Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Solomon Kane, Mad Max, and Vengeance

January 1929 saw the release of the second installment of Solomon Kane’s adventures.

And it is interesting to see this action hero mashup of Keanu Reeve’s John Wick and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-1000 spring up crystal clear in a time when people might suspect something that awesome couldn’t exist yet.

But what’s truly intriguing are the things this tale contains that have been gone for so long, they are almost unimaginable today.

Consider:

There above the dead man’s torn body, man fought with demon under the pale light of the rising moon, with all the advantages with the demon, save one. And that one was enough to overcome the others. For if abstract hate may bring into material substance a ghostly thing, may not courage, equally abstract, form a concrete weapon to combat that ghost? Kane fought with his arms and his feet and his hands, and he was aware at last that the ghost began to give back before him, and the fearful laughter changed to screams of baffled fury. For man’s only weapon is courage that flinches not from the gates of Hell itself, and against such not even the legions of Hell can stand.

Astonishing.

Here you get not just horror with its metaphysical aspects still intact as opposed to being reinterpreted through a materialistic or naturalistic frame… but you get a surprisingly profound take on the nature of truly transcendent courage. Platitudes that might seem patronizing coming from the pulpit of some small town church are here made viscerally real.

More surprising than that is the reactions of the town folk to Kane at the conclusion:

“Life was good to him, though he was gnarled and churlish and evil,” Kane sighed. “Mayhap God has a place for such souls where fire and sacrifice may cleanse them of their dross as fire cleans the forest of fungus things. Yet my heart is heavy within me.”

“Nay, sir,” one of the villagers spoke, “you have done but the will of God, and good alone shall come of this night’s deed.”

“Nay,” answered Kane heavily. “I know not—I know not.”

Now, this final scene here is very reminiscent of the famous ending to the 1979 Mad Max film where the title character has finally tracked down the last nomad cyclist responsible for the deaths of his best friend, his wife, and his child. It takes an entire film, but this guy finally snaps and becomes at least as brutal as the cycle gang that was terrorizing pre-apocalyptic Australia.

And we all loved that movie, right? Max was not some goody two shoes “white hat”. He was an anti-hero. He was cool. He was… well… Mad!

But now jump back to 1929. When Solomon Kane is working through almost precisely the same sort of scenario (ie, “sentencing a man to death in cold blood”)– not only does Kane have the unanimous support of all the townspeople, but when he expresses his regret about it the townspeople flat out tell him that he is doing the will of God.

That’s how much our culture changed in the span of a mere fifty years. What was almost self-evident in the twenties could only be perpetrated by a madman in the seventies.

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Solomon Kane’s Pitch Perfect Debut

From “Red Shadows”, published in Weird Tales magazine in 1928:

The man whose long, swinging strides, unhurried yet unswerving, had carried him for many a mile since sunrise, stopped suddenly. A movement in the trees had caught his attention, and he moved silently toward the shadows, a hand resting lightly on the hilt of his long, slim rapier.

These are the first sentences describing Solomon Kane and check it out: just one brief aside about the way he walks and you catch the fact that he’s basically The Terminator. Unhurried yet unswerving. This guy has a mission and he will not be distracted from it even for a moment!

This is a note Howard will touch on yet again before the first section break:

Slowly he rose, mechanically wiping his hands upon his cloak. A dark scowl had settled on his somber brow. Yet he made no wild, reckless vow, swore no oath by saints or devils.

“Men shall die for this,” he said coldly.

Mechanical… like a death machine robot from some dark future.

And yet it’s tempered. He can betray a strain of gentleness when speaking to a dying girl, sure. But more than that… this is someone that works for the guy that instructed his followers to “swear not at all”.

Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

The sermon on the mount is serious business– especially when there are men that need killing! Speaking of which, how do these guys stack up against words that will not pass away?

“Hell’s devils!” cursed the Wolf, hauling him upright and propping him in a chair. “Where are the rest, curse you?”

“Dead! All dead!”

“How? Satan’s curses on you, speak!” The Wolf shook the man savagely, the other bandit gazing on in wide-eyed horror.

Ugh. Now too well. Those oaths look pretty tacky now…!

Of course, Kane himself is far from perfect. But just the fact of his slipping up on something like this is going to be a bad sign:

“Le Loup, take care!” Kane exclaimed, a terrible menace in his voice, “I have never yet done a man to death by torture, but by God, sir, you tempt me!”

The tone, and more especially the unexpected oath, coming as it did from Kane, slightly sobered Le Loup; his eyes narrowed and his hand moved toward his rapier.

Who is this guy?!

We have to have this hunt range half way around the world and on into the darkest depths of Africa to find out:

“Why have you followed me like this? I do not understand.”

“Because you are a rogue whom it is my destiny to kill,” answered Kane coldly. He did not understand. All his life he had roamed about the world aiding the weak and fighting oppression, he neither knew nor questioned why. That was his obsession, his driving force of life. Cruelty and tyranny to the weak sent a red blaze of fury, fierce and lasting, through his soul. When the full flame of his hatred was wakened and loosed, there was no rest for him until his vengeance had been fulfilled to the uttermost. If he thought of it at all, he considered himself a fulfiller of God’s judgment, a vessel of wrath to be emptied upon the souls of the unrighteous. Yet in the full sense of the word Solomon Kane was not wholly a Puritan, though he thought of himself as such.

What a guy!

And yet there’s so much more here. This is not a straight ahead tale of vengeance a la John Wick. It moves from rapier and dagger action in France to the excitement of a Tarzan style jungle story, yes… but then on to the bizarre black magic, talking drums, and dark gods of a truly weird tale!

I haven’t seen any recent Solomon Kane adaptations, but I suspect there would be a strong tendency to edit out this sort of thing in contemporary handlings of this character. Kudos, however, to anyone that dares go against the tide on that! Because you know that nine times out of ten, people are going to replace the awesome with ill conceived backstory, unnecessary character arcs for the protagonist, and lame scenes that compromise the very concept of the character created by Robert E. Howard.

Fortunately, the real thing is freely available and you don’t have to settle for cheap knockoffs!

Dead Horses, Nerdly Discomfort, Swoleplaying, and Sadhu Sunder Singh

Over on Twitter, Yakov Merkin laments the state of cultural criticism:

You know, if all these YouTube personalities seen as much time promotion quality indie works instead of repeatedly hitting the dead horse that is SJW “creators,” we’d probably be able to make more positive cultural change. But negative videos gets more views I guess.

Grames Barnaby responds with a very generous shout-out to my work:

You need to think more like an anon. It’s not that it gets views, it’s that many of the folks in tg/vidya/or other johnny come lately “lifestyling market” bullshitters that are liberal facing are scared of what they really need to abandon to re-make the spaces to work again. Or to put it in a way that someone like @Aurini has pointed out the frame of most folks in various cultural wars, is mostly about trying to roll shit back to the 90’s because of how comfy it all feels, instead of standing on a set of principles. You want great art? You need to know how great art is made, and what it stands for, not what you liked about it because muh nostalgia.

Oddly enough, even something as innocuous as looking back to old books and games for inspiration is now something that requires a great deal of brainwashing in order to be executed “correctly” today. The once-vital online vintage rpg discussion that made my book possible is currently falling all over itself to virtue signal about how they can do that while still remaining unwaveringly committed to whatever the narrative will demand of us the day after tomorrow.

Here’s Brad J. Murray with the latest dementia in that vein:

There is a lot of resistance to addressing this because cultural problems are messy and even today not everyone is going to agree what was “worse” and what was “better”. Even “genocide is bad” seems to be up for debate in some circles. Nor even which mechanical elements in that game ore are reflective of what’s worse. But also because some of the nostalgia for that earlier time, the reason for mining that old material, might just be a desire for a whiter, maler, more heterosexual context. And the idea that that might be true is rightly uncomfortable as hell. And one thing we nerds know about discomfort: we do not want to talk about it.

But when we make a game that incorporates or emulates material from that past we risk racist, sexist, homophobic regressions. And we don’t have a good way to test for it, especially if we want to ignore it even as a possibility: if you want to ignore an error your first step is certainly to avoid testing for it. Or rather, we do have good ways to test but we do not deploy them. So let’s look up from the dungeon map and take a step and acknowledge that this is a risk. That material with a forty year old context may have side effects (and possibly direct effects) that reflect that context. And that in some if not many cases that would be a bad thing. That would be regressive.

Seek enlightenment through the strenthening of mind, body, and soul. But mostly body. #swoleplaying #brosr

That is precisely the attraction to the old books and old games. They are not just fun, they are largely free of the sort of cowardly, self-hating abasement that happens whenever people attempt to make a virtue out of cultural suicide. That stuff is craven. Disgusting. Ugly. It’s also intrinsically unmanly:

I am old and white and mail [sic]. I wish I could get glasses for my brain that correct for this.

It’s got to be tough living with that amount of self-hatred. I’d almost pity such a person if, you know, they didn’t actually hate people like me more.

It irritates me. Really, it does. And a good old fashioned fisking would be danged fun if NPC’s like that weren’t in charge of schools, universities, newspapers, and HR departments.

But Grames Barnaby is absolutely right. You’re wasting your time contending with these losers. Cheah Kit Sun has– on the fiction side– the right attitude:

The best stories I’ve read have the following characteristics: 1. Tight plot 2. Believable worldbuilding and setting 3. Well-developed characters 4. Authentic tradecraft, mindset, equipment 5. Polished language 6. Inherent sense of ethics 7. Illumination of higher truths

Point six and seven are where the battle is fought most hotly. In fact, the existence of real virtues is why the fake ones have to be pushed so vigorously– and why older works have to be either suppressed or expurgated. It’s like a religion to these people. Or an anti-religion perhaps.

Probably the most insightful statement on this impulse is by Sadhu Sunder Singh:

You will hardly find men who will not worship God or some other power. If atheistic thinkers or scientists, filled with the materialistic outlook, do not worship God, they often tend to worship great men or heroes or some ideal which they have exalted into a power. Buddha did not teach anything about God. The result was, his followers began to worship him. In China people began to worship ancestors, as they were not taught to worship God. In short, man cannot but worship, this desire has been created in him by his creator, so that led by this desire he may have communion with his creator.

See, when Christianity was removed from American culture… we didn’t end up with our old culture minus the old time religion. No, we got an army of breast-beating totalitarians, fire and brimstone zealots intent on tearing down even the remnants of anything that would remind them of who or what we were.

What can you do against that? Well you can start by not bowing the knee. But most importantly, you can be– unapologetically– the thing that they hate. And create as if they have no power over you.

If you’re having second thoughts about doing that, do yourself a favor and find a biography of Singh. It’s legitimately inspiring.

Flatliners: Contemporary Fiction in a Nutshell

The 1990 film Flatliners has the interesting premise of sins brought to life by near death ruined by smug smarmy-pants loser writers. What are the ultimate sins? Playground bullying and serial womanizing by attractive/popular people that will go on to become successful in life. Chad finally gets his comeuppance!

To throw in one final fedora twirling insult to this steaming pile of angsty resentment, the atheist played by Kevin Bacon is the one that has the brilliantly Christian idea of seeking out those he had sinned against in order to make things right.

Socially stunted atheist gamma males just naturally know how to Christian better than anybody else. This is simultaneously proof of their superior intellects and also a refutation of Christian “superstition”. Genius!

Such people have no concept of the besetting sins women typically face. Therefore, the Julia Roberts character’s awful AWFUL sin is… discovering her war hero father’s secret shame when she was a child– as if women don’t sin, they are merely damaged by their proximity to men.

This isn’t really art or culture or storytelling in any real sense. It’s merely a mechanism for broadcasting the exact same narrative points that academia and journalism pound away at day in and day out. It corresponds to neither reality nor human nature and thus amounts to little more than just another insipid attack on both the imagination and the soul.

Odds and Ends: Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves and More!

I am AWOL, but not entirely. In the wake of Google+’s passing and the mass exodus of game bloggers from that platform, several people have contacted me to ask where exactly I hang out now.

The truth is… I’m just not online all that much to begin with these days. Last year’s gym membership culminated into this year’s outdoor adventure kick… which culminated into a general habit of constantly trying things I’ve never done before… which then turned into me becoming unusually active and outgoing. It’s exhausting!

I don’t play games near as much as I used to. On the other hand, I have a game group that is even better than the high-school group I had back in the day. Odd thing to me is how quickly the games became secondary to the fun of just getting together and hanging out. But it’s still game night either way!

I still have time to get a good read in, though. Most recently I got ahold of Fenton Wood’s Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves… which pivots effortlessly between weird pulp horror, fairy stories and tall tales. Here’s my tweet-sized review:

What this book does is it takes all of the subversive, dystopian impulses of science fiction between 1940 and 1980 and it turns it all inside out. This is the kind of fiction we could have had if publishing had not been weaponized and turned toward cultural suicide.

The mysterious author of this fascinating work came out of hiding to respond:

I’ve avoided social media so far, but I had to thank you for the good word. This book came as a surprise to me too! I just wanted to write a pure adventure story with no politics.

Pretty awesome! Definitely check it out.

Meanwhile, Grames Barnaby cites both me an Jon Del Arroz “leading a decent charge to restore Christian stoic ideals in fiction.” Wah. Gotta say, it’s very gratifying to be associated with the Christian faith in even a modest way. Honestly, I never imagined that there could be an actual revival of that sort. The people that are actually bringing this stuff forward and putting it into the marketplace are the real heroes in my book.

One of those guys is definitely Jon Mollison. Dig this from his most recent novel:

Tiberan, uneasy spoke up. His words echoed those of the bandit. “Are you sure about this Primus? These men aren’t… civilized.”

“They don’t speak with two meanings, you mean?” I asked him harshly. “They don’t take their oathes lightly? They don’t hide behind paper laws and clever word tricks before slipping a knife into a man’s back?” I snorted. “If that’s what it means to lack civility, I’ll take barbarism.”

Perfect!

But not everyone in the pulp scene is hitting the mark like that. Broadswords and Blasters makes clear how they don’t really want a revival that goes all the way with this stuff:

“Much of old-school pulp is unfortunately EMBLEMATIC of limited cultural ideals that we have no interest in propagating. As such, we encourage DIVERSE characters and welcome stories that SUBVERT the standard pulp formula.”

Here’s my take on the correct “Regress Harder” approach to bringing an authentic pulp ethos back to the table:

“Much of old-school pulp is EMBLEMATIC of superior cultural ideals that infuse the West’s most inspiring tales of myth and wonder. As such, we encourage truly HEROIC characters and welcome stories that SUBVERT today’s dreary literary establishment.”

Zing!

Anyway, I threw this post together to let y’all know that with the passing of Google+ I am now on Twitter here. I’m also on MeWe as “Jeffro Johnson” due to my mates heading over there, but I’m pretty lousy at using it just yet.

Look me up if you’re over that way!