Wednesday, 16 August 2017

To Pulp or Not to Pulp ~ A Review of Astounding Frontiers #1 and a Bonus!



I've been following the Superversive movement for a while now. It has paired with the Pulp Revolution as the two main influences of where I'm taking my writing, and both have a lot of crossover with each other. Superversive is focused on stories that show the reader that world can be larger and more mysterious than at first glance, and Pulp Rev focuses on stories with a moral clarity where anything can happen at any time. At some point the two streams will cross and the fabric of the universe will tear. It only stands to reason. They have much in common.

So when I heard members of the Superversive movement were planning on making their own Pulp magazine, I was excited. What more could I ask for? There's so much clear overlap that I could hardly wait to give it a read.

And read it I did.

I'll start with the positives. Declan Finn's According to Culture is just about what I'd expect from him and it gave the magazine the shot in the arm it needed. It was fast paced, action packed, and takes place in a universe that leaves the audience with wonder. It's also quite funny. It's exactly what I was hoping for.

The magazine itself is also very well edited, and the writers all contributed very good speculative stories that wouldn't feel out of place in a Science Fiction magazine from the 1970s. I did not read the serials simply because I do not like serials as a rule, but know that all the authors involved are very capable at writing great stories and from what I've seen these serials continue the trend. If you buy this issue you will get your money's worth. It is a 5 star magazine with very worthy stories.

It has a fantastic title and tagline, too. Very well put together. All in all, it's a great buy.

Now the negatives.

As I said, I didn't read the serials. This is nothing against either the magazine or the writers, but just that I don't read serials. My memory is bad enough that waiting even a week to read the next block of a story will cause me to lose my excitement and the story thread. So anything I say next will exclude them from criticism.

The cover is boring. I don't have any idea why those guys are standing around amidst computer screens and blandly looking around. There isn't any wonder or mystery to be found on the cover and it dulls enthusiasm for opening the issue. Luckily, issue 2 is a step in the right direction here.

This leads into the biggest problem I had with the magazine: it's not traditional Pulp.

Keep in mind that there are no bad stories here. They're all well written and do what they do well, but they are not Pulp stories aside from According to Culture. The reason they're not Pulp is not just because of lax pacing (the first story in particular is rather quick and it is not very Pulp either) but that there isn't much mystery or wonder at the world outside of the characters. There's no genre bending (though again Finn's comes close), and there are no moral conflicts that tie in to the exterior battles-- if there are exterior battles at all.

In other words, it's Science Fiction done in Heinlein's Silver Age style. Not Golden Age Pulp in the vein of Robert E. Howard, C.L. Moore, Clark Ashton Smith, or Leigh Brackett.

The lack of romance (in the older sense) is a big deal for this reader. I read Golden Age Pulp for the excitement, the off-kilter ideas, the wonder, the action, the mystery, the smashing of genre walls, and the morality and spiritual battles. I don't tend to read Silver Age SF because it barely ever has half of those and I personally don't care about complex math equations to tell me how faster than light travel works. Pulp naturally focuses on everything from the bottomless well of the soul to the near inscrutable atoms of the universe and everything in between, while Silver Age focuses on How Things Work and how Making Things Work will solve every problem. They have very different aims.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with the latter, and it wouldn't be an apt criticism normally. But this magazine was advertised as being a Pulp magazine, and my expectations were adjusted accordingly. In that aspect it doesn't hit the mark.

Part of the problem is that all the stories are locked to Science Fiction. Pulp is not just Science Fiction. Pulp is Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, Thrillers, Alternate History, Weird Tales, Westerns, Detective Fiction, and Romance. It can be any of these at any time, and all at once. There are no genre boundaries in Pulp, and it is one of the unique characteristics that only it contains. Limiting that scope limits the potential stories for the audience.

That's not to say I disliked the stories actually in the magazine. I enjoyed them all. But they did not offer what I was expecting, and I can't help but feel a tinge of disappointment.

To put it in contrast, let me use this space to review two other short stories I have read recently. These are the types of stories I went in expecting from Astounding Frontiers.

The first is I, The One by Dominika Lein. The second is Spider Silk from J.D. Brink (fantastic name, sir) and both of which I had to purchase in the cluttered asteroid field that is amazon's site just to read. I've been looking for a way to properly review them, so it'll work here. These are the sorts of stories that should be in a Pulp magazine.

I, The One is very hard to pin down. Reading the first paragraph one cannot discern if it is Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, or something else. It's quick and snappy: events continually unfold and unravel the world within. The prose is light and yet ropes you in to hold you to the page. Imagine Clark Ashton Smith with an eye on the more mystical parts of the Dresden Files and you might get close to what this story is. It was a delight to read.

On the other side is Spider Silk: Behind the Eightball by J.D Brink. This is a fast paced action story about a superhero hunting wannabe supervillains. It's got a good sense of humor, a swift flow, and is a quick read. It's not anything like I, The One, and yet it is very clearly pulp inspired. About the only personal gripe I have is the excessive swearing, but that is relatively minor compared to the rest. This was fun on every level.

But the best thing to get out of what I said is that these stories are entirely different from each other in just about every way. And they're both still Pulp. That is how wide the net casts. Pulp has an incredible scope.

This is why I expect a lot from a Pulp magazine, and will be expecting more in the future. Astounding Frontiers is a good magazine, with a good foundation for the future, but it is not a Pulp magazine. Not yet.

If you are looking for a Science Fiction magazine: Recommended.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Update from the Wasteland

Whew boy, I didn't expect that last post to blow up the way it did! Thanks to everyone who read linked, or commented, to it. It's nice to see that my rambling isn't always being absorbed by the void.

Now it's time for an update on just what has been going on with me. These posts are doubly fun because I get to tell you what's happening, and at the same time organize my thoughts. A lot's been going on behind the scenes.

So here's what's up.

I currently have three short stories out for submission. I'm still waiting on word whether any have been accepted or rejected yet. Hopefully I should have an update on any of these in the near future.

In other news, I've also finished editing another short story I got back from my second editor. I'm also deciding on where to send that. This one was a bit different than my usual: it's my attempt at more of C.L. Moore joint. It was tricky to put together.

As for projects done, I have a novella/short novel done, but I need to wait for my editor to have some free time to give it the once over so I can put the finishing touches on it. Once I get that back and edited, it will be ready to go. But, unfortunately, I don't see that happening by October at this rate.

I just started a short pulp superhero novel that I outlined (this might be the first time I follow an outline all the way through!) that I also hope I will have finished and out by year's end. But again, that will depend on if my editor has the time. Nonetheless, I'm liking where this one is going.

As for book 2 of Knights of the End, that one is still on the back-burner. The truth of the matter is that while the reception for it was surprisingly positive for a first novel, it hasn't done quite well enough for me to need to rush a sequel out. It's still being written, but it's not a priority. I have to give the audience what they want, and my short story from the Crossover Alliance has gotten the most positive audience reaction out of anything I've ever written. So that's the direction I'm going in for now.

But the follow-up will eventually happen.

In other news, a friend and myself are playing around with an idea that has me a bit excited. If all goes according to plan, we should have a blog for it up by September. And before anyone asks, it's not writing related (at least, not directly) but it should be a lot of fun. We need to get all our ducks in a row first. Stay tuned for that.

Also been making slow (glacially slow) progress in regards to moving. Of all the events I have listed so far, this is by far the least likely to happen this year. But, who knows. Please pray for me that I can work it out. It's tough organizing something like this.

Basically, I'm saying to sit tight. I do have things coming! I really haven't been sitting around twiddling my thumbs over the past half year. 2017 has been a very productive year for me, and I'm hoping I can show you all the results sooner than later.

And thanks for visiting. I appreciate every visit and comment from every one of you.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The End of Pop Culture

There's been an odd sea over change in the last week. I've noticed a lot of people regardless of age, political affiliation, tastes, country of residence, or general interest in pop culture, appear to be arriving at very similar conclusions.

That consensus is that there is something very odd going on right now. If you haven't been paying attention, I'll sum it up as best as I can.

We'll start with comics. The recent San Diego Comic Con, best I can tell, appears to be ground zero for this attitude. The reason? There wasn't anything of value announced, and what was made blatantly clear that the industry is dangerously low on ideas and people are becoming aware of it.

First there was this video by Diversity & Comics on the announcements:


Not only does he mention how the Eisner Awards have become just as worthless as the Hugo Awards, or any other industry award, but he goes into detail on what was shown there. The answer is nothing much at all.

Comic sales are cratering, and insiders are busy giving awards to each other and refusing to acknowledge the problem. Then there's the media refusing to report on any of this and pretending everything is just a-okay. Diversity & Comics has since been assaulted by Marvel writers and editors online telling him that only certain fans are welcome to buy and read their comics. This is not how a functioning business or service is supposed to operate. These people are shrinking the industry deliberately.

But it goes further than comics.

Marvel Studios have been seeing some rough times recently. Spiderman Homecoming tied with Amazing Spiderman 2 as the lowest opening weekend in franchise history. This is bad for several reasons. The first being that Sony made the deal with Marvel to stop Spiderman's popularity from waning. It hasn't worked. Whether you're a fan of Homecoming or not, that's a worrying trend. Pair that with the yawns the new trailers for Inhumans and Thor: Ragnarok got, and the trend is solidifying.

Superhero films are hitting the wall. Not only have there been countless articles hoping for the death of this genre for years now, actual fans have been noticing their interest declining as well. Marvel movies are not pulling in the same amount of praise and bucks they used to. By the time Marvel finally finishes Phase 3 with Avengers: Infinity War and the end of Kevin Feige's contract, we could be looking at the end of superhero movies.

Every genre has its day, and superheroes have already had theirs. The clock is running out.

Razorfist even goes into it here:


He's right. All pop culture fads go through phases, and most have a 10-20 year saturation point. X-Men started the comic book boom in 2000, which is 17 years, or if you want to be recent, Iron Man was in 2008, which is 9 years. Either way, the wall is dead ahead. We're hitting that point.

And this is a bigger problem for Hollywood than you would think. People are going to movies less and less as it is, but now people are growing tired of the one thing they've been going to see in droves.

The last thing I wanted to point out was this blog post by Kestutis Kalvaitis which is a good sum up of everything so far.

"Every major multimedia franchise that's been marketed to Hell and back harder than Dante and Orpheus going on a bus tour is exhausting itself. Let's explore."

He then goes on to describe the state of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Dr. Who, The Walking Dead, Live Action Disney, Game of Thrones, and Harry Potter. Go give that a read. I'll wait.

Modern pop culture is running on fumes, and its about to strand its passengers in the desert.

But the final straw for me, and it appears for many others, was the reveal of Ready Player One directed by an over the hill Steven Spielberg.

I think the best sum up of the reaction might have been this one. The pop culture atmosphere the original book was released in is much different than it is now. It's amazing how fast the climate has changed.

What the criticism boils down to is that nerd culture is really, really embarrassing, and that this generation is starting to realize why. It's the realization that we are little more than grown manchildren refusing to be adults. Our grandparents are gone, and no one is willing to step up to bat for them which leaves the Millennials and Gen X to make up for it. This is really about the growing self-awareness that "nerd blackface" (as a friend of mine puts is) has finally hit the wall.

This has little to do with liking geeky things. It was never about that. A lot of men like geeky movies, comics, and games, but those things are not their whole world. They have families, responsibilities, friends, and hopes for the future. Their entire world is not crying into their pillow about how much they miss the 1980s and their long gone youth. While this book might have been relevant to the zeitgeist when it came out, a lot has changed since 2011 and mindless wallowing in pop culture references have finally started to lose their luster.

People don't want to hide in their man-caves and be talked down to anymore, and constantly reassured that their childhood is where they should stay. It was a nice, comfortable place to be.

But childhood is over. Star Wars movies ended in 1983. Chris Claremont doesn't write X-Men anymore. Kurt Cobain is dead, and so is radio rock. Dr. Who has been treading water creatively since its reboot. These properties have had their stories and songs written and told. They are done. Now it is time for new franchises and new stories and for the baggage to be left behind. It's time to stop pining for a childhood that is over.

Which brings us to the bigger point. What comes next?

This is where we realize we are standing in muddy waters.

As Razorfist pointed out above, there's always a new trend coming along to replace the old one. It's the way of the beast. But it's different now. The industry has been working overtime to destroy legacy genres and franchises. They've been forcing PC doctrine into every script to make every set of characters interchangeable and every tired plot beat the same. It's not the same as it once was.

If superhero movies do end, then what replaces them? There is no pleasant answer to this, but there's only really one .

The answer, is nothing.

Hollywood has been telling audiences what to like for decades, but there have always been smart folks in the system willing to get around the suits and give the audience what they actually want. Star Wars was Golden Age pulp that bypassed the acceptable Silver Age sci-fi literature at the time. It ignored the grimdark Hollywood movies and gave the audience their good vs evil stories back again. It was a major hit and phenomenon as a result, causing an explosion in genre films throughout the 1980s. All it was was a battle of good and evil with really good guys and really bad guys. It was straightforward and it was honest. But Star Wars isn't that anymore, Rogue One even went out of the way to destroy that aspect of the series, and Disney is milking the nostalgia for all its worth. Something new needs to arise.

The 1980s brought out action movies, and before that were westerns and film noir. All of which brought in audiences and made a killing. But they quickly went out of fashion when their cycle was up. No problem, the creators and audience moved on. We still have those stories, and there was always a chance those genres could make a comeback.

But as has been said over and over, Hollywood currently has nothing at all. They have soppy victim complex dramas, lame comedies, and loud, crude kids movies, and that's pretty much it. Audiences are sick of all three. So what is working, then? John Wick was a hit, but it still hasn't caused any imitators to pop up, which rules out a return of real action movies. Pixar has been hobbled in a never-ending cycle of sequels, for some reason. And as already mentioned, superhero movies are yielding less and less returns. So what else is there?

This post is going off the rails here, so please stick with it. The following is just speculation.

Maybe we have reached the end of pop culture. People are more fragmented than ever before, whether by location, by situation, or by taste, and there are no real universal values that bind them anymore. Radical individualism has caused an untold number of offshoots of taste, and it doesn't look like they are ever to link to the whole again. The last link people had to each other in the (post)modern age, was pop culture. The turnabout on nerd blackface has been a long time coming, and that ancient pop culture youth the bazingas constantly speak of to soothe you and your childhood acquaintances into a soft trance is no longer working. It's wearing off.

Nobody needs to go to the movies anymore. Nobody needs to buy a Big 5 published book anymore. Nobody needs to go to a music store anymore. Nobody needs to buy Marvel comics anymore.Heck, to be pedantic, there are many people who don't buy anything anymore. There's nothing there to bond people anymore. Pop culture as a whole might be over.

That might be an insane proposition, but it isn't that crazy. The world gets more fragmented and divided everyday, and that is not set to change anytime soon. In the past pop culture was a way to help relate and share values among each other and remind the audience that they were a community. It was a way to unite. Pop culture apart from the culture destroys any reason for it to exist. How can there be popular culture if it's not popular and there's no culture to relate to it?

We may be witnessing an unforeseen change in the entertainment world. Things might never be the same again.

Whether that is good or bad remains to be seen. But it doesn't look as if the major studios and companies will be part of this new era. And that is good. Dead weight should always be cut so the survivors aren't left to drown.