Friday, April 27, 2018

The Second Pulp Age Dawns

George Martin will not release the book he's been promising for yet another year. At this rate, Godot will arrive first.

While some will repeat the line about Martin not being your bitch, there is a flipside to this: if you don't deliver, the audience isn't required to stick around.

Authors who are not in Martin's position financially don't have the luxury of taking forever to deliver a promised book to a loyal audience, especially now. You are unwise to emulate this behavior; you've got to keep them happy somehow, and as more writers pick up what Nick Cole and Jason Anspach put down that habit will become increasing unacceptable. The audience will desert the slow for the swift.

Pulp Speed, as my fellow #PulpRev folks know it, won't be optional for much longer. That's going to be a shock to a lot of writers, who never expected the Return of the Pulp Age, and its incessant demand for productivity. We're all going to have to be Walter B. Gibson (or as close as we can get) soon enough if we want to do this more than just as a hobby that more-or-less pays for itself.

The difference is that we're not all hustling for magazine publication now, but rather for maximizing the Amazon algorithm such that every book hits big and hard. We're hustling to make Amazon (and its inevitable successors) work for our benefit by ensuring we can ID our audience and satisfy them with exactly what fires them up in entertainment delivered early, often, and repeatedly.

And the SJWs in TradPub will not keep up. All we need to do is answer the cry for order, and the future is ours.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Crisis at Garmil's Gate - 17

Aboard the Opulent Dragon, Lord Fang looked out from inside the brig at the proxy holding him for his master.

"How long until the Duke arrives?" Fang said.

"Not soon enough." Ramsey said, looking back, "You would be wise to start confessing now."

"Not that it matters." Fang said, head low, "If Dashing Jack sold me out, then he's got to be close to his objective, so it's not likely that you or the Duke could do anything about it now."

Ramsey quietly pressed a key on his gauntlet. "Go on."

"The prison, Paladin. You know it's there."

"It's said to be a colony for the worst sorts, yet for whatever reason cannot be executed."

"True, from a certain point of view. Yet all of the traffic to and from the surface consists of Mining Guild vessels moving ore up and supplies down, or nobles visiting retreats with their entourages. When was the last time you saw anything other than scheduled warden changeovers go to or from that prison?"

In his earpiece Ramsey heard Creton: "I'm on it."

"Christendom is rather large, my lord." Ramsey said, "I do not keep track of every last little installation in the galaxy."

"Christendom didn't build that prison, Lord Roland." Fang said, "It was found here, along with that gate, with Garmil's party. Our forefathers, with the Church, seized it. Back then it wasn't a prison as we know such, but rather a tomb with measures meant to keep its interred host confined there."

"They expanded it into a prison once that condition became clear?"

"Indeed." Fang said, "As for who or what is kept in that place, I had no idea who it was until Dashing Jack approached me with this present plan."

"He told you?"

Fang shook his head. "I felt a shiver of suspicion, as his claim of just wanting to usurp the mining operation for Red Eyes was not reason enough for all of the secrecy and compartmentalization the plan required. It's one thing to keep some stashes nearby to swiftly resupply, or store booty from a raid that you can't take to your home port, but Jack hollowed out an asteroid large enough to wholly dock his flagship within. That's not an idle task."

Ramsey nodded as Creton spoke into his ear from elsewhere: "According to Church archives, only one prisoner is there."

"One of Red Eyes' henchmen sets up a significant base capable of repair and resupply of at least one battleship? Yes, that is a big task, and it means he's been preparing for this for far longer than you my lord. You've been had, taken in by your own corrupt heart."

Now Sibley spoke into Ramsey's ear: "You see Fang's play now, don't you? He'll attempt to run as soon as your back's turned."

"And now you sing a song of deceit and treachery far fouler than your own, seeking a mercy you don't deserve in return for telling tales to pass blame to your co-conspirators."

"His Grace the Duke may not share your conclusion." Fang said, "He has a pragmatic character."

"Indeed." Ramsey said, "He may not, but neither would I expect the pragmatic response to be mercy for someone confessed to treason and worse."

Ramsey read Fang, seeing his eyes glance up to the ceiling for a fraction of a second, and then noticed Fang sitting such that he could easily spring up into action. "Sibley was right as usual." Ramsey thought, "He wants to run, but not like a thief caught with a purse- but as an assassin caught in the attempt."

The speakers for the public address system sounded. "Attention! The Tiger of Maribu has arrived."

"My lord shall receive justice presently." Ramsey said as he turned to leave the brig. As he made his way to meet Duke Far, he smiled and spoke to his subordinates on the Baden-Powell: "I have a plan to turn Fang's escape plan back on him, and I think Duke Far will go along with it."

Friday, April 20, 2018

When The Unexpected Happens

As I write this post, I'm working on "The Taking of Gabriella Robin". Recently I hit upon something that writers encounter sooner or later in their work: the Unexpected Event. You've likely heard of these things before, where some writer talks about how they got into a fix or know that the story's got an issue and suddenly a character steps up and says or does something that resolves the issue so the narrative continues.

That happened to me, again. In putting this story together, I recalled that I need to address a problem with my master villain; it does not help to make him seem unconvincingly potent, as a sort of villainous Gary Stu, for the same reason that heroic Stus and Sues routinely wreck stories where they are present. So when I hit on a snag at the conclusion of Act One, the master villain stepped out and took a big risk to cut through that snag like the proverbial Gordian Knot.

I can only get this specific without spoiling things: he intervenes, in a deniable fashion, to stop the hero from rescuing the damsel at a critical moment at Act One's climax. The damsel is the only one who clearly witnesses the master villain's treachery, as she is in the only position to see the deed done at all, after which she's stolen away and cannot gainsay the villain's statement on the matter.

This has had cascading consequences. Now the master villain needs to cover up his actions, which will drive him to escalate his plans and pressure his henchmen accordingly, and it opens up an option I hadn't considered previously for advancing the plot to that satisfying conclusion I know the reader wants. As Bob Ross would say, it's a happy accident, and I am grateful for it. I'm liking how this unexpected change is turning out, and I think you will too when I'm done. No Pulp Speedster am I, yet, but it will be done.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Crisis at Garmil's Gate - 16

Redalen's Revenge descended down into the clouds of Garmil's Gate, swooping with the terrible majesty of a bird of prey, emerging out of the clouds over a vast ocean before it leveled out about a mile above the surface.

"Captain, we're approaching the island prison." the helmsman said.

"Battle stations. All pilots to their mechs." Dashing Jack said, seated in his chair, "We're about to come under fire."

As the pirate pilots scrambled from the ready room to their cockpits, above on the bridge the crew strapped into their seats as the lighting changed over to battle mode. A warning rang out, and Gori looked over at the station reporting it.

"Stand-off missiles, Captain."

"Time to target."

"Two minutes."

"Launch countermeasures. Back-track trajectory, then launch counter-battery barrage."

Redalen's Revenge launched a score of signal-spoofing soft targets to all sides, confusing incoming missiles and driving them off the ship. One by one they reached a dummy target and detonated their proximity-fused warheads, lighting up a dim win-dark sea at twilight with brilliant fireballs. Without a word thereafter, the Revenge's own missiles launched its own stand-off barrage targeting the prison's stand-off batteries.

"Squadron: launch when ready and assume escort position." Jack said. The counter-battery barrage failed to reach their targets, shot down one by one by the prison's own anti-air defenses. Gori watched the barrage's failure, hit a few buttons, and brought it up on the main screen.

"We have enough to initiate the operation." Gori said.

"They will scramble their garrison units now." Jack said, "Continue counter-battery launches until we're within range with the guns, then pummel those batteries to scrap."

"Aye-aye, Captain." Gori said, and on the main screen a window popped up showing the new squadron leader- the man Ramsey allowed to escape.

"We're on station and awaiting orders, Captain."

"Engage the garrison. Clear them out first, and then assist in clearing a hole for the ship to punch through."

"Will you come out to play with us, Captain?"

"Not this time." Jack said, "So don't save anything for me."

"Acknowledged. Over and out." the leader said, and the window winked out. Gori walked over to Jack and bent towards his master's ear.

"A test?"

"At best."

Gori nodded. "One way or another, we'll make use of the Paladin's mercy."

Jack smiled. "Exactly. He acquits himself and proves his worth, does too well and exposes himself, or doesn't do well enough and disposes of himself- all of which I accept as useful outcomes."

The Revenge's squadron surged forth to intercept the incoming garrison units. Missiles flew back-and-forth around them, as big or bigger than their mecha, exploding in varying degrees of proximity. Then the two squadrons got into firing range and their formations broke up quickly into a furball of dogfighting.

On the bridge, the main screen showed the ship's guns to be within range. Jack smiled: "Fire!"

The turrets forward the bridge turned in unison towards the prison. They glowed their coruscating crimson color and then exploded outward into lethal lances of light and fire. Those brilliant beams blew through the twilight skies and beat upon their targets, first hitting as balled fists of angry angels, then melting holes through their thick armor carapace, before they erupted in exploding fireballs spewing death and dismemberment to all within sight.

"Again!" Jack yelled, and a second volley followed the first to the same success.

Meanwhile, Jack's squadron of subordinates successfully suppressed the garrison squadron. Those now fleeing fell to a combination of pursuing fire and getting caught in the explosions of the stand-off batteries, completing the assumption of air supremacy for Dashing Jack. The remaining reavers fell upon the anti-air batteries, losing a few over-zealous pirate pilots in the process, but those remaining guided their mothership in through the hole in the defenses now present.

"Target the main gate. Squadron retreat and await further orders." Jack said, and his men dutifully flew off as the Revenge now took aim at the prison's massive main gate.

"Batter that door down." Jack said, "Don't let the garrison rally."

The ship's main guns fired and fire and fired, hammering the gate without mercy for minutes, until it gave and caved.

"Go in and clear out the docks." Jack said, and his squadron did as commanded. The slaughter therein was swift and short, over well before the Revenge came to rest in the prison's docking bay. As the ship came to rest, and Jack made his way to the outside, his reavers rummaged through the facilities for plunder and other treasures- but found little.

"We've got control, Captain." Gori said as the two walked out to the dock, "And Gatewatch doesn't seem the wiser."

"That's because the garrison wasn't meant to keep people like us out. It was meant to keep its prisoner in."

The two accepted a boost from a waiting mech, which lifted them directly to the control room. As they climbed through the shattered window, Jack saw the mainframe terminal and accessed it. Moments later, he smiled.

"Captain, I take it you found what you came for."

"Indeed, Gori. Red Eyes will be pleased." Jack said, and he looked at a camera feed of the sole prisoner cell: a man of improbable beauty, with a label--a name, presumably--in an ancient tongue.

"Who is that?"

"That is what Red Eyes wants from this wretched backwater, Gori. Behold, the one who began all of this long ago: Azazel."

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Beginning is a Very Delicate Time: How "Legend of the Galactic Heroes" Sets Its Stage

Recently a new adaptation of the original Legend of the Galactic Heroes novel series began airing in Japan. I've posted about this on my main blog, but here I'm going to talk about how the novels, the new series, and the masterpiece that is the previous OVA series all started the narrative.

You're going to need to spend a little time watching the episodes in question to follow along. In addition, the movie that is a remake of the OVA's first two episodes is superior to both the OVA and the new series in how all of this gets handled. So here's a few links:

I will comment here that the novel does follow the brisk pace and presentation of the new series over the OVA, exactly so, and as such I will write hereafter with the understanding that the novel and the two episodes to date (later ones not included) are one and the same for my purposes here.

All that done, let's get to it.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes is one of the best Science Fiction works that Japan has ever produced. It is clearly the best Space Opera that Japan has ever produced. Yes, even better than its three biggest Space Opera franchises: Space Battleship Yamato, Mobile Suit Gundam, and Macross. Yes, even bigger than the rest of the Leijiverse. It's that big and important a work.

But if you read the novels, or watch the new series, you don't get a sense of just how big the stakes are. The reason is that they don't properly set up the true scope and scale of the narrative, while the well-regarded OVA series from late-'80s to mid-'90s and its many side-stories do just that.

Your responsibilities as the writer include the management of the audience's expectations. If you are going to tell a story about the fate of nations, domains, and empires then you have to set that expectation right away. This has to be done right away, within the first few minutes in film or television and within the first chapter for prose, poetry, and comics- and the sooner the better. You can be--and should be--efficient in executing this task, but never lose sight of the importance of presentation as your chief objective.

The first two episodes in both series covers the Battle of Astarte, which is also the first part of the novel. In the OVA series, which takes the time by slowing the pace to establish several things so the proper impact gets delivered to the audience (e.g. Jean-Robert Lapp and his tragic, wasteful death) which serves to establish the character of the three domains as institutions, their people as nations, and the expectation that none of these domains are simple narrative character. In addition to establishing our protagonist (Reinhard) and deuteragonist (Yang), the OVA also establishes the stakes in a manner that the new series/novel does not- something its slower pace and willingness to move material around to better exploit the OVA medium made possible.

The problem with the new series (and the novels) is that they don't take the time to properly establish the narrative and what is at stake here. You get Episode 1 to establish Reinhard and his immediate supporting cast, then Episode 2 wastes time establishing Yang and his, before resolving the battle and finishing the task of setting up their rivalry henceforth. The pacing is wrong, and because of that error (and the misplacement of narratively-relevant material), you get the expectation of two young heroes rising to power as the prelude to a war campaign where they alone are shot-callers- and that expectation gets crushed soon after this.

This is not the case with the OVA. While some criticize it for pulling material from other than the novel it adapts at points, those additions and changes improve the narrative's presentation. How? By properly setting the audience's expectations via establishing what is at stake for both leads- something missing in the new series. The result? The new series comes across as hollow and soulless compared to the OVA, and few things symbolize this like the Opening Theme for the new series: Pretty, Yet Vapid.

Mark this well, my colleagues. This is entirely preventable, and I hope that your editor catches this if you go astray.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Crisis at Garmil's Gate - 15

"Take us out."

With those words, Dashing Jack left his asteroid hideout. He stood on the bridge of his flagship, Redalen's Revenge, with Gori beside him.

"By now Duke Far should have received and confirmed the information provided." Gori said, "Our spies report that Lord Fang is under arrest, and that our Paladin friend is the one holding him at sword-point."

"Excellent." Jack said, "Lord Fang's pride will not allow him to submit, so his reason will surely fail him in his desperate rush to soothe his pride, and when that happens whatever measures he's put in place to guarantee his survival shall surely fail him- but not before causing a mess so massive that it can't be ignored."

"Or resolved quickly." Gori said, and he laughed.

"Correct." Jack said, "But we cannot waste the time we just bought by betraying him. We need to get to the tomb, recover our prize, and escape with him before the Paladin clears the mess we've thrown at him."

"How long do you think we have?" Gori said, "We can't have more than a day, at most."

The Revenge cleared the asteroid and turned towards Garmil's Gate.

"Captain," a crewman said, "we're clear and ready to launch. Orders, sir?"

"Spin up the drive. Helm, take us as close to the tomb as we can get. Once we arrive, rig for silent running."

"A micro-jump?" Gori said."

"Not to worry. I had the calculations done while we were here awaiting the rest of the plan to unfold." Jack said, "With our enemies occupied, so long as we avoid attracting attention we can steal in and out without them being the wiser. If that isn't sufficient, then I've prepared one more trump card. After reading that file, it will prove more useful than I expected."

"The noblewomen on retreat?"

"Indeed." Jack said, "If it becomes necessary, we seize them and use them as shields to cover our retreat. Once we're away, we can ransom them to defray our costs, or trade them for other favors we may need later. For all we know, Red Eyes might be looking for a wife."

The entire bridge erupted in laughter.

"Captain, the jump drive is ready." a crewman said, and Jack smiled.


In a flash, Redalen's Revenge winked out from before the asteroid base. It passed briefly through a spiraling blue-white tunnel, and then emerged at Garmil's Gate- on the far side from Gatewatch, and just outside its gravity well. Dashing Jack stood still a moment to await word of anything going wrong.

"All stations report no issues, Captain." Gori said.

"To the tomb." Jack said, "Let us finish what our predecessors began."

Friday, April 6, 2018

On Inspiration and How To Use It

Over at the Retreat, I wrote a post in praise of Sabaton's cover of Manowar's "Kingdom Come". I said I would follow up here.

Here we are.

For my part, listening to that song gave me the idea to structure the series I have in my head. The serial here, and Taking, are early episodes to set up the big action and give the master villain his establishment via the deeds of subordinates. In short, a big plot needs big build-up, and that's best done by making it the subplot in a series of adventures meant to tie events together.

Well, one thing leads to another.

Which leads to something more concrete. While Crisis is me shaking things down prior to the big production, so I'm not that worried about making mistakes, Taking is where I'm going in with a clear plan. Thanks to that Sabaton cover, I've gotten that plan, and it began coming together when I listened to the soundtrack to one of my favorite movies.

Because when you hear that you feel goddamn invincible, fires of passion fueling your fighting spirit and driving you to go rescue the damsel and put right what's gone wrong. For the sort of story Taking is about, you need to find whatever means you can garner to bring that mood into your brain when writing the keen points so that you use the right words in the right way to get the desired effect across to the reader. That is the lawful function of inspiration It's not called a "Muse" for nothing.

Speaking of which, this entire soundtrack is also key for me to hit the right tone:

The point to inspiration is not just to have breakthrough moments on dealing with the work of narrative construction, but also to give you a direction to follow when it's time to put in the perspiration required to actually get the job done. That direction then tells you what to prepare to do, and how to go about doing it; it fills in the context between "Idea!" and "Complete Manuscript!" that so many writers require- and the Usual Suspects routinely failed to deliver, playing their part in the creation of the Pink Slime Problem killing Tradpub.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Crisis at Garmil's Gate - 14

Aboard the Opulant Dragon, Lord Fang lay fast asleep in his luxurious quarters alongside one of his personal attendants--his euphemism of choice--unaware of the disaster unfolding in the space below, when an alert sounded loud enough to force the sleeping lord back to waking life. This angered Lord Fang, who rubbed the sleep from his eyes and slapped the comlink.

"Bridge, there had better be an enemy assault in progress."

"My lord," the watch officer said, "you need to answer a message from Duke Far. Now."

Lord Fang waived the lights on, dim, and sat at his office char. "Replay message."

A stern-faced, unhappy Duke Far appeared on the screen. "Fang, I've come into possession of documents indicating that you've been in league with the Red Eyes Pirates. Specifically, that you've supplied them with mecha from our own stores. That you've used the fake attacks to kill rivals, eliminate leaks, and weaken our defenses by assassinating key officials in our network. In short, you've got a lot of accusations to answer for, and not a lot of time before I arrive to board your ship and take you into custody. Don't even think of running; I've asked for the Paladin on station to apprehend you in my name, and His Holiness the Pope has agreed."

Lord Fang felt a primordial fear race up his spine.

"If you wish to take full responsibility, then I await hearing of your successful apology--along with your corpse lying in state--when I arrive. Far over and out."

Another image broke in, this one live: "This is Lord Roland of the Solar Guard, acting on behalf of Duke Far. Lord Fang, you are commanded to heave to and be boarded. I place you under arrest under the charges of high treason, apostasy, and piracy."

"Orders, my lord?" the watch officer said.

"Hold position, bridge. I'm on my way." Lord Fang said as he threw on a shirt and tucked his beam sword into his waistband. He walked briskly from his quarters to the bridge, racing through his mind to figure out how this happened, but a review of his own records showed that he covered his tracks properly- it wasn't his fault. He dismissed Sir Kei and Sir Pei out of hand; they lacked access as well as ambition, so they weren't responsible either. Master Iser died, so he could have released it as a deadman's switch measure, but Fang felt that unlikely.

"I'm get that double-talker for this." Fang thought as he rode the lift to the bridge, "Damn you, Dashing Jack."

Fang arrived on the bridge. Everyone saluted him, as usual, and Fang took the captain's chair. "Status."

"Gatewatch refuses to mobilize, and Lord Roland's ship has maneuvered itself right next to our primary thrusters. Her guns can't miss at that range."

"And that means we are dead in space." Fang said, "Clever man, that Paladin."

"Orders, my lord?"

Fang quickly ran the numbers. "Let the Paladin aboard." he said, "We can handle one man."