Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Triumph of the Werewolf Warrior ~ A Review of "The Snake-Man's Bane" by Howie K. Bentley

I'm not the most well versed on the Sword & Sorcery genre, mostly for simply not having much of it available as I grew up, at least, in literary form. I was stuck with Epic Fantasy and little else, and I've never much cared for that genre. However, I have grown quite the taste for the old pulps and have quite enjoyed the appeal of tough swordsmen dealing with wily sorcerers in a world as mysterious as the threats they face especially from old comics, cartoons, and video games. It's been fun finally reading where they came from. Robert E. Howard might be the most famous writer of these stories, but there were also others of high quality. However, finding them in a purer form after the 1980s is a difficult task.

But that appears to be the case with a lot of older genres. They get co-opted or streamlined out of existence and replaced with . . . nothing, really. Those who enjoy the classics are stuck with revisiting older works, or nothing at all. There isn't any in between.

Until recently, that is. Given the recent revolution of newer writers ignoring tropes and genre conventions, and going back to the well that has been so ignored, readers are no longer at a loss as to newer works to pick up. Things have changed in a positive direction.

I was lucky enough to be given a copy of The Snake-Man's Bane by the author, Howie K. Bentley, for my honest opinion. I welcomed the chance to read more in this genre, and I wasn't disappointed. You can find it here.

This collection of six stories, mostly from various magazines and anthologies, is a simple 200 page book like the old anthologies, which helps add to the sharpness of the stories. Because Sword & Sorcery works best at shorter and more violent lengths, this was a nice touch. There are also a few surprises within its pages, but I don't want to spoil them here.

The first story is the titular title, The Snake-Man's Bane, which is also the longest piece included. A full novella about a man named Vegtam who gets himself involved with a plot involving a sorcerer and serpent men. This story is a bit too long for my liking as it takes a while for action to begin, but the writing pops and pulls you along for the ride as the plot gets weirder and more strange the longer it goes. And seeing that it starts with actual snake men, that's saying a lot. You will see battles with sorcerers and plenty of dead snake men by tale's end. Pure sword and sorcery, pure excitement.

Second is All Will be Righted on Samhain (co-written with David C. Smith) which starts with a bit of Roman history, mostly their conflicts with the Kelts, in a decently long prologue that is probably a bit different than the history you've heard of. Imagine a mad pagan world, and you'd be pretty close to it. The story starts off in present tense before thankfully ditching it in the first chapter after the background has been dispensed with. I can't say it wasn't distracting, but that is a personal taste issue. This is quite a dark fantasy tale focused on the aforementioned history between the two opposing forces, and quite a lot of sinister magic. A woman dabbles in dark forces and calls forth something rather disturbing . . . and dark. This was my least favorite story included here, due to a lot of events unfolding to where the reader already knows the forgone results, but it does end on a high note.

Following on that is The Heart of the Betrayer, a story that hooked me quite fast. In this one a warrior is betrayed by several of those he considers allies and ends up going on a quest of revenge. It is also in this story that we learn the previous stories are both related. I was unaware every work in this collection would all be linked, but that added wrinkle was nice. Otherwise this tale has a lot more action-packed than the last, with a protagonist I liked being around a bit more, and intriguing supernatural events with a vicious conclusion. It also leads into the next tale, the one story of these I have read before.

We then come to the story that was a part of Cirsova Issue #4. That might have been my least favorite issue, but it certainly was not because of this tale. . . . Where There is No Sanctuary was one of the best stories there and it fares no less worse here. The hero from the last story gets pulled into a demon-haunted tower from out of time. The ending is easily the best of any tale so far, but if you have not read it I don't want to spoil it. If you have not read issue #4, then you simply must read it here.

Thannhausefeer's Ghost is next which starts with a shipwreck. An amnesiac warrior is taken to the lord, the giant Thannhausefeer, and is forced to compete in games to survive. However, all is not as it appears. The battles get bloodier, and the stakes rise when the protagonist finally remembers just who he is and why he is there. It is not purely by chance. For a hint: the giant is definitely quite the monster. This was another great piece, with descriptive action and sinister villains. Pure sword and sorcery.

The collection concludes with Full Moon Revenant which is a bit different from the last few tales. In this one, a werewolf is running around the countryside causing chaos, and the werewolf warrior king, Argantyr, is the main suspect. He sends out a search party to find the real culprit, and things quickly go sideways. As a surprise, this might have been my favorite story here as it is ostensibly about what makes Argantyr so different from the monsters he fights, and the code he lives by in this demon-haunted world. It's not the most explosive tale in the collection, but it is thematically the most engaging. The perfect ending to this book.

All in all, this a fantastic collection of Sword and Sorcery stories, with all the blood and dismemberment you can expect to see from the genre. There is some sex, but nothing on the level from the George R.R. Martin acolytes where debauchery by the wicked is celebrated. Most of it is merely mentioned, or implied. The action and conflict is the focus. But, thankfully, these stories aren't defeatist in nihilism like many in the genre are today. The main characters act and accomplish things, even when it doesn't work out, and they usually get what they have fought for by story's end. You won't be reading pieces about nothing while the plot moves at a glacial pace. Your expectations for a satisfying tale will be more than fulfilled.

And that's probably the best compliment I can give to this book. Fantasy is about falling into different worlds from our own and going on an adventure, and that is exactly what The Snake Man's Bane promises on and delivers. I fell into this world and enjoyed my time there, smiling when the last story wrapped. If you enjoy action-packed sword and sorcery tales, the kind that has been missing for decades, then this is exactly what you've been waiting for.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Top 10 Anime Licenses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Monster

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

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

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

9. Armored Police Metal Jack

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

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

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

8. El Hazard: The Magnificent World

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

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

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

7. The King of Braves: GaoGaiGar

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

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

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

6. Daitarn 3

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

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

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

5. Fang of the Sun Dougram

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

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

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

4. Ashita no Joe (Tomorrow's Joe)

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

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

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

3. Panzer World Galient

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

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

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

2. Space Battleship Yamato

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

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

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

1. Blue Comet SPT Layzner

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they're only getting better every day.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Not Necessarily So

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

This isn't necessarily so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because they are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'd pick the normal ones any day.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Importance of Being Brief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So this is for those who do.

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

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

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

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

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