Whence the hate?

There sure is a lot of hate for Jeffro’s work on Appendix N:

The fact is, there are people that can only enjoy contemporary works, that have a difficult time reading anything from before 1980, and that have a meltdown when they encounter things from before 1940. And whether they know anything about me or not, they are my enemies from the moment they catch wind of anything related to my efforts.

Reading about Appendix N and the Pulp Revolution has made me realize how lucky I am. For awhile there I was scratching my head wondering why there was frequent talk of “surprise” that these old works were good. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading Burn, Witch, Burn, I wasn’t surprised. Then I realized something: Whereas Jeffro often references people refusing to read anything prior to 1980, that would be the year that apparently my parents stopped reading anything. They know nothing of Appendix N but my dad was a big fan of ERB and my mom loved Andre Norton. They never adhered to any camp or faction in SF; the only thing that mattered was if they liked it. I grew up on a very different diet of entertainment than other people my age, and since I was also homeschooled, I avoided outside influences telling me they were wrong. I’m not surprised because this stuff is normal.

The surprise I’d hazard to guess comes from being seeped in a culture that hates the old–even if the person himself may not be conscious of having the attitude or may even be trying to reject it. Many people will embrace things currently out of fashion if it is presented the right way. Just look at how Fallout 3 got people listening to big band music. Kids if given the opportunity will get used to and greatly enjoy things that one might not expect; I’ve had a lot of fun showing my brother’s kids silent movies for example. But there is something going on that teaches or pushes people to reject all that came before.

I don’t expect people to like silent movies. It’s a particular interest of my own and definitely an acquired taste (though as I said my nieces acquired it with alacrity). But I was surprised by the disgust and contempt displayed by certain people after watching The Artist. The reaction was something akin to someone who has just stepped barefoot on a slug. Old books have an even harder time than movies because so many people have been taught to hate reading in general.

But the people who don’t hate reading somehow have been infected with an over the top hate for things they don’t like. If you don’t like something, you don’t like something. It doesn’t hurt you if someone else does.

Then again maybe it does. The old works have a different set of values inherent in it, ones which no longer jive with popular culture. Being exposed to these ideas are dangerous because it might make people thinking about them. They might even decide that they like it better.

Some of it may also boil down to simple narcissism. After all, you, being the most wonderful person in the universe, know better than I. By expressing an opinion contrary to yours, be it on literature or food or some other noun, I am challenging the awesomeness of all your opinions which, because you are the most wonderful person in the universe, are the only opinions worth having but which you are strangely insecure about.

Regardless of the cause, it’s a disproportionate response. These people act threatened by something that shouldn’t threaten them.

As for myself, finding more good things to read is annoying; I read far too slowly to be able to enjoy them all.

Night Stalkers and Remakes

There’s a thing about remakes: they always seem to lose some of the soul of the original. Maybe people should leave well enough alone. The modern Hawaii 5-O might be slightly amusing–if you’re really into bickering and “bromance”–mediocre cop show, but it is terrible as a remake. Not a single actor in the modern version can hold a candle to the intensity and charisma of Jack Lord or the charm of any of his costars (and turning Kono into a girl seriously?). Since the entertainment industry can’t come up with new things, however, they keep picking old shows and cranking out new, crappy versions of them. One of the worst of these that I’ve seen is Night Stalker.

Night Stalker (2005) was a remake of a short lived but excellent show from 1974 called Kolchak: The Night Stalker. This was a continuation of two made-for-TV movies, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler. K:TNS is a charming, cheesy, and surprising frightening show.

It is somewhat interesting to see how a show that influenced The X-Files then gets influenced in turn. Night Stalker, instead of following the monster of the week formula of its original, tries to introduce a “myth arc” a la X-Files. Well, in X-Files the aliens story arc was the part I liked the least. And the writers of Night Stalker did a far worse job applying the idea of long running story arcs to Kolchak.

New Kolchak’s wife was murder and some weird things are going on and… um, that’s it. Admittedly they didn’t have a lot of episodes to work with because it got cancelled so quickly, but still if you’re going to have a myth arc give the viewers more than the idea that there is one, more than just something weird is going on but right now we have no clues except that something weird is going on.

Because of some issue with the rights (or so I have read) the cast of characters from the Independent News Service wasn’t available for the new show. So no Miss Emily, no Updike. And none of the police or other side characters. Just Tony Vincenzo. Whom they fail to use in any decent way. Instead they decided to add an intrepid girl reporter. Ignoring the fact that intrepid girl reporters have been done to death, this intrepid girl reporter, Perri Reed, didn’t work because they decided to give the show to her instead of Kolchak.

Kolchak is relegated to the sidelines acting kind of crazy and Reed runs about playing a version of Agent Scully. Scully worked because she and Mulder got pretty much equal screen time. They play off each other. Kolchak doesn’t do much and he hasn’t got a character anyway.

Darren McGavin as Kolchak

“I promised I’d show up with a haircut, a new hat, and pressed suit… but I lie a lot.”

In the original, Kolchak was what made the show work. (And Darren McGavin’s excellent acting was what made Kolchak work.) He will do anything for a story. Lie, cheat, impersonate police commissioners. The show obviously follows him investigating supernatural phenomena that pops up around Chicago but also makes it clear that he’s a reporter who covers crime and local events, has to fill in for Miss Emily on the agony columns if needs be, and fights with Updike over who gets the stories which sound juiciest.  While he doggedly pursues the supernatural when he runs into it, it often interferes with his reporting on other stories.  In the remake, Reed expresses surprise that Kolchak would bother to work on anything as mundane as a missing persons case.

K:TNS is a funny show. Kolchak cannonballs around irritating and rubbing everyone the wrong way, fighting with Vincenzo, backstabbing Updike at every possible opportunity, and driving police captains to the verge of mental breakdowns. Even despite 1970’s special effects, however, the show can be quite intense. Kolchak might do things you’d have to be insanely brave to do–like crawling into the back of a hearse in a junkyard in the middle of the night to sew a zombie’s mouth shut–but he’s often terrified while doing it.

The remake isn’t funny. It doesn’t have any well developed characters or great interaction between them. In fact the thing I remember most about it is that it was nasty. Not just that it was gruesome and gory, but simply unpleasant. It had to be dark and gritty. They went and removed everything that made the original good, but even if we were to ignore the original and look it as its own thing, Night Stalker is just a mediocre X-Files wannabe that misses what made the X-Files fun too.

Further random thoughts on HMM3

Ah, Heroes of Might and Magic III!  Some fairly disjointed thoughts that came to me while playing and writing that thing about cheating:

I’m kind of stuck after all these years of playing the game to using mostly the Castle town. I like Towers and Necropolises, but Towers are very resource expensive and Necropolises lack in the ranger department. Confluxes are interesting occasionally, but anything else…? Ramparts are okay. Strongholds, Fortresses, and Dungeons are dull. I don’t like Infernos at all. Castles are perfect: just the right mix of troop types and angels are awesome.

The computer’s combat AI seems to get stuck on CHARGE! This is utterly stupid when defending a town. I attack a town: the computer instead of sitting tight and letting me get hammered by the arrow towers, flings all the troops out of the walls where they can be easily smashed. I figured out a slow but easy way to win in a siege when I’m the besieged is simply to hit defend on every creature and let the arrow towers do the work. By hitting defend rather than attack, even if there’s enemies inside the walls, you can drag it out more rounds meaning more arrow hits and more enemy stacks wasted. The only problem that you run into is if the enemy has large stacks of flying creatures or if the friggin computer cheats and takes out all your arrow towers.

In the same vein, the computer has no idea how to use the slow spell. The absolute best use is if you’ve got expert earth magic and a lot of rangers. Slow the whole enemy army and shoot them to bits. The computer slows a stack and then rushes someone out to attack it. No point in my griffons being slow if an enemy is right next to them; they don’t need to move.

The original version of the game Heroes of Might and Magic III: Restoration of Erathia had a lovely glitch so that if you had ballistics and thus control of your catapult, when besieging a town if you aimed at the center arrow tower you would almost always hit one of the other towers. Might taken a dozen tries to hit the center one but the others were toast. This is gone in the complete version.

I used to have the fan made Wrath of the Gods. It had a check list of cheats/mods which you could turn on and off before starting a game. I remember there being a whole screen full of these things but I can only remember what a couple of them were. Creatures half off on day 7 was nice. Commanders could be neat. Creature dwellings accumulate was a double edged sword. It meant you could pick up more troops but it also meant that if an enemy found an unflagged creature dwelling which had been sitting there all the game, they got a LOT of troops.

90% of the time the Grail is useless. It takes forever to get all the obelisks, then usually another forever to get to the spot it’s hidden and dig it up and bring it home… By then you’ve won the game and it was a waste of time. You can’t use the bonuses.

More than a couple skills were useless too. I hate heroes who have Eagle Eye. Learning and Scholar are meh. Tactics can be useful sometimes but I never found it helpful enough to waste a slot on it. Archery is only good if, well, you have a lot of rangers and most towns don’t.

I originally thought that Diplomacy was useless but if you get it high early, you can snag a lot of wandering creatures that way. So it can be helpful if you’re desperate for troops. Estates can be a great thing to have for random fetch-it heroes whom you aren’t using for anything more than gathering resources or creatures. They hang around and make you money that way.

I prefer magic based heroes. Earth Magic is a must, Air almost a must, I like Water but can live without it, but Fire has never really been super useful. Air and Earth both have great non-combat spells. Water has some great non-offensive combat spells. Fire… eh. Isambard swears by Berzerk but I never really used it.

Town Portal is the best non-combat spell hands down. Try and sneak up on my town while I’m not there! Chain Lightning is the best offensive combat; it’s even better if you have that immunity to Chain Lightning artifact.

It’s a real shame the random map generator doesn’t work very well. It could go a long way to extending the playability of the game if generated maps were worth it. The computer unfortunately has an obsession with using hundreds of portals and with filling large chunks of the map with solid mountains. The settings for monster strength don’t seem to work either. I keep setting it on normal and getting maps full of 1st level creatures.

More on Message

Tomas Diaz has a response about message fiction. Dominika Lein had chimed in earlier and he’s also responding to her. She has a pretty interesting response of her own.

My disagreement with Diaz pretty much comes down to a definitional quibble. I don’t think there’s anyway to come to an agreement on this because we aren’t really disagreeing on essentials and he seems pretty firm with the idea that even if the message wasn’t deliberate or the point of the story, it’s still message fiction:

Thus what may not have been a message in Burroughs’ time is a message in our time. Burroughs acts like a clarion call into our modern world, actually rebuking us. But he not only rebukes, but puts before us models to follow. And these are not abstract models, but, to the extent that fiction allows, fully incarnated persons. Men, be John Carter. Women, be Dejah Thoris.

I’d like to ultimately see the lexicon around these topics expanded. It may very well be that terms like “message fiction” don’t have essential meaning. It appears to be nothing more than a shaming term for literature we think goes against reality (but don’t want to admit to objective morality in the process). If we want to say a work is weak because it’s allegorical – meaning it’s moral or lesson is of greater import than the story itself – then call it that.

But I don’t think most of what we call message fiction (full of “virtue”-signaling, diversity- and equality-affirmations, political snipes) is allegory. And its problem isn’t that it portrays a message, but that it portrays the wrong message. It denies reality in favor of some individuated ideology.

I don’t think message fiction is synonymous with allegory.  (It might be one of those things where all allegory is message fiction but not all message fiction is allegory or something like that.) But since we don’t agree on what message fiction means, I don’t see any point going down that road.

I do think, however, that he’s elevating message more than he ought to. Art for art’s sake isn’t the issue here. It’s more like entertainment for entertainment’s sake. Are people not allowed to occasionally, simply, enjoy themselves? I am sick of constantly being preached to. It doesn’t matter from which direction the preaching comes from. My mom persuaded me some years ago to give a couple “Christian” mysteries a try. They were actually kind of interesting and exciting qua mysteries but the Christian aspect ruined it for me. Not just that it was sappy Protestant stuff but that it was preaching to the choir, that it was unnecessarily trying to jam ideas down my throat.

It doesn’t matter if I AGREE with your message or not. If your message overrides the entertainment, if it takes me out of the story, then it’s no good. I’d like to read more stories with a Christian worldview, where characters are Christians, etc. IF it’s entertaining and not preachy. If I want preachy, I’ll pop over to New Advent and see what they’ve posted today.

The thing about the Pulp Revolution and the Appendix N and all the old forgotten stuff is that the worldview aligns with what some of us agree with but the worldview is not the story. What really makes the old stuff great is that is that they are awesome stories. In their case being full of the ideas and values that support western civilization adds to not detracts from the story. But if you believe that those values are true and thus reflect the world and how it works then what you have is not a message but reality.

Cheating is no fun

I have a great deal of trouble listening to audio books. I have to do something else at the same time or I go mad. The problem is the something else can’t take too much brain power or else I can’t listen to the story.  I used to draw but I can’t do that anymore which doesn’t leave many options.  So when I decided to listen to A Princess of Mars I fell back on my old favorite game Heroes of Might and Magic III (the complete version from GOG).

I have played that game to death but I’m not actually good at it. (The day that I am good at a game is the day the world comes to an end.) There’s still a few maps I haven’t beat and I haven’t done all the campaigns. The Restoration of Erathia campaign is one of the few I finished and one of the few times that I cheated. In one map (can’t remember the name– it’s a long time ago), I could not figure out how to beat it. It’s the one with a time limit and the anti-magic garrison blocking the way to the town that needs to be captured with both the garrison and the town having huge armies in them. I could get through the garrison but my army would be wiped out and I couldn’t take the town. After going through this five times, I smashed in a cheat code for all buildings in at the beginning and if I remember correctly still just barely beat it. I am unrepentant in this case.

I hadn’t intended to bother with those maps while listening to A Princess of Mars, but after 9+ hours of a game that I’ve played since I was 12, I started to get bored. Just for the heck of it I opened one the “impossible” maps and all-buildinged it. I gave up after a couple weeks in. Why? It wasn’t impossible anymore but good grief was it dull!

If a game is too easy, it becomes boring as hell. No mad scramble to get enough resources, no careful planning on which buildings should take priority, no barely winning a battle by the skin of your teeth and two halberdiers left.

I had the fan made Wrath of the Gods at one time (on a computer that has since died).  That added a bunch of mods/cheats which could be easily turned on or off at the beginning.  On one map, can’t remember which, there was a row of 7 level creature dwellings.  I had “creature dwellings accumulate creatures” turned on and got myself a whole army of 7th levels. With an army like that and enough moral boosting artifacts to negate the problems, you can smash anything in a round. But that’s overkill. Get a stack of twenty angels and 100+ zealots and not much is going to give you trouble. But by the time you get to something like that by the normal process, you’ve earned it and there’s still a chance the computer has something better.

I’ve also tried the fan made HD version which gives you the ability to skip combats by offering you an outcome where you won but lost so many troops. The absolutely best thing to do in the game is fight everything. Every tiny group of level 1 wandering monsters. You need ALL THE XP. It gets tedious, however, to fight one more horde of troglodytes. It’s tempting to accept the option to let them run away. The HD takes the tedium away but as I played it it that way it lost some of the fun. I’m also pretty sure that I’m better at getting no casualties than the computer is.

While the game has its flaws, every trick to cut out the tedium or make yourself more powerful more quickly kills part of the fun.  No challenge, no fun.  You no longer have to think about what you need to do.  As for the map I’m still not sorry I cheated on… well, that wasn’t fun either even after cheating.  Because the opposite is also true: no chance of winning, no fun.  Smarter people than I won’t run into that problem.  I’m just stuck.  And those impossible maps stay impossible.

Message Fiction or Not?

Tomas Diaz has an interesting analysis of A Princess of Mars (which I happened to reread this week).  While I mostly agree with what he’s saying, I have a problem with the use of “message fiction.”  Diaz is using it to mean “fiction that has a message.”

Wiktionary, which was the only thing with a definition of the term I found in a quick search, says it means “Fiction that attempts to convey a sociopolitical message, as opposed to mere escapism.”

The term as I have heard it used seems to mean “fiction where the message is more important than the fiction.”  Mostly used in a derogatory manner.  Obviously there may be examples were such fiction is good.  Castalia House had a post from a few years about decrying boring message fiction, and offers this commentary on what message fiction is:

What distinguishes message fiction from other kinds of fiction is that it is primarily agenda-driven. That is to say, message fiction is created first and foremost for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person. Since authorial intention is often unclear, we tend to only notice the blatant cases — the ones with long-winded preachy sermons by one-dimensional characters who are only heroic by virtue of their cause. Nevertheless, message fiction is propaganda within a narrative wrapper, where the story, whether well crafted or not, is merely the delivery mechanism for the message. This definition applies to message fiction that is conservative or liberal, Christian or pagan. A good story, i.e. one with a compelling plot, theme, characters, and style, can still be message fiction if and only if the author wrote it to deliver a message.

I wonder actually if the “message” Diaz talks about is a conscious message at all.  Did ERB write this scheming that he was going to put in a how-to for heroes or is the story simply a reflection of the mores of the time?  Or maybe he was just trying to write the most awesome thing he could.  There’s more of an argument to be made for deliberate message insertion for the anti-socialist/communist and anti-eugenics elements of the story, but those messages are slipped in there and not shoved in your face.  If you’re going to say, however, that having any kind of message in your fiction makes it message fiction, then I think it can be argued that there’s hardly anything out there that isn’t message fiction.


Something Solid

From The High Window by Raymond Chandler.  Marlowe is in a drugstore.

I got down off the stool and walked to the door in a silence that was as loud as a ton of coal going down a chute.  The man in the black shirt and yellow scarf was sneering at me over the New Republic.

“You ought to lay off that fluff and get your teeth into something solid, like a pulp magazine,” I told him, just to be friendly.