Thursday, January 23, 2020

New Release: "Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures"

Find it Here!

It's been a long time coming, but my next book, Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures is out today!

My seven stories of madness in the dark city is finally ready to be unleashed on the world. Pick up your copy right now to get it on it.

The official description is as follows:

SEVEN TALES OF MAYHEM IN THE MAGIC CITY! 
Vigilantes fight from the shadows. In Summerside, Dark Magic poisons the dying city of cultists and gangsters. This is where heroes are made. 
A man with a deadly touch, an ex-hitman, a concrete teenager, an invisible myth, and an indestructible knight, are but a few of those who stalk the midnight hour. 
In these seven stories you will meet those fighting for the soul of the city, and those hoping to bring it to a brighter future. But is there anything left worth saving in a world of death? 
Powers or Magic. Only one will win this war.

Featuring stories that were in the Crossover Alliance Vol. 3, Silver Empire's Paragons, and the PulpRev Sampler, as well as brand new tales written just for this collection, readers are in for an onslaught of short stories and novelettes featuring hot blooded action and weird adventure. You're not going to read anything else like this!

For the full story behind each piece, I've started a series on the blog called Story Sheets. You can read them all here on the site. The most recent post was on the longest tale in the collection, Knives in the Night. As you can tell my the post lengths I put quite a lot into them!

The full story selection includes:

5. Last Exit to Shadow City
6. Lucky Spider's Last Stand
7. When the Sunset Turns Red  

What you are looking at here is a set of seven stories that all take place in the same world and city, in roughly the same time period, and feature an interlocking overarching story and a cast of characters that all have their own tales to tell. This is not a fix-up novel or random collection of short stories: this is a single piece and was made to be read as a whole, just as a typical book would be. In fact, word count wise it is my longest book released so far, as long as a typical novel.

I grew up with superhero stories and adventure tales, but with these seven stories of mayhem, I wanted to take them back further to their pulp roots while moving beyond simple modern superhero tropes that we've been stuck in for far too long. I wanted to be rooted in the past and the future at the same time.

This is even further away from a traditional "superhero" story than Gemini Warrior was, and that was closer to old school Burroughs-influenced Isekai than any comic book from the big corporations. Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures is filled with hard hitting noir-influenced hero stories that grip at the throat and don't stop squeezing until the end. You want action? I supply it without apology or regret.

I can't leave my readers with anything less! They know what they want.

As for what said readers think? Here are some impressions from early reviews:

"Conflict abounds, between powers and dark magic, between good and evil, between rivals just squabbling for turf. If you want to know what happens, you are just going to have to pick up this volume. I suspect you’ll have a hard time putting it down."
 and
"The novel greatly entertained me and I was completely hooked on the plot and characters. The villains were bad guys who rationally and conscientiously chose to do evil by embracing unnatural powers via magic? Deals with the devil? The authour again leaves the choices to the readers. The heros are equally complex and face moral dilemmas while combatting villains and facing a hostile indifference of the very inhabitants the former defend everyday."

I'm ecstatic of the reception, and that my readers are so geared into what I'm writing. These stories took a long time to write and cobble together (over two years!) and to see readers enjoying them as much as I did writing them is such a pleasure.

You can be one of them!

At the same time I managed to get the paperback out on day one, too! Us dead tree Luddites have got to stick together, after all. I made extra care to make sure it looked the best it could. You can get the 370 page behemoth here. I told you it was a big book!

If you wish to see what the full physical version looks like, here is a reminder:

This is the final version!

Enjoy the slightly different design. I wanted to give physical owners something different since it does cost more to own a printed version, and I think the torn page design looks better in person like this. And with a 370 page book you definitely get a lot for the price. I know it's going to look great on the shelf! Once again, you can find the paperback here.

But while you're here, why don't I share some goofy pictures I made for fun to support the book? We do live for the weird here at Wasteland & Sky.

While constructing the cover for this book using the great Kukuruyo's art, I began to learn Inkscape and very quickly found myself having fun with it. So what better way to learn to use the thing than to create crazy pictures in the program? Since I was already working on the cover I figured why not make some goofy ads with it? Let it never be said that my brain works as it should.

Because I am a music hipster, I even went out of my way to create CD art for it using images I found online. Why did I do this? Why NOT do this? I did write Grey Cat Blues and stuffed it with obscure musical references, after all. This is right up my alley.

The only question is: what section of a music store (remember THOSE?) would these show up in?

Be sure to leave your guesses in the comments.

Here's the front:

Can you hear the overbearing power chords?

Here's the back. I made this one to look more like a standard ad would:

Once again, the images in the pictures are not mine

Here's the full sleeve with track numbers:

Not going to lie, this picture is the nerdiest thing I've ever cobbled together

You can just imagine this sitting on the new release shelf next to the new Black Keys and Decemberists albums, can't you? Is there a connection between the story titles to the colors used, or am I just being needlessly obtuse like a typical indie rocker? You be the judge.

I'm not a subtle guy.

On top of this weirdness, I made some more standard advertisements, such as these:


Which, again, comes across like it's a poster for a show tonight. I seem to have a knack for mimicking late '90s musical art trends for some reason or another. Come in and join me. First drink's on me.

The last one I made was this:


I went a bit further with this one, but I wanted it to look like an old fashion poster ad, so here we are. It's easily the most normal of all this madness.

As you can see, I am very excited to get this book out to you, the readers. The post might have gotten a bit silly but this is a release party! What other time can a writer celebrate than with a book release? Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures is here!

So strap in and enjoy yourself. This is an adventure worth taking, and you'll never be quite the same again once you reach the end. You're going to have a blast.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Story Sheets: "Knives in the Night"


This is the week! On Thursday, January 23rd, my next book, Someone Is Aiming for You & Other Adventures is officially out. It's been a long journey to get here, which is more or less where this series of posts have originated from. I'm writing them to show exactly how much there is in this book. Today I'm going to continue on our journey through.

Get ready for another edition of Story Sheets!

The battle of powers against magic might have started with the first story in this series, Someone is Aiming for You, but that was only the beginning. This is the one that really nailed down what I wanted to do with the world.

Today I'm going to talk about the longest story in my upcoming book as well as the one located in the dead center of said collection. It's time to discuss Knives in the Night.


"For a moment, he thought he saw a black mist streaming across the roof of the bar. He blinked, and it was gone. The downpour continued unabated, and the bar looked normal once more. He rubbed his eyes. Lack of sleep could screw with you something fierce. 
"He put it out of his mind. Business first, then he could continue the real job."

When I first conceived of the world of Summerside, there were four characters that came to mind right off the bat. The first was The Seeker, and the second two were Flatline and Concrete. You've already met all three of them by now. The fourth one is the protagonist of this story. Each member of the quartet is quite different from each other, but this one is not quite like the other protags we've met so far.

As you can tell from the color coding of these posts, as well as the book cover for Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures, black and white is a key theme for the stories in this collection. We run the gamut of the darkest black to the lightest white. What I wanted was a character who wasn't a hero or a villain, but someone out for the own ends just as a modern character would be. This character would then come to the point where he would have to confront the divide between dark and light and make a choice. He wouldn't be able to hide behind convenient potting like modern hero stories do. That battle between the two views is the focal point of this story.

The man simply known as Walker is an invisible myth. He doesn't really exist anymore, if he ever did to begin with. All anyone knows of him are stories that are questionable at best. One night he awakens in a rain storm, and visible. Inches from his goal, he now must backtrack and take on a whole new job when everything falls apart not long later. This is the story of The Abyss That Speaks, and the fight ahead of him.

Walker ended up being an abrasive wildcard teetering on the knife's edge and, as a consequence, ended up making this story longer than I had originally planned it to be. When writers talk about characters taking over their stories? That was very much the case with this one. He just refused to cooperate.

But of all the stories, I think this one does the best job of setting up the way Summerside feels after dark. Coming after Under Suspicion in Summerside which encapsulates the daytime, this one focuses on your Average Joe after dark as they come in contact with things well beyond their scope. Walker happens to be one of those things, and even he meets more than he bargained for.

What helped me get into the head-space I needed to write this down was music, particularly some Retrowave. When I'm in a creative mood this is the musical style that is best to bring out what I need.

For example:


Shadows shine darkest in the brightest lights.

In order for light to be effective, dark has to flex what it has. Without the contrast it just looks like a big blur of grey where nothing matters and everything is the same. The atmosphere and setting have to be dark, but dark to the point where what's good about it can be seen by passersby like my readers. There is something worth saving out there.

This is why of all the stories in the collection, Knives in the Night focuses the most on the Inner Light, a force only touched on a few times in tales before this. To understand just how dark or light Walker is, the darkest force imaginable must be shown to test him where the light leaves him unimpressed. He needs to see the way things really are, as many of us do before we make a choice.

Before this story, the Inner Light were little more than glorified drug dealers and murderers, but here they are revealed to be a whole lot worse than just that. In a world where someone can walk into your head as easily as they can your front door, it means a lot to say there is an even deadlier force out there in the night.

The Inner Light is the dark force lingering under the rusted over ideals of the new world. What they are is a mystery, but it is clear they are no paragons of justice. While they aren't the main antagonists of every story here, their presence is felt throughout and they are a driving force for much of what goes on, even tangentially in some cases. The hard part was to maintain their threat level without giving too much away and taking away their mystique. The whole point of them is that they are nearly as invisible is someone like Walker, and yet are still opposed to each other.

Another contrast is how, unlike the Inner Light, you do learn something about Walker. Despite being a man who would rather be invisible, he has much to him that still makes him human, in the end. In a way this makes him the opposite of even The Seeker, who is inscrutable, as he is just someone who wants to disappear from it all without any purpose beyond his mission. But he can't just vanish. Not yet. Of all the characters in this collection of stories, Walker is the one who actually is an old school vigilante.

But he's not an anti-hero. There is a very big distinction between an anti-hero and a vigilante, and I'm certain you'll see what that is by the end of this one.


An inspiration


There is a lot to Knives in the Night, and that is why I made it available to newsletter subscribers for free. What better audience than this kind enough to sign up to hear more about these stories?

This novelette was too long to submit to any market. Unfortunately there isn't much of a market for pieces between 10,000 and 40,000 word novelettes and novellas. It's not their fault, the audience just isn't there for them. But it also meant the three longest stories in this collection, the novelettes, were more or less not feasible to be sold via traditional avenues. At the very least I wanted to test out one of them for response, so I gave this one for free via the newsletter and via amazon standalone (I've since taken it down since it is redundant now) and it did gain more subscriptions, but since it is part of this set I couldn't just leave it there forever while compiling the rest. As a consequence I will be offering newsletter subscribers something new in exchange for taking this exclusivity from them. It was there for over a year, so it was definitely time for a change, anyway.

Now for some random facts about this one.

As for the title, I already explained that this title was originally the name of Endless Nights in Villain City, but it works here for people who will be able to see similarities between the two of them. The original title never fit and I couldn't think of one that worked. Once I found one that focused on the night it finally clicked. Now I can't imagine it being called anything else.

Despite being the longest story, it might have been one of the easiest in this collection to write. Once I understood why Walker was there, and what he wanted, he led me through the entire adventure in quite a quick amount of time. It was also the fourth story in the collection that I wrote, so by this time I had a handle on what was going on with Summerside. Whether Walker being the easiest character in this strange world for me to write says something about me or not is up to you. The story still took some time to go through regardless. It's still quite long, after all.

The reason it is dead center in the collection is because it fits there. The world by now has been established by the first three stories and allows readers to jump right in and understand what is going on around them. However, at the same time it doesn't quite close anything off in the wider context of them to the extent that it should be placed further back with the final three. The story in the center of a collection should represent everything around it and highlight the overall themes at the same time. It needs to be the most balanced story, not too brash and not too obscure. Knives in the Night is the perfect anchor for this set of adventures.

Continuing the tradition of not having an origin story (though one tale might be construed as one, it does not end the way such stories do conclude), we are dropped in the middle of a completely foreign situation and are made to piece together who Walker is and where he comes from with just that. This feeling of alien other-worldliness in a familiar setting is a feeling I wanted to establish before we move into truly bizarre territory in the next story . . . but that's not for today!

That's all for this entry. Remember, this Thursday, Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures is finally out! You can read Knives in the Night and six more fantastic stories there. See you then! It's going to be a blast.


Out this Thursday!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

What We Can Leave Behind


After finally hitting the '20s and realizing it is, in fact, a new Current Year, I couldn't help but look around and see that nothing changed magically overnight. That just won't do! Instead of waiting for the world to catch up to me, I think I'm going to complain instead.

In all seriousness, every decade brings its new flavor to the mix, and the '20s will be no different. It's going to happen no matter what we do. But that means things as they are now will have to change whether we want it to or not. Dead weight is going to be cut and left to rot in the mists of time.

That said: what are some of the things we can leave behind in the '10s?

The cheeky answer is "everything we brought over from the '00s" though that is a bit simplistic. Here is the main stale trope we can finally ditch. We can throw away stories more focused on ourselves than the world around us.

I'm talking about inward fiction.

Ever since the '90s there has been an absolute dearth of new ideas in mainstream fiction, and most of it stems from the vain obsession with looking at ourselves in the mirror. I'm not sure if those arose with trying to "connect" with Gen X when they were children, and they just never stopped trying to make products that appealed on that shallow level. In super science and comic stories there one would once find endless worlds out in space (and some even under our own!), countless alien races, and unlimited supernatural phenomenons, it looked as if the future was limitless. Sure it might have been a naive utopianism, but it was something.

Then came the stories where the most intense supernatural or "scientific" event that occurs is the knowledge of parallel universes. The laziest trope, writers used this as an excuse to tell over sized stories in small spaces where the scope never raised beyond a quarter of an inch outside the main character's periphery. No more looking at the skies, no more discovering new and exciting things. It's all about the only fascinating thing in the universe: me.

Just look at comics and how they refuse to move on from endless variants of the same character who can never die fighting the same rehashed cast of villains who can never be defeated. And if they are killed they can just replace them with the same exact character again, only this one his different colored hair or skin from another universe. There is no end in sight, and no hope or salvation for the world. "Unlimited possibilities" does not translate to "infinite versions of the same Earth". It's boring.

At the same time, so are stories focused on broken people crying about being broken, then ending the tale accepting that they're broken and doing nothing about it. Standing in place and spinning 360 degrees is not interesting. It's tired and been done so many times that it is well beyond stale. Yet we keep telling that same story over and over again.

We used to be able to imagine other things other than what we see in front of us everyday. Then one day we stopped. Surely we can go back to doing that again.

We can ditch the rotting carcass of "realism" that has yet to produce anything worth preserving, and bring back the wonder and the excitement. Let's go insane with it! We can, and have, done better than what the modern world currently offers. 

Though, to be fair, the modern world is also insane.
As an example, I just finished reading Leigh Brackett's Last Call from Sector 9G and had some thoughts about it.

For one, the story was written in 1955 and it doesn't quite feel like it. The era was full of misery and strife in her field, and yet she produced this gem in Planet Stories that could have just as easily come out of Weird Tales in 1929. It has a more timeless feel.

Lloyd Durham is a boozer, ready to let his life fall apart, when he is given a simple job on a secret assignment. He is soon dragged into a ring of chaos that includes interplanetary travel, noir-ish intrigue, twin planet politics, dark shadow birds, and, of course, a woman. Durham goes through a rapid series of events in this novella (remember those?) that allow him to finally stand on his two feet and face a better future. And perhaps there is more to the universe than he first thought?

So right away you have betrayals, potential romance, and a mysterious creature that is never quite explained in the story. This is classic weird fiction, and she did it in a time when magazines such as Planet Stories were being slandered for not getting with the times. And yet, her story ends up being far more timeless than any of the other material in the genre fiction magazines at the time. Which is just as well, since they were all mostly gone by then. The novella format that allowed stories like this to exist would follow it into oblivion not long later.

This story is an art we've lost.

She was also smart enough to know that this is fiction: it's not the real world. She didn't have to make the bad guy play a lazy analog of a US President she didn't like. She created original characters and situations. No one in the last few years appears capable of that anymore, at least not in the mainstream world. 

This also applies to modern stories that actually do feature meeting other worlds as opposed to endless variation of Earth: they're often just lazy analogues to 20th century political conflicts. Or even worse: 21st century political conflicts. There is more to the world and universe outside your backyard, so why do so many stories feel as if they can't get out of it? It is as if they want me trapped and require me to think a certain way. The wonder has disappeared.

The excuse used to be that this downgrade was "new" and you were afraid of "change" and must get over your stodgy way of thinking. It's new! Don't you want to be cool like everyone else? Don't you want to be one of us, fellow individual?

Well, the 90s ended twenty years ago now. This sort of thing isn't new anymore. We've had modern joyless slop going on over two decades and closer to three.

That's longer than we had classic action movies, adventure cartoons, or even good punk rock. If all those things had to go because they got old and were out of date, then surely this means cast-offs of '90s pop culture needs to go now, too. Right? That is, if that was ever the argument to begin with instead of a smokescreen to destroy everything that came before. If I ever sound paranoid about this, it is because experience has taught me that shysters will lie to destroy what you love in order to get their way. Now that they have what they want, and it has been a proven failure, they will do anything to cling to their cardboard thrones.

Leigh Brackett didn't need to change with the times to be a success, and yet, ironically, doing what she did would be considered revolutionary now because no one is doing it. Being genuine without being destructive is a revolution. This means going backward is the new going forward. Everything is crazy now, but I suppose it IS the roaring '20s.

But if we're going with the "Current Year" means "things have to change" argument, then let's do it!

Start creating stories that don't require a modern lens to view them in. Be creative! Make something that doesn't need post-modern classroom theories or political talking points from the Good Guy Party to operate. That's different, isn't it? Why not try that?

What can you lose, at this point?

Because of her skill as a storyteller, and her penchant for being entertaining and creative over being clever and cute, Last Call from Sector 9G is a minor classic. We would all do better to imitate her mindset going forward. The pulps were, for all intents and purposes, over by the 1950s, and yet she still wrote them regardless, and did it expertly. That's the way to be, and an inspiration for us going into the 2020s.



I'm going into 2020 hoping for a bit more from the decade ahead, and I don't think I'm alone. Nobody's going to know what tomorrow brings, and I doubt anyone expected most of the '10s to just be more of the void that was the '00s, but that doesn't mean it will be like that forever. As certain parties like to clamor: things change. So let's change it in a better direction.

Are we allowed to have fun again? Are we allowed to enjoy over the top fun without having to wink at how smart we are for enjoying it? Are we allowed to view stories of a philosophical bent that aren't about how everything is pointless or how things will work out when the Good Guy Party finally dictates the world's policies? Can we grow from this dead end styles and finally move on?

We're due for a mindset shift into something better.

Already this year has started off strong with a new issue of StoryHack (I'm in this one!) featuring some of the best writers around from Jon Mollison to Dominika Lein. If there is a magazine out there that remembers the spirit of action and adventure, it hasn't done it quite as well as StoryHack has. You sign up for unabashed fun, and that is what you are delivered. Just check out this fantastic cover!



We're starting off the year with a bang. Ain't no one escaping out of this room without getting filled with pulp-flavored lead first. There's been enough moping and downbeat slop to hold you down to last a lifetime. We're going to give you something better.

Also, I have been posting about stories in my upcoming anthology here. So far I am three tales in with an additional four to go. If you've missed this series, I suggest checking them out. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I've also included the first story for free in a book giveaway with such authors as J. Manfred Weichsel at StoryOrigin. You can get it, along with some free books here.

Not a bad way to start off the year.

And, lastly, On the 23rd of January I have a book coming out called Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures. This is a collection of my hero stories set in the city of Summerside where powers meet magic in a knock-down drag-out slobber-knocker. You're definitely not going to want to miss this one. In fact, if you want to read it early there are still ARCs available at booksprout for free. The only stipulation is leaving a review on amazon before release. Otherwise, it's only a week away!

Early word has been great! I told you I wouldn't be leaving January this year without doing some damage, and I stand by that. And we still have 11 months to go.

So while we're ready to leave a lot behind entering 2020, we're also remembering to bring forward what has worked in the past and what will carry us into the future. It's time to leave the dead weight behind.

There's only greatness to look forward to ahead.

Out January 23rd!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Story Sheets: "Endless Nights in Villain City" & "Under Suspicion in Summerside"


In our second installment of this new series I'm going to continue going through the stories in my upcoming book, Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures.

The last post was a surprise success, so I'm going to keep this up for the foreseeable future, or until I run out of released stories to talk about. Whichever comes fist. Chatting about unreleased material doesn't do a lot of good to anyone if they can't experience it for themselves.

So this week I'm covering the next two stories in the collection. This would be the rather short Endless Nights in Villain City and the slightly longer Under Suspicion is Summerside.

Some of the content ahead isn't for the squeamish.

Before we begin I would just like to mention that you can get an advance reader copy (ARC) of the book here, ahead of its release! The only cost is an amazon review. Just thought I'd let you know!

Now, on to the stories!


"I have always hated the sun, but it was particularly harsh on the day I abandoned it. In a world of light, I lived for the dark, and the day was particularly bright at the time I fell upon the Truth."

This is a bit of a tone shift from the first story, but not by that much.

The reason this story exists is because I needed to show how bad things could get for those in Summerside who choose to do the wrong thing. There is a hint as to the dark side of the world in Someone is Aiming for You, but this one shows it from a normal man who just wants the world to burn. There is a reason some such as him is out there to begin with.

Despite it's placement here, it's not the second short story I ever wrote nor is it the second story I wrote in this series. It took awhile. In fact, I wrote this one on a whim one day after puzzling about the concept in my head for weeks. Puzzling out if it would fit in with the others was definitely a concern.

I have it second in the collection because it sets mood and because it's chronologically the first story. It turned out to be very important for the overall group.

So why isn't it the first story here if it's the first in the timeline and it is so important? That's because it is meant to build mood, not establish it. This story doesn't set anything, but builds on what was already introduced in the first story. Despite its chronological placement, it isn't a "Side A, Track 1" standard setter.

When building a collection of stories the very first story is the equivalent of the first chapter of a book, or, as alluded to above, the first song on an album. Even if the tales are unrelated in your collection the premiere entry still sets the mood and groundwork for what comes next. And the truth is that Endless Nights in Villain City doesn't set the mood as well as Someone is Aiming for You does. Being that the story is from the perspective of a villainous character and is the darkest story here it does not give an accurate representation of what the rest of them will be like.

This is also why it's the only story here written in first person, unlike the rest of the set.

First person is a perspective used to bring the reader directly into the action. It puts them directly in the shoes of the protagonist. I figured that after having some distance from The Seeker in the first story that being thrown right up against one of the things he is fighting would give the reader some perspective on why he is what he is. This is also without taking any of the mystery around him away. At the same time it makes the threat more immediate and obvious to the reader when they see what it's capable of up close.

I think I succeeded, which is why it was accepted to run in the now out-of-print Dimension Bucket Magazine alongside a set of great writers with fantastic stories of their own. Before this I had only ever submitted it to one other anthology where it was rejected for being too dark for the purposes of the theme. I had some good feedback in this story, and everyone who has read it found it unsettling, which is good since it is a horror story.

The reason I chose the title was sort of haphazard. Originally it was called Knives in the Night, but that better described another story I wrote so I gave that one the title instead. I wanted a title that gave a sense of the protagonist's goal, as well as what he viewed as most important, since this is ultimately a story about achieving a destiny. It might be a dark destiny, but he is the main character so he gets to be the focal point of the title regardless of how I feel of him. Bad guy or not, he's still in charge here.

Whether this says a lot about me or not is for you to determine, but Endless Nights in Villain City was the easiest story in the collection for me to write. I'm sure the length is a part of it. That said, everything flowed from the first minute I met Horace Abalone. I knew just wanted he wanted, and where he was going, and what he would achieve to get there. Everything flowed from the moment the sun began to hurt his eyes and he walked into that alley.

Normally I'd go on longer, but since the story is fairly brief, I would be going into spoilers. If you want to see how disturbing things can get, I highly recommend checking it out when Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures comes out on January 23rd!

But that doesn't mean leaving you early today. Instead, here's a bonus: the third story in the collection. I am talking about Under Suspicion in Summerside.



“We don’t live in that era anymore, babe. People hate these Crusaders, for good reason.” He ran a hand through his purple hair. “We’re a long way from when they were untouchable saviors even a few years ago. This is the Trash Age, ruled by people like me. As a media lackey, you’re supposed to do your job and show those failures as what they are—government funded tools or deluded vigilantes looking for a place to die. I’ve seen your pathetic articles.”

I alluded to the fact that this is the unluckiest story in the collection, so I think I should explain why first.

Under Suspicion in Summerside was the third story I wrote in this series, which meant I was still figuring out the form when first writing it down and shaping up the world it took place in. It went through many revisions before I finally got it done the way it needed to be.

At the same time I had submitted it to at least two outlets who lost the story in some capacity. It was a bizarre experience. Nonetheless, I used the opportunity to sharpen it further.

The reason this story exists is because I wanted a story that showed the baseline of the world, especially during the day. Summerside is more than just what goes on after dark and readers needed to know and experience that. If every story took place after sunset then it would only give you a fraction of the idea of what the stories are about and why society operates the way it does. Otherwise you might be left wondering why anyone would fight for a place as bad as Summerside is after the sun sets. There is more to it than the bad, just like a real city.

As can be understood from the first two stories, things can get pretty dark. So I wanted a tale that showed more of the daytime and the brighter side of the world. There are normal people that live outside of the fringes caught in the middle of this mess who just want to live their lives. At the same time, it isn't a different world, so I also wanted to show how the day and night border on each other.

In other words, this is a bridge story. The main characters are a pair of civilians, and a pair of hired enforcers who deal with trouble during the day. Therefore the main plot consists of what appears to be a normal bank robbery where what goes on in the edges paint a slightly different picture of what is really going on. It is necessary to build the world of Summerside to show that normality exists and is worth fighting for.

This is why it's the third story here after the first sets the tone and the second sets the stakes. The third presents the good worth defending, and what the day to day strife in the city looks like. With these three, the tone is effectively set for everything to come.

It's also the only story in the anthology shown from multiple POVs, aside from the first. I needed that scope to show more of the world in the small storytelling space I had available here. The multiple POVs in the first story are to show the reactions to the appearance of an anomaly like The Seeker and how he appears from different angles; in this one it is to show there is a living and breathing world outside whatever protagonist exists in these stories. This normality is needed, both after the darkness of the second story and some of the strangeness to come after this.

Then there are the main characters. Aside from the civilians, there are two with powers.

Flatline and Concrete are pulp-style nicknames more than titles, and their powers were designed to be contradictory to each other. Flatline's electricity allows him offense and energy, but not much in the way of defense. Concrete's is pure defense and sturdiness, at the cost of power and speed. As a consequence, their personalities also clash, but only a bit, despite being partners on the job. Concrete is the newer recruit, very naive and figuring things out, so not so reliable. Flatline is brash and confident, but too self-reliant due to the experience gap and working alone. Despite this, they work together to do jobs as hired enforcers to put a stop to crime during the day. It's all for a paycheck, at least, so it seems. They're the most normal people with powers in the book--that I can guarantee you.

The fear and paranoia contributed to the title. The city is a place where anything can happen, and death might visit at any time. Naturally, everyone is a suspect in a world like this. But perhaps there is more to it than that? Maybe there is more to the danger than the bad we see before us. Trust is not that easy to obtain, especially in a world like this.

Originally I wasn't sure how many stories I wanted for this collection. After all, I had never written one before starting these. But I was able to par it down to seven, and wrote accordingly. Every piece had to offer something new to the world that the others didn't, and come together to form a full picture by the end. Under Suspicion in Summerside was necessary to set up the part that mattered the most: the normal everyday people caught in the cross-hairs. There are people worth fighting for. You're going to need this going forward, especially as it carries over into future stories.

I put all seven together to make a full frame of the world. They all form together to become a single piece. You will definitely see what I mean when all of them are read through.

That's all for this edition. As said before, if you want to read a free Advance Reader Copy of my new book then you can get it at Booksprout here in exchange for a review. Otherwise, stay tuned for the next post, and then the official release on the 23rd. There's more to come.

2020 is going to be big! This is just the start.

Coming January 23rd!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

A Tale of Two Adventures


Recently I've been going back and reading men's adventure from past decades. I discovered some gems, including the amazing Big Red's Daughter by the unfortunately forgotten John McPartland, but most of this material is out of print or difficult to find. Not to mention that after the 1980s, the genre just sort of stops. It is as if the entire adventure genre simply got up and walked out the door in the '90s.

But I don't think this situation occurred out of nowhere. Men's adventure, from my limited experience, changed with the times, and by the '90s "men" had been rendered obsolete and "adventures" were far less exciting.. Think about how the manly protagonist was replaced with sad sack nerdy weaklings or children in fiction at the time and began to focus on mundane things. It wasn't just a Japan or anime thing: it happened here, too. And I think I can see why.

To understand how we got here we should probably go back to the past, first.

As said before, Big Red's Daughter was a fantastic read. It stars a normal man, a vet who just got out of the service, as he is pulled into a world of debauchery and, eventually, crime. There is a car crash and two fist fights in the first two chapters, and much of it is spent by the main character trying to woo a girl who doesn't think he's tough enough. But through events both outside his control and from his own decisions, he ends up winning her by the end. Good is elevated and evil is put in its place.

It's a brilliant little novel, and I highly recommended it in my review here. Clearly coming from pulp inspiration, Mr. McPartland knew what he was doing. The book was also a major success for the time.

That's the way men's adventure used to be. At least, that's what it was in the 1950s. What it became was slightly different.

As the decades went on they started to get less and less heroic until they forgot what heroism was by the end of the 20th century.

This is a pattern that can be seen with film at the time.

The 1970s was a miserable time, by all accounts. Coming after the turbulent '60s, the '70s are regularly known as the nadir of western culture. Think of all the hopeless movies from Chinatown to Death Wish. The world is a horrible place, you can't do anything about it, everyone is out for themselves, and all you can do is hope you won't die a gruesome death. This attitude is what shaped much of what we think of as the modern vigilante antihero, for instance. He has to go against the grain because the grain is either hopelessly inept, or complicit, and he can never win against it without suffering tremendous loss. This is the protagonist that took over the men's adventure world.

At some point people forgot the vigilantes don't have to be antiheroes. Zorro and The Shadow are popular examples of both, but this was the period heroism was being vigorously scrubbed from art and entertainment. You weren't allowed escapism. The degradation of heroism for men happened because hopelessness was seen as cool. It all flowed from there.

To bring it back, I recently read a men's adventure book from this era that put this into perspective.


That book was called The Bloody Monday Conspiracy by Ralph Hayes, released in 1974. In this pulp length book, a man named Taggart, member of the organization Cominsec, is tasked with stopping a terrorist group from assassinating China's Chairman. Naturally, this means Taggart has to use his skills to navigate around this deadly group as he infiltrates it and destroys it from within. Yes, it's a spy pulp.

The first thing to mention is that this is a sharp book. No time is wasted, the action is crisp, fast, and clear, and the story moves at a brisk pace. The character is no nonsense, and will do anything to complete his task. As far as men's adventure, you can't go wrong with this book. It's a firecracker.

But there is one thing that stuck in my mind while reading it, and that is despair.

Taggart has no love for anything in him, he likes to kill bad guys and that's it. He murders anyone at the drop of a hat, including innocent cops who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He has no hope for anything except a cold one at the end of the current job. Everyone above his is incompetent, and innocent people are killed all the time. He could just as easily be a villain, and this is thought of as a selling point. Taggart only appears to be good because of a coin flip.

A character has his brain permanently altered, another kills himself after hearing his family is murdered, and many people are unceremoniously butchered out of nowhere. It's an action story, but some of the way the action is used is very typical of its Dirty Harry era. Violence just explodes out of nowhere and no one is spared.

But that family I mentioned? They are shown being slaughtered in the very first chapter by the villains: an innocent little girl and her mother. The issue with this is that it isn't actually relevant to the plot. The main character never sees this happen, and the characters killed have no bearing on what happens later. It simply setting up for someone to kill themselves later . . . who by that point is so relevant to the story that they might as well just decide to go hand-gliding instead and have the exact same impact on the story. This shock value is used to emphasize an atmosphere of hopelessness.

The point is that this sort of backdrop of misery is very of its time, so I don't blame Mr. Hayes for writing it this way. In fact, he wrote a very good action book that was perfect for the men's adventure genre of the 1970s. He knows how to write an action tale. But the mood is a very far cry from the untainted Big Red's Daughter men's adventure of the 1950s.

This is, again, not meant to put down the book. The Bloody Monday Conspiracy is a good, quick read for anyone who wants to dive into an action story. But its tone is one that is hard to mistake for its era, and what would come next.

As a different example, let us jump one decade forward to the 1980s. This time we will discuss The Outrider by Richard Harding from 1984.


The 1980s was a great time for B-movies, comedy, and action. Because of the rise of newer studios, creators, and production companies, focused on entertaining the audience with what they want, it felt as if you could find anything in that era. Nothing was off limits. In many ways, this was also the last stand for men's adventure, too.

The Outrider has a typical set up for post-apocalyptic fiction of the time. Nukes. Everything was destroyed. Now we live in Mad Max. There's nothing out of place from that set up here. The Cold War inspired many such pieces of fiction throughout the time period.

Our main character, Bonner, learns that a bad dude has kidnapped the woman that he loves. Therefore he must travel the wasteland with a band of crazies to get her back. But there's a bounty on his head so everyone wants a piece. Is he a bad enough dude to rescue his old flame and put the villain in his place?

I'm going to level with you, the book was great. The action, characterization, and setting was very on point. Mr. Harding keeps you engaged on every level from the first page where our protagonist is nearly killed in his sleep by a deadly messenger up to when he returns home from his journey, tired and haggard. It's men's adventure as only the '80s could do it: in your face and brash. The action is never dull.

The 1980s, however, had a few problems of their own.

The main one was that it went past the dry nihilism of the '70s in two different directions much of the time. The first is a fever dream of hedonism and flashing lights, and the second is fighting against the dark but not being allowed to come out unscathed. The Outrider's weakest aspects are those in the second example.

This was the evolution of the antihero: from a guy who gets the main job done but doesn't care about anyone, and everything around the mission is a failure, to a guy who is angry and does horrible things but doesn't know why or ever make any attempt to address it. He is degrading, but just lets it happen.

You might be thinking that this is the 1980s action hero, but its not. Marion Cobretti never hurt innocents and he saved people. Colonel James Braddock went back to Vietnam and rescued the lost POWs. Bonner isn't them. This is that other action hero in the '80s who, like The Exterminator, fails at everything aside from defeating the villain. The world is a horrible place, and you have no chance against it. This attitude is what led to the '90s just giving up. What is the point of fighting if you lose everything regardless?

Unfortunately, I'm going to have to spoil the book to describe what I mean, so be sure to skip the next paragraph if you don't wish to know how The Outrider ends. I will just say that it is a fantastic action book that does a lot right, and is worth reading for fans of the genre. The series should have been a bigger hit. That said, this is what it missed, in my opinion.

Spoiler: He doesn't save the girl. Bonner watches her beaten to near death then has to kill her himself to put her out of her misery. On top of that, he doesn't kill the villain. He cuts off his hands, but the psycho gets away. So all that is accomplished is that a lot of people die, then he goes home to be with the same woman he was sleeping with at the beginning of the book. It come full circle back to near zero.

Of course this is a series, which means ongoing adventures with this set up. That doesn't excuse how it ends up taking the wind out of the sails of this book's plot. Especially since the series was canceled with book 5 which means he probably never achieved his goal in book one. That just had to sting for readers back in the day.

You do get a lot of kills, but some are questionable. There is one in the dark where someone is not even attacking him and begs for his life but Bonner kills him anyway. That's just a bunch of edge that doesn't add anything to the story, especially since the main character admits he had no self control and did it anyway. We already saw how he deals with aggressors, but that scene was pointless.

I could say it wasn't heroic, but then I would be met with the charge that the character isn't meant to be heroic. Why not? The story doesn't gain anything from the character not trying to better himself or succeed while doing so. The need for an anti-hero, like in most fiction, is an excuse to not have the character grow.

He just kills people. Why? I dunno. Anyway, on to the next place in the journey.

It's still a fantastic action piece with a lot of good points to it, but this one aspect is so distinctly 1980s that it made me think of how things had changed so fast in the genre over the decades. How did we get to this point?

By the '90s there really wasn't much left in men's adventure that wasn't a carryover from the late '80s, but adventure fiction as a whole was dying then. In the 1990s, the main hero was a scuzzy looking scumbag with no moral code who made quips and lived only for himself. Watch or read any action story from that period, and that's what you'll find. The hero went from an anti-hero to a glorified villain.

We're a long way from Big Red's Daughter.

That aside, both are good reads and I do recommend them for genre fans, but I couldn't help but be hit with the tropes from their time periods that held them back from being even better. But, at the end of the day, I would still read them ten times over reading a single modern Oldpub book once. I'm sure anyone with taste would.

Where men's adventure is going in the future, I can't say. There are some magazines getting into the game, such as StoryHack and writers such as myself and many on the blog sidebar to your right that are creating new stories of wonder and adventure. You can't go wrong with any of them.

Speaking of StoryHack: Issue #5 came out just as I was writing this post! You can find it here. Every issue is jam-packed with excitement, and this one is no different.


I have a story in this one called Black Dog Bend. I hope to talk about this in a future Story Sheets post, but for now I can give you the blurb for the story in the magazine itself:
"A musician stumbles into a time warp and finds himself part of a revenge plot. Now he must battle a killer dog, hired hitman, and a witch to escape."
Believe it or not, it wasn't that weird in my head when I wrote it. But, it is weird fiction, so I guess that's just par for the course. Nonetheless, StoryHack is a magazine of Action & Adventure, so you will get both here and then some. If there are two things I never skimp on it is those two things.

Once again, you can find it here. I've read every issue, and they all offer the same: high octane action and adventure.

In other words, the future is looking brighter. Action and Adventure are here to stay. They have shaken themselves out of many of the doldrums of previous decades. We are in the '20s, after all. Things are bound to change, and finally for the better.

I've even got a book coming out on January 23rd! Someone is Aiming for You features 7 stories all connected together in one world of powers against magic. All are full on action, and all will leave you wanting even more adventure! I've been working on these stories since 2017, and just put the bow on them last year.

Coming January 23rd!

And that's only for starters for 2020! There's even more to come.

Adventure is here to stay, and we're going to make sure it always does. This is a revolution that is just getting started.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Story Sheets: "Someone is Aiming for You"


Welcome back!

This month I'm going to try a bit of a different tact. Since we're entering the '20s, and a new year, I wanted to give a bit more to readers of the blog. Since you've been here so long you deserve something new.

I'm going to try getting two posts out every week this month instead of the usual one, with this series being one of them. The usual post will be on Thursday as it always is.

This new series is going to be a post on a story I've written, and what what into writing it. This should be useful to some writers, but also those that want to know a bit more about the creative process or writing in general. Either way, it's going to be fun.

Since I have a book out at the end of the month, I'm going to start with the stories in that upcoming work.

First up in this series: the very first short story I have ever written.


"The Seeker moved at night, like always. The licensed government dogs had free reign of Summerside—and the world—during the day, but it was different after sunset. Night was for the Crusaders—vigilantes who had no one to answer to, except God and their own consciences."

When I was first getting into the pulp revolution I began to take short stories seriously for the first time in my life. For the longest time I was convinced that short stories were meant to be nothing but moral lessons straight out of The Lottery playbook. Much of this came from school and reading ists that repeatedly offered things I wasn't interested in.

It wasn't until I started reading old pulp authors like those who ran in Weird Tales and Argosy that it began to change. Short stories could be adventures! Then on top of it a modern magazine named Cirsova showed it could still be done today. This was a whole new world opening up!

While writing Knights of the End I began to think of the sort of stories Teddy (the main character) was talking about when going through his old comic books. What sort of strange things would he read that would make him idolize heroes? In one of the drafts I came up with the idea of The Seeker, a character so good I couldn't just waste him on a fictional reference. He grew in my mind beyond being a one-shot reference. The first thing I did was posit who this man was and what exactly was his goal.

The first thing to mention is that he's not a superhero. The Seeker was a deliberate throwback to pulp vigilantes like The Shadow with a Weird Tales twist on his abilities. He's not Weird Menace, there is no dopey Scooby Doo explanation for the weirdness, and neither is their a focus on baser things like sex or hyper-violence. He is meant to be both a throwback and a step in the right direction for hero fiction characters of his ilk. No one wears a cape in his world.

He has no origin story, because we live in a world where origins are a crutch these days, and because it's irrelevant. The origin story is a weakness for a people that can't imagine a future, so they have to keep reliving the past. The Seeker has no time to reminisce--he has a job to do. In the process of designing him, he began to turn into a sort of post-superhero character, reconnecting with the pulp roots of his type and stepping into a new setting. This meant the setting had to be tweaked, too.

To explain Summerside, the city of these stories, would be foolhardy. It's not meant to match any real city in particular, and is meant to be the endpoint of a society in social decay, but at the same time at the cusp of something great. Heaven or Hell? Which will it choose. It's a dark place at night, but there is a strange sense of hope despite it all. This teetering battle is what Summerside is all about.

My inspirations when creating this sort of thing were straightforward, but I was also reading old hero pulps and noticing the difference between then and now. Otherwise my inspiration in modernizing it (for lack of a better term) was anime, the only current medium that knows how to do hot-blooded action right. I wanted to bridge the gap between the way things were, and the way things are.

As an aside, this is what I was listening to when developing this story:


I ended up creating a world where powers and magic both exist on opposite ends of the spectrum. There are those born with abilities, and those who get them from an external source. The latter has been biding its time waiting in the shadows for a chance to strike back, and the former is fading away with every generation. It's a battle of the supernatural from opposing points of view, which means someone has to exist somewhat outside and inside of them at the same time in order to link the pair. Therefore The Seeker is a true outsider to this world, but still chooses to be part of it and protect it. He's a walking contradiction, and is a hard character to write because of this.

At the same time, I wanted to have a White Hat character with teeth. So few people understand how to write true good guys anymore, and I wanted to show it can still be done.

Not only him, but I wanted to write a hero story that presented wonder above all. Who is Condor? We never see him. Who is the Inner Light? They don't appear in the story. What exactly is Demon's Blood? It's not answered here. There are many questions, but only the ones that are needed for the story itself are answered. The Seeker is here to save the good and eradicate the evil. Does he do it? You'll have to read it to find out, but that was the entire point of the story.

The title is one that stuck in my head and I had to get out. What is it that would glue to a man's thoughts who had something to hide. Not just that they were being watched, but that someone was aiming at them--that they were a target. But if you do not know who the trigger-man is, it makes it harder to relax or know peace.

As for why the graffiti in the story is slightly different than the title, it is simply because words have meaning. "Someone is Aiming at You" conveys a hit, an aggressive action. This is what The Seeker wants his victims to understand. "Someone is Aiming for You" conveys a broader, more vague feeling of mystery. What are they aiming for? Only The Seeker knows. Hence, the title of this piece.

Another reason I came to write this is because modern heroism, especially that from the comic book realm, is completely vacuous. The cartoony and soft-headed worship of a Shadow rip-off who is rewarded for not killing unrepentant murderers by bad writing propped up by merch sales, and is held up as some kind of deep morality when it is actually nothing of the sort, is frustrating. How many modern hero series have the hero chastised for killing a psycho who had no qualms with butchering innocents? It's empty. I wanted a character that would do what needed to be done.

Suffice to say this took a good while for me to write. I had to learn how to write in shorter form and get across everything you need in a bigger story in a small space. But after a good amounts of personal edits and help from the wonderful L. Jagi Lamplighter as my editor I was able to finally iron it out. As a consequence this is one of my most favorite pieces and I will always have a soft spot for it.

Others thought so, too. It was accepted in two different anthologies-- the Crossover Alliance Vol. 3 and Silver Empire's Paragons. I received messages from readers and mentions in reviews about how much they enjoyed the story and wanted more. It was the first piece I wrote that received that sort of attention. And it was my first short story. Suffice to say, I've been writing them since, and have not regretted that choice.

Because of this significance, both the fact that it is important to me and to readers, and also that fact that it is the first story in this world I created, the anthology coming out at the end of the month is named after it and The Seeker graces the cover. On top of it, it sets the mood for the stories to come.

But that's it for this installment, next week we'll continue with the second story in the collection. Thank you for reading! There are more Story Sheets to come in the future.

Coming soon!

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Best Anime of the '10s



Time to chase off some readers with a weeb post. Sorry, guys!

The '10s were an odd decade for anime. The back haf of the '00s suffered for many reasons, chief among them being that the industry began catering to hyper-otaku at the expense of normal customers. Despite putting out some great series, it was the weakest decade for the medium I had been around for. Many of the bad trends made their way over to the beginning of the '10s, and it began to see that they had giving up telling stories outside of certain tropes that their old audience simply had no interest in.

2010, for instance, carried on trends that were best left behind in the '00s. This is the year of showing that moe had completely overtaken the medium.

On the other hand, it wasn't barren. One of the best magical girls series in Heartcatch Precure ran this year, as did Space Adventure Cobra's newest series. There is also Panty & Stocking if you're into Gainax, which I'm not. But aside from them? Nothing but moe, Oreimo, and bad adaptions of mediocre manga. 2010 was a pretty terrible year for anime.

But things slowly started to improve throughout the decade and peaked with 2015 and 2016, some of the best years for anime since 1998. The years after that had some great material, too, but those two years are when anime got its groove back.

Even if you preferred the more moe or slice of life or Oreimo-style trash, that still existed in the latter years. The difference is the rest of us began to get series for us outside of a throwaway every now and then.

So I'm going to make a small list of series I enjoyed a lot this past decade. It's purely a taste thing, so you won't see shows like Madoka here. Yes, I tried it, and yes, I hated it. Sorry, but my tastes are what they are. And those who read this blog are certainly aware of that by now.

I'm going to start from 2010 and work my way to 2019, listing series as I go. That means this is probably going to be a long list. Take note if you hven't seen something here: it is worth your time.

Note also, that just because I haven't listed it here, it doesn't mean it's trash. I haven't seen everything, and not everything is to my taste.

Now, let us get into it.


2010

Heartcatch Precure!

I don't really watch magical girl series. They're not for me, I'm not the audience, so I have no qualm with that. That said, since I do write in the action genre, it is my duty to catch some of them when possible. This was easily the best one I have seen. The characters are all distinct, their motivations are clear, and the action is really well-directed. It was the first magical girl series to have me engaged the whole way through. If you are looking for a single magical girl series to see if it's for you, I would say this is the one to go with.



Cobra: The Animation (2010)

Cobra was a bit ahead of its time with the whole "retro manga getting a new anime" trend that really kicked off with JoJo a few years later. I'm not sure how else to say anything aside from, it's Cobra. If you enjoy space adventure pulp with a '70s twist then this is for you. If not? then I'm not sure why you're even here.



2011

Nichijou

This is a wacky comedy that is very much an acquired taste. Thankfully, I enjoy really goofy and dumb humor, so I can appreciate what is going on here. It's a slice of life series about school, except unlike in moe the humor here is actually funny. This is one that still manages to get mention today, and it's deserved. But it's not for everyone. Still, funny is funny, and few anime from this decade hit that mark for me.



Tiger & Bunny

The first big action success of the decade, so successful that we're still waiting for a second season, Tiger & Bunny is a superhero series about a pair of heroes teamed up to save the day. They get embroiled in something deeper, which turns out to be a conspiracy above both of their heads. This was the best series Sunrise had put out in quite some time, and had some fantastic design and art. The 3D costumes, despite being clunky, actually match the mood very well, which is a hard thing to do. Action fans really should check this one out.



Hunter X Hunter

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this one. A series started in 1998 that still has yet to end, this is a hyper violent shonen that borders on seinen most of the time. From the creator of Yu Yu Hakusho, this is about a boy named Gon who goes on an adventure to find his missing father. He soon gets tied up in death battles, shady organizations, and grotesque monsters. It's not the easiest series to watch, but you won't see much else like it.



2012

Kids on the Slope

A drama from the director of Cowboy Bebop about a group of kids from 1960s Japan. This is a coming of age story pared down to its essence in a 12 episode run. I can't say much else without ruining the surprise, but it is the quality you would expect from the director of one of the best anime of the '90s. Definitely seek this out. It was a good year for this types of series along with Space Brothers. I would have listed the latter, but I haven't seen it, so you'll just have to make due with this on the list instead!



Psycho Pass

Gen Urobuchi came up with the concept of Psycho Pass because he missed how anime in the old days would do more with concepts and ideas in a futuristic setting. This was his attempt at a Patlabor series. While it's rather controversial, with a second season he wasn't even involved in, this first one is still considered one of the best in modern takes on cyberpunk.



JoJo's Bizarre Adventure

The series that unleashed JoJo-mania on the weebs, this is a title that lives up to its name. Jonathan Joestar is a young gentleman who meets his opposite in a man named Dio. Their meeting will cause an ongoing generational war that will span several series. David Productions took good care to animate this series without catering it to modern tastes, which makes it look a bit out of its time, even now. The first few episodes are tough for some to get through, but it lasted this long for a reason. The first season covers the first two (of 8, currently) parts and is the perfect introduction to the franchise.



Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic

I'm also including the sequel series here since it's one long whole. This was an Arabian Nights flavored adventure series filled with magic, political intrigue, and tons of action. While the anime never unfortunately covered the end of the manga what it did cover was top notch stuff. They hadn't made adventures like this since the '90s, and it was more than welcome at the time.



2013

Hajime no Ippo: Rising

Sorry, but 2013 wasn't really to my taste. This sequel to the long-running boxing series is about all that really interested me this year aside from the next entry. You mileage might vary, but this was about the time I began wondering if anime was for me anymore. But this series, made by MAPPA (and therefore, ex-Madhouse staff) was still great stuff.



Gundam Build Fighters

By this point the tank had begun to run dry on the Gundam franchise. It was either endless rehashes of the original series or attempts to "modernize" the brand which fell flat every time. For the first time since G Gundam, Sunrise decided to try something new with the idea and made it work. Ostensibly a Yu-Gi-Oh! style approach with Gunpla (Gundam figures), they tell quite a unique story with this concept and breathed some new life into the Gundam franchise. I wouldn't start with this series, but it is a good one to watch when you know something about it.



2014

Haikyu!

Sports anime are a dime a dozen, but in recent years most of them have gotten so flat and dull that they have become a chore to watch. Production IG takes what is a solid sports manga and throws in top notch production to really push it over the edge to become an invigorating watch. It's nothing you haven't seen before in the genre. A small town volleyball team is trying to reclaim their school's former glory. But its the presentation that lifts this one up.



JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

I'm not listing any sequel seasons here, but JoJo is the exception. The reason is that while it is an ongoing story, you can drop in and out at anytime and not miss the overall story. They can also be watched standalone. In this one, an adaption of Part 3 of the manga, Jotaro Kujo's mother is afflicted with an ailment and he must travel across the globe in order to save her. This is the most well known and popular part, as well, as to date the longest anime entry at 48 episodes. You can watch it alone, or part of a bigger whole. Either way, it is a great watch.



Baby Steps

This was quite the time for sports anime. Baby Steps is the story of a teenage boy trying to learn tennis. It's about the importance of practice and how hard work will eventually pay off, but not overnight. The presentation of the anime adds a lot to the story and does much to get you invested in the story of someone who just won't give up and constantly learns from his mistakes. It isn't really a typical shonen sports series, but is one more interested in showing how important doing your best actually is.



Parasyte

Another new anime of an old manga, this is the story of alien parasite that arrive on Earth and wish to take it over. It is up to one teenager and his parasite, Migi, to stop them. This condenses a longer manga into 24 episodes, but it's Madhouse so they do it about as well as you would expect. That said, this is more horror oriented, so be warned if that is not your cup of tea.



2015

Blood Blockade Battlefront

From the man who created Trigun comes this series about an organization who fights supernatural threats in a city filled with aliens, monsters, and deadly creatures from spaces beyond our own. This is a weird series, and as such might actually be easier to watch the dub just to keep your attention focused, but you will catch much underneath the surface just as in Trigun. This was the series that finally proved to me that anime was back.



My Love Story!

One of the best romcoms to come around in some time, about a manly man and a girly girl who manage to get into a relationship together. This might sound normal, but in a climate that prefers weak male characters and pushy tsunderes as main characters, this is a reminder at why the normal approach is better. This was also done by Madhouse, which is not the sort of thing you would expect from them. That said, this is one of the best shoujo romances I have seen in a good while.



Ushio & Tora

What a surprise, coming from me. But this was my favorite anime of the decade, an excellent adaption by MAPPA with direction from the director of Trigun and written by one of the most overlooked artists in Japan back from before the shonen genre got codified. Based on a story that ran from 1990-1996, this anime takes you backwards with storytelling Japan had forgotten, and forwards with some incredible direction and animation that could almost be mistaken for a series from the '90s. As far as shonen go, this is one of the best. Join Ushio and his tiger youkai pal named Tora as they battle monsters and demons in modern day Japan. It's a classic story for a reason.



One Punch Man

The knockout surprise hit of the year, this is the one that really hit the mainstream hard. A story of a man who can beat anyone with a single punch, it turns out to be something much more very quickly. This is about the importance of heroes, and standing up to evil, even when you can't. What makes a true hero? Check this one out and find out. I would be remiss to not mention the first season is made by (again) Madhouse, and is phenomenal looking. The sequel series is done by JC Staff and s far less impressive as a result, but it is still worth watching.



2016

Konosuba!

I'm not much for Isekai. In case you didn't notice, I haven't listed any so far. I preferred the genre better without the video game roots, and have little use to the .Hack inspired series that have come out since. Konosuba is an exception because it's a comedy, and a funny one at that. What could very easily be a pile of cliches get turned on their head simply by having a cast of characters that have a surprising amount to them despite starting off as obvious archetypes. It's difficult for anime comedy to really hit it out of the park, but this one manages it.



Erased

A drama about a young man who travels back in time to the past to solve a murder, this one took me by surprise. Satoru is a disillusioned young man who hates the world and by both being reminded of his past and what he didn't see back then ends up changing him and his journey to an ending he couldn't possibly have imagined when starting out. For 12 episodes it packs a lot in, and while some aspects might be predictable, the journey is what sells it.



My Hero Academia

Still ongoing, this is the tale of Izuku Midoriya, a powerless kid in a world where everyone has superpowers. When he is given the chance to be a hero it will take every part of him to learn what it takes to be one. I don't think I need to explain the most popular anime currently running, but I would say that the hype is deserved. The anime has the writer of the Trigun anime behind it, so you know it is in good hands. Expect great things as the series passes 100 episodes next year.



JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable

My favorite part of the JoJo saga, Part 4 is more or less an epilogue to the first three parts and for me feels like an ending for the series. Though many disagree. Diamond is Unbreakable is a series of Weird Tales centered in a small town where bizarre happenings occur around Josuke and it is up to him and his group of friends to prevent disaster from befalling on their hometown. There are a few changes to the manga to make this part flow better, and it ends up helping it even more. This is one of the best parts of the entire franchise.



Mob Psycho 100

From the creator of One Punch Man comes this very '80s inspired series about psychics attempting to rule the world. Mob is just a simple teenager trying to understand where he fits in, despite having overwhelming power. This has some of the best animation you're likely to see in anime, along with a story of growth that anyone can relate to. It might not be as accessible as One Punch Man, but it s every bit its storytelling equal, and one of the best anime of 2016.



2017

Garo: Vanishing Line 

2017 was a let down from the previous two years where most of the good stuff in this year consisted of sequels of previous season series. I wonder if this was a breather after a couple of really strong years in a row. The one real exception to 2017's originals slump was Garo: Vanishing Line, an original story based on a long running tokusatsu franchise in Japan. This one features a manly male protagonist with a love of the ladies and his battle with the forces of evil in a modern fantastical cyberpunk world. He transforms into a hero of gold armor who can slay any villain that wishes to harm the innocents. This one has a bit of a horror bent to it at times, but this is a pure hero story. It is a shame most overlooked it.



2018

Megalo Box

Thankfully, 2018 was a step forward again, starting with Megalo Box. A story of a cyberpunk world where humans have lost sight of humanity, this is the story of a young boxer who climbs his way out of the pit to become a superstar. But in a world where death is just around the corner how much longer will he have? This was a surprise hit from the season, with a grainy look that gave it that old school style, and a plot and characters that made you keep coming back for more. Even more surprising is that it has a sequel season coming in the near future. It is a shame most overlooked this one for not being modern enough. It has a fantastic style well worth seeing.



Golden Kamuy

Not the best adaption due to some pacing issues and horrifying use of CG bears, the second season nevertheless ironed most of those out. But what counts is the story, and the story is fantastic. Sugimoto, a veteran of the Russo-Japanese war ends up with an Ainu girl on a search for gold. This is a weird adventure with some bizarre comedy that nevertheless features intense action and quite a lot of exploration. It's not the sort of thing you see a lot of.



Banana Fish

A violent crime drama with an adaption by MAPPA. I wasn't happy with the change in setting from the '80s to modern day as it ends up altering some of the events of the original, but it is otherwise up to their usual standards. This is the story of rot and ugliness in a world of death, and if there is any escape from it. One of many manga classics being re-adapted today, it is well worth seeking out. But don't expect a pleasant ride.



SSSS. GRIDMAN

A modern day tokusatsu adaption by Trigger, this is based on the Tsuburaya Production series Gridman. You might know them better for Ultraman, but Gridman was a story about a cyber/digital hero as opposed to Ultraman's more alien approach. You might also know it from Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad over in North America, which is what the SSSS. stands for. Nonetheless, this is an interesting and enjoyable take on the property, and not quite what you might expect.



Karakuri Circus

This series suffers from pacing a 43 volume manga into 36 episodes, but aside from the rushed paced that can lead to confusion what is there is quite great. The story of living puppets that goes back centuries, this is a tale of breaking the chains of fate for a brighter tomorrow. If you can get past how much whips by, it is quite a great time. I only hope that artist (who also did Ushio & Tora) can have more of his series adapted in the future. No one comes up with weirder ideas than he does.



2019

The Promised Neverland

The new material rolled over into 2019 with this adaption of a recent Shonen Jump series. But it's not your typical shonen, angled more on the Death Note side of things. In this one a group of orphans realize the orphanage they live in has a disturbing secret. They then have to find out what they can do about it. to say more would be spoilers, but there is a second season on the way this year, and the manga is nearing its end so you can rest assured there is much more to this concept.



Dororo

A new adaption of an Osamu Tezuka story that he never properly finished, this is about a wandering samurai who needs to kill demons to reclaim his stolen body parts. However, there is a reason he lost his body to begin with, and he must also deal with the harshness of the world around him at the same time. Expect much action and drama out of this 24 episode series animated, again, by MAPPA.



Kaguya-sama: Love is War

A romcom with a good twist. This one stars two geniuses in a prestigious school as they try to get the other to confess their love to them. That would be enough to be good, but the writing and characters really carry this to a whole other level. It was also the surprise success of the year, already getting a second season for 2020. If you're tired of the moe "comedy" of modern anime then be sure to check this one out. It deserves its hype.



Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba

My favorite currently running manga, Demon Slayer is about a boy named Tanjiro out for revenge against demons. On the way he meets a cast of characters that have their own reasons for hunting demons, and he begins to learn there may be more to these demons than he first thought. This is a very violent series with a lot of heart and energy, but the anime does a very good job taking the manga's rougher style and smooths it out for some fantastic animation. Despite that, the best material is to come and it is thankfully getting a movie this year to cover the next arc. It will be worth the wait.



Dr. Stone

A Shonen Jump series about the human race getting turned to stone and then beginning to awaken after several millennia. Our main character, the genius Senku, must teach those around him how to rebuild what they lost via the lost art of science. This is an interesting adventure series with a nice twist, and even some surprising bits of action. It has a bit more of a lighthearted feel than you might expect, but considering how dark it could have gone, it works just fine. It's also getting a second season, so apparently others think so as well.



Fire Force

I didn't like Soul Eater, at all. Despite some good art, the story was non-existent and barely coherent. Fire Force, by the same creator, manages to reign in his worst traits to make an exciting story about a firefighting team who fights flaming monsters. It's not quite perfect, the pacing in the adaption could be tighter and some characters hang on their gimmicks a bit much, but you can do worse with an action shonen. It's definitely a good one.



Vinland Saga

I had been waiting for this adaption for a long time. From the creator of Planetes, comes this historical adventure about Thorfinn, a young viking warrior and his dream of seeing the legendary Vinland. Of course the story goes far beyond that premise, but the anime covers the prologue arc of the series, ending at just the point that has me waiting for season 2. There is much Christian symbolism in this story as the world is changing around Thorfinn and a new age is beginning to dawn. It is one of the best anime of the year, and well worth seeing.



No Guns Life

Easily the most overlooked series of the year, Madhouse takes you on a cyberpunk journey following a private investigator with a gun for a head. Things aren't what they seem in this world of flesh and steel, and our protagonist is about to find there is more underneath the surface than he bargained for. This series is not as fast-paced as you would expect, being more of a slow burner, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of action and intrigue to be had. The second half of this season should be out this year, too. So there is plenty to catch up on.




I suppose I could keep going, but I think this post is way too long as it is. Suffice to say, if you like anime you aren't hurting for options, and while the decade might have started out off kilter, the industry regained its footing by the end.

Despite tragedies like the Kyoto Animation fire, the anime industry is still trucking, and 2020 has some good stuff just ahead. You just can't keep them down.

So keep watching, you never know what they'll come up with next.






In the meantime, my book Gemini Warrior has just the amount of craziness you can ask for. no it isn't an anime, but that doesn't mean it isn't just as awesome.

Find it Here!