I remember watching Phantom Menace in the movie theater wondering what the movie was missing. There was awesome Jedi action (and way better choreography than the original trilogy). The music was fantastic. Tatooine looked pretty much the same, and pod racing was pretty nifty. (It was even more fun as a segment in later Star Wars video games). But there was some core element of Star Wars I felt was just absent.
It didn’t take me more than a few times watching it to realize that what the film didn’t have was Han Solo.
I don’t mean Han Solo literally. What I wanted was a loveable rogue. (You’ll note that I found a TV Tropes link for the character type–that’s how common it is). It’s all well and good to have the earnest hero in the center of things. That’s kinda their job. But there needs to be someone around with a smirk and a wink and a hard edge—a little too cynical to believe in the mythic importance of everything around them (even if they’re later proven wrong). Sometimes it’s their job to undercut the narrative, to give it a little breathing room so the audience can laugh. Pretty typically, their witticisms are the ones people leave the theater quoting. They’re not in this story for the higher mission of the plot. They’re in it for some selfish reason.
But not really. Because when the chips are down, they show up to help save the day.
Or, actually, they don’t.
Even though I grew up with the Han Solo type of scoundrel and grew into the Malcolm Reynolds kind of scoundrel (as a freelancer, “I do the job, and then I get paid” became a mantra for me), I’ve developed a bit of a taste for the varied palate they can offer. Around the time I was loving Firefly, I was also reading Steven Brust’s “Vlad Taltos” series. Which centers on a character who is, effectively, a crime lord in at least a portion of his novels. He’s an assassin. He’s not a nice man. But he’s affable, the kind of narrator you want to follow on whatever mission it is he’s undertaking. And, even when it’s not really the right thing, you want him to win.
I followed Mark Henry’s “Amanda Feral” series, which is narrated by a zombie socialite. Who eats people. Sometimes they’re not even bad people, it’s just that she’s a zombie, and. Well. It happens. And while the whole experience of hanging out with Amanda is kind of like being a spectator to a train wreck, it’s a glorious spectacle.
More recently, there’s Marvel’s Loki, whose Road Movie-like dialogue with Thor was the best thing about Thor: The Dark World. Never quite knowing what side Loki is on is a big part of his appeal—but, even moreso, that he’s ambiguous with charm. If you want to talk about a fan favorite character—I think it’s probably a safe bet that there’s more fan fiction about Loki on the Internet than any of the Marvel heroes. (I’m not going to actually go count them, but I stand by my suspicion).
And while characters like Kate Daniels and Curran Lennart from Ilona Andrews’s “Kate Daniels” series are absolutely the heroes—they’ve got a bit of a edge on them as well. Kate, a former mercenary, private investigator, and also the daughter of one of the universe’s big evils, isn’t always good at playing nice. Curran, who for much of the series is the leader of all the shapeshifters in Atlanta, creates a code for his own people, but doesn’t always play nicely by the rules of non-shapeshifters. They’re a pair for whom the default response is to hit the problem with a sword, and to do so with a gleeful, maniacal smile that makes bystanders scared for their lives.
Fantasy and science fiction thrive on the morally ambiguous characters who can reel you into their stories and make you want them to win, even when they’re the bad guys. While I’m no psychologist, I suspect there’s something cathartic about rooting for the scoundrel. When you’re part of a community (a family, a town, a nation), it’s important to follow the rules—but it’s not always fun. Diplomacy is hard. Sometimes just getting along with other members of your community is hard.
Rooting for the guy who doesn’t have to follow those rules? Sometimes, that’s exactly what we need. In all the varieties possible.
As Han says, “There aren’t enough scoundrels in your life.”
Anton Strout is the author of urban fantasy, including the Simon Canderous paranormal detective series and the Spellmason Chronicles. He’s also the host of the Once and Future Podcast. He’s going to have a story in the fantasy anthology Knaves from Outland Entertainment, now on Kickstarter!
There are words and phrases from what one reads that stick with you throughout your entire life. From the moment you read them they inspired or changed you. As a teen, the now clichéd “Carpe Diem, Seize the Day” from the film Dead Poet’s Society was life changing, but it was reading that always struck to the core of my heart when it came to shaping who I was as both a person and as a writer of the fantastical.
No one was as pivotal to who I became in both respects than Douglas Adams. My first exposure was to the PBS import of the BBC television series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Immediately I HAD TO HAVE the books and made my mother take me to buy what was then just the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy. I still have the broken spined, falling apart hardcover, coated in dried green slime from a toy accident years ago. Then I consumed the radio plays on cassette, and bought the annotated transcripts to read along with.
There are a million turns of phrase that the late Mr. Adams wrote over the years that stick with me:
- “Don’t Panic.”—the words inscribed on the guide itself, and an obvious choice as a life motto.
- “Life. Don’t talk to me about life.”—Marvin the Paranoid Android, moping about in his usual depressed state
- From the planet builder Slartibartfast, best known for winning an award for designing Earth’s Norwegian fjords:
Slartibartfast: I’d far rather be happy than right any day.
Arthur: And are you?
Slartibartfast: No. That’s where it all falls down of course.
But the one that has always stuck with me is:
This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
To a 12-year old kid, it just seemed funny, but it also made me think. Adults were weird, anyway. Why would they obsess over these little green pieces of paper? The idea was absurd—later causing me to strive in my own fiction to capture even just a fracture of Mr. Adam’s genius/humor—but his words were also spot on about the human condition. These were IMPORTANT WORDS, important thoughts! As I grew up and became an adult myself (a debatable point, I know), I found the words stuck with me.
I’ve been financially stable as well as pathetically poor, but rarely have I suffered at the hand of that ebb and flow. Money is always welcome and nice to have and all, but I’ve never let a lack of it determine my happiness. It’s been a pretty healthy attitude, focusing me instead on what truly makes me happy—family, writing, rampantly consuming all manners of nerdery…
Such a complexly written yet simply logical line transformed my entire attitude about the true answer to life, the universe, and well, everything. Words…powerful stuff indeed.
There are only a couple days left to back Knaves: A Blackguards Anthology on Kickstarter!
Featuring stories from Cat Rambo, Mercedes Lackey & Dennis Lee, Maurice Broaddus, Anton Strout, Anna Spark Smith, Cullen Bunn, Walidah Imarisha, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Clay Sanger, Kenny Soward, Linda Robertson, Lian Hearn, Toiya Kristen Finley, and Shanna Germain, Knaves contains stories about people on the wrong side of the ethical tracks, folks whose moral compasses don’t quite point north, and those who have to make hard decisions that are in that gray area between good and bad. While many of the stories are traditional fantasy, others are on the edge of cyberpunk, horror, and urban fantasy.
Backers have the options of having characters named after them, getting their query letters or their fiction critiqued by the authors or editors, and getting an original piece of artwork from artist Nicolás Giacondino, and of course, getting eBook and print copies of Knaves. Backers will also have the option of being the first to receive new editions of the original Blackguards anthology stories, divided into two volumes and re-branded with the Outland Entertainment logo, These volumes will have new covers as well as one new story in each.
Knaves: A Blackguards Anthology was selected as a Kickstarter Staff Pick, and editors Melanie R. Meadors and Alana Joli Abbott have seen what a special collection of stories this will surely be. Fantasy fans of all types will find something to love. But don’t wait to back it—there are only a couple days left!
Last year, some of us discovered the irreverence of Deadpool and are eager to view the sequel. This year, some of us are working with one of the writers from his comics: Cullen Bunn.
But we’re not the only ones fangirling/fanboying. Cullen is wearing his fanboy hat himself as he has love Warlock 5 for more than thirty years.
How did you stumble upon Warlock 5 for the first time?
I discovered Warlock 5 at my local comic book shop (Heroes Are Here in Goldsboro NC) when I was a kid. I picked the first issue up off the shelf.
Why did it capture you?
Right from the jump, that awesome cover of the first issue, featuring the 5 warlocks, had my attention. Then, reading the issue, I fell in love with the interesting, sort of hard-edged cast of characters, the fusion of horror, science fiction, and fantasy was right up my alley.
Did you have a favorite issue?
I think the first 5 or so issues were all pretty great, but that first issue will always be my favorite in the series. It did such a nice job of introducing all the characters and giving me a feel for the tone of the series.
How about a beloved character?
Savasthar, the shapeshifting dragon, has always been my favorite of the bunch, but I have a soft spot for Zania, too.
Did these change once you picked the books up to work on the project?
Not too much. If anything, I like both Savasthar and Zania a little more. In this project, I get to write Savasthar as sort of a brooding hardboiled detective… who can turn into a dragon… so that’s pretty hard to beat.
The original work must have cast a heavy weight, but what other influences did you have?
As with all my projects, I draw inspiration from many different places. Novels, movies, TV, other comics… It’s hard for me to pinpoint any one source. Those original few issues of the Warlock 5 comic were definitely the most vital influence.
The writing process is a collaboration between you and Jimmy Z Johnston. How is it to collaborate with other artists? Is there too much compromise?
I enjoy collaborating with others. Sometimes, writing comics is too solitary. Working with other creators helps to keep me sane.
This is not the only project you two have partnered up for. Why did you start working together?
I’ve known Jimmy Z for a long time now. Ten years, I guess. And we’ve always talked about writing something together.
Are there any specific scenes or narrative developments you want to include in this continuation of the 80’s comic?
We looked at the weird relationships between the warlocks as they were presented in the original comic, and we wanted to honor the way their interactions were depicted. But we also wanted to expand on what we had seen before and deepen those connections.
What are you most looking forward to work on?
I chuckle to myself every time I think of the interactions between Zania, the punk rock necromancer, and Argon, the Terminator-like robot from the future. But from a “big story” perspective, we’re getting a chance to really explore the idea of defending multiple realities from outside threats. And we’re introducing a really, really big outside threat.
The five main characters are extremely different and layered. What was the biggest challenge bringing them to life?
We have to make sure to give each character plenty of “page time.” This is an ensemble cast, and no one character needs to hog the spotlight. That can be a challenge at times.
Is it turning out the way you’ve envisioned it?
For the most part, yeah. Any time you work on a comic like this, especially with a co-writer, there are changes and new angles that arise as you are working on the project.
In these shaken times do you try to embed your work with some subliminal criticism or do you keep it detached from the outside world?
I think people will read something more into the book whether or not I try to include something. But my primary objective with these stories is to entertain. Sure, there might be some subliminal ideas that I’m working into a story based on things that I’m thinking about, but I’m not going to try to hit the reader over the head with any of that.
Anything you can tell us without giving out major spoilers?
Well, I always wondered what would happen to the five warlocks if one of them died.
As we cruise into the middle of 2018, it might be difficult, surrounded as we are with great kaiju novels and anthologies, comics, and Pacific Rim Uprising rampaging across theater screens, to recall a time when kaiju fans were at a loss for good material. And while there have been few gaps in the cinematic history of kaiju, when it comes to prose, things were pretty sparse until 2012.
Just how sparse? Well, there was a fairly steady stream of comics from the Marvel Godzilla issues of the 1970s. Dark Horse got the Godzilla license in the late 1980s and continued publishing their comics into the 1990s and acting as prologue to the abysmal American Godzilla film from 1998. IDW’s comics started in 2010 and became some big sellers, and along the way we had artist superstars like Matt Frank and Bob Eggleton become well-known names associated with kaiju. There were also a handful of other kaiju comics (i.e.: those not starring the Big G) or things that could charitably be called kaiju comics, too.
But when it came to actual prose—novels, novellas, and short stories—the scene was pretty thin. And beyond Godzilla? Not much.
In the 1990s, a series of Godzilla YA novels began with Marc Cerasini’s Godzilla Returns. But sales on the series probably were not what the publisher hoped, because it was cancelled after just four books (with a fifth written but never published).
A few random fits and starts occurred over the years. Monster Makers, Inc. (1987) by Laurence Yip, predated the YA series, but was more of a one-off thing. The Buzzing (2003) by Jim Knipfel was a detective story with its inspiration in kaiju stories. MM9 (2012) by Hiroshi Yamamoto was certainly a full-on kaiju novel by a Japanese author, but the translated edition appears to be the last book by the author available on Western shores. (I should also point out here that this brief history of kaiju prose is strictly looking at novels in the English speaking world. I would expect—and hope—that there are plenty of kaiju novels available in Japan).
Although MM9 was released first, it didn’t have half the impact of the next kaiju novel released. And I know a little something about this next one. I was partly responsible for its existence. In 2011, I was freelance editing and working on my own novels as time permitted. One book I planned to write was a YA kaiju adventure set in Vermont (sadly still not completed). I talked about it with my most frequent editing client, Jeremy Robinson. It turned out he was a huge kaiju fan, and had always wanted to write a kaiju novel. Most of his novels up to that point featured large creatures—aliens, dinosaurs, sea serpents, the hydra, and stone golems—and the book he was working on at the time even had a creature/character named ‘Kaiju.’
I encouraged Jeremy to go ahead and work on his kaiju novel idea and release it. The time was ripe for self-published novels and if anyone could do justice to a kaiju novel, it was Jeremy. That novel, which I edited for him, was 2012’s Project Nemesis, and while Jeremy opted to self-publish the book, he had actually received an offer from a major New York publisher for it. He turned them down though, and he promptly made more money self-pubbing the book. The book came adorned with a label that read ‘A Kaiju Thriller’ and a novel subgenre was born.
Nemesis was huge. The novel was (and perhaps remains) the highest-selling original non-licensed kaiju novel of all time. Jeremy became an international bestselling author and among many other novels he also wrote four bestselling sequels in the Nemesis Saga. The character was licensed to appear in an indie video game. The book was reviewed in Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, and when they launched their comic book publishing arm, American Gothic Press, Project Nemesis, written by Robinson and with art by the stellar Matt Frank (hot off the heels of Godzilla: Rulers of Earth) was their flagship title. The character has even had major Hollywood interest lately.
Following Nemesis, though, and seemingly all at once, kaiju were everywhere. It helped that the Pacific Rim film was coming in 2013 and a new American Godzilla film was on the way for 2014. But suddenly there were authors writing kaiju novels. Matthew Dennion (who wrote a Nemesis short story for G-Fan magazine in 2014), Jake Bible, JE Gurley, and Eric S. Brown were all putting out great stuff. Handfuls of other authors were diving in, many utilizing the ‘Kaiju Thriller’ tag line, loud and proud.
Then there were the anthologies. Robert Hood and Robin Penn had edited a trio of kaiju-themed anthologies in 2006-2007, Daikaiju! Giant Monster Tales, Daikaiju! 2 Revenge of the Giant Monsters, and Daikaiju! 3 Giant Monsters Vs. the World. Once the dam broke in 2012, however, many more followed. Monster Earth by James Palmer and Jim Beard. Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters by Tim Marquitz and N. X. Sharps came about via a kaiju-sized Kickstarter campaign that was so over-funded it brought on illustrations for every short story and even a few additional stories (including one from yours truly).
SF editor supreme Sean Wallace put together a reprint anthology for the Constable & Robinson (and in the US, Prime Books) Mammoth series: The Mammoth Book of Kaiju. Ragnarok followed up their successful Kaiju Rising anthology with a giant robot companion, called MECH: Age of Steel, and the book contained its fair share of mechs beating down on over-sized monsters.
In short, the last six years have been a second golden age for kaiju fans. Two Pacific Rim films, two Godzilla films (with more coming, including a Kong rematch). Animated films. Kong: Skull Island. Cloverfield sequels. The upcoming MEG. Even the black comedy Colossal. Comics have been bountiful, and there’s been plenty of good stuff beyond Godzilla and Pacific Rim comics, including Kaijumax, King of Zombies, and the upcoming Redman with kaiju-riffic Matt Frank art. Fantastic novels like Robinson’s Apocalypse Machine, Raffael Coronelli’s Daikaiju Yuki, Lee Murray’s Into The Mist, and Greig Beck’s Primordia series are becoming the norm. A cursory look at the search term ‘kaiju’ on Amazon will yield plenty of releases just in 2018 or scheduled for later this year.
About Kane Gilmour
Kane Gilmour is the international bestselling author of The Crypt of Dracula and Resurrect. His short stories have appeared in Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters and MECH: Age of Steel. SNAFU II: Survival of the Fittest, and Dark Discoveries magazine. He also writes comic books. He lives with his significant other, his kids, her kids, and three dogs in Vermont. He’s thinking of buying a farm to house them all. Find him on the web at http://kanegilmour.com/.
For Immediate Release
Contact Melanie R. Meadors
Same Assassins, Thieves, and Mercenaries, Different Packaging
Outland Entertainment Gives Blackguards a Facelift
May 9, 2018—Topeka, KS—Outland Entertainment is please to announce a new look and edition for the anthology Blackguards, dividing the book into two volumes and including two never-before-seen stories.
Blackguards, originally published by Ragnarok Publications, was a massive volume containing stories from some of the best dark fantasy and grim dark authors in the industry. It was so big that there was an e-book only supplement, The Blackguards Blacklist, containing stories from talented authors that were not available in print.
“Because of the large page count of the book, printing this book became prohibitively expensive,” says creative director and owner of Outland Entertainment Jeremy Mohler. “Dividing the book into two will not only allow us to release it in a financially feasible way for both readers and publisher, it will let us make room so that all the Blackguards authors interested can be included in the print editions.”
The new volumes, entitled Brigands and Scoundrels will have all new cover art by Daniel Rempel, and editing will be done by Alana Joli Abbott and Melanie R. Meadors (with first edition credit going to JM Martin). The books will have stories in them by Bradley P. Beaulieu, Lian Hearn, Rob J. Hayes, Anthony Lowe, Anthony Ryan, Linda Robertson, Cat Rambo, Erik Scott de Bie, and many more. Not only will the books have stories that appeared in the original anthology, but each volume will feature a brand new story from fantasy authors not included in the original volume or the ebook companion.
Backers of the upcoming Knaves anthology Kickstarter (May 15) will have a first chance to see the new books. Ebooks and physical copies of Brigands and Scoundrels will be offered as backer rewards for Knaves. Afterwards, both Brigands and Scoundrels will be available online and in bookstores.