Friday, March 31, 2017

The Brighter Side of Indy Sci-Fi

Now is the best time to get into independently published science fiction.  Ignore what the marketing people have to say about it.  They deal only in raw, current numbers.  They look for today's hotness and promise immediate returns, but you're not interested in tomorrow, you're looking at the long haul.  It's easy to say that about you, even not knowing your name, because you're into science-fiction, which by its nature is a long-view genre.

So let's get our heads on straight here and think about the long view.  For starters, let's get the starting point right.  It's not here:

Segregating fantasy and sci-fi is loser thinking.

It's here:
Winners ignore the distinction.
It's the second most popular genre out there after romance. 

Looking into our psychohistory equations or our crystal-ball (they're the same thing, really), the near future might look bleak.  Nathan "Chicken Little" Housley has a full post where he does his Hari Seldon thing:
A survey of modern science fiction shows a repeated pattern of extinction events. In the 1950s, the pulps died. At the end of the Crazy Years of the 1970s, magazines died as the primary medium of science fiction and backlists died. The 1990s and early 2000s killed off the midlist writer. And, as the same old song plays of magazine sales drying up, rumors of publisher woes, and publisher wisdom telling authors that science fiction cannot sell, we stand on the verge of the next great crash for the genre. That this crash is happening in the 2020s and not in the 2010s is due to the 1990s' publish woes lasting into the 2000s, pushing back the date of the upcoming crash.
But he misses one critical factor in his analysis.  These extinction level events kill off the old dinosaurs, but open the way for new critters to rise up.  The big publishers, hide-bound, slow, and perfectly adapted to 20th century tech are going to suffer, but the mammalian independents, quick, nimble, and adapted to 21st century tech are going to thrive.  That's why you should get in now, while the getting is good.  Every year you wait to start, you're ceding readers to the competition.  You're letting other mammals fill in those ecological niches.

And one of the best niches in the future will be science-fiction.  The marketers tell you to play the numbers.  Romance, mystery, thriller - that's where the big numbers are.   That's true, but that's also where the swarms of writers are.  You've got to fight your way through a bigger crowd to get traction.

More to the point, fighting for what's big now, is thinking like a dinosaur.  Look at the trends.  Readers of mystery and thrillers are still well served by Bigfiveasaurus, and so aren't leaving the big five in droves the way they are sci-fi.  Look again at those bar graphs - the sci-fi field, though smaller than mystery and thrillers, has a bigger independent section.  That tells us Bigfiveasaurus isn't meeting the needs of the reader, and so they are going elsewhere.  For years, many of them went nowhere.  They just left.

With the advent of self-publishing, they are coming back into the fold.  They are finding the sorts of stories they want to read.  They are finding that self-publishers are doing the jobs the Big Five won't.  Again, we look to Nate for the future of the market:
Embrace the fantastic and the exotic. Embrace adventure. These are the key to sales in science fiction, and the shelter from the upcoming storm, just as they brought science fiction out of its previous crashes. Don't make the same mistake that drove hundreds of writers out of the field. Avoid realism.
So don't be afraid to ignore the experts.  You're not interested in today, you're interested in tomorrow and a thousand more after that.  Embrace your sci-fi mindset and look to the future.

You won't regret it.

You also won't regret reading Sudden Rescue.  It's what the future of science fiction is going to look like.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Modern Pulp Adventure

Not the official mock-up cover,
but a man can dream...
It's been done before, but never quite like this. A G-plus discussion on the suitability of the pulp ethos for tales set in the modern world got completely out of hand over the weekend. Somebody threw down a gauntlet and Misha Burnett scooped it up with a call to keyboard arms:
We are looking for 21st Century Pulp Revival stories. Who’s we? Well, there’s me, Rawle Nyanzi, Kevyn Winkless, and Sky Hernstrom. There is also a good chance that, once complete, the anthology will be published by Superversive Press.
Take a read through the submission guidelines, and if you think you've got what it takes to show the word there's more to pulp than fast action and empty adventure, throw your hat in the ring.  I've already written a 4,500 word Karl Barber adventure, so you might just wind up having your work beta-read and amateur edited by me.  And the chance of that alone is worth taking a stab at Misha's project.

In all seriousness, this is an important project for the #PulpRevolution.  We talk a big game, stirring up hard v. soft pots, shouting "you're doing it wrong" at other pulp practicitoners, running serious analysis of why the old pulps worked, and so on.  What we don't have much of right now is proof that the concepts work.  We've got Rawle Nyanzi's under-priced Sword and Flower, my own Sudden Rescue, and the works of Brian Niemeier and Misha himself*, but churning out the works is a glacial process. 

Misha's elegant solution is to share the load.  If everybody throws in 2K to 10K words, we can pump out a collection much faster than anyone could an 80K book alone.  Not only does this give a unified title to point to show that the Pulp Revolution works, it also gives a single point of contact where readers can read a sampler of the different writers.  Not all will appeal to everyone, but everyone can find a few writers that they'll enjoy.  Even more, it's a way to showcase the depth and scope possible within the pulp revolution, even when it is constrained to a near-real modern world.

Misha's a treasure, and I have no shame in riding his coattails, because I know they are going more places than I could ever go on my own.  I'd like to ride your coat-tails, too, so be a pal and throw a work into the pile, won't you?

* The latter two really pre-date the birth of the revolution, but we're claiming them anyway and there's nothing you can do to stop us.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Idle Thoughts on the Hard Question

The Hard Buds of SF have those of us who find the technical plausibility of fictional tales a distraction at a distinct disadvantage.  Those of us who prefer not to waste our time analyzing works on the basis of their engineering accuracy are caught in a Catch-22.  If we do ignore the concept of “hardness”, then the default status-quo, and all of its built-in assumptions and value judgements, remain in effect.  If we don’t ignore the concept, then we tacitly admit that the concept is worthy of discussion.

 *    *    *

It’s not about the works – it’s about the critical framework!  There’s a lot of plain sci-fi that I really like.  Karl Gallagher’s Torchship comes to mind.  I liked it well enough to throw an ad for its sequel into the back of one of my books.  But I didn’t like it because the engineering behind it made sense.  The engineering behind my Ikea instructions makes sense – that doesn’t make it a good read.  I enjoyed Torchship because the people made sense.  The conflict made sense.  The politics made sense.  Had the Fives Full been powered by madeupium drives or sailed across the aether propelled by the sheer force of the will of its captain I would have enjoyed it no less.
 *       *       *

Of course the chosen terms themselves connote values.  “Hard” is difficult and strong and solid.  “Soft” is easy and weak and ephemeral.  Do you want to write strong works or weak ones?  To ask the question is to answer it.  Imagine if we decided to use different language to describe the two ends of the spectrum.  Would the Hard Buds object to referring to their preferred style of fiction as “Grey” and the other end “Colorful”?  This is how even the language is corrupted to influence readers towards thinking about literal nuts and bolts of engineering instead of the figurative nuts and bolts of heroism. 
Perhaps “Plain sci-fi” versus “Majestic sci-fi” would be a more apt spectrum.  Just for kicks, I’m only going to use the terms “plain” and “majestic” throughout the rest of this piece.  As you read, think about the difference that makes. 

*       *       *

A Princess of Mars is more real to me than The Martian.  They are both great books, but one is a pointless walk through an Ikea catalog, where the other is a moving journey through life that sticks to you and changes you forever.  In the plain sci-fi tale The Martian, Mark Watney burns rocks to make water is a neat little puzzle that makes me want to be a better scientist, but in the majestic sci-fi story A Princess of Mars, how John Carter reacts to a savage world where slavery is the norm is inspirational and makes me want to be a better man.  Dejah Thoris, fierce and loyal Princess of Mars, is more real to me than the foul mouthed woman who serves as NASA’s spokeshole in The Martian 
*       *       *
The insidious nature of the Hard Buds of SF is as subtle as it is poisonous.  Questions like, "Did they get the science right?" are phrased with an implicit understanding that answering in the negative is a mark against the work's quality.  That's an example of the underlying assumptions built into the plain sci-fi framework that most people accept without thought.  It sounds like a legitimate question.  It's easy to answer.  But it's a distraction.  It's the magician's flourishing left hand drawing your attention away while his right hand makes the virtue and heroism disappear.
 *       *       *
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying Science Man Solves Engineering Problem, but the suggestion that it represents an elevated form of the genre is laughable.  It strikes out huge swathes of human experience and presents no higher goal than “study math” and “try not to get killed”.  That’s not a step up, it’s a step backwards.
 *       *       *
Plain sci-fi encourages readers to look down at the power of math, majestic sci-fi encourages readers to look up to the higher power responsible for math.  Plain sci-fi speaks to the brain.  Majestic sci-fi speaks to the heart and soul.  As a result, it is majestic sci-fi that is more in-line with the superversive mindset than plain sci-fi.
 *       *       *

These observations are disjointed. With more time and motivation, they could be worked into a cohesive whole, but I just don’t care.  I’ve wasted enough time on something that, within the context of my preferred critical framework for genre fiction, just doesn’t matter.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Cirsova Four, Part Six

Shadow Vision

Preston Dennett’s tale of an outcast, a half-mad sage, and a young girl exploring a land plagued by a near-sentient darkness gives the reader plenty of mystery, magic, action, and even romance, but his delivery never rises above workmanlike.  Dennett writes impending doom well.  He writes casual banter well. The decision to do both at the same time in this story doesn’t allow either of those skills to truly shine.
He conveys a real sense of malice and ever present danger within the dark lands that are the setting for most of this short story, but the frequent sly winks at the reader and the light, teasing behavior of the characters provides a jarring contrast.  As a result, the story cannot seem to decide if it wants to be a dark and harrowing journey, or an amusing lark into mystery, and the lack of clear focus prevents this story from taking full advantage of Dennett’s talents.

The Ride

As any old school gamer knows, there’s nothing like a dungeon crawl.  Edward McDermmott spins this short tale of a man pursued by demons of the literal sort who trap the hero of the piece inside the sort of dungeon that would do any DM proud.  The dungeon crawler explores a large complex and faces the usual sorts of troubles. He needs light, faces unseen things that scrabble in the dark, encounters bizarre lost shrines to long forgotten gods, and discovers hidden doors through clever observation.  He even faces danger of a far more alluring kind.  Overall, a tight and compact story, but the challenge of temptation faced by the brave adventurer, and the ending of his troubles in the dungeon, feel a little rushed, even by the standards of short fiction. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fake Arguments

Brace yourself for incoming stupidity, internet. 

Recently, the Supreme Dark Lord explained why the appellation "fake" is a two-megaton blast of nuclear rhetoric.  Within 48 hours, I'd already seen the peanut gallery wielding the term "fake" in a hamfisted, Peebee-esque manner.
Never change, Mass Effect.  Never change.
Here's a helpful reminder for everyone:

Remember, the most effective
rhetoric is founded in truth.
That's not me, that's from Vox's post.

The "fake" shot only hits home when the person you're wielding it against knows, deep down in the depths of their soul, that they are lying.  The fake news casters hate the term because they know, deep down, that what they are peddling is lies.  The fake Americans know, deep down, that the piece of paper they hold doesn't negate their third world views.  Those who have fake marriages know, deep down, that what they have is a pale imitation of the real thing.

So when a fumble-brained dolt tries to claim that Catholics are fake Christians, it doesn't cause Catholics to recoil in anger and outrage.  Lousy Pope or no, we know we're the real deal, so all that dig elicits is an eye-roll and a little bit of sympathy for the window licker who lithped it out.

It's worse than that, though.  Words have power, and every time you use them, it saps them of a little bit of their power.  Even if you use them erroneously, it adds a little  familiarity and breeds a littleemore contempt. 

For a classic example, look at how fast Pepe went from hilarious and effective to yesterday's news.  Oh, you still see it around.  It's still the face of the edgelords.  (Is that 4chan, /pol/, I'm too old to have anything more than a vague notion of what stork delivers these dank memes.)  But ever since the YouTube opportunists trotted out their little Kekistan schtick, complete with pre-loaded swag that you, yes you, can buy for the low, low price get the idea.  Ignore the fact that those dullards decided to force a meme, they decided to give the land of Pepe - the face of the big, beautiful wall, the face of the alt-Right - an Islamic state suffix.  Talk about tin-eared. 

Meme magic might be real, but it relies on the newness and freshness of the matter.  It's like the f-bomb.  When people who drop the f-bomb on a regular basis have to elevate their language, they have no where to go.  They've already shot their wad on trivial matters, and now that they need to signal that things just got real...they've got nothing.

When a square like me drops that f-bomb, everyone gets real quiet.  If you don't waste it, it's magic.

That's as true of the word 'fake' as it is the f-word that you can't say on television.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Public Service Announcement

These two books are nothing alike.
Just Whomever's book is a biting parody filled with in-jokes and digs at John Scalzi.  It's a fevered dream, descent into madness style narrative that barely hangs together, by design.

Johann Kalsi's book is a fantastic work of science fiction that could easily have been published and marketed without tapping into the thick, syrupy schadenfreude swirling around the release of Scalzi's The Collapsing Empire.  I received a review copy of this book, and I'm glad I did, because the advertising turned me off - I'm not a fan of Asimov - and without it, I might have missed out on an interesting read.

The Amazon blurb brags that, "Kalsi shows himself to be more Asimovian than Asimov himself."

I wouldn't go quite that far.  The Corroding Empire fails as an Asimov pastiche (tribute?) in a few ways.  It features a long string of characters who are well rounded and relatable.  It doesn't contain a strong undercurrent of smug superiority over the poor, benighted hoi polloi.  It doesn't make a case that the world would be a better place if only the poor, benighted hoi polloi would turn their every decision process over to the technocrats who really do know better than they what's best for them.
What it does contain are seventeen short stories and vignettes that document the long, slow, slide of a galactic empire into chaos as a small coding error multiplies and ripples out through the vast, interconnected networks that control everything in the galaxy.  Some of the stories are simple character studies.  Some are rip-snorting action.  Some consist mainly of people standing around talking.  You know, about science-stuff.
Even better, it's not about impartial technocrats willing to allow trillions to suffer NOW because it will make life better for people 900 years from now.  Instead, it's the stories of those who fight and struggle to make life better for the people suffering through the long, slow decline.  Even if they cannot fix the galaxy, they still do everything they can to fix their own little corner of it, to hold the threads of civilization together for just a little while longer.
And in that way, this isn't Asimov.  It's something far better.

In the interests of full disclosure, I might not be smart enough to fully enjoy this book.  The 17 stories are all tied together by a few recurring threads, the most notable of which is a robot named Servo, and while I did realize that these recurring threads are there, I wasn't able to really lock down all of the connections.  Place names that I thought were throw-away's turned out to be much more important than expected, for example, and while I'm smart enough to recognize the import of such things, in many cases, I couldn't tie them together in any coherent way.

That didn't lessen my enjoyment of the book at all, though.  Each story stands on its own just fine, and the common threads that run through them do provide a framework for understanding, even for a dullard like me.  But then, those subtle clues that pay off later in one way increase my appreciation for the work because they just make me want to read it again.  And rare indeed is the book that you finish, and can't wait to turn back to page one and read it all over again.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Design Choices

My latest novel, "Sudden Rescue" was released on the Ides of March, and now that's it's been flung out into the cold, hard world of the marketplace, it's too late to make any significant changes to it. That means we can talk about a few of the decisions that went into the book.

To catch you up on the premise, this is a light romp featuring a space trucker who winds up with a space princess falling into his lap. The whole galaxy is searching for the missing princess, and the two don't know who to trust. The marriage of the princess would have sealed the only alliance capable of resisting the dread robot empire. Now, pursued across the galaxy by agents of the known empire, space pirates, and God knows who else, they have to find the one man that take them to safety.

The very first question asked by a potential reader was, "Do you describe the design of the robot places in an alien like fashion? because places were sentient machines live should not be made for human's comfort of living."

Great question. The short answer is yes. Ships manned by agents of the robot empire, the Syntharchy, can accelerate and maneuver in ways human ships cannot. The robots don't have the same g-force limitations, and this gives them an advantage. It's clear in the brief glimpse we get of the ships designed for Syntharchy use that they are not designed for human use. Not of all them are like that, though. Considerable action is spent escaping from a Syntharchy prison ship - a sort of floating concentration camp used to process captured humans and drag them back to Syntharchy space for...well, that would be telling, wouldn't it? I'll say this - the machines have a reason for hunting down and slaughtering humans. The point is that, when the action takes place on a Syntharchy ship that has lights and atmosphere and running water, it's because the Syntharchy ship is used to transport living humans.

The big thing I wanted to talk about are all of the decisions that went into the design of the cover. Some choices are obvious. The sci-fi font for the title signals the setting. The slashing use of italics signals fast moving action. The hero, the threat, and the stakes are all presented in crystal clear fashion.

A few people have commented that the cover - done by the excellent Rapha Pinheiro* - is garishly colored. Pulp Revolution, remember? That's a deliberate design choice. It’s supposed to catch the eye and stand out from the crowd. Even if people stop and think, “Well, that’s a really bright color,” at least they stopped and thought. Sometimes that half an extra second is all the bait you need to set the hook.

This is more important than you may realize.
Do you see how the hero is grasping the space princess’s wrist and pulling her to safety? That tells you exactly what lies at the heart of this tale. You have a strong hero dragging a young and somewhat na├»ve young girl away from danger. She has gifts of her own, and shows traits that demonstrate she is worth rescuing, but at the novel’s beginning she doesn’t really understand that grand adventures aren’t like storybooks that one can simply put down when one is tired of them. Even with a far more sophisticated understanding of the political situation related to her disappearance, she still doesn’t quite grasp the seriousness of the situation.

Meanwhile, you’ve got an older and far more rugged hero, a blue collar guy determined to do the right thing, even if the woman he’s saddled with makes doing that right thing a lot more complicated than it needs to be. He’s a gentleman, not a mushy ‘friend’ who puts her on a pedestal, and he is not above manhandling if a good manhandling is what she needs at the time.

All of this is conveyed in one sweeping glance. Will that turn off a few readers? Yes, the right kind of readers. It will turn away readers who wouldn’t enjoy the story of an inadvertent knight in leather jacketed armor saving a princess from the clutches of evil. Which is fine by me – I’m not writing for those readers, I’m writing for readers who want a little romance with their action. I’m writing for readers who want heroes who step up and do the right thing for no other reason than because it’s the right thing to do. I’m writing for readers who want to see the guy get the girl in the end – even if the girl they get isn’t the girl they thought they wanted.

If you read and enjoy stories written in the same style as the golden age of science fiction, you'd probably also enjoy this series of novellas.  These dragons are not misunderstood, they are pure destructive forces of nature than need putting down fast and hard.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Further West

Yes, it's "further" and not "farther" in this case, because we're talking about the author David J. West again.  Now that I've had a chance to finish The Mad Song I've got a better handle on the guy.  Let's be honest, it might not be entirely fair to judge an author based on one book, but that hasn't stopped me yet, and it's not going to stop me now.

This collection contains twenty-one stories published between 2011 and 2014, and each one is a rollicking adventure in a different vein.  It's got everything from warriors gone a-Viking to mythos inspired space adventures, and even a few Crusaders going full Deus Vult.  The longer pieces are interspersed with one or two page vignettes and something I wish we saw more of these days - epic poetry about blood and thunder.  That style of adventure fiction shouldn't begin and end with Odysseus and Shakespeare.

In my initial take, I mentioned that the first few stories didn't give me the virtuous hero fighting for truth, justice, and the [insert local positive theme here] that represent all my favorite heroes.  By the end of the book, I got what I wanted. 

West seems to be a part of the Utah action-writer crew along with Correia and Torgersen, and his work reminds me strongly of Correia's.  They share a healthy blue-collar disregard for literary frippery in favor of a blunt, smash mouth style of writing.  I actually prefer West's writing to Correia's - the Monster Hunter International series felt cold and angsty to me.  So if you're looking for more in the Correia vein, West is a safe bet.

Given that these works are all a couple of years old, and that West writes at Pulp speed, I'd actually recommend starting with his more recent work.  He seems to be a pretty smart cookie, and it's a safe bet that his writing has only improved since he inked The Mad Song.  I haven't read his Porter Rockwell series yet, but it's on my short list.  If you've read it, let me know what you think.

*   *   *

My first novella, King's Dragon is free to download, for today only.
It's the story of a badass hero killing a big snake.
Think of it as my Saint Patrick's Day gift to you.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Now Available: Sudden Rescue

When is the last time you read a decent space princess story?  How about a blue collar hero thrust into the dangerous world of interstellar politics?  What about a space opera jaunt through worlds both strange and dangerous?
If it's been too long, then it's about time you picked up a copy of Sudden Rescue, the story of an alliance shattered by a kidnapped princess and the space trucker who just can't say no to a pretty face.  With the lone superpower capable of keeping an empire of genocidal androids on the brink of civil war, its up to E.Z. Sudden to find the one man who can reunite the lost princess with the Star King and calm the tensions between two rival factions within the King's realms.

But can he do it while pursued by deadly agents of the Syntharchy, agents of the two rival houses, and the galaxy's most notorious space pirate?

There's only one way to find out, and that way to read this fun little sci-fi romp.  It's got everything a reader could ask for in a space opera; evil robots, revolutions, pirates, bar fights, high noon showdowns, starship chases through asteroids, quirky justifications for FTL travel, and of course a little romance!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Towards a Self-Publishing Cearinghouse

The weak link in the self-publishing universe right now is marketing.  The best available tool for that job today is Amazon itself. 

Readers who spend too much time wading into online reading and writing discussions have it easy - there are too many great writers doing just that to read them all.  The riches are embarrassing these days, and you can't go a week without discovering a fun new writer to at least try.  If you don't spend the time soaking in the frothing broth of online literary discussions, then what do you do?

For a significant chunk of readers, finding what to read next starts and ends with Amazon's categories and recommendations.  As we all know, those are based on impersonal algorithms that track an unknown number of statistics to determine what books get shown to whom and when.  A big part of that algorithm is reviews - the more reviews a book has, the more likely Amazon is to recommend it.  That's why so many authors are constantly asking for reviews.  It's not just an ego thing, it's a marketing thing.  It's a system, and it mostly works.

The missing ingredient in the system is people.  It's pure math that can be gamed and sometimes spits out some wonky results.

Funny thing about people, they much prefer dealing with people than faceless algorithms.  They'd much rather have a flesh and blood reader they trust pointing them to works they can enjoy.   The dinosaur media filled miles of column inches by paying people to read and discuss the books they read, but now that they are the walking dead, all we've got is Amazon and our friends.

Someday, there will be a big, central website featuring a host of readers and reviewers and critics, and you'll be able to find somebody you trust to recommend works that are right up your alley.  If you want to be a mover and shaker in self-publishing, there's a huge vacuum in that space that needs to be filled.  Read and write consistently, and within a couple of years, a decent review website could build a big enough audience to earn some serious dough for the guy running it.  Especially if the site is dedicated to a niche genre.  If the fans of Genre X had a place to go when they run out of reads, a place where they didn't have read through backpages and backpages of material, but could easily find recommendations for their next read, they'd flock to it.

I'd do it myself, but as a writer and active participant in 'the scene' my reviews are happily and admittedly biased.  That and the sixty hour work weeks, audiobook recording, reading, blogging, and writing my own books.  Those don't help either.

I can offer a little something, though.  My tag cloud - located in the upper left sidebar - includes a tag called:

That tag takes you to all of my blogposts where I review or discuss books that I think are worth a read.  If you want to break out of the Amazon cycle, you'll find something on that list without any trouble.  It's a little clunky yet, but until we get that clearinghouse, it's better than letting Bezos choose what you get to consider.  And it's all been prepared by a living, bre - wait, let me check - yep, still breathing human.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

I Write For Men, To Appeal to Everyone

If you want your writing to appeal to everyone, then you should write for men.
Consider the following:
When this happens...  Source.

This happens... Evidence.
Leading to this. Source.
For reasons too byzantine and varied to go into in depth here, Madison Avenue has decided to follow the false narrative that ignoring male markets is the path to financial success.  Long story short: It's a combination of women having more disposable income than they used to and an irrational belief that making your product more 'female friendly' doubles your consumer base.  Smart people assume the latter will double your income, not recognizing the truth of The Anti-Gnostic's observation that what women enter, men leave.

You may gain some short term success, but changing your product to explicitly appeal to women the strategy of eating your seed corn.  The female focus will drive off the men-folk, and all of the women that flocked to your product specifically because it represented a chance to enter a male space will follow the men to whatever space they find to replace it.

Witness the slow-motion death of ESPN and the NFL.  Their ratings are tanking, even as they've done everything from hot-pink apparel month to all-female round table discussions about the NFL.  Look at the data and you'll find the bleeding isn't coming from whatever, it's coming from men. 

Admittedly, the NFL's woes are due to other factors than their self-destructive policy of chasing female eyeballs.  Entertainment options abound, their games spread over four days, the expansion of teams has watered down the average talent on teams, and a host of other factors contribute as well.  Those factors are evident in the declining numbers among even women.  But look at the relative drop - even adjusting for per capita viewership, the decline in male viewers is larger than that for females.  The NFL is driving away their primary customer in the vain hope that the increase among secondary customers will make up the difference.

The lesson is clear:  If you want your product to appeal to men and women, don't wrap it in a pink ribbon.  Don't brag about how much women adore your product, and don't boast about how feminine friendly it is. All you'll do is drive men away.  On the flip-side, explicitly marketing your product as rugged and manly, and not really for women, represents a siren song irresistible to women.  They take that sort of talk as a challenge, and they will dive in headlong, in an effort to prove themselves as good and worthy of men.

I'd be lying if I said that I write for men out of sheer mercantile greed.  The fact is, I write for men for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with money.  Write what you know - I know men.  Write what interests you - I'm interested in male behavior and mindset and relationships.  Write what you want to read - I have no interest in female centered literature.   The fact that writing for men makes my works appealing across the divide between male and female is just a happy coincidence.

Want proof?  If you're man enough,
you'll enjoy my latest series of novellas:

Friday, March 10, 2017

David J West - First Impressions

You see this maniac right here?  He's where the #PulpRevolution rubber meets the literary market road.

Jesse Lucas wrote a great review of his Fangs of the Dragon, and then he started cropping up all over the place in my Twitter feed, and even participated in the Three for Three review day, so I figured he was worth a shot, and boy is he!

I grabbed a copy of The Mad Song off the Amazon shelf, because short fiction makes for a safer time investment if the 'seems like a good guy' persona hides a 'garbage writer' talent.  Three stories into The Mad Song, I can safely report such is not the case. It's too early for a detailed discussion of the David J. West oeuvre, but the early returns are positive.

Warning klaxons started going off during the opening section of the first story I read out of this collection.  The now-obligatory scene of a female warrior proving her mettle and proving to be more serious and competent than the rest of the men in the special forces strike force raised my shields.  We've seen this one a thousand times.  When she betrays the lead, and then he accepts her offer to double-cross her employers, I was on the edge of placing this one in the circular file.  Then she gets triple crossed and goes down like a chump, and that told me that it was time to stop trying to be the smartest guy in the room and just let Mr. West lead me along the swirling waters of his imagination.

He doesn't push all of my buttons.  There's a big one labeled, "Virtue" that's not getting much use.  In the three stories I've read, one protagonist is blackmailed into serving one bad guy against another, one just wants to survive a hazardous trip, and the third...well, she wants to save her kid sister from a plague/curse.  That's one out of three.  Not bad.  The two male heroes remind me a lot of Glen Cook's protagonist - you know the one, grizzled, cynical old man soldier just going along to get along - and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, I'd like to see more heroes doing the right thing because that's what heroes do, and less leading men stuck in a bad situation.

That's a relatively minor nitpick, though, because West writes action that is breathtaking.  West's stories rip along at hypersonic speed, with just a few pauses in the action to reset the dominoes and provide a little context for the next action sequence.  His set-pieces are imaginative, and writing pops off the page.  Reading West is like watching a pinball game - there's a lot of flash and chrome and noise and fury, and you're never quite sure where things are going next. 

So if you're in the mood for some short fiction that is unashamedly action packed, you would be well served to pick up one of his books.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

What the Heck Does 'Pulp' Even Mean?

Inspired by (yet another) killer G+ thread kicked off by Kevyn Winkless:

If you're new to the Pulp Revolution, you'd do yourself right to follow Kevyn's G+ feed.  He asks cutting questions that push everyone to start rubbing their brain cells together.  In the ugly link above, he once again raises the issue of the other (lesser) Pulp movements.

The heart of the issue is that "pulp" is a really, really broad term when used in the vernacular.  If you follow the Pulp Librarian (as I do) on Twitter, you'll see all kinds of wonky stuff like mod-scene Romance comics, 1960 international nudist mags, and women with great hair fleeing gothic houses. None of that really resonates as pulp to me, but it all does fall within the broadest context of the term.

So why do I consider the Pulp Revolution a separate and distinct thing?  Because I use the term 'pulp' in the literal sense.  That is to say, in the sense of stories as told in the '30s and '40s magazines printed on no-fooling pulp paper.  Others use the term 'pulp' to mean stories that are lurid, low rent, and rely on shocking content of the sexual or violent nature to sell copies.  The current narrative holds (falsely) that the genre fiction produced during the Golden Age of Science Fiction was also lurid, low rent, and relied on shocking content to sell copies.  This has the unfortunate result of stuffing authors like Moore or St. Clair or Haggard into the same pigeon hole as "Mod Romance".

As mentioned elsewhere, most of those trading on the term 'pulp', hold to the common false narrative about what pulp means.  They get the aesthetics right, but like a Hollywood backlot set, there's nothing backing it up - they completely miss the heart and soul of the pulps.  Or they use the term 'pulp' when perhaps 'grindhouse' or 'deliberately hacky because I'm too ironic and insecure to ever admit that the writers of yesterday might have been better than the writers of today'.

Remember that the Pulp Revolution isn't just interested in selling copy - it's interested in reclaiming what was lost to the liars and cheats that buried the works that built SF/F.  You're not going to do that unless and until the culture at large understands that not all pulp is created equal, and that many of the people who claim to be 'pulp' are little better than the Talcum X's and Fauxcahontases of the SF/F genre. 

That then raises the question of whether or not using the term 'pulp' is good marketing.  We risk being pigeonholed as just another cheap attempt to cash in on the term.  Especially given that the Pulp Revolution is so keep on knocking down walls erected in the post-pulp era. 

To that I say, it's too early to tell, but you can't argue with results.

The Pulp Revolution is in its infancy.  Regardless of numbers, at this point, we've only been at this as anything other than five guys nudging each other, passing around scans of old copies, and saying, "You gotta read this, this is incredible!" for a year or so.  It's possible that the Pulp Revolution never achieves any sort of wider literary market penetration.  If we truly are full of ourselves and our writing is terrible, then we'll sputter and limp along and eventually fade away like every other attempt to reclaim the term 'pulp'.

But I don't think that's going to happen.

The Pulp Revolution is different from every other movement I've seen (and I've seen a few), specifically because of those twin towers:
  1. We don't use the term as a marketing buzzword, but in its historically accurate and descriptive sense.
  2. We read the old pulps, learn from them, and emulate what they WERE, not what we've been told they were by those who didn't understand them and had a vested interest in writing them out of the history of sci-fi. 
Because I've read a lot of the Pulp Revolution, and it's fantastic!  Even those authors who don't blow your doors off show a tremendous amount of promise.

The more people read the old pulps, the more they love them.  The more people read the Pulp Revolution, the more they love it.  This movement is only going to grow and get bigger until it gets too big and creators working within the Pulp Revolution are going to run out of space.  Creators are going to need to take the Pulp Revolution in new directions that we can't even imagine at this early stage.  They will have to because the movement will be so big, they'll need to separate themselves by experimenting in new and different ways.

And that itself is in keeping with the pulp (in the specific sense) mindset!  The pulp era was wild and wooly and full of experimentation.  And that freedom to create, that knocking down of walls, isn't just a way to provide interesting stories to readers - it's a way to keep the Pulp Revolution fresh where most faux-pulp movements wither on the vine.  So long as creators are hewing to the heart and soul of pulps, they'll keep pushing the boundaries and bringing more people into the fold.

How can a movement like that fail?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Story Hack - Submissions Open

Hello, fellow authors!  Bryce Beattie didn't learn anything from watching Cirsova.  Like Alex, he loves pulpy fun more than he loves money and free time.  In order to keep the twin scourges of disposable income and sleep at bay, he has put out a call for submissions for Story Hack, Action and Adventure, The Magazine.

Bryce is paying semi-pro rates for an Issue Zero, with the intention of using it as a proof of concept to launch a KickStarter Campaign to fund future installments.  His pitch is a fast ball, low and outside, just the way power sluggers like them:
I’m open to any genre, as long as there’s at least one good meaty action scene in there. Bonus points for extra adventure. And I’m serious when I say any genre. Sword & sorcery, lost world, occult detective, alien fighter pilot, western horror, you’re limited only by your imagination. Think Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Dashiell Hammett, Doc E. E. Smith. Think fun and energetic. 
I submitted a story within 48-hours of hearing about Story Hack. 

Why am I telling you this?  If phenomenal talents like Rawle and De Arroz and the rest of Team Crimethink throw their hat in the ring, won't that make it less likely mine gets picked out of the slush pile for a slot in the magazine?  Maybe. But the world needs more outlets like Story Hack

Daddy Warpig style rants are a lot of fun, but it's real world rubber meeting the road applications like Story Hack that are going to drive the Pulp Revolution into the future.  So Bryce needs all the submissions he can get.  The more he gets, the more options he has, and the better the quality in the final product. 

And that's my real motivation here.  Bryce already sold me a copy of the final magazine with that submission pitch, and I want it chock a block full with the best stories possible.  That might mean YOUR story, but only if you sit down and write, polish, and hit that sweet, sweet "Submit" button - the deadline is April 1.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Happy Women's Day!

Women's Day - and it's really important to celebrate this day because aside from Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, Birthdays, and Anniversaries, we never really take the time to appreciate all the good things women do for us - is a perfect time to take a moment and remember a forgotten strong woman who so capably led her people.  Of course I mean the Daughter of a Thousand Jedaks, Dejah Thoris.

Also, this seems appropriate:
Sensational Steak Sandwich
Prep 30 m
Cook 4 h 20 m
Ready In 4 h 50 m
"If you are looking for an outstanding, easy to make sandwich, then this is the recipe for you."
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound thinly sliced sirloin steak strips
  • 8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 10 slices provolone cheese
  • 1 loaf French bread
  • 1 (14 ounce) can beef broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup Pinot Noir or other dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup prepared horseradish (optional)
  • 1/2 cup brown mustard (optional)
  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the beef, and cook until browned. Add the mushrooms, bell pepper and onion; cook and stir until starting to become tender, about 5 minutes.
  2. In a slow cooker, combine the beef broth, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, red pepper flakes and red wine. Transfer the beef and vegetables to the slow cooker, and stir to blend. Cover, and cook on High for 3 to 4 hours, until beef is extremely tender.
  3. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Drain the liquid from the slow cooker, and save for dipping. Slice the French bread loaf lengthwise like a submarine sandwich. Mix together the horseradish and mustard; spread onto the inside of the loaf. Place slices of provolone cheese on both sides of the loaf, then fill with the beef and vegetables. Close the loaf, and wrap the entire sandwich with aluminum foil.
  4. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven. For crunchier bread, you can bake it without the aluminum foil. Slice into servings, and serve with the juices from the slow cooker for dipping.
Printed From 3/7/2017

Monday, March 6, 2017

Cirsova Four, Part Five

The Priests of Shalaz
Jay Barnson presents us with this story of a gateway linking turn of the twentieth century earth with a far flung alien world populated by almost humans.  Our hero, Jesse, had been marooned on a small island somewhere in the British Empire and survived for six months by sheltering within a small village on the alien side of the gateway.  His forcible exile from earth ends when a British ship happens past the island, but his rescue only complicates his life.  The brash and cocksure British Naval officers do what comes naturally and assume that the alien world is ready for British intervention, which triggers a confrontation with the local powers.  Those powers consist of a forbidden temple operated by a secretive and cocksure priesthood. 
Two decades of exposure to historically illiterate fiction and literary criticism has taught me to raise shields whenever British officers show up in a new world scenario like this.  Barnson plays with the reader for a bit, setting up the standard, “British colonials learn their lesson,” style tale, but at the last moment, he surprises you by presenting the British as stoic and heroic in their own fashion.  They might be arrogant, but not without reason, and their arrogance is leavened with more than a touch of humanity. 
If the story has one weakness, it’s that the alien world feels small.  For all that the story takes place millions of light years away from earth and contains alien splendors and threats, in the end it amounts to nothing more than two villages and a temple.  Understandably for a short story, these are all that are required for a short story, but Barnson misses a number of chances to make the world feel much larger with a few simple additions – nothing big, just a reference here, a hint at the larger world there, and it would have made the alien planet feel more like a full world.  Barnson has the chops for this – his description of the world’s skies and flora and fauna are brief, but they convey a depth and feel of alien beauty that is as touching as it is terse.
The Last Dues Owed
Ancient Egypt stands as a much underserved fantasy setting.  As the cradle of Western Civilization, its ways are just familiar enough to need no explanation.  Readers know of the centuries long cycles of their histories, the roles of cats in their mythology, and the importance of the Nile as life-bringer.  At the same time, the millennia that separates us means that all of these things bear slight twists that provide a newness and oddness that evokes a mystery and magic all of its own.
Christine Lucas takes full advantage of this strange yet familiar setting in The Last Dues Owed.  In it, a battle between assassins dispatched by rival priesthoods opens up into something far more meaningful than a simple back-alley brawl.  In a brilliant display of writing, Lucas uses the fight to show the character of the combatants and slowly reveal their long backstory.  At the fight’s conclusion, the tale shifts to a rescue mission that takes on greater import thanks to the patience and restraint Lucas uses in allowing the story to unfold at its own pace. 
A fight.  A rescue.  Some magic and mystery.  A satisfying (if not entirely happy) ending.  The world needs more stories like The Last Dues Owed.

Friday, March 3, 2017

My Three for Three

Happy Three for Three!  Today's the day to review bomb  Pick three books that you really should have reviewed by now and write at least three sentences about them.  Post these reviews to Amazon and you are done.  If you pick your favorite independent author, you'll be doing them a solid favor by giving their profile a small boost thanks to the inscrutable working's of Amazon's algorithms.

My three books were as follows:
  1. Two Stars for In Search of Wonder, by Damon Knight
  2. Five Stars for Catskinner's Book, by Misha Burnett
  3. Four Stars for Cirsova, Issue 4, by various
That last one only had one review when I submitted mine.  One.  The first two have a dozen each.  If you've read Cirsova and enjoyed it enough to look forward to future installments, you should do yourself a solid and post a review.  Every review increases the chances that more get sold.  More getting sold increases the chances of more getting made.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Cirsova Four, Part Four

With the release of the fifth issue of Cirsova looming on the horizon, I'd really better start moving on these story reviews.  My reading backlog isn't getting any smaller!

Lost Men

P. Alexander really doesn't care for your genre distinctions, and just to prove it (again), he follows a weird fantasy epic up with a curious retelling of the story of Peter Pan and Captain Hook.  Eugene L. Morgulis plays with the notion of a grown-up Peter Pan in a way that makes the film Hook look even worse by comparison than it does on its own.  This story is one of those curious cases of deconstruction done in a loving manner that takes nothing away from the original.  It is as much an homage as it is a deconstruction, and that's a neat trick.  This whimsical version of the classic might be one of my favorites from this issue.

...Where There Is No Sanctuary

Superficially, the plot of this story shares much with the earlier Cirsova tale, A Suit of Haidrah Skin.  Both feature a villainous wizard-astronaut(?) in a high tower-rocket(?) that needs to die to end his reign of terror.  Where Rob Lang went with a weird tales vibe and a far-flung, perhaps post-apocalyptic setting, here Howie K. Bentley uses a dark-age setting and feel to give it a much more mythic feel.  There are a couple of other parallels that are best left as an exercise for the reader, the better not to spoil any surprises.  The real take away here - the one well worth remembering - is that these two themes on the "assault the wizard's tower" plot demonstrate there are countless ways to tell the same story.  The real question is not whether a writer has re-used an old plot, but whether or not he has infused new life into that old plot, and this issue of Cirsova features two such instances. 

Dust of Truth

Joyce Frohn takes a 'barbarians raid the civilized lands to secure plunder' tale, rolls in a romantic angle that gives the plundering a more personal motivation, sprinkles it with a bit of first-use-of-gunpowder spice, then botches the story with a completely pointless gender swap.  The women in this tale act like men, and the men act like women.  That sort of swap can work, if there's a reason for it, and this story offers none.  Note that the complaint here isn't that 'girls can't be heroes'; this is the fifth such story in Cirsova, but it's the first instance of female protagonists that felt forced.  It's also the first in which the men act like cowering simps or stupid degenerates, and the first in which that message was delivered with all the subtlety of a hammer to the face.  It's a shame, really, the story itself had a lot of potential, but the awkward gender swap and expectation of an explanation for this world's role-reversals pulls the reader's attention away from the narrative.