Social Media Games

Amatopia makes a great case for abandoning social media altogether:

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

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

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

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

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

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Post Puppy Doldrums

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Heroes Unleashed, Unleashed

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

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

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

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

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

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Heroes Unleashed – A Literary Super(s) Project

Madness.

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

And they invited me along for the ride!

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

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

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

 

 

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Pre-Tolkien Challenge, Lord Dunsany

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

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

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

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

Ahem.

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

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

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

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

Posted in great convo, pulpy fun | 1 Comment

The Pre-Tolkien Challenge, John Buchan

John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tales From the Delta Quadrant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, write what you know, right?

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

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

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

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The Pre-Tolkien Challenge, Algernon Blackwood

This past weekend, The Barbarian Book Club challenged his fellow bloggers to read three Fantasy stories written before Lord of the Rings was published, review all three on your blog, focusing on pre-Tolkien differences of similarities, and making sure you let us know where we can find them for ourselves, and share the challenge.

And we are not alone. Drop a link to yours in the comments if you have one.

Project Gutenberg seemed a natural first stop.  It has a host of stories in the public domain, all of which were published two decades prior to Tolkien’s masterpiece.  Within three minutes I had four solid leads, the first of which, Men of Iron by Howard Pyle, proved to be a full blown novel and so got back-burnered.  Looks great, but not really appropriate given its real-world medieval setting.  Which left me with three books of short stories:

  • Four Weird Tales by Algernon Blackwood
  • The Moon Endureth by John Buchan
  • Tales of Wonder by Lord Dunsany

Algernon Blackwood is a new one for me.  His Infogalactic listing includes a quote from a leading Lovecraft scholar identifying “his work [as] more consistently meritorious than any weird writer’s except Dunsany‘s.”  High praise indeed, and yet where’s the love for the guy?  Am I just a poser for never having heard of the man or is this another example of Current Year types like Damon Knight dumping him down a memory hole to make more room for their own mediocre works?  Here’s to hoping the big brains who hang out at the Castalia House blog can help out once they get the backend back up and running smooth.

Whatever the reason for Blackwood’s relative obscurity compared to Lovecraft, I’m glad I found the guy.  The first story in his collection, The Insanity of Jones, kicks off with a bang:

Adventures come to the adventurous, and mysterious things fall in the way of those who, with wonder and imagination, are on the watch for them…

Whoo-ah!  Words to live by!  The story that follows tiptoes along the line of credibility by playing games with the reader by never definitively stating outright that what’s happening consists of real magic, or consists entirely of the ravings of a murderous lunatic.  That it merely leaves open the possibility of magic and reincarnation and past lives intruding on present day circumstances makes this perhaps a poor choice for Alexandru’s pre-Tolkien fantasy challenge.  Oh well, it’s a weird tale in the vein of pre-Toklienian literature when the genre borders were hazier than they are today, so let’s just run with it.

The story is written from the eponymous Jones’ point of view, after all, and in his view the world we know is but half of reality, the other half lies hidden behind a veil through which few people, and of course Jones is one of them, can catch glimpses.  As the wheel of life spins, certain souls get thrown at each other over and over again, and over the course of the story, Jones’ own life circles around that of a fat and piggish Manager that we gradually learn did Jones dirty in a previous life.  Fortunately, Jones also encounters the ghost of a man whom he worked with, a third wheel in the eternal rivalry between Jones and the Manager.  His friend, Thorpe, died several years before in this life, and now returns to help guide Jones  and reveal to him the secret that unites the three eternal players in this drama.

The story features hot emotions, long and dreamy asides punctuated by short and vivid physical descriptions, and an absolutely brutal ending that would make the worst splatterpunk Hollywood director proud.  All of this action weaves back and forth with a past-life torture scene that both parallels and sets the stage for the more modern tale of vengeance.  Blackwood handles the interweaving of these two episodes so gracefully that it seems that the supernatural is the only possible explanation for the events, with just enough room left over to doubt.  He also includes a veiled figure with burning eyes and a big sword that may or may not exist, but who keeps the chattering witnesses to the climax of the story at bay nonetheless.

If you want to read and decide for yourself, the story is only 29 pages long, and you can find it online here.

 

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No Escape, No Surrender

We’ve heard this song before.

That’s the refrain they always use. The last verse always, always wraps things up with a theme and variation on, “There’s no room in this hobby for those of you who have been here for decades.”

Let’s make a few predictions based on past instances of this particular strain of hobby cancer, shall we?  Wargames are a hobby for everyone, and they need to be made more inclusive, and that means we’re going to need to make a few changes around here.  Fundamental changes.

You know.  Because we love the hobby so much we really need to turn it into something completely different.  Like we did for sf/f literature, tabletop RPGs, vidya games, and comic books.  We need to strip away all of the things that make wargaming so wargamey, and make it a lot friendlier to people who don’t actually like wargames, and then it will be popular.  Why, it might become so popular that it can support a community of people who don’t actually play games, but only watch wargame themed reality shows on YouTube.  And then we can write rules for wargames to appeal to the people who don’t buy wargames, just wargame themed shirts and jewelry and stuffed animals.  That’s how you fix everything that’s wrong with this hobby that we all loved so much for what it is that we couldn’t wait to make it something that it isn’t.

Mark my words, that tweet is cancer.  It’s the initial, benign tumor settling into the hobby until it has enough support from thirsty men more desperate for approval from hobby-celebs than they are desperate for some hot counter on hex action.  Once it has that core of vocal support, it’ll explode into full malignancy, and then it’ll all be over but the Old School Revival by badwrongfans seeking to preserve the core of the hobby.

I give it two years, tops.

You might want to horde your classics and start thinking of an alternative name for wargaming right now.  We’re all going to need it.

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Infowars Fallout

The unpersoning of InfoWars by tech giants finally happened.  For months they and their enablers in the corporate media have been rumbling that “something must be done” about those uppity flyover rubes forgetting their place.  Having already chased numerous other unpersons out of the new public square, they grow ever bolder, now claiming the scalps even of centrists such as Gavin MacInnes.  At they rate they are going, it won’t be long before any expression of support for Trump nets users a ban – if not before the mid-terms, then assuredly before the 2020 elections.

If they can’t beat our arguments, if they can’t beat us at the meme game, then they’ll simply drive us from the field and declare victory that way.  Those of us in the fringe cultures have seen it happen again and again – in literature, tabletop gaming, and vidya games.  As above, so below.

Of course, life as a gamer has provided me some skill in anticipating threats and adjusting my strategies to counteract them while they are still in the early stages.  To address the threat of being shut out from the fledgling community of like-minded authors and gamers that has grown over the last few years, I will be redirecting my efforts away from platforms controlled by the Narrativists – those left-wing SJWs who view “Punch A Nazi, and everybody I don’t like is a Nazi,” as a valid position – and toward those controlled by my allies.

As it currently stands, that means a lot more time spent blogging and a lot less micro-blogging.  More importantly, it means more time spent tightening the bonds of bloggers and less hunting for followers on social media.  The bite-sized bantz and gotchya moments are fun, but all that work can easily be demolished with just a few well-timed complaint mobs, which makes the risks too darn high.

You may have already noticed the blogroll on the right sidebar with links to some of my favorite online personalities – go check them out.  When I can figure out how to include short updates or recent post titles in that sidebar, I’ll add that so you can quickly scan and decide which ones are worth checking out today, and which ones you are all caught up on.  Actual blog software used to handle that automatically, but it takes a lot more tinkering to get it to work on this independent website.  Give it time, we’ll get there.

Also expect to see more links to other bloggers, more recommendations for blogs to follow, and more response to other blog posts.  Here is where my important conversations will occur, in the more sedate and thoughtful realm of blog posts, and not in the zinger-happy realm of Twitter and the G-Plus.

You are also likely to see a lot more short zingers posted here as well.  Not every topic needs a 500-word essay, and rather than risk losing my social media megaphone, I’ll instead by throwing a lot more quick thoughts up in this space.  Here’s to hoping the changes work out well for the both of us.

To kick things off right, check out this great post by Daytime Renegade:

The world of geekery, for lack of a better world, is filled with this sort of thing. The mainstream requires ideological lockstep along nearly every facet of thought.

Don’t try to tell me it’s not political. I refuse to believe that all the people shut out by gatekeepers or fired from this or that position on this or that TV show or comic book or whatever coincidentally have diametrically opposed political views than their bosses and, despite never having any history of anything, suddenly develop a penchant for “harassment” and get axes . . . while actual hateful bigots and those engaged in even more unsavory proclivities maintain their positions of power despite often having no discernible talent for anything.

I mean, that’s just happenstance, obviously.

Can confirm.  I’ve been kicked out of more than one geek circle for failing to live up to the social standards of people who are really bad at socialization.  I’ve self-deported from numerous circles to escape the crabs-in-the-bucket syndrome as well.  Which is one of the reasons that I love the new culture and community that has formed in the aftermath of the Hugo Puppy campaigns.  New blood, eager for adventure, ready to laugh, and unfailingly supportive of each other’s projects, I wouldn’t risk losing these connections for all the money and fame in the world.

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