Friday, November 27, 2020

The Big Black Friday Sale!

I apologize for the lateness of this post, which is why I gave the update on Tuesday. It was worth the wait, however!

Starting today on Black Friday and going throughout the weekend, there is a massive sale on over 100 books, each costing between $0.99 and free!

You can find a list of books (still currently being updated!) at author Hans G. Schantz's blog here.

Two of my books are on sale starting today. You can get Grey Cat Blues for $0.99 and Someone is Aiming for You & Adventures for $2.99. I've waited to post this because for some reason amazon was not showing the sale price on the books despite kdp showing them as active.

The description for Grey Cat Blues:

Siege on the Shadow Planet!

Ex-punk Two Tone is left for dead and his friend is taken. His assailants: men of mud from some place darker than Hell!

The inscrutable Sarpedon has slithered from the depths to rule a planet that has long abandoned hope for a better tomorrow. With no one to stop his spree of violence, it is only a matter of time before Two Tone’s world is overrun.

Old friends and a mysterious beauty gather by his side, but are they enough? Is it too late for this dying world? If all cats are grey in the dark, will anyone see the panther stalking its prey? Two Tone will find the answers the best way he knows how—through his fists!

Grey Cat Blues tells the tale of a distant planet at humanity’s end. In this place, a man must choose between love and hate. And where his choice leads him might not be where he expects . . .

You can find Grey Cat Blues here!

So while you can get my fantastical noir action book for $0.99, you can also get my larger collection of pulp hero short stories, novellas, and novelettes, for $2.99! The sales are out of control today.


Vigilantes fight from the shadows. In Summerside, Dark Magic poisons the dying city of cultists and gangsters. This is where heroes are made.

A man with a deadly touch, an ex-hitman, a concrete teenager, an invisible myth, and an indestructible knight, are but a few of those who stalk the midnight hour.

In these seven stories you will meet those fighting for the soul of the city, and those hoping to bring it to a brighter future. But is there anything left worth saving in a world of death?

Powers or Magic. Only one will win this war.

You can find Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures here!

Find them both here!

It's been a long year, so treat yourself to some top notch escapism. We all need to get away every now and then. What better way to do that than with an adventure? The sale stretches on until Wednesday, so be sure to check it out. There's more than enough for everyone!

Have a good long weekend and I will see you again next week. There's more good news to come, I promise!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Quick update!

Hey, guys, I have a very quick update. It's not anything shocking or big, but I figured I'd do it now before the big post later on in the week.

How about some new crowdfunds? I've got two for you today.

Up first we have author and comic writer Jon Del Arroz's holiday book store on Indiegogo. JDA is doing this quick crowdfund in order to ship books out for the Christmas season for those who might have missed out on some of his work. Everything he has written is on here, including out of print works, so you might want to give it a look over. I have read some of Jon's work and can guarantee you that they are most definitely the fun that has been missing in these genres and mediums.

His official description:

The greatest readers on the planet can enjoy some of the greatest books!

I'm pleased to open up a store for the holidays (and perhaps beyond) to be able to get you the books you love from all of my incredible series. We've got steampunk books, we've got sci-fi, and we've got a ton of comics to read!

All books and comics are available solo, as bundles, or as add-ons!

Once more, you can find Jon Del Arroz's book store crowdfund here.

The second crowdfund I wanted to mention is a bit different in that it's a movie! It's a sequel to a independently made action comedy from not too long ago called Commando Ninja. This one is called Commando Ninja II: Invasion America.

The original movie was a cult hit, and it can even be seen for free officially here. This campaign is mainly made for funding of the product and for those who wish to have a physical copy. You won't find much else like it.

The official description :

"1988, Communists have been planning to invade America for the past 10 years, hiding entire divisions underneath major cities, moving through the sewer network, and infiltrating into the population! Nobody can believe it!

"Today is the 4th of July, the day they have chosen to launch their operation.

"Hopkins is gonna have to rally the team, John, Kowalsky and Jenny to fight back, and destroy the evil at its source, the house of the rising sun, VIETNAM! When America is under Attack, When Governments can't help, if you find them, maybe you can Hire them :


That might seem a bit too outlandish to some, but it is not a typical wink and nod over how bad they think the 1980s were. The creators do legitimately enjoy the material they are making and the era it is based on. You can tell by the first movie and their list of inspirations.

"As you may know if you are already a Commando Ninja fan, we love the 80's, and particularly the Action Heroes era!

"Commando Ninja was a tribute to Commando, Predator, American Ninja and others. This time Commando Ninja 2 will take it's inspiration from movies like Invasion USA, They Live, The Red Dawn, Rambo 2, Missing in Action...

"Commando Ninja 2 will still be an over the top Action Comedy: Dark Humour, over the top violence, famous punch lines and other crazy scenes (think dinosaurs, zombies, mutants...)

"In this sequel, our wish is also to introduce a big "ADVENTURE" component. Our Characters will travel in a foreign tropical environment, meeting ancient civilizations and wild animals. Think Indiana Jones meets Apocalypse Now and Jurassic Park."

And the most important part for an modern action movie:

"In terms of SFX, this time we are going 100% for full live on-set practical effects, thanks to new partnerships with Armorer/pyrotechnics and Make-Up/SFX specialists. Think nice squibs, explosions, real weapon shooting, practical monsters and make-up."

You can back Commando Ninja II: Invasion America here.

Finally, the last thing I wanted to say was that this week's post will be delayed slightly. Since it is a big holiday this weekend, the post will be up just at the start of it. You'll see why when it gets put up.

Until then, have a good week! Christmas is on the way, as is a whole new year. We've got a lot more great things coming, just you wait!

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Signal Boost ~ "Yankee Republic" Kickstarter by Fenton Wood

Find it Here!

Today I wanted to highlight a recent and interesting kickstarter by author Fenton Wood. He is offering an omnibus version of his Yankee Republic series for readers that have been asking so long for it. If you are unfamiliar with it, this would be the perfect time to jump on.

A summary of the project:

"The Yankee Republic series was originally published as five separate ebooks. This Kickstarter is for a paperback omnibus edition, 650 pages, offset printed, with new cover art and the complete text of all five books."

Now that is quite a bit of content, especially considering the tiers inside. Check for yourself which one works for you. You're guaranteed to find something. There is also a digital option should you still prefer it.

So what is the series actually about? Mr. Wood explains:

"A young radio engineer travels across an alt-history America, encountering primeval gods, mythical beasts, and tall tales come to life, in a quest to build a radio transmitter that can reach the stars.

"YANKEE REPUBLIC is an old-school adventure series with traditional values and down-to-earth heroes. Escape from the pessimism and propaganda of modern fiction, and take a journey through a mythic America that might have been."

Are you ready for an adventure? Check out the project here!

It's a good time to be in NewPub. Things are changing every day, and you just never know what's coming next.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Skin for the Game

Over the last few days, I've been witness to some discussions that solidified a few thoughts I've had floating at the back of my head. At Wasteland & Sky we discuss art a lot, because it is both more important and less important than some believe. It is more important because it shares ephemeral ideas and notions we all need to experience over and over, it is less important because it is not a god for a cult to worship. Art is connection, not the end goal. Recent discussions have made this clearer than before.

That recent series of events have proven to me that investment matters more to the audience than any other area of craft. While craft matters a lot (you can't create art without it) it is secondary to the end goal. As stated before, it is connection. Audience investment is what will truly make the difference between good art and memorable art.

After looking over author Brian Niemeier's review of the two Gremlins movies, I thought about one thing he mentioned in regards to the first.

It was the following:

"On the flip side, sometimes flicks that shouldn't work by any accepted metric defy the conventional wisdom and strike a chord with people. I recently re-watched Gremlins, and it struck me as a perfect example of David Stewart's IP explosion phase. Shot on a shoestring budget from B movie material not even the director believed in, it became the fourth biggest film of 1984.

"What's even more amazing is that according to the rules, there's no way Gremlins should have been a hit. The film makers somehow managed to cram nearly every screenwriting mistake in the book into the first act. The magic system is infamously illogical and arbitrary. It takes forever for the first gremlin in a movie called Gremlins to show up. Entire subplots and characters are introduced, only to be forgotten by act two. It takes until act three for a clear protagonist with a concrete goal to emerge. Same goes for the main antagonist. The horror often clashes; not just with the comedy, but with other kinds of horror.

"And despite all those demerits that would have turned a lesser movie into cringeworthy schlock fest, Gremlins quickly achieves an intoxicating level of fun that it maintains all the way to the end."
How did it manage to achieve classic status despite all its objective faults? We will get to that, but this is not the only recent discussion that spurned the creation of this post.

Another discussion was one on social media wherein a fanfic writer (of some notorious NSFW pornography) went on about "Rules for Writing" that included "rules" that were nothing but the writer turning their pop cult orthodoxy into dogma. This is the opposite side of "investment" where the consumer of art turns it into an idol.

Their "rules" included such gems as characters not being redeemable if they've killed more than 10,000 people (999 is okay), how the sitcom Friends is a good example of writing to be emulated, and how writers need to keep away from "bigoted story decisions" if they want to succeed. Those are just three points in a 100 point thread that has since been deleted due to being quickly turned into a punching bag. However, it was quite funny to look over as a writer and see the supposed advice get progressively crazier, more obsessive, and incorrect as it went.

Just for clarity's sake, before we continue let us talk about why those three points are wrong and written by someone who doesn't understand storytelling. It will roll into the topic later on, so please bear with me. Pop cultists know what they obsess over: they do not understand why normal people like the things they do. This list proves why you should never cater to fanatics. They are always fanatical about the exact wrong thing, and sometimes it's a thing that doesn't even exist.

But I digress. Here are three things that a pop cultist believes is the key to success. This is what they believe will invest others in stories.

  • 1) Characters who kill over 10,000 people are irredeemable

First of all, redemption doesn't work that way. There is not a finite number of horrible things you are allowed to do before you can no longer turn back from the dark. Only someone who doesn't understand forgiveness could think this. Ironically enough, the same people who believe in permanent evil also tend to think anyone can turn evil at the drop of a hat, even if they spent their entire life being white hats. You can just smell the despair.

Audiences will accept both a tragedy or a redemption, no matter what either character does, if it's written well. People who engage in art on healthy terms know what they want from a story on a deeper level, and pop cultists do not because they are disordered in their thinking. A story of redemption or a tragedy are two styles that have lasted since storytelling began, because they are ingrained in us as things that can, and do, happen all the time. You know this if you have a healthy outlook to understand human beings from.

There is nothing more frightening than falling down a pit of despair and destroying everything you've built up by making a simple series of bad decisions, and there's nothing more hopeful than a sinner who has nothing then bowing his head and asking for a second chance to turn it all around. A storyteller knows this just as inherently as their audience, which is why it is as common as it is. It works.

In other words, this point is exactly wrong. A writer that doesn't understand the concept of redemption is not a writer. He is a defeatist putting his own warped worldview into his work. And as we all know, cultists can't help but be warped.

  • 2) Friends is an example of good writing

In case you are unaware, because no one under the age of 25 will, Friends was a sitcom from the late '90s. It was about a group of six urbanites living in the city and dealing with superficial life problems while having sex with each other and dealing with plots about nothing. They did not go on adventures, they did not do anything worth noting, and they were completely selfish and self-absorbed. It was essentially Seinfeld, except completely unaware that these were bad things, and vapid as a result. You haven't heard about it since it ended because it had absolutely no staying power.

It only came to popularity because Seinfeld ended, before then it was just another Young Adult sitcom from the era that was obsessed with modernity and perversion. Friends received its explosion in popularity due to being a pale imitation of Seinfeld that leaned on soap opera plotting and '90s fads, none of which have aged well, and none of which has any relevance to normal, healthy people. The best '90s sitcoms still get talked about to this day, Home Improvement, Boy Meets World, Frasier, etc., but Friends does not get mentioned except as a nostalgic footnote. Everything it did was done better in countless other places, and it has no remaining appeal for those who didn't watch it when it was first on.

As you can tell, this doesn't make for the best example to model anything after. The last thing you want to do is date your work with what is flashy and current, because chances are that once the honeymoon ends no one will remember it as anything for the empty calories it was.

On the other hand: Friends was also a sitcom. It is not an action story. If you're not writing a sitcom for television, then you should not be writing a sitcom in your space adventure or period romance story. They are very different styles of stories meant for very different audiences. If your audience wanted a sitcom, they would go watch a sitcom. They are coming to you for something else. If you're reading stories for shallow soap opera drama the there are plenty of other places to get it.

Audiences are invested in you for a different reason than when they pop in a season of Married With Children into their DVD player. Give them what they want. It's really that simple.

  • 3) "Bigoted story decisions" will harm your story

This is a big one you see a lot from writer workshops, and proof that OldPub has no idea what they are talking about. This is a way to make sure you don't tell stories they don't like, but it is wrapped up in nonsense jargon to obscure the real intent.

"Bigoted" writing means nothing, but it is a way to control what you write. You are simply not allowed to have certain story turns because it might offend someone of some group somewhere, and that's just bad. Therefore you must write by the right rules, which just so happen to be the ones OldPub and Hollywood, both currently failing, want you to do. You need to write stories that check the right boxes to make sure you don't hurt some group that may or may not exist. If you don't? Well, that's what cancel culture is for.

Isn't that just convenient?

Here's the secret: there s no such thing as a "Bigoted story decision" because a story decision can't be bigoted. That's not how writing works. That's how hacks work.

This one is going to need some explaining, so bear with me.

Whether you are a plotter or a pantser doesn't really matter here. When a writer comes up with a story and when they write and down and edit it, they are attempting to clarify a story that has sprouted in their mind. It is their job to clear it up for consumption, sort of like a window washer. They are attempting to clean and polish that picture clear and present it to the reader. The writer is a glorified delivery boy to their stories. That is what creativity is. Nothing is invented by whole-cloth.

The only reason you might disagree with this is would be if you have elevated writers and creators to the level of high priests who exist to deliver dogma to the unwashed masses. This is what a pop cultist believes, not what a healthy human being believes.

So when you read an old pulp story and they have salty language, or say mean things you don't understand, it isn't because the author views the world the same way as his characters, it is because the character sees the world that way. The writer is writing the story forming in his mind. If the narration is using terms you find offensive it is because that is how people talked at the time. Writers aren't able to use their psychic vision to see what will be considered acceptable by you half a century after they have died. Believe it or not, most people in history did not act and think like an over-socialized urbanite who thinks everyone who votes differently than them is literally Hitler or stupider than someone who pays the majority of their paycheck to live in a rat-hole of a city apartment. Most people are actually normal.

You can be arrogant about it and consider the world as having "advanced" since the old days, but then you are being oblivious to the fact that your work will be considered "bigoted" one day too, and maybe not even for good reasons. This is the problem with constant purity tests: it misses that the point of art is to communicate. The past cannot adapt its message to suit your fragile ego: it is what it is. It s up to you to adapt to their mindset and understand what they were trying to communicate beyond your shallow worldview.

There is no such thing as an "unbigoted" story, because writers don't write to proselytize messages. They write to connect their story to the audience. Checkbox writing is the writing of cowards with nothing to say or communicate but think they should be listened to. You cannot write stories that way. Your audience doesn't exist for you to sermonize towards them.

Your audience has a relationship with you. They will never be invested in what you have to say if you are more worried about caving to popular demand than you are delivering them what they want. See modern Hollywood and OldPub for hundreds of examples of just this failure.

It is OldPub because it is old and decaying. Taking examples from them is like taking humanitarian lessons from Ira Einhorn. It's a fruitless endeavor.

What those three points were meant to do is make you think a particular way when writing. It was meant to make you believe that there are things you can never do when being creative. These hacks mainly make these sorts of demands because they want all art to conform to their fetishistic standards of being a pop cultist. However, it is also because they don't understand the point of art to begin with. They can't, because they worship it as an idol.

As mentioned many times, art is meant to connect. This means one of your biggest tasks as a writer is to get your audience invested in what you do. To do that you need to connect to normal people, not fanatics. Fanatics will only ever be invested in what piece of art they fetishize, they are incapable of seeing the bigger picture. Normal people are capable of seeing everything, even if they don't always understand what made it connect to them.

So let us bring it back around to the original subject again. Why did Gremlins succeed at the box office and become a sensation despite having so many objective faults? Isn't there a formula for writing you need to follow in order to be good? If so, how did Gremlins surpass all of those to hit so big? Does this mean we should throw out all storytelling rules?

No, because Joe Dante did everything right despite not doing it perfectly, and what he did perfectly is what made the film a classic.

But how did he do it? As I commented on Brian's blog, it was because Joe Dante knew what the audience wanted and delivered it above everything else. Because he accomplished that task the faults of the movie no longer even matter in the grand scheme of things.

For context, I re-watched the movie with a more critical eye for Cannon Cruisers despite having seen it many times over the years. Because I had seen it so many times I thought I knew the film well. However, I soon noticed many things I didn't notice before when I wasn't watching it more intently. Characters disappear from the story, there are plotlines that go nowhere, and the movie just sort of ends without telling us the aftermath of any of the carnage. As a narrative, these are real problems that hurt the movie. Objectively, they are bad moves.

But no one really ever sees them. I never noticed these flaws until I paid attention to the film on a deeper level. The fact of the matter is that I didn't see these problems when I first saw them, and most others didn't either. Many people still list Gremlins as one of their favorite movies, despite its objective issues. The faults simply don't matter.

So how does that work? Why are audiences able to overlook the problems? What did director Joe Dante do to warrant such acclaim and popularity for a movie even he knew had flaws?

The answer is surprisingly simple: he gave the audience what they wanted on a deeper level. All the important things audiences crave are embedded in the final product. He gave them what they wanted, by giving them what they needed.

There are four points every story needs in order to engage the audience. They are easier said than done, but every classic story gets these points right on some level. Gremlins hits all four of these handily and expertly.

  1. Characters that are likable
  2. Themes that resonate
  3. Action that flows
  4. Story that is coherent

I would say these are fairly straightforward, but let us go through each to see how Gremlins manages all four of these points. I would recommend seeing the movie first if you haven't, it is well loved for a reason. But either way, there might be some spoilers. You have been warned.

We should start with the first point. What is "likable" characters referring to?

The audience needs a character, it has to be at least one, that they want to see succeed and win. Stories are about characters getting from one place to another so the audience needs a reason to want to see that happen. Many experts claim you need to make your characters "relatable" for this to work, but that is completely backwards. Art is connection on a base level--no matter what story you write, no matter how alien the cast is, the one partaking in the art will find at least one of your creations they can forge a bond with, even those they have nothing in common with on a superficial level. They know what they want out of stories. You can't really write an "unrelatable" protagonist unless you deliberately want to. See recent Hollywood movies for examples of an embarrassing failure to this point.

Gremlins aces this with Joe Dante's respect for his small town. Billy, our main character, is a good guy who has a thankless job, has a quirky but well-meaning family, and all sorts of weird neighbors he has a connection with. Because of that, we also forge a bond with them. The fact of the matter is that we like every character because they have positive connections with each other and attempt to support each other through the story. It's very much the community we wish we had (or used to have, depending on your age or location) which in turn connects you to the town. Dante spends the entire first act making you invested in this place.

Then there's the mascot of the franchise, Gizmo. Gizmo is a cute little mogwai with a friendly attitude who just enjoys being around Billy. He's a pleasant character where most such mascots from the time are just annoying and in your face. By nailing what so many others fail with, Dante sets up Gizmo to lead a cast we like on a base level. So when the horror begins we have total investment in all the characters and what happens next.

This rolls over into the themes. Gremlins doesn't have much in the way of theme, it's meant to be a popcorn horror movie, but it does stress the theme of community and following the rules. When the gremlins attack later to "sabotage" (as they do) the lives of the townsfolk, they usually do it through their lesser habits and quirks. They are in essence, "sabotaging" the community through their own weak-points. The scenes of them running rampant and pretending to be people, while mocking them, shows how little respect they have for humans and society in general.

One of the faults of the film, and something a film like Critters 2 actually got right, is that it doesn't feature the town coming together to beat them at the end. Instead, they basically disappear. As said before, one of the faults of the film is that all the subplots and most of the cast vanishes in the last leg of the movie. But we still want to see Billy win because we like the town and those in it. We still are invested in ending the chaos.

The gremlins' weaknesses also work on a deeper level. Water doesn't kill them, but makes them multiply. This is because Gizmo, the original mogwai, is pure. It can be said that the water is a purifying agent that cleans him of his bad side and separates them into whole other beings. It does the same to actual gremlins, but because they are already evil, it doesn't purify so much as make them lesser, sort of like the movie Multiplicity does with clones of clones. This is why the final or boss gremlin is always the first one that springs from Gizmo. Food after midnight makes mogwai change into gremlins because their inner gluttony takes hold, which reveals their darker vices and shows what they truly are. Sunlight kills them for the same reason it kills vampires: they cannot face the pure light of the world they rejected. They epitomize the night life, society's lesser half.

While none of this is ever explicitly said, the audience knows all of this due to how it is executed visually. You know this without being told it. Joe Dante's direction is what makes this work.

The flow of action is also due to Dante's deft touch. Scenes are paced perfectly, getting across exactly what they need to and lingering enough that we get the gist. By this point in his career, he had mastered the director's chair.

The horror comes and goes exactly when it needs to, punctuating the tension and constantly raising stakes. This is actually why few people care about the faults of Gremlins: you don't notice them because of how expertly paced it all is. Audiences will forgive anything if you give them what they want on a deeper level, and that's precisely what Gremlins succeeds best at doing.

Even with the objective faults the movie has, one thing Dante still manages to let shine through is the story, despite its warts. Everything that occurs, every wild moment and strange reveal, is perfectly coherent and understandable. Unlike the modern error of assuming something is good because it confuses the audience, Gremlins is tightly paced to the point where every beat works towards the story. Even with the holes in the plot, the main thrust of the narrative, and the themes, are still in tact, and the story still makes perfect sense. You are never confused at any point while watching Gremlins, nor are you distracted from what story the director is directing you towards.

As opposed to the modern trend of having horror movies drag on an hour too long and teach obvious messages on a surface level that the audience already knows, Gremlins does the opposite. Its themes actually aren't overt and it also runs under two hours, getting in and out like an action, adventure, or horror story should. This is why it has achieved classic status and why none of the vapid clunkers that fanatics prop up today will ever reach that level. One attempts to connect with the audience, the other desperately wants them to understand what is sluggishly being put across because it has nothing else under the hood aside from its main gimmick.

If the theme is the entire point of the story then it is not a story: it is a lecture. It is only one part of a missing whole. You need everything above to create a story.

The movie in question

In other words, Gremlins is a classic because it does everything it needs to in order to connect with the audience. The objective faults are there, and they do matter, but they simply do not subtract from what makes it succeed with normal viewers. What it needs to get right it gets right in spades.

Unfortunately, it does have one blemish on its legacy that has harmed future films, and that is that it created the PG-13 rating, the rating that would eventually kill its genre and neighboring ones by allowing studios to create focus group tested product and sand off the edges to their stories to appeal to audiences that didn't exist. You can see the full fruit of this in the sanitized fluff that was the 1990s not long after Gremlins 2's release. We can't really blame Gremlins for doing this, but Spielberg insisted on creating the label after complaints of violence in the movie. If anything, he should accept the blame for preventing movies like this from being made anymore.

But we're getting off topic. The point is that Gremlins' success is entirely owed to the fact that it prioritized audience investment over everything else. It prioritized the right things over everything else.

This is, at its core, what storytelling, and art, is about. This is why audience investment is key in creating a good story, and why current Hollywood and OldPub cannot do it any more. They are not trying to connect, they are trying to force the audience into accepting unbelievable frames and checkbox characters that are not based on any rational form of reality. They expect you to puzzle out their non-human nonsense, and give them lots of money while doing it. Oh, and shutting up when you don't like it. Can't forget that.

What this ends up churning out is inhuman stories that feel like aliens from another galaxy wrote them. They just hire human actors to say their nonsensical catchphrases and hammy overacting poses while they go through the motions of presenting a story they don't really understand, because they don't understand who they are trying to reach. Even the worst B movies have more humanity than a modern Hollywood film. Because, at the heart of it, their main goal was attempting to connect with the audience: not expecting the audience to put aside their humanity to connect with them. Art is not a one way street.

This is why the rise of alternate industries such as NewPub is so important. People need art to give them hope and entertain them through darker times. They need art to stir imagination and reinforce their lives. The old industry has no interest in doing this anymore, they are too bloated and self-important for that. But the new wave of artists coming up will give you exactly what you are craving. There are new ones springing up every day.

Investment matters, because the audience matters. Creators should all accept this. Art is connection, and it will always find a way.

We just need to be willing to make the effort to bridge that gap.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Story Sheets: "Judgement Sun"

It's been awhile, no?

I started Story Sheets at the beginning of the year to talk more about my journey into writing and as a way to give more readers content. Two birds with one slingshot pellet, as it were. However, keeping those posts up meant spending more time writing more about writing than actually doing it. That's just no good, especially for a writer. So as a compromise I instead decided to shelve the series until there is a valid time to make a post about such a thing.

Today is that time! Planetary Sol, the ninth volume in the eleven volume Planetary Anthology series just came out and, as can be inferred, I have a story in it.

For those unaware, the Planetary Anthology series are a series of short story anthologies that each contain stories based around the classical planets. Each volume contains stories based from myths to legends and even the scientific history therein. It's a celebration of our past with new stories! What you get are eleven volumes based on different themes and planets (as well as the sun and moon) from many different writers in many different styles. It's a unique project that has produced unique results. The only thing that unites the stories is that they are all superversive in intent. Otherwise, you have no idea what you're going to get!

If you're wondering why it took so long to write another one of these Story Sheets entries, it's because I've been busy writing this entire year. I've instead tried to promote other writers putting out stories worthy of your attention. I'd rather save talking about my writing when I have something to show for it. The truth is that I don't really like talking about my writing, but since I know readers enjoy updates and learning about my stories, I still try to put them out. It's a compromise! You can consider this post both an update and one talking about writing. And in 2020, I've been writing quite a bit.

You better believe I've bee taking advantage of what I can to write in 2020, of all years. Most creators are. It's been a year, but you know that.

As I said, this year has been spent writing. I've written a good deal, including having the second and third Gemini Man books written and sent in to Silver Empire, publishing both Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures and The Pulp Mindset, finally getting around to finishing off Brutal Dreams (More on that soon!) and releasing stories in StoryHack #5, the free Corona-Chan Anthology, and Planetary Uranus. I've more than doubled my usual writing output this year.

On top of those, I published a free novelette edited by Dragon Award winner Brian Niemeier that you can get for free by signing up to my newsletter! You should jump on that one, it's a great piece.

It's been quite a year. And that's only what I have published and am readying to put out. That's not everything, not at all.

Behind the scenes I have some cool short stories in my back pocket and a new project coming in 2021 that should be quite special. This on top of the above books being released. 2021 is going to be even bigger than this year!

But I haven't really mentioned one last project I worked on that just released. That would be my story Judgement Sun in the Planetary Sol which just came out on Tuesday! So for today, I'm going to talk about this sword and planet story that hit me randomly in a flash of inspiration.

Find it Here!

Judgement Sun by JD Cowan
"Orion awakens to find his world of Hesperis turned into a desert. His savior, a stranger in a white cloak and a flaming sword, is his only ally as he faces down the sorcerer who took everything from him. There they storm the Black Pyramid where fate awaits their final clash."

The first thing to note about Judgement Sun is that it is a sequel to Cold Heart of Ouranos from the Uranus Anthology. It might not be so obvious from first glance, but continuity is not that important for what happens here. These stories are episodic, though there is a subtle progression you will not see until the end.

In Judgement Sun, the Dead World Drifter continues his journey of traveling to planets that are out of time and on the brink of extinction. As always it is his job to delve into the deeper cause of the poison and expunge the cancer before it is too late. Just like in the first story, he finds a planet in hopeless distress. Unlike that one, however, the planet is suffering from a far different issue. Can he even save Hesperis? You'll have to read and find out.

These tales are sword and planet stories, but at their heart they are about second chances and cleansing the soul. I first created this series because I wanted to follow a lone wanderer type, but wanted one who had a mission that was as crystal clear as it was mysterious. They are my own personal take on C. L. Moore's stories of spiritual terror mixed with a more traditional tangible threat more prominent in sword and sorcery.  Hence the man in the cloak who travels from world to world to destroy more than a single antagonist. His work is of a much higher level. We don't even know his name.

But, they are meant to be enjoyable adventures of pure escapism. The main character also carries a fire sword, so there's that, too. If you know my writing you know I will never pass up the chance for more action, and Judgement Sun is nothing if not action packed. You could find this one in Weird Tales back in the day and it wouldn't feel out of place.

As I've said before, I am a believer in the classic storytelling setup of the lone wanderer who appears out of nowhere to save the day before vanishing again. It's a good concept. The reason this is used so much is because it is endlessly flexible as a device. It's about execution, not so much the chrome plating. I prove it with Judgement Sun as, despite it being a sequel to a previous story and having the same formula, it is quite different from that one.

For one, you might notice there is no dialogue in the story. There's a fairly obvious plot-related reason for that choice, but it is also for a choice in mood. I needed a certain feel for Hesperis, and it is one that makes it much different from the cold snow-covered fields of Ouranos. The planets are just as much characters as the cast.

These Dead World Drifter stories are meant to show speckles of hope in a situation that shouldn't have any, but Judgement Sun goes a bit further in that direction than the previous one did. The hope that is found at the end is a far different type than you'll find in modern storytelling, and quite a bit different from Cold Heart of Ouranos. Nonetheless, this is still pure pulp. It's a quick read, full of action and to the point, and it contains a theme that I never tire of.

I have a few short story series, as you've certainly noticed by now, all of which have their own flavor and overarching themes and plots. For one example, check out Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures. I enjoy employing episodic storytelling that can be read standalone of read into as part of a greater whole to get two different experiences out of it. Be cause of that, Judgement Sun is just one piece of a larger story that is also strong enough to stand on its own. It's really up to the reader to choose how they wish to engage it.

I'd explain more about the story, but then we'd be going into spoilers, and there's no sense in that! Either way, you can get Judgement Sun in the Sol Anthology here. There are a dozen other great stories to enjoy, too. S be sure to jump in. You can't get a better deal than with the Planetary Anthology series.

The overarching plan with this series is that there are four stories. Each star our main drifter character, but each deals with different sorts of collapses and foes. Cold Heart of Ouranos has a winter theme and Judgement Sun has a summer theme. The final two will have an Autumn and Spring theme, and no, they are not scheduled to be in the remainder of the Planetary Anthology series. One of them hasn't even been written yet! Despite that, the cycle does have an ending in sight. Be sure to read the first half of this exciting series in these Planetary Anthologies. You're going to like where this goes, believe me.

So what's next for the Planetary Anthologies? Well, they are now at 9 of 11 volumes released and the final two volumes (Neptune and Saturn) are now finalized. After several years of work from many talented editors and writers, they are now in the home stretch. From all reports, it looks as if around 90 authors contributed over 180 stories for the entire series! As you can imagine, this must have been a very tough project to manage. With that much content, there s something for everyone.

2020's been quite a difficult year for many, but we're still putting out stories to help make it a bit more easier for you all. Be sure to check them out and enjoy.

Once more, you can get Planetary Sol here!

And remember: there's more on the way!

Wednesday, November 11, 2020


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Out Now ~ "Planetary Sol" by Tuscany Bay Press

Find it Here!

This has been a long time coming!

For those unaware, the Planetary Anthology series has been one in the works for years. Starting at Superversive Press before they closed up shop, it was then picked up by Tuscany Bay Press who have spent 2019 and 2020 breaking their backs to get them out and completed.

The idea was to create an anthology series of short stories based around each of the classic planets in our system. Each volume has a different editor with different authors aboard, so you can imagine how much effort it would take to coordinate that. At last count I believe there were over 150 stories from 90+ authors total, which is nothing to sneeze at. Taking this on from Superversive Press was a lot of work for Tuscany Bay Press, but they've done great work.

The beginning of the project was focused on releasing the three volumes that were near completed (Pluto, Luna, and Uranus, which I am in) before the series met an early end. Next was repackaging and re-releasing the five volumes Superversive Press managed to put out. Lastly, they have now finally reached the last 3 volumes which were the furthest from completion. These were Sol, Neptune, and Saturn.

In other words, after several years of hard work from everyone at Superversive, Tuscany Bay, and the authors and editors involved, the series is finally nearing completion! It's been a long time coming.

Here is the description for Sol, the anthology about the Sun:

Sol, the center of our solar system, the very reason why we exist at all. These are the stories of our Sun, stories of nobility and righteousness.
The stories:

Sundown and Out, by David Hallquist
The Pleiades Dilemma, by James Pyle
Judgement Sun, by J.D. Cowan
Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, by Caroline Furlong
Sale at Sol, by Bokerah Brumley
God Save the King, by Josh Griffin
Under the Midnight Sun, by David Breitenback
Ziggurat of the Ghost King, by Ben Wheeler
The Coward's Son, by Frank B. Luke
What Hides from the Sun, by Denton Salle
At Homeworld's End, by Richard Paolinelli
Miracle Sun, by A.M. Freeman
Gravity's at the Bottom of It, by S. Dorman

In case you missed it, I am in this one! My story Judgement Sun is one of the stories I am most proud of writing, and one I was all too happy to have included in Sol. It was new ground for me at the time I wrote it. I'll talk about my story more on Thursday, but for now I just wanted to highlight the people who helped make this a reality.

The editor on Sol is Benjamin Wheeler, host of the Superversive podcast (every Sunday!) and an accomplished writer in his own right. He was quick to get the stories edited and ready for publication far in advance of release. He also has quite a cool story of his own in the anthology!

Also, Richard Paolinelli of Tuscany Bay Books has been working overtime to see this project to completion, and has even put out Audio Book versions of the series! Even during a year like this one, they have been working hard to finish a project they believe in. It's a feat that they've gotten as far as they have with this ambitious series.

The entire aim of the project has been to present stories of all adventure genres and walks of life to celebrate the legends, myths, and history, behind the planets themselves. The only aspect linking these stories together is that they are all superversive tales of showing a wider universe than the one the reader first walked into. Just imagine a bigger world than the one before you: that's what the fantastical s for! You are guaranteed to be taken for a ride with any of the stories in any of these collections, and I'm humbled to be among them.

So check out Planetary Anthology Sol and the rest of the series! You're not going to find anything else like it out there. And they aren't even finished yet!

Once again, you can find Sol here.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Signal Boost ~ "Dreamers & Misfits: The Definitive Book About Rush Fans" by Alexander Hellene

Find it Here!

Pulp author Alexander Hellene has just come out with a unique book for music nuts. Unlike his usual tales of high adventure in action and imagination, he has instead decided to write about a band that did the same with their music. This is a book, not just about the band Rush, but about those they touched on a deeper level.

If you understand what is going on in the above cover, then you are most definitely the audience for this work. If not? Then you might want to find out for yourself what it means, and how it can affect so many. Just how does art touch us? That's a question that never fails to fascinate.

The description:

There Is Nothing Average About the Average Rush Fan!

Rush, the legendary Canadian progressive rock trio, has a legion of devoted fans. But what is it about the band that inspires such a loyal and dedicated fan base? And what is it about these fans that has created this powerful bond between artist and audience?

The story of these fans has never been told . . . until now.

- Exclusive interviews, including Donna Halper, the woman who broke Rush in the United States, and Ed Stenger, proprietor of, one of the biggest Rush fan sites on the internet.
- Detailed survey results illuminating what makes hundreds of Rush fans tick
- An exploration of the interest, politics, faith, and philosophy of the millions of people across the globe who find meaning in the music and lyrics of Rush
- In-depth fan profiles, where Rush fans tell their stories about what this band means to them
- Concert memories, personal anecdotes, and fan favorite songs and albums

Dreamers and Misfits presents a celebration of Rush's music and the fans who inspired and propelled the band to such dizzying heights.

One things is certain: there is nothing "average" about the average Rush fan.

Once again, you can find it here.

I know Alexander was driven to write this after legendary drummer Neil Peart died earlier this year, making this a real passion project for him. This is just one example as to how much of an impact the band had on many listeners. Not familiar with their sound? Take a listen to Moving Pictures, and grab a copy of this book, and you might just understand it yourself. Rush was a unique band worth understanding and thinking about.

Should you have any love of music and how it can affect others on a deeper level, then I definitely recommend picking this up today. Art is something to wonder about and discuss.

There is nothing else quite like it.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Where the Action is

When I was growing up, we had a different sort of hero to look up to. It was the man willing to do anything to get the job done. Sure, there were superheroes, but they were mainly in comics and cartoons, and we recognized them as such. On the playground, you would more likely catch boys playing as the good Terminator, Robocop, or John Rambo, than you would anyone taking on the role of Iron Man or Captain America. This is because heroes were a more tactile, weighted thing, than they would become decades from then.

Of course, over the years, a lot of that has been warped and tarnished due to the very heavy cultural hate of the 1980s that persisted over the '90s and into the '00s. It was especially prevalent in the late '90s and early '00s. Before '80s and '90s nostalgia became the zeitgeist in the mid '00s, after the realization that modern culture was fairly lousy, the concept of heroism had long been a punching bag for realism and downbeat dour trends.

Which is funny to think about, because '80s nostalgia has, at this point, been around longer than the 1980s, but the one aspect of it that still doesn't get quite the respect it deserves is the action movie. This despite the fact that it was one of the most popular aspect of the era. Think about it: TV re-releases and movie reboots flood out of the rusted Hollywood gates extensively. Even Blu-Ray re-releases of family adventure movies and horror from that time get much focus and press. But action movies? Not so much. They'll talk your ear off about a Blu-Ray re-release of Doctor Butcher MD, but a movie like Invasion USA? No chance. This despite the last Rambo movie being a huge hit and showing their is an audience for the genre. You will still find those in higher positions in the terrible culture of today downplaying the genre as even lower than trash while celebrating known trash ironically. It's a bit of an awkward position to be in, but it is what it is.

This is why it's always nice to see those attempting to give the action movie the respect it deserves. Believe it or not, it does happen.

I had the pleasure to recently view the documentary In Search of the Last Action Heroes, by the same creators of '80s horror documentary In Search of Darkness. In case you couldn't guess, this one is about the 1980s action boom, at least, for the most part. I found it to watch on youtube and thought it worth talking about in greater detail. Especially since the era is rapidly becoming culturally obscure due to not getting nearly the focus horror or even children's programming from that time is. I'm not sure why that is, because this genre holds up.

The fact of the matter is that there is much to discuss from that time beyond how politically incorrect or problematic certain wonks might think it is. Neither is it as dumb as you've been told--the best works are as good as anything else from the time period. Thankfully, this documentary doesn't talk about such frivolous or "ironic" things, choosing instead to follow the rise and fall of a film genre that defined several decades, and influenced a storytelling genre quite extensively.

The basic flow of the documentary has a loose structure. It features a chronological order of events, interviewing some folks from the era but not others, starting at the origins and moving through to the dead zone of the 2000s. It's not quite as in-depth as I would like, so I'm going to use this opportunity to talk about why in this post. That said, it also does much right, and I want to mention that, as well.

What exactly is the action film? There are many definitions, so I'm going to start from the beginning. We'll get into it right now. 

The documentary starts where I'm going to: Westerns.

Think about the Western story and where it comes from. Small group or lone hero in an unstable environment, enforcing Justice where there isn't any, reward be damned. This is the underpinning spiritual and moral nature of an action story. It's about the inevitability of Justice through an agent fit to see it through, no matter the cost. Some of the earliest action-based films were Westerns, and were all about enforcing Justice in a land where Justice was uncertain to win. I don't think I have to tell you about the gun fights, romance, or one-liners that also carry over into the genre.

The second origin point were old War films. War films were, more or less, the original blockbusters before the mess they became in the 1990s. Big budgets, big casts, big drama, big heroics, all set to a Good Vs. Evil moral framework. A few of the early action stars got their start here. While typically much longer than action stories would become (usually nearing 3 hours!) they contain the bombast and epic-scope westerns usually did not, due to their differing natures and focus.

The final influence on the action movie would be film noir. Noir rolls into thrillers, which themselves have plenty of action in them (see: Heat and Copland), but the intensity, modern urban settings, and striking and more dynamic use of the visuals and more energetic camera, clearly lent a hand to making the genre what it is. The too-cool and charismatic heroes notwithstanding.

This development formed around the genre through the 1960s when it started to become its own thing through necessity. Through franchises such as the James Bond superspy series, and actors with an image and clout like Steve McQueen, and the rise of foreign stars and involved choreography by those like Bruce Lee, the landscape for this new genre was quickly taking shape, and through the 1970s it would solidify into its final form. Adding in a touch of urban intensity from the exploitation films of such stars as Fred Williamson and Jim Brown gave the final dab of the brush to complete this Frankenstein portrait of a genre. What you got as result was the action movie.

For all intents and purposes, the 1970s were the real beginning of the action film, and in a way they were a push-back to the dour atmosphere of the time. The three movies that solidified what would soon come started in three influential movies: Death Wish, Enter the Dragon, and Dirty Harry. All three are considered classics today, for good reason, but they also kick-started an entire genre that would reach millions over the next few decades. Everything that came afterwards took a few things from at least one of these films.

Getting away from the seeping nihilism of 1970s film, these films dared to show another way out. Adventure had returned, and so were protagonists that could take you on them. It was a perfect storm of events that led to something more hopeful to arise is a sea of despair.


It was from this point that things shifted hard from the standard detective thrillers and police procedurals cluttering the landscape (all three used these as frames, but clearly moved beyond it in execution) and dipped their toes into the stories of larger than life heroes tasked with dispensing Justice (in Death Wish's case, despite himself) in a world that has forgotten it or sees it as secondary. It is the return of the western with war movie spectacle in noir setting where action movies formed from, all merged into one. This would be the framework that would carry the genre forward into big success in the 1980s.

Critics, however, very much did not like this shift. Enter the Dragon was written off as inconsequential fluff, Death Wish as promoting vigilante justice and telling people to "fight back", and Dirty Harry as promoting fascism and wanton carnage. The genre still receives these complaints to this day, too. Not one of these complaining critics, of course, would ever take Chinatown to task for its absolutely pointless and hopeless ending destroying the very point of the story itself. Which message is more unhealthy? That you can't do anything about injustice, or that you can? We know why critics didn't like them. What was more important than film quality was that these new and dangerous films taught the wrong thing.

One of the films that fought against these unfair condemnations from an out of touch press was Dirty Harry's sequel, Magnum Force, a film about actual criminals dispensing their own brand of justice at the expense of the law. The film is essentially about proving it is about Justice, not personal grudges masquerading as law. For some reason, it isn't a movie given much discussion today, despite charges that the genre is brainless. But it is a classic for those who know the genre.

Penned by the controversial John Milius, a man since blacklisted by Hollywood, he wrote this exchange at a key pivotal moment in the movie:

There isn't a bigger condemnation of 1970s morality than Magnum Force. The series remained a sore point for critics for years afterwards, not unlike Black Sabbath or Rush was with Rolling Stone magazine. The concept of an objective existence of Justice that supersedes appetites and political motives is frightening to a generation taught to think and believe good and evil didn't exist.

It was from this point that the shift away from doomed nihilistic hero working in a world where his efforts didn't matter began to fade. The 1970s influence on film simply didn't stick as the decade rolled on. Every Dirty Harry movie ended with him getting his man, for instance. Others would follow in his footsteps, trying their hand at being the ultimate dispenser of Justice.

The old movies used emotional stakes as a way to allow action to punctuate the tension. As time went on, and effects became better, newer writers wanted to show it more overtly. This allowed for the usage of more stunts, choreography, and special effects, to spice up the action. In other words, to use the medium as more than just a way of transcribing text to a screen and having actors deliver it. This wasn't going to be a stage-play with more camera angles. They desired to use the film format to its greatest extent. The visuals mattered!

This was what quickly led to the genre's overwhelming success, not only domestically, but all over the world. You can find action aficionados with movie libraries that span across the globe from the Philippines to Hong Kong, for a very specific reason: action speaks louder than words. You can watch the screen without subtitles, without a dub, and without any prompting, and understand the story and stakes through just the action displayed before you. This gives the genre a universal appeal no other film style can manage quite as well. The action movie achieved such wide appeal for this reason. Justice is a universal thing, after all.

For instance, there is a universal appeal in a hero like Max Rockatansky, a man who lives and survives, never needing reward or improved stature. He does what he does because it needs to be done. This is what led Mad Max, and eventually its star, Mel Gibson, to be as popular as they were in the decades to come. The influence is unavoidable. Mad Max itself more or less created an entire adventure genre on its own, and for good reason.

Another changing aspect of the 1970s culture was the explosion and reemergence of the big blockbuster. I don't have to tell you how big that space battle brand film and the shark movie were at the time, but they convinced Hollywood that audiences wanted spectacle and big action. All of a sudden, action movies were a hot commodity. Not too long after came Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1980, a film that exemplified everything that audiences wanted, packed in one film, and would get in plentiful doses throughout the following decade.

It was a perfect storm of occurrences that also helped the genre. Because, while big blockbusters were now beginning to be made, the now affordable VHS market allowed b-moves into the door for easy availability for the first time ever. I wrote about the emergence VHS and rental shops already, but their influence on the era cannot be underestimated. For the first time, audiences were in charge of the film medium. They took full advantage of that fact.

And I would be remiss to mention the home market and b-movies without discussing Cannon Films, the company that filled in the gaps between the mega-hit blockbusters. They were the ones to help solidify the genre's success at a time when it was blowing up. It was because of them that the genre kept a ubiquitous presence throughout the era. If Commando was out you could instead rent Revenge of the Ninja. And that was what people wanted.

So who was at the top during this time? Who were the stars that drove the genre to success? Many names come to mind, but there are two that define 1980s action no matter who you are. You cannot talk about 1980s in film without mentioning them.

The ones everyone were trying to keep up with at the time were Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. The two of them, and their rivalry through the decade, presented the image, the style, and the presence, that everyone else was trying to match. There is a reason just about every action film, more or less, from the two during this era are still genre classics to this day. They were the kings of action, and for many, they still are.

This is how ubiquitous the two were

I would be remiss here to not mention some of the names that came out of this era, so I'll create a bit of a list. You could use this for recommendations if you want, this is mostly to highlight just what came out in the genre through its peak years. There are many more, and I would easily run out of space if I kept going. Nevertheless, I would recommend any of these if you want to know more about the genre, or the time period.

So let us begin.

  • Steve McQueen (The Getaway, The Towering Inferno, Bullitt)
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger (Conan the Barbarian, Commando, Terminator)
  • Sylvester Stallone (Rambo, Cobra, Tango & Cash)
  • Bruce Willis (Die Hard, The Last Boy Scout, The Fifth Element)
  • Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry, The Gauntlet, Firefox)
  • Charles Bronson (Red Sun, Death Wish, The Mechanic)
  • Bruce Lee (Fist of Fury, Game of Death, Enter the Dragon)
  • Fred Williamson (Hell Up in Harlem, Three the Hard Way, No Way Back)
  • Chuck Norris (Lone Wolf McQuade, Missing in Action, The Octagon)
  • Sonny Chiba (The Street Fighter, Bullet Train, Karate Warriors)
  • Jim Kelly (Black Belt Jones, Three the Hard Way, Melinda)
  • Kurt Russell (Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China, Tango & Cash)
  • Burt Reynolds (Smokey & the Bandit, Shamus, The Cannonball Run)
  • Mel Gibson (Mad Max, Lethal Weapon, Maverick)
  • Eddie Murphy (48 Hrs., Beverly Hills Cop, The Golden Child)
  • Jackie Chan (Drunken Master, Police Story, Rumble in the Bronx)
  • Wesley Snipes (New Jack City, Passenger 57, Demolition Man)
  • Nick Nolte (48 Hrs., Extreme Prejudice, The Deep)
  • Rutger Hauer (Blind Fury, Split Second, Wanted: Dead or Alive)
  • Dolph Lundgren (Red Scorpion, Dark Angel / I Come in Peace, Showdown in Little Tokyo)
  • Brandon Lee (The Crow, Showdown in Little Tokyo, Rapid Fire)
  • Sho Kosugi (Revenge of the Ninja, Pray for Death, Rage of Honor)
  • Michael Dudikoff (American Ninja, Avenging Force, Platoon Leader)
  • Jean Claude Van Damme (Bloodsport, Hard Target, Timecop)
  • Chow Yun Fat (The Killer, A Better Tomorrow, Hard Boiled)
  • Cynthia Rothrock (Yes, Madam!, Righting Wrongs, China O'Brien)
  • Powers Boothe (Red Dawn, Southern Comfort, Extreme Prejudice)
  • Steven Seagal (Out for Justice, Above the Law, Under Siege
  • Patrick Swayze (Red Dawn, Road House, Point Break)
  • Tom Cruise (Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Mission: Impossible)
  • Keanu Reeves (Point Break, Speed, The Matrix)

As you can see, that is quite the list and it's not even close to complete. Some are even still around making movies to this day. These are just some of the names that you wouldn't escape whether at the theater or at the video store during the high point of the genre. Action was everywhere, and if you were a red-blooded male, you were everywhere with it.

But, things were beginning to change by the early '90s. Everything eventually ends, and the action genre was no different. The landscape was rapidly changing, and Hollywood was seeing dollar signs in places we would later learn weren't there.

The first is the success of family movies like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a movie made in 1989 with a clear influence of action movies of the time. Because it was relatively tame, it received a PG-13 rating, which allowed kids in the door to see it. In 1990, when the film released, this success was a game changer. You could tweak the formula, and do whatever you wanted! And that's just what they did.

Now you could get more butts in the seats and make more money, at the same time! If you make the leading men more tailored to women's tastes, you could also get them there! The birth of the corporately retooled movie had begun in earnest. This meant a retooling of the action formula you can plainly see taking effect around this time. Even the sequels to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were blunted when it came to the action and the intensity, and that was already meant for younger audiences. This was a sign of things to come.

At the same time, merchandising was becoming a real profitable endeavor. While the ACT protested against this sort of thing on television, eventually killing western animation by the end of '90s, no one really noticed this trend effecting action movies. At least, not right away. Do you want to know why there were Terminator, Robocop, and Rambo, toys for kids in the early '90s? This is why. And now they could edit down those movies so the kids could get in and, theoretically, make the studios more money. Make the movies for kids instead! You can keep the core audience, and bring more demographics in. How could that lose?

We now know the results of this fruitless endeavor. It didn't take. The reasons people, including children and women, liked the genre, is because of what it already was. They didn't react well to the changes, and the genre began its downhill slide into being a punchline.

Ironically, around this time came the movie The Last Action Hero in 1993, which was written by lovers of the genre as an affectionate satire and rewritten by those who were veterans of the genre and getting sick of it. What you get is a movie that encapsulates the feeling of the genre at the time. As a consequence, this movie was and still is controversial, feeling like the last gasp of the genre and a real sign of the divorce between Hollywood and audiences. It was barely two decades prior when Dirty Harry released, and this is where the genre ended up.

Action movies were now bloodless cartoons, and being treated as jokes by those writing them. Of course, it was also skewered by the hyper-ironic grunge landscape of the early 90s, much for the same reason their dads thought Charles Bronson was just too mean to those rapists and hired killers. But you wouldn't see either of those in the '90s action movies--those were too intense for kids, after all. Now you got PG-13 movies and, much like horror of the time, hasn't aged the greatest and led to the genre's death and destruction.

This change led to overly cartoony action movies such as Street Fighter, made directly for younger audiences. They made money, but the writing was on the wall. The genre was now a parody of itself, and there was no move to change that impression.

The documentary thinks this, too. By the time it reaches the 1990s it begins to list movies without any context or relation to other movies that came out before them or around that time period. It's just a jumble of random films that stand out, but there isn't much of a theme that relates them anymore. For all intents and purposes, the genre was over by 1995, with Speed as the last movie that focused on practical effects for spectacle. We all know what came next.

Enter CG.

By the time of The Matrix in 1999, the genre was hardly the same thing anymore. There is no longer any connection to the '70s masters, and the bloodless action is supported solely by computers and camera tricks--a sign of things to come. Computers were now cheaper than stunts and practical effects, changing the genre forever.

What actually really put the final nail in action movies, however, were the sudden return of Event Blockbusters of the sort that existed way back before action movies began. The ones starring bloated casts that rambled on for over three hours. With the arrival of CG and an easy way to appeal to all demographics at once, this became the focus of the summer season.

The difference between the old blockbusters and these was that these were written, produced, and directed, by then-modern action directors with a focus on spectacle over logic, clarity, and even the action itself. Anything you can accuse a 1980s action movie of being: dumb, loud, and gloss over substance, goes triple for 1990s blockbusters. And these had no moral core like the old ones did. There is no focus on Justice. It's just random carnage.

Spearheaded by Jerry Bruckheimer and Roland Emmerich came movies such as Independence Day in 1996. An infamously bad movie that everyone admits is bad, but shelled out money for to make a huge success anyway. This is where the troubles truly started for the action genre.

Not long later came Titanic, Armageddon, Godzilla, and Deep Impact, and so many other movies that used effects and epic scope over any sort of moral theme or tactile action. Former action movie directors Michael Bay and James Cameron joined this movement, abandoning their old ways in the process. It was now about empty spectacle and grimy characters guiding you through a nihilistic plot about random events killing people randomly without any hope to guide them onward. Heroism had been ejected for sappy speeches and computer graphics. Audiences were engrossed in the shiny lights of this newfangled CG, and studios no longer needed the old guard for stunts or practical effects. They no longer needed people who could take a fall or a punch. By the year 2000, the action genre was more or less over and replaced with these empty epics.

The rise of CG should not be dismissed as small factor in how things have changed. This focus on computers, pushed forward with Jurassic Park and Terminator 2 devalued stuntmen and practical effects makers, pushing the human element to the back in a genre that was about the human first. For all intents and purposes, action movies showed man at his physical best, performing physical feats only they could, and dispensing justice with all they have. The intensity matches the work put into the film itself. Using computers to do the heavy-lifting replaces that humanity and takes away the tactile element. Much like horror of the time, it misses the human element for effects that are purely artificial. It doesn't help that CG ages like spoiled milk, too.

Comic book movies followed on from this epic era, replacing choreography with camera tricks and special effects learned from The Matrix to mask physicality and hide deficiencies in any actor. Now anyone can be an action star, with a little tinkering and without even half the effort it used to take! It is now completely detached from the person, and has severed the connection to the audience and what they really want. Much like auto-tune ruined the singer, advancement in computer effects also took away the human element.

It used to be about taking action men and turning them into actors, but now it is easier to take actors and turn them into action men. In a genre that is about the action first, it leads to a change in how things are done. And audiences notice it, even if they can't put a finger as to why.

The biggest example is the franchise that dealt the last blow to the action genre: the Jason Bourne movies. The camera shakes and shivers, hiding the fact that the star can't fight, but what it does is take away the relationship the audience has to the character because they cannot see his struggles before them. There is no visceral connection between the two.

However, you no longer need to coordinate as much in the way of action or stunts, and since the computers take care of the rest, you hardly need to do as much in the way of editing. This is, oddly enough, why so many modern action movies have pointless random cuts and edits in the action--to give a false sense of movement to the audience. Otherwise you would notice how bad the action actually is. It's all manipulation. It isn't honest.

In old action movies, the stories were pushed by people who knew the basics of storytelling from a basic story arc to a rising climax. You can see this even in the lesser movies from the time period. The story motivated the action, the action flowed from what happened in the plot, which made the spectacle all that more impressive and involved. Because of the story, the audience is invested in the characters and that escalating action strengthens the bond the audience has with the heroes. This is the secret of the action movie's success.

It doesn't work that way anymore.

Now the action motivates the story. They think up set pieces, action scenes, and character archetypes they want to see, then they fashion a movie around it. That is why there are so many empty blockbusters that have no staying power. You would care if Col James Braddock, Mad Max, or John Rambo, died in their movies, because you care about the stakes of what they are doing. Would you care if anyone died in a modern action movie? Could they just be replaced in the sequel and no one would be the wiser? Could they be written out and little to nothing about the story would be changed? That's the difference, and it means everything.

Unfortunately, the documentary ends with a bit of undeserved hope in the genre's future. There are some newer stars, such as Tony Jaa and Scott Adkins, but they will never allowed to break out the way the old guys did because they work old school, and they simply don't get same amount of care or promotion the industry used to give talented workers. That said, at least someone out there is carrying on the tradition almost lost by the mindless pursuit of progress.

It should also be mentioned that we'll always have the classics.

However, all in all, I would say the documentary is worth seeing. For those who weren't around at the time between the '80s and '90s, it provides a good summary of what it was like experiencing it at the time, and for those who enjoy action movies it reminds you just of what you had and why you enjoyed it. The interviews are good, as is information it gives about the movies. There are few documentaries of this neglected era, and it is nice that at least they attempt to fill the gap here. And one can never get sick of hearing clever one-liners or seeing villains defeated in overwhelming fireballs that take up an entire city block.

Of course, the documentary isn't perfect. You can't go without mentioning the elephant in the room that many, many, many, actors, directors, and writers, from the era are simply missing without being interviewed. Some are not even mentioned. The narrative focus isn't as tight as it should be, and some things are given shorter shrift than others (I spent more time talking about the genre's origins above than the documentary does, for instance), and it is needlessly hopeful about the genre's future without giving clear examples as to why we should be.

But all that is negated by the subject matter being treated with respect and legitimately being covered as a serious genre. Action deserves this sort of attention.

In our irony obsessed culture overjoying in re-writing and destroying the recent past, it is nice to see someone talk about the genre without a tongue firmly planted in cheek or in a condescending manner. It's made by legitimate genre aficionados, and that is a breath of fresh air. You should see this, if only for that.

Are you into action movies or want to know more about the genre? If so then this is the documentary for you. Check this out, then start scouring for some Schwarzenegger and Stallone classics to get you started. You will be hooked. Soon enough you'll be one of us!

Stories of heroism and incredible feats will never go out of style, not so long as human beings have a sense of wonder and awe. This is the sort of thing we live for, and what we will never truly abandon. "Progress" be damned.