2016/09/26

Double Declan Finn Weekend

We've got a double helping of Declan Finn-related podcasts for you this week!

First up, Declan Finn, author of the Dragon Award-nominated horror novel Honor at Stake joins Daddy Warpig, Dorrinal, and myself on Geek Gab. We get a little too close to politics for DW's liking before moving on to speculate about what vampires taste like. Shenanigans ensue.



The Catholic Geeks

And since Declan guest-hosted our show, I return the favor by stopping by for the second hour of The Catholic Geeks. The lovely and talented Moira Greyland is a tough act to follow, so Declan and I just geek out over Dragon Con and Salt Lake City Comic Con.

Fellow Catholic Geek Matthew Bowman classes up the show by calling in and turning the conversation to a more behind-the-scenes look at the various popular cons and the future of the Dragon Award.

Of course, I also flog my major award-winning, category best selling books. They are your ticket for the BadWrongFun train.

@BrianNiemeier

2016/09/20

Castalia House Reviews Nethereal

Castalia House

Castalia House Blog proprietor and Hugo-nominated Appendix N mastermind Jeffro Johnson brings his encyclopedic knowledge of classic SFF to bear on Nethereal.
If you want to understand the sea change event that’s currently transforming the science fiction and fantasy scene, then this is basically required reading.
The most striking thing about it is of course the fact that it doesn’t really fit into any of the standard genre bins that have steadily ossified over the past four decades. And that makes sense, really: an independent author pulling himself up by his bootstraps completely outside of the usual publishing and book store chain system does not have to play by the rules.
So what is Nethereal exactly…? Well… it’s sort of like a Traveller campaign where the navigators are magic-users pretty well straight out of an old school D&D game. But then it’s filtered through a whole pile of action movies, video games, comic books, and anime. I’d say it’s quite clearly a product of the Appendix N Genertation Gap. Unlike John C. Wright’s work, you’re not going to see explicit references to the classic science fiction and fantasy style elements of the pulp era. Nevertheless, there’s something different about it, though.
My approach to genre is in total agreement with Larry Correia's: hard and fast genre categories were invented by and for big chain bookstore managers. Write what you want, and let them worry about which box to put it in.

Back to Jeffro's review, where he compares and contrasts Nethereal with great works of the pulp era.
I have to say, though, the frequency of over the top action scenes is reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s stories. But you don’t see Brian taking the time to develop the sort of emotional beats that would establish the sterling character of the protagonists in contrast to the cravenness and despicableness of their foes. This is probably the biggest difference between Nethereal and writers like Howard, Vance, and Brackett.
Jeffro's not wrong here. With a tagline like "Magic space pirates in space hell", it's a safe bet that you won't find any paragons of virtue among the main cast. In fact, the main characters of Nethereal might qualify as Villain Protagonists.

There's even a cosmological reason for the lack of conventionally moral characters. Rather early on it's established that the White Well, source of all good, is running dry. Jaren and his crew definitely aren't saints, but they're the best the universe has to work with.
A close second to this is the almost complete lack of old style romance. This is not the sort of story like where A. Merritt’s Leif Langdon or Leigh Brackett’s Matthew Carse gets the girl in the end. The model for storytelling here is right in line with present day norms; rather than focusing on a single heroic character, the tale switches between the perspectives of an ensemble of characters. Just as in the first season of, say, The Flash (2014), the ultimate theme is much more about “our awesomely dysfunctional family of weirdos” doing awesome things than it is about the traditional hero’s journey thing.
An "awesomely dysfunctional family of weirdos doing awesome things"!

I love it so much, I'm stealing it for the series' third book :)

Seriously, Jeffro just opened my eyes to a core theme of the Soul Cycle that I'd missed for years. To paraphrase Adrian Veidt, only the very best reviewers can accomplish that!

It's entirely valid to view the whole series as the saga of a bunch of misfits who go through literal and figurative hell to become the royal family/new pantheon of a universe that was screwed over by its old rulers and gods.
[Pulp heroes] tend to be ordinary, straight-ahead, plain vanilla, white bread, square jawed “regular guy” types. And that archetype is nowhere to be found in Nethereal. Indeed, the characters come off like GURPS PC’s with way too many character points handed out from session to session and a game master that simply cannot say no when they decide to spend them on completely insane stuff that ought to cause the campaign to fly apart at the seams.
Close! We used AD&D 2nd Ed. with the Skills and Powers and Spells and Magic players' option supplements to game out Nethereal's outline. You're spot on about the character points, though.
This is not to say that Nethereal has nothing in common with novels from the pulp fantasy era. Just as in Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter or Margaret St. Clair’s The Shadow People, cosmology is a first class element of the work. In fact, I would say that the gradual revelation of the nature and structure of reality is the defining element of the story just as it is in Philip José Farmer’s works. But while Appendix N works are pretty thin on the sort of thing that could really flesh out the sprawling multi-planar milieu of the default setting of the AD&D game, this book shows how to take the whole idea of “a paladin in hell” and crank it to eleven.
Thanks! The comparison to a hometown hero is flattering.

Relevant side note: I'm good buddies with the local comic book store manager. He told me the story of how, when Farmer died, his grand kids rolled into town, ransacked his house, and sold off most of his stuff. My buddy knows because they tried to sell him a bunch of books from Farmer's personal library. The manager knew that Farmer had left several unpublished works behind, so he asked the great author's heirs about their granddad's papers.

They reportedly answered, "Oh, we threw all of that stuff away."

My friend had to fight the urge to dive across the counter and murder them.
In short, this is the kitchen sink book’s kitchen sink book. It is a product of a culture in which BadWrong Fun™ has become a way of life. This is exactly the sort of thing that has disappeared from mainstream fantasy over the years, but which could have been taken for granted as normal back when the fantasy tabletop role-playing hobby was just starting to take off.
If Nethereal is WrongFun, I don't want to be right. And neither, I think, does Jeffro.

He goes on to determine whether Nethereal qualifies as Weird Fiction in the original 1920s sense of the term, back before the genres we know today had been clearly partitioned off. I highly recommend reading it. The man is a true scholar with an unerring sense of the field's history and development.

Niemeierian
I even get my own fiction category out of it. Nethereal shall henceforth be known as Niemeierian SFF.
Bonus: Nathan Housley from the Puppy of the Month Book Club graces the comments section with his presence to discuss Nethereal with Jeffro, and he even offers a slight point of disagreement. Don't miss the chance to watch two giants of SF geekery holding court. Also making a special appearance is recent Geek Gab guest star author Sky Hernstrom.

Speaking of the Puppy of the Month Book Club, the aforementioned Nathan Housley continues doing yeoman's work in his continuing Nethereal review [Spoiler Alert!]. I felt that his analysis of chapter 30 warranted additional comment.
On the Geek Gab podcast, Brian Niemeier has repeatedly said that his inspirations aren’t the classics of science fiction literature, but movies, games, comics, and other media.  Ydahl is a clear example of this.  Her description as a young orphaned flower girl from the Mithgar slums –complete with brown hair- lines up with that of Aerith Gainsborough of the Playstation video game Final Fantasy VII.  Well, at least until Ydhal draws her knife.  This isn’t the only nod to Final Fantasy VII.  Navkin’s summoned beast shares the lion-wolf appearance of Red XIII, another player character in the game.  Both game and book share a similar synthesis of magic and high technology.  And in both Final Fantasy 7 and Nethereal, we follow the adventures of a group of freedom fighters struggling against a multinational corporation headquartered in the capital of Mithgar that holds a monopoly on a source of energy that drains the vitality out of the world.  But inspiration is not mere copying; Ydahl is an unrepentant serial killer in the vein of Jack the Ripper and Sweeny Todd, and not the mischievous magical girlfriend that Aerith is.
I've refrained from weighing in on the accuracy of my reviewers' analyses at their web sites, even though commenters have shown interest in my opinion. But since we're here at my blog, I'll address a few of Nathan's theories.

First, he's pretty much got my general influences pegged. The only classic SF book that's had a major influence on my writing is Dune. Otherwise, I draw much more from the sources he mentioned. Well done.

Also, the connection between Ydahl and Industrial Revolution-era serial killers is well noted.

However, any resemblance between Nethereal and Final Fantasy VII is largely coincidental. In the 2D vs. 3D video game debate, I come down squarely within the 2D camp. And when it comes to Final Fantasy, the 16-bit era is my hands down favorite.

As a professional courtesy to my esteemed reviewers, I advise taking a closer look at Final Fantasy VI. All of the themes that Nathan correctly pointed out were present in FF VI, and one of the reasons why FF VII is among my least favorite games in the series is that it blatantly copies its own predecessor.

Besides, Aerith is much better-looking than Ydahl is.

So don't fail to check out Nathan's in-depth Nethreal review, which as of this writing is up to chapters 37-42.


To read more about an awesomely dysfunctional family of weirdos doing awesome things, buy the first two books in the Soul Cycle, available now from Amazon. Now's your chance to get them read in time for Book III's release.



@BrianNiemeier

2016/09/19

Superversive Roundtable Talks Dragons and Sky Hernstrom on Geek Gab

I participated in another podcasting marathon this weekend, and you get to enjoy the fruits of my labor!

Superversive SF Roundtable talks the death of the Hugos and the rise of the Dragons

First up is the latest Superversive SF Roundtable. Dave Truesdale, who shall henceforth be known as the Snowflake Slayer, relates his account of getting kicked out of Worldcon for telling the truth about the state of the short fiction market, thereby causing feelbadz.

Stick around for the second half, where Nick Cole, John C. Wright, and I join the other Superversive regulars for a discussion of the Dragon Awards. That's right: three Dragon winners at the same virtual table!


Bonus: a Puppy kicker best known for cyberstalking Asian women attempts a drive-by trolling in the comments and ends up shooting himself in the foot:

Dragons Forever

For once I concur with the troll. The Dragon Awards will be widely known long after the Hugos have sunk into well-deserved oblivion.


Worldcon Attendance
Worldcon Attendance. The big orange spikes in 3 of the last 4 years are from Sad Puppies, so the stalker and his friends had better hope they're wrong about SP losing interest in the Hugos in favor of the Dragons, which the downward trend in Worldcon memberships indicates is happening.
Also, anybody else notice how The Campaign to End Puppy-Related Sadness got shortened to Sad Puppies; then the name got transferred from the campaign to its supporters? Thank the legacy media's isolate and disqualify tactics for that one.

But two can play that game! By popular acclamation, authors of Dragon Award-winning books shall now be styled according to the category in which they won. Applying this naming convention gives us:

  • Larry Correia, the Dragon of Fantasy
  • John C. Wright, the Dragon of Science Fiction
  • Nick Cole, the Dragon of the Apocalypse
  • Brian Niemeier, the Dragon of Horror
  • Chaosium Inc., the Dragon of Science Fiction or Fantasy Miniatures/Collectible Card/Role Playing Games

I'm pleased to see that Nick Cole has the coolest title.

[Note to self: develop science fiction or fantasy miniature game/CCG/RPG within the next year. Move up in geek hierarchy. Print new business cards in smaller font so as to fit new title.]


69, dudes!


The fun continues on the 69th episode of Geek Gab where author Schuyler Hernstrom drops in for a lively conversation about his awesome work, the Pulp Revival, and the benefits of writing without pants while listening to metal.

Fun fact: both of the books in my major award-recognized Soul Cycle were 40% written without pantsing.



@BrianNiemeier

2016/09/14

My Trip to SLCCC

SLCCC

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to the Salt Lake City Comic Con. What sent me flying westward over hill and dale right around the time my epic adventure/horror novel Souldancer was winning at the first ever Dragon Awards on the other side of the country?

Partly SLCCC's rep as a big, fun con; but mostly other circumstances, to wit:

  1. Wanting to personally thank Larry Correia for BOOK BOMB!-ing my first book Nethereal
  2. SLCCC being the most cost-effective to get to of the cons Larry would be attending
  3. Not knowing that my book was nominated for a Dragon Award until the ballots were released a week after I'd already booked the Salt Lake City trip.
Undaunted, I deputized Declan Finn to receive the award on my behalf and set off into the West with my cousin Ben.


Foraging in Salt Lake City

Our travel schedule put us in SLC one day before the con was scheduled to start. Ben and I spent the first day gathering the supplies we'd need to get us through a long weekend in unfamiliar territory.

The essential and mission critical equipment we procured on site included:
  • 5 days' worth of foodstuffs so we wouldn't have to eat out for every meal
  • A Styrofoam cooler to preserve the perishable food items
  • A coffee maker. Our hotel room already had one, but it was way too small to cook in (see below).
  • A 1 liter bottle of Coke Zero that appropriately resembled an artillery shell in size--for Larry
As the veteran of many anime cons, I'm an old hand at living out of hotel rooms efficiently, on the cheap, and without developing Scurvy. Dear congoers: I shall now teach you secrets. They will give you power.

Your best friend is a four cup coffee maker, and not just for coffee. In fact, I advise against making coffee in it. Use the one that the hotel provides for that, and go pick up a cheap model at Wal-Mart. We got ours for like nine bucks.

With a decent capacity coffee maker in hand, you can now boil water, which means you can prepare any dish from ramen to hot dogs to instant stuffing in the comfort of your room. Don't be afraid to get creative. Ben likes to use chicken broth in his ramen, and I started running that tasty liquid gold straight through the machine.

Your second best friend is a mini-fridge. Some hotel rooms don't have them. Call the front desk and ask if they can bring one up to your room. If they drag their feet about it, tell them you're diabetic and need the fridge to store your insulin. That tends to light a fire under them.

If the hotel doesn't have mini-fridges, or they tack on an extra charge for one, go buy a Styrofoam cooler for a couple of bucks at the same Wal-Mart where you got the coffee ramen maker. What you're gonna do next is fill up two plastic shopping bags with ice from the hotel's ice machine. Then you'll stock the cooler by placing one ice bag in first and spreading a hand towel on top of it. You'll lay any foodstuffs that need to be kept cool on top of that. Top it off by placing the second ice bag on top of the food and laying another towel on top. Bam! You've got a storage solution that will keep your milk, butter, lunch meat, etc. at a nice safe 40 degrees F or below for days. Do it right, and you'll only need to refill the ice once over a whole weekend.

Pro tip: keep the cooler in the bathtub (except, of course, when you're showering). They sometimes have nearly invisible pinhole leaks, and the last thing you want is getting out of bed and stepping onto an ice cold, waterlogged carpet.

That should get you started. Follow these tips, and you'll save a small fortune by cutting down on greasy fast food and overpriced restaurants. If you can't take the coffee maker home with you, consider donating it to a local thrift shop.


Hanging out in Salt Lake City

With our base camp fully stocked, Ben and I hit the town to scout our new surroundings. SLC has a pretty cool indoor/outdoor mall that reminded me of an airship station from a PS2-era Final Fantasy installment. Bonus points for making the information kiosk an awesome desk/waterfall combo.

The coolest find on our first night in SLC was Brewvies, an awesome cinema pub where you can watch a movie while not only enjoying a glass of beer, but a full meal, too.

We learned that Brewvies is having some legal problems brought on by a couple of staties who thought that going undercover to a screening of Deadpool and ordering booze made them Eliot Ness. What valiant public servants. If the Untouchables were around today, I'm sure their top priority would be guarding moviegoers from strange thoughts elicited by getting buzzed while looking at Ryan Reynolds' ass.

You can help Brewvies fight state censorship here:

Stand hard with Brewvies

Despite the iron fist of John Law hanging over our heads, we had a phenomenally pleasant evening watching The Mechanic: Resurrection. This movie is badass. It's like watching Jason Statham reenact a Hitman game from back when Hitman was good.


Arriving at the con

The next morning we hoofed it over to the Salt Palace to begin our SLCCC experience. Unfortunately, we misread the program and didn't realize that the doors opened at 10 AM for gold VIP members only. The rest of us plebs would have to wait in line for two more hours.

Thankfully, a con staffer saved our morning by informing us that we could still get in to see Mark Hamill at the arena where the Utah Jazz play. Score!

Ben and I walked a couple more blocks to the arena, where Mark Hamill was doing a sort of one man show/Q&A type deal, theater in the round style, at center court. The place was full of screaming Joker cosplayers waving lightsabers. That sort of thing. It was great.

My opinion of TFA is no secret, but I've always liked Mark Hamill--for his classic portrayal of the Joker on Batman: The Animated Series if nothing else. (Hate to differ with you, Mark, but your version of the Joker is in fact definitive.)

Starting from that foundation of basic fannish appreciation, my esteem for Mr. Hamill built to towering respect as he repeatedly expressed his clearly heartfelt appreciation for the fans who'd got him there. The gist of his talk was, "Ever since I found out that there's a guy who does Donald Duck's voice for a living, I've known my purpose in life. Thank you for letting me fulfill my vocation of entertaining you."

2016 SLCCC Mark Hamill
Photo: Salt Lake Tribune

Mark Hamill highlights:
  • Really down to earth (married to the same woman, his first wife, for almost 40 years).
  • Admitted that Harrison Ford is so rich that he stopped caring decades ago.
  • Spontaneously delivered Heath Ledger's "Why so serious?" line in his patented BMTAS Joker voice.
  • Told George Lucas and J.J. Abrams that Luke Skywalker shouldn't have been in Episode VII.
  • Watching the R-rated animated version of The Killing Joke clearly creeped him out.
  • Didn't want to leave when the clock ran out. Stalled to buy a few more minutes. 

The Warpig and the International Lord of Hate

Larry Correia SLCCC

After Mark's handlers basically dragged him off the stage, Ben and I headed down to the Red Iguana gourmet Mexican restaurant. There we had the pleasure of meeting up with my esteemed Geek Gab cohost, the Alpha Geek himself, Daddy Warpig!

Having concluded our fantastic lunch and a rousing discussion of DW's forthcoming OMEGA role-playing game system, Ben and I bid the Warpig a fond farewell and returned to the convention center for my long anticipated audience with International Lord of Hate Larry Correia.

Larry had invited me to meet him at Kevin J. Anderson's Wordfire booth, so I shouldered my way through heavy dealer room traffic in search of the meetup spot. Here's a tip for anyone who wants to find Larry in a big crowd: look up.

Seriously, it's worked at Gen Con and now SLCCC. It's like: "Where's Larry?" *Cranes neck. Sees warm beige mountain peak in the distance.* "Oh, there he is over by the Warmachine dioramas."

I got to the Wordfire booth just as Larry was breaking for lunch. Since there was no way he'd hear me over the crowd, I held up the signed copy of Souldancer I'd brought for him. That got his attention, and he came around and took me to lunch, which was my second that day for those of you who are keeping track.

Walking across a busy convention floor with Larry is quite an experience. Every ten feet or so, a fan would stop him to shake hands, or he'd spot someone he knows and pause for a quick, friendly conversation. TL;DR the guy is super popular, which is why his predictions that Jim Butcher would win the Dragon Award instead of him didn't jibe with me. For the record, I'm pretty good at picking Dragon Award winners.

Larry chose a Cambodian food stand for lunch and bought me a lemonade (which qualified his entree and side for a combo discount--accounting skills FTW!). We talked a bit more about the Dragons, including how one of the Dragon Con admins encouraged him to blog about the awards, and never mind the Puppy-kickers.

The genuine appreciation Larry showed for the signed copy of my book made the whole trip worthwhile. Then, when I handed him the liter of Coke Zero that had been bouncing along next to me in the desert sun for hours, he stowed it behind the booth and said he'd wait till the next day to open it. I thought that was a good call. 

Shout out to Wordfire booth authors Steve Diamond, Jason A. Anderson, Steve Rzasa, Julie Frost, Michael Brent Collings, Christie Golden, Eric James Stone, and of course, Puppy-in-Chief (retired) Brad R. Torgersen. It's awesome to be working in a field where you guys are my coworkers.

Brad R. Torgersen - SLCCC Panel



The Larry Show

The next day we reconvened for the How to Write Action panel, a.k.a. The Larry Show.

For any poor, deprived mendicants who haven't had the pleasure of attending one, the format of Larry's action panels is a one-man show where instead of sitting at a table up on stage, he stands in front of the audience, mic in hand, and regales us with the finer points of writing action scenes.

My impression: Larry's dramatization of using the Time Turner to go back and assassinate Tom Riddle convinced me that he is a physical comedy virtuoso who needs his own TV show.

I was totally digging the panel, and taking copious mental notes, when Larry suddenly gestured at me and said, "You did something like that in your book."

Full disclosure: I'd been halfway spacing out trying to come up with synonyms for "explosion", which I agree there aren't nearly enough of.

So I had a deer in headlights moment of "Oh crap, what was he just talking about!?" My knee-jerk response was to say, "Yes, just like in my book," while frantically trying to remember the topic. Luckily, Larry had been discussing the Holtzman effect in Dune, and that novel is seared so deep into my brain that I basically jumped to the right answer by default.

"They have personal shields in Nethereal," I added, not sounding like a total spaz.

Then the Mountain that Writes did me his biggest favor since the BOOK BOMB! Motioning for me to stand up, he announced, "Hey, everybody. This is author Brian Niemeier. He's up for a Dragon Award, too."

Still in shock, I mechanically stood up and turned to wave at the packed room behind me. "Hey, folks," I think I said. Many of them actually applauded. I sat back down after my first round of applause as an author at a major con, not really knowing what to make of it, but deeply grateful to Larry and all of the fans.

Larry Correia Wordfire signing

On Saturday night I attended a panel on characterization with a full roster of authors featuring Larry, Dave Farland, and Laurell K. Hamilton. For my money, the best part was how the moderator called on female audience members by calling them "sweetheart", "cutie", "darling", etc. All the while, the vocally feminist author on the panel had this sour look on her face that kept getting more pronounced, as if she took another bite out of a lemon each time the guy called on a girl.

The perfect end to a perfect evening.

Since I was flying home the next day, I thanked Larry again after the panel and said goodbye. He said it was great to meet me, which was awesome to hear. I also scored a hug, which was epic!

Yet my greatest triumph still lay ahead.


Unknown caller

The next afternoon, Ben and I were nearing the home stretch of the three hour drive back from the airport when my phone rang.

At first I thought it was my family calling to make sure that my flight had gotten in OK, since I'd forgotten to call them that morning. I fished the phone out of the cup holder next to me and learned to my surprise that I was instead receiving a call from Supreme Dark Lord of the Evil Legion of Evil, Vox Day.

Vox Day
"I called to congratulate you," the Dark Lord said.

Now bear in mind, the con and two flights across time zones had pretty much destroyed my concept of time. Having forgotten what day it was, I replied:

"Why? What's going on?"

*Incredulous pause on the other end of the line*

"Here, let me just read this to you," said Vox. Another brief pause, and he quoted, "Winner of the Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel: Souldancer by Brian Niemeier."

Ben is probably better equipped to describe my reaction, because I was immediately caught up in the moment, reveling in the exquisite revenge that my fans had wrought on the CHORFs. I'm pretty sure I thanked Vox and Jesus before the SDL urged me to drive safe and hung up.

That was about it until this showed up, courtesy of Declan Finn:

2016 Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel - Souldancer

I had a pretty good con weekend. So did my readers. How was yours?


The instruments of my readers' vengeance, available here:


@BrianNiemeier