Bro, you’re reading wrong

Something that’s been irking me recently – a bit of indignant pretension I’ve seen from some parts of the Pulp Rev crowd. This may be tied to the “your waifu is shit” fanboyism common to most nerds, and heaven knows I’ve engaged in some of this myself. But I’m going to beat an old drum here; maybe at a slightly different rhythm.

Now I hardly think that Gitabushi needs defending. He’s a big boy, and he’s not exactly a persecuted soul. But you know, I think some of the reactions to his opinions and observations on SFF are a little kneejerk and sometimes a little unfair.

Let me expound a bit, if I may.

Gita and I are both big Scifi/Fantasy fans, but our preferences beyond that differ more than they intersect, I’d wager. And we don’t always agree on genre. Still, these differences make for some interesting conversations about what we like in a story and about various authors’ writing styles.

If you read this blog regularly or my posts over as Castalia House, you’ll know I’m a big fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E Howard. They’re two of my favorites. Gita…well, not so much. And we’ve gone back and forth quite a bit. One of the things I really respect him for, though, is that he wants to see what fans see in these authors and their stories. He would love to harness the spirit of the old pulps, if he could find some pulps he really enjoyed. Not a lot of pulp non-fans out there actively reading and rereading them to glean their attractiveness, I’d wager.

Now it may just be that he doesn’t really enjoy pulp SFF. Not everyone is going to, and that’s not a sin. After all, he’s not loitering in the comments or tweeting about Howard being racist or how the pulps demeaned women. He’s not a SJW, despite the accusation having been leveled at him. We can mock Gita for his inferior taste in SFF, but treating him like some kind of fool who just doesn’t get it isn’t quite right. Hell, I actually find it interesting to have a Pulp Rev ally in our midst who isn’t a raving pulp fanboy! Makes for some memorable dialogue.

But if you’re going to skim his comments, roll your eyes, and dismiss him as not reading Conan correctly or being too modernist, or perhaps being one of them pink slime loving commies, well…you’re going to miss out on getting someone else’s (perhaps valuable) perspective, and you’re going to lose out on a potential conversion.

After all, do we really want to spread the fever? Or are we just blowing the horns to rally those who already like the same things as us? Some people just take longer, and if they’re not hostiles, why paint them as such?

It may be that some of our brethren are more disposed to casting the wide net – catch who you can, and don’t waste much breath or thought on the non-believers. I can get that. We’re all busy and have to allocate our time and energy as best we can! But some of us are willing to put in the legwork, man. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t make our jobs harder by engendering this misplaced hostility. (I know – “smoke what you appreciate, Bushi!”)

I haven’t called out anyone specifically, and I don’t mean to. But if you feel like going a round or two here or on Twitter, let’s hash it out, dudez.

That’s right, Gita – I still hold out hope that we will convert you from a filthy Hard SF lover to a bonafide pulp man.

-Bushi

bushi

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Adventure Time is “new pulp”

I haven’t written about Adventure Time yet, have I? Dang. At first I was tempted to say “Adventure Time is pulp,” but of course that doesn’t adhere to the real, literal definition of the term.

Despite the admirable and vigorous impetus possessed by some yeomen of the nascent Pulp Revolution (that is, the collective of writers, bloggers, readers, critics, fans, et al. who have rediscovered the old greats of the original pulp stories, and now strive to bring about a revival of sorts or else an inspired new era of science fiction/fantasy), I personally do not believe in trying to redefine that which already has a very rigid and clear meaning. As Cirsova and John Smith (above) point out, “pulp” is quite actually a type of story published in a pulp magazine between 1896 and somewhere abouts in the 1950s. As Rawle (above) also pointed out, we must not redefine pulp  as “stuff we like.” That’s like saying “I love hard science fiction, ergo any scifi stories I like are hard science fiction.”

But as I was saying, Adventure Time is not pulp. It is quite pulpy, though. Whatever we’re calling that which evokes the spirit and ethos of the old pulp stories and seems to draw inspiration from the old greats – that’s what Adventure Time is. “New pulp?” Whatever.

Interestingly, this is another thing of classification “stuff that Kaiju got me into.” Before being reluctantly persuaded to watch, Adventure Time looked like a goofy kid’s show to me. Perhaps worse and quite evidently unfairly, it made me think of Hot Topic and Cat Dog.

 

Even upon my first viewing, I wasn’t initially sold. Kaiju and I were hanging out, and he says “Hey let’s watch Adventure Time.”

I was skeptical.

“Dude, shut up, you’ll like it.”

I yielded, skeptically, as is my wont.

The first episode was about a kingdom of candy people with a bubblegum princess. Ugh. But wait, then there were zombies. And though Jake the Dog was a little off-putting at first (John DiMaggio at that point was Bender the Robot in my mind), I quickly grew to like him. I mean a loyal, brave, shape-shifting mutant dog creature? That’s ok in my book. And Finn the Human was pretty cool too. Yes, he has a weird hat. But he also wields swords and sees it as his mission to defend the weak, defeat evil, and essentially just be a badass hero. Yes!

As I watched more episodes on my own time, the world of Ooo began to unfurl. And it was massive. This is a land filled with monsters, mad wizards, all manner of strange mutants and weird creatures, talking animals, aliens, robots, dungeons and magic.

Despite the easy fun of most episodes, the cartoon’s presentation and style are complex and layered. The animation is inspired by the old Max Fleischer cartoons and Felix the Cat. Inspirations for the story and the world itself are varied and impressive. Creator Pendleton Ward has described the show as a dark comedy, because he loves the feeling of being happy and scared at the same time. He works to combine a bleak kind of humor with beautiful “Miyazaki”-style moments (he’s cited My Neighbor Totoro as an inspiration for this type of beauty).

Executive producer Fred Seibert has named Dungeons and Dragons and video games as inspirations, and that shows. There are characters and settings and situations that now strike me as weird, almost Vancian imaginings.

 

Although (like a lot of anime) there are some less satisfying “filler” episodes scattered about, Adventure Time does a masterful job developing its characters and advancing its general story while at the same time capturing the spirit of serialized adventure. Some of the funnest episodes are those in which Finn and Jake just fight monsters and/or explore dungeons. “Dungeon Train” was a great episode for this, as was “The Enchiridion!

My favorite AT stories are probably the more melancholy ones, though. There are storylines in which Finn deals with being the (presumed) only human left in the world; with seeking out his father; and in dealing with young love and heartbreak. We also get to learn more (often heartbreaking tales) about ancillary characters like the Ice King, who, though on the surface is a crazed, silly, perverted old mage, actually has a sad, moving, noble past. The way this show is able to blend and transition between comedy, beauty, and gut-wrenching poignancy brings to mind Futurama at its best.

the-luck-of-the-fryrish

We are also occasionally treated to glimpses of characters at different times and places, sometimes Ooo beyond the lifetimes of our protagonists. The haunting song of Lemonhope comes to mind:

 

There’s so much to love about Adventure Time that it’s difficult to really do it justice in one simple blog post. But one more admirable element I’d like to note is the way the show glories in heroics. While plot elements can get really dark at times, Finn and Jake never waver or shy away from their roles. Even when things seem hopeless, they fight. And they’re good guys; it’s that simple. As gray and nuanced as our entertainment can be these days, it’s heartening to have a show where the good guys are just good.

So if you like genre bending (I’d probably call it post-apocalyptic scifi fantasy), action and adventure, dark comedy, fun, heroic heroes, and emotionally-layered animation…do yourself a favor and check it out.

adult finn

Oh, and just try to tell me that Ron Perlman as the Lich isn’t the greatest. “You are strong, child. But I am beyond strength.”

 

-Bushi

bushi

Does good SFF require age and experience?

I just finished listening to the latest Geek Gab podcast, with guest Jon Mollison of Seagull Rising. Another good episode – congrats to all involved!

Something Jon said got me thinking. He observed that there are some talented young writers in SFF who are getting caught up in gimmicks and writing tricks and as a result are losing the plot, literally.

I think it’s true that for many contemporary writers, good storytelling is losing out to political and cultural commentary. Strong male heroes are so last century. Good and evil without nuanced, middling gradations are played out, man.

isheokay
[He asks about the guy he just beat up, who is literally a sworn enemy who wants to kill him]
This is certainly a problem. I’m with you! This is a big reason why I’ve retreated down the Appendix N/ Grant List hole and haven’t had any strong desire to come back up for air.

Jon went on to say that these pre-30 authors don’t have the necessary experience to really sell us on what they’re writing. They don’t have the same juice to put into their works. And to some degree I think he’s right. Age and experience flavor and influence a writer’s stories. Look at Tolkien (as we always seem to). His part in World War I is directly observable in the Lord of the Rings. Mordor pretty much is Verdun.

verdunlunar

I haven’t had the pleasure of reading Jon’s stuff yet, but it seems clear from what I’ve heard that Jon’s own experience as a father has greatly colored some of his work. And I dig that.

Still, I think we need to be cautious about writing off younger, more life-inexperienced writers, especially those in the vanguard of the pulp revival/revolution. I’m not saying here that Jon is doing so, as it sounds like he’s certainly giving the youngsters a reading and a fair shake. But just as something to chew on for all of us, let’s remember that SFF grandmaster Robert E Howard died at 30. Manly Wade Wellman was in his twenties when he put out his first novel. HP Lovecraft wrote “Dagon” when he was 27 years old.

Now those are some pretty big shoes, and it could very well be that Howard and Lovecraft and Wellman were exceptions to the rule. Still. I’m not entirely convinced that age is nearly as important as talent and imagination.

-Bushi

bushi

Bushi, Gita, and friends on genre, the pulps, and taste

So many ideas backing up in the pipeline, but things are super busy at work and home right now. Leisure time is at a premium, and if I don’t leise, I run out of material. So.

At any rate, Gita (Nathan Alexander on Twitter) and I, and some others, had a nice exchange earlier that I wanted to share here. I beg your pardon in regards to formatting; tweet threads aren’t always the easiest things to embed, and we’ve got multiple strands branching off. Some comments may have been lost to the ether here, and some may appear more than once. Also it’s going to look like on long block of tweets. Fun.

The start of the chain:

tweet1tweet2tweet3tweet4tweet5tweet6tweet7tweet8tweet9Tweet91tweet92tweet93tweet94tweet95tweet96tweet97tweet98

-Bushi

bushi

PC Koshinbun: Castalia House and the PulpRev scene are bustling!

Jeffro’s been doing Sensor Sweeps for a while now, and I highly recommend checking them out from time to time for some good highlights of what’s been going on with the pulp/classic SFF crowd and some tabletop gaming commentary.

Back at my old blog, I used to do periodic roundups or features of interesting Japan-related content in that corner of the web. One of the things I really like about this neck of the woods is how much support there is for budding bloggers and other aspirants who want to get their thoughts out there and contribute to the scene. When I was starting out, I remember how exciting it was to get a plug from Jeffro or Cirsova (not that it’s not still exciting). Or getting a retweet from Daddy Warpig (11k followers and he noticed me…!).

Now that we’ve built a small but awesome audience, I hope to contribute in bringing light and eyes to some of the more excellent content I’ve been discovering. Unfortunately I can’t cover everything and everyone, but I’ll try to make sure these aren’t too infrequent. Also I beg your indulgence if I shamelessly highlight some of our own content, too.

Before I get to the meat – what’s a koshinbun? Well, shinbun (新聞) is the Japanese word for “newspaper.” During the early to mid Meiji period (mid-late 1800’s), there were two major types of papers in J-Land: the oshinbun (大新聞), which were the big, usually political publications, and the koshinbun (小新聞), which were more focused on “pop” topics, like local news or fiction.

Anyway, here we go:

Castalia House blog is booming!

Jeffro brought several new writers onboard this year to bolster an already strong stable of columnists. Daddy Warpig (Jasyn Jones) and Morgan have been stirring the pot with Jeffro in some sharp criticisms of Campbellian SFF. Worth reading, even if you disagree. For my part, here are the three pieces I’ve contributed so far:

Mount and Blade and the spirit of roleplaying
Man’s Best (SFF) Friend
Solomon Kane: The Original Dark Knight

 

Geek Gab is GREAT

Before straying too far from Daddy Warpig, I have to mention this podcast. I’d seen links to it before, but I don’t listen to much talk stuff on the computer. The other day it occurred to me that I could look for it on iTunes, as I do a lot of listening during my daily commutes. Hey – there it was! I’ve listened to two episodes so far and really enjoyed them both. It’s basically a bunch of intelligent, enthusiastic, nerdy guys sitting around talking about nerdy stuff. It’s a lot of fun! Daddy Warpig, along with Brian Niemeier and John McGlynn and their guests, are definitely worth a listen if you’re into SFF (and not just literary).

 

Here be dragons

I’ve been following Oghma on Twitter for a while now, and his blog has gotten off to a roaring start. His stuff has been very thoughtful and thought-provoking. He’s shared some very candid life tales as well as some lighter nerd fare. To start, I’d draw your attention to:

In RPG’s do we even need races? – what do Hobbits bring to the table?
Props in Narrative Gaming – some great music and how-to’s on making a super cool scroll and other props that may liven up your pen and paper sessions.

scroll

 

Edgar Rice Burroughs on fiction

Over at the Pulp Archivist, Nathan reminds us of some wise words from Edgar Rice Burroughs – that “entertainment is fiction’s purpose.” We would all do well to remember this!

 

The Mixed GM schools his players 

I’ve written before about how there’s merit to newer editions of D&D, which afford players more room to be awesome (or overpowered, as the case may be) and is less punishing when it comes to player character death. Many old hands resent this approach to dungeon crawling, but it is what it is. Just because I’ve advocated for the more recent style of play doesn’t mean I’m in favor of coddling players when they play stupidly. The Mixed GM illustrates a good example here of where and how to draw the line.

 

HiLo Brow’s top adventure stories of 1907

Very specific! This one caught my eye because I’m an Oz fan, and Joshua’s number 2 pick is Frank Baum’s Ozma of Oz. Baum was actually mentioned on Geek Gab recently as one of the more underrated fantasy authors of his time. Other names you may recognize on the list – H Rider Haggard and William Hope Hodgson.

ozmaoz

 

Legends never die

In what’s shaping up to be a series of posts, Kestutis Kalvaitis has been writing about Timothy Zahn and his Thrawn trilogy – arguably some of the best work of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. He also mentions some of Zahn’s other scifi work in passing. I never did explore anything he did outside of Star Wars, but sounds worth a look.

 

Defending the screwdriver guys

Keith West expounds on how many of us enjoy both the pulps and Campbellian SFF, and lands on the fact that there’s room for both subgenres. I’ve argued this point myself, recently, and I think Keith’s voice strengthens my own view of the matter.

 

Howard out-Lovecrafted Lovecraft!

Alexandru Constantin puts forward a somewhat provocative idea –

“I think Howard writes Lovecraftian fiction better than Lovecraft. I like the idea of Lovecraftian more than I actually like Lovecraft’s writing. I find all his crap boring as all shit, filled with idiotic purple prose.”

He goes on to talk about how Howard manages to get that sense of weird and horror, but employs exciting, competent protagonists who take it to the unspeakable evil. Alexandru also brings up Howard’s pioneering of the “weird western” subgenre!

worms

Some homegrown SFF for ya

Our own Kaiju and Gitabushi have been working on some sweet stories, both as of yet untitled. Feel free to check’em out:

Kaiju’s sword and sorcery-type: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Gitabushi’s zombie outbreak: – Part 1, Part 2

 

-Bushi

bushi

 

Civility

As much as I may hand-wring about overaggressiveness from the Pulp Revolution crowd (I still prefer to think of myself as a moderating voice rather than a scold), I have to say that at least most of these folks conduct themselves with a level of decorum that seems to be absent in other quarters.

At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory about “my own side,” I’ve seen very little objectionable behavior from “us.” Sure, there’s some shitlording and sometimes you’ll see some bad language, it’s true. But I have yet to see anyone write off a good faith effort to engage. Dialogue and debate are welcome.

I bring this up because of an encounter Alex of Cirsova had yesterday. Summary:

 

(Updated – thanks for clarifying a point here, Alex)

– Dude writes a blog post about the Arthur C. Clark Award and his thoughts on the SFF genre.

– A commenter mentions Cirsova magazine’s contributions to the genre.

– Cirsova pops in to elaborate about his SFF magazine.

– Dude replies back observing that the Cirsova website has a Gamergate banner.

– Cirsova affirms this.

– Dude replies back accusing Cirsova and/or its fans of being misogynistic fascists. Unprovoked.

– Cirsova makes a graceful exit.

– Dude takes a parting shot.

– I drop a post mocking Dude’s lack of civility.

– Dude calls us self-serving Nazi pricks.

You can see the archived image here.

I think, in the long-run, this kind of thing can be good for us. The average observer, seeing this, is going to conclude that Dude is an asshole. It’s the same kind of poor behavior we see from the likes of Black Lives Matter or Occupy Wall Street, or the Trump protesters. Sorry guys – setting cop cars on fire and smashing Starbucks windows is not going to win you any prizes, nor will it ingratiate you with the public.

This, I think, is part of the reason the pendulum swung to the right this election cycle. Bad behavior is not rewarded.

I mean, who comes out looking badly here?

capture

From where I’m standing, it’s not Cirsova.

Even if it *were* ok to punch Nazis in the face, you can’t just declare everyone who disagrees with you to be a Nazi. Eventually you’re going to punch someone and either (a) get hauled off or (b) get the shit kicked out of you.

-Bushi

bushi

 

Asimov was an asshat, but so what?

Time to write another tedious defense piece. But I feel compelled to argue with people on the internet – thus is my curse.

I’m not going to go into an explanation of the Pulp Revolution right now (though that warrants a post in the near future), but suffice it to say there is a growing contingent of bloggers, tweeters, indie authors, podcasters, and literary critics who have come to know and love classic and pulp Scifi/Fantasy. Like any group of enthusiasts, we spend a lot of time chewing the cud. When we’re not reading or writing, we tend to be reviewing, discussing, and/or trying to preach the gospel.

And while the other activities in which we engage can contribute to the last one, I think spreading our message and drawing new fans into the fold is the most valuable service we can render. I suppose we go about this in different ways. I see positivity and enthusiasm as the most effect recruiting tools. When I found the Cirsova blog and then Jeffro’s, I felt like I’d struck gold. Here were a couple of guys who clearly loved the stuff they were writing about, and it was infectious. Jack Vance sounded awesome, and as a result I wanted to read him.

Now if the first blog posts I had come across at those two excellent destinations had been about how Harry Potter is trash, or maybe a top ten list of overrated authors listing five of my favorites, well, fair or not I probably would have been turned off and clicked away. And then, because I am a frail human being who is susceptible to hurt feelz, I would have lost out. My awakening to the classics could have been prevented (or thanks to Kaiju’s influence, perhaps just delayed). In most cases, shitting on something that someone likes isn’t going to attract them to try out your brand.

And so I first put forward that we as a movement and even as individuals are at our best when we’re touting the great and the good. Criticism and righteous indignation of course have their place. But if we want to draw more people to us – not just the disillusioned scifi fans of decades gone by, but fresh blood robbed of this stuff by the SFF generational gap – let us also exercise restrain and thoughtfulness. If you see yourself as a solider in a literary war, I’m not proposing you offer your enemy succor. Rather I am pointing out that when throwing bombs or fireballs, you may not have full view of the blast radius. If that doesn’t give you pause, or if you deem the payoff greater than the risk, or if flinging fireballs just feels good and you don’t care because they have it coming, well. Not much I can do about it – wage on, I guess.

So let’s get to the title of this particular post.

Among some fans of older SFF, Asimov has been a popular punching bag for a while. They say he doesn’t deserve to be called one of the “Big Three” scifi writers. They say that the Golden Age of scifi is a misnomer. And you know, I don’t disagree.

Well, some of my Pulp Rev friends have been taking a turn with Asimov. Some people are even writing stories about the evils of his ilk. And you know what? We’re each entitled to our own opinions.

I think the grievances being put forth against Asimov can pretty much be condensed thusly:

  1. He was a pompous asshole
  2. His name has been undeservedly hoisted above better writers
  3. He was a godless leftist punk
  4. His stories didn’t uphold traditional heroics
  5. His stories were boring and he was untalented

 

As to the first accusation, I would say that from what I’ve read and gathered, this is the case. But so what? Most typical SFF fans don’t go digging for quotes and manifestos and essays. They want to read an entertaining story, and being an asshole doesn’t disqualify one from spinning a good yarn.

isaac_asimov_on_throne

Second – this is also probably true, but difficult to objectively prove. Maybe an argument can be made based on sales numbers or some such metric, but this would be a purely quantitative indicator. Though I agree with this second statement, I wouldn’t assert it as fact.

Third – Again, yes. But again, how does this matter? There were godless, leftist punks whom the Pulp Rev crew likes. I like to point to Fritz Leiber.

Fourth – This is true, and a great argument for why you don’t like Asimov, or how he’s brought down the genre. But does it lessen his writing talent or the impact he’s had upon science fiction? I’d say not. And while many of us may prefer stories with a traditional good guy who beats the bad guy and gets the girl, there are other forms of entertainment. Silence of the LambsBreaking BadThe SopranosScarfaceOcean’s ElevenFight Club; Beetlejuice. There are plenty of popular stories and characters that don’t conform to the formulas we most enjoy.

Fifth – This is purely subjective. Many people, including myself, have enjoyed some of his stories. “A fan of the pulps cannot enjoy Asimov’s garbage” you may say. Then how do you explain me? I am a fan of the early Foundation books and the Daneel Olivaw/Elijah Bailey stories.

To me, the war between pulpy, actiony raygun romance and hard SFF is asinine. It’s like telling someone they can only like hard-boiled detective crime fiction or else legal thriller, but not both. One cannot enjoy both epic fantasy and fairy stories.

Say what you will about Asimov, but his writing was interesting enough that he still has many fans.

The fact that Asimov was a petty, obnoxious, intellectual, craphead of a man doesn’t matter to people who just want to read a fun scifi story. I’ve read that Lovecraft held and voiced many anti-black and anti-Catholic opinions. But that doesn’t make the Cthulhu mythos any less cool. Nor should it. I hold the same to be true for Asimov. Where a sharp mind (probably honed by regular political and literary analysis) may see Foundation as a story of an intellectual class lording over a people incapable of ruling itself – the ultimate elitist big government! – others of us just see a future story with cool fake science, planning, and problem solving. Doesn’t have to be sinister.

If the messaging you dislike is in your face, I can understand and respect taking a pass. No one wants to fork over their cash to someone who’s spitting in their face. But for many of us, Asimov and a lot of these writers aren’t in our faces. Maybe that’s because we’re blissfully unaware, but you know what they say about ignorance.

If you don’t enjoy Asimov because you find his stories boring or overbearing or loaded, I can understand that. But that doesn’t make him a bad writer, nor unworthy of literary accolade and recognition. For my part, I find Stephen King to be highly overrated. I found the Stand, for example, to be way too much buildup for a disappointingly paltry payoff. But I also recognize that he’s a SFF giant, and I’m not about to tell millions of people that they’re wrong and I know better. Just rubs me the wrong way.

And putting my money where my mouth is, I guess now I have to acknowledge that, HP, the Force Awakens isn’t garb. I simply didn’t care for it, on the whole. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

Update (9/28/17): Related.

-Bushi

bushi