Hell Spawn: The Sounds of Horror

Anyone want me to read them a scary bedtime story?

This ain’t your wine aunt’s urban fantasy. This is pure, distilled, demon-kicking urban fantasy with a direct line to that gorgeous Catholic iconography that makes even the worst Hollywood director want to tap into it. It’s bloody in the worst (redrum!) and best (transubstantion!) ways.

Throw a couple of bones in, and prepare yourself for a gritty fight against evils both mundane and arcane.

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Scorched Earth or Controlled Burn

Generally, I agree with Brian Neiemeier and the rest of the gang when they go strong on this message:

Merely mentioning a Disney/Marvel property, even to negatively contrast it with a superior indie work, just gives the Devil Mouse brand social proof as the one to beat.

But I’m also a “don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good” kind of guy.  Converged though our culture may be, there are times when being conversant in the poz can come in handy.  Particularly when guiding those yet to awaken to the fifth column in our midst away from that pozzed element.  Here’s where he gains my full throated endorsement:

Refusing to feed the beast doesn’t suffice by itself, though. We also need positive messaging that promotes superior alternatives.

And that right there is the impetus behind my irregular reviews of indy comics here on this blog, and my reviews of long form fiction over at Castalia House.  Given that indy comics are shouting into the gale-force winds of multi-billion dollar marketing campaigns.  It’s hard to get noticed, and every little of help that I can offer my fellow creatives is time well spent.  These reviews aren’t just the writings of a fan, they are recommendations to help you choose the best works to fill your time.

It is worth noting that I rarely receive advanced reader copies.  Most of the works that earn reviews are works that I discovered organically via recommendations on Twitter or through Amazon’s pushy A9 algos.  Word of mouth works – it’s the best way to reach me, and probably you as well.  So take advantage of it, whether you are a reader or writer, it’s the best way to get more of what you want out of this world.

As a quick recommendation for proof of concept, allow me to urge towards  Micha Burnette’s Bad Dreams and Broken Hearts .  It’s a urban fantasy, boiled hard and served in a collection of short stories that are muscular and heroic.  It has a distinct 1970s grindhouse grittiness to it so far that helps ground the magic in a way that makes it feel more wonderous and more threatening than most works like this.  Full review to follow, but go buy it and find out for yourself why Misha is one of the best of the new breed of independent authors.

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On The Joker

If 1980 Gotham had a 4chan, it could have saved itself a whooooooole lot of trouble.

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Send Up The Virtue Signal Signal

Yeah, I’m in.

The game so nice, it’s already been banned by OrcaCon despite not being funded, printed, or on the market.  Thus proving the point of the game in the first place.

What can I say?  We’re a homeschool family.  A nice educational experience of a game like this doesn’t come along every day.

As I type this, the campaign is just over $30K at the post.  The world is hangry for this kind of satirical take at the scolds and schoolmarms who patrol our thought places for badthink.  My guess is that the “Alt Right” expansion set will be received by its targets with the opposite reaction as the core game.  We badthinkers are used to being mocked by clumsy and hamfisted SNL-caliber writers.  It will be a refreshing change to have somebody competent at humor take a few swings at us.  Also, unlike the self-proclaimed folx who recoil from “Virtue Signal”‘s subject matter like vampires before a crucifix, we’re so inured to the absurdity of clown world that we still know how to take a joke, even at our own expense.

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The White Arrow Review

Got a review up over at Castalia House today.

Head on over and check it out.

 

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Tales of the SS Junky Star

Always on the lookout for a new cover artist, this past weeked I dragged the family down to check out a free geekfest and almost got suckered.  A couple of brothers had a booth at the Indy Comics corner, so I snagged Tales of the SS Junky Star from them only to discover that the them I’d been chatting with were the Yuan Twins and not the Fillbach brothers.  Should have known from the name.

No problem, I bought a copy of the Yuan Twins’ comic, too.  More on that at a later date.  Today, we’re talking digest-sized, blue collar space adventure starring the crew of the titular ship.

The artwork is blocky, chunky, and fun.  This is the fresh sort of rushed job that betrays a deep appreciation for the art form.  With only black and white, the Fillbach boys manage to evoke a whole colorful palette.  With plain lines and sharp shaping, they craft a fully realized and sprawling universe filled with secrets and dark corners just waiting for the right ragtag crew to poke around and come out with something fun.  If more books like this had crossed my path in high school, I would have had a much easier time running that Traveller Campaign that always eluded me.

Turns out the Fillback boys aren’t as Indy as I thought.  They spent eight years drawing Star Wars books for Dark Horse Comics.  It shows here, on one of those increasingly rare occasions where “like Star Wars” means a compliment.  Captain Tug is a gray haired old hand.  Boomer, his shaggy second hand “man” is a bit of a blank slate just yet.  The mechanic, Drax, looks like muscle of the crew.  And the quartet is rounded out by co-pilot Roz, a hard edged cowgirl complete with whip and Puritan hat.  They find an orphan on a derelict ship that turns out to be less derelict than expected.

Said alien child turns out to be a sweet little MacGuffin that leads them through a compact little adventure with betrayals and action and heel-face turns and even a slice of pathos pie to round things out.  It’s sweet, innocent fun, and that’s so rare these days it is a thing to be treasured.  I have no idea how you can get a copy.  It’s just one of those rare finds that you might stumble across at the local con – if you do stumble, don’t hesitate to crab a copy for yourself.

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The Generational Sweet Spot

You can’t really blame Marvel for trying to build a new line-up of superheroes to replace the old cohort.  Everyone loves Nick Fury and Cap and Tony Peteyand , but they’ve suffered through fifty full years of stories.  They are also deeply tied to thier origins on the battlefields of WWII and the labs and streets of the 1960s.  Despite retcons and recasting, they still feel like holdovers from a time that has passed.

Marvel’s (and to a lesser extent DC’s) big mistake was turning to the millennials for salvation.  In thier pursuit of young eyeballs, they placed thier trust in young creators.  Inexperienced, untested, and lacking in wisdom, these creatives were thrust into positions where they couldn’t hope to succeed.

This made economic sense. Targeting new IP toward the twenty somethings, if successful, would lock fans in for another fifty years.  Kids unfettered by familial obligations, long history with the characters they were hired to write, and lacking any hard-won beliefs of thier own were ripe for exploitation.  The editors could easily strong-arm them into writing Boomer mind-set tales from a modern-age perspective.  And thus the holocaustianity of old was given a go-grrl facelift.

And the fans wandered away.

Contrast that experience with the runaway success of new characters in the Indy scene.

The PTSD that drives Rags doesn’t feel like it sprang from a reskinned victorious Western Front soldier. Instead, hers is the trauma of a soldier who suffered through the pointless and endlessly slow defeat of an Empire occupying an intractable desert land.  That’s a perfect fit for a post-apoc zombie tale.  The parallels are striking, and writing that tale requires a talent with enough years under the belt to understand the nature of both the conflict and the characters who barely survive it.

Or contrast the X-Men with the Alt*Hero line.  The former’s battles reflect the mindset of an age whose day has passed.  Despite a few fresh faces and b-plots turned woke for the sake of woke, they still fight the fight of a hybrid cold war/civil rights era allegory.  The latter’s focus on the fight between the globalists powerbrokers and the omninationalist resistance reflects the world we see when we look out the window.

The stark contrast between the gonzo fights with the pathos of Throttle’s struggle to connect with his daughter after being abandoned by his selfish and liberated wife seen in T-Bird and Throttle.  The unironic and sincere romance, the charming failures of the heroine, and the very real risks of secret identities explored by Flying Sparks.  The innocent adventure of Black Hops.

These are the stories of a generation young enough to have stories to get off thier chests, but long enough to know how to tell them well.

The old guard are ossified and stale. Even the new paint job and billion dollar ad campaigns can’t hide the rust spots and failing engine.

The Indy scene has more than just old ideas and a simmering anger at the world they have inherited.  They are free from the shackles of an established canon.  They hold memories of a time when educators worked to inspire hope rather than resentment.  They have had the time to hone their craft.  And the results have been a blast of fresh air inside the antiseptic hospice of the comics industry.

Read them.  And if you already are, note well why and how they resonate where the mainstream comics feel so empty and hollow.  They are the works of today, not yesterday and not some clownish and impossible future.

 

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The Smell of Desperation

It isn’t working and they know it.

It’s gotten so bad out there that you’re even seeing NormiCons calling for Americans to turn their backs on the foreign movies churned out by Hollywood.  They’re calling for more films by conservative film-makers for conservative movie goers.  Likewise with Marvel comics, Netflix shows (have you cancelled your subscription yet?), and a host of others.

Mind you, they are still stuck in the enemy’s frame of reference.  They won’t actively search the new crop of creatives for current projects already in the works.  Instead, they want a few new Mel Gibson’s to spring fully formed from the forehead of the MGM lion.  That’s not a reasonable or realistic hope, but it’s a start.  The scales are starting to fall from their eyes, and the bottom up cultural flow away from globalism and toward Americanism is happening whether they like it or not.

Because we’re better than that, here’s a couple quick links to projects succeeding on their own merits, by men laboring in the trenches, without help from the boys with the megaphone too big to share with the little guys:

  • Yesterday’s thumbs-up to Rob Kroese’s Counterfeit Sorceror for one.
  • Josh Howard’s T-Bird and Throttle is up to Book 3 of 4.  The first half of the series had big adventure, a light touch of pathos, and one of the best father-daughter relationships you’ve seen in media in a long time.
  • Philo’s adventures continue in the third book of the Yankee Republic series.  Fenton Wood is writing a new kind of Fantasy Americana unlike anything ever done before.  It’s a bit like Devil’s Dictum, but with a lot less cynicism and a lot more hope.  Imagine if Lake Woebegone was set on the East Coast and written by a young Harry Turtledove channeling the ghost of Robert Heinlein.  Or a more gonzo version of The Mad Scientist Club.
  • If you prefer giant stompy robots to cozy vacuum tube alt-history, then give your money to somebody that doesn’t hate you – Brian Neimeier’s Combat Frame X-Seed delivers the goods with that undercurrent of faith, hope, and charity that distinguishes real sci-fi from the pink slime vomited onto the market by the chuds who live and work in New York City.
  • The explicit Catholocism of the heroes of John C. Wright’s Nowhither shine like a beacon in the long dark night of sci-fi.  The WhitherVerse is an epic and sprawling multi-verse that all hinges on one unkillable nerdy lummox and his infatuation with the wrong woman.  As usual.

Truly, our cup runneth over.  Every black pill that you see contains a white kernel of truth that should remind you of the increasing desperation of Team Locust.  Three short years ago, they thought that had us beat, that their final victory was at hand, and now they have to resort to ever more brazen stunts to maintain the illusion of control.

They can write as many fascists out of their books that they want – their monopoly is at an end.  We have our alternatives.  Do your part to make them successful despite the deafening silence by the whiners of media’s designated political Washington Generals.

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Just Released: Brand of the Warlock

Rob Kroese won me over with Schrodinger’s Gat, a trippy little jaunt with a lot less cornpone humor and a lot more quantum philosophizing than you’d expect from the title.  Now he moves into the realm of fantasy with the first title in his Counterfeit Wizard series, The Brand of the Warlock.

Just released on Kindle, it’s the start of an epic cycle of books for fans of high fantasy and fans of just plain solid writing.  The man knows story structure, and has a way of crafting fully realized characters that stick with you long after you’ve put the book down:

Once an ordinary soldier, his life was forever changed by a fateful meeting with a dying sorcerer. Now he is all that stands between civilization and the creeping evil of the shadow world. The Brand of the Warlock is the first book in the fast-paced sword & sorcery series THE COUNTERFEIT SORCERER.

Best of all, he’s pretty much got the entire series already written, so you won’t have to wait a decade between books to find out what happens next.  Grab this one now so you’ll be all caught up when book two drops sooner than you think.

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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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