Tuesday, 21 February 2017

A Different Sort of Dragon

Entertainment is in a weird place these days. It feels as if there has been a major disconnect between the past and present in regards to storytelling that has never existed before. I've been curious if that trend was a worldwide issue or purely relegated to the west. Since Japan has had a problem appealing to the worldwide audience since the mid-00s there had to be a problem there that no one was talking about. But finding anything out about the recent history of Japan's animation or manga industry is quite difficult.

So I decided to look into some of the more longer lasting enterprises which contributed to the worldwide boom of anime and manga. I only found things that supported my theory. You probably won't be surprised with the results.

Now, not everything has changed all that much. Weekly Shonen Jump still runs action adventure stories for kids and teenagers, just as Weekly Shonen Sunday, and Weekly Shonen Magazine do. There is a higher acceptance of overt sexuality than there used to be, but the link between old series and new are not all that different, content-wise. When it comes to the bigger magazines and anthologies (the ones that still sell), nothing has changed all that much.

But there is one magazine that has taken the hardest hit, and it is very evident when looking over its pedigree that things have undoubtedly changed. Looking over what I could, the only conclusion one can come to is that the cultural shift in Japan has slowly changed everything. And not for the better. This magazine is quite representative of a lot of the problems the industry is currently facing right now.

That would be Fujimi Shobo's Dragon Magazine.

Note: Everything here was found on Wikipedia. Finding outside sources for Dragon is tough. If you know of any, please leave the info in the comments. Thanks.

Dragon Magazine was a monthly magazine that started in 1988 (changed to bi-monthly in 2008) that ran fantasy and science fiction light novels and manga in its pages. They also included RPG information between new chapters of manga and their light novels. Dragon was a magazine for genre fiction. It was extremely popular when it came out, running some of the most popular series, but has fallen off hard in recent years. The change to bi-monthly is reflective of this as that was about the time they began to shed their old identity. Kadokawa's official website doesn't even include Dragon in their history though they included the creation of their fantasy line of light novels. It's as if they are more interested in sweeping aside their past than embracing it.

It is incredibly hard to get information about the magazine's full history since there is no real information about it in English, but let's just say that it had a very clear goal from the start. All you would have to look at is what they ran. Specific genre magazines like this were not altogether common, especially now. Most magazines in Japan are segregated by age and sex, and rarely by genre. Shonen and Seinen magazines run fantasy, science fiction, and romance, sometimes all in the same story. But Dragon was very dedicated to genre to the point that it was its entire identity. You bought Dragon Magazine because you were a genre fan.

Fujimi Shobo created the magazine when they were still part of the Kadokawa Shoten, a major Japanese publisher. They became a subsidiary in 1991, mostly in charge of the Dragon Magazine brand. They were merged back into Kadokawa Shoten in 2013 when they shed the "Shoten" part of the name and became Kadokawa. All the subsidiaries merged as well. Now they no longer exist.

Fujimi Shobo had three basic pillars for their brand, all three of which are still running today.

Fujimi Dragon Book was a magazine on RPGs, Fujimi Fantasia Bunko centered on genre light novels, and Fujimi Mystery Bunko focused on mystery light novels. They had six other publishing brands, all of which fell off as the years went on. They run different RPGs in Fujimi Dragon Book including Sword World, Double Cross, Arianrhod, and a translated version of GURPS, some of which spill over into Dragon Magazine's pages. Aside from the magazines, they also had three different card games centered on fantasy worlds.

Fantasia Bunko, their light novel brand, was mostly established off the back of Dragon Magazine and includes everything that ran in its pages, and includes series that did not. This includes non-Dragon series such as Full Metal Panic!, Lost Universe, and spin-offs of other media like Granblue Fantasy. As far as I can ascertain this is still the most popular division of the former Fujimi Shobo brand. Their other non-specified labels all went defunct over the decades, but their fantasy line remains. RPGs and genre fiction were their bread and butter.

They eventually began running Dragon Age Magazine in 2003 (and a limited special magazine which ran between 2006-2009) which was centered solely on manga, and was, honestly, characterless. It is no longer a magazine for genre.

And that was the problem.

Dragon Magazine suffered from two problems later in its life. The first was the declining readership due to the advent of the internet and the slow move to adopt digital formats from most Japanese publishers. The second was that Dragon eventually lost its identity and became just another light novel and manga magazine like everything else out there. The former is a problem still affecting the print world in Japan, the second is a problem veteran magazines shouldn't be having, and yet undoubtedly are. Dragon Magazine should be bigger than ever, but it's not.

To stand out in Japan's market you need a strong brand identity and be associated heavily with what the reader cannot get elsewhere. Every successful brand in Japan lives and dies by this. Dragon, unfortunately, lost that identity around 20 years into its run. A tie with genre fiction and RPG gaming was undoubtedly its strongest feature and is one it no longer has. As it is, the magazine is really just a former shell of its peak days.

But the best way to prove Dragon's unique flavor would be to talk about what it ran in its pages. Those that were around in the '90s anime boom would do well to recognize many here. A lot of these series are the reason anime got so big outside Japan in the first place. The connection between genre fiction and anime is important.

Thanks to a variety of wikis for the concise descriptions.


Description: Slayers follows the adventures of teenage sorceress Lina Inverse and her companions as they journey through their world. Using powerful magic and swordsmanship they battle overreaching wizards, demons seeking to destroy the world, and an occasional hapless gang of bandits.

Does Slayers really need any introduction? The primary fantasy series released over here, Slayers ran in one form or another from near the magazines start in 1989 to its downgrade to bi-monthly in 2008. Part comedy and part action, Slayers was a massive hit and is responsible for a lot of the industry's growth over here. Chances are if you're reading this blog and like anime then you know this series. If anything, it doesn't get the credit it deserves these days.


Description: In the near future, robots called "Labors" are employed in heavy construction work. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police has its own fleet of Patrol Labors or Patlabors to combat crimes/terrorism and deal with accidents involving Labors. This series is about one such group of officers.

Weekly Shonen Sunday ran the original manga series, but it was Dragon Magazine that ran the light novels. Patlabor is a rarity in being one of the few classic anime franchises that broke out big here but has left so much material untranslated for release. This material from Dragon, like many light novels from Dragon's pages, sits unreleased overseas. This is rather unfortunate. Patlabor is as funny as it is exciting even to this day* and remains a staple for classic anime fans. I couldn't tell you exactly what those novels covered due to, again, lack of information, but Patlabor was running in Dragon from the start.

*This is an aside, but does anyone else miss those old "wacky cops take on crazy criminals" comedy action series Japan used to put out? Man, those were fun.

-Dragon Half-

Description: The story follows Mink, a half human /half dragon teenage girl on a quest for a potion which will turn her into a full human so that she can win the love of the legendary dragon slayer Dick Saucer. In the manga, in order to get the potion, she must slay Azetodeth, the greatest demon in the land.

The OVA anime for this series was fairly big back in the day, but did you know that it was based on a manga series? That's right, Dragon Half ran from 1988 to 1994 and finished with a seven volume run. This is one of those examples of Japan's early '90s zany fantasy series. However, the manga goes even further into the story due to the OVA being cut short at two episodes. The series isn't well known by modern fans, but it was big at the time. The manga was licensed just this year by Seven Seas Entertainment and is due to release the seven volumes in three omnibus editions. Suffice to say, I'll be in line for those.

-Hyper Police-

Description: Hyper Police is set in a period in the far future, in which humanity is almost extinct and most of the population are monsters. It is mostly set in the offices of a private police company and focuses on the life of Natsuki Sasahara, a young catgirl, and her co-workers: Foxgirl Sakura Bokuseiinmonzeninari, werewolf Batanen Fujioka and his cousin Tomy Fujioka.

It's fairly obvious just watching the show once how heavily it has been ripped off. Hyper Police was fairly popular back in the day, and is notable for being one of the few properties listed here that had its print version released overseas. That said, it was released by Tokyo Pop, so good luck finding it. Hyper Police is primarily a science fiction comedy, complete with a lot of furry bait, but still manages to stand out from the pack it created, which tends to sacrifice story and characters for titillation. The anime ran in 1997, but the manga itself ran from 1993 up to the beginning of the modern moe age in 2004. It represents its era quite well. There's really no chance that something like this would run now without being heavily modified.

-Rune Soldier-

Description: The series was created by Ryo Mizuno and takes place on the continent of Alecrast on the world called Forcelia, and is related to the novel, anime, and manga series Sword World. It is a sibling series to Record of Lodoss War (which is also directed by Mizuno), taking place on a continent north of Lodoss Island.

Yes, Dragon even had its fingers in the Record of Lodoss War pie. Rune Soldier was written by the creator of Lodoss War and takes place in the same world. Rune Soldier lasted longer than that seminal series, starting in 1997 and only ending in 2012, but it was a bit more lighthearted than the core Lodoss War brand and as such might not have garnered quite the same level of fame over here. Though its anime series certainly helped carry that load as, of course, the original light novels have not been released overseas. Still, it is more fantasy goodness. That said, Rune Soldier was quite popular, and deservedly so.

-Saber Marionette-

Description: Saber Marionette is a science fiction humor/adventure series featuring android girls. That's the short and easy description.

It's hard to imagine now, so far removed from its original release, just how absurdly huge this franchise was. The releases and franchise history is really hard to go through in a small description so let's just say that Dragon ran a short story, light novels, and manga of a few of the different series in its pages. It is difficult to say which series have even been brought over here for release. As I said, it's messy to sort through. But the most popular series has always been Saber Marionette J, which Dragon ran all twelve light novels of in its pages. If you like your android girls, you'll definitely get them in this series.

-The Weathering Continent-

Description: The Weathering Continent centers on three travelers - the delicately handsome sorcerer Tieh, the burly and reticent warrior Bois, and the spritely young Lakshi - as they trek though the shattered wastelands of the ancient continent of Atlantis.

I'm not sure how to say anything about this series since it's never been translated and the divisive movie is the only animation it has ever had. But it ran for a long time in Dragon from 1990 through 2006, the real start of the moe era. The series is a high seller and remains popular, and is very reflective of Dragon Magazine's brand. I'm not very certain we'll ever get this series here, unfortunately. Like most of Dragon's influential material, it remains unreleased overseas. Still, it was one of their pillars for the majority of its run.

-Black Blood Brothers-

Description: During a war called the Hong Kong Crusade, an Old Blood, Jiro Mochizuki, a.k.a. the Silver Blade (Gintō), fought and defeated the Kowloon King and most of the Kowloon Children. Ten years later, Jiro heads to Hong Kong with his little brother, Kotaro Mochizuki, in hopes of reaching The Special Zone, a thriving secret city where Vampires live. That's as succinct as it can get.

This was more recent, an 11 volume light novel series which ran a 12 episode anime in 2006. It was one of Dragon's last hits, especially one of its last to hit over here, just before the magazine went to bi-monthly. It was also one of the last pure fantasy series they ran. An action series, BBB is tight and sharp and highly worth watching. Unfortunately, it's doubtful that the light novels will ever see release over here.

-Chrono Crusade-

Description: Set in New York during the 1920s, Chrono Crusade follows the story of Rosette Christopher, and her demon partner Chrono. As members of the Magdalene Order, they travel around the country eliminating demonic threats to society, while Rosette searches for her lost brother Joshua.

I can't even pretend to talk about this one as I've never seen it. But it was extremely popular. The anime, specifically was big both in Japan and over here. The manga ran from 1998 to 2004 in 8 volumes, easily becoming one of Dragon's most popular series. You might also notice a pattern with many of the release years on this list. I swear I'm not doing it on purpose. This really is the way it is.

-Sorcerous Stabber Orphen-

Description: Orphen is a magician who is grumpy in the morning and likes money. He has an apprentice named Magic and a wanna-be apprentice girl Cleao who won't leave him alone. At first they just see Orphen as a source of fun, but as time goes by they keep getting into trouble and pick up things about Orphen's past. One thing in particular that haunts him is memories of when he was a member of the Tower of Fang; an incident involving Azalie, a brilliant magician, a girl who was like an older sister to him. I wish I could sum it up better than that.

A franchise that ran in many forms from 1998 to 2003, SSO is the type of series you don't see coming out of Japan much these days. It is one of those lighthearted action comedies that gets darker and more exciting as it goes. Needless to say, it was also a fairly big hit for its time. Even without a TV run, it was decently popular overseas showing the strength of that Dragon Magazine brand. But there's nothing like it in the magazine now. At this point you might be wondering just what Dragon actually runs these days. Well, I'll get to that soon.

-Scrapped Princess-

Description: The story takes place in what appears to be a fantasy world and revolves around a girl named Pacifica Casull, the sister in a pair of twins born to the royal family of a kingdom called Leinwan. Pacifica is abandoned at birth. The 5111th Grendel Prophecy predicts that she is the "poison that will destroy the world" if she reaches her sixteenth birthday. To prevent this, she is dropped off a cliff as an infant. Pacifica is rescued by a court wizard and adopted by the commoner Casull family, and that is where the story begins.

The reason this is so low is because I don't really like this series. It starts off with an interesting idea that it ultimately does nothing with as it relies on flat one-note antagonists, useless allies, and characters doing stupid things to achieve drama. The plot also gets aggressively up its own rear as it goes along. But I can't deny its popularity. It ran from 1999 to 2005 and is famed for having the famous Bones production team behind its anime. Chances are you probably remember the buzz this anime created when it came out. Scrapped Princess was touted as the next big thing. Unfortunately, it's also one of the last series from Dragon to elicit any kind of response from fans.

-The Legend of the Legendary Heroes-

Description: Ryner Lute is a lazy student of the Roland Empire Royal Magician's Academy. One day, the Roland Empire goes to war against their neighboring country Estabul, and Ryner loses his classmates in the war. After the war, Ryner sets out on a journey to search the relics of a "Legendary Hero" at King Sion Astal's command and finds out that a deadly curse is spreading throughout the continent.

This is the last series here because it is the only one that is still running in Dragon to this day. Starting in 2002, it's one of the few Dragon series that has maintained its high popularity since it began. You can take or leave the redundant title (I personally think it's hilarious) but it's traditional old school fantasy in a way you never see coming out of Japan these days. There was an anime, but I don't believe it was all too popular. This series is the only remainder of what Dragon used to be that still runs in its pages.

Okay, now that you know 12 of the more popular franchises to come out of Dragon, you might be wondering why, if the magazine is still running, that there is nothing listed here except one series that ran past 2008 when it went bi-monthly. Doesn't that seem odd? If Dragon's still running, shouldn't it still be getting quality material to run?


No, actually. In the mid-00s, Japan as previously mentioned went a little overboard in dealing with the rise of online piracy. Instead of creating series catering to wider audiences like they used to, they turned inward and began to focus on hardcore otaku with series that were meant only to titillate and make those hardcore sections of the fanbase buy merchandise. Unfortunately, Dragon was no different from the rest of them.

Like everyone else at the time, Dragon Magazine shed its identity to pander. And pander it did!

This is the current most popular thing in the magazine today: *Nudity Warning*

And that's the toned down version. Now you tell me if that is in tone with anything listed earlier.

Other series include a gender-flipped version of Nobunaga's Ambition, a young adult vampire story, a harem story about a passive guy, another harem story about a magical school, and a straight up harem manga. Oh and there's Tokyo Ravens, your average shonen manga. It's the only halfway popular thing they have, but it really doesn't offer much of note.

That's it.

What was once the premiere genre magazine no longer sets the trends but copies them. This is all they are now.

In an attempt to milk a hardcore fanbase that has no demographic future, Dragon, like many other entertainment companies in Japan, began to shrink in everything from audience to profits to variety and breadth of content. There's a very obvious reason Dragon's audience shrank to the point that they had to go bi-monthly in 2008, and it wasn't because of piracy. It took Japan a long time to realize this, but it was their own doing. It was because the material they put out no longer reflected what the majority of customers actually wanted.

And that is why we are where we are today.

Now it's not like Dragon Magazine was flawless. I think Scrapped Princess is a self-indulgent mess, and there are one or two other series I didn't bother listing here, but they all still tried to fit some sort of framework. They tried to be genre stories. They were about the story before everything else. Imagination was key.

The current Dragon Magazine has no character at all, nothing to help it stand out from the crowd. It's just like everything else Japan spits out. There's no more sense of wonder, no more big ideas, no more fun, and no more excitement. It's all about titillation and genre cliches.

What happened? Did Slayers ending leave Dragon to forget what its goal was? The light novel industry in Japan is in its nadir right now of video game fantasy stories featuring a harem of girls and your common Japanese nerd as the protagonist with long and cumbersome titles like I Fell Into A Fantasy World And Now Girls Actually Want To Date Me! or something even more ridiculous. As bad as we might think anime or manga is, light novels are ten times worse off. Dragon could be a beacon in the darkness of the modern genre market, but they're not even trying. To go from any of the top series above to what is being made now is disappointing. The fans deserves better. Well, whatever fans are left at this point anyway.

It's easy to lament the problems we have about a lack of strong male characters, hatred of real romance, and obsession with genre segregation, but Japan might have it almost as bad in a different way. If one of the former leading purveyors of the medium like Dragon Magazine has fallen this far, no wonder everyone else has. It's surprising that so many put up with it over there.

Light novels were a source of much of Japan's pop culture appeal overseas. Japan had Slayers, Full Metal Panic, Record of Lodoss War, Boogiepop, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Vampire Hunter D, Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Guin Saga, Crusher Joe, the other series listed above, and so many others that we'll never see released here. And what do they have now? Glorified harems in video game fantasy worlds. Is this really a contest?

It's not just about changing tastes. It is about sterilizing everything to be one and the same. This seems to be a hobby of the modern world, and it isn't just affecting Japan. It isn't that things were better back in the day, it's that there was more ambition, more variety, and a sense there was more than sex to look forward to in life. All that seems to be gone. What happened to that sense of hoping for more to life?

If anything needs to come back, it's that.

Monday, 13 February 2017

2016 Planetary Award Nomination

My nomination for the best science fiction and fantasy book of 2016 goes to "Murphy's Law of Vampires" by Declan Finn.

A fantastic mix of horror, fantasy, romance, and science fiction, the Love at First Bite series has been a lot of fun and one of the best newer series I'm currently reading.

The last time we've gotten a vampire series this fun Corey Haim was still with us. It also helps that Mr. Finn goes as old school as possible with his depiction of vampires. No sparkly nonsense or anything of the sort here.

As a sidenote: I'm currently halfway through the third book and will hopefully have a review up for it by the end of the month. Spoiler alert: it's what you would expect!

Friday, 10 February 2017

The Myth. The Legend.

So there's this guy.

His name is Jonathan. He's retired. His wife died. He's devastated. He wants to be left alone.

Then someone kills his dog and steals his car.

That someone soon learned that the unassuming quiet man is named John Wick. The Baba Yaga of the underworld. A retired monster who left his life behind to live in the light. And this idiotic punk took the last bit of light away. And he isn't happy about it.

What you get is one of the best action movies of the last twenty years. John Wick is a classic revenge film with phenomenal action choreography, an intriguing backstory and world, and manages a real sharpness to the writing. You could even see the action on screen! It came out of nowhere to surprise everyone and quickly became a favorite of many.

And now the sequel's here. So how does it compare?

John Wick Chapter 2 starts off wrapping up the loose ends of the first film with John Wick reclaiming his car, and dealing with the repercussions of coming out of retirement even for a moment. What he ends up doing is getting pulled back into the underworld of professional killers and finding himself at odds with what he is and where he's probably going when it's all over and he's dead. This leads to classic John Wick action, but also a plot that quickly spirals out of control as the deeper he digs into the darkness, the deeper the hole goes. And by the ending you get the sense that there is much more to it all.

I'll be frank, I thought this movie was great. The lore from the first movie is expanded upon and given a real kick in the pants, John Wick himself shows even more charisma and surprising depth, and the supporting cast is even stronger than the one from the original. Everything is a step up.

But what about the action? Of course you want to know about the action.

Well. Um.

Let's put it this way. There's a scene where John Wick buys a bunch of different weapons (at least five by my count) and like some hyper-violent Chekov, ends up using them all until the ammo runs dry . . .

By the halfway mark of the film.

You do the math.

Look, man. If you're still reading this, you probably like action movies. Do you like action movies? Then you are going to go see this one.

If you aren't, well, maybe that porn movie they released today is more your speed. You clearly can't handle the action.

That's a long way to say "Go see it".

But go see it.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Selective Memory ~ An Appendix N Post

With the recent hoopla concerning Jeffro Johnson's Appendix N book, I decided to dedicate a post to that intentionally buried source. If you want some background on what Appendix N is, and why it matters, I suggest watching the below video from Geek Gab which goes into a bit more depth.

The reason I wanted to make this post is because I've never actually expressed my full opinions on Appendix N as a whole. I've mentioned it in passing but have never actually expressed any concrete thoughts.  I guess it's because it isn't anything new to me.

No, I don't mean Appendix N itself-- I mean I've been in this situation before. Let me give you a bit of background to illustrate what I'm talking about. Please be patient: I swear this is going somewhere.

When I was growing up, one of the few things that endured throughout the strangeness of my teenage years was my love of stories. But not my love of books. I was up for any good story you could give me, but you would have to fight me to get me to read a book. I was a very suspicious teenage boy.

So why didn't my love of books endure while my love of stories flourished? Easy. Because every book I picked up was a nihilistic slog filled with sex, drugs, celebrating the pointlessness of life, and how special it was to be an artist and be above the stupid common man. I'm not just talking about modern literature that no one reads either. I'm talking about everything on the bookshelf that was published while I was growing up. Not to mention that the "classic" books foisted on me as a teenager were the most boring and flavorless things you could imagine.

Maybe you had to be there, but can't you just imagine? Should I read a book about a sainted alien who teaches the world the truth about orgies, or read a manga about a mysterious gunslinger on a distant planet who has to stop his nihilistic brother from purging humanity from their new world? How is that a choice? I still have trouble imagining anyone preferring the first as genre defining art, while telling me that latter is juvenile trash. But that's how it was.

Then I got to college and read a pile of the most hateful stories you could ever thumb through. Two in particular made me give up entirely. They were called Generals Die in Bed and Catcher in the Rye, and they were considered classics. If you've ever read them you have my condolences.

Suffice to say, I was done. This was the best of the best? This was all the literary world had to offer? I went back to my comics and manga, and largely left reading books behind. I didn't know any readers. I didn't know any writers. I didn't know anybody who really cared about stories at all. So as far as I could tell, this was how it always was and always would be.

Years later a lot of things happened in my personal life and I everything changed. I was rejuvenated. Made whole. I began reading about this new world that opened up to me. And things got better.

Then I read someone named G.K. Chesterton and his book Orthodoxy. It fundamentally changed how I saw the world. He was the first person I'd ever read that made perfect sense. It was as if he was talking directly to me over a hundred years after writing that book. I'd never experienced anything like that before. Looking into him led me along an odd string of events to find a book called The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope which honestly might be the best book ever written. It had everything: action, adventure, comedy, romance, and it was fun. It made me realize that I'd missed so much, and I never even knew it.

But what really shifted the way I saw things was Mr. Chesterton as a person. He was friends with H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw. He was a well known figure. He wrote scores of books, fiction and non-fiction, and he was highly respected even among those he opposed. He even wrote a pretty good play called "The Surprise" that earns its title.

That lead me to a very important question: Why had I never heard of him?

This was a man who was big (pun intended) in his time, was massively influential, and helped change my life. And I've never met another person in my life who has ever heard of him. He certainly isn't taught in schools. It was as if he was intentionally written out of history.

Keep that in mind for later.

In the midst of all this was my attempt to write. I'd been flailing around trying to learn on my own and not getting anywhere. My conversion helped allow me a focus and purpose for writing, but I couldn't nail down what to write or the best way to do it. There were no writing courses to take where I live, and as I said earlier, there were no writers to talk to. So I learned on my own and tried to ask around online.

Eventually I threw my hands up and decided to write a story I would have read as that disappointed thirteen year old. There had to be a good way to write a fun book, right? I buckled down in NaNoWriMo in 2014 and cranked out a novel. It took me a while to fix it up, but I eventually got it out the door with many people helping me along the way. That story ended up becoming Knights of the End, something I'm very proud of writing. It also helped solidify story construction for me. I successfully captured that feeling I wanted to bottle.

But while editing Knights, I came across a series of posts on the Castalia House blog on a topic called "Appendix N" written by a fellow named Jeffro Johnson. It was fascinating to me.

Now I knew about D&D. Everyone who has ever touched a video game, comic, genre film, anime or manga series, or genre fiction book, in the last half-century knows what it is. The game encapsulates everything that people steal from for their own fantasy stories. But the game didn't appear out of thin air. What I wasn't aware of was that there was a list of books that inspired its creation. But I was more surprised at some of the names on the list.

After Knights was in the can I sat down to read some of these stories. I'd already known Tolkien, and The Hobbit is still one of my favorite books, but I'd never gotten into the many writers who cribbed directly from him. Some of the other names I'd also heard before. Burroughs I'd only known from Tarzan and what I was told about his other works which were not glowing. You know where this is going.

I've already said I didn't read much genre fiction. This will make me unpopular among certain people, but I don't like stories about wizards throwing fireballs around like grenades, or tales about men with screwdrivers. I like stories about adventure, excitement, good and evil, and out-there ideas. That's why I went to places other than books to get them. My impression of genre fiction was that it was just another way to tell Important Stories about Things That Matter in a different setting, and that the stories I wanted to read died with John Buchan, George MacDonald, Anthony Hope, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

So I read a few of the books on the list. Some even older. Poul Anderson, A. Merritt, and Mr. Burroughs himself. The Worm Ouroboros. Manly Wade Wellman. I even finally read The Three Musketeers.

I was flabbergasted. I had found what I had been looking for years for. This is what those trashy stories actually were? Had I been lied to? I picked up Cirsova magazine, I started getting into old radio shows of The Shadow, and I started posting about a lot of this here. Everything changed. Like taking an old jalopy through the car wash and finding out its actually a corvette.

The stories I wrote after Knights began turning out a bit different than I first expected, I began looking at other stories in a different light, and I even found some other writers that felt the same way. Appendix N changed a lot. That's not to say I've taken up writing pure pulp, but it did affect me quite a good deal.

Genres didn't exist. There were no constraints. No lessons. No berating the audience. There was no whining. It was about the story. There was action. There was adventure. There was romance. There was speculation, history, and impossibilities, all mixed together to shape whatever story the author wanted. They weren't held back by anything except their imagination, as cheesy as it sounds. But it's true.

It was as if I finally understood just what made books so great in the first place. Whether I can capture that feeling in my future works is to be seen, but now that I have a clearer path I can at least be thankful to see the forest for the trees.

This even affected how I read more modern books. David Gemmell became a light in a rather dim field of modern fantasy, and even old superheroes like The Shadow and The Question took on a whole new meaning to me. It wasn't just the books. Everything changed.

That lead me to another very important question: What the heck happened?

Why did I have to go to manga, comics, video games, genre films, and anime, to get what I was looking for in the first place? Why was something intentionally hidden from me again?

Mr. Chesterton was a man who aided in saving my life, in more ways than one, but the world wanted him buried. The old pulp works would have sparked my imagination, and others, when I was younger, but they were scrubbed out of existence by the "right people" long before I was born. This was happening over and over.

And it's happening to a whole new generation. In the comic world, Marvel is currently taking a hammer to their brand as DC endlessly reboots themselves into irrelevance. Video games has seen the collapse of the middle market for AAA blandness while "journalists" joyfully insult their audience enjoying what they want. Manga and anime have been smothered in an overabundance of perversity and uniform sterility. Hollywood is dying from their own hubris.

There is ample reason for me to be upset about all of this. And I am. Were I born now, there would be nothing to sustain me in the empty modern age. I would be trapped in a room without windows. The thought of that is disturbing.

This is partially why I started this blog. We all wander the wasteland looking for something more than the barrenness surrounding us. We all look to the sky to find something above it. We are constantly stuck between them. There has to be a way out and beyond the boundaries.

Without imagination, without stories, without hope and wonder, we would have no hope of higher and more important things. And to think there are those deliberately destroying and hobbling those that are lost and searching? That is a game-changer for me.

So yes, Appendix N is important just as G.K. Chesterton is important. They are evidence that those who lived before us have much to offer us now. The past has a lot to offer. So why don't we connect with it once more? How can that possibly hurt?

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Signal Boost ~ Cirsova Issue #5 and #6 Kickstarter

It's that time of year again! Cirsova has just put out their Kickstarter for their 2017 output. If you are looking for some adventure and excitement you should jump on this as soon as possible. You are looking at prices as low as $1. Who can pass that up?

I must confess that I have fallen behind. I haven't even cracked into issue #4 and yet there's more on the way. That didn't stop me from hitting the pledge button so fast I somehow became the first backer.

So if you're interested, let's see if we can help push Cirsova to new heights. You definitely won't get stories like this from most magazines these days.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

One of Those Weeks

I mentioned I would be posting less this year, and this is one of those weeks. However, I won't leave you with nothing.

Recently I have buckled down re-writing a story that I never felt came out right. It's a bit of an oddball tale, and I'm not sure how it'll turn out, but I can tell you it's not like Knights of the End. This story is one of the first ideas for a story I had since converting, so it is close to me. Of course there will still be action; I'm not writing the Great Gatsby all of a sudden.

How I decided to rewrite it was a story in itself. Mainly, I was listening to the defunct(?) Rockabilly/Swing/Punk band known as the Deluxtone Rockets and the scenario and events played crystal clear in my mind. Music can be quite a powerful tool for imagination.

You might be wondering how that has to do with the story being odd. Well, the Deluxtone Rockets sounded like this:

I'm not sure how that will give you an idea of what I'm writing, mind. But that's how it rolls sometimes.

In other news, I might have an update coming in the next week or two about something I've been working on. But that's out of my hands, so we'll see.

Have a good week!

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

"Reality Couldn't Have Done This to Him" ~ A review of Declan Finn's "Set To Kill"

"The Stormtroopers looked at the staff, then each other, nodded, and sent out a BOLO order for Donatello."
So you want to know about Set To Kill by Declan Finn? Well that's a bit of a tale. If you've read the author's first published novel It Was Only On Stun! then you're halfway to understanding it. Me, I've read the book in question, and I'm not sure I fully comprehended the madness in these pages. What you're in for is a story filled with action, mystery, and more than a bit of comedy. That quote above is not even the most insane thing in the book.

After the events at the Vatican (long story), Sean A.P. Ryan is back in the protection game. Not only that, but he's working another con! Unfortunately, he soon finds himself in over his head as mercenaries, bounty hunters, crazed fans, stalkers, and just plain nutty people, assail him from every angle. Again! No wonder he doesn't like working at these things.

But it soon gets weird.

If there is one thing Mr. Finn excels at (there are a few) then it would have to be the action scenes. I'm hard-pressed to think of an author with so many details in their action scenes. Everything flows, the events are described clearly and fit together, and they are usually quite surprising. And funny.

Despite the action and the comedy there are several pretty good mysteries going on. Someone is killing guests at WyvernCon and it is up to the ever-overwhelmed Sean A.P. Ryan to put a stop to it. Oh yeah, and he has to make sure he stays alive with a several million dollar bounty (and growing!) on his head. That's kind of difficult with explosions, rifle shots, and assassins slipping in from every crevice, while he's trying to do his job. I'm starting to think he doesn't get paid enough for this.

Now if there is any complaint to note it is that there is a bit of inside baseball to some of the background elements of the story. Mr. Finn changes the names, but the events are very much based on a real "fandom" event. And it is just about as silly as he describes it as. I'm not going to explain it here because either you already know what it is or you don't care. Nothing I can say will add to it, so I'll just say that you might feel a little lost getting your head around the central conflict. Mr. Finn does his best to explain it at length, but it is what it is. Nonetheless, he does parody the events, and the players involved, quite well.

This is a hard book to really nail down. Would it be correct to call it something like if Dashiell Hammett wrote an episode of Murder, She Wrote thinking it was a sequel to Commando? I'm just not sure. If you enjoyed the previous book in this series, It Was Only On Stun!, then you should enjoy this one more. Whatever it is, Set To Kill accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do.

Should you read this book? Only if you like wanton destruction and humor popping up in strange places. And, really, why wouldn't you like those things?

I can't wait to read the sequel. Surely by then Sean Ryan will have enough of a handle on the con experience to run his own. I could just imagine.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Into the New Year

I hope everyone reading this is having a good 2017 so far. For my first post of the year, I thought I'd put out a rambler of a post.

When I was a boy I found myself drawn to stories. I could never figure out why. As I grew older I began listening to less music, playing less videogames, and dropped out of most every fandom. But one thing that remained the same, and grew, was my love of story. The big change happened when I realized that what I was most concerned with in the stories I read was the fate of the characters' souls. This only really happened about five years ago.

Not to say I don't care if people die in stories, but that is not what fascinates me in them. What draws me into their tales is the struggle with a deeper evil or ill, and how they conquer them. It's not just about one man versus another. This is about conquering an evil that doesn't just wish to destroy, but eat souls for breakfast. It's about more than it seems at first.

If you want to know why I have enjoyed Brian Niemeier's Soul Cycle saga, Declan Finn's Love At First Bite series, David Gemmell's hero tales, shonen manga, old superhero comics, or the stories in Cirsova magazine, it is because there is often much more at stake than mere life or death. This is also why I really got into writing material like Knights of the End, and what I'm going to put out next year. Whether it is facing down Eternity, sin, alienation, extinction of one's kin or species, or the loss of Paradise, it is the struggle between despair and hope that drives the best stories. This is why I'm still a reader.

That is why every good story needs a good guy. Readers need someone to connect with in the grand battle between two opposing forces. This is why even in stories without them, readers will focus their attention on the brightest burnt bulb in the basement they can find. Rorschach in Watchmen is popular for this reason alone. Anti-heroes are subversive enough to draw in the smirking, nose-holding crowd, and the character might even be interesting on some level, but they ultimately fall flat in the long run. If you stain the white with too much black it eventually all blurs into a drab, murky mess of grey. This is all well and good for teenagers of a certain type and age, but for those of us escaping the despair of college deconstructionism, it offers very little beyond that first course sampler. My second reading of Watchmen left me freezing cold.

Heroes and villains work because opposing sharply contrasted ideals are dynamic. Competing visions and characters are exciting. This creates a conflict bigger than the protagonist that he might not even see at all. But the reader will see it on some level. Even in a story with no physical enemy, it is entirely reliant on the protagonist not succumbing to something intangible. There are still enemies.

Life is a battle for the souls. This is what pulses through every single great story, and why I still read them.

There are so many stories out there that I'll never get to them all, but this year opened my eyes to a lot of stories I might have otherwise never touched. As someone who avoided much modern fiction, it was one where I was introduced not only to much pulp, but newer authors more interested in telling a good story than lecturing their audience, as well as other authors I missed entirely that were also crafting their own tales. I learned a lot in 2016.

But 2017 is going to be a bit of a different year for me. I'll still be writing, and hopefully getting closer to my goal to write the sort of story people would want to read, but I'll be cutting my online time way down. What I said earlier about life being a battle for souls is very true, and I'm still going to fight it, however it is also a battle i need tor regain my focus on. This means prioritizing on a certain things at the expense of others. Therefore, this blog will probably only be updated twice a month next year, and there will be less posts overall.

Now, I still have reviews to post, in fact I'll have one this month, and I'll still do posts like this, but they will be less common. I apologize to any frequent readers, but it needs to be done.

As we enter 2017 I want every reader here to have a very blessed new year. I hope this will be a year of growth and improvement for you.

So I'll say it here: Happy New Year!