Book Review: War Demons by Russell Newquist

War Demons by Russell Newquist

If you like action, well then, have I got a novel for you.

War Demons is the debut full-length offering from Russell Newquist, book one in his Prodigal Son series. Russell is a writer, a blogger, the owner of Silver Empire publishing, the mastermind of the electronic short-fiction anthology Lyonesse, a podcaster, husband to the writer Morgon Newquist, owner of a martial arts dojo, father of four . . . oh, and he has a day job. I think he sleeps sometimes too.

To say that Russell is an impressive guy is an understatement.

Russell Nequist doing a karate form.
Russell Newquist

I’ve written about Russell before on the topic of nihilism. Not that Russell is a nihilist–far from it! Russell, in fact, is a huge proponent of what is called superversive fiction. Think of superversive as being the opposite of subversive: instead of seeking to tear cherished traditions, ideals, and institutions down and piss all over them, being superversive is to strive to hold up these traditions, ideals, and institutions as worthy of preservation, and indeed the keys to virtue and fulfillment.

Whew.

Russell is also a devout Catholic, which must have something to do with his general attitude, right?

Keep all of this in mind as you read his work. War Demons is what happens when you mix martial arts, Christian tradition, magic, demons, the military, and terrorism. You end up with lots of fights, lots of explosions, and lots of crazy mystical stuff happening in the present day (present being 2006).

Seriously, War Demons has a bit of everything. As someone fortunate enough to be given an advance copy, I tore through it in a matter of days.

There are dragons fighting helicopters, for crying out loud. Continue reading “Book Review: War Demons by Russell Newquist”

Book Review: I, The One by Dominika Lein

A “universe of souls where manifestation is a literal thought away and the Strong-Willed harshly rule”. . .

An etheric plane between dimensions with no rules save that the weak will be consumed . . .

Such is the setting of I, the One, the debut work from author Dominika Lein.

Lein posits a world some souls do not move on to paradise or ultimate rest upon death, instead ending up in The Other Side, a Wild West free-for-all where the strong rule. Niman finds himself in the thrall of the spider-like Hanhoka, his Guide, who teaches him and the mysterious Katilo how to find and consume souls from multiple dimensions . . . though Niman himself has no interest in doing so.

Still, he is tasked with training Meelik, a lizard-like lik, how to survive in The Other Side, in the hopes of revealing Meelik’s guide, who has something that Hanhoka desparately wants.

It’s an interesting set up that becomes all the more poignant when Niman realizes that he’s not ready to meekly submit to the will of those stronger than him.

All told, I enjoyed I, the One. I had to read it twice, though–and at 48 pages, it’s quick enough to do just that in one sitting.

My first time through, I felt bewildered and cheated, as if I struggled through pages of difficult description and confusing action just to arrive at an inconclusive, ambiguous ending. “What the hell was this?” I thought to myself, frustrated at both Lein for creating something that should be in my wheelhouse but wasn’t, and at myself for not fully grasping such a short, albeit dense, story.

Then I read it again after several weeks and wow, I have reversed my previous opinion. Lein does an excellent job creating her strange setting and the lost souls–some pure, some malevolent–who inhabit it. Continue reading “Book Review: I, The One by Dominika Lein”

Must We Politics?

Must politics ruin everything?

Must politics infect even our art?

Must blog posts have bad grammar?

These thoughts came to me recently (well, maybe not the grammar one) as I witnessed author Jon Del Arroz on Twitter going back-and-forth with other authors about the seeming impossibility of keeping politics out of fiction. Jon, clearly, thinks that it is possible to write politics-free fiction, and that it is, in fact, easy to do. This is part of the impetus behind the Pulp Revolution, after all:

Just don’t write politics into it.

 

Author Jon Del Arroz
Jon Del Arroz

On the other side is the view that it’s impossible because political viewpoints form who the author is, and that such a fundamental part of the writer–or artist in general–is always going to seep through:

Politics are a part of the author, and every work is a piece of the author’s soul.

I have a problem with this second position, for four main reasons:

  1. Hypocrisy on the part of those who make this argument. These are the same people who try to tell us that, in our politicians, character doesn’t matter and that personal beliefs, whether philosophy or faith, need to be kept out of politics. Yet it’s “impossible” to separate personal values and beliefs from something with arguably far fewer consequences like art? Do we pick and choose based on some arbitrary metric? How does this even make sense?
  2. The conflation of contemporary politics with universal themes about humanity. Much of what passes as contemporary political philosophy is meaningless gibberish. Deconstruction, critical theory, tax policy, post-modernism, and the reduction of every single facet of human interaction into the oppressor/oppressed dichotomy has as much to do with the human experience and the intellectual life as your bowel movement has to do with high art (unless you’re a Dadaist, I guess, then have at it).
  3. It demonstrates a lack of skill. This one is short but sweet: a good writer can write from the perspective of anyone, and make the reader believe it…without the character sounding like a mouthpiece for the author.
  4. The conflation of politics with values. This is the big one. Values might determine what political affiliation–if any–you gravitate towards. But when we talk “values,” we usually aren’t talking “I’m a Republican!” or “I’m a Democrat!” Or at least we shouldn’t be.

I am a firm believer that one can enjoy art despite its creator’s politics. Don’t like Nazis? No one does! But just because Richard Wagner was Hitler’s favorite doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy The Nibelungenlied.

What’s that, you say? You’re not a Che-worshipping, Lenin-loving murderous Marxist? Well guess what: You can still listen to–and enjoy!–Rage Against the Machine (though those dudes will still hate you).

You get the idea.

But far more interesting is the “power lifts as values” issue. Let’s explore this a bit further. Continue reading “Must We Politics?”

The Creation Disease

In times of strife and trouble, uncertainty and violence, people seek escape. This is not weird at all. Imagination is a key that unlocks the door separating what is from what could be. And the mind is the one place that is uniquely yours.

Keeping minds active and inspired is one of the greatest things one human being can accomplish for another.

Think about the period of the Great Depression through to the end of the Second World War. America fondly remembers this era where Hollywood, using the power of talented storytellers and actors, produced films that not only bolstered America’s spirits during the war, but also its soul.

The times are reflected in art, and whole there’s a push-pull, with art often driving and normalizing certain things, very little art can be divorced from its milieu. And people create, no matter how dark things may be. Holocaust survivors and prisoners of war relate how the power to keep their imaginations from being broken by their oppressors.

And for those of us who like to create, it really is like a compulsion or a disease to do so. Whether it’s music, painting, fiction, poetry, machinery, or tinkering with cars, we couldn’t stop if we wanted to. Tough circumstances only seem to drive us further into our crafts.

I suppose this makes sense. If you feel that your days are numbered, or that there is precious little sunlight poking through the gloom, then you’ll want to get as much out of you as you can before the end comes.

Of course, this is melodramatic. Things aren’t that dire yet. Or maybe they are. Some days I really do think that the world order as we know it is coming to a violent, ugly end in a matter of weeks. Maybe it is.

See, one curse about having the creation disease is that you think of weird things all the time. That’s why you want to get them out on paper, on canvas, or tell jokes about it. A part of thinking these weird things involves being curious and making connections, extrapolating what could happen, when it could happen, and why.

We’re not always the best at game-planning what to do about it, although I may only be speaking for myself. Still, seeing a lot speculation from prominent creators whose answers tend to be “Vote the way I do!” or “Agree with me about everything or you’re evil (and stupid)!” leads me to believe that this is a common failing among the majority of creative-types.

The creation disease is not only a disease of creators, but also a disease of creation. This dark strain is present in the mainstream nihilism that is still so fashionable in much of our culture: There is no hope. Everything sucks. The impulse to “burn it all down and start over” offers precious few hopeful scenarios as to what that starting over would be like, or why it would work.

Even worse is the impulse to take something beloved, cherished, and that works, and deliberately ruin it, like an angry teenager pissing on a Rembrandt. “Watch how I totally subvert and ruin the legacy of Tolkien/Lovecraft/Shakespeare/Austen/Star Trek!”

Such edge! Such insight! Such talent! Three cheers for destruction! Continue reading “The Creation Disease”

Retro Inspiration

Video games are a part of modern culture. Whether you like it or not, they are here to stay.

I know I've written about the downsides of gaming in the past. But I've also written about the creative aspects and how, at least in my mind, they really are a type of art, particularly in the music department. But what I haven't talked about much is that, while I'm definitely a casual gamer these days, how much I love what are now called "retrogames."

Seriously. If I'm going to fire up a game, it's going to be an old NES, SNES, Genesis, or PC title from the 80s/90s. There are some PlayStation 1 and 2 games I have a fondness for, the PS2 being the last system I was really in to. I got a Wii as a gift, and do own a DS, but aside from a handful of games on each, I haven't touched them in years.

But a funny thing happened on the way to adulthood: Many of these games remain an inspiration. 

Especially in my writing.

I've made no secret that I'm an aspiring author. I'm serializing my short novel Reset, chapter-by-chapter, on this blog every Sunday, and I've shared the first chapter of my soon-to-be-published novel The Rust Man. I'm also working on a new novel as we speak, and have a previously finished one I want to clean up.

What I haven't talked too much about is my inspiration for these things. I do consider myself peripherally attached to both the Pulp Revolution and the Superversive movements, though both represent ideas that I found myself holding long before the movements came into being.

On the PulpRev side, while I haven't read that many of the Appendix N, the ideals behind the "old" stuff appeal to me, as does the sense of fun, adventure, and "anything goes," unconstrained by genre labels or conventions and served with a healthy slice of heroism and goodness.

And as far as Superversive, let's just say that I'm not a fan of nihilism. At all.

So where do video games come in? Continue reading “Retro Inspiration”

Why Pulp Revolution is Perfect Response to 24/7 Politics: Guest Post on Hollywood in Toto

Some of you might realize that politics has invaded all of your entertainment. Over on one of my favorite websites, Hollywood in Toto, I take a look at an antidote to the intrusion of heavy handed political messages in your fiction of choose: the Pulp Revolution.

Or #PulpRev, if you're hip:

Few people want to spend time with hectoring scolds in their everyday lives. But much of our arts have turned into moral crusaders telling you that, if you disagree with The Message then there must be something wrong with you.

Stories are methods of communication, but they should above all else be enjoyable.

Thanks to the power of the Internet, I have found such stories. There is a movement that does not care about writing message fiction. And what’s even more exciting is that it has no rules, no set guidelines or genre-definers, and most importantly, no political litmus test dictating what stories can and cannot contain.

It’s called the Pulp Revolution.

All that the Pulp Revolution—PulpRev for short—cares about is telling amazing stories based on timeless human principles. The purpose? Have fun without alienating half of its potential audience.

But what is the Pulp Revolution? To answer this, it’s helpful to talk about what it isn’t.

Read the whole thing at Hollywood in Toto. I've been a fan of Christian Toto since he was writing at Big Hollywood, and it's an honor to have written something for his excellent site.

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Book Review: Souldancer (Soul Cycle Book II) by Brian Niemeier

Souldancer - Cover

Recently, I read and really enjoyed Part I of Brian Niemeier‘s three-part Soul Cycle series, Nethereal. Having read Part II, Souldancer, I can say that Brian improves upon nearly every aspect of the already impressive Nethereal, creating one of the most memorable sci-fi worlds I have had the pleasure to be invited into.

Mild spoilers for Nethereal are ahead, so if you plan on reading the series yourself–which I strongly recommend that you do–you might want to skim or otherwise skip most of this review.

(Wow . . . what kind of writer tells his readers not to read his blog? There can be only one: this guy!) Continue reading “Book Review: Souldancer (Soul Cycle Book II) by Brian Niemeier”