Putting the PITA in Your Pocket

Hugo winner David Gerrold may have presided over the ceremony that forever beclowned the same award, but unlike the CHORFs, we're not binary thinkers compelled to insulate our amygdalae in the genetic fallacy. But truth is truth, and even Caiaphas prophesied unknowing.

This 1999 magazine clipping, for example, chronicles Gerrold making some undeniably prophetic utterances.

Gerrold predictions

#PulpRev guru Jeffro Johnson's comment from G+:
He missed the most important bit: how peoples' social skills would atrophy en masse with the advent of these crummy boxes. It's like living in an Isaac Asimov story.
My comment:

He also missed how the universal proliferation of smartphones would create a whole generation of hunchbacks.

Amish iPhone
Not even the Amish are safe.
I read somewhere that smartphones have surpassed Kindles a readers' eBook platform of choice. If you're among the SFF fans who've taken to perusing your favorite fiction on your phone, you may as well load it up with fun stories that won't insult you--unlike the globo-commie agitprop peddled by Gerrold and his ilk.


Selling Our Past Back to Us

Fellow Kids

Author JD Cowan issues a Jeremiad against the Morlocks who destroy culture while pretending to create it, occasioned by his viewing of a Netflix nostalgia cash-grab.
The program was called Everything Sucks! and is supposed to be a Wonder Years or Freaks and Geeks of the 1990s. For those that don't know it is a look back into the height of a now dead era using the lens of that same time period to connect it to modern audiences. Only this one is being made by Millennials, so you already know what you're getting. On top of it, they show a clear lack of understanding of the time period. They set it in 1996, the year before the decade fell off a cliff, and used writers that clearly were either stoned their entire teen years or were never actually alive during the decade. Because the '90s were not like this.
Everything Sucks! is painful in every area, but above all it was the accuracy to the time period that grated on me. The series displays how serious it takes its concept within the early moments. It barely tries to connect to the audience.
First example: it was so accurate to the year 1996 that the very first song played in the very first minute of the series was not released until 1997.
And it goes downhill from there.
The significance of that 1997 timestamp will not escape regular readers of this blog.
The 1990s were a fairly dull decade, but it was also very faddish. Trends flashed into existence in the blink of an eye and were gone just as fast. You can't have kids wearing flannel, messing around with Gak, referencing the "new Star Wars" re-releases, listening to the "new" 1995 Oasis album, and playing with slap bracelets as if they all happened at the exact same time. Because they didn't. But you can pretend they did if you're just using the 1990s as a cover for your terrible and extremely predictable hacky Current Year drama in between shallow 1990s "I clapped when I saw that!" references.
As I pointed out on JD's blog, There are two ways to approach a period piece.

  1. Write a contemporary story and haphazardly garb it in the trappings of the period.
  2. Put effort into studying the era, meticulously recreate the setting and costumes, and let the story tell itself.

For those playing along at home, option 2 is what Stranger Things did in season one. Note that most of the cars and furniture in the show are from the 70s and even before. The show's creators were smart enough to understand that everybody didn't buy a Swedish Modernist bedroom set and a brand new model year BMW at the stroke of midnight on January 1st 1981.

In fact, I'm inspired to call option 2 the Stranger Things Approach and option 1 the Austin Powers Approach.
Shows like the above are no longer about the original purpose of art or entertainment: to connect to your fellow man. Pop culture is now about masturbation. It is now about little more than useless trivia and empty references for a small niche group. There is no more relating to the majority of those around but about glorifying the self (and their "like-minded communities") over others. Connections to those unlike yourself are no longer important: thinking inward is. Propping yourself up is. Making sure you feel good and have high self-esteem is. It's all about the self and how everything relates to you: not how you can relate to others.
It is all about eating yourself.
But empty nostalgia over setting is the point. They have nothing else. Hollywood can't stray from the bad habits they've developed. They have no stories to tell except being wistful for a youth that was apparently just as terrible as the present they are currently living in. There is no semblance of hope to escape their prison of misery.
It reveals a very ugly view of life that is becoming more obvious with each passing flop of a drama they release. It's really no wonder why audiences are checking out of these sorts of stories and leaving Hollywood behind. No one wants to see this narcissistic group of creators talk about themselves and only themselves and their tiny worlds. Hollywood does not have much else.
This is all pop culture is now: a decrepit and fat anaconda devouring itself until there's nothing left.
The Ophian Rising - Brian Niemeier
I couldn't resist.
Getting back to the subject at hand, clumsy cynical attempts to repackage the past and sell it back to us--like an aging porn star shipping out random items from around the house as rewards to crowd fund her heroin habit--emphasize the desperate need for new creators to produce fresh cultural touchstones. At the very least, we're in dire need of concerted efforts fork and replace old pop icons that have been recopied so many times that the noise has drowned out the signal.

That's why successful forks like Galaxy's Edge--and, hopefully soon, #AGundamForUs--are vitally important. We've seen the difficulty of fighting head-on for enemy-occupied territory. It's smarter to build out own platforms and launch superior brands in related genres before challenging converged institutions directly.

Don't give money to people who hate you.

Support creators who put entertaining you first.


Major League

Major League

Having finished editing a baseball story the other day, I got the urge to revisit the 1989 sports comedy Major League. It had been at least a decade since I'd last seen the movie, and this most recent viewing gave me some new insights.

If you're unfamiliar with Major League, it's a light comedy firmly in the "ragtag team of misfits learn to put aside their differences to win the big game' mold. This movie managed to rise above the pack thanks largely to snappy dialogue and endearing performances by Tom Berenger, Bob Uecker, Wesley Snipes, and Charlie Sheen.

That's what makes this film notable from a creative standpoint. The screenwriters and actors took a rather shopworn concept and elevated the material to the status of a lesser 80s classic. Major League essentially did for sports flicks what Ghostbusters did for horror movies--albeit with rather less cultural penetration and commercial dominance.

ML was still a minor hit though, earning back roughly five times its budget at the box office. And chances are most of you at least recognize Charlie Sheen's trademark character Ricky Vaughn--especially if you subscribe to dissident politics and frequent Gab.

Brief plot synopsis: The gold-digging trophy wife of the Cleveland Indians' recently deceased owner plots to activate an escape clause that will let her move the team to Miami if attendance drops below 800,000 per game. To that end, she fills up the roster with the worst players she can find. The result is a club full of dysfunctional circus freaks. Two complications threaten to foil the owner's plan: 1) the players catch on and resolve to win out of revenge, and 2) an amazingly talented nobody just happens to crash Indians training camp.

I'm old enough to remember the original marketing campaign for Major League. The trailers and TV spots portrayed the movie as cheeky and edgy. Irreverence definitely abounds, but that was the late 80s, when putting Charlie Sheen in your movie with a Christmas tree-inspired haircut and glasses from Hot Topic could still pass for edgy.

Upon review, what most stands out in Major League is what doesn't stand out. The movie was filmed in the summer of 1988--almost exactly thirty years ago. A more iconic 80s genre-blending comedy, Back to the Future, springs to mind. Marty McFly traveled back in time from a 1985 of video games, silk screen t shirts, and Burger King to a 1955 of The Honeymooners, poodle skirts, and diners.

Movies make good time capsules, and Major League shows us that not only had pop culture remained essentially unchanged between 1985 and 1988; it hasn't changed much between 1988 and 2018. The first sign that Major League wasn't filmed in the present day comes roughly half an hour into the movie when somebody is shown talking on a huge old-style cell phone. Otherwise, the first act could have taken place anytime from the mid-1980s till now.

But pop culture is not the entirety of culture, and the intervening changes to the latter are apparent in this film. Major League is yet another comedy you could never make today thanks to rampant political correctness. Pedro Cerrano and his Jobu shrine would never be allowed by Hollywood's cultural kommissars.

Even then, the production hedged their bets by taking pains to mock the film's sole openly Christian character. Still, the heathen is shown giving up his superstition in the end, so the movie's underlying ethos is closer to garden variety secularism than the current anti-Christian, anti-white male hysteria. But you can glimpse it on the horizon in retrospect.

As I mentioned in my review of Galaxy's Edge: Legionnaire, the mark of a superior comedy is that the story would still work if you took out the jokes. Major League fulfills that criterion. The characterization is especially competent considering the size of the ensemble cast they were working with. Yet all of the main characters are introduced and fleshed out just enough for the story to work in a relatively short amount of time.

My one gripe with the story has to do with the movie's conflict--specifically, the antagonist's motivation. The players stand to lose their jobs if her plan succeeds, which are sufficient stakes to believably motivate the team. The owner's motive is that she simply dislikes Cleveland and would rather move to Florida. Thus, she suffers from a case of Wile E. Coyote plot. Instead of orchestrating a lengthy and costly Rube Goldberg plan, why doesn't she just sell the team and move to Florida? For that matter, why doesn't she keep the team and move to Florida without them?

That's just a minor quibble. All of the current tent pole superhero movies have far less coherent villain plots. Overall, Major League is a slightly flawed and too often overlooked gem from a time when comedians didn't take themselves too seriously to tell jokes. If you've got some free time this week, I encourage you to dig it out and watch it again.

I also encourage you to check out Nethereal, the first volume of my award-winning and now complete Soul Cycle action-adventure series.

Nethereal - Brian Niemeier


Pacific Rim Uprising

Join Daddy Warpig, Dorrinal, and best selling Galaxy's Edge author Jason Anspach for the latest installment of Geek Gab. Learn the secrets of the sci-fi indie pub champs. And in keeping with the #AGundamForUs theme, our hosts and their special guest also review Pacific Rim Uprising.

This is sure to be the perfect companion piece to Geek Gab's stellar interview with Jason's fellow Galaxy's Edge mastermind Nick Cole. I have it on good authority that this is their best episode ever!

In news related to both Western mecha and indie publishing, the outline for the first book of my upcoming mecha/Mil-SF series is now complete. Newsletter subscribers, keep your eyes peeled for further details.

"If you love Sci Fi you WANT to read this book."


Red Pill Religion

Last night I had the pleasure of joining Dragon Award-nominated author Declan Finn and the Red Pill Religion crew for a discussion of human spirituality in science fiction. We also digressed onto the issue of indie pub marketing.

This is the second time I've joined host Dean Esmay for a chat about the theological dimension of popular fiction, and this experience was as rewarding as the first. I encourage you to give it a listen.

In other indie publishing news, it's heartening to see the overwhelmingly positive response to #AGundamForUs. I've received credible reports that the Western mecha renewal initiative has taken on a life of its own and has been embraced by rising literary movements. Pulp Revolution Author Rawle Nyanzi has even issued a challenge for writers to release their own #AGundamForUs books by December 31st.

The more the merrier. Bring your best giant robot story and get involved.

Yours truly is hard at work on a #GundamNotGundam novel series that's been brewing almost as long as the Dragon Award-winning Soul Cycle. Look for the first volume well in advance of Rawle's New Year's Eve deadline.

In the meantime, there's a complete and thrilling Soul Cycle series to keep you entertained.

The Ophian Rising - Brian Niemeier



Delta Plus
This could be your Gundam, even though it's not technically a Gundam.
Writer Bradford Walker concurs with yesterday's post on the need for a Western answer to the moribund Japanese mecha franchises and adds his own rallying cry.
Left unsaid is this: fixing the issues is on us. We have to step up to fix the problem, and that means "culturally appropriating" the HELL out of this genre. Just as we've now got #StarWarsNotStarWars going on, it's time for #GundamNotGundam (or whatever your show of choice is) and that means it's on the indie world to write the stories (with proper pacing and other elements noted as too-often lacking) that blown up good and hard into the next revival wave (something not seen for over a decade).
As astute readers will note, Gundam is definitely my show of choice. And while I find the hashtag #AGundamForUs preferable to #GundamNotGundam--since it captures the spirit of #StarWarsNotStarWars without stepping on Nick and Jason's toes while being more aspirational and pointing out a way forward--public opinion has the final say.
While it's not all wrack and ruin, it's clearly not as good as things once were and the institution lacks the ability to renew itself at this time due to entirely external influences holding down any good will from more than a few established franchises. The same tells of an ailing culture are in play here, most importantly being the persistence of retrenchant dominant franchises and other established IP while original works are more miss than hit.
Many of you reading this will remember when Cartoon Network found themselves with a respectable hit on their hands when Gundam Wing aired back in the late 90s. It was the breakout the Gundam franchise needed to finally establish a foothold in the American market.

Bandai, Sunrise, and Cartoon Network share the blame for the comedy of errors that ensued. Instead of releasing Wing's natural successor Gundam X--which also would have made a nice segue into the main Universal Century timeline--they followed up with China Beach Emo Love Triangle and Mecha Pokemon. I'm given to understand that this total cluster resulted from the fact that Gundam's most profitable market segment is its model kits, Bandai wouldn't release Gundam X models stateside for some reason, and Sunrise was therefore hesitant to give CN the goods.

Combine that kind of brand mismanagement with TV executives' compulsion to play it safe, and you get the current mecha anime malaise.
The new shows feel a lot like the anime versions of a Fantasy Heartbreaker tabletop RPG. They have a gimmick, but otherwise build around a feel from one of the dominant franchises, so you're looking at "Like Gundam, but (x)." and that sometimes isn't enough. (The Super Robot era of the 70s had this problem something bad, which is why the original Mobile Suit Gundam was such a welcome change.)
The current situation reminds me of the upheaval in role-playing video games a while back. Japanese developers dominated the market for years, got lazy, and their output dwindled from a torrent to a trickle. Which gave resurgent Western RPGs the opening they needed to swoop in and fill the JRPG-shaped void.
But we don't need to wait for Japan to unfuck itself. We can do this ourselves now, starting with the writing and publishing of the novels a lot of anime (of all genres) use as source material.
If I read Bradford's post correctly, he's not just armchair quarterbacking. We can all look forward to his own foray into the wide world of mechs. And you all know I'm not one to tell others to do what I'm not willing to do myself. My #GundamNotGundam novel series is coming along quite nicely. Something else I'm not prone to is wild hyperbole, and I can tell you right now that what's coming has the strong potential to make the Dragon Award-winning Soul Cycle look like a small press poetry anthology.

You should totally check out the Soul Cycle, though--if only to serve as a benchmark for how brain-meltingly awesome my next series is gonna be. #AGundamForUs will once again make you believe that a Gyan can fry.


The Decline and Fall of Mecha

This video, which was recommended to me by multiple trusted sources, endeavors to chart the course of mecha anime from its post-WWII origins through its peak in the 80s and 90s to its current malaise.

Do give it a watch.

My comment: I dropped out of the mecha scene--and anime in general--when they stopped hand-painting on cells and moved to all computer animation. Every series has a pastel, pristine sameness to its aesthetic that to me is the visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

However, I was there for the height of mecha anime, and even then I noted a few quirks--which, again, mecha has in common with most Japanese animation--that struck me as inherently limiting its appeal.

  1. Most anime--and Eastern storytelling traditions in general--have never seen fit to incorporate three act structure to the same extent as in the West. Your typical anime series eschews a short-to-moderate buildup of rising action followed by a protracted period of escalating conflict culminating in a cathartic climax capped off with a nice wrap-up. Instead you get an extended intro that meanders across several episodes--the sort of mini story arc normally reserved for TV pilots in the US--which gives way to more episodic, threat-of-the-week plots before rushing into a finale that rarely if ever ties up loose ends. Honestly, you're lucky to get anything resembling closure.
  2. Two words: tonal dissonance. Probably owing to fundamental differences in the conventions of Eastern and Western humor, a lot of anime series--especially mecha series---whipsaw between goofball antics and maudlin moments of existential angst. Picture the typical Alan Alda-written and directed episode of M*A*S*H.
Now, that's all well and good for certain audiences, and I've certainly derived hours of fun from classic mecha anime like Mobile Suit Gundam, Super Dimension Fortress Macross, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. The ride is usually worthwhile, even if it comes to an abrupt stop upside-down in the middle of a loop. However, I'm wondering if the venerable mecha genre couldn't stand to benefit from more universally accessible Western storytelling techniques.

Perhaps it's time someone wrote #AGundamForUs.

touching, slightly strange, and I wonder if it is part of the anime influence


Heckling vs Criticism


Jimfear138 shares his thoughts concerning a recent dustup within the Pulp Revolution. [Caution: NSFW language.]
So what I'm talking about is this whole Groffin shit. For the uninitiated, and I only know the story so far back, apparently Groffin is an internet commentator who got into a slapfight with Jeffro over the supposed chest-thumping and victory-declaring that happens on the right side of politics, particularly The Vox Day Side Of Things™. I don't read Vox' blog, I catch maybe a post every two or three months, and I don't generally trouble myself about what Vox is getting up to because he's a big boy and can take care of himself. So maybe that chest thumping is happening over there, but that's not what I'm here to talk about.
So Groffin cheesed Jeffro off, is the point to that. Then Jeffro done did this. So that happened.
Now I think G-man has some points here. Or at least he's describing reality. Big deal. Anyone can do that. I'd have thought the things he said didn't need to be said, because they were obvious. I thought everybody already knew what Groffin laid out, but apparently for some people this was more of a bucket of cold water to the face than a "Well, duh, now tell me the color of the sky" moment. But then again, here I am giving a short, autistic internet history lesson of recent events so I can say the incredibly obvious bullshit I'm about to say, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Anyway, on with it.
So Jesse Lucas (who doesn't have a steemit but you can find on twitter @JesseLucasSaga) makes a post on the pulprev dot com, linked here. Jesse lays down some truth here as well. It's worth a read, even if I think it is being depressing and melodramatic for no reason.
There is much, much more at the link.

Short version: Jeffro posted a reply to David Brooks' defeatist NYT piece about Conservatives having no cultural power. A commenter showed up and heckled the #PulpRev. Being relatively new authors, some of them unduly took the trash talk disguised as criticism to heart. It's an old story.

Jim generally has it right that this controversy is much ado about nothing. I've written about how to take criticism previously. But before writers can benefit from constructive critiques of their work, they need to master the skill of discerning criticism from heckling.

In a nutshell:

  • If someone is just bitching--especially based on subjective matters of taste--about the quality and/or financial success of a work while offering no suggestions for how to improve, he's heckling and should be ignored.
  • If, on the other hand, someone is pointing out objective flaws that keep a work from living up to its proper standard, and he suggests ways to overcome these defects, he is a critic whose feedback is worthy of consideration.
Here are some bonus tips for separating the criticism wheat from the heckling chaff.
  1. Is the commenter holding up classic works by some legendary author as the standard you work must meet to pass muster? He's heckling. Dishonestly. Ask him to show you his books.
  2. Does the alleged critic compare your book's sales performance to that of the Big Five publishers? He's sperging. Ask to see his sales figures.
  3. Has your interlocutor pointed out that your two year-old literary movement hasn't rocked the publishing industry to its foundations yet? He's trolling. Ask him to share his master plan for world domination.
And as always, keep writing. Keep reading deeply and broadly in your genre, and support authors who are producing fun alternatives to tradpub's pink slime.

Epic Conclusion to the Soul Cycle. If you haven't read the rest, why not?


Purged Amazon Reviews: Case Closed?

Case Closed

Castalia House Lead Editor Vox Day passes along a possible solution to The Case of the Purged Amazon Reviews.

Specifically, he quotes author Amanda Green's theory based on her review of Amazon's terms of service.
2. Are authors allowed to review other authors’ books?
Yes. Authors are welcome to submit Customer Reviews, unless the reviewing author has a personal relationship with the author of the book being reviewed, or was involved in the book’s creation process (i.e. as a co-author, editor, illustrator, etc.). If so, that author isn’t eligible to write a Customer Review for that book. 
3. Can I ask my family to write a Customer Review for my book?
We don’t allow individuals who share a household with the author or close friends to write Customer Reviews for that author’s book. Customer Reviews provide unbiased product feedback from fellow shoppers and aren’t to be used as a promotional tool.
The implication is that members of the Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance on Facebook were especially hard-hit by the purges because they were assumed to have violated Item 2 above. As I mentioned previously, a number of reviews were removed from my Soul Cycle books. While I'm technically a CLFA member, I was essentially drafted into it, as FB allows groups to do. The only CLFA members I've met in person are Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen, neither of whom have posted reviews of my books. Thus, Amanda's theory doesn't explain why my reviews were purged.

Vox makes a similar observation.
...the fact that Jon Del Arroz's reviews were restored upon review by an Amazon manager, as were some of the reviews of Declan Finn's books, indicates that there was probably more going on than just legitimate TOS policing. My guess is that a rogue Amazon employee took it upon himself to take advantage of the opening being given to him by TOS-violating reviewers, but got carried away and ended up deleting a number of reviews that were not in violation of the terms of service as well.
This leads me to two conclusions. First, reviews are considered very important by SJWs. Therefore, culture warriors should be diligent about posting Amazon reviews of books that they read. Even if it's only a short, one-paragraph review that only takes a minute to post, it will help build up the total number of reviews as well as bolster the book's average rating against fake reviews meant to lower it.
Second, when you are dealing with an SJW-amenable authority, or even just an authority that happens to employ an SJW, you must keep your nose clean. Don't push the envelope with regards to the posted rules and regulations. Don't give them an excuse to crack down, because when they do, they may not stop with your infractions, but cross the line themselves.
Vox's advice carries some weight since he's dealt with rogue Amazon employees before. Support indie authors who are bucking the corrupt Big Five. Learn the terms of service and codes of conduct put in place by SJW-friendly organizations you're forced to deal with, and follow them to the letter. Crossing all your t's and dotting your i's won't guarantee protection--nothing will besides creating your own platform--but it will force the SJWs to drop the guise of impartiality if they censor you.

A gripping, thrilling send-off to a most wondrous series
The Ophian Rising - Brian Niemeier


How to Avoid the River Plot

Infinite River

Best selling author Jonathan Moeller offers his expert advice on how to write a long-running fantasy series without falling into any of the genre's common pitfalls.
First, I figure out the overall arc for the entire series. What is the central conflict and the main antagonist? Then I decided on the main characters and their specific character arcs.
By that point, this is usually enough to work out a synopsis of the entire series. Then it’s time to divide the synopsis into individual books. It’s important to have an antagonist and a fully formed plot for each individual book. Otherwise you fall prey to one of the weaknesses of long-running fantasy series, where there’s an entire 800 page book where the characters do nothing but walk around the woods or spend like a million chapters sailing down a river or something.
We all know who he's talking about. Learn from those bad examples. Don't be the Book-length River Voyage guy.

By the way, the reason having a clear antagonist helps authors avoid writing aimless novels is that having a solid antagonist to place obstacles between the protagonist and his goal generates conflict, which is the engine stories run on. Characters end up riding the lazy river when they're insufficiently motivated and/or face insufficient opposition.

Jonathan continues:
When I write a synopsis of an individual book, I start by writing a list of the really significant or spectacular scenes I want in it, and then I sketch out the rest of the scenes to connect the big scenes. Then I chop the synopsis up into individual chapters and start writing.
It’s good to have both external and internal conflicts for your characters. In FROSTBORN, Ridmark’s external conflict is stopping the return of the Frostborn, but his internal conflict is the fact that he never dealt with his wife’s death and is very bad at processing grief in general.
More conflict -> more dramatic tension -> a book that's unputdownable.
You can also get a lot of plot mileage when the internal conflict bubbles over into the external one.
Having multiple conflicts intersect at the same time is a central feature of the seven-point plot structure popularized by author Dan Wells. Having your characters beset by multiple sources of opposition at once is a good way to maximize emotional impact--especially when your characters overcome them.

Souldancer provides a good example of the interplay between external and internal conflict with Astlin's struggle to escape Shaiel while wrestling with the madness that makes her a danger to herself and others.

Jonathan dispenses plenty more sage advice in his original post. Read the whole thing here.

And if you're looking for a not-so-long adventure series that employs Jonathan's advice, check out my award-winning, and complete, Soul Cycle.

The Soul Cycle - Brian Niemeier


We've Passed Peak Pop Star


In recent Decline of the West news, record sales have fallen off a cliff.
Record sales are being touted these days as on a comeback. All you hear is: streaming will save us.
But things are pretty dire. For example, Justin Timberlake’s “Man of the Woods,” touted so highly on the Super Bowl and a hit in its first week, has been a total sales stiff. As of this week, “MoW” has sold just 285,000 copies.
Contrast this with Timberlake’s “20/20 Experience,” which was the best selling album of 2013 with 2.5 million copies. (Luckily, Justin had a smash single last year with “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”)
Even worse: U2’s “Songs of Experience” has taught us nothing. It had great songs, like Timberlake, but they didn’t save the situation. “Songs” has sold just 250,000 copies total. Remember U2? Their sales used to be huge.
 As a matter of fact, I remember U2 quite well. Regular readers of this blog are aware that I was quite the fan of the Larry Mullen Band in my day.

Friedman's article connects a number of dots scattered among multiple posts on this blog. Take this one, for example, which explains why there will never be another Biggest Band in the World. U2 themselves held that title for decades after inheriting it from The Who with a brief interregnum presided over by The Police. It's fitting that Friedman used them as an example. 250k copies does not a megastar make.

A major red flag that should have alerted everyone to the current pop music decline was that one band dominated the market for so long. There were plenty of contenders for the title over the years. Record label PR, MTV airheads, and sensationalistic trade magazines all assured us that acts like Jesus Jones, Smashing Pumpkins, Live, etc. would be the new face of rock & roll.

To be sure, all of the bands I listed, and many others, achieved some success. But none became the new colossus standing astride the pop landscape. The Red Hot Chili Peppers came within a hair's breadth of the mountaintop, but the whole scene fractured and contracted under their feet. If they'd come along just five years earlier, the outcome may well have been different.

What exactly happened to shatter the former pop music monolith? The Z Man proposes an explanation.
A 15-year old can go on YouTube or Spotify and find fifty versions of the current pop hits, gong back before their parents were born. They can also find stuff from previous eras that was remarkably well done and performed by people with real talent. Justin Timberlake may be very talented as a singer, but no one is confusing him with Frank Sinatra. It’s simply a lot easier for young people to see that pop music is just manufactured pap from Acme Global Corp.
That’s another thing that may be plaguing pop culture in general and pop music in particular. When I was a teen, your music said something about you because you felt a connection to the band. In the sterile transactional world of today, no one feels an attachment to anything, much less the latest pop group. There’s no sense of obligation to buy or  listen to their latest release. Supporting a type of music or a specific act is no longer a part of kid’s identity. The relationship is now as sterile as society.
The Z Man has hit upon something here. But how did it come to this? Read on.
That is the funny thing about pop culture in our Progressive paradise. It is a lot like the pop music of totalitarian paradises of the past. The Soviets manufactured their version of Western pop, but it was never popular. Just as we see at the Super Bowl, comrades can be forced marched to an arena and made to cheer, but no one really liked it. There’s a lot of that today, as every pop star has the exact same Progressive politics and uses their act to proselytize on behalf of the faith. That’s not a coincidence. It is by design.
The specter of message fic looms large over yet another dying industry.

The lesson, as always, is that Progressives can't create. They can only subvert, deconstruct, and mock what came before. And they always do so in the service of their totalitarian ideology. Our current cultural wasteland is the result.
The great philosopher Homer Simpson said, “Why do you need new bands? Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 1974. It’s a scientific fact.”  There’s a lot of truth to that as per capita music sales peaked in the 70’s and began a decline until CD’s forced everyone to repurchase their music. But that peaked in the late 90’s and there has been a precipitous decline ever since.
Here, Z Man brings us full circle to an epiphany I recently chronicled here: 1997 was the year the music--and Western pop culture in general--died.
Pop music is not art, but like art it does hold a mirror up to society. In the heyday of pop music, the society it reflected was one that was optimistic and happy. Today, the society it reflects is the gray, featureless slurry of multiculturalism and the vinegar drinking scolds who impose it on us. It’s not that it is low quality or offensive. It’s that the music is a lot like the modern parking lot. It is row after row of dreary sameness. Like everything in this age, popular music has the soul of the machine that made it.
The converged manufacturers of Western culture have destroyed the rich patrimony bequeathed to them by past generations. Happily, a new generation of creators are turning back to the great works of the past and finding inspiration to build the pop culture of the future. We can't make it happen without your support!

Move over Dark Tower. There's a new level of fiction in town.
Souldancer - Brian Niemeier


A Wrinkle in Time

Tune in for Geek Gab as Daddy Warpig and Dorrinal review the controversial new adaptation of beloved YA novel A Wrinkle in Time. Plus Slay the Spire and Hurricane Heist!

God-slaying fun for all!


Casablanca's Lessons for Writers


Over at Amatopia, the Daytime Renegade discovers the invaluable lessons that the classic film Casablanca has to teach writers.
My wife and I watched the 1942 classic Casablanca few nights ago. It had been over a dozen years since I had seen it, and it was the first time for my wife. All I have to say is that the movie is classic for a reason, and that it gets better with each viewing.
And what struck me were the lessons this movie provides about novel writing. Sure, it’s a different art than screenwriting, but several techniques translate very well across the mediums.
The DR is quite astute. Not only is Casablanca rightly considered a classic. It's also recognized as the origin of the industry standard formula for screenwriting. And yes, you can easily adapt the Hollywood Formula to writing novels, as I explained in a previous post.
Screenwriting teacher Dan Decker identified the Hollywood Formula to help his students maximize the emotional impact of their movie scripts. It was widely adopted by film makers following the success of Casablanca; where, Decker speculates, the creative team stumbled upon the formula by accident.
The Hollywood Formula utilizes three archetypal characters whose interrelationships drive the story across three acts.
  • The Protagonist — the character whose pursuit of a goal drives the story. The goal must be concrete, definable, and achievable. Not "I want to be happy" or "I want to be rich", but rather, "I want him to fall in love with me so that I will be happy." "I want to win the game show that I'm going to be on so that I will be rich."
  • The Antagonist — the person who places obstacles between the protagonist and his goal. The antagonist is not necessarily a villain. The antagonist's goals may be diametrically opposed to, or even the same as, the protagonist's.
  • The Relationship Character — accompanies the protagonist on his journey. Typically a more experienced character who has wisdom to share with the protagonist, which the protagonist rejects at first. The theme of the story, what the protagonist needs to understand in order to succeed, is expressed either by or to this character. In many cases, this happens as part of an actual conversation. At the end of the story, this conversation or expression of the theme will be revisited, and the protagonist and this character will reconcile with each other.
The story ends when the protagonist achieves or relinquishes his goal, defeats or is defeated by the antagonist, and reconciles with the relationship character. The closer together these things happen, the more emotional impact the story will have.
Unlike Dent's model, which divides a story by word count, The Hollywood Formula indicates which events should occur at various percentages of the way through the story.
  • First Act: beginning at 0% of the way through the story; Introduces the characters and their goals. At 10%-15%, the protagonist faces a fateful decision, a choice, and how he answers determines whether or not there is a story.
  • Second Act: begins after 25% of the story has been told. Starts piling on the problems. At about 50%, the story has been raising questions. It begins to answer them.
  • Third Act: begins after 75% of the story has been told. The beginning of the third act is the low point—the furthest the protagonist can possibly get from the goal. At Climax the protagonist confronts the antagonist, reconciles with the relationship character, and claims success or failure in his goal. Then we have Denouement; loose ends are wrapped up and the story reaches its conclusion.
The writing utility of Casablanca's structure is well-trodden ground. DR takes us further by highlighting some other storytelling elements the movie got right.
  • Setting. Rick’s cafe seems like a place you’d want to hang out in, gambling and drinking and listening to Sam and his band play jazz. But it was also a dangerous place, always under the eye of the authorities and the setting for some violent confrontations.
  • Atmosphere. There is a pervasive sense of danger and dread in Casablanca, as though time is running out, not just for the characters, whether in love or trying to escape the Nazis, but for the world itself. It gives everything a heightened sense of urgency that even the revelry at Rick’s can’t cover up. Indeed, the parting of Rick’s guests is tragic, laughter in the face of inevitable evil. Remember, this movie was made when it still looked like the Nazis were unstoppable.
  • Dialogue. Much of this movie’s classic lines were written on the fly, or improvised (“Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.”). But what stands out to be is how each character in Casablanca speaks in a unique way, and there is not a wasted line of dialogue.
Every word uttered in this movie had to be spoken. The dialogue is snappy without sounding forced, particularly Bogart’s lines and his delivery. The responses characters give sound unique without seeming too clever.
Lesson: Trim the fat. Sometimes us writers try to make things sound more “realistic” with “Well” and “so” and “um” and lots of ellipses. But it doesn’t work in movies, and it doesn’t work in print.
There's plenty more in DR's original post. You should definitely check it out. I want to leave you with his lesson about dialogue, because it's one of the top pieces of editorial advice I give to my author clients. Novel dialogue shouldn't emulate real-world speech. It should be the best of real speech. Keeping that tip in mind will help make your dialogue pop.

If you'd like additional help polishing your writing to a pro-level shine, I'm currently offering editing services. Get a professional pair of eyeballs on your manuscript to spot problems your beta readers missed. Plus, you can say your novel was edited by a Dragon Award winner. Just send me an email.

Of course, talk is cheap. For an example of my own advice in action, pick up my thrilling Soul Cycle adventure/horror series, starting with the breakout Lovecraft-Firefly mashup Nethereal.

Nethereal - Brian Niemeier


Amazon Review Purge

Amazon frown
Has the epidemic of social media censorship that's seen big tech firms like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter persecute users for their politics infected Amazon? A recent purge of book reviews may be a warning sign that the English-speaking world's biggest online retailer is interfering with its users in subtler but still potentially detrimental ways.

Author Declan Finn shares his numbers.
Has Amazon declared war on authors?
It would seem so at first pass. Last week, I had 315 reviews spread out over my various and sundry projects. Honor at Stake, for example, had 63, 68 reviews.
Today, I only have 238 reviews over all of them. Honor at Stake in particular having only 45 now. When I ask Amazon via email, they know nothing. Could I be more specific? It's literally EVERY BOOK. They need a road map?
The mystery depends when I looked at reviews that I myself have written. They're all gone. Poof. Vanished.
What the Hell?
And I'm not the only one. In fact, one writer's group I'm a part of has had a lot of the same problem.
The Conservative Libertarian Fiction Alliance.
Funny that. And the one person outside of CLFA who had also had problems is friends with three of us.
However, I'm not about to declare enemy action just yet... 
Declan isn't exaggerating. One CLFA member had all of her book's reviews deleted without warning or explanation. Author JD Cowan reported that every review he'd left on Amazon has been erased.

Not even I escaped the review purge. Altogether, I lost six reviews between the four books in my award-winning Soul Cycle series.

None of the reviews I've written about other authors' books have been removed, though.

Since the review purge was first noticed, several possible explanations have been suggested:

  • Amazon is removing paid reviews (If they are, it's not their sole criterion for deletion, since I don't pay for reviews).
  • Reviews left by authors' relatives are being culled (Again, if this is true, I know for a fact it's not the only reason.)
  • Amazon's algorithm is flagging reviews written by authors' social media and blog followers (If this is the case, Amazon is being really inconsistent about deleting these reviews).
  • Censorship targeting the Right and center-Right (Insufficient evidence, though as Declan alluded to in his post, a rogue Amazon employee did repeatedly attempt to sabotage the publication of a Castalia House parody of a John Scalzi book.)

What are we to make of the sudden unexplained disappearance of hundreds--perhaps thousands--of Amazon reviews? Dragon Award-winning author Nick Cole has concluded that reviews don't factor into the algorithm's decision of which books to push. Nevertheless, customers rely on honest reviews to help them decide which books to purchase.

One theory is that Amazon is cracking down on "non-organic" reviews, up to and including feedback from authors' social media followers. That would require a remarkable lack of self-awareness, since Amazon Author Central author pages make Amazon itself a social network.

There's also the fact that authors have been instructed for years to build relationships with readers on social media. Yes, flogging your book on Twitter might hurt its sales at launch, but social media is vital for back list sales.

Multiple authors are still waiting for Amazon to answer their queries. Until a definitive answer is forthcoming, we'll just have to stay alert as the situation develops.

Even the most radical right wing dissident would tell you that of all the Big Tech outfits, Amazon always cared more about making money than playing thought police. If Amazon's stance has changed, there's no sugarcoating it--lots of authors and readers are in deep trouble. Alternatives to Wikipedia and Twitter seem to be feasible. Facebook is a far tougher nut to crack. Google is impervious to anything but a federal antitrust suit.

Amazon is in a whole other category. You're just not going to replace it with an alt-tech startup. A major misstep like censoring its users might open it up to disintermediation from an outside source, though.

At the end of the day, only two parties are absolutely indispensable to the book industry: authors and readers. Your favorite authors need your support now more than ever.

Whatever's happening with Amazon, as long as folks want to read my stories, I'll find a way to get my books in their hands.

The Ophian Rising - Brian Niemeier
If you’re a fan of mind-bending fiction, epic tales spun out over centuries, of heroic heroes you can love, check this out.


Reader Mail: Sith-Jedi Theology

Reader Durandel writes:
In conversations with my friends and family, many who are conservative and Catholic, whenever the topic of conversation comes up about fighting back against the Left, someone in the group gets very upset at the idea of being uncivil.
And if you point out that it is silly to be civil with the uncivil, just as it is silly to be reasonable with the unreasonable, the response is oddly the same every time. In fact, the response is always some form of one of these two responses: "If we use the Left's tactics against them, we become no different than them." and "if we fight back, we sink to their [the Left] level and stop being conservatives/good Catholics." (I mockingly refer to this as Sith-Jedi Theology)
And when I note that said civility has been turned into a weapon against the Right, and that as a tactic against the uncivil Left it always leads to defeat, I'll get another oddly repeated reply along the lines of, "I'd rather be civil and lose than be uncivil and win." 
Jesus was not civil to the Pharisees whom he called a brood of vipers and the sons of Satan. Nor was he civil to the money changers in the Temple nor to Peter when Peter refused to accept Christ's statement that He had to die. And as St. Thomas and St. Augustine noted, Jesus did not turn the other cheek when he was struck in the face (nor did Christ literally follow a few other statements from his hyperbolic Sermon on the Mount) and neither did St. Peter, indicating the teachings were not to be understood as literal.
I can't figure out how to help them see that being on the Right, being a Christian, does not require us to be doormats in the face of evil. We are not called to stand by and allow our families, nations, cultures and faith to be trammeled and desecrated by satanic communists, Islamic jihadists, or the unwittingest of unwitting useful idiots. If it is sacred, good, beautiful, true, you defend and fight for it. 
If I'm in error, please correct me. If they are in error, some pointers on what to say would be appreciated. I think some of the problem lies in people's definitions of civil and uncivil behavior. There also appears to be presumption of particular intent behind certain actions/tactics rather than recognizing that the intent behind an action can differ and impact the moral gravity of the action (such as killing in self defense vs. killing for greed). I also think this response is being taught somewhere, based on the consistent similarity of the responses, but I don't know the source.

He's not in error. Civility is a mild virtue at best. At worst, as is so often the case among Conservatives, it is a fig leaf thinly concealing the vice of cowardice and a lack of faith.

We are commanded to preach the Gospel in and out of season. Christ also blessed those who take no offense at Him. Others' feelings have no claim on whether or not we should speak the truth.

I agree with Franciscan theologian Thomas Weinandy. The root cause of so many Western Christians' timidity is weakness of faith. Too many of us have lost confidence in the rightness of Church teaching--or even the reality of objective right and wrong.

Durandel's relatives and acquaintances do not speak as Christian men of old did. Their lukewarmness shames the apostles, martyrs, and crusaders who risked their lives witnessing the Kingdom to heathens. The tired old rationalization "If we use their tactics, we become no better than them" has no basis in Catholic moral theology. Note that the one making this argument assumes he is better than the Left and wishes above all to maintain his affected moral superiority. That is the sin of presumption. He also makes a category error. Debating philosophy with the Athenians did not make Paul a Greek. Fighting the Saracen by force of arms did not ex opere operato convert the crusaders to Islam.

As Durandel rightly pointed out, the rich and venerable tradition of Catholic moral theology allows even for the use of deadly force in self-defense. Aquinas and the School of Salamanca wrote at length on just war theory. Make no mistake, we are in wartime. The Left and their sub-pagan hordes want you and your acquaintances who bow and scrape for their approval dead and despoiled. A man who will not resist the attempted extermination of his kin and his faith with every weapon at his command--and worse, cannot resist scolding those who will--is a coward unworthy of a Christian gentleman's civility himself. He does not think with the mind of Christ or heed the voice of His bride the Church.

Another astute observation Durandel made earlier applies. These friends and relatives of his are not being guided by reason. They have allowed themselves to be ruled by their passions. There is no logical argument you can make that will convince them. The only way to reach them is through the severe mercy of inflicting emotional pain. They have said that they fear social ostracization and disapproval from the Left. They dismiss Durandel's arguments because they do not fear losing his approval.

There are two options for dealing with such irrational people. The first is simply to limit your dealings with them as much as possible. Their bad example is a stumbling block. Why expose yourself to the near occasion of sin? Shake their dust from your feet and continue your walk with Christ.

If you cannot or do not wish to let them have their error, and if you have the proper disposition for it, the only action you can take to help change these people's hearts--which is a grace conferred by God alone--is to make caving to the Left cause them more emotional distress than opposing the Left. This approach takes finesse and discipline. Simply railing at a coward will just make him resent and withdraw from you. What's needed is amused mockery. You must stay cool and composed while you chuckle and ask, "You don't really believe that nonsense, do you?" whenever someone trots out the "Beware, those who fight with monsters..." canard. Don't even attempt a rational argument. If your interlocutor persists, say that's Nietzsche talking, not Christ and jovially excuse yourself on the grounds that keeping company with heretics imperils your immortal soul.

Beware: If you start taking this option, you must consistently maintain an unfailing demeanor of lighthearted ridicule toward their cowardly attitudes. You will likely be the only counterbalance to the perpetual message of submission that oozes from the television, the internet, and sadly, the pulpit. Not everyone can manage the necessary fortitude. You must also carefully guard against resenting and attacking the men instead of their errors. Hate the sin; love the sinner.

As for the source of the rot? Ultimately the real enemies are sin and Satan. However, more proximate causes of Western Christian spinelessness include the secular Modernist attitudes that infected the Church starting in the 60s and the USCCB's disastrous decision to entangle itself with the government in the realm of Catholic education. All too often, the truth is simply not taught, and many in the hierarchy are too manifestly lacking in faith and courage to correct heretics.

In addition, a necessary step toward winning back the culture is creating content that upholds--or at the very least doesn't disparage--the Western Christian worldview. Again, not everyone has the means and inclination to produce high quality works grounded in the truth that entertain without lecturing. If you're not properly disposed to be such a content creator, it's vital to support those who are.

Souldancer - Brian Niemeier


The Can that Laughs

Amazon Echo

In a turn worthy of a coke-fueled Stephen King novel, reports have surfaced of Amazon's Alexa digital assistant exhibiting eerie behavior.
Amazon is trying to stop its Amazon Echos, powered by the Alexa voice-activated assistant, from suddenly laughing.
The online retail giant told to tech news publication The Verge on Wednesday that it is aware that some Echo Internet-connected speakers have a laughing problem and is “working to fix it.”
Amazon’s (AMZN, +0.53%) acknowledgement of the issue comes after several people have reported on Twitter and Reddit that their Amazon Echo speakers have started laughing, for no apparent reason. People typically activate their Echo speakers by saying the word “Alexa,” which triggers the device to listen and respond to commands like changing the volume.
The latest laughing is causing some customers to feel unsettled and confused. Other say it’s spooky, like something out of a horror film.
Is Amazon's latest piece of yuppieware haunted? Possessed? Inhabited by a vengeful Aztec god?

The more tech-savvy commentators offer an alternative explanation.

QuQu - Alexa
Amen, The QuQu.

Want to read something scarier--and more fun--than the unfolding Mystery of the Cackling Bookshelf Speaker? Pick up the first adventure-horror novel in my breakout Soul Cycle series.

Nethereal - Brian Niemeier


Fun for All Ages

When you run an open table, you never know who might show up to your game.

Bonus: this anecdote provides more evidence that real-life skill in the art of war does in fact translate to in-game victory.

Everything Star Wars should be doing, but isn't.


How Publishing Companies Die

Postapocalyptic New York

Over at Jeffro's blog, veteran author, editor, and publisher Jeff Duntemann delivers his own Blood in the Streets prediction for the Big Five New York publishing houses.
Ebooks have *not* plateaued. Perhaps ebooks published with an ISBN–something of less and less usefulness as time goes on–but you can sell ebooks without an ISBN. Those numbers are what traditional publishers are using to try to convince the world that they’re still relevant. Once B&N goes under, there won’t be enough retail shelf space to support the Big 5, and there will be blood in the streets of Manhattan. I know how publishing companies die. I’ve seen it up close and a little too personal. It won’t be pretty.
I say this as one who has worked in publishing for a long time (30 years in various capacities) and recently retired. The business model is corrupt and much too dependent on a set of conditions–primarily ubiquitous large chain booksellers where store positioning can be bought–that no longer apply. The cultural left has hitched its wagon to a dying business model. My primary point here follows from that: The cultural left is increasingly irrelevant in publishing, especially in genre fiction.
I’ve made a sort of second career of teaching aspiring writers that they don’t have to be afraid of traditional publishers, nor of the cultural left. I tell them to write what people want to read, publish it themselves, and laugh at anyone who calls them names or says they can’t do it. I know a fair number of people in several genres who are making a solid living at indie publishing. Their number grows all the time. Most don’t say much. They’re too busy writing books and selling them.
Indie writers who look to all those Old Dead White Authors do so for a reason: Those guys wrote what people wanted to read, and they’re still being read decades after their deaths. We want to look closely at what they did and how they did it so that we can learn from their success. Brian Niemeier pretty much figured it out, and he (and a host of other young-ish men and women writers) are the future of genre fiction. It’s kind of obvious for a secret: Write what people want to read. Is that so hard to understand?
It is for the cultural left, who (to borrow a venerable piece of snark) sold their birthright for a pot of message. People won’t pay for message. They’ll pay for something to make a commute or an airplane ride pass more quickly. They’ll pay to be shown something that makes them gasp in astonishment, or shiver, or realize that there is hope and a future.
We’re playing a long game. It will still be going on decades after I’m dead. Culture is the second derivative of entertainment. You don’t get there if you don’t entertain, and our goal is to entertain. Eventually the culture will belong to neither right nor left, but to creators of all sorts who think for themselves, obey no tribe, and provide what consumers want. Full stop.
The Left hijacked the culture by taking over the institutions that manufactured and curated entertainment. Their strategy worked while deconstructing the genre fiction canon was still novel and edgy. But the Left can only destroy. They cannot create new cultural touchstones, and now at the end of their tyrannical regime, they cannot even entertain.

Hollywood churns out remake after reboot after reimagining of properties created by better men. The Big Five publishers obsess over onanistic "X Destroys Y" anthologies. Marvel and DC Comics hire artists, writers, and editors not for their creativity, but to check the right ideological boxes.

Meanwhile, an army of creators who've been banished from--or never allowed into--the rotting ivory towers of New York and Hollywood have been busy mastering our craft. And that craft is entertaining audiences.

While they lived life on the easiest setting, we wore weighted training clothes.

While they got magic carpet rides, we trained in 10x gravity.

While their benefactors whisked them from one cushy low-work, high-pay gig to the next, we sweated it out int he Hyperbolic Time Chamber.

They've never been hungry. They don't know how to build an audience, and when B&N's collapse hits their Manhattan sugar daddies like an asteroid impact, the borrowed audience they have will disappear.

We're winning, and when it finally comes down to who can out-compete TV, video games, and beer for Kindle readers' hard-earned money, the paths of the Algorithm will run knee-deep with the Morlocks' digital ichor.

NB: I will take the Pepsi Challenge any day of the week against the usual crowd of Hugo darlings. Unlike many of them, I can actually finish a series.

The Soul Cycle - Brian Niemeier


The Real Horseshoe

Horseshoe Theory

A new trend that's been showing up in my YouTube subs is former Leftists or Left-Libertarians who rose to prominence in the anti-SJW campaigns rebranding as champions of Classical Liberalism. If you're a fan of Internet Bloodsports, you know what I'm talking about.

You know a phenomenon has gained traction when it filters down to the normies. In the case of rebranded Liberalism, I've seen ideas discussed in IBS spectacles repeated in relatively conservative social media circles. Conservative commentators were fond of pointing out Liberals' habit of changing their ideology's name every decade or so. Ironically, now it's Conservatives who are rebranding Liberalism.

Or perhaps not so ironically. The biggest blind spot of American Conservatives is that their picture of the Right-Left political spectrum has always been zoomed in on the Center-Left. Because being an American Conservative means wearing these blinders, Conservatives have no idea that Conservatism is really just inconsistent Liberalism.

It's become fashionable again for Classical Liberals to boisterously sing the praises of individualism. They're sure that the infallible Answer to what ails us is elevating individual freedom to an absolute. Seeking to maximize personal freedom will put paid to those collectivist SJWs!

This magical thinking is a trick of the blinders. Classical Liberals think SJWs are Liberal heretics who perverted the individualist ideal. The reality that SJWs are the inevitable logical end of Liberalism remains hidden in their blind spot.

Classical Liberal boilerplate holds that individual freedom must be considered paramount because it's absolute. We know that freedom is the highest good, it's argued, because any attempt to infringe on personal freedom in the name of some greater good can lead to justifying atrocities.

If that sounds like circular logic, it is. Arguing that individual freedom is the highest good because no other good is worth infringing individual freedom for assumes what it sets out to prove.

It's no use invoking enormities committed in the name of "the greater good", either. First, abuse does not militate against legitimate use--if it does, the gun-grabbers are right. Second, speaking of "atrocities" implicitly makes a moral judgment above and beyond the value of freedom, so either freedom can only be evaluated in reference to another good--in which case it's not absolute--or the referent is freedom itself, which is more circular logic.

Of course, the whole exercise is a complete nonstarter. Freedom is no more absolute than money is. The proof is in the fact that the concept "freedom" is entirely content-free until it's applied to something else. Every mention of freedom carries the implicit question of "Freedom to what?" You can have the freedom to bear arms, associate with whom you choose, and practice your faith. In each case, the value of each freedom is wholly contingent upon the value of owning guns, the company you keep, and and the virtue of religion.

Freedom's worth is equal to the intrinsic value of the objective goods it gives you access to, no more; no less. To put the matter in perspective, it's useful to think of freedoms as potential goods whose value is determined only when they're actualized. Being in act is greater than being in potentia. Which is more perfect--a piece of sheet music or a live performance of the piano sonata written on the page? So much for freedom as an absolute.

Trying to treat freedom as if it were absolute is the soul of the entire Liberal project. The fact that its underlying premise is false explains why Liberalism has come crashing down in flames. The problem with absolutizing individual freedom is that you will immediately run up against situations wherein one sovereign individual's freedom directly conflicts with the freedom of another sovereign individual. A hallmark of absolutes is that they're nonnegotiable. You can see the irreconcilable dilemma.

Instead of bowing to reality, Liberals try to square the circle. Whether the proposed solution to the paradox is an appeal to shared understandings or a robust system of contracts, in practice it always ends with the government getting involved. We live neither in Eden nor the New Jerusalem, so there will always be winners and losers. If I want to use my freedom to party all night, but my next door neighbor wants to study quietly, only one of us is going to get what he wants. The other will probably get ticketed for violating a noise ordinance.

The point is that Liberalism is inherently dishonest. It pretends to treat all personal preferences as equal until reality forces it to treat some preferences as more equal than others. As in the example above, the group must decide that there are right and wrong ways to use individual freedom. Making that call means they don't really believe freedom is absolute. But they go on pretending it is.

It would be far more sane and practical to admit that trying to absolutize freedom with no reference to the good is a fool's errand doomed to end in tears. But what Liberals really want is the license to pursue their pet individual preferences free of outside coercion. Scratch Liberalism, and you'll find nothing but garden variety hedonism. It's rather disappointing after all the high-minded Enlightenment philosophizing.

There's a darker side to Liberal hypocrisy. Since they embrace the concept of rightfreedoms and wrongfreedoms, internally consistent Liberals have no qualms about using the power of the state to quash the liberties of those who take objection to their pleasure-seeking. The SJW is the apotheosis of that impulse.

As a result, not only do Conservatives always lose to the Left, they categorically cannot win. Talk to those on the dissident Right, and you'll soon hear Conservatives described as "Liberals twenty years ago". It's commonly said in those quarters that Conservatives have "accepted the Left's frame".

The truth runs deeper than that. These critics of American Conservatism are like the blind men groping the elephant--largely because they themselves haven't yet fully removed their old Conservative blinders.

As ideological heirs of the Enlightenment, Conservatives are of the Left. They have always been of the Left and always will be. They pay lip service to upholding freedom as absolute but are even less consistent about it than the SJWs.

Conservatives just have a lower disgust threshold. Thus, they reliably have an initial Ewwww response to the Far Left's latest call for some decadent conjured "right". But they are never convincingly able to articulate precisely why this new freedom should not be embraced. They make allusions to basic morality, natural law, or even divine law. But no one takes them seriously because appeals by Classical Liberals to goods that transcend freedom inherently ring false.

The so-called Culture War between Conservatives and Liberals has predominantly been a civil war within the Left. Democrats have applied Liberalism more consistently. Therefore, Republicans have consistently lost.

You can tell that Classical Liberals are on the Left because they argue like Commies. Point out the internal contradictions of individualism, and you'll be told that true individualism has never been tried, while being called a collectivist to boot. Liberalism isn't a political philosophy to which these folks subscribe. It's a faith to which they submit their reason.

History plainly contradicts the Liberal narrative. Tolstoy put the lie to Great Man Theory. The Framers of the US Constitution, supposedly paragons of Liberalism, abandoned the Articles of Confederation for the more centralized federal government that plagues us to this day.

Individualism has served only one long-term purpose: to break society down into a loose mass of atomized loners who are completely helpless against the forces that seek to subjugate them. In this way, individualism is the handmaid of collectivism.

Those are the two adjacent poles of the real political horseshoe. Individualism vs. Collectivism is a false binary. The former denies solidarity. The latter denies subsidiarity. A more human approach is to balance both and so foster conditions wherein families, neighborhoods, and nations can flourish.

This denial of solidarity is also why Conservative movements have no shortage of self-appointed tone police always sniping at their own side while ignoring enemy action. #GamerGate, Sad Puppies, and now the #PulpRev and #ComicsGate are seeing the same phenomenon.

A Classical Liberal is someone who's kept awake at night worrying that somewhere, some non-Leftist is making a positive cultural contribution.

a way out of the filth and nihilism that seems to plague so much of modern fiction.


Return of 3 for 3 Review Day

The Soul Cycle - Brian Niemeier

It's 3/3 again--the first anniversary of author Jon Mollison's 3 for 3 Amazon review day!

How do you participate in 3 for 3 Day? It's simple.

  • Pick 3 books you've read but haven't reviewed yet.
  • Write a 3 sentence review of each book on Amazon.
  • Bonus points for choosing indie books, because indies are notoriously market-facing. The more feedback you give, the more your favorite indie authors will know to publish books you enjoy.

It just so happens that I have a number of books eagerly awaiting your feedback.

If you haven't read my award-winning Soul Cycle adventure series yet, I've made it even easier for you to get started. The first two mind-bending SC books, Nethereal and Dragon Award-winner Souldancer, are now 20% off.

And because I wouldn't ask you to do what I'm unwilling to do myself, I'm heading over to Amazon to write three-sentence reviews of three books. Authors can't know what you like to read if you don't tell them, so get to it!


Digital Manga Outsells Print

Digital Manga

But eBooks are just a passing fad, right?
Reports by both The Huffington Post on Monday and the NHK World on Tuesday noted that annual sales of digital manga volume sales overtook sales of physical manga volumes for the first time in 2017. The reports, citing the Research Institute for Publications, noted that total sales of physical compiled manga book volumes were 166.6 billion yen (about US$1.56 billion) — down 14.4% compared to the previous year. This drop is the highest since sales were first tabulated in 1978. Meanwhile, digital volume sales rose to 171.1 billion yen (about US$1.6 billion) — up 17% compared to the previous year. These figures do not include magazine sales.
The report stated that one of the reasons for the drop is due to some best-selling series ending, with only few titles to replace them. The report also cited analysts that claim that the number of people buying digital copies has increased in part due to discount campaigns, and that catalog titles are selling well digitally.
Digital manga's rise to market dominance will hardly come as a surprise to those who've seen through the spin peddled by the Big Five publishers and their legacy media pals. Western media outlets have been able to report the greatly exaggerated death of the eBook by conveniently ignoring indie sales. They're left with no recourse this time, as digital has overtaken print in the mainstream manga industry.

Why isn't digital beating print in Western tradpub? Because unlike the Big Five, manga publishers don't rely on an outmoded paper distribution monopoly to prop up their business. Whereas the big New York publishers are artificially jacking up prices on their eBooks in an ill-considered attempt to force readers back into their paper sales channel, Japanese comics companies are offering their digital wares at customer-friendly discounts.

Note also that manga series' back catalogs are selling well in digital. This is the Netflix binge reading pattern that Galaxy's Edge co-author Nick Cole has repeatedly cited as the new publishing paradigm. It seems that in manga, as in Western novels, fans of particular genres are loading up their digital devices with entire runs of series in those genres--a habit that is much less practical with print.

Speaking of digital devices, I strongly suspect that another culprit the HuffPo and NHK World missed is the trend toward using smartphones as multimedia entertainment platforms instead of dedicated devices. That trend is especially pronounced in Japan, where phones have largely replaced home--and even mobile--consoles as the gaming platform of choice. I'd be surprised if the same shift weren't happening among manga readers.

You don't need to be Nostradamus to see the future of publishing. Whoever can get bingeworthy content to genre readers quickly at attractive prices will thrive. Lumbering, print-bound dinosaurs will die off.

Once again, Japan shows us the way.

If you're hungry for anime-influenced adventure, get my award-wining Soul Cycle today. It's currently priced to binge with the first two thrilling books on sale for just $3.99 each!

The Soul Cycle - Brian Niemeier

UPDATE: Commenter Brett Wallace chimes in with a revealing correction.
You are mostly correct regarding the habits of manga publishers, baring one: Kodansha USA (they also sell paperbacks for more than their competition). They sell digital manga for the same price as the paperback.
Why does Kodansha sell manga for the same price as the print versions when other manga publishers are having great success offering digital manga at generous discounts? The answer will hardly be a surprise to regular readers of this blog.
Kodansha USA is owned by one of the Big Five (Random Penguin House).
Every single time.

The Big Five New York publishers are desperate to sustain their dying paper distribution monopoly, not by offering customers more value, but by artificially inflating the prices of their digital goods. It didn't work with novels, and it isn't working with manga. Indeed, the entirely predictable result of Penguin House's attempt to gouge manga readers has been to make Kodansha the most pirated manga publisher.

What to inscribe on the Big Five's tombstone? I'm thinking:

Here lies a toppled god --
His fall was not a small one.
We did but build his pedestal,

A narrow and tall one.