Thursday, January 31, 2019

Better Tomorrow from a Brighter Past ~ A Review of "Zillion"

In a strange twist this is the first proper anime review I have ever done here. I've made many posts about anime and where it has been, what it is doing, and where it's going, but nothing about a specific series and looking at its strengths and weaknesses and how it stacks up. Considering the amount of reviews I've done it wouldn't be fair to keep that up, so that will change here. Today I want to look at the '80s cult favorite anime series Zillion from 1987/88 and just recently re-released by Funimation on Bluray/DVD/Digital packaging.

Zillion was first created as a laser tag game in Japan in the mid-80s which rolled over into a TV anime series produced by Tatsunoko (and is the first production by popular animation studio Production I.G.) along with two Master System video games made by Sega. Each of these are highly regarded to this day. The franchise wasn't around very long, mostly being locked to peak anime year 1987, yet it is still looked at with a high degree of respect in Japan due to the sheer amount of quality it put out in such a short time.

Zillion's reputation overseas is very weird in that none of it come from the complete 31 episode (and OVA special) run of the anime or the video games made by Sega. Its popularity stems from a mere five dubbed episodes released on VHS by Streamline during the original anime boom of the early '90s and two separate music videos featuring clips each by Michael and Janet Jackson ("Scream") and Del the Funky Homosapien ("Cyberpunks") and that is more or less it when it comes to Zillion.

The show never got a full release, not even the unofficial sub community would touch it despite being a prime candidate for the job, licencors like Discotek never went near it, and the Master System being Sega's least known system in North America meant the games would never be popular, either. So outside of older anime fans who were around in a very specific time and place, Zillion was very much unknown and remained that way until, well, now.

But before we go further, it needs to be told what the series is about.

Zillion takes place in the year 2387 on a distant planet named Maris after man has colonized the stars. The Noza Empire has declared war on humanity and hopes to take the planet from them for their own needs. Three mysterious artifacts (rumored to be from God) were reconstituted into guns by the human military which have extra firepower against their enemies despite the fact they are not reproduce-able. They are given to a team of three: J.J., Champ, and Apple, who form a special group called the White Nuts that are used for special missions against the Noza. This series follows their fight against the alien menace.

The Opening

It should be said upfront that Zillion is an unapologetic action show. Every episode involves the White Nuts either involved in or assaulted by some Noza plot and they have to use their skills to fight back and win.

The series is episodic and every episode follows the traditional western three act structure method of storytelling with a finale that leaves the problem solved and the heroes just that much closer to overall victory. Aside from one two-part episode (labeled as such) in the middle of the series and the finale Zillion tells a complete story in each of its 31 episodes which all manage to simultaneously develop characters without having to rely on constant origin stories or hopeless misery. This is a bright series without any nihilism at all.

But it is also not a Star Trek Utopian fantasy. One extremely well directed episode has a Cyberpunk/Noir vibe where people are killed and one of the main characters fights through the dark city to show why he was chosen to wield his Zillion in the first place. The night ends as he reclaims his weapon and slays the evil at the very end. Another features a character who dies helping our mains achieve their goal of stopping a Noza plot as a true soldier sacrificing himself so they can win. Yet another has an ally die after a successful Noza attack. War, murder, and crime, still exist even 400 years later on another planet, even against an alien force, and all our problems between each other are still the same as ever. Just as they always will be. Zillion is a sort of look at the future pulpsters would have dug back in the day.

At the same time, technology has progressed and we've learned some new tricks to deal with the wilds of the untamed universe. The hardware here is impressive and very useful without feeling like blatant product placement. It all works to the benefit of the story.

The characters also match what you would hope to find in such a series. J.J. is the hotblooded skirt-chaser, Champ is the cool-headed tough guy, and Apple is the caring and stern mediator between them. All three mesh together very well and rub off on the others in different ways as a good group dynamic should. They're heroes, and ones you want to follow, and ones you want to win when their backs are against the wall.

To be honest, Zillion itself is very much a pulp series with the same inspirations every early anime had. It is action-based storytelling within a clear moral framework of good and evil, where the men are men and the women are women, duels between rivals occur and are expected, heroics are rewarded and are done without a second thought, and motorcycles transform into fighting mecha that can fly. Excitement is the name of the game and so is the good and just.

They don't make them like Zillion anymore.

Each episode is an adventure with crisp animation that is quite honestly above most TV anime and near OVA levels at times, fast paced and dynamic direction, and some of the catchiest '80s synth rock music you will hear. This is the sort of anime that was expected before the '00s. When I say that they don't make them like this anymore, I mean it. Zillion does everything a great anime should do, and does it expertly.

As someone who never saw the series (due to the aforementioned above reasons) I was intrigued when I saw that Funimation had licensed it for release. Most likely because it had never gotten any sort of proper shot overseas before. Speculation was that it was included as part of a deal with Speed Racer and that is how Funimation ended up with it, but they sure didn't slack on the packaging or the formatting. I picked this up because Amazon was offering a cheap preorder price and got the series and OVA, on 4 Bluray discs, 5 DVDs, and a digital copy, all in one normal box. And I have to say it was a steal.

I don't have a 1080p TV so I can't tell you exactly the difference in the transfer on Bluray, except that Funimation did a good job on encoding and subtitles. Everything is clear, understandable, and there are no artifacts or compression problems that I've noticed. The sound is also mixed well. The menus and packaging are right out of the Sega Master System: I would have posted said box here except none of the pictures online show off how good it looks in person.

The Second Ending Theme

Be wary of reviews for this series, especially from "respected" anime sites. I say this because they are reviewing it as being a nostalgic piece (which it can't really be) or for not being a subversive slog like most modern SF anime. There are those tempted to shoot Zillion down for being "dated" or for being shallow or harboring unacceptable attitudes, just as was done to the pulps it takes inspiration from. I have read at least one professional review that declared this an average series at best with nothing exceptional going for it. They say Zillion is a relic of another time and is best left in the dust as we move to a more progressive and enlightened anime era where things are far beyond simple, fun, and good, action series.

But they are wrong, and wrong in many ways.

There are no series like Zillion anymore, that is true. This is what makes it even more valuable as a discussion piece and makes it far from generic. Anime is in such a confused, disposable, and outright degenerate, state right now that it is easy to forget what it was like at its commercial peak. But even for its time Zillion embodies a pulp ethos and excitement for its content that wasn't common. Nor did most TV anime at the time look this good so much of the time or have such consistency. Had this come out last year for the first time it would still look and sound impressive, even if its content would have turned certain kings and queens of fandom off.

The 1980s were a positive time for Japan and there is a level of optimism and hope in an action series like Zillion that is no longer seen. You cannot emphasize how much fun the series has at such a constant rate. Zillion feels like it was made to tell a story and not made because it was an anime to dish out to otaku awaiting the next big thing. It was made for normal people, and that might be where much of the criticism comes from.

Other than complaining about "datedness" or other such nonsense, there is nothing to complain about here. Zillion is the sort of thing that got anime popular overseas in the first place.

The series exemplifies the dead art of cell animation, with popping effects and a level of sharp direction that wasn't seen much outside of movies at the time. The characters are not stock tropes, but actual characters with personalities that never get obnoxious or one dimensional. The music doesn't sound like the same goofy Casio keyboard notes ripped out of a sitcom like anime does now but as the type you would hear on the radio or at a concert. The character designs are typical of '80s anime in that they don't look like 500 other shows, but are clearly original to this series. All this sets it apart from not only its own era, but the current one.

Zillion isn't like anything currently being made, and the reason for it is that nothing like it can be. Not in an industry more focused on selling body pillows to a small percent of their shrinking audience, and not in one that has lost the freewheeling spirit and hope of its better days. It represents a better era, and it embarrasses what is being made now.

If that makes it generic then I'd hate to see what this decade will look like in the rear-view mirror 30 years from now. That is, if the industry isn't dead by then.

All that aside, this is the key point: Zillion is not generic, and looking around now it makes that charge less true than ever before. It is a hopeful pulp action series with a battle between good and evil that has quite the finale. You won't see anything like it in the current anime climate that much is for sure.

My final impression of Zillion is one that doesn't surprise me as much as what I've been noticing over the past few years. What appeared to be easy and simple to make: an action show with a heart, a brain, and morals, is increasingly revealing itself to be much harder to construct than what was originally thought. What looks simple is actually very much not. Tight direction, solid character development, high octane action, desperate stakes and situations, three act structure, and high quality animation, packed in less than a half hour running time is not an easy task. But they sure make it look easy here.

If you don't believe me then be sure to point out any television series in the last few years that can do it outside a minority example. However, they used to be more common than you think, and it was at a time when people hadn't walked away from television altogether, retreated to their basements, and gave up on life.

In that respect, Zillion is a classic. It is an example of a piece of art that neatly packages an entire era in time into a single place and it is an era when its medium and genre of choice was at its peak, on top of it. That isn't anything to scoff at, but neither is the show itself.

On the other hand, Zillion is just plain quality from top to bottom. As someone who did not see it when it came out, and has never played the games, I have no nostalgic attraction to this property. But I had a blast with every episode, and I highly enjoyed experiencing it for the first time. It turns out my blind buy was justified, and I discovered a bit more about how anime has lost its way and garnered a reputation far away from where it could be. The industry should have followed after Zillion more and less after an overrated series from the mid-90s that overturned everything it did well which ended up cratering the medium into the subversive hole it's been stuck in ever since.

But I digress.

I suppose I don't need to tell you that Zillion comes highly recommended by me, even to those who hate anime due to what they believe it is because of its current state. Zillion is what anime used to be: normal. This is a classic action show that you would get much enjoyment and inspiration out of regardless of who you are or your thoughts on it being animated and from Japan. There is a general appealing nature to this that doesn't really exist anymore in anime, and that's a shame. We could use more series like this, and more to take inspiration from what it does so well.

As it is, I can only sum it up as thus: Zillion is a deserved classic. It is one of the best things recently licensed and put out on the market. Don't skip it!

The First Ending Theme

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Signal Boost ~ "Combat Frame XSeed" by Brian Niemeier

Find it Here!

Coming straight out of the pits of January is this new new novel, series, and universe, by writer Brian Niemeier. For those who have ever read one of his books (or have read my reviews of them) they would know that he follows an old school method of adventure writing in that Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, are all the same and he feels free enough to decide whichever to use whenever it benefits his story.

This is one of the reasons I had hired him to help me edit my story in StoryHack #3, but I digress: this post isn't about me.

The author of the Soul Cycle Saga has returned with a brand new baby. I reviewed the first three books in the series, and still have the last to go, but suffice to say that you won't read anything else like it. This time he has turned his attention to a giant robots of the Japanese variety.

This is Combat Frame XSeed:

"The future is over.

"Civilization on Earth has collapsed. Oligarchs have established a new order in manmade space colonies at the Earth-Moon LaGrange points.

"A group of powerful colonies form the Systems Overterrestrial Coalition to re-civilize the earth, but grounders view the colonists as hostile meddlers. The Coalition counters the rising violence with giant manned robots called combat frames.

"The independent L3 colonies denounce the war on Earth. In response, Coalition Security Director Sanzen takes L3 leader Josef Friedlander's wife and daughter hostage. Amid the tense standoff, Friedlander's son Sieg launches an unsanctioned rescue mission to L1's Byzantium colony."

If that reminds you of an early 80s mecha anime then you are on the right track. Mr. Niemeier's goal with this series is to catch that spark of action-packed drama and political intrigue and bring it to a medium that has long since been running on fumes and subversion. Even if you've read a book on mecha before, you certainly haven't read one like this.

Don't pass it by because this is only the first in a new ongoing series, and one in a new movement of mecha by writers such as Rawle Nyanzi and Bradford Walker. The scene will soon be flooded with new stories so you might consider getting in on the ground floor now. This is only the beginning.

I will return later in the week with a normal post. For now simply enjoy this reminder that there are still authors out there trying to do something for their audience other than preach to them. Imagination has no limits, so why settle for less?

It's bound to be a great time.

Armored Trooper Votoms

Thursday, January 24, 2019

"I'll Follow You to the Depths of Hell"~ Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba 3 Volume Review

It's that time of year where I rave about a manga series that should be more popular than it is. Last time it was Psyren, and this time it is Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. The reason I chose this one is because it is on the cusp of breaking out. It is also one of my favorites of the currently running series out of Japan.

Of course, I already reviewed volume 1, but there is far more to talk about beyond that. I wanted to wait a little while between official releases to give this series the focus it deserves, but I can wait no longer. There's quite a bit to go over since these three volume build the world and lead up to the first longer story arc in the series. Essentially, with volume 4 you learn everything you'll need to know going forward about our main characters and the conflict they are embroiled in.

This is a review of volume 2, 3 and 4 of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, a series that, outside of My Hero Academia, is the best thing currently running in Weekly Shonen Jump. Viz waited a bit longer than I would have liked to license it and give it an official push, but they are bumping up the release schedule to make up for it with one every other month.

On top of that, Ufotable, the studio behind all those different Fate/Zero anime series will be making an animated show for this starting in April 2019. That's right, it begins next season. You can see a trailer for it here which, coincidentally enough, covers much of what happens in the first four volumes.

The smooth animation and visceral direction is picture perfect. This is far beyond what the likes of Naruto, Bleach, or even One Piece, got when they received anime. Jump is putting all they can into this one.

In other words, this series is either destined to take off big very soon or is liable to get totally overlooked and overshadowed by the also great My Hero Academia. I want it to be the former so I will try to be honest with why I think so highly of this series. This one deserves every push it can get.

As far as shonen action series, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba hits all the marks and avoids the pitfalls so common with the worst of the genre. I'll explain that side more later, but first I want to start with the story.

In volume 1 we met Tanjiro Kamado as his family was slaughtered by demons with only his sister, Nezuko, surviving. However, instead of dying she was transformed into a demon. Somehow she managed to hold her mindless rage in check and the demon hunter present spared her life. He sends Tanjiro on a quest to become a hunter himself to find the cure for his sister. Along the way he learns more about the demons than he thought possible.

Volume 2 continues where volume 1 started showing how Tanjiro became a demon hunter and how he learned their sword techniques. After his first few missions he finally faces down the one who created all these demons in the first place, a man named Muzan, in a crowded street. Chaos very quickly ensues. These demons are a bit more complicated in their origins and what they can and can't do, and Tanjiro receives a hint as to how he can possibly turn his sister Nezuko human again. All he needs is the blood of a higher level demon.

To do that, he needs to become one of the best demon hunters out there. But that isn't going to be easy. All the demons he has fought so far are low level.

Volume 3 finishes off the previous story, but also finally gets into the meat of why this series is so good. With this volume we meet two new characters and enter a story arc inside a haunted mansion with a demon that twists and turns the rooms with seeming randomness. Volume 4 wraps the arc up, but the whole thing ramps up the horror, tension, and action, from the earlier chapters. The series hits its stride here.

In this arc, three demon hunters and a group of children become trapped in a mansion where drum beats shift the rooms around and a group of demons await inside and wait to feast on them. It is here that two more hunters are properly introduced to the story and we learn their personalities and what it is they can do.

The first new character (also on volume 3's cover) is Zenitsu Agatsuma, another member of the Demon Corps. Tanjiro is now a part of. Zenitsu is a strange addition to the series, ostensibly being comedic relief, though he does also act very cowardly. But he has a hidden side to him that comes out when his back is up against the wall and it is time to act. He is different from Tanjiro in that he has no reason to be in the Demon Corps. and doesn't really have any tragic backstory. At first glance he appears to be fodder that will either die and be forgotten or exists to show the audience how much the main character has progressed. But one thing that separates him from most coward characters, and gets me to like him far more than I would otherwise, is that the way he deals with his cowardice.

This is difficult to explain, but most such characters are used as the butt of jokes and are usually the weakest characters in any action series. This is for good reason. Shonen doesn't have much respect for selfish people or those with weak wills, and God bless them for it. However, Zenitsu's craven nature is a bit different than a coward. He whines, complains, thinks up excuses, and will do anything to avoid fighting demons . . . until he has to do it.

Zenitsu acts selfish, but he still helps anyone who asks, fights despite his fear, and is a pretty good guy that happens to have weak nerves. All he wants is to find a wife, settle down, and have a family that he can be of use to. He just doesn't want to die before it happens! And he can't quite settle down as long as demons threaten the peace, can he?

The way he contrasts with Tanjiro and the second new character adds a good dynamic to the series we didn't have until now. It's honestly not one I've seen in many action series, period. Most demon hunters go after demons because of personal reasons or because they just hate evil that much. Zenitsu doesn't have the composure, talent, or build for this line of work, and yet he does it anyway. Though there is a hidden piece of him that does, but that is for another time.

As far as coward characters in Shonen go, I think Zenitsu is one of the best. A warrior who fights past he nerves to become the warrior he needs to be. The readers must agree too, because he was ranked the second most popular character in the series in Japan in the character popularity poll. He definitely helps elevate the manga and brings it up to the potential seen back in the first chapter. I'm eager to see where he will end up as the series goes.

The other new character is the demon hunter with the boar head sitting atop his shoulders: Inosuke Haibara. He's not actually a boar-man, just a swordsman who wears one instead of a shirt. He's really that simple and straightforward. And boy is this series better for having him in it.

Inosuke is the hothead of the group, always doing before thinking, but his sense for battle is definitely the best of the three and he knows how to fight. He has no problem killing any enemy that gets in his way, and longs to be at the top of the food chain. Why? Because that's all he knows. At least, for now.

Raised wild in the mountains as an orphan, Inosuke is completely tactless and ignorant of the modern world and is without any semblance of sociability. He's tenacious and one step short of being a reckless fool and dead. He behaves like a rabid animal who lives for the sole purpose of slaying bigger enemies and washing himself in the blood of said foes. What else is there in life?

As you can tell, Inosuke is not a subtle person in any way. He's simpleminded and without any semblance of complexity or depth to his characterization. He's also one of the best characters in the manga for it.

But it's when the three of them get together that the manga really shines. Each of the trio (and Nezuko) offers something different to the group and a different dynamic to each of the others among them. They all give each other something they don't already have and can't get from anyone else. This is a group that meshes and does it well. I'd go more into it, but that's just ahead in the story to come.

The entire story of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is about good versus evil and those involved in the conflict. The good guys are good and the bad guys are bad. As simple as I make this sound, few action series get this balance right these days.

Where most shonen (and modern action stories) fail in this is in how they fail to establish stakes and character goals and how they need to tie in to each other. This is how you gain investment: we want the main character to succeed and the villain to fail because they are opposites and the hero's goal is the better of the two. Without that duality you have no power.

One of the worst things One Piece and Naruto did to shonen is to inspire so many up and comers to turn their protagonists into flat, simpleminded, and shallow, characters due to their goals. They're no longer characters but shonen protagonists to hit a checkbox.

Naruto wants to be the Hokage of his village so that people (who bullied and hate him) will acknowledge him. Why does he need this? Purely selfish reasons. The character then spends most of the series being a screw-up idiot who can't do anything right and who we're meant to laugh at. His enemies are frequently generic bad guys who have no real reason to do what they are doing except that otherwise Naruto would have no one to fight. Not that it is bad on its own, but the villain has no direct tie to Naruto or what he's trying to accomplish thereby making the conflict weak. This leads to many arcs and chapters centered on things other than what the central premise is supposed to be about with no movement towards the overarching goal and repeatedly reminding the audience that the main character is stupid. Not to say the writer didn't have good moments with the character in the story, but I could never really get behind Naruto as a protagonist because his goal is weak and selfish, as is he, and his enemies had little to nothing to do with him achieving it.

It worked well enough for Naruto, despite it's many warts, but its influence led to many worse and overwhelmingly generic series in its wake. You know the stereotypical loud shonen protagonist who is an idiot that eats a lot and has an innate sense of justice only because he is designated the main character? That didn't exist before the late '90s when Naruto and One Piece made it popular. The closest you can find before then is Dragon Ball, which was a comedy and was not meant as a serious action series with a defined goal until nearly halfway through its run.

That influence persisted in the genre for over a decade. For most of the '00s shonen was stuck in that rut. Aside from Death Note (where the protagonist is the villain) and a handful of series like Psyren you won't find too many outside this archetype. It ended up making shonen nothing but loud noises and flashy battles with nothing to show for it by decade's end. They successfully neutered the genre.

The '10s began to change this with series like World Trigger and My Hero Academia giving the main hero a brain and goals that tie directly with their antagonists and fight scenes that have blood. By "blood", I mean grit, purpose, and depth, beyond the surface level of two dudes punching each other in the face. Gore is not required for that. But these series made shonen great again.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba has all of that. Tanjiro is a good guy thrown into a bad situation. He lost everything he ever had, and can never have it back. But he can save one piece of it--his sister. And he can prevent others from suffering the same fate. To achieve these goals he has to slay every demon he can find and take it to the top where evil runs amok over the land. Maybe someday everyone else can have some peace, even if he never will. This is a hero.

That's the sort of person I want to follow through their adventures, and his is an enemy I want to see him slay. What he does on the way there has just been made far more intriguing in how it ties to the rest. All that comes from having weight to the goals.

This is what I mean by avoiding the pitfalls so common in modern action and shonen. Whether it's a pulp story from 1933, a movie from 1986, or a manga from 2018, I only require a few things. Blood, investment, and dynamics. Have those and I will be there. This series manages all that and then some.

Whatever happens next in the story, I hope the author can reach a wider audience with it. She has done a great job with this one. It gets even better from here.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Heroes Unleashed!

Find it Here!

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

It's finally here!

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

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

Here's what Heroes Fall is about:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Belated Cirsova Issue #8 Review

Find it Here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once again, highly recommended.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Welcome to 2019!

The future I'm still waiting for.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 2019!