Modern Sci-Fi, Why Do I Even Bother?

Overdrive is the poor man’s Audible.  It’s a cell phone program that allows you to check out books from your local public library.  You can even listen to audio books which you can download from Project Gutenberg’s Audio Books section or through the local library branch.   

The books available on Project Gutenberg are all public domain works, which include a wealth of riches for those of us spelunking in the mines of the Burroughsian, Howardian, and E.E. Doc Smithian pulps.  The quality of the human read audio recordings ranges from great to fine.  (The robot read stories aren’t worth your time.)  The list of available works is short, but well worth a look for any fan of audiobooks. 

The local library branch on the other hand…

My local branch has 350 audiobooks available in the sci-fi category, most of which consist of teen books in the vein of the Hunger Games or worse, Hugo Award winner aspirants – and I mean that in the most pejorative sense possible.  Just about anything not written for angsty teens is written for fans of either gimmicky pseudo-intellectual posturing or Oprah-style relationship drama dressed up in a silver spandex suit and parading around the bridge of a planet busting spacecraft. 

There are bright spots.  A smattering of Burroughs’ titles are on the list, but these are generally books that sit, well worn, on my shelf.  My most recent listen, Out of Time’s Abyss is a fun little romp if not quite up to Burroughs’ finest.  Aside from the few diamonds in the rough, for the most part it’s the same dreary literary chaff one finds on the shelves of the big box book stores.

What can man do in the face of such tedium?

How about taking a deep breath, opening up your mind, and giving some recent work a shot?  A collection of short stories called The New Space Operapresents an excellent opportunity to dip one’s toe into the relatively current state of fantasy and sci-fi.  After all, if you never experience what the current market has to offer, how can you complain about it?  And so it was with some trepidation that I gave some modern sci-fi a listen.

Some of us just never learn.
The book opens with an introduction by the editor, Gardner Dozois, which discusses the origins and evolution of ‘space opera’.  It starts out great, name checking some undeservedly obscure authors like A.E. Van Vogt, E. E. Doc Smith, and Jack Vance, and even admits that science fiction as a whole abandoned its rollicking good fun and aspirational value in the 1960s in favor of chasing the approval of social engineers and ivory tower literary critics.  Unfortunately, he presents this change as a good thing, and barrels straight on into the standard self-congratulatory praise of modern sci-fi as a clear cut improvement over its predecessors.  He even goes so far as to mention that disgusting pervert Samuel R. Delaney in a positive light.  That’s a deal breaker right there, but with traffic snarled and the essay over, we can get to the stories themselves.

Photoshopped for more accurate portrayal.

Before we do, let’s dispense with the need for a concrete definition of ‘space opera’ that clearly demarcates it from other genres.  We all know what it requires, big dang spaceships, multiple planets, adventure, romance, and colorful characters, and it should all operate on a grand scale.  This is opera, but in space.  It’s right there in the name.  It should be a little bombastic, a little over the top, and evoke big feelings in the reader.  These are general rules, of course, and there’s room on the margins to quibble.  The point here is that my disappointment from the stories in this collection stems from their quality as stories, and how space operatic they feel, rather than whether or not they meet specific criteria for ‘space opera’.

First in the docket, Saving Tiamaat, by Gwyneth Jones, is one long lament by an assassin working as an odd combination diplomat and security officer for a space UN.  It’s written in the heavy gimmicky style favored by the right people these days.  I couldn’t finish this story because it was far more concerned with the main protagonist’s gloominess and clever prose that only ever hints at what the hell is going on than it was with establishing any sort of conflict or stakes or reason for the reader to care about any of this. The full story is available online for free, right here, if you want to verify for yourself.  Strike one.

Second up, Verthandi is Rising, by Ian McDonald, also left me bored.  It starts out with an intergalactic war fought over millennia by soldiers grappling with time dilation, but the meat of the conflict is just set dressing for the real tale.  That story features two members of a three person crew searching for the third member of their triad.  That third member went awol in order to allow the galactic empire’s defeated enemy to flee through a wormhole to a parallel universe, in order to spare them from genocide. 

Let me borrow a quote from Travel by Thought, “At first blush, the tone and style of “Verthandi’s Ring” take some getting used to, primarily because McDonald aims for the atmosphere and cadence of poetry.”   He definitely succeeds in an atmosphere of cadence and poetry.  His prose is definitely lyrical.  Shame it takes such an effort to penetrate his prose to determine what the heck is going on in the story.  Again, from Travel by Thought, “Verthandi’s Ring is one of those stories that needs a second reading. That is when the pieces fall more securely into place, the narrative becomes clearer, and its artistry unfolds like a flower opening up to the morning sunlight.” He says that as though impenetrable prose is a good thing.  It’s not.  I did understand it the first time, but the effort to do so killed the fun of it.  The whole story left my with an irritated feeling of, why didn’t you just say so?

Again, this is a writer more enamored of literary tricks and poetic license than he is with presenting a story.  The MFA students and professors might lap this up while on the clock, but there’s nothing appealing about it for casual readers looking for an enjoyable slice of entertainment.  Strike two.

Finally, Hatch, by Robert Reed, in which the author plays games with flashbacks and dribbles out information so slowly reading the story is like eating an onion, you slowly peel back the layers and consume them one at a time, always hoping this is the last one and knowing that in the end all you’ll be left with is a bad taste in your mouth.  The backdrop to this boring tale is a planet-sized generation ship whose engines were knocked out of commission during a long war against a sentient space-blob.

Let me say that again.  This is a story about a planet-sized generation ship.  It’s engines were knocked out. During a war.  With a sentient space-blob.  Robert Reed made that boring. 

Now that is quite the literary accomplishment.

Let me give you one example of how Robert Reed stuffs great ideas into the background in order to focus on tedious relationship drama.  The main protagonist and best friend meet in a vaguely described location.  It sounds pretty epic, some form of massive cliff overhanging a cloud of space-blob remnants that contain the rare earth metals and ooze-encrusted machinery that allows the small refugee settlement that survived the Space-Blob War to survive, or on the cusp of a city-sized dead thruster?  It’s not entirely clear, but it sounds like it might be awesome.  Reed glosses over it to get to the important thing – the friendship of a young man and his mentor.  That mentor, we learn after reading two full conversations with him, is actually an ancient trilobite-like alien.  Reed doesn’t just bury that lede, he forces it to drive itself out into the desert, dig its own grave, and then shoot itself in the head.   And that’s just one example out of many.  Strike three.

With that third strike, The New Space Opera lost its place on my hard drive.  All three stories are clearly written for critics, and not for readers.  Ironic, given that this reader has nothing to offer but criticism.  The top priority for these three stories is signaling to other writers that they possess a supreme command of the English language – that they have mastered the use of tone, metaphor, mood, and prose.  Unfortunately for the reader (or listener as the case may be), all three put the story and the reader’s enjoyment near the bottom of the list.

Bear in mind, this is not to say that these stories am too smart for me simple brain.  Quite the contrary, these stories are far too clever for their own good.  They fall all over themselves engaging in high-brow literary signaling that they forget the point of the exercise – to tell an evocative story.  They are like the guy who successfully signals his wealth by buying a high maintenance and flashy sports car that he can’t drive in the rain.  Yeah, everyone knows he’s rich, but he can’t go anywhere – he forgot that the whole point of a car is to get you from one place to another, in much the same way that the authors of these stories forgot that the point of a story is to tell a story.

You know who could tell a hell of a story?  H. Beam Piper.  That man could tell a story.  Think I’ll go download a few short stories of his.
Posted in grown up book report, pulpy fun | 1 Comment

Thoughts on the Pulp Revolution

As mentioned previously, the publishing world is undergoing a revolution, and the pulp revolution is just one outgrowth of the changes roiling the market.  I use the term ‘pulp revolution’ mainly because smarter men than I use it, but also because it encapsulates the salient points of the changes taking place:

  1. The recent uptick in rock ’em, sock ’em short stories featuring science fiction and fantasy in the Gernsbeckian* and Campbellian tradition harkens back to the writing showcased in the pulp magazines.
  2. This uptick is largely the result of a ragtag bunch of outcasts taking on the powerful and well-financed titans of industry.

One minor reservation I have about the term “pulp revolution” is the implication that the new guys seek to simply turn the clock back to 1950.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The deference shown to the masters of old is simply that of students seeking to learn from the master, and then go off in their own directions.  These aren’t writers who want to ignore advances made in the intervening dark age of sf/f literature, but writers who think the advances were made in the wrong direction.

Think of it this way…

Forgive the crudity of the timeline…it’s not to scale.

It isn’t about turning the clock back to pre-1980 writing, but creating a new timeline.  One where fun and adventure weren’t stripped out and replaced by dour intellectual masturbation.  One where the heroes and heroines fought to make a better world with their own two hands, rather than fought to create a utopia through ham-fisted appeals to socialism and identity politics.

The pulp revolution – whatever you want to call it – is not so much about recreating the old stuff as it is creating new stuff that honors the old in ways that the dinosaur publishing houses don’t.

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Boosting the Signal: Geek Gab

If you haven’t listened to the latest edition of Geek Gab yet, it’s well worth your time.  Just be ready for a bombastic introduction by Daddy Warpig; he settles down after the first couple of minutes, and while still excited, drops the slow yelling.

P. Alexander is the guest in this particular show, and he dishes out the hard sell for Cirsova magazine (two weeks left in the Kickstarter, yo), but all three men focus more on the ongoing pulp revolution and their excitement for science fiction in the Gernsbeckian and Campbellian tradition. 

As one of the new kids on the pulp revolution block, I fully understand that this has probably already been brought to your attention.  The intention of the “signal boost” posts is to add one more voice in support, one more piece of word-of-mouth-advertising for the good stuff, and one more link to aid the SEO of these deserving works.

This particular post is just another reminder for fellow revolutionaries that you are not alone.  If you long to read the sort of science fiction and fantasy marked by Heinlein’s juveniles rather than Heinlein’s latter works, it’s coming.  A lot of people are waking up and returning to the fold after a long time away from the genre.  Which can only lead to positive developments.

Right now, we are in the early stages of a positive feedback loop. As more readers abandon the dreary ‘romance in a spaceship’ and ‘political tract with a dragon’ style of modern genre fiction, and look to the pulp revolution, more writers will experiment with that style.  As more writers produce material, more readers will learn of the revolution.  So take heart – every planetary romance and weird fantasy and sci-fi actioner you buy grows the market and helps encourage more materials for your reading pleasure.

Posted in pulpy fun, signal boost | Comments Off on Boosting the Signal: Geek Gab

Street Fight: The Karl Barber Collection

Karl Barber is a modern day action hero fighting the good fight to make the world a better place, one job at a time.  From stopping rapacious transnational lumber corporations in the jungles of Cambodia to fighting violent human traffickers in the southwest American deserts, Karl sets out to do the right thing and won’t let up until the job is done.  These aren’t stories of complex human relationships or deep philosophical navel gazing with a few paragraphs of action thrown in to check off the ‘thriller’ box – these are stories of pure adrenaline fuelled action, not suitable for the Ladies Auxiliary Book Club. 

Now Karl Barber returns for a fourth thrilling installment, in “Street Fight”.  For the first time ever, Karl’s fight against the evils of the world occurs on his native American soil.  On his way from a downtown hotel, he leaps into action when a mob of violent thugs attempts to disrupt a peaceful political rally, and winds up in the fight, and flight, of his life.  “Street Fight”, is only available inside this collection of his first four adventures.

Posted in karl barber, naked shill, new release | Comments Off on Street Fight: The Karl Barber Collection

This Is Why We Fight

It’s everywhere.
Cruising around with my daughter as she peck, peck, pecked at her cell phone, she snorted in disgust.  “This stupid game,” she sneered.  “You see what I have to deal with?”
At the next stoplight she showed me what was on the screen.  She had been playing some silly little High School Sim, and at various points the game required the payer to answer a question.  She explained that these weren’t quizzes, but surveys.  Here’s the survey that caused her mucosal disdain:
Free to play: just consume our anti-scientific propaganda
about the field of science.
This is an innocent freemium style game, and they just can’t resist including a survey question designed to remind girls that they are victims, that they need help, that their natural interests are badwrong and need to be addressed.
Now, the easy response would be to tell her to shut off the game, delete it, and move on.  This is undoubtedly the tip of a pernicious iceberg.  Instead, we had a nice (and from her perspective no doubt mercifully brief) discussion about how this survey question is just another salvo in the war for her soul. 
The good news is that she immediately recognized the underlying assumption of the question, looked for the response to attack that assumption, and on finding that questioning the assumption was not on the list, selected the choice that least served the goals of the game’s makers.  The best she could do, as evidenced by the green check mark, was to respond with a non-committal, “I need to learn more.”  And learn more she did.
We ditched the vagueness of the assertions and drilled down to the notion that the culture warriors are trying to sell her on two ideas that diametrically oppose each other.  The first that she is a victim forever cast about and directed by the whims of the bad old patriarchy.  The second that she is a strong and fierce and independent go grrl, or at least she could be if she simply allowed the culture warriors to save her from herself, and to do all her thinking for her.
We talked about how, if she surrenders her liberty and rational independent thought to the feminists, they will knock down all the barriers that prevent her from making her own choices…provided she chooses to do what they want her to do with her life.  Like, maybe go into the STEM fields for a living.
“And if I just want to raise a family,” she asked?
I explained that that was just the patriarchy talking.  She should just choose to do what the feminists think is best for her: get a degree, work for twenty years, try to have one or two children a full decade after her primer fertility years, and then continue to work in a cubicle farm to pay somebody else to play with her children.
She thought that sounded dreadful, and then asked how their deciding that more girls should love science is any better than others deciding that girls shouldn’t.
I didn’t have an answer for that question – I was just proud that she asked it.  I’d hoped she would, given that I was leading here right to that point with my own loaded questions.  But then, there really isn’t an answer for the contradictions and inherent rejection of reality buried deep in the heart of all feminist thought.
And that’s why I encourage my children to play those sorts of games and watch those sorts of shows.  They will be exposed to the constant tidal flow of propaganda for their entire lives, and the only way to inoculate them is to constantly stand over their shoulder and chant, “Remember thou art being sold a bill of goods,” over and over.  Based on her bringing this little quiz to my attention, that strategy seems to be working.
Man, I love homeschooling.
So, score one for the video game company – their little app inspired a conversation all right.  I just don’t think it was the one they’d hoped.

Posted in manosphere stuff, politics | Comments Off on This Is Why We Fight

What It’s All About

You, gentle reader, are not alone.  Thanks to the kind and generous support of fellow travelers Jeffro, PC Bushi, and Cirsova, the traffic on this blog has jumped to levels that should have taken months to reach.  Before we get into a timely introduction for recent regular visitors, let me thank you all for sparing a few moments of your time to stop by.  There’s a lot of blogs out there, and your choosing this one today is much appreciated.

PCBushi had the best description of this dank corner of the internet when he called it a “young blog mostly about culture, gaming, and fiction.”  That stands in contrast to the “About” page which includes the mission statement, “one man’s attempt to cast off the shackles of the corporate cubicle farm and start a new life as an independent author, voice talent, and free thinker.”

So where’s all the writing and voice talent stuff?  It’s around.  There are links in the top and side bar to my past work, but daily updates of current projects are rather pointless and dull.  Rest assured that the plan for escaping Corporatopia are proceeding apace and you’ll get updates at all the important milestones.

Right now, in addition to this blog, I’m juggling three writing projects.  The first is a fairly large ghost-writing project with a non-disclosure agreement.  There’s nothing I can say about that project.  The second is the finishing touches of a fourth story which will be included in a compendium of the first three K-Bar stories.  That process, preparing a book for self-publishing on Amazon, will be discussed, but it’s far better to have the experience done and a product to point to than a bunch of half-formed thoughts and vague assurances that something is coming.  The third is writing up a review of my current read, Nethereal, for the Puppy of the Month Book Club.  Aside from the random gratuitous plug (like this one), that will be posted over at that blog, for obvious reasons.

In the meantime, even while this blog serves more as an excuse to warm up the writing muscles before getting down to the more lucrative keyboard banging, the desire to present posts relevant to you, gentle reader, is never far from my thoughts.  As such, most of the content here will concern more topical and timeless subjects than those that burble up during the slow marathon-like grind of producing high quality writing and voice over work.  Lately, the world has been throwing me more material than I can use, but not nearly enough time to use it, which has led to a rough schedule of one post every other day, on average.  That trend will surely continue.  So check back often, pay no attention to the visual décor, and enjoy the ride.

I’ve got posts coming up discussing a lesser known hard-boiled cop series of novels from the 1960s, advice on raising children as outsiders in your own country, and an update on my latest wargaming experiences.  I’ve also got a few surprises in store for 2017, but if I tell you any more, they won’t be surprises.  If any of that sounds appealing, you know where to find me.

Posted in k-bar, naked shill, writing | 2 Comments

Stranger Things, It’s Decent

We’re almost living in golden age of television production.  The production costs are lower, the transmission methods varied, and the consumer market fractured to the point that it is easier than ever to allow for quality production of niche programming.  Producers are free to be daring, take risks, and make whatever sorts of shows interest them without the worry that it might not attract a majority share of the all-important 18 to 35 demographic.  If it wasn’t for the hamfisted agitprop crammed into most shows, we might just reach that golden age. 

For the first time in a long time, I’ve watched a show from start to finish and not felt to bad about it.  Based on a review found at somebody’s blog, I took the Netflix Original series, “Stranger Things”, for a test drive and just kept right on watching.  It’s an old school thriller set in small town Indiana during the 1980s.  A young boy and a teen girl go missing and three different teams of investigators slowly uncover the truth of the matter.  Their stories weave in and out as each discovers their own trail of clues leading up to the final confrontation. 
It’s not great, but it’s pretty darn good.  The acting ranges from stiff to overblown – Winona Ryder plays a mother with only two emotions, raving hysterics and mumbling sorrow.  We’re given no real reason at the outset to particularly like any of the characters, other than because they are the ones whose stories we are following.  My favorite characters in the show are all supporting roles – they often show more character than the stars, who take a lot more effort to like than they should given that we are supposed to be rooting for them.  I spent most of the show making excuses for their behavior towards other people, and you really shouldn’t have to do that for your protagonists. 

Still and all, it’s a nice slow burn mystery that clocks in at six hours of entertainment.  It has an internal consistency to its mythos and cosmology that is refreshing to see.  None of the main characters acts in a particularly stupid manner just to serve the needs of the plot.  Yes, some do act in stupid ways, but for understandable reasons, he’s twelve years old, she’s a grieving mother, that sort of thing.  And the show spends just enough time showing their normal routine, their normal crises, and how the pressure of the situation affects those day to day pressures.  It’s very Stephen Kingesque in that regard.
The suspense ratchets up well over time.  Six hours is a long time to sustain the mystery and keep the viewers interest, while simultaneously keeping the body count low and the plot moving forward at a reasonable pace, but “Stranger Things” manages that trick.  Interestingly, much of the suspense occurs when two people discuss the crisis and the search of the missing boy, they each hold a piece of the puzzle, and if they could only share those pieces they’d be a lot better off.  At the same time, neither one thinks the other will believe him or her, and so they talk around the subject while the viewer knows both that they should just blurt out the information, and at the same time knows why they don’t.  That’s some solid writing.
The little nods to the era were nice, too.  The 40+ crowd might want to check it out if only for the nostalgic factor of synth music and opening title sequence that could have been sucked through a wormhole straight from the 1980s. Pull tab Schlitz beer, an actual A/V club, a close-enough-for-government-work soundtrack and posters for John Carpenter’s “The Thing” are a few other fun examples.
All in all, “Stranger Things” gets a tepid recommendation.  Despite its flaws, it’s well worth a watch. 
Posted in recommendation, reviews | Comments Off on Stranger Things, It’s Decent


Who, me?

A funny thing happened on the way to the regularly scheduled Democratic candidate speech dedicated to calling Republican voters racist.  While describing the latest oogity-boogity man to shore up support from the perpetually frightened voters, some non-violent protestor exercised his right to freedom of speech by shouting out, “Pepe!”

Made me laugh.  Before we get any deeper into this, I’m not really a part of the internet troll culture.  I mix it up a bit on Twitter, but have never been to any of the chans, and limit my political analysis to some fairly milk-toast sites.  I do love me some Pepe, but that’s just because…I mean, look at that face!  Don’t know why but the utter inanity of Pepe combined with the high stakes political game just busts me up every time.  (Perhaps not every time, but you get the idea.)

What follows is an outsider’s analysis and not based on any inside information.  Nor is it so much a call for action as it is a prediction based on past performance.

With that out of the way, let’s do some nonstandard analysis and predictimicating.  We all know that the standard analysis will consist of long winded versions of the playground “Uh uh!” and “Yuh huh!” arguments.  Instead, let’s look at one potentially huge ramification of this random guy yelling one random word into the short silence between sentences.

This guy just opened the door for every alt-right troll to turn the tables on the left.  They’ve established that shouting during Trump speeches is a legitimate form of protest.  That means that the alt-right can shout/protest Hillary speeches by yelling, “Pepe!” 

Will she bar them from entry?  How?  Right now Hillary’s crowds are so small they’ll take every warm body they can get.  Any ‘net troll who wants to up his game can get through the doors and sound the call for freedom during her speech. 

One shout is a pin-prick, but if this happens over and over at her events, it’s going to become the slow drip of Chinese water torture.  She can’t respond to the shouts; any man with the stones to protest like this will be more than capable of engaging in whatever rhetorical thrust and parry she brings to the show.  Heck, even responding grants the alt-right troll a legitimacy that she can’t afford to grant him.  There’s no good response but having security make the protestor quietly disappear*.

How will they respond to that?  If history is any guide, with an iron fist.  The campaign will have to start vetting entrants and that’s going to suck all the way around.  They’ll drive away more people, spend money, slow things down, aggravate her loyalists through un-necessary checks.

*Take that however you choose.

Posted in alt right, politics | Comments Off on Pepe!

Two Panels Diverged

While shouldering my way through a particularly grinding commute this week, I found myself with the time to listen to a pair of mp3’s that had been sitting on my phone.  The first was a recording of the 2016 Worldcon panel on “State of Short Fiction”that saw its moderator, Dave Truesdale, ejected from that convention in particular, from Worldcon in general, and from all of polite society.  The second was the much less well known Appendix N seminar held at GenCon 2016, which was sponsored by the crew over at Goodman Games. Listening to the two back to back provided a clear example of the stark contrast between the tiredness and tedium of the leaders of the dinosaur publishing outfits and the passion and creativity of the new school guys working out on the fringes of the genre.

Brief aside:  If your attack or defense of Truesdale includes the notion that he shouldn’t have recorded the panel, you’re an idiot, and I’ll reject the remainder of your analysis out of hand.  A panel discussion is a public event in which the participants have no expectation of privacy.  You are also signaling that the views expressed by ‘your side’ don’t stand up to the light of scrutiny, and if you don’t have enough faith in your views to allow that, then why would anyone else adopt them?

That said, this isn’t a post about the merits of Truesdale’s ouster.  Admittedly, that was my own initial impetus for listening to the WroldCon Panel; I originally listened to the first to try and get a handle on what sort of nonsense goes on at your typical Worldcon.  I’ve never been to Worldcon, being 100 pounds under the apparent weight limit for entry, and wanted to hear firsthand what went down, what so triggered the SJWs, and what the ‘industry insiders’ sound like when they discuss a matter such as the “state of short fiction”.  What I heard was a cantankerous old cur fighting to steer the conversation towards the political culture built by the major publishers of short fiction on one side, and four boring midwits who clearly aren’t nearly as intelligent as they sound in their heads. 

The question of Truesdale’s ouster quickly became secondary to the far more interesting question of how such boring people came to be tasked with writing, editing, and producing for a market that one would think was supposed to provide non-boring materials.  Sci-fi and fantasy should be the realm of rockets and rayguns and wizards throwing lightning bolts.  It should feature big creatures and big explosions and big science.  Even when it tells stories about ideas rather than dragons or rayguns, those ideas should be big ideas with world shaking consequences.

The only idea expressed by the WorldCon panelists was “diversity”.  They have it.  They have more of it.  Anyone who thinks they don’t have it is wrong.  And if they don’t have what you want that’s because what you want is bad and doesn’t fit within the narrow bands of acceptable diversity.  Every attempt to steer the conversation was an attempt to drive it towards a group wide back patting over everyone’s successes in promoting ‘the right people’ and keeping ‘the wrong people’ out. 

There was no discussion about big new ideas. No one mentioned of exciting new voices.  No one talked about interesting new developments in short fiction (hello, Cirsova!).  No one mentioned a story by name, even as an example.  No one mentioned exciting new characters or writers.  It was all vague and airy and completely tepid.  Even with Truesdale’s chain yanking, it may have been the most boring panel discussion that I’ve ever heard.  That’s really saying something coming from a man who once spent three years working as a hotel bartender, which meant standing in the back of countless panels listening to everything from insurance salesmen talking about actuarials to the state of the breakfast cereal industry to Democratic fund raising efforts – and not nationally relevant or salacious efforts, either, but the petty, local, small change efforts to squeeze nickels out of school teachers and easily conned elderly people.

What struck me most about the panel was utterly banal and pedestrian the whole thing was.  It sounded like a bunch of tired parents bickering about whether or not the next bake sale should be traditional or only include healthy organic choices.  You wouldn’t expect that from a panel featuring the leading lights of the most exciting genre of fiction in the world, but here we are.

Listening to the second panel, hosted Goodman Games, purveyor of fine role-playing adventures for various editions of Dungeons and Dragons, was one heck of a palette cleanser.  Here you listened to four guys excited about sci-fi and fantasy, discussion big ideas, concrete events and characters, and how the writers of yesterday continued to influence the writers of today.  The panel was wide ranging; it discussed literature spanning more than sixty years, and drifted off into related topics like artwork and publishing.  The panel was engaging; it featured laughter and disagreements.  The panel was informative; even an old hand at Appendix N literature could come away with some new fragment of information they hadn’t seen before.  (Personally, there were a few things about Frank Frazetta’s career arc that I hadn’t heard before.) The panel was everything you would expect from a group of people excited to work in an exciting genre like sci-fi and/or fantasy.

Listening to these two panels back to back was enlightening just because of the contrast it provided between the two camps.  It showed beyond any shadow of a doubt what the ultimate effects of Convergence are on a company, and industry, and a culture.  One the one hand you have grizzled and bland old dinosaurs desperate to hang onto positions of influence, and to use that influence for political purposes.  On the other hand you have energetic and excited idea-men who just love fantasy and sci-fi, and who just want to learn from the old masters and take their ideas in brave new directions.

That’s the choice before fans of sci-fi/fantasy today.  The well trod and potentially lucrative road of the dinosaurs, or the less travelled road of the fun loving idea men.

As for me, I’ll be following Robert Frost down the road less travelled.

Posted in hugo time, politics | Comments Off on Two Panels Diverged

Puppy of the Month Book Club

In an effort to build up the fan community for those who love Sad Puppy, Rabid Puppy, and Puppy-related works, I’ve started the Puppy of the Month Book Club.  This new blog will select one book a month from either of the official Puppy Hugo lists, or at least a book that could have been on one of those lists.

Online sci-fi/fantasy fandom spends a lot of time talking about these books, but most of those conversations are scattered over a dozen blogs and multiple social media platforms.  If you’re anything like me, a lot of those conversations are over and done with before you’ve had a chance to clear your reading queue and read the work for yourself.  This is a chance to join a community dedicated to selecting worthy books, and reading and discussing them in some detail. 

At this point, I’m calling for anyone who would like to sign up to Contribute to the project.  All you’re committing to is reading one book and writing a quick summary or review.  If you’re up for that, leave a comment, and I’ll get back to you.  If that’s too much, then feel free to lurk, and join in the conversation in the blog comments.

As a club, this isn’t something I’m doing for me, but for the wider community.  I’ll pick the first book, just to get the ball rolling, but future works will be selected on a rotational basis by other Contributors.  That way everyone can get thoughts on books they love, and everyone gets to read books that might be somewhat outside of their own lists.

It should be fun, shoot me a message, and jump on in.

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