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.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Curtain Call

It's been a year since I made my last post on the state of pop music, and how massively ignorant those in the industry are about their own line of work. Unsurprisingly, a post about the mental shortcomings of such an out of touch industry has dated exceptionally well. But I've recently been checking up on a lot of other sectors of entertainment and seeing just how far things have (not) come over the last decade. While the rest of pop culture continues its decent into the abyss I have begun wondering what the future holds for it all. In the process of searching I came across something strange. So for this post I will return to my favorite whipping boy: the death of Rock music.

In many ways the music industry is the canary in the coalmine for the rest of popular culture. What happens there has a bearing on the rest of it. But to go into how much things have changed in such a short time I want to use an example.

I want to talk about a band, specifically The Hives. Anyone who was between the ages of 13 and 33 between the years of 2003-2008 have almost certainly have heard of them, and if not you probably have heard the song linked above. I want to talk about them because they are the very last band to come from the old age of the music industry. They come from a time that no longer exists. Specifically I will be pulling from this article just written last year where the lead singer, Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, discusses their five albums and where they were at when they were each made. It's quite eyeopening in its straightforwardness and how out of left field the ending is.

Before the late '90s, most bands signed to major labels were those who worked their way up from the indie circuit. The Hives were no different, forming in 1993 (though possibly earlier as they were all childhood friends) as a bunch of kids playing around after school, they soon got to the point where they put out their debut Barely Legal in 1997. It's a very rough album typical of debuts from young bands being more attitude and sound than much in the way of songwriting. But it did show promise and with enough charisma that they signed to a bigger label. You kind find examples of this going back to Buddy Holly. But the late '90s were already a hazardous time for the music industry.

Thankfully the band avoided the major labels at this point. It might have destroyed them early. The majors had all but ejected every rock band from their catalog, paving the way for the Nu Metal explosion to come and instead putting all money behind their disposable pop acts. The Geffen/Interscope merger in particular destroyed many up and coming careers throwing out band after band for shallow and thoughtless reasons. Indie still worked as it should. At least at this point. They still did what record labels should: pushing, promoting, and getting some radio play on smaller stations. It was enough for a band to get a foot in the door to bigger opportunities. Again, at this point. In less than a decade indie labels and radio stations would actively avoid specific genres and play only what big money told them to. However for now in the late '90s the indies were the only place to be.

In 2000 The Hives released their breakthrough album, Veni Vidi Vicious. It was not an instant hit. For two years they toured while their songs Main Offender and Hate to Say I Told You So began receiving more and more radio play. The band then signed with a UK label that put out a sort of best of compilation of their early material from Barely Legal, Veni Vidi Vicious, and select obscure EP tracks which coincided with the rise of the Garage Rock Revival movement in the early '00s. Because of this perfect storm of events and effort on the band's part, they finally hit out of the underground.

As the Mr. Almqvist in the article linked above said:
"When we put it (Veni Vidi Vicious) out contemporary music made no sense to us, it was only a year or two later when The Strokes and The White Stripes got popular that it seemed like we had a place in the popular world. We kind of knew we could make the hits in the UK in a way by calling the album Your New Favourite Band because it seemed like such a perfectly UK thing to do – and it worked! It was a clever bit of writing and awesome rock ‘n’ roll that made us popular."
For those that remember pop music from the year 2000 you will understand exactly what he meant. Major labels and their payola had locked down the radio and TV airwaves for their manufactured sugar and angst, slowly squeezing out anything they didn't craft themselves. A band like The Hives were completely unlike anything on the majors at the time. Their breakout hit, Hate to Say I Told You So, was a major underground hit for these exact reasons. Listening to it now it is fairly obvious it did not fit in the popular landscape of 2000.

I'm sure everyone reading this blog is familiar with the video for the song. You should, because it is the last one of a band who had an independent hit break out into the mainstream to be signed by the majors. What was once a common occurrence now no longer exists. Not long later were music videos irrelevant and the relationship between indies and majors completely severed. It was the end of an era.

The band got so popular off this they were roped into a major label deal not long after. Their constant touring and strong albums made them an easy fit for guaranteed success. Major labels at this point only signed bands with pre-made success following them. After all, the band only had to keep doing what they always did. But success is success, and it has a way of changing people.
“There were a lot of people who had ideas of what we were going to do and who we were, and to their credit the label we ended up on left us alone a little bit. But they signed a band that was popular and didn’t really know that they were going to be popular, so they let us do what we do. It was weird that people were invested in us and we didn’t know them, which led to varying degrees of paranoia in the band. 
“Compared to some of the other bands around at the time, we coped with success better. Part of that was because we’d been an unsuccessful band for a couple of years before we became a successful one. Because some of the other bands’ first thing was really successful, when you start to think that’s normal that’s a dangerous place to be in. I guess for us it was more of a cynical realisation that all of a sudden the world turned and made us popular, but we didn’t really change, we were just doing the same thing we were doing. The fact that we’d known each other since we were children also meant that it was harder to get a big head because there were always people around you who had seen you as a naked six-year-old. It’s hard to become too much of a rockstar within the group!”
Now if you play rockstar bingo you might know where this story is going. So many end up in the same place. But this story is different. The band didn't get full of themselves, sell out, and cash in. They also didn't give the label the finger and become obnoxious brats about it while wasting it away on junk albums. What they did was what they were hired to do. They made a rock record.

You see, to me, the most fascinating thing about their third album Tyrannosaurus Hives is that it didn't feel like the band lost their way. The first album was more or less a rough around the edges Punk/Garage rock album, but every release since they had sharpened their songwriting and playing and they were growing naturally. It was as if the jump to the majors made little difference in what was making them popular. By 2004, they were big and their sound matched it.

The public must have thought so too, because the album continued their forward momentum up the charts despite the label not really doing much in the way of promotion. Walk Idiot Walk was a huge hit and it kept them going, but I can't escape the lingering feeling that if the Garage Rock Revival wasn't in full swing when the album came out that they would have been dropped despite its success. Few rock bands survived on the majors in the '00s, and few more would be left by decade's end. The labels were looking for excuses.

The band's third album was a hit, but by the time they got around to album #4 it was clear to everyone at the time that the days of the majors were at an end. This was around 2007, ten years after the band's first album released. Mr. Almqvist describes the feeling well:
“We looked at it like the last days of Rome because the record industry was going into the shitter and we got a lot of money from the record industry, so we figured it was kind of our duty to make a big budget rock record and spend some money on it. We could make a cheap record and keep all the money, but where’s the fun in that? It was a challenge to ourselves. We have to play these kind of mind-games with ourselves to feel creatively challenged.”
The Black & White Album is wonderful for a lot of reasons. It's the last big budget rock album from rising and fresh talent instead of oblivious Boomers going through the motions. Pharrell Williams, of all people, guests on the record. There is an honest and zealous attempt to go for the Phil Spector Wall of Sound that had been heard in decades. It genre hops like a record hadn't since the '90s. It's the longest album of their career. And it doesn't sound overproduced in the slightest. This from a "garage" rock band.

The album also sold extremely well and was their highest selling by far. Tick Tick Boom was a titanic hit, and other popular songs such as Try It Again, You've Got it All . . . Wrong!, and Won't Be Long, are some of the best they had ever recorded. At the same time they put out the non-album Fall is Just Something that Grown-Ups Invented which was another popular track. In other words, by 2008 The Hives were at the top of the world.

This is the sound of a band on the cusp of ruling the world.

But The Black & White Album was the last album The Hives ever put out on a major label. In fact, since 2008 The Hives have only put out one album since and have instead been focused on touring. They do still get attention from the public, but the industry totally failed them. This from a band that did everything the right way.

This isn't the story of a could-have-been or a has-been that just didn't meet the mark. This isn't about a bunch of divas that had a chance and threw it away. It's not about a bunch of screw-ups who made bad choices. No, this is about a band that actually did everything right and still ended up on their own.

So you might be wondering how this happened. Well, it's a bit complicated. Here is what Mr. Almqvist says about their last (to date) album, Lex Hives:
“It took a lot of doing to get this done and that’s partly because we were in charge of it ourselves. It made things slower not having anyone on our backs, but the plug was out of the tub for the record industry so they had a lot less money, and we always licence our record to record companies but the economy wasn’t really there any more. We knew that we were going to make a record and have whoever wanted to release it release it because that’s what we wanted to do. We were in a time where we wanted to feel closer as a band and work more together again after getting produced. We had a lot of people and producers working on the record before, so what happens if we just do it ourselves? Fuck it, let’s build a studio, build a microphone, build a guitar amp, you know? That’s why it took such a long time ha ha!"
Yes, a band that put out hit singles, music videos, and albums, was unable to get any sort of backing or support from an industry designed to do just that. The album itself is what you would expect from The Hives, full of catchy garage rockers and songs that could have been huge hits had anyone backed them. As it is, the album did as well as could be expected in the post-bubblegum industry, but the band deserved better. And for those curious, Lex Hives came out in 2012. The record industry was already that bad by then. Can you imagine what it's like now?

I don't think you have to imagine. Just think of the last star to break out of a major label and if you've heard any of their songs outside the confines of the dead radio stations. Chances are the answer is most likely that you have not. They will never have another Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson, and all that is due to the goodwill burned after decades of iron fist control of their industry and choking out any life from it.

I've posted before about the death of pop culture and the fragmentation of a formerly homogeneous society. This isn't anything new, it's been happening for a while now due to higher interest in short term profits than in building a lasting platform or relationship with an audience. It's also clear that it is too late to reverse the trend. Decades of abuse and disrespect lead to empty seats and store shelves full of overstocked product.

So what does the future hold? Hard to say, but centralization doesn't appear to be in the cards. A future of blue collar folks creating product for each other and hoping to be found by larger audiences in the process, I suppose. Smaller audiences are an inevitability in a fractured climate, and who knows if we'll ever return to the age of the superstar again. It won't be any time soon.

Perhaps it is how it was always meant to be. Without a gate-keeping middleman both the customer and creator have less restrictions than ever before. Now customers have more options and entertainers need to work twice as hard for that beer money.

Here's hoping we can live up to the task. One thing is for sure: things will never be the same again. This is the curtain call. Goodbye, pop culture. This is the fate you've chosen.

I'm still waiting on word for the physical version of DimensionBucket Magazine, but the electronic version is readily available here if you don't want to wait. Of course if you're looking for last minute Christmas gifts there is always StoryHack #3 and Grey Cat Blues. I'm still putting it out there for ya, folks!

Thursday, 6 December 2018


I've had this one discussion about the arts many times over the years which never goes away. I'm not sure how common it is among other groups, but among mine they became more than sick with discussing one of my issues in particular.

I can deal with subpar content. I can abide by bad faith actors or overambitious flops. I can even stomach liars who consistently promise endlessly climbable tall mountains only to deliver a post-apocalyptic crater of pure garbage instead. Artists and entertainers are a varied lot.

But one group of content creators always manages to push the wrong buttons. This would be those artists who cannot avoid cramming in their hamfisted views of the world into every single thing they do. And not just any hamfisted view. This is about those who have found the secret of life, the universe, and everything, and are going to tell the uneducated rubes what billions of people across the world and throughout history haven't yet figured out. This is about the truly smrt people.

And, yes, that spelling is intentional. This is about a very specific group of people.

Mecha and space pirate author Brian Niemeier describes the game in a recent post:
"Here's how the trick works. The Smrt author presents himself as a sort of Gnostic oracle who's got the dirt on some formerly sacred Western tradition. He doesn't break the fourth wall and make these claims overtly. Instead he establishes his credentials by portraying the skeptics attacking the fable as cool, informed characters the reader wants to emulate. At the same time, those who cling to traditional Western beliefs are mocked as credulous--often violent--dupes. The Smrt author carefully frames the window of allowable debate in his world to exclude any compelling arguments for the defense. 
"Skilled Smrt authors will introduce some last-minute ambiguity to allow the rubes some wiggle room. This conceit is just a sugar to coat the poison pill. It's usually presented as an afterthought, and often for a laugh. The story's main impression remains: The reader has joined the cool kids who know the truth behind the fairy tales."
I'm sure you've seen plenty of stories following this very predictable formula. The recent Castlevania Netflix show does exactly this. Dishonest characterization, ahistorical examples to tar certain groups, and hack one dimensional characters, are used to warp the story in the fashion the writer wants. This is done to send a message, and it's wrapped in shiny plastic coating to distract from it.

This is inherently dishonest storytelling.

Why the dishonesty, you might ask. Is it a pathetic cry for attention? Losers in life striking back at what they're too smrt to grasp? It could be any number of things, but it's motivated by ego.

People have an inherent desire to have something over others. Riches, knowledge, virtue. This is Pride. It has ruined many otherwise solid pieces of art. The temptation to use a large platform for yourself instead of for your customers is tempting, but it remains a purely selfish act to weaponize storytelling.

Art is made to connect with the audience. It is an equal exchange between the artist and the customer to exchange product with compensation. But here's the key. No one is going to be paid to be told they are horrible and everything they believe is a lie, because nobody is that stupid. But what if you give it a candy-coating and color the pill so that a casual observer is none the wiser? In this way the smrt artist can slip it in unnoticed.

But it's not just the West that suffers from this.

See Japan and religion in the '90s. So many games and anime were made about an enlightened secular modernist main character that preaches ideas completely out of joint with the setting about their post-modern ideas of God and those following thousands of years of tradition. Stop me if you've played a JRPG in the 90s, because you know the drill.

"Good and evil are both illusions! Now let's destroy both evil ideas so us good people can rule."

This is literally the same muddled, and intellectually bankrupt, theme in so many stories that would otherwise be fantastic. It's all about attacking tradition and wonder which are intrinsic to fantasy. But for near a decade you would get the same tired points.

In some case, like Grandia 2, it makes an already pedestrian plot feel embarrassing. A wandering warrior learns that the "devil" is sympathetic and the "god" is no real god at all. In fact, this means all gods and religions are bad because of this incident. You even get many characters delivering speeches about this as if any of that actually follows. All this in the middle of a bunch of tired anime tropes and plot moves that were already played out by 1999. But it gets sillier.

In Lunar: Silver Star Story, it's not even sensical. The party spends the whole game endowed by magic and relics given by the goddess in order to fight the evil wizard. But, you see, the wizard did all this evil because man is so terrible they need a god to rule over them. Since the goddess power is what stopped the villain before the start of the current story, his point actually does make sense. Without the goddess that villain would not have been stopped.

But the wizard is proclaimed as in the wrong via a very shallow argument. The heroes' respond that they don't need gods at all anymore because they're grown so much and humans are above that old superstition and nonsense. This despite the very common knowledge that the goddess power was needed to save the world in the first place from a different evil before the game began. By the way, the party touches the goddess statue to refill their health, remove poison and ailments, and recover magic throughout the entire game. For free. All magic and artifacts were also created by her. But these heroes don't need gods, even though the quest would have been impossible to complete otherwise! The goddess in question only created a world on a moon with flying magic cities, mystical dragons, and wondrous creatures, but sure take that away to prop up a modern world completely devoid of magic where an overly congested metropolis with high suicide rates and unending media addiction is the ideal universe. The fantasy game actually argues that fantasy is bad for you.

An entire line of magical dragonmasters is wiped out because they're not needed anymore. In a fantasy world where evil can rise up at any time and observably has.

It takes a smrt kind of person to structure a theme like this, but here we are.

And I didn't even get into the last two episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion where the plot is forgotten for full blown propaganda for moral relativism and the writer teaching the audience the secrets of the universe. That wasn't otherwise a smrt show, just a solid and entertaining one. But that ending is among the worst.

You might have noticed a theme with smrt stories. They tend to make the writer look arrogant in their attempt to teach a point, and if you dig deep enough they end up contradicting the work in the process. It's always been in fiction to some extent, but entropy is real. What was once chest congestion has morphed into a full blown flu.

Audiences don't really want it anymore. You can see that in how more customers are choosing to spend their money as the years pass. Industries are dying, long-running franchises are being sucked dry and left as husks on the side of the road, and meanwhile the audience only becomes more and more fractured.

Soon there won't be anyone left to look their way. The art gallery, concert hall, and movie theaters: all empty.

So the end result of trying to lecture the audience has ended in them waking away instead of stopping to listen to those peddling poison. You can call it an own-goal. It doesn't get more laughable than that. I guess you could say it is the ultimate smrt move.

And that kind of special smrtness deserves a special song. (Lyrics included below!)

*WARNING: High dosage of Rock inside!*


I used to be the kid who always got caught
I used to be the one who never let thought
Interact one bit with intellectual shit, diversity and wit!

You used to be the kid who waited in line
For an opportunity to waste away time
Trying to be so cool, but no suspicion, no clue
You've been...

I'm selling you for scrap!

Now I'm the kid who put the shit back in place
And I'm the one who threw it back in your face
It took a bit of intellectual shit, diversity and wit!

Now you're the kid who put the "L" back in Lame
And you're the one who always fitted the frame
Still such a fool! No suspicion, no clue
You've been...

I'm selling you for scrap!

You're outsmarted! Yeah!
That's what I said! Yeah!

Only throwing back what you've been putting in my face!

I'm selling you for scrap!

And in other news the print version of DimensionBucket Magazine should be available on amazon soon enough. I'll post when the date becomes known. Until then you can try out the digital version of it here. There's also the very exciting action adventure StoryHack magazine which has some of the most fun fiction you'll read today. I'm in issue #3!

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Black & White

This entire post was spawned from a twitter discussion later spun out into a blog post by Rawle Nyanzi. I recommend reading it to see where this post comes from.

Here's the secret to good storytelling: Dynamics. Contrasting elements that cause the audience's neck to snap back and forth over which one might prevail over the other. It is the key to all the best stories when one side is clearly set apart from the opposite and their differences lead to what is ostensibly the plot.

And every story has this. There exists no great story where the antagonist is a better person than the protagonist (unless we are following the villain's POV) and in which the antagonist is someone we want winning over the protagonist, and if there is it usually equates to a bad story. We want one side to win over the other because one is better (even if microscopically) than the opposite. Even mobster and crime stories are like this.

For instance, sword and sorcery stories are tales of morality, as is good fantasy in general. The sword represents that natural state and humanity and the sorcery represents unnatural evil intended to warp and rot the natural world. Are all protagonists of sword and sorcery good people? I don't know, are human as a whole perfectly good? No. But they are objectively superior to those dabbling in the dark and who wish to overturn the natural state for their own selfish ends. One is, and always will be, the superior and more morally compelling side. So yes, sword and sorcery is about black and white morality. It does not mean the hero cannot have flaws or the villain cannot have good points. It means that one is still the morally preferable choice despite this clash. They are still dynamically opposed, and those differences are compelling.

"Grimdark" fantasy tends to miss this point by sinking all characters in mass of mud. Classic fantasy is already plenty dark, but it is not because the morality is weak and cowardly like modern fiction, but because evil is terrifying and destructive to both the soul and the world. There is nothing compelling about a cast of terrible characters murdering each other until one wins. This haze relies on shock and shallow violence to keep an audience's interest until eventually the story rolls to a stop. Nobody cares who wins because it doesn't matter. A terrible person will get their wish and continue being terrible. Rinse and repeat until the heat death of the universe.

It's like I'm talking to that kid in high school who hung out at Hot Topic and wore Slipknot and My Chemical Romance shirts. It's all about image. Instead of a moral battle between two opposing forces, we are left with mindless violence and sex and characters without any passions or aspirations aside from their appetites.

And audiences want more than that.

Listen to any discussion about Watchmen. Rorschach is still the most popular character despite Alan Moore working hard to try to make him despicable. But the audience rejected his attempts. Why? Because they instinctively want someone to root for. Therefore the only character who has any values he is willing to fight and die for (and is still clearly morally superior to the villain) is who the audience will attach themselves to.

How many discussions of A Game of Thrones involve readers and viewers frantically trying to attach themselves to the least terrible characters still alive and hope for them to win? If they wanted grey goo instead why would they do this at all? Despite George R. R. Martin's best attempts, the audience is still searching for the black and white in his attempt to paint only in greys. Even if he can't give them what they truly want, they dig for it anyway. His experiment backfired. (And that is why he will never finish it.)

Deep down we all want the good guy to win. It's embedded into our bones and brains. This is why despite Hollywood's constant failures and inability to have a hit, superhero films still reign supreme at the box office. The most black and white depiction of morality there is remains the most popular genre. Meanwhile, former titans of this mentality like Star Wars have flailed due to their weak attempt at eschewing morality. Superheroes are the only place audiences can currently get what they want. And if nothing fills that void when the genre falls in popularity? Well, Hollywood is going to have a lot of problems.

In fact, the entire entertainment industry is having this problem. Book sales are down, TV networks have had a terrible year, and the comic industry will not survive the oncoming decade. Perhaps instead of force-feeding audiences their pedestrian and unthinking view of morality they might consider giving the customer what they want. And what the audience wants are excitement, dynamics, and perhaps a healthy dab of Truth.

Truth is real. Morality is real. Everyone instinctively knows this, and they want to be reminded of it. Truth be told, we need to be reminded of it. It's good for us. It keeps us on the straight and narrow.

Storytelling is about sharing truths through dynamic exaggerations. Truth is real, and we all know it deep down. This is why black and white morality is unavoidable, and why it will never go away. We crave it, and we always will.

If you're looking for fun action adventure stories to read, I recently had two different short stories released. One is in issue #3 of StoryHack, and the other is in DimensionBucket magazine. Check them out! I should also hopefully have news on my superhero novel, Gemini Warrior, sometime very soon. Exciting times!

Friday, 23 November 2018

Adapting to Adaptions

Stories are universal, as a rule. They are made to connect with audiences, which means their goal should be to do so on the widest scale possible for the story. But sometimes it isn't the original work that does the job. Sometimes it's the adaption of the story that ends up reaching the widest possible audience. It happens more than you would think.

In fact, let's go over some examples here.

One of the most interesting aspects of being into anime and manga is the relationship between the two.. One story transfers across two different mediums in Japan all the time. Comparing adaptions will be clearer if I talk about these.

In the early days when anime was just getting a foothold the adaptions were usually loose. Merely taking the concept and adapting what they could while adding their own ideas. In the 1970s with the advent of super robots, space opera, and fantasy, adaptions had a whole new meaning.

Some manga were made from the anime staff specifically. Go Nagai's Mazinger Z ran in Shonen Jump at the same time the anime did. Since he was the writer he knew the general plot and where it would go. It's about a teenage boy who finds a giant robot and must use it to battle the evil Dr. Hell from ruling the world. But because the anime was for spectacle and selling toys, the manga ended up not having monster of the week battles. Instead it had a rapid fire plot that rocketed from Point A to B. Whie the anime ran for 92 episodes from 1972-1974, the manga ran for 5 volumes in the same time period. The sequel series Great Mazinger did the same, running for 56 episodes from 1974-1975 and 2 manga volumes at the same time. The third series, Grendizer, is more less the same format as the other two. The last series spread across mediums, God Mazinger, is entirely different in every adaption.

Personally, I like this approach. This makes the various versions seeing for different reasons. It's engaging in a way a simple panel by panel adaption would be. But, of course, most franchises are not Mazinger Z. And despite how popular it is they are not all easily available. For instance, the western market has yet to see any of Nagai's original Mazinger manga (in my opinion, his best by far). So this tact has its downsides.

A different series that ran a similar course was the ever popular and influential Space Battleship Yamato. If you don't know, it's about the crew of a spaceship trying to find a way to defeat alien invaders of Earth. While the original 26 episode series was running, directed by Leiji Matsumoto, he also put out a manga based on the story at the same time. It ran for three volumes, and although I have yet to read it, actually has been licensed for release over here by Seven Seas. I would assume it follows the plot of the series tightly.

But in the '80s is where things changed the most. The economic boom in Japan meant a growth for many industries, but entertainment is where things really ballooned. More anime and manga was produced than had ever been produced before. Magazines, timeslots, and companies were opening up, and more productions sprang up. OVAs opened the floodgates as to what animation could do. Movies as well were at their peak. This continued into the 90s and is regularly considered the Golden Age of anime and manga. Everything sold, creativity was encouraged, and the overseas market was being cracked.

It only stands to reason that adaptions would continue in this era, and continue they did. Some adaptions were like psychic romance story Kimagure Orange Road and followed the main story while adding in their own idiosyncrasies along the way. Episodic series like City Hunter created whole new scenarios which allowed it to run longer. Post apocalyptic martial arts slobberknocker Fist of the North Star stretched out the material to create a longer anime. Others were more plain adaptions.

But the most important and popular adaption, and the most infamous, was the one for Akira Toriyama's adventure comedy Dragon Ball.

The original manga ran for 42 volumes, spit into two anime series. The first anime series covers the original 16 volumes over 153 episodes. This anime was simply called Dragon Ball. This adaption works surprisingly well despite the pacing issues one would expect. The staff added whole new events and smaller arcs (known as filler to wider anime fans) that did not interfere with Toriyama's original pacing or intent. It starts and ends strong. As a rule, this is the best Dragon Ball adaption.

The second anime series, called Dragon Ball Z, takes place after a time skip in the original manga to cover the remaining 26 volumes. However, it covers them in 291 episodes. Unlike the first series, this one succumbs to a myriad of issues. There are long stretches of episodes where nothing happens, there is a lot of filler that goes nowhere and (unlike the original anime) adds nothing to the story, and most importantly the animation is incredibly inconsistent. As an adaption it is quite weak.

It managed to succeed at the time due to Dragon Ball's manga being so good and because there was little on television like it at the time. But there is a reason it has an official edited version, Dragon Ball Kai, which cuts the fat to 159 episodes. The original Z anime is close to unwatchable today without heavy skimming.

But when we head into the 90s there are two more series worth discussing. Oddly enough they are by two different individuals who would end up marrying. The first is Sailor Moon, the second is Yu Yu Hakusho. Both are two of the biggest series of the period.

Sailor Moon is the premier Magical Girl series, created by Naoko Takeuchi in the early 90s. It's about a teenage girl named Usagi Tsukino (Serena in the North American dub) who is made a warrior for love, Sailor Moon. She fights evil creatures at night and deals with normal teenage stuff during the day joined by her friends. The story soon involves a legendary kingdom on the moon from the far past as well as a new earthly kingdom in the future. That's about the only similarity between the manga and later adaptions.

The original manga is loopy, but it's also quick paced. The entire series takes 18 volumes to complete when the original anime series takes 200 episodes and doesn't really end. The later anime series, Sailor Moon Crystal attempts to be a straightforward adaption of the manga. Despite all of this, I think the original anime is the best version of the series.

Yes, despite being full of filler episodes and arcs, as well as a lot of tangents, I feel the anime gets to the heart of the series better than the manga does. The manga is dry and fat much of the time whereas the anime adds good characterization, including character arcs for villains, as well as has much stronger direction. It's also a lot more fun. The original, and the later anime as a consequence, simply doesn't stack up.

In contrast, Yu Yu Hakusho is almost a straight adaption of the original manga, only with trims and additions of its own. Yusuke Uremeshi is a punk kid with nothing in the world. He sacrifices himself to safe a child and is rewarded with a new chance at life. He then learns there is more to the world than he first thought.

The manga starts off with many one-shot chapters centering around Yusuke helping various people in the world with their problems as a ghost before coming back to life. It also ends with two volumes of the most cynical, nasty, and stupid material in the entire series that almost ruins the entire thing. The anime trims the start of the story to get to the action quicker, and completely revamps the final arc of the series to wrap everything up with a more consistent tone and removes all the garbage. There are also other tweaks along the way such as giving a few more scenes and moments to other characters to give the series more flavor.

In this case the 19 volume manga is vastly inferior and less consistent than the 112 episode anime series. The adaption ended up saving the series from the author.

So as you can see, the differences between adaptions can be pretty extensive. In some cases, the adaption could utterly ruin the original in transition (such as Flame of Recca) or go a different way while keeping the core intact (such as Ushio & Tora), which give the consumer far more options to choose from.

This is a long way to say that adaptions really should be adaptions. They should take the original and create the best adaption possible, but the fact is that the original still exists and these are separate mediums. Changes are a certainty, and sometimes they are for the best.

My point is simply that stories can be fascinating in how many different ways they can be told. There's something universal that links even across mediums, and even despite changes that might be made. Even going over them here I am surprised at how much there is to go through.

And I didn't even cover some of the weirder examples. But that will be all for today. I have to get back to editing! Enjoy your Black Friday and watch some anime. It'll do you good.

In case you're interested, I recently had stories in issue 3 of StoryHack and in DimensionBucket Magazine. Please check them out if action, adventure, fantasy, and horror stories are your thing. They are quite good at what they do.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

The End of Wonder

One of the best
Nobody reads anymore. This is universally agreed upon by both the literate and illiterate alike. Big book chains have closed because less customers are shopping there, and because amazon simply offers more for those still around. All in all the landscape for literature is not looking healthy.

The highest selling books not propped up by television shows are all by authors who have been dead for decades. It's a small crowd and it's only shrinking. When was the last time traditional publishing introduced a new author that broke out big? And I mean bigger than your best friend who works at the library or indie bookstore. When was the last time you saw a man on the street talking about hot new author X? If you're honest without yourself then you'll realize it has been a very long time.

This is no small issue. By all accounts the industry is flailing and utterly failing to draw in customers or satisfying existing ones, and is unable to offer anything fresh. And no one in those high positions knows how to fix any of this.

Despite shorter attention spans, short stories and anthologies sell as bad as ever. Smaller pulp-length books have been abandoned since the 80s when the old classics were sabotagedleft without shelf-space and replaced with fat unedited tomes the size of Stephen King's ego and former coke habit. They went in the opposite direction of audience trends, and while it might have worked for a bit, they sure are paying for it now. The readership is shrinking.

But television is also dying, as are most traditional art mediums. No one can fight the creeping nihilism hanging like the Damocles blade above their necks. It's going to fall. The difference is that literature has been around so much longer than the other forms that it should be the one with the highest chance of recovery. It has competed with beer money before. It fought off plays, radio, cinema, television, and video games over the years. Why should the internet by any different?

Well, I hinted at why that is one paragraph back. Those in charge of the industry are not catering to the changing audience. They're instead trying to change the audience. Not in the individuals, but in what they like and see as good and quality so they can shape tastes and forever milk money from their paypig readership. So instead of aiming for blue oceans where the big fish are they throw nets into aquariums over and over, and the goldfish inside hardly realize how often they are being drug out over and over.

The problem is the damage the industry has done to writing itself. And I'm not talking about prose or plotting. I'm not even talking about creativity or stale formats like the 400-page-paperback factory mainstream literature has become. I don't even have to mention all the strange and fetishistic anthologies and magazines that need to be kickstarted because no one is interested in buying them normally. Where the industry suffers the most is in a more basic place.

It is the complete lack of wonder. Romance and adventure are seen as quaint and even problematic. Sincerity is seen as a fool's errand.

And all of that is needed if you want a sustainable audience. This should be obvious. It's no secret that few people who leave high school will ever pick up a book again after graduation. Why is that? It is what they were taught to consume and think of as high art, "real" literature. You will find no wonder or wild imagination in those books. That is by design, sure, but also doesn't foster a love for reading when they could just as easily go download Thief Gold from Steam or GOG and get what they were already looking for. The question is are these schools supposed to be teaching students to love reading or to embed messages in their brains? You probably already know the answer but it is pretty obvious which path is healthier regardless.

I was fortunate to have good teachers as a kid who encouraged me to read The Hobbit, and we even put on MacBeth, but most aren't lucky enough to have instructors going that extra mile. Most get stuck with The Lottery and The Giver and have no reason to think other books are any different. That's if anything even gets assigned at all.

And the people writing fantasy don't help either. For a genre that has its roots in history and legend, it is amazing how few writers have any sort of connection with their own genre's legacy. In fact, the more I learn about the early days of pulp publishing the more I realize how disconnected we are to our roots.

Case in point is this video of fantasy author Brandon Sanderson talking about his own genre. This video was a real eyeopener to me. Pay special attention to how one of the biggest authors in the genre makes up categories, forgets important authors, and works backwards from where wonder should start. And he is one of the biggest fish in the drying pond of his genre.

Here is where I must make a disclaimer. I am not posting this to mock Brandon Sanderson. I don't know how much about the genre he knows (it's probably more than me since David Gemmell is one of the few post-1980 authors in the genre I read), and he clearly knows a lot about worldbuilding. The man is knowledgeable. There are far worse authors with terrible advice (and attitudes, to be quite frank) than him out there. Most are on social media. I have nothing against Mr. Sanderson and think he is very talented.

I also think his focus is incredibly misguided and part of the problem as to why post-Tolkien fantasy is so bland and toothless.

For one encapsulating example, take a random Lord Dunsany short story and get any random modern fantasy novel off a Barnes & Noble shelf and put them side by side. Dunsany's stories are rarely longer than a page and he fills them with wondrous sights, sounds, adventures, and ideas that leave the reader enthralled and possibly mystified. Rarely are you left without at least some semblance of satisfaction. Modern fantasy stories stretch on for near a thousand pages, they dig into minutia and world details that aren't very important, go deep into character histories, and you need sequels to get the entire tale. It spends books and years to finish a single story that doesn't contain half the weight or an eighth of the wonder of one Dunsany short. They are focused on precisely the opposite thing they should be leaning on. Wonder is fantasy's biggest strength.

Both the industry doesn't notice. They care more about the hard shell then the appetizing lobster inside. Audiences will go to where they can get the most bang for their buck, and fantasy is losing that battle more and more as the years go by. Why is it chefs can understand what writers and publishers can't? Customers aren't interested in how lovingly you place the lobster on the plate--they care about what it tastes like.

There is no wonder to a magic system. There is no wonder to nihilistic violence that ends with the least terrible person getting what they want. There is no wonder to a romance that is filtered through modern post-porn sex. There is no wonder to any story filtered through "reality", "content checkers", or hackneyed writer formulas that have been stale since the '70s. In other words, there is no wonder to modern fantasy.

Fantasy authors are more obsessed with the aesthetics then they are sufficiently wowing the audience. As long as the rules are consistent, the reader won't care what you do.

But it isn't about the reader, is it? At some point it became about telling the customer what they should want then calling them entitled and/or stupid when they don't want it. They should feel lucky enough to slurp up the gruel they are handed and praise the muddy texture accordingly. Have you figured out why the industry is shrinking yet?

Fantasy is no different than other mediums and genres in that area. Think of science fiction and John W. Campbell for an example. How hard revision killed that genre is quite the tale. It's also impressive to the extent certain fans still think he created a Golden Age. This despite his influence completely being erased from every book currently on the stands and a sharp decrease in sales following on him taking control of the genre. This while the rest of the world reveled in tropes and ideas the pulps invented before him, and still engage in to tremendous success. A Golden Age is marked by record high sales and quality output--the Campbell Age was the complete opposite of that and started the downward trend leading to where the genre is now. The audience wanted Merritt, and instead he was airbrushed out of the picture and his genre rendered unrecognizable by gatekeepers just like Campbell.

We know what the Golden Age of fantasy is, even if some of us don't want to admit it for whatever reason. It is what it is.

So what can we do going forward? I would say to keep an eye out. Personally I'm still working on my Heroes Unleashed project with Silver Empire, and just had two short stories put out in StoryHack and DimensionBucket Magazine. But there are other authors trying their best to put out something different and better than what the mainstream is squeezing from their rotting lemon trees. You can do better, and you will if you look for it.

It's going to take a long time, but it will eventually turn around. One day you might even see a group of kids passing around an old Anthony Hope paperback and discussing the incredible ending to the book they just went through. Bit out there, no? But that sure would be something.

We've just got a ways to go. Hold tight.

It's coming!

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Where Are We?

Before I start I would like to mention the fact that two of my stories have been released recently via two different outlets.

The first I've already brought up, but I was included in StoryHack #3 with my story Inside the Demon's Eye. This is a fantasy about a lone adventurer wandering through the Black Lands in search of a precious item while another pursues him. Enter a world of demons where humans constantly find themselves under assault--in more ways than one. I was inspired by quite a few things in writing this from CL Moore to an old legend of a sinking city that isn't Atlantis. Can you guess what it is? Probably. I'm not very subtle.

Check out and let me know what you think! It's new territory for me.

But that's not all!

Also just released is my story Endless Nights in Villain City in the Autumn issue of DimensionBucket Magazine! Also different from me, this one is story from the perspective of the villain. Not very surperversive, I suppose, but maybe you'll disagree. It was definitely fun writing this from a different angle.

This is the first issue of a brand new magazine, so please check it out even beyond my story. There are plenty of great stories by talented authors here.

And now for our regularly scheduled post.

Before we start this time, I'd like to draw your attention to this episode of Half in the Bag by RedLetterMedia. You do not have to watch the entire thing (these are always long) but there is something I want to point out. Just skip to their general impressions of each movie. You'll know why I'm bringing this up pretty quick.

One of the reasons most enjoy RedLetterMedia is their deadpan and deflated reaction to the end of pop culture and Hollywood's slow death. The movie Mandy is a rarity in that it shows the last remaining sparks of creativity left in Hollywood, even if it is still coated in nihilism. At the very least it is a creative attempt at a story. This is becoming rare in that industry.

Where Hollywood fails is when they have to write heroics. This might seem strange in the era of the MCU, but you also have to remember that the MCU is still the only proper success in the superhero film world. DC has floundered and, unlike the 90s, no one is taking a chance on more obscure comic books or heroes (like The Shadow or The Phantom) or creating new ones (like Darkman or Mystery Men) to capitalize on the trend. Even if you think superheroes are big their success is limited and not leading to any larger trend. And when the final Avengers movie happens they will never again reach the level of popularity.

But aside from heroics, Hollywood also doesn't understand their own properties--even those who worked on them. For an example check out the video above. The Predator is a colossal failure both critically and commercially.

The Predator is a shallow, spiritually dead movie of stolen imagination and rehashed ideas with a message that could only have been thought up by someone too pathetic to grow up beyond adolescence. And it was written by someone who was there when the original film was being made. And not a talentless man, either. He wrote the original two (and best) Lethal Weapon films as well as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. He knows action and how to give the audience what they want.

And yet not only is this film completely out of joint with the franchise, it is completely out of tone with the genre it is supposed to be. It doesn't give the audience what it wants, and it doesn't do so on a scale that is as impressive as it is inept.

Which sums up the dead end state of pop culture as it is right now.

I didn't expect to write a post about this movie, but I had to do so after recent events involving bad decisions by Marvel. The fact of the matter is that the MCU has peaked. There will never be another film like the original Avengers' impact on the genre, and there will never be another Infinity War of building up around a decade of work to one event. It will never happen again.

So we begin our downhill slide of the company telling audiences what they want and cramming uninteresting characters into their own films to replace beloved ones. The MCU has passed its peak with these two new Avengers movies, like every other trend, and will never be the same again.

And that's fine. Trends come and go all the time. Superheroes first hit it big with X-Men and Spiderman back in the early 00s and we're nearing two decades. Just like westerns, action films, noir, and fantasy films, we're nearing the end. But there is a problem.

The difference this time? There is no trend coming.

Hollywood didn't pounce on John Wick's success. Outside of Marvel, they've sidestepped superheroes. Star Wars is dying as a brand. Their award shows go down in ratings every year because no one is interested in the movies they're making and dumping directly into the 5 dollar movie bin at Walmart. How can they pounce on trends when they either ignore them or, like The Predator, completely misunderstand them?

An industry can't survive on low selling auteur wank, and product that has no respect for the audience.

But that's another reason I posted my work at the top of the post. It wasn't just for promotion but to highlight that the future are people like those in StoryHack and DimensionBucket. It's about creators willing to give the audience what they want while trying new and exciting things at the same time.

Much has been written about the Pulp Revolution and other similar movements in other places and industries, but they exist for that reason. The big boys are fading and have no intention of changing their ways. Their too bloated, arrogant, oblivious, and low energy for that.

So while the old guard crumbles to dust, I suggest strapping in for a ride. 2018 has been one strange twist after another, and that's not going to change any time soon.

I'm not exactly sure where we are in the overall scheme of things, but we're definitely in an interesting position.

Let's see what happens next.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Happy Halloween!

As promised, I wanted to deliver a small surprise for readers of this blog in time for Halloween.

And what better than include some fun content?

So what I've done is include both Halloween episodes I recorded with my friend on our podcast in this post. In case you are unaware, Cannon Cruisers is a podcast I do with my partner centered around the filmography of Cannon Films with some works of the same era by different studios.

Last year we recorded an episode centered on the movie franchise Halloween (the first three movies) before we were even aware of the recent film's existence.

You can listen to out long and unedited discussion here:

But as was said earlier, we recorded that last year.

For this year we included a discussion on another seasonal franchise favorite. In the new episode we talk at length about A Nightmare on Elm Street 1 and 3. Why those two? Well, you'll have to tune in and listen for yourself!

You can hear that at the Cannon Cruisers blog here.

Everyone, have a great Halloween and I will see you next week.