The Time To Join The Game Is Now

I hope that you’re now a regular reader here. Furthermore, I hope that you’ve added this blog to some form of reader or feed aggregator. Every day you’re going to see more and more opportunities for getting involved, and I don’t just mean Call For Submission posts.

Take a look at what’s been posted over the last few weeks. New books getting published? That’s an opportunity because you reading that book and then writing a review is a big deal, both for you and for the author. You’d be wise to post it to your own blog, and then to the book page at Amazon; the former grows your audience, and the latter helps the author by spreading word of mouth. Win-win. The same applies to new magazines and anthologies.

Are there some relevant events–a signing, a convention, a meetup–coming up in your area? Spread the word; hype that up, assuming that it’s not thoroughly subverted to the enemy’s cause. All that takes is a little time to post to your blog and then spread the links to all the socials; you can do that over a lunch break.

Can you draw? Are you at all serious about getting good enough for people to cut you checks? There’s always room for more of you, as even the most dedicated of the professionals can’t do it all, and this is the time to get in and make yourself into the next Frazetta, Bradstreet, Takahashi, or Toriyama. Especially if you study the great art of the past and heed the wisdom within its frames.

I’m going somewhere with this. Do you remember the Parable of the Spoons?

A man is near death. As he leaves his body, an angel appears and puts him before two doors. The angel opens both doors, and in each is revealed a feasting hall full of people at table wielding spoons longer than their arms. At first they seem identical, but soon the differences are apparent: in one, they are crazed with hunger as they attempt ceaselessly to shorten the spoons so they may feed themselves only for the shafts to stretch anew; in the other, they take turns feeding their fellows using the reach provided, and all are satisfied and merry. The angel turns to the man and says “Now you see what Hell and Heaven are like.” The man survives, and thereafter dedicates his life to improving his people.

That’s what we’ve got to do now. You’ll be fed in turn by feeding others now. Get in the game. Now is the time.

The Beginnings of Pulp

And a reminder that modern attitudes towards the pulps are certainly not new. This one is for the Castalia crowd.

Here is the estimable Mr. Tom Simon, in part 4 of his essay series “The Exotic and the Familiar”:

Up to the middle of the nineteenth century, while printing was relatively cheap, paper was an expensive commodity. It was made mostly from waste linen, and consequently, the quantity of paper manufactured could never exceed the quantity of linen that was thrown away. (You could make paper directly from flax fibres; but it was much cheaper to let the linen industry use the flax first, and buy up the worn-out linen afterwards.) Men and women made a decent, if undignified, living as rag-pickers – the recyclers of their time. Ragpickers scavenged all kinds of useful stuff from the rubbish-heaps of the world, but their chief stock in trade was linen rags for the paper trade: hence the name of their profession. So long as the supply of paper was limited in this way, books remained a luxury; literacy for the masses, a pipe-dream.

In the 1840s, separately but almost simultaneously, two men invented machines for turning wood into a fibrous pulp. One was a German, F. G. Keller; the other a Canadian, Charles Fenerty. This wood pulp, it turned out, could be used to make paper almost as good as linen-rag paper, and much cheaper. For a few years before this, a few small firms in London had been turning out cheap pamphlets containing lurid adventure stories for a mostly working-class audience. The new pulp paper allowed the pamphlets to be printed by the millions, and ‘pulp fiction’ was born. When The String of Pearls appeared, the usual thing was to release a novel in weekly instalments, and charge (in England) a penny for each issue. The stories were not chosen for highfalutin literary quality; they were written to please a large and not very sophisticated audience.

The English upper classes ignored the new medium. The middle classes, who feared anything that might diminish their advantages over the working class, hated it and sneered at it, dismissing all stories so told as ‘dreadful’. This was a calumny. As Theodore Sturgeon would certainly have said, nine-tenths of the penny serials were crap; but then, nine-tenths of the expensive books favoured by the middle classes were crap. The real sin of the penny dreadfuls was not that they were bad stories, but that they brought printed books within the reach of the Lower Orders.

Included in the article is a link to the also excellent G.K. Chesterton essay “A Defence of Penny Dreadfuls”.

Read the whole thing after the link! It is truly an excellent essay, as is the norm with Mr. Simon.

The Catholic Geek: On Anthologies 06/18

The Catholic Geek: On Anthologies 06/18 by We Built That Network | Books Podcasts:

Jennifer Brozek will call in to talk with us about editing a shared world anthology, Jeff Sturgeon’s Last Cities of Earth Jennifer Brozek is a Hugo Award finalist and a multiple Bram Stoker Award finalist. Winner of the Australian Shadows Award for best edited publication, Jennifer has edited fifteen anthologies with more on the way, including the acclaimed Chicks Dig Gaming and Shattered Shields anthologies. Author of Apocalypse Girl Dreaming, Industry Talk, the Last Days of Salton Academy, and the acclaimed Melissa Allen series, she has more than seventy published short stories, and is the Creative Director of Apocalypse Ink Productions.

Lies told about small presses

There is an article up on A Writer’s Path by Steven Capps called Lies told by small presses and as a person running a small press I’d like to offer some thoughts about the authors diatribe.
Here at Superversive Press we endeavour to provide value to our writers and we take a percentage of that to cover our cost and time. There seems to be this strange idea that there is such a thing as a free lunch. I assume the author doesn’t write or read Science Fiction or else I assume he would be familiar with the acronym TANSTAAFL.
Onto the so called “lies” that small presses tell authors. The first seems the most egregious and brimming with weird misinformation.

Lie #1 New authors don’t get advances

Here at Superversive Press we don’t pay advances to our authors. It would be nice but we are a small decentralized operation and we don’t have the funds upfront to pay a large advance to an authors. I make no secret of this. The bit I don’t understand though is, who the hell is paying a new author an advance? An advance is money I pay you upfront for work not yet written for you to live on against future earnings. If you are a new author trying to get a first book published are you submitting half finished manuscripts to presses expecting them to pay you to finish it? Maybe that goes on, I’ve never encountered that. If the work is finished why am I paying you an advance when all the work left to do is on my end?
I suppose I could pay you an initial payment upfront to secure your work but if you are a new author who hasn’t sold any books before with no data on how well your book would sell, why would you expect me to take that sort of a risk on you? That is a serious question.
Additionally it fails to appreciate something important about publishing. If Superversive Press takes on your book and agrees to publish it, then goes on to provide editing services, cover art services, promotional help etc, then we are giving you an advance by bearing that cost ourselves. Go and try and self publish a book, editing and covers aren’t free. The press is essentially giving you an entirely unsecured loan of that money to get your book published and charging you 0% interest on that money. Go to a bank and see if they are willing to float you a few thousand dollars to get your book published with an unsecured loan. You can expect an interest rate in the 15% – 20% range on a loan like that. If your book sells 4 copies the press will have to eat that loss, none of the contracts I have ever seen offer a provision for the press to recoup that investment if the book does terribly.
If you self publish you bear all that cost and risk yourself and you get to reap all the reward, if you go with a small press then you get to reap less of the reward because the press will take a percentage too to repay them for the risk and faith they showed in you. Superversive Press contracts normally pay the authors a good chunk of the money earned, certainly an order of magnitude more than the 6% the Big 5 typically pay authors.
You can decide to self publish yourself if you want but you bear all the risk and costs yourself as well. There are no right or wrong answers to the question just different trade offs made for different approaches.

Lie #2: Publishers don’t help with marketing

This is sort of a half truth. He is right, a small press will not have the muscle with book retailers that one of the Big 5 does. Which lunatic thinks they do? Will you get books prominently displayed in book stores if you go with any small press? Probably not, they lack the resources and the clout to get that. That being said, self publishing will never get you that, and publishing with a Big 5 publisher wont either unless you are bringing them in a lot of money.
If you are a superstar author then I’m sure you can get superstar author treatment by people with deep pockets. But new authors aren’t superstars yet and expecting to be treated like one is madness.
The author also seems to forget that the big publishers who give you all this promotion and have all this clout also take a really enormous share of your earnings. 94% remember! I don’t know the authors background but I have played in bands and worked in the tech industry for start ups. People with money who come along and fund your band/invention/book want a return on their investment and the more they do for you upfront the bigger slice of the pie they will want to do it.
As with all things in life, everything is a trade off and their ain’t no free lunches.

Lie #3: Authors need to pay for editing

This is one of those sections that has some half truths in it. I agree if the press said “You pay for the editing yourself we don’t do that” then that would be a red flag. That being said, if an author wanted a particular editor and turned around and demanded we pay for that editor then I would probably pass on the book. Whoever pays for the editor gets control over who does the editing.
That being said, the author always ends up paying for the editor. The author pays for everything involved in one way or another by either paying for it themselves or giving over a percentage of the work to the publisher to have them do that job instead. The author is still ultimately paying one way or the other, either covering a cost up front and reaping a greater return or deferring an upfront cost in exchange for smaller future earnings. There are no free lunches no matter how much people seems to want there to be a free lunch.

Final Thoughts

In the final thoughts section it is claimed that without an advance an author is always better off self publishing. If by “no advance” it means an author bears all the costs for themselves upfront and handles all of the distribution and money themselves, then yeah, it makes perfect sense to self publish instead. Heck, that is self publishing. You take on all the costs you get all the rewards. If you go with a publisher or any size, they take on some of the risk and get some of the reward as well.
If you want to self publish it basically means becoming a small publisher yourself with all the paperwork and hassle that goes along with that. A publisher takes some or all of that burden away an leaves you free to write. I’d encourage all authors to make whatever trade off works best for them. There are no wrong choices here just different ones.
If you are interested in publishing with Superversive Press then drop us a line, [email protected]
If you would like to support some small press authors check out these books from Superversive Press

A Romantic Distinction

I propose a distinction between two varieties of romance in fiction: Girly romances and manly romances.

A girly romance is a romance where the man, or woman, is willing to give up everything in order to be with the one they love.

A manly romance is a romance where the man, or woman, is forced to give up, or risk, their happiness with the one they love in order to achieve a greater good.

Girly romances don’t necessarily have to be bad (See: “Wall-E”), and manly romances don’t necessarily have to be good (I can’t think of any bad examples off the top of my head, but I’m not a fan of the romance genre generally). But I think the distinction is at least an interesting one.

To see the quintessential examples of both, “Titanic” is THE girly romance, and “Casablanca” is THE manly romance. They’re both considered classics (though I can’t stand “Titanic”, but hey, it’s popular), and both of them fit the categories perfectly: Rick gives up Ilsa in order to aid the war effort, even though it hurts them both, and in “Titanic” Jack is willing to give up even his life in order to save Rose, and Rose apparently happy to give up her posh upper class status in order to be with Jack.

If “Casablanca” were a girly romance, Rick would have run off with Ilsa and Lazlo would have been sad but happy that Ilsa was happy, and they would flee Casablanca together.

If “Titanic” were a manly romance, Jack would be forced to leave Rose behind in order to – let’s say – find and release lifeboats to save the other passengers, and Rose would recognize that she had responsibilities to her family and society that made a relationship with Jack irresponsible and reckless anyway. Both would be sad but would part ways in the knowledge that they were doing the difficult but moral thing. Interestingly, in this version of “Titanic” it actually might make more sense for Jack to live.

Just food for thought.

Standard Right Wing Talking Points and Casual Sexism

This might be the new tagline for John C. Wright’s Hugo nominates story “An Unimgainable Light”. From Nerds of a Feather:

An Unimaginable Light: Imagine a thought experiment dealing with the nature of being human by  playing with the nature of robots and mix in some casual sexism and some standard right wing talking points. Then, imagine the story is even more didactic and poorly written than it sounds and you have the beginning of what John C. Wright’s awful “An Unimaginable Light” is. The reality is so much worse. Rich Horton notes that much of the context for the story is tied to Wright’s collection God, Robot and perhaps it would read very differently in that context, but coming into the story as a discrete piece of fiction I can only say that it is bad. It is not worthy of being considered for the Hugo Award.

Seriously, when will people understand that the story is literally an argument *against* casual objectification of women? It’s not even subtle. The person who “casually objectifies” women is literally nicknamed “Skinner”. Because he flays people. He’s not the guy we’re supposed to be rooting for.

As for “Standard right wing talking points”…here are the other Hugo stories. This is taken from books.zennaro.net. All emphasis mine:

A Fist of Permutations in the Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong
Hannah and Melanie are two sisters, with the ability to bend time and reality. Unfortunately there are limits of what they can achieve, and when one succumbs to self hate, suicide, family transphobia, and hate crime, the other traps herself in a never ending loop of alternative realities, fueled by her sense of guilt, desperately trying to change an unchangeable past.

Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar
This is the story of Tabitha, and Amira. Their stories, and their roles are the archetypal stories and roles of women in fairy tales. The same fairy tales that we still read to our children, often without realizing how misogynistic they are. One day, as Tabitha walks around the world to repent for having revealed to her mother she was a victim of abuse, she meets Amira. Their encounter will deeply change their lives, their way of thinking, and of living.

Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies by Brooke Bolander
A very interesting, and very fine example of message fiction, focusing on women rights, and rape. Given the brevity of the story, it is hard to say anything about it, without spoiling it. I would just say that it is a great piece from a Hugo / Nebula / Sturgeon / Locus finalist writer.

The City Born Great by N. K. Jemisin
All the great metropolis on Earth, when they get big enough, and old enough, they must be born. Now it’s the turn of New York, and a homeless queer black man find himself tasked with the role of facilitate this birth [sic]. But nothing it easy: there are mysterious enemies that want to prevent this from happening. Thus New York will live or die by the efforts his reluctant midwife.
I found the short story interesting, in particular the way it touches some very actual themes like xenophobia, and homelessness. The story is not as good as Jemisin’s previous work.

(Carrie Vaughn’s story seems pretty neutral ideologically, for what that’s worth.)

But, sure, the issue here is that there are “standard right wing talking points” in John’s story. THAT’S what we should be concerned about!

Mostly I notice that this Hugo Award year, at least in the short story category, is divided on deeply ideological lines – there is no question that John’s story is very definitely on the conservative side of the ideological divide. But they’re not even trying to hide it anymore; message fiction is being acknowledged and stories are being praised specifically for the ideologies they happen to be pushing.

If you want to see something from someone who *actually* seems to be neutral, here are some good reviews from Reddit, of all places:

The gist of his notes on John’s story:

It’s an interesting thought experiment and is more metaphysical and philosophical than science fiction in feel.

I really enjoyed this story, though it is up to you to decide if the $5 purchase price is worth it to read this Hugo nominee.

See, this reviewer seemed to like other stories more, including stories I’d probably dislike myself. And, hey, that’s fine; at least his judgments don’t seem to be based on “Is my preferred political viewpoint being expressed?”

Because that seems to be the theme of this year’s Hugo Awards. How depressing.

More on “Sword and Flower”

Jeffro has an interesting post up on the Castalia blog where the pulp guys discuss my “Sword and Flower” review. It more or less stands for itself, but I want to respond to a few points.

Disclaimer: If this sounds harsh, it’s only because I’m being direct. I’m not angry or anything. I’m just trying to cut to the heart of it here. At any rate, I’m hardly more harsh than they are towards me (which I have no problem with).

Its story beats are only a surprise because they haven’t been seen in decades and/or the vast majority of culture creators are constitutionally unable to do them with a straight face.

So? When did I ever deny that? For that manner, when did I mention my surprise or lack of it one way or another?

This thing with “the story is crying out for a redemption arc” bit. I have no idea what that is about. I mean the point of a pulp story is to have somebody punch evil and kiss the girl, right?

Well, in my original review I said that my big problem with the story is that the characters don’t act like people. And they don’t.

The redemption arc is an attempt to solve that problem by giving the characters motivations beyond “survive”. And it’s a superversive motivation that is even suggested by the setting. You can have a more pedestrian motivation that can work perfectly well too, but it would at least be shooting for a lower mark.

Star Wars didn’t have a redemption thingy in the first movie.

“Sword and Flower” isn’t “Star Wars”.

Even if you grant that whatever Anthony is talking about is essential, I just don’t see why you’d absolutely have to have it in the first installment.

It’s not essential. Characters acting like humans? That’s essential.

Still, if the Daredevil television show is more supeversive than Rawle’s story… then I don’t know what superversive is anymore. I just have no idea what they’re talking about!

This is correct. He doesn’t.

“Sword and Flower” never tries to look beyond itself. Sure, it’s set in lesser Heaven. Sure, the protagonist fights demons. But everything is motivated by self-interest; either that, or none of it makes any sense. Dimity admits several times that she doesn’t try to escape because that would be even more dangerous than staying. She fights the demons because she has a stake in it just as much as the Puritans; she says herself that she’s doing it to “never have to worry about rejection from Weatherford again”; they’ve been trying to kill her the whole novel, after all. Jeffro even ADMITS outright that Rawle isn’t shooting for superversive:

I mean the point of a pulp story is to have somebody punch evil and kiss the girl, right?

Right. That wasn’t the point of Daredevil. It was far more than that. It’s about a deeply flawed and weak human being who overcomes all of that to be a hero. “Sword and Flower” may try for this (and I give Rawle credit for that!), but with cardboard cutout characters that don’t act like real humans and have thin motivations, it just doesn’t work.

Remember, my original review didn’t mention lack of superversive as the main flaw. It mentioned lack of realistic or interesting characters, with the exception of the (briefly appearing) Elizabeth. Plus the egregious oversight of mentioning the dead Elizabeth but not the team of dead warriors at the end of the story.

Later on:

P. Alexander: Usually when a Japanese show is about redemption, the [stuff] went down prior to the start of the story, and the whole show is about trying to make up for whatever the hero failed at, which may be shown in a series of flashbacks.

It’s too bad I didn’t mention a specific character who could literally have that exact arc.

Oh, wait, I did. Mash.

 And, there is a redemption bit. I’m not sure how fighting demons can be seen as anything other than an act seeking redemption for people condemned to a lesser heaven.

Survival? Dimity doesn’t seem particularly concerned with being a demon hunter until Mash convinces her, and Mash convinces her because the demons are threatening their town. There isn’t a hint of redemption there.

And, this continual comparison of short works to full novels or even whole seasons of a tv show just isn’t a fair comparison as to how much can be achieved in a given space.

All right. Then don’t bring that up to me when asking for a specific comparison.

As for “The Wish List”, it’s not very long. It’s also much better, and very pulpy itself. Seriously. Read it. Not to sound like too much of a jerk here, but it’s MUCH better than “Sword and Flower”.

P. Alexander: From now on, I’m gonna read “Not Superversive enough” as “Literal Santa Claus didn’t show up to hand out plot items.”

I’ll leave you all to judge whether or not this is a fair reading. For my part, since I never mentioned anything remotely like that, it just comes off to me as as ridiculous a strawman as anything I’ve seen so far. Come on, man. do better.

Nathan Housley: The funny thing is I can see Jagi Lamplighter recognizing Sword & Flower as a different type of superversive than Anthony is trying to make it. (Anthony is misreading genre and beats here. Sword & Flower is not the type of story he wants it to be.)

Yes, the type of story with characters that act like people.

“Sword and Flower” might try, but it tries in the same way “Suicide Squad” tried to be superversive: When your writing isn’t up to snuff, you’re inevitably not going to hit that mark as well as you should. Rawle tries, but there’s a noumenal level there he misses; perhaps he can hit it in his next book. Or maybe he doesn’t go superversive at all, and just improves generally.

I really want to emphasize here that the bigger issue is the characters. They just don’t work.

Like symbolism, it exists, but in recognition, it usually reveals more about the what the reviewer sees in the text than the text itself. And when fundamentally and intentionally subversive works are held up as superversive, it makes me wonder if superversive is not short for “I like it.”

I will note that this is the exact issue the superversives had had with the pulp rev all along, and now you’re going to pull that same thing on us? Seriously? Without batting an eye or seeing a hint of irony there?

Look, if you think we’re calling subversive work superversive, then yeah, you disagree with us that the work is superversive. It happens; we don’t always agree on everything.

With that said, Nathan is also just wrong. We DO, in fact, have guidelines for what makes a story at least noumenally superversive. Here it is. And here’s why Daredevil meets those guidlines, by the way. If you want to know what makes a story “simple” superversive, you can always read Tom Simon’s original essay.

Jeffro: It’s the first time in years that you see a female character (a) operating in a helper role and (b) not surrounded by a Greek chorus of cheerleaders. It’s astonishing. The fact that she did something “wrong” in order to do something right… the fact that she puts herself at odds with society to do the right thing… that makes her instantly likable in a way that no characters on Iron Fist or Jessica Jones ever achieve.

No argument there. Elizabeth was great.

Jon Mollison: The Superversives want to remind people to do the right thing by having literal angels show up in their stories. I want my stories to remind people to do the right thing.

Full stop. You don’t need angels.

Wait. Were you even taking part of the same conversation? My original example was Daredevil.

Hey, remember that scene from “Daredevil” where the literal angel shows up to help Daredevil?

No?

Me either.

Look, I respect the pulp rev guys. We won’t agree on everything. That’s okay! But when they directly contradict themselves (how can you possibly say my idea of superversive has to do with “literal angels” showing up or “Santa Claus bringing presents” when earlier in the same conversation you’re complaining that you don’t see how Daredevil is more superversive than “Sword and Flower”?) to accuse us of things that nobody has even hinted at (where on earth did any of us hint that “Santa Claus had to being presents” for a work to be superversive? How do you even get that reading?), I don’t think it’s unfair for me to call them out on it.

Rawle has potential. He can improve. But “Sword and Flower” wasn’t good because his characters didn’t act like real people, or were two-dimensional cut-outs; the problem could have been solved by giving them stronger character arcs and goals, and a powerful one, hinted at by the setting, even, is a redemption arc.

That was my case.

You should read the work; a lot of people are disagreeing with me, after all. Let it speak for itself, and decide whether I’m totally off the mark or whether I have a point. Who knows? Maybe it really is JUST me.

And also, read “The Wish List”. I’ll have to do a write-up on that one day.