Monday, January 30, 2017

Going Somewhere With This

No greater tribute to the power of memes exists that the current occupant of the Cherry Blossom throne.  If you follow me on the tweetbox you've probably noticed my recent predilection for challenging conventional wisdom using covers of the old pulps to make a definitive statements about them than you typically see.  We start will a series of three covers that get people considering the lies they've been told about the old pulps, specifically the lies about women being marginalized and only present to make the male hero look good...

But these are really just a few left hand jabs to the body to get people to lower their guard.  Then you hit them with the right hand cross smack on the snotbox:

You might think it's crazy for a guy trying to break into writing to spend this much time encouraging people to read old works that won't make me a dime, but that's because you haven't gone full Jeffro yet.  These are salvos in a cultural war designed to deny ground to the enemy.  They are designed to pull eyeballs away from the drek populating the shelves of the local Barnes and Noble and to rehabilitate the reputation of the old masters.  This is a war of attrition, and every time somebody spends an hour reading a scan of a magazine like this, they'll spend ten hours less reading the meaningless post-modern works of the establishment publishing houses.

Then they'll start to look for the true heirs of Burroughs, Howard, and Moore.  They won't find them coming out of MFA programs.  They'll find them among like minded fans of the pulps.  They'll find them in places like this:

Friday, January 27, 2017

Schrodinger's Gat: A Review

Schrodinger’s Gat is a tight little novel that weaves a modern sci-fi thriller by tying age old philosophy debates to modern quantum physics.

The basic plot is that of a suicidal author saved from the fires of hell by a beautiful young girl. She distracts him just as he’s about to step in front of a train, and then leads him into a two-man conspiracy to prevent tragedies across the San Francisco Bay Area. She and the mad doctor for whom she works have built a machine that taps into quantum-theory to predict future tragedies, and race to stop as many as they can. The universe has other ideas, and before long the author gets swept up into a thriller story rooted in (as far as I know) accurate quantum physics, with a dash of metaphysics thrown in for good measure.

All of those fun intellectual exercises play a role in this story – the observer effect, Schrodinger’s Cat, paradoxes – and most of the background ideas should be familiar to long term fans of time-travel stories, science fiction, and popular accounts of esoteric branches of quantum physics. The theories and experiments are presented in this book a very accessible manner for those coming to these ideas for the first time, and woven into the plot in a way that won’t bore old hands already familiar with the idea.

Rob Kroese, pronounced KROO-zee it turns out, keeps the characters and the reader in suspense as the characters grapple with notions of free will, predestination, and meeting one’s fate on the road he takes to avoid it. Couple that with some gunplay, vehicle chase scenes, and knuckle biting escapes, and you’ve got yourself a tight little novel that might make your head hurt, if you think about it too hard.

One of the main characters in the book is named Heller, and that name triggered memories of Catch-22, a fitting comparison for this novel. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t, and in the end, you can never really be sure whether you really had a choice in the matter to begin with. The final confrontation is as epic as the ideas in the book, and while the end doesn’t leave the reader with a solid answer as to what, exactly, just happened…neither does philosophy or quantum physics. Which is just fine with this reader - a book like this is far more about the journey than the destination. And it does leave little doubt in one's mind about the appropriateness of the title of the book.

You expect some cleverness from a book with a title like Schrodinger’s Gat, but Rob Kroese races way past clever and doesn’t stop until he hits downright brainy.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Keillor Ruined Poetry

My latest audiobook is in the can. The files and fate of the audio version of John C. Wright’s “Somewhither” have been placed in the hands of Castalia House’s audio editor.  The last part of the book that I read was a series of poems included in the introduction that, honestly, make a lot more sense if you go back and read or listen to them after you complete the book. 

While reading these poems allowed, I made a conscious effort to avoid the currently popular style which features a strained voice best exemplified by the old Doctor on “Lost in Space” crying out, “Oh, the pain, the pain.”  You cannot hear a poem read on NPR without it being read in that pained, aching style.  It doesn’t matter what show you hear it on, everybody reads poetry as though they have a knife in the belly and are gasping to speak those precious last few stanzas.
I listen to this stuff in part because I’m a fairly erudite man of letters who is constantly on the make for the hidden gems within the NPR talus pile.  I’m also a glutton for punishment.  Most importantly, I’m the kind of guy who consumes bad things out of a desire to analyze and dissect them.  That’s out of a desire to understand what makes them bad, and a further desire not to make the same mistakes.
Generally speaking, the poetry you hear on NPR interviews or those literary dumping ground shows they have features half-bright women desperate to appear deep and meaningful.  They don’t trust their words, so they feel a need to give the poem a little more drama by clenching their vocal chords and reading it as though Chewbacca was choking them for their sudden but inevitable betrayal.
While reading Chesterton and Saint Augustine of Hippo, I used a clear, strong voice.  (Seriously, how can you feel anything but happiness when you read the beautiful, deep, and clever word choice of a man with such a wry sense of presentation as Chesterton?)  When done, my thoughts drifted to the man most responsible for this painful style of reading – Garrison Keillor.
His show, “Writer’s Almanac” confused me for the longest time.  For those not in the know, it’s a hodge-podge show where the host takes a bunch of items of literary interest and strings them together to produce a sort of variety show for writers.  Of course, this being NPR, the writing they feature is always the turgid prose and dreary second-rate philosophizing of fans of lit-ra-chure, rather than the solid wordcraft, joy of writing, and rip-snorting fun of adventure fiction.  So it’s a really, really boring show. 
Now, I’m a bit of a fan of Keillor.  I grew up listening to “Prairie Home Companion”, and he always struck me as a man who loved flyover country, and the people who inhabit it, even as he desperately sought acceptance by the ‘coastal in-crowd’.  He is a midwesterner at heart, and the PHC, while never exciting or hilarious, was always amusing and comforting.  Like eating at the Cracker Barrel restaurant or wrapping up in a warm blanket in front of a fire on a snowstormy night.  In fact, I appreciate that his voice is made for a show like that.  It’s honest, and sincere – that of a grandfather spinning yarns and dispensing advice.  It works…for that show.
But somehow, thanks (I believe) in part to “The Writer’s Almanac”, everybody and their cousin that goes on NPR to read poetry thinks they have to read it using the same style as Keillor.
It’s maddening.

And I promise, you’ll never hear me read a poem in that style.  I’ll always read them like a man on a mission – a mission to bring each and every poem with the drive, feel, and emotion that the poet intended.

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Novel Challenge

The last part of my Five Dragon’s series is wrapping up its final edits.  While that’s working in the background, I’ve been preparing to write a full-length novel.  This is a new thing for me.  Shooting for a target length of 60,000 words, that’s still three times the length of anything that I’ve written before.  Those of you that have read my fiction know that I favor a terse style that gets right to the point and leaves the decorative flourishes to the reader’s imagination.  You aren’t paying me by the word here, so there’s no financial incentive for me to lather on the verbiage just for its own sake.

That might work fine for a short story where words come at a premium, but it adds a challenge to writing a full length novel.  When you don’t spend a thousand words describing every single dish served at a lavish 12-course feast in excruciatingly diabetic detail you’ve got to fill those pages with people doing things and things actually happening.  Add to that my predilection for narratives that feature a single point of view character, and now you’re looking at some serious plot twists to keep the reader’s attention.
All that takes planning and preparation.
Enter Moorcock’s Three Day Novel challenge.  You can guess from the title what it’s all about.  I won’t repeat what others have already said about.  Here's just one link, you can find plenty more with a simple search.)  MLK Day came and went, and with it too much dayjob work to do a proper Challenge.  That didn't mean I couldn't use Moorcock's theories at a more sedate pace though.
Using that framework as a guide, I’ve got a dozen chapters hashed out.  It cost me 3,000 words of publishable material, but what I waste in work-product, I hope to make up for in efficiency.  That 3,000 words includes an outline of the complicated off-screen event that drives the action and the working FTL system.  That system was a head scratcher for me because it's a narrative device wrapped in a thick layer of legit quantum physics.  It took a little help from Spencer Hart - remember that name, you'll be hearing it a lot in the future.  If you don't believe me, check out his blog - but it's a reasonable explanation for FTL that still allows for some rock 'em sock 'em two fisted spacer tales.

Pushing myself to write this longer form fiction has been a challenge, but one most welcome.  It's a lot like running a marathon.  Hopefully my nipples won't hurt so much at the end of this one. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Now Available: Devil's Drake

There's no one way to slay a dragon. It takes a combination of strength, fortitude, and brains. Father Abner Holyoak's adventurous days of crusading are long past him, but when he stumbles into a dark manor house plagued by a vague menace, he knows that he is the right man in the right place at the right time. Priest, historian, scholar, and wandering mendicant, Abner Holyoak might just be the only man in Christendom that can free the Duke of Saltzburg and his family from the dark force that has made the Duke's house it's own home.

Clocking it a 20,000 words, this fourth installment in the Five Dragons series, makes for an inexpensive and thrilling way to kill an hour or so.  It's available today at fine websites everywhere.  And if you enjoy it, there are already three others in the same vein waiting for you as well.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

An Open Letter to the NCAA

Congratulations on another successful year of college football.  Sure do wish I could have been a part of it.  Your product is fantastic, but it’s hard to watch when everyone you’ve hired to cover it hates me.

Of all the sports seasons, college football has long been my favorite.  It’s not perfect, but every flaw adds to its charm:
  • Despite the big budgets of the programs, most of the guys on the field still play for the love of the game.  There are the few self-aggrandizers every year, but they are few and far between. 
  • You have way too many programs to follow them all, which opens the door for surprises.  This year’s Western Michigan being a prime example.
  • Your season is the shortest of any sport. With only a dozen games per team, give or take, that always leaves the fans wanting more at the end of the season.
  • Your players are rough around the edges, vary widely in talent level even on the same team, and make mistakes on a regular basis. That adds a frisson of unpredictability to each and every game, and makes your product far more exciting than the bland routine of the NFL’s machine like perfection.
  • Your bowl system rewards half of your players with one last travel game for the most part free of the brutal pressure of the regular season. Those kids work hard all year, and your policy of rewarding most of them with one last walk on the field is commendable.  It also rewards fans of half the teams with one last chance to enjoy the game during the cold winter months. My family’s annual Christmas Eve tradition of watching the Hawaii Bowl one of the highlight’s of year.
  • You doesn’t have a solid, unquestionable system for determining a true champion, and that’s a good thing. They might crown one, but even with the short playoff, not a year goes by that doesn’t feature some controversy over teams that deserved a title shot being left out. This leads to millions of man hours spent discussing your champion, and unlike the NFL those discussions don’t end two days after the trophy ceremony. People still talk about the year the coaches shafted unbeaten Michigan to throw an undeserved bone to the retiring Tom Osborne. Every conference has at least one team that went unbeaten and didn’t get the title, and they never stop talking about it.  The messy champion system guarantees controversy, and that guarantees interest. And really, you don’t need a true champion. That’s just something the sports writers argue because having one makes their jobs a lot easier.
And that brings us to crux of the issue: sports writers are terrible people who make no secret of the fact that they hate most of your fans. Look no further than that poster child for the Dunning-Kruger Effect, Kieth Olbermann. For some bizarre reason, that whole industry has decided naked partisanship and serving the needs of a few cocktail party hosts in New York City is a better path the success than serving the needs and desires of the people who actually, you know, enjoy your product.  It's great for their careers, but average fans like myself find it off putting enough to put off seeking out your games.

Those red areas represent a large number of your most
valuable fans. Irritate them at your own peril.
Surely you've noticed the massive downtick in ratings the NFL experienced this year.  That loss is a direct result of the NFL and all its water carrying Mini-Kieths flagrantly and repeatedly engaging in unsportsmanlike conduct while covering your games.   All those cheap shots add up over time, and like the great Barry Sanders, eventually the smart fans will have had enough and leave the game before they take one shot too many.
The NFL's ratings woes aren't just a blip.  Their fan-loss isn't just a hopeful sign people are turning to you for entertainment.  It's a glimpse into your future, if you don't man-up and start throwing the yellow flag at the people covering you. 
While you can't stop the ESPN's from talking about you, you can control the contracts you sign.  That means you have the leverage to allow inside access only to those reporters who agree to leave the partisanship on the field, and not in the culture. Fans don't mind when reporters have favorite teams - Kirk Herbstreit's love of the Big 10 has inspired more verbose rants than this one! - and we love it.  It gives us something to talk about, and one more guy to root for or against, even in the booth.
When those covering the sport take to covering US, though?  And when that coverage of we viewers is so consistently and nakedly hostile? They don't inspire us to debate and discuss, they inspire us to turn off the TV, go outside, and find something better to do.
I'm not here to make threats or promises that I can't keep.  I'm just here warning you about the natural effects of the decision you've made to tie your Boomer Sooner wagon to the twin horses of New York City politics and contempt for your fans.  You might want to change those horses before they drag you over the same cliff that is claiming the NFL.
Jon Mollison
P.S. Congratulations, Clemson, on another outstanding season. Why the SEC wanted a playoff is beyond me. They are quickly learning that more teams in contention in the post season makes it harder for them to dodge playing the best teams in the country. Under the BCS system they managed to consistently play a decent team with no losses who faced no real competition in the regular season instead of a heavyweight with one or two losses that could have mauled them in the championship game - when they bothered to play a non-SEC team at all. If they were smart they'd lobby for a return to the BCS days of hiding behind the poll system's apron strings.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Look Upon My Perks, Ye Mighty!

And despair!

Behold!  I bring you fire and knowledge!
That's right.
Jeffro's first magnum opus finally hits the market.  It's been a long time coming, and even those of us who followed the blog post series that inspired this have been slavering to get our hands on a copy of the final book.  It's been updated with additional analysis, new commentary, and discussions with and by some of the all time greats.

This might be the most important sci-fi/fantasy book of our generation.

It's hard to overstate the impact of Jeffro Johnson's scholarship.  The discoveries he made when he delved into the forgotten past of genre literature and the connections he made between the style that was and the style that exists today have inspired a new generation of writers to pick up the pen and a new generation of editors to pick up a check-book.  And this new breed's rallying cry of, "Regress Harder!" would never have sounded from the rooftops of social media had Jeffro not wandered in from the tabletop gaming wilderness and proclaimed the ancient wisdom buried by the zealots of a new religion of nihilism and destruction.  They scorned and vilified him for parting the dark curtain of their ignorance, yet he balked not!  Nay!  He fought them off, and in so doing his resistance rallied new converts to the wisdom of the ancients.

I am the least of these new authors.  But from the depths of my toils, I have seen a resurgent beauty among the pages of the self-published that I thought lost to the ages.  Perhaps those rare echoes of stories from better days would have bloomed had Jeffro not this forbidden knowledge, but even then they would not have found such fertile soil in the minds of like minded men who accepted the gospel of Jeffro into their hearts and resolved to do better.  And to ignore the pleas of the ones who buried knowledge of the Old Masters.  And to heed the wisdom of Jeffro, who showed us all a better way.

The old magic runs deep, and it is just as effective today as ever.

Anyone who ever thrilled to the classic tales of Tarzan and John Carter and Northwest Smith and Conan and Elric and Jirel owes it to themselves to read this book the better to understand how they stand the test of time.  Anyone who ever enjoyed the pale shadows and imitations of those iconic characters owes it to themselves to read this book, the better to understand what magnificent works undergird the modern hero.  Anyone who ever wanted to write a book that carried the weight of a "Three Hearts and Three Lions," the romance of "A Princess of Mars," the poetic action of a "Red Nails", or the grim tragedy of "A Black God's Kiss" owed it to themselves this book the better to understand the import of all those elements and how they weave together to make a story leap from the page.

In short, if you're a fan of fantasy or science fiction, you owe it to yourself to read this book.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Writing Pre-Post-Christian Stories

My alpha-friend and beta-reader asked if the name of the protagonist of my next novella, Father Abner Holyoak, was chosen as a reference to St. Boniface and his conversion of the Germans by cutting down the Thunder Oak of Giesmar.  He wasn't. My beta-reader is more learned than I am. I just like the strength and goodness the name conveyed. He asked if sliding a story featuring a priest into the mix was a Trojan Horse for evangelization, and so I explained the nature of the nascent movements dedicated to returning fantasy and science fiction to it's pre-post-Christian roots.

If you need a primer, you can't do any better than this John C. Wright post on how his elves are different.
We are in the Dark Ages, and the darkness influences all things in society, including speculative literature. I mean the term not as an exaggeration or a metaphor: the technological products of our enlightened forefathers spring from the worldview which says science is a proper way to discover the mind of God by studying His works. Eliminating that God from one’s worldview eventually eliminates the respect for human life, free thought, and reason in law and custom which are necessary precursors to scientific endeavors, and eliminating science eliminates technology. Once the lamps go out, the darkness is everywhere, even in the little corners of society where children read books about spacerockets or elves.
The moderns have been taught to hate and loath their own country, their ancestors, their parents, and been told everything written before the current day is racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, transcismophobic, and pure evil. These nutbags think that their own standard bearers of the Progressive movement, the founders of their genre, were not Progressives like themselves.
Looked at one way, every story is a Trojan Horse - only the allegiance of what's inside changes. The post-Christian fantasy stories were specifically designed to infect people's operating systems with damaging software like nihilism, Marxism, and atheism.  (But I repeat myself.) The pre-post-Christian fantasies naturally and organically carried the worldview and understanding of heroism, nobility, and truth of a people who still accepted God's plan for mankind.

Every one of my stories is deeply rooted in a Christian world view - even those that clearly take place outside of the real world.  As I explained to my beta-reader: I actually don't consider this most recent story all that different from the first three dragon stories.  All my heroes desires revolve around God's plan.  They want to serve their fellow man, protect their family, have a family, unlock the secrets of His plan through study and the collection of knowledge.  Those are Christian ideals, and are therefore human ideals.  Even if you take man out of this world where God explicitly exists and plonk him down in a world where other gods roam, they don't stop being men. That means they don't stop being built according to His design.  People that try to remake their characters absent that critical spark of life wind up with cheap cut-outs and weak stories.

Devil's Drake might be the most nakedly spiritual, but that's baked into the very nature of the last chapter of the fighter-thief-wizard-cleric cycle.  And if I'm going to write a story about a religious man fighting evil, tapping into the Christian world allows me to reach people on a more visceral level  - the best fantasy is rooted in reality, and using a made-up religion would have carried the weight of a paper-mache idol.
But then, I don't hold the belief delusional belief of a John Scalzi that my writing skills or ideas are so utterly brilliant that they can overthrow the collective wisdom of 2,000 years of thought and study by the most learned men in the world, so perhaps my decision to 'borrow' cachet from Christian theology is a cheap ploy to appeal to readers.  If it helps the reader understand how the world really works and brings them closer to God's plan, that's a criticism I can live with.

Friday, January 13, 2017

An Evolving Canon

A canon need not be a static thing.  Even the canonical example of a canon - that of the Roman Catholic church - changes over time.  Additional knowledge, wisdom, and study, can all add detail, depth, and breadth to a canon. 

You know what I'm talkin' bout, Willis.
But before you can add to a canon, you first have to acknowledge that a canon exists. 

For one thing, you have to admit that there exists a body of work that has been most influential in shaping the culture that you're talking about.  You have to admit that a few select examples of a culture serve as fundamental instances of what that culture does, what it stands for, and what it means.  For some, the very notion that a canon exits is problematic.  They feel it constrains and hampers them, rather than simply defining them as part of the culture or not.  That litmus test can be a very scary thing - it feels like a measuring stick that would shine a light on their own deficiencies.  It would out them as imposters to the culture that they dislike, but very much want to control, to shape it more to their liking.

And so they claim such a thing simply doesn't exist. 

This also results in the happy circumstance that the thing they don't really like - not really - can be remade to fit their own ideas.  Rather than simply scuttle off and make their own thing, they co-opt an existing culture, and turn it to their own ends.  Without a valid definition of the culture, without shining exemplars of the best that culture has to offer, they are free to redefine the culture.  Which feeds back into the idea of "No Canon".  They can then show those who built the culture that not only is there no yardstick, but even if there was, the early examples of the culture don't even fit the 'new and improved' culture.

How convenient.

Ah, but once a canon is shown to exist, then things get interesting.  Then new works can enter the canon.  The culture can change and evolve over time, and the additions to the canon will inevitable reflect the new spirit of the culture.  Of course, that leaves in place the older canonical works, which allows them to continue exerting influence over the newcomers.  And, more importantly, it takes a lot more time, effort, and skill to nudge a culture in a new direction.  Why, one would have to compete with the old guard on a level playing field!

And so, if you want to change a culture, but are too stupid, too lazy, and too venal to participate in it, then your best bet is to deny the culture exists.  Destroy its pillars, and then start stacking bits of rubble up in the ruins.  With no majestic temple to be seen, you can point to your pitiful little stacks of broken rock and proclaim yourself the definitive example of the culture.

But those of us who remember the Cathedral you leveled will always know that you for the fraud you are, and we have ways of rebuilding the temple just as it was.  And the more people see that temple and compare it to your sad little pile, the less influence you will have over the culture you so desperately wanted to control.

Sleep tight, frauds!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Feminism is Worse Than War

Assume for the moment that the following is true:
Hillary's quote demonstrates the feminist belief that being left alone, without a man in your life, is a fate worse than death.
But what is the natural result of increased feminism?

Increasing numbers of unmarried spinsters.

Therefore, women have always been the primary victims of feminism.

Note: I looked, but couldn't find a simple chart showing the marriage rates for women and men who self-identify as feminists.  Color me surprised that either a.) the research hasn't been done for "reasons", or b.) that it has been done, but the results buried for the same "reasons".  No doubt if marriage rates were the same or higher for feminists, that result would be shouted from the rooftops by the gender studies crowd.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Tough Love

A few weeks back I had the misfortune of writing an honest review for a book that I really wanted to like.  The author is a great guy, and his book hit a lot of the right notes, but just didn't work.  I was concerned that my rationalizing the need for a negative review was just that - rationalizing.  

This past weekend, Rawle Nyanzi reviewed Forbidden Thoughts, and the results were messy.  Like me, he loves the authors, but couldn't in good conscience recommend the book.  When he mentioned it on social media, it sparked a bit of conversation that's worth highlighting:

That's a critical point.  Many of us involved in the fight to make sci-fi and fantasy great again are relative neophytes at adventure fiction.  Our early works shouldn't be our best works.  As Rawle says, we've got to do better, and keep pushing each other to get better.  Unearned positive reviews provide a brief spark of satisfaction, but honest negative reviews that push us all to improve provide a long-term benefit not just to the author, but to the readers who deserve the best we have to offer.

So let this be an open call for negative reviews.  They might be harder to write, but decent writers who can take one on the chin and keep coming back for more, appreciate them just as much.  I know I do, and if you don't believe me - just try me:

You can review my latest novella, The Sorceror's Serpent, right here on Amazon.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

You're Welcome, HUGO!

The Rabid Puppies are the best thing to happen to the Hugo Awards in decades.

Five years ago, nobody in the mainstream media was talking about the Hugos.  It was considered a niche of a niche market.  Maaaybe you'd see a couple of column inches discussing the results, but certainly no real acknowledgement or analysis.  You can count on one finger the number of Hugo Award winners given significant air time on NPR, for example.

Then the Rabids showed up, knocked the nomination process tail over teakettles and suddenly the Hugos became a viable way to virtue signal.  The People’s Radio made sure to present stories about the brave kingmaker clique standing up to those very bad, no good, horrible fans who liked writers that didn’t look right on camera.  Entertainment Weekly rushed a story out the door so fast they didn’t even have time to perform the simplest fact checking or even read the list of names of white guys like Chixin Liu before going to print. It was a bonanza of coverage for a modest little corner of fandom, and it only occurred because of the Puppy driven controversies. 

Had the Puppies never shown up spoiling to fight for their own beloved works, the winers would have been no different, but the mainstream press would have given Hugo a considerably dimmer spotlight.

Think I’m wrong?  Just wait.

Sooner or later the Rabids will lose interest in Hugo.  They’ve largely met the goals established at the outset.  They’ve exposed the corruption for everyone but the Fake News to see.  They’ve forced Worldcon to revise the nomination process to make it far more difficult for the insiders to dominate the ballot list.  Best of all, and a year earlier, they exposed the years of PizzaGate style activity of the despicable people at the heart of fantasy and sci-fi publishing.  In short, the Rabids managed to allow a little bit of sunlight into the process.

While that sunlight might burn the flesh of the Puppy-Kicking vampires, it also acts as a strong disinfectant.  Even if the Rabids were to walk away from the Hugo Awards forever more, they have done tremendous good for the Awards by raising its profile, for better or worse. 

Remember, though, that the Puppy Kickers are the classic examples of 'useful idiots'.  They welcomed the spotlight shone on them by the mainstream media – which holds those nerds in such contempt that they couldn’t bother to report on the Hugo Awards until they had been bitten by the Puppies.  Once the Puppies do fade away, the Hugos will have one year of grace in which the media will fall all over themselves congratulating the vampires for drawing the curtain back over the windows and preventing the Van Helsing’s* of the Rabid Puppies from exposing them to unwanted attention.  The next year, the only sound you’ll hear from the media will be crickets.  The next year, the Hugo Awards will once again be nothing but a minor blip of an event taking place in a backwater mutual masturbate-a-thon than no one in the mainstream media cares about.

So enjoy it while you can, Hugo Award insiders, because your relevance now depends entirely upon the Puppies.

You’re welcome.

*Thanks to the couple of guys who filled in for my brain on that one!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

2016 Planetary Award Nomination

It's nomination time for the 2017 Panetary Awards.  (Hat tip to Cirsova for alerting me.)  There are only two categories:

Shorter story (under 40,000 words/160 paperback pages)

My nomination: Images of the Goddess, by Schuyler Hernstrom, published in Cirsova Magazine #2
Gift of the Ob-Men was a nice little regression to a more ideal mean, but Hernstrom blew my socks off with Images of the Goddess.  The quality of this story sneaks up on you, as it starts with an innocent monk finagling his way into a quest for a sacred text, but with each successive character Herrnstrom introduces, his writing skills become more and more apparent.  The overall structure and tone are reminiscent of a Jack Vance, but carry the light-hearted touch of Pohl Anderson at his lightest, giving this work an increasingly complex and dramatic tone that culminates in an ending at once satisfying and leaving the reader wanting more.  Even the gag reveal at the tale's climax is handled with a deftness that amuses the reader without spoiling the suspense and drama of the story.

Longer story (novels)

My nomination: The Invisible City, by Brian K. Lowe
Brian K. Lowe evokes all the best qualities of an Edgar Rice Burroughs in this sprawling 'man out of time' epic that carries its protagonist, a World War I Yankee, to a far flung world populated by everything from alien invaders to downtrodden races to talking and sentient gorillas and...wolverines?  That's probably as close a description as you can get for the feral savages Dixon meets in his journey to free a slave race, rescue his infatuation, and save a princess from a corrupt nobleman bent on world domination.  Lowe's writing crackles with an energy and style that one doesn't often find these days.  it is both lyrical and brutal, and Dixon's voice is as authentic for a man of the early twentieth century as it is refreshingly noble and heroic in these days of science-fiction populated by con-men, complainers, and small potato heroes fighting for vague notions of, "don't judge me, man!" rather than fighting for liberty and justice for all.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

We Are All Gatekeepers Now

We're still beating up on Laurie Gough and her contention that bypassing the gatekeepers who live east of the Hudson River hurts written words.

No caption necessary.
When I pointed out that we're all gatekeepers now, Jeff Duntemann (author of the excellent Ten Gentle Opportunities) responded by pointing out:
@NotJonMollison As readers, we've always been. The difference is that we now have to be systematic (and unrelenting) about it.
— Jeff Duntemann(@JeffDuntemann) January 1, 2017
He's absolutely right.  Word of mouth has always been a cherished aspect of marketing, and bad word of mouth can easily overcome even the most sophisticated advertising campaign.  Look no further than the recent Ghostbusters debacle which resulted in a very different kind of hysterical response than the original.

For the record, my gatekeepers are legion, and I'm always on the lookout for more of them.  If you love a particular style of work, and if you want to see more of it produced, then you should become a gatekeeper, too.  You're a fan, after all, and one of the things that fans do is talk about the things they love.  The more you talk about the things you enjoy, the more people will find those things, and the more incentive people will have to make more of it.

The dirty little secret about increasing your influence as a gatekeeper is that it's really easy to do.  it just takes a little time and dedication.  All you have to do is start showing up in a few blog comments, find the blogger's Twitter feed, and join in the discussions.  You don't need to build a full blown blog or start up your own literary criticism magazine.  Just join in the discussion, and you to can help keep the gates open for the style of works you love.

Here's a quick list of the guys who make for a good starting point (in no particular order):
It's a rolling conversation that spans dozens of links, threads, and blogs, and it's a blast.  If you join in, you'll start seeing familiar faces and before you know it, you'll find your very own team of gatekeepers blowing open doors to works that you probably would have missed out on if you relied on the recommendations of snooty New York literati types.

Even better, they'll all have you to act as a gatekeeper to help them find the same.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Find Your Own Gatekeeper

Look at this thing from HuffPo:
It would be easy to go after the low-hanging fruit here.  This woman you've never heard of has written three memoirs.  Three.  Because her life is just that interesting.  She is a "journalist". Because writing a blog on HuffPo counts.  The obvious self-contradiction of a blogger sneering at self-publishing.
Instead of dwelling on these things, let's look at a far more mature and thorough takedown by Richard Alan Chandler.  He doesn't go for the easy insults to an obviously flawed piece, he cuts to the heart of the matter by focusing on how her wrong-headedness about gatekeepers amounts to her lament that things are better for readers today:
No, my point is that she is wrong about the lack of gatekeepers. There are actually more gatekeepers now than there are editors and publishers and agents in the entire publishing industry.
I’m talking about you, the reader – both individually and collectively. Individually, because you now have a vastly broader range of works to choose from. And collectively, through your actions on a site like Amazon. When you and all the other readers go to Amazon, you are informing each other about what is good or bad by what you buy, or not, as reflected by the Amazon ranking (conveniently divided by subgenre), and what else is good through the “Also Bought” mechanism. And individually, again, through your star ratings and reviews. Your actions are both informed by those who have gone before you, and they guide those who come after you.
To which I would add that the changing nature of gatekeepers puts the burden on the reader of choosing his own gatekeepers.  And that the process of finding, following, and supporting your chosen gatekeeper crew need not be an onerous one.  You already enjoy reading, and most of the gatekeepers out there are communication via the written word.  So if you dedicate just a few moments of your day's reading to the social media output of even just a handful of trusted individuals, you'll be able to find works that target your interests like a laser beam.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017: The Year I Come Out of the Box

Even my wargames are pulp.
This rocket ship was built for
15mm sci-fi miniature battles.
If you direct your eyes to the left, over there on the sidebar, you can spot a tag in the cloud called, "wargame related". It's no secret that I'm an avid wargamer from way back. I played D&D back when I still had baby-teeth in my mouth, and even dabbled in a bit of ASL from time to time, but my true love has always been miniature wargaming.  I haven't talked about it very much on Seagull Rising because I have another outlet for showing off my painting, modeling, and wargaming talents.

It's a little blog called War In A Box, which I published under the nom de jeu de guerre, Warren Abox.  You can read a little bit about why I'm coming out of the box in this post.

The year of our Lord 2017 looks to be an incredible year. The opportunities presenting themselves to me right out of the January starting gate are mind-blowing. In addition to collaborating with one of my favorite authors on the background for a skirmish wargame, I'll be hosting a semi-weekly column over at the Castalia House blog alongside such luminaries as Jeffro Johnson, P. Alexander, Josh Young, and Morgan (the man with no last name).  The first one went live yesterday.  They've got big plans for that blog, and I'm excited to be a part of it.

To make a long story short, thanks to Jeffro, it's growing increasingly difficult to maintain a separation between my thoughts on gaming and on literature.  While I'll hang onto the moniker "Warren Abox" for the purposes of forum continuity, that alias will pretty much be an open secret between you, me, and anyone else who really cares about these things.  To be frank, I don't have the energy nor the time to sustain multiple internet personas, and opening this up should simplify everything for me on the back end.

Understand, this blog will remain largely unchanged.  I'll leave the wargame heavy posts over at War In A Box, while this blog will stay largely focused on writing, literature, and general cultural critiques, with only the occasional forays into role-playing games, board games, and wargames.

Meanwhile, that semi-weekly column that I'll be contributing to the Castalia House Blog kicks off on Wednesday.  If you've ever thought about attempting to take up the miniature and brush, but been intimidated by the front-end effort at starting a miniature wargame, you won't want to miss out on this series.