The Genre Détente

After an all out brawl – or at least the sort of petty slap fight that passes for such on Twitter – the anti-SJW crews have retreated to their respective corners.  For those not in the know, we aficionados of the Pulp ethos look askance at the claims of the Hard Buds of Hard SF that Campbell’s addition by subtraction theory improved science-fiction.  As usual, the latest imbroglio kicked off with the claim that Fantasy is the one genre to rule them all, and that the Hard Sci-Fi circle fits squarely within it.  The Hard Buds took extreme exception to the notion.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good practical tale of near-future speculation as much as the next guy.  It’s a fine niche of fantasy and one everyone should soak in from time to time.  For all his giftsas a story-teller, Campbell’s true strength – like Hugo Gernsback – was in marketing.  He sold the line that probable tech and engineering spec and the men who deal in both are smarter than the average bear, and technically smart science-fiction was a step up, and that you were a smart fella, you’d prefer the smart stories.  That’s a great line, and the crop of young men launching rockets at the heavens bought it hook, line, and sinker.

No judging.  Live your truth, Hard Boys.

The problem is that Campbell poured all his point-buy into INT and used WIS as a dump stat.  (Ironically, in Dungeons and Dragons most high INT, low WIS characters wind up as wizards.)  The inherited wisdom of generations of western civilization’s best minds (read: Christian thinkers and scientists and philosophers) got chucked out the window in favor of a technocratic and ultimately secular view of the world.  And that played right into the hands of the Godless commies looking to stick their ugly camel noses into the sci-fi tent.  The natural result of the path that Campbell set the sci-fi world exploring can be readily seen in the words of a recent Hugo Award Winner who claimed “Joseph Campbell was a [expletive deleted] facist”.

They always eat their own

The other problem is that he tarred the Pulp Pareto 20-percent with the same brush as the Pulp Pareto 80-percent.  Granted, a lot of second-rate stories hit the newsstands during the pulp era – but the suggestion that the best of the pulp era should be defined by the average tale is as silly as judging the best of the Campbell era by the writings of Damon Knight.  It’s sleight of hand meant to hide the fact that the denigrator is standing on the shoulders of giants.  The useless bint who used her five minutes of fame to slagged Campbell was his natural heir hoisting him on his own petard.

One of the bigger problems with Hard SF is that it doesn’t really exist.  It’s a marketing term meant to sell stories to people who like Hard SF.  You may often hear the general rule that Hard SF stories are allowed one ultra-advanced technical advance, one piece of unexplained tech, and that the resultant tale explores the ramifications of that one box “indistinguishable from magic”.  Except that the Hard Buds all too often decide “I like Hard SF so any SF I like must be Hard.”  So you wind up with stories where dogs talk, anti-gravity exists, and anarcho-communism works pretty well classed as Hard SF despite possessing three rule-breakers.  The whole house of cards becomes a circle that defines itself by its own terms and changes the meanings of the terms used mid-sentence.

We semi-autists for whom consistency is the hobgoblin of understanding the world quail at such semantic legerdemain.

All of which may be true, but serves as a distraction from the tender meat of Hard Sci-Fi’s soft underbelly.  And that’s the Hard Buds’ refusal to exist in this world in which we live.  Remember that the casual definition of the not-quite-a-genre rests on allowing only the empirically provable elements of the real world to show up for the dance.  The world of Hard SF obeys the Secular Humanist diktat that forbids talk of that which can be touched, measured, or demonstrably proven in a laboratory.  Maybe you get one “Get Out of The Scientific Method Free” card, but you’d better play that card on technology – hard or soft, either way.  Everything revolves around the natural world and the natural laws.

Which leaves a pretty big fat gaping hole in the center of mankind’s existence.

The supernatural.

We live in a world filled with things that cannot be measured in a lab.  We live in a universe too vast and wonderful to be reduced to a series of petri dishes.  We live on a rock filled with people for whom the things that might not be true are the things most worth believing.

Hard Sci-Fi springs from the cold, lifeless heart of a Secular Humanist worldview.  And while it can be valuable to prune away the supernatural – to isolate a single strain of the human experience to really evaluate how it works and how mankind reacts to that single strain in a vacuum – that style of story remains a simplification and abstraction of the rich tapestry of human existence.  It can be a nice break from reality.  It can make for some interesting thought experiments.  But it can never be a replacement, nor even an improvement over the majesty and fullness of God’s creation.

We tried following the Secular Humanist ways of the so-called Enlightenment, and all you have to do is turn on the TV to see how poorly that worked out.  The promises of Enlightenment scholars have proven to be fantasies as ephemeral and unobtainable as any utopia ever penned by the authors working within their small-minded shadows.

So let’s not make the same mistake with our fiction.  Let’s enjoy the fantasies of a purely rational world, but let’s not mistake them for what they are – as fantastic as semi-nude political women with a proclivity for getting captured by their enemies and rescued by Virginians amid the red sands of Barsoom.

Sidenote:  Please don’t link this essay to Twitter.  After a few parting outbursts from excited and emotional fans of the Hard Way of Sci-Fi, an uneasy truce seems to have been declared in that arena.  This post outlines in a thousand words what cannot be said in a 250-character tweet, and stands as a testament to my current thoughts on the matter.  It’s not an invitation to re-open the raw wounds of the latest fracas.  The Hard Buds may take a limited view of the universe, but when their passions are not roused to defend the sacred honor of their marketing label, they can serve as valuable Varangian auxiliaries to we Byzantine Men of Valor and God in the fight against the Death Eaters.  We’re outnumbered, and we need each other.  Be good to each other out there.

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Mutants Versus Mankind

Look upon the works of the Futurians ye mighty, and despair.

While looking up links for further reading on how smoking post-Pulp sci-fi gave America’s literary scene cancer, I came across this stunning admission that the Campbellian era laid the foundations for the current dismal state of mainstream publishing.

It’s from an article by the LA Review of Books that I won’t link to because Archive.is isn’t working and we adhere to the rule of No Clicks For Commies here at Chateau Mollison.

After a lot of faffing about criticizing the Futurians (a small clique of 1940s NYC outright Communists and their enablers) while claiming the legacy of these pale, stale males, the author of the piece gets to the heart of what literature does.  In stark terms he lays out why the battle for the heart and soul of science-fiction is a critical node in the battle not just for the heart and soul of America, but for the well-being of all mankind.

We are facing a similar crisis to the one the Futurians faced. What kind of SFF do we want? What will it do for the world? How will it imagine better realities, possibilities, lives? Who will it imagine these for? What problematic inheritance from the genre’s lengthy history will it improve upon? Will it seek new ways to topple heteropatriarchy? Will it recast or destroy old tropes to decolonize them? Will it improve upon the representation of those long marginalized, some of whom still have yet to hear their voice in the genre? Will it become something truly transformative?

At the base of all of these questions, we might ask the following in the tradition of the Futurians: How can we make SFF into a utopian technology that will reshape the horizon of the present and make possible the worlds we hope to inhabit?

Great questions, but they really aren’t going to like the answers.  Because the Church of Modernity cannot build and cannot create, it can only mutate and leech and consume and poison.  We still have a chance to keep sci-fi from going full Venezuela, and promising signs aren’t just on the horizon, they are right here in front of us.

That right there is the cover to a best selling novel of Muscular Christian fiction, what Razorfist himself has dubbed Cruci-fiction, and it’s not just a fun read – it’s a best seller.

To save a world…he must rely on God.

After years of fighting for justice with his deadly nanotech, Templar Drin abandons his post, crash landing on a desert world controlled by a tyrannical alien empire. Its inhabitants are forced into slavery, broken where a once-proud race cultivated its lands.

This is the future we want.  This is the science-fiction we want.  This is how we make the future we want.  And this is the sort of fiction that the mainstream NYC publishing houses fear.

The Force might be female, but the future belongs to God.  The Futurians and their mutated offspring have had their day, but their blood has been spent.  They have nothing to offer but bitter grievances and deconstructions of the wonders of the world.  They have given their children to Moloch, and now flail about looking for a way to pass their devolved memetics down to the next generation, and we men of God refuse to feed our children into their fires.  We have stories from the old cycles – uplifting and heroic and deep and constructive.  We do not profess the truth that we have lived but The Truth, and in the spiritual desert of the Futurians’ making, we are finding an audience thirsty for the waters of life.

Come on in, friends.  The water is fine.

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Lessons From the Master

The other day somebody at one of the many renegade publishing internet water coolers asked if the works reviewed over at the Castalia House blog, of which I have done many, are worth reading.  While I can’t speak for all of the reviewers over there, my own reviews run toward the positive rather than the negative.  It’s a lot more fun to review works that get the blood pumping and that make you excited to share them with others, and the good stuff produced out there in the independent publishing world needs the attention far more than the weaker offerings.  My hope is that watering the productive flowers will allow a garden of delights to bloom, and ignoring the weeds will prevent them from propagating.  That strategy leads to a big downside in that it leaves little room left for the constructive criticism that can help aspiring authors improve their works.

And a lot of aspiring authors need the help.  If you’ve ever noticed a long dry spell between my reviews, it’s a good bet you noticed a long dry spell between my finding good works to review.

As part of the on-going effort to challenge indy writers to do better, let’s take a look at two of the most popular guidelines: “Avoid passive voice,” and, “Show don’t tell.”  To do so, check out the masterful opening to The Scarlet Citadel, by the king of sword and sorcery, Robert E. Howard:

The roar of battle had died away; the shout of victory mingled with the cries of the dying. Like gay-hued leaves after an autumn storm, the fallen littered the plain; the sinking sun shimmered on burnished helmets, gilt-worked mail, silver breastplates, broken swords and the heavy regal folds of silken standards, overthrown in pools of curdling crimson. In silent heaps lay war-horses and their steel-clad riders, flowing manes and blowing plumes stained alike in the red tide. About them and among them, like the drift of a storm, were strewn slashed and trampled bodies in steel caps and leather jerkins—archers and pikemen.

It just doesn’t get any better than that.

So let’s tear this apart and see how Mr. Howard draws us in and guides us, one titillating piece of information at a time, through the image of a freshly slaughtered battlefield.  As writers, we have to carefully construct scenes one sentence at a time.  Howard doesn’t begin with a name or a character or even a sight.  He first lays claim to our sense of hearing by describing shouts of victors and wounded.  More than that, he describes what we don’t hear.  We just missed the roar of battle.  All that remains are the soils and the wounded.  That’s a tight first sentence.

Only after whetting our apatite does he move on to show us the carnage, the blood, and the broken bodies and swords.  He paints the scene in vivid reds and gleaming steel and sprinkles harsh descriptions of shattered vigor.  Take a look at the verbs he uses throughout – littered, overthrown, stained, strewn, slashed, trampled.  Say those words aloud.  They are harsh words, staccato with consonants, that harken to fell deeds and bad ends.

His use of contrast also sets our senses on edge.  Regal silks stained and crumpled amid the mud and blood.  Silent heaps of horses and riders speak of vital creatures laid low.  Bodies strewn about like leaves after a storm.  These are unpleasant images that set the stage for the drama yet to unfold.  We know that Conan is involved, and despite not knowing whether he stands with the victors or the vanquished, already we fear for the barbarian.

But also take a look at what Howard does not do.  For one thing, he avoids passive verbs.

Sidebar for a quick review – passive verbs are all words that express a passive state of mere existence.  The words ‘is’, ‘was’, and ‘were’ should be used sparingly.  They are typically followed by verbs ending with the ‘-ing’ suffix.

A few examples:  Men were shouting defiantly.  The wounded were moaning in agony.  Cloaks were being stained red by blood.  BORING!

The active versions of these basic sentences convey the same information in a far more dramatic and dynamic manner.  Men shouted their defiance.  The wounded moaned in agony.  Blood stained silken cloaks red.

We are linear creatures, and we crave movement in our stories.  We want conflict, and that demands desires that require action on the part of heroes and villains.  Even the inanimate objects that show up in a scene should have some purpose, some reason beyond mere existence.  They play a role in the story, so let them play rather than simple rest there, merely existing for the sake of existing.

In much the same way – and this represents one of my great writing sins – do not let your characters feel things.  They don’t feel the wind in their hair.  The wind throws their hair back from their face.  They don’t feel their guts turn to water.  Their guts turn to water.  Your readers are smart enough not to take that last one seriously.  They’ve all been there – they know what you mean, and they know that your narrator serves as a conduit for what the character feels.  You don’t need to explain over and over what the character feels, just relate his experience.  Anger blossomed in his heart.  A lone tear escaped from the prison of his lashes and plunged down his cheek.  A hot passion, long forgotten in the years since the death of her husband, stirred in her breast.

Make things happen, and your readers will love you.

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The Locusts Are At It Again

John W. Campbell, we barely knew ye.  Mark your calendars, the Hugos themselves are now shortlisted for the next struggle session.  And pretty soon after that, flush toilets.

Less than two weeks after the latest parody version of the once-esteemed Hugo Awards, the always tedious Analog Magazine has joined in attacks on the latest victim (archive link) of the point-an-shriek brigade.  None other than John W. Campbell – a man whose name they’ve been wearing as a skin suit for some time now rates a spin through the pillories before a final trip down the memory hole.  This comes on the heels of one Hugo award winner you’ve never heard of claiming with no evidence whatsoever that Campbell was a “fascist”.  That’s all it takes.

Campbell’s provocative editorials and opinions on race, slavery, and other matters often reflected positions that went beyond just the mores of his time and are today at odds with modern values, including those held by the award’s many nominees, winners, and supporters:

As we move into Analog’s 90th anniversary year, our goal is to keep the award as vital and distinguished as ever, so after much consideration, we have decided to change the award’s name

They are keeping the prestige that comes with being associated with the man, though.  So there’s that.

We all know why they are doing this.  For all his faults and failures, Campbell still represents a harkening back to a time when anti-Christian and anti-Western thought was not the rule of the land, and for that he must pay.  Today we only celebrate degeneracy and the continued devolution from the masters.  Prose that gets the blood pumping or the brain churning has to be dulled to a blunt and turgid slog.  Stories of heroism and discovery must be replaced with stories of payback and cultural flagellation.

Campbell’s attempts to breathe new life into science fiction were misguided at best, and it is perhaps fitting that his decision to turn his back on Christendom and the manly virtues has led his legacy to this pass.  In a very real and deeply ironic sense, stripping his name from the New Author award represents just one more step along the path that he set for science-fiction.  Had the man called for an embrace of western ideals and the Christian love of science as a means for glorifying God rather than glorifying man, the culture of mainstream science-fiction might not be such a hot mess of rainbow haired clowns and the tubby noodle-armed men who thirst for their approval.

However!

The man also succeeded in keep the flame burning.  In his own way, his pursuit of the Truth echoed and touched on the divine.  Unlike the petty word merchants who dominate mainstream publishing today, he had a few good ideas, and he sought to advance mankind’s understanding of the universe.  He might have had the horse and cart backwards, but the people demanding Campbell get the Soviet-Photo treatment don’t even have a stone wheel.  They are psychopaths with gasoline and a lighter insisting that their clumsy destructive efforts are better than the craftsmanship it took to build the sci-fi genre in the first place.

And they always need a new victim.  The performative tricks they use to distract from their lack of talent demand constant bread and circuses and constant star chambers and show trials.  Having already jettisoned the white Christian men of the 30s who built the genre they’re parasitically leeching off, they had to advance the clock to the 40s and 50s to find a new victim.  With him out of the way, the only question is…who is next?

My money is on the non-pedophile authors of the New Wave.  They’ll leave Marion Bradley and Sam Delaney alone for obvious reasons.  Guys like Bradbury, Dick, Zelazny, and maybe even that cantankerous old bastard Ellison.  They won’t be happy until they’ve eaten all the seed corn.

But there will always be farmers out there raising up a new crop of fun and adventure that pays homage to the greats who came before.  My own works aim for the men Campbell sought to replace – with enough success one day the forces of Mammon may even come for me.  God willing, I’ll chalk that day up as proof that I’ve done things right.  You can judge for yourself with some solid Space Opera that loves you and your culture, and does it up in a fine two-fisted, science-fiction style:

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A Brightness Eclipsed

If there’s a movie that comes closer to the Shadowrun vibe than Netflix’s Bright, let me know, wouldja?

Released last year, this Will Smith vehicle starring Will Smith playing Will Smith in a Will Smith movie takes place in an alt-earth version of LA where magic exists and the racial tensions that facture the world are based on actual races rather than breeds of humanity.  In this world, the orcs are the blacks, the elves are the Jews, and fairies get the broom.  No one likes Will Smith.  In the movie.  No one likes the character that Will Smith plays exactly the way Will Smith plays all of his characters.  As a result, he gets assigned as senior man charged with orc-sitting the city’s first diversity-hire orc patrolman.

The two of them have trust issues, making this a reluctant buddy-cop movie.  They find a MacGuffin, making this a run-the-gauntlet movie.  The Los Angeles in the film feels exactly like the Los Angeles of today, making this a post-apocalyptic movie.

The way the producers opt to handle magic gives it a near-future feeling, and the grittiness of the world helps the more fantastical elements feel a little more real.  Aside from a couple of nice touches – a “mounted” cop that’s actually a centaur and one haunting shot of the skyline with a dragon flapping about overhead – this feels like a living, breathing setting.

The twist ending gets telegraphed, and the characters experience a few oddball moments – see the Spoilerific post-script below.  On the other hand, the post-apoc setting of this LA blows open the doors of what to expect.  The simple MacGuffin/gauntlet plot in which the grand spectacle of race-relations only mattered insomuch as it affected the street-level buddy-cop story at the core of the film was a refreshing change of pace.  The decision to make a few unlikable guys turn out to not be evil, but just unlikable, was another fine subversion of my expectations.  The producers used a lighter than expected touch with the messaging, and never paused the movie to lecture the audience.  On the whole, the film ain’t bad.

It’s different.  It’s a bold risk.  And I’d like to see another film set in the same universe.

On the down side, the film does lose some of its grittiness with a slavish devotion to the action movie pre-execution quips.  The moments of levity, following hard-hitting and realistic portrayals of murder, complete with the emotional wreckage left behind, shatter the mood and reduce the stakes to that of a typical bubblegum film.

You’ve got to commit to the bit.

I’m also going to give the film two demerits for turning sidestepping the fundamental question of elves and orcs.  Readers of A Throne of Bones know what I’m talking about.  The world of Bright dodges the single biggest fundamental ramification of a world were elves, orcs, centaurs, et al. roam the streets – what about their souls?  What about Christianity?  How does religion inform the values of the various races, and how does it inform their interactions?  Religion is the well-spring of the myths and legends brought to life on screen, to simply ignore that leaves a great big gaping hole near the center of the narrative.

One quick line gets tossed out referencing the “Big Battle 2,000 years ago”.  We get the impression that “The Dark Lord” the team of Evil Jews Elves are trying to resurrect might be Old Scratch himself.  But for the most part, you’ve got a miraculous world filled with miracles, and…everybody is really secular about all of it.  The weak defense of orcishkind offered up by Will Smith early on in the film could have had a lot more punch if he’d told his daughter to forget about the bell curve and historic wrongs and rights, and just remember that orcs and elves have souls just like everyone else.

It’s a fine movie that stands just a little bit outside the usual Hollywood lines.  It suffers a bit from having been written by secularists who understand how to write with heart, but who can’t write with soul.

Oddball Spoilerific Complaints

Will Smith kicks off the film with a blonde nurse who might be his wife and might be his girlfriend.  She doesn’t look like the mother of his daughter, shown partying with friends later on.  The scenes showing his family, there to raise the stakes, feel wasted because of the inherent uncertainty of these relationships.  We see him drop his daughter off at grandma’s while he goes to work, but never meet grandma?  Odd choices here, that muddied the waters.

At the end of the film our black orc hero earns the respect of the orc gangbangers who literally shot him in the heart, execution style, and consigned his body and soul to orc hell.  It’s a very emotional scene where he finally…well, that’s just the thing.  He has repeatedly assured us that all he ever wanted was to be a cop, that orc clannishness meant nothing to him.  And these are the guys that murdered him.  The result had the forced schmaltz of a Roland Emmerlich character moment – unearned and unnecessary.  He gets his victory at the end, when the suspicious lieutenant tosses a medal around his neck.

 

 

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Wild Stars IV – Get Kicking

Michael Tierney is one of the brighter stars in the constellation of Cirsova authors. The dreamtime fight for survival of his “Shark Fighter” story in issue #2 demonstrated to me that the magazine had a lot more to offer than just blasters, space knights, and weird tentacles. Over the last few years, the world has slowly become more and more acquainted with the vast landscape of his “Wild Stars” Universe, and despite a few attempts to get into that world, I could never quite get my head around what Michael was doing with it.  Just look at that photo – magic shark fights, gunfighters versus dinosaurs, space explodeys, and crab-man attacks?

Tierney has thirty-five years of blood, sweat, and testosterone poured into the Wild Stars property, and like any literary endeavor of that scale, it can be hard to know which door is the right one to enter.  For me, the comics and “Wild Stars III – The Warmageddon” just weren’t the right doorway.  The publishers were kind enough to send me an Advanced Reader Copy of the current Kickstarter for the fourth novel, “Wild Stars IV: Wild Star Rising”, and everything finally clicked into place.

The Wild Stars setting isn’t a narrative – it is a framing device.  Sure, there’s a grand sweeping narrative backdrop to the entire thing, but that’s all just set dressing for the meat and potatoes of big dang heroes going on big dang adventures.  You can think of it as a less nihilistic version of Warhammer 40k, where the movement of Big Powers happens at a glacial pace, freeing up the stars of the show to race about space and time escaping from world-wrecking cataclysms, hunting down starkilling artifact weapons, and rescuing women from prisons made of neutron star clusters.

With “Wild Star Rising”, the reader gets drawn into the action one small step at a time.  The seamless merger of sci-fi and fantasy results in an epic conflict that kicks off around the time of the final destruction of Atlantis.  The points where spacefaring nations interact with the denizens confined to the bottom of earth’s gravity-well make sense in a way that most efforts to marry the two genres don’t.  The writing crackles, and the adventure leaps from ship to prison to outer space to back in time with a relentless pace that’s a joy to follow along.  New characters step on scene fully formed, and fully described for newcomers to the series, and Tierney doesn’t shy away from jerking the rug out from the reader’s expectations in a way that is both fun and inspiring.

The larger than life characters are all motivated by the same petty hopes and dreams as all of us, they just paint their stories on a much larger canvas.  With “Wild Star Rising” Michael Tierney provides a John C. Wright-esque marriage of the two, what one clever wag described as Wrighteous, that makes for a great introduction to the world.  In many ways, the Wild Stars universe reminds me of the Lensman series, and if you’ve ever read that classic series by the old master Doc E. E. Smith, you’ll recognize that for the compliment it is.

Or, you could just start at the beginning and back the Kickstarter at a level that nets you the hard cover omnibus.

But hurry – you’ve only got a couple of days left!

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The Boys: More of the Same

What if the supervillains won, and then hid behind a front-facing good-guy façade?

That could be an interesting premise for a TV show*.  Particularly so given the ongoing revelations about the private peccadillo’s and past-times of the real world’s elites.  We live in a time when the panopticon allows the jailed to get a good solid look at their jailors, when conspiracy theories are upgraded to known facts on a regular basis.  The media watchmen, having been subsumed by the elites, daily remind us that of their function as water carriers for our betters.  It’s a cynical world out there, and the time is perfect for stories of brave souls shining a light into the dark halls of power.

That’s what The Boys wants to be.  Unfortunately, the producers lack the courage to pursue that vision to the bitter end.

The show opens with the needlessly graphic death of our main protagonist’s girlfriend at the hands of a self-absorbed and recklessly callous speedster hero named A-Train.  His refusal to accept hush money offered by the mega-corporation who sponsors A-Train catches the notice of the world’s chief anti-superhero vigilante, Billy Butcher.  The story follows our hero, Howie, as he seeks revenge for his girl’s death.  He signs on with Billy Butcher and engages in theft, murder, and blackmail to bring A-Train to justice, learns about the vast conspiracy behind A-Train and the rest of his superteam, finds love in a surprisingly touching romance with another superhero, and completes his own little redemption arc.  That’s a lot for one guy to go through, and the pacing of things works well, at least for the half of the show that I watched before getting bored, losing interest, and tuning out.

It’s a splashy show, pretty in all the right ways.  The production values of The Boys are stellar.  The special effects used to illustrate the super powers are seamless.  The acting is phenomenal, even for most of the minor players.  It’s everywhere else that the show fails to deliver, most particularly on the meta-level.  The show is filled with contradictions that result in an awkward mess of a production.

The producers are still trapped in the mindset of old Hollywood.  They still think of themselves as the underdogs who sneer at the powers that be.  They still think that graphic sex scenes are grown-up.  They think that a deluge of vulgar language is “more realistic”.  They think that gratuitous gore adds shock value to a scene.  It’s all very 2004-era edgy, and it comes off as trite and ridiculous as a ten-year swearing into his XBOX headset.  It’s cute, Junior, ya got anything for us that we can’t find after a two-second search of YouTube?

They don’t.  They are out of tricks.  All of the sex and violence that might once have papered over the emptiness of the show have lost their power to paper over a show’s shortcomings.  And once that power has been lost, it becomes clear that The Boys doesn’t have anything interesting, or new, or unusual, to say.

They have a lot to say, but none of it is novel in any way, shape, or form.  All of the raging against the machine presented in the show is easily predicted by anyone paying even a modicum of attention to the state of American culture.  One example:  The Senator from Oklahoma shows up.  The big reveal of his hypocrisy falls flat because of course he is.  One long thread takes place at a Christian revival.   The big reveal that the cult of personality founder of the place is a closet sodomite lacks any punch because of course he is.  The Not-WonderWoman member of the supervillain team turns out to be one of the few good people in the show.  The big reveal of her lesbian nature means nothing because of course she is.

The show asks some tough questions.  It presents some great scenes.  But the inherent cowardice of the producers to step out of the carefully proscribed lines of modern culture – their slavish devotion to the cult of the Narrative, results in a dull as dishwater show that plays it safe and winds with a forward motion as predicatable as the hands of an unbroken clock.  I found myself tagging the ‘skip ahead ten seconds’ button so fast that eventually the Amazon servers couldn’t keep up with me.  And at that point I shifted my finger over to the “Abort” button.

Not out of outrage.  Not out of disgust.  Not even out of sadness that so much money was squandered wasting the potential of the show.

Just out of boredom.

The Boys just isn’t that interesting.

Thank the Dark Lord we’ve got new issues of Alt*Hero coming out soon – somebody has to do something different and fresh with the genre, and it ain’t going to be people who hate superheroism.

*Please don’t insult the both of us by retreating to the comic books that inspired the show.  Every TV show has to stand or fall on its own merits.  While the trappings of The Boys possess merits in abundance, they cannot overcome the basic tediousness of the underlying structure of the thing.

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Heroes Unleashed

That Thomas Plutarch, what a prodigiously productive writer!

The latest in the shared-universe series, Heroes Unleashed dropped into the market this week, and it’s a little bit different from the previous fare.  Morgon Newquist’s Heroes Fall and Kai Wai Cheah’s Hollow City took a more traditional and fast paced approach to the genre.  Now JD Cowan brings the feel of full blown pulp adventure to the world of Serenity City and the Triumvirate.  Not content to globe trot, his story globe hops from street-level heroics to planetary adventure in fine style:

The night shift at a science lab sounds like the break Matthew White has been waiting for. A steady paycheck. A simple job. Absolutely no contact with another human being.

It’s perfect.

But Matthew gets more than he bargained for when he accepts a different position with the company. A job that is highly paid – and highly bizarre. He is plunged into the terrible machinations of his new boss, Mrs. Stohl, and a sullen teenaged boy named Jason is along for the ride. The fact that Jason is practically his twin only makes it all creepier.

Dragged through a mirror into an alien dimension, Matthew is in way over his head. He should have known the job was too good to be true. To escape, Matthew and Jason must brave the wilds of this new universe and learn to control their new powers.

And hardest of all, Matthew must learn to be a hero.

Will they escape Mrs. Stohl’s terrible plans for them? Can they make it home to their world, or will they be trapped in the mirror dimension forever?

Join Matthew and Jason on their pulp superhero adventure. Read Gemini Warrior today!

And stay tuned for more word on my own contribution to the universe, which takes the street level super-spy genre and throws in more Easter eggs than the White House lawn in April.  If you don’t want to miss the references, keep up with the universe as it rolls hot off the Silver Empire presses.

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StoryHack IV: The Russian Collusioning

Do you like the Rocky refence in the title?  Sorry, it’s got nothing to do with today’s naked shilling for the fourth issue of StoryHack Magazine.

If you think you know what happened last night at O’Reilly’s, you don’t know the half of it. This issue features the third installment in the series.  If you’ve read issues two and three, you’ll recall the role that gambler and the dealer played in the festivities.  This issue of StoryHack presents the exact same night as seen through the eyes of Robert “Bomber” Robinson, the doorman, bouncer, and mob enforcer on duty when things went very, very wrong.  The Bouncer’s Tale offers up more answers, and more mysteries that you’ll have to wait for Issue Five to unravel, when we see the same night from yet another perspective.

It also features stories by the always on-point Misha Burnett, a Dragon-Biplane duel by the deliciously named Damascus Mincemeyer, a Spencer Hart bareknuckle modern day action piece, and more werewolvish fun from Julie Frost.  Best of all, Jason Restrick takes us back to the Temple of Baktaar, featured in another story presented in Issue Two of StoryHack!

At four bucks for 220-pages of fun, you just can’t beat it!

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Dancing Around the Fire

Watching Amazon’s The Boys – more on that soonish – reminded me of my last desperate days stuck under the thumb of the Dinosaur Publishers.  Back in the bad old days when I only rarely dipped my toes into NYC publishing waters in search of a rare good read, a brother recommended the First Law books by Joe Abercrombie, and so with the trepidation of a man burned once too often, I grabbed a copy of Red Country from the library and proceeded to get burned once again.  As a novel it failed to clear every bar set before it.  It failed to deliver adventure.  It failed to deliver heroism.  Worst of all, it failed to deliver fun.

We’ve been down this road before.  We’ve talked about Red Country as a sterling example of how to suck the life out of fantasy adventure and prop up the desiccated corpse for acclaim.  So we’re not going to talk about why it fails.  Instead, let’s take a look at what it represents.

One of the few scenes in Red Country that stuck in my craw through all these years was one where the vicious and bloody and greedy mercenary army (because that’s the only kind of army there ever is amirite lol?) attacks some sort of fantasy-hippy religious commune (that’s actually a front for some other materialist greed because that’s the only kind of religious communal living there ever is amirite lol?).  One of the members of the mercenary army delights in the destruction of wooden totems carved lovingly and painstakingly over hundreds of years and the camera lingers in its portrayal of the sheer malignant joy the petty little mercenary takes in destruction.  It was one of the few genuine moments in the novel, and it was this more than the vindictiveness of the unnamed soldier that stuck with me – although that was a part of it, this was just one of countless scenes that wallowed in misery in Red Country.

These days, rather than feel disgust at the scene itself, I laugh at the sheer self-unawareness of a man who could write such a scene without realizing that his own efforts to drag fantasy literature away from the high minded ideals of yesterday and down into the mud of a bleak and empty humanism mimic those of the one character in Red Country that he manages to write with enough depth and believability to stick in the reader’s mind for years to come.

Deconstructionist artwork is cheap, lazy, and ultimately forgettable.  It’s as common as the sunrise, but without the illumination and hope for a new day.  It might sell to a market run by jaded humanists and the black-pill junkies who can’t take their eyes off the mud to look to the heavens, but it’s no way to build a better world or inspire readers to live better lives and be better people.  For that, you need real heroism and real heroes.

As for me, rather than try to one-up Tolkien by crafting a mockery of the greats, I’ll aspire to reach his lofty heights as an author.  Even if I never get there, at least I’ll have a better view of the land far below and the blue skies above than authors who spend their time rolling in the grit and the grime of this fallen world.

Think I’m crazy?  See for yourself.

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