The Guild’s music reporter Andrew Tobias has always tried to keep his finger on what is fresh on the music scene. The goal is to highlight a new release from an artist every week. Here is the first one:
It seems to me like John Darnielle and his band always have had a theme in their songs or their albums, even though they never really were that type of act. It also seems to me that they are headed in that very direction. Their previous album, Beat the Champ, had a clear thematic red thread in wrestling and wrestlers and the forthcoming album will treat the phenomenon of Gothic Music. I guess both cases can be argued; Darnielle’s clearly personal songs have always had an overhanging theme of alienation and being an outsider and that in itself might be seen as a concept, on the other hand one might claim that any artist’s catalog is one long concept and that what The Mountain Goats are doing now is structuring it through in actual album form.
Bassist Peter Hughes stated on the band’s homepage that this theme is dearer to his heart, as is true for the rest of the group and may very well be true for most people who grew up in the 80s. The Gothic music scene, I would venture to say, has been more important and influential than we might realize. So far only Andrew Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds has been released as a single and it sets the bar high for the coming Goth album. Eldritch, as the founder and remaining member of The Sisters of Mercy one could well argue that he is one of the more important characters of the scene. With the very recognizable sound that is the Goats the tune discusses all the feelings of middle age people who return to their old haunts after success and the adoration of all. It becomes deeply thought provoking and at times sad, with some hope at the end.
The song truly brings a longing for what The Mountain Goats will bring to the new album.
Here at The Guild we are always interested in having an array of culturally engaged people say their piece and therefore we invite the author Ani Fox to guest post today. Fox has recently released the book Autumn War, classified as a cyber-thriller, but more about him after a word from the man himself.
In Defense of Fun
I never thought I’d say this but… the Sad Puppies do have a point. Lost inside all that vitriol and under the carpet bombing emotionalism they managed to say one thing I found myself not entirely against. Fair disclosure – I know a lot of those authors personally. Or used to. We don’t talk much these days.
Literature should be fun, especially speculative fiction. I believe this. Not all literature is and we accept some awful journeys because the writer or the story or both are just that damned good. I’d rather drink broken glass than read Toni Morrison. Beloved just got cross listed as horror and rightfully so. Her works are soul stirring and profound. They also make me want to find a bell tower and jump. After electrocuting myself with a live grenade soaked in cyanide. They are anything but fun. They are painful but valuable work.
Boris Akunin on the other hand writes novels I blow through. He’s every bit as profound as Morrison and in translation his language can go toe to toe with the Nobel Prize winning master. He’s that good. Not a word out of place, not a phrase wasted. More than that, he can write in any genre he chooses. He’s the master of his own voice as well as the photo perfect pastiche. His stuff tends to be fun. Not only fun and sometimes fun comes last, but it’s in there. It’s worth the ride for the ride alone.
Morrison feeds you vitamin broth and brussel sprouts; Akunin pours you various kinds of coffee, some bitter and black, some sweet and mysterious. Now I like sprouts and have been known to drink veggie broth without physical threats. But I can distinguish them from ice cream and pizza. Readers can and do as well.
Robert Heinlein showed us how to sneak profound ideas under a canopy of action and adventure, to insert the philosophical into the fun. Like vitamin rich ice cream. Stranger in a Strange Land is the gateway drug to ontology and epistemology; Starship Troopers to political science and psychobiology. Students all around the world bitch and moan as Shakespeare and Homer are dusted off year after year in the English speaking world and rammed down their uncomprehending throats. But those guys knew how to have fun.
As You Like It, The Tempest, for you grimdark fans; Titus Andronicus. Genius and bloody good fun once you understand all the dirty puns and sly asides. Homer – whether a poet or a writer’s collective of poets across generations – ol’ H knew how to entertain. The Iliad and The Odyssey have vampires, gods, vengeance, sexcapades, disguises and reversals, boat and chariot chases (because car chases had to wait for Ronin), the antihero and lots, nay endless, arrays of naked women frolicking everywhere. It makes the Kardashians look the 700 Club Christmas Special.
Since we invented speculative fiction with The Epic of Gilgamesh (or Tale of Genji or Songlines of Red Belly Black…take yer pick), creators of the genre have buried the lead. We’ve wrapped up all the secret thinking and moral conversation in heroes, gods, vampires and demons, sex and murder, all the good stuff. Because these beings help us play out the situations we wish to investigate. The genre Speculates. It invents and interrogates a future of some sort or an alternate present, perhaps a better or worse or different past. As a way of making literature, it seeks to make history its bitch. And if we borrow from George Santayana, those who don’t end up being history’s bitch. Or you know, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Fun insulates the mind from the terrible pummeling it takes being exposed to ideas. Think fear of women in power ain’t relevant today. Then ponder Lady Macbeth and the 2016 election cycle. Literature holds us in its sway precisely because it entertains the whole mind from lizard brain and amygdala to the shiny blinking tips of the frontal cortex on maximum serotonin blitz. We still talk about the Scottish Play centuries later because Shakespeare injected that bloody little tragedy with adventure, intrigue, deception, faithlessness, lust and hatred. Trust me, we might dislike ourselves for admitting this, bit for humans that counts as fun.
Now I’m a writer and I like to think I sucketh not. But I’m no Toni Morrison. I know my limits and frankly I‘m nowhere good enough to get away with sticking my fingers into my reader’s heart, wiggling them around and forcing them to turn the page. I rely on props. Explosions, villains, hackneyed plots inverted, genres and stock characters twisted to make things interesting. So I emulate Akunin, who does all that but transcends the story. It’s a path to perfection one might reasonably follow.
Because given the choice, I’d be honored beyond comprehension to serve Toni dinner but I’d prefer to have Boris at the tale. I bet he’d be a lot of fun.
About Ani Fox:
Ani Fox lives in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg – the heart of ancient Europe. He’s published short fiction in Jim Baen’s Universe as well as in the Ragnarok Publications anthology Corrupts Absolutely? The Autumn War is his first published novel. In his spare time he holds down a day job, serves as Editor in Chief for the European Review of Speculative Fiction and does what his cat tells him. He holds a BA in History from the Rutgers University, a PhD (ABD) in World History from the Australian National University and a PhD in Indigenous Theology from ULC Seminary; none of which make him more fun at parties.
Nothing is as it seems. After the mysterious death of his family, retired operative Spetz has come looking for answers, using himself as bait. The shadowy Syndicate has made him a job offer that a deranged cadre of Nazi super-soldiers, the various global Mafias, and a ship full of eco-fanatics would all prefer he decline. By midday, the U.S. Government has declared him a terrorist, and an unseen adversary has offered more than a billion dollars to have him killed.In this covert global war, Spetz is forced to call in some favors from former associates: a rogue Artificial Intelligence, an ice-cold femme fatale, and a rescue team of former Soviet saboteurs. Among his enemies are Zeus, a genetically engineered soldier who styles himself a god; Mika French, the best assassin alive, and Hans Gutlicht, a mad scientist with a grudge…and the man who raised Spetz. From the icy waters of the Canadian North Atlantic to the burning sands of Las Vegas, Spetz must keep two steps ahead of everyone, outfoxing some of the most brilliant and dangerous operatives alive. To unravel the conspiracies behind the Autumn War, he does the one thing he’s always resisted: join ‘The Game.’ But can he win it in time to stop his faceless enemy? For Spetz, it’s gotten very personal. Game on.
E-book editions of The Autumn War are available now. Print editions are expected to hit the shelves any day, so keep an eye out for this title in the wild!
Publisher Website: www.ragnarokpub.com
Between reviews of new music our intrepid music reporter Andrew Tobias would like to recommend an artist he believes you should know about.
If this had been anytime during 1990 to 2010 recommending the band The Hardy Boys might just seem foolish seeing how the band broke up in 1990, and you would be right. Although there is nothing idiotic about discussing a band, no matter when they disbanded, plenty of people will still talk about Nirvana or the Beatles, as long as the catalogue is timeless. Luckily for us this particular act reformed in 2010 and released their second album in 2011.
The Hardy Boys, not to be confused with the band/TV show of the sixties, were formed in 1985 in Greenock, Scotland and broke up due to problems within the band members in 1990, not long after the bands debut album was released. Songs From The Lenin and McCarthy Songbook was a collection of the songs the band had produced from the inception and contained remastered recordings. The break up of the band did not diminish the interest from the public, rather the opposite and the they would become labelled as a cult indie act; a lot due to the oft cited fact that their 12″ single Wonderful Lie would sell on Ebay for quite the high sum. It seemed as if The Hardy Boys would forever be lost in the sea of bigger name Scottish acts from the same era.
But they returned, came out of indie obscurity and strengthened by the vocals of Karlyn King to release the second album British Melancholy on Bubblegum Records. They did release an E.P. in 2009 containing one new track called under The Picadilly Clock, so they had resurfaced a bit. I’m not here to write a review of the two albums, but there is an interesting aspect that needs to be lifted. With a span between albums of 22 years there is more of a difference between the first release and its subsequent follow up, more than you might see from other bands. While the first album strongly resembles The Smiths in composition with a quick melodic pace, but with a great deal of cynicism in the lyrics, dark music that one can dance to. A more polished Joy Division and a style that would dominate the American market in the mid to late nineties with bands like Everclear or Third Eye Blind. British Melancholy is slower and to quote singer King; The new album is a darker affair than “Songs from the Lenin and McCarthy Songbook”, exploring the meaning of the arts amid heartbreaking love.
It seems as if the development that fans usually follow from one album to the next, the tweaking, the maturity in lyrics and vocals happened during the hiatus and that the follies, the experimental albums were conveniently skipped. Not saying that every band should leave fans hanging for two decades, but for The Hardy Boys it has worked and the transition is seamless.
So why should you know about The Hardy Boys? It’s the collection of delicate lyricism, fueled by witty sarcasm at times and true feelings of heartache and being on the outside. They have managed to epitomize the music of the post punk of their contemporaries and brought it into the new era of music without compromising. They are a fine blend of The Smiths, House of Love, Joy Division and even Deacon Blue and they curate this mix like a wine aged to perfection. So make your way to Bandcamp or Spotify, for physical copies of the albums will be hard to find, and give them a try, I think you’ll be happy you did.
Andrew Tobias is an avid record collector and hobby musician who hasn’t read a single Hardy Boys novel in his life and was horrified by the TV-show he accidentally watched on Youtube.
Blood, blading, the juice, call it what you will, but it has been a staple of wrestling for a very long time. Just take a look at Dusty Rhodes forehead. The PG era has seen the end of it in the biggest promotion, but smaller companies still use it. Is there a place for blood in wrestling, our wrestling expert Dmitriy Polovinkin believes so in this weeks opinion.
Let’s set the scene. Two wrestlers are engaged in a bitter rivalry, a lengthy feud. A real ‘barn burner’ with plenty of traded victories, sneak attacks and hatred. Imagine that we’ve already seen the standard match. It has been and gone. Now, we are at the stage of the feud where the participants detest each other. They want to hurt one another. It’s the culmination of an emotional war. I suppose one could say that they are ‘out for blood’.
Slight problem: the company that is promoting their ‘blood feud’ has a strict no-blood policy…. well that sucks.
Since 2009 the WWE has banned their superstars from indulging in intentional bloodletting. What are the effects of this? What impact does it have on the overall product?
There are tales of Vince McMahon taking the matter so seriously that he is prepared to fine people over $100,000 for violating the policy. Feel free to read about Chris Jericho’s experience of this in his third book, ‘The Best In The World – At What I Have No Idea’.
Of course there are arguments for and against the no blood policy.
WWE themselves would argue that crimson masks have no place in the current PG orientated direction of the company. They openly admit to promoting to a younger audience than in previous years. Their target demographic has changed and program content must change accordingly.
However, it is important to remember that the Hulkamania Era was also classed as PG. I distinctly remember Hulk Hogan getting colour in the main event of Wrestlemania V. I remember Ric Flair bleeding like a fountain during the WWF title match of Wrestlemania VIII. Why was it allowed then, but not now?
Here’s a typical WWE approved claim: Due to the age of the current audience, it is important to show appropriate content. Content that doesn’t carry the risk of negatively influencing young viewers via the glorification of violence.
Slight problem here – WWE, and everything they do, is centred around the glorification of violence. It’s people FIGHTING for crying out loud. Fake or otherwise.
It is very egotistical of Vince McMahon to think that WWE is such an influential force when it comes to the morality of youth. It’s almost as if things like Grand Theft Auto, free internet pornography and gangster rap music doesn’t exist, and it is WWE’s sole burden to protect young minds.
Now let’s look at the other side of the coin. What does the no blood policy take away from the product?
It is my belief that a crimson mask is the ultimate method of creating suspension of disbelief. We are watching a fake sport and we all know this, but when someone gets colour there is a subconscious block of this fact in the mind of the viewer. The fight seems very real. Juice is the best way for a babyface to get sympathy.
Recently there have been two matches in other promotions where blood was used effectively.
The first was EC3 v Rockstar Spud on Impact. The second was Fenix v Mil Muertes on Lucha Underground. As a viewer, I haven’t been so emotionally invested in a wrestling match as I was for these matches in a very long time. Without argument, the stories that were portrayed in these matches would not have been as emotional if the blood angles were not included. The matches were emotional because of the visual imprint left in the fans’ minds by the use of blood.
As a result, TNA and Lucha Underground made people remember. My friends and I are still talking about these matches a couple of weeks later. Compare that to a main event on Raw or Smackdown, which I would probably forget five minutes after it happened.
Before I say my farewells I would like to talk about a personal annoyance when it comes to WWE’s no blood policy… the Cage Match.
A cage match without blood is illogical. Combatants are surrounded by metal, and their faces get rammed into the metal. If I ram someone’s face into some metal, there will be blood. I promise.
Lack of blood in a cage match is an insult to the fans’ intelligence. It almost makes the purpose of a cage match completely redundant. I’ll be honest; I can’t even remember a Hell in a Cell match that happened after 2009, apart from maybe Rollins v Ambrose because it was the most recent. However, I do remember HBK v Undertaker. I do remember Brock Lesnar v Undertaker. I will probably remember them for the rest of my life because they weren’t just matches, they were WARS.
And in wars…. men spill blood.
Here at the Guild we strive to be as objective as possible at all times, but today I feel as if I have to be personal. Yesterday we were all saddened by the news of Sir Terry Pratchett’s passing and we were not alone in the world. Everywhere I turn on the social media outlets I follow I have witnessed an outpouring of grief, but also celebration of a man who influenced us greatly and I wanted to take a moment to reflect on my relation to the man some referred to as Pterry.
I came to Pratchett’s work at the end of my teen years, yet I had heard of him a few years prior. Fellow Guild member Peylow Olsson was reading the Light Fantastic and would, with some degree of enthusiasm, regale us with some of its contents. At that time I was somewhat suspicious and was not immediately drawn to Discworld, most likely due to the name Terry, having been burned by the works of Terry Brooks so I waited.
In 1997, after graduating High School, I began working at the school library (ook?) while also substituting in various classes. One day I was called upon to watch over students as they took a four hour test. Having just finished reading a book I felt I needed something to do whilst watching over the youths so I perused the contents of the bookshelves. I found Men At Arms by Pratchett and decided I would give it a shot. The result was that I couldn’t put it down, I was enthralled from the get go and I am fairly certain the the kids who took the test that day could have cheated their hearts out without me noticing.
With Men At Arms done I went looking for my next Pratchett fix. The library was of no help, but I remembered seeing copies of The Colour of Magic in the book depository of the English Language Department. So, having been entrusted with keys I made my way into that treasure trove of literary goodness. I grabbed a paperback Colour of Magic and never looked back, it is still in my collection today.
From that day forward Sir Terry would become an intricate part of my life and I plowed through the first four books quickly, sinking deeper and deeper into the Discworld. I started looking for Clarecraft Design figurines and read up on everything related to Pratchett and his creation. I realized that I had to pace myself and decided to make a Discworld book every other book I read, which worked out great once I started studying Literature at the University.
Today I am a teacher at a high school and I have tried to influence my students to read Pratchett all through my career, from analyzing his short stories to reading Small Gods in class, at the moment I have a group reading Wyrd Sisters as part of a Shakespeare Project.
Sir Terry has followed me for close to twenty years now and though I never met him in person I feel as if I have come to know him somewhat. Not only through his books, but through his interviews and the documentaries Living with Alzheimer and Choosing to Die and I have shared his strife. It has been so easy to immerse oneself in his world and at times I feel as if Ankh-Morpork is my home. I have read all the calendars and almanacs, the storybooks, the cookbooks and mythology surrounding it. I have followed Sam Vimes from a drunken wreck to a family man reading Where’s my Cow to his son, listened to Dave Greensalde’s From the Discworld and been excited by the apperance of Tiffany Aching and can’t wait to read about her adventures to my daughters.
It takes a special person to touch as many as Terry Pratchett has and to most of us the loss of him feels so very personal and we will all deal with it by somehow re-immersing ourselves in his creation, weather it will be by reading, listening or watching something.
The world has lost a brilliant mind, but his legacy will live on in us all.
C. Marry Hultman
When something has become sufficiently aged it stops being old and becomes retro. It is no longer just nostalgia for a minority, but can yet again become cool, but can it become profitable and even popular again?
As a teenager I loved computer games especially played on my Atari ST, it is nostalgia to me. I have fond memories of playing Dungeon Master late into the night, with a beating heart anticipating the next monster around the corner, or playing Elite Frontier, plotting the perfect trade route for spices and slaves in a seemingly infinite galaxy to explore and later marvelous adventure games such as Day of the Tentacle on my first PC.
The years passed by and the trickle of Dungeon Master clones eventually stopped. David Braben, the creator of Elite Frontier kept promising a sequel that never materialized and then turned silent the last ten years and so the market for adventure games that called for your wits died. Market, it was said there was no market for these old genres and without a market there was no publisher to finance the development of next game. The market had spoken.
The market may move on, but the memories and nostalgia remain. Booting up these old games in an emulator and playing them today you will notice that some things are best left as memories and nostalgia. The gameplay is often clumsy and awkward, maybe I‘ve become lazy, but what I remember as being fun has in many ways become a chore. In many ways it is the small details that have gone from nice additions to fundamentals, like contextual help for buttons to avoid having to use a manual for reference. Individually each of these small details may not seem like much, but when added together they make a world of difference to the game play experience.
Added together they also make a world of difference to the cost of producing the games. A cost that no publisher is willing to take on for genres that may be and conventionally assumed to be near dead. If publishers do not want to finance the development of games of old genres, who will?
Turns out that the consumers themselves are more than willing to step up and finance the development of games they want. Enter Kickstarter, Kickstarter is a webpage and service that allows people to financially back projects they themselves want to see done. Kickstarter has been used to kickstart many different kinds of projects, from books to movies and most close to my heart; games.
The poster child for Kickstarter projects that launched the service into the public mind is the adventure game by Day of the Tentacle creator Tim Schaffer. At first announced as a simple adventure asking for a modest $400,000 in February of 2012 turned out to be a great success, raking in over $3.4 million from more than 87,000 individual backers. It was released to the world with, great reception, as Broken Age in January of 2014. As a Kickstarter project Broken Age has not only proved that there is still life in old genres, it also proved that the financial model of letting the end consumer finance the development of a product is a viable model.
Broken Age is not an isolated incident. In November of 2012 David Braben, the creator of Elite Frontier, announced a sequel Elite: Dangerous on Kickstarter and managed to raise £1.7 million. Money that allowed Braben to reacquire the rights to the intellectual property he once created, and in June 2014 the game is available in a public beta version, with an expected full release later this same year.
Now all I am hoping for is for someone to Kickstart and breathe new life into Dungeon Master.
In the meantime I can enjoy Legend of Grimrock, a new game paying homage to the genre of Dungeon Master. An exception to the business model of using Kickstarter; instead four Finish game developers previously hired by AAA development housed invested their own money and formed the company Almost Human to develop the game. Legend of Grimrock first released in April of 2012 proved to be successful, and Almost Human has since then hired more employees and they have a sequel on track for release later in 2014.
The future is bright, for genre games of the past.