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.

“Planet Stories” ::finger quotes::

Why do I dislike Paizo’s Planet Stories imprint and recommend against people buying from them when the opportunity presents itself? Well, besides the fact that I hate Paizo and dislike several of the folks who work for them, their “Planet Stories” brand is a bit of a misnomer.

From what I’ve pieced together, Paizo found out that no one had owned the Planet Stories name and trademark for decades. The original Planet Stories folded back in the 1955 along with Love Romances and its parent company, Fiction House. The name had probably been free and unprotected for ages.

It would be like if I decided to swoop in and register the trademark for Thrilling Wonder Stories or some other dead pulp magazine.  Paizo found Planet Stories’ corpse by the roadside and decided to wear its skin while publishing stuff that, ironically enough, wasn’t really Planet Stories. Paizo’s Planet Stories line is decidedly more Sword & Sorcery and Weird Fiction focused than the actual Planet Stories ever was, but I decided to take a closer look at just how little Paizo’s now-discontinued line had to do with its namesake.

  1. Anubis Murders – Gary Gygax – post pulp
  2. City of the Beast – Moorcock – post pulp
  3. Black God’s Kiss – CL Moore – Weird Tales
  4. Elak of Atlantis – Henry Kuttner – Weird Tales/Strange Stories
  5. Secret of Sinharat – Leigh Brackett – Planet Stories
  6. Northwest of Earth – CL Moore – Weird Tales/Leaves/Fantastic Universe/Fantasy Magazine
  7. Lord of the Spiders – Michael Moorcock – post pulp
  8. Samarkand Solution – Gary Gygax – post pulp
  9. Almuric – RE Howard – Weird Tales
  10. The Ginger Star – Leigh Brackett – post pulp
  11. Masters of the pit – Michael Moorcock – post pulp
  12. The Swordsman of Mars – Otis Adelbert Kline – Argosy
  13. Infernal Sorceress – Gary Gygax – post pulp
  14. Worlds of Their Own – Various modern – post pulp
  15. The Hounds of Skaith – Leigh Brackett – Post Pulp
  16. The Dark World – Henry Kuttner – Startling Stories
  17. Death in Delhi – Gary Gygax – Post Pulp
  18. Reavers of Skaith – Leigh Brackett – Post Pulp
  19. Robots Have No Tails – Henry Kuttner – Astounding
  20. The Outlaws of Mars – Otis Adelbert Kline – Argosy
  21. The Sword of Rhiannon – Leigh Brackett – Thrilling Wonder Stories
  22. The Ship of Ishtar – A. Merritt – Argosy
  23. Steppe – Piers Anthony – Post Pulp
  24. The Complete Silver John – Manly Wade Wellman – MoF&SF (Post Pulp/non-pulp)
  25. Sos the Rope – Piers Anthony – Post Pulp
  26. The Walrus & The Warwulf – Hugh Cook – Post Pulp
  27. Template – Matthew Hughes – Post Pulp
  28. Before they Were Giants – Various Authors – All Post Pulp
  29. Sojan the Swordsman/Under the Warrior Star – Michael Moorcock – Post Pulp
  30. Battle in the Dawn: the complete Hok the Mighty – Manly Wade Wellman – Amazing Stories
  31. The Planet Killers – Robert Silverberg – Post Pulp
  32. Hunt the Space Witch – Robert Silverberg – Post Pulp
  33. The Chalice of Death – Robert Silverberg – Post Pulp

So, we have 21 books that are either post-pulp novels or collections of stories that were not published in the pulps, 4 books that are wholly or primarily from Weird Tales, 3 works from Argosy, and one each of Amazing Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Startling Stories, and, yes, Planet Stories.

Brackett is the one (perhaps the only) name on here who is solidly associated with the original imprint, though many of her classics were also in Startling and Thrilling (she was probably the best Thrilling ever had). Kline wrote stories you might have seen in Planet Stories, but due to the time frame he was writing in, he was primarily a writer for Argosy and Amazing.

New Novella from Howie K. Bentley

Under a Dim Blue Sun, from past Cirsova contributor Howie K. Bentley, is out now. You should definitely check it out.

http://dmrbooks.storenvy.com/products/20576513-lands-of-the-earthquake-under-a-dim-blue-sun

(*not a paid advertisement or shill; I had a chance to read an early draft of this one and it was a ton of fun – plus, it’s paired with a Kuttner novella, so it’ll be worth your while.)

Reviews on Issue 5, CL Moore & Hugos

Issue 5 is finally starting to get some more reviews on Amazon! A huge thank you to everyone who has taken a moment to review this or any of our other issues!

Five issues on, and Cirsova is keeping up with its high standard. Even tho the large chunk of this issue is based around this same shared fictional background, stories are as varied in theme, tone and style as ever, with now usual mixture of new authors and zine veterans. Burnett’s short piece stole the show for me. In this age of “subversive” takes on Lovecraft, it is surprising to see one such story in a magazine like this one, one that is actually good at what it does unlike many a thematically similar yet preachy and cringe-inducing piece whose fame lies on its fashionable themes alone. – Paul Blagojevic

The hype is real. A themed issue based on the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft upon which is backdropped some of the most rousing adventure fiction I’ve read in some time. No need to fear the dreck of such pastiches often rolled out by inferior immitators, Cthulhu is not namedropped even once. Like Adventure Stories and Weird Tales before it Cirsova continues to dominate short fiction and has my life long support.

Immensely pleased. – Anon

The Misha Burnett piece is the best story I’ve read yet this year. Since writing Appendix N, I’ve been on the lookout for a magazine that could put out short science fiction and fantasy along the lines of what people were reading back when fantasy role-playing games were a brand new thing. Cirsova is it! – Jeffro Johnson*

*:Jeffro’s been a past contributor of non-fiction for us.

One of Jeffro’s pieces for us, in our third issue, was his Retrospective on The Best of C.L. MooreRetrospective piece on The Best of C.L. Moore. I’d read some Moore, but I’m just now getting around this classic anthology edited by Lester Del Ray.  I was left a bit unimpressed by her collab with Kuttner on The Last Citadel, but I gave the grande dame another chance when I found a Jirel anthology, which I enjoyed thoroughly, yet now, reading a bit broader range of her stories, I’m blown away. I’m only a little ways into this anthology, but The Black Thirst and The Bright Illusion… Wow. C.L. Moore may be better at writing Lovecraftian Science Fiction than Lovecraft!

I’d strongly recommend that anyone considering trying their hand at writing “Lovecraftian” or Weird Fiction in general would be doing themselves a huge favor in reading Moore and looking to her for inspiration rather than those who were trying to directly ape Lovecraft’s writing.

Lastly, I’ll note that the voting for the Hugo Awards closes on Friday. It’s been interesting to see just how little discussion there is on categories that do not focus on a single work; there’s been next to no talk about our category, the pro-zine category,  or the fanzine category. It’s understandable, though. It would be a struggle for most folks to get through all of the fiction categories in time to make a somewhat informed decision on them, much less slog through portfolios of two and a half dozen zines and editors. Much more so than the fiction, which is heavily reviewed and discussed on merit**, it’s a popularity contest and PR game, and as the guy from Amazing Stories pointed out, one we’re not the best at playing. Between being a last-second Rabid Puppy addition and of our support for a pro-ethics movement that was relentlessly smeared by the media it was trying to hold accountable, I hold no illusions as to our chances of winning. I’ll be happy so long as the magazine of the guy who was tweeting out pro-Antifa memes doesn’t win.

**:Even if you disagree with the standards or lenses the stories are measured against, you can’t deny that they are being discussed on those merits.

Update on “The Future”TM

Couple things…

I’m almost done going through the submission pile. I’ve got about six stories left to read. If you haven’t heard from me yet, you will hear from me soon. If you’ve already heard from me and your story has been accepted, I’ll be in touch with a terms and an offer in the next couple of weeks. I think we have enough content to keep us tided over for a bit, maybe even into early 2019.

I’m also serious about wrapping up Cirsova’s “Volume 1”. We’ve published some great stories and will continue to publish great stories, as we continue to receive and read great stories. But the scope of the magazine has shifted away from what it was originally intended, and unless I forcibly refocus it, it will continue to do so and become a cyclical problem. Unfortunately, the inclusion of Heroic Fantasy in the title and publishing works of fantasy and sword & sorcery have nudged the window a good bit in that direction, which also means that the spread has gone that direction with it. Honestly, we get far too many mundane fantasy pieces, fairytalesque fantasies, and lone swordsman stories with very little to make them stand out. And if changing our subtitle will get me one less little girl in the woods story, so be it, it’ll be worth it.

On the plus side, I think that we may have enough solid contributors who can and do write what I’m looking for that we can and will go back to an invite-only status. That will allow me to conserve my time and resources to work with the writers I know can write what I’m looking for, or, for those who are close and just good writers, I can have them write to spec.

We’ve got things planned out for Cirsova Publishing for a couple years now, which is good. I don’t know if we’ll stay the “gold standard” of the “Pulp Revolution”, but I really can’t focus on that right now, because I’ll probably be busy trying to address the massive disconnect between modern, contemporary writing and the sort of pulp stuff I’m actually looking for. Even with our guidelines clearly spelled out, it’s obvious that a lot of folks don’t really get what we’re looking for when they submit – part of that is that folks don’t always look at the markets that they’re submitting to (a problem that will be addressed, to a degree, by going invite only for a bit), but also I feel like I’ve failed to make it understood just what I’m looking for because people are not nearly as aware of the examples I’ve held up as I think they should be. So, I’ll be redoubling my efforts towards raising awareness of the kinds of stories from the pulps I enjoy and specifically what it is I’m looking for and wanting to see more of. Cirsova Publishing may even branch into collections of public domain works by relatively unknown pulp authors who should be better known. Or at least I’m thinking about it. I don’t know yet. I still hate the mercenary nature of most pulp reprints.

Anyway, the strategic direction of the flagship magazine is temporarily locked in for the foreseeable future; volume 2, if there will be one, won’t launch until 2019. The Pulp Revolution’s successes and failures in 2018 may shape how well we do as an influencer in that community, and with so many new publications springing up, it would be unsurprising if an agile newcomer became the new tastemaker for that scene. There are enough writers writing enough content that there’s not going to be any kind of real “drain” on the scene, which is great. Switching back to invite only will also allow us to be more agile; we took submissions this summer in part because so many people have wanted to write something for Cirsova, but anything we buy now won’t be published for at least 9 months, much of it longer, and that’s hardly agile! It’s nuts to think that nothing written in 2018 will be published by us in 2018. That’s an entire year of energy that 2017’s Pulp Rev boom will have fueled that we won’t be tapping into! Ultimately, that may be a huge mistake for us, but by 2019, I think we’ll be jumping right back in with the agile approach.

Lastly, reviews…

Cirsova Issue 5 has been out for 3 months, sold nearly 250 copies, and has only garnered one review on Amazon. I’ll reiterate that Amazon reviews help us A LOT, they’re quick to write and it doesn’t cost you a dime, but I don’t think that saying it again will make that much difference. At this point, I really don’t know what to do.

I will be hitting people hard for reviews on Issue 6; the earlier in an Amazon’s product life reviews are left, the better that product tends to do. Y’all can make it up to me by helping Issue 6 get those critical 25 reviews the first couple weeks it goes live!

Still Reading!

We’re making headway into our submission stack. I got over halfway through our submissions list. Then I checked my email today, and I am now significantly less than halfway through our submission list.

If you want to submit, submit soon. If we get to a point where it’s clear that the cup overfloweth, we may cut off submissions a bit early.

Lastly, now is a great time to support the magazine by buying back issues, merch or taking out an ad with us. Online sales revenue this month will be available next month to be put towards acquisitions. Ads will help right away and will go into our fall issue coming out in a couple months.

So, uh…

Sturgeon’s Law and the Pulps?

I see this over and over and over again. That the pulps only have a bad name because only 90% of them are bad, because Sturgeon’s Law says 90% of everything is bad, so don’t hold that against the pulps!

Euro-style games R something like the SF/F pulps. Most R trash, a minority R good, a small fraction transcend the formulas to become great. – Lewis Pulsipher (@lewpuls) 

Out of the many stories I’ve reviewed, I’ve yet to hit what I’m now calling “Sturgeon’s Pocket”, that rich, thick vein of 90% crap lying just below the surface crust. I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, Sturgeon’s Law isn’t the best thing to use to defend (yes, defend) the pulps, because it’s just not true. This line of thinking is generally used to try to defend the “good pulp” from the reputation of the “bad pulp”, except most of the “bad pulp” is pretty good, just not amazing, and the “really bad pulp” has been rather sparse. Hell, I’ll even break it down by the names and numbers:

Exceptionally Good: 14

  • The Moon that Vanished, Leigh Brackett
  • Black Amazon of Mars, Leigh Brackett
  • Stalemate in Space, Charles L Harness
  • Queen of the Martian Catacombs, Leigh Brackett
  • Priestess of the Flame, Sewell Peaslee Wright
  • Raid on the Termites, Paul Ernst
  • Enchantress of Venus, Leigh Brackett
  • Coming of the Gods, Chester Whitehorn
  • Raiders of the Second Moon, Basil Wells
  • Red Witch of Mercury, Emmett McDowell
  • The Bubble Dwellers, Ross Rocklynne
  • Lorelei of the Red Mist, Leigh Brackett & Ray Bradbury
  • The Martian Circe, Raymond F. Jones
  • Moon of Danger, Albert de Pina

 

Very Good: 18

  • Miracle Town, William F. Temple
  • I Like You, Too, Joe Gibson
  • Asteroid of Fear, Raymond Z Gallun
  • Garden of Evil, Margaret St. Clair
  • SOS Aphrodite, Stanley Mullen
  • Hellhounds of the Cosmos, Clifford D. Simak
  • Vulcan’s Workshop, Harl Vincent
  • Captain Midas, Alfred Coppel Jr
  • Cosmic Yo-Yo, Ross Rocklynne
  • Mists of Mars, George A. Whittington
  • The Spider Men of Gharr, Wilbur Scott Peacock
  • Grifters’ Asteroid, HL Gold
  • The Sword of Johnny Damokles, Hugh Frazier Parker
  • The Last Monster, Gardner F. Fox
  • Juggernaut of Space, Ray Cummings
  • Quest on Phoebe, James R. Adams
  • Mo-Sanshon!, Bryce Walton
  • And Then There Were None, Eric Frank Russell

Pretty Good/Okay: 17

  • Softie, by Noel Loomis
  • Reverse English, John S. Carroll
  • Date Line, Noel Loomis
  • Cosmic Jackpot, George O. Smith
  • Yesterday’s Doors, Arthur J. Burks
  • Duel on Syrtis, Poul Anderson
  • Peril Orbit, C.J. Wedlake
  • Action on Azura, Robertson Osborne
  • Signal Red, Henry Guth
  • Ordeal in Space, Ralph Sloan
  • The Giants Return, Robert Abernathy
  • Battlefield in Black, George A. Whittington
  • And the Gods Laughed, Fredric Brown
  • Beer Trust Busters, AR Stuart
  • Mutiny, Larry Offenbecker
  • The Venus Evil, Chester S. Geier
  • Vassals of the Lode-Star, Gardner F. Fox

Okay/Not So Good: 10

  • The Referent, Ray Bradbury
  • Galactic Heritage, Frank Belknap Long
  • The Diversifal, Ross Rocklynne
  • The Envoy, Her, H.B. Fyfe
  • The Star Saint, A.E. Van Vogt
  • The Starbusters, Alfred Coppel Jr
  • Madcap Metalloids, WV Athanas
  • Prodigal Weapon, Vaseleos Garson
  • Formula for Conquest, James R. Adams
  • The Little Pets of Arkkhan, Vaseleos Garson

Terrible: 4

  • No Winter, No Summer, Damon Knight & James Blish
  • Square Pegs, by Ray Bradbury
  • That Mess Last Year, John D McDonald
  • The Wheel is Death, Roger Dee

 

Note that this ONLY includes pulp stories I’ve read and reviewed from the 50s and earlier. If I included stuff from the 70s Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction that I’d read and reviewed, the numbers would skew significantly towards terrible. For post pulp-era stories I’ve reviewed (*: or read to review but wound up not actually reviewing it), here’s the breakdown, which includes some F&SF, Flashing Swords, and one Vance story from an old Universe. (parenthesis is F&SF-only)

Exceptionally Good: 4(3)

  • The Bagful of Dreams, Jack Vance
  • Doctor Rivet and Supercon Sal, Gary K Wolf
  • The Horse Lord, Lisa Tuttle
  • The Mars Ship, Robert Thurston

Very Good: 4 (2)

  • The Tupilak, Poul Anderson
  • Storm in a Bottle, John Jakes
  • Not With a Bang But A Bleep, Gary Jennings
  • Nina, Robert Bloch

Pretty Good/Okay: 9 (7)

  • The Mountains of Sunset, the Mountains of Dawn, Vonda McIntyre
  • Time is Money, Haskell Barkin
  • The Lands Beyond the World, Michael Moorcock
  • Assault on a City, Jack Vance
  • The Exiled, The Hunted, George Guthridge
  • The Final Close, J.P. Dixon
  • The Holdouts, Kit Reed
  • The Star Eel, Robert F. Young
  • A Star is Born, Joseph Green*

Okay/Not so good: 4 (3)

  • Shoes, Raylyn Moore
  • In Rubble, Pleading, Michael Bishop
  • Swords Against the Marluk, Katherine Kurtz
  • Horror Movie, Stuart Dybek

Terrible: 7 (7)

  • A Delightful Comic Premise, Barry Malzberg
  • Mouthpiece, Edward Wellen*
  • The Attack of the Giant Baby, Kit Reed
  • Those Good Old Days of Liquid Fuel, Michael G Coney
  • Friday the Thirteenth, Isaac Asimov
  • My Boat, Joanna Russ
  • Graveyard Blues, Dennis Etchison*
  • A Game of Vlet, Joanna Russ*