Grown Up Book Report: Starship Grifters

Most of what you’ll find reviewed here at Seagull Rising are works that really blow my skirt up or that really grind my gears.  Starship Grifters, by Rob Kroese, is neither.  Instead, it’s a very funny book with, that is really well written, and just isn’t for me. 

The basic plot of the story follows the adventures of Rex Nihilo as he desperately tries to rid himself of a massive debt.  (The details of how he assumed that debt are left vague here for the purposes of saving potential readers the fun of discovery.)  Rex is a narcissistic, back stabbing, lying, no-good, dirty, double dealing swindler, but like all the best grifters he has a fearless arrogance and under-dog appeal that soften him up.  To make him an easier character to swallow, he is the best of a lot of bad actors – the people he swindles and who swindle him right back are so much worse that you can’t help but root for Rex.

The book is narrated by his faux-femme robot sidekick, Sasha.  Sasha is a one of a kind, almost-sentient robot prevented from achieving true sentience by forced reboots every time she gets too clever.  This gives Kroese an excuse to deliberately set-up mysteries that Sasha just barely solves – only to blank her mind and deny readers the resolution until events can unfold for themselves.  It’s one weird trick that that is as effective and funny as it is transparent. 

The leads in this book remind me of a gender-swapped Bender and Fry, of Futurama infamy.  You’ve got a lovable rogue – this time a human – and a dim-witted assistant – this time a female robot.  It’s a classic pairing, and for good reason.  Making the straight man a largely emotionless robot results in a lot of very dry wit being tossed around right alongside some humdinger one liners like these:

  • The name of the evil imperial government is the Malarchy.
  • It takes a massive, well-funded bureaucracy to solve problems caused by a massive, well-funded bureaucracy
  • The Strong Misanthropic Principle, which asserts that the universe exists in order to screw with us.

Then there’s the Douglas Adams-esque rationalization for faster-than-light travel:

It was actually well known by the twentieth century that Euclidean geometry is arbitrary, being only one possible way of describing the relations of objects in space.  There are a theoretically infinite number of other geometries that all employ their own set of rules.  The trick is to find a geometry in which the distance you want to traverse is significantly shorter than in Euclidean geometry.  Essentially you reverse-engineer a an entirely new set of geometric rules based on the trip you want to take, and then employ those rules for only as long as the trip lasts.

This is literally called rationalizing a hypergeometric course.  Talk about hanging a lampshade on something.

So far I’ve name checked two of the best humor sci-fi franchises around, and you can throw the Stainless Steel Rat onto that pile.  This is a book can stand shoulder to shoulder with any of those franchises.  It is that funny and well written.

Here’s where this review gets a little trickier to write.  Although everything I’ve said up to this point has been glowing, and while I’ll certainly add Kroese to my stable of authors to look for, this isn’t a book that appeals to me these days.

I’m just not a big fan of stories about con-jobs and heists.  At this point in my life, I’ve consumed enough moral ambiguity and anti-heroism.  My tastes run towards moral reinforcement and true heroism.  Rex Nihilo is just a grafter looking out for number one, and that leaves me cold.  Bear in mind, I finished this book on the strength of Kroese’s humor and writing, but as pretty as its chrome sparkles it just doesn’t have much under the hood. 

To understand where it fails, let’s take a look at how well it meets Misha Burnett’s Five Pillars of Pulp:

  1. Action Oriented Storytelling:  Starship Grifters passes this with flying colors.  Those flying colors are typically those of lazer blasts, but it also features space chases and fistfights as well. 
  2. Protagonists with a clear moral compass:  Pure fail.  Rex’s moral compass always points straight towards himself.  His sidekick, Sasha, does what she can to help him, but is constrained by her programming.
  3. An element of romance in the classical sense of decisive action:  None worth mentioning.
  4. As well as the modern sense of interpersonal passion:  This one is a mixed bag. Rex is passionate about money and his own skin, but see number 2.  We’ll score a half-point for the passion, but no more because the passion is not in service to anything greater than Rex himself.
  5. An unapologetic view of violence as the proper tool for overcoming evil:  Rex, like all good grifters, believes violence is a tool best used on his behalf by others.

That’s 1.5 out of 5 pillars.  That’s a C level effort on the Pulp-O-Meter.  This is not to say that Starshp Grifters is a bad book.  It’s a lot of fun, and those who enjoy madcap hijinks featuring as many as five separate groups bounce around the galaxy in a constant effort to outlie, out-cheat, and out-swindle each other would be hard pressed to find a book that does it better than Starship Grifters.

That’s just not my cuppa joe.

And really, that may be the highest compliment one could pay an author:  I liked this book, even though it’s not the sort of book I typically enjoy.

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Cultural Processes and the Pulp Revolution

Recently, the Russian Orthodox Church’s Patriarch Kirill spoke out in support of the Pulp Revolution, the Superversive Movement, and the various stripes of Puppies.  Not in so many words, but his heart is with us. 

Naturally, in their interview, Russia Today didn’t explicitly ask the Patriarch what he thought of Appendix N and the recent push to reinvigorate a dying sf/f culture by a return to stories featuring healthy relationships, clear lines of good and evil, and heroes that take active measures to suppress the latter.  Instead, they asked him about recent legislation pushing the normalization of same-sex relationships, and in an off-hand moment he used literature as a common touchstone for understanding the difference between good and evil:

“I’m deeply wary of it. What’s happening in the Western countries is that, for the first time in human history, legislation is at odds with the moral nature of human beings. What’s good and evil? Sin and righteousness? These could be defined in both religious terms and non-religious terms. If you take a good character from English, American, or Russian fiction, you will see that all of them possess the same qualities. Why? We have different cultures and different political systems, but for all of us good is good, and evil is evil, and everyone understands who the good guys are, and who the bad guys are. So how do we distinguish? With our heart, with our moral nature. This moral nature, created by God, served as a foundation for the legislation which is designed. Laws defined moral values in legal terms, telling us what’s good and what’s bad. We know that stealing is bad and helping people is good, and laws define what stealing is and what the suitable punishment for it is.

Now, for the first time in human history, the law allows something that doesn’t correspond to our moral nature. The law contradicts it.”

As Breitbart said, politics is downstream from culture.

The enemies of truth and beauty have long understood this, and they’ve long understood that subverting the culture was a necessary first step towards subverting the law.  By pushing fiction away from universal truths about good and evil and towards antiseptic intellectualism unmoored from a moral center, they’ve managed to shift the culture towards one that accepts and encourages their stilted world view.  There’s a feedback system built into their plan whereby they infect the culture with their grim worldview which then demands more reinforcement that hopelessness is the natural order.

The new-wave writers and editors explicitly told readers to stop worrying about all that good and evil stuff.  They told readers to evolve beyond simple superstition and accept that the world is painted in various shades of gray – that the wisdom cultivated over generations and handed down to us should be overturned if you’re really smart and you just kinda figured some stuff out.  Which left the barn door open for, “I just kinda figured it out when I was in college,” writers like Iain Banks and China Mieville to escape from the hog pen and into the kitchen to slurp up all the jelly.

Patriarch Kirill.  Hero.  Revolutionary.  Puppy.

And yet, as the Patriarch points out, we distinguish good and evil with our heart and our moral nature.  I’d argue that our brains play a role, but the greater point is that even after you give your brain over to writers like Banks and Meiville, the good man’s heart and soul reject what they have to offer.  It takes an act of will to silence or ignore the feeling of disgust or dismay that those two (and others like them) inspire in readers.  The bleak and hopeless worldview of the new wave authors is a heavy and draining one, and all the brainpower in the world cannot solve that problem.  Give up, these authors say.  You are surrounded by evil and nothing you do can really make much difference in the grand scheme of things.  Just abandon hope, live for today, and let your betters care for you and yours.

Contrast that with the feeling of hope and inspiration that John C. Wright’s works inspire.  Even when things look their worst, hope remains.  It feeds the soul what it needs to forge ahead in this fallen world.  It pushes a worldview that inspires active resistance to darkness and evil.  Wright, and writers like him, bring the message that you are surrounded by evil, but everything you do to fight it makes a difference.  Fight today that you might live tomorrow, and care for you and yours.

That’s the message you get from the ‘regress harder’ crowd, and it appeals to the sensibilities of all men of good faith.  That message is a direct threat to the new-wave writers and those who subscribe to the larger cultural narrative.  That message resonates with the hearts and souls of those looking for hope, and active measures are taken to silence that message because it is so much stronger and appealing.  That message has to be contained because every time the message of life grows, it does so at the expense of the death eaters.

At the societal level, a culture welcoming messages of truth and beauty also rejects the grim nihilism and empty intellectualism of the ‘no real bad guys’ crowd.  The former teaches an understanding that good and evil are real things in the world.  The former provides an ability to distinguish between good and evil.  The former encourages everyone to fight evil – even if it’s just the dragons appearing on the ballot or in the office or in one’s own heart.

Producers of nihilistic tales of raw intellectualism unfettered by the presence of a moral heart and soul know that literature exalting the ability to recognize and fight evil are a dagger pointed straight at their blackened, shriveled hearts.  They are all battle cries that serve to inspire men of good will to reject the seductive message of evil peddled by men of ill will.  The forces of darkness hate and fear the Pulp Revolution, the Superversive Movement, and the various stripes of Puppies, because we represent a direct threat to their existence.  They cannot but alternately mock and ignore us because deep down in their hearts they know their empty promises will yield but bitter fruit.  They know their days are numbered.  They that we are coming for them. 

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Writing Circle Jerks

Most people in most writing circles are jerks.  Allow me to demonstrate:
This crossed my Twitter transom, and it took a Herculean effort and some serious teeth gritting to let it slide on down out of the bottom of my feed without a direct response.  So much of it makes no sense to me, and yet I said nothing.  The limitations of communicating through the twit box saved me from shooting off my mouth at the time.  The many and varied problems inherent in this graph won’t fit into a few 140 character telegrams.  Twitter just wasn’t the right place.
Blogger, now…that is the right place!
One look at that chart tells you everything you need to know about the sad state of literature today.  Three quarters of that pie consists of raw emoting about writing.  Maybe a quarter of the pie actually relates to writing.
Here’s my own pie chart:
Granted, my life as it relates to writing includes a massive chunk of time spent doing things for other people in exchange for pictures of dead presidents.  That’s life, and it’s fine.  It won’t last forever.  The point is that writing is an enjoyable experience for me, and when the chance comes along to do it, I grab it.  Contrast that to a ‘writer’ who actively looks for reasons NOT to write.  Do you really think the material they produce will be worthwhile?  If they couldn’t be motivated to write it, why would I be motivated to read it?
Notice that the other half of my chart consists of time spent actually doing something.  If I’m not writing, I’m reading about it, or writing about it.  That last one is a bit ironic, so let me explain.
There’s writing and then there’s writing.  Typing these words into Blogger is writing, technically.  It’s writing in the same sense that writing a letter or email or a technical report at the office is writing, but it isn’t writing in the sense of producing a work for sale on the open market.  That doesn’t mean that it isn’t writing of value.  Quite the contrary.  This post serves as a warm up for me – as soon as I’m done with this post, I’ll go back to walking my mendicant priest through the clues that lead him to the final confrontation with a hell-spawned dragon.  Everything I write – from the quickest email to the longest internet rant – has value and makes me a better writer.  It’s all time well spent.  It goes in the ‘win’ column even if it isn’t generating words for sale on Amazon.
Before we move on to why most writing circles are full of jerks, let’s get a little bit meta.  That last paragraph I wrote?  That’s a reminder to everyone that you’re getting better all the time.  That’s a reminder that writing is a skill that you practice even when you aren’t pushing characters through a plot.  That’s a reminder that so much of what you do with your ‘not writing’ time is making you a better writer.  These are all subtle words of encouragement to writers that everything is going to be okay.  That they shouldn’t stress out so much.  That they can do this.  It’s positive reinforcement for them to continue doing what they are doing.
Notice the active verbs there that have more to do with action than emoting?  That’s on purpose.
Compare my advice to that of the jerks shuffling the first pie around the internet:
Notice the small size of that yellow slice?  Writers love to laugh about how much they suck or about how much they hate writing.   You can never fully escape it.  As much as I actively avoid most writer’s haunts on the internet, that damn thing still pushed into my feed.  It’s small size is my way of telling the reader to stop listening to that kind of loser talk.  That’s my way of telling the reader to stop worrying about what other writers feel and get back to what you should be DOING.
Notice there isn’t a red slice?  I don’t spend time worrying about it.  More to the point, I don’t spend time telling people that I worry about it.  At best it isn’t true – it’s just a po’ faced attempt to fish a compliment out of the reader.  At worst, it’s an attempt to invoke feelings of inadequacy among other writers.  Either way, it’s a pretty lousy thing to say to a writer.
Of course, a writer should be concerned about the quality of his work.  If you’re honest, and if you want to get any better.  The day a writer thinks he is a good enough writer is the day he stops trying to get better is the day he starts the long, slow slide towards writing like John Scalzi.  But that’s besides the point – the real point is that time spent emoting about the quality of your writing is not time spent doing something about the quality of your writing.
You see what I keep coming back to?  It’s the contrast we’ve seen before between feeling and doing. 
Those in writing circles whose advice focuses on feeling rather than writing are doing their audience a grave dis-service.  They are jerks.
Don’t be a feeler.  Be a doer.
Don’t feel.  Write.
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Quick Hits: Woke Kids

This is going to sound like one of those fake “my woke eight year old asked me,” things that has littered the twit box of late.  It’s really not.  I take full credit for raising my daughter right.  My twelve year old daughter has my genes and she has my memes.

This weekend the older kids asked to watch the latest Star Trek horse whipping.  The twelve-year old is wise beyond my years, because she learned her lesson after the last two movies.  We asked her why she didn’t want to see the latest movie, and my hand to god, she said, “It’s just going to be about a hundred year old guy with a bomb trying to blow up the Federation, and then there’ll be a fistfight over the bomb at the end.”

A single tear of pride is rolling down my cheek as I type this.

Now look, my kids know to watch for the signs.  They know all about The Narrative, and we all point and laugh every time a movie makes a point to pause and linger in a long steady shot expressly designed to show everybody how current year the movie really is.  They ask questions about the antagonist’s motivations.  They will be effective soldiers for the next generation’s fight in the war on noticing things.

Take that, flyover country!

They pointed out to me that two out of the three vengeance thirsting Big Bad Guys seeking in this franchise are soldiers.  They had no answers for why that would be the case, so Dad filled them in, Jeffro like, on what their brain noticed, even if they did not.  As with most messaging designed around empty promises, stating out loud the sales pitch in plain bold terms makes the pitch sound ridiculous:

  • If you wear Axe body spray dozens of supermodels will follow in your wake.
  • Your cats will love you more if you feed them food from a can.
  • Soldiers are very bad, dangerous things who do very bad things, and you can’t have peace while they are around.

They notice these things, even if they don’t have the words to explain them.  Better yet, they have the confidence to identify when something doesn’t pass the smell test, and ask questions about it.  Why is that so hollow?  Why don’t I care about the people on the space station?  Why does this fight feel so fake?  Why is the central node for the entire ventilation system a glass box in ‘the sky’?  Why do the spaceships fly under rivers to dock in the middle of the space globe?

In some cases the answer is as simple as, “Because it makes it more dramatic.  Because it looks better.  Because we have three teams of people to keep track of, and this lets the director show us where they all are in relation to each other.”  These are the easy ones.  The relationship questions that are the hard ones to answer.  You have to really break down all the ways that films like this fail on the relationship front, and then figure out better ways to present what the film-makers were trying to show.  Teaching kids how adult relationships work is hard enough as it is, doing it while trying to shore up the foundations of a film like Beyond is playing the “Dad Game” on  B Mode.

You know what I’m talking about.

I should have listened to the 12 year old.

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Lessons Learned From King Conan

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

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

Good call, Jon.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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It’s Not Just You

Pictured above: Not me and my brother.

This past week I sent an email out to my closest friends and family announcing my entry into the world of self-publishing.  This represents my ‘coming out of the pulp closet’ to people in meat-space.  This doesn’t include the meat-sticks that sleep under the roof I pay for, naturally.  They have to put up with ‘quiet time’ while Dad hammers at the keyboard to the sweet guitar licks of Dick Dale.

Almost immediately, one of the legions of men who are my literal brothers shot back a message asking if I would be interested in reading some of his written work.  That prompted a long phone call during which he confirmed a few suspicions I’ve seen voiced around the Pulp-O-Sphere.

Before we get to those points, let’s get a couple things straight.  It’s important to remember that this is my brother we’re talking about.  We’ve got the same genes.  We grew up in the same environment.  We spent countless hours separated by a DM screen.  During our formative years, we watched the same movies and read the same books.  So it isn’t too surprising that we share tastes.  That said, we’ve been on our own in this wonderful world for two and a half decades, and in that time we’ve gone our separate ways.  The critical difference here is that this is a guy who hasn’t spent the last couple of years tilting at the Hugo windmill, who doesn’t spend a lot of time on social media, and who hasn’t fallen in with a bad crowd of revolutionaries.  This guy represents the average fan of sf/f literature who just wants to read the damn things.  For that reason, he serves as an interesting point of reference.

What came out of our conversation was a telling glimpse into the mind of a casual fan of adventure fiction with an emphasis on the sf/f.  He noticed the decline in quality of the typical sf/f book published today.  He wanted something very different from what the big publishers had to offer.  He was desperate enough for stories that fit his notion of adventure and heroism that he sat down at the computer and wrote up a few stories of his own.  Including one about a guy fighting a dragon.  And all of this over just the last three to four years.

Which is the exact same time frame that I’m seeing in reports around the pulp-o-sphere.

People are tired of genre fiction that doesn’t fill a need for inspirational heroism.  They are done waiting for the coastal cocktail party crowd to fill that need.  They are hungry for fiction that reminds them of the value of truth, honor, and beauty.  They can’t quite put their finger on the problem, but most of them aren’t so much interested in solving the problem as they are interested in handing over their money to those who can solve it for them.

The only hurdles they face today are a limited supply and an inability to find that limited supply.

Fortunately for them, we have top men working on those problems.


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Cirsova, The Cover Art

Four covers by Jabari Weather

As warned previously, the covers of Cirsova magazine are worth a look. 

We’re going to punt on the special edition cover featuring a pair of GamerGate heroes in a classic Frazetta pose.  That was a nice nod to the troops on the front lines of the Great Meme War of 2016, but it’s worth it’s own discussion.  Also, it doesn’t really fit my thesis, so like any good climate scientist worth his grant money, I’m going to just ignore that pesky little data point.

What you’re looking at to the right there are the first four covers of Cirsova Magazine.  Initially, I was little disappointed to learn that the same artist would be preparing the cover for the fourth installation of the magazine.  Then I saw the cover he did and realized I didn’t know what I was talking about and maybe I should keep my damn fool mouth shut.

That never stopped me before and it’s not going to stop me now. 

Purely from a branding perspective, this is a clever move.  Cirsova magazine has a distinct look to it.  The bold colors and the stark impressionistic style all serve to distance this magazine from its more staid competitors.  You’ve got conflict occurring in each one as well.  Only in the case of the magic thief sneaking through a wall do you have a cool character looking cool, and even he is in the process of doing something.

Now take a look at the more recent covers of the sort of magazines you’re likely to find in the box chains:

At least they warned you what to expect inside.

Let’s just take a moment to enjoy the fact that F&SF over on the left features a lonely person surrounded by multiple cats.  Give them credit, they know what their audience likes and they are going to give those spinster cat ladies what they want good and hard.

Those three covers are all dull and muted.  Only the woman fleeing through the woods features any action of any kind.  The middle one is nothing but three pensive faces looking pensively off into the distance.  This is the sorry state of the mainstream fantasy and science-fiction world today.  Cirsova is right to do everything different that it can.

Of course, this being November, maybe the October issues of each magazine are just naturally muted and dark.  October is the spooky month of Halloween after all, so let’s look at a survey of Asimov’s covers, to get a better overview of what to expect from them.  Here is the top row of results from a Googel Image Search for “Asimov’s Magazine Previous Issues”:

There are nine people shown. Five of them are sitting down.  Of the fours people standing, only one is actually moving, and that figure is tucked way off into the back.  One of the covers is nothing but a landscape. Thrilling tales of adventure more certainly do not await.  This is a sedate magazine filled with people doing the same things they do in our world, only against a backdrop of stars and castles.  There’s no last minute changes to the hyper-drive coils.  There’s no fight against a scaly natural disaster in lizard form that breathes fire.  There’s just a whole lot of people sitting around talking about life and love and stuff, you know?

You can’t even give them credit for using a variety of artists.  Cirsova, with one artist shows just as much variety as Asimov’s does with (presumably) eight of them.  All eight covers of Asimov’s could be done by the same artist.  They have the same technical quality and evoke the same listless acceptance of the same old stories set in the same old new worlds. 

I’d argue Cirsova has more variety given that its four issues feature three different figure perspectives.  Two feature full body characters painted from overhead, one a three quarter figure from below, and the most recent features a head and shoulder shot of a woman.  This is a great way of subtly reminding readers that Cirsova includes stories written from different perspectives.

The only thing I see that is consistent across the first four covers of Cirsova is that all four are fantasy.  They have yet to feature a sci-fi cover.  That seems like a glaring omission for a magazine that features plenty of adventure off-planet.

So mark me down as a suitably chastened fan of Jabari Weathers.  The Cirsova covers have continued to grow on me over time, and I’m eager to see what the fifth issue of Cirsova brings to my mailbox.

[Edit to add:  After writing this post, my thesis was independently confirmed by the Barbarian Book Club.]

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People Are Talking

The first independent review of my writing was recently published at the Castalia House blog, and glowing isn’t too hyperbolic of a word for it.

It’s got likable characters that read as if they are actual human beings. It’s got protagonists that could maybe stand to see things a little differently and antagonists that maybe have a point. It’s got unvarnished heroism, believable emotional beats, and the exact epic showdown that is promised on the cover.

Most importantly, it is a story that can be enjoyed by fathers and their daughters. And as I write that line, I have to say I am both shocked and angered by how little there is to fill that niche. Nobody, at any rate, consulted with us for what we might have wanted that way in the most recent Star Wars film. I think all of that’s changing now, though. And not a moment too soon.

These would be kind words coming from anyone, but to read this from Jeffro Johnson lends them additional weight.  From a strictly professional standpoint, Jeffro has a keen eye for prose, and he pulls no punches when work doesn’t live up to his high standards.  If he enjoyed this novella, then I’m not wasting my time here.  From a personal standpoint, Jeffro has been instrumental in lifting the scales from my eyes when it comes to modern literature.  He has been a tireless advocate for the Pulp Revolution and making sci-fi great again, and a huge inspiration to me.  His approval of my work doesn’t just validate my decision to throw my hat in the ring, it motivates me to elevate my game.

Feels good, man.

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New Schedule


Between writing my own little novellas, keeping up with posting on three blogs (that I’ll admit to), and now working on recording a pair of new books for Castalia House, the cup that holds my free time workload truly doth runneth over.

Something’s gotta give, and it’s going to be this blog, but not by much.  We live in a new golden age of literature, and those of us trying to midwife a new culture of bright, energetic, and fun works have no shortage of materials to draw on for inspiration.  Rather than fill up this blog with a bunch of filler posts pointing to those other blogs, we’re just going to pull back here for a bit. 

Until I can get caught up on my writing – I’m pushing to get two more novellas out by the end of the year – we’re just going to pull back from posting a bit.  You can expect posts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday until further notice.

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Cirsova, Issue Three

It’s long past time we talked about Cirsova.  The third issue dropped, and I backed at a high enough level to receive a hard copy.  I could talk about the high quality of the physical copy, but I won’t. Because I’m not autistic.  That particular train may be fine, but it’s only one means by which Cirsova is sounding the death bell for traditional publishing.

We’ll do a more in-depth look at a few of the stories from this issue later, but for now, let’s just look at the issue from a bird’s eye view.  After all, this magazine is almost assured of a spot on the short list for a Hugo. 

As usual, this is some of the best bang for your buck that fans of short fantasy and science-fiction can find these days.  As a big fan of this style of reading, I’ve long been an advocate for increased production and sale by authors of their short form fiction on Amazon.  (I’m following that model myself with the steady release of novellas such as Wyrm’s Bane.)  As things stand, the production rate of stand-alone short fiction is low, and no one has developed a central review and recommendation list that one could use to select “the good stuff” (hint, hint).

That leaves us at the tender mercies of a man like P. Alexander, the editor of Cirsova, and to date those mercies have been tender indeed.  In each of the previous issues of Cirsova, I have yet to be disappointed by a story.  As expected, they range in quality.  They haven’t all blown my socks off, but I have yet to get half-way through a story and think, “Why am I wasting time on this garbage?”  Even the worst story in Crisova is worth reading through to the end.  That streak continues in the third issue.

This go ’round we get nine stories largely centered around the theme of pirates.  One glaring omission that jumps out is the third installment of the epic poetic retelling of the John Carter tale by James Hutchings.  That has been promised for the next issue, and it frees up space for stories from new authors, so it’s a small loss.  The mix of stories tends toward the fantasy end of the spectrum, but there’s enough science-fiction to satisfy.  The fantasy itself is a solid mix as well with a pair of stories set in historical fantasy worlds rather than the de rigeuer Tolkein pastiches that are all too common.  This issue even includes a modern world where fantasy slips past the normies on the regular, and while it wasn’t one that appealed to my tastes, it was nice to see that setting included as well.

One thing you can say for Cirsova is that its mix of new and old, and of safe and daring, hits all the sweet spots for variety that you’d want.  Even if you don’t like everything in this issue, it’s a safe bet you’ll like something.  And if you don’t like something in this issue, maybe fantasy and science-fiction just aren’t your thing.

As with the first two issues, the cover art here is provided by Jabari Weather.  My initial thought on seeing that he is the cover artist for the fourth issue was that they needed some fresh blood in the cover art department.  After thinking about it for ten seconds, and looking at the covers all lined up side-by-side, I realized how clever this choice really is.  But that’s a post for another day…

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