Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Shonen Tribute ~ Why Anime Eventually Broke Overseas

"Mazinger Z" by Go Nagai

For a lot of people, anime has been a refuge from the collapse of the mainstream entertainment market over the last two decades. Since the 1980s, as mainstream books, television, and movies, slid into political correctness, obvious formulas, and post-modernism, a subculture of entertainment ballooned out from the underground and ended up nearly taking control of the world in the process. Anime in the '90s and early '00s filled a hole in many people's hearts as their local industry had begun to fall apart. It was truly big.

Not only was anime big, but it influenced everything at the time from French and American cartoons to comic book art styles to Joss Whedon shows. It was inescapable. Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon, and Yu-Gi-Oh! alone were everywhere from the TV to card games to video games to toys and even films. For a while it looked as if anime would rule the world. It was almost inevitable.

Almost.

Fast forward over a decade later, and anime is even more underground than it was in the 80s. It's already been posted time and time again how that happened, but that's not what this post is about. This is instead about how it appealed to so many the first time.

So, anime is not popular anymore. But there are series that still sell in high numbers and attract mainstream attention in both the anime and manga worlds and outsell remaining sellers in the declining US market. Dragon Ball, Naruto, One Piece, Fairy Tail, Speed Racer, Voltron, Rurouni Kenshin, Fullmetal Alchemist, Tokyo Ghoul, My Hero Academia, Attack On Titan and even underground hits like Fist of the North Star, Gintama, Space Adventure Cobra, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, and City Hunter, all have one thing in common.

They're all Shonen series.

"Ushio & Tora" by Kazuhiro Fujita

What is responsible for the overseas popularity anime and manga is credit that goes to the Shonen demographic and the artists that wrote for them. Boys Adventure is once again responsible for another movement. This means the reason you got Cowboy Bebop, Trigun (which started as Shonen), Record of Lodoss War, Planetes, and every other favorite you have brought over to your country is because of the success of Shonen. That is what opened the door.

Sure anime had underground hits in the 80s and early 90s (as "Japanimation"), but it wasn't until Shonen made its mark that anime hit critical mass.

The translation for Shonen Manga is read as Boy's Comics, and it is aimed at the 8-18 age demographic. It is essentially Japan's version of Boy's Own Adventure and teamed with light novels is almost entirely responsible for every Japan to US hit. There was a lot of crossover appeal at the time that still resonates now.

Manga had been around for centuries beforehand, but it was only brought into magazine form by the end of the 19th century and into the 20th. They weren't really aimed at any demographic in particular until the post-WWII era. The entertainment industry slowly began to change.

At the same time superhero comics were exploding in the US, Shonen Magazines were getting off the ground. They were seeing a lot of crossover influences in what made comics work: myths, legends, heroes and villains, and epic scope. From the beginning there was always a hope that both audiences and markets could co-exist.

The very first magazine was Shonen Sekai which ran from 1895-1914 but it wasn't until 1959 when Weekly Shonen Magazine by Kodansha, and Weekly Shonen Sunday by Shogakukan hit the scene and changed the game. They only started with a few series, but as they added more manga, they got more popular and sales only went up. This burgeoning popularity lead to 1968 when the current king of Shonen was finally released by Shueisha. This was the year Weekly Shonen Jump was released, and it is still Japan's top selling magazine to this day.

"Hajime No Ippo / Fighting Spirit" by George Morikawa

The first issues of Shonen Jump were so focused on their demographic that they ran translated comics of Mandrake the Magician, Flash Gordon, and Secret Agent X-9 in their pages to fill up the issue. That's right! Shonen Jump, which is responsible for Dragon Ball, Fist of the North Star, and Rurouni Kenshin, ran pulp. They even ran Flash Gordon in its first issue. This ties Shonen to pulp and the audience Shonen is aimed at: lovers of adventure, action, and romance.

These magazines focused on action adventure stories. Sometimes they had comedy series, and sometimes they ran romance series, but it was always built around hooking the young male demographic. And they always sold the most of every other demographic for it. It was what the people wanted.

This is reflected in how rough most of the art styles for Shonen tend to be. While Shojo (for young girls) is typically drawn in a soft style with prettier characters, Shonen emphasizes intensity and impact and their characters can look like and be anything.

There is no real limit to what a Shonen story can be. It can be a mecha series like Mazinger Z, a fantasy series like Saint Seiya, a sci-fi adventure like Captain Harlock, a romance like Kimagure Orange Road, a mystery series like Detective Conan/Case Closed, a sports series like Ashita no Joe, a comedy like Ranma 1/2, or an all out mind trip like Space Adventure Cobra. All the story has to be, is fun.

It was post-World War II Japan where the formula was tempered and forged and eventually became what it is today. It is fairly odd that as the Western world began to throw away the pulp ethos and decry them as childish and unneeded, Japan was embracing it and being rewarded with what is easily Japan's #1 entertainment export next to video games and one of their most important industries to this day. Both the manga and light novel industries were built off the back of these pulp-like series. As book sales sank in the west, they increased in Japan, peaking in the 1990s with sales of Shonen Jump issues featuring Dragon Ball, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Slam Dunk selling over a million just as their anime were setting record ratings. Japan might be the only area in the world where their entertainment industry could consider the 1990s as their Golden Age.

"City Hunter" by Tsukasa Hojo

These same series that were selling gangbusters in Japan slowly made their way to the West during the late 80s and through the 90s, eventually cracking the market here by the tail end of the latter decade. What was there to compete with them? Cartoons had thrown away adventure series, and comedies were getting more base and less like Looney Tunes. Dragon Ball found a crack where adventure had been left hanging, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! hooked kids with simple action stories they had been denied, and Rurouni Kenshin, Bleach, and Naruto brought in more adults and teens than the US market had ever seen. Then there was the underground hit called Samurai Pizza Cats, and weekday afternoon cartoon controversy known as Ronin Warriors. Anime was everywhere. And they were all Shonen.

At the same time, non-Shonen series made their way over with Sailor Moon, Gundam (though Wing and G have considerable Shonen influence), Cowboy Bebop, Slayers, Escaflowne, Trigun, and the Toonami action block, all managed to hit when they were needed. It's easy to forget, but there were no Western equivalents to any of these shows when they met huge success. The last serious Western show was Gargoyles, and the DC animated universe run by Bruce Timm was the only non-comedy shows kids and teenagers could get their hands on at the time. Anime had a clear line to make their entry into the Western market, and they took it hard.

This was what lead to the manga industry finally booming, and even US shows like Teen Titans or Ben 10 began adapting an anime-influenced art style. It got to the point that the "anime" aesthetic was as hated as the poor use of flash animation. Anime and manga were unstoppable.

Until they weren't.

But, self-sabotage aside, Shonen was responsible for it all. This is why there is any anime market here at all. Boy's Adventure stories were what led to this invasion and why you see so many moe anime avatars on Twitter or JoJo's Bizarre Adventure references on Tumblr. This is why so many younger authors and artists have so many strange anime influences and style in their works that the old farts just don't get. While the West was sleeping, Japan came in, ate their lunch, and left their mark.


"Kimetsu no Yaiba: Blade of Demon Destruction" by Koyoharu Gotouge

And it still sells.

Weekly Shonen Jump is still the highest selling magazine in Japan, and the only US manga magazine left, and its series are still some of the most popular series in Japan, and overseas. They still outsell the fads, and they still get stocked in the brick and mortar stores.

There's a lesson somewhere in there about respect for your roots, and giving the audience what they want, that the dying Big 5 publishers, cable TV networks, Marvel Comics, and Hollywood, could learn. In the end, the audience gets what they want, or nobody does. Because otherwise there will be nothing left. The cynical side in me is suggesting that it might the point, but that is neither or here nor there. The point is that action and adventure is what the audience wants. It's what they've always wanted. Romance and intrigue. Heroes and villains. Good and evil. It's what they're always going to want.

So the next time you're watching your moe series about a pathetic turd attracted to his grade school mother, remember that those inferior pleb Shonen series you hate is what got them here in the first place. Then, wake up, turn that crap off, and put on an episode of My Hero Academia instead. It'll do you good.


"Kyo Kara Ore Wa! / Today it's My Turn!" by Hiroyuki Nishimori

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Angels Amidst Demons ~ A review of "Path of Angels" by Dawn Witzke

Check it out Here!

*Note: Ms. Witzke has aided me putting together the cover design to a previous book of mine. This has no bearing on the following review.*


I'm not a big reader of Young Adult fiction these days, despite writing my own, though it might not be for the reasons you would think.

The genre started properly with The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton when publishers created a category just for it and those that spun out from it. This was because the elite didn't want this filthy book written by a peasant teenage girl to rub shoulders with its adult masterpieces. After all, if people want to read it without being forced to, it can't be a good book. But over the years, many missed what made Hinton's works so good (aside from That Was Then, This Is Now which very much reads as a paint by numbers YA book) and worthy of so much attention.

Now YA is filled with the same junk that made people abandon standard fiction in the first place. Stories reveling in death, drugs, sex, and nihilism, are not appealing to the majority of people. But that's what they were given over and over.

The appeal of YA is about coming of age stories between childhood and becoming an adult. The catch is that becoming an adult has to be something the teenager should aspire to become. When you believe the world is meaningless and empty you cannot write a story in this genre. You will miss the point. Most YA today completely misses this point.

And this is why I dislike the genre.

I approached this book with a little trepidation. The Hunger Games being a weaker Battle Royale and carrying all the weaknesses of Twilight and, despite all this, still being considered the cornerstone of the genre sours me on this. All mainstream YA follows the same pattern nowadays.

But then I remembered this was an indie book and all those worries faded away. Path of Angels, not being bound by the fads of the genre, or the obnoxious tropes, is able to tell a story that both males and females can fine enjoyment in without having to hit those tiresome tropes publishers just love. That's not to say it's perfect, but it is good at what it does.

The story takes place in a society where the world has been cleansed of its warts and true utopia has been achieved. Pesky religion has been disposed of, and the state is able to take its place, controlling every aspect to make sure things don't go out of hand. Oh, did I say utopia? Maybe to some people this is one. For most anyone else, it's clearly a dystopia.

A member of the underground church, seventeen year old Aadi, embarks on a quest to deliver a holy relic to a far off town. She is joined by her friend, Mischa, who is secretly looking to leave town for his own reasons. Along the way the pair face an adventure of roving psychos, Red Guards, and the elements themselves, as they learn more about the society they live in, and each other. Path of Angels is an adventure tale which means it's fixated on the journey and how easy it is to lose your way.

The very first thing that hooked me in the story was that the very first chapter starts with an intense action sequence. It was so jarring for what I expected out of this sort of story that I had to check if I was reading the right book. This is a good thing. Modern YA takes so long to get off the ground that this was exactly what was needed to snap me out of my built-in cynicism for the genre. This isn't a full-on action story, but this explosion of chaos kept me on edge for the rest of the story that something similar could happen again.

Another aspect that got me was the theme of faith against hopelessness. There are many times in the book where things look bad for the characters, and there are times when things go very, very wrong for others. In most other books of this type, the author would revel in this type of attitude and emphasize how pointless it all is, but in this story, perseverance and luck are intertwined and highly valued almost as much as faith. There isn't much time for whining or moping when you could be executed at a moment's notice, and the characters know this. It's a hard trick to show hope in the face of hopelessness, but Dawn Witzke pulls it off.

I suppose I could mention that there is a love triangle, but it is not quite what you would think. Aadi's old boyfriend, Thad, is now a priest, and in many ways he represents her religious side. In contrast, Mischa is very much her childhood friend, and first crush, and represents her emotional side. Thad is replaced by God in their relationship, just as He has replaced Aadi in a way--they're still friends but everything has changed. She has to deal with these changes in order to grow up and face the world, but it is not so much about choosing between two hot guys like most YA novels are. There's actually a very clear answer, but not for the reasons you would think, and it involves a real moral choice. It takes a lot to get me invested in triangle style relationships, but it is pulled off well here.

There are a few personal complaints I could point out. Outside of the first action sequence, there weren't really many others quite as intense, and those that are there are pretty spread out, but this also isn't an action story so it is understandable. On the other hand, I would liked to have learned more about Thad, but he isn't in the story much. There was also a scene where Mischa should have beaten another man to a pulp for what he did, but just left the location with Aadi instead. Aadi's cousin's motivation for a certain thing she does to Aadi is unclear, especially since we never see her or her husband again. I could probably guess what it was, but it should have been spelled out in big bold letters.

This was a great YA story by Dawn Witzke and I look forward to seeing what she has coming next. If you once enjoyed YA, but were chased away by either the nihilism or the sex obsession, then this book is exactly for you. If not, well, this is definitely one of the better ones to come along in a while. This has the makings of an intriguing series.

Hopefully this is the start of something better for the genre. This isn't Salinger; and thank God for that!

Recommended.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Returns

Having just returned from my trip (it was great!) I thought I would mention a find. You see, I wasn't expecting to do so, but I stumbled upon a used book store far better than any around where I regrettably live. I ended up grabbing far too many books, but I regret nothing.

Don't judge me. You know you've done it, too. Sometimes you see so many great stories that you just can't help yourself. And I barely managed to contain myself.

My haul was as follows.

Deathlands: Neutron Solstice by James Axler
Swords Against Wizardry by Fritz Leiber
The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Classic Tales of Horror by Edgar Allen Poe
The Lovecraft Compendium by H.P. Lovecraft
Fallon by Louis L'Amour
Kilkenny by Louis L'Amour
Conagher by Louis L'Amour
Science Fiction Classics (Hardcover) by Edgar Rice Burroughs

  • Thuvia, Maid of Mars
  • The Chessmen of Mars
  • The Master Mind of Mars
  • Pellucidar
  • Tanar of Pellucidar


On top of it I also got two non-fiction books, one about Arthurian Legends and one on Celtic Saints.

Needless to say, I bought far more than I really should have, but with a haul like that, can you blame me? I could hardly turn down any of those finds.

There's a lot out there to dive into, both in the past and in newly released works that it is hard to keep up. My love of Action Adventure can hardly keep up, especially considering how strong its sub-genres of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror can be.

Why should I waste my time with modern dreary fiction when there is so much out there that aims to inspire and instill fantastical images instead? All the best genres of fiction are about different forms of action that it depends on what the reader feels like experiencing. Action Adventure is the genre of choice for those of us who want to travel to far off lands, discover strange inventions, mystical lands, and horrifying secrets-- sometimes all in the same story! Why read stories about a depressive staring into a cracked mirror when you can discover something truly wondrous instead?

Today is the best time to be a lover of the fantastical, the exciting, and the wondrous. While the modern world implodes, the regressives are silently (and some not so silently!) revisiting the past, connecting with it, and producing their own content on top of it. It is like a return to a timeline we were supposed to have abandoned long ago.

But nope, we haven't.

As I mentioned in this video on the Pulp Revolution, we are very much alive.

video

The past and future! Together again like so much chocolate and peanut-butter!

And as much as I would like to keep going on about it, I have my own work I need to get back to doing. I'm also craving some Reese's Pieces for some unfathomable reason. Anyway, back to the reading and the writing.

And I'm quite excited to be doing so!

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Signal Boost ~ "A Pius Man" by Declan Finn



Fresh off the press is the newest (technically) book by author Declan Finn. This is an earlier book that has been reedited and re-released by Silver Empire Publishing and finally given the treatment it deserved.

A Pius Man was originally conceived by Mr. Finn as a response to Dan Brown's execrable anti-Catholic thrillers, only done much better than those wastes of ink and paper. This book has a conspiracy involving the Vatican, just like Brown's books. The difference is that this one uses real historical events and not pants-on-head gnostic conspiracy idiocy to steer the plot. It is also, like all of Mr. Finn's novels action packed.

The description is here:

"As the head of Vatican security, Giovanni Figlia must protect a new, African Pope who courts controversy every other day. The Pope’s latest project is to make Pius XII, “Hitler’s Pope,” a saint. Things haven’t gotten better since the Pope employed American mercenary Sean Ryan. 
"Then a body fell onto the Vatican doorstep.

"Mercenaries, spies, beautiful women, international intrigue and ancient secrets – The Pius Trilogy has it all!"

I actually did read and review this book before, possibly before this blog was conceived. I can heartily recommend this one to read from experience. My only quibble with the original was the sometimes spotty editing, but, since this is re-edited, that complaint might already be addressed. Either way, this is a high-octane thriller worth your time.

Declan Finn writes his books with an energy most modern writers lack. This book is no exception to that.


In unrelated news, I'm going to be out of town for most of next week, so there probably won't be an update on this blog. I've been a bit busy with real life recently, as well. I'll try to have a bigger post ready for when I get back.

Thanks for putting up with me!

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Update!

video

So what have I been doing?

It's been a while since I wrote a good old fashioned update post for the blog. There's been a lot of things going on recently so I never really get to post about my work as much.

This update can be summed up into four points:

First: I have two short stories currently being sent out. No, they are not for Cirsova. They don't quite fit the mood that magazine is going for. I'm hoping to here word back on them within the next few weeks. These stories are great and were a lot of fun to write. If you enjoyed my story in volume 3 of the Crossover Alliance then you should dig these. I hope you get to read them sooner than later, but that is mostly out of my hands at this point.

Second: I am near completion on a novella I have been working on for some time. It's an off-kilter story with a lot of action that was a different sort of experience to put into words. More on this when I have it all hashed out and ready. I'm hoping the folks in the pulp revolution crowd will like it as much as I do.

Third: Book 2 of Knights of the End needs a heavy rewrite. I had written it a while back since before the first book was even published and I've learned a lot since then. I've also had a few epiphanies regarding that world. So you can hopefully expect this by the end of the year, God willing.

Fourth: All of those things happening is contingent on events currently unfolding in my personal life. As it is, I will most likely be out of town on the first week of July. So the likelihood of any of this coming out soon relies on forces outside of my control. Thoughts and prayers would be appreciated.

And that's basically where I am at right now.

As I write it out it actually feels like I'm a lot further along than I initially thought. Despite what I've got going on I'm still pushing ahead and writing what I want (and from what I've heard, what my audience wants) and doing it at a pretty solid pace.

Thanks to everyone who reads and links to this blog, including Brian Niemeier, Jeffro Johnson, and the Pulp Revolution folks. I've been having a blast writing and reading all this stuff I didn't know existed, or was even certain it could have. But things are changing, and I hope to be a part of that change.

Rev it up, everyone!


Friday, 16 June 2017

A Review of Cirsova #4 [Part 2]

Check it out Here!

A friendly reminder that Cirsova is still taking submissions for off-kilter science fiction and fantasy stories. And with that done, we now return to our regularly scheduled post continuing from last week.

For those who missed it, I reviewed the first half of the issue here. This post will cover the remainder of issue four.

. . . Where There Is No Sanctuary by Howie K. Bentley is next and it is a real punch in the face. This might be my favorite story in the issue. A werewolf warrior cuts his way through a demonic tower that has fallen out of time. Lots of action, horror, and imagination. This is the type of material that I read Cirsova for.

But then we have another turn. Dust of Truth by Joyce Frohn is about a group of barbarian women looting and pillaging before a wedding to her subservient man. And that’s the whole story. There aren’t any twists or turns or real sense of danger. Events transpire around the main character, and then it ends. There is also no reason given for the sex-flipped roles, and it is distracting. This is easily my least favorite story I've read in any issue of Cirsova.

Thankfully, it was a one-off. The Priests of Shalaz by Jay Barnson is another great tale. This one is about a border between worlds and involves the British Empire, magic, and giants. It’s very much in the vein of Burroughs and sets the pace again after the last story's bump in the road.

It’s followed up by The Last Dues Owed by Christine Lucas, a story about an assassin that finds himself trapped in a plot that involves Egyptian magic, a battle between assassins, and his possible family(?) on top of it. This was another solid read.

Then we have the second and final novelette of the issue, Shadow Vision by Preston Dennett. This was right up my alley. A boy with a strange gift travels through a shadow fog with his companions and meets some . . . interesting obstacles along the way. This is pure Fantasy Adventure.

As we near the end we reach The Ride by Edward McDermott. This is about a man escaping pursuers into a mountain cave system and facing what lies in the dark. It's creepy, unsettling, and action packed. The issue has really turned around since Dust of Truth. This story is very much what I enjoyed about Cirsova the most.

The last story in this double-stuffed issue is The Phantom Sands of Calavass by S.H. Mansouri. This was about an investigator landing on a desert planet and looking into some strange murders. Naturally, because this is Cirsova, things go south very quickly. This was a good story to end the issue though it took a while to get moving and the ending was not quite satisfying enough for me. This was another solid tale.

At the end we have an essay by Liana Kerzner called The Feminine Force Awakens about that recent Disney fanfiction Star Wars movie with a similar title, though it is really about women roles in science fiction and fantasy and how said movie gets credit for doing something it should not be getting credit for. If you want to know the real history of women and their place in the history of the genre you could do a lot worse than this. As an example, you could be reading mainstream blogs that vilify everything written before 1980 in another pathetic attempt at revisionism.

To sum it up, this was not one of the best issues of Cirsova. Issues #2 and #3 are still the ones to beat. However, it still offers a good amount of bang for your buck, and a few of the stories (as well as the poem and essay) are some of the best they've yet put out. If you're new to Cirsova, I recommend any of the earlier issues, but if you're a fan then dig in.

We need more magazines like Cirsova, reminding us jut how inspiring and jaw-dropping speculative fiction can be. In an age of grey fog, it is the lighthouse shining the way back home. You are doing yourself a disservice if you are not reading this magazine.

Recommended.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Homesick for the Future

If the universe were to randomly cease existing tomorrow (we've been waiting billions of years, what's the hold up?!) I imagine one thing would happen with 100% certainty. Before being erased from existence, one man will speak. He will wear a smirk on his face before stating to the terrified: "It's really not so bad. You're just nostalgic for your childhood. This is fine." Then the universe ends and we all swirl into the void.

It is a fascinating mentality to have. Imagine being so dismissive and scared of the past that one can't admit there were aspects of it better than where we live in the present. Now there is something to be said about being obsessed with a time period in one's life, but it is much different today. This type of "forward" thinking is now one step away from being cultism.

A long time ago, there was a saying. It was a line used to excuse degrading standards and subversion of classic properties in a way to dodge all legitimate criticism. It is not used so much today though the spirit is very much alive.

The motto went like this:

Question: What is the Golden Age of *insert subject here*?
Answer: Age 8 to 10.

This was the original nostalgia argument used to shut down any criticism of a newer product from the time of the 1970s and '80s, and earlier. This argument can be found looking in old letter columns from the era. However, nobody uses it anymore. It is easy to puzzle out why it has. Because this claim falls apart on closer inspection and has been proven wrong with, ironically, the passage of time.

Time has passed, and many fans of different entertainment mediums have not had the benefit of being 8 or 10 years old when Superman's first comic was released or when The Moon Pool was first run. So then, how can there be people alive today who prefer that older age in comparison to what is currently being put out? It is unclear, according to these types. How can one prefer action movies of the 1980s when they were born in 1994? That should not happen. And yet another individual who grew up with those very same movies is apparently only able to enjoy them due to a nebulous concept called nostalgia. That simply cannot be the case, at least not in every example.

The fact is that different eras consist of changing aesthetics, different morals, and, sometimes, varying quality. Film grain used for a TV set in the 1980s is different from the HD widescreen contraptions of the modern era. Black and white is different from early colorization. This begs the question of how would one argue that the preference of one over the other is due to what each individual experienced in their youth.

Better yet, how does one prove this is the reason for the preference?

This accusation requires a heavy duty dose of projection from the accuser, as it otherwise has no real bearing on a discussion centered on taste. And what it tends to lead to is the revelation that the accuser is really a member of The Cult of the New.

"How can you possibly like this old thing better than this new thing! This was made more recently, therefore it must be better. All the progress we've made in history dictates this! Clearly, you must only like this inferior relic is because you are pining for a long lost youth and are simply out of touch with what the standard is now."

The trick in this accusation is that it can't be argued against. Reasons for taste and preference cannot be proven. Therefore The Mists of Avalon is an objectively better book than Le Morte D'Arthur because of the centuries of progress since the latter. Stories of knights are simply better because they must be. How can one argue against it? Progress dictates it must be so. Taste is absolutely no factor here.

However, it is.

It always is.

As a personal example, my favorite video game is Super Mario Bros. 3 and it has been for many years. Many gamers seethe at this revelation. I have been confronted with the nostalgia argument because there simply can't be any reason I could prefer an old action game to the cinematic scripted hallway shooters of today. Clearly, I must be deficient, otherwise how can I possibly prefer anything old? Old things are always inferior to new things, remember. I must be shunned. This way the narrative of New is allowed to persist. This is how the cult operates.

The problem is that I am never asked why it is my favorite game. I have no special memories regarding the game. It was not the first entry in the series I played. It was not released on my favorite video game console. I prefer the art-style of 16-bit and 32-bit sprites over 8-bit. There is no nostalgia attached to my preference.

If anything, my nostalgic attachment should be to Super Mario World, which falls into nearly every criteria above, and is not even close to one of my favorite games on the system it was released for. I could beat the game in less than ten minutes in my youth, and yet I don't really care much for it these days. Any sentimental attachment I have for it is divorced from my opinion of the game's quality.

But if this situation were to flip, one could find the same issue with The Cult of the New. Every new release is showered with aplomb and gusto before being forgotten within months. We live in a throwaway culture.

Take the Avatar film by James Cameron. It was showered with praise upon release, made more money than most filmmakers can dream of, and critics were hounded, insulted, and spat upon for daring to point out any flaws it might have had. Now you will struggle to find anyone who cares one whit for it, or is looking forward to its sequels. Video games also have this problem. BioShock Infinite was hailed as an unparalleled masterpiece, as was Uncharted 2, and any game Guerrilla Games has ever made. These products are bathed in a tsunami of attention at release, and then forgotten in a year. As a prediction: by November there will hardly be anyone still talking about Prey instead of the newest holiday releases.

Which group has the shallow attachment to the product?

It happens on a wider scale, as well. Any criticism of the legion of faceless, interchangeable modern popstars is met with held noses while few garden variety music fans, if anyone, purchases said artists' work or could name a song by them if confronted. Hollywood can still do no wrong in the face of so many people, yet those same members of the audience will admit that much of what Hollywood puts out is of lackluster quality when confronted. It is a form of Stockholm Syndrome. The entertainment industry has been around so long, and constantly "improving" from the terrible old days, that surely they must be leading the way to a brighter tomorrow. After all, that is what they have been promised.

And yet, it is a facade. Television ratings are in the toilet and Hollywood serves up warmed over remakes every week in the theater. If a member of The Cult of the New is confronted with this, they will cop to it. Yes, the entertainment industry is not in a good place right now. It's stagnant, sterile. It looks as if the entertainment industry worldwide has connived together to create bland formless grey goo to get the audiences trained. Get them on gruel, and they'll stop expecting steak.

Most know this, and yet will continue to insist that new is objectively better than old in every case. They must continue to hold these contrasting ideas in their head that current art and entertainment is lackluster and old works are critically flawed and clearly are not worth any attention, otherwise they will need to face the truth. What they are saying, and do not even realize, is that everything is lackluster. Entertainment is lackluster. Art is lackluster. Everything ever created is lackluster. Therefore, life itself is lackluster.

One has to wonder if the current epidemic of depression and suicide has anything to do with this mentality. That is, if they have the time to reflect before the next product Hollywood wants them to consume is put out. That will keep them good and distracted!

If one can only like the old because of an intangible itch in the heart, then where does that leave those who worship the new because of an intangible itch in their heart?

What is The Cult of the New hoping for? Are they looking to the future for a perfect utopia that they are certainly owed? But this very idea is dependent on tearing down the old, and abandoning the new at a faster and faster rate with every passing day. This is merely hedonism at breakneck speed. Consume, consume, consume. Don't think! There is a new product on the market. It's totally original and brand new! What do you mean it has been done before? You're just being nostalgic. This is better because it has perfected and sanded off all those problematic old things. Quickly now! Get it before it's gone!

And before they know it, they are old, alone, and with a shelf full of useless junk that they indulged in once and never give a second thought to. Just like a lemming coming off a sugar rush, the consumer is left broken at the bottom of the cliff wondering how they got there and why they feel so empty. One who only ever looks forward is doomed to miss the road falling out from under their feet-- looking down, up, and backwards, is an important tip to keep awareness!

This is a generation that does not indulge in dealing with the old. It will do them good to remember this thought process when they are living out their latter days in a retirement center, depressed and alone. Grandma is old. Grandma is outdated. Grandma is useless. Grandma is dead. Why are you still thinking about her, are you some kind of nostalgic? Keep your eyes forward and on the glorious future ahead. Don't think about it. Don't ever think about it. Don't look down. Hey, look, a new Star Wars movie!

Forget yesterday. Forget today. Forget tomorrow. Is history--is the world so easily disposable? This is the world the cult is creating around you at this very moment.

Yes, there are Baby Boomers who think the 1960s were perfection and untouchable for purely selfish reasons. Yes, there are Gen-Xers who think Nirvana is the best thing to happen to music. Yes, there are Millennials wishing that old Disney sitcoms were still around in a non-ironic way.

They might all be wrong, but at the very least their preferences are not steeped in a cult like belief of blindly charging down a dark train tunnel toward the light while ignoring they whistle blowing at the other end. Hey, if it's at the other end of the track, it must be better than the starting position. Progress dictates it is!

Nostalgia is a drug, but it is not a proper argument against enjoying the old. This is a conversation killer for a reason. Nostalgia is also not nearly as dangerous as the opposite is proving to be.

At the end of the day, it's really about taste. Aesthetics, design, content, and character, are all dependent on what the individual prefers.

What is not about taste is the blind belief that the road ahead is smooth and the sun so bright one needs to wear sunglasses. To believe something like this is less about any of the above qualities and more about about an empty and desperate hope that those who dare stop along the road to destiny and look back are simply mistaken and fundamentally flawed thinkers. This is about projection and reassurance to the cult member, not taste.

If it weren't about the forceful acceptance of new, revisionism wouldn't be nearly as popular as it is. Sure, the reason you've never heard of an author like A. Merritt must be because he is old and his stuff wasn't that good. It certainly can't be that he has been slandered, purposely let out of print, and scrubbed from history despite his popularity when alive. If you believe that, then you're either already part of the cult or you aren't paying attention. You're homesick for a place that does not even exist.

But you don't have to be. You can simply like things for what they are regardless of when they were made. It's not all that difficult.

You just have to stop, think, and look around.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

A Review of Cirsova #4 [Part 1]



Before I continue on, there is something readers should know. For those interested, Cirsova is open for story submissions. Have a Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction tale? Then send it in to them. More information on submissions can be found on their site.

In the meantime, here's a review I've been meaning to get out for awhile.

This review took a while to get off the ground. Not only was I away from blogging for a while where this fell on the back-burner, but this issue of Cirsova is twice as big as a normal issue. There is a lot to cover.

With 18 pieces to go through, I decided to split this up into two posts. I hope you will indulge me in this since one long post would clutter everything up.

First up we have Wall Wardens by Lynn Rushlau. This is a fantastical story set in a dystopic world where a warden is framed with one of the worst crimes imaginable. This was a great start to the volume since it slides the reader into a world that clearly screams that this is a pulp magazine. Quite enjoyed this one.

The Lady of the Amorous City by Edward M. Erdelac is next. Two boys are tasked with slaying a monster in absence of a proper knight to take the quest. But things might not be quite what they seem. I have a bit of a weak point when it comes to stories of honorable knights so I already have a bias for this. Great characters and a simple, but engaging, plot. The ending was also my favorite in the issue.

In the third story, The Unfolding of the World by Harold R. Thompson, Captain Anchor Brown is tasked with mapping a river and is enveloped in an adventure when he ends up over his head. This tale features some exciting duels and plenty of adventure to go around. The ending is a bit quiet for my taste.

Then there’s The Sands of Rubal-Khali by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt. This one is about a slave girl on a distant planet desperately trying to win her freedom and find her sister. I wasn’t much of a fan of the ending as it stopped short without resolution; it just missed feeling satisfying.

Next is The Witch of Elrica by Jennifer Povey. This one was about a teenager and a witch getting together during an arranged marriage party. This wasn’t really my type of story, and the ending didn’t do much for me, but it was well told.

The Vault of Phalos by Jeffrey Scott Sims is the first of two novelettes in the magazine. The start was really slow as it was used to set the world up. It took far too much time before we even got a main character’s name. However, it eventually all comes together to a phenomenal final encounter making the wait worth it. It just could have stood a bit more trimming overall.

Ever wonder what a more fantastical Jason Bourne story might be like? The Bubbcat by Sean Monaghan might be what you’re looking for. There are a lot of quick cuts to other locations and times which can make the story disorienting at times, but it works well in the frame of the story. There seems to be a bit of unresolved story revolving around the brother unless I missed something. Nonetheless, it’s one of the best stories in the issue.

After that we come to A Suit of Haidrah Skin by Rob Lang. This was a really imaginative story that was so bleak I thought the pages were turning a shade darker as I read along. This was a fascinating read, but not really my sort of story.

The ninth story is Lost Men by Eugene L. Morgulis. It was a meta take on Peter Pan and I really didn’t like it. I saw the ending coming far too soon in the story. If you like these sorts of stories you will most certainly like it more than I did. The prose was splendid.

The third part of My Name is John Carter by James Hutchings followed, and it was a pleasant breather from the last two stories. I’m no expert on poetry but I do appreciate this series as they attempt to retell the John Carter story. If there is a reason to collect Cirsova issues beyond the excellent stories, it’s for material like this.

There's still more to go, but for now I'll end it here. Tune in next time when we finish off the issue with some great (and not so great) stories to go over.

Oh, and if you have a story you're looking to sell, be sure to check out Cirsova. They'll be open for submissions from June 1st  to July 15th.

Until next time!