Monday, 12 March 2018

Rev it Up!: A Quick History of the Pulp Revolution

You can find this book here.

*NOTE: This post exists for two reasons. The first is for those newcomers who might have missed just where this whole thing came from, and the second is for those of us who need a refresher. I claim no credit for, or leadership in, the Pulp Revolution.*

If there is one thing the last decade has shown, it is that most people are unsatisfied with the way things are. Entertainment, especially, no longer entertains but instead caters to niche fringe groups that are desperate to shed their roots and destroy their origins for the offhand chance an Important Person will acknowledge them. There is not one industry not currently suffering from this problem now, and it was little better years ago.

But what if the problems stemming from today are actually symptoms of a much older sickness? What if you can trace it back using the words of those who deliberately tried to tear down good things in order to build worse ones? What if they succeeded and no one around you wanted to admit it?

Wouldn't you want to do something?

Well, the Pulp Revolution is about that first and foremost. It is about doing. It is about reclaiming things lost deliberately and calling attention to a legacy in danger of being forgotten. It is about going backwards and building again.

That is what the PulpRev is.

But where did it start?


In a dusty little saloon called Tabletop Gaming there was this movement called the OSR. For those puzzled by acronyms, it stands for Old School Revival/Renaissance. It stands for exactly what it says it does. Judging from my description of the Pulp Revolution, you might know where this is going.

I'm going to include wikipedia's definition to shoulder the blame should I get any of this wrong and to make sure I don't miss anything, but it does line up more or less with what it is:

"The OSR was made possible by Wizards of the Coasts' release of their Open Gaming License in 2000, which allowed the free and unapproved use of large amounts of creative and rules mechanic material related to the Dungeons & Dragons game. 
"Broadly, OSR games encourage a tonal fidelity to Dungeons & Dragons as it was played in the first decade of the game's existence—less emphasis on linear adventure plots and overarching metaplots and a greater emphasis on player agency. Frequently they are built around older rules systems made available by the OGL. As such, the OSR label includes most Dungeons & Dragons retro-clones; most OSR games are variants of either the 1974 original Dungeons & Dragons rules (OD&D)—such as Swords & Wizardry—or the 1981 Basic and Expert sets of Dungeons and Dragons (known as B/X, or Moldvay/Cook, after those sets' primary authors)—such as Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy RPG, and Lamentations of the Flame Princess."
It was a movement meant to bring the hobby back to its roots as many had seen their favorite pastime devolve and melt into a puddle of grey goo. If anyone has ever played 4th edition (or *cough*3rd*cough*) then they know where the sentiment came from.

So it only stands to reason that in this climate that someone would take it a step further. If the game that changed so much can in itself be warped so far out of its original shape and intent . . . what about the literature that inspired it in the first place?

That would be the pulps, and that is where things get interesting.

There is a bit of a cosmic jest here. The pulps were what inspired D&D in the first place. It was the love of the stories and the wonder of imagining yourself in an adventure in those worlds. Pulp worlds were exciting, invigorating, and creative. Who wouldn't want to play games based on that? That is what makes this turnabout funny. Now it was a revival of said gaming that was inspiring a return to pulps, the original inspiration.

Gary Gygax, the man behind the game, created a list of books. These were the books he recommend players read to get ideas for games just as they inspired him in the first place. It was not just a suggested reading list, but one based on the type of stories the game was meant to be based on. These were the books that inspired one of the biggest games and with the heaviest influence in pop culture of the later half of the 20th century. In other words, these books were important.

And no one was talking about them.

That's where we begin.

Revving Up

The catalyst to the Pulp Revolution arising specifically were several things from different places.

First, a gamer named Jeffro Johnson began a series of posts on the Castalia House blog detailing his read-through of the entirety of the Appendix N list.

If you want an idea of Jeffro's passion, I highly suggest following the Appendix N tab on the Castalia House blog and reading what you find. If he isn't talking about going the Full Mr. Peanut, he's talking about something nobody else is. And that was very important for a lot of those in the PulpRev.

These articles led discussions both out in the open and behind doors, and left some of us contemplating on our own direction. It wasn't just on the works themselves, but on the entire era in question. Many began digging and searching for answers.

At one point genre fiction was without boundaries. They could be anything from science fiction to fantasy to horror to sailor stories to even being about trains and still retain an energy and love of mystery and wonder that simply no longer existed. Anyone who looked into this was taken aback by the revelation.

Where did all that go? Why had we fallen so far away from where we started, and why were the roots dug up and replaced with weeds that have long since choked out anything fresh?

This is the drive of PulpRev.

Jeffro's work was one of the starting places for this movement. Personally, I am very thankful for it. However, Jeffro also mentions other places the Pulp Revolution came from. It was not just based on his work.

"But there are many significant actors involved here, all of whom worked together to make the Pulp Revolution happen:

  • *There is Larry Correia, who not only ignored what his writing teachers told him… but who also pulled off one of the greatest pranks in science fiction history. He got a lot of people talking about something that wasn’t immediately obvious
  • *There is Edgar Rice Burroughs, who single-handedly set the tone for fantasy, science fiction, pulp, comic books, role-playing games, and Star Wars.
  • *There is Gary Gygax, who created a time capsule that preserved that vision in the face of an industry and gatekeeping establishment that was hellbent on seeing it extinguished.
  • *There is John C. Wright, who never got the memo that Appendix N style fantasy was out of style.
  • *There is Alex Kimball, who offered to pay semi-pro rates for people that wanted to bring back more of it to the short fiction scene.
  • *There is Daddy Warpig, who observed that something was happening and called it what it was before anyone could grasp its significance.

"That’s quite a list!"

I will try to talk a little about a few of the above shortly.

Of course, pulp fiction has never fully gone away. But that isn't without lack of trying. It has been used as little more than an insult or a cheesy aesthetic for those who hated them. It has been used as an insult by those who never bothered to read the original works. Pulp became a synonym for trash, and nothing else. The Tarantino movie didn't help. The tradition of genre fiction actually goes back through the pulps and the penny dreadfuls all the way to at least Poe. By ignoring the pulps you are cutting the line of tradition and thumbing your nose at it. Those who trash it have no idea what they are actually doing.

Pulp fiction was what written entertainment mainly was before the 1950s. But they are not what you were told they were. There were different genres mixing together, stories were built to satisfy the reader first, there were crazy genres based on things like railroads, and this is where the origin of most every modern entertainment you enjoy came from... without the edges sanded off. This is where George Lucas swiped from to create Star Wars--every single piece of it--and a lot of the old stuff is better than what he put out. This is where the modern fantasy, horror, and science fiction story kept its links to the past while still striking out in new directions without fracturing links to each other in the process. This is where ALL tabletop and video games get their roots from: name a game, and it has its feet firmly planted in Pulp Town. Comic books are direct descendants of the pulps. Television shows like Star Trek and the Twilight Zone? Yes, them too. Anime and manga had direct ties to the Pulp tradition, even running translated pulp stories in the very first issues of Weekly Shonen Jump--the most popular entertainment magazine in Japan. Foreign comics like bande dessinée as a whole get their inspiration from the same place. Pulp was a worldwide thing, not regional. Every piece of entertainment you enjoy comes from the pulps: all of that great material you love that no longer exists and has been deliberately destroyed over the years comes from these things.

These things were important. Pulp was the entertainment world.

And no one was talking about it. When those in the Pulp Revolution started talking, they also started thinking about it more and more. Then they began digging, and they didn't like what they found.

This goes back far

Another reason the Pulp Revolution happened is, and this will be controversial: the Sad and Rabid Puppies movements and both their successes and failures.

Now, please don't clog up the comments about either of these. I was there for both and I was paying attention. A third hand report you heard from a biased geek news website is not going to sway me on this. I've already been called a liar for reporting on what my two lying eyes have seen before.

Here's the short version, and the true one. Larry Correia started Sad Puppies because he wanted to prove that World Con was a clique. It was just for fun, but the clique exploded with rage. He was correct, and he succeeded in showing it if only by their reaction. It went on for two more successful years, the third year being run by author Brad Torgersen. It then ran its course.

Vox Day started Rabid Puppies because he saw an opportunity to strike back at that petty crowd and hit them where it hurt. Also, to have fun. He wanted to destroy any illusion that their club meant anything except for their tiny, shrinking, and dying base. Space Raptor Butt Invasion is now a Hugo Nominated work. He succeeded.

That's all there is to either movement. Their goals had been met, and both Larry and Vox shook the dust from their feet and moved on.

But there were fall-outs to these campaigns. Vox Day walked away having accomplished his task, but Sad Puppies continued on in gutted form a little longer as a recommended reading list and faded away. There was also some infighting that ended up splintering any remaining interest most had in it. For all intents and purposes, it's dead and it's done.

But it did leave its mark on those paying attention.

Some history on Sad Puppies

Why so many people supported them in the first place is reflected in what was nominated by the small clique, oblivious to the outside world, and what was actually selling to normal people. A lot of people were disillusioned with how goopy and empty genre fiction was becoming and wanted to find better than what the big publishers like Tor were putting out. That was when a lot had a sinking realization.

There was no real alternative.

The big publishers were putting out sleeping pills as books, and finding anything in the independent world was nearly impossible. There was a hunger there, but nothing to satiate the stomach. Unless you liked subversion, you just weren't being offered much aside from table scraps.

But that was a big motivator in why the Pulp Revolution took off.

The third reason it happened, and this is going to sound strange, was the recent cultural shift over the last three years.

As I've said, entertainment is in a bad place. For a long time many of us just sat on the sideline twiddling our thumbs and hoping for things to get better. Surely someone would waken from their slumber and wonder why nothing was getting better, realize they had fallen far from where they started, and work to get back on track.

But it never happened.

Video games were getting streamlined to oblivion as loudmouth political wanks began bullying customers. Genres were wiped out. Good developers were destroyed. Game journalists were getting by on nothing but the fact that they knew the right people. And we all just sat by and hoped it would get better. It only got worse.

Comics were getting more and more insular and up their own rear. They no longer courted new audiences, and when they did it was for an audience that didn't exist instead of the one that walked away. Comic shops were closed as Marvel continued to allow their employees to mock customers online and over-ship books to said stores. We just expected it would work itself out. It hasn't.

Movies recently just had their worst Summer box office since the 9/11 tragedy. They remake and subvert old properties constantly and end up making inferior products that critics (suspiciously) love while audiences clearly do not. Their "stars" are self-important and full of themselves, and as recently uncovered are almost all involved in covering up gross sins. Television is in exactly the same boat. But many still think it'll turn around. It isn't going to.

All of these have led to fan and customer movements that range from GamerGate to ComicsGate to the recent kerfuffle and justified backlash over Star Wars: The Last Jedi. What do all three have in common? They were all gas-lit to try to deflect the argument and hide behind strawmen. Anyone who has seen all three of these and still pretends there is no pattern is beyond saving at this point.

Then there is the literary industry.

Oh boy.

Books are not immune to any of the above. For this, I'm going to hand it over to author Brian Niemeier:

And with the book industry is where we find our first break in the storm clouds. While the big publishers are failing like every other industry, the indie market actually has the biggest chance it has ever had, and it was only really being realized a little as a few years ago.

These major factors converging were what lead to the Pulp Revolution. This is where it comes from.


You had things like Appendix N discussions, blogs focused on pulps, writers creating new stories, and even new magazines based on standards the old ones had. I can't say they were all tied directly to the Pulp Revolution in their origins specifically, but they did show up at the table at the right time. They were all very much sharing the same goal.

This would be the part that I would mention people directly, but I don't want to forget anyone or say the wrong thing. Let's just say that if you can look around for PulpRev in any search engine you will find someone in it. It encompasses more than a small group, and is always letting in those who want to contribute. No one can co-opt it because the movement exists only to revive the old and link it to the present to move toward the future. Removing any one step in this process causes it to fail.

The Pulp Revolution goes beyond a small handful. Yes, you too can be PulpRev.

However, I will link to one podcast in particular, hosted by Geek Gab. This is an episode with Jeffro Johnson, Science Fiction writer John C. Wright, and rant-master extraordinaire Razorfist on pulp. This is a good encapsulation of the sort of thing the movement tries to strive for. Listen to their excitement and enthusiasm and tell me there is nothing to this thing.

At this point it is important to mention that the Pulp Revolution is not related to any other pulp movement, including New Pulp. Those movements exist to carry on a style of story for a specific audience and has a niche focus. The PulpRev exists to revive, re-energize, and kick in doors to the wider world. It is not a peaceful movement, and it is not complacent.

The revolution first started as more of a revival focused on reading and discussing old pulps and relishing how good the stories are and cursing the fact that they were buried for so long. It was peaceful at the time.

It is no longer.

In 2016 many people began to write. Some were inspired by the new magazines that sprung up, some by simply reading an old pulp story that had been buried, and others by discussions and realizations that the competition was so weak that there was nothing left to lose. Pulp or death.

That's just it, though. There is nothing left to lose. Entertainment is dying. Art is dying. The past has been discarded, the present is a toilet bowl, and the future is as uncertain as ever. You can either wallow and cry, or you can get up and slay the wizard before you. Guess which one PulpRev has chosen?

So start creating.

Let's finish this off with a quote from Jeffro himself.

"Pulp Revolution is not a group you associate with. It’s something you do. It’s reading old books and discussing them. It’s blogging and podcasting. It’s continuing the conversations that spring up on social media. It’s writing new pulps and putting them up on Amazon. 
"It’s not anyone’s place to tell anyone else they’re pulp revolutioning wrong. There is no gatekeeper. This whole thing is happening because there are no gatekeepers! And unlike the Sad Puppies, there is no one that can imperiously tell anyone, “hey… we built that.” Nobody built it. It just happened. When people find out the truth about the pulps and start reading them for themselves, they are overcome with a desire to create. Games. Stories. Criticism. It’s awesome. Nobody orchestrates this."

The solution is simple: Revolution! Go back to what was lost and pick up from the torn threads. It will take some time, but it isn't impossible.

It is inevitable as long as you're willing to fight.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

March Update!

I hope you're ready for an update.

One of my regrets of last year is that I didn't release enough material despite how much I actually wrote. A had a handful of short stories release and one book, all of which I received positive reaction from. I am not disappointed in anything put out, merely that it wasn't enough.

But this year will be different. I'm planning to get out the gate sooner than I did in 2017.

For a preview, I'm working on several different projects (some of which are not mine to announce) and am aiming to have several released before the end of the year. 2018 is going to be a bigger year for me and this blog. I can't reveal much yet, but I can promise it'll be worth the wait.

For now, however, I do have something to announce.

On March 27th I will be releasing my next work, Knives in the Night, a short story. It will be available for a dollar on amazon. But, that is on amazon. It will be available for free if you sign up for my mailing list. And it will be made available earlier, as well.

I told you I'm starting this year out stronger.

Here is the cover art by the great Kukuruyo:

Want to know what it's about? Read on!

This story takes place in my Hero Magic universe which is the same as previous stories of mine. This is a world of heroes and villains, but also one of hidden darker forces that lie under the surface. Knives in the Night is the story of a vigilante dealing with just such a problem. If you enjoyed Someone Is Aiming for You and Lucky Spider's Last Stand then this is for you.

Knives in the Night stars Walker, a man with the power to appear invisible. He hunts the night for someone important to him that disappeared a long time ago. He stalks the night evading the authorities and those who would do him harm. But this night is different. In the middle of his mission he stumbles across a situation where sinister forces are at play. The sudden appearance of villains, inexplicable magic, and a mysterious woman, all arrive at the same time to disturb his task. Now he has a new problem.

Will he be able to survive the night, or is he doomed to dwell in the dark? In a world of superpowers, there are still things that go bump in the night.

You can pick up Knives in the Night for a dollar when it comes out at the end of the month. Or you can sign up for the mailing list (that pop-up exists for a reason!) and get it a bit earlier, and for free. Either way, I hope you decide to give it a read.

This series is definitely going in interesting directions.

And until it releases you can always read my last book.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Weird Tales and Missing Links (Part I)

I have been fascinated with Weird Tales for a while now. There wasn't nothing like it where I grew up, and nowhere to learn anything about it. In a world starved for unique, bizarre, and fun fiction with a bit of brains, we appear to either have Big 5 published grey gruel pushed on us or are forced to journey out into the wild world of independent publishing and barrel through the brush to seek it out. There is no more cohesive library for fans of the phenomenally fantastic to find what they want.

So most people walk away. We see that trend continuing year after year. Genre fiction is dying. If we want to save it we have to go back to the source and see what we're missing and what we can regain from the era that was the most prosperous. That time period, whether you want to admit it or nor, is the pulp era.

Appendix N proved that there was a very obvious canon of fantastical tales that influenced a whole generation to the point that they were building games in order to play in those worlds. Sure, one could argue that Appendix N was only what Gary Gygax preferred, but it's not worth arguing and is clearly not true when speaking to those that lived in that era. Looking at any account of fiction fans of the time one would be hard-pressed to not see mention of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Abraham Merritt, Henry Kuttner, H.P. Lovecraft, Leigh Brackett, E.E. "Doc" Smith, Manly Wade Wellman, Edmond Hamilton, Clark Ashton Smith, C.L. Moore, and Robert E. Howard. These names were conveniently erased over time by those who wanted to use genre fiction for something other than escapist entertainment and for something considerably less inspired and far more idiotic. Those that did survive were tarred and feathered, and essentially read out as the wrong sort to read.

Even to this day you will have those refusing to read writers from the Golden Age of genre fiction because of hearsay and rumors, and not because of any story they ever wrote. In fact, the term Golden Age itself was co-opted for use for a later generation that did not influence nearly as much as the pulps did. That bit of deceptiveness has cost much over the years. Just as Superman is the Golden Age of comic books, John Carter is the Golden Age of genre fiction. Take it or leave it, but it is what it is.

This needless erasure is a shame, because what they wrote is quite good. Phenomenal, even. You can even find these stories for free, as most are in the public domain. You can even easily find information on these writers if you are so inclined.

The pulp era Golden Age is more accessible than ever before, and every reader is free to make their own decision on how well they hold up.

Right now, you can go on and buy a pack of 26 stories by most of these authors for $2. That is less than you'll pay for the most recent forgettable John Scalzi book, and you will be offered some of the best stories you've probably never read. And they are quite delightful. You will be able to read stories without artificial genre boundaries and where you will be pulled into a world much like ours only from an angle you might not have considered. No politics, no preaching, no pointless perversion. Just fun and a good time.

And real fantasy and fun. None of John W. Campbell's trying to make fantasy fiction "realistic" or trying to take the grandeur and teeth out of the action. There was a magazine for that called Unknown. It didn't last very long, and yet its influence is puzzling. But that's a whole other topic. This post is about the real best magazine in fantasy, one that lasted much longer. This is about Weird Tales.

Personally, I was stunned reading these. I know I've said that a lot since going on this journey through the old canon and missing link between adventure classics like Haggard and modern pulp like the original Star Wars movies, but this time I mean it. Let me go through each story to show you. In this post I will go through the first 13 stories of 26 and will save the remainder for a follow-up post.

"Beyond the Black River" by Robert E. Howard (May and June, 1935)
"The Secret of Kralitz" by Henry Kuttner (October, 1936)
"The Shunned House" by H.P. Lovecraft (October, 1937)
"Way Station" by Mary Elizabeth Counselman (November, 1953)
"Never Stop to Pat a Kitten" by Miriam Allen deFord (July, 1954)
"The Diary of Philip Westerly" by Paul Compton (August-September, 1936)
"The Door into Infinity" by Edmond Hamilton (August-September, 1936)
"Isle of the Undead" by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach (October, 1936)
"The Perfect Host" by Theodore Sturgeon (November, 1948)
"Gainful Employment" by Jamie Wild (Summer, 2000)
"The Tree of Life" by C.L. Moore (October, 1936)
"Mop-Head" by Leah Bodine Drake (January, 1954)
"The Golgotha Dancers" by Manly Wade Wellman (October, 1937)

As you can see, it's a very varied list that spans a good amount of time. And the stories themselves are also quite a decent spread of Weird Tale goodness. They hold different settings, characters, and ideas, with the only constant being that they are limitless tales of the unknown. They can go anywhere and do anything.

And that they do.

Beyond the Black River by Robert E. Howard is a Conan story involving a plot to slay a wizard, an advancing force of Pictish invaders, and demon monsters summoned from the depths. Conan faces insurmountable odds, but he doesn't face them alone. If there is a better story to start off a Weird Tales anthology than a Conan story I severely doubt it. You get your action, drama, and eerie feels here with an ending that will grow hairs on your chest. This sets the tone going forward.

Henry Kuttner's The Secret of Kralitz is a Gothic Horror tale in the Lovecraftian mold starring a line of barons that teeter toward an indescribable fate. It takes a bit to get rolling, but once you reach the end you'll almost wish it were longer. This is a part of the literature tradition modern genre fiction has all but gutted. The creeping unknown of what you think is and might be falls upon you like it does the protagonist. Gothic influence is regularly ejected in favor of nihilism these days, and that's a shame. The old tradition offers so much more to the reader.

But then we get to who is probably the most well-known author here. That would be H.P. Lovecraft and his story The Shunned House which is business as usual for him. It starts with a detailed history of the house in question, reminding the reader of The Dunwich Horror published nine years prior though actually written first, giving off the vibe of an historical document more than a short story. Unfortunately, unlike that story, the beginning is far too long-winded and most of it is inconsequential to the best parts of the story. However, I would say the second half is a better story than Dunwich if only because the protagonist is heroic, works to solve the problem, and actually succeeds in the end despite his circumstances. As such, this is heroic fiction and was exactly what this reader enjoys the most. There really was no writer quite like Lovecraft.

We then jump to the 1950s with Mary Elizabeth Counselman and her story Way Station which is unrelated to the Clifford Simak novel of the same title. A newly wed couple enters a motel and learns the inhabitants inside may not be what they seem. This story managed a balance of eeriness and lightheartedness that completely disarmed me when reading. I had guessed the secret early, but that was apparently the point, as the plot then went beyond it for a warm ending that easily made up for what predictability there was. This is the first story I've read of hers, and it probably won't be the last.

Never Stop to Pat a Kitten by Miriam Allen deFord was such a pleasant delight that I had to pause after reading it to reconfirm this story did exist and I didn't just make up reading it. Essentially, a man stops to pet an adorable kitten on the street and the bizarre begins to occur. I don't want to spoil exactly where it goes, but this is what I think of when I think of the term Weird Tales. They just don't make them like this anymore.

After that we go into a similar piece by Paul Compton called The Diary of Philip Westerly. This involves a dark reflection in the mirror that grows more plain as the protagonist grow more demonic. This felt far more like a vignette than I would have liked with an ending that didn't really go anywhere. I was reminded of The Portrait of Dorian Gray, but whereas that involved a beautiful man with a stained soul, this didn't really explain what sort of man the lead was to tell me if I should root for him or understand his plight. The stakes are more assumed than anything and he is a very insular man which makes understanding his decisions difficult. It was good, but the ending was definitely weak.

But then we reach what might be my second favorite of the bunch (you'll know my first soon enough) by Edmond Hamilton, the planet cracker, world wrecker, and sphere smasher himself. But this is an action pulp called The Door into Infinity and not Space Opera. And man alive is it incredible. Mr. Hamilton could switch genres like he was changing shirts. Secret societies, beasts from beyond time, knife fights, daring escapes, and dread fill this piece from beginning to end. If there was one story that slapped me in the face and told me to keep the pages turning, it was this one.

And here's my favorite review of this piece:

Sounds great to me!

Next is Lloyd Arthur Eshbach's Isle of the Dead. This actually ran a month after the previous story did in the original run of the magazine. A yacht comes across a mysterious island of zombies and the poor lost protagonists must figure a way out as everything goes to hell. Keep in mind that these are not typical postmodern George Romero zombies, but old school dead and bloated corpses moving on their own as if from some unseen force with a purpose. This is another full tight adventure story that is actually surprisingly graphic even today. It isn't for the squeamish! Pure horror. Nonetheless, it's a good one.

Theodore Sturgeon's The Perfect Host follows. This one also took me a while to get into. Each part is named after a different character with a different point of view to a series of events. Basically, a sick woman leaps from the balcony of a hospital and dies . . . or did everyone see what they thought they did? Even the pulps could try literary tricks, and this story is a prime example. Though it does have the problem of a couple of the characters rambling a lot and taking time getting to the point. If this was done in a novel it would absolutely drive me mad. Experimental ideas like this really do work better in short form. That said, this is what you read Weird Tales for.

Gainful Employment by Jamie Wild is next and is the only story here from the year 2000 and outside of the original run of the magazine. The fantasy setting leads way to a tongue in cheek comedy with dialogue to match that could have come from The Simpsons or Monty Python's Flying Circus. The main character meets a dragon who gives him a job. He completes the job then gets another one. It's a fine enough cutesy comedy, but there is nothing about it that screams Weird Tales and could have easily run in any other magazine. There is no weight, no drama, and no eerie atmosphere, that even the lighter stories have. The story is a subversive take on a knight's quest which goes pretty much where you think it will when the dragon starts talking back to the hapless main character. It's just a solid comedy fantasy story that is clearly from the '90s/'00s. If that's what you want, then this is for you. But it's not Weird Tales, or pulp, and it shows how far away short stories have been pulled from that tradition over the years.

But right away we're pulled into The Tree of Life by one of the finest writers of genre fiction that ever lived. That would be C.L. Moore, and this is the best story in the collection. This a tale of Northwest Smith, the obvious inspiration for Han Solo, as he deals with a ruined civilization and what may in fact be the darker remnants. Instantly, the weight missing from the last story returns as does the Weird Tales perfect blend of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror in one perfect amalgamation of a story about beauty and danger that are so close and yet just out reach for mortal man to grasp. I have never come across another writer that had perfectly captured this mood than C.L. Moore did. One of the worst things to happen to genre fiction was this loss of intense Gothic mood that allowed so much flexibility in what stories could allow. Needless to say, this is one of the best stories in this collection eve if you're not big on the Gothic style. Space bounty hunter hunts down an abomination. That's all you need.

The oddly named Mop-Head by Leah Bodine Drake follows. A woman marries a young widower and one of the kids just doesn't take to her. But then something called "Mop-Head" begins to get involved with their family and everything gets turned on its head. Leah Bodine Drake was mostly known for her poetry and this is one of two short stories she actually wrote for Weird Tales. It's a shame she didn't write more. This was well worthy of printing as a creepy horror story with one odd monster that will make your skin crawl.

Lastly, we have a story by the great Manly Wade Wellman to end this post on which is The Golgotha Dancers. The tale is about a haunted painting where those inside come out to terrify the owner. Wellman's eccentric prose style really helps this come alive. The specific inscription on the painting is what really got to me. It was simple, but memorable.

"I, too, came close. There was no plate, just as the guard had said. But in the lower left-hand corner of the canvas were sprawling capitals, pale paint on the dark, spelling out the word GOLGOTHA. Beneath these, in small, barely readable script: 
"I sold my soul that I might paint a living picture."

Of course if you've read a haunted painting story before you more or less know where this is going, but let's also be honest. No one under the age of 40 has probably read a haunted painting story unless they went looking for it. Like I had to. Nevertheless, it makes a good addition to this collection in rounding out the story selection for a story well appreciated. If the ending doesn't make you smile then you simply have no heart.

These stories do make me wonder about the narrative that women were discriminated against in the pulp era. A good portion of those included in this pack, and in Weird Tales' actual pages, were women and known to be women, and the magazine enjoyed high sales regardless of that fact. They also wrote better than many of the writers put out books for the big publishers today. And everyone was fine with it.

It also makes me wonder just why the success of Weird Tales has been downplayed by certain individuals in the industry. The relationship between its tremendous success and its forcible removal from influence in Western genre fiction is baffling. It sold far more than the John W. Campbell attempt at gutted Fantasy and has a had a bigger effect worldwide on genre stories in literary form and other mediums than anything Campbell pushed out. So why did Unknown have more influence on the North American literary market when the audience wanted stories like Weird Tales and not more like Unknown? Why were the audience's wishes ignored and told what they were supposed to read? Why were writers encouraged to travel paths the majority of their readers didn't want them to go? Does this correlate with genre fiction's segregation into tiny fan clusters (fetishizing certain subgenres to the exclusion of its much deeper roots) while the larger audience simply walked away from their ghetto? Is that why sales keep dropping year after year and continue to get more and more insular? It sure seems like pulp is what the audience wants as the success of anime, detective stories and mysteries, video games, manga, bande desinee, superhero movies, and the continued popularity of old Star Wars and '80s genre films show. All of which were heavily indebted to the pulps and all of which enjoy more success than what followed Campbell's example.

Something isn't adding up, and it goes surprisingly far back. It is plenty suspicious.

But that's enough of that. I'm getting off track.

We will see how the rest of this collection goes when we reach the second part. I'm eagerly awaiting getting to it.

As for pulp inspired works, I have my own out there now. You can check it out at the link below and tell me how I'm doing!

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

End of the Beginning ~ My Hero Academia Volume 11 Review

My Hero Academia is back, and as the cover shows, there is a lot to go over here. This review is going to be filled with a lot of spoilers for material to come in season 3 of the anime so if you don't want what is sure to be the greatest moments in the series spoiled for you-- tune out now.

Those still with me had better hold on tight.

As has been mentioned previously, My Hero Academia has an unwritten creed that every volume of the manga that does not have Izuku Midoriya, the main character, on the cover means the focus of the volume is centered on whoever is. This was the case when we learned about Todoroki's past, and the truth behind the chip on Bakugo's shoulder (which seemed innocuous at the time), back in volumes 5 and 7 respectively. This volume having not only All Might on the cover, but in the middle of a desperate battle and covered in blood, as well as the official title being "End of the Beginning, Beginning of the End" is a mark of how important its contents are to the overall narrative of the series.

Of course, it's also a really cool looking cover. Kohei Horikoshi always nails these out of the park.

Even with the spoiler warning I already gave, it is difficult trying to explain this volume without ruining the impact. You really should read it first. I'll just get right to the point. All Might is the Symbol of Peace in the world of My Hero Academia. He is the Superman. He represents the Golden Age of superheroes as a whole. He is the man who faces danger with a smile on his face and is always there for people at the world's darkest moments. He is the symbol of a bright era where heroism and light has lead humanity forward from those in the shadows languishing in anger and bitterness. He is a symbol of something much bigger than he is.

This is also what eventually comes back to bite him in the back. All For One, the enemy of the original holder of the One For All power, has made his move in order to save Tomura Shigaraki and his men from being captured by the heroes. He has chosen this moment to make his final stand and allow his student to escape before everything is ruined. The ones hiding in the shadows have been amassing forces and power, building their time for the right moment to strike while everyone else went on oblivious at what they were doing. They used Hero Killer Stain's warped ideals to further their own cause and sent the heroes in disarray after attacking a summer camp for kids that they should not have known about. The villains are turning the tables.

The era is changing fast.

And All Might knows it. Though he exchanges blows with All For One, the two quickly learn that they are both not what they used to be. All Might no longer has the stamina he used to since he gave away his power to Midoriya, meaning he is living on borrowed time. All For One's body is not immortal despite all the quirks he has stolen over the years. He is rotting away. His body is a horrible mangled sack of skin and bone that is barely shaped like a person anymore, and it can barely contain or use any of his powers like it used to. These two titans know this is their last battle, and they put all they have left into it.

The old era is dying, and now their two figureheads do battle to prove who really has the right to move on as the true victor. Who will rule the next age?

But All For One still has tricks to spare. As it turns out, Tomura Shigaraki is actually the grandson of the previous holder of One For All before All Might, who was deliberately sought out by All For One to tarnish her legacy. This battle was planned for a reason. Just as he chose this moment in Kamino Ward to fight and reveal All Might's true decrepit form to the public. He doesn't just want to kill All Might, he wants to destroy him and everything the Symbol of Peace stands for.

What follows is an earthshaking battle that sets the tone and atmosphere for the manga to come. The Earth trembles, chaos shakes the foundations, and all the cards are on the table. Things will never be the same after this battle.

Even when All Might wins, as he always does, at the cost of his power and the villain loses and is jailed, like they always are, everything is different. It shouldn't really be, but it undoubtedly is. All For One is expended, generations of terror has finally been stopped. If anything, the heroes have come out ahead.

But they haven't.

They lost the pillar of the hero society, and the villains are still out there plotting and scheming. There is now an All Might shaped void in the world and nothing is going to be able to fill it. Now he must step aside and make sure the next generation will be up to the task. The future is more uncertain than it has ever been.

There's a very good reason the chapters directly after this fight and the fall out are very lighthearted ones focusing on the students moving into dorms (because the school needs a better way to protect them) and yet still has to make a point that what happened is never going to go away. Things are different now that All Might is no longer the Symbol of Peace and All For One is finally imprisoned. The All Might era is over. And the manga has a distinctly different atmosphere from this point on. It really does feel like the end of the beginning.

Of course I wouldn't recommend anyone starting the series to do so with this volume. Too many big reveals and dramatic turns happen here and there are far too many past references to brush aside for the impact to be felt. But for those following since the beginning? They are in for a treat. This is the best volume of My Hero Academia to date and the most important one to boot. Do not pass this one by.

Highly recommended. Season 3 of the anime is going to be quite the experience when it gets to this material.

I've also got a book of my own with plenty of action. It's the most fun you'll ever have on a planet with mud men.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Age of the Sun

For anyone who was reading here last year knows, blog activity is about to slow down. This is the time of year when Lent begins. As a consequence I'll be staying away from social media and the internet for the duration. I'll still pop on to check e-mail and notifications, but won't be out and about.

I will still be putting out a post every week for those of you loyal enough to stop by every week, but they will definitely be shorter and less involved affairs than usual. My attention will be on my writing and real life duties. Hopefully I will have bigger and better posts for you when my sabbatical is over.

You can also still see weekly posts at the Cannon Cruisers site while I'm gone though season 2 doesn't start until March. That is the most you will see of me online.

Otherwise you can find me at my e-mail should you need anything:

Keep in touch!

I want to leave you with a positive word, but all I have are anecdotes. So, here's a recent one. I live in an area full of miserable (not necessarily "bad") people who have only gotten worse as the years have gone on. The world hasn't turned out the way they were promised and they just don't know how to deal with it. The utopia they were promised decades ago never came to be and it is increasingly obvious that it never will. Depression is a natural result of hoping for things that are impossible.

That said, for the first time in my life I have seen several different (and unrelated) individuals take a self-assessment and have begun to change their lives, seemingly unprovoked. One went to Confession for the first time since... longer than I've been alive. Another, who was a Richard Dawkins-style pop atheist during its peak a decade ago, has attended more than one Mass that I'm aware of. Others have started families and have realized what is important to be truly whole instead of just happy, and yet more have begun to recognize deep issues with the way they are living and realize they must work to turn things around. It was remarkable.

This isn't to put a thumb in the eye of the non-religious among you but to point out how much the climate has changed in just the last decade. Where once sneering against the sincere and genuine was commonplace it is now filled with those too tired and worn down to simply not care anymore. They need something more. As well they should because the last few decades has been a vacuum of offering anything of substance. There is no utopia coming, but that is okay. There is still something to fight for and connect with.

Those of you feeling discouraged or forlorn with the modern situation simply don't need to be. You might not see it yet, and you might not for years to come, but things are changing. After what the Western world has been through, it is more than due.

Sure, entertainment and art is in the trash-- but it won't always be. Subversion is a parasite that can't live without a host body. It's been living off a corpse and has no blood left to drain. Subversion is dying because everyone has figured out the shell game. The ball has been pocketed and the audience was scammed from the get-go. Remakes and relaunches are all that remain because the audience's trust is gone. And as they realize the creators' remakes are far worse than the originals it will only hasten the decline.

Subversion has killed itself, but it's not over yet.

It's time to start building and to give that little bit to those that are awakening and looking something more, anything at all. We need to help them discover a bigger universe than the one they were fed on--the one that pulled them into the mud, spat in their eye, and told them misery was good, ignorance is strength, and slogans are knowledge. That universe is a dry husk in the desert sun. Ours has hope and a future that connects with a long-standing tradition. The choice is obvious.

We appear to moving on from the cynical, super irony (superirony?) age into a more hopeful and positive one. It's only a matter of time. Soak it in.

There is more to life, never forget that. I'll be enjoying my copy of Miami Connection to remind myself.

What will you be doing in the meantime?

You could always read my most recent book. Think of it as Streets of Fire with more action and less Boomer-isms.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Red Sun Rising ~ A Review of Red Sun Magazine #2

This is a magazine I've been trying to get to for a while now. Unlike previous reviews of Cirsova and Astounding Frontiers, this one is a bit different. Red Sun Magazine is a unique case where every one of the three available issues have a distinctly different focus. But they all share one aspect that peaked my interest in that they are not obsessed with genre segregation and are interested in exciting stories.

I chose Issue 2 specifically for being focused on Fantasy, which is a genre that needs a real pulp shot in the arm harder than SF and Horror do, in my opinion. I was not disappointed. Well, mostly. There is one story I did not enjoy, but I will get into that when we get there.

One thing Red Sun does differently than Cirsova or Astounding Frontiers is that they have interviews and articles sandwiched between stories. These are all centered on the same genre the issue focuses on as well as authors and creators in the same vein. This issue starts with an interview of the men behind from the Cromcast which is, as you can guess, a podcast focused on the late and great Robert E. Howard, as well as other Weird Fiction tales. It was a delightful read which made it a great piece to start off the magazine.

Next was an article titled "Why Write Fantasy?" by Judith Field which further put the lean on the Fantasy side of the magazine. This is just what the doctor ordered. The piece tackles an aggravating trend from literary types to classify Fantasy as lesser entertainment reserved for the ignorant and lesser folk from their "real" stories. It was pleasant reading a rebuttal of these claims that feel like they could have come from Chesterton himself.

"Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed."

Fantasy is a way of connecting with a higher place than the one you're already in. A wider and bigger world is presented to entertain and thrill the reader. It hopes to pull you in and show you grand visions you might never have believed possible. This should be the aim of fiction--to give the reader a dose of imaginative excitement. After all, what is wrong about wanting to find something more than modern life?

The third piece in the magazine is another article, this one titled "Is Fantasy Hocus Without Pocus?" by Karen M. Smith. This one is about magic in fantastical stories and if it is necessary for the genre. I was a big fan of this article. The discussion of magic leads to a lot of blurring of the lines into what distinguishes Fantasy from Science Fiction or even Horror. Sub-genres and certain quotes are bandied about but no actual definition of Fantasy that sets it apart from other genres can really be found. She comes to the (in my opinion, correct) conclusion that these categories don't ultimately matter.

Of course this leads to all kinds of (really silly) arguments, but the truth remains the same. Genres blend because they are interchangeable.

In this reader's opinion, that is because all genre fiction is the same genre. The only distinguishing aspect is in the tone, trappings, and language used. Yet they all contain fantastical worlds and journeys with imaginative concepts not available to those trapped in "reality" or the plainness of (post)modern fiction. The only ones splitting the difference appear to be those who like one trapping above the others and want to elevate it in response. But this is a pointless task. They are all one and the same, and the sooner we can put that behind us, the sooner we can get back to focusing on ignoring artificial boundaries and getting sales back up again.

But I digress.

It is after this that we finally get to the stories. Thankfully, the issue only kept the quality up.

Up first is The Phonebooth by Michael Reyes. I recognize the author from Cirsova, and his tale did not disappoint. This is about an ex-convict answering phone calls from very mysterious parties as the world undergoes very strange changes. I was reminded of The Mothman Prophecies with how a creature far beyond the world of man attempts to communicate and influence events in our world in ways we couldn't possibly understand. There's a very good reason for that similarity, but I don't want to give the game away. Very nice horror bent in this one and a great first story to start with.

After that is Earth is for Earthers by Alexis Lantgen. Genetically modified humans return to Earth and things change... or do they? As for the positives... it was well written. I do think I would enjoy other stories from this author. That is all I can say.

As you can tell, I did not like this one. I began to predict every plot turn before it came until it lead to an ending that was rather flat and pointless. This is a story where you could remove all fantastical elements and the story would more or less be exactly the same. That's one of the core problems, but it was also too predictable.

You can get a story like this--a real world analogy to racism and immigration only transplanted to aliens--just about anywhere. You can get a story of forbidden love that ends with suicide of both parties just about about anywhere. You can get a story where every "bad" person is treated as stupid and every "good" person is a noble victim just about anywhere. You can get a story about a mopey protagonist that does nothing while a plot happens around them just about anywhere. And that's not a good thing. You can read another story like this just about anywhere.

This was a waste of the author's talent and Red Sun Magazine. I hate to be harsh, but stories like this are my least favorite kind, especially when I can tell where they are going before the author even gets there. Of the four tales, this was the weakest.

The third story is Body of Evidence by Ben Howels. In this one a magistrate is murdered and a trial has been enacted to sentence the perpetrator. But is he really the killer? This one is written in a Fantasy setting, in keeping with the theme of the issue, and it is a banger. The tension increases as the mystery unfolds and the characters are given a lot of personality through their natural discourse. There is a good quick ending that is very satisfying making this a good pulp tale.

Last is Sanguinary by Kevin Weir. Here we have a blood mage mercenary in an urban fantasy setting that is two steps away from being cyberpunk slaughtering gangsters to save a young girl. I don't think I need to add anything else to state that it spoke to me. This story was good fun and ended the issue off right. Personally, I feel this should have been the cover story. It has good atmosphere and an engaging magic system that really sets the imagination off. I definitely hope to read more stories about this character in the future.

Speaking of which, the magazine ends with an interview of the author of the very story in question. It gives quite a bit of context as to where the idea came from.

I was impressed with this issue of Red Sun Magazine. I had not heard much about them before, and I noticed they have relaunched their website, but they do have a lot of promise as a short story fiction magazine and a lot to set them apart from others.

You can find this issue here.

I highly recommend checking them out and keeping an eye on Red Sun in the future. I'm expecting great things.

For those that enjoy action, I have one of my own!

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Advancing Towards the Sunset

Much has been said about a cultural shift—the moment where culture froze and then melted. Most agree that the year was 1997 (I notion I wholeheartedly agree with) though some also argue 2006 or a similar time frame. But regardless of where one falls on this point, there is little argument that pop culture is the worst it has ever been.

Reboots and remakes rule the day, every movie follows the similar beats with the same tired character archetypes, and general malaise and a murky grey feel permeates every frame and line of dialogue. But it isn't just film. This same post-modern gunk has dripped over into other mediums as well.

But it didn’t happen all at once. The tipping cow of pop culture has been shoved many times before now. This is merely the first time it hasn’t gotten back up. Inept and hateful individuals have been working at dismantling good things for decades now. You can see their results by looking around and wondering why nothing is as good as it once was. It isn't just in your head.

For my example, let me use the woefully neglected video game franchise Double Dragon.

The original arcade game was released in 1987 to near universal acclaim. It practically invented the side scrolling beat em up on its own. The industry tried its hardest to flush away its achievements in the mid-90s, but we'll get to that. Double Dragon was a staple in every arcade, and it was huge on home consoles in the next few years-- especially the NES port. It became a fixture in the gaming world as one of the big new franchises. Within one year Double Dragon was huge.

And its secret is obvious to all.

It's pulp.

You see, Double Dragon is one of the most inventive, yet straightforward, video game series out there. You play as the Lee brothers, Billy and Jimmy, who have to rescue Billy’s kidnapped girlfriend from the Black Warriors led by gun-totting Willy. You traverse four levels through streets, forest, mountain, and base, to beat the bad guy and rescue the girl.

There are two buttons: punch and kick. These two buttons can be pushed in different combinations in tandem with the joystick (or d-pad) to jump, head-butt, spin kick, rear attack with an elbow, or grab enemies for extra punishment.

Its brief length and rock solid controls make it an addictive game to play even today. Even if it does have a few issues with slowdown in some places.

Double Dragon’s appeal is its simplicity. It's a straightforward story of two tough guys righting a wrong and getting the girl. There is nothing to it but that obvious idea. And that's all players wanted. It's easy to see why it connected in the era of Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, and Predator.

In fact, the idea was so straightforward and simple that it changed its setting in the sequel, Double Dragon II: The Revenge and no one complained or really noticed. The developers essentially duplicated the trick pulled with the transition between Mad Max and The Road Warrior by changing the aesthetic while not destroying what came before. Double Dragon was now post-apocalyptic in setting, with a darker setting and music, and more outlandish trappings and encounters. And it fit in perfectly with the feel from the original.

The sequel wasn't received that well at first. The arcade version was disappointing, being just a re-skin of the original with new moves, but it was the NES version which added stages, crazy level gimmicks, a more interesting art style, and even more classic music. This version really pushed the series over the top. There is a reason Nintendo put this game on their NES Classic console (for all five of you who were able to buy it) despite game journalists attempting their usual revisionist tactics to say its outdated crap--DDII is still rock solid today.

The move set expanded. Knee strikes, uppercuts, hurricane kicks, more weapons, and platforming made the game even better than the original. The NES version of Double Dragon II: The Revenge was the best kind of sequel.

And it was surprisingly superversive. The main influence of Double Dragon is Fist of the North Star. There's no argument over that. But Fist of the North Star is a tragic tale with Kenshiro, the walking incarnation of karma, dispensing justice over the wicked and unable to reclaim his lost love. Double Dragon is about two brothers stepping into a sticky situation and putting things back together again. They don't start any trouble, but they always finish it, and the endings to the games are surprisingly uplifting affairs, especially for that era of Japanese entertainment.

The first game ends simply enough with Billy and Jimmy rescuing Marian and stopping the big boss of the gang. Its a nice romantic ending for our hero and the town becomes a safer place. The heroes win, and the villains lose.

The Revenge is where it gets interesting. In the sequel, Marian is straight up murdered by the Shadow Warriors as revenge for what the brothers did in the first game. The title is in reference to the bigger threat that sets off the game. By the end, nothing is as it seems as the Black Warriors from the first game were only the small part of a bigger organization. The real deal are called the Shadow Warriors. These groups were actually led by a mysterious demon warrior who uses the shadows themselves to do his bidding and spread his influence.

And this ties in to who the Lee brothers are.

There is a legend that two warriors using Sōsetsuken (the martial art the Lee Bros. use) are the ones who will put a stop to this evil forever. At the end of the game, they beat the big bad and fulfill the legend which allows a miracle to descend from the sky for all their efforts. Marian is brought back to life in replacement for the evil life that was extinguished. Billy and Marian come together and the game ends.

The developers got a lot out of a simple situation. DDII was so successful it even became a million seller not long after its release.

It was off the back of the first two games that Double Dragon grew popular. It was one of those medium defining franchises with Mega Man, Contra, Mario, and Castlevania, that was always brought up and beloved. It was the premiere fighting franchise until Street Fighter II and Final Fight kicked down the doors years later, but it still retained an appeal and style all its own.

So how did it get adapted when it finally got a TV show and movie?

This is where the troubles start. This is what the 1990s did to a 1980s franchise:



Well, the TV show speaks to itself. They took a series about two tough guys fighting evil demonic gangs with nothing but their wits, legendary teachings, and skills, and gave them Power Ranger powers all while making their impressive and imposing roster of villains neutered idiots. It was a standard cartoon for the era. Early '90s action cartoons were not much to talk about. It was an awful show best forgotten.

The show wasn't the problem: it was the movie. It was the movie that proved to be the death of the franchise.

Now, it wasn't solely due to the film. Technos had badly mismanaged Double Dragon by 1994 so badly that the third arcade game was farmed out to a Z-tier developer and the licensing rights were given to parties that never should have had it in the first place. Everything that happened was a symptom of this.

However, it is the movie that perfectly encapsulates everything that went wrong with the franchise and the era it was made in.

To see this failure firsthand, here is what the director said about the movie in question:

"Our characters are like normal kids - three kids on an adventure, so we didn't want to make something that kids would almost be too afraid to see. ... I'd like to make it in a funnier, light-hearted vein."

Does this sound like anything written above? Keep in mind the original games were made for action adventure gamers who were already kids at the time. They're the ones who made it popular. So why do they need to be pandered to when they had no problem with the atmosphere of the original games?

But the 1990s were filled with this sort of mentality. Talk down to the kids and make sure they aren't scared or run the risk of engaging in something they might enjoy on a higher non-safe level. Now you might understand why so little entertainment from that decade holds up.

Keep in mind that Double Dragon isn't Hellraiser. This is a series about two guys who go on a quest to rescue a girl from an evil gang. It doesn't get more base pulp than that.

Double Dragon is the easiest video game to adapt into a movie. Two men train in martial arts in their town, a gang comes and harasses them because these two have been trouble to certain important parties. When they aren't looking, Billy's girlfriend is kidnapped, and the two brothers go on an adventure to rescue her. That's all you need.

At the very, very least this movie could have been a C-tier Cannon Film: a competent action movie with no budget but a lot of heart. It wouldn't have taken much. After all, Double Dragon is a very '80s concept at heart.

But the movie was made in the '90s.

What ended up being made was a film that not only disrespected Double Dragon the franchise, but the entire 1980s influences it wore on its sleeve. Every '90s cliche invaded the movie in an attempt to rip out its pulp roots.

The main characters? Inept. The main villain? Not intimidating at all. Billy's girlfriend? Completely changed into a '90s tough girl cliche. The bad guys? They turned Abobo from an 8 foot tall body builder into a fat mutant idiot spouting bad jokes. The brothers are taught and raised by some woman who looks about six years older than they are for some reason instead of them already being masters with a mysterious past. The mysticism integral to the background is relegated to a cheesy MacGuffin that, once again, looks as if it was ripped straight from Power Rangers and his little relation to the main characters. Once again: this is 1990s entertainment at its core.

But that's not all. The film is covered in bad jokes because no one, least of all the script writer, respects Double Dragon at its core. What should have been a simple action adventure film became a glorified toy commercial for a franchise that could have been replaced with anything else. They ruined a franchise that wasn't even a decade old because they couldn't let it be what it was made to be.

Much is said about the terrible Super Mario Bros. movie, but this one is far worse. That movie didn't harm the franchise--this one helped kill Double Dragon's credibility and took the cool edge, mysticism, and surprisingly touching moments out of it. It became what the '90s are known for: a cynical ploy to sell stupid things to stupid kids without anything to impart on them except to buy more stupid stuff. At least the '80s toy shows had writers who tried to impart something on the viewer. The '90s could not do Double Dragon justice for the same reason it couldn't do action movies after Demolition Man right anymore. The '90s had a hard time with heroism because it completely forgot what it was.

So, yes, 1997 is when rock bottom hit. But it was not out of the blue. While the 1980s were a reaction the rampant nihilism of the '70s (itself a logical endpoint of the hedonistic '60s), the 1990s were sabotaged and co-opted by cynical types who warped and stretched '80s archetypes like silly putty until they were so ridiculous we had to abandon them and "get serious" again. This is why the '00s are so utterly embarrassing to look back on. It all started with the '90s.

Look at The Matrix. It's a good movie, yes, but where is the passion? Where is the fun? It's a completely hollow and stiff film that has no real continuity with the action movies that came before. And that's what all action movies have been since, if they're not "ironic" and "self-aware" about it, that is.

That was two decades ago. Entertainment has not gotten any better.

And it will get even worse.

If this looks like a downer of a post that's because it is. For a long time I wondered why so much had changed so needlessly. It wasn't that I was growing up and didn't understand the younger generation or whatever dodge with shill-types that is popular this week. It was because what I liked was deliberately dismantled and destroyed.

That's what happened to Double Dragon. The game press didn't help with their campaign against beat em ups in the late '90s by declaring them shallow trash not worth the money. This is the same group that rallied behind God of War, by the way. Don't expect them to stand by you when the industry loses its way even further than it already has.

But because they've destroyed constantly for decades, these people have forgotten how to create. And all that's left is to remake the old properties with the same modern cliches that have killed every other modern product out there. Over and over again.

This is why I write. This is why I read other newer authors trying to reclaim what was lost. This is why I read the old authors. Heck, this is why I do Cannon Cruisers. This is all I can do to connect with what was lost in a world that is perfectly satisfied in destroying everything from the past while building nothing new. And it's not going to get any better.

Sunset is here. Prepare for the night.

Enough with revisionism and undeserved ego. It's time to start fighting back. Sooner or later there will be nothing left for them to destroy. Then the rebuilding begins.

It will be a long time to sunrise, but it sure will be something when it finally dawns.

I'm also embarking on own journey to create enjoyable entertainment. You can see it yourself below!

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

From Dark Depths to Astounding Frontiers

It's been a while since I reviewed the premiere issue of Astounding Frontiers. My assessment was that if you are looking for a magazine of fun Silver Age era Science Fiction then you will be right at home. If you are looking for either Golden Age pulp or modern fiction, however, you would be out of luck.

That said, it's been some time since that first issue. Let's take a look and see how much later issues have improved from the initial release.

Heck, the covers alone have improved tenfold since the first one.

I will be looking through Issues 2, 3, 4, and 5, in this review in order to properly judge more of the multi-part series. I will, however, still be skipping the full on larger serializations. I simply do not have the interest in them as of now, as stated in the previous review, but if that is to your taste then you should have full confidence in the authors involved that they will cater to your taste just as well as the shorter pieces do.

Please apologize this sloppy review. It was difficult to compile properly. Astounding Frontiers is difficult to review.

Three of the four stories in issue 2 are continued in issue 3 (and one in issue 4), so there's much carryover. Every issue bleeds into the next which makes it hard to recommend a specific issue in general. As an aside, I have skipped Julie Frost's story for this post as it is not completed as of issue 5 and I did not want to jump into issue 6 and have more cliffhangers to work around.

Confused? Yes, so was I. This is one of my main complaints with Astounding Frontiers. It is hard to jump into or keep track of with so many stories starting and ending in different issues.

But let us get into it and begin with issue #2.

Up first is Dead Man Walking by Scot Washam, a zombie survival horror tale about a lone protagonist gathering supplies. It's a fine starter to issue 2, but it's not one of my favorites. That said, it's fun and action packed. It also benefits in being the quickest and most exciting read in issue 2.

The Long Freeze (Parts 1 and 2) by Karl Gallagher ran in issue 2 and 3. A young man named Luke awakens from a cryogenic freeze where he learns that the world is a much different place than the one he left. With a fellow traveler named Marv he finds giant Siamese cats and a village of chicken men in Part 1. In Part 2 the pair rescue two beautiful women from the village. They then reach a village of . . . "men" for lack of a better term. Weird is a great descriptor for this one. This was a great read from start to finish, but the ending petered out. A new character is introduced and the story just stops. This could have used a third part to wrap it up.

Then up next we have The Robber Council (Parts 1, 2 and 3) by Brian Niemeier which carries over three issues. I always struggle to explain his stories because they are always so very thick. This is a story of a prisoner named Merentus being given a second chance by the Philosopher King. In the first part there is a debate regarding letting Merentus leave his dark prison to escape into the light. I don't want to say more than that because I might mention something that will ruin the mystique of this piece. In the second part he is bought as a slave by a woman who uses him as an escort on a perilous journey which is the focus of the last part. Of the three parts, I must admit I liked the first part the best for having such a strong conflict in such a small amount of space.

The Last Lesson (Parts 1 and 2) by Russel May follows.a time traveler attempting to improve his life at the expense of his partner, the world, and time itself. The first part deals with him telling his tale from a prison cell as he attempts to figure out his way back through. The second part deals with the repercussions of his selfishness. I have said I don't care for time travel stories and this story exemplifies why--in a good way. It's confusing in how the rules work and yet the plot progression is easily understandable and straightforward. This made the story enjoyable on a level I wasn't expecting. What it does is solidify my feelings that time travel as a story concept is too troublesome to encumber yourself with. That said, Mr. May made it work for him and the result is an enjoyable tale.

Issue #2 also contains two vintage pieces which are The Stolen Mind by M.L. Stayley and Into Space by Sterner St. Paul. The former is about a man by the mighty name of Owen Quest who applies for a job at a research facility and ends up going through a trippy spiritualist journey. The second is a tale about contact with extraterrestrials and a missing scientist which ends in a very odd predicament for a certain character. These put a good frame on the type of stories that the magazine is hoping to capture.

If I have one complaint it is that there was only one standalone single part story in these issues. If you are trying to get new readers to jump aboard it is difficult when they only see a bunch of serials in mid-progress and two short stories, one on its second part and another on its third. It's not approachable for new readers. A few shorter one part tales would have been nice to break up the longer works.

I understand it's a way to keep readers coming back, but it keeps some at arm's length from picking up a new issue when they are not certain they can get a full experience, or get dropped in the middle of a bunch of stories that they do not know the full length of. It's not newcomer friendly.

Thankfully, Issue #5 is filled with standalone stories which makes it far easier to talk about. As said before I will be skipping Julie Frost's story only because it is not finished as of my review and wouldn't make sense to review it here.

The first tale in this issue is Spacebook by Arlan Andrews Sr. is a short comedic piece about all knowledge of the universe being known. It's a solid piece that does have a funny ending but leaves you wondering if everything really ever can be known. I quite liked it. This was a breath of fresh air.

Redcoats Versus Monsters by Patrick S. Baker follows and is, like the title implies, an alternate history tale. Coming off of Spacebook made this a bit more humorous than intended, but that's no bad thing. This tale contains action, reanimated corpses, honorable soldiers, mysterious snake men, horror, and fantastic sights. This is the best story of the whole lot, the most pulp, and by far worth the price for issue #5 alone. I cannot express how much I enjoyed this one.

Last there is For Science! by Ben Zwycky. This is a poem and is another break from what Astounding Frontiers has offered so far. It is weird, creepy, and out there, with just enough to make it truly fit in with a pulp magazine. This adds much to the magazine's tone.

There's also an article by Jeffro Johnson on Planet Stories that, once again, makes me wish I had a copy of the very magazine he is talking about. The pulps really were something else, and it is good to see so many modern publications attempt to reclaim what was deliberately abandoned. Much like Astounding Frontiers is attempting itself.

As it is, this is the best issue to jump on board with outside of the first one. The original stories as a whole are stronger than those contained in the initial issue, however, and there is much more variety. This is by far my favorite of the 5 issues I have read.

And that is all I have read through.

My main problem with these issues was in length of the tales themselves. Short stories are meant to be brief, sharp, and to the point. They are meant to lift the reader out of their normalcy and doldrums far quicker than a novel does by offering a complete story with as little economy of word space as possible. Few of these stories achieve this due to spreading over multiple issues and some issues not even containing any complete tales at all in their individual pages. It dulls a lot of the satisfaction.

Of course, I am not complaining serializations exist at all, only that a selling point for a magazine should also be that it contains complete content in its pages to contrast with longer pieces. This is something Cirsova offers in every issue. Even if they began running serializations, I can still trust them to have standalone short stories that I can consume in addition to their new approach.

Now this might only be a personal issue, but I didn't see any reason to avoid bringing it up. I am the one reviewing this, after all.

Another problem is that it still has a bit of genre segregation. These are not the fault of the tales themselves, but in the magazine's approach. There were no Fantasy tales included in any of these issues nor any Horror beyond Mr. Washam's in issue 2. All that is except for Mr. Baker's excellent tale in issue 5 which has no fear of genre limitations. Contrasting this with the Cirsova issues I recently reviewed and I cannot help but be disappointed on that aspect. Part of the fun of pulp reads is not knowing what any given story will contain within its pages. It is a feeling of opening a mystery box unsure of what will spring from it and always getting surprised.

All that said, the content itself is worth your time. These stories are well chosen and enjoyable, all for a very affordable price. If you are looking for a good magazine for Science Fiction stories then this is a fantastic buy. You are in for a lot of fun.

You can find all the issues of Astounding Frontiers here.

I'm also creating stories of my own. If you enjoy pulp you are sure to dig this. You can read my new novel today!