Thursday, 20 September 2018

Top 10 Anime Licenses

As strange as it is to imagine, now is the best time to be an anime fan. Not only does streaming make just about anything easy to find, ancient series that have never been released overseas have finally gotten official home video transfers. Whether it's long-awaited license rescues such as Armored Trooper Votoms or Zillion (out in mere weeks!) or long time requests such as Xabungle, Galaxy Express 999: the series, or Space Runaway Ideon, 2018 has been the year of the classic.

Much of this is due to the SD Blu-Ray format which allows far more content on far fewer discs which allows cheaper production costs, but also because there is an audience for this material now that didn't really exist decades ago. This is because most anime didn't get TV broadcasts back in the day. If you wanted to get into a series you basically had to hold your nose and dive into the deep end. For longer series this meant being selective with licenses.

But now that the home video and streaming options are so plentiful now, longer series no longer have their length working against him, and the more obscure series have the best chance ever at being found.

And 2018 has shown it with the biggest concentration of classic licensed series in a long time.

But why stop there? Surely there are all kinds of series missing in action that deserve a shot for an overseas audience. Whether classics questionably skipped over back in the day, or good series that have simply fallen into obscure spots, I could list a lot of anime that deserve a new shot at life. But where to start?

So I'll construct a list of two pillars here. The first is of formerly licensed series still waiting to be picked up again, and the second are series that, for one reason or another, never had a North American release to begin with, and desperately need one. Both lists could fill the Pacific Ocean.

I should also mention, I have a list of my own most wanted anime, both licensed and not, that I have set aside to remind me when I have the spare scratch to nab them. I took some of this list from there. This means much of this is personal taste, but I'll try not to repeat myself on previous posts (this means no City Hunter. I've posted about it enough) and put out some surprises. There's plenty of good anime that deserves the spotlight.

You also won't be seeing anything recent for the simple fact that just about everything recent gets licensed. There's really no point listing them. This list will be spanning decades earlier instead.

10. Monster

Not a surprise that it's here, I know. For one, this is one of my favorite manga series that has enjoyed tremendous success. And for good reason: it's fantastic. It even had a recent Perfect Edition re-release of the manga. However, Viz licensed the anime, gave it a great dub, aired it on television, botched the home release (13 episode releases for a series over 70 episodes? Dumb move), and let in fall into obscurity for years afterwards. Monster deserved way better than it got.

Short of someone like Discotek license rescuing this and giving it the full SD on Blu-Ray approach for more content on fewer discs, Monster's long length means it probably won't get picked up anytime soon. But it should be. This series is a masterful cat and mouse good vs evil tale that is rarely matched. It also helps that this remains Naoki Urasawa's lone seinen work to ever be adapted to anime. For some reason.

Short of illegal mean, there is no way to watch this great series legally. And that is a shame.

9. Armored Police Metal Jack

This series is so obscure it isn't even illegally subbed. Being that it is a Sunrise period from their pre-2004 Golden Age, that is quite impressive. I couldn't tell you why this series is listed here except that it's the definition of popcorn entertainment. Essentially a cyberpunk superhero show, it is typical of pre-2004 Sunrise in that it is exciting, dynamically directed, and well worth your time seeking out.

Three men are nearly killed defending a boy from a terrorist attack and are brought into a special project in order to save their lives. They become special agents in the fight on crime and a sinister plot unfolds that goes into some weird places.

I'm a bit puzzled this wasn't licensed back in the day. This would have aired just fine right after Ronin Warriors (another show that should be license rescued, but I digress on that one) on Toonami. Being that this is still hard to find even via unsavory means, it is a good candidate for licensing. I do hope to see it brought over one day in the near future.

8. El Hazard: The Magnificent World

One of the most influential anime, and one of the originators of Isekai explosion in popularity, it is hard to believe this isn't currently licensed and hasn't been in a dog's age. It can't be an issue with the studio. The TV series remake is both licensed and available for legal streaming, but the original superior OVA is still in licensing limbo. It might have something to do with the original licensors for both being different, but that is still hard to swallow. It is absurd that no one has rescued it yet.

Four people from our world are thrown into a distant fantasy land where a war is brewing, and they become involved. Based on the premise you might think this just a typical Isekai series, but El Hazard offers a bit more than that, and at 7 episodes its brief length makes for tight watching. This is one that is ripped off a lot more than its influence is ever cited.

I'm not sure what odious licensing games allowed the TV series to be picked up, but not the original, but that has to change. El Hazard deserves rescuing.

7. The King of Braves: GaoGaiGar

I'm puzzled that I even have to write an entry for this series. GaoGaiGar is one of the last pure super robot series, and one of the last done in traditional cell animation, at the tail end of the 90s near the end of anime's golden age. It's a very important series, and very well loved. With that pedigree you'd figure it would be easily available to find. And yet it has not been picked up for release since its original license over a decade ago during the dark days of licensing.

Explaining GaoGaiGar would take more space than I've afforded here, so I'll be brief. The series essentially is a super robot show blown up to eleven, long before Gurren Lagann was a twinkle in Gainax's eye. The action is intense and gigantic and characters contribute to a large cast that all influence the story in important ways. It represents everything people like about super robot shows in one package. In many ways it is the ultimate mecha series.

But as of right now it floats in limbo. At least it doesn't have Aniplex chaining it to absurd prices like Gurren Lagann which is locked out of affordability due to it. Still, it should be licensed again. And maybe with the recent wave of old licenses it will finally get the shot to succeed overseas it always deserved.

6. Daitarn 3

Yoshiyuki Tomino is one of the most respected directors in anime, even beyond his Gundam franchise. Despite that, his track record of licensed series isn't the best. You see, Gundam doesn't have much in the way of licensing issues these days, and several of his non-Gundam series have been seeing release (Xabungle, Aura Battler Dunbine, and Space Runaway Ideon) but his pre-Gundam works have been widely ignored. While Brave Raideen and Zambot 3 are both important in their own ways, and probably more than this one, I would like to see Daitarn 3 get the respect it deserves out of obscurity.

This is actually Tomino's most classically pulp series. It's also his most straightforward. A super-spy super robot mecha series with fast paced action and with zippy pacing, it's also one of his easiest to get into. Of course, it's still Tomino, so you can expect certain . . . things to happen at certain points, but that isn't necessarily a problem. It just means it keeps you on your toes.

Hopefully now that more of his more known work has been released overseas, this older overlooked title can finally get the time in the sun it deserves. With series like the original Mazinger Z getting released, it sure has a great shot.

5. Fang of the Sun Dougram

Next to Tomino, Sunrise had another director of mecha series during the '80s, and in many ways he is more up my alley than Tomino is. Ryosuke Takahashi is that man. He tended to have more adventure style series, where the plot is focused on a point A to B storyline and the obstacles that get in the way of the protagonists. The most popular of these series is Armored Trooper Votoms, one of the best mecha series ever made. However, his first series, Dougram, was quite a powerhouse itself lasting 75 episodes and becoming a phenomenon in Japan.

Dougram is about guerrilla fighters taking on a corrupt governor that declares himself dictator. This series details the conflict between the two sides above as the skirmish heats up and explodes. If you know Takahashi then you can expect a lot of overwhelming darkness before the light cracks through in unexpected places. He also has a bizarre sense of humor that manages to never break canon of the serious moments. Nonetheless, his themes are universally positive despite what you might think about mecha from that era.

This has never been licensed, and, unfortunately, I find it is the least likely Takahashi series to be licensed since it is the longest. But that doesn't mean it should be passed over. Mecha series today could stand to learn a lot from Dougram and it being licensed would show more people why.

4. Ashita no Joe (Tomorrow's Joe)

One of the single most influential series to ever come out of Japan, I am still floored to this day that it has never been licensed outside of the movies. No manga, no anime series. We're talking decades of anime and manga rising, crashing, and rising, in popularity and not once has Ashita no Joe ever been given so much as a test run. Despite that, it remains one of the most sought after licenses for readers and watchers to this day.

The series follows nobody orphan Joe Yabuki as he scrapes by to find a way by in the brutal modern world. Boxing finds him and gives him a way to fight back and build something for himself. And that's what he does. The series catalogs that journey to find a brighter tomorrow. And depending on your view of the world, you might say he finds it in the end.

Ashita no Joe is a tight sports drama series with a message that either frightens or intrigues people depending on how they view where the world has gone in a modern post-WWII society. Needless to say, its overall theme has not dated, which means it is always perfectly relevant for licensing. Here's hoping that happens soon. I'll be waiting.

3. Panzer World Galient

As I said before, Ryusuke Takahashi was an interesting figure in the mecha world. Between Dougram and Votoms, his most popular and enduring works, he made Panzer World Galient. This was a gem. Here he created a sword and sorcery giant robot story with legendary mecha, a medieval pulp world, and an evil army hoping to dominate everything. As you imagine, this is pure classic anime.

An usurped king, a lost prince who must reclaim his throne, and a quest to destroy the evil that threatens to overturn order. This is a sort of pure pulp experience that anime reveled in long after mainstream publishing had forgotten it. And now anime itself has also lost its roots in much the same way. I can't say that isn't a bit of a letdown, but this series certainly is not one.

Still, the day for this to be licensed is hopefully not far away. Other Takahashi series have been licensed (Votoms, Gasaraki, and Blue Gender) and this one is better than at least one of those were. Surely this would have a better shot than a series three times the length like Dougram would. This is the sort of thing Discotek would revel in.

2. Space Battleship Yamato

Also known as Star Blazers, the series has also been remade into animated movies still being made now, and the manga by Leiji Matsumoto is also coming out this year, but the original series is in a bad place, licensing-wise. It's the only piece of the franchise not readily available. And considering it is the original space opera anime, that is insane. It is the reason most of the best anime even exist.

Aliens invade Earth and use radioactive meteorite bombs to send humanity underground. There they remain, trapped. The humans build a ship called the Yamato to try and bring hope back to humanity. This is their last stand. Space opera greatness ensues.

It doesn't have quite the problem with licensing that something like Macross has, but it should be more easily available, especially with the movies and manga coming out and being quite successful. The series that started it all should have the same availability. Hopefully with the recent licenses of other parts of the franchise means it is a sign it will be made readily available once more. It really should be out there for everyone to see.

1. Blue Comet SPT Layzner

I'm not going to pretend this is the greatest anime never licensed, or even Ryusuke Takahashi's best series overall, but it is my favorite unlicensed series. It was even almost licensed back in the day, but the deal fell through for whatever reason. This adventure series is split into two parts with an ending OVA that is really dynamite.

In a world where the Cold War never ended, a UN Mars base is attacked by aliens. They are fought off by a lone pilot who rescues the survivors and begs them to take him to Earth. An invasion is coming, and they are massively outgunned and outnumbered. Oh, and the man who saved them is half-alien half-human who holds a secret that might unite, or destroy, a possible path to peace. This series is about his journey to Earth and to find the key to understanding both sides of himself.

Not everyone likes this series as much as I do, but Layzner has just about everything I look for in an anime, and Takahashi's tendency for finding a ray of hope in pure despair shines bright throughout the entire run. Were this licensed, I would be first in line for it. It's been a long time coming. And, really, with Votoms licensed, Layzner now has a real chance. And I truly hope it happens.

Those are my picks. If you have any of your own I would love to hear what they are. Japan has quite the backlog of animated shows worthy of being brought overseas, or just re-released at all. And now that more old series are being licensed than ever before, more people can discover just what inspired so many people for so many decades now.

That is what I mean by now being the best time to be an anime watcher. You have new material readily available, but the classics are finally getting their shot at a proper release, and the attention they rightfully should have had to begin with.

If you've been out of the scene for a long time, for whatever reason, now is the time to come back. Your options are better than ever.

And they're only getting better every day.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Not Necessarily So

There is a common attitude among geekier circles involving normal people and their role in "ruining" said hobbies. You see it all the time. If it wasn't for these people, the loyal's hobbies would be perfectly fine and would be able to go back to the way they were. Things would instantly be set right again. After all, normal people came into the house party and burned it down. Before them, the couch wasn't lodged in the pool and the ceiling wasn't covered with smashed Cheetos.

This isn't necessarily so.

You see it in video game circles all the time. You know, the ones who were never involved with them pre-internet. It's "casuals" or "kids" or "consoles" ruining games and making developers create subpar products and publishers cramming them down their audience's throats. If it wasn't for those people, we'd be in a golden age!

But other hobbies aren't immune. In anime circles there's even a mistaken belief that casuals want to destroy moe in order to make anime palatable for the mouth-breathers. They want to infect it!

You're forgiven for laughing at the last assertion. You clearly haven't fallen for the revisionism yet.

All of the problems these fans cry about are misguided. The complaints are centered on a group of people who have done nothing at all. This is missing the forest for the trees. The only question is whether it's deliberate or not, but I will continue in the hope that the latter is the case.

You see, video games sold millions in the 80s and 90s when the main customer base were kids. Before that in the 70s the Atari 2600 and Intellivision were mammoths. They were always mainstream and aimed at normal people.

Most children played games like Sonic the Hedgehog or Super Mario World as easily as they would play DOOM or Diablo. These were normal games at the time, and the audience had no problem with them or adjusting to their difficulty and idiosyncrasies. The latter two were even ported to consoles with few issues, and original FPSes like Perfect Dark and Timesplitters thrived on controllers without being "dumbed down" for "casuals" because anyone that liked video games before the internet had no problem playing them. If they did, they found another genre. Normal people didn't care. The problem is that with the destruction of the middle market for AAA games and mobile titles, the normal gamers were left stranded and either became retro gamers, or walked away. This isn't their fault, if anything they were smarter than those who stuck around for horse armor and loot boxes. And they're being demonized and misrepresented for it.

This gets to my larger point of the "normal" argument. Normal people are a different group than what the companies (and fans) think they are. Normal people were those that saw the Super Nintendo and how fun Super Mario World looked, and bought it to play it. They then bought games like Street Fighter II and Final Fantasy III because they looked fun. They were not won over by Nintendo using focus groups to fine-tune and sand off the difficult levels like Tubular, or Square adding a newbie mode for harder boss fights. Normal people made the old Warcraft games sell millions. Normal people created the arcade scene. Normal people caused FPSes and adventure games to become huge with Wolfenstein 3D and Sierra's works. This group has been chased away.

Now they've been replaced by a dwindling audience of "Normal" people. "Normal" people are the ones Naughty Dog makes dumbed down movie games for. "Normal" people are the reason every game now needs a half hour tutorial before they start. "Normal" people are the ones who are begging for political commentary despite (allegedly) growing up on games like Mutant League Football and Earthworm Jim. "Normal" people ask for loot boxes in every game. "Normal" people who had no problem with Mortal Kombat or Dead or Alive decades ago are suddenly morally offended at their very existence. It is almost as if these two groups are different people.

Because they are.

The point is that normal people are necessary for success. I'm not even sure "normal" people aren't just infiltrators molding their selected medium to their tastes. The former was chased out which allowed the latter to slide right in. And hardcore gamers? They're normal people, whether they like it or not. Your tastes don't make you special.

You are not abnormal because you like strategy games or mecha anime. That's normal. It was normal for decades to like those things until the industry in question dumped them for an audience that doesn't really exist, for "wider" appeal. Criticizing normal people is a way of putting you in a box and give you the impression that you are somehow special or abnormal for consuming a product millions of others do. They want you to think your identity is shaped around consumer products. These dying companies are manipulating you into this attitude to make up for the fact that the normal audience has been chased off. Don't let them do it. You're the real audience, the standard. You are normal, despite what you might think. You have more in common with the guy who spent $22 in quarters to beat Final Fight in the arcade nearly thirty years ago to the goony bug man who considers Gone Home a 10/10 game as though it offers anything worth praising. The former is who has been chased off. And there's nothing normal about the latter example.

In anime there is another problem that comes with this revisionist attitude. This came about due to people who have apparently never watched a series before 2007 thinking themselves experts in the medium. You see this whenever moe criticism is brought up and the same snarky streamers come up with the revisionist assertion that the accused want to get rid of anime to make it palatable to normal people and lose its flavor. The fact that this backwards charge has never been rebutted should be proof that the normal people left long ago, but let me repeat it for the one hundredth time.

Moe is casual garbage aimed at the lowest common denominator. It is not "hardcore" or aimed at specialized audiences. It is not the baseline of anime, and didn't even exist throughout the majority of the medium's existence. It only exists because lazy corporations want to dig your money out of your wallet without putting any effort into what they make. And in case you don't remember: anime was popular worldwide throughout the mid-80s into the mid-00s. It is only when casual moe came out that the normal and hardcore fans were chased out.

You're the one arguing for casual garbage, not the moral busybodies. The latter has problems of their own, but neither of you are the majority of the audience. Normal people are. If it wasn't for them, you wouldn't have your trash genre to watch in the first place because there would be no scene for it. An entire industry existed before your fetish did. Your hobby exists because of normal tastes, not your niche one.

Moe was invented in 1999 by Azumanga Daioh. The creator of said series doesn't even dabble in that genre anymore. It wasn't until it got an anime a few years later that the medium began to eat itself in order to cash in and endlessly repeat it. Before that it was action, adventure, romance, and comedy series and movies. Once those were ditched, the audience left and the medium soured.

Are you seeing a pattern? Lose normal people, lose your way, lose relevancy.

Moe is the aberration, not the standard. Those "casuals" complaining about it aren't complaining because they're unpure non-weebs looking to ruin your hobby. They're complaining because your fetish took over their medium and almost destroyed it. By the mid-00s when anime was blowing up worldwide, Japan decided to fight piracy and fight declining homeland sales by focusing on a shrinking demographic of anti-social otaku at the cost of the original wider audience. They stopped making shows like Outlaw Star and Patlabor, and the results were felt nearly overnight. Anime's popularity dipped worldwide because the audience wanted hardcore stuff like Cowboy Bebop and not casual fluff like K-On. One goes back to the roots of what made the medium what it is, and the other is a concocted mutation.

This is about corporations constructing custom audiences for themselves at the expense of common people. This isn't about fans against non-fans. If it was, these companies wouldn't have stopped giving audiences what they wanted to begin with. They're not on your side, whoever you identify as.

As an aside, a lot of the conflict in these mediums come from hive pokers without any self-awareness that they are propped up by larger entities in order to morph and meld their target audience's opinions. Whether it's people like SuperEyepatchWolf, Mike Campea, or Anita Sarkeesian, these people all exist to stick their foot in the door and shape discourse to their whims despite their pedestrian opinions not adding anything to the discussion. But they all "coincidentally" hold views that corporations use to advertise their products, and they never rock the boat or step out of line.

Back in the day we called them what they were: posers and shills.

None of these people are "normal" or speak for the common man in their hobbies. They exist to shape the fringe fans and rile them up to sow division, which eventually end up pushing out the normal people who want nothing to do with the insanity. They're trying to be the new normal, and they're coming in the back door to do it. And your favorite corporation is all for it. Why wouldn't they want to tell you what you should like and buy? Why wouldn't they want to own your hobbies and choose who they can sell to?

This is what happens when your religion is not an actual religion. Find something better than a corporation to shine some light into your gunk-filled soul.

Believe it or not, hobbies actually did used to be for everyone. People went to see Blade in droves and no one pretended it was revolutionary when it made bank. X-Men sold over a million an issue at its peak and kids rode to their corner store to buy a copy with a can of coke and some chips. Dragon Ball Z did boffo and had merchandise in places like Walmart. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was a multi-million seller that people of all ages played and raved over. People expressed displeasure in the Star Wars prequels without being insulted by LucasFilm or their pet sycophants, and they actually wrote books and made video games that weren't total trash. All this success is due to normal people--the very ones currently being chased out of every hobby by extremist purity tests and empty-soul cultists. Those whipped up fanatics are not the ones that made any of these things successes, and yet corporations are backing them over the ones currently being driven out.

Need proof? Look at comic book sales on comichron. Look at video game software sales from this generation. Look at the billboard chart. Look at Hollywood's box office from last summer. Look at Toonami ratings now compared to its peak. Someone was there in the past that is no longer present.

And who benefits from throwing them out? What do they get in exchange for it?

This whole spiel isn't meant to demonize hardcore fans, because they aren't a monolithic block. This is meant to point out that a shell game is currently being played, and the enemy described is not the enemy that exists. Believing normal people are who's killing your hobby of choice just ain't so. Those are posers, and they've always existed. They don't even have to be casual to be one. Just ask anyone who was into punk in the 1990s and early '00s. Normal people aren't ruining anything, a certain group of parasites are.

There is no enlightened group of superfans that carried your hobby to nirvana, away from the unwashed and into divinity. Those "mongoloids" were what helped bring it to prominence in the first place. They were the marker for success. What is tearing your hobby apart are the wolves in sheep's clothing telling you that your fellow sheep are the real wolves and that the shepherd was always a misogynist/racist/sexist/x-ist to begin with. Now which one of those is working overtime to destroy what you like, and which one isn't? It's not that hard. There's no brain-teaser here.

The fact of the matter is that culture exists to be shared and connected to. That is how things get popular in the first place, by likes and tastes coming together to build something bigger. They're exclusive by nature, not design, as there are always things certain folk will never be interested in. That's okay: reality is not inclusive. No one will like everything. But be wary of the "experts" making up rules and anecdotes to keep out "normal people" because chances are the "experts" are the ones who need to be kicked out. They're the destroyers.

And really, who should you listen to: the ones who left when the punch got spiked, or the ones who stayed through the house burning down around them?

I'd pick the normal ones any day.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

The Importance of Being Brief

One of the best parts of getting into the pulp era of writing has been diving deeper into short stories. This is speaking as someone who had treated them as lesser for most of my life. From my experience most people don't see short stories as anything more than tiny fragments of fables centered on teaching a moral with a shocking twist ending, and little else. Most of this is taught in school, and very rarely has the form escaped this impression in the current age.

But I'm not going to be talking about that. The fact of the matter is that if you're a reader or writer and refuse to read or write short stories you are limiting yourself. As author Misha Burnett has said many times, the form of the short story has been where every literary movement has started from before rolling out into novels and then other mediums afterwards. That's self-evident. What I want to bring up is a whole other problem, this one is on the writers themselves. This is about the importance of content.

Without naming names (partially due to memory lapses, I'll admit) there are authors that simply treat anything other than novels as quaint or, at worst, a complete waste of time. So many writers will buckle down to write a 100,000+ word novel but can not be bothered to craft a 20k novella or 6k short story and in the process are limiting the type of tales that can tell. And if they do, the tiny piece they crank out is usually little more than a throwaway. But stories need to be important, not quaint or pointless.

Do not confuse this with ideology. Stories do not need to be about Important Things or Current Year social issues which end up dating it out of the box to scratch the itch I am describing. When I mean importance, I mean that the plot needs to be important to the main character in it.

It needs to be life or death critical. The story should be a snapshot in a wider landscape where everything that occurs is of deathly importance.

I've seen stories that are anecdotes from larger universe series. A multi-book epic pauses for a short story about how the protagonist got a zombie dog. This is what character X was doing during moment Y in book Z. On his day off the main character deals with a problem far below what he usually does and faster at that which sucks the drama right out. None of these are using the format to its full potential.

And outside of those, a lot of authors simply never write short stories at all. It's disconcerting, but nothing new. There's not much in the way of short story audiences, never mind novellas or novelettes. Many writers simply don't have the incentive to do it.

So this is for those who do.

Every word you write is the difference between life and death, Heaven and Hell. It doesn't matter the length. Editors and writers will tell you to trim the fat in novels all the time. This is to sharpen the prose and the plot to make it easier to pierce the heart of readers. The shorter the word count, the closer the ideal. It only stands to reason that story contents should be just as deadly as the prose. A short story shouldn't be frivolous for the same reason a novel shouldn't. The reader deserves better.

Short stories need to be important because those that read them are, as is their time. They, and the medium, deserve better than cast offs and busy work.

Make them want more. They deserve at least that much.

Speaking of which, I apologize for the lack of a post last week. I will try not to miss one again. I've been trying to get myself back on track again after some recent blunders. That aside, as a reminder, the Heroes Unleashed kickstarter campaign is still going and it has doubled its initial goal! If you haven't thrown in yet, you have less than a week. I promise you that it will be worth your time, as I follow the very same rules above.

That's simply the way writing should be, short stories or not. Sharp and direct. Just like this post.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Heroes Unleashed is Here!

Well, almost. But the Kickstarter is! Are you ready for a new shared superhero universe full of good guys, villains, and over the top battles betwixt them? Then this is the project for you.

Here's the official synopsis:

"Here at Silver Empire, we've been waiting nearly a year to bring you the exciting Heroes Unleashed project! We've collected the best up and coming authors to bring you this amazing, first of its kind collection of new, interlinked superhero novels! No, these aren't comicbooks or graphic novels, these are straight up novels, packed with all the superhuman action and goodness you could ever ask for! 
"Authors Morgon Newquist, J.D. Cowan, Kai Wai Cheah, Jon Mollison, and Richard Watts bring the Heroes Unleashed universe to life with their five Phase I novels. Each novel will begin a series of its own that will continue for at least three books."

Yes, that's me. I'm one of the authors involved in this project. My series is called Gemini Man, and the first book is entitled Gemini Warrior. It's been an idea broiling in the back of my head for a long time, and Heroes Unleashed is the place where I can finally let it become a reality.

Matthew White is a young and cynical man, and Jason Vermilion is an idealistic teenager with hopes for the world. When they volunteer for an experiment, they get more than they bargained for: a set of bracelets that bestow each of them a different power! But they also become tethered to each other in the process. Before they can even get used to that, they are thrown into a whole new world of swords, lizard men, and a malignant force beyond what either of them have ever seen. Now not only do they have to get used to their new powers, but also make it out of this strange world before they are swallowed whole by it. Here they will become warriors.

If you've read any of my stories before, then you should know to expect lots of action and a blistering fast pace. This was a lot of fun to write, and I hope you will decide to give it a try yourself!

But that's my work. In case you noticed, there are other authors involved. First up is Serenity City by Morgon Newquist. This is the one that laid the groundwork for this whole project. The description is as follows:

"He wanted to be a good man. Instead, he became a hero
"Imagine Serenity City, a beachfront city on the east coast. For years, the city has been protected by the Triumvirate - three of the most powerful, and certainly the most famous, heroes in the world. Achilles with his super strength. His wife, The Banshee, master of deception and guile. And their best friend Pendragon in his shining armor. No serious threat lasts long in Serenity City under their watch! 
"Until the Rampage - the infamous day when Achilles lost his mind, leaving a half-destroyed city and the body of the Banshee in his wake. 
"Twenty years later, Serenity City is completely changed. Pendragon still reigns as the world's most famous hero, but he reigns alone. Banshee still lies in her grave, and Achilles rots in solitary confinement. Young Victoria, an up and coming hero, finds herself investigating 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 when Achilles escapes, it throws a wrench in everything! 
"But nothing is as it seems in Serenity City: Heroes Fall by Morgon Newquist. Serenity City will continue after Phase I to be four books total."

I have read this one, and yes, it is as good as you think! Villain onslaughts and desperate hero battles aplenty. There's also a few curve-balls that will take you by surprise and engaging characters to guide you along. If you like your fiction fun and action packed then this is the series for you.

And those are just two of the works in this project!

Kai Wai Cheah lets us follow a vigilante against the whole world (or city) in Hollow City. Jon Mollison contributes a super-spy piece with plenty of conspiracies to go around in The Phoenix Ring. And Richard Watts goes mystical with the last knight of Atlantis attempting to stop the plot to raise a chaos god in Atlantean Archons: Apprentice.

No matter what type of superhero style you like Heroes Unleashed has you covered.

Not to mention, that is only Phase I. There are other authors coming on board, not to mention sequels to the above that will keep your eyes on the page (or screen!) for hours and hours.

Should you want to jump on this train today is the day. The campaign will be running for a hair under three weeks, and has more than enough tiers to choose from in order to pick what suits you just right.

As I've said many time before on this blog: things are turning around. Heroes are returning to the forefront again to beat back the darkness. And now is the chance to show just what we are made of and what it is we really want.

Check out the campaign here!

Friday, 17 August 2018

The Test ~ My Hero Academia Volume 12 and 13 Review

I wanted to wait a bit to cover these two volumes as they work better as a pair. Volume 12 and 13 cover the Provisional License Exam of My Hero Academia, and is most certainly where season 3 of the anime will end. Since that season is still airing, I wanted to avoid spoilers but that's going to be next to impossible.

So if you're only keeping up with the anime you might want to beware of spoilers for the current anime arc.

Volume 12 is a series milestone, as it contains and starts with the 100th chapter of the series. That's right, MHA made triple digits and a two year run so far. The series has been blistering fast since the beginning, and has already covered so very much. This volume, however, starts off a bit slower than the other recent ones.

Midoriya has broken his arms so many times that one or two more bad events might cost him the use of the limbs permanently. On top of it, All Might no longer has One For All and the heroes are left extremely weakened from his absence. So the volume's first half deals with two plot threads. The first is what Midoriya is going to do to make up for his screw ups by creating new ultimate moves that utilize a far different approach than what he's used to. The second plot thread is a bit different.

Midoriya has made a lot of new friends since arriving at UA. He's met Ida, the speedster intellect who almost lost his life for revenge. Todoroki, the half-hot half-cold prodigy with a troubled past was another. Even Bakugo, his childhood friend turned bully, has begun to turn a corner of seeing him as more than an obstacle to overcome. But one friend that might feel a bit different is Ochaco Uraraka, the first friend Midoriya made since coming to UA.

When Uraraka first arrived she was only there to make money for her family since Pro Heroes are paid quite well for what they do. But as she has stuck with Midoriya and seen him grow and become a hero who always does the right thing and always does his best, she began to change. Her focus was no longer just to be a hero for money, though that is still part of it, but to try and match up to Midoriya and become as heroic as he is. Her feelings are mixed as to whether she actually just admires him, or maybe thinks of him in a romantic way. Part of her growth in this upcoming arc is parsing out just what she really feels.

Which leads us to what these two volumes are actually about: The Provisional License Exam.

Around 1540 students from across the country compete an earn a chance to be seen as real heroes. Midoriya's class meets up with several different schools, all gunning for the top school. Because, you see, UA is known as the best of the best, so taking them down would put your name on the map and give your cred a real boost. The first test alone will whittle competitors down to 100, which makes them all huge and prominent targets.

So what this ends up doing is making the test about cooperation and teamwork: a theme My Hero Academia has not touched much on before this arc. Those destined to have a rougher time are those unwilling to stand with their allies, and those who do stick together find just how tough a team of heroes actually can be. At the same time it allows certain students, like comic relief Denki Kaminari to show his stuff and prove why he's in the hero course to begin with. This first stage really does a lot to test their mettle and show how far they've come since the series start.

Volume 12 ends with the first test's final moments and the students finally able to cut loose. It leads to the second stage, and the next volume.

Volume 13 is mainly focused on the second stage of the test, and the results which offer a very important coda that will change everything going forward.

This is also whereabouts the currently running anime season will end, so be aware of spoilers for the finale.

The second test involves rescuing civilians. While the first dealt with weeding out those physically incapable of the hazardous profession of being a hero, the second test shows who is mentally prepared to be the person victims of calamities need. This means those who excelled in the first half of the exam are not necessarily going to succeed in the second half.

And some do not.

We also see how far along some of the students have come . . . and how far some have not. Inasa, the one with the wind control powers, has a beef with Todoroki because of his father's reputation as a nasty hero with a bad personality. And Todoroki has the same look in his eyes his father does. Are they really alike? Has he really put his father's treatment of him behind him, or is he just hiding from it? Uraraka has a similar problem with losing control of her focus over her growing feelings for Midoriya, especially after a certain girl tries to accost him. But neither have the time to deal with it as the test just starts and throws them all in the thick of it!

Quickly they learn that dealing with injured civilians is much different than dealing with normal people. It is the hero's job to be exactly who the civilian needs at that moment, and that requires saying the right words, instilling confidence and hope, and basic medical care, all while keeping their cool. In other words, this is more of a personality test than a physical one.

But not entirely, as one of the pro heroes shows up playing the part of a villain. Now the heroes in training have to save people AND deal with a threat at the same time. Heroes have to be prepared for anything, after all.

This volume wraps up this short exam arc, but it also leads to an odd coda to remind those of the darker side of the MHA universe.

What one has to keep in mind reading My Hero Academia is how close to the edge society actually is. In a world where 80% of the population can potentially destroy everything without so much as a blink, rules are needed to hold it all together. All it takes is one bad day and one terrible quirk for everything to be taken apart. In these chapters we see just how delicately balanced society is to keep it in check. That MHA has this reputation as a sunny and Disney-fied series mystifies me. The way the world in this series works is far more fascinating than the newest moe series or comfort food anime. If it wasn't for heroes, the world would be completely leveled.

That is what makes the last few chapters of this volume interesting. You see the world from several of the villains' positions in how they like the natural state of chaos and detest those that would deny them their freedom to act like beasts. The League of Villains might have started as a way for All For One to re-seize control of the world again after his fading power began to escape him, but with him dying it is now about Shigaraki's quest to wipe out the civilization that has failed. And it is all very close to a tipping point. Not to spoil, but the next big arc (and what season 4 will likely be based around) shows this reality in the harshest possible light.

This realization leads to the event that will certainly be used to cap off season 3 of the anime: the second fight between Midoriya and Bakugo.

Unlike the original battle which was one of the defining moments early in the series, this fight between the two childhood friends is not so much about old grudges, but in clearing the air about everything that has happened since the training camp went sideways. Midoriya not only passed the provisional license exam but is also All Might's successor while Bakugo failed the exam and is responsible for his hero losing his powers. We've been told that Bakugo is an unthinking jerk with the personality of a wet cat, but slowly that old arrogant exterior has been shaved off. Where he is now is just a lost screw-up of a teenager no better off than Midoriya, who he had once considered nothing but a pebble in his path. And yet that same pebble keeps tripping him up at every opportunity. What is Bakugo missing that Midoriya has? He still can't figure it out, and he needs to. He can't keep going the way he has: not if he wants to be a hero. But this round 2 of their fight will help clear the air and bring everything out into the open.

Unfortunately, the end of the fight is in the next volume, so I won't quite say what happens, except to tell that it is a very important moment and is destined to be the finale for the third season. It also helps cement Bakugo as a more three dimensional character than many thought he was at the series start. Midoriya is training his newly acquired power, but Bakugo is training his newly acquired soul. It's a strange contrast that is sure to lead to good places in the future.

When we return with the next volume, we will be entering a new and very long arc that is slightly different in what the series has done up to this point. It's also going to encapsulate season 4 as a whole and will introduce some great new characters. I hope you'll join me for it. It's going to be grand.

Speaking of heroes, I should have a very important update for you on that topic next week. If you saw my last post then you have an idea of what I'm hinting at.

Until then, never forget: Plus Ultra!

Monday, 6 August 2018

Meanwhile . . .

A lot has been happening recently, so I thought I would use this chance to update everyone at once with one big post. So buckle in. This should be good.

First up is Cirsova. You might have realized I have reviewed 7 of the 8 available issues of this magazine. That is because I genuinely believe in it. Whether you are part of any Pulp Revolution movement or not, Cirsova runs great stories that are sure to excite the reader and stir their imagination. It is one of the best out there.

It is also currently running a kickstarter campaign to fund its second volume and is 4/5 of the way there with four days to go. It's getting down to the wire! But if you donate at the $20 tier or higher you will also get some free e-books along with Cirsova's 2 new issues, including my book Grey Cat Blues for free. So if you want a bit more bang for your buck, there are plenty of tiers available. More e-books will be added in the days to come, so jump on! There is no better time than now.

Another crowdfunding campaign (and one I am not directly involved in) is the one for the Star Knight Saga space opera mecha series. Pulp Revver and Superversive student, Bradford Walker is creating his own mecha series that is influenced by not only the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise and old super robot series, but also classic space opera like the Lensmen and Skylark books by E.E. Doc Smith. His goal is to combine everything great about classic space stories and put them into one massive series. The excerpts he has released sound great, as do the designs he has shown off.

However, it is also already funded. Throwing in a couple of bucks will guarantee you the first book in the upcoming series. But the more the campaign makes, the more he can fund later books and even eventually look into merchandising. This is a highly ambitious project, and one well worth looking into if you want more exciting space opera and/or mecha works.

Lastly, on the crowdfunding side, is a comic by PulpRev dynamo Jon Del Arroz called Flying Sparks. JDA has been pumping out quality material like crazy recently, and this is his hat in the ring for the newly rising indie comic scene. This one is funded, but he is still trying for the final stretch goal. You can find the campaign here.

As you can see, things are quite busy and exciting in the PulpRev world right now!

But as for me? Well, I've got a few updates of my own.

I was recently invited on the Jim Fear podcast to talk about writing and many other things that tickled our interest. The episode is rather long, but we had a blast. I hope you like talk about video games and anime, because we also went there. The whole thing was a lot of fun, so please check it out. The episode is available here.

I also revealed a few tidbits in this episode, including the fact that I am involved in Silver Empire's Heroes Unleashed project as one of the first writers. My project is called Gemini Man and is about two heroes who have separate powers, but combine into one. I described it as the Wonder Twins meets John Carter, though it is a story I had been thinking of doing for quite some time. We are currently looking at a Fall release. The first book is called Gemini Warrior. It is quite action packed!

There are a lot of great authors also involved in this project, but it is not my place to reveal them yet. Nonetheless, I suggest keeping an eye on the site, and this blog, for future updates!

One last thing, Heroes Unleashed will also be having a Kickstarter in the middle of August, so please be sure to be on the look out for that. I will post about it when it's live, too.

I have also recently sent back edits for a piece I submitted to StoryHack magazine. My story is called Inside the Demon's Eye and will be in the third issue coming later this year. I can assure you that this was a good deal of fun to write, and is not something I could have written even two years ago. This is a story I wrote after reading a lot of C.L. Moore, getting ideas, and wanting to write a story in that vein only from my pen. It's about an adventurer in the mythical Black Lands under the eye of the demon who is pursued by a creature feeding on his mind and soul. My editor on this one, Brian Niemeier, helped me polish this to a shine and get the kinks out. Please look forward to this one when it releases!

In other news, I also had a story accepted by Dimension Bucket Magazine. This one takes place in the same Hero Magic world as Someone is Aiming for You and Lucky Spider's Last Stand, and is from the villain's perspective as he discovers new abilities within himself. It's called Endless Nights in Villain City. If you enjoyed the previous stories in this series you're sure to like this one. It's terrifying!

Lastly, I have a few stories submitted to other places, one of which I almost have a confirmation on, but can't reveal it yet. It's killing me not to tell you, but that's just how it is. Nonetheless, they are on the way!

So as you can see, I haven't just been sitting on my hands! Quite a lot of gears are turning. 2018 is going great so far.

Now that you know what I've been up to, hopefully you can see why I've been dying to tell you all this. There's good news aplenty!

In non-writing news, I've also been playing the classic PC shooter Strife, which is a strange amalgamation of DOOM, Elder Scrolls, and Deus Ex, and is a ton of fun. Unfortunately, it has been almost completely forgotten. If you can get beyond the old school graphics, I highly recommend it. The game has otherwise aged well with fantastic voice acting, early 90s comic book art, killer music, and rock solid gameplay.

Oh, and I also released a post on the '80s on the Cannon Cruisers blog. I'll leave you with an excerpt as I go on to do what I gotta do today:

"The underground movement in the '10s has been a very exciting place to hang out. Literary movements such as PulpRev and Superversive are dedicated to doing what the dying traditional publishers refuse to do: bringing back the adventure and optimism long since thought lost. Indie comics are beginning to take root via crowdfunding while the larger companies hemorrhage money after hiring abysmal talent. Even music has seen a rise in genres like Retrowave to clear out the bad taste of modern pop music well past its expiration date. Independent film is also on the way, but it's taken its time. Even anime has seen college students cobble together funds to create original projects that look far fresher than what their industry is putting out. 
"For the first time since the '90s went out like a whimper, it looks as if storytelling is on its way back."

It sure does look that way, doesn't it?

Thursday, 2 August 2018

The Rise, Descent, and Restoration of the First Person Shooter

The First Person Shooter. Now there's a genre of video games that causes all sorts of strong reactions. About the only ones that will get a fiercer reaction might be JRPGs or walking simulators, though for slightly different reasons. The First Person Shooter (FPS) has a history as simultaneously the most extreme and offensive genre and the safest and most tame for reasons that are quite clear to anyone who grew with the genre and its early roots in games like Wolfenstein 3D. It also the most unabashedly male genres.

The main character is usually the most appealing to males, either musclebound men or attractive curvaceous women, utilizing a wide variety of weapons to battle insurmountable armies of soldiers, monsters, or aliens, that wish to take over and/or destroy the world. Levels typically involve much exploration and puzzle solving to get through, on top of it. In other words, these are as pure action adventure games you can get short of platformers.

But because of its roots in 80s action movies, these games are now considered quite offensive, probably more than they were when they first came out.

Me, I've personally never had an issue with putting a bullet into the brain of a demon or enemy agents trying to destroy the free world, but I've also grown up with the genre. Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM, and Duke Nukem 3D were the games I played the most of on my very first PC. I played GoldenEye and Perfect Dark to death on the N64. I was playing Medal of Honor on the PS1 before the World War II fad began and Timesplitters was the first PS2 game I ever owned.

It was one of my favorite genres.

And that's about the time where a lot of my interest died out.

You see, in the '00s video games began harping about becoming "realistic" like other dying mediums such as novels and comics in order to be "relevant" to people who never cared about the medium to begin with. All of a sudden every genre had to "relate" to every single gamer (and non-gamer) which meant dumbing down the content to appeal to the lowest common denominator. In the process of doing so FPS games became the go-to action genre for mediocrity. It was now a safe space hand-holding session for wimps who like watching movies more than playing video games. The "bald space marine" cliche existed for a reason: those games are what choked the life out of the genre. The bombast was gone, as was the fun.

If you want to know what I mean, simply look at the earlier entries in the genre. They may be "dated" now, but they still offer more gameplay and variety than any AAA game the industry drools out of its maw these days. I've spent the better part of the last year using my gaming time on these old relics, and they still remain fun.

Catacomb 3D and its sequels were proto-DOOM with maze-like levels and plenty of demonic enemies and monsters to blast into goo. The Blake Stone games were a James Bond meets sci-fi monster movie in space mash-up. Rise of the Triad is a dime store novel come to life. The Star Wars: Dark Forces/Jedi Knight games brought pulp adventures with the open ended level design and varied enemy types that classic shooters were known for. Strife attempted to blend roleplaying elements with DOOM. And those are just the tip of the iceberg.

Throughout the 90s, the genre only built on these games, constantly improving while holding onto its roots.

Blood: One Unit Whole Blood is one of the best of the genre. It actually might be the best FPS ever made, or is close to it. Wide open levels, satisfying weapons, mad villains and demons of all stripes are hiding all over, and the trashy story about demons killing other demons is delicious. You won't get a purer FPS experience than this. And it still holds up today.

I suppose I could also bring up System Shock, but there would be little point. Other similar games share FPS elements, but are not FPS games, like Thief or Deus Ex, just simply share influences and crossover appeal. But if it wasn't for that genre, they certainly wouldn't be what they are now. I would argue they have more in common with the likes of the older games than any of the games coming out now, however.

It was at this time that genre began going crazy with games like Shadow Warrior, SiN, and Redline, the latter of which is part car combat and Mad Max simulator. And the games kept coming. It's a long way of saying that the genre was built purely on fun and excitement with a very clear focus. You could also mention games like the last two S.W.A.T. entries and Rainbow Six for bringing strategy elements in. There was nothing off limits.

And, as has been said, video games were one of the few mediums that continued impressing and growing into the '00s. No One Lives Forever, Serious Sam, Clive Barker's Undying, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Shogo, Judge Dredd: Dredd Vs. Death, Painkiller, and most games up to the second Star Wars Battlefront had at least something to offer the player while keeping the fun alive. Things were only looking up for the genre. Even the first HD console generation started off on a different note with the first Condemned entry.

But then came along a game called Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

Now, I don't hate this game. As far as cinematic shooters go, it's still one of the best to this day and it was original when it released. It's very well directed and was impressive for its time. However scripted and shallow the level design might be, it is still well made. But it hobbled the genre and sucked all creativity out of it, damaging the genre for years afterwards.

Everyone ended up copying its success. Shooters had to be "realistic" and "down to earth" while at the same time doing away with health packs for hiding behind cover until your bullet wounds simply go away. The absurdity sells itself. And this was the main problem with this new focus.

Every weapon needed to be "aimed down" on with iron-sights which both obscured the screen and slowed down the action tremendously. Again, in the name of realism.

Enemy types as well were now standard humans with no real differential AI or placement in a level. Monster closets were about as complex as enemy encounters ever got. Because of this change, strategy was practically gutted from any firefight, and level design was streamlined to compensate. Enemy types all having the same weakness (headshot) and body type (normal fit humanoid) cut down on the crazy enemy variety the genre was capable of and had indulged in.

Wide open levels were replaced with one single hallway. This was pared down from DOOM's traditional labyrinth-like designs because players could get lost and need event triggers and explosions to keep them engaged and their eyes on the screen. This despite near two decades of history showing the audience was fine with the original approach.

Whereas in early games you could carry ten weapons+ including crazy gizmos such as alien guns that could fire through walls, chainsaws, super shotguns, and portable wall turrets, you were now limited to two that were limited to realistic military hardware. The reason given for this was because it was "more realistic" and for "game balance" because creative weapons might be too imaginative for gamers and take them out of their fantasy experience. Also, so developers didn't have to extensively test balance between weapons and the levels themselves.

And all this was in the service of streamlining and "casualizing" for the audience.

Certain people blamed consoles for this. They were wrong. Games like GoldenEye and Perfect Dark existed solely on consoles and had big levels, a large set of crazy weapons, and multiple scaling objective for players to tackle long before Call of Duty existed. Even the original Halo: Combat Evolved had it. Not to mention the Timesplitters games. Games like Quake, DOOM, and Half-Life were all ported to consoles with no problems. They did not need any of the things Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare made standard, and it is revisionism to say they did. The dumbing down was purely due to hopping on a trend train that ended up gutting much enjoyment from the genre while finding a convenient scapegoat. It had nothing to do with the limitations of consoles, but the limitations of developers.

Around the time Halo and CoD hit fever pitch, the genre lost its way with clone after clone aping their original success. They all followed the same template, they all had the same aesthetic, and they all played exactly the same. This continued for years as the entire industry became bereft of originality or depth. New consoles came out, and the same bad decisions were still being made. It looked as if the FPS was never going to reclaim it's former glory.

But then a strange thing happened. DOOM 4 was announced, and not only was it announced, but it was against everything modern shooters had become.

Originally it was going to be another CoD clone. id Software even had a concept of it they showed around. But it sucked. It was predictable, safe, and forgettable. It was the anti-DOOM and against everything the genre was supposed to be. At some point they realized just how far the genre had fallen and decided to change course. So they went back to basics. They got to working on a classic DOOM game the way it would look if made on modern hardware. They decided to update the old formula and forget current trends.

And it ended up being one of the best shooters ever.

How did they succeed? Well, I'll leave it to the Razorfist review to tell you.

*WARNING: NSFW language*

It was a massive success.

DOOM 4 is one of the best FPS games I've ever played. The levels are open, the weapons are satisfying, the art style is fresh and engaging, and everything is just plain fun to do. It was as if they went back to 2005 and pretended the intervening years didn't happen when Halo and CoD were the only influences in the genre. This is exactly what FPSes needed.

It remains to be seen if id's masterful gambit has paid off yet or if it will be ignored as soundly as John Wick's success has been by Hollywood, but I would hope someone is watching. The genre is turning it back around.

However, smaller developers and publishers got the hint. For instance, there is Ion Maiden from 3D Realms and Voidpoint. A new shooter made in the old engine of Blood, Shadow Warrior, and Duke Nukem 3D, it uses modern tricks in the genre while still adhering to the roots that made the genre a success in the first place.

But they aren't alone.

Amid Evil and Dusk from New Blood Interactive. These are classic style shooters designed with modern sensibilities, but still retain what built the genre in the first place. Taking up from where the AAA industry has dropped the ball, these creators went back and reinvented the wheel, only giving it spiked tires and built-in machine guns. They are reminding gamers just where the genre came from.

This is a long way to saying that you don't need to give up. Just because things might have gotten off the track does not mean they will always stay that way, or that no one else realizes the problems going on. Times are changing.

Eventually it all comes back around again.

So keep your chin up. A real revolution is on its way.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Where Weird and Wonder Meet ~ Cirsova #7 Review

I've been reviewing Cirsova magazine on this blog longer than any other pulp product so far. There's a reason for that. Since starting in 2016, Cirsova has been known for quality and helping the growing legion of pulp writers have a sandbox to play in. Six issues in and, a whiffed story here and there aside, it has yet to make a mistake. Whereas most magazines these days don't last a year, Cirsova has gone beyond to make itself the best pulp magazine currently running. I don't say that lightly or as an exaggeration. Picking up an issue of Cirsova is like opening Pandora's Box--whatever awaits inside is guaranteed to rock your world.

So how about issue #7? I've reviewed the first six so far, and while the last one was one of my favorites I had heard issue #7 was a step down. I do find that hard to believe since the weakest, in my opinion, was the double issue #4 which merely suffered from stuffing in some lesser stales to pad the length. Had it been a normal sized issue it would have been as good as the others. But enough of that. Let's take a look and see just what the problem might be.

Dominika Lein's Galactic Gamble starts off the issue with a good dose of the strange. A spacer finds himself stranded on a gambling planet, his friend captive, and his ship taken. Now he must use his (bad) luck to get it all back. I quite enjoyed this story. Lein has a way of making the odd and bizarre seem as normal as cheese on toast, and this one is no different. It isn't the most action packed tale, but it is a whole lot of fun, and that's what I read Cirsova to get. Excellent start.

Michael Reyes then returns to Cirsova's pages with The Iynx. This is one of his Clock stories about a Chaos Magician who solves obscure paranormal problems. In this one Clock deals with an ancient relic called The Iynx, and a man who is planning to use it to resurrect his dead fiance. Chaos ensues. Of all the stories I have read by Reyes, I believe this is the strongest one yet. Sharp prose, clear stakes, and a blistering pace make this a top notch read.

The third story is The Legend of Blade by Jason Scott Aiken. This is a post-apocalyptic fantasy action story of a group of kids raised to survive in fight in the harsh land. It is quite tight and the pacing is rapid fire. The ending might not have been needed on a narrative level, but it does add a sufficient sense of wonder to the proceedings and the worldbuilding. And that is always a good thing in a pulp tale.

Unfortunately, I can't say I was a fan of The Great Culling Emporium by Marilyn K. Martin. A bounty hunter arrives at an emporium to find his prey and talks to an old flame. The problem is that there isn't any tension or much in the way of stakes. Jobard enters the emporium and there is a long and well detailed description of the place. He then talks to his lost love. He then easily finds and captures his bounty without much struggle. The old girlfriend shows up and picks him up in his craft. Then it ends. I was not much engaged by this one.

Louise Sorensen's The Toads of Machu Hampacchu is the shortest normal story in the issue, and it shows it with how little actually occurs. This is about a guide that leads a bunch of people into what appears to be an ambush of lovecraftian creatures. It's a solid story, but doesn't stand out.

But then we come to the centerpiece of the issue, a new Dream Lords story by Adrian Cole, In the Land of Hungry Shadows. Witchfinder Voruum and his apprentice, Kaspel, go on a quest into the titular dark land where monsters roam and a city that lies which holds a deadly surprise. This is the longest story in the issue, and definitely one of the best in it. Mr. Cole hits it out of the park again. Honestly, this should have been the final story in the issue as its impact is kind of diluted by the two lighter pieces that followed.

Criteria for Joining the Galactic Community by Michael Tierney and Anna and the Thing by Abraham Strongjohn are short nuggets of stories that barely fill two pages apiece. The first is about a president who gets a visit from aliens and the second is about a kidnapping gone wrong. I quite enjoy these two writers, and these stories made for good filler, but they're not to their usual level. If I had to choose a favorite of the two it would be the one by Tierney.

We are then treated with another fantastic installment of the John Carter poem by James Hutchings which leads into an actual letter from a reader. He is not much of a fan of issue 6 (unlike me) and uses the space to complain about the quality of several stories (including one I liked a good deal) which is not really gone into in much detail other than vague complaints. It's a nice break to see an actual letter, but it's a bit of a sour note to end the issue on.

So, yes, I do see why some see this as the weakest issue of Cirsova so far. I don't think this one was particularly well paced by putting two of the strongest stories at the front and then two of the shortest at the back, and the letter might have been better at the front since it does bring the mood down. But all in all, it's still solid. Not the strongest issue, but considering Cirsova's quality level that's not much in the way of a complaint. This is still strong pulp material.


I'm also creating entertainment of my own! Check out my novel, Grey Cat Blues, if you haven't. Action, adventure, and romance, on a distant planet at the edge of the universe. What more could you ask for?