Thursday, April 18, 2019

Going Native

At a time where many are trying to claim the mantle of what Dangerous Visions should have been, J. Manfred Weichsel's Going Native brings a pulpy horror to six speculative fiction tales that stray perilously close to the live wires of impolite society without resorting to preaching or morality tales. These tales originally appeared in Cirsova, Fierce Tales: Savage Lands, Weird Mask, and Millhaven's Tales magazines, and include:
"Going Native" - An interesting take on C. L. Moore's "Shambleau", updated a bit for a more civilized galaxy. Remember, boys and girls, just say no to naughty tentacles... 
"The Funniest Story Ever Told" - This is a vicious little take on government and elites. While many who have read this story laughed, I found the tale less funny amusing and more "I have to laugh or I'll scream," given current events. 
"Complicit in Their Bondage" - And now we get to a truly dangerous vision and one I'm surprised hasn't happened yet. An African-American soldier gets swept up into a renegade British breeding program. Normally, this sort of flesh-shaping is left to aliens, but it will likely happen among those who claim to be the elite. 
"The Garden of Prince Shi-Wiwi" - I'm a sucker for all things chinoiserie. This story's a buffet of lessons about inhumanity inside a deadly garden. Compassion may have its own cost.
"Alter-Ego" - My mind's spinning with all the multiple personalities playing roles in convoluted and Gothic webs of intrigue. While the narrative thread might be clearer, it brings a sense of horror
"We Might Not Have Fire" - This is an even scarier dangerous vision of an enslaved future. Think The Time Machine meets A Princess of Mars.
All in all, an excellent set of stories, with a heavy suspicion of those who would claim to be our betters, a heavy pulp vibe, and a place at the Great Conversation of the West.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Bone Dungeon

Ryan ran afoul of an overzealous church in his fantasy world. But after losing his head, the church’s goddess, as an apology. brings Ryan back as the heart, soul, and guiding mind of a dungeon. Aided by the celestial fairy Erin, he now builds and maintains the premier dungeon for would-be adventurers, complete with devious traps, skeletal monsters, and a strange sense of fair play. But bad bone puns and an actual underground fight club for monsters keep Ryan unaware of the goddess’s true plan for him–as the trainer for the paladin chosen to reform her church.
Johnathan Smidt’s Bone Dungeon is the latest in a series of quirky litRPG fantasy web novels hosted by Royal Road to make the jump to print. Like many of its contemporaries such as Everyone Loves Large ChestsBone Dungeon flips the script on the tried-and-true adventuring party by shifting the point of view. In this case, what if a dungeon was alive, with a guiding mind? What would that be like? The result, like many gimmick novels, is a thorough examination of what many readers might think a one-note gag, combined with a deep dive into the game mechanics of Smidt’s fantasy world. But what should have been Exposition: The Novel is enlivened by the interplay between Ryan and his assistant Erin, adding notes of humor and mutual infatuation to the nuts and bolts accounting needed to turn a dungeon from a hole in a wall into a full-fledged raid encounter.
And, yes, that includes Skeleton Fight Club, another should-have-been one note gag that has plot and character relevance, as Erin does not always approve of Ryan’s methods.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Bone Dungeon is just how innocent the story is. No matter if the writer is Russian, Chinese, Japanese, or American, web novels and litRPGs tend to be colossal exercises in wish fulfillment, especially when romance and sex are involved. 2018’s mix of raunch and harem was fueled in part by the rise in popularity of these stories. Instead, Erin and Ryan are stricken with a case of puppy love, with both wanting to bring out the best in each other and in the dungeon they are building. Much of Ryan’s character growth is driven by trying to avoid losing Erin’s approval and living up to her high esteem of him without letting himself be whipped. But both remain unaware of each other’s affections. It’s innocent, it’s cute, and it’s blissfully devoid of bawdiness.
But Bone Dungeon’s good nature is not limited to Ryan and Erin’s growing partnership. Keenly aware that his survival depends on a sense of fair play towards the  adventurers that quest through his halls, Ryan enters into a strange and unspoken agreement with the local Adventurer’s Guild. His challenges make their recruits stronger, and their failures fuel his own growth. Ryan and Erin gleefully look forward to how each party navigates the bone-laden halls and skeletal monsters, and how the adventurers grow through each encounter. A strange sense of cooperation builds between dungeon and adventurers–including the aforementioned chosen one–which comes in handy as even dungeons can face dangers of their own.
Bone Dungeon is a delightful and quick read, and, at a time where most young adult stories are choked by the fantasies of burnouts and crazy cat ladies, it is a rare story appropriate for ages 9 through 99 that avoids being twee.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

EU Declares Project Gutenberg Terrorist Material, Demands Removal

In what will in no doubt spread to other archives, European Union agencies have declared much of the Internet Archive as terrorist material, including Project Gutenberg, which hosted a large collection of public domain works. I say hosted, as, at the moment of writing, Project Gutenberg is now unavailable worldwide. From Tech Dirt:
We've been trying to explain for the past few months just how absolutely insane the new EU Terrorist Content Regulation will be for the internet. Among many other bad provisions, the big one is that it would require content removal within one hour as long as any "competent authority" within the EU sends a notice of content being designated as "terrorist" content. The law is set for a vote in the EU Parliament just next week. 
And as if they were attempting to show just how absolutely insane the law would be for the internet, multiple European agencies (we can debate if they're "competent") decided to send over 500 totally bogus takedown demands to the Internet Archive last week, claiming it was hosting terrorist propaganda content.
In the past week, the Internet Archive has received a series of email notices from Europol’s European Union Internet Referral Unit (EU IRU) falsely identifying hundreds of URLs on archive.org as “terrorist propaganda”. At least one of these mistaken URLs was also identified as terrorist content in a separate take down notice from the French government’s L’Office Central de Lutte contre la Criminalité liée aux Technologies de l’Information et de la Communication (OCLCTIC).
And just in case you think that maybe the requests are somehow legit, they are so obviously bogus that anyone with a browser would know they are bogus. Included in the list of takedown demands are a bunch of the Archive's "collection pages" including the entire Project Gutenberg page of public domain texts, it's collection of over 15 million freely downloadable texts, the famed Prelinger Archive of public domain films and the Archive's massive Grateful Dead collection. Oh yeah, also a page of CSPAN recordings. So much terrorist content!
We will see what returns and how Project Gutenberg deals with the claims against it. What is likely is that a number of rare science fiction, fantasy, pulp, and history books have now become more difficult to find.

Update: This EU claim on the Internet Archive just gets worse. Pubmed, Arxiv (scientific papers), the Smithsonian, Voice of America, CSPAN, genealogies...

Second Update: While Project Gutenberg's Internet Archive woes continue, we are pleased to hear from the site that their site issues are technical, not legal.
"April 11 2019: One of our main servers is having problems, and eBooks are temporarily not available. This should be fixed later today (US Eastern time). Typical errors are, "Error reading from remote server." Apologies for this temporary service outage."

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Quick Reviews: Burrito Avenger, Thousand Li, and More

Monday, April 8, 2019

Shaft

With all the films, remakes, comics, and an earworm of a musical theme, the franchise leads to larger-than-life expectations for Ernest Tidyman’s 1971 novel Shaft, the novel which started it all. If not a superhero, then certainly an icon. Instead, John Shaft is presented as a street-weary Army vet, a detective working for unsavory characters in desperate settings. A man, rather than an identity, full of anger, daring, and hard-earned caution instead of style and stereotype. This was a deliberate choice by Tidyman, who noticed
“Reading black fiction, you see that the central figure is either super hero or super victim, as in [William] Styron’s book. The blacks I knew were smart and sophisticated, and I thought, what about a black hero who thinks of himself as a human being, but who uses his black rage as one of his resources, along with intelligence and courage.”
The result is a languid noir thriller, with the two main characters of Shaft and the tinderbox that was 1970s New York taking center stage.
Shaft’s case, to find a kidnapped daughter of a Harlem crime lord, puts him in the center of a riotous mess of Mafia, Black Power revolutionaries, Jewish merchants, and corrupt cops. In today’s Michael Bay-driven landscape, rescuing the girl from a Mafia safe house during an astroturfed race riot would be a set piece occupying most of the book. Instead, that action is allowed to play in the break between chapters. The novel’s tension–and Shaft’s skills–are built instead around locating her in the first place. And it’s Shaft’s observations that lift this hard-boiled crime tale from being just one more in an interchangeable string of genre books, whether simple observations such as “He was being honest, honest as a man with three walnut shells. And a round bean.” or revealing inconvenient truths:
“He remembered men who knew and made it work. They paid their dues. This one didn’t know except how to look on that box on the wall. Too many of them only knew that, nothing more. Too many of the young ones knew how to look, how to talk. But they didn’t know how anything worked.”
But such wit and wisdom is not reserved for Shaft alone. Whether a Black Power revolutionary blasting a black crime lord for his monopoly on black suffering, or the same revolutionary getting dressed down for how amateur his operation is, everyone has a bit of truth to them, and everyone is in need of hearing it from others. The result anchors Shaft in reality more firmly than merely copying the street fashions and slang of the time.
Unfortunately, Shaft is nearly 50 years old, and five decades of homage, imitation, and inspiration have dulled today’s readers to what made Shaft novel for its time. Without that, the novel is merely one of many good street detective tales, remarkable only for its milieu. But at a time where identitarian tensions are growing, and the only acceptable fiction roles for people are superhero, supervictim, and supervillain, perhaps it is time to revisit 1970s New York and a street detective named Shaft.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

No Wrong Way

 Presented, without comment, a snippet from John C. Wright's recent post, "Hard and Soft Snobbery":
There is no wrong way to have fun. 
I particularly dislike Hard SF snobbery from fans whose favoritate authors most famous books, FOUNDATION, STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, or AGAINST THE FALL OF NIGHT, routinely contain psionic and magical elements such as accurate prophacy of future events, superhumans with psychic power, humans angels, mind reading robots, faster than light drive, time travel, and other things that as about as “Hard SF” as a genii from a lamp. 
I have written Hard SF — trying to imagine how a galactic or even intergalactic community could operate without faster than light unicorns drive takes some imagination, believe you me — and I have written pulp. I find pulp harder to write, since it takes more discipline regarding plot and pacing. 
The difference is more one of structured versus improvizational use of the imagination than it is of better and worse. Pulp fiction is like jazz — within its highly structured limits, there is wide freedom for individualism, improvization, riffs and inversions of themes. It is governed by the Rule of Cool. You can have anything, including Space Princess or dinosaurs lumbering through the hothouse swamps of Venus, provided it is cool. 
Hard SF is more like classical music. Hard SF has a structured limitation on settings and props, that is, the make-believe technology must have a figleaf of versimilitude as something that could plausibly grow out of the modern day undersanding of physics and technology. You can get away with magic if you call it psionics and say it is non-supernatural phenomenon. You can get away with faster than light drive because if you mumble something about hyperspace or inertialess drive or quantum tunnelling and say that it is a non-supernatural phenomenon. You can even get away with Time Travel. Because otherwise the Ghost of Christmas Morlock cannot show you the final fate of mankind. 
The basic limit of Hard SF is the writer cannot violate no known facts of science: Venus is a sulferic hell with a temperature to melt lead, for example, and if the daughter of a monarch of Mars is going to look like a nubile maiden from Europe or India, except with bright red skin, there had bettter be some explanation involving parallel evolution or mutual interplanetary ancestors. 
Now, working within these limits is fun, and it is fun to do research and get all the details of travel times and distances to nearby stars correct, or to make sure that what you are saying about higher mathematics or exotic matter properties or Einsteinian frame-dragging effects of rotating black holes is correct according to the latest theory. 
But it is also fun to write about a nubile space princess being saved from an evil dinosaur of Venus.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Cirsova Publishing Announces Fully Illustrated 70th Anniversary Edition of Leigh Brackett’s Stark Trilogy


Little Rock, AR, 4/1/2019— Cirsova Publishing has teamed up with StarTwo to create an all-new, fully illustrated 70th Anniversary Edition of Leigh Brackett’s original Eric John Stark Trilogy. Cirsova Publishing aims to bring the action, adventure and romance of Leigh Brackett to a new generation of readers.

First published in the Summer of 1949, Queen of the Martian Catacombs introduced the world to Eric John Stark, the black mercenary swordsman. Stark’s adventures continued on Venus in 1949’s The Enchantress of Venus, and the swordsman returned to the Red Planet in 1951’s Black Amazon of Mars. While Brackett would revisit the character in 1970s with the Skaith trilogy, the original novellas are significant as one of the last iconic Sword & Planet cycles of the pulp era.

These stories will be presented like never before, featuring all new original artwork, including new covers paying homage to Allen Anderson’s originals for Planet Stories and 33 interior illustrations. Each has been checked and corrected against the original texts as they appeared in Planet Stories magazine and will feature introductions by Nathan Housley, aka the Pulp Archivist, Jeffro Johnson, the author of the critically acclaimed Appendix N: The Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons, and culture commentator, critic, and pulp enthusiast Liana Kerzner.

The 70th Anniversary Illustrated Stark will be released as individual volumes, in a softcover omnibus, and in a coffee-table hardcover art edition.
·         Queen of the Martian Catacombs + Illustrated Stark (Hardcover) – 4/30/2019
·         The Enchantress of Venus – 5/31/2019
·         Black Amazon of Mars – 6/28/2019
·         The Complete Illustrated Stark (Paperback) – 7/31/2019

Our end-goal is to put these classic works of science fiction back in the hands of readers, young and old.

Little Rock, Arkansas based Cirsova Publishing was founded in 2015. Its flagship publication Cirsova Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine was a 2017 Hugo Award finalist for Best Semi-Pro Zine.