Saturday, July 29, 2017

Review--Jack of Shadows, by Roger Zelazny

I rarely read and am leery of reviewing anything that I consider to be “modern.” The style of prose itself turns me away, as well as a frequent sense of plotlessness; the works are feeble and desultory, all of them. I cannot quite say during which point in time this change occurs, there is no hard-and-fast date I can fix to separate “modern” fiction from the “real thing”, but if I had to choose, I would hazard a guess at the sixties or thereabouts. This is not to say that there might not have been earlier works in this mold; I am not suggesting that the change came about suddenly. But I feel safe in my assumption that the old prose styles were nearly eradicated (at least in genre fiction) by the sixties, and I lower my expectations accordingly.

So it is with some trepidation that I prepare to review Roger Zelazny's Jack of Shadows, published in '71. Zelazney has been spoken well of in PulpRev circles, and I am conscious that criticisms of the work based on such a nebulous and indefinable idea, which may merely be my own very personal eccentricity of taste, might be contrary to the aesthetics of the Pulprev. Nevertheless, here we go!

It is not my first outing with Mr. Zelazny's work. I went through the Amber series recently, all ten books of it. I found them deeply flawed but mildly enjoyable, and I wanted to see how the author would do with a smaller, more self-contained story. My choice was Jack.

The prose feels midway between new and old styles. It reads like, if not contemporary, at least semi-contemporary work. It seems rather like the spare, somewhat sterile prose of today, coupled with the vocabulary of yesterday.

The story is thus: on a tidelocked world, where half is eternal day and half eternal night, magic rules the night and technology rules the day. The darkside is a realm of swords and sorcery, ruled by powerful beings who have many lives but no souls; the lightside a contemporary society of mortal men. A magic shield protects the one side from the cold, and a mechanical shield protects the other from the heat. The world is supposedly controlled by a mighty machine at its core.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Jeffro: Who Created the Pulp Revolution?

With his characteristic humility, Jeffro Johnson identifies who he feels are the true founders of the Pulp Revolution.

  • There is Larry Correia, who not only ignored what his writing teachers told him… but who also pulled off one of the greatest pranks in science fiction history. He got a lot of people talking about something that wasn’t immediately obvious.
  • There is Edgar Rice Burroughs, who single-handedly set the tone for fantasy, science fiction, pulp, comic books, role-playing games, and Star Wars.
  • There is Gary Gygax, who created a time capsule that preserved that vision in the face of an industry and gatekeeping establishment that was hellbent on seeing it extinguished.
  • There are game bloggers like Ron Edwards, James Maliszewski, and Jeff Rients who brought this to the attention of fans of role-playing games.
  • There is John C. Wright, who never got the memo that Appendix N style fantasy was out of style.
  • There is Alex Kimball, who offered to pay semi-pro rates for people that wanted to bring back more of it to the short fiction scene.
  • There is Daddy Warpig, who observed that something happening and called it what it was before anyone could grasp its significance.
  • There is Dan Wolfgang and QuQu, who reported on what was happening with first class coverage.
Read the rest of the (short) article at Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog.

It is, of course, the wrong question to begin with. The Pulp Revolution/Revival/Resurrection is not a created thing yet. It's being created by people like you.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Read, Watch, Listen, Observe: Improving Your Writing w/ a Larger Vocabulary

One of the benefits of being alive today is access to information that your predecessors could only dream about. The great archives and libraries of yesteryear's Science Fiction are here and now, and better-connected than ever before. That means that answers to questions are easy to find, and once found easy to disseminate.

This past Saturday we had a brilliant post about portraying master martial artists. You need not take Cheah's word for it; go to YouTube, or Vidme, or Dailymotion (etc.) and look for videos of martial artists in action. You want to watch real and unreal ones (i.e. live-action fight choreography) doing their thing. You watch the real ones because you want to watch what can actually be done with skill, practice, and determination to Git Gud. You want to watch the fight choreographers to see how they tell the story with action, mating beats in the story with turns in the fight. (Compare with Howard and Burroughs. They got it.)

Yes, as writers you're working with words and not video or audio, but action and adventure has its roots in the written word. Generations of writers before you thrilled readers with their vivid depictions of swordplay, sails flush with wind, salty air filling one's nostrils, native girls inviting traveling men to warm beds with but a look, the cackling of a contemptuous angel in the shadows just before delivering judgement with volleys of copper-jacketed lead slugs, and the clippty-clop of iron-shod hooves on ancient city streets covered in ceramic tiles.

You saw those swords, didn't you? You heard the wind fill those sails, didn't you? So don't feel ill at-ease watching others do such things as execute a complex takedown, demonstrate the tactical reload for one's service pistol (You did see John Wick, right? Shown there.), or how to execute car stunts that you'd swear were only in the movies. Your vocabulary is paramount as a writer, so embrace every new word you encounter and love it as a priceless treasure from a lost antediluvian civilization.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

How to Write Master Martial Artists

verywhere he goes people whisper his name with fear and reverence. Bandits are either terrified of him or conspire to kill him. He walks with a palpable aura--either of carnage or of peace. And whenever he draws his sword, he leaves broken and bloodied bodies in his wake.
Musashi 1.jpg
Miyamoto Musashi takes on the Yoshioka School in the manga Vagabond. Spoiler: he wins.
Martial arts exponents are a staple of most genre fiction. From Chinese wuxia to Western high fantasy, sword & sorcery to steampunk, if the story justifies it, a martial hero or villain will appear. He wears an aura of supreme confidence, and woe betide anyone who stands in his way. His presence alone guarantees spectacular action scenes.
Unfortunately, most people have no idea how to write one.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Getting Started: Stuff You Can Show Your Friends

You're new. You've found your library card. You've got your e-reader handy. You've got an eye on the nearby used bookstores. What I said last week got you excited, but you're now wondering about other media. "Can I find the pulps in movies? Television? Games?"

Yes, Virginia, you can.

You're going to be watching a fair amount of movies, some of which I'd been covering (from a slightly different perspective) over at Superversive Press's blog, and some much older than those films from the late '70s to mid '80s. You can watch any of the films I reviewed there as being good for getting into the PulpRev groove. What I'm putting down here is just what else of that spirit that you can find while dazed and confused at a Walmart or Target store, and far from a definitive list.

  • Raiders of the Lost Ark, the other franchise Harrison Ford is famous for (and the one he actually likes). The sequels are very hit-and-miss, missing more than hitting as they go on, but the original still holds up as faithful to the pulps as well as being quality entertainment and film-making in its own right to this day.
  • Conan the Barbarian, the one that gave us Arnold Schwarzenegger. Skip the sequel (it's trash) and the remake (ditto), and keep in mind that this is NOT Robert E. Howard's barbarian hero directly. It's the pastiche, filtered through Marvel Comics's ongoing books and magazines of the day, but you can see Howard's hero here and there.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Big Difference Between Us And Them

Today I'd like to talk about something that I see as important. What the fuck else is new, right? But in all seriousness, this needs to be addressed because I see it as being one of the defining differences between the people in the Pulp Revolution and those we oppose. And I'm not talking about the friendly sparring that occasionally happens in-camp with the Superversives. No, I'm talking about those who have defamed what is best in SFFH, who have torn down the monuments to the geniuses that brought us to where we are today, those who have devalued and defrauded those giants on whose shoulders we and they stand atop.

I'd like to talk about the big difference between Us and Them.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Interview with Brian Niemeier

We're pleased to have with us indie SFF superstar Brian Niemeier, author of the award-winning Soul Cycle trilogy, the recently-published fantasy novella Hymn of the Pearl, an upcoming science fiction series with Castalia House, and a number of other works accessible through his blog. We pulled these questions from PulpRev enthusiasts through our Discord; feel free to join us there if you'd like to participate in future interviews.

Friday, July 14, 2017

5-Points to Character Development

How to quickly flesh out characters without making them walking quirkboxes!

Not every writer has time or desires to fastidiously develop fictional characters. Some writers seek efficiency. The benefit of crafting characters who’re able to hit the page running is so the writer can finish stories faster and more likely achieve Pulp Speed!

Here is a 5-point approach to character development without depending on histories/backgrounds, plug-and-play stat sheets of traits/quirks, character interviews, or similar.

This is for high-speed writing, not intended to suit every need or unreal/surreal characters.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Getting Started: Where To Look & What To Look For

This one's for the newbies.

Okay, you're curious. You want to know more about this Pulp thing the cool kids are talking about. So, your first question is "Where can I find this stuff?" Your second question is "What am I looking for?"

You're fortunate to be alive at a time when written and audio-visual media are ubiquitous and often cheap or free, and a lot of the early Pulp stuff is online- and more of it with each passing year. So, what you need is an Internet connection that isn't worthless and a couple of places to start looking.

  • Amazon: Nevermind if you're a Prime member or not. You should take advantage of the massive library of free books available for the Kindle. You don't need to use the Kindle reader app, or a Kindle device, if you're willing and able to convert the file to another format. Furthermore, if you do have a Kinder reader you can get books in that format elsewhere and email them to your reader. Want to get a free, legal copy of Tarzan of the Apes for your reader? There you go.
  • The Library: A lot of the classics are in your local library system. If you don't have a card, get one. Then set up an account with the library's online site, and request pull orders for what you want. (My mother does this, and she reads up to a dozen books a week without spending a penny.) You can get print books easy this way, and many now also offer video (DVD, usually) and e-book media also. You're already supporting the library via taxation, so make use of it.
  • Project Gutenberg: You really should have this bookmarked. Whatever Amazon and the library doesn't have, Gutenberg likely will- albeit only in e-book form. (e.g. A Princess of Mars search results)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

How I Wrote A Novel in 12 Weeks

135456 words. 12 weeks.
A full novel in 3 months. By pulp standards it’s sluggish, but it’s the fastest I’ve ever completed a novel of this length. And I was juggling a full-time work schedule and regular blog posts alongside it.
If there’s one thing I understand about the writing industry, it’s that if you want to make real coin from writing, you need to churn out lots of high quality work fast. To even come close to the success of the pulp greats, you need to write as much and as often as you can. Here’re the principles I applied to write a novel in 12 weeks.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Review--The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, by Ska Studios

(update: I mistakenly referred to this as "new weird" in the original title of this post. It is not by any means subversive enough to be new weird.)

I had a perfect nightmare
On a starry, torrid sea
I am cast to prison
At a crippled demon's plea”
from the initial trailer

This is a sequel to The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, which was published on Xbox Live Arcade, and which I have not played. I downloaded the demo to Vampire Smile one evening, figuring that the sequel would be the better experience, and I was immediately blown away. I cannot overstate this enough—I was blown away. Within this maybe-ten-minute intro level I was not only sold on the game, but sold on the game so hard that I had to buy it on the spot.

In Vampire Smile, you play as either the Dishwasher himself, or his sister, Yuki (in an rather odd arrangement, the game tells Yuki's story, with the Dishwasher playing through the same levels in her wake and arriving late to most of the major scenes, yet you have to play his story to get the better ending). Yuki is the easier character to play, as the Dishwasher feels slightly less responsive, but once you are used to him he plays with his own, perhaps more graceful, rhythm.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Golem of PulpRev

Our minds are interpretive systems. Everything we experience, we storify. Stories are how we interpret the world. We live inside a story. You want to break out of the Matrix? You are the Matrix! While you can’t escape the Matrix, you can change your story. Pretty cool, huh? Well it gets even better.

Myths, legends, folk tales are windows into the mind of your ancestors. These stories are a fictionalized narrative of the the spirit of the age. Joining a literary movement (like PulpRev), investing it with your mental concentration lays another feather on the scale of human consciousness. You can’t change the narrative of today alone, but we can together. The stories you share, either in the act of writing them or simply by gifting them, weighs the scales of human consciousness.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Short Reviews--The Novel of the White Powder by Arthur Machen


This story was originally published in 1895, as part of The Three Impostors. Of the several Machen stories which I have read so far, I find it the most atmospheric and grotesque. I'm afraid that whatever the framing device of The Three Impostors may add, it will diminish these qualities in particular, so I am treating of it as a standalone work.

It's a first-person account couched as a tale told to several other characters, and starting with a verbal autobiography of the narrator. If you've ever read one of Doyle's Holmes stories, or one of W.H. Hodgson's Carnacki stories or even certain works by Rider Haggard, you will recognize the device. It seems to be quite emblematic of Victorian literature. I am in the minority, I think, in finding this old-fashioned introductory device charming, especially among the #PulpRev crowd, who want things to happen on the first page. I would rather get “grounded” with a character first, and be given some reason to care about them, right at the outset. Stories that start in medias res tax my patience.

The speaker is a young woman (this is not revealed for several pages, autobiography notwithstanding; the framing device which introduces the character has been removed for the standalone edition of the story), one Miss Leicester, whose law-student brother drives himself to a nervous breakdown with his studies, and whom she finally persuades to get a diagnosis and receive treatment. He agrees to take the proscribed medicine, but only from a little hole-in-the-wall chemist whom he frequents for reasons amounting, more or less, to hipster-ism. Immediately he begins to not only seemingly feel better, but also to immerse himself in society—which had formerly never interested him. He rapidly transforms into a social butterfly, his behavior verging on the dissolute. His sister begins to feel uneasy, then, as he seems more and more unlike himself, she is frightened.

The atmosphere is the best element, and Machen's main strength. It comes in heavy dollops of lurid prose, passages that inspire jealousy; the sort of prose that makes you want to bang your head against the wall because someone else used it first; prose that is just crying out to be imitated.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

7 Writing Lessons from Wonder Woman

WW 3

Wonder Woman doesn't suck.

After reading all the rave reviews and the recommendations about the movie, actually seeing it felt like a disappointment. Wonder Woman isn't a terrible film by any measure, it's just that I have a high bar for entertainment. Indeed, it accomplished what it set out to do: tell a straightforward superheroine tale filled with courage, battles, charisma, and spiced with romance and humour.

The story begins with Princess Diana of Themyscira, daughter of Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons, discovering a man on the beach. The man is Steve Trevor, an American spy, who discovered a German superweapon factory and was shot down while attempting to flee on an airplane. Trevor speaks of the War to End All Wars engulfing the world, and Diana believes that Ares, the god of war, is responsible for instigating the conflict. Having sworn to defeat Ares once and for all, she teams up with Trevor to end the war once and for all.

It's a simple story, competently told. But it could be done much better.