Saturday, March 10, 2018

GroffinGate: Saying You Are Winning Is Not The Same Thing As Winning

I blame it on the Puppies.

The Pulp Revolution started out as a reaction against them, did you know that? What started as a movement to bring sanity and good writing back to an SFF establishment that had been increasingly obviously been co-opted by bigoted cultists degenerated into a movement that focused on appearances, gave high praise to mediocre works, and generated more clicks through defensive blog posts about how great they were than through anything they actually created.

The Puppies generated a lot of hate for what they believed. They unveiled the hypocrisy at the heart of the establishment, in plain view for all to see. At the same time, they generated a lot of disappointment on their own side, the Sads for being ineffective and cliquish, the Rabids for being effective but effective at promoting works that really needed a lot more love from the editing hammer.

Around that time the Appendix N reviews came out. Jeffro reached for a book on the wall of the SFF library, pulled it halfway out, and opened the secret door to the treasure room. Those of us who were looking for the good SF that the Puppies had sworn was out there, here it was, glittering in the torchlight.

We found a world of great writing, great storytelling, innovative thoughts and ideas, that had lain fallow since the 1950s. It was like peeking into a parallel universe - we hadn't even imagined people who thought and wrote like that existed.

Our first urge was to read more; our second, to share what we'd found; our third, to write like the years between 1953 and 2016 just hadn't happened.

Fast-forward to 2018. I'm working on editing another pulprev anthology. I'm... let's call my viewpoint cautiously optimistic, about the future of the movement. The initial energy has subsided, some of us have been putting books on Kindle, I've been putting a lot of work into improving my own writing, and a post comes up on the Tweetdeck tab I leave open on #PulpRev, talking about defeatism.

Turns out there's been a bit of a kerfuffle on Jeffro's blog. Commenter with the username "Groffin" has laid down some harsh criticism of the movement. What stands out to me about Groffin's comment, poking out from between the blackpill, is this:

And for all your glorification of the insular and self-aggrandizing indie-literature circuit, you have no minds of comparable skill or prestige, and will not for years and years if ever.

That hits me where it hurts. We don't have writers like that. I'm far more optimistic than Groffin about our prospects, but the road to greatness is long and hard, and we don't get there just by saying we're getting there. I've been a critic of the Thought Method of Literature since before pulprev was a hashtag, and it *stings* to see how little effect that criticism has had.

For all the power of the initial upswell, the pulp revolution has become a movement that focuses on appearances, gives high praise to mediocre works, and generates more clicks through defensive blog posts about how great we are than through anything we actually create.

Don't believe me on defensive? Groffin stirred the hornet's nest. Jeffro, rather than responding directly, wrote a blog post showing off how dumb this guy must be! To think we're not winning! When I responded to Groffin's understandably irate response, Jeffro wrote a snarky comment on Google Plus about how mewling and cowardly I am to sympathize in any way with him. (he unfortunately forgot to tag me in this; I discovered it by accident while trying to track down Groffin)

When confronted, he told me the terrible truth about PulpRev:

The diminution of the term "pulp revolution" was motivated in part by a desire to mollify the people that were committed to not looking like a threat. The sort that is more or less okay with the status quo and which would not ever conceive of themselves as guerrillas or culture warriors.

Can you believe that? I can't, and I'm the one that coined the hashtag! No, seriously, track down the first time it was used on Twitter. I'd noticed divergence between the movement's G+ and Discord epicenters, but I'd had no idea they thought we were quislings.

Jeffro is upset that we are not prosecuting the revolution the way he does - by making snarky blog posts with screencaps of a hated enemy's hated comments so all our friends can come in and laugh with us. I'm not sure what the timetable for his revolution is, when they expect victory by, but they do seem to believe that winning and losing is affected by how much you say you are winning and losing.

I don't blame him for not understanding revolutions. He is a revolutionary by necessity. His hobby came under attack, and he is defending it. Should his hobby be restored, his revolution will end.

I am a revolutionary by nature.

It is part of the core of my being to find that which is rotten and cast it out, to find that which rules and is weak and replace it with that which can rule because it is strong. This is the true spirit of the critic, the cynic, the skeptic, to fight the power because it is the power, and because the power needs to be constantly proven to ensure it stays powerful.

My revolution will never end. I will always test, try, violently improve the things around me. I've placed this spirit in the service of God, America, and the Pulp Revolution.

I will *never* be satisfied by our output until it reaches those lofty heights. And how will it if we stifle our self-criticism? Another critical response that warranted its own Jeffro post came from The Practical Conservative, who believes it's impossible to join the movement now. He's wrong on that front, and it's easy to say he's wrong, but where he's not wrong is this:

I’ve read a lot of Castalia/PulpRev/Superversive stuff and paid for quite a few things and it sure looks like you’re not allowed to say meh about meh fiction because muh pulprev or whatever. Getting snarky about mediocre fiction is just replicating what mediocre SJWs do with less of their media platform and reach... I found a couple of really promising, decently selling authors via Castalia’s blog roundups of sci-fi and fantasy. But I also got burned multiple times by the promotion of crummy stuff as AH MAYYYYY ZINNNNNGGGGGG.

So is he wrong? Was he actually not reading crummy stuff? Is he actively trying to sabotage our movement by not liking what we write?

My people, my brothers and my sisters, he is right to not like what we write. We are in the early stages of this revolution. What we can write is still by and large a product of the late 20th century and not descended from the pulp greats. We cannot ever slack in finding our own flaws and fixing them so that not only our allies but our enemies can find no real fault in them.

Where did you think this revolution was headed? That we'd keep owning SJWs online and putting their "skulls" (stupid comments) on "pikes" (our blogs/feeds) until kingdom come? That we'd build a healthy group of writers and just read each others' stuff till we died of old age?

Our sacred task is to tear down the corrupt institutions that have taken over genre fiction, that have indeed segregated it from true or literary fiction, and to raise up great authors who know no boundary lines, not between fantasy and science fiction, not between genre and literary, not between religious and political, not constrained by mid-century politeness in the least. We're not just going to need people who write blogs and profitmax off Kindle whales, we're going to need armies of publishers, editors, critics, marketers, and everything in between.

Pulprev hasn't abandoned the revolution. It's acknowledged the revolution as something much larger, much more important than internet slapfights. You can stay in the mudpit if you want to. You can throw mud at people trying to build if you want to. I just want you to understand that you're not doing the actual revolution any favors.


  1. I consider myself less of a revolutionary and more of an inventor, but I share your basic outlook. All that matters is the work.

    I am devoted to pushing the machinery of fiction as hard and as far as it can go. I don't care who wrote a particular story or what movements they support or oppose. What I care about is; Does it work? How does it work? Can the effect be replicated? Where it doesn't work, can it be fixed? How do we streamline this, intensify it, expand or truncate it, make it more powerful, more immersive, more perfect?

    My end state goal is the Deplorable Word that Jadris spoke in "The Magician's Nephew"--a single word so powerful that the speaking of it aloud depopulated a planet and made cities crumple into dust. That's my theoretical maximum and as long as I fall short of it there is room for improvement.

    I don't mind admitting that my hunger for literary perfection is ontologically amoral. I want to find out what can be done, and I refuse to ask if it should be done.

    1. How about the last phrase Omnivac speaks in "The Last Question?"

      The glory of the pulp era wasn't any particular genre or lack of it, any intellectual focus or working-class grit, the glory was from the option. They were all about finding what worked, and were uncanny at ignoring politics to carry that work forward. I found myself thinking about how incredibly experienced and educated A. Merritt was, and thinking about the kind of story that would make him go "This is interesting!" And there were plenty of them.

      My standard, for now at least, isn't finding a theoretical maximum as much as it is finding a plot for this seed corn we found. If all of us died tonight and fiction went torward for another seventy years, would our output be enough to trigger another Appendix N and another Pulp Revival?

      As long as the answer is "no" we have a responsibility to improve.

  2. I don't know about any of this, but my contention with Groffin was that he lied about its accessibility which is what upset me.

    All I can do is write, read, and try to get better. That's what I'm doing, and what I see everyone else in PulpRev doing. What else can we do?

    So I don't really understand where this whole back and forth is coming from. No one is getting complacent.

  3. So which Puppies works are mediocre and/or should have been better edited? Any examples?

    1. None of the short fiction picks back in 2015 were very good. Lou Antonelli's was an interesting germ of an idea but the execution left something to be desired. Tuesdays With Molakesh the Destroyer was pretty twee and struck me as the sort of thing they'd've complained about if "an SJW SF writer" had written it. Annie Bellett's story had the best form, but still relied on the trope of "the faceless angry dangerous white men in times of trouble" for its human conflict. Totaled was twee and boring for a Brain-in-a-Jar story; Jeffro could not have been more right about how much it paled in comparison to C.L. Moore's No Woman Born. Turncoat managed to make a battle in outer space so matter-of-fact dull I couldn't finish it.

    2. (Cirsova, here; for some reason the page isn't letting me use my wordpress credentials to comment)

  4. I don't know about all that other stuff, but Jeffro was correct about the most important thing, and I'm not sure what you're saying about it:

    Who is resting on their laurels?

    Nobody I know.

    Vox Day has arguably done more good in publishing than all of us combined. He didn't just "claim" victory.

    Superversive puts out at least a book a month. We didn't just "claim" victory.

    Practically all of the sands are still working and creating. Most of them didn't just "claim" victory.

    Jeffro created probably the largest platform of all of us.

    So he's fighting imaginary dragons and accusing us all of smugly resting on our laurels.

    Yeah, we're pissed.

    And if that isn't his point, well, who cares? Do you really think we're not all trying to improve?

    It Was pointless grousing nd deserved to be treated as such.

    1. That would be a solid point if victory were measured by the labor theory of value. It doesn't matter how hard we work if we make work that's less than stellar. Who said anything about laurels? If any of our critics have, I wasn't responding to that part. It was all about patting ourselves on the back and overselling.

      And then it was about getting offended that someone wouldn't think we've achieved absolute victory. I'm pretty offended at how much of that there's been.

    2. Look, as far as I can tell you're just making up issues that either don't exist or pointlessly grousing.

      How do you think people improve if not by hard labor?

      If you think we're all - every single author I've ever spoken to, really - sitting there back-patting without trying to improve, then I can tell you for a fact you're wrong.

      And how else do you improve except by writing? How else do you sell, except by self-promotion?

      Nobody - I think I'm confident in that nobody, too - is offended you think we haven't claimed absolute victory. Actually I'm not sure where you got that from, to be honest. Jeffro himself has expressed repeatedly how much more work needs go be done.

      If your point is that you're getting discouraged...okay, but don't be surprised when people who ARE working hard and ARE improving are annoyed by pointless kvetching that we're not top dogs yet.

      We're off to a great start, but this stuff takes time.

    3. There's a tier of writer here that works unbelievably hard. A lot of them disappear because they're working so hard, they've mastered distraction and are making a lot of output. There's another tier that participates a lot and produces a lot of output. Then there's the cheerleaders and support crew that just can't reach that wordcount but do their best to help out everyone else.

      The problem is, if the seeds we have planted are tainted by Modernity, it doesn't matter how hard we work, because that's what's going to come out. Quite a bit of pulprev-tagged fiction is almost indistinguishable from contemporary SFF, except for the hero having slightly more agency and more time spent on action scenes. If that's all we've learned, I don't care if we get a library of it. And I'm not even bringing up the prose quality; some of us are natural talents, but more have been crippled by Hemingway and his fallen angels, or just haven't picked up the skill yet. We need to work smarter to get around that. All the pulp speed ahead in the world won't iron these things out. What it will do is produce gut-wrenching regret when these authors look back at the tainted grain they raised.

      And I am sincerely afraid our social environment is encouraging authors to apply hard labor without introspection. I am afraid we are stunting our content. The overreaction to criticism is real. You can look at all the pingbacks yourself. I don't believe that overreaction would have happened if we had been more sincere in our self-criticism up to that point.

      I'm not discouraged. I believe many in the dogpile are. If they truly believed that we were winning, I don't think they would have been as offended at an interloper showing up to puncture their joy. They wouldn't have been able to form a response. It would have been a non-sequitur as confusing as Practical Conservative claiming our submissions are closed - but it hit a nerve.

      I'm not making up issues that don't exist. If I were this article would have been a funny little footnote, a sign of my delusion. I wish it were. I wish this article had 28 views and 0 comments. I wish there were no place for pointless kvetching that we're not top dogs, because I wish more of us had sustained a reverent humility for the lengths ahead of us, and we hadn't inadvertently given the impression that we thought we were top dogs.

      I know this stuff takes time. My entire point from the very beginning was that this stuff takes time. What I would like to see is more acknowledgement that it takes time, more acknowledgement that we need to improve, that it takes more than flurries of keystrokes to reach the heights we seek - that we need reasoned study, inspiration, and miracles from God. That is not the impression I have received from our communications, and I am not surprised that outsiders have picked up an even dimmer view.

  5. Anyway, we have two minds of that prestige if we're counting John C. Wright (we absolutely should) and Nick Cole (who has claimed kinship with the superversives).

    Read Cole's Wasteland trilogy. Read Awake in the Night Land. I'd put them up against Brackett and Howard every day.

  6. I'm a housewife and I stand by my tldr; comment since nothing's been posted that shows otherwise. The anthologies and magazines and even the presses are still closed/invite-only and if that's "wide open" then I guess we need a dictionary change.

    And being a housewife and not a dude, I don't want to get screamed at for not liking people's friends' writing, which is what criticizing the mediocre stuff tends to get you. Dudes like to throw down, I have to reserve that energy for continuing to write. I don't mind having to self-publish, but I mind a little having to submit to mainstream SFF mags because they actually have open submissions and having no small or medium press to submit to at all.

    If those supposed options were there, I could easily have had some shorts and a few novellas already published just from being able to focus on writing and not also all the prep work. Having non self-pub options would be nice, but oh well!

    Here via Sensor Sweep.

    1. The anthologies and magazines and even the presses are still closed/invite-only and if that's "wide open" then I guess we need a dictionary change.


      "Tales of the Once and Future King" was not, nor are all 11 - ELEVEN! - Planetary anthologies. Cirsova is not. Storyhack is not.

      What are you even talking about?

      Are we insular right now? Sure - now. But great strides HAVE been made, plain as day. The success of Castalia House alone is evidence of that. The formation of Superversive Press is evidence of that.

      But to act like no improvement is happening, that we're not doing anything, that we're spinning our wheels...that's just wrong. 100% wrong.

      And you wonder why we get mad.

    2. Yeah, I have to call BS on this, too.

      Superversive Press has published two of my stories (and turned down a couple of others) I have had two published in Cirsova (and another coming out in the Fall 18 issue) I've been in all three of the "Sins Of Time" anthologies (don't worry if you haven't heard of those--it's a REALLY small press).

      Right now I have two more stories, with presses that I haven't done business with before, that I am waiting to hear back on.

      I am working on a self-published collection of short stories with another author (we are each contributing 5 stories) that is going to be mostly reprints of works we've had published elsewhere.

      The small press market for short fiction is wide open right now. In fact, I created a Google+ group specifically for short fiction authors to keep track of open calls for submissions. Anyone is welcome to join and check out the links.

    3. "I mind a little having to submit to mainstream SFF mags because they actually have open submissions and having no small or medium press to submit to at all."

      How many of those magazines that you complain don't exist have you bought and worked to promote?

      I've tried twice to make a go of short fiction magazines and have abandoned the effort because it was a lot of work for negative or tiny returns.

      Don't whine about shit not existing when you don't actively support it when people try to make a go of it.

      You want "non mainstream" markets for short fiction, start your own or support the ones that exist.

      "If those supposed options were there, I could easily have had some shorts and a few novellas already published"

      They are few and far between because nobody supports them. You whine about them not existing but unless you are doing what you can to make sure they get bought, why would anybody take a chance on your story or help you out?

    4. I want to make a couple of points here. First, I don't own a physical hardcopy of every anthology that my work appears in. Once I stopped being excited about seeing my name in print I stopped buying books just because they have one of my stories. (And aside from Cirsova, no one I've sold to offers contributor's copies.)

      Honestly, any publisher that relies on sales from its contributors for a significant portion of its income is doomed, unless it's a vanity press that makes buying dozens of copies a requirement for story acceptance.

      Now, it is a good idea to read a collection put together by a particular editor prior to submitting to that editor, just to get a feel for that editor's tastes, particularly when you are starting out and haven't built a reputation yet.

      But contributors and customers are two different groups. Ideally there is some overlap, but I'll be honest--there are collections out there where the only story I like is the one I wrote.

      Publishing short fiction is a difficult business, and a lot of markets don't survive. It's kind of like the restaurant business--most new startups won't last the year. I can think of three stories offhand that I wrote for projects that went bust prior to publication. (And I've since sold two of them.)

      Now, promotion is another matter. I will promote works in which my work appears in the various platforms that are open to me. But again, a publisher that relies on contributors to do its marketing is not long for this world.

      I don't believe that quid pro quo should be part of story acceptance.

    5. Yeah, I wouldn't be as hard on our output quality if I hadn't read as much slush from the open submission anthologies *I've* helped organize. *Everybody's* providing markets.

      That said, shoot me a novella and I'll see if I can do the prep work on it for a percentage. I'm already working on that for another of our authors.

    6. "Honestly, any publisher that relies on sales from its contributors"

      I wasn't talking about "contributors". If she _doesn't_ support the sort of things she wants to see more of then she shouldn't whine it doesn't exist.

      "I don't believe that quid pro quo should be part of story acceptance."


    Response post. It's not what I thought I'd write, but I think it's a starting point.

    1. Already responded to your response, at your response. Awaiting response.

  8. I can't speak for anyone else but me but I have adopted the #PulpRev as a philosophy and I think you're starting to see it bear fruit. Just look at the books and anthologies with my name on them available now as well as all of those due to come out this year.

    I'm not declaring "victory". All I'm declaring is that I have many stories to tell and I plan on sharing every single one of them as soon as I can.