Fisking Kotaku's Anti-Conan Hit Piece


Monolith has a Conan board game coming out, and it looks totally sweet. Their customers agree, because the Kickstarter to fund the game has raised over three million dollars. Robert E. Howard fans will soon be mowing down miniature plastic Picts like wheat.

Or they would if it weren't Current Year, when perennial scapegoat groups are roundly threatened with having their toys taken away as punishment for causing all of society's ills.

SF aficionado extraordinaire Rawle Nyanzi alerted me to the human cliche on a self-appointed crusade to purge wrongthink from within the game's distributor. Then Kotaku rushed to the puritanical schoolmarm's banner like a dog returning to its vomit. Since neither the SJW instigator nor her corrupt media accomplices learned anything from #GamerGate or being sued into oblivion by Hulk Hogan and Peter Thiel, another lesson is in order.

Kotaku's agitprop appears in italics. My comments appear in bold.
A woman who helped market a wildly popular upcoming Conan board game, which raised over $3 million on Kickstarter in 2015, is speaking out against its portrayal of women.
Worst marketer ever.
In a November 12 essay titled “Grab ‘Em By The Board Game,” Cynthia Hornbeck, who marketed the game for Asmodee, the company that is distributing the game, says women in Conan are treated as “objects.” The game was made by Monolith Edition. Conan’s art and gameplay, in her view, reflect toxic stereotypes about damsels in distress and sexualized, submissive female characters in the fantasy genre.
By her own admission, Hornbeck marketed a game that features "toxic" art and gameplay. One can reasonably assume she was paid for it. This is what ethicists call proximate material and formal cooperation.

Protip: the time to raise objections against practices you find morally repugnant isn't after you've rendered willing material aid and taken your share of the proceeds. If you do go along and only raise objections after you've pocketed the money, don't be shocked if people see you as less than credible.
“The designers and the kickstarter team were appealing to obviously a [sic] male demographic that wanted to feel empowered by objectifying women,” Hornbeck told me.
Later in the same article, Hornbeck admits that the game's audience is like 80-90% straight men. Let me give you a little inside baseball. In publishing, giving your core audience what they want is called "good business". But given how hard Hornbeck is SocJusing, I'm not surprised that the concept is beyond her.
In an e-mail, a Monolith representative told me that the game is just derivative of “U.S. pop culture.” Its tropes about women, he said, come from “the “sword & sorcery” style,” Robert E. Howard’s books (“as true as possible from the books”), and John Buscema’s Conan comics. Hornbeck’s beef is that those tropes shouldn’t be glorified in a modern blockbuster board game.
A blockbuster board game that Hornbeck helped promote. She's free to pull a heel turn after the fact, but good luck getting anyone to listen after abdicating any shred of moral authority.

Nuts and bolts details about the game follow. Omitted for space. On to more SJW scolding.
Named for the eponymous novel series, Conan is rooted in writer Robert E. Howard’s pulp fiction sword-and-sorcery world. And along with its 1932 publishing date comes 1932 ideas about women. Pliant servant girls dot his fantasy landscapes. Conan is a grizzly, muscled warrior who famously conquers what he pursues, be it an enemy, a hot young lady, or a hot young enemy lady. In “The Frost Giant’s Daughter,” Conan pursues a near-naked woman—an enemy—who runs from him, screaming for help. He grabs her and attempts to kiss her before she calls on her father, the Frost Giant, to attack Conan. Howard writes, “With a scream and a desperate wrench she slipped from his arms, leaving her single gossamer garment in his grasp.” The final twist is that she’s a “lure,” meant to draw in men whom her father and brothers would slay.
Howard has difficulty introducing female characters without referencing their breasts, often “ivory,” within the first sentence or two. An introduction of the character Belit begins, for example, like this:
“Belit turned toward Conan, her bosom heaving, her eyes flashing. Fierce fingers of wonder caught at his heart. She was slender, yet formed like a goddess: at once lithe and voluptuous. Her only garment was a broad silken girdle. Her white ivory limbs and the ivory globes of her breasts drove a beat of fierce passion through the Cimmerian’s pulse, even in the panting fury of battle.”
Penalty! Chronological Snobbery. If Kotaku didn't confuse telling time with telling the truth, they might not have been sold to Ziff Davis in a fire sale.

And yes, Kotaku, we noticed how you started criticizing the game; then substituted pearl-clutching over a separate short story instead of citing evidence from the subject matter at hand.

However, this oversight is soon corrected thusly:
This is the kind of thing you might expect from a Conan book in 1932, but it’s not what Hornbeck believed needed to be in a 2016 Conan game. Take the presentation of Belit in the game. She is the queen of the Black Coast and Conan’s lover. Also, she’s the only playable female character in the board game. Of your heroes, three are male, and one is Belit. Here’s how she looks:
Yep. I posted it above, and I'm posting it again!
The word for how she looks is beautiful, another concept that I'm not surprised eludes these Morlocks. Whether this image should be in the game is a ) not Hornbeck's call to make and b) something she really can't discuss with any credibility now that she's lined her pockets from selling it.
In the game, Hornbeck writes, Belit’s “mechanical function is to make the men better.” Conan’s developers clarified that, in addition to her “Leadership” skill, which lets her give orders to her guards, she also has a “Support” skill that provides buffs to her friends. In Hornbeck’s view, that means her job is essentially to “follow Conan around and boost his abilities. Because that’s what women are good for in this world: being fucked by men and making those men feel good.” As the only female playable character, her focus on supporting men’s role in combat, paired with her barely-there clothes, comes off very 1932 here in 2016.
And makes me yearn, more than ever for a time machine.

Because heaven forfend anyone should ever make men feel good. [Spotting a pattern yet?]
When asked to comment on Belit’s role in a Conan party, a Monolith representative told me that, while she’s less powerful than Conan, she’s as strong as two other playable characters.
The answer we were looking for is, "Fuck off."
More urgent to Hornbeck is the cover of Conan’s heroes’ rulebook. Conan stands imposingly over what Hornbeck describes as a “prone damsel in jeweled panties.” She appears to be passed out.
Hornbeck objected to the cover and said that male and female co-workers agreed with her. “Why is she naked?” she wrote. “Why is she on some sort of rock bed/ altar and glowing, so that we the gamer focus on her physical beauty? To me, she looks like his prize, a reward for his violence with which he can do whatever he wishes- including grab her by the crotch and rape her before she’s regained consciousness.” She described the scene as “the scene of or before a rape. And you, my friend, are going to take on the role of the rapist.”
This may sound like a wild idea at first, but hear me out. What if we stopped entertaining the paranoid delusions of shrill thought police and just enjoyed stuff that normal human beings like--such as physical beauty?
The makers of the game disagree. A representative from Monolith forwarded a picture of its inspiration, a Frank Frazetta painting.They maintained that it depicts Conan as a good guy. “The bad guy is now missing from the cover but everyone knows that Conan is a hero and is here to save the women and not to attack the women.” Asmodee declined to comment.
Monolith could stand to learn from Asmodee's example.
Of the Heroes’ Rulebook cover, Hornbeck says, ‘This cover actually represents a scene from one of the game’s scenarios, in which Conan and his friends must rescue a princess who is about to be sacrificed by the Picts. In that scenario, the princess token/figure is treated exactly as if she were an object. She has no abilities. You can even toss her across the board.”
Do I really have to explain to this nutcase that plastic tokens are, in fact, objects?

Oh, and lest you start to think that Hornbeck views actual women as anything more than abstract tokens to advance her morally bankrupt ideology, in her original essay on the game she writes:
That same fantasy is promoted by the campaign of now President-Elect Donald Trump. He will make America great again by expelling and/or imprisoning its dark-skinned enemies and grabbing its women by the crotch.
Reality to Hornbeck: we have zero documented incidences of Trump grabbing women against their will. The same cannot be said for certain individuals from the terror problem regions that he's called for an immigration moratorium on pending our ability to properly vet them. 

The score going into the final round--Trump: taking steps to make real women safer. Hornbeck: posting her concerns about violations of fake plastic women's rights on the internet. Advantage: Trump.
Hornbeck argues that depictions of women like this are the result of an industry that advertises to a mostly straight, male audience. According to Hornbeck, 81% of Asmodee’s social media following is male. For other board game companies she’s familiar with, that percentage has never gotten below 90%. She says that 95% of the board game reviewers she’s worked with have been male.
These figures, which I mentioned before, paint a different picture than the Escher-like logic loop in Hornbeck's mind. In a sane world, a marketer who complains that her client's product is being marketed to a demographic that makes up 81-90% of its customers would get a reply to the effect of, "You're fired."

Then again, Hornbeck doesn't work for Asmodee anymore, so perhaps the healing has begun.
A recent Shut Up & Sit Down review draws attention to Conan’s grab for straight men’s sexual interest, noting that there are 1.25 boobs per game scenario:
See? A more effective marketer would've raised that boobs per scenario ratio to 12:1.
There have been several Conan board games in the past, with similar male/female power relations, marketed to similarly male demographics. I asked Monolith whether the game may alienate potential female customers, and they responded that the game’s depiction of women “are parts from U.S. pop culture.” But Hornbeck says that it’s time to start speaking out about it. Just because the game’s using Robert E. Howard’s world and characters and is being marketed to men, she told me, doesn’t mean that it needs to cater to a power fantasy:
Monolith, someone you paid to promote your game is now trashing it on the flimsiest of invented pretexts, and these clowns are boosting the signal. Once again, you are perfectly within your rights to tell them, "Fuck off."
“Part of this comes from a deep tradition in which board games are designed to let men live out these fantastic roles they can’t live out in real life,” Hornbeck told me. “Part of that is living in a male world in which women are objectified and/or secondary. This is a historic thing.” She asks designers and buyers who agree with her to be more deliberate architects and consumers of their games.
The derp is strong with this one.

Consider: if men can't live out these fantasies in real life, then a game based on those fantasies poses no threat to anyone, and both Hornbeck and Kotaku are railing against nothing.

This doesn't even rise to the level of "Video games cause real-life violence" or "Playing D&D will turn your kids into satanists".

By the way, Monolith were being pretty deliberate when they raised over three mil with a Kickstarter campaign targeted at straight males. I wouldn't bet on Hornbeck's fellow travelers achieving anything close to that level of success. Translating from the Alinsky, what Hornbeck really demands is for designers and buyers to agree with her censorious, misandrist ideology.


In conclusion, I encourage gamers and SFF fans who are looking for fun instead of dubious morality lectures to read some Robert E. Howard stories over the holiday weekend.

And if you want more stories that ignore the demands of Marxist neo-puritans in favor of fun, check out the books in my Pulp Revival-approved Soul Cycle.



Superversive SF Thanksgiving Live Stream

It's been a while since I last joined the Superversive SF crew for one of their lively roundtables. On Saturday I had the pleasure of appearing on their Thanksgiving live stream with John and Jagi Wright, Declan Finn, Daddy Warpig, and other superversive luminaries.

Check it out here.

But the podcasting fun doesn't stop there! Immediately after the Superversive live stream, Daddy Warpig and I went straight into recording another fantastic installment of Geek Gab.

It's another multiple movie review episode, this time featuring Arrival--based on a short from Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Hacksaw Ridge. We cordially invite you to listen in.

In other news, I have--perhaps foolishly--accepted an offer from Sci Phi Journal editor Jason Rennie to contribute a short story to an upcoming anthology. The collection will also feature tales from other superversive and Sad and Rabid Puppies authors; including quite a few big names. I've got a week to turn in the story. Let's see if I can break my previous record for quickest short story turnaround time. Either way I'll keep you posted on the anthology, which is scheduled for release on Inauguration Day.

Speaking of superversive book release updates, Where Angels Die by the man who coined the term "superversive", Mr. Tom Simon himself, just launched today.

And of course, the award-winning, category best selling books in my own Soul Cycle remain available for your reading pleasure.



Soul Cycle Casting Call Part 2: Souldancer

Considering how well my first exercise in fantasy casting went over, I thought I'd have another go at choosing a cast for a hypothetical film version of my second novel Souldancer.

To make things more interesting, I'm raising the challenge level by dispensing with the wayback machine. Only contemporary actors need audition.

Which current actors have the chops to star in a film adaptation of the first-ever Dragon Award-winning horror novel? Let's find out!

Xander Sykes - Nicolas Mezher
Nicolas Mezher

If you're going, "Who?" then that's exactly the reaction I'm looking for. Much like the young Mark Hamill in the original Star Wars, the main protagonist of Souldancer will be well served by a relative unknown who doesn't bring a ton of baggage from prior roles. Lebanese actor Nicolas Mezher fulfills this requirement--at least as far as Western audiences know--despite having racked up an impressive acting resume in his native land.

Have him put on a few pounds and shave him bald, and Nicolas will be ready to take his place in the pantheon of SFF movie protagonists.

Another advantage of casting a relative newcomer as this picture's male lead is the lower likelihood of diva behavior. Because like Nethereal before it, Souldancer has a deuteragonist, and Xander/Nicolas will be sharing the spotlight with...

Astlin Tremore - Jane Levy
Jane Levy 1

This could be the most perfect real-life actor to imaginary character match in this series.

OK wait. I've got a picture that better illustrates my point. Hold on a second.

Now we're talkin'.

Jane Levy Evil Dead

Let's see...

  • Crazy eye: check.
  • Covered in (mostly) someone else's blood: check.
  • While standing with eerie calm in the middle of a raging inferno: double-check!
Though Miss Levy isn't a real redhead, neither is Jason Patric; and if the dude from The Lost Boys can play Jaren, the star of 2013's Evil Dead remake can play Astlin.

The cherry on top: she's gonna be on Twin Peaks next year, continuing the streak of Soul Cycle actors who've appeared on David Lynch's groundbreaking series.

I rest my case. Next!

Nahel - The motion capture performance of Andy Serkis voiced by Michael Madsen

Only the combined talents of renowned actor-director Andy Serkis and super gravelly Tarantino regular Michael Madsen can bring SD's beloved dog-man-angel-thing to life.

Damus Greystone - Luke Goss

This smooth British actor has the style--and, as proven in Hellboy II, the range--to play the conflicted emissary of a devil-queen.

Thurif - Tom Hiddleston
Tom Hiddleston

Here's where the production probably goes into the red. But since he's the only man thus far to deliver an outstanding performance as a Marvel Cinematic Universe villain, Tom Hiddleston will deserve every penny his agent will no doubt demand for him to be cast as Souldancer's initial antagonist.

Plus, let's be honest. He'll bring in the 18-35 year-old female demographic.

Hazeroth - Ray Park
Ray Park

By casting Ray Park as the film's big bad, we get an actor and a stuntman in one! Not only will he help offset Hiddleston's salary, he alone nearly managed to redeem The Phantom Menace.

Zan - Lee Pace
Lee Pace

I'd mentioned Lee Pace as a modern contender for the role of Marshal Malachi in Nethereal. He excels at portraying characters that blend varying degrees of sympathy and menace--a skill that will serve him well as the souldancer of air.

Szodrin - Alan Cumming
Alan Cumming

His elfin looks and his experience playing a teleporting character in an effects-heavy genre film highly recommend Alam Cumming for the role of this renegade Night Gen.

Cook - Joel Edgerton
Joel Edgerton

I'm not just casting Joel Edgerton to fill my quota of Star Wars prequel alumni. He's proven that he can look and act the part of a fighter, for one. For another, and more importantly, he's established a reputation as a solid actor. We'll need nothing less for the conscience of the Souldancer cast.

Tefler - Evan Peters
Evan Peters

Honest, I'm not trying to double up on X-Men franchise actors. Evan Peters lands the role of the priest out to kill his own pantheon due to his equal expertise at playing goofballs and psychos. His recurring role in the two most recent X-flicks is most likely due to the fact that Hollywood practically makes nothing but comic book movies these days.

Special Cameo: The Will of Shaiel - Emma Stone
Emma Stone

Another prohibitively expensive casting choice, but one mitigated by the fact that we'll only need to pay Emma Stone for about five minutes of screen time before the CG dracolich takes over.

Bonus: part of Stone's five minutes will be spent in the same scene with Jane Levy, once and for all laying to rest rumors that they are actually the same person.

Stone - Levy
Jane is rally Emma's final form.
Look, I'll level with you. Not until I tried to cast them all did I realize how many significant characters are in this book. That's just the kind of value I bring to the table.

There are still more roles important enough to justify casting name actors, but I've been working on this post for over five hours now. And I'm tired. So I'm going to stop.

But not before I flog the books. I need to make all this effort pay off somehow.



The Secret Kings Cover Test Results

A - B testing on the proposed covers for The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III has concluded. I'd like to express my deep appreciation for everyone who took the time to vote. Marcelo gave us a difficult choice with his three fantastic cover sketches, but in the end only one can be my third novel's front cover.

The Secret Kings cover sketches

After three intense rounds of voting, I'm honored to announce that your front cover of Soul Cycle Book III is:

The Secret Kings cover sketch
Cover 3
Now, I'm in a bit of a quandary because of voting patterns in the tests. Although Cover 3 won both the second and third rounds, it only took round 3 by a single vote. Also, Cover 2 received a higher total number of votes than Cover 3 across the first and third rounds, in which Cover 2 was a contender.

What this tells me is that, while Cover 3 is the voters' favorite, Cover 2 has a significant following. Many voters with design and publishing backgrounds also made strong cases in favor of Cover 2.

In light of these circumstances, here is my proposed solution:

The Secret Kings front and back covers
Back/front cover spread
Past Soul Cycle books have all had wraparound covers. But since democracy is all about compromise, I'll ask Marcelo to finalize Covers 2 and 3, making them the back and front cover for SK respectively. It's the most elegant solution, in my opinion.

Thanks again to everyone who participated. My beta readers report that they are working diligently to generate feedback on SK's second draft, and there's just one book ahead of mine in Jagi's editing queue. Marcelo also assures me that finalizing the cover won't take long. All of this means that we're right on schedule for a Christmas season release.

Which also means you've still got time to buy and read the first two books in the Soul Cycle.


UPDATE: Since posting the results of round 3, it's been suggested that retesting the covers with text added might very well yield different results than previous tests of the clean versions. Because my goal is to determine the most effective cover, I must take this new information into account.

Short version: It's time for a lightning round!

This time it's for keeps. Which cover do you like best?

The Secret Kings covers 1, 2, & 3 text

UPDATE 2: Lightning Round results:
  1. Cover 3 with 11 votes
  2. Cover 2 with 5 votes
  3. Cover 1 with 3 votes
Interestingly, putting the versions with the title and byline to a vote galvanized support for Cover 3. In light of these results, I will go ahead with the plan outlined above to have Marcelo finalize Cover 3 as the front cover and Cover 2 as the back cover. I'll also pass along the formatting changes suggested by D.J. and Jeff in the comments.

I appreciate everyone's kind indulgence during the testing phase. Thanks to you, we can expect The Secret Kings to have the most successful launch of any Soul Cycle book.

Star Wars: Rogue One - The Facade Cracks

Star Wars diaper pin
Image courtesy of Douglas Cootey
[Insert standard disclaimer about it being poor form to say "I told you so", but...]

Regular readers may remember how I warned Hollywood that moviegoers can only stomach so much cynical propaganda disguised as entertainment before a backlash sets in.

The main impetus for that post was the 2016 remake of Ghostbusters, which did indeed fail spectacularly. But Disney's mishandling of the Star War franchise didn't escape unscathed. Reader JD Cowan commented:
However, and this is a very unpopular opinion, I do believe that there will be a backlash on Star Wars: TFA eventually. Most of the defense against it is centered on waiting to see what the next movie does. If anyone has ever seen a sequel to anything J.J. Abrams has ever made, then you know exactly how good it will be.
To which observation I replied:
Almost certainly. The once undreamt-of phenomenon of fans expressing fond nostalgia for the prequel trilogy foreshadows the backlash.
Star Wars fans know they've been had. Some will have their cognitive bias shattered as soon as Rogue One.
This blasphemy against the high priests of Disney's multi-cult earned us a heaping, smug helping of reddicule.

Star Wars SJW propaganda

As a matter of fact, it turns out that we did.

Star Wars Rogue One propaganda 1

Exhibit A: Rebel Alliance symbol bastardized as part of a propaganda image in support of a leftist cause by the main screenwriter for Rogue One.

And look who retweeted it. Et tu, Mark?

Star Wars Rogue One propaganda 2

In a single tweet, Weitz and Whitta spewed enough social justice buzzwords to sweep the SocJus Bingo board.

Hey, Disney, are you having reservations about two of your writers publicly associating one of your flagship IPs with an antidemocratic movement directly connected to what can only be called acts of domestic terrorism?

That's what I thought.

For the record, I also thought that Disney's run on Star Wars would start to evoke a backlash as soon as Rogue One.
Star Wars Rogue One backlash 1
OK. Perhaps this guy beat me to the punch.

Star Wars Rogue One backlash 2

Or writers who just want to tell fun stories write new, superior space operas for entertainment instead of crass propaganda. Stay tuned.

Star Wars Rogue One backlash 3

It's truly mind-boggling. Lecturing and insulting your core audience diminishes their desire to see your movie. Who could've predicted that?

Answer: me and my readers.

In the interest of fair play, I'll give my detractors the last word:

Hollywood Shills



The Secret Kings A- B Cover Test Final Round

We've had excellent turnout for the first two rounds of cover testing. Thanks again to everyone who voted.

For the third and final round of A - B testing to pick the cover of The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III, I'm bringing back cover sketch 2 and pitting it against cover sketch 3.

The Secret Kings A - B cover test 3
Once again, Soul Cycle fans have twenty-four hours to vote on which concept sketch will make the best cover for SK. Polling is open here, on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and Gab. Get to it!

NB: readers have asked to see the concept art for the previous two books' covers for reference.

Nethereal Cover Sketch

Souldancer cover sketch

If you haven't read Nethereal or Souldancer yet, there's still time before the Christmas release of The Secret Kings.


The Secret Kings A - B Cover Test Round 2

Round one concluded with the victory of sketch A. Thanks to everyone who voted!

We now move on to round 2, where the winner of the first round goes head-to-head against the third and final cover sketch.

The Secret Kings A-B Test 2
Once again, you have 24 hours to decide your preference and cast your vote for sketch A or sketch B. State your choice in the comments below, by replying to my posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Gab, or via email.

One thing that these tests have made perfectly clear is that SFF fans are tired of dull, unimaginative covers. Now is your chance to speak out so The Secret Kings stands out.

UPDATE: the votes are in, and the winner of round 2 is cover sketch B.

The Secret Kings cover sketch 3

Thanks again to everyone who voted. The third and final round of testing will commence tomorrow!

Don't neglect to read my other outstanding books: Hugo nominee Nethereal and Dragon winner Souldancer.