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Category Archives: Pulp Revolution

Appendix N and Pulp Revolution Hits and Misses

Over the past three years, I made a great many bets. Some turned out to be on the money. Others turned out to be swallowed up by trends I couldn’t even imagine.

Before Appendix N, pulp was synonymous with awful writing and was generally considered to not be a topic worth delving into. Today? Pulp methods are not just back in style, but they are considered to be pretty much an essential survival mechanism for anyone that seriously wants to make it as a writer. To be fair, though, of all the things I intended to be bring attention to… Pulp Speed was not one them! (As far as I know, Nathan Housley is responsible for introducing that particular nugget into the discussion.) Being more focused on the critical space than the rat race, I was much more inclined to dismiss the concept altogether, as I did when I encountered the fact that Roger Zelazny wrote Jack of Shadows in a single draft.

From a critical standpoint, I championed short stories at a time when the word on the street was that short fiction is a colossal waste of time. Surveying the 20th century, short fiction was the undeniably where the most ground was broken, the most influence was made, and the most action was. In many cases, the original short form works are better than the later fix-ups that replaced them. The Moon Pool is a canonical example of that. But I would even point to The Eyes of the Overlord as being noticeably stronger and effective when compared to its followup Cugel’s Saga, which reads much more like a bland contemporary overlong novel than its predecessor.

It turns out that the people that are really doing well with fantasy and science fiction writing are putting out large numbers of novels as part of an interminable series. Edgar Rice Burroughs is the exemplar people are recapitulating, not H. P. Lovecraft. Which irks me a little. I really liked the variety that was to be had in the standalone stories that made up the bulk of what came out in the pulp era. But mass matters. Authors like A. Merrit and Leigh Brackett are less well known today in part because they never took a character like Sherlock Holmes or Tarzan and did them to death.

On the other hand, there are a great many short fiction magazines and anthologies coming out the past year or so that make explicit moves toward the old ways. I have no idea how things are shaking out there, it’s a veritable deluge. My opinion is that it’s absolutely integral to the health of the broader fantasy and science fiction scene. But I don’t see the big dog types ever getting behind this.

Which not coincidentally leads me to my next point. The big disappointment for me is that individual author mailing lists have turned out to be far more important than a strong social media presence– and yeah, I bet BIG on the latter. The increase in shadow-banning and censorship by big tech puts a hard limit on what can be done on the web, yes. But more than that… what effort I put into bringing attention to new writers this past year mostly only contributed in mistraining their Amazon algorithm and locking them into a ghetto of wrong-thinker types.

It’s a bitter pill. I think it changes everything, too. But the big dogs did not climb to where they are by ignoring unpleasant truths. I really have no idea what the implications of this are for the various literary movements that coalesced in the past couple years here. It’s danged hard listening to this. On the other hand, the thesis of my book is being born out. The people that are killing it on Amazon have far more in common with Robert E. Howard than they do Philip K. Dick.

Or Ursula Le Guin for that matter.


BLOG WATCH: Dead-eyed Stares, Pre-Campbellian Gothic, Moral Complexity, and Patriarchal Constructs

Appendix N (Jon Del Arroz) In Praise Of Jeffro Johnson — “He showed me what science fiction and fantasy can be. Now you might think I’m overstating it, but it’s really incredible just how much the genre has transformed in the last three decades or so, and not for the better. I highly recommend searching his Castalia House posts at the very least and I also recommend every writer read Appendix N, his literary criticism of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s really brilliant and opened my eyes.”

Appendix N (Jon Mollison) On Jeffro’s Departure — “If you’ve ever enjoyed any of my stories, or any of my columns here or at the Castalia House blog, you have Jeffro to thank for it. His influence in my own work should be plain to all but the most casual reader. (For the record, Alex over at Cirsova comes in a close second, with a veritable army of other writers tied for a distant third.)”

D&D (Save Versus All Wands) “The fact that you can just randomly encounter a Longship filled with Vikings is pretty awesome.” — “Indeed, Vikings appeared multiple times in the original 1974 edition of Dungeons & Dragons (which is why I chose them for Zylarthen) but then quickly fell out as the system and franchise took a more naturalistic turn. And it’s not all about Vikings. What I tried to do in The Campaign was to create a mechanism or give referees ideas and tables for creating a mechanism to design a vibrant and ‘real’ wilderness, if you will, teeming with whatever the referee thought would be fun and cool, as well as giving the players interesting challenges and problems.”

D&D (Elfmaids and Octopi) More human Than Human — “I’ve considered using a whole bunch of medieval races believed to exist by scholars from late roman times into the renaissance. Elves and dwarves are fine and all but these might ad some colour. Not really developed yet but I’m tempted to do most using my beastman class (which I use for orcs and barbarians too). The multi fingered men would be exception, I might use elves as a template instead as I like idea they are magical and skillful.”

Pulp Revolution (Cirsova) Hard Lessons Learned Slowly — “Action, Adventure, and Romance are stronger selling points than pulp, sci-fi and fantasy. I think that navel gazing explanations of throw-backs, periods, Campbellians, Futurians, the Pulp Rev, etc. will make eyes glaze over and should be avoided. I typically never take it that far, and even mentioning the pulps at all tends to evoke a dead-eyed stare from most folks.”

Anime (Jon Del Arroz) Can Gamma Male Protagonists Evoke Classical Pathos? — “Almost every anime show (especially those set in a high school environment, which is the majority of them), have male protagonists that are your classic gamma male archetype. They are socially awkward, especially around women. When encountered with women they go into a crazed frenzy, female worship, nosebleeds, slapstick failings. We’re supposed to root for them to get the girl in spite of their failures. And sometimes we do, but we can’t help but wince every time they enter the scene with their female counterparts, who are usually far more composed and cooler than they are.”

Traveller (Tales to Astound!) What “The Traveller” Adventure had to Say About Situation Throws — “That there are people on Traveller focused sites convinced I’m simply making up nonsense procedures (and there are a few) has always startled me. It seems so obvious once you look at the text of the three books holistically. The improvised adjudication of situation is part and parcel of the game culture of the mid-70s.”

Traveller (Tales to Astound!) Using Original TRAVELLER Out of the Box — Rick Stump’s The Clash of Stars — “One of the things I really liked about what he’s posted is his section on nobility. Keep in mind that if you look on line you’ll find lots of people dithering about the Social Status rules in Classic Traveller and saying, ‘Oh, my gosh, the rules don’t tell me what Social Status means!’ But Rick doesn’t do that. Instead, he looked at the rules, saw there was a thing called Social Status, and said, ‘Oh, there’s a thing called Social Status and I get to decide that that’s going to mean for my setting.'”

D&D (Save Versus All Wands) Demons in Early D&D, Part 1 — “I’m not claiming that there’s anything wrong with Gygax patching together his own novel cosmology out of many different sources, mashing them together and redefining some of the terms – after all, this is essentially what he did with the entire monster canon for D&D – only that it must have seemed a bit confusing to some at the time, especially since it came with little explanation. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons would of course fully flesh all of this out, but at this time, AD&D was still 1-3 years away.”

D&D (Save Versus All Wands) Demons in Early D&D, Part 2 — “Of course it would be easy to pull this ‘out of context’ to argue that AD&D was attempting to make occult practices attractive to children or whatever. In truth, I didn’t even remember the spell, and was only reminded of it when researching this post, even though, at the time, I played AD&D exclusively and thought of the Players Handbook as the defining D&D tome. I suspect I’m not alone in this. Among other things, Cacodemon was a high-level spell and I doubt that many campaigns got that far.”

Movies (Jon Mollison) Arrival – Part One — “Hawkeye plays one of America’s foremost theoretical physicists, and early on in the film he argues that math is a better first step toward civilization than language. I have no flag in either camp, but when he brought that up, I literally sat up straighter in my seat. I thought we were going to get a lot of talk about how math is the first language – the universal language. How it doesn’t matter if your language is Bantu or English or cro-magnon or Klingon. One is always singular. The sequence of primes never changes. The area of a square made from the hypoteneuse of a right triangle is always as big as the sum of squares made from the legs.”

The Hard Buds of SF (Kairos) Is Science Fiction Dead? — “What I do think has happened is that the gatekeepers who usurped the genre in the late 30s have tried to associate ‘science fiction’ with ‘anti-escapist hard SF’ in the public consciousness, and they’ve succeeded. This engineered souring of public opinion toward the broad term ‘science fiction’ has had a negative knock-on effect in other SF subgenres. Several best selling authors who write what would have been immediately recognizable as science fiction during the pulp era have told me that their attempts to publish stories billed as space operas have met with little success. That’s despite the fact that space opera is actually the most popular SF subgenre in the world if you count movies and games. It’s not that people stopped liking space opera, it’s that the gatekeepers memory-holed Doc Smith and Edgar Rice Burroughs, so people don’t know what ‘space opera’ means anymore.”

Meanwhile… (AIPT!) Interview: Legendary Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter on the current state of Marvel, creator incentives and more — “It takes forever to tell a story. What Stan [Lee] would put in six pages–it takes six months. So you look at the sales–Marvel comics are now $4 apiece, and they’re thrilled if the sales are over 30,000. When I was at Marvel, the whole world was different. We didn’t have a single title–we had 75 titles–we didn’t have a single one that sold below 100,000. We had the X-Men approaching three quarters of a million. And that’s not some special No. 1, or somebody dies, or changes costumes, or someone gets married–it was every time. A lot of it was single-copy readers. People weren’t running around buying cases of it because it had a foil-embossed cover. It was every issue.”

Game Design (Lewis Pulsipher) Simplifying a Game Design — “[Harmony is] important because games are not just collections of mechanics, not just data, not just metrics. Games make intellectual and emotional impressions on players, and lack of harmony is noticeable, sometimes clearly, sometimes in subtle ways.”

Appendix N (Mighty Thor Jrs) Guest Blog: Conan was dumb, and 4 other common misconceptions by David Thomas — “This one always proves to me who has read Conan and who hasn’t. Sure, Conan was written for the pulps, and the women do happen to find themselves in need of rescue often. However, there are plenty of strong female characters in the REH Conan tales. Bêlit does and takes whatever she wants. She runs a pirate ship full of men. Valeria says “Why won’t men let me live a man’s life?” She lives by the sword, and is the equal or better of any man. Even the woman who walks around naked for the entire story, Nafetari/Zabibi in the story Man-Eaters of Zamboula, is only playing Conan the entire story. Once again, I chalk it up to pastiche and bad sword and sorcery stories and films which have fixed this useless damsel image into everyone’s stereotype.”

Comics (RPGPundit) “Fat Black Lesbian” Was Everyone’s Favorite GI JOE Action Figure as a Kid, Right? — “Some people somehow suggested this was unfair. It isn’t. This isn’t some kind of censorship, or blacklisting, or a boycott. This is a product that was intentionally designed to make its original market despise it (because the writer felt that fans of GI JOE as a patriotic American military organization should be punished for their beliefs) failing to attract any alternative audience (because SJWs love to praise the takeover and ruination of comics by replacing characters with SJW tokens, but have no real intention to ever actually buy these new politically-proper comics), and thus ceasing to exist as a result of the gross incompetence and one could even say malevolent intent of its untalented politically-motivated creators.”

The War on Human Nature (Newsweek) MEN WITH MUSCLES AND MONEY ARE MORE ATTRACTIVE TO STRAIGHT WOMEN AND GAY MEN—SHOWING GENDER ROLES AREN’T PROGRESSING — “‘This celebration of masculine capital is achieved through humor and the knowing wink, but the outcome is a reaffirmation of men’s position in society,’ lead author Adrienne Evans from the Coventry University’s Centre for Postdigital Cultures said in a statement. The problem, according to Evans, is that ‘although it appears as though we have moved forward, our desires are still mostly about money and strength.'”

D&D (Playing At the World) D&D in the News (1977): You, Too, Can Be a Wizard — “The photographs accompanying the article show OD&D in full use: we see white box booklets on the table in the first picture, and in another, a copy of Gods, Demi-gods and Heroes is lain across a few pages of Eldritch Wizardry. The dice visible are Creative Publications polyhedra, except for the six siders, most of which are pipped dice. Kemp is careful to emphasize that ‘books and figures may be purchased locally,’ and she repeatedly mentions the Regimental Supply Room as the local dealer.”

D&D (Save Versus All Wands) Monsters as Player Characters – OD&D vs. AD&D — “Of course during this quasi-concession Gygax takes the opportunity to further put down players who might have such a desire – unless the goal is purely experimental, then they either have a will to dominate or are relatively stupid and inept. This might be characterized as one manifestation of what has been called High Gygaxian style. Here an air of wisdom is coupled with silly insults. That’s not a criticism (of the style). In fact it’s quite entertaining.”

Before the Big Three (The Pulp Archivist) The Gothic Influences of C. L. Moore — “C. L. Moore had immersed herself in the classics from these men, and was familiar with the melancholy, mystery, individualism, and darkness that embodied their works and would soon be hallmarks of her own pre-Campbelline stories. And, as an avid Weird Tales reader, she would have also read reprinted works from Poe and Hawthorne in its page. In her Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry tales, Moore would become one of the last flowers of the Gothic tradition in science fiction, writing before Campbell’s twin revolutions in science fiction and fantasy removed these Romantic elements from American science fiction.”

Pulp Revolution (JimFear138) The PulpRev Sampler Review — “Into The Hands Of A Living God by Dominika Lein was another that threw me for a loop. It takes place in a fancy ballroom in space, with the humans in the room captivated by an alien creature. The story is told first-person, and our protagonist is infatuated with this creature as well, despite being no human. A man shows up to fight for her hand, but as the title says, what chance does he have against a living god?”

Appendix N (The Dark Herald) Imric the Elf Earl – “Tolkein’s elves were intrinsically good if ethereal. They were the Golden People. Not so much closer to God but closer to Man before his fall at Eden. They toiled not and lived lives of unearthly beauty. Anderson’s elves on the other hand are not nice at all. They not creations of God. They have no souls and hence are fundamentally incapable of love or morality. They are the anti-Tolkein. However, they are very much in keeping with the old stories of faerie. This soullessness is a central theme of this book. All of the faerie are soulless. Both the elves and their enemies the trolls. And all of faerie recoils before the encroaching power of the White Christ whose church will drive them to oblivion.”

Comics (Walter Simonson) Thor Volume One — “Perhaps the most powerful lesson I learned from those comics was that if you kept a straight face, you could do anything. The wildest stories were possible if you invited the readers to come along on the journey without breaking faith with them. No nudges in the ribs or sly winks to let them know that we were all in on the joke, that we were all too hip for our own good. The essence of a good story was to bind the reader with a spell broken only at that story’s conclusion, and perhaps, not even then.”

Old School Gaming (Metamorphosis Alpha) From the articles — “Once upon a time, when I was stocking up a mined city for a campaign, I added one enchained princess. My notes had one simple line: ‘Adventurers will fall in love with her; no saving roll….’ It so happened that a lone adventurer found her, rescued her, and they soon were married. But they did not live happily ever after. He and she went adventuring, ran into some nasty rogues, and she got her poor head sliced off by a rapier. That incident launched one of the most incredible– and spontaneous– quests that I have ever seen. He determined that he could not live without her, and set out to find a way to restore her to life. He plunged into the depths of the wilderness, he sought out every wise wizard and hirsute but mysterious hag, he tried everything. Eventually he succeeded.”

D&D (The Mixed GM) Short Stories, Novels, Old-School RPGs, & New-School RPGs — “Older games took it for granted that characters died often, either due to player stupidity or the occasional bad roll of the dice. The player would then roll up a new character and get back into the game. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Character background was less important, because spending a lot of time thinking up an epic story for a character who might die in the next 30 minutes is not a good use of time. The game itself, overcoming challenges in the game world was more important than an overarching story about defeating the world-ending evil bad guy.”

Appendix N ( Robert E Howard — “Every story was like diving into a bottomless well and returning with armfuls of glittering gold and glimmering gems. Here were hard-hitting tales of passion and zest delivered in muscular prose. Here were restless men of action, pushing ever onwards to the next great adventure and conquest; and beautiful women who recognized and reveled in their femininity, dangerous and clever and charming and tough. Here were stories of mortal and moral peril, of blackest evil and foul monsters, of savage men who found glory and triumph in the dark corners of the world.”

Where Have All the Good Men Gone? ( Women are the Champions of the Rebellion Now — “The Force Awakens and Rogue One transform the entire arc of the series, shifting from stories of young men acting more or less individually, to focus on women building resistances against unfair power structures, working together with people across class and species lines, welcoming new members, honoring each others’ work. Women have passed the spirit of the rebellion to each other, from Padme and Mon Mothma’s co-founding of the Rebellion, to Jyn Erso’s sacrifice, to Leia’s leadership, to Rey’s taking up the search for Luke. These stories may have happened a long time ago, but the future of Star Wars is female.”

RPGs (Dice and Discourse) Thoughts on “Old School” vs “Modern” RPG Design (Part 2) — “A video game only let you do what it was coded to allow. But an RPG let you do (or at least try) anything. In this way RPGs were always more ‘real’ to me. And I tried to have my PCs act in a way that I thought I would act if I were in this sort of fantastic world. So, I tried to avoid a fight instead of risking injury or death. To do otherwise would have been too… video game-y.”

Knights Revisited (Jon Mollison) The Unbearable Lightness of Empty Shells — “Despite centuries of Enlightenment scholarly effort (and especially the efforts of their modern heirs) to cast knights as eternal villains and base cutthroats, they remain the ultimate white hats of the pre-gunpowder days. Give them a strong arm, a deft tongue, and an unflinching disdain for evil, and people will bring a lot of the best kind of baggage along for the ride.”

Now Tell Us How You Really Feel (Walker’s Retreat) “The Last Jedi” is a Dumpster Fire- Don’t See It! — “This movie is a goddamn dumpster fire. It’s such a failure of fundamental elements of storytelling that anyone who has any acumen at storytelling cannot unsee how badly this film’s narrative is put together. This film violates every single piece of storytelling craft that there is, and as such it cannot help but to fail at its purported purpose.”

From the comments (Vox Popoli) It should be the last Jedi — “In the extended universe, Luke marries a 9/10 redhead, has kids, restarts and reforms the Jedi Order successfully, fights alongside his friends in cool battles, and becomes the most powerful Jedi Grandmaster who ever lived. In the Last Jedi, Luke thinks about murdering his young nephew, fails to build anything, abandons his friends, doesnt marry and dies a virgin in bitter isolation.”

From the Comments (Kairos) The Last Jedi Is a Con — “This movie is going to cause Rotten Tomatoes to turn off the audience score citing abuse from trolls.”

Bwa-ha-ha! (Twitter) Capsule Review — “The Last Jedi will not be for you if you like movies where characters grow, change, have conversations, develop relationships, or make choices for reasons outside of plot convenience. However there is a scene where Luke drinks green milk from an erotically moaning tit monster”

Remove not the ancient landmark… (Empire Must Fall) Narrative Warfare:The Last Jedi – Cultural Hijacking In Action — “Anciently, when a conqueror completes a conquest one of the things done do cement control and establish dominance is to change the mythology of the conquered nation. Their heroes get degraded, their deeds defiled, and the conqueror’s heroes supercede them in all ways- often with ease. To the generation surviving the conquest, this is insult added to injury, but left unchecked the generations that follow will accept this degenerate mythology as normal- and if the conqueror is wise, they leave an out for the subjects to go all the way and buy into their control. It’s the mythological equivalent of killing a man, taking his wife for oneself, and slaughtering his children by her before seeding your own to both remove loose ends and make her accept the conquest as inescapable.”

Unparalleled Hate (Rawle Nyanzi) A Tale of Two Reactions — “Consider this your evidence: if you portray whites in a good light, with functional families, healthy love lives, and caring families, SJWs consider the film racist and hateful. This is all it takes. The SJWs loved the recent Star Wars because it trashed the heroes of the original trilogy and reversed all of their accomplishments as rebel leaders — after all, Luke and Leia were white and thus inherently bad. Just like with the Hallmark Christmas movies, the SJWs consider the originals — and their fans — to be some racist and sexist embarrassment that should be pushed aside.”

Drown the Cat! (Of Wolves and Men) STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI AND WHY THE POD PEOPLE LOVED IT — “Your blue-pilled, Rick and Morty loving, coworker in the next cubicle is technically correct. Star Wars: The Last Jedi actually did something completely different. A HOLLYWOOD MOVIE DIRECTLY SHAT UPON THE JOSEPH CAMPBELL MONOMYTH. And when someone who watches a lot of movies (most of which have the same plot timing) they immediately notice that something is new and different even if they can’t quite put their finger on it. Of course attacking the monomyth is simply a prerequisite to shitting on and destroying the entire rest of the Star Wars mythos but that’s another topic entirely.”

The Ideological Conquest of Science Fiction Literature (Kairos) Neither Holy, Roman, nor an Empire — “The Hard Buds of SF revel in the narrative that science fiction was the nichest of niche fandoms from its beginnings (by their reckoning) just before WWII until Star Wars came along and made sci-fi mainstream. They often rehash this story while wrinkling their noses at the unwashed masses that Star Wars brought into their intimate little club. But as Jeffro pointed out, the only Campbellian narrative that’s even more shopworn than the above declares that Star Wars is not science fiction at all, but dirty, elf-riddled fantasy. You can probably see what the Hard Buds missed in their haste to defend their ivory tower: either science fiction rode Star Wars’ coattails into the mainstream, or Star Wars isn’t science fiction, and therefore SF has never been anything more than a super niche fandom catering to a small clique of oddball hobbyists.”

The Peasants are Revolting (Vanity Fair) Just How Seriously Should We Take This Star Wars: The Last Jedi Backlash? — “Whether or not this claim is true (and there’s no way to verify it at the moment), that Facebook post reveals how easy it might be for a vocal minority to manipulate a metric such as this and create a false narrative. Yes, there is a ticked-off splinter of the Star Wars fandom angered by The Last Jedi. These MAGA–esque fanboys—the same that called Rey a ‘Mary Sue’ or lost their marbles over the 2016 all-female Ghostbusters reboot before it even hit theaters—have been spreading their overblown hatred all over social media. As you might imagine, those “fans”—who seem to take their cues from First Order supremacists Hux and Kylo rather than Resistance heroes Rey, Finn, and Poe—aren’t very comfortable with the film’s more progressive messages. Their hysteria-tinged reactions are best ignored.”

Don’t Read Anything After 1940 (Kairos) A Simple List — “The insidious attitude that not only are there no heroes; there’s no such thing as heroism is rampant in American pop culture. The point of fiction is escapism. If you won’t give the reader something to dream about and aspire to, GTFO.”

Words Have Meaning (Burroughs Bibliophiles) Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Development of Science Fiction — “Some hard-core fans of science fiction might deny that Burroughs’ adventure oriented stories had much to do with the development of the genre. One must admit, after all, that the science in Burroughs’ books is nearly always subordinate to the adventure itself. However, I do not balk at including Burroughs as one of the founding fathers. I’m fairly catholic in my attitude toward science fiction. If it takes place on another planet or is set in the future or has some interesting and scientific element in it, and especially if it’s called ‘science fiction,’ I accept it as science fiction. There’s good science fiction and bad, but I don’t exclude stories mostly on the basis of theme.”

Something Happened (Salon) What to say to your kids after “The Last Jedi” — “How is diversity — and the lack thereof — used to indicate the values of the opposing sides of the conflict in the Star Wars series? Why is it notable that the First Order has very little diversity, while the Republic has a lot of it? Did you notice the strong female characters in the movie? How has the world of Star Wars changed in this respect since the original trilogy (or even the prequels)?”

That’s the Ticket (Independent) Star Wars: The Last Jedi has been killed off by PC culture. No really, people actually think that — “Bad enough that it has a prominent black character in it, and the fact that The Last Jedi basically belongs to Rey, a woman. But now there’s a new cast member who’s a Vietnamese-American (Kelly Marie Tran who plays Rose Tico) too. Enough already! What happened to the good old days when it was about white blokes, the token woman donned a bikini to give us all a thrill and the token black guy didn’t appear until the second movie and knew his place by remaining in a minor role?”

When the Mystery Box Turns Out To Be Empty (Forbes) How ‘The Force Awakens’ Set Up ‘The Last Jedi’ For Disappointment — “Not all of the flaws in The Last Jedi can be written off as the fault of J.J. Abrams, but paving a glittering road to nowhere certainly didn’t help. And some of Johnson’s decisions were, admittedly, fairly creative. Luke Skywalker’s story, or at least aspects of it, made a lot of sense to me (others may strongly disagree). Rey’s reveal was clever, as it destroyed the hereditary nature of the Force, democratizing it for the future, so Disney can build a post-Skywalker universe.”

Were Intellectuals Always this Stupid? (Wired) ‘The Last Jedi’ Is the Most Intellectual ‘Star Wars’ Movie — “It has the most moral complexity of any of the movies, it has the most surprises of any of the movies, and is the most intellectual and self-aware, and gives you the most to think about afterward.”

#RazörWasRight (The Dark Herald) Star Wars Falls — “The third of the new Star Wars movies is performing as badly as a DC Comics movie. This is the beginning of the end for Kathleen Kennedy because I am now becoming positive that Solo: A Star Wars Film by Star Wars is going to be the first of the actual money losers.”

The Last Tomato (Forbes) Gargantuan $151M 2nd-Weekend Plunge For ‘The Last Jedi’ Is An Epic Hollywood Choke — “Countless former die-hard fans have publicly sworn off seeing any future Star Wars installments. And as the 52 percent (and still declining) Rotten Tomatoes audience rating has indicated, the general audience has responded by telling Disney and the filmmakers, ‘You have failed me for the last time.'”

Just Do What the Purple Haired Lady Says (The Verge) In The Last Jedi, being a space cowboy doesn’t fly anymore — “Responsibility is a core theme in the film, which we also see in Luke Skywalker’s arc and his admission to Rey about why Ben Solo turned to the dark side. It’s a big change for a franchise that has always been more interested in the hotshot antics of the ‘galaxy’s best pilot’ than the practical results of taking those sorts of absurd risks. It subverts Star Wars norm of rewarding impulsive decisions with accolades, and paves the way for a richer narrative that acknowledges the fact that sometimes, good guys can inadvertently do bad things with lasting consequences.”

Some of Them Want to Be Abused (Entertainment Weekly) The Last Jedi: A Force push against the backlash — “Overall, I was deeply moved by what Johnson did with Luke in this film. I haven’t been around nearly as long as Yoda’s 900 years, but in my own time I’ve picked up two pieces of wisdom: It’s easy to go wrong while trying to do the right thing — and the good guys don’t always win, but sometimes it’s enough to just keep being good. It’s a nice fantasy to imagine that once you grow up, once you become strong, you stay that way. But I appreciated that Johnson took our mutual childhood hero and made him an adult one, someone who traverses the line between right and wrong and wonders if he can still see it clearly.”

Blue Checkmark Dawn (Washington Post) How to help fix our terrible discussions of ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ — “Regardless, something needs to be done if Rotten Tomatoes and the rest of these sites want us to take user ratings seriously. Otherwise, potential customers and cultural commentators alike will have little choice but to disregard customer scores such as the one given to ‘The Last Jedi.'”

What Canst Thou Say? (NPR) Latest ‘Star Wars’ Teaches The Value Of Failure — “Skywalker is a tortured soul, racked by remorse and a paralyzing sense of failure. He blames himself for failing to rescue Kylo Ren from the dark side. Yoda, always the mentor, senses all this: ‘The greatest teacher, failure is.’ To Skywalker’s astonishment, Yoda goes on to destroy all the sacred places in the island, including a holy tree and the sacred books of the Jedi, mocking Skywalker. (Or maybe Rey saved the books?) The Force is to be felt, not theorized about. You carry it inside, not in books or holy places. It is the energy in all things, alive and not, the pulse of existence. To know it you must experience it, not read about it.”

Not Nearly Woke Enough! (The Weekend Australian) It’s still a white, male dominated galaxy — “In reality, Disney reinforces male hegemony under the cloak of gender equality. Rey reverently caresses the sacred and ancient Jedi texts, oblivious of its misogynist tenets. They seemingly eschew anger, aggression and fear, holding that these are the pathway to the Dark Side. Instead the Jedi lauded stoicism, self-control, objective truths, and logic, but they are a ruse designed to control women. As feminist scholars have demonstrated, logic and objectivity are patriarchal constructs. How naive was The Guardian in declaring feminism and inclusivity were consistent with the ‘Jedi spirit’? As we now know, subjective experience, the display of emotion, and the acknowledgment of multiple truths are the gateway to knowledge. Rey does not recognise this, but foolishly acquiesces in the Jedi’s oppressive ideology.”

Most Marxist Star Wars EVAH (The Guardian) Anti-empire, pro-activist … The Last Jedi is as left wing as Jeremy Corbyn — “There’s a delicious irony to the fact that director Rian Johnson, funded by corporate behemoth Disney, has used this most capitalistic, money-grabbing of platforms to plant the seeds of anti-fascist, anti-capitalist egalitarianism in the minds of the world’s young. It’s not a subtle message, either. There’s a whole sequence set in an intergalactic casino where the only thing of any import we learn is about the evils of unfettered capitalism – only the wicked get rich, and it’s by selling arms to both sides.”

And You Should Feel Bad (Cinema Blend) One Line Carrie Fisher Obviously Wrote In Star Wars: The Last Jedi — “Another significant moment that Fisher wrote was her final scene with Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo. Holdo is staying behind on The Resistance’s main ship to cover their escape plan from The First Order. The two women begin to say ‘May the Force be with you’ at the same time, and Leia says (brilliantly), ‘You go, I’ve said it enough.’ It’s another example of classic Fisher, who definitely said it enough in her lifetime, and it takes on a bit of a sad feeling under a meta context.”

No Payoff (Forbes) Fandom Menace: Why You’re Still OK If You Dislike ‘The Last Jedi’ (And Why It Matters To Disney) — “Rian Johnson, in his script and his direction, constantly pulled the rug out from under the audience, setting up expectations through what he showed and told the audience on screen, and then revealing that everything you’d just seen was a lie the movie told you so that it could then ‘wow’ you with a dishonestly manufactured surprise. Luke’s bitter antipathy toward the rebellion; Kylo Ren’s on again, off again ‘good’ side; Luke’s being pummeled by megatons of artillery; the cave that had no possible exit until it suddenly did; Yoda torching the Jedi library, except not really. And on and on and on. All cheap parlor tricks, shameless and aggressive duping of the audience that breaks the cardinal rule of storytelling: don’t treat the audience like ignorant patsies.”

MicroGames (The Daily Illuminator) The Fantasy Trip Returns Home — “At the beginning of my career, long before GURPS, I created a roleplaying game called The Fantasy Trip. For decades, the rights have been held by Metagaming, a publisher which is no longer in operation. I’m very pleased to announce that I have regained the eight TFT releases that I wrote myself: Melee, Wizard, Death Test, Death Test 2, Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard, In the Labyrinth, and Tollenkar’s Lair.”

The Hard Buds of SF (The Verge) That bizarre milk scene from The Last Jedi has a basis in dairy science — “There’s a strange scene in The Last Jedi as Rey is following Luke Skywalker around his hermitage on the planet Ahch-To. Luke has apparently gotten into the habit of milking the planet’s local creatures — the remarkably relaxed thala-sirens that spend their time reclining against the rocks. He walks up to one of the creatures and squeezes green milk from its prominent udders. Then he drinks it, soaking his beard with the stuff.”

Anime (Castalia House) More Proof Hollywood Spits at Heroism And Adventure: Castlevania — “It begins with Lisa, a peasant girl trying to learn about medicine, waltzing straight into Dracula’s castle. When Dracula threatens her, she shows zero fear, and dresses down Dracula for not showing proper courtesy to a guest. Dracula is taken aback and proceeds to do everything she tells him to, like a properly repentant boy. Yep. Three minutes in, and the main, terrifying villain, lord of demons and monsters, has been emasculated and is being ordered around by an ordinary country girl. In exchange for this feminist bullshit, the mighty Dracula is robbed of all menace and mystery, vital characteristics of a villain.”

Gaming (Jon Mollison) Magic: The Smattering — “The CCG can die in a cold fire so far as I’m concerned. I’ve never forgiven it for stealing the limelight of tabletop gaming away from RPGs in the early 1990s. Which means that I’ve been following the Convergence of Magic: The Gathering with a morbidity similar to that which I feel watching Marvel Comics choke on their adherence to the Narrative.”

#PulpFail (Hunting Muses) SW8: the Last Jedi (SPOILER FREE) — “In this new film? 4 creatures are seen (I’m not counting the fish Luke kills to eat). The Porgs, land whales used for milking, giant horse-dogs, and crystal wolves. NONE of them threaten our heroes in any way, rather they are all friends and allies who want to help – domesticated. Once upon a time, Star Wars took place in a dangerous galaxy, one where our heroes (and villains) had to contend with threats beyond those of the empire. Now? Now the galaxy is safe. There is no danger to anyone except from evil people.”

State of the Art (The Nerdist) HOW THE LAST JEDI’S GROSS MILKING SCENE CAME TO BE — “Scanlan said that allowed two puppeteers to get inside the creature—one in the front and one above him. ‘One would operate the shoulders and the flippers at the top and the other person would operate the belly and the milking mechanism or the udder mechanism at the bottom.'”

There’s a message here! (Hunting  Muses) SW8: The Last Jedi (SPOILER review) — “Anakin saw himself destroying what he fought for. Luke saw himself becoming the very thing he fought. Rey… just sees herself. Infinite selves. Nothing else. She doesn’t see a dark Rey conquering the galaxy or standing beside Kylo Ren. Either Rey is so pure there is no darkness in her, or so dark there is no where left for her to fall. While she gets some decent enough action sequences, by movie’s end she’s made no real advancement as a character save for accepting that her parents were nobodies and all her friends are her true family – like pretty much every. other. film. from the last decade.”

Deep truths that most people won’t notice until the fifth viewing. Really makes you think! (Bitter Gertrude) THE LAST JEDI IS SUBVERSIVE AF, AND I AM HERE FOR IT — “When she falls for Finn, it’s not the usual trope of Hero Wins Sexy Woman, and was therefore criticized for being ‘shoehorned in.’ Rose wasn’t wearing a low-cut top; we never saw Finn ogling her; we never saw the camera linger over her ass. We were never given the signals ‘SEE HER AS A SEX OBJECT,’ so her love for Finn is ‘shoehorned in.’ But this is the stirrings of the new society. Any idiot can ogle a woman’s ass, but the man who automatically respects a woman’s expertise is well worth falling for.”

I’m Okay, You’re Okay (Polygon) Star Wars: The Last Jedi finally proves that the Jedi suck — “So what is the point of having a light and dark side if the Force is a part of all things? Why have a Jedi Order and a Sith if both can live together without any morality or arbitrary rules tearing them apart? Yoda understands this, which is why he tells Luke that it’s okay to be imperfect, to have some dark side tendencies.”

Traveller (Castalia House) REVIEW: Fate of the Kinunir by Robert E. Vardeman — “There just aren’t any advanced artificial intelligence systems in the game. Indeed, the original rules indicate that the computers on starships tend to be ungainly mainframes that have a set number of 8-track type program tapes that are constantly being switched out depending on the circumstances. And sure, most people ignore this obscure and dated aspect of the game. And yes, Signal GK did introduce sentient computer chip based life forms to the game. But even then, the advantages and abilities they conveyed when installed in a ship’s computer system were extremely modest.”

Traveller (Castalia House) REVIEW: Shadow of the Storm by Martin J. Dougherty — “The translation of The Lord of the Rings to the big screen is a prime example of what I mean. Oh sure, the director could handle a straight ahead rite of passage arc well enough: something like a young hobbit taking off for an adventure he isn’t quite ready for, but who then somehow finds his courage, defeats a foe, and returns home as a hero. The figure of Aragorn, however, is completely unfathomable to him. It’s as if the only way he could think of to portray him was to translate him into a carbon copy of Pippin. This of course reduces the travel worn, wordly-wise leader of men to a laughably adolescent level. It’s so bad, he even has to get a ‘step up’ sermon from his father-in-law-to-be before he could ‘find himself’ and choose to get on with what needed doing.”

From the Comments (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: The Dying Earth by Jack Vance — “I rather liked this review, except for the part where it was called a review. The word review signifies a general outline of the stories, the genre and sketches of the plots, impressions the reviewer was left with by the stories, what he liked about them, and what he didn’t. This would be done primarily for the aide of readers who might want to read a series, but want to avoid sinking their time into reading something they’ll end up not enjoying. They turn to reviews to give them the gist of stories, to help them decide which ones to try, and which ones to avoid. In that regard, this ‘review’ fails remarkably (which, incidentally, is why I am remarking on it).”

From the Comments (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson — “You know, I can’t help but feel like some of the strangeness of the scenarios in early D&D come from the conflict between the Tolkienian paradigm and what you’ve described in this book. The Caves of Chaos as a threat to the Borderlands makes sense if its inhabitants are aligned with chaos as creatures of Fey encroaching on the lands of good christian men. But if they are simply other races, representing no threat other than what a slightly less advanced culture on the borders of a more advanced culture tend to represent, the moral and existential threat is significantly negated.”

Traveller (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: The Winds of Gath by E. C. Tubb — “E. C. Tubb’s work played a key role in getting the Traveller role playing game off the ground, but like scaffolding that aids in the construction of a monument, it was no longer integral to the structure after the initial design work was completed. As is often the case with such games, the more offbeat and incomprehensible elements were quietly passed over and deemphasized over time. And yet a hard edge of the Dumarest series remains: fragments of a pulpy, uncaring universe populated with the desperate and the sadistic. Whenever players blow through a dozen worlds in half as many game sessions or get into trouble as a side effect to their living hand-to-mouth, they walk in the footsteps of the grandfather of all travelers: Earl Dumarest. It’s a great contrast to the squeaky clean future presented in Star Trek where people don’t even need money anymore. The problems in Traveller and Firefly always center on the human element and you can’t just ‘reverse the polarity’ and walk away from them. This aspect of the material is key to the enduring appeal of both.”

Traveller (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: Derai by E. C. Tubb — “Whoever published this knew what they were doing. At a hundred and fifty-three pages, it does not represent a terribly serious investment, but really… any science fiction novel with a sword wielding woman in unreasonable armor on the cover is worth a shot. Sure, the plot is formulaic, following much the same structure as a television mystery. And admittedly, the setting is almost painfully derivative of Dune which had come out three years beforehand. But the lead character cuts so compelling a figure that it really is no surprise to me that this series would continue on for a whopping thirty-three books in total.”

From the Comments (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson —  “There are few things more tedious than seeing 20th century perspectives inserted into quasi-11th century historical settings. It’s ignorant, incoherent, deceptive, often propagandistic, and intrinsically offensive to anyone with even a modicum of respect for history.”

From the Comments (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance — “These articles are mind-bogglingly great, by the way. I’m definitely checking on this blog every day.”

From the Comments (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs — “Y’know, I think that one of the many problems with our culture today is that the ‘Adventures For Boys’ genre/style of fiction is either dead or dormant. Unless you count the Harry Potter books, there really hasn’t been anything going on in this field of writing in my lifetime.”

From the Comments (Castalia House) RETROSPECTIVE: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny — “Jack of Shadows is not a novel about a moral philosophy to drive your life by. It is about freedom of choice, the context it sits in and uncertainty. Morningstar is an ambiguous figure who may be a devil or an angel, and as Jack falls at the end, it’s impossible to say if he his actions have been for good or ill. If Zelazny had him die or survive, this would have told the reader not only what the answer was, but that such an answer was expectable. Keeping it uncertain is the point.”

New Schuyler Hernstrom Vignette: “Varal”

This might have gotten past you, but last week Scott Cole dropped a little Schuyler Hernstrom into his Wargame Wednesday post. Check it out!

Upon of throne of broken tombstones he sat brooding. Arrayed before him were his courtiers. They perched atop moss covered markers, wings folded against bodies covered with a layer of silken fur. Their red eyes looked here and there, while their ears twitched in the cool air, always listening.

He on the throne unfolded his wings and sat back. He pondered there, pointed chin rested on clawed hand. His own name came slow to his mind, always difficult to remember after waking….


His fanged mouth spoke the name aloud, softly. He was Varal. He was a duke of the realm. He had once lorded over other lands. But now he ruled a place of graves and damp earth. The silks and brocade that once clothed him were now reduced to rotted rags. How had this happened? He could not recall. When the memory seemed close the owl would hoot, the rat would skitter, the toad would croak, and the images would slip from his mind.

There had been a woman. A dark haired beauty, forbidden to him for reasons he could not recall. The ache of her absence had driven him to dark deeds. Again the memories fled his clouded mind. Shadows of the past whispered meaningless words. The place where poetry had once lived in his noble mind was filled with an overpowering hunger. It was his curse.

Night was as day. Death was as life.

A flap of wing and rush of air and he sat atop a noble’s tomb green with mold.

His slanted nostrils supped the air and his eyes glowed with feral joy.

A living thing walked at the edge of his realm.

His courtiers took flight as Valar stood to his full height, feeling the moonlight against his body, a cruel parody of man and animal. Graceful and strong, yet woeful to the eye.

The Duke of the Cemetery took flight on leathery wings, following the scent of warm blood.

Random Thoughts: Stingy With the Linkage, Pulp’s Non-Disappearance, and Google’s Monetization of Sex Differences

This came up again today, so let me point out what is happening with the difference between game blogging culture and “real writer” culture. Game bloggers are all amateurs that publish things on the side for fun. If they see something awesome, they throw a blog post up about it, talk about why it’s awesome, what their experience is, and then maybe add something to it… and that will often have a direct application to an rpg session. I call that “continuing the conversation.” Meanwhile in the “real writer” set, getting people to do that is like pulling teeth. They can certainly see the value of a Larry Correia book bomb action. I’d like to say that they don’t do anything unless it has a direct, noticeable impact on sales… but they are generally crap at marketing themselves, so it’s not just that. Now, there are exceptions to that… but the ones that come to mind have surprisingly popular blogs or podcasts. I’ve seen people blame this on age, but that’s not the only driving factor here.

Would you like to increase the quality and volume of discussion on a particular topic on the internet?

Well hey, I’ll tell you what to do. Find the people that are active in it, comment on their posts, follow them on social media, signal boost their stuff frequently, buy their stuff, and then leave reviews on their Amazon product pages. One person doing that can create a scene. Ten people doing that can create a movement.

Everything you read today is saturated with nihilism and hopelessness. There’s a reason for that. Garbage storytelling is engineered specifically de-moralize us, to make you feel like nothing you do matters. But I’ll tell you a secret: None of it is true. In fact the opposite is true. Everything you do matters. And a large number of small acts whose only purpose is to energize and raise the morale of people that you admire and that you want to see succeed?

That is a very potent force that should not be underestimated.

I recently pointed out that if you didn’t get to the point where you wanted to walk out of SF&F in the past 40 years… then you’re not normal. Because most people walked when it stopped serving its intended purpose.

Legendary game designer Lewis Pulsipher responded with this:

“Intended purpose”? Whose intention was that? The “good ol stuff” didn’t disappear, it was just much less noticeable even as some people kept writing it.

I have to beg to differ there.

Writers were driven out of the marketplace for ideological reasons. Walk into a Barnes & Noble and it just feels stale. It’s very easy to go in and out without seeing anything of interest. That’s a policy. A brief survey of contemporary film will yield a checklist of things that are simply not done anymore. That checklist “don’ts” is basically a list of requirements when you look at what was typical in the pre-1940s pulps. And the items on the list are what the audience of that incredibly competitive and wide-open marketplace showed up for. Shut them down and they walk. Fiction became post-Christian in the 40s. Publishing became saturated with women and leftists in the 80s. And in this century, it became just another component of the narrative machine.

People are sick to the back teeth with this stuff. It’s past time for a revolution.

A Julia Galef has written a short piece in response to the now-infamous Google Memo. She states that the claim that there are differences between the sexes “seems plausibly true. ” But “not obviously true.”

Now I see that she is going out of her way to be evenhanded and rational here. And yes, it’s quite a contrast to the hysterics of the blue haired androgynous types on Twitter. But think about what kind of deliberate brain damage it would take to make someone pretend that we just might get half a shred of a hint of a notion of what the truth on this is if only we could maybe get some really smart people to look into this and maybe publish a few studies on the topic.

Yes, there a genuine reason why men typically have more of an interest in computer programming than women. The same is true of auto mechanics, historical miniatures wargaming, and football. This is not rocket science. In fact, you have to deny the sum total of biology and observed reality in order to pretend like this is at all hard to articulate, comprehend, and/or demonstrate. The idea that the sexes are functionally interchangeable is ludicrous. It’s a point of dogma, not a scientifically provable claim. Yes, talking about this openly is against peoples’ religion, but that is not normal. Not in any culture that intends to perpetuate itself.

You know this is the case. Everyone behaves as if there are significant, demonstrable differences between the overall interests of the sexes every single day. Here’s just one example of a company who’s business depends on hard, repeatable facts on this area:

Who Created the Pulp Revolution?

Declan Finn claimed today that I “more or less created the Pulp Revolution with Appendix N.” And I tell you, my first impulse was to argue back a little. Of course, I didn’t chew Alex Kimball out when he called Appendix N the book that launched a movement. And yeah… when I was trying to get the introduction to the thing just right, I did go and have twelve people attempt to explain why it was that the book had done what it did.

But there are many significant actors involved here, all of whom worked together to make the Pulp Revolution happen:

  • There is Larry Correia, who not only ignored what his writing teachers told him… but who also pulled off one of the greatest pranks in science fiction history. He got a lot of people talking about something that wasn’t immediately obvious.
  • There is Edgar Rice Burroughs, who single-handedly set the tone for fantasy, science fiction, pulp, comic books, role-playing games, and Star Wars.
  • There is Gary Gygax, who created a time capsule that preserved that vision in the face of an industry and gatekeeping establishment that was hellbent on seeing it extinguished.
  • There are game bloggers like Ron Edwards, James Maliszewski, and Jeff Rients who brought this to the attention of fans of role-playing games.
  • There is John C. Wright, who never got the memo that Appendix N style fantasy was out of style.
  • There is Alex Kimball, who offered to pay semi-pro rates for people that wanted to bring back more of it to the short fiction scene.
  • There is Daddy Warpig, who observed that something was happening and called it what it was before anyone could grasp its significance.
  • There is Dan Wolfgang and QuQu, who reported on what was happening with first class coverage.

That’s quite a list!

But I tell you. As crazy and strange and hilarious as the story of how the Pulp Revolution came to be is, I’m happy to say that it pales in comparison to the works that are coming out under its banner. Novels like Jon Mollison’s Sudden Rescue. John C. Wright’s Swan Knight’s Son. And Ben Wheeler’s In the Seraglio of the Sheik of Mars. And while commentators like me have had a field day the past few years here, I have to say… at the end of the day it’s the authors that really create the Pulp Revolution. And I’m really glad that they do.

So many people had just walked away from science fiction and fantasy over the past few decades. So many people had thought that no one would write stories like Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber did again. Even five years ago that was unimaginable. And now… against all odds, against all hope… there’s something for those people to come back to.

It’s awesome. It really is.

So kick back. Pop some popcorn. Queue up that audio book. Fire up the Kindle. And crack open that case bound omnibus. This party is just getting started!