Vote for Granddaddy – D&D Belongs in the Toy Hall of Fame

By way of Gamers and Grognards:

That’s right. There is a Toy Hall of Fame, and this year D&D is a nominee for induction! As of right now, it has the highest number of votes. Let’s keep it that way and get D&D into the Toy Hall of Fame! It might need votes as it is up against a couple that could be heavy hitters (not the least of which is Transformers.) Follow  the link and cast your vote:  Toy Hall of Fame

How is this not already in the Toy Hall of Fame?  It has to be because it’s more of a game than a toy, but it’s up and in the running now, so let’s make this happen.  D&D is already in Games Magazine’s Hall of Fame, but why not vote anyway?  Any little bit of publicity that helps grow the hobby is worth a few clicks.

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In Digital Stores Now: The King’s Dragon

If you’re not the kind of reader who pre-orders books.  Maybe you want to buy and read.  Either way, it’s cool.  You don’t have to worry about that any more, because today is the day that The King’s Dragon is available for purchase and reading in the same day.

When is the last time you sat down and enjoyed a straightforward tale about a man forced to fight a dragon?  No tricks, no clever gimmicks, no ‘quirky twist on the old cliches’, just a good old fashioned red-in-sword-and-claw fight.  It’s probably been a while, and how good would it feel to lose yourself in an epic battle like that?  Pretty darn good.

Of course, there’s a little more going on in this novella than just a man meeting a dragon in single combat.  What would it take to persuade a man to fight against such long odds?  How would a king overcome an old soldier’s natural reluctance to take up the sword once more?  And what would a father do to save his daughter from King, Dragon, and worse?  These aren’t subplots – they are critical elements of the story of Jason Tavener, one-time champion and potential future dragon chow.

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Puppy of the Month: Nine Princes in Amber

Picture above: Frisky, Jon, and Nate

It turns out Amber is a city, not a fantasy version of carbonite.  Who knew?  Before this month, not me!  We’re talking a little Zelazny over there this month, so don’t miss out.  My own brief review went up today, but you’ll want to stick around as The Frisky Pagan expounds further on the book and Nathan runs through an incredibly detailed rundown of the book and makes observations far more profound than the first sentence of this blog post.

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One for the Pulp Revolutionaries

This was over in G+, and it deserves to be shared with the wider world.  Jeffro posted this amazing quote by the space pirate Captain Jaren, of the Shibboleth, which perfectly encapsulates the feeling of Nethereal:
“Our plan to liberate Tharis went down in flames, thanks to Malachi. All that’s left of the resistance is one ship and a skeleton crew. Vernon’s offered us a way to start again somewhere else. Let the Guild keep this godforsaken Stratum. We’ll make our own world. By our rules.”
That’s a great quote, if that doesn’t charge you up, if that doesn’t make you want to read the book, if that doesn’t make you want to find an impossible battle to fight, then you have a very sick soul.  I don’t even know what to tell you.  Have fun watching the Kardashians, maybe?

 It charged me up, and inspired me to respond:

“Our plan to liberate the Hugos went down in flames thanks to Scalzi. All that’s left of the resistance is one blog and a skeleton crew. Vox’s offered us a way to start again somewhere else. Let Tor keep this Godforsaken market. We’ll make our own media. By our rules.”

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More Hernstrom: Thune’s Vision

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There truly is no writer working today who better exemplifies the Pulp Revolution than Schuyler Hernstrom.  I know what you’re thinking, but talking about what we’re reading lately is the point of this exercise, and I’ve been reading Hernstrom, so I’m talking about Hernstrom.  I wanted to see if the high quality of the couple of stories of his that made it into Cirsova were a fluke or not, and now that I’m half-way through Thune’s Vision, I can happily report that they most definitely are not.

Thune’s Vision is a collection of his short stories, and you should already know this because you should already have read them because they are that good.  Hernstrom writes with a dreamy lyricism that reminds me of Zelazny at times and Poul Andersen at his fantasy best at others.

I already told you about the first story in the collection, The Challenger’s Garland, and it’s epic feel.  The remaining stories, though still strongly Hernstronian, have a character all their own.  The second story, Athan and the Princess, feels more like a Howard story, and not just in the subject matter of a barbarian wandering the wilds.  He departs from that mold by making the titular barbarian the leader of a tribe who sets out, not in an aimless wandering, but on a specific quest to save his people.  Hernstrom imbues this story with a timelessness both in the prose he uses and in the epic sweep of history that both precedes and follows the action of the tale.

The third tale in the collection, Movements of the Ige, is the first wholly science-fiction tale in the collection.  Most of Hernstrom’s stories take place in that odd twilight where science-fiction sticks its snout into the fantasy tent, but this one is a straight astronauts and aliens tale.  It is told from the point of view of the aliens, and here Hernstrom plays coy to good effect.  He presents the reader with impressions of the characters and action more than descriptions, and somehow this makes the alien culture and its response to humanity’s intrusion into their world all the more strange.  Although the aliens would clearly be considered the ‘bad guys’ were the tale told from the human point of view, here we sympathize with them even as we curse them for their alien warlike assumptions.

Moving on to The Ecology of the Unicorn, we get the closest thing to a fairy tale style fantasy featuring a sorcerer, pursued by death himself, travelling into the land of fey to stave off death for a few more millennia.  The sorcerer’s tower, the land of the fairies, and the inhabitants of each almost fit the typical clichés.  They could be the carbon-copy characters and places of hundreds of forerunner stories, but Hernstrom scatters just a few little details here and there to put a unique spin on each that gives them more depth and character.

The last tale in the book is The Saga of Adalwolf, but as a novella, I’m going to save a review of that for later.  For now, there are a couple of points that need to me made.  This book reads like a first time self-published author.  That is both a strength and weakness.  The upshot is that he is free to experiment, and those experiments generally pay off.  The downside is that each story contains a few clunky sentences that jangle against his normal fluency.  Working without a net is a tricky business, and though he does it well, any editor worth his salt would have called out a sentence like this:

The sorcerer made himself comfortable in a low slung chair made from the bones of a wyvern as he pondered his predicament over a goblet of mulled wine.

There’s way too much going on in that sentence, and it sticks out in contrast when surrounded by passages such as this:

Molok rose from his resting place in the damp earth.  He mounted his black warhorse and rode through gray mist, past broken tombs and stunted trees.  Before a cliff’s edge he brought the mount to heel.  Tendrils of fog coalesced in the heavy air, weaving themselves into a bridge of sorts, leading away into the void beyond the sky.  Molok snapped the reins and crossed over, entering the realm of his lord.

Now that’s what I’m talking about.  That short and sweet cadence that sounds almost poetic, the light touch of detail that speaks volumes.  That’s this book’s strong suit.  While Thune’s Vision is a step back from the flawless quality of Herstrom’s edited works, it is at most a baby step, and shouldn’t be off-putting to the potential reader.

Hernstrom’s work meets that impossible to describe, but wonderful to behold dream of production companies everywhere; it’s the same, but different.  He works well trod ground – fantasy lands that incorporate the ruins of great technological empires long crumbled into dust, or fairy tale-esque fantasies with wicked sorcerer’s and tricksy little fey creatures.  But in Thune’s Vision, he’s doing it on his own terms, and adding a strong voice and just the right mix of new ideas, and new blend of old ideas, to give the reader the sort of sf/f that is in such short supply these days.

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Available for Pre-Order: King’s Dragon


My latest novella is now available for pre-order from Amazon.com:

Jason Tavener is an old soldier gone to seed.  He just wants to live out his days raising a daughter and schlepping drinks for the humble farmers and tradesmen of a high mountain village.  His battlefield experience and the friendship of a king make that a more difficult proposition than it should be.  Four villages the dragon has razed, and the King believes Jason is the one man who can stop it.  On its surface this is a story about a king, a hero, and a dragon, but beyond that it is the story of a man and his duty to his family, his country, and his friends.  Sometimes the hardest part of doing the right thing is knowing which of the right things is most important.

If you love solid storytelling with a strong theme, fast action, and compelling characters, and you miss down to earth fantasy tales featuring good and evil, and epic fights for survival against all odds, then The King’s Dragon is the book for you.

This is the first in a planned five part series of novellas centering on the theme of big damn lizards that need a good killing.  No ancient wise  mystics or misunderstood races – just the big scaly atomic bombs of fantasy literature – and the men and women tasked with ending their threat to the kingdoms of man.

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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.

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Jeffro’s Appendix N, A Brief Primer for New Recruits

Welcome to the Pulp Revolution. 

If you have your dog-eared copy of “A Princess of Mars” handy, you’re in the right place.  How we got here is a bit of a long story, and you may have some questions.  What follows is a brief summary of how we got here – a very brief summary – which will likely lead to more questions.  Good.  Keep asking them.  Keep looking back into the original source documents…that’s kind of what we do around here.  And we have enough faith in our arguments, our works, and our faith to have no fear of the light.

But be warned:  As you delve into the dank corners of the movement, you’ll come to see that much of the gospel written below vastly understates the case for the Pulp Revolution.  Though our cause is just and our victory written in the starts, the situation really is worse than you can possibly imagine.

Jeffro read a series of books written pre-1980 that inspired D&D and noticed some rather striking things about them.  Instead of doing the sane, rational thing – thinking, “Huh, this guy makes some rather strange leaps, and I disagree with many of his conclusions, but as a self-confessed fan of sf/f literature, it’s at least worth thinking about and talking about these things” – the internet went full “burn the heretic!” hate machine on him.  We’re talking Kony 2012 levels of rage, which would have been horrible if it wasn’t mincing skinny-fat fanfic writers and barely literate game nerds doing the raging.

He didn’t realize that one blogger liking the style of sf/f from pre-1980 would put him in between attacks from the book scene (they realized people liking old books would mean buying less of their own books) and from the gaming scene (they realized people using old books for inspiration would mean buying less of their hack RPG supplements and settings).  [Edit:  The motives behind the attack were many, varied, and mysterious.  More details are available here.] 

Protests from the gaming community are best exemplified by these blog posts

As for the ‘it’ what set off the literary crowd?  That’s a pretty big kettle of fish to unwrap*.  Long story short:  The nerds wanted respect so they abandoned the timeless virtues championed in the old tales in favor of Oprah-level drivel and self-absorbed literary tricks…but with dragons!  They went dark and gritty, because that’s more ‘grown up’ than heroism and virtue.  In the process they dragged everything good about sf/f into the mud, and they did it while no one was looking for reasons that have more to do with real world politicking than anything else.  It was a pretty bleak time for anyone unwilling to engage in the latest Two Minute Hate or who cared that good quality took a back seat to good politics.  We had so little to read we turned our back on the darkness.

Well, along comes old Jeffro flicking on the lights, pulling up the rug, and showing the world all those scurrying creepy crawlies for what they truly are, and the Gollums and orcs who curse the day ball reacted with all the spittle and anger you’d expect. He started asking where the good stuff was now that the orcish gatekeepers had been superceded by self-publishing, and wouldn’t you know it, a ragtag group of misfits and ne’er do wells rallied to the Howardian, Burroughsian, and Nortonian banner we waved and started doing just that.  The last year or so has seen the blossoming of a nascent movement to look back to the pulps and build a better literary culture that produces works for today that remain true to their spirit.  We fans of the old masters have gone from wandering lonely in the ‘nothing to read’ wilderness to an embarrassment of riches recently, and it’s only getting better all the time.

If you are new to the revolution, you’re in for an exciting time.

For more information, this is a good starting post for Jeffro’s message that so enraged the world of supposed sf/f fans: https://jeffro.wordpress.com/2015/04/04/i-have-been-nominated-for-a-hugo/

And a bit of the old smash and bash: https://jeffro.wordpress.com/2015/06/05/withering-criticism-for-me-compliments-of-mark-from-file770/

How about a little bit more?  https://jeffro.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/file770-is-on-fire/

Those are some good starting points for the history.  If you want to see the future, take a look at Cirsova Magazine: https://cirsova.wordpress.com/

That magazine is the best exemplar of the old ways done modern that I’ve yet to come across.  Unlike loud mouthed bloggers who gamble nothing but a few hours of free time, a whole bunch of electrons, and a non-existent reputation, the genius behind Cirsova is betting cold, hard cash that people are longing for a return to the good stuff.

Well I’m not longing for more of the good stuff!  Not anymore.  I found it.  Right here, in…

The Pulp Revolution!

Viva John Carter!

*Yeah, I mixed that metaphor, sometimes you have to know when to break the rules, and as a self-professed member of the Pulp Revolution, I ain’t afraid of breaking rules.  Gimme a reason, and I’ll dangle a participle from the nearest tree, too.  That’s just the sort of thing we revolutionaries do.

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E-Book Covers – Let’s See Some Action Out There!

A great blog post came over my transom today, and every e-book publisher needs to read. 

James Harris, of Auxiliary Memory writes:

I’ve always loved dust jacket art on science fiction hardbacks. I also love cover art on science fiction paperbacks, and cover art on science fiction magazines. But what the hell is happening with covers for ebooks? I can understand when self-published authors create their own covers and they look awful.

If you look at the cover art from 2016 – here’s a selection at the old SF Signal site, and look at a selection of cover art from the 1960s and 1970s at Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations, you’ll notice, at least in my mind, that cover art is less creative.

I hasten to point out that e-book covers face challenges that print editions don’t.  Pixel space is limited and the need for scalable titles that show up against high contrast backgrounds at any resolution aren’t as important for print editions.  Anyone hiding lazy cover design behind that excuse deserves the low sales volume they get – just because it’s harder to do it, that doesn’t make it any less important.  Particularly for those of us toiling in trenches of our own digging.

And it doesn’t have to be expensive.  If you have no talent for art, an evocative cover is just five bucks and 24 hours away.  Here’s a list of people willing to do it for you.  Everything I produce goes through a round of Fiverr.com proofreading, and the service is easier to use than eBay.  If you’re paying to eliminate typos (and why wouldn’t you?) then you can just as easily do the same with your cover art.

Even those of you with great cover art already can always use the reminder, people judge books by their cover.  If you publish your own works put at least as much time, effort, and thought into the cover as you do the first chapter.  It’s everyone’s first contact with your book – make it a good one.

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Space Pirates Are In My Wheelhouse

It turns out spending time on social media poking around the fringes of modern publishing has blown up my reading queue.  I haven’t had this much great stuff rain down on me since Matt moved to town my sophomore year of high school and brought his father’s full basement of sf/f with him.  Forget the local library, his dad’s collection would have kept me busy for a lifetime if college hadn’t gotten in the way.  As a result of this recent embarrassment of riches, you’re probably going to see a few short story reviews thrown on the blog as short filler, as it looks like the bulk of my long fiction reading will be dedicated to the Puppy of the Month Book Club.  Filler like this post.
 
The Fourth Fleet, by Russell Newquist, is a short science-fiction story that appears in the collection, Make Death Proud to Take Us.  I had hoped to review this entire collection of short stories as a whole, but it’s been a few weeks now, and it’s better to get one short review out while the reading is still fresh in my mind. 
 
Full disclosure:  Russell is a good guy.  Well…his online persona strikes me as a good guy, and that’s the only way I’ve ever encountered him.  In fact, I bought this book because I like what he brings to the schoolyard bull session.  This review might be colored by the fact that I like him and want to see him do well.  Whether that makes this more of an impartial review or more of a naked shill is up to you.
 
With all that pre-amble out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff, and The Fourth Fleet definitely ranks among the good stuff.
 
The Fourth Fleet is exactly the sort of throwback adventure story that churns my butter.  It starts out the tale of three brothers clinging to life and scrambling to return to civilization after having been intercepted by a fleet of space pirates, having had their cargo of planetary gas and all their food stolen, and then left for dead.  The blue collar guys are hampered by real world physics and the need to account for things like mass v. thrust, planetary orbits, and other real-world technical challenges.  Somehow, they manage to cobble together a solution, and limp back towards the inner planets of the solar system, and with them they bring information critical to stopping the recent plague of space piracy.
 
Somehow, the pirate fleet in question has developed a revolutionary method of transport that allows them to pretty much ignore the physics of space travel.  Every time the space cops get a lock on the raiders and set an intercept course, they arrive at the calculated rendezvous only to have the buccaneers actually show up on the far side of sol raiding yet another fleet of colony ships or gas miners.  Solving the mystery of how the pirates manage to defy the laws of physics as currently understood places this story in the hardest of hard sci-fi, and actually drives the action as well.
 
This is one of those stories that is just long enough.  It gets in, tells its story, and gets out.  A less skilled writer, or one with a contract to fill, could have inflated the story here to fill out a smallish paperback, but that would have required numerous subplots and threads, pointless politicking, and a lot of wasted time.  This is exactly the sort of story that fits well within the short story dynamic, and it is nice to see that people are still doing just that. 
 
For my part, this story came about at just the right time.  One of the audio-books I have in post-production right now is a collection of short stories edited by Tom Kratman and Vox Day, Riding the Red Horse. That collection contains a short non-fiction piece you may remember called, The Hot Equations, by Ken Burnside, in which he explains the realities of thermodynamics, demonstrates how hard sci-fi should operate within those realities, and then suggests ways that they can be used to drive conflict.  It’s as much a polemic against the ubiquity of soft sci-fi as it is a challenge to writers to step up to the hard sci-fi plate and do better.
 
Reading The Fourth Fleet provides a clinic on how a writer can step up to that plate and hit a solid home run.  If this post doesn’t have enough asides for you yet, check out Russell’s own blog where he confirms that I didn’t luck into some grand connection – he admits to writing this story as a direct response to that challenge.  At the end of his post, he states:

I leave it to the readers to decide if the story honors the science of “The Hot Equations” – or if it’s any good.

 This reader decided that it does, and it is.
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