Category: read moar

Planetary Defense Awards – 2017 Ballot

January means that it’s time to start thinking about awards season.  And when it comes to sci-fi, the hot new award on the block is the Planetary Awards.

This year, I’m going to go with “The Last American” for the short category.  Schuyler Hernstrom’s poignant and rambunctious kitchen-sink adventure complete with astronauts, wild-haired barbarians, lizard men, and oh, so much more was another breathtaking read from my favorite modern era author.  It’s a standout, even among the excellent company it keeps in Issue #5 of Cirsova Magazine.

For long form, I’d like to nominate “The Corroding Empire” by Johan Kalsi, but that’s an edge case that might get dinged for being more of a collection of short stories set in the same milieu.  Another honorable mention goes to “The Heretics of St. Possenti“, which is a prequel to a sci-fi book, but doesn’t actually qualify as sci-fi itself.  So instead, we’ll play it safe and nominate Nick Cole and Jason Anspach’s “Legionnaire“.  I’m not usually a big fan of mil-sf, but the characters and writing were so engaging that the book sucked me in, drained me dry, and spit me back out.  Nobody does jaded old warriors clinging to last scraps of decency like Nick Cole does – he even clears the very high bar set by Glen Cook – so this ranks as the best SF book I read in 2017, and my nomination for the award.

Make sure you get your own votes in before February 14th!

The Backlog – Fat and Happy

The  year of our Lord 2017 was a banner year for the #PulpRev crowd.  In addition to picking up a lot of new talent, and a lot of established talent, the Bad Kids Table in the sci-fi cafeteria produced more great content than one man could possibly read.  After a nearly decade long dry spell, my personal backlog continues to grow – both in novels and short story collection form.

Moving in to 2018 I’ve got a list that looks like this:

And that’s just what’s out right now.  We’re going to see all of these authors drop more books in 2018, and we haven’t even gotten to the Magazines:

  • A couple of Cirsova, naturally
  • A couple of StoryHack, for obvious reasons
  • Maybe even a Broadswords and Blasters issue.  I’ve been remiss in not giving them a shot.  They edge a little too close to being ashamed of liking the bad old authors that I love, but we’ve bounced ideas around on Twitter, and they seem like a good crew.

I’m missing a few, I know it.  There’s just too much good stuff out there to remember it all in one sitting, and together we’re going to have a great time exploring and discussing all of it.

Here’s hoping your 2018 is as jam packed with great reading as mine is shaping up to be!

The Company He Keeps

Looking down the length of the barricades in the culture war on which I stand, I see nothing by faces I’m proud to fight alongside:

Makes me feel like one of the Gondorian knights standing behind Aragorn and Gimli and Théoden King at the Black Gates.  How the heck did I wind up standing behind these guys?  Eh, I survived the disaster at Osgiliath and Pelennor Fields.  I might be just a swordsman, but these guys can always use another writer at their back.  Every swipe at the enemy, every purchase denied the Narrativists, serves the cause of the alt-west, and I’m proud to stand among such luminaries.  There isn’t a name on that list I’d pass up a chance to read one of their books.

Adventure Constant

For those of you who pre-ordered my latest written book, my eternal thanks.  For those of you who have yet to order, today is the day you can one-click the digital version and start reading within moments.  Here, let me help you with that:

My Three for Three

Happy Three for Three!  Today’s the day to review bomb Amazon.com.  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.

Cirsova Four, Part One

This was a long time coming.  Cirsova Issue #4 has been in my hands for months, this copy has travelled across the Pacific twice, and I’m just now getting around to reading through it.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day for all the great fiction raining down on our heads, but I’m trying to consume and write about it all anyway.  My goal is to write at least a few sentences about each story, but this might take a while given that number four is double-stuffed with creamy genre goodness.

The story that kicks off this latest edition left me cold, which is ironic given that it revolves around the a city surrounded by fire and lava.  Wall Wardens, by Lynn Rushlau, tells one chapter of the tale of the last city in the world, and one of the wizards charged with maintaining the massive magic barricade that keeps the fire and the drakes outside, looking in.  The setting is fantastically creative – a literal safe bubble in a sea of fire, and I could see many a role-playing game revolving around the politics of the city and foiling the numerous attempts by apocalyptic cults to bring down the magic barricade.  In this short story, however, the villain’s motivation didn’t make enough sense, and I didn’t have enough reason to root for the protagonist to give this story a solid recommendation.  It’s not a bad story, but it doesn’t stand out among the usual Cirsova affair.

The second story starts as a standard King Aurthur as a young boy story, and then takes an unexpected twist into a Lovecraftian nightmare.  That this twist surprised me actually surprised me given that it’s right there on the cover.  The Lady of the Amorous City, by Edward M. Erdelac, uabashedly mashes up heroic knights with damsels in distress, tentacled monsters, and bottomless lakes housing things best left undisturbed.  Thought it starts slow, when the action ramps up, the story doesn’t relent until the end.  Even with everything I’ve said already, this story still contains a few surprises for readers.  All in all, this winds up a tight little read with a little bit of everything mixed in. 

What If You’re Wrong?

A recent post of mine was one of those, “Have you actually read any of the old pulps?  Because they are crazy fun.  Here’s one that ain’t perfect, but has all the adventure, action, heroism, and humor that a reader could ask for.”  At some point, somebody will take me up on this, and then one of two things are going to happen:

  1. They read it, enjoy it, and merrily go their way, the scales freshly fallen from their eyes.
  2. They read it, they hate it, and merrily go their way, never listening to my ranting again.

I’m good either way. 

But honestly, this was just an excuse to talk more about Queen of the Panther World.

You see that bloke facing down a six foot panther dressed in a skirt?  His name is Jimno  He has to throw that harness on it, and bust that bronco.  Then he has to do it five more times.  Somebody has to train these mounts before they can be ridden to war or to fight a dragon, the latter of which happens more than once in this story.

What Jimno is going through here is a punishment for sass-talking his wife after she slapped him around with a club for burning the soup.

This is how Jimno was introduced:

 

He gets better.

Let me spell that out for you one more time.  This story sees two average Chicago guys teleported to a world where all the women are strong, the men are meek, and the good guys ride seven foot mildly telepathic panthers into battle against big dragons and the renegade men who would subjugate the world beneath the hooves of their elk-lizard mounts.  In this new world the two average guys are as strong as the mightiest warrior because that’s how insert characters and escapism work.  That’s the explanation – no gravity, no magic, just that’s how it is.

And it works.

The real world Joes manage to get captured by the rebellious warrior men, escape from their prison, fight their way to the village of the warrior women, liberate the men from their oppressors and train them to fight, battle dragons, launch raids and ambushes, and counter ambushes, and even find the time for a little romance along the way.

I can’t figure out how it works, but it does.

If that description doesn’t sound like something that interests you, then maybe science fiction and fantasy aren’t really your thing.  Maybe you should stick to Oprah approved books.

Lessons Learned From King Conan

This isn’t something that I set out to do. 

One of the sellers at a recent Toy Fair had cheap copies of old Conan comics available, so I took a flyer and picked up a series of five of them.  I’ve been on a Howard kick lately, and have discovered that a great many of the older things I’ve been told are terrible are actually pretty darn good.  At ten bucks and an hour or so to read them all, it was worth a shot.

Good call, Jon.

The writing doesn’t rise to the level of Howard’s work and the art isn’t up to the level of the black and white Conan comics that introduced me to the character, but those are both really high bars.  The stories are classic sword and sorcery tales.  They may be a bit workmanlike, but for some reason I’m a lot more forgiving when comics use Conan for stories than I am when writers use him that way.  There’s something about the transition to a new form of media that puts my mind at ease.  It may be that Howard’s writing is just so dang good it feels cheap when anyone else writes about Conan, but the change in media wipes the slate clean and doesn’t automatically lead me to compare the tale with one of Howards.

The first issue features Conan’s standard nemeses in a trio of sorcerers, one each from Khitai, Ophirea, and Shem.  They plot and gamble to determine who shall slay Conan and claim the power behind the throne of Aquilonia.  They lure him to their lair – three towers on a magic isle and hijinks ensue.

It has also been instructional for me as a D&D guy*.  One thing I’ve always struggled with was high-level adventuring.  Once the characters hit domain level and bought castles and cathedrals and such, figuring out ways to get them back into the dungeon can be a bit tricky.  With armies at their disposal, the normal grind of leveling breaks down into, “Send in the marines. His Majesty has no intention of missing Taco Tuesday at the castle.”

We usually just broke kayfabe and ignored the kingdom while the party headed out on a little jaunt.  In these stories, Conan might be the King, but he’s still the only one who can solve the problem.  Either he is the only one who knows about it, or it is a threat that targets him directly.  These solutions might be old hand for many, but seeing so many examples back to back to back really helps get the juices going and expands this DM’s repertoire.



The art is standard early-80’s comic book fare and features the standard early-80’s style.  That is to say, while it features a strong sense of fantasy, the fashions and hairstyles are firmly founded in 1980 standards of beauty.  While they tend to run towards the workmanlike end of the spectrum, this is an end of the spectrum that I cut my comic-milk teeth on, so it feels right to me.

 

Best of all, my three year old loves them.  She asked me to read them to her, and it has been a real pleasure to introduce her to the magic and heroism of King Conan.  Reading Howard’s prose to a three year old never would have occurred to me, but the inclusion here of the bright colors, and the tactile feeling of pointing to the word balloons to help her follow the action keeps her engaged.

As a casual comics fan, this has been a fun little jaunt for me.  I’ll have to keep an eye out for more cheap thrills like this at the next convention/toy fair.

*This is incidental, but worth a mention.  For the record, I’m a big D&D guy, but try to post most of my gaming material over on a blog written by a pseudonym.  Seagull Rising is more political, and I try not to mix politics and gaming if I can help it.

A Retraction, A Clarification, and Some Inspiration

A flurry of discussion followed my last post, and a man whom I deeply respect (Daddy Warpig)offered up this bit of constructive criticism:

Pundit believes the OSR, and D&D as a whole, is too tied to Western Fantasy tropes. He thinks Appendix N keeps the OSR mired in the same-old, same-old, basically regurgitating D&D over and over, producing game after game (ACK! LFP! 30 other clones!) that are little more than slight variations on D&D, with no true innovations in setting or mechanics. He opposes this, hence his OSR game was Arrows of Indra, dungeoncrawling in ancient India.

His disdain for N is based on a genuine philosophical difference, a genuine desire to see the OSR innovate, not economic concerns. It’s unfortunate that the “Pundit just cares about money” became the common belief in the Pulp Revolution crowd.

Daddy Warpig spent some time panning in the gravel bed of Pundit’s ravings and came up with a golden nugget there.  Forget all of the RPG Pundit’s bleatings and wargarbl, his proxy makes an excellent point.  His selective data bias makes him blind to the exact same calls for innovation that come from within the Pulp Revolution.  Hell, it had a full blown discussion about how the “SF/F Counter-Reformation” makes for a more inclusive and precise description, and only abandoned that title because it is too wordy and esoteric.  People who approach the Pulpsters in good faith will see that themselves, and all the hand-holding in the world won’t help those so blind to the Pulp Revolution’s aims and goals that they refuse to see.

Regardless, I was wrong to ascribe motive where it was not clear.  I officially retract my accusation that the RPGPundit hates the Appendix N because it competes with his won products for RPG inspiration and tabletime.  The previous blog post has been amended accordingly.

That said…even as I inhaled to point out where Daddy Warpig missed an important point, he continued:

Pundit may be right about the variety of D&D clones in the OSR, but he is DEAD WRONG about the value of Appendix N for readers, however. as I said on Twitter, for a lot of people, Appendix N isn’t about gaming anymore. It’s about rediscovering the classic roots of SF/F. And for a lot of those people, it’s about reinvigorating SF/F tales with the energy and fun of those same classics.

I’m not saying he’s RIGHT, I’m saying he’s SINCERE. There’s a big difference there. I think the lack of innovation in the OSR is that people aren’t going back to the pulps ENOUGH. There’s so much more wildness and weirdness and awesomeness there that could make for some very cool roleplaying games.

It’s not rocket science: better source material leads to better new material.

There you go.  That’s it in a nutshell. The Pulp Revolution isn’t calling for the train to return to a particular station and halt there forever more.  The Pulp Revolution is calling for the train to return to a string of stations and then set out along a different set of tracks than the one that brought us the bleak and insipid SF/F culture that we have today.

We can do better, but we should learn from the masters, not from the guys who imitate the guys who imitate the masters.

Let’s Get Something Straight Here, People

When you come around these parts, and you see a lot of links to the Puppy of the Month Club, recommendations for The Good Stuff, and pointers to blogs by The Usual Suspects?  There’s a reason for that, and no, it’s not because I’m desperate for filler posts or trying to earn clicks by glomming onto the cool-kids crowd or even trying to ride on the coat-tails of my betters. 

This blog started off as an, I-Wanna-Be-A-Successful-Writer blog, and has subtly morphed into more of a, I-Want-You-To-Be-A-Successful-Writer blog.  The point of view of the blog remains that of a guy trying to escape the cubicle farm, but the content is more focused on reading and sorting the good from the bad.  There’s a lot of great writers out there who deserve a lot more attention than they’ll ever get from the big publishing houses, and most of them are part-timers writing in brief snatches when they aren’t putting food on the table.  If I can direct a few more sales their way, and that helps keep them motivated to sit down and bang on the keyboard for a few more minutes every night?  Mission accomplished.

More than that, though, this blog represents another node in the greater community of readers who appreciate the rising tide of fun adventure fiction written by people who love sf/f for its own sake rather than as another club to wield against the latest social boogeymen.  It’s by no means a central node, but it stands as a signal booster to support the efforts of everyone from the lone guy self-publishing his work through Amazon to the growing indie-publisher thumbing his nose at the big boys.

You see those links in the preceding paragraph?  Even if you didn’t click on them, somewhere there’s a bot zipping down the threads of the internet, and it will.  It will think to itself, “Hey, here’s somebody else that thinks Justin’s blog is worth linking to, I’d better move him up in the rankings.”  Then when the next kid does a search for sci-fi writer, Justin shows up a lot sooner, and there’s a better chance that this relative unknown picks up another reader.  Each link is just one little data point, but you put enough of them together and eventually you don’t just have an improved search engine rating, you have a culture.

That’s what we’re building here – a counter-reformation of the world of sci-fi and fantasy, a revolution of pulp fiction, if you will.  As the new guys on the block, we can’t sit around waiting for others to do the heavy lifting.  No publisher is going to hand a fat contract to the sorts of authors that we like.  No publisher is going to pay for fake tweets to market our crew.  No publisher is going to reach down and pluck a pulp revolutionary out of obscurity, fete them like royalty, and cart them around the country selling their work.

Which is great!  It gives us – authors and fans alike – a lot more freedom of movement, a lot more freedom to experiment, and a lot more freedom to choose.  They have to be stodgy and conservative to protect their interests, where we don’t have anything to lose.  Except for the few moments it took to write up this blog post – and that’s a small price to pay to lay another brick in the road to better authors, better fiction, and a better culture.

I’m a fan of the better culture that being built, and don’t mind praising the guys who are building that culture.  If that results in my coming off as a bit of a carnival barker for works that fit into that culture, so be it.  There’s some really amazing freaks in this freakshow, and I intend to do what I can to lure the townies in to take a look.