Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Super Signal Boost ~ Welcome to 2024!

Cirsova's New Kickstarter!

January is almost over, so it's time to highlight the real beginning of the year in regards to new projects. Everyone knows the first month of the year is basically a dead zone in just about every aspect of life, but once you get past it, wheels start rolling. Today I wanted to highlight some of those exact projects now coming to life.

Strap in, because we've got a few to go through. There is something for everyone.

Up first is a new Kickstarter project by Cirsova and Jim Breyfogle, the pair who worked together on the Mongoose & Meerkat series. This time, the project is a standalone novel, and just like the rest of Mr. Breyfogle's material, is reminiscent of the classics.

This time he's got a brand new book that's once again, just a bit different from what you might expect.

The project description:

Edward has caught a bad case of Dead!

While hurrying to his clerking job in London, Edward is attacked by a strange creature in an alleyway. Feeling ill, Edward consults his apothecary neighbor who informs him he's been infected with zumbiism, and is now among the Dead!

There is still hope, however! Sent on his way with a potent elixir that will stave off the effects of Dead, Edward must seek out the aid of a Necromancer in the Narrow World, a hidden realm of forgotten magic beyond the sea. But the next ship leaves in only an hour!

Want to know what happens next? Well, so do I.

Check out more about the project, as well as available formats here!

Find the collection here!

Now for something a bit different, let us go to the wild lands just outside of accepted normality. Last year I highlighted the first volume of Jacob Calta's ambitious 365 Infantry project, so it only stands to reason that this time we would see the second volume. And here it is.

For those confused about what 365 Infantry is, it would best be described as an ongoing serial focused on one world in multiple parts and subseries. The first volume started these different series' off, and the second continues them with all the work released in 2023, plus some bonus content. The original works are housed in the 365 Infantry Substack, where one can read new releases as they come out.

Here is the description of volume 2:

Back behind the wheel are the 25th century's most daring and courageous hounds! With the looming threat of the mad electric machine A.C.E.S., the scum and villainy of the Wastelands, and a mysterious new faction in the ongoing fight for freedom, the 365th Infantry and their many friends and allies are in it up to their necks. But all is not lost, not when these wolves are on the scene!

Writer Jacob Calta returns with another white-knuckled trip through a metalhead power fantasy future, armed with brisk storytelling, stylish prose, an enveloping world, the dynamic art of Kevin John Jacob, and a breathtaking cover illustration by the talented Temiree. Join the daring soldier Gibson, the sage General Knox, the tormented huntress Valentina, the mad-cap vigilante Lita, the wild-eyed lawman Nic, and the scores of colorful canine characters that populate the world of Haven and the Wastelands in 22 electrifying new stories of action, suspense, crime, romance and more

I've said before that the major advantage with NewPub is the freewheeling spirit of fun and unabashed excitement to do anything, and this project shows you exactly why that is. Also, while we're at it, Mr. Calta also released a new single you can hear here. He just doesn't stop!

You can find the second volume of 365 Infantry here.

You can find All Eyes on Ashley here!

Now for something a bit different, again, Let us turn to the All Eyes on Ashley project, just launched on Kickstarter!

This comic project concerns a hopeless young man who wishes to woo a beautiful woman, but just doesn't know how to do it! Will he figure it out, or is he doomed to being ignored forever? You'll have to read it and find out!

The description:

Everyone in the office drools over Ashley, and Spencer's had his eyes on her ever since she broke up with her successful boyfriend. But would she even pay attention to a guy like him?

Spencer is willing to try anything just to get her attention, but he has to become his own man before he can be worthy of her.

Read this new sweet 20-page romantic comedy comic by romance author Daniella Acera and DC Comics' Injustice artist Mike S. Miller with multiple beautiful covers for you to choose from.

Check out the campaign page for more about formats and extras, including an add-on for a novel!

You can find All Eyes on Ashley on Kickstarter here!

Find Cry Havoc Here!

Author Julie Frost is no stranger to wild tales of werewolves, and her new book is definitely no different. I hope you like action and horror, because you'll find plenty of both here. Just launched today, Cry Havoc looks to be as wild as its cover!

The description:

Nate Cassin, the alpha werewolf of Missoula, Montana, finds his little city has a big wolf problem when shredded bodies start showing up all over town. Faced with a hostile press and even more hostile hunters, he tries to protect his innocent pack of eight at the same time they try to track down two elusive killers in an area of 35 square miles with a plethora of hiding places.

He's seen this before. And the hunters always, always go overboard and decide the only good werewolf is a dead one, no matter who's actually responsible. His pack will be collateral damage unless he can find the enemy wolves—and stop their broken alpha—before they turn his hometown into a human buffet.

You can find Cry Havoc here!

Paper Doll Veronika can be found here!

For something, once again, a bit different, check out this comic crowdfund for Part 1 of the Paper Doll Veronika comic series. It comes with an incredible 230 pages(!) and a unique artstyle for the first part of this project.

The description:

Veronika Bosch has never left her father's estate. But one day, seven jealous animals invade her home and kick her out! What lies ahead is a whimsical journey of magic and adventure.

A cross between collage and puppetry, every page of this comic is made by arranging articulated hand-drawn paper dolls on backgrounds collaged of decorative paper and ephemera.

This first printed book will include Part I - Forest, which is 24 chapters, approximately 450 images.

There is also more about the different page formats, so be sure to check out the campaign for yourself and decide which is more for you.

You can find Paper Doll Veronika here!

Find the Catgirl in Pink & Other Short Stories here!

One of the advantages to the NewPub scene is that you truly can do anything, and I mean anything. Take this new project, The Catgirl in Pink & Other Short Stories by Edmund Miller. Here you get 22 short stories you'd never see anywhere else for pocket change, all as bizarre as the title story might suggest they are.

The description:

A lonely man meets a mysterious catgirl at a bar. A homeless man ingests pills that allow him to see the past and future. A female cyclist goes missing in a forest. A scientist tries to unravel the secrets of astatine. These stories and more can be found in this volume.

Once again, you can find The Catgirl in Pink & Other Short Stories here!

Find Defending the Wood Perilous here for free!

Lastly, I want to Defending the Wood Periloushighlight a free book from an extremely talented writer. That would be the above Defending the Wood Perilous by my editor and excellent author, L. Jagi Lamplighter!

The description:

You live in a fairytale.

You know the one, where a boy or a girl wanders into a strange land, unable to find home again. It is a story of darkness that crushes the spirit and of hope in the midst of the darkness.

That fairytale. The one where you are the hero.

People tell us that reading fantasy is escapism. But do you ever feel more alive, more real, than when you are reading? When we are reading a really good story, don’t we feel as if it allows us to burn with the bliss and suffer the sorrow of others? To come out of ourselves and be more than we would have been?

If your heart burns for brighter things, if you are one who yearns to venture Beyond the Fields We Know, this is for you.

Once again, you can find Defending the Wood Perilous for free here!

That's all for today, but I think this sufficiently highlight how packed the start of the year already is for new projects. We've barely begun, and already there is a stack of new creative projects just waiting for audiences to dig in and enjoy them.

And again, 2024 just started! There is much more excitement to come.

So keep your chin up, because you've got an exciting year ahead full of fun surprises, including from yours truly. Just wait and see!

Until then, enjoy the new projects and I will see you next time. There is much more to look forward to, even beyond the year ahead.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Story Sheets: "Three Gifts of the White Wolf"

Surprise! We are already back with a new Story Sheets! Bet you didn't expect one quite so soon, but it was obvious it was coming, wasn't it?

After our last entry, it only made sense to jump right into the next one this week. As you well know, there are two stories (naturally) included in the collection Two Adventure Across Eternity, and you already know about "Duel On Dalpha" and the story behind that one, but what of the second story? Well, let us get into it.

As you might have guessed from just the title of today's story, this isn't another space opera tale of gun fights and mecha battles like the last one. No, it's very much the opposite. This is a story of swords, sorcery, and cursed lands. So why is it even here, being paired in a collection with a seemingly very different story? Well, I will explain that part a bit later on. For now, let us concentrate on the tale itself. What is "Three Gifts of the White Wolf" and where did it come from?

Believe it or not, it's actually a pretty old story I recently edited myself to completion. Since I was a much improved writer by the time I wanted to publish it, I sharpened this older tale up a good deal, though nothing in the piece itself has changed. That said, since this was never published before or looked at by other eyes, it is the readers who get to dive into this one fresh. Therefore I spent a good deal of time tempering this one up.

Anyway, enough of the technical details. What about where it came from? That is actually a very simple question to answer.

What happened is something that occurs every now and then where I will be writing or editing a story, novel, or even blog post, and I will be struck with an idea and have to put everything aside to write it down on the spot. For example, when I was editing Two Adventures Across Eternity to get it out by the end of 2023, I found myself in this same predicament. There was another piece I just had to write, so I dove into said story and came right back to editing again afterwards. When that story releases, I'll share the culprit that nearly delayed the collection. Either way, it happens more to me than I'd like to admit. I am not an organized writer in the slightest.

The problem with today's entry is mostly that I don't remember quite when exactly I wrote "Three Gifts of the White Wolf" because as soon as I was done I put it aside for later. I don't even think I properly self-edited it at the time. The reason for this is that, much like "Duel On Dalpha" and a few other stories I've written, there isn't much of a market for tales that fall in that novelette groove between novella and short story. Most magazines are desperate for space and the cost of eBooks makes selling them on their own against longer pieces look like a bad value proposition. So I decided to put aside until an opportunity arose where I could finally give it to readers.

And now you've got it!

I'm happy to finally get this one out because it marked a bit of a shift in how I consider writing stories. I believe I wrote it after reading a bunch of Andrew Lang's Red Fairy Book because I wanted to write a tale in that vein but, obviously, not quite so short. That ended up being the story we are discussing as today's subject. Since then I tend to have a lot of fairy tale influence in everything I do, whether I intend to or not.

Custom cover similar to the one for "Duel On Dalpha"

As it might be evident from the above art, a classic painting used for the cover (the art is actually used for the back cover for the paperback version!) sets the tone for the story. For those curious, the painting in question is Eugene Boudin's "Coast of Brittany" work from 1870, only a bit darker and more twisted than the original piece was intended to be. This is because the setting for "Three Gifts of the White Wolf" is the same as an earlier story, "Inside the Demon's Eye" which ran in StoryHack Issue Three a while back, and the location is the same as that one.

You might be wondering if this means the stories take place in Brittany--why else would the cover be like this, after all--but that's not quite the case. No, these stories don't even really take place in the past.

I'll have to explain this the best I can.

I have to be careful here, because a lot of what the Black Lands are, the setting of these two stories, is properly revealed in this very piece, because it is the lynchpin to the tale itself. Please be patient if any of the following explanation sounds vague, as I like to avoid spoilers in this entries if I can. I'm assuming not everyone has read the subject of today's post yet and are perhaps deciding on reading them afterwards.

"Three Gifts of the White Wolf" is about a dying warrior named Sagest wandering the lands, searching for a place to die. His time is up, and he only wishes to stop his suffering and move on from this place where only horrors roam. What he meets along the way are challenges he did not expect and revelations he never considered, all before ending his quest in a way the Black Lands never would have allowed. It's a quest of a different sort.

I've not been very subtle in the past as to what I consider the true name of the Nameless Kingdom, (which has been mentioned in stories outside of these two) or where it comes from, but this tale reveals it all, so I will leave that bit of trivia for readers to discover for themselves. Regardless, the titular "gifts" are meant to be permanent, always there, even if not visible to the naked eye, and are obtainable by those who are willing to seek them out. There are always answers and paths we might not have thought of in our lives that can lead us the strangest of places. All we have to do is keep alert and always get up again. There's always another way out.

"Three Gifts of the White Wolf" is part fairy tale and part sword and sorcery story, but I don't consider those things all that separate from each other in the first place. Mainly, this is a story that needed to be told, and I'm glad I was finally able to finish it and deliver it to readers. As mentioned before, I'd been waiting for my chance for a while. The idea for this release thankfully came to me in a way that gave both these stories proper exposure to readers. And in this story's case, you can read it for yourself for the first time ever!

The original painting of the "Coast of Brittany" by Eugene Boudin, 1870

As for why this story was specifically chosen to be in a package with "Duel On Dalpha" instead of anything else, such an explanation is not quite so obvious on the surface. However, I can assure you that the two of them have connections under the surface.

Aside from the endings having much in common with each other, and both dealing with certain epic events of history that happened long before either protagonist were even born, each story is also about the fact that mistakes of the past, some of which said protagonists had no control over, will always roll out to affect the present in unexpected ways. How we deal with those mistakes also carries on into what the future will be like for those who come after us.

I am very proud of both of these adventures, and am more than pleased that I found a way to release them to readers in a unique package. For the longest time, it felt like I would be sitting on them forever. Thankfully, you can now not only get them in eBook form, but also in the unfortunately rare Pocket Paperback edition. Now anyone can finally enjoy two tales taking place across eternity from the other, yet both with the same general ethos and sense of place. All in all, I'm fortunate to have been given the inspiration to write them at all in the first place.

As for the Black Lands themselves, they might very well return in another story in the future, but the stories set in it aren't a proper series like say, the Galactic Enforcer or Night Rhythms stories are. They are, after all, hinted at in other tales I've written. Perhaps even in the first book I ever published. It is just a setting that may potentially be visited again in the future.

For now, however, we shall leave them behind.

Don't let this release or these entries fool you into thinking that I don't have plenty of material on the way. There are a few more pieces on the side, in production, and waiting in the pipeline still to be jotted down. I've got a lot to put out even still.

With the Star Wanderers publication coming in the near future in tandem with a tale in Cirsova issue #20, as well as other projects yet to be revealed, I am looking to having had put out around 25(!) total short stories by the end of 2024. This does not even include the novels still backlogged in the process. Suffice to say, I have many more on the way even after these, but I still have to get back to them and get them ready for you. That said, obviously more Story Sheets entries will be on the way when I do finally put them out. I look forward to sharing more stories with you when the time comes. This series is always a fun time.

That's all for today! Thank you for all your support and for reading these stories in the first place. It is only thanks to you that I can keep it up.

So lets reach even higher. Next time we'll stretch out touch the stars themselves. It'll be quite the journey, just you wait and see!

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Weekend Lounge ~ It's in the Game!

It's the weekend! Let us talk about something a bit different.

We've talked a lot here about decline over the years, and that is a subject worth addressing, but now it is the time to finally discuss what it takes to reclaim what has been lost. Now that the 2020s are rolling out, we're going to make this the decade where everything finally changes.

While we've discussed the NewPub phenomenon many times before, we haven't quite discussed another medium that, while commercially successful, is in the final stages before its own collapse. That industry, of course, is video games.

Though video games have been decried for many years as frivolous and useless (as every medium has at one point by the people who provably cannot preserve culture at all), there is a very real formula and meticulous design process that comes from them. Despite current trends, there was a lot more to video games that poorly written Z-movies that contain a few button presses to make scripts happen. In fact, when the industry ran on arcade design was when it reached its peak.

Now, if you've played video games since the death of the arcades, you've noticed a decline in creativity since the Sega Dreamcast died and arcade faded from prominence in the '00s. I am not talking about technology or graphic fidelity, I am talking about the gameplay itself. Gameplay loops (such as they are today) barely exist anymore and have been replaced with carrot on a stick drudgery to get from one cutscene to the next--a trend that began with the first 3D console generation but only started to take over once HD consoles came in.

What is missing from today that we used to have isn't that obvious

This was the era when countless middle market publishers and developers closed up shop, parting the medium in two between AAA cinematic experience and low budget indie game. In other words, this killed creativity almost overnight. If you can think of a big name AAA game in the last three console generations with a new gameplay experience (that isn't made by Nintendo) then I would be surprised. Even more so if you can name more than five. It simply doesn't happen anymore.

As a result of this shift, the industry has been in a creative rut, praising pointless downgraded remakes of old perfectly fine games because they have pointless modern bells and whistles. You should not be buying a new $599 US Dollar console and expecting to play remade and dumbed down games from 2004 on it.

So what caused this? I would recommend watching the video above. It is the loss of arcade design that the entire medium was built off of. Just like "pulp" became a dirty word in OldPub in order to denigrate adventure stories, arcade design has been sold as cheap and lesser since at least the mid-90s thanks to water carrying game journos. In other words, you were sold a lie. the entire collapse that video games are about to suffer through (or already are, depending on your perspective) will be caused by this abandonment of what made the medium what it was.

This has happened more than enough times in other mediums for anyone to understand it at this point. The further you stray from your roots, the more you risk losing them, and video games have definitely lost that link and have lost it some time ago.

Though you might be wondering, what about indie? Well, it's not as easy as all that. Check the video yourself and see why simply being 2D and having pixel art isn't quite the same as classic arcade design and why it's not quite enough. There was more to classic game design than "tightening up the graphics on level 4" as the old saying goes.

If you're a developer yourself, definitely take in the above information and think it over. How much have we lost along the way that we don't even consider anymore? How far can we really push forward without solid ground to stand on? Food for thought.

All of our industries are going to have to start asking those questions if they want to have a future. There is little choice left but to look back and carry forward again. The only other option stagnancy has, is death.

That should be the last thing we want for any medium. We've already lost a lot, at some point we're going to have to start gaining again.

Anyway, have yourself a good weekend and I will see you next time!

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Story Sheets: "Duel On Dalpha"

Finally I'm free from the doldrums of January for a few moments! I don't know what else to say except there is a reason I try to put more uplifting and hopeful posts out this month because it tends to be a very lousy time both weather and morale-wise. So today we are going to talk about something a little different than we have recently.

I just realized in the last week that it's been awhile since I've talked about stories themselves around here. Mostly it's because I've been distracted writing about other things and dealing with current WIP projects, but that doesn't mean I can't spare some time to talk about a tale I've never really gotten around to discussing even though most of you are very familiar with it by now.

It's time to bring back "Story Sheets," my post series focused on the stories I've written. It's more than due.

What better story to restart this series with than the recently re-released "Duel On Dalpha" in the collection Two Adventures Across Eternity that I put out as a bonus at the tail end of 2023? Discussing this one has been a long time coming.

Unfortunately, I'm not so certain I can reveal a whole lot beyond the surface level. It's honestly just a really cool story that I think more people should read.

To be real, I actually don't know why I never wrote a piece like this on "Duel On Dalpha" before. It must have either entirely slipped my mind, or maybe it was the fact I didn't want to spoil it for non-subscribers to the newsletter back then. It could be anything.

But that's enough of that, let us get into the heart of it. Where did this story come from and why exactly does it exist?

For that, we have to go back to 2020!

The original release, cover by ArtAnon

Those who have read any of the short stories I've written know that I tend to set them in obscure places in the corner of nowhere starring regular people. I frequently choose bizarre places one might never come across outside of their imagination, or maybe somewhere they do but never consider for anything other than what it is on the surface. I do this because it's fun to highlight that the incredible, the weird, and the amazing, can truly happen anywhere.

"Duel On Dalpha" is like that, but was a bit more ambitious for me at the time. If I recall correctly, I believe this was the first story I'd written that takes place on another planet. It hasn't been the last, but it definitely set the blueprint for the type of intergalactic tale I enjoy writing.

As a reminder, it was recently re-released in the $0.99 collection Two Adventures Across Eternity, due to the fact that I had no other outlet left to give it out to subscribers. Also, I wanted to get it in print properly.

But, back in 2020 (Wow, it's been almost half a decade), I put "Duel On Dalpha" exclusively out for subscribers. It ended up being very popular among subscribers, but it's also been nearly half a decade. It is time to both give it a proper look back and make it more readily available.

I said this about it in this post at the time it was first released:

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

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

Even at the time, it was difficult to describe the origins of this story. Usually in "Story Sheets" I go through the entire process of what lead the tale to its final state, but there was no clear process here. The long and short of it is that it just came to me one day in a dream, as the saying goes. To be serious though, I just had the story pop into my brain one say and decided to write it.

The only thing I really remember about where this story came from was that I was listening to a specific track from the PC Engine Ys IV soundtrack and for some reason this setting came to mind. The game itself doesn't contain this location, it's just what arrived in my brain as I was listening to it. Inspiration can be difficult to describe, in this case it's more or less the entire background of the tale.

I saw a backwater planet, swamps, hidden temples, and a tucked away treasure deep inside the bowels of the world that was . . . alive? What the story eventually turned into, however, is still one barnburner of an action piece that still has those more eerie elements I first imagined. It was definitely different for me at the time, but the pieces of my older work are still quite visible.

"Duel On Dalpha" is one of the most straightforward stories in my style that I've ever written. Shootouts, monsters, mecha, and mystical weirdness, all packed together in the tale of one old sheriff who is running low on time to do the job he needs to do. At the same time, the world he knows isn't quite what it seems--and neither is he.

You might be wondering why I didn't submit this to a magazine or anthology. To understand that would have to realize that state of the market in 2020, four years ago. "Duel On Dalpha" is a full-on novelette, and there was just no market for those at the time. Much as I enjoyed writing this story, I didn't know how else to get it out to readers.

Unless your story was either sub 9k works or short novel length (40k words), any story that slides in that giant chasm just had no market to exist in. Even now I'm not quite sure there is one. Stories of novelette and novella length are too long for the short story market and too short for the eBook crowd. So, writers are kind of stuck here.

As I continued in that old post:

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

You see, while "Duel On Dalpha" is normal for me, it's still not very normal for the market. Not that I am the most unique writer out there, but I do not write industry standard fare. Nothing I've written would be looked at twice by OldPub, and even smaller publishers would not appreciate the fact that I don't really write standard novel series. That's why this story could only really exist and be presented to you thanks to the way NewPub is now. If you want to know why I am more positive about the state of things than a lot of my peers are, it is because I've lived through this change in the market and see it more clearly now.

Believe it or not, selling action stories was a lot harder back then than it is today. I was also still new enough at the short story game that I didn't have that much experience with how it worked at the time. This led to me releasing it as a bonus for newsletter subscribers. Hey, I had to give it to them somehow, and what better way than as a thank you for their support? The only reason I'm doing this is thanks to them, after all.

After finally getting this tale cobbled out, I got Brian Niemeier to edit it for me and ArtAnon to do the cover, selling it as if it was on par with my normal size books, even though it was for free.

And I still think it is on par with my other works. When editing it over one last time for Two Adventures Across Eternity I was amazed at how well it turned out even back then, and it's still a blast to read today. In fact, I might say this would be the story to read if you've never read any of my stories before. And now you can get it with a bonus story packaged in.

"Duel On Dalpha" holds up very well, but I never managed to put it out in print and after moving my newsletter to Substack I also didn't have much reason to keep an older story like that up as a bonus. But I also didn't just want to start charging for something that was free before, therefore I bundled it with a new story (which I will talk about in another post) in order to justify the $0.99 it would cost on Amazon, as well as give me the opportunity to try out the pocket paperback option on Lulu. So now there are more ways to read it than ever before.

All that to get it out again and make it more easily accessible to readers again.

The theme that originally inspired the story

There isn't much to talk about behind the creation to "Duel On Dalpha" because there wasn't any rational path or logic behind its creation. The story is based on a feeling, a notion, an emotion, and glimpse of a world far beyond this one that I want to catch in a passing moment in my mind. I'd like to think I did just that. When you read this one, you are transported to an alien place where things aren't quite where they seem and danger lurks about every corner. It's a glimpse of a world hidden just out of reach, but one we can find traces of if we squint hard enough.

The 2010s was not a very imaginative decade, in fact it was very bleak overall. One of the things I wanted to do with my writing was push through the darkness encroaching on everything and bring readers to those lands of the imagination that make life so very much worth living. A land of light beyond the black lands.

In fact, now that I think about it, this story is probably the one that most resembles where I would like to take my writing in the future, tone-wise. It's a sign of things to come. For now, however, I have other projects to get to. But that doesn't change how much "Duel On Dalpha" means to me as a story. It's why I wanted to put it out for readers again so badly, after all.

The setting is one I will probably return to for other tales in the future, too. The idea of legendary knights at the end of time that were actually giants fighting forces of decaying darkness across the entire galaxy is not one that will go unused, I tell you. There are more knights than Gawain, after all. Though, again, it'll probably be awhile.

Regardless, the world of "Duel On Dalpha" is one of wonder and mystery, danger around every bend. Come visit it and see for yourself.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Weekend Lounge ~ Old Tales Spun Anew

Welcome to the weekend! Let us talk about adventure, though not the sort one usually talks about these days. We're going way back to the late 20th century today.

I don't think I have to reiterate how big the Disney Afternoon was in the late '80s and early '90s. While the company itself did not do so hot during the 1980s, they still tried whatever they could to try and stand out from the crowd. Some of that stuff holds up better than others. One of its projects was to create a block for syndicated cartoons (airing every day of the week) called the Disney Afternoon which had the goal of producing near theatrical quality animation for an entire two hour block at 65 episodes. They carved out a two hour block on the ABC network (this was before they bought it) and spent the next decade more or less owning the after school timeslot. As a result, it ended up being one of the most impressive projects of its time.

But what was more impressive were the series it produced. You see, a bunch of simple gag cartoon series wouldn't be enough to hold kids' attention every day of the week (a lesson they would unfortunately forget by the end of the block's run), so why not make full-throated adventure series in the style of popular Disney comics from years past? You could also mix and match it with well known Disney characters as well as new creations. That is exactly what they did, and the final result was a smash hit.

Much has been said about some of the more popular entries of the block, though truth be told it was all uniformly great up until the time of Gargoyles, which would end up being its crowning achievement and the peak of the entire project. Believe me, that one is still great today. However, you've heard about most of these many times before: DuckTales, Rescue Rangers, Gummi Bears, Darkwing Duck, Bonkers, the aforementioned Gargoyles, and even the more slapstick-inspired Goof Troop. But little is said about what is probably the hidden gem of the entire block: TaleSpin.

Though the series was based on the movie based on the Kipling stories, it took quite a bit of inspiration from other sources to produce its unique setting and style. It's not quite as comedic as Darkwing Duck, as high energy as Rescue Rangers, or as full of danger as DuckTales, but it has its own groove where it comfortably sits in the middle of them all and can bend in different directions depending on the episode airing that day. This makes it quite an interesting series to revisit because you never quite know what you're going to get.

The interesting part about TaleSpin is that it was probably every kid's least favorite series on the block at the time it aired, but now as adults they would easily consider it one of the best if not the best one. It wasn't even that kids didn't like it at the time--they liked it a lot. It was more that it was surrounded by DuckTales, Rescue Rangers, and Darkwing Duck, for most its run, series that appealed more to their youthful sensibilities. It's really as you grow to appreciate things like pulp adventure serials, screwball romance comedies, and general wonder, that you truly grow to get it in a way you couldn't when younger. It's aged extremely well.

I linked the above video talking about the show's production and how it was received when it aired, and you could tell that critics even at the time disliked adventure stories. The number one criticism of the series (and pretty much the block as a whole) is how it was aping and reheating "Spielberg/Lucas adventure stories" for dumb kids. Such a thing, again, is indicative of the hatred of the pulps the mainstream press has pretty much always had, since they did not even know DuckTales did not originate as a cartoon in the first place. None of these series were reliant on movie formulas--they were reliant on old comic book and serial storytelling that had worked countless times before them. It was an attempt to update an old style for newer audiences. They also proved that it could still work on audiences that had no nostalgia for the format.

Of course, Disney had major success in the '90s thanks to moves like this, but it would eventually go to their heads and by the 2000s would almost implode in on themselves, relying on John Lasseter era Pixar to carry them for a good while. But for my money, the studio itself peaked here with these productions and would never quite hit these highs again. Many people consider A Goofy Movie a swansong to the Disney Afternoon era (since it had so many of the same people working on it) and I'd probably agree since not long after the film the block caved in on itself, dying out with the very decade it helped usher in. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come.

Regardless, if you've not seen these old series in a while, or have young ones or relatives that have not experienced any of them, they really do hold up surprisingly well. Check out the video above for proof of that. I would still call them some of the best things the studio ever put out.

Adventure and wonder never fall out of date.

That's all for this weekend, and I'll see you next week!

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Weekend Lounge ~ Mechs, Blood, and Rock n' Roll

January might be the coldest and most boring month of the year, but it doesn't have to be. Typically it's the time to form new habits because there isn't much to distract you yet before the year starts rolling on. At the same time, it is also the time to revisit old forgotten things and learn from them before they get lost in the flood of everyday life.

For the first lounge post of the year I wanted to focus on one of the strangest, yet perfectly understandable at the time, phenomenon of the late 1980s and early 1990s. No, not the Japanimation boom you might or might not remember, but s specific popular creation from it. I wanted to share with you the story behind the very unique and of its times anime OVA, Bubblegum Crisis.

This is the story of four women working as mercenaries wearing specialized mecha/power armor called "hardsuits" to battle evil threats in a cyberpunk future world. There is also a lot of killer music, action, and heartfelt emotions along the way. It only lasted for 8 episodes before production troubles split the team of this once in a lifetime project up, but it has still remained a classic of the genre for anyone who remembers it. The series was also highly influential in ways that are still felt in the industry today.

How do you appeal to guys? Pretty simple. Incredible action directed by some of the best animation of the time, attractive women that still blow away the ones in the mainstream industry today, and some of the most exciting music of the time period (in ways you might not expect), all team up to form a complete package of cool.

Motorbikes, power armor, and beautiful women!

Appealing to the male audience can sometimes lead to things you might not expect. Bubblegum Crisis is one of those seminal works of Japanese anime that will probably never fully disappear. It's simply too unique and too well done to over be forgotten.

Now, saying Bubblegum Crisis is of its time seems redundant. It looks 80s, feels 80s, and oozes 80s from every orifice. That said, its roots go back further than that, and its impact lived on beyond that cultural high decade for Japan.

This is why I am sharing the above video with you detailing its entire wild production history. It's a crazy story, unlike any other, and in it you will see not only the importance of cultural osmosis, but the importance of imagination and wonder to really affect people in ways that truly count. This is why younger guys can watch it today and still find a lot to take from it while being blown away by what it does.

Nonetheless, if you are either a creator yourself, looking into a very specific time in culture like the 1980s, or just generally enjoy wild real life stories, I highly recommend the above history of Bubblegum Crisis. There was nothing quite like it and will never be again.

Of course that doesn't mean there is no anime worth your time today. Last year's Pluto was excellent and one of the best anime releases in recent years, and this year seems to have than a few interesting projects on the way.

It's just not quite the same as this era, and will never quite hit the same way. Not that it can, but that makes this time all the more valuable to remember. The past might be a different country but it should still be the same world. We are meant to carry on from it, and help build in new directions for generations to come.

Regardless, Bubblegum Crisis is still very cool today and you should still watch it. And really, that's all that matters.

That's all for this weekend! See you next time!

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Extinct Eagles

Welcome to 2024! I hope the first few days have the month have treated you well! 

Let us bring in the new year with a bit of a curveball. Instead of talking about the previous year again, we will instead discuss something entirely different.

I'm sure if you're reading this at all, you are very aware of Harlequin Books. Formed in the frozen wastes of Winnipeg way back in 1948 (That's a quarter of a century ago, folks) as a paperback reprinting company, they didn't stop there. Harlequin eventually grew into a titan of paperback books in the women's romance arena, where they still remain to this day. If you are a female, or know any who read, then you have certainly encountered this company before. They more or less own the entire market.

But that isn't what I want to talk about today.

Back in 1971, the Gold Eagle line was born. Harlequin created it after the huge success of The Executioner books by Don Pendleton and wanted more of it. Ostensibly a men's adventure line of books, Gold Eagle existed to cultivate males in the same way Harlequin had so clearly captured females with their own books. Such a move made sense, who wouldn't want both halves of a demographic, after all. And it ended up being a great success.

Now, I would like to tell you more about Gold Eagle itself, but finding any information about the line online is tough. Considering the nature of the internet, that should say something. There is no wiki entry, no oral history, and no traces left of it online except lists of published books. When it was closed down it feels like there was an attempt to go scorched earth of its existence entirely. So much of this you are reading today might well be based on generalization or speculation. I apologize for that, but there is little I can do on the matter.

For whatever reason, it is as if the Gold Eagle imprint, and everything about it, were deliberately erased from the timeline we live in. So we will just have to go off assumptions today. All I can tell you for sure is that The Executioner lasted from 1969-2020, outliving Gold Eagle itself, before the industry stomped out even that.

Regardless of all of the above, I have decided on this topic because this year is the tenth anniversary of the closure of Gold Eagle. Back in 2014 was when it was announced that the line is dying, being shut down nearly the second Harlequin itself was bought out by HarperCollins. Because, as you remember, that is how Cultural Ground Zero works and how OldPub operated back then.

Here is the original announcement on the James Axler (the co-creator for Deathlands) forums a decade ago:

For those unaware, Gold Eagle was the premiere men's adventure line of books since it was first properly established in 1971 up to the announcement of the closure in 2014. For over 40 years, nearly half a century, it was the premiere place to find men's adventure books, even when the genre was abandoned by the mainstream back in the '90s. Gold Eagle clung on long past the death of its own niche.

One might figure this would be a bigger deal, attracting some sort of in depth lamentation or funeral service online, but the most that exists are posts after the fact speculating on why it died. Aside from the above short thread, there is little commentary to be found. As said before, it is as if they were just wiped clean from the industry.

But what exactly was the sort of men's adventure Gold Eagle published? Well, they most invested themselves in series. Much like The Executioner series (the most popular men's adventure book series ever created), Gold Eagle focused on a franchise crafted around a character, or small cast, that dealt with episodic adventures of daring and doom. They had ghost writers writing under one pseudonym (think the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew), who frequently rotated which books would be written and when they would be released in what order. This, as you might imagine, led to series with as many as several hundred books in them each.

No one can ever say these fellas didn't produce!

There were no consistent "genres" here, either. The Mack Bolan books were action movies before the film genre fully formed (and the series itself lived decades after it died), the Deathlands books were post-apocalyptic adventure tales of survivors after the end, and there were also a whole slew of series that didn't make it beyond their initial three book launching stage, some of which are better than you might think. These books all had varied ideas and premises from time travel, war stories, spies, mysteries, and even Tomb Raider style of adventure tales. If you want to know more about some of what Gold Eagle, and other publishers of the time, put out then be sure to check out the Paperback Warrior site. They go heavy on men's adventure book coverage.

Regardless, the point is that adventure mattered first. You bought a Gold Eagle title to be thrilled, not to check boxes to be allowed into special literary clubs.

Entertainment came first.

It should also be noted that Gold Eagle were not alone. You can fine all sorts of such series from the time period (some of which are out of print now) such as the cult favorite Casca series. The point is that there was an entire industry of men's adventure once upon a time. Gold Eagle were simply at the top of the heap.

An example of some of their output

So what happened for HarperCollins to shut the line down, ending around a century of work overnight? No one really knows the reason, but there has been plenty of speculation, from competing mediums (video games and movies are always the scapegoats, despite any conclusive proof or data), to shifting tastes of the times, to publishing's abandonment of particular reader demographics, to the very real problem of falling male literacy rates thanks to poor education. Though one could agree they all have their contributions to make, the real problem is that the 1990s were where a lot of things died. We've covered this before.

It merely took one of the titans of OldPub getting around to buying up the last of the little guys and finally putting a stop to them before the final domino fell. Since 2014, men's adventure in OldPub no longer exists. It's dead.

If I could offer my own theories as to why this happened, I think it is because the publishers have always been a bit misguided in why they were being read in the first place. They also never thought to course correct, either stubbornly clinging to antiquated ways or chasing trends to keep up with other mediums. In other words, they fell into formula head first.

I don't believe either movies or video games were a major factor in this. These mediums always get brought up, despite the fact that, as stated earlier, The Executioner was a high selling blockbuster before, during, and after, the action movie boom. It outlived that entire peak. Movies had no bearing on the success of men's adventure, if anything it attracted more readers to the books.

As for video games, Goosebumps was the biggest thing in the world when kids were running around 3D space for the first time in Super Mario 64 and when Quake was blowing people's minds. Let us not forget that video game franchises such as Resident Evil and Halo had very successful book tie-ins years after this. Not to mention there is the very successful Warhammer 40K universe which has tie-in video games all the time as well as many books on top of it. More than likely, video games also had little effect on the literacy issue. Once again, it just simply doesn't look to be the case.

So what was the cause? It would obviously have to be the industry itself.

It's more likely kids stopped buying books because OldPub deliberately stopped making any books for boys. By the time they hit the age to read there was little left for them being made, and their tastes had already been soured by schools pushing emasculating slop on them for so long. It's no wonder younger generations never moved on to what little men's adventure was even left by the 21st century (almost none) and never got into reading as a hobby at all. (Speaking of Goosebumps, that was also sabotaged not long after its commercial peak. OldPub really didn't want males to read anything.) How are males supposed to get into a hobby that doesn't want to appeal to them?

At the same time as all this, men's adventure fell prey to the same problem comic books did. Ongoing overly-corporate stories without ending points kills any sense of drama or excitement out of a story when you know nothing really matters in the end. While this doesn't effect characters like Mack Bolan or James Bond, characters that are made for standalone, pick up and read fare, it does effect ongoing stories meant to carry on into epic book lines. And most of what men's adventure was putting out at the time were ongoing stories in the mold. Imagine how it must feel like to read all 125 books of Deathlands to find there is no ending and that the survivors will most likely be doomed anyway. That was part of the dwindling interest, I'm sure. Stories need endings, and they have to matter. At a certain point, it's almost like collecting brand merch for the funko pop wall instead of reading stories. And that's a problem.

Now those old men's adventure stories are all gone, relegated to the corners of used book stores and marked up in online stores. Or they can be found on Amazon with new eBook versions that contain, of course, far inferior cover art to what came before. It's a bit of a sad end to the men's adventure era in OldPub, but that's where it is at today. Considering the entire field is now run by old urbanite women, it is no surprised they didn't see the appeal to selling to half the population that isn't them. OldPub has had an ego problem for decades.

In case you forgot:

In other words, men's adventure is dead as far as OldPub is concerned, and it isn't coming back. That era is over.

But it's not dead in NewPub.

All over this very blog are examples of signal boosts from authors concentrated on putting the story first. Men's adventure is very much alive. Here you can also find ideas that no one would have tried back when OldPub was the only game in town. You can find series, trilogies, short story collections, and evens standalone novels, all of which were thought taboo in the old industry. You will no longer find this level of excitement and fresh creativity on the racks of the dying chain book stores. And that is why they are dying in the first place. Readers simply have too much choice now to settle on what the people in charge tell them they can have.

We don't live in the 20th century anymore. New ways are here.

It's been a decade since the last vestiges of male-oriented storytelling was wiped out of OldPub. Ae they doing better now? Have sales increased? Are more kids reading than ever before? Are new chain book stores opening up? Are people on the street excitedly talking about the new big bestselling book? You know the answers to all those questions. OldPub is over.

Even as just one simple example, StoryHack has turned to putting out Sidearm & Sorcery anthologies (with a third one currently in production), focusing on hot blooded adventure masking up urban legends with sword and sorcery of the old sort. That is just one project. There is no more tired formula to be found in NewPub, it's all uncharted territory.

Cirsova is one of the more infamous examples of putting Thrilling Adventure and Daring Suspense first, even beyond its magazine releases. As a publisher they release off-kilter books of the sort OldPub can only dream about. DMR Books is yet another example of this as is the recently launched Anvil Magazine.

These are also only the publishers. I haven't mentioned the cavalcade of authors pumping out new worlds and fresh characters for you to follow.

And that's just the very tip of iceberg.

So ten years after the death of Gold Eagle, the last bastion of men's adventure in OldPub, where are we now? In a better place.

If you need more signs of things turning around, you can find them. It's just not always in the places you expect. Things do not always stay the same forever.

Before we leave I wanted to share this one last post from a poster on the above James Axler blog ten years ago. You can judge for yourself if things have improved after reading this ancient post. Trust me, it's a good one.

And this is exactly what ended up happening.

Have a happy new year, everyone!