old shows such as Full Metal Panic: Invisible Victory and Gundam Build Divers also existed. These were all worth the watch, being more than just remakes of old series.

But there was new material, as well. Chief among them being Golden Kamuy. This show suffered from having nightmarish 3D (that was used sparingly, and was actually effective given what the CG was used for) and a more lax pace near the start, but its pulp gold rush adventure story was something very fresh for the medium. It even got a split cour release this year--the first being in Spring and the second in Fall where it remained a highlight in both.

Golden Kamuy was also embroiled in controversy, as a side character who is a man took plastic surgery to disguise himself as a woman. This was apparently not acceptable by the anime media though nobody watching actually cared. Thankfully their influence appears to be dying as watchers realize the absurdity of their complaints. Yet another item to add to the list of this year being an improvement.

Other new shows included Lupin III: Part V, Piano no Mori, Hinamatsuri, and Steins;Gate Zero which were all really popular additions to make this season better than you would expect. This isn't including holdovers from the last season, either. Instead of hanging its hat on My Hero Academia there was plenty here worth watching.

Those CG bears will replace the whale in my nightmares, however.


Typically the second weakest season of the year aside from the Spring holdovers, Summer was a tiny bit better than usual.

This season had the woefully misunderstood Banana Fish (looking for portrayals of positive relationships in this series is missing the point of the overall theme of corruption) that was needlessly modernized setting-wise but remains violent as all get out with quite a lot of disturbing content. The bizarre High Score Girl about arcade games and romance in the early 90s was far more accurate than American fare like Everything Sucks. Then there was also Planet With and the third season of Overlord.

Oh, and the third season of a little known series called Attack on Titan started. This season was not wanting for content.

But there was also a release of the My Hero Academia movie which came out of nowhere to surprise. Not only was it a hit, but also succeeded overseas on a scale not seen in a while proving just how much gas still remained in the franchise despite being three years in on it. It also shows how anime, and theatrical 2D animation, are still viable choices for studios. The western industry does not have to be as terrible as it is.

All in all, Summer turned out better than expected. Not bad at all.


This is usually the strongest season of the year, and this year did not disappoint. First thing to mention is a little show called Goblin Slayer which ended up blowing the landscape to pieces with controversy after controversy and managing to bring in a lot of attention to both the series and industry at the same time. Double Decker ended up being an action comedy that was quite a bit weirder than originally expected. Hinomaru Zumou was a sports anime with a lot of hot blood and spirit. Karakuri Circus was wonderfully weird and exciting but too fast paced and "dated" for anime journalists (they really had some bad takes this year) and will continue over into 2019. Then there was Trigger's somehow controversial yet better received SSSS.Gridman. The new series were off the chain, and remarkably well received.

The season was packed. New seasons of older series included Fairy Tail, Golden Kamuy, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, A Certain Magical Index, and even Sword Art Online for anyone still into that. All the heavy hitters short of a Dragon Ball series were here. There was something for everyone, and not much in the way of low points.

There was also Zombieland Saga as this year's pointless fanbait show, but I'll mention it just for its popularity. Don't expect to hear much about it next year. Just as always they quickly vanish from memory. Though this one did have yet another controversy because the western anime journalists have nothing better to do.

That was 2018. It was quite impressive considering 2017's step back and shying away from its improvements. There still remained crap, as there always will, but what was there did not reach as low a level as one would expect or were as plentiful as some in recent years. There was no Handshakers in 2018. Moe and idol shows did not have as big a presence as they had in recent years. As a whole the year worked.

That's all well and good, but how about 2019? That is the real question. How is that looking? Will it be an improvement like 2016 was over 2015, or will it be a letdown like 2017 from 2016? Thankfully we know a few series ahead of time. Let's have a look at a few highlights coming down the pike.

First let's mention sequel series, as they are always announced first. Mob Psycho 100, One Punch Man, and My Hero Academia. are all getting new seasons. This already puts the year over 2015 and matches 2017. There are also new series for Boogiepop, Dororo, and Ultraman. Oh, and again, more Attack on Titan.

However, we must also discuss what is new and what might get overlooked for more trash that the industry will try to push over the quality. Not everything airing has been announced for 2019, but there are a few series I can mention.

The Promised Neverland (Winter)

This was the most recent big hit to come from Shonen Jump, and you wouldn't know it from the trailer. It's not the sort of series you might expect. The Promised Neverland has more in common with a Death Note or a Naoki Urasawa manga than it does with Dragon Ball or My Hero Academia. Since this will probably only be 12 episodes or so (if it were 24 it would end in the middle of something else in the story) it will cover a very riveting and tense drama that builds to an explosive finale of things going sideways. The first part of this one is intense.

The series has a small cast which develops remarkably well throughout this arc of the story as they learn to adapt to new information and use their heads to think their way out of a bad situation. Should you want something different then this is what you will want to see. This isn't a lighthearted series.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (Spring)

Speaking of Shonen Jump, the magazine recently had its 50th anniversary and had many anime adaptions announced. The one that peaked my interest, and anyone who had read been reading the series, was the one announced for this one. Being adapted by the studio behind the Fate series, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba stars a boy who loses his family due to a demon attack. He joins the demon hunters to find his revenge and to prevent what happened to him happen to anyone else. Along the way he discovers allies, monsters, and a battle between good and evil that has been going on for centuries.

In my opinion, this is the second best series currently running in Shonen Jump behind My Hero Academia, and well deserves whatever popularity I hope it gains from this anime adaption. This is the most bloody, intense, and violent, series in the magazine right now with quite a lot of pathos, hot blooded emotion, and oddly touching moments that arrive out of the chaos. Since MHA unfortunately isn't running in Spring this year I highly recommend watching this instead. You will be surprised at how good it gets.

Dr. Stone (Summer)

Completing this trilogy of Jump recommendations we end with Dr. Stone. One day the sky is filled with a strange light and everyone in the world is turned to stone. After thousands of years some finally awaken to find the world is a much different place. But one young man has just the right amount of knowledge of the old world to help bring it back. By the writer of Eyeshield 21 and drawn by the man behind Sun-Ken Rock, this is the type of pro-science series that could not be made in the west without heavy propaganda. As the character reintroduces lost science in the world and discover what put them there they learn exactly what they will need to survive and work hard to create a way out of every deadly situation they find themselves in.

This is a very fun adventure series with just the right amount of cleverness and action that would make it fit into an issue of Astounding (but not Analog) and this adaption should hopefully do it justice. I'm not sure how well this adaption will do, but expect either controversy or cultists from the western industry to gather around it in an attempt to ruin its pleasant tone.

So what is my final analysis of the state of the anime industry? I think it is improving, slowly but surely. I was almost certain 2019 would include some walking back like 2017 did, but just the opposite happened. Considering where this decade started out back in 2010, anime has really made steady improvements from the mistakes made in the late '00s and has almost taken all of them back with increased streaming, less cynical merchandising attempts, and more ideas that are closer to the heart of what makes the medium what it is and allowed it to take off worldwide in the first place.

Outside of television, manga's digital sales in Japan have overtaken physical, but they are also increasing overall. Overseas manga and anime are picking up the slack for the dead western industry of comics and animation, even live action TV can't match it. The Japanese gaming industry might be mixed (Sony has given over control to California and heavy censorship while Nintendo has not) but the rest appears to be on an upswing. They have learned and adjusted accordingly.

This is where we're at now. The changes in the '00s were a mistake, and the '10s started off in an even worse place, but effort managed to turn that around to where we are now. For the first time in near two decades it looks like the future of the medium might be bright, and that's a good thing. I can't say I saw this coming back then.

2019 should be a lot of fun.

My 2019 had some great releases. I had stories in issue 3 of StoryHack and in DimensionBucket Magazine and am working on others I'm hoping will be out in 2019. This past year wasn't perfect, but I can't lie and say I'm not looking forward to the upcoming year. Things really are getting better, so let us see where the final year of the decade gets us. I can't imagine what will happen next.

Friday, 28 December 2018

Memory Mirage

We're living in an age of nostalgia. That much is certain. However, what is the substance of said nostalgia? Is it centered around the good feelings and memories involved or on the products themselves? Do we even know? I can't answer that, and yet I doubt the entertainment conglomerates know either. It will require years of cultural studies to find out just where this whole thing came from and why no one can define it in concrete terms.

But the truth is that the past we all remember wasn't some Golden Age where everything was perfect and the sun always shined bright on the world. There were plenty of terrible things, and we know this. Remember Friends and Survivor? Try watching them now. Those haven't held up too well, and you won't find much argument to the contrary.

Some things simply don't age well, and sometimes those in charge completely misunderstand that. And sometimes they're more interested in re-purposing the old for sinister (and not-so-sinister) motives. Then, just as now, there existed a media that wanted to weaponize art and slander the past to create it. Either way they tend to misunderstand what made the original product hit the mark to begin with.

Even as far back as the '90s there were those who attempted to control discourse by gripping nostalgia by the throat and choking the life out of it. You don't have to look much further than video games and the attempted murder of 2D gaming.

It might have fallen down the memory hole for the general culture, but for those of us who didn't jump and clap our hands at the newest shiny toy on the block it remains fresh in our minds. An entire industry, and its sycophants tried to erase a genre overnight. Yes, this happened, and people in the industry deny that it ever occurred.

But it did.*

*Special mention must be made of several comments solely blaming Nintendo and/or saying this propaganda effort doesn't matter now. If you want to know why your hobby is a multi-billion dollar industry and is still dying then you can blame yourself for being completely unable to discern symptoms of the issues destroying it.

For those unaware, in the mid-80s when the video game industry was on its last legs, Nintendo came out with the Nintendo Entertainment System, a video game console that saved the industry with its focus on quality and stamping out the clutter and junk the shelves had been flooded with. The effort wasn't perfect as some quality was blocked from release and trash still slipping through the gates, but Nintendo's focus helped the hobby gain footing again.

By the mid-90s, video game systems like the Sega Genesis, Turbografx-16 and Super NES, had come around and raised the quality of the medium by putting fun first and creating the single best console generation of gaming to date. These systems proved video games were sticking around.

However, that was not to last. You can read the article to see why things changed and why the move to 3D was wanted by different companies, but it was inevitability either way. 3D was new and there were things you could explore with it that you couldn't in 2D space. I don't blame Sony, Nintendo, and Sega for pushing 3D (but I do blame Sony's anti-2D policy as directly harmful. Sorry, Dualshockers, we missed out on many 2D games because of Sony's censorship and no one in the industry ever calls them out on it) because there had never been a 3D console before. As far as selling points go, it was a great one.

What was damaging to the industry, however, were the game journalists who for the first time revealed themselves as corporate slaves more interested in pushing some nebulous form of progress while burning its roots to a crisp at the same time over promoting what the customers wanted. They deserve to be called out over this.

You see, 2D gaming is why the video game industry exists at all. It's where the medium started, where the top franchises emerged from, and where genres (including first person perspective games) were born. Without 2D your favorite video game would not exist because the medium wouldn't.

And game journalists fought to kill it. I had personally gotten into arguments on the internet as a boy with these very people who would give good ports of arcade games lower scores for being arcade games, lower price be damned. I'd seen 2D platformers degraded for being 2D platformers. I watched as sprite games were outright dismissed because they weren't overly blocky polygons. All this when less than five years prior games like Contra 3 and Axelay were praised for the inventive use of sprites and scrolling. Now these games suddenly didn't matter?

Meanwhile these journalists pushed 3D as the future of gaming and a step towards some utopian future for the hobby. Why both couldn't coexist was a mystery to me at the time, and it took until the Nintendo Wii (much to the chagrin of game journalists: they hated the Wii) and New Super Mario Bros. Wii (which IGN even wrote an article decrying Nintendo for releasing) being the highest selling game of the generation to show that audiences still wanted 2D. Because game journalists wanted it dead and relegated to 5 buck indie games. They didn't care that the audience made NSMBWii a higher seller than every Call of Duty game--they wanted their industry the way they wanted it.

Because of the success of that game, 2D came flooding back. One year after Mega Man 9's success and 2D was allowed to live on consoles again after being quarantined to handhelds (and with the rise of the Nintendo DS and then 3DS it was already being replaced by 3D) and saved from extinction. Years of quality games later and 2D is alive and well again.

No thanks to game journalists.

And with the recent success of the NES and SNES Classic, with the announcement of a Sega Genesis one, with affordable arcade cabinets coming into fashion and being sold at Walmart, with classic gaming merchandise selling higher than ever, the question remains. Was the audience actually tired of 2D, or were they simply not given a choice to get sick of it?

Because as much goodwill as the 8 and 16 bit generations have, the following one does not have anywhere near their popularity.

The uncomfortable truth is that 3D games from the PlayStation 1, Sega Saturn, and Nintendo 64, have not aged well. While many games came out for those systems that were great, they suffered from problems later systems never did and it hampers playing them today or with fresh eyes. If there is a generation of gaming that deserves to be totally remade with modern hardware it is that one.

Ironic that the most "important" and "advanced" console generation aged the worst of any, but there it is.

But the generation before it? The SNES, TG16, and Genesis, have aged perfectly well. In fact, there was room for improvement. The SNES had problems with faster games, the Genesis couldn't output as much on screen as the SNES, and the TG16 was weaker than both despite the CD attachment giving it a boost of Redbook audio. Systems like the Sega CD and the Sega Saturn showed where 2D could have gone with multiple levels of parallax scrolling, large sprites, and imaginative and bright art design, but were too enamored with a graphical arms race that amounted to nothing in the end to pursue it. That road led to bloated HD gaming costs, closed companies, oversized teams, and a decrease in output from studios. But at least every game looks as exciting as a National Geographic photo. That blind obsession with progress is what led gaming down the hole it's currently sitting in. The pursuit of 3D derailed the hobby.

So why are gamers nostalgic for the past? I wouldn't say they are, actually. I'd say the 8 and 16-bit generations remain popular because they are objectively the best generations in all of gaming. It was the one that hit worldwide, where genres flourished, and where quality was more important than technology. It's the 32-bit generation that requires nostalgia to enjoy to its fullest, and the trends started under it are what led to every modern problem (Save DLC) that is currently stagnating the industry from cinematic obsession to a focus on "realism" at the expense of player agency and fun. There is nothing to miss from post-16 bit console generations because everything they started still remains.

It isn't that people think the past is better but that the present is so terrible that they have nowhere else to go, and that is because of a pointless and obsessive worship of the future that buried it all to begin with. When you stray off the path you need to retrace your steps to where you first got lost to find your way forward again. You don't blindly plod along in the dark toward the coyotes howling over the next hill. You know what they say about doing the same thing multiple times and wondering why you get the same results.

Maybe this will serve a lesson for Gen Z coming from Gen Y and Millennials not to believe the hype.  The hype is not on your side. Eventually it will turn against you.

And the problem has not been remedied.

Yes, we can say games like Cuphead exist now and sell gangbusters so the stigma against an entire genre isn't a problem anymore. But that would be a lie. Entertainment was disposed of for the simple reason that it was declared outdated by someone other than the customers. We were never given the choice.

The fact of the matter is that it happened, and could very well happen again. In an age where journalism is losing credibility due to hacks and liars working against their customer base, we must remain more vigilant than ever. They're not going to stop doing the same thing over and over.

Pulp, 2D gaming, action cartoons, adventure movies, and comics as a whole, have all suffered heavy blows from groups of people who hate what they stand for and will do anything to take them away.

None of this is anything new, so don't be surprised when they try it again.

Don't forget, because it's not over yet. Nostalgia cash-grabs exist because of the feelings corporations are hoping to invoke, not because they want to continue the lineage of the product you enjoy. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is when those involved don't understand the appeal to begin with. That is how you take a billion dollar franchise and within three years release a movie that can't even break even. That's how you know they don't get it.

The truth is we're not in any Golden Age right now, but we have the tools to make one. While those who dislike us and wish to pilfer the last remaining bills from out pocket as we walk by their foreclosed business look at us with scorn, we actually do know what we want.

We don't want the past, we don't want the present, and we don't want the future. We want all three at once. And if you don't understand that then maybe that's why modern art fails to connect with so many people.

Screw your bloodless manic-depressive Utopian paradise. We deserve better.

I have two recent stories out in Storyhack #3 and one in DimensionBucket Magazine. If you are looking for good old fashioned action and adventure stories like they haven't made since the '90s then I've got you covered.

Someone's got to pull the slack, after all.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Merry Christmas!

Thank you to all readers of Wasteland and Sky for keeping it interesting around here, and have a blessed holiday season! It's because of you folks that I have a fun time thinking up posts every week. It's not that easy, trust me. But it still remains fun.

Here's to you and yours, especially those loved ones who are no longer there to celebrate with us. They are hopefully enjoying their greater reward. For those still here, please cherish those by your side. This is the time of year for that.

There will still be a regular post this week, but I wanted to acknowledge all you out there on this special day. Keep looking up, and God bless.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Friday, 21 December 2018

Best in Retrowave 2018!

Even a year later I did not expect all the positive reactions my posts in Retrowave garnered. Unfortunately, it's not much of a subject I can post about without repeating that it is the best genre currently in the music world and you would be remiss in ignoring it. It takes the best aspects of the last era of pure pop music (the 80s) and the lessons learned in the decades since while ignoring all the bad turns the industry has taken. It's really that simple. The genre is just exactly what we need.

However, there is another way I can share more of this genre with you, dear readers.. The year is nearly at an end, so how about I share what I consider some of the best albums and songs released over 2018? Because there were some great ones, many of which you might not have heard.

It's been a good year for Retrowave as a whole, however there were some stumbles.

I'll be upfront about some of my disappointments with 2018. Still no new Miami Nights 1984 album is at the top of the list. He's been teasing a new album for years now, but it's still nowhere to be seen. Considering his other two are still top of the genre so many years later listeners are frothing at the mouth for a new one. 2012 was a long time ago.

After enjoying The Midnight's Nocturnal album to pieces last year their newest, Kids, was an unequivocal step down and my biggest disappointment of 2018. It is not just because they refused to use their secret weapon, the almighty saxophone, on this release but because of two things about Retrowave which I feel are the genre's Achilles' Heel and should be actively avoided to prevent it from falling into parody and obscurity. Unfortunately, it is still very possible for that to happen. The genre isn't perfect, and these two points are proof as to why.

The first issue is the over-reliance on nostalgia. I'm not going to deny that longing for the good old days isn't part of the appeal of the genre, but it mustn't wallow in it. Kids was obsessed with childhood from arcade motifs to wistful longing lyrics of dead days to unneeded '80s references to a soppy and weepy level of energy throughout. It's not using the '80s to create something new. It's using the '80s as a makeshift pillow to cry under.

This ties in to my other complaint about the lack of variety. Every track has the same tempo and follows the same formula over and over. The entire album blurs together because the focus is too overemotional and invested in reveling in a forgotten time at the expense of varied songwriting. This is the opposite of their last album, Nocturnal. Retrowave is at its best when it is acknowledging the past and using it to move into the future with exciting new ideas and sounds along the way. It links two things and makes the one. There is no attempt to connect to the future on this album. Kids sounds like a millennial from 2006 suddenly realized their childhood was over and never coming back so they made this album during that depressing realization. I say this because the genre is about more than pointless nostalgia, but this album has nothing else to it.

Those disappointment aside, there is far more worth talking about from this year. There is much to mention here.

The best album in the genre to be released this year is Syndicate Shadow by Neon Nox. This is a work that spans the gauntlet from downbeat groovers to epic action assaults. This is the sound of a Cyberpunk riot and a man who decides to become a hero when he is needed to. It is fantastic for every second of the journey. Syndicate Shadow manages to combine ideas from '80s and '90s soundtracks to meld with a modern positive futuristic outlook (that isn't easy with Cyberpunk) to deliver the strongest album in the genre this year. You won't find one better.

Nightrider scratches that Miami Nights 1984 itch I've been waiting to scratch, Risky Fulfillment is a slow burner with a hook that won't let go, and Street Hawk is a racing tune that wouldn't sound too out of joint coming from Tokyo Rose. The album builds to a dramatic finish where the protagonist becomes the hero he is needed to be, and the sounds escalate to reflect it. Every track on this one is a winner.

Neon Nox might have hit it out of the park, but they weren't alone in fantastic releases this year. There were a few great albums worth checking out. Some of which I didn't expect at all.

Irving Force's Godmode is a grinding trek through a DOOM meets Robocop world of explosive violence and carnage and an endless sprawl of city like Judge Dredd. I've said in the past that Darksynth isn't my favorite subgenre in any capacity, but this album is one of the few to break that impression and become a must listen. There is a reason for that.

I like my music to have shifting moods and tones, and Godmode delivers that in a way only Retrowave music can. Starting with a slowly speeding climb through a chaotic world, going through action set pieces and fantastic discoveries along the way, and ending with a jaunt through a dying wasteland, this album is a delight. And I haven't even mentioned the best tracks yet. But then I would have to choose between them.

Suffice to say, this is one every fan of Retrowave should listen to. Godmode is a classic of the genre.

Overlord is quite a rocking track. But let us move on. The next release is a very different experience.

DELOS' self-titled EP came out of nowhere for me. It's only four tracks and much shorter than the rest listed on here, but the soundscapes it explores are magical. This EP feels like a trip through an insane science fantasy world from the 1970s. Jack Vance isn't what you usually think when you think of Retrowave. But it works so, so well.

This one is all about scope and wonder, and it's delivered in such a condensed space that it is shocking how well it works together to form a cohesive piece.

The Brood starts off like a journey through a mystical far off land. Trace Decay is the exploration of long abandoned ruins of an ancient civilization by a lone warrior with a past of his own. Night View is what it states, a trek through a long dead land that overlooks the final destination. The EP ends with Magic City, where anything is possible and secrets and truths lie just around the next bend at journey's end. Every song takes you on a trip you don't see coming.

Four tracks, all top notch. DELOS knocks it out of the park. Give this one a go.

Robert Parker's End of the Night is the least surprising of these listed. He's been well known in the genre for years, and Crystal City is still regarded as one of the best albums in Retrowave. However, End of the Night is a step up from it.

Where Crystal City could feel a bit fragile at times with how light a touch the songs had, End of the Night is rock solid full of brimming confidence. Every track has muscle behind it and a thunderous groove to keep your toes tapping with a cornucopia of sounds not always heard in the genre. All the guest stars on the album also work and compliment the songs which is not too common for projects like this.

I guess that's the best thing I can say about this one. Every track is dynamite and there is no weak point to be found on it. This is the type of music that got you into the genre to begin with, and these are some of the best songs to be found in it.

If you've been waiting for the next poppy hit record for the genre then this is it. Nothing else hit that mark harder than this one did in 2018.

Last but not least and the first on this list released this year is LeveL-1's Mother Brain, a Cyberpunk groove machine that sounds somewhere between Streets of Rage and a robot invasion from an underground factory. It's a bit of a different sound from usual Retrowave in its focus on beats and feel over layered soundscape. But that doesn't mean it has no character or has no depth.

Each track gives plenty of imaginative sounds. Start the Engine is a deep trek through an underground factory. The Wirehead is a cyborg attack on a skyscraper with matching scale. Hit It! is like the missing theme from the Undercover Cops arcade game. Corrupted A.I. is a quirky pop tune that wouldn't have been out of place on an old school compilation album from 1986. Finally, Homecoming surmises the quiet moments after the escape and hope for what tomorrow will bring. It's a tight album where every second counts.

In just 10 tracks, Mother Brain spans across the map, sound-wise. And yet it is incredibly sharp and to the point. There's no flab to be found here.

Unlike the other albums on the list this one is available for free, though I would recommend chipping in some coin when buying because it really is that good and these guys deserve the support. It's an album that should be better known than it is. I would easily call it one of the best of 2018, and that's why I'm putting it here.

Those are the top five albums released in the genre this year. I highly recommend all of them. You won't hear anything like these anywhere else.

But we're not done yet. Next I want to post a bunch of standalone tracks from 2018 that really stuck with me. Some are part of bigger albums I simply didn't list here for space reasons or are stray singles not tied to any album in particular. Either way, they are just as good as what I listed above.

It is strange at how the age of the single has returned in the digital landscape. In the 90s they were all but dead after a slow death in the '80s. The format was thought left for dead little more than a decade ago, but here we are.

Anyway, here is a list of singles to listen to when you get the chance. I decided to put in 20 that I enjoyed throughout the year, so jump around and check out what looks good to you. There's enough to go around in this genre. Hopefully you will be left with the same impression that I had when listening to them over the year.

Retrowave is here to stay.

LeBrock - "Runaway"

AM 1984 - "Miami Beach"

Dimi Kaye - "The Streets Are Mine"

Morch Kovalski - "DX 7000"

Korine - "Heaven's Servant"

Dreamers Avenue - "Fire in the Night"

Metropolis - "Midnight Plaza"

Thought Beings - "Hazy"

Deadlife - "Dreaming in the Garden"

Kalax - "Dream"

Wolf & Raven - "Space Strippers"

Ace Buchannon - "Breakout"

Night Runner - "Hellhound"

Satellite Young - "Moment in Slow Motion"

Madelyn Darling - "Blue Diamond Eyes"

Futurecop! featuring Parallels - "Edge of the Universe [Robert Parker Remix]"

SelloRekt/ LA Dreams - "What It Was"

Ace Buchannon featuring Noki - "Timelines"

Dreamers Avenue - "Lonely Highway"

LeBrock featuring Ultraboss - "Juice"

And that is all. I could go on listing more, but I have to stop at some point and this should be enough to show you exactly how well off the genre is at the end of 2018. It's just as good as ever.

In 2019 it will have been a decade from when the genre first started making an impact and eventually pierced the mainstream. Not bad for a genre considered a niche when it came out. Retrowave has only grown since. It's been a good run for the only creatively healthy musical genre out there these days, and I hope there's still plenty of gas in the tank.

If 2019 is as good as this year then we've got a lot to look forward to.

As always if you want some fun fiction I have a story out this year in Storyhack #3 and one in DimensionBucket Magazine. They were fun stories to write and I hope you enjoy them just as much. There is more to come in 2019, too.

2018 was just a warm-up.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Signal Boost ~ "A Traitor to Dreams" by Alexander Hellene

You can find it Here

Today I wanted to talk about a recent book release. A Traitor to Dreams is from friend of the blog Alex from Amatopia who was kind enough to offer me a free review copy. I have not yet finished it, but since this is a new release from a new author I thought it deserved the spotlight. It's also good enough that it should be on more people's radar.

As always with the books I like to talk about, this one isn't quite normal. It's actually quite weird. A mixture of genres like you aren't used to, it is difficult to describe. You won't find a novel like this coming out of Traditional Publishing, especially these days. As usual, that is definitely a good thing.

The official description is as follows:
"Ideomatic, Inc. has perfected humanity. Their Dream Trashcan can create the ideal you. 
"Elpida Kallistos has everything she wants . . . almost. There is one unfulfilled dream, one desire standing between her and happiness. Enter the Dream Trashcan from Ideomatic, Inc., guaranteed to eliminate unwanted desires while you sleep. All it takes is the click of a button and the desire is gone, permanently. 
"And it works! But when Elpida has second thoughts and opens up her Dream Trashcan, she finds more inside than circuitry and wires. She finds a whole other world . . . the Dreamscape, a realm where angelic, winged beings called Stewards hunt down desires made flesh. But her presence makes the Dreamscape unstable, and Ideomatic will do anything to get her out. 
"Chased by Ideomatic’s minions, Elpida must discover her Steward’s true identity, learn the secrets of the Dream Trashcan, and unravel Ideomatic’s plans . . . before she’s devoured by her own desires."
One thing I can tell you from being halfway through this book is that the description doesn't really emphasize how insane and intense things get as it goes. And it doesn't start off slow either. You will get more action and adventure than you can shake a stick at along with an unsettling creeping terror out of your nightmares. The genre is a lot harder to pin down as even the description won't tell you what a weird mix of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, it actually is. It is quite original.

On top of it Each character has a distinct voice and motivation for going on this batty journey. Heroes and villains are distinct and each interesting in their own right. These are people (and animals) you want to follow along with until the end.

And what more can you really want from a book?

I'll be sure to give a more in depth review when I'm finished, but for now I do recommend checking it out if you want some good old fashioned fun. It is a good dose of fresh energy in a very stale industry.

It's good to see so many independent authors reminding all of us just how wondrous storytelling can be. Books like this just aren't that common, especially not these days. However, independent and smaller press books are trying their best to shake things up. This is one of them.

You can find A Traitor to Dreams here on amazon. It's been a good year for writing. Here's hoping next year can match this one.