Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Signal Boost ~ End of August Edition!

Find it Here!

September is almost here! Finally, after a far too hot summer we can look forward to autumn just around the bend. To celebrate, let us have a look at some newer books released that might be right up your alley! NewPub never sleeps!

We will begin with the above book, Body and Blood, by Michael Gallagher. As always with NewPub, it's a weird one!

Here is the description:

Father James Keenan and Father Akono Nwosu are men of faith in a world with its back to God. A world where an umoored humanity stumbles along searching for meaning. Here, every tarot parlor in the Psychic District offers an easy answer, the forces of Hell itself roam the streets and interparish gang tensions constantly threaten to boil over.

The only ones keeping a lid on it all are the warrior-priests who wield the Rite of Exorcism as a weapon in a spiritual war that rages all around us.

Negotiating peace between the local gangs, running the soup kitchen and finishing the parish bulletins were difficult enough. Now kids are disappearing off the streets, churches are being vandalized with an ominous symbol, and everyone has a feeling that strange woman in the Black Hollow Projects is behind it all, but are too afraid to say anything.

Fearing for the safety of their flock, Keenan and Nwosu must now race to discover the fate of the kids, knowing that all of this happening right around a once-in-a-lifetime feast day devoted to an ancient life-hating demon can’t be a coincidence.

Once again, you can find Body and Blood here.

Find it Here!

Next up we have the twelfth (!) book in Declan Finn's supernatural cop saga, Saint Tommy, NYPD, called Blue Saint. Since Silver Empire closed up shop, he has had to move his entire series over to Tuscany Bay Books. and it looks as if he is finally back up to date!

This is the description of Blue Saint:

When his local church is destroyed by supernatural means, NYPD Lt Tommy Nolan finds himself besieged by old enemies hellbent on revenge. This time, Hell will see Nolan dead, whatever the cost, and destroy his city with him.

What will Nolan risk to stop the coming onslaught?

Blue Saint is up for preorder now, which you can find here, but the eleventh book, Dark Web, is out today! You can get that at this very moment. The series is still going strong.

Find it Here!

Here is the description of Dark Web:

When a Christian internet celebrity is kidnapped, Tommy Nolan must team up with a ghost from his past in order to battle the horrors lurking in the Dark Web, including a drug dealer peddling supernatural powders, Chinese nationals wielding supernatural weapons, and a Private Military Contractor staffed with witches.

No worries, just another day in the life of a living Saint.

Dark Web can be found here.

Find it Here!

We covered Kit Sun Cheah's first book in his Saga of the Swordbreaker series, Dawn of the Broken Sword, on a previous signal boost. As of now, the second book has released and it is time to see just what has changed in this crazy universe!

He has attempted to make a series of martial arts magic without the all too common video game tropes of the modern age, something we can all be grateful for. Be sure to check out the Saga of the Swordbreaker series today!

Here is the description for book 2, Lord of Beasts:

When beasts swarm the Central Plains, the city-state of Yudu issues a call for aid. Martial cultivators from across Xiazhou descend on Yudu, chasing dreams of wealth and glory. Among them is Li Ming and his fellow biaohang from Dayong.

Shattered by recent losses, Dayong needs to rebuild their reputation, earn much-needed revenue and expand their influence. But when they arrive, what was supposed to be a straightforward beast hunt spirals out of control.

Old foes and new enemies crawl out of the woodwork. The beasts themselves are acting strangely. And from the shadows comes a plot to overturn the world of the rivers and lakes.

Surrounded by chaos and conspiracy, Li Ming and his allies must plunge into the fray and unmask those who seek to become the Lord of Beasts.

Author's Note: This series is not a power fantasy. There are no LitRPG / GameLit elements, no unconventional relationships, and no sexual content. It is, quite simply, a cultivation story—in the actual sense of the term.

Once again, you can find it here!

Find it Here!

Finally today we will take a look at the newest book in Karina Fabian's DragonEye, PI series. This is a series about a dragon named Vern from the faerie world stuck in the mundane and has to make his way as a servant of the good. This is the third book in the series and, as you might be able to tell, has a bit of comedic edge to the proceedings. The first entry in the series was called Murder Most Picante and can be found here.

Here is the description for book three, Nun of My Business:

When a Faerie nun shoves a piece of music under Vern’s nose and insists it’s an evil spell, he has some doubts as to her mental stability. But work is scarce for a dragon detective on the wrong side of the Interdimensional Gap, and if Sister Grace McCarthy wants to pay his bills for a wild goose chase, who is he to argue? Unfortunately, Vern is not the only one with concerns about Grace’s sanity. When a child accuses the nun of hexing her voice, the city is in an uproar, and Vern has to uncover the truth – for Grace, for himself, and for the fate of the Faerie and Mundane universes.

Is the song just annoying? Or is it a summoning spell from the depths of hell? And how does a shell-shocked nun who refuses to sing fit in the equation – and Vern’s life?

You can find Nun of My Business here!

That's it for today! Thankfully you made it through August and even have some killer books to check into next. Sometimes it's the small things, right? Don't worry, fall is just around the corner and we can finally bid this insufferable heat goodbye.

As for myself, I'm still working on the same projects as before, not as as fast as I would like, and dealing with some behind the scenes trouble at the same time. Hopefully we'll get past it and get back on track again. It's been quite the year!

That said, I hope you're having a great summer, and are doing great. We've got some good times ahead, so let's look forward to them!

Up next: September!

"JD Cowan has over the years shown himself to be one of the most prominent, and perhaps most important, essayists of the new movement in pulp revival beginning in the mid 2010s. His is must read work." ~ P. Alexander, Cirsova

Friday, August 26, 2022

Early Weekend Lounge ~ The Importance of Action!

This is going up a bit early this week, mostly because this feels like a Friday post, if that makes sense. This is one designed to get you primed for what is to come. These isn't much to mention this time, but there is a subject I want to discuss.

I have recently been delving into the second volume of the Cannon Film Guide (which is over 1000 pages!) and have found even more appreciation for the short-lived Cannon Films studio. If you have any interest in the history of 1980s filmmaking, action movies, or how one can make something for pure escapism, it is quite a good read. Just like the first volume, author Austin Trunick covers a period of Cannon history (the first one went over 1980-1984 and the second covers 1985-1987 while the third will presumably cover up to their end in the 1990s) and shows in detail just how a madhouse of off the wall creativity (and trend chasing) ended up with one of the most memorable film studios in the 20th century.

In this book you will understand the true mad joy that comes from creating, at all levels of production, both in failure and success in the pursuit of entertaining the audience. Cannon Films is still beloved to this day because their films just don't age. There is a reason I have have a podcast going with a friend of mine for about five years on them. There is plenty to talk about on the subject!

Even outside of Cannon, there has been a huge resurgence and interest in pulp-style action and adventure stories of the like that more or less died off in the 1990s. You can find all kinds of books talking about everything from movies to even video games, focusing on the pure entertainment they strove to deliver. It is an era even focused on by those who weren't alive to experience it. This shows there is much to the time period.

One can also now understand how important it was for a madhouse like Cannon to be able to exist in the eye of the storm that was the 1980s. A studio that existed purely for the love of moviemaking and any wild idea that can into their heads. That things like Cannon cannot thrive in today's climate is an indictment of the industry and how we are missing something crucial that we once used to cherish.

This brings us to the above video. You might be wondering how this relates to an interview that modern action star Scott Adkins recently had with director Isaac Florentine about his long filmography. Turns out that it actually has a lot to do with it!

Isaac Florentine started his career under Boaz Davidson at Cannon Films. He wasn't at the top or anything, but he did get in on projects like American Cyborg: Steel Warrior (a Terminator inspired post-apocalyptic actioner) and soon learned his craft. After that, well, there is quite a lot. You can check the above video to see his career trajectory and how he ended up being a key figure managing to keep the action movie still alive, including discovering Scott Adkins himself. He also had some involvement in Power Rangers, as strange as that might be.

In other words, the Cannon spirit never really died even when Cannon did. It went underground, but it's still there. If you watch Isaac Florentine's two Ninja movies (which I highly recommend) starring Scott Adkins you will see just how a modern Cannon could work in the modern day. Turns out it works better than you might think.

Definitely watch the above interview to see just how the genre has somehow managed to survive even with the industry itself so dead set against it. This is quite inspiring stuff.

Scott Adkins' interviews as a whole are also very informative and a lot of fun to watch as he discusses the genre that he loves so much (and is part of!) over the decades with people who were there for different eras of it. He's done 40 so far, and hopefully there will be many more to come. They are great watches.

Here is a clip of him talking about Brandon Lee, someone who was taken far too soon, to show just how much goes into making these sorts of films:

As long as there is someone still dedicated to giving the audience what they want, art and entertainment like this will never truly go away. Hopefully we never forget that most important aspect of the human connection. It's what makes this all work.

And we're going to keep at, as long as it takes, to keep the flame burning. Keep looking forward to what's coming down the pipeline. You'll never see it coming.

Until next time!

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Weekend Lounge: Some Light Fun

Welcome to the weekend! Today I just wanted to highlight a couple of cool little tidbits you might have missed. 

The first is the above Sega Genesis Mini 2. This product is a repackaging of the second model of the Sega Genesis console only with built in games. The mini-console trend has been around awhile, and this is merely the next step for it. Gamers who want to hold a physical version without paying inflated scalper prices on old cartridges might find this appealing, especially for children and younger relatives. These games have aged very well. At least, the ones that were good to begin with! Your mileage may vary on that.

There are 60(!) games in this one. You can find the full lineup on Niche Gamer. If you're into classic gaming, you will probably have a good time here!

At the same time, in new gaming news is the upcoming Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider, a game by the creators of Blazing Chrome and other new retro-style games, Joymasher. This is an action platformer of the kind the 16-bit era excelled at.

These guys know how to create new games that feel like they could have been made back in the day. In an age where the majority of AAA big budget creations have nothing in common with the roots of the medium, it is nice to see things like this cans till be made.

This is the sort of thing that didn't feel possible a decade ago, which makes it doubly exciting that it is happening now.

Lastly, in tandem with the above news, both Sunsoft and Toaplan (classic game developers) are having their old games finally re-released properly, making a lot of hard to find classics available for the first time in decades. Finally, both Gimmick! and Zero Wing will gain the exposure they haven't been able to have since the early 1990s.

Much can be said about the current generation's nostalgia obsession, but one thing they are good at it is preservation of a lot of this sort of thing. A lot of the people who originally made this material (and in other mediums) completely dropped the ball.

I can't say exactly what the future holds, but the return to traditional forms long abandoned by an industry currently treading water seems to be occurring more and more. Here is hoping it doesn't let up anytime soon.

That's all for today! Have a good weekend, and I'll see you next time!

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Animated Ways

A lot of talk has focused recently on mediums. What exactly causes a piece of entertainment or an idea to fit in a specific medium? Is it stubbornness from the creator, or is there more to it than you might think? Their decision would depend on many factors, but mostly on whether or not the medium fits the story they are trying to tell. Thus, action stories work better in prose when the story involves more than focus on set pieces, and cartoons work better when the animation allows movement and focus that requires the visuals other mediums cannot rely on. Everything has a purpose. (Except CG! It still looks fake and doesn't carry any story to best any other medium. Everything CG does would look better with practical effects or 2D animation. Sorry, guys!)

One thing we have to remember: every story has a reason to be the medium it is, even if you don't see it yourself. The bigger problem are those on the outside that will prejudge any creation solely by the medium it is created in. This is a fear of art, and it is not healthy in creating a sustainable scene or building any future.

We need a reassessment. Not just on mediums, but on what art is meant for in the first place. We have lost the plot.

There are still people in this day and age that refuse to grasp the purpose of art and entertainment as either more than a silly waste of time or propaganda meant to rouse the troops to your side. Even worse when it can be weaponized against you and your own neighbor by an industry that's sole purpose of existence is supposed to be to serve you. Now they exist to turn family against family and friend against friend, all over issues that can't even be discussed in private company or rational conversation. Everyone else is the enemy, all the time. How did it get so backwards?

The problem is that art and entertainment, even though it is meant to connect, is frequently made by either an individual or a smaller group of like-minded folk who have the herculean task of breaking through the wall of noise around the culture to make any impact. The industry, whether music, movie, book, or whatever, was supposed to do the heavy-lifting of breaking through while the creators worked on creating. Theoretically, this is so the artist can focus on the art.

Theoretically. We know how well theories not based in reality turn out. We're living it today as we are ruled by industries that hate us.

In essence, those in charge are deliberately going against their purpose. Therefore, it is rather useless, not able to give creators anything to justify their existence.

Much is told about how these industries have stifled creativity in the past, but not much on how the original purpose was to keep creators focused with their eyes on the prize without having to be distracted by nonsense. They were supposedly made to allow art and entertainment a place to thrive. Obviously, they don't do that anymore. Eventually that purpose warped into them becoming master over a slave caste that is so buck-broken it will do anything for scrap of clout in an industry that wouldn't care if they were found dead in a ditch tomorrow. All to live the myth of artist as some sort of priest class.

We've seen this happen in the book, comics, music, and movie, industries, but we haven't talked much about another key one: animation. This is mostly because a lot of people still to this day undervalue it as an art, including those actually in the industry. They will make and defend the lowest quality work (cheap work their corporate masters assigned to them, by the way) and attack anyone who points out the emperor's lack of clothes. Especially if it's the audience complaining. Why aim or strive for higher standards when you can live off scraps and make substandard product? At least they preach the right messages to the cattle, though.

But how did this happen? When did animation get to be so easily controlled and thrashed into obedience like a whipped dog? Wasn't this the medium back in the 1990s known as the wild maverick space where anything could happen? It was. This obvious yet ignored shift goes back a long time. But it has always had a reason, mostly because it was ignored as an artform by the mainstream. It still is, actually.

Author Rawle Nyanzi recently brought this piece from animator Maxwell Atoms to my attention, creator of personal favorite cartoon The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy. Here he is asked about the shift in the animation industry from trying to entertain into trying to educate over the last decade or so. The question and response aren't framed that way, but this is how it comes off, especially years after Mr. Atoms' series was forcibly ended despite its popularity.

That industry doesn't really exist anymore.

What he describes is exactly what the entire western industry has become: safe corporate product meant to educate children. But is that ever what animation was made for? Is that the only thing it is allowed to be? Why, and who decided this?

It comes down to lack of respect for the form. There isn't anyone in charge of the industry anymore who cares about the art of animation, and the people let in by the suits see it as nothing more than a tool to be exploited. So that's what it has become, much like every other form today. It is a weapon to be used against the audience, and not one to work for them.

You'll also notice that the "Disney ideal" he mentions is not an ideal of Walt Disney. This is a modern invention. Walt Disney's works contained villains and objective evil to contrast his good. His very first feature film's villain is based off the most well known villain of all-time and was suitably slain to reach the happy ending the story needed. This ideal Mr. Atoms is speaking of is the one the corporation has now, and wishes to foist on everyone else.

Many will say that these companies are just trying to make money, but they are not. The moral shaping and attempts at ideological propaganda exist to create utopia. You are dealing, once again, with Utopians. They believe that by portraying the world in a certain specific way in their art that they will change existence to be "correct" and all world ills will be solved. Who cares if it is barely animated with bad designs and cliché-ridden scripting: it is doing Good Work for the Cause. If you doubt there is a Cause I would suggest you look up any interview with any of the people currently with a series at Cartoon Network or Disney. They will quickly spout all the correct buzzwords and propaganda their masters require of them. They certainly aren't going to complain about pay or working conditions when they are doing the task assigned to them by their masters! FIAWOL!

All of this is because the clout and the image of priest class is too enticing for certain people to resist, and the industry enables it.

If this writer sounds a bit bitter over the issue it is because I love animation as an artform. It can depict entire worlds and ideas in a visual way that movies, not even with computers, can do, and it allows a level of freedom that live action or "realism" can't quite manage. In essence, of all the visual mediums, it offers the most potential. And it is currently being utterly squandered by juvenile materialists who just want their ideological fix.

Nothing about this form, by the way, precludes that it must be a "kid" thing, but neither does it mean it has to be a subversive thing like it is today. There is a middle ground that has been lost along the way, probably with the 20th century's obsession with discarding everything before we've even bothered to try to tap into its full potential. By rushing towards the future, we forgot the past. Animation is one of the crown jewel inventions of the 20th century that came in with cinematography, and yet we've let it become this. The form can be far more than just dick and fart jokes or bad political and social programming. But it hasn't been that in a long time.

Where did that shift start? Many would argue it has always been there, underneath the surface. After all, animation was made by normal people with urges, faults, and passions, of their own. Certainly they had thoughts or ideas they wanted to express outside of the status quo of their day. They did it through their animation, and this all eventually shaped the perception of what the form still is for some people to this day.

The below four part series on "subversiveness" in animation is worth watching. It was aired sometime around the year 2000, so it was near the time "adult animation" became infected with South Park and Family Guy clones, where it has been trapped ever since. I suggest watching it while keeping in mind the contents are very graphic and NSFW. I am not joking, a lot of the material can get as close to XXX rated as you can without getting removed from YouTube. Oddly enough, most of that material is actually black and white.

This is "Cartoons Kick Ass: A History of Subversive Animation" and it goes a long way in showing how the medium got to where it is today.

Part 1/4

Part 2/4

Part 3/4

Part 4/4

If one still wishes to dismiss animation, or any artform, as useless or not worth paying attention to after seeing this, then they are not serious people. Even by the time you get to the end of the above documentary you can see how unchecked subversion divorced from any conversation or relation to reality can lead to a dead end of insanity. There wasn't anywhere left to go. It's no coincidence the western industry is dead now.

Tables can only be flipped so many times before they break apart. By the end of the documentary, you can see the sign of the times of audiences "no longer being offended" and "everything being on the table" to shock and awe the audience. You certainly don't see that now, so where did all those people go? What even was the point of all this to begin with?

Two decades later, and what did that attitude build? What did it lead to? Even the documentary basically says it lead directly to internet porn and therefore took most of the appeal of the subversion away. What can be more shocking than outright pornography? This is what happens when you put the most important aspect of your medium on anti-social aspects instead of any higher aim. It isn't that you can't use elements like blood or sex appeal to reach wider audiences, you very much can, but it must be part of a bigger plan than just to "shock" like some cheap gimmick. Gimmicks only work a few times before they grow old and stale.

Just being "free" to do "whatever you want" means little if it's not attempting to connect with anyone except to inflate your own ego. Unfortunately, this is the one thing that has carried forward from the subversive days so many see as a Golden Age. What you want is all that matters, and anyone who complains is some kind of chud normie or whatever that is getting in your way. At no point is there an attempt to try to understand or appeal to someone outside of yourself. This is what leads to death, especially in art scenes. You can't grow if you deliberately cut off all your roots.

A lot of people, especially in the west, get mad when you bring up Japan, but they have always known how to use these over the top and potentially "dangerous" elements far better to tell a story than the west has. At least in the comic book and animation world, they have always been far better at using offensive and dark subject matter to connect with their audience. Partially because their motives do not seem to come from such an obviously angry and bitter place.

As an example, there is a manga series called Apocalypse Zero (the Japanese title is "Kakugo no Susume") from a ways back. It was given a short anime OVA back in the day, but it's practically unheard of in the west today. This is a series that uses both hyper violence and sexual content, two things very easy to get wrong, in a way the glorifies neither while also not demonizing violence or sex at their base level. Confused? Don't worry, I will try to explain it. This series is in fact is so good at what it does that it manages to bake this balance into the general themes of the story itself which is very impressive. All of this exists in a simple hero tale that takes place at the end of the world.

I'm not the most knowledgeable on Apocalypse Zero outside of having read the manga, but this is a work that ran from 1994-1996 and manages to feel like one that is much older. Taking in the tradition of Violence Jack or Fist of the North Star, Apocalypse Zero uses the end of the world post-apocalypse setting to establish a breakdown of modernity which leads the story to focus on what it is about civilization that truly matters, and what it is that drags us down. Such a thing can always be an excuse for soapboxing, especially in modern OldPub, but this one avoids that minefield pretty handily while giving the audience exactly what they came for.

The main character is Kakugo, a trained monster slayer, who roams post-Earthquake Japan with a battle armor (named Zero) given to him by his father. Here he comes across "Tactical Fiends" which are mutated humans that have become little more than beasts ruled by their urges and sick desires. This is where a lot of the extreme content springs from, showing the twisted minds and desires of those given in to hedonism in their despair at existence. They must be stopped before they kill even more of the swindling number of innocents still alive.

Kakugo, however, only has his code of honor and manhood to drive him forward. He is a very masculine character, devoted to justice and protection of the innocent, where evil must be stopped at any cost. Despite the end of the world, he embodies an aspect of human dignity and courage that everyone else struggles to maintain. Kakugo is seen as even more of a relic in a world that is full of them, at this point. His focus on truth at the expense of worldly distractions (or unworldly, as it may be at times) is what allows him to be the warrior and guiding light that people need. He is the direct opposition of everything he faces, which is perfect for a hero story.

Where this is reflected in is the antagonist of Apocalypse Zero, Kakugo's brother Harara. Harara is trained in the art of killing monsters much like Kakugo is, except he wishes to destroy humanity and has gathered the tactical fiends and many other warriors under his wing to do it. The real contrast, however, is that for some reason Harara's body has been morphed into that of a woman, on top of his complete attitude shift of who he once was. In every way, he operates as Kakugo's mirror opposite willing to use anything and anyone as a tool in his bid to wipe humanity off the map. I'd explain why that is, but it's fairly involved as an explanation and would more or less require explaining the events across all 100 chapters. What is important is that their conflict will decide the fate of the world. Which character's ideals are stronger?

The hyperviolence and sexual content also relates to how their martial arts work. Much like Fist of the North Star involves exploding insides or diced flesh, Apocalypse Zero involves a sort of energy wave that goes through the body to expel organs forcefully. This plays into the theme of Guts in the martial arts and action sense that drive such stories and how one must control themselves or be lost to their baser urges. The sexual content works much the same way, usually as either temptation (hilariously ending one scene as Kakugo literally tells said character to get out of his kitchen because she is unhygienic) or as someone who has given into their primal lust. It says a lot that despite this content, the series never feels dirty because it all has a purpose in the overall piece.

If this sounds similar to how series such as Berserk or Vagabond do such things then you would be correct. The main difference is that Apocalypse Zero is a lot more in your face about it in a way that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. It is a hot-blooded action series, and being extreme as can be in relation to the tone is important. Unless you have a strong stomach you will not make it past chapter 1, never mind making it through all 100.

It should also be stressed that violence is justified if it is necessary, and wholesome relationships are considered good to have. There is no rejection of either as "wrong" or however they would portray such things today. The story ends basically saying this all could have been avoided had a single family had not torn itself apart for base material glory. Temptation is a weakness, as is greed and lust for power. You are here for much higher things.

There is more I want to talk about, but can't without really describing everything that happens. Apocalypse Zero goes to some crazy places, but it never falls off the wagon or gets too out there. Nonetheless, life and death, God and salvation, good and evil, and corruption and purification, all play a role in what elevates the story to higher places. As it goes along it gets harsher and more over the top, but the themes only strengthen as you watch Kakugo put through the ringer of this dying world in an attempt at one last chance to save it from its baser urges. Apocalypse Zero is so good at this that I had to remind myself it didn't actually come out years before it did, especially when you remember the types of western comics that were being made at that time.

The greater point here is that Apocalypse Zero contains all these things "subversive" works claim they want to have and thrive off of putting in their material, but is far better at using them than pretty much all the above examples in the documentary. There is no comparison. It does this by having a purpose, themes, and a general aesthetic that is uniquely its own. Even if it has similarities to manga classics like the already mentioned Violence Jack and Fist of the North Star, surely big inspirations for the writer, it stands completely on its own and should probably be just as big as they are. Why it hasn't yet reach that level yet is anyone's guess.

This is an example of art through entertainment. It is meant to be entertaining and pleasing to an audience, but has a bit more to it for those who wish to dig in and find it. This is more than just trying to mindlessly tweak people's noses and not much else. The west would do good to understand that instead of just flipping the same table over for an eternity.

There has to be more to art than just being shocking and subverting. At some point you have to have some sort of aim, even if it's a basic one like Tom & Jerry with a barebone rivalry or Fleischer Superman with a simple hero plot. They hold up due to this and much of the material in the above documentary does not, because it was never meant to. You cannot sustain a scene like this and, lo and behold, they didn't.

Nonetheless, it's all over now.

You have one side of the aisle that sees animation as a tool to fix or even warp people, and the other side that dismisses this artform entirely as trivial and disposable. Now where have you seen that before? Neither side is attempting to create art--they are either fighting against reality, or ignoring it. Animation could be so much more than it is today, but it's not, because one side cares more about subversion and propaganda against normal folks and the other side thinks it's meaningless kiddy fluff meant to be a babysitter. Hint: it's not either. It's an artform. It's only as good as you let it be, and we've not let it be much for a long time.

Once again, if we wish to grown beyond where we once were, we're going to have to see things from a different angle, to consider ideas and tactics we never even considered before. Art needs to be able to inspire, and it can only do that if it is given the support to thrive. This can't be done if those in charge see it as nothing but a tool for ideological subversion, a paycheck, or a waste of time for dumb people. Art is not a gimmick, so stop treating it as one.

We have many more roads to travel ahead of us. It's time to stop blocking them all off for no real reason. Art, like God, always wins in the end. We just have to let it through.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Weekend Lounge: Proof of Decline Edition

There's not much this weekend to discuss except this one long video to show you exactly how much video games as an artform have regressed over the last two decades. This one uses the Left 4 Dead series and what built it, contrasted with a newer attempt at the same concept from a modern AAA studio which completely misses the art behind the original classics. This is a long one, but it's a fascinating video.

This just goes to show you what happens when you overlook the soul and over focus on aesthetics, tropes, and the chrome-plating, over what truly makes something what it is. This is essentially what handing the keys over to poseurs gets you.

Such as it is in every other industry, check out the video to understand how far one can lose their way when they abandon their roots. We cannot improve until we shake this anti-art and anti-audience mentality. Things will just remain like this.

So let us be sure to learn properly from the past, and build on it. We cannot afford to keep throwing the baby out with the bathwater forever.

That's all for this week! It's been quite a bizarre one. Have a good rest, and be sure to beat that crazy heat.

Autumn isn't too far away!

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Death to False Pulp!

A lot of the time it feels like things change overnight, when it was actually a long slow process we just weren't paying attention to that lead to a shift. It happens all the time. Hair metal and grunge music (artificial terms) both disappeared seemingly overnight, but both were victims of the industry tossing them out for the next fad. However, the the unspoken truth that they were also starting to put out garbage by the time they fell off and were ditched. It wasn't one thing that lead to their fall, it just helped. Hindsight is 20/20, but sometimes it takes a while to gain that clarity to understand the past. It only makes sense when you see it unfold from a distance.

And sometimes said clarity never arrives, especially when you are paid the big bucks to not notice the truth. This, unfortunately, happens a lot, and is the main reason so many industries were allowed to sink to the depths they are at today. It did not happen overnight, despite how it might feel. It takes a long time to crack the foundation, poison the well, and keep out revivalists who wish to save it. Sometimes it can even take entire lifetimes to do this sort of damage. 

Nonetheless, reversing such a thing can take even longer, especially when there are groups dedicated to stopping this. Baked in subversion can only be purged, it can't fixed overnight. Therefore expecting instant revolution is simply not reality.

This is where we are today, looking at the scrapyard of a future that never was in a past that was much more hopeful. It's all gone now, and that's not particularly a bad thing.

We can't regain that sought after future--such a thing is impossible today--however, we can aim for something even higher. There are always greater heights that can be reached, no matter how low the depths. This is, after all, what the pulps told us.

But you can't build new temples while the high places are still around. Idols are meant to be destroyed, because they encourage unhealthy obsessions that distract from the Truth. Such things can only lead to soul death. Until they are destroyed, we cannot move on. Thankfully, the industry is doing a bang-up job on that themselves.

Can we even do that? Is moving on possible? First we should see if things are still as they were even a few years ago. Do you still think we are living in the 2010s? Do you think nothing has changed, at all? You might be surprised to discover how much things have already shifted from where they were in only a few short years.

End of the old era

A few years ago, I criticized the state of short stories by going over the way OldPub treated the form at the time. What was especially noticeable was how bad they sold, despite being one of the most influential and important forms of storytelling that helped build the industry itself. Half a century since the pulps vanished, and they were practically dead. There just wasn't much of a market for them in 2018. Unfortunately, there still does not seem to be one now.

OldPub has not learned their lesson on this subject. They never will, either. It is far too late for them to do anything about this.

This doesn't mean one can't find short stories anywhere. You simply have to move to NewPub. It is the future for the form, there is no getting around that. 

As an example, Cirsova, Pulp Modern, and StoryHack are still around (Cirsova is even taking submissions right now!), as are newcomers such as the Bizarchives and plenty of authors putting out collections of stories of their own (just look at about any signal boost post on this site to find them), but short stories have still not reentered the wider scene as a legitimate form yet. It's still a niche. To be honest, that will take some time to change. The industry worked tirelessly to alter the perception of storytelling to be logy, bloated, and obsessed with Fanatic concerns, over entertaining the audience. A change will not occur overnight.

There is too much damage to repair first. We're going to be working on this for quite a long time. Just another industry failure to correct. OldPub's lasting damage on generations of people is one that will take a long time to reverse.

Just like how the industry itself ruined reading for kids, we are going to be dealing with it for ages. Part and parcel with dealing with a rotten industry, I suppose.

This twitter thread is here

However, it also will not be like this forever. This world is passing away. As mentioned above, a magazine like Cirsova would not have been possible to even conceive of a decade ago. There would have been no space for them. That it has managed to truck along for as long as it has, even if it hasn't been the smoothest of roads (it wasn't easy for Weird Tales or Planet Stories, either), it still retains a readership and it still puts out new projects all the time.

The one thing we can say we have learned is that expectations for the form are starting to be more understood among writers and readers. It is not quite the wild west it once was, but it's not stifling wither. You cannot just put out anything you want to succeed--you need to know what the audience wants. Okay, you may be saying, so what is it they want? Can we just publish anything and retain an audience? Clearly, no.

However, you have much more freedom than you know. you certainly have much more freedom than the straitjacket of OldPub does.

Another thing I have gathered over the years is that there is a small but growing audience of people looking for short stories, and their expectation for what they want hinges on old PulpRev claims of action and adventure above all, whether they really know the terms or not. In other words, they want a similar experience one would get from opening a Golden Age pulp from the 1920s and 1930s, but obviously not carbon copied as some kind of pastiche or tongue in cheek sendup of other things. They want modern writers to tap into that old energy, albeit without the subversion and perversion that has so gripped the form since.

They want adventure!

One of the things Cirsova did to help themselves, which I would argue is what gave them the shot in the arm to break out, is that they changed their focus from their early days. They broadened their scope, while also solidifying what they were about. This meant reassessing the landscape, and changing accordingly. Confused? Let us go over it together.

In case you either weren't around at the time, or missed it entirely, they are currently in their second volume of existence. The first volume came with the subtitle "Heroic Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine" and ran for ten issues. Unfortunately, despite its quality actually rising with each volume, attention seemed to be drifting off the more they went along. There are theories for it, but they could not quite capture the excitement of early issues.

This changed, however, when fortune smiled upon them.

Then Cirsova got the rights to an unpublished Tarzan story by Edgar Rice Burroughs and used it as a flagship to relaunch with volume 2. They used this opportunity to rebrand. This second version of Cirsova was subtitled "Magazine of Thrilling Adventure & Daring Suspense" and according to P. Alexander, the editor, it ended up entirely changing the actual submissions they received. No longer were they getting milquetoast big men with screwdriver stories or generic elf and magic OldPub slabs, but actual off the wall tales and plunges into the bizarre. And it ended up separating them from the pack. They've been in volume two for years now, with no reason to shift.

Since then, they've put out quite a library of material, with no plans to stop. There is always palpable excitement every new issue, and it is always a good time.

Congrats as they get ready to move into Year 7!

The magazine essentially became its own thing, divorced from its Planet Stories aspirations or any sort of Weird Tales comparisons. It is no longer a wannabe of any sort, but its own thing. Somehow an issue of Cirsova always feels like an issue of Cirsova. Due to this, it has earned itself a loyal reader base and still manages to truck along after over half a decade running.

They did all this with pulp inspired stories, a form that was supposed to be outdated and hated, destined for the trash heap of history. And yet, it still goes on.

I bring this up because it feels as if there is a zeitgeist close by ready to burst out at any moment. It is at this point that one can't help but feel disappointment when you then so so many new upcoming magazines coming into NewPub repeating the same dumb mistakes that have sunk so many others over the past decade. If these tactics didn't succeed in the 2010s, then what makes you think it will succeed in the 2020s, especially when you are carbon copying the same exact blueprints that already lead to failure? You are shooting yourself in the foot before the game has even begun. Unfortunately, I see this happening a lot.

This time I wanted to take a look at a new magazine asking for submissions, and how one would to do it in the exact wrong way. Note that this isn't intended to specifically single out any one publication in general, but to show how so many attempt to construct themselves around a market that either doesn't exist, or one they wish did. Ignoring customers is an OldPub tactic, there is no room for it in the NewPub sphere.

To make sure it's not entirely negative, however, I do want to highlight the good things and what one should probably focus on when constructing a frame around what they are looking for. to stand out, you need an identity, after all.

Here is the beginning of the submission section:

This is quite good, but there are a few quibbles to be had.

My first issue comes with the "Accepts all genres" part in regards to "swashbuckling" because there is only one genre that really has anything to do with swashbuckling, this being the Adventure genre. I would include "Romance" as well but that title has been co-opted by an entire industry so it wouldn't do us a lot of good using it here. Basically, if you're writing a swashbuckler, you are writing an adventure story, regardless of setting or chrome plating. It's fairly clear cut.

I do like that they emphasized their definition of swashbuckler as focusing on small-scale conflicts and personal motivations, which is exactly what defines such a story and sets it apart. Giving story examples where this done right also helps a good deal for potential submissions and those with questions. The "drawing on other genres" point is a bit weird, though. As long as the story focuses on the central conflict they are looking for, I feel it's fairly clear it should be worth submitting. There is already comedy and romance pre-baked in to swashbuckling. It comes prepackaged in the style of story it is.

The tone point is one that might be considered strange in any other era but this one. Unfortunately it is also completely necessary to write out. We live in an era of two dichotomies: snarky irony and grimdark nihilism. Swashbuckling cannot work in either mold when you need lighthearted back and forth as well stakes that actually matter to make the conflict interesting. It's one of the reasons we haven't seen much proper swashbuckling in a long time. Such a thing cannot work in the framework of modernism we are trapped in right now.

Tragedy has its place in a swashbuckler, but only if it is done right. It requires talent to pull off. A story of a duel where the hero dies can only work if he engages in a higher moral victory. What is important, in the end, is uplifting the audience. Swashbucklers live for this.

But then we get into the weeds that drag it all down.

This is a bit much. It is limiting on creativity, including the reason the writer might think of for said characters to engage in a sword duel. I get the impression reading this that whoever wrote it does not have much faith in the writer to deliver what is desired of them. This, despite the fact that "Swashbuckling" is an easily understandable term for those who care about it. If you didn't then why would you even be looking at submitting to a magazine for it?

For an example, I wrote a story called "Lucky Spider's Last Stand" (available in both the PulpRev Sampler and Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures) which involves gangsters, superpowers, and a life or death duel. The entire thing works, despite not following any of the suggestions above. You should have more faith in your writers to figure it out. Part of the appeal of NewPub is that you can do practically anything.

Many of these guidelines just feels like over-explaining for either people who already know all this, or for people who didn't care to begin with. It seems fairly pointless, as a one sentence description of "Swashbuckling" would have been more than enough for anyone interested to get it. The longer descriptions go on, the less anyone is liable to pay attention, as we already learned with genre definitions.

The key thing to remember is to keep it simple and straightforward! The simpler it is, the less you risk needlessly alienating anyone.

The fact of the matter is that you can write a story about anything for whatever reason, as long as it remains internally consistent to the reader. You can find a reason to do just about anything. Editors should know and encourage this.

For an example of how to deliver quick and concise submission guidelines, check out how StoryHack handles it. It is very to the point yet strong in voice without needlessly puffing of chests or getting into the weeds. Give them action, and they are satisfied!

In contrast, this is where our mystery magazine goes off the rails. Any goodwill is lost when one reads the next passage.

This is where the entire project falls on its rear. Whenever a so-called "pulp" production says something like this you can guarantee they don't know anything about what the audience wants or even what made the old pulps appeal in the first place. It comes prepackaged with assumptions about your ancestors, including both those who read and write these sorts of stories. Even worse if you're claiming to be the "New Edge" while spouting unhip and safe classroom jargon that completely misses the point of writing to begin with.

It also feels really out of date with the times, which is very ironic.

In the 2020s, today's pulp writers and readers know they were lied to about the old stories and magazines. They were told all sorts of unsavory lies and libel about the era, all from people who hated and wanted to erase tradition and adventure from the record. The only people who still parrot any of the above nonsense has either never read a pulp story or couldn't possibly understand what people liked about them to begin with. You cannot continue on a tradition if you hate the tradition. What is the point of a pulp magazine that hates pulps? How do you expect such a thing to succeed, because we have ample proof that it does not.

Moreover, rejecting a story because it contains historically accurate terminology is just plain creatively bankrupt and cowardly. There is no way around this. Writers and editors that are scared of words should not be allowed anywhere near them, for both their safety and ours. You are out of your depth, and cannot handle classic pulp storytelling. Leave it to the adults.

Now, the last point here is strange because it's simply just a virtue signal. There is no reason to have this in any sort of submission page, unless you are trying to impress people. Cirsova, for instance, has stated they get submissions from everyone and everywhere, and it just happens without them asking for it outright. Adventure is already universal, and everyone already knows it. Why would you need to specifically single this out on a submission page unless you wanted people to know how openminded and great you are? It does not come across as professional.

This is a remnant from the failure of OldPub. Such a thing has no place in the world of NewPub, which we can tell from audience response. It is time to leave this sort of attitude behind in the dismal 2010s where it belongs. What do you expect from a dying industry that refuses to cater to normal people and lift them up, but instead sinks in depravity and juvenile moods. That is how one gets nonsense like the below image. 

Art does not exist to pander and talk down to people. It exists for higher reasons. NewPub knows this, and you should know it too if you want to thrive here.

This is where such junk thinking lead OldPub:

They spin their wheels while the audience shrinks. No one stops or changes course, because they don't care if anyone reads. They just want to impress their peers.

As for our "nouveau pulp" magazine, the rest of the submission page is fairly obvious after this, mostly focusing on PG13 level of violence and word count, but by this point most interested writers or readers have tuned out. One can easily surmise that there is no higher plan here, no attempt to reach people. It is just yet another attempt to subvert an older tradition.

All this is done to cop strong aesthetics and hop on a trend train while also continuing all the poisonous practices and trends that led to people preferring pulp over OldPub slop in the first place. There is a reason these projects fade away very fast. No one is asking for pulp that removes everything from it due to a modern misunderstanding of what adventure is.

Here is the reality: pulp is in. It's the new fad. It has been for years now, which is why so many are trying to co-opt it. Pulp has been steadily gaining in popularity over the past decade, and it has gotten to the point that readers want fresh new stories in the style of old traditions. They do not want modern stories with a cheesy old aesthetic.

If they wanted modern OldPub garbage, they would already be reading that. But no one is reading that. No one is really reading at all, and that is the point. Going back to the pulps, the last time mass literature and reading existed as a concept is paramount to understanding what has been missing and grow the industry again. It is not an excuse to continue failed tactics and philosophies that no one wants today, only with a new coat of paint. Your ways have failed, the audience has spoken. It is time to move on.

If you want pulp, then aim for pulp; if you don't want pulp, then stop pretending that you do. There is no more room for poseurs in NewPub. We need to right this ship that OldPub and their acolytes, such as the above, have steered into the rocks over the decades.

The future is pulp. Get used to it, and adapt accordingly.

As Christopher says: Death to False Pulp!

We don't have to worry so much about this anymore. It's already on the way out. The 2020s have just begun, and already we're facing major disruptions to the way things have been for so long. All the old rules of modernity no longer apply when tired modernity is on its death bed. We have to be ready for better ways.

We don't need an industry of creators that hates their past and misunderstands and disrespects its customers: we need one willing to connect with all of that. Art needs this to thrive, never mind survive. Things will change, because that's how the world works. We just have to make sure we do it right this time.

I truly hope you are as excited for things to come as the rest of us authors, writers, artists, and entertainers, in these new spaces are. With false pulp and usurpers finally out of the way, we can finally look forward to brighter times. Fandom is over, remember. You no longer need them to get what you want. You never really did. Fandom is not a way of life, it is a grave.

You need a past worth cherishing, and a future worth striving for. We will have the latter again soon enough, as long as we continue to work for it.

Death to False Pulp! The real stuff is here now!

"Ever wanted to know why the fun and wonder has been sucked out of sci-fi, fantasy, and adventure? JD has the receipts. Essential reading." ~ Alexander Hellene, author of The Last Ancestor