Category Archives: Popular Culture

don’t be boring

An interesting post from Nathan at Castalia House explains the reasons for the collapse in traditionally published science fiction. Read the whole thing, but this was Rod Walker’s favorite quote:

Reliance on Bookscan and other sales tools sent publishers looking for blockbuster bestsellers instead of growing their midlist writers. And, in the current day, ebooks are proving just as disruptive, with more than 80% of all 2016 science fiction sales coming from ebooks according to Author Earnings. But while writers cannot control the changes in the industry, they can at least avoid the mistake that repeatedly led to soft sales:


Or to be more proper, literary realism.

The problem with literary realism is that literary realism is boring.

The first rule for any fiction writer (the Prime Directive, if you will) – don’t be boring under any circumstances. A writer can violate any other genre rule or convention or rule of plotting, so long as he doesn’t violate the first rule: don’t be boring under any circumstances.

Literary realism is boring.

Rod Walker’s book is many things, but boring is not one of them. 


critical failure in criticism

From time to time, readers have observed that Rod Walker displays a complete lack of regard for criticisms or the opinion of others. He admits that is true, and is quite likely to completely disregard the opinion of a critic until he is given compelling reasons otherwise.

(It’s like the joke about the business professor – if he’s so smart, why isn’t he rich?)

That said, Rod Walker does sometimes have the amusing experience of encountering a critic who completely reinforces his prejudices against critics. This quote from a Castalia House post describing a particularly hapless critic named Harry Harrison is hilarious. Read the whole thing, but this is the funniest part:

Harrison attempted to write a book about sex in science fiction called Great Balls of Fire (1977). The book was wonderfully illustrated but the text is a hopeless mess. In a chapter entitled “Is Conan Dating Clark Kent?” Harrison makes a colossal blunder in this book by attributing this passage by Jan Strnad to Frederic Wertham, M.D.:

“Conan’s broadsword and double bladed battle-axe are standard phallic symbols; they are of course representative of Conan’s attempts at sublimation of his homosexual tendencies.”

Conan a homosexual? The logic is baffling. The popular stereotype of Conan, in fact, is of a muscular barbarian carrying off a nubile young woman. This is exaggerated over the reality, but in the stories Conan shows a regular and enthusiastic interest in women. Suggesting that he is homosexual is as dumb as suggesting that Marx was a secret capitalist or that Luther really supported the Pope.

Rod Walker’s book is smarter than that. (Admittedly, that’s not high praise, but still.) 

ideological lockstep

Jon Del Arroz did an interesting experiment where he went through the Twitter feeds of the current writers for Marvel comics and found that all of them were progressive and strongly anti-conservative and anti-Christian to one degree or another.

This isn’t at all surprising. People like this march in ideological lockstep, and work in unison to exclude anyone of conservative or Christian leanings from publishing on their platforms. (They all claim they don’t, of course, and perhaps they even believe it themselves, but their actions put the lie to it.)

This is why Rod Walker spends so much time inside publishing (not counting Castalia House). Indie publishing allows an author to establish his own platform without suffering through would-be commissars controlling the traditional publishing industries.

Rod Walker’s book shows what happens when ideological conformity gets out of control. 

if magic, then modernity

Rawle Nyanzi has a good post on how 21st century social attitudes get imported into fantasy fiction with a medieval or ancient setting. Central quote (but read the whole thing):

Finally — and this is most important — the “if magic, then modernity” critique is often given in the form of a command, with the intention of bringing all creative work under its sway. Whether it is comic books, television, video games, or any other creative medium, all must conform to a template approved by the accusers — and any deviation is slammed as “hate.” Despite the accusers’ call for “diversity,” they want to make everything look, act, and feel exactly the same, with all the same assumptions and ideas. Imagination and possibility is to be replaced by fear and control. A hunger to rule over others consumes them and drives them to bully everyone they could into line. Even the realms of the fantastic have to fit the quotas set out in the five-year plan. Nothing less than total dominion will satisfy them.

In fantasy, the only thing one has to do is tell a story from the heart. Whatever form it takes, whatever themes it explores, one does not need permission from hypocritical scolds and mad hecklers to create. Just let the words flow.

The secret to navigating this is twofold. The writer can 1.) do whatever he wants, but only if 2.) it makes sense to the reader. Like, if you want to write a world of warrior women riding dragons into battle while the men stay home and are farmers and raise the children, you can do it. It just has to make sense to the reader. You can’t be preachy about it.

Like, in this example, Rod Walker can think of a few story-sensible logical explanations for this kind of world:

-Controlling a dragon requires a telepathic bond, and men who bond with dragons go murderously insane and have to be killed.

-Women who fail to bond with dragons go murderously insane and have to be killed.

-Women who fail to bond with dragons by the age of twenty-five are ordered to marry and have children instead.

-The dragon riders serve a stern goddess whose edicts demand that only women ride dragons into battle.

-Only women can bond with a dragon, but a male wizard must cast the bonding spell.

-The dragons themselves are actually the rulers of the society, and demand only female riders.

-Or (if you want to go darker with the story) the dragon will only accept a woman as a rider if the woman allows the dragon to consume her firstborn child.

So such a setting presents any number of possibilities for interesting stories. But the writer must always remember that “sermon” and “fiction” are two separate genres of literature.

Rod Walker pretty much did whatever he wanted in his book. 


Robert E Howard does horror

Rod Walker hasn’t read any of Robert E Howard’s horror stories, but this post makes him want to correct this deficiency. Central quote:

Howard’s characters are not your usual pansies that populate modern horror. No, these guys are tough motherfuckers that when presented with tentacled horrors from the stygian depths they go a killing with sword and pistol. In one of my favorite stories, The Horror from the Mound, when our cowboy protagonist accidentally digs up a 17th-century Spanish Vampire buried by Conquistadores who begins murdering the local Mexicans, he doesn’t run away. Hell no, he breaks its spine and sets the moldy motherfucker on fire.

RW always appreciated Conan’s and Solomon Kane’s muscular approach to dealing with supernatural horror.

Rod Walker wrote a book. 

books for men, books for women, books for both

Jon Mollison has some interesting advice for writers. Central quote:

For reasons too byzantine and varied to go into in depth here, Madison Avenue has decided to follow the false narrative that ignoring male markets is the path to financial success.  Long story short: It’s a combination of women having more disposable income than they used to and an irrational belief that making your product more ‘female friendly’ doubles your consumer base.  Smart people assume the latter will double your income, not recognizing the truth of The Anti-Gnostic’s observation that what women enter, men leave.

You may gain some short term success, but changing your product to explicitly appeal to women the strategy of eating your seed corn.  The female focus will drive off the men-folk, and all of the women that flocked to your product specifically because it represented a chance to enter a male space will follow the men to whatever space they find to replace it.

The problem is that “writing for women” often in practice translates to “deciding women need patronizing” and no one, male or female, really likes being condescended to.

Rod Walker’s book isn’t condescending. 

the motivations of Conan of Cimmeria

This is a long and interesting post about the motivations of Conan of Cimmeria. Read the whole thing, but here’s the central quote:

  This is another reason the arc of ‘avenge my father’s murder’ is slapped onto the Conan movies; the writer’s want to motivate Conan, they want to give him a reason to pursue all these adventures, to travel to all these places, to fight all these creatures. They assume that for a man to conquer incredible odds and do incredible deeds of heroism he needs a motivation that is almost singular, one that would obsess an man. So they kill his father (and mother) in front of him.

  But in Howard’s tales, why did Conan leave home? What drove him to be a mercenary in the frozen North, a thief in the desert metropolis, a pirate, a nomadic horseman, a soldier, a general, and a king? What great event forced him to leave his home village and put him on the path of the hero? Was it murder? Death? A lost love?
  According to Howard, Conan walked the world because… he was bored at home. Conan wandered the land and sea, fought monsters and wizards, and became a mighty king all because he was restless and easily bored.
  It seems legit. I joined the army very literally because I knew it would be hard and I wanted to be hard enough to do it. A friend of mine joined because he wanted to travel for free. Hundreds of reasons, all legitimate, all interesting.

Revenge is, of course, an excellent motivator for the hero, but it needn’t be the only one. One of Rod Walker’s favorite Robert E. Howard quotes is from the poem Solomon Kane’s Homecoming, where Kane, after returning home after so many years, gets bored and ventures forth to new adventures:

In his strange cold eyes a vagrant gleam / grew wayward and blind and bright, / And Solmon put the people by  / and went into the night.

A wild moon rode the wild white clouds, / the waves in white crests flowed, / When Solomon Kane went forth again / and no man knew his road. 

Good stuff.

Rod Walker has to admit he used the revenge plot in his book.


write what people will want to read

Brian Niemeier has a good post touching on the recent Author Earnings report and Castalia House blog posts. The funniest quote:

Literary fiction–books about shallow narcissists coming to terms with dying polar bears via hate-sex–is outselling science fiction.

Occasionally one sees literary fiction writers complaining how they need big advances to support themselves while crafting their masterworks, or complaining that indie publishing favors rapidly writing genre novels (it does) over literary fiction.

The thing is that literary fiction, by and large, is boring and unpleasant. No one wants to read it. It’s the sort of thing people are assigned to read in school (developing a lifelong hatred of reading in the process), the sort of book people read so they can be seen reading it, or to use it to impress their book club.

The answer is simple.

Don’t write books that people don’t want to read.

Write books that people want to read.

(Though, as Harry Dresden often says, simple is not the same as easy.)

One warning – if you do write the kind of thing people like to read, critics will complain at length. This is a common complaint among writers – “my book got knocked off the #1 spot by crap!” or “this writer sold 300k copies and he just writes crap!” Part of developing as a writer is learning to ignore critics and write what you want.

Rod Walker wrote a book that way. 

reboots never work

Rod Walker came across this post linking an article by Dirk Benedict, who played Starbuck in the original Battlestar Galactica show. It’s worth reading the article in full, but RW liked this bit:

Witness the “re-imagined” Battlestar Galactica. It’s bleak,

miserable, despairing, angry and confused. Which is to say, it
reflects, in microcosm, the complete change in the politics and mores
of today’s world as opposed to the world of yesterday. The world of
Lorne Greene (Adama) and Fred Astaire (Starbuck’s Poppa), and Dirk
Benedict (Starbuck). I would guess Lorne is glad he’s in that Big
Bonanza in the sky and well out of it. Starbuck, alas, has not been
so lucky. He’s not been left to pass quietly into that trivial world
of cancelled TV characters.

“Re-imagining”, they call it. “un-imagining” is more accurate. To
take what once was and twist it into what never was intended. So that
a television show based on hope, spiritual faith, and family is
unimagined and regurgitated as a show of despair, sexual violence and
family dysfunction. To better reflect the times of ambiguous morality
in which we live, one would assume.

That could just as easily apply to a dozen other reboots in the years since.

Rod Walker’s book isn’t a reboot of anything. 

Another Appendix N review

Rod Walker agreed with Declan Finn’s review of Jeffro Johnson’s Appendix N book. Central quote:

At the end of the day, this is also a study of what has been lost, buried alive under a mountain of grimdark, postmodern feces claiming to be “edgy” fantasy, while they are merely just indulging in the miserable. George RR Martin, I’m looking at you.

Appendix N shows just how fantastic fantasy can be when not bogged down by the arbitrary and capricious rules of “reality,” where “the real” does not equal “the true and the beautiful,” but equals the miserable to such an extent that it thus becomes unreal.

RW agrees with this assessment of both the book and the regrettable loss of SF/F classics. Fortunately, ebooks have made the classics more accessible than ever!

Read RW’s review of the Appendix N book here.

Rod Walker also has a book!