Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Confrontations

I'm not sure how common this is with other writers, but I like my confrontations between heroes and villains to have stakes on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level. Growing up on an unhealthy diet of shonen anime, '80s action movies, and old comics and manga, got me very well acquainted with the first two. The last came from my conversion to Christianity, and a desire to dig deeper in the stories I had already liked. Of course, those are all thematic elements. It's nothing to beat the reader over the head with.

But my point is, what happens when all those elements come together? When your protagonist is up against something that not only can kill them, can't be broken mentally, and threatens your very soul? That's a triple decker of trouble.

There are three examples I can think of, all of which are regularly considered classics by their fans. The first is The Lord of the Rings, which is self-explanatory, and the second is the Trigun anime, which is possibly the most influential piece of media in my life. These hit harder for having a three dimensional conflict that can be seen from multiple angles, and be no less powerful.

The final example is in the anime classic, Yu Yu Hakusho. The third major story arc in the series is called "Chapter Black." The main character, in typical shonen fashion, has developed to be a powerful fighter that could demolish any enemy. Think of any popular shonen whether Dragon Ball, Naruto, Bleach, or Fist of the North Star, and you know that the grab for power is what makes the difference in whether the hero wins or loses. Being right is one thing, but it needs power to back it up.

Chapter Black is different.

This story arc centers on the appearance of seven psychics appearing in Tokyo who threaten the world by opening a gate that will allow monsters into the world to destroy the human race. Yusuke Uremeshi, a spirit detective and the main character, is tasked with stopping them. Yusuke is incredibly strong, but now he wonders just what the point is in taking orders? After certain recent events he has become much too complacent. He begins to get bored with normal life. The world is made of paper. He flirts with crossing a line that could very easily devour his soul, and it comes back to bite him.

What makes this story arc so good is that Yusuke's strength is in more than how hard he punches. For the first time he is faced with the task of intentionally killing villains to stop them. This is because their powers are far beyond mere physical strength. They want to show how horrible and rotten the human race is, and Yusuke has to stop them. He has to prove them wrong without falling victim to his own strength. But, maybe they have a point. How great are humans, anyway?

For a hint of this, watch the video below. The confrontation Yusuke has with the Doctor is one of my favorite confrontations in any medium. Marvel at the direction and choreography, and wonder at just how the main character is going to get through this without falling into the villain's trap. This is one of those moments that has stuck in my head years after seeing it.



Too good. However, that is not the full confrontation. To see the rest, go watch the show! It is in episodes 73 and 74 available on the Funimation website for streaming.

If I can write one thing in my life as tight as this, it would be enough for me.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Cirsova Issue #2 Review


If you recall, I was a big fan of Cirsova's first issue. I am not old enough to have been around during the heyday of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazines, and it would take a lot to get me interested in modern ones. That has nothing to do with the quality of the stories being any worse, but because of the modernist tendency to write stories where the main character might as well killed himself before word one. I don't like to feel hopeless after reading stories.

But Cirsova doesn't do that, and that's one of its main appeals. The first issue was full of stories of adventurers facing impossible odds and taking them on regardless. It was not only a pleasant read, but refreshing.

So you might be wondering if issue two continues on this path, or misses the boat. That's a fair question to ask.

Fear not, fellow adventurers, I am here to report that Cirsova remains intact! Issue two not only contains another excellent cover by Jabari Weathers, but has stories that easily stack up to the first issue.

So let's give them a look.

"The Sealed City" by Adrian Cole is the perfect story to start the issue off, being one about a satanic cult and a man called a "witchfinder" who is hunting them down in a far future setting. This story sets the tone for the rest of the issue to follow.

It's not my favorite story in the issue, but it is the one that got me hooked into reading the rest of the stories right away. I'm just a big fan of heroes hunting down evil cults and exterminating them. What can I say? It's a problem I'm going to have to learn to live with.

"Hoskin's War" by Brian K. Lowe is the second story. It's an alternate history take on the American Revolution, and is quite a bit more interesting than I first thought it would be. The fantastical elements are weaved in quite skillfully.

I was quite taken with how the author weaved in the English, the American rebels, and the Iroquois, presence here without a hint of PC interference. I know I shouldn't have to bring that up, but it is such a rarity nowadays that I can't help having to mention it. Political correctness sands a lot of good ideas down to grey goo, and would have only hurt this story tremendously.

This was a thrill ride from start to finish with probably my favorite ending in the issue. Hunting mystical beasts, unsettling shadowy monsters, hints of a greater danger? Yep, it has those. If you want to read one story to see if Cirsova is for you, I recommend this one.

"Squire Errant" by Karl Gallagher is the story of, well, a squire, who must finish the quest of his knight. What is that quest, you might ask? Well, slaying a dragon, of course!

This is the most straightforward story of the bunch, and I'm glad it was in the issue. It's hard to add much here without wrecking the whole thing. Simply put, it's a great story. It adds a bit of levity to the issue, too. Things can get a bit heavy.

"The Water Walks Tonight" by S.H. Mansouri is probably the closest Cirsova has gotten to horror yet. Some shady men go out to defend a town that is under attack by a strange creature that might be sent by the gods. The town is losing its fishing industry, and these men with Nordic names are going to stop them. Or are they?

This was a bit difficult to read. Not because of the language, or anything that happens, but because the reader is thrown into the deep end of the world off the bat. By the time you catch up, the plot kicks into high gear, so it's not a problem. It's just something that should be pointed out.

To go too in depth into what happens in this tale would be to spoil it, but the ending is probably worth reading the whole story.

"Shark Fighter" by Michael Tierney obviously has the best title in the whole magazine. I shouldn't have to explain why. Conceptually, it's the most straightforward story here. A diver faces off against a tiger shark while he slowly regains his memory. The background elements add a flavor to the tale that made it quite unique from its initial premise.

I have no experience with diving, but I was able to follow the story just fine. It might knock you off-kilter for the first few pages, but stick with it. It's the most surprising tale here.

"My Name is John Carter (Part 2)" by James Hutchings continues the fabulous poem from issue one. If you have not read the original Barsoom novels, you might not get as much out of this, but that should just give more motivation to read them.

Poems are not my expertise, but I have two rules for them. A) It must rhyme, and B) It must have a rhythm. This poem had both in part one, and it has them here. It's a success on that alone.

It also has a clear love of the original John Carter stories that fits in perfectly with the rest of the magazine contents. The poem melds the past with the present in a way that makes one appreciate Cirsova all the more.

It really reminds you that the spirit of the old Burroughs novels still sparks today.

"Images of the Goddess" by Schuyler Hernstrom is both the final story in the magazine and the lone novella. A monk named Plom goes on a quest to find a Holy Book of his goddess, and meets some strange characters on the way.

This is the hardest story to talk about without getting into spoiler territory. The plot winds out really well. Lets just say that this is probably the best story of the bunch with some memorable world-building and characters, as well as some surprising humor and ripping action. This tale has it all.

There is one encounter with a bounty hunter later on that was particularly effective. These are the types of action scenes you can't get outside of fantasy and science fiction.

Of all the stories to end the magazine with, this was the best choice.

But it is not the end of the issue.

"Rescuing Women" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is the lone essay and final piece in the book. Well, besides the editor's comments (which I quite enjoy) that is. This is a piece about the female presence in science fiction since the pulp days and how politics are used in order to shadow the truth.

The truth is that women have been writing science fiction since the pulp days. Some of the greatest science fiction authors are women (C.L. Moore, Andre Norton, Leigh Brackett), and were treated no differently from the men. So why is it that there is a narrative about how women were never allowed into the field and were held back for so long? Why does it still continue to this day? This essay dives into the truth of the matter.

It was an excellent essay to end the issue on. It leaves you thinking after just experiencing some great tales.

That's a great way to describe the issue as a whole. When I closed issue #2 of Cirsova, I had a smile on my face. That makes it a rousing success, in my book.

The final verdict is simple. Do you like Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction? If the answer is yes, then why aren't you already reading Cirsova? If the answer is no, then I can't even imagine why you read the review to this point.

A bigger question is whether a magazine like this is necessary at all. I'd say it is. High School and College teachers scare so many off from reading at all, and the Big Five Publishers are wired in to producing the same garbage that chases so many away. Most never even pick up another book after High School.

But it doesn't have to be that way. There is more to reading than stories of nihilistic sleazebags who spend three hundred plot-less page books whining about how the world robbed their precious selves of everything. Unless you're a Liberal Arts teacher, or one of their captive student, you're probably not going to choose to read crap like that.

Cirsova is a reminder of what stories can truly be. For that alone, I wish them much success. However, the excellent stories (and essays!) make it a no-brainer of a purchase.

Highly recommended.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Telling the Truth in Fiction

Someone once told me I should write Historical Fiction so I could write the "truth" and tell people "how it really was" back in whatever period they were talking about.

I wish I could say this individual had good intentions, but I know the real reason they suggested it. It was to preach and convert. This person was angry about a lot of things, but they got the intent of stories completely wrong.

I grew up around a television station called YTV. For those that don't know, in the late 1980s through the late 1990s, YTV was the station for kids in Canada. They aired programs as varied as the 1960s Batman show, Rocky & Bullwinkle, the 90s Spider-Man show, Dragon Ball, Samurai Pizza Cats, Are You Afraid of the Dark, Beast Wars (called Beasties), ReBoot, Rocko's Modern Life, and all sorts of cartoons from around the world and different eras.

Other things I watched and read included The Hobbit, The Outsiders, action movies out the wazoo, and the Disney Afternoon. That's not even including things like MacGyver I mostly saw in syndication.

What I'm saying is that what I learned seeing all those shows as a kid, is very different than what this person was suggesting I write.

The important part of these stories was the sense of wonder I got from them, and how they inspired both my imagination and my love of fiction. I could never warp these stories for something as banal as scoring points or annoying the "right" people. Stories are about more than that.

Unfortunately, YTV is no longer that station it once was. It has since become the Canadian wing of modern Nickelodeon, PC shows with obnoxious humor, and little for the family to sit around and enjoy. It's character is all but gone.

But now that there's a whole indie world out there for authors and creators to enjoy, it doesn't really matter. It doesn't matter what the networks, publishers, or gatekeepers want, because they are completely out of touch and have been for a long time. This abysmal Summer Movie Season should be the clue that Hollywood is lost at sea.

You want to "tell the truth", then tell stories. Tell the sort of stories that inspired you in the first place. Tell the sorts of stories you always wanted to see, but didn't. Tell the sorts of stories nobody tells anymore. Tell stories nobody wants to tell. That's why you wanted to tell them in the first place, right?

You don't need to become a schoolmarm to be a storyteller. Homer wasn't. Shakespeare wasn't. Tolkien wasn't.

And yet they all told tales that have stood the test of time.

Storytelling isn't about teaching, it's about wonder. Save your lectures for the classroom, and remember what it was like to be a child. Remember that same child who was blown away by that one story. That's who you're really writing for.

That's how you tell the truth with stories.


Note: In unrelated news, author Brian Niemeier has been shadow-banned by Twitter for no discernible reason. Check out his site and his works, if you have the time.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Writing Update

I realize there hasn't been much news on the writing front recently. To tell you the truth, that's because I've mostly been writing away. It's also because whenever I stop to talk about something that I begin to slack on it. Not sure why it happens, but it does.

I've been working on a novel for over a year and a half. My editor and I consider it more of a young adult novel, but I don't like to describe it as one. It doesn't have anything in common with what you'll find being pushed by the big publishers.

It isn't so much because of perfectionism that it's taken so long, but because I've been spending a lot of time fleshing out the world and characters and editing accordingly. It is the first in a series, and I want to make sure I don't mess up the first one. For those who have actually read my novella (my condolences), rest assured that this is much better, and different. I have also gotten an editor who is quite amazing and has offered a lot of great advice. More on this project hopefully by the end of the summer. That is when I hope to have the first book finished and out.

On the other hand, I've been working on a couple of short stories in another series that has been gnawing at my brain for the past year. However, most of the magazines or anthologies I'm interested in submitting to don't close (or open) their submissions until at least winter, and I hope to have those done in time.

In other words, there is a lot of activity going on right now.

As for what they're about? Well, if you keep up with this blog, you probably know my tastes pretty well.

I tend to write things that I'd like to read, or would like to have read when I was younger. Whether that is old school anime-influenced fantasy, or a more thoughtful and pulpy superhero piece, I don't tend to write stuff you'd find on the bookshelves of modern book stores.

Of course, this is why I won't be submitting anything to mainstream publishers.

I have no political agenda or nihilistic tale to beat people over the head with. All I have are fun stories that I hope others dig as much as I enjoyed writing them. I also don't find much joy in giving up the majority of my rights in order to get little to no promotion, editing, or control. I can do or pay all of those myself. It's indie for me.

In the end, it might take a bit longer, but I hope you have patience! The stories are on the way.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

A Truth of the Universe

Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear. -- G.K. Chesterton (Tremendous Trifles, 1909)

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Classic Video Games

Nintendo just announced this:






For anyone who played video games in the 1980s and 90s, they can clearly see what this is.

It's a small version of Nintendo's very first console (the one that saved the industry) pre-packaged with 30 games, and with HDMI ports for those who have those newfangled TVs. And, personally, I think it's a great idea.

Just looking at the list of games, you would be hard-pressed to deny any of their importance:
  • Balloon Fight
  • BUBBLE BOBBLE
  • Castlevania
  • Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest
  • Donkey Kong
  • Donkey Kong Jr. 
  • DOUBLE DRAGON II: THE REVENGE
  • Dr. Mario
  • Excitebike
  • FINAL FANTASY
  • Galaga
  • GHOSTS’N GOBLINS
  • GRADIUS
  • Ice Climber
  • Kid Icarus
  • Kirby’s Adventure
  • Mario Bros. 
  • MEGA MAN 2
  • Metroid
  • NINJA GAIDEN
  • PAC-MAN
  • Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream
  • StarTropics
  • SUPER C
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Super Mario Bros.  2
  • Super Mario Bros.  3
  • TECMO BOWL
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Zelda II: The Adventure of Link


Now, one could quibble with omissions. The lack of Contra, Crystallis, Adventure Island, Ninja Gaiden II, Castelvania III, or Jackal, is fairly inexcusable. But, the line up is a good summation as to what made that era of gaming so great, and why the system essentially built the whole industry.

Looking out at the current crop of grey and brown military shooters with ham-handed plots and comparing it to what built gaming in the first place, is a real eye-opener.

The list includes puzzle games, adventure games, fighting games, action games, racing games, sports games, and simple arcade style games. That's more variety than you'll find on your average Gamestop shelf these days.

But let's use one example.

It is my opinion that the NES version of Double Dragon II is one of the best, most underrated games of all time. The stylized graphics, music, and overstuffed controls, gives off a sense of wonder and creativity to the setting that I never get tired of.

Also, unlike the mediocre arcade version, this one has an actual ending, which is pretty rocking. Listen to that final boss music and raise your fists in triumph!


In an era that takes itself too seriously, while not taking important things seriously at all, it is a nice reminder that we can still have fun while being lifted up at the same time.

It's more than just nostalgia. Once games entered the 3D realm, it became harder and harder to find games with a sense of wonder or pure fun as the years went on. You can even look at a fairly early 3D adventure game like Thief and compare it to the recent mediocrity of Dishonored to see all the joy sucked out.

So, good luck to Nintendo on this. Hopefully it is enough of a success that the SNES, N64, and Gamecube, and get the same treatment. And hopefully their next system is a reminder to them, as well as us, what made the hobby so much fun in the first place.

Before I go, let's put one more Double Dragon track out there. Because, why not?


Now I'm all pumped up! I hope you're happy.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

On the Sunset Highway

I've been listening to a bit of Retrowave music recently. It has a lot of names, but what it actually consists of is synth instrumental music reminiscent of the '80s. More than nostalgia (I'm more of an early '90s guy as my tastes go) this music hits a groove that modern music has all but abandoned in wub-wubs and a flat, emotionless, sound. This stuff has character.

It is nice to see all these alternatives show up due to the mainstream continuing to lose the plot. There was a time not so long ago that stuff like this would simply have no place. It was either do what the industry wanted, or go broke. Thankfully, that all seems to be changing.

My personal favorite of these groups is Miami Nights 1984, who sound simultaneously like retro video game music, '80s action movie film scores, and driving music, all at once. Their Early Summer album, in particular, is my favorite.

Check them out:





Groove it out. While you're doing that, I'll just be spin-kicking bad guys off catwalks on my way to the final boss. Oh, yeah.

Or maybe I'll just get back to writing. We'll see!

Friday, 1 July 2016

Cirsova Issue 2!

If you have any fondness for old school heroic fantasy and science fiction, then be sure to support the Kickstarter campaign for Issue 2 of Cirsova!

The awesome Issue 2 cover by Jabari Weathers

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I was a huge fan of the first issue. You can see my reviews here, here, and here. To sum up: you should back this if you like your short stories awesome. Issue #1 was great.

There are less than four days left on the kickstarter, so get your pledge in now and help it reach those stretch goals. We need more magazines like this around.

If you want a look at what the future plans entail, check out Cirsova's site. There is a lot of content on the way from them in the future.

So give them a look. You won't be disappointed.

Happy Canada Day, everyone!