Brian Niemeier is Saving Superversive + a Warning to the Pulp Revolution

Every once in a while, someone likes to meme the faux rivalry between the Superversive and PulpRev crowd. The latest has been the images of some white knight guy representing the former with a dread knight guy representing the latter, with implications ranging from the nature of each’s approach to storytelling to just that one is more badass than the other.

Brian Niemeier has written a bit of an analysis and response to the rivalry which can be read here in full. But he outlines a few points that his readers have brought up and some “actionable advice” to the Superversives.

  • The Superversives have more high profile authors.
  • The #PulpRev has a far bigger cultural footprint–due to their greater willingness to interact with the public on social media.
  • The Superversives lag behind in terms of marketing their ideas.
  • On the whole, the #PulpRev has the upper hand–though the two movements aren’t exactly in direct competition. There’s a high degree of overlap.
  1. Your membership is too private and insular. Discuss what’s going on in the movement out in the open more often. Conversations about upcoming projects, new members, superversive philosophy, etc. should be had in public to raise awareness and build interest.
  2. The Superversive Roundtables are too long. Try keeping the ordinary shows to one hour, tops. Your audience will give you a little longer for special events.
  3. Sci-Phi JournalForbidden Thoughts, and Astounding Frontiers are good. But there’s always room for improvement. Superversive magazines and anthologies should have a stronger editorial voice, and the story selections should show greater intentionality.


To me, the biggest difference between the two movements is that the Superversive movement is defined by its pursuit of the ideal of “superversive” while the Pulp Rev movement is (or was) defined by a pursuit of a certain approach to storytelling. The former is ideological while the latter is structuralist (if you don’t believe me, just see how often folks bandy about “Lester Dent’s Master Formula”).

I do see the Pulp Rev slipping towards where the Superversives are now, and I’ll explain why after I touch on Brian’s 3 points.

  1. The Superversive website requires users to sign up to comment, and that’s a barrier. Folks see the Superversive movement as more of a clique revolving around that website than a movement. Because the site has the name, the site is the movement. It’s a perception thing.
  2. Yes; shorter shows done more often with fewer people is generally better. Too many folks talking over each other combined with awful mics, tons of background noise, and ominous heavy breathing make the Superversive streams near unlistenable despite otherwise decent content. Despite not having any heavies of literary import, the Whippersnappers Superversive casts are generally better (even if they’re totally wrong about something!) because there are only a few of them instead of nearly a dozen.
  3. I can’t really judge these anthologies as I haven’t read any of them yet, but there’s the sense that they’re all coming from the same small group. Part of this is because not only is Superversive a movement and a website it is also a publisher. On the other hand, take Bryce Beattie’s Storyhack; some folks consider Cirsova one of the first Pulp Revolution publications, but Bryce has launched an impressive pub on his own completely independent from us. There’s no tie between Bryce and I other than that we’re looking for similar types of fiction. (We did ad-swap, but there hasn’t been any sort of collaboration between us as a means to ‘advance the movement’ or whatever.) As another example, I’ve published a couple stories from Misha Burnett, but he’s doing his 21st Century Thrilling Anthology (apologies if that’s not the exact name) completely independent from us or anyone else (though I think they may be approaching Superversive for possibly publishing it). I don’t know how many folks independent of the Superversive website crew are working on their own and saying “this is my contribution to the Superversive movement.”

Now I need to turn things to the Pulp Rev… Some folks worried about the Pulp Rev ossifying because I was gonna maybe go invite only in a year and a half from now. But I see it ossifying now for other reasons, moving towards having the same issues that Superversive has now. Ask yourself this: what growth has there been in the Pulp Rev community in the last three months? It may not have stalled out, but it looks like it’s plateaued.

Okay, now here’s a bit of a disclaimer before I go on; I don’t try to wrangle our authors into being a part of the Pulp Revolution – if they want to join in, they’re welcome to, but being published in Cirsova isn’t being drafted into a movement. Also, being involved in the Pulp Revolution does not improve your chances of being accepted and published by Cirsova.

  1. Because people are naturally ideological in general, there’s going to be a push towards defining a movement in ideological terms. As the Pulp Rev becomes more political and ideological in how it defines itself, it will face many of the same hurdles that the Superversives do – namely that the stories will be approached from an ideological rather than a structural lens.
  2. Having a Pulp Rev website signals cliquishness akin to what the Superversives suffer from. Outsiders will see a website and assume that the Pulp Rev is the website and the website is the Pulp Rev, and people not writing for the website are not part of the movement. It’s a perception thing. Just as a singular Superversive site dominates the Superversive movement and potentially stifles its growth, a PulpRev website could do the same.
  3. Branding the movement is a surefire way to kill it. You can be a movement or you can be a branded commodity, but you can’t be both. What killed the Sad Puppies was that the Mad Genius Club clique wanted to make Sad Puppies be a brand associated with them, and to ensure that, they had to stamp out independent actors who had believed that it was a movement. I don’t see that happening with the Pulp Rev, but so long as people see the Pulp Rev treated as a commodity (specifically tagging books as being “PulpRev”, selling “PulpRev” merch), it will have potential to kill its growth. The new wave in science fiction is about independence; who wants to be part of something that already has a website and is selling T-shirts with the name of the movement? Better to start your own new thing!

Honestly, the Pulp Revolution is far too small at this point for anyone to actually make money off trying to exploit the name, but people participate in movements, not brands – and if they think it’s a brand, they’re not going to participate. How does this tie into the issues Brian brings up? Because Superversive is seen as a brand rather than a movement. Fair or not, it’s seen as the Jason Rennie + John C. Wright & Friends’ brand. While Brian is trying to move the Superversives away from that, the Pulp Rev has been moving towards it. You can nip this in the bud, but it may have to be soon.

This is not meant to impugn anyone’s motives. I don’t think anyone who was caught up in the excitement of the Pulp Rev thought about exploiting or seeking to steer the movement or was even aware of the possible repercussions of putting together unofficial official sites or selling unofficial official merchandise. But at best, I think they will only serve to limit the movement’s growth at a point just before it could reach a critical mass.

One of the nicest things about Castalia House’s blog offering a platform for the Pulp Revolution is that while Castalia House is a brand, it has not imposed itself on movement. In fact, the commercial publishing wing of Castalia is almost wholly independent from the Pulp Revolution. Vox Day has never said “You’re on my site, so you’re going to talk about and promote the kind of science fiction I like and publish.” And Jeffro, the blog’s editor, has not put the clamps down or laid down the law or acted like he was the pope of the Pulp Rev despite having a tremendous amount of clout within the movement.

Remember – for a movement to grow and succeed, it can’t just be a vertical. Just as Superversive needs to branch out to thrive, the Pulp Rev needs to remain diffuse if it’s going to survive.

19 responses to “Brian Niemeier is Saving Superversive + a Warning to the Pulp Revolution

  1. Haven’t had time to read all of this yet – though it’s good stuff! – but I am cheered you enjoy the whippersnapper podcast.

    Pure curiosity – what do you think we were totally wrong about?

      • Not just whether it was good, but I think there were specifics that someone got wrong; Dimmesdale didn’t die after he confessed, he died because the guilt and hypocrisy was tearing him apart and even in his big speech at the end, he never actually confessed his sin, just did a whole big show of fake humility, and then he died from it. He’s a Faustian character who had every chance at redemption and failed to take them.

      • But The Scarlet Letter is totes one of those books that everyone either really digs or totally hates with next to nothing in between.

      • Yeah, so I couldn’t even get through the Scarlet Letter. Of course, I was 14 when I tried to read it, and there were no swords or hot chicks on the cover, so that may have had something to do with it. My ability to grit my teeth and plow through superfluous pretense has gone up a bit since then.

      • They try to make kids read a lot of gothic fiction in high school and middle school that they are really not developmentally ready to appreciate yet.

        Like, no kid is going to be able to relate to Ethan Frome, a “horror” story where the horror is being married to an invalid and having to act as a care-taker at the cost of one’s own happiness and desires.

      • That’s true. When I read Ethan Frome (probably that same year) my only thought was, “Sledding into a tree has to be the dumbest way to commit suicide I’ve ever heard of.”

  2. I will mention that the first anthology I came out with – “God, Robot” – was not made with the idea of it being a superversive anthology, and in fact contains a very un-superversive story in Vox Day’s “Logfile”. And it was published with Castalia. That it ended up using a lot of the superversive folks was actually coincidental more than anything else.

    The next anthology I am coming out with – quite soon – was open submissions. I posted the call on several different sites, including at least on that was entirely separate from either movement, and several of the authors in it have never been a part of either of these movements before.

    So I, at least, am not trying to be insular if I can help it.

  3. “To me, the biggest difference between the two movements is that the Superversive movement is defined by its pursuit of the ideal of “superversive” while the Pulp Rev movement is (or was) defined by a pursuit of a certain approach to storytelling.”

    You cut to the heart of it right there.

  4. This post really clarified for me why I’ve been stalled on creating the Eldritch Earth website and why I don’t really want to do an Eldritch Earth anthology. I don’t want to make an Official Authorized Fantasy Setting like Forgotten Realms–I want to inspire people to go off in their own directions.

    I have no intention of allowing myself to become some kind of Pulp Rev Guru. I think that the 21st Century Thrilling Tales anthology is going to be good. I like the stories in it, and I am very proud of the one I wrote for it.

    But I certainly don’t want people to be writing “Burnettian” SF/F in the way that John W Campbell inspired “Campbellian” SF. (For one thing, “Burnettian” sounds like a Dr. Who alien.) And I think the stories in 21TT are very different in terms of style. I don’t think anyone will like every single story in it, but I think nearly everyone will find some stories in it that they love–probably different stories for every reader.

    I think that Pulp Rev as a movement is blessed to have a number of very different viewpoints. The fact that Rawle Nyanzi and I disagree so strongly on “The Face In The Frost” and “Three Hearts And Three Lions”, for example–he hates the first and loves the second, and I love the first and hate the second. You, me, Jeffro, Sky, Rawle, Dominika, Jayson–I don’t know if it would be possible to find one single work of fiction that all of us would have the same opinion on.

    So long as we can maintain both the diversity of viewpoints and the respect for each other’s opinions as opinions, I think that Pulp Rev will flourish.

    • Misha, you are lucky. While Burnettian might sound like something out of Dr. Who, Weichselian sounds like a race of Reptillians David Eick might have conjured up during a fever dream.

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