Thursday, May 27, 2021

Summer in the Wasteland

We're more than due for an update post, I'd say. Today will be just that. It's been quite the year so far, and I'd like to talk a little about what is to come.

The reason posts have been a scotch bit lighter here than usual is because I've been working on several different things behind the scenes, all at once. On top of my upcoming published work, there are other things going on. Two of said mystery projects are actually related to this very site. Not only that, but they will all be coming within the next two months.

As for recent projects, I just had a story in the new issue of StoryHack. This piece is called Golden Echoes, and it is one of my personal favorites that I've written. Golden Echoes is about an uncover agent on a planet in the middle of nowhere working to stop a madman from cracking the universe in two. I'd describe what happens in more detail, but I think that might give away a lot of the fun. Nonetheless, if you like action adventure stories (and if you're here I suspect you do) then you're going to want to pick up this issue. There are other tales by other others, as well. It's a great one, as all issues of StoryHack invariably are.

As for novel projects, I can tell you that Silver Empire is still awaiting cover art for Book 2 of my Gemini Man series, Gemini Drifter. Until we finally receive it, there isn't much we can do to release it. Regardless, the book will be out sooner than later and is, for all intents and purposes, done. The same goes for Book 3, Gemini Outsider. It is written--it just needs to be taken through the editing wringer by my editor so I can polish it up for you. Given how much Silver Empire has to do aside from my work I am unsure when this one will be ready. But I have been assured that it is in the works. Either way, expect both of them within this year.

I'm also 100% finished with Brutal Dreams. This one is a standalone and is much more of a horror piece with Gothic influence. Saying more than that will probably give it away, though. Brutal Dreams is completely ready and awaiting release. However, it isn't being released yet because it was meant to come out between the two Gemini Man books. I want to give you a constant barrage of material throughout the year, and it will be easier to maintain that flow of new stories doing it this way. I wasn't kidding when I said I would have at least 3 books this year, and it will happen. I am determined to see it through to the end.

When they are each ready to release I will divulge more info about them, including the cover art, but for now I can only reassure you that they will release in 2021.

There is also a brand new project I'm working on--it is a 4 book series with the first entry about 3/4 of the way finished. This project is a bit nutty and out there, but it is something I've wanted to do for quite some time now. You're going to look at my sideways when you see what it is and what it is about, but it is going to be a lot of fun. The goal is to have Book 1 of this project out by the end of the year. After that I'm planning on getting to work writing book 4 of Gemini Man.

That is all the novel work I'm planning to do for 2021, but, as you know, I don't just write novels.

On top of the above, I have a barrage of short stories to polish up and send out to those accepting, including others still to write and cobble together into collections for future use. As I write this post I'm finally finishing up a story that has been bothering me for quite some time. It's going to feel good to get this one wrapped up, I tell you what.

There is also another non-fiction project that is little more than a glimmer in my eye right now, so I can't quite talk about it yet, but it's definitely on the way. Expect this one next year, though.

So yes, it's a packed writing schedule. However, they are not the main subject of today's post.

What I mainly wanted to talk about today are the two blog projects I am working on for you intrepid readers. These are going to take up a lot of space here starting in June so I thought it would be worth mentioning now before we get to them. You're probably going to want to prepare for what is coming since it will be taking up a lot of air.

The first of the two projects will be starting next week and it is a continuation of a series most of you know very well by now. Be prepared for even more of a deep dive into corners of a fringe group that no longer really exists, at least not in this form.

That's right, the next entry in my series on Fandom is right around the corner. In fact, it is starting next week. Get ready for more genre fiction craziness!

Thanks to the suggestion of more than a few readers (some who managed to find copies!) I will be talking about another Sam Lundwall book. This time it is his first released non-fiction work, 1971's (though originally released in 1969) Science Fiction: What It's All About, a supposed summation and definition on an era of fiction that no longer exists.

From what I can piece together, this was a book meant to introduce new readers (particularly younger audiences, given the reason the author was chosen) to the wonderful world of genre. Despite that, finding information about this one was rather rough and the few reviews I've found range from praise from people who consume books like this on the regular to normal consumers who didn't find the book very helpful. What it actually is we will soon find out for ourselves.

Of course, there's a lot of crossover with his later work, being that it was written by the same author on the same subject, but this one was being pushed by figures such as Donald Wollheim which gives it a special status the other book didn't have. This book was published a good deal before the last work I covered from this author, and you can definitely feel that Lundwall was not even in his thirties when he wrote this one, but it also is even more illuminating than his later work is. Possibly because this one is far more brazen in what it is attempting to, especially being propped up by older gatekeepers from the post-pulp days of OldPub. Essentially, it was an attempt to establish a narrative. Not a very good one, either.

This book was an attempt at revisionism at a time when Fandom's power was probably at its peak in this declining ghetto of a genre. I say this because the lack of editing on this one harms the work if it is attempting to be a serious scholarly work. Whether it be through repetitive passages and examples or outright moronic claims that should have been gutted by an editor who wasn't grinning with glee as the past was being torn down, it doesn't really matter. The final product still suffers. In essence, there is a lot to sift through here and it's taking a lot of time.

And to get it out of the way, this book was considerably harder to write on than the other one was. Not that I couldn't figure out how to respond to some of what was being written, but that it took so long to pour through these pages that it began to effect my mood and even tire me out. As silly as it sounds, this series was rather difficult to write. I'm still editing and writing it as this post is being published. It's taking much longer than I would like, and not entirely by choice.

The problem is that since my first post on the subject I have learned a lot more on the subject of Fandom, including the cliques outside of genre fiction. As I'm writing this, the pop culture landscape is owned by corporations endlessly rehashing the past by injecting it with modern poison, essentially an attempt to use brand worship to enforce values the originals were not made to prop up. All of this is being defended by the bugmen in charge who see this as an opportunity to propagandize with creations that aren't theirs.

The age of Fandom has let to the era of Fanfic storytelling. Fanatics ruin everything yet again.

Amazon buying the MGM catalogue is proof of this. Jeff Bezos himself even described why they wanted the library:

“The acquisition thesis here is really very simple. MGM has a vast, deep catalogue of much beloved intellectual property. And with the talent at Amazon and the talent at MGM Studio, we can reimagine and develop that IP for the 21st century. It will be a lot of fun work and people who love stories will be the big beneficiaries.”

In other words, they wanted MGM to make more modern crap featuring old IP you remember being good by gutting the original and skin-suiting their own junk inside of it. He expects you will buy because Brand and you are loyal to Brand. He does not expect you to buy on story quality. If you actually loved stories you would want new stories, not old ones repackaged to you forever. They simply take the old thing and wrap it in modern tropes and ideas no one likes, causing arguments between people with no taste and brand loyalty against those who just want good stories. This will continue indefinitely until the industry finally collapses. This is your Brand future.

The old properties are finished, it is time to move on to new things. This is the future of your nostalgia obsession--to be used as a tool to make the usurpers of industry richer. It isn't about storytelling, and it hasn't been in a long time.

To get back on topic, the reason they are doing this is because Fandom's original creations, such as the ones Lundwall rave about in his book, were failures in regard to cultural impact. They didn't accomplish the mass brainwashing they were created to do. Therefore they needed to seize control and subvert the actual successful ideas and use those against you instead. You will see this mentality show up several times in the book as I go through it.

If you can't beat them, sneak in and destroy them from the inside. Trojan horses have always been effective strategies for a reason. Why else do gates even exist?

And this is where we come full circle.

That said, the conclusion I came to after reading this book is probably going to annoy more than a few people. It can't be helped, though. Some folks get angry when you say 200 page pocket paperbacks should be standard again. It's just the way it is. However, complaining about reality isn't going to change the truth of the matter.

If we're going to move into a 21st century world we have to move on from 20th century mentalities and frames. This includes leaving behind harmful attitudes towards art and entertainment that have diluted its impact and reach. The 20th century looked down on everything that came before it, and attempted to destroy everything good it did manage to create, so to keep going in this direction is self-destructive. I would rather uncouple that flaming caboose from the rest of the train so we can achieve maximum speed again. We can start with storytelling.

Be sure to watch out for this upcoming new series. It's going to be quite a lot to go through, and I'm still parsing through the thing right now. Once again, we are starting next week.

After our look at Lundwall's book, we will be charting new territory on Wasteland & Sky. Switching gears, the next post series after it will be new to Wasteland & Sky. For the first time on the blog, I will be posting a serialized story!

Here is the "cover" I created just for this occasion:

Here is the description:

"In 1995, Ray's summer vacation is turned upside down when he hears a radio broadcast from a dead rock star. Reality turns on its head. In his quest for the truth, he finds is a hidden world that shouldn't be. And where did his cousin disappear to, anyway? 
"Y Signal is a story about a world that shouldn't be in a world that no longer is. Can Ray accept the way things are, or will the Y Signal wreck everything he knows? Only by facing the darkness can he learn the truth."

Y Signal is a good bit different from the other stories I've written in that it was made intentionally to be serialized. I wanted to write a tale that could have ran in an old pulp magazine, but not like a pulp magazine that actually existed: more like one that specialized in bizarre stories of the late 20th century. Y Signal is an attempt to be a weird tale period piece. For those who know the era, you will recognize certain things, but those who don't can still get a fully satisfying story out of it. Maintaining that balance was key for me.

I wanted to create a story that took place in the 1990s, but I didn't want it to be pandering or pointless chrome-plating. When you write a story, every piece has to contribute to the whole, including the setting. In Y Signal, the setting and time period is paramount for it to work. It should also be mentioned that pieces of this story actually go far back in my own history. In a lot of ways, this is the first story I've ever written, though I never actually wrote it down. It's always been an idea in the back of my head, but I could never figure out how to flesh it out.

Well, now I have.

Period pieces are a sort of story I've avoided doing as it's not usually my style. In this case, after all the Gen Y discussion we've had all over blogs and social media, I wanted to enshrine that particular era of youth in my own fiction without sacrificing the weirdness of my other stories. This is every bit the sort of weird tale you can expect from the dude who wrote Grey Cat Blues and Golden Echoes. The intent and setting are just quite a bit different.

As a result, this isn't so much a nostalgia piece, but one where the setting is needed for the theme to be fully realized. This story wouldn't work so well if it were set in other time periods, because the plot wouldn't turn out the way it does. Nonetheless, if you remember the 1990s, or are just interested in it, Y Signal will give you that glimpse into a dead world.

The 1990s are both lionized and reviled to this day, so I wanted to capture that balance, and show a specific period in time that no longer exists anymore. In order to do this I had to put my mind way back and pull from it. This won't be a joke like OldPub or Hollywood's attempts to build a revisionist decade. It's just the 1990s as they were to those of us in Gen Y.

On top of that, there is still plenty of adventure and danger to be had! I am JD Cowan--I will never abandon action and adventure. So don't miss this brand new serial! This series is going to be a lot of fun when we get to it.

All in all, Y Signal consists of 4 parts and will be posted right after we finish with the Lundwall series of posts. This is about two months of material coming up. It's a packed summer we've got ahead of us.

So that is the update I wanted to share with you. As you can tell, there is quite a lot coming down the pike in the near future, and that is just from me. There are plenty of other writers and artists out there with material for you to enjoy, and that flood of good stuff isn't stopping any time soon. NewPub's got you fully covered.

Summer's on the way, and it's going to be a hot one! I just can't wait for what's coming next.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Signal Boost ~ Level Up Or Die!

Find it Here!

This one came out of left field, but is a work I want to highlight today anyway. From ghostwriter extraordinaire Joshua Lisec and masculine fiction factory Adam Lane Smith comes this unusual take on the popular LitRPG trend. They have come together to put out, with the assistance of top tier editor Brian Niemeier, Level Up or Die, a brand new take on a well-worn genre. With this all-star team you can bet this book isn't anything typical.

However, though the concept might turn certain readers off, the writer team on this work uses the genre as their own weapon to fashion a fast-moving tale of high-octane adventure. This is a NewPub take on an OldPub genre, which means it is going to be a lot more interesting just on the baseline. NewPub doesn't need to lean on the tired clichés to make ideas work.

Instead, we put out things like this!

The description:

To tear down the system . . .
. . . He’s got to level up

Condemned by the media circus of a People’s Republic of California court, Donny is plugged into a deadly game as entertainment for the brutalized masses.

Tormented over failing his father, Donny realizes honor hangs in the balance.

His family’s fate lies in his hands.

Donny must battle through a cutthroat digital world to free thousands of political prisoners and bring down the corrupt system. But the future’s most ruthless killers stand in his way.

Can Donny’s wits and unbreakable spirit get him out alive?

Fans of Ready Player One and Sword Art Online will love Level Up or Die, the new first-person steampunk LitRPG adventure from #1 bestselling authors Joshua Lisec and Adam Lane Smith. Read it today!

Once again, you can find it here.

Even I'm surprised by the amount of material that has been released this year. We aren't even halfway through 2021, and yet here we are with yet another new release to talk about. The hits just keep coming from NewPub, and do not appear to be stopping anytime soon. Jump into Level Up Or Die and release just how apt that title is for the industry at this very moment.

Come this update on Thursday I will finally let you in on a few of my own projects that are nearing completion, in particular two blog projects that are almost ready to be unleashed. We've got a lot to look forward to!

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Fantastic Passings

While we have reached the End of Pop Culture, we are beginning to learn a lot of other new facts about the people behind the curtain of what we consume. Many years ago, many even just a few--it depends on who you are, one got an impression of those in the general entertainment industry as extremely competent people with their pulse on the public's tastes. Those in charge of the entertainment industry knew what they were doing. You might deny having such thoughts, but is fairly clear that many people believe such a thing. 

Or they did, I should say. You would have a very hard time in 2021 finding a normal person who not only thinks such a thing, but also willingly consumes modern mainstream entertainment. We aren't in the 1980s anymore, and most everyone knows this now. The people in charge have no idea what they're doing.

When you look at a present that isn't all it could be, you tend to have two different reactions. You either decide to reexamine the past to see where things went wrong, or you ignore it by charging blindly into the future and believing things will work out because that's how Progress works. Reality has taught us the latter never works, especially after the failure of the 20th century, but no one in the mainstream is willing to attempt the former as of now, which leaves the rest of us going elsewhere. It is no wonder, even despite a pandemic, no one is willing to pay money for their products.

The last few years of the entertainment industry's death rattles should have obliterated any remaining sense of wonder about how the sausage is made. The structure was built on shifting sand and sinks deeper every day. Despite this, there is an entire class of creator and customer that demands building on this safety hazard even as it crumbles and sinks into the pit. Until this crowd is finally ignored, larger issues will never get fixed.

The death of Fanaticism will only lead to better art, but not until we put things where they belong and treat them as they truly are. Only when we stop treating the past and patrons as the enemy can we finally forge a better landscape for everyone.

Everything we built to replace "better" practices, products, and institutions, has already collapsed and is currently in its death throes. Unless we finally eject the source of the decay, we too will be caught in it. these dilapidated institutions must go.

We need to return to better things--things you have been taught to reject by those who usurped said better things. It is time to put them behind you--they no longer have anything to offer you or anyone else.

Nowhere has this problem been more focused on in recent years than in the life and death of the pulp magazines. Ever since the Pulp Revolution started, people have ceased being quiet on this front. If there is a segment of the industry more gaslit than the history and impact of the pulps then it must have been nuked from existence to thoroughly that not a single soul remembers it. And, if many industry types had their way, that is what they wished would happen to the pulps.

You know this is the case because of all the lies spread about those old magazines to this day. Lies made by people who were taught to hate them without even reading a single page or understanding what the stories were even about. They simply needed "better ways" and to replace what the audience wanted with their own junk. To do this, they needed to erase the past with revisionism.

But where did this attitude come from? Why are there so many weird people that hate wonder stories about adventure starring moral heroes where there are no made-up genre boundaries later fashioned by people who had no right to create said barriers? Why do we still use these terms made by people who hate the things they purport to love? Why do we listen to people who hate us? At what point do we look at their failures and realize that we have no reason to continue bowing to them?

Why do we still listen to these types to this day? Especially when we've learned that their "successes" were either illusionary, temporary, or subverted by even worse minds.

This is why the wide-open playing field of NewPub is so important: it offers the rest of us a chance to finally escape the iron fist of the uncreatives and return to traditions that would be lost otherwise. Though times might change, audience tastes never really do. It is only a shame that so many of us have forgotten the audience even exists to begin with.

The big question is whether you want to give them what they want, or force-feed them what they don't. After a near-century of failure, we now know where the latter approach gets you--abandoned by the masses and run by Fandom cliques who in turn will abandon you at the drop of a hat. there is no future here, only death.

Pictured: Campbell "rescuing" his genre before crushing it.

You've heard the common refrain about how John W. Campbell rescued "Science Fiction" from the horrible fate of pulp magazines and ushered in a Golden Age of a genre that brought us to literary paradise. Though, reality shows that the opposite happened. His changes did not increase sales of the magazine, it made the audience base narrower, a fact that didn't change up until the day the pulps actually died: April 8th, 1949. Campbell's publisher abandoned the market on that date, leading to the death of the pulp magazines over the next few years.

You see, despite popular Fandom mythology, the 1940s were not some sort of a science paradise where the greatness arose out of the muck, like in the above image. It was an era of . . . nothing much, really. Just boring stories of Big Men With Screwdrivers, most of which were dropped by the new Fandom audience as soon as there was a new toy to play with. They abandoned tradition which led to the ones coming up under them to do the same.

The 1940s were not a fertile field for success and creativity for adventure fiction in the way the 1920s and 1930s were. And by April 8th, 1949, the ride was finally over.

This date was when Street & Smith completely stopped publishing pulp magazines after several years of declining sales in the 1940s. Why wasn't Campbell's supposed Golden Age reversing this trend? Why didn't they save their publisher from abandoning their market? The obvious reason for this, and one a certain shrinking segment of the audience don't want to hear, is that Campbell didn't create a Golden Age. He was actually responsible for the opposite: a decline.

"Golden Ages" imply many things: an explosion of creativity, audience interest, increasing sales and popularity, and incredible influence over the field. Think about video games from the mid-80s to the mid-00s or ska music in the late '90s. All these factors came together to create an exciting scene that influenced and excited an uncountable number of people.

The pulps of the 1940s did not have any of these things, nowhere near to the same level of the decades before them. In fact, about halfway through the '40s they cratered so hard that it astounded everybody involved. No one saw it coming.

Within a few years, by the 1950s, they would all be gone.

“They weren’t making any money,” Street president Gerald H. Smith explained to Time magazine. “We just weren’t interested in them any longer.”

Street was also losing interest in its comic books and canceled those, too, along with its pulps.

What Street was interested in then were its slick magazines, Mademoiselle, Mademoiselle’s Living and Charm. After an awkward start in 1935, Mademoiselle had taken off with its circulation reaching 300,000 by 1940 and over half-a-million by 1955.

Like Street, readers, apparently, were losing interest in the pulps, too. Circulation figures for Street’s pulp group show a dramatic drop leading up to the company’s 1949 decision. Through the 1930s pulp heyday, Street’s pulp circulation hovered around a million copies a month, with a peak of 1.2-million in 1935.

As World War II heated up and the United States became embroiled in the global conflict, Street pulp circulation dropped 1940 through 1942.

As paper became scarce and the number of pulps declined on the newsstands, Street’s circulations soared to over 1.6-million copies in 1943. Remember the economic maxim about supply and demand: Fewer pulps meant better sales for the remaining magazines. “In all brackets, the pulps which had been losing popularity boomed in sales,” Writer’s Digest editor Aron M. Mathieu recalled in a 1951 Digest article. “Some people thought this sudden success was due only to the forced scarcity of magazines; but most older pulp editors felt it proved how right they had been all along. ‘The tide swings,’ they said. ‘The pulps always come back.’ ”

The last line is definitely right, but the overall point was correct. Aside from the circulation increase due to the paper shortage, it was only a downward trend. The 1940s were the death of the pulps. A few survived into the 1950s, but by then they either folded like Weird Tales and Planet Stories, or changed format entirely like what Campbell did to Astounding (including changing the title, since he detested the founding principles of the magazine) and no longer being a pulp magazine. The audience interest in the declining quality of the pulps was quickly being turned elsewhere with the better options arriving on the scene.

Times did change, but audience tastes didn't. The sort of television and comic books that became popular were almost exactly like the pulps in intent. Movies, too, focused harder on the adventure element that was being lost by the death of an older form. By the time the 1977 space battle movie and video games came around, pulp returned in full form. Fandom lost, audiences won.

Even still, it was sad to lose the pulps. They could just no longer compete.

But don't think an entire industry of eggheads didn't fatuously rub their hands together to declare victory over the death of this disgusting industry. As ThePulp.Net mentions:

"In an article in the Writer’s 1951 Year Book, fictioneer Allan K. Echols echoes this sentiment. “Pulp editing hardly changed for 30 years; yet compare Ladies’ Home Journal, Vogue, Wall Street Journal, Saturday Evening Post today to 1915! These magazines changed artistically and editorially as people’s minds expanded with the store of more information.” Pulps, he goes on, didn’t."

Speaking of not aging well. Guess what the average opinion of those relics is these days? Meanwhile, pulp influence has only increased over the past few years, storming the fields of NewPub as the OldPub castle sinks into the sands.

The above 20th century mentality of the Progress religion is seeming more and more ridiculous the further we get from that abominable century.

"Jack Byrne, managing editor for Fiction House, replied to Echols in a letter published in the Writer’s Year Book that it wasn’t the editors’ fault that pulps were languishing, it was the publishers’ problems with “manufacturing, distribution and promotion.” Byrne goes on, “The pulps are always dying, as they died for Old King Brady and Nick Carter, as they died in 1930 for the publishers of that day, yet only the form dies. The business of supplying low-cost entertainment to mass markets always manages somehow to confound the obit writers.”"

And it still does. The rotting carcass of OldPub and the success story of NewPub shows as much. But much of the struggle of pulp-style entertainment has always been from many industry gatekeepers, busybodies, and editors, refusing to let it in the door, choosing to instead shrink and eventually crater their chosen industry.

As an example:

"While the pulpwood magazines died, the “pulp”-style story would live on.

"In a letter to the New York Times, Kenneth W. Scott of New York wrote, “The decision of Street & Smith to discontinue the publication of pulp thrillers and comic magazines may mark the end of another era in the history of sensational literature. However, though a waning interest in pulp adventure tales may be the trend at the moment, it seems unlikely that the demand for swiftly paced, stereotyped, inexpensive stories will ever die out permanently.”

"Indeed, paperback books, comic books and television took up the mantle from the pulps. Even a few digests remained after all was said and done, including Street’s own Astounding Science Fiction, which continues publication today as Analog Science Fiction and Fact by Dell Magazines."

The spirit never dies, try as the eggheads might.

But for a long time, pulp didn't have a home. Deliberately blocked by gatekeepers throughout the 1950s and 1960s, locking out an entire segment of adventure fiction ended up warping the field. Sure, while there were many great books in that time, so too was there a lot of drek, however none of it was done in the spirit of the form that brought it success to begin with. And the people in charge were ecstatic over this mutation they caused.

New Keys Open Doors For Escape to Romance

We pause in the day’s occupation to heave a few sighs over the passing of the pulp magazines. It is not that the pulps have been our reading fare for a long time. But news that Street & Smith Publications are leaving the field of fictional adventure, romance, and crime-does-not-pay is like a reminder of the fading of youth.

Many is the greying citizen who will be thinking back fondly today upon the news stands of 25 or 30 years ago, and all those irresistible covers that beckoned to an hour of escape into the realms of derring-do and love. Many is the respectable and best-selling author who recalls the start he got in that wide, motley, and insatiable list for which he wrote gratefully at a cent a word.

The world has not changed. It has only moved. There is still a way to momentary forgetfulness of the atom bomb and inflation, but there are other keys to the door. The movies, the radio. and the daily comic strips have come along to charm those magic casements into opening on perilous seas. They give reality to the crack of .44s, the beat of hoofs, the long-drawn susurrations of ecstasy and the sobs of affronted virtue. What cold and crude type can suffice against them?

The lady of the house can get it all without moving from her dishes or the washing machine. Even over the hum of the vacuum cleaner rise the accents of the soap opera; and in the evening the whole family can enjoy it all together on the screen, without hating one another because the printed page is for one pair of eyes at a time.

Before Street & Smith moved to uptown Manhattan into quarters to match the chic and glamorous slicks to which they turned with the times, their gloomy old house was a citadel of fantasy. One by one the old titles were weeded out with changing tastes and demands. A few withstood the pressure of new mediums, but now, with television for all just around the comer, it is too much.

That is an almost touching epilogue for the death of an industry. But it has not aged particularly well. We can offer the same eulogy to what the writer mentions as "replacements" to the pulp industry. In fact, they are just as finished as magazines are.

Television is dead. Radio is finished. Movies are on the way out. Comic strips are on life support. Literally everything used as an example to replace the pulp magazine is over. They are outdated and have lived out their time in the art and entertainment landscape. So what do we do now that they are gone? What do we move on to? This is a good question.

Though the old pulp era ended way back in the 1940s, it didn't stop the industry from attempting to move on to new things. Today it feels like the opposite: as the corpse of the literary industry has long since cooled and begun to stink, OldPub still clings madly to it as if it were still alive with a beating heart. As opposed to the "forward thinking" industry of the past, we now have OldPub refusing to let the coffin door of the past shut.

As an example, Conde Nast's recent play (apparently before they lose their properties to the Copyright Gods) for The Shadow IP is to turn it into OldPub swill for a shot at a few extra bucks into a property they have mismanaged for years now. You can't get much further away from the pulp roots than what they are doing now.

What was once the leading pulp hero, inspiration to many creations of the 20th century, was turned into another brand name. They turned the property into yet another interchangeable bland product by human book-producing corporation James Patterson. In other words, one of the most inspirational ideas of the 20th century has became typical 21st century hack work. OldPub strikes yet again.

Here is a review of this mess.

"Patterson and Sitts have written an exciting dystopian science-fiction novel with elements reminiscent of both the Marvel and DC comics universes, and a little touch of Alan Moore’s Marvelman. With its teenage female protagonist, it would be easy to mistake it for a young adult book if not for a couple of scenes very much inappropriate for young adults.

"We know that the young woman, Maddy by name, is the POV character because she is the first-person narrator of at least half of the book’s 104 chapters. In a rather odd move for an author, all the chapters NOT narrated by Maddy are written in third person.

"Normally I try to make my reviews fairly spoiler-free but it’s not really possible to really get into some of the problems I have with this book without giving away a few plot points so be advised. From here on out, there be SPOILERS.

"The book opens with what in my opinion is its best written segment, set in 1937 and featuring a very recognizable Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane. The only surprise is that the generally aloof Lamont is about to ask Margo to marry him. An even bigger surprise is her implied secret pregnancy. This segment takes up Chapters 1-3 and ends with the pair being poisoned, and yet Lamont somehow having the superhuman will to drive them both across town to a secret warehouse/laboratory he owned.

"Cut to 150 years later and another Chapter 1."

Anyone who has read an OldPub book in the last decade certainly has warning bells going off in their head, and for very good reason. All you need is the above information and I bet you can guess everything to come in the plot, including any potential twists and turns involving the main character. This is checkbox fiction at its most obvious, an OldPub staple.

None of this is The Shadow. There is nothing of the pursuit of justice, no mystery, no wonder at the danger, and the entirety of the cast and setting has been completely written out. If you have seen any of Hollywood's numerous "reboots" or "sequels" in recent years you can already guess most of what will occur and even how the new main character will act and behave. It's all stock and rote, tired before even a single page is turned.

This is literally all OldPub can put out anymore. The "formulaic junk" of the pulps have been replaced with a new formula far more constrictive than anything that has come before. But you won't hear any voices in the industry speak it, even though it is an obvious truth that anyone with eyes can see. They simply need you to not notice it.

Just keep in mind that no one in the industry will ever reverse course because they will never admit failure. It is always the audience's fault when they don't want to buy junk.

"Maddy is described as 18 but as written comes across as maybe 16. She’s yet another of those plucky, rebellious teenage heroines like Goldie Vance, Nubia, Primer, or even Supergirl, who have turned up so often in graphic novels I’ve reviewed recently on this site.

"Maddy lives in a world where the privileged elites have it all and the rest of the world is left to live in decaying slums, scrounging for food and being “kept in their place” by violent armored police.

"One day she gets a letter from one of the few attorneys left in business, saying she has received a mysterious inheritance. Presuming it to be money she can give to her grandma, she hurries to his office. Instead, under the influence of Maddy’s immediately revealed mind control powers, he sends her to a seemingly abandoned warehouse near the docks to pick up the inheritance, which turns out to be a man—Lamont Cranston, his body preserved since the night he was poisoned, artificially kept alive."

I wonder if she can also draw a bow.

Let me get this out of the way instead of dwelling on the other obvious issues with this setup. The first major one is that The Shadow was not about individualism, which is what YA books like The Hunger Games and all of its ripoffs are ostensibly about. The Shadow is about how only when the individual and the whole (The Shadow and his agents) work together can we impact change on a world that rejects Justice for vice. The whole isn't really spoken of in works like this, except as background cattle to be slaughtered for not being the special main character. Modern YA likes to pander to the narcissistic side of its audience, it doesn't like so much to offer characterization. It has a formula to follow, not a story to tell.

The Shadow wasn't a superhero and he wasn't a crime fighter. He was a representative of something higher than both, and as such the mystery around him is central to his character. Getting into his head or explaining his past completely ruins the mystique. I fashioned The Seeker in Someone Is Aiming for You after him partially because the concept of such a character offers unlimited possibilities for potential storytelling.

Unlimited possibilities and OldPub go together like medicine and poison--opposites that will never meet. Instead you will get pages of clichés and obvious turns. Because that is the only safe material they can let their audience chew on.

Anyone who reads modern OldPub works or watches decrepit Hollywood productions knows that you're not allowed to have wonder anymore. Everything has to be explained to a fault, leaving nothing to the imagination except the same cardboard storytelling you've seen a hundred times before. It mirrors their lazy effects being done by computers and never looking anything better than uncanny. And yet they will never change.

When you see anyone slander the pulps for being formulaic, simply mention that they were still far less formulaic than what they watch by spending a monthly fee on Netflix and watching programs that are exactly like the book we are currently discussing. Formulas exist for a reason, but it is the good ones that should be cherished. Not ones that check boxes to make life easier for giant soulless corporations. Pulp is natural; this isn't.

For example:

"Another unbelievable coincidence is that Maddy is quite familiar with The Shadow and Lamont Cranston from years of collecting bootleg pulp magazines and old-time radio shows. Whoa! What are the odds?

"Lamont remembers them, too. He says they grossly exaggerated his real-life crimefighting adventures and he never liked them, particularly the iconic depiction of him in the slouch hat with the red scarf. He tells Maddy he never even owned a hat, which is, of course, ridiculous, as males of all ages in the 1930s wore hats. It was a huge business. Look at any old movie and if there are a dozen men, you’re likely to see a dozen hats. (There is a funny scene later on, though, where Lamont dresses up in that classic Shadow look to crash a masquerade.)

"Maddy is at first convinced this crazy person has just assumed the name of her hero but she does watch him use some of his powers and has to wonder. In order to save time in convincing her, the authors have him use a Vulcan Mind Meld-type move which instills his entire backstory directly into Maddy’s consciousness so she’s now a believer."

Modern adaption of a classic work slandering the source material? Of course. You didn't think we could go without that today, did you? not only that, but stripping all mythology from the character. It is every single OldPub trope rolled into one.

It doesn't stop there with the clichés. Remember how popular the MCU was? Just as you surely didn't think we could go without a loud, noisy, chaotic superhero brawl which goes completely against what the character is known for:

"More climactic is the exciting, action-filled finale. Maddy describes it as like something right out of a Shadow novel but it actually seems more like something out of an Avengers movie, with Lamont (and Maddy) and Shiwan Khan, now dethroned and thwarted, in a knock-down, drag-out, shape-shifting, energy-tossing, fight in what was once Times Square."

The key phrase "Something right out of a Shadow novel" when it describes nothing in a Shadow novel should really say it all. There is a good chance neither of the writers of this book had ever read a Maxwell Grant Shadow book or even listened to the radio show. There is a far greater chance that they might have watched the 1994 movie and took the worst examples from it. Regardless, none of this is The Shadow.

Another possibility is that they just took another idea they had lying around and grafted The Shadow into it. From what the review surmises, that is almost certainly the case. None of this is representative of the property in any way, and yet the rights holders allowed it.

The Shadow IP was an afterthought to this entire story.

"And make no mistake. When the cover of this book says, “Crime has a new enemy,” it’s talking about Maddy, NOT the Shadow. Lamont is a major character but he’s not the center. The same with Margo.

"So why are they there? If Patterson and Sitts wanted to write a sci-fi novel about a young girl developing various superpowers and using them to better her world, how did they go from that to the Shadow? Neither the pulp Shadow nor the radio Shadow would be among the first hundred or so characters to pop into my mind to go along with that initial premise. 
"And if you absolutely felt the need to use the Shadow, why go out of your way to change him so much that he really ISN’T recognizable as the Shadow any longer? Only a few of the names are the same by the end of the book. Change those and you have all new characters."

They did this because they don't respect either the property or the people who are interested in it. Unfortunately, that's just the way the industry works. OldPub aims their projects at invisible demographics that don't exist at the expense of ones who do and want to spend money. This is one of the many reasons that they are failing.

When this lot tells you they are doing something strange, you can be sure it is never for profit. You can tell because it never results in such a thing. The previous Shadow comic book was such a stinker that it killed the IP for years, all because the people who were making the product told the audience to pound sand. "You don't get the pulp you enjoy--you get my hackneyed manifesto instead," says the modern OldPub writer.

To be fair, they've been doing this since the pulps died. Even before. The audience, the majority, who loves their action and adventure tales of heroism and wonder have been forced to scrounge around in other mediums to get them while said mediums have also begun trying to eject their own pulp influence. The fact that they keep telling you how trash the pulps were, despite their own 20th century literature being an utter failure on every front, should tell you that there is a narrative they wish to sell you. They aren't in it to tell stories.

And why would they want to sell this narrative to you as badly as they do? The attempt to rewrite reality has led to nothing in the industry, still to this day, even remotely approaching the popularity or spread of the pulp magazines. And yet they still don't want you reading or taking anything away from them. They want those old stories buried and replaced with modern swill like the above. They want what they can never have--the appeal of the pulps. They can't have it, because they don't even understand what it is.

What is so dangerous about simple pulp fiction that leads the entire world of OldPub and Hollywood to want to wipe it out? Why do they still insist on subverting and wrecking old properties that haven't even been commercially viable in years thanks to their own meddling? Why can't they move on and do new things instead?

And how are they going to handle that pulp-inspired fiction is going to outlive their attempts at subverting old brands? Doesn't it bring into focus how backwards this might all have been? Perhaps OldPub really has no idea what they are doing.

There are many questions, but they all come to the same conclusion. In the end, Truth always comes out on top. Pulp is truth; slicks are not.

Let us look at one more article from the above link on the death of pulp magazines:

The Pulpers and Literature

In using the word “literature” in connection with writings to be preserved, people normally think of culture and intellect. But the word also means specifically the collective literary works or the preserved writings of an era, a nation or a people. In the latter senses American pulp magazines, the “cheap” publications on paper often rougher than newsprint, are part of the literature of this nation, ami its people, and specifically are part of the literature of current generations — present, immediately past, and perhaps in the near future.

Originals of the Nick Carter series and of the Horatio Alger series are more valuable in dollars and cents than some books published a century or more ago; this coming from the rarity of the document rather than from its content, as a rule. For nearly a century, a major portion of American literary diet has come not only from pulp magazines, but from one firm publishing them — Street & Smith. So, it is with varying feelings that we read that Street & Smith no longer will publish “pulpers” but will confine itself to slicks — slick paper productions which may or may not be of any greater cultural quality than the pulps.

But, though the content of most of the pulps always has been trash from the cultural viewpoint, it is fact that quite a few cultural gems first were printed in these quick-sale and catch-penny magazines. And, many an author whose later productions gained cultural recognition earned a living writing pulp trash while climbing the ladder of culture — or perhaps “success” would be a better word. Some of the big salaried writers of Hollywood and some of the modern authors whose works are looked on as more than passing fancy never could have stayed in the literary game long enough to write worthwhile things or to gain material success but for the small sums gathered in writing for pulp magazines through their early years of literary effort.

In years past, we have known young men and young women who wrote for half a dozen or more pulp magazines simultaneously, under half a dozen or more pen names, or sometimes under several pen names for a single magazine. One name would be used for love-mush stories, one for westerns, one for detective stories, and so on. We have read letters from pulp readers to the publishers saying that “Sheila Sheilcross” was the only woman writer in the world who really understood the emotions of young girls, and others saying that “Norcross Madre” must have roamed the Seven Seas and all the lands between, so broad was the scope of his thrilling adventure stories; and we have seen a young man, half starving in a Greenwich Village attic, hastily searching encyclopedias for material to use in his “Norcross Madre” stories and reading newspaper advice to the lovelorn columns to get material for the love-mush type, the same young man writing under both names and in two very different fields.

Once, we joined a “Literary Factory” — a group of young Chicago reporters who decided to grind out pulp magazine stories by the yard and split the proceeds. The trouble was no one could agree who to write what. Each wanted to tell the other how to form his plot, and when a check did come in everybody claimed precedence on it. This naive effort at collectivism failed completely.

Of course, there’ll be pulp magazines — millions of issues, perhaps — despite the self-removal from the field of the century-old firm of Street & Smith. But, this removal definitely will make a hole in American contemporary literature, and its past productions definitely are a part of American literature — poor, bad, or indifferent. After all, there’s many a dime pulp magazine story that will last far longer in literary history than most of the trash now appearing in the so-called top flight magazines of three times or more that price, printed in gaudy colors and getting thousands of dollars per page for advertising.

And now we live in a pulp world, ready to rule the universe. Pulp never really left, and it never really will. As long as the spirit of romance and adventure exists, so too will the beating heart of the masters. Pulp tradition lives on, and it always will.

The old ways might pass on, as will fads and fancies, but Truth never does. The past is pulp, the present is pulp, and the future is pulp.

It's time for everyone to get used to it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

New Crowdfund ~ "Diamond Jack and the Neon Knights" by Adam Lane Smith

Find it Here!

I told you that NewPub would be on fire this year, and it continues today with yet another new project for you to look out for! It feels like there is something new to point out every day. Maybe because there is! It's actually getting very tough to keep up with it all.

This time I want to share with you a new crowdfund project by author Adam Lane Smith. He is known for his recent works portraying a sort of Masculine Christian fiction of the sort you rarely used to see before NewPub came around. The genre of "Christian Fiction" used to consist of corporate mandated formulaic drivel meant to preach hackneyed postmodern swill that was the equivalent of soma. This genre did not even attempting to reach those who might have a hotblooded faith, or even those who no faith at all, ignoring much of the potential audience. The point of art is connection, so art not attempting to do that fails at the basic level.

That is the way it used to be. But this is definitely no problem with NewPub. Here is the description of Adam Lane Smith's new crowdfund:

Cyberpunk: Blood and smoke drenched in neon

They killed her. Now he’ll slaughter them.

The demonic apocalypse ravaged the surface. The surviving dregs of humanity crowded into nine neon-soaked caverns deep within the earth where scraps of technology barely hold society together.

Jack Vega spends his perpetual nights as a bouncer at a zero-gravity strip club run by the local crime syndicate. But all the alcohol in Hell can't block out Jack's nightmares, constant reminders of the exotic dancer he loved and helped bury. When her ghost returns, this time armed with heavy firepower, Jack's neon world turns blood red. He and his murderous crew must face off against soldiers, combat mechs, rogue AI, and deranged cyborgs as Jack carves a bloody scar across the putrid undercity.

Sometimes revenge is all a man has left.

Doesn't fit too well in OldPub's infinitesimally small Christian Fiction section, does it? Heck, it doesn't even fit into OldPub's non-Christian fiction. That might be because this isn't your great aunt's Christian Fiction or OldPub modern genre muck. This is the sort of pulp-influenced storytelling NewPub has been built for, the kind that was ejected way back in the 1940s. 

We haven't been allowed to write fiction like this in a long time, and many writers took that personally. It's been a long-time coming, and the pendulum is swinging back hard.

I doubt that you haven't seen it yourself, especially if you're one who reads the modern fiction coming out of NewPub these days, but in order to grow this shrinking art form, we need more projects like this. We need to get people excited about reading again, something the big corps have entirely given up on. And this is just the sort of project to do it.

The author goes on:

Diamond Jack and the Neon Knights is the 5th book in the overall Deus Vult Wastelanders series. I have several different lines of Christian fiction in this core universe, with characters crossing back and forth between the lines. This is still only the beginning, and you can help make this series available for more Christians to be encouraged and entertained.

The main themes of the Deus Vult Wastelanders series are:
  • Uncompromising obedience to God's laws even in the face of horror
  • Charity to others, even former enemies who've surrendered and repented
  • Fierce courage in battle against the forces of the Enemy
  • Prayer as a weapon against evil
  • Service to others regardless of personal cost
Readers dissatisfied with the usual sickeningly sweet Christian fiction found in most bookstores will enjoy this divergence from the usual crowd. Instead of weak main characters who waffle back and forth over even the smallest decisions while every character around them is overly cheerful and encouraging, the Deus Vult Wastelanders world sees cannibals lying in wait to dismember and devour wayward travelers, cultists of Ba'al and Moloch combing the wilds for human sacrifice to their dark masters, and towering demons seeking to tear apart the faithful with their bare claws.

That's definitely quite hardcore!

You can check the crowdfund for tiers aside from the basic one that might interest you,. There are quite a few, even those offering the author's previous books in a bundle. No stretch goals are listed yet, if any are forthcoming, but funding is always the first goal of any crowdfund. Who knows what the future will hold? See what strikes you and seize it.

This is the sort of high-octane action that NewPub is built to offer, so be sure not to miss it! NewPub always delivers, and will continue to do so.

Once again, you can find the crowdfund here.

For more new action adventure stories, be sure to pick up the just-released StoryHack #7! The old industry cannot contain this level of spirit of adventure!

Saturday, May 15, 2021

New Release: StoryHack #7!

Find it Here!

It's the time again; time for some StoryHack and more tales of action and adventure! Just like every other issue, you're in for a good time when you flip open one of these bad boys.

As you can tell, I'm also in this one,  but so are other great authors, as well. Issue #7 has been some time coming, but I can definitely say it will be worth the wait!

The lineup:

StoryHack is back with another batch of thrilling stories in a variety of genres. StoryHack is a short fiction magazine heavily inspired by the great pulps of yesteryear. 
Eyes as Blue as Metal
by Dominika Lein

After discovering a human upon a worn-torn planet, an alien commander is betrayed by an ambitious underling. 
That Summer's Evening Long Ago
by Misha Burnett

How do you catch a criminal who uses magic to erase the memory of the item he stole? 
Titan Up
by David J. West
Can a modern man rise to the challenge when a muse mystically summons him to mythic Greece to rescue her from a titan? 
Song for Melienope
by Alexandru Constantin

Oswin the Magnificent and a bawdy monk find refuge from a terrible snowstorm in a mysterious lodge. However, all is not as it seems and a frozen death may have been preferable to what awaits them on this dark night. 
The Berserker's Son
by Michael DeCarolis

The city of Bero is hit by a surprise attack, leaving renowned berserker Furth to choose between defending the city or fighting his way back to his wife and son. 
Golden Echoes
by JD Cowan

An agent goes undercover on a hidden planet to thwart a mad cult leader who is about to unleash a device that splits open the universe itself. 
Third Time Lucky
by Mike Adamson

Spring, 1941: the RAF is stretched tight on the Channel Front, and Johnny Carstairs finds himself battling a mysterious German pilot who seems to have a score to settle. 
Scylla's Lair
by Caroline Furlong

Muriel gave her voice to marry her true love and gain a human soul. But has it cost her more than she can pay? 
The Tombs of Osiris Prime
by Jason J. McCuiston

The search for a missing archeologist on a long-dead planet leads the Last Star Warden into conflict with an ancient galactic threat, and may uncover the origins of the human race. 
An Uncommon Day at the Lake
by David Skinner

A selfish diversion to the Martian desert attracts some outlaw trouble -- and leads to a revelation in the hills!

Once again, you can find it here!

For mere peanuts, you get ten top notch stories of action adventure--with some fantastic illustrations, to boot. If you haven't checked out an issue of StoryHack yet, now is a very good place to jump in. Every issue has a ton of great action adventure to experience, and this one is no different.

My story, Golden Echoes, is one of my favorite that I've written. It's a futuristic tale where a madman has found a way to merge myth and material together to form an untold horror unlike any you've ever imagined! It is up to Galactic Enforcer Ronan Renfield to put a stop to it before military ships either bomb the planet to dust or the universe itself cracks in two. Find out if he succeeds in this issue of StoryHack! It doesn't get more exciting than this.

I'm delighted that even amidst all the madness of OldPub dying and NewPub taking off that we can still get classic magazines like this and from Cirsova. It shows that not only are action, wonder, weirdness, excitement, and adventure, here to stay, but that they definitely aren't going anywhere anytime soon. NewPub has got you covered.

Check out Issue #7 of StoryHack today!

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Contra: One of the Best Video Games Ever Made

I'm currently working on a new series of posts, but I've got a few lighter ones until we get there. This time I want to talk about one of my favorite video games and series. The subject will be Contra on the NES, a genre classic.

In 1987, during the Golden Age of video games, Konami was on top of the world. With games like Time Pilot, Twinbee, Yie Ar Kung-Fu, Gradius, Devil world/Dark Adventure Shao-Lin's Road, Goonies, Jackal, Life Force, Blades of Steel, and Castlevania, they were showing themselves as the masters of just about every genre under the sun, both in the arcades and at home. that familiar logo was just about everywhere.

If you had an NES then you are fully aware as to just how good Konami was at this time, contributing especially well to the rising shooter, beat 'em up, and platformer, genres. They only got better at it as the years moved on. It felt as if their ideas were as endless as the new games they were putting out. Next to Capcom, they were probably the most trusted third party developer of the time period, which is saying quite a lot. There isn't anyone else who came close in the level of consistent quality and varied ideas that Konami did.

One such idea was the Contra series, a run and gun game fashioned after 1980s action movies. It's hard to imagine now, but few companies tried as hard as Konami did to turn such things into video game fodder. There were attempts, but they always felt half-hearted. This series? Not so much. 

Contra isn't the first run and gun video game, but it is the first one to really solidify how the mechanics should work and how much the player should have control over their character in order to achieve feats. The original arcade game released in 1987, and was decently popular, being a big looking game with surprising gameplay variety that ostensibly allowed players to become action movie heroes. There was a lot of shooting, dodging, and tough enemies to battle, which made it tough to walk away from. Needless to say, it was a hit.

However, it was in 1988 with the NES home version that Contra cemented itself as a true classic. When people talk about the original Contra, this is usually the game they mean.

Though the graphics couldn't be as powerful as they were in the arcade, the game manages to look much better than the original version. The simplistic art style allows easy visibility of enemy attacks and bullets without any of the clunk found in the arcade original. It's an all around better playing experience. The music also uses the NES soundchip to create a far more energetic soundtrack than the original, allowing for sharper and clearer sound effects on top of it. Then there is the player movement and the controls which are both far tighter here than in the arcade version. The characters can aim and jump in every direction with speed and ease of maneuverability that the genre would use as a base for years to come. No one who has played both is going to argue that the arcade original is superior.

The NES version is also longer. Though it has 8 stages compared to the arcade's 9, many of the arcade stages were short and were combined into one on the NES which then expanded whole segments of the final arcade level into four separate full stages. There is also no time limit in this version. In other words, it's also a longer game on top of being a better playing one.

All in all, whenever anyone talks about how great Contra is, they are talking about the NES version. And so will I.

The NES Contra is still regarded as a classic today. Let us start with why that is.

So what exactly is Contra about? Well, it is a run and gun game: a run and gun is combination of two specific popular genres of games from the 1980s. That being the platformer and the shooter. Contra uses both of these halves to form the bulk of its gameplay time. You are tasked with playing as two action heroes as they avoid enemy fire and slaughter the villains, not unlike Arnold in Commando. you are the ultimate male!

But the story and setting add a bit to the flavor. It isn't just Commando meets Predator and Aliens starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, even though that is the main gameplay hook, and what the box sells you. There is more than you might think.

The plot, as told by wiki:

"Contra is set in the distant future of the year 2633 A.D., when the evil Red Falcon Organization have set a base on the fictional Galuga archipelago near New Zealand in a plot to wipe out humanity. Two commandos, Bill Rizer and Lance Bean of the Earth Marine Corp's Contra unit (an elite group of soldiers specializing in guerrilla warfare), are sent to the island to destroy the enemy forces and uncover the true nature of the alien entity controlling them. The promotional materials for the US arcade version downplays the futuristic setting of the game, with the manual for the later NES and home computer versions changing the game's setting from the future to the present day and the location from Galuga to the Amazon Jungle."

Why North America tried to retcon this awesome setting is beyond me, but they put it back by the third game, Contra III: The Alien Wars, after first attempting to say the game starred Bill and Lance's descendants Jimbo and Sully (Why they did this I don't know) before giving up and admitting they are all futuristic shooters with an obvious timeline.

It actually makes for an interesting setup. you aren't just dealing with terrorists or aliens. You're dealing with alien-infested terrorists with possible demonic ties as you attempt to save the human race. In a lot of ways, it is not too dissimilar from Castlevania in how it pulls inspiration to make something new. The two series actually do have quite a bit in common, but that is from mostly being made by the same company.

In the distant future, an alien force called Black Viper has slipped into Earth undetected and is slowly amassing power through the darker parts of society. They create the group Red Falcon run by their puppet human terrorist organization to sow chaos around the world. Bill and Lance, guerrilla combat experts, are sent in to stop this supposed human group. What they find is something much worse than they first expected. Each entry reveals more and more of what Black Viper really is, escalating the series as time goes on into one of the spirit of good against the twisted machinations of unknown evil. At least, before the canon goes right off the rails, but that's a whole other conversation.

What Black Viper actually is, aside from a vague alien force, is never actually stated, though they are definitely meant to be demonic terrors far beyond normal enemies. Putting the player up against something so obviously evil and frightening gives the added bonus of having them want to succeed even more. Few people give up after their first Game Over in Contra for a very good reason. these alien freaks are going down!

Konami knew what they were doing.

Nonetheless, Contra is fantastic because of two key reasons. The first is that it is an A+ platformer and the second is that is also an A+ shooter. On their own without the other half they would be great games. Combined they make up a classic gaming experience unmatched in the genre. Even without the rest of it boosting it up, Contra could get by with the fact that it is just that good gameplay-wise.

The tighter controls allow for more precise platforming, though the game rarely kills you for missing a jump like in, say, Super Mario Bros. Instead, being good at platforming simply allows you height advantage and better positions to shoot at the oncoming enemy forces. The game rewards you for being better at the controls by turning you into an unstoppable force of nature.

The shooting, too, is fast paced and sharp. It helps tremendously that most enemies die in one hit--just like you do. Aside from the bosses and enemy vehicles, you are actually on even footing with every obstacle in the game. The only difference is in numbers. This feeling combines with rising stakes and ramps up into the outright obstacle courses you are faced with by the end.

As for the bosses, they are perfect in their simplicity in attacks and patterns and yet retain a foreboding toughness regardless. Every encounter feels like a battle to the death. The first boss is iconic in video games: the giant wall with carefully placed laser sentries and oncoming guards. You must master each enemy's pattern on this obstruction in order to walk out unscathed towards the next level.

Or walk in to the next level. This is another nice touch the game offers.  After you destroy the gargantuan monolith, you walk into it into the opening you made and down towards belly of the base, the second level. This interconnected feel pervades throughout the entire experience.

This stage is done from a third person perspective, not too unlike the pale imitations that Sony pumps out these days, where the camera locks behind you as you shoot forward down the wide open halls of the steel tunnels. As you clear out sections you advance forward into the next room, following a clear path towards the center. However, the difficulty is no less harsh here. You will never forget you are in a Contra game, simply because the game will never allow you a moment to realize it. always move forward, never stop. Let's Attack Aggressively!

The base stages, though few in number, represent a refreshing change of scenery from the sidescrolling levels, allowing the player to sharpen their reflexes by altering their entire perspective on where they can get shot from. You thought you knew where all enemy fire was coming from, but you were wrong! Even the boss for this stage has you shooting up towards it while enemy attacks come down at you, a reversal of the usual left and right situation found in the first level and boss. You must completely change your approach on the fly.

This isn't only brilliant design, but it is the perfect curveball to throw at gamers that might be frustrated at the difficulty and keep them interested enough to see what might be just ahead of them if they only continue that one more time. As I said: no one quits Contra after one Game Over. You always continue that one more time.

And we did continue for years to come. Contra is still known as a classic to this day for a very good reason.

The powerups are not the best they've ever been in the series (those would be the ones in Contra 4) but they do add a good wrinkle to the gameplay and the risk/reward system. You're not going to want to go into this gauntlet barely armed.

By blowing up the floating powerups you can upgrade your gun into something better than your standard peashooter. The first is a far faster machinegun that does heavy damage to bosses and can wipe out waves of enemies quick. however, it suffers from being harder to aim at a distance, meaning you have to get close to really use it to its fullest potential. Then there is the flame gun which shoots in a corkscrew pattern, allowing for easier distant shots but not much in the way of power. You can also collect baser power-ups to make your default weapon stronger and to give you a barrier for defense, but these aren't much to talk about.

Lastly, of course, I have to mention the greatest gun powerup of all time, which comes in the form of the Spread Gun, a legendarily overpowered weapon that offers aid to anyone that can't aim. How? By firing a spread wave of bullets that covers the majority of the side of the screen. You will most likely kill everything coming before it even knows what hit them. I'm not overexaggerating the effectiveness of this gun. The spreader is the most difficult weapon to miss an enemy with, which makes it the go-to for many Contra players.

unfortunately, it also has a glaring weakness in that it is the slowest weapon in the game. Should you miss your shot, it takes much longer for the next one to be fired. By then, in a game like Contra, you might already be dead. Unless, of course, you master the game.

And while I made the powerups seem rather overpowered, they all vanish when you are hit once. Unless you are good at the game you won't be using them much, which incentivizes learning everything. This is what good game design should do. If it kicks you down the game should make you want to get back up and give it another shot. How else will you get satisfaction out of conquering it?

Contra is master at this, and why it has remained a classic for over 30 years.

They knew their audience.

As for the future entries of the series, you might be surprised to learn that despite being over 30 years old, almost every entry in the Contra franchise is a quality game. That is impressive. Not even Castlevania has managed the concentrated quality that Contra has had.

The sequel to Contra was Super C (Super Contra in the arcades) which came along in 1990 (Again, 1988 for the arcade) which similarly improved on the original version. Super C is a more focused experience, lacking the variety of the original entry for a shooter-focused challenge. The levels are primarily shooting galleries and left to right affairs. There isn't as much platforming, but that is fine for what this entry wishes to do. People who prefer the sequel tend to like the purist shooter focus. It might not top the original, but it is still a top tier shooter.

Then came a Game Boy entry in 1991 entitled Operation C. This simplified the action even more, especially being that it was on a smaller portable system and screen, yet the action is no less frantic. It's a short game at only 5 stages, but for a bite-sized portable experience it as good as it could be. To be quite honest, shooters on the old Game Boy rarely get better than this one. That they managed to include a game that stacks up so favorably to the original games is very impressive. It is only a shame this series has so few portable entries.

Now we reach what many consider the pinnacle of the series in 1992 with SNES entry Contra III: The Alien Wars (It was even called Contra IV before release) which was a tonal change in focus for the series. What was once a bunch of levels defined by challenges became an attempt to mimic the very action movies it was based on. In essence, every level is a set piece. What they tried to do was turn it into the visual equivalent of playing through an action movie. Not like today's AAA slop, however. There is no story focus or dialogue--it is just in the presentation.

From wiki:

"Contra III was developed by Konami with a team led by Nobuya Nakazato. Although this was Nakazato's third year at Konami, Contra III is the first Contra game he worked on, having only previously done informal playtesting for Super C (1990). He believed the original arcade version of Contra (1987) was difficult to play because of its vertical screen, but he did enjoy the Famicom port. Nakazato's team worked in Konami's new offices in Tokyo, seated next to the arcade team that had developed Contra. Nakazato shared progress on Contra III with the arcade team and received positive feedback. In early coverage, the game was known as Contra IV. Nintendo Power reported the name change to Contra III in its coverage of Winter CES in 1992.

"Nakazato believed Contra had a low-budget movie theme. To emphasize this, he asked the sound team to change the music as the stages progressed to give a cinematic style. He also believed the action in earlier Contra games is too realistic, so for Contra III he wanted to include more comical elements. He was concerned the change may upset series fans, but believed it would be more entertaining. One scene added to accomplish this is a sequence where the player hangs from flying missiles. This strains the Super NES's sprite capabilities, so the team used background tiles to draw the helicopter and missiles in the scene. Making the graphics appear to move like sprites in the foreground required clever programming tricks. The Super NES allowed for "raster scrolling", which allowed the programmers to change the graphics for each scanline. The programmers shifted the vertical sync and cut off the sprites at the scanline. The restriction is that graphics can only move horizontally along the scanline to achieve the illusion that they are actually sprites in the foreground.

"Nakazato was concerned the traditional pattern of weak enemies followed by a boss fight was becoming mundane and did not want players to feel "in for the long haul" every play session. To combat this, he established a key concept for something interesting to happen every three screen scrolls. This made the game content feel more dense and gave it a "boss rush" type feel. Nakazato believed Contra III's fast-paced action was going against the trend of home console games shifting to slow-paced strategy and role-playing games, and is good for quick-starting stress relief.

"Contra III was released in Japan on February 28, 1992, and North America on March 26. In Europe, the game was retitled Super Probotector: Alien Rebels and released on September 12, 1992. In Super Probotector, the gameplay and story remained mostly the same, but the player characters were changed to robots. Due to technical differences in PAL SNES systems, Super Probotector's gameplay is slightly slower."

And it did work. Contra III: The Alien Wars remains one of the best games on one of the best video game systems. They added a new wrinkle to the formula, and it was exactly what was needed for the burgeoning 16-bit era.

Contra was already based on action movies from the 1980s, so deliberately designing a game that played like the over the top sequences it was based off was an ingenious idea. This gives the presentation a cohesive feeling of escalating tension as challenges also get tougher as you descend deeper into the alien menace. As a result, there was really nothing like Contra III when it released, though many take inspiration from what it did to this day.

But the series wasn't done there.

After the success Nakazato had with Contra III, he moved on to the rival 16-bit system, the Sega Genesis. Yes, even Contra contributed to those old console wars. Here he created the flipside to his original idea, that being a game called Contra: Hard Corps. which was released in 1994.

Unlike Contra III, Hard Corps wasn't designed after an action movie. They took a different inspiration. This one was instead fashioned off of serialized television shows and comic books with cliffhangers. At the end of every stage you are tasked with making a choice (like a cliffhanger hook) that will change the level progression and even the resulting ending you get. The levels you end up going through are different every time you play.

Unfortunately, the North American of this game has pointlessly tweaked difficulty. The original has a health bar and unlimited continues while the NA version has the usual one hit kills of the series and a five continue limit. Why they did this I have no idea, since this was not part of the design, but it was meant to be a spin-off for a reason. It is also the first instalment to not have Bill or Lance as the main characters, but a team of characters with different abilities. This gives it a different sort of replay value the other games don't have.

By this point, Contra had become a legendary video game series with clout to spare. It was on top of the world.

The Anniversary Collection features every game I've mentioned so far.

So far so great. It is easy to see how Contra became one of the most respected video game series. But what I haven't talked about is the elephant in the room, the one that nearly killed every legacy franchise. Yes, I'm referring to the increasingly-maligned 32-bit generation.

This would be considered the darkest era of the franchise's history. In fact, between 1995 and 2002 there were more canceled Contra games than actual series entries. Instalments for the N64, Gamecube, PS2, and Xbox, never managed to get off the ground, while only two PS1 and a single PS2 entry released in that time frame. And only one of these was even good.

For some reason, Konami treated Contra like trash after 1994. It happened to a lot of classic 8 and 16-bit franchises. No one really knows why. The franchise was handed to external teams, b-teams, and had weird ideas attached to them (In no universe does a Contra Online make any sense) and none of it worked out. All of this can be seen in the two PS1 entries that actually did release and were declared non-cannon as fast as could be done.

Instead of fast-paced 2D games, these entries were clunky and slow 3D games that missed everything making the original games such enduring classics. These two PS1 entries came out in 1996 and 1998 and did a lot of damage to the franchise's legacy. Much like the 3D Castlevania games damaged that series, the same was happening to Contra. By the time the PS2 released, it was in danger of being forgotten.

Konami then grew a brain and brought in Nakazato to direct a Contra game in an attempt to salvage this mess, which is exactly what he did. Contra: Shattered Soldier returned the series back to its 2D roots, a fast paced shooter, though this one was more of a boss rush than ever before and the story is typical '00s era Konami silliness filled with stupid retcons to series lore and pointless convolution that would only continue into Neo Contra, the PS2 sequel. While these were good games that did much to re-right the ship, they still had plenty of flaws they shouldn't have had.

All it did was highlight how much gaming had changed. Electronic Boutique's at the time were getting tons of returns on Shattered Soldier because the game was "too hard" and it being in a 2D perspective was a big no-no to game journalists. Because of this, it felt like it was already too late for Contra. The industry wanted it out. the deafening silence on the franchise after Neo Contra seemed to confirm that it was finished. It was time to move on to AAA garbage only.

That is why 2007's Contra 4 for the Nintendo DS was such a surprise. It was against every single thing the modern industry was heading towards. It was a deliberate return to roots, long before the 2D indie onslaught happened.

Konami even got a studio known for quality 2D games to do it! Contra 4 was made by WayForward Technologies, creator of the Shantae series, and was a deliberate attempt to shed all the stupid baggage the series had accumulated since the early '90s. And, boy, was it welcome.

The game is a simple straightforward run and gun game with plenty of platforming. There are some set pieces like in Contra III, and they even included improved weapon stacking and upgrades from that entry, but otherwise the game structure more clearly resembles that of the original two games. In fact, it clearly uses the NES version of the original Contra as its biggest inspiration. It learned all the right tricks. Deliberately calling it Contra 4 was a smart move as it not only harkened it back to the simpler gameplay and aesthetic of the most well known entries, but it allows the game to have a focus the series hasn't had since the 16-bit wars ended.

Contra 4 is possibly WayForward's best game, and one of the best in the series. It is only a shame it has never been re-released in near 15 years. It was the shot in the arm the franchise needed.

Unfortunately, it wasn't too popular. We all know what was happening in gaming during 2007, and a game like Contra 4 was simply not in vogue at the time. Because of this, the series faded from focus as gaming moved away from being about challenge and instead about lackluster D-grade stories. It's a shame, but it is what it is.

And after this point the series more or less became niche, putting out a game every now and then (though sometimes, like with Hard Corps. Uprising, they still manage to be top shelf) not unlike other seminal Konami franchises such as Gradius or Castlevania. Classic gaming was kicked to the curb, but it doesn't matter.

True classics will always be classics.

Hard Corps Uprising is a prequel to Contra: Hard Corps., and manages to live up to it.

So while the original Contra for the NES is one of the best games ever made, so too are most of the other games in the series. There aren't many long-running franchises with as few entries as this that still manage to have near a dozen titles worth playing, but Contra is one of them. Chances are, if it says Contra on the box you are going to have a great time . . . unless it's in 3D, that is. Then your chances aren't so good. Otherwise? It really gets better than this.

Are you a gamer in need of challenge, the likes of which you've never seen before? Then Contra has exactly what you're looking for. Don't sleep on this classic series!

The best games challenge you to better yourself and top new seemingly insurmountable odds one after the other. Few do it as well as this series does. Most of all, this contributes to making the series one of the most fun you can encounter.

And isn't this is what gaming is all about?