Storyhack: A New Short Fiction Magazine Inspired By The #PulpRevolution

Storyhack is a new short fiction magazine, which is up on kickstarter now. I read their free Issue 0 which is available on their website, and have backed this kickstarter project as it’s got some of my favorite short fiction writers involved:  Jay Barnson, Jon Mollison, and David J West to name a few. It’s also got a contribution by David Boop who’s quite the veteran in the industry and has his own weird west anthology coming out soon.  I’ve blasted the short fiction market lately, and that’s largely because of a lack of fun projects out there that has torpedoed the market. Storyhack fills the void left by some of the old guard publications, and is worthy of support as it’s one of the few sources out there seeking to fix the market. I backed their first issue, which is up on Kickstarter now, and sat down to talk with their editor, Bryce Beattie:

Hey Bryce, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. If you have a
quick pitch for Storyhack for my readers, what would that be?

StoryHack Action & Adventure is a modern day pulp showcasing stories in
a variety of genres that embrace the passion and pace of yesteryear’s
greats.

or

A magazine so epic a 12 year old boy would stop playing his new XBox
just to read it.

What’s your background with the SF/F genres?

As a youth I started into fantasy with Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain
Chronicles, then moved on to Tolkien, then everything by Terry Brooks. I
was an adult before I tasted the sweet melancholy of sword & sorcery. I
know I read more, but I only really remember 2 science fiction works as
a youth: I, Robot (to which I thought: Gee, that’s interesting) and
Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars books.

Of course, I’ve been a SF/F fanboy in other media as well most of my
life. I got some pretty sweet Yoda undies after Return of the Jedi came out.

The pulp influences kind of drifted in here and there throughout my
life. One Christmas I got a couple of sets of old time radio shows on
tape. The Shadow was one, and a variety of hard boiled detectives was
another. That’s when I started seeking out detective pulps.

Years later I got a first generation ereader but didn’t have much
spending cash, so I was always on the lookout for fun public domain
stuff. At some site or the other (probably blackmask.com or gutenberg) I
discovered Robert E. Howard (What? Conan was books first?) and Edgar
Rice Burroughs. My mind was blown. Those stories had more life and vigor
in them than anything I had read before. At some point a religious
leader pointed me toward Doc E. E. Smith (thanks, Blaine!)

Who would you consider your favorites in the genre, past or present
and who do you strive to produce like?

Classic stuff first:

As you might expect, I love everything I’ve ever laid eyes on by Robert
E. Howard. Besides the easily recognizable stuff like Conan and Solomon
Kane, I dig the supernatural horror Conrad & Kirowan stories, the Sailor
Steve Costigan fight stories, the westerns, all of it.

Reading A Princess of Mars is actually what made me want to start
writing. So Edgar Rice Burroughs will always be a favorite. Confession:
I’ve read most of the Barsoom books, as well as a couple of the
Pellucidar series. However, I have never read the original Tarzan, which
is a sin I intend to repent of this year.

And when I get sick and depressed, my go to reading is a stack of Doc
Savage reprints I bought a decade ago at a local used book shop.

Modern Authors:

There’s a lot of current genre authors that I would consider pulp. I
think Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files are a lot of fun and match the pulp
ethos very well – a hard working, competent lead with a moral code
getting into bizarre trouble in scenes of bombastic action.

Gregg Taylor is another modern favorite. His work is filled with
mystery, action, great character moments, and most of all fun. His main
two series are the chronicles of a Shadow-esque superhero called The Red
Panda, and the hard boiled detective tales of Black Jack Justice.
Gregg’s written & recorded over 200 individual radio theater episodes,
several comics, and 7 novels. I think he nails the style about as well
as anyone. Plus, he’s helped keep the pulp torch lit for at least 12 years.

David J West has written some very inventive stuff. Many of his old west
stories feature a fictional version of the colorful real-life Mormon
gunslinger Orrin Porter Rockwell. I’m excited to read his upcoming sword
& sorcery team novels.

And who do I want to produce like?

The Shadow, because that was twice a month and sold like crazy. Can you
imagine how much work that must have been? Adventure, because it covered
so many types of story. Planet Stories for the covers and
imagination-widening fiction. Apparently I want it all.

Were you influenced or moved to action on this by Jeffro Johnson’s
Appendix N last year? It looks like you’ve connected with a lot of the
authors who are in the #PulpRevolution movement surrounding it.

It actually happened the other way around for me. I learned of Appendix
N by way of the of the PulpRev authors I was meeting.

How did you find the authors for Storyhack?

I posted on the sites where I knew to post calls for submission, but the
first big push came when Daddy Warpig caught wind and tweeted it, then
Jeffro included it in a sensor sweep over at Castalia. I didn’t even
know Castalia House existed until like a week later. Seriously, though,
I owe those two big time. Guys, if you’re ever in town, look me up and
I’ll smoke you a pork shoulder or something.

Were there submissions or was this an invitation?

Open submissions. I received and read about 100 of them. I had no idea
how hard it would be to pare down to the few I could afford buying, or
how thirsty the authors of pulp are for publication.

Any funny stories about anyone involved?

In the funny “strange” department, I ended up choosing 3 authors who are
also from Utah, only one of which I knew lived here (David J West) when
I chose. I actually accepted Jay Barnson’s story in person. I kind of
doubt I’ll ever get that chance again. But I plan on doing this a long
time, so you never know.

I also had one author include a rather long stream of consciousness
cover letter asking me if I would please, please, please read and
consider the story even though it was submitted four and a half hours
after the midnight deadline. Two hours later this author sent a follow
up basically saying “Oops, please excuse my pleading, I just realized
the deadline is tomorrow.” That story made it in.

If you could make Storyhack revered as one pulp magazine of the past,
what would that be and why?

That’s a hard one to nail down. Weird Tales is certainly a contender, as
it inspires copycats to this day and shows no signs of slowing down. But
then the Shadow has near complete cultural awareness. Even folks too
stodgy to consider touching a pulp magazine have heard of him, and thus
the magazine. The Doc Savage tales were pretty much the template for
every action hero since. In the end, though, I’ll go with Amazing
Stories, which basically birthed the genre of Space Opera by publishing
Skylark of Space and Lensman. I think I’d like to give birth to a genre.

Hey, a guy can dream, right?

What do you think of the current short fiction market, and what do you
think needs to be done to get more people interested in reading short
fiction again?

I think there’s a need  right now that is not being met.

The short fiction market is narrow. Even the biggest name magazines only
publish across couple of genres. And really, they only print a tiny
subset of those genres. That was actually the direct impetus for me
launching this project. I couldn’t find anyone publishing the kind of
shorts I was writing (and wanted to read.)

That being said, this only reveals immense opportunity. Yes, there are
some things to learn if you want to put out a ‘zine, but you don’t have
to pay for a 3,000 copy print run. You don’t have to sell xeroxed copies
out of the back of a station wagon at cons. You can do the technical
stuff basically for free if you are willing to learn how. And you can
put your baby on a digital shelf at the world’s largest book retailer.

People today are busy, sure. That means an awful lot of them only really
have time for shorter fiction. Short stories can fill that bus ride into
the office or that quiet minute before the kids get out of bed again.

There are also many in the up and coming generation that simply are not
interested in reading flowery think pieces masquerading as fiction. But
if they’re given a chance to find action and romance and imagination and
excitement in a story, they’ll be hooked for life.

As far as what needs to be done to get readers into short fiction again?

Two things.

One, there needs to be people willing to try out this publishing thing
without copying the current industry big names. Instead they need to be
publishing stories that _regular_ people will actually want to read. Can
you imagine a fast food line cook, a plumber, or a bored-to-tears file
clerk picking up a magazine that should be subtitled “SciFi with
Literary Predilections?” Neither can I. So would they want to read?
Well, take a look at what they’re watching: Summer blockbuster action
movies, sword fighting vikings, power-hungry kings, superheroes in
peril, CIA agents racing the clock, that kind of fare.

Two, the word must spread like a cold, person to person. We are
inundated with advertising today, and the vast majority is just white
noise getting filtered out. But a recommendation from a friend? That’s
how people find new things to try. So once you find something you like,
you have to share it. Without being a jerk. That’s the only way pulp
will spread again.

Bonus third thing: Parents, read to your freaking kids.

What’s next when this successfully funds?

Once I get Issue 1 funded and fulfilled, I’ll set up some form of
per-issue subscription and continue publishing fun yarns. I expect to
still need to pony up a few bucks to fund the next couple of issues as
subscriptions increase and StoryHack gets established.

But the long term “next” is simply more and better. I’ll get better at
editing, layout, marketing, and all the background business stuff that
goes into making a sustainable magazine. As reach and sales increase,
that’ll mean more fiction per issue and more money for the authors. I’d
like to add an audio edition as well.

Thanks so much for the interview, and your support of the magazine!

 

Again you can back Storyhack here and make this a reality!

Comic Review: X-O Manowar #3

Some spoilers ahead, though I left out a couple crucial details to ensure the story is still enjoyable to those who pick this up.

X-O Manowar #3 picks up right where #2 left off, with Aric preparing for an outright assault on the President of the other faction. It starts out with this pretty montage with guest art by David Mack, as it’s explained how cruel and awful these people are in the way they treat “inferior” species, both using them in slavery and tinkering with different species genetics to keep them down. It’s jarring and makes a reader care for this war that hadn’t been explained too much to this point.

Then Aric goes to track the president down and we get thrust into the intense action that’s defined the first couple of issues. After reading a lot more of Kindt’s work between Issue 1 and now, I see that Kindt made a purposeful choice to let the beautiful art of Tomas Giorello breathe, which I appreciate. The scenery is so detailed, so many different alien concepts, Giorello really did more for this arc than I’ve seen an artist do for the vast majority of comics I read. He worked extremely hard and it shows. Giorello’s art has some of the best pages in this issue of the run so far.

The side Aric is on then bombards the city before Aric and his team can get out, betraying them, the end result of the rivalry with the Captain from prior issues. This gets resolved in an extremely satisfying manner, which I’ll leave for readers to discover.

There’s a couple pages of Aric’s internal dilemmas, as he talks to the armor. The armor attempts to woo him further and what’s interesting is I expected wholly that Aric would don it by this point, and was surprised that he didn’t. Which I’m okay with, I’m very much enjoying Aric Warrior adventures as it is, but this is an intriguing plot thread I hope gets more pages dedicated to it in the next arc.

I’m just as excited as I was in issue 1. Each issue has been packed so far, hits story points, sets up the next. This first arc of three issues really nailed all the high points that make me want to read comics. 10/10

Insensitivity

From time to time the topic of sensitivity readers comes up in my writing circles, and naturally most artists I know in the independent world balk at the concept. I tend to agree — I think it’s a scam of a few people who are telling people what’s okay and what’s not to write, which amounts to a soft censorship. As Big Publishing adopts this more and more, we’re going to get more watered down, monotone sounding books as a result.

What’s occurred in the fantasy and science fiction field over the last decade, and has recently trickled into YA is this: there’s a few active book bloggers who are extremely negative, extremely bitter, and scream at people if the book doesn’t match what their utopia worldview of phony skin-deep diversity looks like. These book bloggers have armies of readers ready to go onto a book’s amazon or goodreads page and torch the author and work with fake reviews without even having read the book.

Publishers, attempting to be business-minded, met this shrieking with a smile, trying to get good reviews out of this cabal for their books, promising and virtue signalling that they will make a “commitment to diversity.” You started seeing calls for women and minority authors more often, and then projects where only women and minorities were invited to work on projects. At first it was a “hey, we’re just giving equal representation” concept, which was innocuous enough, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. As time went on, the innocuous publishers were replaced with some of these more rabid people from the book blogosphere in editorial decisions, and the entire industry came to a point where it actively attempts to blackball and discriminate against white, male, Christian or Conservative authors. If you’re a mix of those, your chances of being published diminish significantly — if you’re all of them, consider yourself blackballed.

In content itself, the conversation shifted in the last year away from one of “you should include a diverse representation of characters”, which I always found to be fine. Depending on your world, it makes sense to have the people you’d see in a day to day environment now in the future extrapolated. I take exception with putting token representation into historical fiction or alt-history, as it comes across as really forced and it’s inaccurate, but for visions of the future, having different characters from different backgrounds feels natural. I feel like Firefly accomplished this without sounding preachy, and created a cool setting with it, for example.

But now it’s “you’re culturally appropriating.” Now a white Christian writer isn’t allowed to put those cultures in the work, but simultaneously their work is constantly being hammered as “not representative enough.” It’s not about actual content anymore, it’s about censoring a certain class of individuals listed above. And that’s where this is dangerous.

A writer should be able to write what they want. If you want to write a message, do it. If you want to write about other cultures, do it. If you want to make the villain in your book an allegory for Muslim terrorists, that is just as valid as every villain being a type-A white male that we see in almost every book and film these days. Most of the time fiction isn’t about a message, and one’s overly-read into it to the point where it’s absurd. I took a lot of flack for being “too anti-corporate” in my debut novel for example, to the point where I had people calling me a fraud for actual my political/religious identity. That’s a prime example of reading too much into a villain (though I mean… big corporations are pretty bad, that’s kinda the point of this article too!).

I don’t believe in censoring myself, and I don’t want other writers to censor themselves either. It’s very easy to see how this creeps in from “you must have representation” to “you can’t write about that culture because you’re appropriating!” These mandatory diversity ploys aren’t concerned with actual diversity at all, but with forcing social justice politics into every aspect of our lives. There’s a reason that in the science fiction elite spheres you don’t see many Hispanic writers for instance. If you think it’s because Big Publishing underrepresents Hispanics intentionally, you’re dead wrong. It’s because the biggest name hispanic authors are all politically conservative, and that doesn’t fit their narrative agenda. The applause for “diversity” only applies to those who play up their identity grievances with the right politics.

The only way to put a stop to this is to mock the concept of sensitivity readers. Mock the concept of cultural appropriation. If you think about it — all cultures appropriate, that’s how culture works. You take what is good for your society from the zeitgeist around you and extrapolate on it. That’s what fiction is. Instead of fretting, openly and unabashedly culturally appropriate and be insensitive in your work.

Don’t care what anyone thinks except for your readers. They’re all that matter. Chances are, if you’re having fun and telling a compelling story, they’ll like it too and won’t give two craps about whether you’re culturally appropriating.

A Moon Full Of Stars by Jon Mollison!

There’s another Jon out there in SF who’s very much worth your while, and his name is Jon Mollison. He writes in the vein of the old school pulps like very few I’ve seen. If you’re into hard action/adventure in your sci-fi, this work’s for you. Fun fact: he’s also an audiobook narrator, most recently known for John C. Wright’s Somewhither (in which he did a stellar job, about one of the best readers I’ve ever heard on a book).  This story looks to be a planetary romance-style book in the tradition of Leigh Brackett. I’m pretty excited.

Here’s the blurb:

All Rome ever wanted was to earn a place in the village as a hunter, so that he could explore beyond the safe confines of the village farm fields, but when monstrous slavers destroy his village he is forced to head west into the irradiated wastelands in search of anything that might give him the power to save his people. Accompanied by his chief rival, his journey takes him farther than he ever imagined.

You can buy A Moon Full Of Stars here. 

Review: Brandon Sanderson – Snapshot

Snapshot is the recent “between novellas” project by Brandon Sanderson. This one is a little different, a science fantasy near-future world where police can create these “Snapshots” which are direct copies of the world before a crime occurs. Police can go into these snapshots and investigate by seeing what actually happened for a period of hours. Any action they do inside creates ripples called “deviations” which tarnishes the evidence, so they have to be careful. It’s not explained how this works, or really anything about it other than a cursory “I don’t know how it works” by the main character, which is why I call it science fantasy. I’m fine with that, as it’s a neat concept. It reminds me a little of his 2016 novella, Perfect State, in the sense that this is a tech-driven story rather than a magic one.

Because Sanderson’s books are so twist-dependent, there will be spoilers. If you want to avoid those, stop reading now.

This story follows two detectives who are investigating a murder, but that’s not the main crux of it as they solve that relatively quickly. There’s a serial killer on the loose that they discover, that the department hasn’t been talking about or letting them in on at all. It’s not abnormal as they’re snapshot investigators, separate from the rest of the force, but it does appear it’s covered up. They take it into their own hands during the snapshot time left to uncover this information and catch the killer.

The characters are a little hard to connect to. Sanderson’s been using a formula lately of straight man / comic relief buddy, and while it’s okay once or twice, I’m seeing it as a pattern in all of his work that made this a bit rough. I really didn’t start connecting with the characters or being interested until about 25% into the book, where some personal stuff develops that makes it a little more interesting.  Still, they come across as vehicles for a plot or comic relief jokes a lot of time rather than real characters.

This is a short book so I’m going to jump to where it gave me the biggest problem. Sanderson also does a “two-stage twist” in all of his books. He gives you one where it’s obvious and you’ll call well in advance, in order to lull you reading wise into not realizing what the big twist is. Since again he employs this formula with extreme regularity, I was prepared for it. What threw me off was what happened. The twist was that the main perspective character was in the snapshot to uncover his partner boinking his ex-wife and kill him for betrayal. It’s actually a cool plot point, but the problem is– it was the perspective character. We went along the whole book without the guy thinking about killing his partner. There were points he was mad at him, calling him a liar, but it seemed almost in fun. He was never concerned about the event until it happened, which means the reader was cheated the entire time to put a twist in there. The story fell apart for me because of this. This was the “twist you don’t expect”. The twist that you do expect was that this was a snapshot of a snapshot to investigate this whole thing, which we discover later on. Usually the order of these are reversed for Sanderson — and in the essay after in the collector’s edition, he does address that he would have liked to have reversed those but didn’t find a way to in the story — but that was pretty flat and expected, and I didn’t buy the big twist because of the above.

With low character work that made the story tough to get into, and a twist that imminently didn’t work and felt forced for the sake of it, this is probably my least favorite Sanderson work to date. I really wanted to like this, and read it fairly quickly — as the pacing is the element that saves this, but found that this story didn’t work at all.  5/10

For Steam And Country Cover Reveal!

The moment everyone’s been waiting for is here! For Steam And Country is set to be released next month, my second novel, and my first venture into Fantasy. I had an incredible time writing this book, and early reviews are saying it’s even better than my award nominated debut novel. You’ll not want to miss this. Below is the cover by one of the best artists in the business, Shawn King:

Make sure to share everywhere and let everyone know how hyped you are for this book!

There will be some fun giveaways, rewards and more, including a FREE short story for those who help spread the word. Updates are in a facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/519333975122120/  go ahead and join or ping me and I’ll get you in there.

Or my mailing list:

http://delarroz.us15.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=3c0d4761bf596db6605e25975&id=e7c61287b0

Tally ho!

 

#SpaceOperaWeek Round-Up

There’s been a lot of cool content for Space Opera Week, and we at the #PulpRevolution created one of the best weeks of content for Science Fiction in a long time. If you missed any of my guest contributions to awesome science fiction sites this week:

Realism is Dumb

Jon Del Arroz’s Definitive Top 5 Space Opera Series

Five CURRENT Space Operas You Should Be Reading

And of course my interview with Darkship series author Sarah Hoyt.

Some of my favorite articles on the topic from other #PulpRevolution writers:

What Space Opera Means To Me – By Jay Barnson

Ordinary, Everyday Lives: Good for Dramas, Not For Epics by Corey McCleerey

Wonder And The Soul’s Desire by Dominika Lien.

Even Tor.com got the memo by the end of the week with a good article. Took the whole week but perhaps we pushed the conversation to some extent:

Is Space Opera Merely Fantasy Set In Space by Emily Asher-Perrin

 

And of course don’t forget to check out my first space opera book, which certainly won’t be my last, Star Realms: Rescue Run, which hit top-10 in the genre on Amazon and garnered an Alliance Award nomination! 

#SpaceOperaWeek Geekchats Special: Space Opera and Woldbuilding with Sarah Hoyt

It’s #SpaceOperaWeek and I’m excited to have one of my favorite authors working in the field right now, Sarah Hoyt, on tomorrow to talk about her Darkship series, her inspirations, what space opera means to her and some of the helpful tricks she used to come up with such a rich and imaginative world like Eden. It’ll air live May 19th at 12:00 PM PST:

Chris Cornell Tribute

Going to have a pretty busy day but wanted to acknowledge all the beautiful music Chris Cornell brought me. I actually found his 1999 solo album to be the best. Saw him with a backing band in 2001 and he was inspiring both vocally and on guitar. Some of the last true rock ‘n roll: