Saturday, May 30, 2020

Signal Boost ~ Yakov Merkin's "Galaxy Ascendant" Kickstarter!

The series

Are you interested in good old fashion Space Opera? Well, then I've got just the thing for you!

Friend of the blog and fellow fiend of the Pulp Revolution Yakov Merkin is currently winding down on the kickstarter for the final book in his Galaxy Ascendant series. This seventh entry is entitled A Worthy Sacrifice and there is little more than a week left on the campaign. Give it a look.

You can find the description of the campaign below:

The Galaxy Ascendant Series 

Blasts To Its Epic Conclusion

Do you miss the days of great, epic, action-packed space opera? Do you want great stories, characters, and a truly fun, expansive universe? Then come on over to the Galaxy Ascendant! We have everything you could possibly need here, from complex, heroic characters (all of whom are aliens), to epic, sweeping action, a great, expansive story, and even some good old fashioned romance! Help support the best new space opera franchise out there, and join us out here in the Galaxy Ascendant!

If this is your first time with the series, don't worry. Yakov has even included bundles covering the rest of the books in the series as one of the backing options. This way you can collect the whole series all at once and not miss out on a thing.

Be sure to check it out! We can all use more space opera in our lives.

Back it here!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

One Endless Death

"I wished I could have seen her face. It would have interested me to be able to read her expression. As far as I was concerned, Lucille Grimes was already dead. It was just a question of when, and how. In a way it was too bad. This was a really talented bitch."

Hard-boiled noir is an interesting subgenre. It's mostly remembered in the mainstream, if at all, for cheesy parodies that family sitcoms and cartoon used to do back in the 1990s. What it is remembered for is as a genre about hapless detectives in black and white 1930s settings having to find a killer among a cast of twelve or so shifty character archetypes. Plenty of fun is poked, but they hardly take the genre seriously.

The books on the other hand, suffer from the opposite image problem. Usually seen as debauched and politically incorrect, this filth doesn't offer much aside from mindless violence, casual sex, and hokey one dimensional villains. In other words, they are disposable, and you should be reading modern thrillers instead where all the unsavory bits are trimmed out!

Despite neither really being the case as to what the genre is that is what it is remembered for being. However, the hard-boiled style is capable of much more than a modern thriller is, or at least has shown itself to be, and the parodies are just that.

Take The Name of the Game is Death by mysterious author Dan J. Marlowe, for example. Written and released in 1962, this novel is sort of a bridge between the culture shift of the '50s and '60s, with the main character representing the more unsavory elements of the previous decade coming into full flower in the next. This is the story of a bankrobber's death, though not in the way you would expect it.

The nameless main character is introduced to us through a partially successful bank-robbery at the beginning of the story. One of his compatriots is killed during the escape, and he is wounded. The third man gets away with the money and is told to lay low until the heat dies down. While this chaos is occurring, our protagonist visits a doctor to have him patched up, then when he is bandaged, unceremoniously kills the man who helps him--this is all very important as to what happens later on. We are introduced to the bankrobber as what he is: a scumbag criminal. I don't mean anti-hero, either, he is just a bad person who does bad and selfish things.

But the third man goes radio silent after the job, and questions begin to form. What happened to him?

The bankrobber then takes the fake identity of "Chet Arnold" and investigates the matter. The snooping takes him to an small town where a pair of the shadier members of the community might have the answers "Chet" is looking for. Now he must go undercover as a normal businessman to learn the truth.

His quest isn't so simple. What follows is a story of life, death, and the border between, ending in the fires of Hell making their mark. By the end of the story we become invested in "Chet" and his journey, and Marlowe does this without having to excuse his bad behavior or use his past as crutch. We simply want to see what decisions this man will make, and if they will be the right ones. This is because he shows signs of being something more than hardened thug.

Normally, a main character doing something despicable in the opening chapter of your book is a great way to turn readers off. How can you get behind someone like that and root for their success when they do horrible things? Some readers even consider "Chet" to be an anti-hero, a bad guy we love and get behind because he attacks people worse than he is. The truth is that how bad he is isn't the point of the book--the title flat out tells you what the book is about. It's not about heroism, villainy, or grey areas-- it is about death and what causes and leads up to it. The bigger point and theme of the story is one of decay. Corpses rot, but living men can repent.

This balance is what makes The Name of the Game is Death a fascinating and intriguing read. Who is "Chet" really, and can he be something more?

On the way towards finding his ally, "Chet" reveals his past to us in a secondary narrative the explains his past in a way that ramps up with the main plot. Marlowe knows how to balance this two expertly and it leaves you with just enough questions that you don't feel like you know it all.

Normally it is frowned upon for authors to go into flashbacks because it takes away from the main plot, but our protagonist's past ends up tying into both his motivations and the warped way he twisted himself to be who he is now. It adds tremendously to the story, themes, and character's actions, despite it being a dead past that he puts no stock on. This is a smart aspect to add during the investigatory early bits of the book as it reminds you that "Chet" is no saint, but is on the road to being one of the damned. What will he find at the end of his journey?

These past sections are also an interesting window into the time period period of childhood, which would have been the '40s or '50s, showing a strange complacency adults of the time period had. Everyone wants to pretend nothing is wrong and just go along to get along, even at the cost of justice. It reveals a strange time where everyone just wanted to pretend the world was fine, and anything that got in the way of this false peace was the real enemy. We just want things to be normal, which means they just are. One can see how something like the hippie movement would have got its start here, but for "Chet" it just means that people are obstacles to go through.

"On the way home my father said tiredly that he hoped I'd realize some day it was necessary to live with people. He said a lot of other things. I felt sorry for him. He just couldn't stand up to a situation."

You see, the shrinks diagnosed "Chet" as being amoral, not caring about anything but himself and his goals. For a criminal like him, it is't too far off the mark. The beginning of the book paints this picture quite well. However, as we go deeper into the story we see that this isn't quite who he is, and the hints to that spark lie in his near-forgotten childhood.

As a boy he was given a kitten he named Fatima. This small cat was his pride and joy, very smart and friendly, and even learned to perform tricks. The two got along famously until he brought her to a pet show, and a fat kid used his dog to attack and kill her. Nothing really came of it--that's life, just move on, or so the adults try to say. "Chet" didn't get mad at the dog, since attacking cats is what they do, but instead he ended up chasing down and tormenting the fat kid for at least a year by relentlessly beating the tar out of him.

It's at this point we get a hint that what's wrong with "Chet" isn't that he's amoral, but that he has a sense of justice that he doesn't know how to use or temper. The fact that it was his kitten that was killed isn't what set him off: it was the fat kid's reaction to what he did that pushed him into his assaults.

It goes further than that. He was offered a replacement kitten, but refused to take it. His father warned him to drop it, but he refused to turn away. Everyone around him became scared of his tenacity, but he refused to quit. After this you might think he just hated this fat kid with an unnatural fire. However, that isn't the case.

Names are very important in this story, as "Chet" does not even remember the fat kid's name anymore. It wasn't a personal grudge, he didn't even hate him. This was just something he had to do. It's not explicitly stated, but part of the reason for this, as revealed later, is that his problem is more than he never second guesses himself or wonders if he made a bad call--he has a sense something must be done, and he does it. This is why he is nameless, since he lost his identity long ago by cutting off his roots for being weak and useless.

"Chet" actually didn't have a bad childhood, at all. He highlights a handful of events that were out of the ordinary to explain why he is on the path he is on, but he is deliberately painting only part of the picture. You can tell by the fringes that he was an otherwise normal kid. He lived in family that was almost all women aside from his henpecked father who refused to ever fix any problems and would rather keep his head covered. "Chet" then has a realization that his father is "weak" and leaves town, never to return. He develops a distrust in others, thinking he has to do everything himself. But a man isn't an island, and he ends up decaying to be the person we see at the start of the story.

Despite any injustice he might have faced, he never sought help, never bothered with relationships, and never tried to understand people. This is why people would rightly assume he is amoral, that is, until we get deeper into the story. He chose to be this way, which means he can chose to go in the other direction.

But will he?

"Chet" is on the road to Hell, and he knows it. He lost countless criminal partners over the years and he knows it's only a matter of time before Justice catches up to him. This is why his stay in this small town while looking for his missing partner is a revelation to him as a character. It reveal a whole new side of him.

While undercover, "Chet" begins to click into the small town. He makes friends, courts a lady, rescues a dog he names Kaiser, and gets into a repertoire with the townsfolk. For a long time we are never sure if this is just an act, as he is a really good actor, but the narration reveals all as it goes on. By the conclusion of the story he does suffer from regret and ends up making a good decision that an amoral man would never take. He still has to pay for all the evil he has done, but redemption is possible. The only question left at the end is whether he will use his chance, or throw it away.

That is the point of the book. We can choose life or we can choose death, either way it is up to us. You'll have no one else to blame when the reaper comes knocking on your door.

The Name of the Game is Death ends up being a hard-boiled journey of the difference between the dead and the living. The townspeople are good, and they help "Chet" out of the muck to reveal him as someone who could be much more than he is. He could be alive like they are. He could get a job, settle down, and finally have some peace.

But his broken worldview, his greed, and the shackles of the past threaten to continually drag him to his death. He has an advantage over his enemies due to his buried and rusted conscience, but it is still up to him to make the call at the end of the day. Will he finally become "Chet Arnold", or will he shed what remains of his humanity and become a forgotten husk, rotting in the shadows? The name of the game is death, but will he win?

That is up to him.

“I’ll be leaving one of these days, and the day I do they’ll never forget it.”

This book is regularly considered a classic in crime fiction circles, and is by far Dan J. Marlowe's most popular work. It was so popular he ended up writing sequels which eventually spun out into being a series of spy yarns. Around half of his books star this character, which goes to show how popular it was. However, despite this, Marlowe never made a splash in the mainstream. His books were never adapted for film or television, and he remains obscure outside of his genre. In fact, if it wasn't for my fellow pulp fans I never would have found and read it myself.

One read of this book and one would have to question his lack of popularity. It reminds me a lot of Brighton Rock by Graham Greene, only with a character on the border between life and death instead of on the losing side of good and evil. That isn't light praise--Marlowe was that good. This is what it is a crime that this book isn't as known as it should be.

However, part of the reason for his obscurity might have been because he suffered a stroke in the late '70s which left him with amnesia and the inability to write. The 26 detective and adventure books he wrote over his fruitful period as a writer had all more or less gone forgotten, despite the high praise they received. He tried to reclaim his writing, and did put out an adventure book, but he never returned to his former heights. Though I suppose the 1980s were the decade that men's adventure and hard-boiled detective genres had begun to give away as it was.

Nonetheless, it doesn't excuse readers now. Dan J. Marlowe was one heck of a writer, and The Name of the Game is Death is a fantastic book. It goes without saying that this one comes highly recommended and should be in any pulp reader's library. If you haven't read it, you need to get on it right now.

The most common way to find it today is in a bundle with the sequel book One Endless Hour, though they are both pulp length stories so the package is still smaller than a typical modern thriller. Either way, do give it a go and take the chance. You won't be disappointed.

“You don’t deserve it, but I’ll give you a choice,” I said. “I was going to leave you out here, with the heat and the mosquitoes and the bugs and the snakes and the alligators. You’ll never make it in. I doubt if I could myself.” His whole face was wet as he stared at me. “You won’t go easy if you stay, so I’ll give you the choice. Stay, or take one dead center from this.” I waved the little handgun … “Which is it going to be?" His eyes darted wildly in all directions. Take the bullet," I said. "You’ll go out of your mind out here in twelve hours.” His chest was heaving as he tried to pump air through his constricted throat. “Take the bullet.”

Thursday, May 21, 2020

New Toys in the Ancient Attic

I've never seen this movie.

Just about everyone alive today has played with toys when they were kids. Saturday morning cartoons, video games, and comic books, were a staple of many youths, but it was toys that gave a more tangible form to the entertainment they enjoyed when young. While some decried the commercialism of all this back in the 1980s, they understood why and how kids appreciated toys. They used these trinkets to stretch their imagination to its limits--a concept all too alien today.

However, there is a darker side to all this, and we're currently living in it. What happens when we misuse toys for the opposite of their intended purpose?

About a week ago I took a gander into the background of a major player behind a recent reboot of a classic children's property created decades ago. I'm not going to single them out for the sole reason that their identity is irrelevant to the larger point. It's also a wider problem that goes beyond just them. This mentality they have is not-uncommon from those in higher corporate positions these days.

Suffice to say, the person behind this reboot doesn't have much of a track record behind them, yet were put in charge of a reboot behind a fairly large property decades old. Why they were given the keys to the kingdom is difficult to explain as anything other than obvious nepotism. Once getting in charge they then proceeded to do just about everything wrong, proving they aren't right for the job.

So what did they do? They insulted the original and fans of said original, as well as even making swipes at the staff of the source material. They were more interested in doing what they wanted at the expense of any wider audience. Outside the Tumblr demographic, which is so irrelevant that only out of touch hipsters pay it any mind, the reception to this reboot series was anemic. It came and went, and will be forgotten shorty. Another reason why there is no point mentioning the name.

This is how it goes with 2010's pop culture. It vanishes as soon as it comes out.

However, I did find an interview with said person in charge, and one of the parts in the interview struck me as particularly odd. They spoke of their childhood, and it explained so much about why this reboot was as bad as it was.

This entire digression clashed with my experiences and what I've heard from others in creative industries from decades ago. The interview showed someone that does not understand the creative process much. It's a sign of someone who is stuck in the past, under the delusion that they are forward-looking and progressive. What I saw was a person who had no concept of storytelling because they had never grown up.

Paraphrased heavily as to shield identity:

"When I was a child, I never watched [the series]. I took the toys my parents gave me and made up my own stories not tied to any canon. I did what I wanted. These were my stories. I played with toys from every franchise, whether I watched them or not, and mashed them together to do whatever I felt like. I made them do whatever I wanted. So when I got put in charge of [the series], I used the chance to make my own childhood stories canon."

Again, this isn't close to a direct quote, but one close to the intent revealed in the interview. This is what this individual believes because this is how they grew up. They grew up in a different world than the current one we live in. It's the experience of one who grew up as Gen Y, when many members of the generation were showered with more material possessions than love. Now they are making the entertainment you consume. It goes a long way to show why things are the way they are today.

The people in charge of these industries are still playing with their toys. Even as adults they haven't changed a bit. Why would they? They've never been given any incentive to learn differently.

Every person that played with toys stops when they get older. This is normal: toys are a way for kids to use their imagination via concrete and tangible objects and allow them to create inventive scenarios with said toys. When you get older your imagination develops to the point that you can move past that into imagining wholly originally scenarios and ideas on your own. You don't need them anymore. That's what growing up is about: putting away toys. At least, that's how it works for normal people. Those in charge of mainstream art now still think the world works like their childhood toy-box, and have never moved beyond it. They believe creativity, just like life, is their toy-box. It s all about whatever they want at the expense of anyone else.

Think about it: when you were a child did you care what the neighbor kid thought about your toy-box and what games you played? No, you just did what you wanted because it was your room and your stuff. It isn't about them--this is your world. No one has any say other than the kid. Those in charge of entertainment now think of you as that irrelevant neighbor kid. This is their toy-box, and you have no right to play with it. You were not given permission.

Perhaps it's because these Gen Y creators grew up with the greatest toys ever made and were told they could do whatever they wanted that this disconnect in the generation exists, but there's no way to be certain. What is certain is that modern creators have an inherent selfishness to them that is backwards to the idea of artistic expression. It's not about your great toy collection and what you can do with them in the privacy of your own room--it's what you can do to express ideas and connect to an audience outside of yourself.

Let us try an example.

If I grew up with He-Man, for instance, and I was tasked with creating a new He-Man series, I would do several different things.

The first is that I would watch the original show and take note of the characters, plots, and general themes therein. The second is that I would look at audience reaction both from the time period (what is available) and from those who are watching it today. The third is that I would explore the series' inspirations and similar style stories in order to craft the new series in the spirit of the old with a brand new twist. All three of these things are important in order to create a product in line with the original's intent while also creating something new. It is about connecting with the past with the present in order to move to the future.

This should all be obvious: it was for decades. Until it wasn't anymore.

What I wouldn't do if given charge of a legacy franchise was remember my childhood toy-box and the games I thought of as a five year old and then craft a series around that--especially if my games had no relation to the reality of the franchise. That is the exact wrong way to create art because it is aimed inward.

There are a few reasons for that, one being that I would have (hopefully) grown a lot from being a child, and the second being that everyone's toy-box was different. No one in Gen Y played with toys the same, and few had the same collection. There were so many, and they were the best ever made, after all. This lack of shared experience certainly contributes to how this fractured mentality has caused such a fissure in popular culture and in the wider western landscape.

The truth is that there is no more shared culture. The alienation of every post-Boomer generation has led to a splintering that will never truly heal. Everyone is off in their own little world and are more interested in forcing others to accept their vision instead of trying to find one they can all share together. Without outside connections you are just posing to a mirror.

A transformers collection found on youtube

There is a specific mentality from a segment of Gen Y that believes life is a toy-box. All one need to do is play pretend and problems will go away just as they did when they were kids. You can see this outside your door without even looking too hard.

Someone has offended you? Call the toy's employer and get them fired and in financial straits. Who cares if it hurts them or their family? They're now out of the way and you can go back to your game again.

Someone doesn't believe in something you do? They must be evil like bad guys X in your toy-box. There is obviously no other solution, they must be just like those dastardly X villains. Slander, lie, harm, libel, and kick and scream, until their reputation is destroyed and you don't have to see their faces anymore. Now they can either believe the correct things, or they can starve. It doesn't matter which: they are villains and deserve whatever happens to them.

Life is a toy-box: play around to get the results that you want. You are the good guy, after all. You must be--you decided you were. And everything is all relative, after all. Toys don't get a vote; they get to obey.

Most people knew what toys were for back when they were kids. They got He-Man figures and they played out He-Man stories. They got Power Rangers figures and they played out Power Rangers stories. This is fairly straightforward, but that is what they were made for, and that is the way the majority of kids played with them.

Others used the toys to make up their own games. Some created new characters and worlds based on these trinkets, some mashed everything together to make the dream crossover they always wanted to see. These types of kids usually turned out to be creative types and would go on to make their own stories whether it be fanfic or graduating into becoming full-on creators themselves. Nevertheless, these toys helped them become the adults they would grow up to be. They fulfilled their purpose.

Apparently there is a third type, one I hadn't thought of much before, of kids who watched Scooby Doo, thought Velma was attractive, then created dating scenarios in their head. They used their toys to create shipping fantasies instead of adventure stories.

From the quote above: our mystery creator used their toys to play out the world they saw in their head--not the one presented on the television screen. This wasn't out of the ordinary for the time period they for children in. They were told they could be and do anything they wanted, so they saw what they wanted and used their toys to play out games that couldn't exist in reality. Their delusions were fed into instead of smashed. They grew up in this isolated world uncoupled from reality and thought this is the way it is supposed to work. Then they become surprised when others not only don't agree with them, but find their interests ludicrous. Hence, the conflict in the wider culture.

Unlike the earlier examples where kids used toys to grow, this mentality is one of pure narcissism brought on by neglectful parenting. Kids played with toys to either play out adventures based on what they saw on television or read in comics and the like, or they created their own rules while still keeping the characters in-character, or they created wholly original characters based on these toys. There are different ways kids use their imagination. None of these examples are out of the ordinary. The art connected with them, and they reacted to it. This is what entertainment is meant to do, and the product did this.

What it was not meant to do was feed into the delusions of a narcissist who rejects reality and wishes to rearrange it in their favor. This is how you get swaths of people who disrespect the idea of canon, call who who disagree with their harebrained theories playground names, and as a general rule hate anyone who is more knowledgeable in their field. Nothing outside of themselves matters. It can't. They are the ones in charge, because they say so. Mummy and Daddy and their familial connections got them this new toy-box to play with, just as they did when they were rugrats. It's not yours! Who do you think you are?

They're still a child living alone in their room with that expensive toy-box. Reality is whatever you make of it, and their reality owns yours. They decided so. Instead of making anything new, they can simply alter what already exists to be whatever they want. That's how it has always worked.

Is it no wonder what these people cannot create? They have never learned how to do anything outside themselves. They've never moved beyond smacking their Scooby Doo and Transformers toys together and saying: "They're married now!"

These children have never developed a sense of imagination, because they have never developed a sense of reality. And now they've been given new toys to play with: society itself. The results have been as disastrous as they should be.

That goes a long way to explain the sort of garbage we're seeing today, and why it doesn't appear to change for the better no matter how many failures those in charge suffer from it. Their reality says they were successful--it has to!--and if you disagree you must be an enemy. Now we have a bunch of silly and needless conflict where there never was before, all because unimaginative people were put in creative positions where they don't belong.

I'm uncertain where this generational trait came from aside from maybe a group who was given more material possessions than emotional or spiritual attention and simply are acting out because of it. The world didn't turn out the way they wanted, so they just ignore the world and go back to their toy-box.

That is all they have, after all.

Toy-boxes are made for storage, not for display

When I was a kid, my grandparent's generation used to be laughed at for being misers when it came to things like toys. They didn't quite see a value in these things. They said kids didn't need so many and would be better suited focusing on obtaining friends, joining sports teams, and playing outside instead. Staying inside alone will spoil them. It was a common refrain of that generation. Their worries were waved away as being behind the times from the more progressive adults.

While that generation was wrong when it came to the toys themselves, nothing is stopping a child from sharing toys with siblings and friends after all, they were right when it came to the bigger point. The objects themselves aren't the goal, just part of the journey. Their are those who never moved beyond their toy-box and wouldn't know how to if they wanted.

Childhood is not magical, it is just another stage in life. It is a time where kids learn what family, friends, community, and effort, is for. It is also a time where a sense of imagination, ethics, and religious sensibility, is formed. What you learn here determines the type of person you will eventually turn out to be. It is about learning and growing.

But we have a whole generation denied most of this, for whatever reason. They have now come of age as broken, incomplete people, and were handed entire industries by parents that did not hand them down anything that actually counted instead. They were never told how to grow up, so they never did. This is why these grown children are destroying entire industries and are completely incapable of understanding it is their fault. This reality is their toy-box, and the good guys always win in their games. Now they are dragging century old industries down with them because Mummy and Daddy are still incapable of telling them anything to the contrary, convinced that things will just work out as long as they "believe in themselves" just like the television shows of their youth told them it would. But it won't.

The larger issue is that they can't grow beyond themselves because don't even know what a community is. They are trapped inside themselves.

While much has been said about latchkey kids as far as Gen X was concerned, little has been said about the other sort of neglect foisted on some in Gen Y. Instead of being given anything solid to hold onto, they were handed toys and television, were left alone in their rooms, and were told everything would work out as long as they wanted it to. Go to college and get a degree--it doesn't matter what--and everything will work out. Not once were they told to work in their own communities and form connections there. Just the opposite: they were told to move out and "see the world" instead. Never once was the importance of family or community emphasized.

This dangerous combination of materialism and alienation is why we have the warped nostalgia-obsession these types possess. This is all they have, and if they lose it there is nothing left. Instead of being left out to freeze in the cold like their older Gen X brothers, or sent to brainwashing factories like their Millennial younger brothers, they were smothered in She-Ra pillows with the television left on in the background. The only thing they have left are these possessions and memories.

Why else do they use corporate brand IPs and hobbies as a replacement for real community? You see it in advertising everywhere today: the lifestyle brand. This is aimed at Gen Y. It works because they've never seen a real community, and have no idea what one actually consists of.

They've never gone out to play with the neighbor kid in the woods behind the house. They've never taken their bikes down to the corner store to see what their allowance could get them. They've never gone to the church social and learned how to dance. They've never had a big family Christmas where aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins, come to visit under one roof. They've never considered knocking on their elderly neighbor's door and seeing if they need help carrying their groceries in. It has never crossed their mind to do any of this.

All of this is what happens in a real community. It has nothing to do with shared hobbies or investment in corporate IP. It has nothing to do with feeling comfortable or welcome. It has to do with living your life with other people. A product cannot form a community, because that's not what it's for and that's not what a community is.

When I was younger we used to call them "subcultures", a smaller part of a bigger whole, but we never called them communities. Because they aren't communities. Shared interests, goals, and likes, have nothing to do with who you live next to. Hobbies are only a part of life--they aren't the entire thing.

Life is dealing with people who aren't like you, who don't think like you, who don't like you, and who don't look like you. You learn to deal with it. Being part of a community means accepting everyone has quirks or temperaments different from yourself. You live, and you learn. Sometimes you might argue, or even get in fights, but you work them out and come to an understanding. Maybe you might eve become friends over it. It isn't easy, but that's just the way it is. Part of growing up is accepting this as a reality.

But life isn't a toy-box. You don't get to mold your reality the way you do when you force your toys to act. You can't warp reality to the canon you have in your head instead of what is already there. It is what it is, whether you accept it or not. Unfortunately, those in high positions now have never learned this and steadfastly refuse to.

They were told that "All interpretations are valid", "You are good as long as you are not bad", and that "History is on your side", when none of that is true and is completely nonsensical when thought about on any deeper level. But that is what they know. They grew up with televised slogans as their philosophy, and they warped these words however they wanted because they were told that is how it works. Someone who cannot accept that the world does not work this way cannot create good art to reach audiences. They can only create fun-house mirrors to reflect their own personalities back at themselves and if anyone finds it distasteful that is their problem! They are still playing with their toy-boxes to this day.

Unfortunately, these are the people in charge of everything you grew up with now, and it isn't likely to change any time soon.

However, that is merely the decaying industry of Hollywood, OldPub, and the like. Those in high positions before them had already begun to forget the things that made them what they are. Entertainment in the '00s has already aged incredibly badly, after all. The current generation has merely completed the transformation.

This is why, more than ever, we need to choose a different way. It's been said that you shouldn't give money to people who hate you, but that isn't just for your benefit. As you can tell from the above, rewarding these people only sends them deeper into their own toy-box and further from reality. It gives them an excuse to continue ignoring reality. Alternatives, paths towards better futures, are needed for both artists and costumers to reconnect with each other again. This current climate is not the way it should be.

Thankfully there are many such opportunities out there for everyone right now. Much has changed over the last decade, and most of what we thought would run for decades to come turned out to have no gas left in the tank. Everything that was obvious and normal even ten years ago has been forgotten and turned on its head. Times have entirely changed.

However, more people know this than you might think. And that is where it's going to start. Once we diagnose the problem we can fix it.

Put those toys back in the attic, and move on. The old days are gone, but that doesn't mean the good times are. There is plenty of road still ahead.

You'll never see it coming if you don't look away from the rear-view mirror.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Signal Boost ~ IndieGen.XYZ

Much has been said about how corporations control the arts, choking out new voices who wish to actually create something new outside of the dying dinosaur system, but few things have been done about it.

Most of us writers are just too busy writing to do much about it. It's the same for artists, game developers, and the like. While it would be nice to kick these companies while they're down and steal their lunch, the fact of the matter is that we don't have the visibility the big dogs have. Even if they're dying and fewer than ever are engaging with them, the OldPub-style industries still command attention the rest of us can't manage without their backing and support system. At least, we couldn't.

Enter IndieGen.XYZ, an attempt to do just that for those in the NewPub arenas. From author and artist Paula Richey comes this new virtual convention.

The description:

IndieGen.XYZ is a virtual indie entertainment/pop culture con that makes it easy to find reliable, professional independent creators of books, comics, games, and videos with high production values. These small businesses and indie creators have had a perennial problem – invisibility. 
I hope that by creating this site, I can help small businesses and our creative community be more visible and resilient as well as connect you with the very best in fresh new stories. Let’s make this happen! #IndieGenXYZ 
Just go to the Browse Booths page and try out the search functions – more booths will be added every Friday for the foreseeable future.

She has put up an Indiegogo to help with funding and an application for those who wish to join. Check it all out for yourself. It is quite the ambitious project.

For those wondering when creators would begin to create their own platforms, here is an example. Be sure to check out the site and look around a bit. This is an ambitious project, and one that has needed to be done for awhile now.

Things are changing, and fast. And it's about time.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Bright Lights, Dark City

Anime sucks.

That is said a lot these days, and much of the reason it is said is because of what otaku tend to post online that those adjacent to the scene see. Most passersby believe anime is little more than cute girls in suggestive poses, pathetic and decisive male main characters, and feshistic plots where nothing of substance happens throughout entire seasons. In other words, they see the moe and slice of life material since that is what otaku post the most and believe this is all anime is. It's hard to blame them, this image is overwhelming.

Of course, I'm not going to pretend this element doesn't exist. There is an industry in Japan that wants their fanatics to buy tons of merchandise, and what better way to sell it then by exploiting their loneliness. It's a fairly obvious thing to cash in on. So yes, this is a real problem that exists and I can understand why those unfamiliar with animation might think this is what the industry is. Hardcore fans are always going to get taken advantage of, even if it's with the most banal material possible. If the fanatics are going to buy it I can't blame the companies for making it.

The nature of being a fanatic in most things has changed from what it had once been. A long time ago being a hardcore fan meant someone who got into the deeper and more complex parts of a hobby or scene. It meant someone who cared enough to be choosy about what they were into. Now it means people who will consume anything their corporation of choice will put out without complaint. This is, again, a full 180 from the way things once were.

However, this does not represent the history of the anime industry, nor does it represent what actually sells in the medium today. Being hardcore and being a fanatic are no longer the same thing. In fact, being hardcore these days is closer to being casual than being a fanatic, at least in the anime sphere.

From Japan's Tsukuru May and June issue, these are the top ten series that sold the most copies between March 2019 and April 2020. This is based on the sales of only one volume.

1. One Piece [3.2 million]
2. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba [1.5 million]
3. Attack on Titan [1.43 million]
4. Kingdom [920,000]
5. Silver Spoon [750,000]
6. Detective Conan [710,000]
7. My Hero Academia [660,000]
8. One Punch Man [660,000]
9. The Promised Neverland [600,000]
10. Haikyu!! [600,000]

This is what casual anime fans read, as opposed to fanatics.

Every single one of the stories spans from action to historical epic to sports and to mystery. There is nothing here focused on loser main characters ogling girls that are too timid to talk to. Such series do exist, but they are not the highest sellers.

It should be reminded that the manga industry in Japan is bigger than the anime industry and most of its material is adapted from said manga. This is a fair representation as to what Japan actually likes as a whole. From this sample, casuals apparently like to read quite a bit of different things.

If you want to tell me how Dragon Maid is actually a hardcore series because only otaku buy it, and that Kingdom is casual because normies buy it, you're going to have to do a better job defining what a casual is. Because that term used to refer to when things were the other way around. At what point did hardcore fans start swimming in casual stuff? Well, it's a more recent turn. It was not like this at all during anime's creative peak.

So what was it like back then?

Well, let me take you all through a little trip into the past when OVAs were made for hardcore fans of the day. There you will see an entirely world than the one the medium is in now. It's a whole different era.

For those unaware, "OVA" refers to the term "Original Video Animation" (sometimes "OAV" or "Original Animated Video") and consists of the practice of production companies releasing full animated products straight into the home video market, surpassing television and cinema entirely. It was delivered directly to the buyer instead.

These might be extra episodes commissioned by the manga publisher or possibly be funded by outside players (who were lured into the production game by promises of a big cash-in), but either way these were only really bought by the most hardcore of customers. You had to go out of your way to buy them, and hardcores did. The practice still continues to this day but mainly consist solely of extra anime episodes bundled into manga volumes. It's not the same as it once was, and just about everyone gets them now since manga sells more than anime.

During the 1980s, Japan's burgeoning economic bubble allowed a lot of money to be funneled into this upcoming practice. There were a ton of OVAs. However, those in the scene back then were fairly ambitious with what they were given. Material of a far more hardcore bent (without the standards of television holding them back) allowed producers to tell stories they simply couldn't in the mainstream. What this led to was quite a boom in creativity unlike anything they had see before.

You had things such as Megazone 23, Bubblegum Crisis, Mad Bull 34, Kyou Kara Ore Wa!,  Appleseed, Babel II, Dominion Tank Police, Angel Cop, and many different series and one-offs of varying degrees of quality. Different genres, different lengths, different designs . . . you never knew what you would get with a new OVA. However, they were all much different than what could be found on television at the time and took far more risks as a result. Just looking back on it now it is hard to see it as anything other than a perfect storm of crazy circumstances.

One such OVA was the small three episode series known as Cyber City Oedo 808. It was put out between 1990 and 1991. This project was directed by one of the most unsung and richly talented anime directors Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, X/1999 TV, and many others) who has influenced much both in the east and the west. This series came and went, but it did manage to leave an impression on those who saw it.

In the future, high tech criminals are given a sentence of working high-risk cases for the police with an explosive collar around their neck. The more jobs they do, the lighter their sentence gets until eventually they can be let go. However, first they need to survive the job. And anyway, what's 8 years off a 300+ year sentence? It's a pretty bleak world, or so it seems.

In this world where crime runs amok and evil has its way, is there any hope? Evil has won, hasn't it? Believe it or not, in this grim cyberpunk world there are flashes of light to show that fighting for life and freedom actually does have worth beyond the material. Not to mention that our hardened criminal protagonists might not be the black hats forced to work against their will we might have first thought at the start. Sure they are forced against their will to do jobs and would much rather escape, but their reasons for choosing the crime that put them where they are become more obvious as each episode rolls on. There is a bit more under the surface to Cyber City Oedo 808 than you might first think.

As said before there are only three episodes of Cyber City Oedo 808, and each of the three stars a different one of the main character trio. This team consists of Sengoku, the front line muscle, Gogol, the hacker, and Benten, the espionage master. Seemingly just ruthless criminals, the more we spend time with them the more we learn that appearances can be deceiving, just as can a metal monolith of a cyber city can look gorgeous . . . until you see what lies underneath. The three mains all have different reasons for ending up in their predicament, and each episode explores what happens when they enter a situation far over their heads that point to underlying issues with the world they live in.

You see, while this series starts off with the, admittedly cool, premise of criminals forced to battle worse in a cyberpunk dystopia, it is actually a noir-inspired Gothic horror series in disguise. Each story starts as what appears to be normal tech crimes and slowly unfurl to be deeper problems that go to the root of why the cyber city is the way it is. This isn't referring to hidden histories or the like, but in how the sorts of people who built this world would have to be to let it reach the shambling state it is in. That's when the supernatural peeks in to reveal the root causes go deeper than just the pursuit of money or fame.

This is where spoilers come in, so if you are interested in seeing the series first before reading further I highly recommend doing that. I can't talk more about the themes without spoiling it, and I can't hold off further.

You were warned.

The first episode centers around Sengoku having to infiltrate an obscenely tall skyscraper that has been taken over by a master criminal hacker. Being the first episode we also get a glimpse of the world and the premise.

We are introduced to Sengoku as a rough guy who will do anything to complete the job (without getting extra years on his sentence, of course) who appears to be little more than a low class thug with a badge. He enters the tower and climbs his way up where we begin to learn that this skilled criminal actually does have limits both physically and otherwise. At the same time it is revealed that the hacker isn't even a human being--it is a ghost seeking revenge that has invaded the computer system and is wreaking havoc in order to strike back at his killer. At the same time the girl Sengoku likes, and who likes him, is trapped in the building and is perilously close to horrible end. The stakes are high on this mission.

In the end, Sengoku defeats the ghost by doing the opposite of what its calculations predicts he will do. The character using his strongest trait as force for good instead of evil. He sends the ghost to hell . . . but not before it gets revenge on the one who wronged him. Either way, the hacking is prevented and the spirit departs. The day is saved, but just barely.

We then learn that Sengoku didn't get time taken off his sentence because he refused to kill the man the ghost wanted dead, which would have satiated the spirit and ended the mission early. It is a conflict between the boss looking at the bigger picture and Sengoku who will only do what's needed. The episode then ends showing Sengoku sneaking around ledges in the city readying to extract vigilante justice on corrupt figures. By this point we get where Sengoku comes from and why he makes such a good criminal cop, even if a reluctant one. How did someone like this end up a prisoner? Now we know.

The second episode concerns hacker Gogol, who ends up saving a beautiful woman who is being chased. She has some incriminating info on a project that is as shady as it is grotesque. At the same time a seemingly super-powered murderer is taking out targets all over town. Through his research we learn Gogol was a sort of renegade hacker working against the corrupt who was caught and given the option of doing this job or dying. Guess what he chose. There seems to be a bit of a theme with our main characters.

The woman has a history with him, being one of his partners from long ago. She was paid money to betray him but refuses, then ends up dying trying to save him. The monster responsible is revealed to be a psychic experiment done with dead men and cybernetic parts who act on orders from a shady sector of the government. They use the dead to cover up their sins like a cleaner in the mob.

Our three heroes infiltrate, as does their boss who reveals himself to be more than the monster we thought in the first episode, but one who expects a lot out of those who work under him. It is no wonder he was put in charge of these special criminal cops. We see how he differs from those who would bend the rules to create their own justice, and puts trust in his men to finish the job.

Gogol uses his head to defeat the psychic corpse and the entire order is decimated. Things are put right again. The city is saved from itself once again. Though Gogol can't quite shake his past, he can use it to remind himself of the sort of thing he's fighting for. It isn't just his life he wants to save, but those who were used and thrown away for progress.

In the last episode, Benten, the David Bowie-esque crossdresser who is obsessed with beauty, finds himself up against what appears to be vampires. He is the quietest member of the group and we don't learn much about him until this episode. A woman is draining targets who appear to all be related to an old and forgotten experiment. It just seems to be typical revenge, at least at first. He follows the trail deep into the heart of the city, and even into a space elevator.

In turns out that the vampire is a woman who had an aging disease and was experimented on in order to find the key to eternal life. She had spent most of her life locked away because she couldn't live among normal people. Benten ends up getting closer to her as the plot progresses, ending with a showdown in a Gothic space castle against the master vampire who wishes to use her curse to gain eternal life. What is true immortality? The final confrontation will finally spell it out for us, and bring the series to a close.

This episode serves as the conclusion in that it does the most to show the viewer who each of the three main characters actually are under the facade of criminal scum. Sengoku actually does have friends and people he cares about and has a deep sense of justice, Gogol believes in love and redemption as the highest good, and Benten will do anything to save the innocent, the beautiful--even at the cost of his own life. Ironically, being forced to face death as they have these sides of them have become their dominant natures. They are far beyond the sorts of scum they are chasing down: they are bona fide lawmen. The ending doesn't conclude each of their individual stories--we are left to assume they will continue to fight crime until freedom or death, and that whatever they ultimately get they will have earned. It is a surprisingly hopeful take in a genre not known for it.

What you have here is a Cyberpunk Gothic Horror Noir series that certainly influenced much after it from Cowboy Bebop to The Big O. This is a hardcore anime from the medium's peak era, and it shows it at every given opportunity. The animation is on a whole other level from television animation. Kawajiri's direction is full of hard shadows, dynamic lighting, heavy fog, and hardcore action, with not a dull moment to be seen during any of these three episode. This is one of the best series of the OVA era, and it is a shame it is not currently available anywhere legally.

This sort of series is the reason so many are into anime, and why it became popular worldwide. You don't get material like this much, if ever, in western television of cinema. Especially not these days. This was a whole other era of animation.

The potential in the medium allows for visual storytelling of the like that make old noir movies and 1980s horror and action practical effects extravaganzas blush. No one can make a series like this in prose or live action without the visual cues, music stings, or the direction remaining so distinctly Japanese OVA or Kawajiri. It shows a potential in the medium you simply don't get with series about girls sitting around doing nothing, and is an example of what hardcore once was. Now this is closer to what is considered casual today.

Funny how times change.

So no, anime does not suck, despite the meme. There is anime that is terrible, but there is much potential in the medium and there have been many works that have taken advantage of it over the years. I know it is difficult to see when fanatics appear to be obsessed with the most casual series while normies are not, but it is the case. Cyber City Oedo 808 is anime at its best, and shows just what this medium is capable of. And it's not alone.

With the way the industry has been trying to turn itself around in recent years, there is a chance it can get back to the freewheeling days of the OVA again, when anything could happen. It isn't that anime sucks, it is that those in charge don't have as much ambition as they once did. But that will change, and is in fact already changing. The series on the list above show that normal people are far more ready for a series like this than hardcores are. It's bizarre, but those are the times we live in.

The present is odd, but it's not hopeless. In fact, the future is on the way, and it's not quite as bleak as you might think.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Goodbye OldPub & Welcome to NewPub

It's been quite the year so far, hasn't it?

First it was the winter that wouldn't end, and then it was the virus that must not be named lest the lords of social media drop a hammer on your skull. We are close to the middle of the year and 2020 just doesn't want to give us a break. The virus has demolished just about every traditional outlet in the west from the entertainment industry to the health sector and everything in between. Nothing will walk out of this unscathed, and none of us will be the same when this is all over. We're facing down a new world.

The '20s came out roaring, and they show no signs of stopping. Those who still think they are living in the 20th century are currently in the middle of a rude awakening. Old paradigms no longer apply.

Despite the fact that everything has changed and is currently undergoing massive shifts, many in the big industries still believe everything is going to go back to normal once this pandemic dies down. Perhaps they don't actually believe it, but they have not shown otherwise. They certainly are acting like things are the same, from Disney to Sony they all are acting as if this is a freak storm they have to weather before the clouds clear and routine resumes. Soon enough you will be back in chains again and their pocketbooks can fill up once more.

As we discussed last week, however, that simply isn't going to happen.

Even before Corona came roaring out of Wuhan, these industries were already in trouble. Stories focused on subversion and forcing the audience to alter their personality to engage in it had already been a problem for years. None of these corporations had any rainy day money or plans in case they fell flat on their face. They just assumed this paradise of shuffling out product and having fanatics mindlessly consuming it (as is their duty!) would continue forever. Now they are surprised to see bites out of their bottom line and a cadre of former consumers laughing at their misfortunes while they walk away. They didn't think this could ever happen to them, and it's going to cost them dearly in the end.

The old creaking corporate monstrosities are on the way out. The corporate era of art is over, as is the concept of popular culture. All the virus has done is stop the can from being kicked further down the road. The collapse won't happen overnight, but the writing is burned onto the wall and has been for decades. These industries weren't around before the 20th century, and they won't make it through the 21st. That's simply the reality of the situation.

This is the reason I refuse to call OldPub by the name "TradPub", as there is nothing traditional about what they are. They have also thrown out tradition after tradition from pulp writing to spinner racks and have abandoned selling adventures to prescribing self-help seminars disguised as stories. They are as old and tired as the ironically named NewAge spirituality which they run off in an even more pathetic form today. They aren't traditional in any sense--they are anti-tradition, and they have been for a very long time. They seek to preserve nothing but their bottom line and their image, and if they can mold their audience into the ideal mindless consumer then they will do it. This group is old and lumbering, and they are dying.

Hence they are OldPub.

In the meantime, those of us in NewPub have begun to take advantage of this collapse. There was the Corona-Chan anthology, and then authors such as Brian Niemeier and David V. Stewart put out non-fiction books of their own in order to guide their audiences away from the practices of a dying industry. While things are off the rails for most of us, and OldPub can only weep about their stalled lumber business, NewPub is still cranking it out for the audience's enjoyment.

Myself, I can now announce two things I am working on. One I've mentioned in passing before, the other I have never said a word about. All this is in addition to the other fiction I am currently working on, by the by.

The first is a free novelette coming to readers of my newsletter! It will be out tomorrow, and it is entitled Duel on Dalpha.

You can sign up for the mailing list via the form in the top right corner of this site or through my landing page here. Either way, it will be out tomorrow and it will be FREE.

So what is it about? Well, read on and find out!

"Sheriff Simon Gareth keeps his town of Philomena clean of outlaws, but when a call takes him out to the swamp he soon finds more than he has bargained for. Giants in the mist, aliens from another world, and strange dark creatures, have run amok. Now he must protect his planet with nothing but his wits, his blood, and his guns! Get ready for a Duel on Dalpha!"

I was inspired to make this via many different sources. Mainly I liked the idea of a western horror in a swamp with aliens and giant robots. There's plenty of action, of course. Don't think that I don't know what my readers enjoy.

To explain where this came from is a bit tough. Most ideas I have for stories are just ones that come to me when I least expect them. This is one I had a while back but had to put on the back-burner while writing so many other things last year. As I let it simmer I had more and more of an idea what it was to be about.

So what you get here is a combination of western, lost world, mecha, horror, and legendary Knights based on the Round Table. There is a secret on the prison world of Dalpha that some nasty characters want. Simon Gareth will have to do some digging of his own, but what he finds might end up changing the destiny of the planet itself! Shootouts, traps, and hidden temples await! All this in a small novelette you can get for FREE.

But I had a problem. I never submitted it anywhere, but I knew one thing for sure: nobody would buy this story. It is too long for the markets I usually submit to, and there is too much action for any of the other outlets to give a second glance to. This is pure entertainment, and doesn't exist to lecture the audience about anything. There wasn't any way to sell it, despite how much I love this story. That's just a reality of the modern market. Only certain types of stories are profitable, ones that fall in a specific formula, other types are simply out of luck. There is nothing normal about Duel On Dalpha, but I still wanted to get it out there.

Naturally, I figured this would be the perfect gift for my readers. The last freebie I sent out lasted a year before it ended up in Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures, so they needed something new that was entirely different from the last story. That something new would be this novelette I had percolating in my head for some time now.

However, I wasn't going to just throw it out there myself. So I hired an artist to do a cover for me, and I hired editor Brian Niemeier to sharpen the story up with his skills. His tips allowed me to deliver the final product you see before you. I went all out to make sure this product is top notch because my readers deserve it.

In the end, you now have before you an adventure you won't soon forget and unlike anything you've ever read. And it's free.

Keep an eye on your inbox this Friday! I know you're gonna love it.

But that is only the first thing to announce.

The second piece I want to bring up is not quite ready for prime-time, but I can tell you what it is. I'm still tinkering with this one behind the scenes. It's considerably different than what I've put out so far. For one, it is non-fiction.

I've been working on a short little manual about gaining a pulp mindset for writing and in how to prepare yourself for the reality that is NewPub. It's not a How-To or self-help book, but a guide for how new writers are meant to adapt to this changing climate. It's a book on adjusting your mindset. I'm actually not quite sure how else to describe the thing since I haven't read another book like it. Nonetheless, if you like this blog you will enjoy this. It is very much in that vein, though it is original.

Hopefully that will be out before summer's end. I'm already pretty far into it and have been focusing quite a bit of attention on editing as I'm between projects. But there isn't much more to say right now other than to keep a lookout for when it's ready for prime-time!

On the other hand I still have other books and stories on the way, despite Corona-Chan's interference. I wanted to at least double my output from last year and I'm still well on the road to doing that. The Planetary Anthologies have helped with that. Be sure to keep checking out the newsletter and blog for future updates. This train won't be stopping anytime soon, God willing.

At the end of the day that's more or less where NewPub is right now. While the rusting wheels of OldPub creak to a stop the rest of us continue to blast on regardless towards new destinations. We are leaving them behind.

The world is changing and the '20s are showing us that in a crystal clear way. But we can't stop this train, it has to keep rolling. By the time we reach the next station we'll be so far ahead we won't even see OldPub's steam blocking out the sky anymore. Only blue skies ahead.

Welcome to NewPub, enjoy your stay.