Monday, June 26, 2017

Appendix N: The Generation Gaps

The recent series of posts over at Vox Popoli relating to the sins of the Baby Boomers and GenXers set my mind wandering down strange paths.

That the true giants Burroughs, Howard, Moore, and E.E. Doc Smith were forgotten and the fraudulent three - pervy Heinlein, snowjob Asimov, and pedo Clarke - elevated by the Baby Boomers for political reasons is beyond doubt.  Anyone looking at the field of science-fiction with an impartial eye cannot deny the influence enjoyed by the former to this day, nor can they deny the steady downward trend in science-fiction's inspirational qualities or creative vision that was concurrent with the rise of the false trinity  (I won't dignify that slight by capitalizing the words.)

There may be more to the situation, however.  The Baby Boomers are notorious for believing that the world began with their generation.  We see this in their writing on film, art, politics, and literature.  Everything is viewed through a lens of "what did they ever do for me", and they gleefully ignore the culture that allowed them to live out their sheltered lives relatively free from the frothing cycles of history and economics that have always plagued mankind.

"Don't trust anyone over thirty," was the catch-phrase that highlighted their ignorance of the past, and so pervasive was that attitude that it only makes sense it would infect the field of science-fiction.  If Dad liked to read Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard then that old stuff just had to be substandard compared to the new hotness of edgy writers like Damon Knight and Harlan Ellison.  You know they are cool because they are total dicks, man.

They rejected the things their fathers honored like selflessness, romance, virtue, and...well, honor itself.  And you can't read Burroughs or Howard without being infected by those ideas, so in order to preserve their carefully manufactured worldview that put them at the center of everything good and right and just, they had to treat the hard working and creative men and women who built the world of science fiction just as they had memory holed everything about the Silent Generation that wasn't focused exclusively on how great the Baby Boomers are.

It might not be quite as great a sin as squandering the financial wealth accumulated by the west over hundreds of years, but squandering the cultural wealth of Burroughs and Howard certainly serves as just one example of how they left the world a worse place than the one they inherited.

On a surface level, there is a certain irony in me - a GenXer myself - repeating the cycle and rejecting the actions of the generation before me.  But where the Boomers rejected everything that came before and assumed that they could create a better world from whole cloth in a generation, we GenXers are looking back beyond those poor misguided fools to the generations that came before them to see if we might heal the world they poisoned in order to leave a better world for our children than they left for us.

We don't reject the wisdom of our predecessors, we just reject the foolishness of our immediate forebears.  And it's this focus on the lost wisdom that will allow us to reject their false promises and build a better world.

And that includes a better science fiction culture.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

More on "Escaping infinity"

On Wednesday, I posted a review of Richard Paolinelli's Escaping Infinity, in which I lamented the inclusion of an extended post-script that felt like a separate story in its own right.  After giving this book more thought, I have to revise my opinion of it. 

The #PulpRev channel has been crackling over the last few weeks with discussions about the foolishness of the traditional hero's journey story structure, of which Dario Ciriello's post at the Castalia House blog is just one example.  It occurred to me after writing my review of Escaping Infinity that my view of it has been unduly affected by a lifetime of exposure to the standard 3-act story structure.  This book defied my expectations, and my initial response was one of confusion, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that Paolinelli should be commended for taking a huge risk. 

He didn't stick to traditional story structures, and instead let the story unfold in a far more natural manner than if he had tried to squeeze it into a formula.  Risks like these are what the #PulpRev is all about, and we should always be on guard against adhering to the old rules.  Richard Paolinelli has the guts to ignore them to craft a better story.  As readers, we should learn from his example.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Salon Admits Jeffro Was Right

Jeffro's detractors have called him a crackpot conspiracy theorist for daring to point out the concerted effort by major publishing houses filthy with secular midwits and tedious intersectionalists to commandeer the ship of science-fiction and steer it away from the open waters of action, adventure and heroism and onto the deadly rocks of collectivist thought.  They don't want to see that attempts to weaponize science-fiction is straight up non-fiction and so have ignored all of his cogent observations and connections.

Well, Slate (ramping up for the Hugo Awards - these stories always hit the press in greater numbers in June in order to help establish street cred for their garbage reporting on the Hugos) let the cat out of the bag.  I'm not linking to that fake news site, but here's my proof:
A few choice quotes:
If you’re surprised to hear that that science fiction might actually have a meaningful real world impact, you haven’t been paying attention. Science fiction and science reality have often found themselves in a feedback loop.
Okay, that's not exactly news.  We all know this to be true.  The article takes a turn for the sinister when it reports on an organization seeking ways to bridge the gap between dreaming of SJW futures and implementing them:
The newly announced Science Fiction Advisory Council, composed of a stellar selection of 64 bestselling sci-fi writers and visionary filmmakers, has tasked itself with imagining realistic, possible, positive futures that we might actually want to live in—and figuring out we can get from here to there.
Does anyone think that this council will be inviting Dragon Award winning author Brian Niemeier or best selling science-fiction (and non-fiction) author Vox Day or even a Nick Cole?  Beuller?  Beuller?  Yeah, didn't think so.  No room for badthinkers when you've got towering luminaries like Cory Doctorow, Charlie Stross, checkbox hire Malindo Lo, and colossal douche Neil Gaiman.  Although, you have to give 'em credit for including a few tokens like Niven and Mike Resnick.

This is a council interested in directing the future along paths that are pre-approved by the Narrativists and they cannot welcome guys with clear vision and deep understanding of how humans actually operate rather than how they might operate if only they would surrender control over their lives to the SFAC.  So you won't see even moderate voices like Larry Correia, John C. Wright, Brad Torgerson, or Sarah Hoyt win that Golden Ticket.

Bear in mind that this council goes well beyond previous instances of science-fiction writers - actually engineers who write science-fiction - advising the US military on potential new technologies.  The SFAC lists numerous roadmaps designed to steer the future along a "preferred future state" including "Planet & Environment; Energy & Resources; Shelter & Infrastructure; Health & Wellbeing; Civil Society; Learning & Human Potential; and Space & New Frontiers" (emphasis mine).

Anyone want to bet that the civil society they envision will include criminal sentencing for rodeo clowns who wear the wrong mask, but plenty of room for staged political assassinations (when the assassins' target is on the wrong side of the political divide?   Anyone want to bet that a big part of the roadmap for civil society will be finding way to reduce or eliminate the influence of Christianity, free speech, or the preservation of European culture?

 With a council like they have assembled, that's a sucker's bet.

But take heart.  Their roadmaps will be clumsy, ineffectual things.  They will be predicated on the same false notions of humanity possessed by most of the members of the council.  As their view of humanity is so fanciful, their roadmap will be a rainbow bridge built on dreams and wishes and just as effective at carrying vehicle traffic.  This is largely a collection of authors whose works do not resonate with readers, whose works have driven mainstream readers away from books, and whose only recourse is the ever popular appeal to amenable authority.  Their roadmaps will all be less about maps and more about traffic laws and ensuring that they control the highway patrol to force humanity to drive the direction they want, regardless of what the people want and regardless of what will be healthy for humanity.

Unfortunately, although their plans are guaranteed to fail, there's no telling how much damage they might do to civilization in the meantime.  So do your part to help stave off their inevitable dystopian futures - don't read anything written after 1940, and if you must, don't read anything published east of the Hudson River.

Hey, here's something that meets the latter criteria
and it's a heck of a lot of fun, to boot!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Escaping Infinity

At its core, Richard Paolinelli's Escaping Infinity, presents a Twilight Zone style mystery of a strange hotel that appears in many times and places, and that once you check in, you can’t check out.  The guests at this hotel become so taken by the perfect luxury of the place that they succumb to it like sailors on the isle of the lotus eaters.  Not so for our trusty hero, however.  He immediately notices a number of things out of place and sets out to unravel the mystery and escape Hotel Infinity.  I really enjoyed this part of the book. 

Peter Childress, the architect at the heart of the story, makes for a fine protagonist.  He is clever, determined, and has just the right level of randiness about him.  The romance set up and resolved during this portion of the book is natural, with a truly feminine ingénue who glides back and forth between dame and damsel with an ease that lends her a likable vulnerability without ever painting her as a knuckle biting coward.  The action and puzzles are original and believable.  It’s a great book.

The wonderful middle-section of the book – really three quarters of the book – suffers for the inclusion of a prologue that spoils much of the mystery and a postscript that veers away from the extra-dimensional nature of the Hotel Infinity and into a strange space opera “Happily Ever After” ending.

The funny part is that both the prologue and post-script are well written and great reads.  The Prologue makes for a great short story with characters struggling to react to a catastrophic error.  It touches on everything from acceptance of responsibility to loyalty in the face of disaster in ways that are heartfelt and intense.  The general spoilers in the Prologue leave enough specifics unspoken for the reader to still wonder about the nature of the Hotel Infinity, leaving that short chapter a great little tale in its own right.  The characters in the extended postscript are also great, even if the entire section reads like the unholy marriage of a Mary Sue and a deus ex machina.
The Prologue might have worked better had it been included as an omnipotent POV explanation for the origin of the hotel, and placed after Peter makes his escape.  The Postscript, with its entirely different tone and scope might have worked better as a sequel.  It’s hard to say, really.  Because both are necessary parts of this story – without the origin and denouement the escape sequence might feel like half of a story.

Which leaves this reviewer in the awkward position of concluding that Escaping Infinity might not be the perfect science-fiction story, but it’s a darn good three of them.

Monday, June 19, 2017

They Know

Politics is downstream from culture.
 
One of the reasons that the publishers in New York are doing everything they can to isolate independent writers and publishers like Castalia House is that they know it plays a vital role in establishing what kind of future we will have.  We represent a threat not just to their pocketbooks, but a threat to their goal to completely secularize all life in America.  Science-fiction grounded in a Christian worldview - even if it isn't explicit in the way of C. S. Lewis' Space Trilogy - serves as a counter to their efforts, and as one grounded in truth and beauty it represents a far more appealing vision of the future than anything the secular nihilists living in NYC can possibly offer.

In the run up to this year's Hugo Awards, the mainstream media is once again turning its attention to pushing back against rebellious newcomers like yours truly by fluffing up the credentials of the intersectionalists, secularists, and just plain Marxists.  NPR's Big Picture ran a typical overview piece that mistakenly reports science fiction's birth in the 1950s and repeats the lie of the false Trinity of the pervert Heinlein, the hack Asimov, and the pedophile Clarke.  No mention of Edgar Rice Burroughs or E.E. Doc Smith - at least in the first 30 minutes of the show.  I grew bored hearing the usual lies and distortion repeated and as such could not stomach the rest.
 
I did hear them mention and thereby tacitly endorse authors like boring Kim Stanley Robinson, a Marxist who wields global warming as a political club, and Margaret Atwood, author of the latest rage amongst the "haven't read a book since Harry Potter" crowd.  Her mediocre and contradictory book, "The Handmaid's Tale" is an explicitly feminist tale based in profoundly stupid understandings of how people work, but which has nevertheless proven to be a popular means of fearmongering by the elites.
 
Brace yourself for a wave of this sort of typical midwit writing by Fake Science Fiction fans writing stories about fake science fiction.  For far greater insights into the state of science-fiction today, watch the following video.  The narrator is talking about Marvel comic books, but his insights are accurate across all media.  He might as well be talking about the Hugo Awards.
 


If you can't stomach fake science fiction, why not give the real thing a shot.  I've got a post-apocalyptic tale featuring real people, real adventure, and real science fiction:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy Father's Day

He might not have taught me how to fight leopards, or Arab slavers, or swing through the trees using jungle vines, but my Dad did provide me with a number of skills that come in handy for fighting the slave-minded people of my time.  An irreverent sense of humor, an unflappable calmness in the face of adversity, and a deep sense of faith have proven time and time again to be  fearsome weapons in my own small fight to save civilization.  My first progeny is preparing to leave the nest at the end of the summer, and I can only hope that I've been half the father that I had.
 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Break Time

My first bona fide novel is up to 10 reviews on Amazon, which is a nice surprise given how rarely I ask for those.  It's also a reminder that I've got to play some catch-up.  In addition to posting a few three-sentence reviews on Amazon - that's all it takes, people - I owe a good friend a short story for a collection he is compiling.  So I'm taking this week off from blogging.  See you next Monday.

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Newcomer's View of the PulpRev

Dominika Lein, author of, I, The One, posted an in-depth look at her experience with the #PulpRev.  It's gratifying to read about her experiences, as this is exactly the spirit that I've been pushing within the community.  I've lifted a few choice quotes, but you should really go read the whole thing:
It's been a little over a month since I emerged from lurking to larval wiggling about in the PulpRev trenches. Time flew fast.
In my time as an independent writer for the past four years, I've never seen support like I've already experienced in the PulpRev community. 
I would have never gotten that kind of support from a regular writing group or a place like NaNoWriMo...An aside: the only kind of support NaNoWriMo knows how to give is of two kinds; Rabidly cheerleadering "approved elements" to include in stories (you know) along with word counts regardless of quality and yet parroting the "proper ways to write" which ranges from mangled quotes of Strunk & White to Wendig blatherings to generic marketing/myths (which always includes "GIVE AWAY FREE COPIES ...(so I can get it for free)").
The #PulpRev has experienced phenomenal growth over the last six months, with no sign of let up.  We've attracted newcomers like Dominika and old hands as well.  In addition to serving as a ready-made fan base, the #PulpRev features some of the most supportive fans around.  We don't just buy each other's works, we do beta-reading, marketing, and encouragement, too.  At least for now.

One thing that I don't have a firm grasp of yet is how well this atmosphere will scale.  As the crowd continues to grow, will we ossify into the NaNoWriMo self-absorption, or will we continue to show the same level of support for each other?  My guess is that it will scale perfectly.  As more writers of good will enter the lists, they'll bring their own talents and time into the fold.  That will increase the amount of support even as the number of people who need support increases.  The overall level of support that any given writer receives won't increase - you'll still have two or three people beta-reading and reviewing and recommending your work - but the volunteerism will grow as the culture does.

The one thing to watch out for is the moochers.  The guys who always beg for help, but never offer anything up in return.  They will come, have no doubt about that.  It's surprising that we haven't seen any of them yet, or if we have, I haven't seen them*.  Perhaps they fade away when they realize that the #PulpRev crowd isn't stupid.  We notice the little things, and without question, those who don't give shall not receive. 

My advice, for what it's worth, is to continue welcoming new writers with open arms.  Be wary, but welcoming.  And start looking for ways to build up a stronger reader base rather than a writer base.  Our weak link right now is that the people most drawn to the #PulpRev are those who have thought about what modern literature is missing and set out to correct its shortcomings.  But there are throngs of readers out there looking for us who just don't know we exist.  Once we crack that nut, you're going to see a quantum leap in our profile.  Jon Del Arroz has been doing yeoman's work to that end, but the movement as a whole has a long way to go.

Which shouldn't be discouraging, but inspiring.  We're going to be around for a fair few decades, even if it dwindles back to a few gaming bloggers writing stories for their own amusement.




Also, if you want to support one of the authors of this growing movement, you can do so by purchasing a copy of my latest #PulpRev novel, A Moon Full of Stars.  It's post-apocalypse the way it was meant to be!
https://www.amazon.com/Moon-Full-Stars-Jon-Mollison-ebook/dp/B071VSF68L?ie=UTF8&keywords=moon%20full%20of%20stars&qid=1497061983&ref_=sr_1_1&s=digital-text&sr=1-1

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Don't Take My Advice

Russell Newquist, author of the much enjoyed Make Death Proud to Take Us, offers up some solid writerly advice when he recommends:
The secret (It’s not really a secret – you can find this all over the internet) to making money off of this in the book world is to have lots of books – preferably in the same series. Then, some portion (but not all) of the customers who pick up one book will buy all of your books, or at least all of the series.
This is echoed by Nick Cole, author of Ctrl-Alt-Revolt! and The Wyrd Chronicles:
Write a three book series and don't release until Book 3 is done. Rinse and repeat.
These are both working authors, so you should definitely listen to them if you want to be a working author.  Do as they say, not as I do.  I'm working on my fifth book and my fourth novel length story, and every single one of them is different from the other.  I just can't help it.  Once I get a story out in one universe, I'm already looking around for the next universe to explore.

The dirty little secret is that I don't world-build.  I story-build.  The background of every one of my books contains just enough information to paint a broad picture of the situation, and enough background to drive the plot or motivate the characters, but for the most part my settings are designed to fit the story and not the other way around.  I've actually gone back and changed entire universes in a few instances in order to bend them to the needs of the story.

It might make good financial sense, but I prefer the wide-open spaces of tight and compact story telling over sprawling epics.

For now.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Dangerous Gamers - The Book

From day one The Frisky Pagan has been a reliable source of passionate, well considered, and funny commentary over at the Puppy of the Month Book Club.  Lately, his production has fallen off a bit (he's not alone in that), and now we finally get a chance to see why: Dangerous Gamers

You already know who these commentators are, and you have seen their works everywhere. They thrive in the worlds of on-line journalism, blogging, news aggregators, click-bait journalism, and social media. Their ranks have swollen, and they have problematized everything under the sun. And without more worlds to conquer, they have set their eyes on entertainment and video games.


If you are a regular at The Puppy of the Month, you know that Frisky has the writing chops to do a topic like this justice.  In its first day of publication it hit #16 in "Media Studies" and #27 in "Video Games", beating out some pretty impressive titles.  Be a sport and help him crack the top ten in both categories, would ya?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Donut Shaped Planets


 

It's so very tempting to give a post like this the subheading along the lines of "Homer's Haven".

There's been some chatter in the science field lately about synestias - short term stages in the development of an earth-like planet where the dust and rock of accretion takes on a donut shape.

Note that all three objects have the same density.
You couldn't walk on the surface of the synestia shown here.
By itself, this isn't particularly groundbreaking, but it does shed some light on the possibility of donut shaped planets.  We science fiction writers are always on the lookout for fun new planets on which to place our space princesses, four armed green aliens, and fighting men of earth, and a toroid shaped planet seems tailor made for adventure.  By its very nature, it is an alien setting.  Gravity varies over its surface.  The day-night cycle varies depending on where you stand.  The seasons are affected by how great it's tilt is off of the solar ecliptic.  The paths a moon (or moons!) might take get way-out wild.

The donut moon is worth a paragraph.  While the moon could dive through the donut hole in huge figure-eights, or even just bob up and down inside of it, both orbits are very unstable.  Far more likely is a moon rotating around the rim, parallel to the tilt of the planet.  On the other hand, these orbits are stable enough to allow for artificial satellites for spying, communication, and GPS systems.  They'd need more nudging than their Terran counterparts.

So why haven't we seen more of these?

Here's a video with a few explanations:

If you can't watch the video or just can't wait, here's a few interesting bullet points to consider:
  • In order to maintain its stability as a hoop, a planet with earth approximate gravity would have to rotate once every few hours.  A 24 hour day might have four to six sunrises and sunsets.  That sort of bright-dark cycle would play havoc with normal life.
  • Gravity would vary by 200% as you travel from the equator (the line of smallest diameter through the hole or largest diameter around the outside of the hoop).
  • To drop this planet in the habitable zone of the star, you need a big, fat blue star.
  • The seasons on a planet with an axial tile similar to earth would run very hot and very cold.
  • Continental drift would 'smoosh' the tectonic plates up as they approached the inner ring, and stretch them out as they drifted back around to the outside of the ring.  That would result in massive mountain ranges inside the donut hole.
All in all, not a very friendly place, but a decent writer should be able to work with it.  Continental drift is not a requirement for a colonizable planet, nor are moons.  They real problem as I see it is the lack of a liquid-solid core.  Without that, you've got no magnetic field, and no protection from solar radiation.  Which means life on a donut planet just isn't feasible.

And I guess that's why we haven't seen many stories set on planets like this.  The kind of authors prone to think about the geometry and gravity and tides on a place like this are hard enough science guys to throw up their hands and walk away.  To drop a planet like this in your story, you'd have to be one of those guys capable of juggling just enough math and science in your head to make it plausible while being loose enough with science to ignore how all of the data screams, "This is not SCIENCE!"  You'd have to be crazy to use one of these in a story.

Which reminds me, it's a planet called Antioch, and it's one of the last lines of defense for those tasked with protecting the Sacred Planet against the ravages of the Demented.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Comics Exposure

Comic book fandom is one of those things that I've accreted through sheer osmosis.  Love the concept, love the culture, but never had the time, never had the money, but always had friends with both.  Whether it was reading an issue or two left on a couch or thrust into my hands at a friend's house, or catching up on trade paperbacks at the library (read: five years late), or just sitting back and listening to fans talk about the things, I've managed to keep up with all of the most important story lines.  Dark Phoenix Saga, Secret Wars, Supes punching reality in the face and rebooting the DC line, you're talking to a guy who can at least ask intelligent questions about what's up with the four color tales.

Now it's the internet's favorite complaints box, Twitter, that keeps me up on the latest dirt.  Or so I thought, until somebody passed me a link to "Diversity and Comics".  It's not what you think.  It's actually a series of thoughtful and intelligent reviews of comics by a guy interesting and funny enough to be sitting next to you at the gaming table.  Just check out the title on this bad boy:



Not only is the narrator an experienced and thoughtful reviewer of comic books as a specific medium, he has phenomenal insight into storytelling, heroism, action, and the all the rest of the #PulpRevolution's greatest hits.

Forget Game of Thrones, I'll be binge watching this for the next few days.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Rocket's Red Glare

Who says short fiction is dead?  Not Kieth West:
"From distant galaxies to the mean streets of Hollywood . . . from the war-torn skies of France in 1918 to the far side of the moon . . . The stories in Rocket’s Red Glare exemplify the adventure, courage, and sense of discovery so vital to the American spirit. Whether daring to cross interstellar space or battling alien conquerors when they come right to our own back yard, the characters in these tales never give up, never stop fighting for their country, their lives, their honor. Featuring all-new stories by Sarah A. Hoyt (part of her USAian series), Brad R. Torgersen, Martin L. Shoemaker, Lou Antonelli, James Reasoner, and more, Rocket’s Red Glare is packed with space opera excitement, dazzling scientific speculation, gritty action, and compelling characters."
 I've got a copy burning away on my Kindle - can't wait to read it, because there are a lot of great names on that cover.

Get your own copy here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Scythe of Kronos (Cold Stars Book 2)

I picked up a copy of this on the recommendation of Jeffro over at the Castalia House blog, and once again he did not steer me wrong.  The Cold Stars series is less a long string of novels and more a string of short stories all set in the same universe.  It's a bit like a one man Berserker series with a few threads running through the background, but a primary focus on one story at a time.

The first tale in the series is actually The Thorne Legacy, which presents a sad sack corporal deliberately sabotaging his career because, "Screw you, Dad!"  When the big bad shows up, he doesn't necessarily see the error of his ways, but he does redeem himself by the end.

The star-drive conceit is a nice touch - an hour of subjective time for the star-farers costs them twenty hours of time in the outside universe.  It's a hand-wavey way to deal with relativity that opens up a lot of potential for drama.  Although FTL is present, there are no hop-skip-and-jump voyages.  Even a short round trip will see the star-farers returning a day later.  Which allows for considerable tension as a ship races to a planet, knowing that they will get there too late to do the defenders any good.

It also means that those travelling on starships age slower than their ground-pounder cousins, which results in space marines being 'men out of time'.  It means that space travel is conducted only by those who leave nothing behind or who have nothing to lose.

It's an interesting series, and one that I'll be watching as it develops.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Rock of Bronze

It's official, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson will play the titular role of Doc Savage on the big screen.  Apparently, it's been official for a while now, and I'm late to the party.  My guess is that the news washed over me because I have so little faith in Hollywood.  Much as I love the series and the concept, it's hard to feel anything other than resignation when you read the Rock's announcement:

HE'S A F*CKING HILARIOUS WEIRDO! Confidently, yet innocently he has zero social graces whatsoever due to his upbringing so every interaction he has with someone is direct, odd, often uncomfortable and amazingly hilarious.
That in and of itself isn't so bad, but once you start pulling on the string the whole thing starts to unravel.  I have two fundamental objections:

Maybe I'm reading it wrong, but what I read between the lines there is that the production team is planning one of those 'hilarious' deconstructions.  This isn't a case of making a perfect specimen of mankind and then giving him the glaring weakness of having zero social skills, it's a case of taking the perfect specimen of mankind and mocking not just him, but the idea behind him.  The underlying message of Doc Savage is one of aspiration - this could be you.  The underlying message of this movie seems to be, "don't be this guy".

My second objection admittedly relies on a meta-analysis of the situation.  The dozen or so Doc Savage novels that I've read focused on the Fab Five.  Doc gives them something to look into, they bumble around, figure it out, have varying levels of success, and then Doc shows up near the end as a walking personification of the deus ex machine and sets things right.  You don't pay The Rock 20 million dollars for 20 minutes of screen time.  That means this Doc Savage movie will be all about the doc, with the Fab Five given supporting roles.

It may well be true that there are a number of books where Doc was featured from cover to cover - there were 181 of the dang things after all - but the one's that I've read and enjoyed were all about the Fab Five, and until I see that cast list and see an indication that they won't be given short shrift, and that this isn't another Land of the Lost - The Mockening, I'm withholding my excitement.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Available Now: A Moon Full Of Stars


With only a month left in the hunting season, a young man faces the final days of his rite-of-passage.  Rome always dreamed of being a hunter for the village.  The hunters are daring men who get to explore the world beyond the small mountain valley that shelters the village, but to become one a boy must prove his skills by consistently returning with sufficient meat to earn a permanent place among the hunters.  If he fails, then he will be consigned to work the fields as a humble farmer.  For an adventurous youth like Rome, that would be a fate worse than death.

But fate is fickle and one day while returning with his best kill ever, Rome discovers that monstrous raiders have ransacked his home and carried off his friends and family.  Now, with only the aid of his chief rival, Rome must head west into the irradiated lands to seek out powerful artifacts that might give him the power to rescue his kinfolk from the hands of the mutant slavers.  And so Rome embarks on a journey that takes him farther than his dreams of being a mere hunter ever could.

This post-apocalyptic story features the sort of action and heart you've come to expect from my stories, including a healthy dose of adventure, exploration, romance, and the sort of bonds of brotherhood that are so often overlooked in today's sci-fi literature.

The official release date for A Moon Full of Stars is May 23rd, but you can pre-order your copy at Amazon.com today.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

StoryHack, Issue Zero


Bryce Beattie recently put out the first issue of his action/adventure magazine as a proof-of-concept.  As a contributing author, for me to write a review of the magazine would be a bad idea.
 
But I'm going to do it anyway!

First, thought - don't take my word for it - download and read a copy for free.  Then you can decide for yourself whether the second issue KickStarter is worth backing.

StoryHack Action and Adventure has two things going for it:

1.  A central focus on action and adventure.  The contents cross genre lines with the first issue including pure fantasy, magi-tech, biblical fantasy, sci-fi, and even one story set in the contemporary real world.

2. Bryce's own vision.  One issue doesn't provide enough data to get your arms around Bryce's tastes, but you can get a feel for it.  My guess is that, as with Cirsova, after a few issues are out, regular readers will be able to point to a story and say, "That's a Bryce story."  The edges will be fuzzy, but there will be a certain feel to the kind of story that might appear in StoryHack.  Based on the limited size of the data set, it looks like they will be fast, furious, and fun, with just a hint of deeper meaning or passion to them.

The decision to include stories from a variety of genres was brilliant.  As a 'page one and straight on through til morning' reader, it was fun not knowing what each kind of story was going to be.  You may want to take a page from Cirsova and include a one sentence teaser before each story.  I never read them, preferring to go into each story blind, but (particularly when you've got a cross-genre magazine) a lot of readers appreciate that little warning about what to expect.  The hard copy/pdf has a blurb in the table of contents, but you don't have that in the Kindle version.

StoryHack: Year Zero also includes a few unexpected laughs in the form of Bryce's own advertisements.  In a normal magazine, these would be considered filler, but in Bryce's hands they provide a laugh, and more importantly, they provide a chance for the editor to engage directly with the reader.  What could have been wasted ink becomes a way for the reader to get to know Bryce a little better and begin establishing a relationship with him. 

That may not seem like much, but consider that most collections are a reflection of the editor.  The best magazines were synonymous with their editors, and you know from the editor's name what kind of story you're going to get.  Gernsback was pure pulp.  Campbell was men with screwdrivers.  Damon Kinght was lipstick smeared pigs in fancy ball gowns.   Both Gernsback and his stories were bold and daring.  Both Campbell and his stories were smart and technical.  Both Knight and his stories used pseudo-intellectualism to hide his incompetence. 

Pretty soon we'll have Bryce Style fiction, and that fiction will be a reflection of Bryce's personality. This is one reader that hopes those little injections of Bryce won't disappear once every column inch is bought and paid for.

 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Cirsova, Issue 5

Issue 5 of Cirsova represents a return to form after an average outing with Issue 4.  While Issue 4 included a few gems, it also suffered from the inclusion of far more stinkers.  Frankly, the double issue was a mistake - at half the size it would have offered the same value for the price by cutting the dross.  Issue 5 on the other hand is strong from top to bottom, with stories by several of my favorite authors:

  • Schuyler Hernstrom brings the heat with another grim faced barbarian encountering ancient future-tech in a quest to save his village.
  • Misha Burnett continues to show the world how to give the old New Wave spin on things a fresh face.
  • James Hutchings reminds the world that there's life left yet within the Homeric epic genre with more of the John Carter saga. 
  • Brian K. Lowe's outing doesn't quite rise to the level of his fantastic Invisible City, but he's another author that has yet to let me down.
  • Michael Tierney manages to present a heroic Sacagawea who doesn't feel like a forced "U Go Grrl" within that sadly neglected setting for fantasy - the American frontier.  Okay, so it wanders from the frontier back to Madison's Washington D.C., but it still counts.
Even the stories in this issue that didn't pin my ears back left me feeling satisfied.  Lynn Rushlay, Jay Barnson, and Louise Sorensen's tales only suffer from being sandwiched so close to works by the authors listed above.  They are all fun stories that round out the issue without feeling like additions made just to fill space and pad the word count.

Beyond just proving that Cirsova can survive a dip in quality and come roaring back, this issue made me sit up and take notice of something that has happened over the last year.  After a decade long spell of having roughly one go-to author names (Glen Cook, for the record), I now have more than I can keep track of.  I was eagerly anticipating this issue not just because I trust the editor, but because I really enjoy the authors on the cover.  They give me something positive to look forward to, and that's something that I haven't had in a long time.

It's a great sign, this return to fun, and the rise of a new culture of writers dedicated to 'Cirsova style fiction' serves as a much needed corrective to the market.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Accidental Diversity

My current work in progress, tentatively titled Adventure Constant, features a hero of undefined race (character insert vagueness for the win!) fighting the Nordic villain and his middle-eastern henchmen through sea caves.  He is hard pressed and facing Certain Doom, when his adventure team buddies show up.  They consist of a Hawaiian warrior complete with leiomano (pictured below), a British spy, and a rifle wielding samurai.

My hero wields one of these made of steel
I didn't set out to make an international team of heroes, it just sort of worked out that way.  The hero's spaceship crashed into the Pacific Ocean and he washed ashore on Waikiki Beach in the middle of a kidnapping attempt.  There's really only one kind of princess you'd expect to find on Waikiki Beach, and that's the Hawaiian kind, and it's only natural that her chief guard would also be Hawaiian.  When the duo hare off to Shanghai to rescue her, it only made sense for them to find an ally in a samurai serving the Shogunate as a sort of knight errant.  When they fight off the French-Algerian pirate serving the Haitian Pirate Prince, it only made sense for the prisoner they inadvertently rescue to be a captured British secret agent.

To be fair, because this is an alternate-earth tale, the whole point is showcasing how different nations developed.  The two best ways to do that are to write a globe hopping adventure and to include people from lots of different countries.  My novel hits three tropic islands in two different oceans and the hero touches down in Asia, Central America, and New York City.  That's a whole lot of mileage.  The climax of the adventure also occurs in the alt-earth's version of the United Nations, which provides an excuse to mention every nation in a way that is completely natural and unobtrusive.

These things don't need to feel forced.  It actually makes for a better story when they happen organically.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Star Smuggler: Actual Play

I've been tinkering with a little (free) print and play game made available by DwarfStar Games called Star Smuggler (available here)In it, you take on the role of Duke Springer, star smuggler.  You have a ship, a full load-out of fuel, 2000 spacebucks, and 120,000 mortgage on your Antelope-class spaceship.  It's a clever game with lots of neat little surprises, and I recommend it to anyone with a hankering for solitaire sci-fi hankerings.
 
It's pretty much Traveller: The Solo (not that Solo) Game.
You can expect a more detailed write-up on the rule set itself at the Castalia House blog in a few weeks.
 
Here, I'm going to talk about me and my problem with solo rule sets.  It's not a complaint, it's an admission of my own weaknesses as a gamer.  I play too fast. 
 
Without somebody sitting by my side, forcing me to slow down, take my tame, make sure I've considered everything, I tend to race ahead, too eager to get to the next thing.  Particularly with solitaire games that include a dose of repetition, I want to speed through the checkboxes, finish the turn so I can find the next new discovery.
 
I'm also limited in my play time, so games that require extensive book-keeping and cross referencing just don't get played correctly.  In Star Smuggler, you wind up with a lot of conditional payloads - X is worth Y if sold to Z but only worth A to B unless you get it there by C in which case it's worth D.   When you only have an hour to play each week and wind up with a hold full of 10 trade goods like that it makes you long for a phone version of the game that can do all the remembering for you.
 
Star Smuggler is a great little game, and one you can dive into without reading the rules, but it really challenges me to slow down, write that down, look over everything twice, and only then make a decision. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

New Release: Crazy Horses


Crazy Horses is now available on Amazon.com.

David J. West is the king of the weird west.  But he writes too fast. I haven't found time to read Scavengers yet, let alone free up space for the second book in the series. But you can now get both books in the series for just a couple of bucks.  His short stories are great, and if you love weird west tales, you should give him a look.

Monday, May 8, 2017

StoryHack!

Looking for some fast action at the lowest price possible? Bryce Beattie has a deal for you.  It isn't clear how long this deal will stick around, but for now you can get the first issue of StoryHack for free.  My own contribution features Karl Barber, modern day adventurer, stalking the bottom layers of a vast child-trafficking ring.

 
With stories by Alexandru Constantin, Jay Barnson, David Boop, Steve Dubois, Julie Frost, Karl West, David J. West, and yours truly, you can't go wrong.  This one features a little true-world fiction, a little fantasy, a little modern day magic, and a little science fiction.   Download it today, and get ready for the crowdfunding campaign to make this magazine a part of your regular reading rotation.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Work In Progress - An Excerpt

My latest book is coming along swimmingly. The tentative title is "The Adventure Constant", and it features a man flung into a far future (or is it an alternate earth?) by a malfunctioning FTL drive. Here's a little sneak peek:

It didn’t work.

That was all Jack could think during the long, blistering journey back through the Earth’s atmosphere. His small capsule burned its way down into the depths of Earth’s gravity well, battering him worse than any opponent ever had in the boxing ring. The heat grew stifling, the tiny capsule began to glow red with the heat, and the roar of his passage deafened him.

Doctor Abduraxus had gotten something wrong, probably for the first time in his life, and now Jack was paying the price for it. It was all Jack’s fault for volunteering to test Earth’s first faster than light space drive, but damnit, the rest of the firsts were already taken. Other astronauts had claimed first bootprints on Mars, Venus, all of the better moons of Jupiter. His college roommate, the Hermit, had even survived the three year flight to the last planet in the solar system. He had returned from Pluto alive and no more crazy than the day he had left. 

Which left the first FTL flight as pretty much the last frontier left for NASA’s problem child. Jack had leaped at the chance, the only one willing to trust the calculations and designs of NASA’s eccentric wunderkind, Doctor Abdurax. The old Egyptian engineer had almost single handedly reinvigorated NASA with projects so revolutionary that few other scientists even understood the underlying principles that he utilized, let alone decipher the strange fractal designs that seemed to lie at the core of all of his breakthroughs. No one could argue that his designs didn’t work – they had put men onto every extra-terrestrial body worth naming or mapping. Thanks to the good Doctor, humanity had finally spread out, establishing small permanent stations on the earth’s moon, Mars, on a few of Jovian satellites, and in large stations latched onto the larger asteroids.

Squeezing his eyes shut tight and clenching the armrests of his crash couch, Jack cursed the Doctor and his bad luck. Had it not been for that coincidental meeting in the late night hall, he wouldn’t even be here praying for a landing he could walk away from.

His body jerked forward as a boom sounded. The first chutes had deployed, and only the six point harness kept him from being flung headlong through the front of the craft.  

At least the noise dialed back from a deafening roar to a low rumble. He checked the displays and found them all dead. Every screen and every light was dark. He flipped a few switches at random, to no effect. He didn’t even bother fiddling with the control stick. With the capsule jettisoned free of the FYN-X, he never did find out what those stood for, the stick wasn’t connected to anything anyway. 

He folded his arms and slumped back into his crash couch. There was nothing to do but wait for the –

The bottom dropped out of the world, as the initial deceleration chutes burned up in the upper atmosphere. They had done their job, though, slowing him down enough for the Earth’s gravity to welcome him home. Jack’s last meal made a break for it, but Jack swallowed hard and tightened his gut. A few seconds into free fall the secondary chutes deployed with a loud thump, and gravity reasserted its mastery over his tiny craft. The capsule grew quiet, with only the occasional creak of the chute’s straps reverberating through the capsule.

Jack knew that the ship would drift for a few minutes before splashdown. That gave him a few minutes to draw the revolver Dr. Abdurax had shown him just before the FYN-X lifted off. It had been stashed inside a small compartment along with a knife and scabbard. Why the Doctor had designed such a space inside an experimental craft was a mystery that Jack had no time for. The mission occupied all of his attention for the next four hours, and it wasn’t until just now that Jack had time to even think about the thing.

Turning the revolver over in his hands, Jack checked the load, six bullets, spun the cylinder, and checked the safety. It was a good quality hand gun, but why on God’s green earth had Abdurax felt the need for such a thing?

His thoughts were interrupted by a long, low tearing noise. The capsule lurched to one side. 

That wasn’t right.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

THIS is Pulp


After slogging through a few less than stellar attempts at pulp and a pair of Hugo worthy novelettes, it feels fantastic to soak up some Schuyler Hernstrom.  It isn’t just palette cleansing, it’s soul cleansing.  It’s writing so rich that I find myself stopping just to prolong the pleasure. 

I had completely forgotten that Cirsova 5 included The Last American, a story by Herstrom.  Here’s the heroism.  Here’s the hope.  Here’s the nature red in tooth and claw and one man struggling to save his woman from powerful enemies against all odds.  When it comes to moments of transcendence, there are few better than Hernstrom.  Take the moment of the barbarian’s departure from The Last American:
He took a knife from his belt and cut away the flag with a length of cloth from the sleeve and turned to Tyur.  He tied the thing to the hunter’s thick arm.  Tyur looked down in awe.
“But I am not of your blood…”
“All who fight tyranny are of my tribe.”
That gave me chills.  It’s powerful writing that reminds you of what America can be, of what you can be.  It makes you feel better about the world and desire to do better in it.

This is the sort of thing that I look for in my fiction.  This is why I’m a proud flag waver in the Pulp Revolution.
The preceeding story, The Queen of Shadows was pretty darn good too, but it’s the story of a hive mind alien slaughtering humans, from the hive mind’s point of view.  Although a fine story, “hive mind hurting humanity” also describes all of the Hugo worthy works approved by the puppy-kickers, too (Zing!).  In all seriousness, it might have been better to have read The Queen of Shadows after reading The Last American.  Hernstrom brings the heat on the threat of the hive mind just fine without the savagery of The Queen of Shadows.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Dancing Around in a Suit Made of Pulp's Skin

We were analyzing the submission guidelines for one of those modern day pulp magazines that just doesn't seem to get it.  A few objections were made, speculation ran wild about what sort of stories they would wind up with, a good time was had by all.  Then the astonishingly well read Kevyn Winkless threw out a heck of a summary.  It's one of those comments that the world needs to read, but would normally disappear into the black hole of G+ comments.  This comment deserves a better fate, as it so succinctly (and amusingly) sums up my own beef with so much of the people milking the term "pulp".


Kevyn writes:
Actually, I think what's going on here is a bit more complex:
  • they think they like pulp when really they like 1980s era DTV pastiches of 1960s era B-movies.
  • not actually grokking the nuclear power core of pulp writing, they view it as akin to a downloadable skin for their fruit based communicator
  • viewing the elements of pulp as being no more than a set of decorations they not unreasonably want to specify which decorations they want and which not.
  • but they haven't thought deeply about either pulp or their own convictions - this leads them to both fumble when it comes to praxis and to lack confidence that writers will/can give them what they seek.

So much insight I can see my own gall bladder from here.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Writers of Romance Required Reading

John C. Wright is a giant among current writers.  Even as the most nominated author in Hugo history, his talents are sorely under-appreciated.  His recent essay, Ugly and the Beast is a clinic on how not to write stories. 

If you want to understand story structure, characterization, and the subtle art of a slow burn romance, this essay presents a specific case-study in how to do it well (animated version) versus how to do it poorly (live action version).  It's a fascinating side-by-side comparison, and I'd rank it right up there alongside Plinkett's original review of A Phantom Menace as a masterpiece of cinematic analysis.

An excerpt:
Everything that in the original was of due proportion, here was dialed up to eleven, but at the same time made simplistic and stupid. It was not enough that Belle be bookish in a town that did not understand her, as in the original; here she is hated for daring to teach a little girl to read, she is a fighting visionary, but accused of witchcraft by the yokels. It was not enough that Gaston be selfish and vain. Moderns like the vices of selfishness and vanity. Here he is a murderer. And so on.
How bad was it? Let me count the ways...
Belle was an angry and independent modern woman, and never shown to be someone capable of falling in love based on something below surface appearances.
Maurice, the father, here is dignified and sober, hence never shown to be the lovable fool who needed Belle to care for him, and not someone anyone would believe was crazy.
This portrayal means he is not lovable, hence Belle’s offer to stay in his place and take his punishment had no motive.
But then again she does not make that offer. Instead, being a modern woman, she merely pushes him out of the jail cell with her brute strength. Why the Beast who was master of the house would allow this was unclear.
And then Maurice is dragged off, but no reason is given why he does not turn around and come back in. Since he is not foolish  in this version, but competent, his going for help is an unmotivated act, perhaps even cowardly.
Gaston here is not an alpha-male, handsome and strong and adored by the villagers, hence not someone they would follow into the enchanted castle of a beast. When they do, it is unmotivated. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Just Getting Started



What you're looking at here is the original starter from a 200 Land Rover Discovery II.  Resquiat en pace, little starter, seventeen years was a good run.

Replacing one of these things is as simple as disconnecting two wires, and undoing two bolts.  It's normally a fifteen minute job, but this one took three hours because the bolts had thoroughly seized up.  To get enough leverage to break them required cutting out a half inch piece of the transmission flange - not an easy thing to do given the location of the starter.  So it wound up being over two and a half hours to undo the bolts, and then a fifteen minute swap out.

Bear in mind, that it didn't take ME three hours, it took a friend of mine three hours.  He offered to show me how it's done, and then wouldn't take no for an answer when the time scale of the project inflated.  He enjoyed the challenge, and I enjoyed the camaraderie. 

It was just another reminder of one of the high costs of technological specialization.  The massive amounts of electronics and digital controls in modern cars precludes men from crawling under the hood and tinkering.  Which in turn eliminates an excuse for bonding between and among men. 

This change in American car care is grossly under-considered.  Most analyses begin and end with a celebration of the increased complexity and the reduced "need" to tinker, but it would be nice to see more acknowledgement of how working on cars brings men together.  Not much of a car guy myself, I'm only now beginning to appreciate the car culture, and how far it differs from the culture at large.  If you've never entered a car parts store such as an O'Reilly's, you might be surprised at how generous people are with their time and expertise.  Random strangers will stop and ask what you're doing, and offer helpful advice or stop and take 20 minutes out of their day to help you solve a puzzle.

As one example, the first time I had to change the tire on my Land Rover required three trips to O'Reilly's, and the purchase of a particular kind of tire iron.  The bolts on this vehicle are specifically designed to be removed only with a six point ratchet - a 12 point won't do it.  If you don't know what that means, don't worry, neither did I nor the two guys who stopped to help me solve it.  We only fixed it because each of them called two separate friends, only one of which could tell us that that 12-point ratchet we were using didn't give us enough torque.

It took ten guys to figure that out - when was the last time ten random guys stopped to help you with anything?  It doesn't happen often, but it happens to me at the car parts store all the time.  It's a subtle sort of goodwill, transitory and random and entirely informal, but it's an important one.  It's an acknowledgement that we are all in this together, and that we all have each other's backs.  It's an  important social glue that is passing away, and it's a shame.

There's an irony at work here.  I firmly believe that there are forces at work doing everything they can to wage war on private car ownership.  Every time the CAFE standards go up, every time another thousand dollar safety device is mandated, and every time the gasoline tax goes up, it makes it that much harder for everyday Americans to own a car.  When you hear the bizarro world calls in the media for robot driven cars, shared cars, and increased public transit ridership, that's all part of a concerted effort to reduce the freedom and independence that comes from owning your own method of transport.  At least for the hoi polloi - most of those pushing this agenda make six figure incomes and know full well that they won't be called on to give up their freedom or independence.

It's a way of making everyone more dependent on those around them - through the blunt tool of government.  And most of the people calling for these sweeping changes sleep well at night knowing that their benevolent and wise guidance will lead the nation to a better place, where everyone takes care of everyone else. 

In fact, these deluded fools - many of whom have never set foot in a car parts store - simply don't have the experience to understand how well Americans already take care of each other in a myriad of informal, everyday ways.  They are blinded by their egos to the reality on the ground, and are actually destroying one of the knots that holds the fabric of this great nation together.

As for me, I'll hang onto my pre-digital ride as long as I can.  In a very real way, keeping that bucket of bolts on the road is a team effort that represents the best that America has to offer.




Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Black Company, Fingers Crossed

The Black Company is coming to a small screen near you.

As a card carrying member of the pulp revolution, I tend to favor heroic fiction that fun and free-wheeling, but Glen Cook got me through a lot of years of pink slime.  It’s exactly the sort of grim and gritty setting featuring the moral ambiguity and anti-heroes that constitute the only sort of story media wants to tell these days, but it’s done so well that I love it anyway.  Part of the reason I’ve never much cared for George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series it that it is but a pale echo of Cook’s far superior offerings.

Glen Cook
It’s a little surprising that it took this long to get The Black Company off the ground.  It’s tailor made for a relatively low-budget production.  The big set-piece battles are few and far between.  Most of the on-screen action takes place in the lulls between battles or on the periphery of the big fight scenes.  We hear about massive street fights in the city of Beryl, but as the palace guard, the Black Company and its commanders spend their time running around trying to save the Syndic.  They get up so all sorts of foolishness during the campaign in the north, but the ending of the massive siege of the city of Roses gets brushed aside by Cook by way of Croaker, who describes it with one sentence:  “So we took Roses.”
Sure, you have your Stair of Tear and all the strangeness of the Plain of Fear.  It will be interesting to see how they deal with those and the flooding of Dejagore.  But even with those massive projects, the bulk the narrative takes place in the small scale, quiet moments of the world shaking events.
One of the two biggest questions in my mind revolve around the casting.  Eliza Dushku makes sense, the Lady is of the North.  But the Black Company as a whole?  If you’ve read the series, you know their source is anything but faux-European, and one of the big surprises in the book is that most of the early Company men were likely swarthy faux-Persian or even faux-Asiatics.  How they deal with this issue should prove amusing as the alt-white sneers at obvious white washing, and then how the Narrativists grumble that the explicitly faux-African types in the early part of the story (the wizards One-Eye and Tom Tom) are fairly comical in nature.  Then, as the Black Company replaces its numbers in the North, the cast will get whiter and whiter, causing even more aggravation among those for whom these things are Very Important Aspects of Media.

Then you have the question of casting Soulcatcher.  Soulcatcher is a masked wizard, one of the most powerful, but exactly who she is and what she looks like – whether she really is a she at all! – is left as a mystery until well into the series.  Whoever takes that role will be stuck behind a mask for a good long while to preserve the suspense.  Let’s hope whoever wins that important role takes a page from Karl Urban’s portrayal of the The Law in Dredd.
The series is wonderfully intricate.  As mentioned above, it’s what George R. R. Martin wanted to achieve and fell short of with his own epic fantasy, after all.  But a lot of that intricacy is subtle.  Things planted in book one are not paid off until book ten.  I remain skeptical that the producers understand the full depth of the property they hold, and doubt their ability to deliver on Glen Cook’s promise.  Nevertheless, this is one series that I’ll keep an open mind on and give a fair shot.

It’s the least I can do for one of my favorite fantasy series.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Hugo Novelette: Touring with the Alien

Tomas Diaz beat me to the punch on this review, and more power to him for that. My review was written without peeking at his.  As you'll see, he takes a far more cerebral approach to his review, and I highly recommend giving his blog a read. Where I deal with the brass tacks of this story's inherent contradictions, he delves into the actual philosophical conundrum that arises whenever a nihilist starts flapping their gums.

Onwards and up(?)wards!


Carolyn Ives Gilman takes a stab at Lovecraftian fiction with Touring with the Alien.  Like the alien-human-road-trip film that likely inspired this short story (see left), while the tradesmanship is fine, the pointlessness and meaninglessness of the tale result in nothing more than a few fleeting moments of enjoyment that as forgettable as the story itself.

Reading Touring with the Alien was a much more pleasant experience than my last foray into Hugo territory.  Unlike Alyssa Wong, Gilman sticks to tried and true prose and narrative structures that work.  Her descriptions of a cross country tour evoke the drifting way that time seems to expand as the miles fly by, the terrain outside the window changes, and the towns stay the same, and then contract for the memorable slices of Americana like a downtown café or a county fair.

Her descriptions of a mother's grief at the loss of a child are strong and poignant, with every aspect of the story from the gray weather to the wet grass to the broken terra-cotta angel left on her daughter's grave lending itself to instilling a feeling of sorrow in the reader.  This aspect of Avery, the point-of-view character, humanizes her with a fullness that you don't see all that often in today's 'female bad ass secret agent' characters.

It's tight and compelling writing.  Shame its wasted on such a pointless story.  Carolyn Ives Gilman continues the Hugo Award trend of failing to understand the difference between a trade and an art.  Gilman masterfully strings together sentences that pile up into a pointless heap of garbage the way a master carpenter might lend his talents to this monstrosity:

 
The phrase "point-of-view character" used to describe Avery sounds clunky, but it's as good as it gets.  For all that she is presented as a sympathetic victim of fate, she is no hero.  She consigns humanity to the dustbin of history, regretful only that she wasn't given the free choice to do so, but was tricked into it by the slave of the alien slavers come to conquer the earth:
 
 
Gilman knows which side of the Hugo bread is buttered, and right out of the gate, she checks that all important box without which no story can be considered for the silver rocket:


With that passage, as pointless as the rest of the story, we are two for two in the 2017 Novelette category for tacked-on virtue signaling.  Gilman stops the narrative before it has even begun in order to wave a red flag of GoodThink around the arena to distract the ever-present bulls of the thought police.  She knows full well that without this signal the rest of the story becomes as pointless as, well, as the rest of the story.  She knows that without the first sentence of that paragraph, this story would not have been a Hugo Contender.   Of course, given the SJW penchant for quoting out of context and utter lack of reading comprehension, every sentence of this paragraph after the first will be ignored by them, but the struggle is the glory.  Once again, the objection here is not the inclusion of a homosexual character, but the hamfistedness manner in which its done.  The character of Lionel is expressly written as Hispanic, an important check mark in the racial inclusivity box, but unlike Blake and Jeff, the fact of Lionel's race is presented seamlessly and organically.

There is a second passage that once again showcases Gilman's insular provinciality.  This is a woman so steeped in her own culture that she paints the Other with a brush that reveals more about herself than those whom she writes:
The complete and utter lack of self-awareness of these authors never ceases to amaze.  Desperate to signal her GoodThink and inclusivity, she writes off whole swathes of people with whom she has only the most passing familiarity.  Her egotistic vie of herself as an urbane and sophisticated auteur dispensing deeper truths stands on a foundation of utter ignorance and profoundly crude assumptions about rural Americans. 

And that sort of shallowness of thought doesn't limit itself to descriptions of 'flyover country', it that permeates Touring with the Alien.  Avery is presented as a smart and tough operator who outwits the CIA, but who then gets fooled by her boss and the inexperienced and naïve alien slave, Lionel.  Avery bounces from caring sister to hard case to grieving mother to indifferent genocidal maniac with head snapping speed.  The aliens are presented as all-wise, then know-nothing - eating raw cats makes you sick, bro - with the same sort of disregard for continuity or sense.

Then there's the complete disconnect between the story's main theme of "Nothing really matters," and the constant reminders that we are surrounded by big deals.  All of these disconnects slowly pile up the thoughtful reader's mind, making this story a complete and utter hash.

It's well written hash, and it's hash that the empty headed will enjoy, but in the end, Touring with the Alien is as pointless as the worldview it illustrates.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Cora Lyin'

Cora, Cora, Cora, why you gotta play like dat?

I was goggling about searching for Tomas Diaz's excellent analysis of the Hugo Novelette-ettes, which is excellent.  My own review of Touring with the Alien will be published tomorrow, so check back to compare.

It's a little old, but Cora Buhlert posted a nice long summary of the reactions to the Hugo Awards in which she dwells mainly on those who lament the provinciality and insularity and non-inclusiveness of the award.  It turns out my observation that the wooden anus lickers spent more time talking about authors nominated than the works nominated.  My point was that they didn't really have conversations about the works.  She proved me wrong by concluding:
Comments are still off and passive aggressive e-mails will be deleted unread. Grumble elsewhere.
Heh.  You got yourself a deal.  Welcome to elsewhere, toots.

Cora does make a few predictable objections about past conversations (without providing evidence) and a promise that conversations will be forthcoming once voters receive their packets (a fair point, but I remain skeptical that they will talk about the work rather than the author).  The real impetus for my post is a throw-away line tacked on to the end of hers:
*Does anybody else find the idea of a rabid puppy taking inspiration from Jonathan Livingston Seagull of all things as funny as I do?
Of course she thinks it's funny.  She doesn't know what you're talking about.  Jonathan Livingston Seagull is the story of a seagull whose unwillingness to conform to the demands of the crowd results in his expulsion from the flock.  It was adopted by the hippy-dippy movement in the 1970s as they struggled to escape the conformity provided by hard work, the Christian faith, and showers.  Cora still operates under that out-dated mindset, clinging to the notion that true rebels write works that conform to the demands of the university system, major publishing houses, Hollywood, every major media outlet, and most major businesses like Target, Google, and Starbucks.  Jonathan Livingston Seagull is the story of a seagull whose unwillingness to conform to the demands of the crowd results in his expulsion from the flock.  Her mirth makes it clear that she either has not read the work in question - which is largely agnostic on matters of politics, hewing closer to  a 'you be you even if it means going against the majority' message than to her assumed 'stick it to the man, and once you are the man, stick it to those who want to stick it to the man' message.  Proving once again...

These people don't read.

My comments are open.  I like talking about books.  My place is a place for conversations about books, even difficult ones.  It's neither echo chamber nor bully pulpit.  But then, as a member of the distinct minority pushed out by the powers that be, my pulpit is small, my reach short, and my faith in their weakness and lack of desire to discuss books secure.