Forbidden Thoughts Launch Party!

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Welcome to the launch party live stream for our new book Forbidden Thoughts! A rollicking collection of stories from science fictions master story tellers including John C. Wright, Nick Cole, Brad Torgersen, Sarah A. Hoyt and many others!

We have lots of guests who have included stories in this volume. Fingers crossed Milo can make it!

Jagi has also asked for suggestions for a list of Superversive stories to read! More details in the livestream but include suggestions in the comments below!

Waiter, There’s a Message In My Fiction!

First, a disclaimer. Art in general and storytelling in particular lends itself to near-infinite variety of perception. In spite of what highly paid literature critics and professors will tell you, there isn’t One True Way to interpret a piece of art. I am, in fact, fresh of watching Mr. Plinkett’s video explaining why Titanic was both the best and the worst movie ever. And so when we discuss so-called “message fiction,” it’s good to remember that such classification will always be in the eye of the beholder. Nevertheless, the term has gained popularity lately, and it might be time for some clarity as to the meaning.

The most common usage of the “message fiction” has come from the (loosely defined) right side of the political spectrum when discussing works by authors, largely on the left who place ideological considerations above the quality of their art.

Message fiction can take many forms and exists in every genre, although it seems especially prevalent in science fiction and fantasy. A post-Apocalyptic story that incessantly talks of humans ruining the Earth through environmental neglect. An alien encounter story that demonstrates clear superiority of communal living over individualism and traditional family structure. A dystopia about the horrors of the government run by corporations, or the Church, or whoever the Villain of the Week is supposed to be. You get the idea. Setups, plotlines and even characters who are mere vessels for advancing the author’s agenda, with minimal regard for the basics of storytelling and no attempt at entertainment.

Mind you, there is a market for it. There are people who read and love message fiction. There are organizations handing out accolades and awards to the authors. At this time, anyone who has paid even minimal attention to the happenings in the publishing world will understand the reference, and others can just take my word for it. Or simply look at what happened with the Oscars over the last few years. It’s the same disconnect between the highbrow elites and garden-variety consumers, minus the red carpets and obnoxiously overpriced gowns.

That leaves the rest of us with a dilemma. Sure, we want entertainment in our fiction instead of a lecture. However, does it mean that we are forever doomed to limit ourselves to book equivalents of B-movies? Don’t get me wrong, I love Fast and Furious as much as the next gal (probably more, truth be told), but I also love Lives of Others. There is a place for lowbrow art that exists to give us a burst of adrenaline and take our attention of the next mortgage bill for a few hours. And there is a place for something more subtle, more refined, that will make us ask questions about the human condition and difficult moral choices. There is, in other words, a place, not for message fiction as described above, but for fiction with a message.

This is not mere play on words. The distinction is crucial: does the message come before the story, or the other way around? More to the point, how do consumers know one from the other, and how do authors avoid the dreaded “message fiction” label?

Many writers and bloggers have addressed the subject before, with examples ranging from Pilgrim’s Progress to Atlas Shrugged and everything in between. (Ayn Rand is certainly considered the Grand Dame of message fiction because of the (in)famous John Galt speech, explaining the Objectivist philosophy in painful detail, stuck in the middle of a compelling if flawed novel. Note to new authors: Rand got away with it. You won’t.) I want to use something different for my example, if only to shake up the discussion.

Having grown up in the former Soviet Union, I read plenty of what in today’s terms would be called “message fiction,” 99% of it ranging from forgettable to laughable. But there was a poem we had to read in second grade, Death of a Young Pioneer Girl by Eduard Bagritsky. It was traditional as part of our Russian Language homework to memorize poems, but this one was long and memorizing it was an option for extra credit. Being a stereotypical straight-A nerd, I naturally decided to memorize it. And frankly now, decades later, I wish I hadn’t. I don’t want it in my head. Yet here it still is.

The story revolves, as promised in the title, around a dying girl. She is a member of the Young Pioneers, an organization designed to indoctrinate children aged seven to fourteen into the Soviet ways. (Most Americans, public education notwithstanding, are probably familiar with iconic Soviet posters of happy kids with red scarves around their necks—those are the Young Pioneers.) Surrounded by helpless doctors and grieving family, she is slowly and painfully succumbing to scarlet fever. If you ever wanted to know how it feels to die from a nasty childhood disease, this poem will tell you. Russian children’s literature can be brutal that way. But that’s not the plot, as the death is pre-determined. The conflict comes when the mother attempts to put a baptismal cross around the girl’s neck, presumably to administer the Russian Orthodox version of the Last Rites. And the child, even in her agonized feverish state, refuses. Her last act on this Earth is to swat the cross away and lift her hand in a Young Pioneer salute. Her last words are the Young Pioneer’s pledge of loyalty to the state, not a goodbye to her family. The ending is devastating, sure, but it’s also meant to be inspiring. The poem is both a vile piece of propaganda aimed at eight-year-olds and a haunting piece of art.

And art it is. There can be no question in my mind that this one is not the kind of “message fiction” currently attempting to devastate whole genres of literature as surely as an untreated disease can kill its victim. It’s just fiction, and it has a message that is not at all subtle. Repugnant, yes, at least to my mind, but also highly effective. Why? Because it’s wrapped in a darn good story. This is how propaganda works, and the Soviets had perfected it in their time. The Left in the U.S. has generally done a good job of it as well, except, having become so successful at it over the decades, they have also become complacent. The quality began to slip, and they fell into the message fiction trap. I, for one, will not shed a tear.
There is a danger, though, for us as conservative and libertarian writers. We write for different reasons, but many of us use fiction as an opportunity to express our worldview, at least to some extent. I was a reader and reviewer long before I started to write, as I have always felt that authors should at least attempt to put something of themselves in their work. Otherwise, why bother? With millions of stories out there, why add to the pile if you can’t offer something that is specifically “you”? And it makes perfect sense that “something” will occasionally be political views.

Censoring yourself, filing down every edge so as not to appear too controversial is just as destructive of art as squeezing a political message in a place where it doesn’t belong. We can all agree that message fiction is bad, but hollowed-out, sterile, one-size-fits-all storytelling is worse. I’m not talking about pure lowbrow entertainment—as mentioned at the beginning of the post, there is a place for it, and I enjoy it greatly. But much too often I come across a story that has all elements of greatness, where the author obviously wanted to say something interesting and thought-provoking—and then backed down, whether to sell more copies or to avoid an accusation of making the work too political, I would never know. I do know that such stories break my heart with their obviously wasted potential.

Ayn Rand, of whom I am still a fan, even though I no longer find Objectivism as appealing as it once was, has once written a short story The Simplest Thing in the World. It details a struggle of a desperately poor writer to create a story that would appeal to the masses. Unfortunately, any time he starts a safe, predictable, plot that a potential publisher would accept, his mind wanders into different directions, creating stories that are unique and exciting—but not suitable for a dime store novel. And so, at the end, he gives up and decides to peruse the Classifieds for non-creative work. It’s unlike Rand’s other fiction because the character is not a hero intentionally refusing to compromise; he’s a creator whose mind rebels at the attempt. He simply can’t help it.

Fortunately in our time and place, with the rise of independent and small publishing, we don’t have to compromise. As readers, we don’t have to settle for either obnoxious, low quality message fiction OR for stories that are muted, bland and sometimes outright confusing because of the author’s desire to please or fear to offend. Conversely, as authors, we have the luxury of being ourselves, writing what we want, saying what we believe and most importantly, crafting the best story we can. Anyone even marginally familiar with history will understand what a rare opportunity this is. We dare not waste it.

Marina Fontaine is a Russian by birth, an American by choice, and an unrepentant book addict. She runs Small Government Book Fan Club on Goodreads, Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance group on Facebook, and a cultural commentary/review blog, Marina’s Musings.
Marina  is the author of Chasing Freedom (a 2016 Dragon Award finalist for Apocalyptic Novel) and The Product, a dystopian novella. She lives in New Jersey, working as an accountant by day and a writer by night.

Current Reading: Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman is a guy who is immensely popular with the public at large but often criticized, even bashed, by those in the Castalia/Superversive camp, who lean very old school (with the exception of his Sandman comics, which appear to be universally admired by all and sundry).

But I’ve always been curious about Gaiman. What is it about him that really captures so many people? Is it really fair for me to dislike him without reading him?

I had to know. The first thing I read by him was “A Study in Emerald”, his Sherlock Holmes/Lovecraft pastiche and a Hugo winner. Being a big Holmes fan (Yes, I’m one of those guys who has read all 60 Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories and seen at least five different versions of the character on screen. Not the biggest fan, but big. By the way, don’t let the Jeremy Brett pushers fool you, the most accurate version of the character is Basil Rathbone, and Robert Downey Jr. is more accurate than he’s often given credit for), I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it was shallow; there was a lot of cleverness to it, but very little else.

So, it was good, but not really great. Next I tried “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”, considered by many, if Amazon reviews are to go by, a masterpiece.

Meh. It had a similar theme as John C. Wright’s “One Bright Star to Guide Them”, but John did it better, and I don’t even think it’s one of his better works. “Ocean” wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the masterpiece people were claiming.

So is that it? Should I give up? After all, all of the guys I read and hang out with online are bashing Gaiman left and right. Maybe I should.

…But not yet. I decided to give him one more shot. Maybe I just needed to pick the right book…

…And then I remembered something. Charlie Cox – the terrific actor who plays Daredevil – mentioned in one interview he was in a movie called “Stardust” that he really enjoyed and thought was unappreciated – and it was based on a Gaiman book.

I looked up the plot summary. It seemed promising. So hey, let’s give it a shot, right? Nothing ventured and all that.

…Okay. I’m very early in…but there is something about this book. Something magical.

The potential is all there – for example, in sections like this:

Victoria Forester squeezed his hand. “And whatever would I do with a kangaroo?” she asked. “Now, we should be getting along, or my father and mother will be wondering what has kept me, and they will leap to some entirely unjustified conclusions. For I have not kissed you, Tristran Thorn.” “Kiss me,” he pleaded. “There is nothing I would not do for your kiss, no mountain I would not scale, no river I would not ford, no desert I would not  cross.”

He gestured widely, indicating the village of Wall below them, the night sky above them. In the constellation of Orion, low on the Eastern horizon, a star flashed and glittered and fell. “For a kiss, and the pledge of your hand,” said Tristran, grandiloquently, “I would bring you that fallen star.” He shivered. His coat was thin, and it was obvious he would not get his kiss, which he found puzzling. The manly heroes of the penny dreadfuls and shilling novels never had these problems getting kissed.

“Go on, then,” said Victoria. “And if you do, I will.” “What?” said Tristran. “If you bring me that star,” said Victoria, “the one that just fell, not another star, then I’ll kiss you. Who knows what else I might do…

…“And if I brought you the fallen star?” asked Tristran lightly. “What would you give me? A kiss? Your hand in marriage?”

“Anything you desire,” said Victoria, amused.

“You swear it?” asked Tristran…

…“Of course,” said Victoria, smiling.

…Tristran Thorn went down on his knees in the mud, heedless of his coat or his woolen trousers. “Very well,” he said. The wind blew from the east, then. “I shall leave you here, my lady,” said Tristran Thorn. “For I have urgent business, to the East.” He stood up, unmindful of the mud and mire clinging to his knees and coat, and he bowed to her, and then he doffed his bowler hat.

I know that’s a long section, but that? That is EXACTLY how fairy tales should sound. That is grade A, classic stuff right there. That is brilliant.

It could still go wrong. Neil Gaiman undoubtedly has SJW tendencies (but then, most authors do). And it did start with a sex scene – not particularly egregious, nor portrayed as necessarily the right thing to do (for all interaction with fairies is implied to be fraught with risk), but it certainly stands out as atypical for fairy tales.

But that section from above…

There is a ton of potential here. Let’s see if Gaiman sticks the landing. I shall keep reading.

The Lion, The Witch, and The TARDIS?

Interesting speculation by author Grand Hudson as at whether there might be a tie between the TARDIS and C. S. Lewis.

Lewis, the Wardrobe and the Police Box

 October 29, 2015
  

If, like me, you tend to read a great deal of significance into things, it won’t have escaped your notice that C. S. Lewis died about an hour before John F. Kennedy, the U.S President. I wonder, though, if you will have noticed that he also died the day before Doctor Who was first broadcast.

 Lewis, who had invented a wardrobe which contained or led to an entirely different world (and, in the final story of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, a stable which was similarly bigger inside than out) didn’t live to see the first companions of the Doctor, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, stumble into the TARDIS, the now famous blue Police Box which was not only bigger inside than out but which also was capable of transporting its occupants anywhere in time and space. I don’t know if Sidney Newman, the originator of the idea of Doctor Who, or the set designers of the time, had read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or even The Last Battle -it’s quite possible that they had, considering that they had been published several years before and were best-sellers— but however it happened, the concept of an ordinary object that was a doorway to different realities lived on in the television show, parallelling the popularity of the wardrobe in Lewis’s work.

Read more…

“A Series of Unfortunate Events” Netflix Series Season One: Final Thoughts

You know all of those nitpicks I had?

The show fixed ALL of them.

That was, in a word, outstanding. It got better and better as it went on. The children clearly get more comfortable in their roles, and by the time of the death of Monty in “The Reptile Room” they’ve really got the characters down. Neil Patrick Harris does a much better job balancing the sinister and comedic aspects of Olaf. There’s a clear uptick in the quality of the acting.

The conspiracy subplot, which seems integrated somewhat hamfistedly in the earlier episodes, gets integrated much more smoothly by “The Miserable Mill” (the last two episodes of season one).

Each “book” continues to up the tension and up the entertainment value; each episode is better than the previous. I thought “The Wide Window”, a personal favorite of mine from the series, wouldn’t be able to be topped. The adaptation was executed that well.

I was wrong. “The Miserable Mill”, part two especially, is outstanding. Clever, exciting, REALLY funny, and very, very Snicket-y. Awesome.

The only thing about this series that consistently annoys me is how bad the special effects are with Sunny, the infant Baudelaire. It gets ridiculous to a point where it’s not really funny so much as stupid looking. But that’s a nitpick.

As a fan, I loved it. It’s awesome. It’s not superversive, but recommended regardless.

“A Series of Unfortunate Events” Netflix Review

As I’ve documented, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is very much not superversive. That said, after writing two articles on the series I thought I’d give my first impressions on the Netflix series. Currently I’m almost done with the first half of “The Wide Window”, the fifth episode in the series (each book takes up two episodes; since “The Wide Window” is book three I’m on episode five of eight in the first season).

Rapid Fire:

– First off, I loved it. I want to make that clear now so all criticisms are remembered in that light. These are minor flaws I’m picking on. That said…

– Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf is a mixed bag. He wasn’t sinister enough in “The Bad Beginning” but his acting gained more range and subtlety by “The Reptile Room”, and now that I’m in “The Wide Window” (which I consider one of the series’ better books) I think he’s managed the perfect combination of terrifying and hilarious (“Please call me by my first name: Julio” cracked me up).

– The death of Uncle Monty (oh come on, the book is 18 years old now, I’m not going to bother with spoilers) was perfectly executed. That was legitimately heartbreaking, and DARK.

– Like NPH, I wasn’t sold on the children’s performance as the orphans at first, but I thought they did better and better as the series has gone on. They were all somewhat stiff in “The Bad Beginning”, but their acting in “The Reptile Room” was spot on, and so far they’ve done quite a good job in “The Wide Window”.

– I am REALLY unsure how much I like all the integration with the larger conspiracy subplot in the background. Don’t get me wrong, some integration was necessary, but I think this might be a step too far. We know too much too soon. I’m especially unsure of how much I like the big twist at the end of “The Bad Beginning”, though I would bet money that those people aren’t who we think they are. Maybe they could make it work – we’ll wait and see.

– As I was worried about, they unfortunately weren’t willing to commit to all of the darkness in “The Bad Beginning”. The scene in the book – which I recently re-read – where Klaus confronts Olaf on his plan to marry Violet, and Violet reveals he has kidnapped Sunny, is not funny AT ALL. Not in the slightest. It is absolutely terrifying, and disturbing. There isn’t a hint of a joke in any of it.

But the Netflix version added some subtle jokes to the scene. The jokes were very dry, and they were in keeping with the tone of the series, but they were still jokes. The show wasn’t able to commit to the full darkness, and it was a bit disappointing.

Ditto with the scene where Olaf slaps Klaus in the face. In the book, the whole theatre troupe laughs at him, but in the show, everyone goes silent. The book makes it clear that not only do they have no allies, everyone even approves of their mistreatment. The show lessens the sting, even if only a little bit. It was slightly disappointing.

Now the good stuff!

– The hook handed man and the person who looks like neither a man nor a woman (hereafter “the androgynous person”) were a delight. I cracked up when Olaf yelled to the children what they were supposed to do while dinner was cooking and the andogynous person suggested “We can wait patiently”. Also, apparently there is honor among thieves, because when the hook-handed man gambles with Sunny, he keeps his word when he loses.

– There is so much fan service it is ridiculous (in a good way). Throwaway lines, background shots, hints and references, there are TONS of Easter eggs for the eagle-eyed fans to catch.

– The tone is dead-on pitch perfect. Awesome! It’s a terrific adaptation.

– Most importantly of all, Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket is PERFECT, and I mean perfect. I can’t imagine anybody executing the character better than the series has done. He’s so freaking good, and so funny, that just by having him there I’m willing to forgive a ton of the series’ (in my view, minor) flaws. Seriously. I can’t emphasize enough what a dead-on flawless portrayal and interpretation of the character it is.

A final note: I was in the comments section of a review article cheerfully joining in on an active discussion with other ASoUE fans, a scenario that as you might imagine doesn’t happen particularly often. At one point, after a long, interesting conversation where many intelligent points were made, I linked to my Castalia articles on the book series, so people could see in more depth why I had an issue with the ending without me having to spell out my full case in detail again.

Later I again respond to somebody making a case why I thought the ending of the series – which is an explicit endorsement of moral relativism – is morally repugnant. Instead of an attempt to refute my points or offer an intelligent disagreement, a commenter wrote this:

I find it funny that somebody who writes on a website for Vox Day’s publishing house is trying to criticize someone else for promoting a “facile and evil philosophy.”

That was his whole response.

There you go. Doesn’t matter how intelligent my points are or how well I articulate them, I write on the blog of a publishing house that employs Vox Day as the editor-in-chief. So clearly I’m evil.

Sometimes there’s not much more to do but shake your head and hit “block”.

For the interested, my comment:

Snicket stacks the deck so much that by the end of the series he has essentially creates circumstances that force the orphans into a position of moral relativism – a lie.

Moral relativism is the philosophy of hip faux-Nietzche teens. Adults learn, ultimately, that just because bad people do good things and good people do bad things doesn’t mean you’re forced into a pattern of secrets and lies. Heroes and villains exist, and you can always choose what to be. But Snicket takes away agency and presents a facile and evil philosophy as unavoidable truth. It’s not. It’s a lie.

I expand here:

By book the twelfth, it becomes more clear than ever that Snicket has stacked the deck completely. He essentially forces the Baudelaire children into a situation where they are forced to burn down a building and leave people for dead. Stacking the deck is good to create conflict and amusing situations; it is not good to convince people that sometimes it’s necessary for children to burn down buildings and leave people for dead.

Now we reach book the thirteenth. In book the thirteenth, Snicket goes even further and tries to make the case that good and bad are a relative thing that doesn’t exist at all. To do this, he sets up Ishmael. Ishmael is essentially a man “Beyond good and evil”. The island’s customs, in very clear terms likened to religion, (Snicket uses the term “opiate of the masses”, a term Marx uses to describe religion), are set up by Ishmael as a way to control the unthinking people.

The Baudelaires, abandoned with Olaf for the apparent crime of rejecting the religion of the island, are forced again into an alliance with him, further cementing the idea that, as people beyond good and evil (religion, which they are smart enough to reject) they, Olaf, and Ishmael are in fact of a kind; they are the overmensch.

Later, some members of the island plan on a revolution, to overthrow Ishmael, and a false choice is set up: Olaf or Ishmael. Nobody tries for the third option – rejecting both and living according to an objective morality, where nobody is beyond good and evil and morality is determined not by customs but by natural law, discoverable by human reason and that all humanity is answerable to. People are either too stupid or too wicked, you see, to do the right thing, or else are forced into circumstance to do bad things – which means those things really aren’t good OR bad either way; morality is relative, right?

Ultimately we learn that Olaf, the Baudelaires, their parents, and Kit Snicket are really not so different, since they all lied at various times. This, itself, is a lie; just because people sometimes make bad decisions doesn’t mean you can’t choose to be a hero – a volunteer – or a villain. But no; we all either go with Ishmael and die, or stay with Olaf on an island alone.

And the series ends with the Baudelaires keeping secrets from young Beatrice; the opportunity of them simply telling the truth is something Snicket doesn’t even consider, because he doesn’t see a problem with lying. Everybody lies, said Dr. House.

It’s a wicked lie itself.

I have known…

Listening to music can be therapeutic, soothing, invigorating, inspiring, heartbreaking, or depressing, much like reading or listening to a story. In fact Hans Zimmer once said that in all the music he composes his primary purpose is to tell a story, despite using no words. Listening to one of his most famous pieces (that accompanies one of the great movie endings of all time) inspired this little effort of mine below. In Zimmer’s piece, and the film, the hero is faced with a situation where all seems lost. He did everything he could, but all he has worked for has crumbled to dust before his eyes. He sees the situation for what it is, absorbs this devastating news, and yet he still finds the strength to keep going, even to sacrifice himself and his reputation to save people he will never meet, who will almost certainly never even know, let alone appreciate, what he did for them. He is able to do it quickly this time, because he’s done it before. In these respects, these few minutes are a microcosm of his entire heroic journey.

As the piece played I was struck by the ways in which it mirrored some of my own experiences (except it took me far longer to gather up the strength to keep going, and my behaviour has been far less heroic). It encourages me to keep going, to do better, to come closer to the good example set.

This is the power of story, of archetypes, of strong heroic characters, of good examples. Let us make more of them.

My piece set to Zimmer’s music can be found here, with the lyrics below that

I have known…

I have known despair, and I will not promote it.
I have known pain, and I will not glorify it.
I have known false hope, and I will not encourage it.
I have known cowardice, and I will understand, but not praise it.
I have known self-loathing, and I will not romanticize it.
I have known brokenness, defeat, lostness, and yet emerged on the other side, not unscathed, but grown.
I have known failure, and I will learn from it.
I will defend the truth.
I will not abandon my allies.
I will keep learning, and admit when I am wrong.
I will advocate for genuine hope.
I will praise and strive to create beauty.
I will call for courage in matters great and small.
I will seek to repair the damage I have caused.
I will seek to restore friendships.
I will console those who suffer.
I will encourage those who feel they can’t go on, for I have walked that path.

Sutherland Responds

I don’t have much to say except that this:

The first is entitled “Interesting Article From Doris V. Sutherland” and was written by Anthony M. of Superversive SF, a group that has published some of Niemeier’s work. Anthony’s post is long and, by and large, strikes me as an attempt to give Niemeier some PR damage control by qualifying his more flamboyant statements.

…Is the reason people react angrily to Sutherland rather than reasonably. In point of fact, this was the first I’d heard of the entire affair, I didn’t speak to Brian in advance, only read his original articles when Sutherland linked to them, and was actually a little worried that Brian would be mad that I was taking Sutherland seriously at all.

Sutherland then quotes Brian a couple of times to make points I already responded to. For example, this:

For example, Anthony expresses disbelief that Niemeier ever claimed to have written the most popular nominee in the Dragons’ horror category.

Brian claimed it was the most read, not the most popular; he was including free giveaways.

I have nothing else to say.

On Fairy Stories and Why They Matter!

An essay is by British professor, Bruce G Charlton, who maintains a blog inspired by Tolkien’s The Notion Club Papers

Fantasy Fiction Is More Important Than ‘Real Life’:
completing the argument of JRR Tolkien’s essay On Fairy Stories

JRR Tolkien

JRR Tolkien’s most famous and influential essay, and indeed by far the most famous and influential essay on the subject, was On Fairy Stories. This was originally a lecture delivered in 1939 at the University of St Andrew’s, Scotland; it was published in a revised and expanded form in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, 1947 and reprinted in other volumes many times since.

The crux of the essay, and the reason for its large influence, is a defence of the value of Fairy Stories for an intended adult audience. Indeed On Fairy Stories became, pretty much, the standard explanation of, and rationale for, the genre of Fantasy Fiction – which is now a large and significant phenomenon in modern publishing

Tolkien’s basic argument is that the author of Fantasy is creating a ‘Secondary world’ with features that are both wonderful (typically magical) and internally-consistent. And this Secondary world potentially offers a sympathetic reader the triple benefits of Recovery, Escape and Consolation.

As such, On Fairy Stories serves to justify the Fantasy genre; but on the other hand it does implicitly consign Fantasy to Secondary status as contrasted with the Primary world.

Tolkien presents a strong case that Escape and Consolation are legitimate wishes. However, at the end of the day these are (merely) psychological justifications – ways of saying that Fantasy makes us ‘feel better’ in legitimate ways.

I believe that Tolkien’s argument can legitimately be extended to a stronger sense, which offers a ‘primary’ status to Fantasy fiction when understood in the context of the modern, mainstream world of public discourse.

More specifically, I believe that Tolkien’s argument about Recovery contains the seeds of a much more powerful explanation of Fantasy being (at its best) more real than (so-called) ‘real life’.

That Fantasy is (in some important respects) more real than real life I will take as an assumption rather than trying to argue; because it is something that all serious Fantasy readers already know to be true from personal experience (and it is, of course, why we continue to read Fantasy). But what is so-far lacking, and what Tolkien may be seen to imply, is an explanation for why and how it is true.

I think an explanation is valuable, and perhaps necessary, if fantasy, as a genre, is to be regarded (whether by ourselves, or more generally) as more than just a pleasing pastime – as something that is of potentially great cultural importance.

Tolkien’s argument about Recovery is that the material of magic, wonder, the fantastic – and the imaginative inhabiting of a different and complex but internally-consistent world – are what allow a refreshment of our appreciation. So we come to appreciate the basics of this (primary) world, now refreshed because we have come across bread, stone, trees in a new and unfamiliar context; and we also appreciate Men anew because we have met elves, dwarves and hobbits.

This is true but I think it underestimates the profundity of what Fantasy can do; especially when it is contrasted with the modern world. The key to the value of Fantasy – here and now – is its contrast with the modern world: Modern ‘reality’ is most deficient in the most important aspects of Life. And this is because modern reality is, mostly and ever-increasingly, a mass media-generated ‘virtual’ kind of reality.

Thus modern ‘Primary’ reality is deficient in terms of lacking destiny, meaning and purpose for Life; in its ignorance, denial, or blind terror of ageing and death; in terms of regarding the Human Condition as a mixture of mechanical determinism and random chaos; in its regarding of the major virtues of Love and Courage as mere products of social-conditioning and evolution; and its understanding that Tolkien’s joyful ‘eucatastrophe’ – the unexpected ‘turn’ of events in a Fairy Story that snatches the Happy Ending from apparently-inevitable defeat – is merely a statistically improbable coincidence…

The above list is not exhaustive – in particular the modern lack of a living and over-arching religion; and indeed lack of any spiritual reality and depth to experience – is another vital deficiency of the Primary world as we experience it in The West. But this list suffices to illustrate why, in our kind of world, Fantasy may be much more than just a pleasure or a preference. And why Fantasy does not simply enable a Recovery of appreciation for the basic essentials of Life – much more importantly, Fantasy may be our only sustained experience in which these real-realities are encountered.

The staleness and superficiality of modern life is a consequence of the way in which modern reality is the product of modern theories – the ‘ideologies’ that arise from science, law, politics, sociology etc. but which we mainly learn from the mass media; and to a lesser extent from a corrupted system of formal education, corporate advertising and official propaganda.

But how is it that Fantasy may be able to supply what the Primary word so horribly lacks? Well, Tolkien all-but said it – the creation of another internally consistent world of wonders provides us with stimuli, with perceptions, that do not automatically get plugged-into the subversive and inverting theories of modernism.

The magic and wonders of Fantasy quite naturally and spontaneously attach themselves to our built-in, universal concepts – the mythic understandings and interpretations of the ‘collective unconscious’, or our shared divine-endowments. And it is these universal concepts which enable us to apprehend and share reality.

So the fictional experiences of Fantasy are not just apparently but literally more real than everyday Life in the modern world. They are real because they are understood by means of the eternal, the universal, the Human, the God-given; whereas the Primary world is perceived, but not understood, merely by the manipulative and dishonest and ever-changing abstract theoretical ideologies of our time and place – ideologies such as the dreary incoherence of Leftist ‘identity’ politics, antiracism, feminism, economic hypotheses, anti-colonialism, and the ever-mutating lies and inversions of sexuality and the sexual revolution.

In sum; Fantasy fiction (Fairy Stories) may currently be the only source of sustained and convincing ‘good metaphysics’ available to many people in The West: our only access to the eternal and universal truths of real reality – as contrasted with the despair-inducing, hope-less, meaningless, purposeless fake-realities of modern life.

Seventy years after Tolkien’s essay was first conceived, we are in a situation that Fairy Stories have become something close to a necessity for those who want to experience Life as it could and should be experienced… even more, a necessity for those who want to live in the real world; rather than the hellish-yet-addictive media-Matrix of alternating distractions, intoxications, lust and fear which is the world of mainstream public discourse.

Consequently our demonic overlords hate, hate, hate real Fantasy (and Tolkien above all) and do their best to ignore or mock it – or else they reinterpret and subvert it in terms of the incoherent tendentiousness of modern ideologies (such as those deadly meditations on racism and sexism in The Lord of the Rings…). Or else they create fake-Fantasy which incorporates exactly those false ideologies to which Fantasy offers us a Real Life alternative. Instead of wonder and magic, we get parables of multiculturalism or gender-bending… just like modern, mainstream, bureaucratic ‘real life’.

I would therefore suggest that we should now drop Tolkien’s idea of Fantasy being a Secondary reality, in favour of a recognition that – at its best – Fantasy is now the Primary world. Fantasy fiction is therefore a way in which we may potentially (albeit partially and intermittently) escape The Matrix imposed upon us to our detriment; and begin living from true, universal and vital concepts: living real lives from the solid ground of universal metaphysics.

*

For more by the erudite and fascinating Professor Charlton, visit his blog: Tolkien’s The Notion Club Papers:

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk

Comments

Interesting Article From Doris V. Sutherland

I’m going to start out by being somewhat controversial (for this community, anyway; in the worldwide publishing community they probably dislike or hate me for voluntarily associating myself with Vox Day, however loosely, but whatever): I no longer really have a dog (heh) in the Sad/Rabid Puppies fight.

If I did I’d be supportive of the Rabids, mostly because I was disgusted by the behavior of the Hugo regulars at the Cons. So, die Hugos. But truthfully I’ve basically stopped caring except to say that I genuinely hope the Dragon Awards continue getting more popular year after year and eventually supplant the Hugos entirely.

This is all a lead-in to say that when I call Miss (Mrs.?) Sutherland’s article interesting, I actually mean it. I found it interesting.

This is probably not going to make me too popular among some of the superversive folks, who seem to have decided Miss Sutherland is an enemy. And maybe she is; I haven’t been following along with the exchanges all along. All I know is that this particular article is one I thought was mostly fairly well-written and reasoned. There was a bias, of course – there always is, it’s human nature – but, I thought, not an angry one.

That’s not to say I agree with everything, of course.

Miss Sutherland says this:

Towards the end, he makes an abrupt change of subject from heroic horror films to heroic horror literature: but does he mention Robert E. Howard, whose sword-and-sorcery protagonists regularly faced Lovecraftian abominations? Does he acknowledge the writers who have shaped the occult detective genre, from H. and E. Heron through to Jim Butcher? Does he namecheck anyone from the legion of authors, from Bram Stoker onwards, who have thrilled readers with tales of cross-wielding vampire hunters?

Nope, nope, and nope. It is Brian Niemeier who has the distinction of being the only writer mentioned in Young’s survey of horror.

This is a very odd complaint to make. The article Miss Sutherland is referring to is this one, by Josh Young. In the article, Josh made one – one – extremely brief name check of a horror novel that he liked and happened to be superversive. There was no “abrupt subject change”. After that extremely brief name check of a guy who happens to be part of the superversive team and wrote a book Josh enjoyed, Josh continued making his overarching point. He even asked people to offer other recommendations for superversive horror.

Which point of hers Miss Sutherland thinks this supports completely escapes me. Superversives like his novel? Well, sure. Since he’s part of team superversive Josh made a point to mention it? Okay. It illustrated Josh’s point? Sure. But why are any of these problematic?

Miss Sutherland’s point that “Souldancer” is not popular among the sorts of horror fans who follow the Bram Stoker awards seems solid enough, though I’m not sure if this really makes her case that “real” horror fans don’t like Brian’s novel. One of the main puppy points is that we’re trying to end the sort of divide between fans and trufans, who REALLY know what’s what and look down on “Not really” horror fans.

If anything her argument seems to be that the Dragon Awards should get more exposure, so that the long time and hardcore horror fans can have more influence. Good point. They should. But so what?

And I think that’s the biggest point here. Miss Sutherland seems to be saying that, though Brian won, it doesn’t really mean his work is the most popular horror novel, since most horror fans haven’t been following the Puppies controversy and the various literary movements that have sprung up in opposition to SJW convergance. Okay. If that’s the case, vote for something else. Seriously. The option is there. Nobody is stopping her. If she wants to get the word out to the horror community that there’s a new horror award, and see if people are interested in voting for it, that’s great! Go for it.

The problem here is that she’s acting like this delegitimizes Brian’s win. But why? Brian won an open vote fair and square. It’s not his fault that hardcore horror fans didn’t vote for it. He still won.

Miss Sutherland makes some decent points that Brian’s novel wasn’t actually the most popular horror novel written that year, sales wise. Fair enough; I don’t think Brian said it was, but maybe I missed something. He did say it was voted most popular by Dragon Award voters, which is quite true. She also makes the fair point that as of her writing, Jemisin’s traditionally published novel was outpublishing Neimeier. Fair enough. But none of that changes the fact that the Dragon Awards 1) Weren’t started by Puppies groups, and 2) Aren’t open only to puppies groups.

The reason Puppy writers won is that more people voted for them.

She also loses a LOT of credibility by writing this:

Nevertheless, the Puppies – or, more specifically, Niemeier and his immediate circle of friends – kept up the charade that the little-known Souldancer was the most popular horror novel published within the Dragons’ twelve-month eligibility period. Niemeier’s blog post received replies comparing me variously to a spoilt child, a high school mean girl and a wiggling worm for venturing to suggest otherwise. My personal favourite comment came from Niemeier himself; apparently channelling his inner Benjanun Sriduangkaew, he felt it appropriate to threaten me with physical violence:

It’s not the easily excitable guys whose anger you should worry about. It’s the patient, reserved guys quietly sipping their drinks and reading Heinlein novels until they decide they’ve had enough of the loudmouths making a scene, take you out in the parking lot, and bust out your teeth.

(The bold is Brian’s quote.)

As should be clear to – bluntly – anyone with half a brain, Brian wasn’t actually threatenting to bust Miss Sutherland’s teeth. He was making the point that the people who have been quietly taking it for a long time are losing their tempers and starting to fight back; that fighting back is taking the form of the many negative comments and insults she is so concerned about.

More than that – that’s not a threat anyway. Brian’s not threatening to punch anybody, merely warning people that if you keep making a scene, people will eventually get tired of it and fight back. Calling it a “threat” is just an obvious lie.

Later on, she quotes an article by the Injustice Gamer, referring to him as one of Brian’s friends. Well, I don’t know if this is true or not, but she takes issue to this comment by him:

Genesson starts his three-pronged rebuttal by suggesting, bizarrely, that people who give positive reviews to Souldancer are in danger of losing their jobs. He seems to expect us to believe that the legions of Souldancer fans have gathered into some kind of Fight Club-like underground subculture that dare not speak its name.

 

Okay. I read the linked article. I am confusedas to what she is referring to. Maybe this?:

It would seem that Souldancer succeeded in beating out more popular horror nominees, such as Christina Henry’s Alice, merely because its author is pro-Puppy.

Yes, we all trust reviews, do we? Maybe some of us realize how active your type is at disemployment.

Non-bold is Miss Sutherland, bold is the injustice gamer.

Miss Sutherland seems to be extrapolating an extraordinary amount from the Injustice Gamer’s quote. He appears to be observing that SJW’s – which, true or not of Miss Sutherland (frankly, it seems to be true; maybe she wouldn’t even deny it), the Injustice Gamer seems to be referring to – actively try and end the employment of people they don’t agree with. This is observably true; this is a pretty casual article, but if I tried I could come up with quite a few examples of this. This, the Injustice Gamer seems to be contending, means that perhaps some people are worried about leaving positive reviews of Brian’s books.

What this has to do with a “Figh Club underground subculture” escapes me.

For the record, I don’t really agree with the Injustice Gamer. We’ve got enough of a base now that people actually seem to enjoy writing reviews of books a larger segment of the population would denounce as somehow bigoted or dangerous. John C. Wright and Vox Day are far more hated than Brian, but each gets hundreds of reviews of their books. Probably the reason Souldancer doesn’t have as many reviews as either of those guys means Brian doesn’t have as big of an audience. But really, who doesn’t know that?

In that sense, Miss Sutherland is correct. Brian IS held up as the leading Puppy horror author, and he is not one of the most popular horror writers in the world right now. But what Brian IS is an author who is now, by writing horror novels, making enough money to pay bills, gaining more and more popularity as time goes on, and representing a subculture of horror fans that haven’t been catered towards for awhile. He won the Dragon Awards because of those fans, that is true; but other people were perfectly free to vote. They didn’t.

In that sense, the Dragon Awards really are a populist award, because you don’t need to pay to enter, there is no real chance of secret ballot pushing since everything is out in the open, and partially, at least, as a result of that works are winning there that wouldn’t have a chance in the Hugo Awards. That’s important!

She later says this:

If you want to argue that Souldancer is a good novel, then go ahead. If you want to argue that it deserves to be popular, and may someday be popular, then go ahead. But you cannot argue, with any kind of intellectual honesty, that it is currently a popular novel amongst fans of the genre.

This is going to probably get me some hate from all sides, but here it is: I both agree and disagree with this sentiment.

I agree in the sense that of all of the horror books out there, “Souldancer” is not – yet – among the most famous or popular, though its fame and popularity is growing.

What I disagree with – what the Puppies have been fighting with all along – is the distinction between various types of fans of the genre. What about the Josh Young fans of the genre? She mentions earlier that Josh didn’t mention Jim Butcher, which is true. What she did NOT mention is that Jim Butcher IS held in extremely high regard by virtually the entirety of the Puppy fandom. She, bizarrely, points out that Josh didn’t mention Robert E. Howard when Howard is 1) Practically a deity in the Puppy world and 2) Is long dead and not representative of the sorts of people who gets votes in awards. Brian won not because he has a bunch of friends – most of us have probably never met Brian in person and know little about him (like me) – but because he catered to a segment of the audience that had been ignored for a long time.

Is this audience small? Apparently not as small as originally thought. And as awareness for Brian’s novel grows, it is quickly becoming apparent that more and more people are happy that a novel like Brian’s exists.

And YES, it is true that the Puppies were knocking a lot of the paranormal romance/urban fantasy varieties of horror. The reason for this isn’t because the fans didn’t count, but because the novels could hardly be classified as horror. So I’ll move on.

Miss Sutherland, in her anger at how polemic some of Brian’s responses and posts directed towards her were, seems to be unable to help herself from lying or misrepresenting Brian’s comments. She says this:

Incidentally, when I first reported on the Dragon Awards at WWAC, I received a reply from one of the non-Puppy nominees where she mentioned her “obscure indie published military sci fi book”. She has the right idea. She sees that there is no shame in being a little-league writer who does what they enjoy, who picks up a few fans along the way, and who may someday go on to bigger things.

Brian Niemeier does not seem to realise this. For him, it is clearly not enough to have a small but loyal readership that has pushed him to the top of an online poll. He has to present himself as being fandom’s favourite horror writer – the “Dragon of Horror”, as he styles himself – even though he knows full well that this is simply not the truth.

Well, let’s look at that post of Brian’s she linked to. Why does he call himself the Dragon of Horror, anyway?

By popular acclamation, authors of Dragon Award-winning books shall now be styled according to the category in which they won.

So what? Now it’s a problem that Brian is proud of the fact that he won the Dragon Award for best horror novel, and can’t mention that when talking about himself? He calls EVERYONE who won a Dragon award the Dragon of [category]. It doesn’t reference anything except for the fact that he won the award – which is true.

Let me end it with this:

Miss Sutherland seems to be mad that Brian is “keeping up the charade” that his novel was the most popular novel during the period of Dragon Award nominations and voting. She goes on to prove – it seems pretty decisively, to me at least – that Brian’s novel is not more popular than Jemisin’s. Fair enough.

But I’m trying to find where Brian said his novel was actually the most popular. I can’t find it. He’s not an idiot.

He DOES say that it is popular. Well, you can quibble with that I guess, but Brian recently paid some of his bills with the royalties from his writing*, so that seems like something of a stretch at best.

You can point out that it’s not up to 50 reviews, as he claimed. That’s true, but really tangential to the main point.

He does try to argue that the Dragon Awards DO represent the fans. I think he is right for the simple reason that anyone can vote for them, and the awards were made public and spread pretty far. I think she DID successfully prove that he misrepresented – probably unintentionally – his sales numbers.

She did not prove that Brian won merely because he is “pro-puppy”. She didn’t really even make the case, except to say “It kind of makes sense”. I would respond that – as the current rise of Castalia, Superversive SF, and others are proving – he won because he filled a niche.

Sure, not as many people voted in the awards as theoretically could have. It’s the first year! That doesn’t mean he didn’t win the vote – the popular vote.

So while Miss Sutherland made some good, intelligent points, I think she missed the forest for the trees – and she would look quite a bit better if she didn’t grossly misrepresent what some of those writers she quoted were saying. So it goes.

*The J List – 

  • Authors who are still getting used to the idea people want to read their crap.
  • Authors who have sold a respectable number of books.
  • Authors who check their book’s Amazon rank every hour.
  • Authors who start to pay most of their bills with their royalties.

EDIT: Brian responds, and points out that he did not say “Souldancer” sold more copies than Jemisin’s book, but rather that it moved more copies. Brian is correct, meaning that Sutherland was actually wrong about that. As far as I can see the rest of my points still stand.

Also, now that I’m already here I shouldn’t forget to mention that I was wrong about it being Miss Sutherland, since it’s actually a man who got disfiguring surgeries. In the interest of accuracy, please disregard the uses of Miss and insert Mr.

Call for Writers

Hi everybody!

I’m spreading this far and wide wherever I know good writers hang out (So not Tor. Zing!).

The frame story of “Tales of the Once and Future King” has been written, which is great! A couple of my writers are helping me go over it. Also great!

Now the not so great: One of my authors dropped out. Plot wise the frame story works fine without it, but it is a disappointing loss. The story was something of a linchpin piece, and it provided a nice bit of foreshadowing for the rest of the main narrative. It was the first story to appear in the anthology.

In short: I’m looking for a short story about Taliesin (King Arthur’s bard for those out of the know). Preferably something a little sombre in mood, but suitable for juveniles (that last bit is important, as the anthology is designed for juveniles – no sex, gratuitous gore, or moral relativism/nihilism).

The “new” Taliesin, a sort of modern day analogue, features heavily in the frame story, and it would be nice to have something featuring his medieval counterpart in some capacity.

Yes, this criteria is a little more specific than the original criteria, because I’m looking to fill a specific hole. I don’t want anyone to feel obligated. But if anyone has a bright idea and is good at dashing out stories quickly, it would be VERY appreciated. Compensation would be equal to that of all the other authors – a cut of the profits.

No official deadline except for “Sooner is better if you can help it”.

Thank you all,
– Anthony Marchetta

EDIT: E-mail is kingarthuranthology@aol.com

How to Design Magic Systems

Souldancer of FIre
When two magic systems love each other, sometimes they hug.

A speculative element is what sets the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror apart from literary fiction. There’s no element more speculative than magic, and it’s become a common term of art to speak of an SFF universe’s “magic system”. By reader request, here is my philosophy of magic in genre fiction–with advice on how to handle magic in your secondary world.

Changing depictions of magic in SFF

Historically, there have been two general approaches to depicting magic in speculative fiction.

  1. The old-school way: Magic is mysterious, ineffable, and unpredictable.
  2. The new-school way: Magic works like a technology that we can systematize.
The first way can be seen in works as late as Tolkien and going back to the Matter of Britain and before. Tales like these make little if any effort to explain where magic comes from–other than perhaps hinting at divine (sacramentality; not magic) or infernal origins. Nor do they define any explicit limits on what magic can and can’t do.
Wizards in these stories are almost never central protagonists. Instead they pop into the narrative at key times to aid and advise the main protagonist before exiting the stage for lengthy intervals. Think of Gandalf and Merlin, and you’ll get the idea.
In terms of story mechanics, the reason why wizards like Gandalf and Merlin don’t protag much  is due to the needs of dramatic tension. A well-made story should elicit suspense in the reader over how conflicts will be resolved. Being on the edge of your seat wondering how the hero will get out of this one is the main ingredient for good pacing.
The difficulty with old-school wizards in lead roles is that there’s no inherent reason why they can’t just magic themselves around obstacles. Sure, you can set limits on a wizard’s magic to set up situations he can’t just cast his way out of, but you’ve got to establish those limitations early on to avoid cheating the reader.
And if you do set limits on what magic can accomplish, guess what? You just systematized it a little.
That’s why Tolkien’s wizards are kind of old and new-school hybrids. Gandalf is a superhuman spirit, but he’s explicitly forbidden from drawing upon his angelic power. Instead he’s got to work with the skills available to his human form. That’s a pretty big limitation!
New-school, aka Sandersonian magic
No, Brandon Sanderson didn’t invent contemporary SFF magic. But he is the most prominent advocate for new-school, systematized magic, so I’m sticking with the “Sandersonian” description.
A better candidate for the father of new-school magic is the venerable Jack Vance (though yes, others did it before him, but again, he’s more popular).
If you’ve ever played D&D, you know how Vanceian magic systems work. Magic spells are 5th dimensional formulae of such complexity that a human mind can only hold a limited number of spells per day, and when the knowledge is actualized, i.e. a spell is cast, it’s totally purged from the caster’s mind. If a Vanceian wizard wants to cast that spell again, he has to memorize it all over again.
The upshot of this system is that it allowed Vance to use his transient amnesiac wizards as protagonists while maintaining dramatic tension. A Vanceian wizard can still use magic to escape from sticky situations–but not if he’s used all of his daily spells or memorized the wrong ones.
Categories of Magic
I like to put the various types of magic systems into a few broad categories.
Actual Magic: the original meaning of the term “magic”, using preternatural powers to achieve natural ends. In its archetypal form, magic means asking demons to do stuff for you with their superhuman powers. Old-school authors usually meant this when they wrote about magic.
Technology: this can be anything from Clarke’s sufficiently advanced tech to methods of turning invisible or making things go boom that are otherwise indistinguishable from actual magic. The key difference is that the users aren’t petitioning demons but manipulating “forces”.
Here;’s the tech vs. magic litmus test: if your characters are channeling and shaping created or emergent energies, they’re dealing with an esoteric technology; not real magic.
The vast majority of “magic systems” these days are actually cosmic force-driven technologies. The Force and Sanderson’s allomancy are examples of technology-style magic systems.
Superpowers: this category is rather nebulous and tends to overlap with technology-based magic systems. I distinguish between the two as follows: technological magic is a skill that can be learned. Superpowers are abilities beyond the natural powers proper to humans which are intrinsic to a character.
Super strength, invulnerability, psychic mind-powers, super intelligence, unaided flight, eye lasers, etc.–all are commonly recognized as superpowers. But like I said, sometimes this category overlaps with technological magic systems, such as Star Wars characters who are born with Force-sensitivity (an innate superpower) that lets them learn Jedi skills (a technology).
Designing your own magic system
To design an original magic system for your book, ask yourself these questions:
  • How do I want the presence of magic to affect my story’s mood and tone?
  • Will there be magic user-protagonists?
  • Is my cosmology purely material, or are there beings that transcend the natural?
  • In my world, is magic the result of a pact with preternatural entities, a skill which harnesses natural forces that anyone can learn, or innate to certain characters?
The answers to these questions, in light of the info we already covered above, should give you a basic starting point for setting up your own magic system–if you want a system at all.
It’s also perfectly fine to have multiple magic systems. The Soul Cycle series features all three categories of magic, because I’m greedy that way.
Priests and Teth disciples deal with gods and demons.
Factors learn how to draw on cosmic prana energy to fashion Workings.
Nexists are born with the power to directly affect the world by will alone.
And because clearly delineating these systems would be too simple, there’s considerable overlap between all of them.
Here’s the takeaway: in magic as in everything else, make it fun for the reader. Dramatic tension is a key ingredient of fun, so if you’re going to put magic users in lead roles, make sure to give them obstacles they can’t just magic their way out of. And if you’re going to limit their magic, make sure you clearly lay out what magic can and can’t do as early as possible.
I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I’m not willing to do myself. See these principles in action in my award-winning Soul Cycle.
thesoulcycle1

And the Soul Cycle tie-in short story “Elegy for the Locust”, available in the new best selling anthology Forbidden Thoughts!

forbiddenthoughts

Do You Dare To Think Forbidden Thoughts?

In a world gone mad with special snowflakes, SJWs, Thought Police, and message fiction, there is one band of authors that stand against it all; refusing to bow before the tidal wave of the narrative.

There are many, readers and authors alike, that are tired of being told what they can and can’t write and read. That they must check all the boxes and post all the trigger warnings. That they must only agree with the Right Think. And that they never EVER even think about having different opinions, lest the mob come down on them with shouts of racist! sexist! Homophobe!

We’re sick of that. We don’t want message fiction, we want GOOD fiction. We want to be entertained, not bashed over the head with propaganda. We want diversity in fiction. But not racism disguised as diversity (like only reading, or not reading, authors because of their sex or skin color.) We want diversity in thought. Especially in science fiction.

That is what our genre is all about! Speculating about society and the future, wondering “what if?” and not shying away from difficult questions. No, we want to explore those questions, challenge those question, and answer them in our own way.  We want stories that are enjoyable and well crafted. We want stories that challenge our ideas and ideologies, and want to be able to write things that challenge even the most accepted trends in our times.  We want stories…. That. Make. Us. Think.

To censor is to murder free thought. And to murder free thought is to destroy our beloved genre.  And without our writers of science fiction speculating and wondering and weaving stories, who will dare dream of the future in a world so obsessed with itself?

This is why Forbidden Thoughts was created. We wanted to write stories that go so far against the grain, that it wakes people to the censorship that is taking hold in the publishing world. We wanted to write stories that challenge the ideals of today. Why? Because we can. And because it’s needed.

So if you are also weary of the same tripe being forced in your entertainment, if you want good stories and challenging outlooks, if you miss what science fiction used to be about, go check out a copy of this anthology. Available on Kindle for the price of a cup of coffee, and coming soon in paperback form. Plus, on January 20th, we will be having a release party live chat over at the SuperversiveSF blog.

Featuring  a foreword by Milo Yiannopoulos, and stories by:

Vox Day,

John C. Wright,

L. Jagi Lamplighter,

Brian Niemeier,

Sarah A. Hoyt,

Nick Cole,

And many more, including yours truly.

WARNING: Not recommended for special snowflakes, for there are no safe spaces here!

-This message brought to you by author A.M. Freeman 

You are not supposed to read this book.
You are not supposed to think about reading this book.
In fact, just plain thinking at all is unacceptable.
You have been warned….

From hilarious to horrifying to dangerously insightful, a selection of stories that must not be told, for they slaughter the sacred cows of our age.

Do you dare read them?

Get your Forbidden Thoughts Here!

ft

First Thoughts on FORBIDDEN THOUGHTS

Others will no doubt post about more coherent thoughts about Superversive Press’s new anthology, FORBIDDEN THOUGHTS, but…here are mine:

Wow…it is so exciting to see something go from a glimmer of an idea to reality! And then see it fly off the shelves (electronically). Here’s how it happened:

About two years ago, a friend of mine wanted to put together a charity anthology for the Charlie Hebdo artists. She said, “Send me the most controversial thing you’ve ever written!”

Well, I don’t normally do controversial per se. But I sat down and prayed a bit to see what would come to me. I had just read Face-to-Face with Jesus by Samaa Habib, one of the best books I’ve ever read, and my mind was full of thoughts about her experience. So, I sat down and wrote the. most. controversial. story I was capable of conceiving.

The story is called “The Test of the Prophet”.

At first, I thought I’d done quite well. My mom immediately worried that it would get my shot, and my atheist Liberal friend called it hateful. But, my Muslim friend loved it and took it home to Pakistan to show her parents. (Life can be strange sometimes!)

By this time, however, I realized that the first anthology wasn’t going to fly. But I REALLY wanted to do something with my story. It was the best thing I had ever written.

But what can you do with a super controversial story in this age of safe spaces and trigger warnings?

Then, in the midst of the Sad Puppy fervor, I caught a glimmer of an answer. Jason Rennie, editor of Sci Phi Journal and the brilliant mind behind SuperverisveSF, suggested in the midst of a flurry of Sad Puppy emails, that the authors involved get together and do an anthology of anti-PC stories, kind of a modern Dangerous Visions–putting into story form all those thoughts that the SJWs don’t want people to think. Basically, doing what SF is supposed to do, posing difficult questions.

Those of us on the email chain decided on the title: Forbidden Thoughts.

I LOVED this idea. Here was my answer to what to do with my controversial story.

So, I kept on Jason about this, and I kept on the other authors. When a few were too busy to be able to fit writing a new short story into their schedule, I convinced them to submit incendiary blog posts.

So we now had a volume with stories by, among others, John, Nick Cole, Brian Niemeier, Josh Young, Brad Torgersen, Sarah Hoyt, and, a particularly delightful surprise for me, our young Marine fan friend, Pierce Oka. Plus, non fiction by Tom Kratman and Larry Correia submitted some of his original Sad Puppy posts–the thing that started it all!

But we still needed a Foreword.

Last winter, during one of our SuperversiveSF chats, we had invited the one reporter who reported truthfully on Sad Puppies, an amusing and irreverent fellow named Milo Yiannopoulos. Just as the chat was scheduled to begin, Milo was informed that he had been deverified on Twitter. This made it so that he was never able to attend our chat. He made it clear that he regretted this and kind of owed us.

So, I asked Jason to see if Milo would let us cash in our favor in the form of him writing the Foreword.

He did!

Milo wrote an excellent Foreword. We put the stories in order and voila! A delightfully thought-provoking volume that reminds me of the daring stories one found the pages of Science Fiction volumes in my youth.

There is one other delightful story that goes with this volume. Last summer, as we often do, we spent a week in Chincoteague. Our teen writer fan (some of you may have seen the victory dance she did when John won Dragon Award), asked if she and her family could join us, so we and the Freeman family spent a wonderful week together.

As I arrived on Chincoteague, I got an email from Jason informing me that he had read a submission by April, and it was really chilling. He thought it would work for Forbidden Thoughts. So, when April walked into the house we were renting for the week, I got to inform her that her first published piece would be in an anthology with John and I!

She was so stunned that she had to call me the next morning and ask me to explain it all again. Lol It was a delightful moment.

Now Forbidden thoughts is live! There will be an official Launch party with a live chat on Inauguration Day.

So, Politically-Correct friends, you might want to avoid this, but the rest of you, come join in the fun!!!

You are not supposed to read this book.
You are not supposed to think about reading this book.
In fact, just plain thinking at all is unacceptable.
You have been warned….

On Amazon!

(Print version coming. Probably by next week.)

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Final Fantasy XV Review

I discovered JRPGs back in the late 90s. I was maybe 16, at a friend’s birthday party– an all night affair conducted with all the gusto only teenage boys can manage– and one of my friends set me up playing Final Fantasy VII. I’d just really begun exploring anime, aided by dial up internet and a job cleaning my church that paid just enough to swing a trip to Suncoast for a VHS cassette  once or twice a month, and all of the quirks and tropes of anime were still new to me. A swordsman fighting alongside a guy with a machine gun hand, casting magic on scifi enemies (“Use lightning on robots,” my friend told me. “But don’t I have… like, points or something to worry about?” I asked.) was crazy in a way I’d never seen before. Final Fantasy captured my attention and drug me into a lifelong love of Japanese roleplaying games.

It was a good time to get attached to the genre; 1997, when FF7 was released, was smack in the middle of the golden age of JRPGs. The SNES was in the recent past, the first Playstation new and exciting, and both consoles, home to most classic JRPGs, were readily available. Graphical advances gave developers a chance to tell their stories in new and exciting ways, but hadn’t become the Serious Business that they are now, prioritizing the game’s looks over most everything else. But sometime in the product cycle of the PS2, JRPGs began to crash in popularity. They’ve been floundering ever since, for one reason or another, and Final Fantasy, once the flagship of JRPGs, was no exception. We got a couple spin offs, a couple MMORPGS, and two lackluster entries buoyed up enough by what was good in them without being good enough to be classic…. and eventually, after an insane development period, along came Final Fantasy XV. Our last, best hope for JRPGs. Continue reading

The Greatest of These

As we approach the end of an eventful year, and the start of a new that promises a number of big things in the near future, I could make the standard wish to you all of success, health and comfort, but I thought I’d post a little reminder of what is most important of all:

The Greatest of These

There is no force upon the earth
That can outweigh the gift of love;
No wealth or situation
That can outbid its worth;

No jewel in all its glory
No title, honour, place
That can outshine the smile that spreads
Across your loved one’s face.

While victories are powerful joys
And justice plays its part
None can match devotion
From an honest human heart.

So dance and laugh and celebrate,
Savour and appreciate,
Stand, salute, commemorate
Console and commiserate
With those you choose to love.

CASTALIA: “It’s a Wonderful Life” is Dark, Brutal, and the most Superversive movie ever made

Okay, I’ve been waiting ALL YEAR to do the “It’s a Wonderful Life” post for Superversive Tuesday. For those living under a rock, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is the endlessly remade and parodied Christmas classic about a man, George Bailey, on the verge of suicide. Before he can complete this ultimate act of despair God (!!!) briefs the witless but kind-hearted angel Clarence on the important details of George’s life, so that he understands the background and context of George’s actions before attempting to save his soul. And that’s where we get our movie.

I’m not going to bother adding spoiler warnings for this film. If you haven’t seen it, do so right now. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is far more than one of the greatest holiday movies ever, it is one of the greatest movies ever made PERIOD. While most famous for its brilliant ending, where Clarence shows George what life in Bedford Falls would be like if he didn’t exist, the entire movie is excellent, featuring underrated performances from Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed and a rich character study on the level of “A Christmas Carol”. It’s as much of a must-watch movie as “Casablanca” – you really can’t call yourself a fan of films without seeing it.

But the film doesn’t need me to sing its praises. What I want to focus on is a curious kind of nostalgia that I’ve noticed follows this film around. People tend to have this idea that “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a happy movie and Bedford Falls almost a platonic ideal of small town life, probably because of its upbeat ending and status as a holiday film (holiday films being rightly notorious for trite sentimentality).

A rewatch dispels such a silly notion very quickly. That is, if anything, the opposite of the truth. Bedford Falls is a coin flip – one life – away from being a terrible, terrible place. Drunken drug store owners beat disabled children. A cruel business tycoon (Mr. Potter, played to perfection by Lionel Barrymore) has near-dictatorial control over half of the town. A man punches George in the mouth moments before the famous suicide scene. There is, of course, much to love about Bedford Falls, but it is not even close to being the ideal of small town life.

Continue reading

Richard Adams, author of “Watership Down”, dead at 96

[Hazel] raised his head and said, “Do you want to talk to me?”

“Yes, that’s what I’ve come for,” replied the other. “You know me, don’t you?”

“Yes, of course,” said Hazel, hoping he would be able to remember his name in a moment. Then he saw that in the darkness of the burrow the stranger’s ears were shining with a faint silver light. “Yes, my lord,” he said. “Yes, I know you.”

“You’ve been feeling tired” said the stranger, “but I can do something about that. I’ve come to ask whether you’d care to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you and you’ll enjoy it. If you’re ready, we might go along now.”

They went out past the young sentry, who paid the visitor no attention. The sun was shining and in spite of the cold there were a few bucks and does at silflay, keeping out of the wind as they nibbled the shoots of spring grass. It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.

“You needn’t worry about them,” said his companion. They’ll be all right—and thousands like them. If you’ll come along, I’ll show you what I mean.”

He reached the top Of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom.

– Richard Adams, Watership Down

1920 – 2016