Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Last of This

The philosophies of the new industry against the old.

Normally I do not reference current happenings here for the simple reason that it dates the post as soon as it comes out. I prefer to talk about broader topics. However, in this case, considering the event in question it is quite relevant to our interests.

Over the last few years there has been an onslaught of art glorifying subversion and modern identity politics as the ultimate form of storytelling. I don't need to mention the examples here, since you can pretty much fill a whole book about the tired topic, but for some reason every single writer employed at a western corporation believes this to be the key to success.

This despite the fact that it leads to the death of every IP and franchise. No one wants this in their entertainment. It's a plague, and audiences absolutely detest it.

The most recent piece to succumb to this trend is multi-million dollar video game franchise The Last of Us. The sequel has been highly anticipated in some corners. Recently, a leak has unveiled the game as a bait and switch of the highest order. Now, a PR disaster is currently reeking havoc at Sony and Naughty Dog.

First, some backstory.

The original The Last of Us is a zombie survival game starring a man named Joel trying to rescue a young girl named Ellie from death. She s immune to the problem, and Joel believes he can save her. The gameplay is nothing special, just being a basic third person shooter with linear level design in order to focus on story with pre-scripted animations for most everything you do. The entire game is rather nihilistic and hopeless, though it ends with Joel rescuing Ellie, giving off the idea that maybe they might make it out alive. A sequel story is pretty obvious from this point.

The game was a success, so naturally fans of the game were hopeful for what came next. After the release of the PlayStation 4, Sony announced one. For the last four + years Naughty Dog has been developing it, and anticipation was high in AAA fandom. It looked like an easy home-run. After all, it's basically just a movie. How do you screw that up?

Well . . .

A few years after its announcement there were many leaks coming out that there was trouble in paradise. Naughty Dog was stumbling, no longer the developer it once was. Now it was just another AAA grinder like every other modern studio.

Naughty Dog is a name with clout in the video game industry, one that earned it with a string of hits starting back in the 1990s. Their Crash Bandicoot games helped Sony's original PlayStation take off, and their Jak & Daxter games allowed a mix of 3D platforming, third person action, and open world design, to come together in a unique fashion. All of these were high sellers back at a time when gameplay was king in the industry. They were unstoppable.

However, during the development of the second Jak game studio founders Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin left the studio and many studio members soon followed over the next few years. Today there is no one left from the days when Naughty Dog made their name. The name essentially means nothing at all anymore.

Starting on the PlayStation 3, Naughty Dog got into making linear third person action games based purely on narrative. The Uncharted games were very successful, and allowed Sony some cred at a time where they weren't doing so great. While this wasn't the Naughty Dog everyone knew and loved, they were still creating bestsellers. The first entry in The Last of Us series came during this period and this melodramatic piece earned them a lot of praise and high sales at a time when these novelty games were something new.

The darker side of this is that ever since HD development became standard it has negatively affected just about every part of the industry. As costs skyrocketed and studios ballooned, crunch became standard for AAA and millions need to be spent just to make a single game that takes far longer to create than classics used to. Working at one of these studios means endless work for games that require several million just to break even, which is happening less and less these days. This for games that sell about the same as an average hit did during the 16-bit days. There isn't much in the way of growth. It's unsustainable, and we are starting to see the affects of it.

The horror stories behind the crunch for The Last of Us 2, and Naughty Dog's working conditions are horrifying to those looking in from the outside. Inside stories show underpayment, long hours, and grueling busywork, for a game that is essentially a gritty 3D animated movie with a few button prompts. The effort put in is not worth the product that comes out.

If that sounds harsh then maybe it would please you to know that many people at Naughty Dog don't want to be making this game, or anything like it. creating a AAA game is a lot of work for returns that aren't really worth it, and in this case it might spell the death of the modern industry. It's a sign of things to come.

Despite the horrendous working conditions, the game was delayed many times over the years, rumor being that they wanted to push it back to launch simultaneously on the upcoming PlayStation 5. Since games take far too long to make now they need something to launch this year. However, they did not expect the Corona Virus to put a dent in their future plans. Fans would have to wait for clear skies before they could play their end of the world zombie game. Though the PS5 is still scheduled to come out in 2020 (I cannot stress how bad of an idea this is), the game was delayed. All that work at Naughty Dog, and no one can profit off of it.

The game was delayed indefinitely, and it apparently caused someone internally at Naughty Dog to finally snap. The game was leaked, and footage exists all of the internet of the story fans have waited so eagerly for. Be wary, if you are interested in it. The entire game was spoiled.

Naturally, Sony when into panic mode. They rushed a June release date out and began copyright claiming and censoring all leaks they could find. But this isn't going to plug the fractured dam. This disaster is going to cost them big, and the game is destined to be looked at as a joke for years to come. It might be the final nail in the AAA grinder.

I'm not going to talk about the leaks themselves for several reasons, the main being that this series has never interested me. On the other hand, even if you liked the story of the first game you will be angry about what happens here. No spoilers, but it is quite awful from a writing perspective. Naughty Dog dropped the ball, in a big way.

One of the few AAA games worth your time.

The bigger question is why this leak matters in the wider context of modern gaming itself. There are several reasons for this. This entire project is a whiff, and I'd like to highlight why.

For one, cut-scene leaks should not ruin a video game. Keep in mind that no gameplay leaked here, it is only the story. Yet the backlash is so huge that many are canceling their preorders. Why should that matter if the gameplay was interesting enough? Because fans of the game don't actually care about the gameplay. There isn't much to care about. People only cared about this series for the hacky nihilistic story, not the stale third person gameplay.

A story leak would not have hurt DOOM Eternal. A story leak would not have hurt Super Mario Odyssey. A story leak would not have ruined Ion Fury. A story leak would not harm Streets of Rage 4. The reason for this is because people come to these games for the gameplay, story is secondary. You can't spoil gameplay with visual leaks.

In fact, there was a story leak for Deus Ex: Human Revolution back when it first came out and it actually helped gain the game buzz. The story being good might have helped, but it was mainly because people were concerned over a new developer taking over the franchise. The project turned out for the better because of what was learned. Gamers got hyped up for the return of one of gaming's biggest franchises, and they got what they wanted.

The fact is that, as dumb as the story in any game might be, the gameplay always could have saved it. But the gameplay in The Last of Us 2 is not enough to carry the story. The fact of the matter is that hyper-linear cinematic games need a good story to lift it out of mediocrity, and that didn't happen here. There is just nothing much here beyond the flash. And considering that so many people crunched for this mediocre project? That just hurts it more.

What this whole mess shows us is that AAA gaming has officially gone off the rails. One employee leaked a few videos and sabotaged the whole project and threw millions down the toilet. Nothing is stopping this from happening again in the future, and it probably should. If people are busting their tails for mediocre product that isn't worth the time put into it then something needs to change in the industry. It's been over a decade of this sort of movie game and the tank has run dry.

Adding to this is the quality of the story itself. This is where we get into how bad it is.

The problem with story gamers as opposed to normal gamers, is that they hoist up stories that would be considered mediocre on the Syfy channel or lesser paperbacks on the old spinner racks. Because they don't read they would rather have their hackneyed stories instead of more involved gameplay. This is more a problem with the state of literature and cinema than it is with the customers, but it still ends up negatively impacting gaming. Now they want their narratives from gaming instead of mediums better suited for them.

Essentially, the only people who accept this sort of terrible storytelling are people who have not read wider works, because they simply don't read. They don't even watch TV anymore because, hey, no one does. Those industries already imploded long ago. This allows hacks like the writer of this game to think they are telling something profound while their publisher burns millions in developing the product.

As someone who has seen the leaks to The Last of Us 2, let me tell you: there is absolutely nothing profound about this story. This is terrible storytelling. It is another hack subversive story where the original game's plot is trampled on to "make the player think" instead of actually fulfilling any of the promises the end of the first game made to the audience. It essentially makes everything in the original game pointless which is the last thing any writer should ever do. As a story it is an abject failure; as a video game you might as well not even pick up the controller because the end result is the same ether way. Nothing you do matters.

This is the opposite of what video games are supposed to be. The whole point is that you, the gamer, pick up the controller and control the destiny of everyone on the other end of the screen through the choices you make. You traverse challenges to improve at the game before you. In these hyper-linear movie games you don't make any choices, and most of the time challenge involves little more than taking more damage from hits. You cannot effect the outcome in this game. No matter what you do the journey always plays out the same way with the same results, which is a plot that tells you as such every second you play it.

This isn't to say you can't do linearity right. Point & Click games allowed players to use their heads to get beyond obstacles and use shortcuts and tricks. Platformers and FPS games allow you multiple ways to tackle a challenge with the gameplay offered. Every time you play these games something wildly different can happen depending on how the player reacts. Your reward? A more difficult challenge. It ramps up in this fashion until the conclusion.

In a movie game your reward is another cutscene that always plays out and progresses the same no matter what the player does during the gameplay. Your input in the gameplay doesn't change anything meaningful, whether during highly scripted set-piece gameplay that equates to Simon Says and hiding behind a small handful of chest high walls, to headshotting the same thug four hundred times before moving down a hallway to do the same thing. There isn't even a score system to reward you getting better. There is nothing aside from the multi-million dollar candy-coated shell. The bait of the next cutscene is the only reason to keep playing.

The reason this leak is so annoying to fans is that they realize with the story being such a pile there is nothing left to enjoy in the game. It's paying $60 to be hand-held through a 6 hour movie interspersed with small shooting galleries that don't effect the story because nothing the player does can change what happens next. If the story is bad then there is nothing left to look forward to in this product. There isn't anything else here.

So while these leak will cost Sony in the short-term, it is doubtful this game still won't sell well out the gate. Not enough people will have seen the leaks yet, even with two more months left to go before its cobbled together release date. It'll be the game after this that will suffer. It's always the entry after the terrible sequel that suffers the most in sales (See: Devil May Cry 3, Metal Gear Solid 3, or Sonic Unleashed) and where we will see just how badly things have been affected. Goodwill is very easy to lose, especially when the writer has no respect for his audience.

But we're about due for a change. AAA has been treading water for much too long, and it's time to finally dump it for something better. This might be the opportunity the industry has been waiting for to clean house.

Though, since not one of these corporations is considering delaying their 2020 consoles into a year without a pandemic affecting finances, perhaps not. They might just be too far gone to help, at this point. So be it.

Then we'll just have to go indie. A revolution is bound to start soon. We've definitely had enough of the rotting carcass of AAA gaming stagnating an entire industry. Hopefully we've seen the last of this sort of thing.

Now if you will excuse me I think Streets of Rage 4 is out.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Real Normal

These days there is an awkward disdain many creatives and fanatic consumers share with each other. It is not one that used to exist, yet is very prevalent now. While both sides tend to fetishize and overestimate the importance of their preferred corner of fanatical fandom, they also tend to hate the normal Joe Sixpack as some sort of leech on their hobbies, arts, and general interests. These normies are the one polluting and subverting what you love!

I've already shown how this was wrong before. Normal people are not to blame for anything going on in your hobby of choice. Normal people don't put that level of thought into usurping things they don't care that much about. The correct culprit are called poseurs. These are fanatics with a hyper-focused interest in a warped corner of their area of choice and believe they should be in charge to shape the future of whatever it is they think they want. They are the ones that should be watched.

However, the initial mistake is understandable. Poseurs, after all, come in with normal people during the most successful stage of a medium's explosion. They only difference is that they stick around long after said medium has soured and the smarter normal people have walked away. That's right, the normies are the ones who are the ones who walk away, while the poseurs burrow in deeper.

It's a part of five different levels of a subculture's growth and eventual death. All of this repeats itself over and over. Most subcultures in the western world are currently in the final stage, unable to understand that lashing out at those who left will not bring their slapdash "community" back into prominence. The normal people don't care about your makeshift communities out of dying subculture trash: they already have a normal community to fall back on. When it is on the way out, they walk away and take their money with them.

A subculture's five stages of life:


The first stage is self-explanatory. Creators use their unique perspective on a medium to create a new subculture cobbled together from bigger parts of the tradition they are a riffing off of. Other like-minded creators join in, and new content is made. This stage can last a long time, or a short period, but it takes much work for the originators to build this new arena.

The second stage is the point where normal people take notice and join in. Some become fanatics, some become casual, some are there because it's cool, and others see ways they can exploit it for themselves. This leads to an expansion on this subculture that allows different shapes to form in what was thought to be a smaller thing. Ideally, this is the peak. The most amount of honestly interested parties are involved, and what was once thought to be niche turns out to connect with many people in many different ways. Future classics are made that many will look back on years to come, and memories are made that bring joy to many.

The decline stage happens due to lack of satisfaction with the way things are. For certain fanatics, what the subculture is simply is no longer good enough! Now we need more, more, and more! This is the period where creatives get overindulgent and lazy, and the cracks begin to show as a result. Originators tend to leave (or are forced out) during this stage, whether to move on to new mediums or to self-exile back to a smaller space. Normal folk begin to think it's not quite the same as it once was, and walk away with their financial support. The poseurs use this chance to push their way in and steer the ship: their ideas of fetishization ends up making the problem worse and chases even more normal people away. Fanatics plug their ears and go to their corners, whether ignorant to the problem or deliberately ignoring it no one can say. What was once unified has now fractured, and is crumbling. This is the beginning of the end.

Subversion happens because the poseurs have seized control due to everyone else leaving. This is the downhill slide. All that is left are two camps in the dying subculture: fanatics who still care about purity and poseurs who demand their vision take center stage. Normal people tune out at the first signs of subversion. Because boredom has set in and few care anymore, the poseur uses his chance to subvert under the guise that it will reach some mystical new audience that exists in their head. This audience share's the poseur's views on the dying subculture and will jump in once it caters to them. This will bring the medium back into focus and these poseurs will be looked at as revolutionaries! But it does not work, because the audience does not exist. The war between fanatics and poseurs rages on as irrelevancy becomes more and more of an accepted reality. Normal people are long gone by this point.

Death happens when the market is gone. Somewhere else a new medium has been made and the poseurs flee for it with more stars in their eyes. What was once a creative subculture full of optimism and bright ideas is now the camp of nostalgic normal people and former fanatics who now force themselves to accept its death. Perhaps there is a revival down the line, enough to please the nostalgics and some new normal people who weren't alive at the time, but it will not regain its same prominence again. All that remains are memories of the good times.

That is more or less the pattern of every rise and fall in subcultures, especially in the last century. We repeat this every time.

If one were to scan the five stages above they would come to a few conclusions, but the one I wish to focus on is a specific party in this mess. Aside from the originators, the only party to notice what is happening during the decline is the normal person. They depart just as things begin to turn sour, taking their support with them and shrinking the bloated subculture for the better. Far from being the one "causing" the problems, they are the first one to notice them while fanatics and poseurs are battling with each other.

This is a good test to use if your subculture is failing or not. Take note if normal people are involved in it. If not, you are either still in the incubation stage or are on the way out. The second someone who isn't an originator takes charge and begins making rules is a good sign that your decline in terminal and will be dead sooner than later. It's the way of the beast.

None of this is to say any of this is bad, but merely the way it works. Everything moves in cycles, not a linear line, and eventually collapse is inevitable.

Now for an example.

Video games have staved off this natural decline with gimmicks and flash for ages now, but with this generation of consoles it has become clear that the facade is wearing off and normal people are beginning to see the emperor's nakedness. Software sales this generation as a whole have been tremendously lower than previous, and many successes simply aren't good enough. Unless you are Nintendo, you aren't doing too well.

But that's getting too far ahead. How did it get to this point we're at? Surely normal people getting into games in this last few years caused this issue. After all, gamers have always been purely hardcore. Normal people need to get out and stop forcing publishers to casualize everything!

If you've paid attention to the cycle above then you know that can't be the case, and it isn't. This is what is known as coping.

Much like moe anime fans who watch the most casual shows imaginable while passing judgement on others for liking shows that got said medium popular overseas in the first place, these hardcore fanatical gamers have not been paying attention to what was going on outside their subculture. These normal people are why you have an industry to begin with.

The original gaming boom in the '70s that ended up crashing is like this process in hyper form. It didn't last long enough to hit the decline because of bad corporate decisions. However, we do have the arcade and home markets the later sprang up to consider.

As you can see from the photos in this post, normal people were all over the arcades at its peak in the late '80s to early '90s. I know, because I was there. When the most creative and successful games from Double Dragon and Final Fight, to Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, to Time Crisis and Dance Dance Revolution, were around, arcades thrived. By the end of the '90s, the crowds got smaller as the games were shifting to home consoles. Normal people left, and developers abandoned the subculture. At the end, the only ones who now go to arcades are those nostalgic for the experience. But the growth of the home market consumed it before the scene could get to the subversive stage. It's not enough to quite give us a full cycle.

Home consoles, however, has not had the sudden ends both the early boom and the arcades had. Instead, they used rapidly evolving technology and quick new console releases to keep the wheels rolling. They did this until it the shell game was revealed for what it was.

Consider the NES as the Creation stage above. At this time the market exploded and franchises such as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and countless others were made. It is impossible to note just how big Nintendo made the home scene at the time with cereals, TV shows, and eventually, movies, dedicated to video games. The Game Boy also revolutionized handheld gaming. The PC market was exploding at this time with companies such as id Software, Origin Systems, and Apogee, setting the stage for things to come. Normal people bought these things: I had a friend whose father owned games like DOOM, Quest for Glory, and the original Leisure Suit Larry. And he wasn't even a gamer. This era is when many things started.

The 16-bit era would have been the Saturation period. Consider how much things had expanded. The Super NES, the Sega Genesis, the Turbografx-16, and the Neo Geo, all changed the game and added much to build on the creative 8-bit generation, reaching a new saturation point and hitting a fever pitch. Everyone knew what video games were now. At this same time, LucasArts, id Software, Bethesda, 3D Realms (formerly Apogee), Blizzard, and Sierra, had all radically improved the PC world from where they were only a small few years before. Everyone in my class in grade school played video games during this time. Boys, girls, athletes, nerdier kids, it didn't matter. Every one of them knew who Super Mario was.

However, what happened next was more of a pivot. Instead of continuing in the 2D space (or 2.5D, as it has become known) games threw in a new perspective to keep things fresh. This would be 3D. Certain genres, such as the FPS, flourished in this new perspective, while genres such as RPGs used it to allow flashier cinematics and polygonal graphics, and platformers and adventure games used it to add a new dimension to their traversal challenges. Even though the games were as good as ever (even if they haven't dated well, graphically), the dirty secret is that the 32-bit generation didn't really change that much on a pure game design level. Even on PC, Deus Ex and Thief certainly benefited from these technological advances, but the core design was still very traditional--the new tech merely allowed them to do what they wanted. There isn't anything wrong with this, but 3D being touted as a game changer didn't really end up changing much in the bones of the design. Nonetheless, it was still in the Saturation stage. The tough guys in my class at the time, players and the like, all knew what Tony Hawk Pro Skater and Final Fantasy were. They also knew what a Dreamcast was, but that was a sign of things to come.

Then came the 128-bit generation: the last time bits really mattered, if even then. It was essentially a rehash of the 16-bit generation. The graphics were improved and the rough 3D was sanded down, but it the games were essentially more of the same yet prettier. This generation also benefited by the advent of DVDs and widespread online gaming to add some fuel to the fire and mask the fact that little changed. However, by the end of the generation, cracks were beginning to show. We had staved off a decline masterfully with the 3D turn. But that novelty was wearing off. At the same time, Sega departed the console business and entire founding genres such as the 2D platformer were being shelved, fulfilling the requirement to enter the decline stage. This wouldn't be fully felt until next gen, but it was a change. But it's what came next that really dealt the crippling blow to the industry and led us where we are.

The first HD generation began in 2005. Because HD was all the rage, every company besides Nintendo jumped on this bandwagon immediately--and immediately ended up killing dozens and dozens of studios who couldn't afford to make the sorts of games HD development required. The industry was irreparably harmed. Unless you could afford the insane costs like an Electronic Arts or an Activision, you were out of luck. And even then, if the game was a sleeper hit it still wouldn't be enough as it was before. This effectively locked out a majority of the developers and audience members with more unique tastes were left high and dry. This is a decline.

If it wasn't for the advent of digital download games, entire genres would have been destroyed. In fact, it has devalued them--you can read articles by game journalists chastising Nintendo for releasing a 2D platformer for full price on their Wii system, a game that eventually ended up being the highest selling game of that generation bought be normal people. Poseurs had already infiltrated the industry and began making demands opposite to what normal people wanted at the same time legacy companies were dying and being devoured by megacorps. Software was still selling, but unless you were AAA that wouldn't be enough to save you. By the end of the first HD generation in 2012, there was nothing left of the industry that had existed and built the landscape back in the '80s. It was merely an industry running on momentum. It was the decline phase in action.

The second HD generation is the prime example of the subversion stage. Software sales are down, and companies put on expensive commercials at E3 that no longer even show gameplay footage, and instead advertise politics as their selling point. No one is buying software anymore, they appear to be buying systems as Bluray players. At the same time these companies subsist on remakes of older games that subvert and change the products from their original intent. Censorship runs amok from unimaginative character design, to the same hackneyed orchestral soundtracks being trotted out for a decade+, and stale game design is creaking under its decade old weight. The 3D pivot is no longer enough. And PC games are no better, suffering from the same changes and corporate mandated creativity to appeal to audiences that don't exist. No one can deny this current generation is the worst since the original console crash, and yet these same companies are planning on rushing out new consoles this year (even during a pandemic!) to make you buy more of the same while touting it as revolutionary. We are in peak subversion.

Considering normal people are buying less games than they did a mere generation ago, and the games are still rehashing formulas over a decade old? I do not expect them to stick around in this industry much longer. The first part of Final Fantasy VII Remake sold surprisingly well, yes. But when the next part sells less next time, do you think it will be the fanatics who have stopped buying it, or the ones who didn't get what they came for? I think we know which one it will be.

We are in the subversion stage and inching towards death. Disaster is coming for the video game industry. We are 180 degrees from where we started, a clear sign of the end.

But that's just the way it works.

You can also look at the music industry. Normal people bailed on that before idiots like me got a clue. By the end of the '90s it was already a husk of what it once was.

You can blame an interference like Napster, but the fact is that music had already hit a rough patch by the time it came around. You could turn on the radio and be treated with Britney Spears, or you could discover an artist like Donnie Iris on a file-sharing service and get what you actually wanted. If you were one of those millions who liked rock music and were told to swallow bubblegum and shut up instead, you didn't really have much else in the way of options. The industry was selling you subversion. Nirvana's era was already the subversion era anyway. Napster was a mercy-killing that accelerated the decline.

While my aunt was downloading the entire Joe Jackson discography I was still buying the latest Green Day CD and wondering if I should get the special edition. Even though I was a fanatic, I was still supporting an industry that wasn't really giving me what I wanted. My aunt was far ahead of the game, while a fanatic like me was still feeding the beast that had long since lost its way. She left before I did.

The music industry did change, and the record labels aren't the ones controlling it anymore. There are whole scenes such as the retro/synthwave movement that thrive in this new environment. But that old era of high priced CD stores, Total Request Live, and screaming fanatic teenage girls, is long over. And that wasn't because of people like me, but because of those who weren't fanatics and didn't cling to products made by those who hated me. Normal people did it.

In summation, it is the normal people that tend to get a bum rap in creative circles, mostly due to not being there to defend themselves, because they have already left. But they are the more savvy among us when it comes to Noticing Things. Once a medium diverts from its core purpose, they are the first to walk away and find something better. As creative folk, we would do better to realize that we don't know everything. We are also blinded to certain things.

In the end, they are normal and it is their normality that allows them to spot the unnatural, even if subconsciously and deep down. If they notice anything it is probably a good sign something is amiss. Those submerged and consuming are not as aware of our surroundings, and we we do good to remember we have our own weaknesses.

As for the loss of a good subculture? Don't pay it too much mind. These things come in cycles, and it will come back round again in a different form.

It's something that happens. Things change. It's what comes next that is always the most interesting, and I expect the normal people to be there for it, too. They always are.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Signal Boost ~ Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You!

Find it Here!

Today I'd like to bring your attention to a new release. Just out today is author and cultural critic Brian Niemeier's non-fiction book entitled Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You, which is about as straightforward a thesis as one can get.

Mr. Niemeier is someone who I have been following for quite some time and his critique of the modern world is second to none. I can guarantee this book is one you will want to read, and at a dollar it is quite a bargain. If you enjoy the posts at this blog then this book is one you are going to like.

The synopsis is as such:

Everybody thinks Hollywood is political. Everybody’s wrong.

You know that the big movie studios, comic book companies, and video game publishers push an agenda. What you don’t know is that the corporations in control of your entertainment aren’t grifters or ideologues. They’re evangelists of a fanatical anti-religion. 
Movie producers don’t ruin beloved film franchises for profit. Comic book writers don’t warp iconic superheroes into self-parodies to sway voters. They hate their audiences with zealous fervor. They want you demoralized, they want your kids propagandized, and they want you to pay for the privilege. 
Nostalgia-fueled habit keeps many of these cultists’ victims coming back for more abuse. But you can escape the cycle. In this book you’ll see how the corrupt entertainment industry hooks its customers, and you’ll gain the tools to reclaim your dignity from the Pop Cult. 
Learn to stop paying people who hate you, take back your life, and have fun while you’re at it! Read on!

Find it here!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Escaping the Inescapable

Escapism is unavoidable. In every form of entertainment, and even in every form of non-fiction you consume. There is always a hole to fill.

Every bit of this modern obsession with consumption is the consumer looking to devour something that will make them just a bit more full on the inside. However, we are temporary creatures, which means no matter what we light up will sparkle and fade eventually. Nothing is permanent in our world, and one day everything will be scorched out with the sun. Nonetheless, we seek out a sort of permanence that will grip our souls forever. It is inescapable.

We're all trying to escape something and find a way out of where we are. It can't be denied, or ignored. Still, we consume, consume, and consume. Some of us even make said consumption their entire identity. They wear their lack of personality on their sleeve, smirking at the faces of those who look at them with deserved pity. It's a broken state of mind, but one that can only exist in modernity. We have thrown away any search for higher meaning.

Consumerism isn't the problem--it exists because we need to feel whole. We as human beings are always going to be seekers. However, it is the way we do it that has changed. Dopamine hits are the easiest way to achieve a feeling of completeness, and that is what we revel in. And who can blame them? It feels good.

At least, for a while.

Escapism is no different from consumption. They both exist for the same reason. We all need to get away from the drudgery of modern life. It's built into us.

The question then becomes: what are you escaping, and why are you escaping it?

I've only ever read one writer that philosophizes over this question, and it is one from an author that has been buried over time. That is a constant theme here at Wasteland & Sky, to be sure, and I doubt that will cease over time. Nonetheless, Walker Percy is the only writer that I'm aware of to ask these questions of the modern man. Why are we so lost in the cosmos? Why is the modern world so empty?  Why can't we be satisfied? His writings center entirely around those questions. Perhaps that is why he isn't well known today. Those are uncomfortable questions, and he offers very uncomfortable answers.

Walker Percy was born over 100 years ago in 1916. He went into training to be a physician as a young adult. During a bout of tuberculosis that almost killed him, he began reflecting on his life and the world around him. What was he to do in this crazing, unsatisfying existence? Mr. Percy refocused his efforts on becoming a writer, focused on existentialism, Southern humor, and Catholicism. This odd combination gave him a strange insight that reflects in all his writing from the prophetic novel of the collapse of modernism Love in the Ruins to the non-fiction masterclass Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. He died of prostate cancer in 1990, but his works still remain rather relevant, even if ignored by the mainstream.

His most accessible work, the one that really nailed down what he was aiming to do, was the above Lost in the Cosmos. Mind and Spirit sums up the book as such:

"From Percy’s view, our bookstores are mostly filled with two kinds of books—self-help books and diverting or entertaining books about scandal-ridden law firms or extraterrestrials or VAMPIRES or a bunch of sexually obsessive shades of grey. Diversions, of course, get your mind off yourself, relieve your stress, help out in alleviating your fears, your anxieties, your boredom. According to Blaise Pascal, most of our lives are diversions, escapes from what we really know, evidence of our misery without God. According to Percy, most of our lives these days are diversions that become progressively more disappointing. The pursuit of happiness has become the pursuit of diversion in the midst of prosperity. And one problem among many about living in our highly self-conscious time is that diversions we know are merely diversions are boring or only very weak and evaporating antidotes to despair. That’s why Percy knew people visiting museums are mostly ineffectively fending off despondency. That’s also why highly educated bourgeois Americans today try so hard and fail so miserably in being bohemians too."

Certainly that could have been written at any time over the past century. That's how it was back than when he wrote it and how it still is. We all know we read fiction to escape. That's inarguable. Reality is only one shade of existence, our imagination filling in the gaps to something higher and more exciting. It's a piece of a bigger picture we can't even begin to see.

However, no one can deny that the one problem of art in the 20th century is one of endless escalation. We need more! more! more! Keep it coming, and don't worry about the tab. In this secular age, what we have is never good enough.

For instance, adventure fiction from the early 20th century started in the vein of Burroughs: big, bold, exciting, with elements of the fantastical and scientific, and romance to glue it together. However, this wasn't enough to certain folks.

Adventure soon became split off into different camps by those worshiping different aspects of the genre, tearing parts away from the foundation, and leaving what was once a clear-headed and obvious genre into a mishmash of pornography, gore, and emptiness. Subversion is now considered stock and normal, and the normal is considered subversive. We have designated lanes for subgenres to stay in designed by people who can't sell books and who actively hate their roots. We have effectively gone 180 degrees from where we started in a mere century.

It wasn't enough. We needed more! Now, we have less.

This happened not because of escapism, but because of a disorder in the mind and soul. It's never enough, and it's never going to be enough.

We are fractured here in the West because of the me-first idea of taking what we want and jettisoning the rest. We have no more shared meaning and direction to go in, so instead we turn inward to look at our Gollum-like selves and pretend our emptiness is the fault of the world and not our own decisions or being. We had a perfectly decent playground, until those without any meaning in their lives decided to refashion it out of their obsessions without asking anybody.

But Mr. Percy wasn't just talking about fiction when he spoke of this sickness. He was also, and mainly taking aim at, the non-fiction we consume. Non-fiction is also a form of escapism, but for a different reason. He asks the questions as to why that is.

Mainly, why do self-help books exist, at all?

"Percy adds that the self-help books are diversions too. They claim to use the latest studies to tell us who we are and what we’re supposed to do. They tell us that we need, say, seven habits to be highly effective, to be productive, to satisfy our basically material needs. We are, like the other animals, organisms in environments, and we can be happy if we’re think for ourselves, listen to the experts, stay safe or avoid all the risk factors, are rich, and have effective interpersonal dynamics. But lots of us, Percy observes, faithfully follow the self-help advice and end up feeling more disoriented or displaced or more empty than ever. All the self-help experts can add is to stay busy (but with stress-relieving periods of recreation) and positive so eventually things will turn around for you.
"So the self-help books work well for a while but eventually fail, as all diversions do. They claim to but do not really tell us who we are and what we’re supposed to do. They can’t extinguish the experiences of self-consciousness or the self or soul by denying that what’s distinctively human about each of us really exists. They can’t take out what the existentialists, such as the philosopher Heidegger, truthfully describe. We’re not organisms in an environment, and so we can’t really lose ourselves—our personal identities—in some environment, in some COSMOS in which each of us is merely a part. We can’t lose BEING LOST. That’s why the master psychologist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn heard just beneath the surface of all our happy-talk pragmatism the howl of existentialism."

This is very heady stuff, but it goes a long way into describing the human condition of the modern man. As every ancient religion teaches, this world isn't quite it, chief. Our longing for more than we are is a natural thing, and one that our ancestors understood perfectly well. We will never be totally satisfied here, and that's okay. This is why they didn't need to subsist off of prescription pills and New Age idiocy just to get through the day.

We feel lost, because we are lost. Escapism is natural, because we are build to want escape where we are. Humanity's entire predicament in existence is in choosing to be somewhere we don't belong, and living with the consequences of that choice. We aren't like the other animals on Earth, we can't find aliens to share our plight with, and our neighbors are just as lost as we are. It's a tornado of confused existence, swirling forever, with only seconds of clarity when we reach the center. And nobody is there to help make sense of it.

But is any of this actually a bad thing? Is it something we need to stress ourselves over, and rage about, in our urban castles away from the greater world? Should we find a way to bend reality away from what it is to make everyone happy? Maybe if we vote for the Good Guy Party they can refashion reality and fix everything for us. This is, after all, not reality, if I don't want it to be. That s the modern man, in a nutshell.

That is wrong, though.

Mr. Percy's advice, is to accept being lost. It is key to what being human is. That odd alienation you feel deep in your soul is natural. You can live with it, and learn its purpose.

As he says:

"For Percy, the resulting ANXIETY—the experience of being an inexplicable or absurd leftover in the world the EXPERTS describe—ought to be a prelude to WONDER about how strange the human self or soul is."

That's right, the answer is in accepting Wonder. Wonder is the one thing we've been running away from the entire previous century, and it is now the reason everything is crashing down around us. We're scared of it.

Once you accept that everything around you is bizarre and off-kilter because that is what you are, things can be put in its proper place. The correct answer to anxiety, is to seek wonder. Wonder is the window of the soul into better things.

The penny dreadfuls were successful because they offered a strange glimpse into a world that reflected a higher reality than what we see around us. Weird is normal, because reality is weird. Fairy tales, the pulps, and early comic books, did this, too. The art audiences flock to is the one that shows them something beyond their personal anxieties.

Whereas high literature is more blatant about the wonder they espouse (Such as how The Idiot shows the difference between man and the divine by using the setting of the time), low art is meant to be more visceral about it. There you can touch, see, taste, hear, sense, and feel, the divine in front of you. Art connects the artist with the customer to bring them both to this higher place. This is what art serves the patron best as: a reminder.

A reminder, however, isn't an answer. It is just a piece of a bigger puzzle. It points to the same thing that your anxiety with reality does.

That anxiety, that confusion in your soul, is what might lead you to True Happiness. The art itself isn't what is going to do that, but it will remind you of the things you are missing. It can help you along the way, but it is you who need to figure it out for yourself.

This is why mindless consumerism misses the point. You can collect all the bobblepops and funkplates you want, but you're only doing that to fill a hole inside that will never be filled. Art can't do that for you, and neither can trinkets painted with the faded colors of said art. You are attempting to light a tunnel with flashlight batteries. You will never see the whole picture without the flashlight. But art can help you, for a moment.

The solution, as always, is to put things where they belong. Art and escapism are not end goals, they are parts of a map to help on the journey. For them to return to their former glory they must be put back to where they were.

Mr. Percy was right. The Cosmos as per Sagan, isn't real wonder. Especially not as how he described it. We can't look at a pile of broken rocks floating in the void of space and call that wonder. It's simply a cope. Wonder is beyond you, me, and the natural world. It is something we will always strive to see. It will outlive the death of modernity.

Unfortunately, Walker Percy isn't well known today for anything other than discovering John Kennedy Toole, the writer of A Confederacy of Dunces. This is a shame, because his thoughtful analysis of the anxiety of existence is one that the world can use right now. He understood our spiritual disorder long before the atomized age of social justice thuggery and nihilistic hermitage. Perhaps that is why he has been passed aside. There is, after all, an entire cottage industry of experts trying to sell you the secret to being happy and being successful.

Unlike them, however, he was right. There is no man that has the secret to happiness, because we all suffer from the same ailment.

"And, in our irrational pride and our love, we don’t really want to surrender our personal identities. We want to be able to manage our self-consciousness the way we can techno-control everything else. But our experts don’t really know what engineered mood or judicious mixture of moods would really make us happy or at home. It turns out that our moods—the moods we’ve been given by nature—are indispensable clues to the truth about who we are and what we’re supposed to do. That’s why Percy says, against the cheomotherapists, that he has a right to his anxiety. It’s his right to liberty that might lead to real truth and real happiness."

Wonder is all art can aspire to. It cannot give meaning to that which you already know deep inside. It is a tool to reach it. Wonder is not the stars, it is the telescopic that allows you to see them. You are meant for much more than this, and artists exist to remind you of that.

You can't escape reality, but you can accept that there is more than what you see before you. That is all escapism can do for you.

And maybe that's enough.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Easter Flash Sale!

I realize it hasn't been the best for everyone over the past month, and there is little I can do to relieve that burden, but I can do one little thing for those of you looking to pinch those pennies. I can offer you books for cheap!

This Easter weekend, three of my books will be on sale for a discount. Starting from today ,Saturday, until midnight on Tuesday, you can buy Knights of the End, Grey Cat Blues, and Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures for various prices.

Knights of the End is $0.99
Grey Cat Blues is $1.99
Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures is $2.99

Get them while they're hot! This deal closes on Tuesday, midnight.

Of course you can also get the Corona-Chan anthology for free if you are in the mood for even more stories! I have a story in this one, too.

Have a great Easter, and I will see you next week!

Thursday, April 9, 2020


Despite not being much of a horror guy when growing up, I've been trying to turn that around n recent years. In becoming a pulp writer one should learn the ins and outs of all the sub-genres that float around action and adventure, after all. Horror is always relevant.

However, it didn't quite give most of us a window in when I was growing up. The days of Weird Tales were long gone and forgotten by then.

When I was a kid in the early '90s, Splatterpunk was the horror of choice. There wasn't much else at the time as horror was on the way out. If you wanted to get into it your options were limited.

Sure I enjoyed some things for my age-set such as Goosebumps or Are You Afraid of the Dark?, but an early watch of Alien had almost convinced me the genre wasn't for me. I didn't quite get the point. It didn't also help that horror was more or less being written out of the old publishing world by the mid-90s when Goosebumps really hit its peak popularity. Getting into horror wasn't straightforward. Like most things in life, I had to find a way into it myself.

Starting with reading Paperbacks From Hell, I've been trying to get into some of the horror I missed before Splatterpunk, and then Thrillers, completely usurped the genre. There is no shortage of fascinating books in Paperbacks From Hell's pages. One of the books that gained my interest was Nightblood by T. Chris Martindale, a vampire book from 1990. I wrote a bit about this in my previous horror post, but I hadn't yet read the book when writing about it. But now I have.

The reason I read this was because it was described as 'Salem's Lot with more Uzis, and was just recently put back into print thanks to Valancourt Books. They have been re-releasing books mentioned in Paperbacks From Hell under that banner, keeping the old cover-art and leaving everything else untouched. So I decided to go for it. Since we're all about the Pulp Revolution over here at Wasteland & Sky, I'm going to try and see how it fits in with what we know about modern horror, as well as what it was like when this was written.

Things were very different in 1990 than they are 30 years later.

To start with, the description of "'Salem's Lot with Uzis" tells only half the story. For one, the book is about half the length of Stephen King's famous vampire novel, has protagonists that aren't dull as dishwater, it doesn't take forever to get going, and there is a clear divide between good and evil. There is only one blemish that is inherited by a stupid trope King injected into vampire mythos, but I do not believe Martindale put it there for any reason other than everyone else did it at the time. I'll go into that later. For now, let us discuss what it does right. Because there is a quite a bit.

What is important to say is that this is a horror book. It has chills, it's eerie, and disturbing things happen. If you are expecting this book to not have those things then you probably don't want to be reading horror. What is important is execution, and Nightblood sticks the landing with aplomb.

It's split into three parts. The first deals with the introduction of the characters and the build up to the vampires. This part establishes the atmosphere of Isherwood, which is a typical small Midwestern town from the 1980s. Our hero, a Vietnam vet named Chris Stiles shows up in town looking for a clue to his brother's death. He slowly meets the residents and scours the town. At the same time, two boys end up staying overnight in a haunted mansion on a dare and end up meeting a real life vampire! They have no idea what insanity is about to be unleashed on Isherwood.

The second part focuses on the vampires taking over the town, much like in 'Salem's Lot, though in this one the main character fights back and Martindale does linger forever on those saps being turned. He gets straight into it without wasting time. This is when things go from seven to ten. Stakes are laid on the table and everything falls apart.

In the last part, Stiles and the survivors reach the morning and decide what to do to survive the next night. He comes up with a plan, and the night ends up being way more eventful than anything Stephen King thought up in his famous novel. And unlike that book, there is an actual satisfying ending here instead of the literary equivalent of a wet fart.

Where King's books was very 1970s: horribly depressing, no hope, and a lot of meandering ultimately leading to nothing, Martindale's book is very 1980s.

Perhaps I should explain.

For one the kids are typical of Gen Y, pop culture savvy and ignorant of spiritual concerns. The adults are Boomers oblivious to deeper issues yet well-meaning types. The Gen X teens are cynical yet not completely without merit. The elderly Greatest Generation are a bit creaky yet still very knowledgeable. The people are exactly how you would remember life in 1990.

Then there's the setting. The music is hair metal, there are reruns of old sitcoms on the TV, comic books and horror magazines hidden from Mom, and hanging out after dark to sneak around. It's like stepping back in time to a whole other era--one that no longer exists.

And it is clear that Martindale actually likes this world and the people in it. They all have hopes, dreams, likes, and dislikes, and they all have clear reasons for doing what they want to do. The good people are good, and the bad people are bad. The main character, Stiles, is a Vietnam vet who uses his experiences to help others instead of playing the "crazed loner" part that First Blood made so popular. Even the villain, a soulless master vampire, feels like a complete character. Every time they show up on page you want to know what it is they are going to do next.

There are no potshots over politics, religion, or a "certain type" the author clearly dislikes, in Nightblood. Isherwood is portrayed as a normal small Midwest town populated with normal people, and Martindale's views of normal people is refreshingly anti-modern. Some are decent, some are not, but they aren't one-note. These are people you want to see get through this unbridled mayhem.

It also doesn't hurt that the book basicallt becomes a 1980s action movie in its back half. And I mean that in all the best ways. Explosions, traps, gunplay . . . even some martial arts. And it doesn't weaken the horror. It actually makes the horrors worse when you need to be Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando to even stand half a chance. And just barely, at that.

The action is brisk, hard-hitting, and very pulp. It gets straight to the point. There s very clear morality here: vampires are bad, evil. They only live to devour and nothing else. Some people break under pressure, other step up, some die, some live, but the book never feels nasty or spiteful about it. That's just what would happen in such a situation. Then there s romance in the book between our main character and a widowed mom. It works well in unexpected ways. In Nightblood, neighbors, love, and home, are all worth fighting for.

This is very anti-Stephen King, in all the best ways. Morality is necessary, and is treated as if it matters.

Now, when I speak about morality, I bring it up because morality is the most important part of a good horror story. The dichotomy between what is good and what is evil drives it. This contrast is what makes the evil all the more jarring when it shows up. In his book, the two are so opposed that they are exact polar opposites which makes their interaction all the better for readers. The back and forth between hero and villain is one of the best parts of the book.

The villain also fulfills the horror mandate of someone breaking the rules and unleashing chaos on the innocent. It is his decisions the spur on the ensuing madness our protagonist must deal with in the events of Nightblood. The only way to put everything right again is to stop him. The stakes are clear, as is the general morality of the story. Humans worth saving, vampires worth shooting. It's very straightforward.

However, despite all this there is one thing about the book I didn't like, though it is more of a general issue of the era it was written in. It was a silly trope everyone who wrote a vampire story at the time used. If you've seen Fright Night (also mentioned in the book) or read 'Salem's Lot then you might know what this is getting at.

The usual things work against vampires in Nightblood. There is no Anne Rice subversion that just won't seem to go away after decades of tired use. Stakes, silver (you'll see), fire, and sunlight. They all harm and can even kill them. They can also not enter houses unless invited in. hey are very traditional, for the most part.

However, this book lets one rule slip in that King introduced in his book which is just as nonsensical here as it is in any other work. I live for the day this hoary idea is put to pasture.

The "Crucifix only works if you have faith" trope is in this book. It barely features, and I'm sure it was only put in because it was all the rage at the time, but it doesn't change the fact that it makes no sense. It is a misunderstanding of the monster itself. "Faith" has nothing to do with why a Crucifix repels vampires.

The reason the Crucifix.frightens vampires is because Jesus Christ is the Living God who has conquered Death. He is the Blood of Life. He represents the complete opposite of what vampires are, just as Bram Stoker intended, and that is why they cannot stand the sight of what they are not. It is a reminder that they are a mockery of what they wish to be.

It is the same reason they cannot enter any Church: the Church is God's house, it is not the clergy's. They cannot invite vampires in, even if they have weak faith. It isn't up to them. God will never let demons into His House, and can't be tricked like we can. Ironically, this second one is something King got right while everyone up to Joss Whedon keep messing up on even years later.

Nothing in that explanation has anything to do with "Faith", it's about reality. The vampires cannot face the reality of what they are.

This trope is just something tacked to modern stories on because writers wanted to be multicultural and "inclusive", and King wanted to make a statement on the waning faith of the modern world. Those are cute ideas, but that's not as meaningful as the original strength of the Crucifix. If belief is enough to repel vampires then the bullets Stiles believes in should kill every vampire he shoots with it because he believes in his bullets. But they don't. Because this notion doesn't make any sense on a metaphysical level.

However, I don't think it was done this way in Nightblood as any sort of slight. There is no hatred of Christianity or Christians in this book. There is quite a bit of talk about the importance of faith and a purpose in life. One character even quotes scripture before using a Crucifix to burn a vampire's hands off in an important moment. It's just a relic of the sign of the times when one rule was completely misunderstood by the wider culture.

All this aside, I should say that I loved reading this book. It was fast-paced, exciting, and the horrors were harsh. It's everything you hope for from a modern vampire story. This was the sort of book that would have gotten me into horror had I read it back in 1990.

And, I'll just say it: this is better than 'Salem's Lot. On a pacing level alone it is more enjoyable, and that is without going into the characters, the action, or the ending. It trumps King's book in every way and is a far more enjoyable read overall.

If you want a good horror read from a time when that meant more than mindless carnage then you'll enjoy Nightblood. There is plenty of action and violence, but no glorification of evil in its pages. It's a thrill ride and a time capsule of a whole other era.

Now if only Valancourt could get the rest of Mr. Martindale's books back in print. I definitely want to read more of what he wrote. It is only a shame he stopped so soon, but that is just how it goes when dealing with Oldpub and their fascination with ending support of writers at the drop of a hat. Their loss is our gain, I suppose.

Nonetheless, this is a modern horror classic and is highly recommended. Seek it out.

You will most definitely not regret it.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Signal Boost ~ StoryHack Issue Six!

Find it Here!

As if there wasn't enough good fiction released recently, StoryHack once again unleashed a new issue of its action adventure tales upon the world!

I am not in this one (I was in issue #5!) but there are some great writers in this issue. This is what you are in for with issue #6:

The latest issue of StoryHack brings you supernatural horror, futuristic detectives, pirates and more! Each issue is jam-packed with short stories calculated to excite. This issue includes: 
Rakes and the Pirates of Malabar by Mike Adamson 
1837: Trouble draws a man like a magnet draws steel, and Rakes, veteran of the East India Company, can’t stay out of the fight. Compelled to serve a rogue princess who has taken command of the pirates of India’s western sea, he finds himself in a desperate mission to penetrate the stronghold of a cruel Raja and steal back the symbol of a conquered people. 
The Boss's Tale by Jon Mollison 
The proprietor of a mafia-controlled speakeasy has to find a way out of the business, without getting killed. 
The Girl Who Sang in the Country of Morning by Cynthia Ward 
When drought forces a young woman to take up hunting, she runs afoul of bandits. Taken captive, Felissa only has one option, though the forbidden magic may damn her soul. 
Due a Hanging by David Skinner 
She was probably on the yacht in the Martian Canal. And he wasn't the only one looking for her. 
Our Friend In The Cellar by Matt Spencer 
Supernatural sleuth Frederick Hawthorne infiltrates the home of a corrupt Victorian gentleman, while investigating the disappearances of several children. Once inside the house, Frederick discovers an infernal family secret., and must use brawn, ruthless cunning, and a few magic tricks of his own if he is to survive the night. 
The Life Price by John D. Payne 
They got away clean, or so they thought. But when three adventurers try to sell off their prize, things start to go wrong. Dead wrong. What price will they pay for an innocent life taken? 
Southwest Monsoon by Luke Foster 
National Park Ranger Abby Baxter leads a rescue party into the Grand Canyon to find a kidnapped child during the worst southwest monsoon in memory. 
Waterways by Lindsey Duncan 
Kel has no interest in rebellion or anything except trying to get along, but when her priestess mother forces her under the sacred pool, the Reflected gifts surface within her. Will she cling to her stubborn ways, even if it means execution? Or will she throw in with the rebels, and possibly be killed in battle?

That is quite the bang for the buck. StoryHack is the best currently running magazine of action and adventure, and this issue is no different. 8 more stories of thrilling adventure? What more could you want? It doesn't get much better than this.

With material like this, StoryHack has a bright future ahead.

Check it out today!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Importance of Pockets

Not mine. I don't own this book.

Aesthetics are important and you should judge books by their covers. That is a simple truth.

I realize this goes against conventional wisdom, but physical formats exist because customers want to hold and own objects. As much triumphalism as independent artists muster about their glorious digital future there is a reason their audience still ask for physical editions of everything they make. They always will. It is as inevitable as taxes and death. A part of us need the physical touch as well as the emotional surge of holding a product.

It is the full package that counts. Tangibility is underrated: you have all five senses for a reason!

Now, I'm not much of a collector. I don't go out of my way for special editions, or limited run boxsets, or those quirky boxes that include weird things like key-chains or statues and the like. That's too excessive for my like.

But I do have a physical copy of most every video game, movie, and TV show I have ever purchased, when available. It isn't the extra trinkets or shiny packaging I care about; I care about being able to hold it in my hands. It's about touch.

For instance, I own every issue of Cirsova and StoryHack (even the ones I'm not in) and even with my own work I try to make the physical edition look as good as possible. It's important to me that readers would want to pick up and read what I've written. If they wish to add my works to their own library? Well, few things are more flattering as that.

The only things I don't own physically are those that don't offer the option or overcharge on a physical version. I don't suspect it'll change anytime soon. I'd sooner stop buying if it meant I had no option to hold it.

Not my picture, but I wish I was there!

As for the reason I care? That is a bit harder to go into aside from saying that touch is probably the most neglected of the five (or is it six?) senses when it comes to art and entertainment.

Food needs to be tasted, music needs to be heard, visual mediums need to be looked at, smell has a whole set of uses in real life, but touch and tactile feeling are not quite as well focused upon.  Especially not in the arts. There are not very many arts that require touching to experience. Usually the audience is meant to sit back and enjoy what the artists has already touched. There isn't much in the way of physical participation to be had--it is about absorbing.

This means I am a big proponent of physical copies of art. It isn't about being a Luddite, but about offering just that little bit extra, that one sensation, to give the customer more than they might otherwise hope for. And since I'm a writer that means I am on the side of physical editions of every book that's ever been written.

If you have ever been in a used book store then you know what it's like to dig. The feel of the pages between your fingers as you flip to see that page quality, the familiar smell of paper, the yellow coloring to show just how long this copy has been passed around . . . there is a whole host of interesting experiences when holding a book in your hands. It is not the same as looking at lines on a screen. In fact, I would say searching through used video games, movies, and music, is much the same experience. It is part of the appeal. You feel as if you are part of a bigger whole, and not as disconnected as simply downloading copies of files.

However, when it comes to books I am a bit of a fanatic of one style in particular. I am speaking of the mass market paperback format, also known as the pocket paperback.

It took the newest kickstarter by Cirsova for me to realize I never properly spoke about it here, so let me correct that with this post. The best format for carrying fiction is the mass market (or "pocket") paperback both for ease and for aesthetic. I realize that sounds odd to enjoy such a "cheap" format so much that others look down on, so allow me to expand on why it is the superior format over clunky hardcovers and awkward trade paperbacks.

Cirsova has me pinned just right. Just as Paperbacks From Hell lamented the loss of these quirky covers and contents since replaced by boring thrillers, so to did the adventure story suffer from the loss of this format. This is what I wish to go into.

Check out Cirsova's kickstarter for Jim Breyfogle's Mongoose and Meerkat sword & sorcery stories for yourself, but I wanted to highlight one part of the campaign page. No, it isn't just because I was mentioned, but because I want to use this to spring off of.

Yes, I was the first backer of the pocket paperback edition.

This allows us to quite easily go over each format in the publishing world.

Digital is self-explanatory. It's a digital file that works with digital readers such as Amazon's Kindle. There is a large audience for digital. It's not my preferred format, but every author needs to offer it regardless. You want to reach as many readers as possible, after all. But there isn't anything to it other than choosing between epub, mobi, and/or pdf files. It depends on what the customer prefers. But there is no way to stand out with digital files. They all blur together.

Trade paperback is standard for places like amazon. It goes between 5 x 8 and 6 x 9, needing quite a bit of shelf space. It's also my least favorite format.

They are over-sized and not easy to carry. This is why I tend to go with 5 x 8 with my books on amazon. It is the smallest size possible without losing expanded distribution options. Being over-sized also means they aren't very portable, and without a hardback cover they flop around in your grip. To me, this is the worst of both worlds, but I will put up with it if it is my only option to publish a book. I'm not convinced amazon only offers this format in order to give physical readers the finger. They're not comics--you don't need that much space in a physical edition. Words don't need that much breathing room and empty real estate on the page.

Hardcovers are self-explanatory, being that they have always been the most recognizable form for books. Their over-sized nature matters less because the cover is sturdy and allows for an easy grip. Hardbacks also feel good to the touch and allows a bit of sturdy weight. They almost always look great, too. For me, this is the second best format, and the most useful for collections or longer works. It's also the best for non-fiction as it allows the reader to sit back and concentrate without having to awkwardly manage the over-sized pages. Were it not for the next format, this would be the best. Though it still is the best if you want a format that will last the longest outside of digital. These bad boys can weather any storm.

Now we come to my favorite format, the one J.R.R. Tolkien hated the most. It is the pocket paperback format. Tolkien declared pocket paperbacks stodgy, low class, and trashy, not worthy of holding the stories printed to them. It is a shabby form is a sign of publishers too cheap to offer readers more. They are a shabby format that degrade stories. They get beaten down, bent, and warped, which make them disrespectful to the art of storytelling.

In other words, the form doesn't do literature justice.

However, just because I disagree with his assessment does not mean I misunderstand why he wouldn't like them. The fact that they are so easy to hold, read, and store, makes them my preferred book format. What he sees as negatives are positives, to me.

From Black Gate. Not mine!

Pocket paperbacks are so good because they give stories to anyone to read anywhere at anytime. You can carry them on a break in the office. You can take them out while painting a house. You can pass it around to your pals during recess. You can put them anywhere, and they can be found anywhere just as easily. Pocket paperbacks are like having a whole universe of imagination with you that you can dive into at any time. Anyone can have them and they can fit in anything. They are the most universal form of book.

They were sold everywhere from drug stores to racks in magazine shops. They could get beaten, weather-worn, and bent, but they would take much to break. They were the ultimate form for books, and in many ways, still are. They could be again.

Spinner racks of pocket paperbacks were everywhere, even in stores that didn't specialize in books. This allowed them to be everywhere they wouldn't otherwise be. Comic books used to do this, too. This is what allowed these industries a reach they have since abandoned for a smaller number of fanatics who would sell a kidney in order to get glossier paper from their beloved megacorps instead. In other words, the common Joe was abandoned for fandom.

Unfortunately for them, pocket paperbacks is the key to reaching the largest possible audience. This was part of the secret to the form's success. Pocket paperbacks were meant for normal people who needed a quick and dirty read in the middle of their daily grind. Anyone could find them, anyone could carry them, and anyone could read them.

That said, they work better for shorter works. This is why pulp writing was so important to the success of the book industry, even after the magazines disappeared. Pocket paperbacks are essentially the modern pulps.

Part of the reason they have fallen so far out of favor (and why fewer read these days) is because pulp-length works were abandoned by Oldpub. Once again, this loss was an unequivocal disaster for big publishing, limiting customer options. Mass market paperbacks still exist, but barely, and they are never sold outside dying chain bookstores anymore. They might as well be trades. It was just one change among many that was yet another self-inflicted wound from Oldpub. Abandoning the masses is never a smart idea.

But that is what happened.

And it's a shame. No more imaginative painted covers, no more exciting title fonts and book descriptions, and no more ease of availability. Pocket paperbacks were built on all these things. They are the closest thing to mass appeal since the pulps, and losing them meant losing mass appeal. Nothing can replace them.

Now all that is left are the bland trade formats, tepid book descriptions, and nonsense post-modern covers on the shelves of dying bookstores. They have been neutered and abandoned by those who were supposed to take care of them.

Don't see these too much anymore.

Pocket paperbacks epitomize what reading is all about. Reading offers imagination to take you to a whole new world of excitement and wonder. That only sands to reason that the best way to offer that to readers is by giving them a format where they can do that in anyway they please and as often as they want. You don't need anything but a pocket and a hand to flip through it. This is why the pocket paperback is the best format.

We have pockets to carry the little things. Change, pens, phones, keys, wallets, and the little things we keep on hand for when we need them. These books allow us to add whole universes and worlds to that list. This is how the Game Boy became as big as it did, and it is why phones are so popular. Having a useful source of escapism on hand is invaluable. Pockets were made to carry, and these books were made for pockets.

Reading exists to employ the imagination and to take readers on journeys to whole other worlds. There is a reason the form has survived beyond the death of radio and television, and will last long after we are gone. It's how simple it is to use. There is no barrier to entry aside from your own imagination. That is how it should be.

There is a simplicity and straightforwardness to books that other entertainment mediums don't have. You don't need a console or PC like video games. You don't need a music player. You don't need a radio. You don't need a TV. You don't need a monitor. You don't need actors or a stage. It's just you and the book you hold in your hands. That's it. Making them so that they can be put into as many hands and into as many places as possible? That is how it should be.

As I said, aesthetics are important. They are the selling point of all books. The cover needs to attract eyes, the description needs to connect with potential readers, and the form needs to be as accessible as possible so anyone can pick it up. The content is a whole other story, but it won't matter if you cannot get eyes on said book to begin with. In this age of the new where standing out is harder than ever it is a non-negotiable. Aiming for the right audience is more important than it's ever been, which makes aesthetic invaluable.

You were sold on pulp being bad for you, mass market books being shabby junk, and imagination as a distant second in importance to social engineering. This isn't what makes kids want to read; it's what chases teenagers away from ever reading again.

You were taught an anti-pulp, anti-reader thought process that is currently killing the companies that were once the big dogs in this field. Eventually their backwards approach will have them put down. Turning an industry into a boutique solely for high-rollers at the expense of the common Joe is always a bad idea. It never ends well for anyone, and we can see it happening right now. The anti-pulp attitude is what is killing entire industries today.

That isn't for normal people, though. The spinner rack might have been abolished for dusty bookshelves in shuttering megacorps book chains, but the spirit is still alive.

That pulp spirit of wonder and imagination is still here. It is everything reading is meant to be. No form represents this spark better than the pocket paperback format, and that is why it is the best form for fiction. That is why it should be looked upon better than it currently is.

One day it will return to its rightful place as king. That day will be glorious, and will be more than due.

Now, if you can convince amazon into offering the pocket paperback format for writers, I will be forever indebted to you.

My pockets deserve more books to carry.