Maximus De-sadimus Aurelius

My latest work in progress, a bit of a palate cleanser between Heroes Unleashed novels and you have already checked out the KickStarter, right? – has flown from fevered brain to page at an impressive rate.  What started as an attempt to recapture two old pulp conceits, that of the modern man flung into another world, and one of the usual love triangles, has resolved itself into a novel with the elevator pitch, ‘Gladiator, if Maximus wasn’t a whiny little bitch’.

Gladiator is a fun movie, but I’ve never understood the way so many hold Maximus up as a paragon of manly heroism.  Sure, he’s good with a sword and an inspiring leader, but he’s not very heroic.  He can’t save his woman.  He trusts all the wrong people.  He is outsmarted over and over by a lazy Emperor who only has the job because the Roman army doesn’t know what death by strangulation looks like.

Think about it.  He kills a bunch of half-starved slave warriors and one over the hill Gaul, then gets shanked and dies, but at least he beats up a nerd.  Compare that to a pre-cancer Star Wars.  They killed Luke’s family and he didn’t mope around until he got shivved. He sweet talked the Dark Lord into hucking his scarred Emperor down a mine shaft.

That’s the sort of tale that inspires me – regular guys training and working and striving to accomplish something a little more profound than revenge, and who succeed at their task.  And don’t tell me Maximus was working toward re-establishing the Senate or democracy or any other such nonsense.  That was a just tool he used to rally support for his true cause of vengeance.

I’ll take a hero like Master and Commander‘s Captain Aubrey over Maximus any day of the week.  Now there’s a man who understands a higher duty, and who delights in the service to a greater cause, even as he laments the difficult decisions that duty forces him to make.  He’s a winner whose mistakes result from incomplete information, and who instantly sets about rectifying his mistakes when a clearer picture arises.  He is bold and courageous and everything that a man should strive to be – provided we stick to the film and not the books where his Achilles heels rears their lovely heads again and again.

Imagine if Maximus managed to claw his way from the arena and onto the throne, how much more satisfying and inspirational Gladiator would have been.  Now imagine if he had done so just as the Carthaginians had amassed a great fleet to assail Rome while Emperor Sisterkisser dithered with his games, and you’re getting some idea of what my next published work will look like.

If you love action and adventure, you’re going to love it.

 

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New Release: Like The Wind

Friend of the blog Justin Knight has a new release, Like the Wind, out and available on Amazon right the heck now.  There’s nothing like an infant in danger to make me want to get violently protective, so the cover alone has me jonesing for some furious action.  Check it out:

A young girl on the run. A cop searching for answers. A city about to be slaughtered.

The Tear Drop.
A destructive power lost for decades.
It is desired by the evillest and sought after by the cruellest.

The hunt for this power has drawn a wicked and merciless hunter to the city of Otomo Bay, determined to unleash a horror like no other. She will slaughter men, women, and children without mercy in the quest for that which her master seeks.

The fight for survival will be brutal. A group of city cops must face off against the evil with countless lives caught in the middle. Cut off from the outside world, they will fight to survive and try to escape the wave of death before they join the rising body count.

It’s in my ever growing to-read pile, it should probably be in yours, too!

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The False Façade of “Smart” Writing

Complex != Smart

Insecure writers, by which I mean writers insecure in themselves, not in their writing, have two nice and easy fallback strategies to compensate for a lack of critical thinking skills and an inflated sense of their own intellect.  Good thing for them that so many readers make the same mistakes and find pseudo-intellectual works a useful tool to demonstrate to their fellow midwits that they are among the better class of reader.

Complexity is Not Clever

By Jove, Pythagoras was right!

Anyone that’s ever dealt with higher level mathematics knows that the guys at the top of that particular field spend a great deal of time searching for ways to reduce complexities in their proofs.  A concept that can be proved using 100 pages of matrices and high order differential equations is nice, but it’s so much more satisfying when the same concept can be proved using three simple equations?  In the same way, a door stopper of a novel that chases six independent plot threads that interweave all over three continents to bring them together in one big final resolution can be satisfying, but it’s so much more satisfying when the same concepts and themes can be fully explored within the confines of a single story.  Some of the most powerful mathematical proofs are the most beautiful.

Assembling complex tales require a lot of effort, but so does digging a ditch.  We instantly recognize that effort doesn’t translate to brains in the latter, so why do so many want to believe that spending inordinate amounts of time and effort bolting extraneous details onto a simple exploration of a theme translates to proof of higher order intelligence?  Particularly when the authors who brag of their epic achievements typically go on to brag about how hard it was to craft the story and track all of the little details.  A case could be made that a straight-head writer who bangs out prose and plots by the seat of his pants would need eidetic memory and a level of creativity bordering on insane to build a tale like that, but most writers feel the need to humble brag about how extraordinarily hard they worked on their masterpiece, how much effort it took, and how long it took.

If you’re working that hard, maybe you aren’t as smart as you think you are, ace.

Adult Does Not Mean Smart

Another sleight of hand that the midwits like to pull to justify an inflated sense of worth is equating “adult” with “smart”, and it’s just as much bunk as the first.  This is not to say that all adult media is always dumb, just that there exists a lot of space in the venn diagram where those two terms do not overlap.

Hell, most of the “adult” novels I’ve read were half-witted excuses meant to justify the author’s own inability to grasp the basics of morality, duty, and honor.  But the nihilists among us have adopted a self-satisfied smugness that all too many people on the left hand side of the intelligence bell curve mistake for genuine ability, and they at least have enough cunning to wrap their bleak and ill considered worldview up in a nice little bow of “live for today and let tomorrow care for the consequences”.

But as for me, I’ll take genuine wisdom and intellect over the feigned superiority proclaimed with great volume and repetition by those who mistake influence and connections over talent and skill.

Even if that precludes me from winning any major awards or ever being listed in the annals of woke history.

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Social Media Games

Amatopia makes a great case for abandoning social media altogether:

Remember: many of these big tech companies are in bed with politicians and act at their behest, or have the cash to influence these politicians to vote for stuff that benefits big tech.

So in addition to helping kill normal human social interaction and cognitive ability, social media and big tech literally want to control the country.

He has a point, but I’m not quite ready to completely cut the umbilical.  There’s a fair few communities out there that have backup contingency plans for when the big hammer falls, but for now these places are the de facto public square.  Conservatives tucked tail and slunk out of the meat space public square of entertainment, and I’m not quite ready to yield the field to the left just yet.  Not while there remain noses to tweak and real-time conversations to help me understand how to improve my writing and storycraft.

That said, I’ve stepped back away from it a bit to refocus here and on my writing.  It’s a lot easier to avoid the time sink when you feel the heavy hand of the muses pressing against your back.  Man are they pressing me these days – the writing of my latest book has rocketed up into the stratosphere – this one’s a blatant throwback to the pulp era with all sorts of the usual tricks stirred together with more contemporary world-building and the over-the-top fantasy stylings that make this novel as much a mystery as an action piece, and holy cats did Cirsova set me straight on how to produce a legitimate pulp love triangle.

More as it develops, if you just can’t wait, here’s a taste of what to expect:

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Post Puppy Doldrums

Not much I can add to the enjoyment of this year’s annual award for best woke performance in sci-fi and fantasy literature.  One post is all the tarnished rocket gets from me in a year that saw a record tripling down of the propagandists.  WorldCon doing that thing that the Rabid Puppies goaded them into sure did teach me a valuable lesson about who runs Bartertown.

This year’s threepeater for best novel, the greatest living sci-fi and fantasy author of all time N. K. Jemisin, borrowed a line from yours truly in her historic and greatest ever award ceremony speech in the history of fluffery when she said:

I get to smile at those people, and lift a massive, shining, rocket-shaped middle finger in their direction.

Here’s a little blast from the past that longtime readers of the blog will recall from way back in 2016:

Granted, the idea of the Hugo Award as a giant middle-finger isn’t particularly grand or novel, and is in fact pretty tacky and predictable.  Which about what readers of the greatest living sci-fi and fantasy writer of all time have come to expect from her.

It is rather nice of WorldCon to let the mask slip.  Readers have taken note of their attitude and are responding accordingly, and writers have fled the NYC plantation for the wide-open skies of the self-publishing frontier lands to great success.

You should come with us, we’re having a great time experimenting with new ideas and poking fun at the establishment’s gamesmanship.  If you’d like to experience the kind of pulse-pounding action and heart-warming fun that will never win a Big Important Award, but will put a smile on your face and transport you to the sorts of worlds you’d love to visit, try this alternate earth adventure on for size.  Hawaiian badasses fighting ninjas is just the start!

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Heroes Unleashed, Unleashed

Thank you to everyone who backed the first phase of the Heroes Unleashed kickstarter. It fully funded in just 11 hours, and now we have three more weeks to push for as many of those Bonus Rewards as possible before time expires.

The project is already more than %150 funded thanks to your kind and generous support.

If you’re still sitting on the fence, let me draw your attention to this recent interview that Jim Fear conducted with the married maestro’s that are conducting this little symphony of superheroics.  Not only does this demonstrate the Newquist’s deep knowledge and understanding of the superhero genre, it sheds a little more light onto the breath and scope of this massive project.  I’m hip deep in Heroes Unleashed, and even I didn’t realize how sprawling and epic this collection of stories will end up before it’s all said and done.

And from the looks of things, it will have the same sort of modularity that all the best big projects have.  That is to say, you should be able to dip your toes into whichever end of the superhero pool you like best, and still come away satisfied.  If you like mysterious relationship drama, Morgon has you covered.  If you like blazing guns and furious action, Kai Wai Cheah has your back.  If you like a steady delve into conspiraciana, I’m here for you.  Mix and match, pick and choose, and enjoy the full Prime buffet of options.

I’ll also point out that unlocking the $1500 level means that all backers will receive the first chapter of my own entrée, The Phoenix Ring, which I’m convinced will leave you wanting a whole lot more.

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Heroes Unleashed – A Literary Super(s) Project

Madness.

You’d have to be a madman to gather up the literary equivalent of a herd of cats, point them at the superhero genre, and shout, “GO!”  Fortunately for fans of the superhero genre, we share a world with not just a madman, but a madman and his madwoman.  Russel and Morgon Newquist, the dynamic duo behind Silver Empire Publishing, hatched the idea of a shared universe built by a collective team of authors well known for their creative talent, their gripping action, and their commitment to bringing you the best in new and new-old tales of heroism.  Heroes Unleashed!

And they invited me along for the ride!

The first phase includes myself, Morgon Newquist, J.D. Cowan, Kai Wai Cheah, and Richard Watts, and you should see the line-up they have waiting for phase II.

The whole thing can be yours, and you don’t have to comb through Amazon’s webfront guessing which novel fits where, and wait for the next one to come out, hoping to remember the release date, or pre-ordering and then forgetting that you already bought it.  No, the good folks at Silver Empire have made it easy to get involved by hosting a one-stop shop for all of your superhero needs with the Heroes Unleashed Kickstarter Campaign.

You know how those work, so click on the link to learn more.  All I’ll tell you from here is that I’ve tackled the Hidden History side of Heroes Unleashed with a superspy unlike any you’ve ever seen before, and a story of the criminal underground in Serenity City that ties into all of the major events of this new and exciting universe.

 

 

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Pre-Tolkien Challenge, Lord Dunsany

Talk about saving the best for last.  This third chapter of the Barbarian Bookclub’s pre-Tolkien challenge brings in one heck of a cleanup hitter in Lord Dunsany.  My only exposure to this great old one was The Worm Ouoroboros which provided a clinic on how to craft stories with just enough world building, how to provide copious details without dragging the plot, and how to incorporate all sorts of fantasy tropes that we’ve come to take for granted in surprising and original ways – a feat given how the man wrote these things long before they became settled into their current stranglehold on reader’s expectations due in no small part to Tolkien himself.

[Editorial aside:  Thanks go out to the few readers who contacted me about this error behind closed digital doors.  But readers should feel free to call out my errors in public.  I’m no expert and value truth and accuracy more than I do status.  My ego is robust enough to handle good faith public correction.]

Where Tolkien Lord of the Rings presents fantasy worlds with an earnest and professorial tone that adds to that epic’s verisimilitude, Dunsany’s voice rings with the leaning-in pleasure in the fantastic of your grandfather seated before a fire.  With something of a wink and a nod in the telling, one never knows whether Dunsany is relating a tale handed down for generations or right off the cuff, and that lends an air of pleasurable suspense that tops Tolkien in my book.

Appropriately enough, I dove into Tales of Wonder expecting to find all sorts of great traditional fantasy written in a fairy-tale-esque manner, and instead got a series of stories that didn’t quite provide the sort of fantasy I was expecting.  In The Three Sailor’s Gambit,  sailors use a magic chess crystal to win games at a quid a game, and perhaps at the expense of their souls.  In The Watch-Tower, the narrator encounters a ghost who warns him that despite the West’s seeming invincibility, he’d better wake up because the Saracens are coming.

Ahem.

And in the third chance for Dunsany to provide a fantasy tale, A Tale of London, he provides a vision of London as viewed through a magic bowl by a hasheesh eater and told to the Sultan.  It might be any fantasy city, but this time around it’s a foreigner’s view of London as near to heaven as one might find on this earth.

With that, having struck out on finding a single legitimate fantasy story of the sort we now associate with the genre, the whole point of the exercise really struck home.  By looking for knight and wizards and goblins and dragons, I was looking for fantasy in all the wrong ways.  Fantasy isn’t the mish-mash of D&D we think of today.  It isn’t refined and improved by stripping the magic and adding lots of rape.  It isn’t made more believable by the use of a dedicated and rational system of magic.  It needs neither gritty realism nor whimsical nonsense – it just needs a touch of the fantastic.

In a strange way, the admonition of the opponents of Western Civilization – those who lament the constant churn of fuax-medieval setting – have the right of it.  Fantasy writing need not be constrained by the rigid rules of the modern fantasy culture.  This isn’t punk rock, with its detailed and iron-clad rules about how to rebel against the rules.  It’s a genre whose core conceit involves breaking the rules of reality in surprising ways, and thereby providing a glimpse of deeper truths that are often obscured by the cruft of ten thousand years of civilizational growth.

Forget making fantasy great again, we need to make fantasy fantastic again.  And that means ignoring the rules of the genre that have grown and taken root in the shadow of Tolkien.

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The Pre-Tolkien Challenge, John Buchan

John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir

My only previous experience with JohnBuchan was his excellent African adventure story, Prestor John.  Now that was a real world adventure containing nothing of the fantastic, so I’ve been meaning to give his more fanciful stories a read, and this makes for the perfect opportunity.   The Rime of True Thomas should keep me out of trouble with the Barbarian Bookclub, having died a full fourteen years before Lord of the Rings was published, and for whom the last first story in The Moon Endureth, The Rime of True Thomas, consists of a full blown fantasy story rather than an Algernon Blackwoodian weird horror tale.

If you’ve read John C. Wright, you have an inkling of what Buchan brings to the table, and not just because the narrative framework of the Rime at hand consists of a King imparting the story of a conversation between a Scottish shepherd and a long-legged and long beaked bird called a whaup.  Not just any bird, this whaup has the presence of mind and the ancient wisdom passed down through his lineage to engange with the shepherd on matters of religion and biblical lore, and entreats the man to…well, the story waxes far more lyrical, but essentially the man casts a spell that allows him to hear the music of the spheres, that “Song of the Open Road, the Lilt of the Adventurer,” that infects him with an insatiable wanderlust.  The song also engages in a bit of the romantic lament for the passing of the pre-Roman inhabitants of the British Isles, and:

“Man must die, and how can he die better than in the stress of fight with his heart high and alien blood on his sword? Heigh-ho! One against twenty, a child against a host, this is the romance of life.” And the man’s heart swelled, for he knew (though no one told him) that this was the Song of Lost Battles which only the great can sing before they die.

That’s some Robert E. Howard style romanticism there.  That’s the kind of raw meat writing that you won’t find churned out of the word mines of NYC these days.  Unlike Howard, Buchan dips his quill into the ink of biblical lore on a regular basis, and that comfortable drift along the myths and history of Christendom imparts a dreamy concrete feeling to the Rime that stirs the heart.

Of course, as a son of the heather myself, Buchan’s verse cheats a bit given how the light brogue that ripples through the tale tickles my the ancestral memory buried in my own DNA.

And in the end, that’s what I find most charming about this short story – it isn’t really a story at all.  It has the elements of a story in the shepherd and the whaup and a King’s version of their talk, but at its root, the Rime is a vignette about the song that lies at the heart of existence.  It’s a fairy-dream experience that delivers a heady mix of lyrical prose and the wisdom of one’s elders in a way that reader’s of Lord Dunsany would find as comfortable as an old knit sweater.

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Tales From the Delta Quadrant

In a recent post at Vox Popoli, Vox Day dropped a heckuva a bon motte regarding Mary Sue characters:

Authors have a tendency to reveal more about themselves than they realize…

That sentence fragment got my noggin joggin’ about the novels that I’ve written to date, and my current work in progress in particular.  Longtime readers will notice that my protagonists tend toward middle-aged family men, a class of which I am a proud member.  Which makes the follow-on thought all the more relevant:

…often, more than they would like, when they write themselves into their stories.

Do I write Mary Sue’s?  Nope.  Not at all.  But I do write what I know, and that means characters that rank solidly in the delta sector of the sociosexual hierarchy. For those of you not familiar with the rankings, it’s a refinement of the alpha dog/beta male dichotomy that takes into account characters who lack the natural alpha’s leadership abilities or who just plain don’t understand relationships at all.  In this system betas are the high-achievers who flock to alphas and serve as loyal lieutenants, gammas are the perpetual outcasts convinced they are the secret kings of the world, and in between are the regular joes who do all the work that keeps society functioning, the deltas.

The classic expression of the virtues of delta-hood are the men of Easy Company, whose stories are told and shown in Band of Brothers.  These guys are the solid warriors who stand in the breach and do the daily grunt work.  Most of the men you know are deltas.  They write the code, they file the TPS reports, they crunch the numbers, and just generally go on about life in their own simple terms.  Give them a solid alpha to watch out for them, to direct their efforts as part of a team, and they can do great things.

As you might have guessed, I consider myself a prime example of a solid delta.  The pressures of high command are not for me.  I’m content to plug away in my cubicle making a little money for the corporation, so long as they make it worth my while, and pursue my hobbies in relative peace.  As a result, most of my protagonists also follow the delta mode.

Hey, write what you know, right?

Which isn’t to say that they lead boring lives.  They strive and plug along, and when push comes to shove they rise to the challenges life throws in their way – just like the men of Easy Company.  In fact, I contend that deltas make for the best stories.  They have plenty of room to grow, they can be pushed along by fate or led along by a determined alpha, and they are far more relatable to most readers than the rare alphas or the pathetic gammas.

Consider the unnamed protagonist of Space Princess.  He’s a regular guy who just wants to fix his sink on a late Sunday night, when he gets swept up in a galactic fight that pits civilization against raw brutality.  Through the entire story he gets passed along the chain of command, and in the final fight (of this story) rises to the challenge presented.  The character of Rome from A Moon Full of Stars really wants the village to consider him an alpha, but mostly just wants the respect and honor due to a man who takes risks for his community.  These are the stories that resonate with the fat part of the bell curve of men, and these are the stories that can help men find and accept their own place in our world, while still inspiring them to strive to be better men.

And aside from all of the vitamins they provide for the soul, they are just rollicking fun adventure stories.  What cubicle drone couldn’t use a little more of that old time heroism in his life?

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