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!


  1. The "mostly-identical alternate worlds" thing gets on my nerves too, it seems obviously lazy. Which might be why it's prevalent.

    "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?"

    Don't ask questions just consume 1998 and then get excited for next 1998.

  2. "stories focused on broken people crying about being broken, then ending the tale accepting that they're broken and doing nothing about it."

    *cough* Cather in the Rye

    1. Then sitting through explanations over how great it is.

      I stand by my assessment that every single person who loves that book is a narcissist.

    2. JD,

      Thanks goodness I was very contrarian in high school. I never ever read the book. My English/English lit teachers gushed about the book.

      So to this day I never got the appeal of the book and never cared enough to find out.

      Thanks goodness I had teachers who introduced me to Once and future king, Watership down and my Spanish teachers and parents recommended Don Quijote.


    3. About as bad as horrible ptaku fantasy isekai about people who are transported to a world where the specific qualities thst would make them losers are now precisely what is needed to succeed - my least favorite type of story of all.

    4. (Mob Psycho 100 is a deliberate contrast to that and thus the best.)