Shallow & Pedantic Podcast.

We’re three episodes in on this endavour now. Below is the most recent episode, recorded in March. We planned to do it monthly, but circumstances have gotten in our way.

Recently via Skype we planned out our next set of episodes, so we should be able to turn them out at a regular clip once Normality 2.0 is fully downloaded. YouTube channel link here, that you may mash that subscribe button. It’s also available on iTunes.

Of course, the best way to keep up with all our Shallow & Pedantic doings is to subscribe to our Patreon.

Blood and Thunder

 

I have written in this space before, and discussed it at the S & P podcast, my recent discovery of Robert Howard. I have become something of a bore on this topic, truth be told.

The practical upshot of which is, I’ve started a project I’ve long tossed back and forth in the to-do pile. I’ve mentioned it before. Over this past week I finally sat down and wrote a first chapter.

It’s a draft, but steady reads of Fritz Leiber are improving my mood and feel for it, as are taking the time to draft character sheets and even some name-brainstorming with the wife (I had a name for my protagonist that I didn’t like, but couldn’t think of a better one. I now have one that fits the world and the character). It’s now my primary project.

In The Sword news, I submitted to an agent last week as well. I’ve a few more on deck should I get another rejection. We’ll see how it goes.

The Merry Spirit of War

A Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger is a book so opposite to All Quiet on the Western Front so thoroughly as to be hardly discussing the same war. And in a sense, they are. Storm of Steel is essentially a diary, a recitation of facts and occurrences, held together by the observer. All Quiet, is a novel, which, however much it draws from Remarque’s real life experiences, has the ambition of a social novel: to put the cast of characters as shadows of their social obligation, and make note of who suffers and who profits. Since we’re talking about German soldiers in the Trenches of WWI, it’s mostly suffering. All Quiet, like Siegfried Sassoon’s poems, are less a story than a dirge.

Which is what makes Storm of Steel so bracing. Junger dispenses with being shocked that war is horrible and does what most soldiers in that war did, i.e., gets on with it. Death is not ignored, nor randomness, nor folly, but they are treated with concision and immediacy. Junger’s prose, while evocative, is never purple.

Several times, I murmurd a phrase of Ariosto’s:

“A great heart feels no dread of approaching death, whenever it may come, so long as it e honorable.”

That produced a pleasant kind of intoxication of the sort that one experiences, maybe, on a rollercoaster.

It bears far closer resemblance to a book long forgotten, Over the Top by Arthur Guy Empey. Published while the war was still going on, by an American discharged from the British Army, it has more than a few touches of propaganda, clanging lines about “this great war for civilization” (After being wounded during the Somme, Empey was discharged from the British Army, and served as a propaganda officer in the U.S. Army until he made a speech critical of draftees and was withdrawn. He later had a career writing and directing in Silent-Era Hollywood). But the bulk of the novel is comic, casting the mud and the blood and the bombs in wry terms. It even includes “Tommy’s Dictionary of the Trenches” which takes precisely the Biercean tone it should:

Bayonet. A sort of knife-like contrivance which fits on the end of your rifle. The Government issues it to stab Germans. Tommy uses it to toast bread.

Empey does not cast himself in the hero’s role, but more as a comedic sojourner lucky to come out alive. He does not spare the generals, or pretend that things like shooting deserters by firing squad is not unpleasant business (one gets the overall sense that Empey has little interest in, or respect for, authority, and regards them as a necessary evil). His book gives wonderfully specific details about life in a front-line trench, and the routine of surviving it.

Both of these longer works remind me of C.S. Lewis’ discussion of his time in the trenches in his memoir. Lewis largely preferred the wartime army to public school, largely because one was not obligated to feign enjoyment of one’s time in the first. But his perspective was summed up in his reaction to the first time he heard a bullet crack the air near him. “Oh,” he thought, “This is War. This is what Homer wrote about.”

 

Shallow & Pedantic Publishing Goes Live, and Authorial Update.

Here’s the news:

The aforementioned Unnamed Journal shift has launched. We have issued our last free Issue on Joomag, and have gone over to a paying basis. You can get UJ in two ways:

  1.  Become a subscriber to our Patreon. For $1 a month you get accesss to new issues of UJ as they become live, and also old issues of UJ, which we occasionally post.
  2. Purchase them direct from Gumroad. Our first paid issue will come out in July. We’re also going to have Collection from past issues available, including themed collections like Catakuri and Drunk Vampire Hunter. More on this later.

I’m going to make adjustments to the Unnamed Journal page on this website accordingly.

In other news, I’m dithering between projects. I’ve been doing that for a while now. Granted, betwen my professional and family obligations, and producing enough content for UJ, I haven’t had a whole lot of the right mental space, but I’m kind of in a Buridian’s Ass scenario between various things:

  • A Western Novella, which is about 3/4 finished, but has taken a grimdark turn and I’m kind of feeling dry about it. Working Title: Death Riding
  • A pulpy fantasy novel I’m outlining but haven’t fully committed to drafting. Working Title: The King’s Ransom
  • A noirish semi-fantasy (urban fantasy) that I’ve written a couple of chapters to, and have a sort-of outline for. Working Title: Chemical Angel

Ideally, I’d want to pick something that ties in with UJ.  I just need to pick something and do it. And contact more agents for The Sword.

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Cover Aesthetics

I’m the sort of guy who likes minimalist covers. A single image, one or three colors, something striking, a bold font. I like seeing those kinds of books. I like buying them. One of the things that hold me off from a lot of Fantasy literature, especially the Pulp kind, is the genre of cover art just doesn’t appeal to me. I’m slowly getting over that, however, as I’ve read enough to know that the pulp style is usually an honest display of what’s in the book. That has it’s own merit, even if I still find it too busy for my eyes.

Something like this, for example…

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…is perfect. Dark colors suggest mystery, the image is striking and portends danger. And this novel is a Dragon-Award winner, and as good an example of the swords & sorcery genre as you’re like to find. 

Then there’s something like this…

9781513655604

Completely different genre, of course (comedic urban social novel), so it’s supposed to look slightly odd. But again, plain background, so everything is focused on the image, which is suggestive of graffiti and whimsy. I haven’t read it, but I kind of want to.

The Old Phase of UJ… Must End

I’ve talked about this before, but it’s becoming official.

The last free issue of Unnamed Journal has gone live. It’s available on Joomag. We’ve had great fun building and growing the magazine, and now it’s time for the next phase.

Our Patreon is going to go live next. The plan is to have Subscribers have access to new issues, plus early access to our other content and other type things. I’ll be detailing this in a later post, with links.

Additionally, for people who prefer to buy direct, we’ll be setting up an account on Gumroad to sell

  • new issues
  • old issues
  • collections/omnibi
  • other books and stories

That’s going to be in a few months, when the next issue goes live there. In the meantime, let’s get this party started.

Nazi Horror

Things I learned today:

  1. Roman Polanski experienced the Holocaust to a terrifying degree, losing his mother at Aushwitz, which puts his career as primarily a horror director into perspective (it doesn’t excuse his crimes and the bastard should have gone to jail – Fiat Iustitia, ruat astrum).
  2. There’s a whole sub-genre of Nazi horror cinema. I suppose I already knew this, but a blog calling itself Planet Auswitz analyzing it does rather Make It Official in a way.

For my money, the true Nazi Horror movie is Conspiracy. An HBO original from 2001, it gives you the other end of the monster. It takes place at a cushy conference in a lakeside villa. Not a drop of blood is spilled or a shot fired in anger. Nevertheless, it is a chilling meditation on human evil.

conspiracy-filmThe film is about the Wannsee Conference, wherein high-ranking Nazi officials planned the Endlosung der Judenfrage – the Final Solution to the Jewish Question, what Jews call the Shoah (“Calamity”), and what popular culture refers to as the Holocaust. Note this nomenclature. What we commonly consider a bloodthirsty pogrom on a larger scale, some bizarrely Teutonic irruption of anti-Semitic feeling, was in fact an entirely rational conclusion of bureaucratic logic. The Nazis came to Wannsee to sort out this Jewish business, once and for all. And given the status of Jews in the Third Reich, and the ongoing war, that business could only get sorted out one way.

The film makes this clear. If you’ve ever been in one of those meetings where all discussion is an illusion, the decision has been made already, and you are just being informed of the expectation to enthusiastically lend your support, then you will get this film. The meeting begins with a palimpset of discussion of alternative solutions – mass sterilization, primarily – but although it’s practicalities are debated it isn’t serious for a minute. With that camel’s nose inside the tent, the SS shove towards acceptance of what was already being done – mass extermination of Jews throughout Eastern Europe — in fits and starts. As having soldiers shoot them one by one is impracticable, poison gas becomes the obvious solution.

The dawning horror on mens faces as they realize what this meeting really is and that they’re really going to do it, that no real debate or discussion exists, that the fix is in, makes this film a favorite of mine. The verite aspect as well: the actual Wannsee conference took place in just about the running time of the movie. And it’s perhaps my favorite Kenneth Branagh performance. He plays Reinhard Heydrich, the Butcher of Prague, as a consummate politician, gemutlichkeit, but the iron fist slips out of the velvet glove when it needs to. The SS takeover of Jewish Policy questions from every other relevant government agency is the real purpose of the meeting, and Branagh plays that skillfully.

These men, highly educated, deeply civilized, allowed their reason to be corrupted by a premise — Jews are the authors of the world’s ills — that they never examined. Once accepted, this idea drives all before it, until not just humanity and sympathy, but even law, become unreasonable. Spiritual horror at the inversion of morality hit on an altogether different level than zombies, even if both are really about the same thing.