I’m a snob

I recently had some conversations about fantasy in the past decades being dominated by works that don’t really seem to take themselves, their subjects, and their characters fully seriously, which also applies to most fiction in general. It’s rare to see something that is actually bold and feels sincere in really believing in what it says. Very often you get to see silly or macabre jokes being made to avoid anyone thinking that the creators actually thinks that dramatic moment was deep or meaningful. It’s all just simple fun.

Typical replies are statements that not all stories need to have a message, or that perhaps I have a nostalgic longing for the naivety found in the works of my youth and childhood.

There’s also currently some discussion going on about why the Disney Star Wars movies are so bad and disingenuous, with a new film just having come out that might be the worst of the bunch.

And very often you get people saying that they don’t worry about all of this because “it don’t want to have to think in my entertainment”, “you’re not supposed to think about it too much”, “it’s a great popcorn movie”, or “it’s great fun if you turn your brain off”.

Well, maybe it entertains you for a few hours, but that still doesn’t make it good.

Maybe not all entertainment has to have something to say. But I am entertained by stories because they have something to say! It’s the meaning and the sincerity with which it is presented that makes reading, watching, and playing worth my time; what makes it enjoyable. So I have come to the conclusion that I am a snob. And perhaps that’s not even a bad thing. Maybe we need more snobs writing new stories to get more works that actually have a purpose.

Also, I hate popcorn.

Unhidden Agendas and flying your flags

Whether you want to accept that “everything is political” or not, when it comes to writing fiction, it is impossible to stay neutral or not express an opinion on social questions. When you write a story, you make a statement about what you think is right or wrong. You make choices on what things you portray in a positive or a negative light. Your narration indicates what characters’ actions you approve or disapprove of. Even if you “only want to write fun adventures”, you make decisions on what events and behaviors you want your audiences to cheer at. The only way to not express an opinion or take a stand is to not write anything.

Depending on how you want to look at it, the idea that fiction can be apolitical or neutral on social issues is either a delusion or a lie. Anyone who claims to not want social issues to appear in the fiction they write or read and watch is expressing a desire to either stick with the status quo, or more commonly to revert to an outdated consensus from the past. Wishing for fiction to return to the social norms of the 50s or the 30s is a very explicit stance on social issues.

That is not to say that all people who don’t want to get involved in debates about social issues in fiction are reactionary bigots. That’s only the ones who constantly have to tel everyone and can’t stop shutting up about it. I think probably a majority is simply shying away from the boogeyman of controversy and are afraid to repel potential audiences by committing to any opinion. But that’s not how things work. You can’t not take a stance or not express your personal views.  To write fiction is to express your view of the world and of right and wrong.

One of the most annoying expression in debates (though usually they are angry shouting matches) is the tired idea of hidden agendas. All fiction has an agenda because all fiction expresses a view on right or wrong, with the intention of getting the audience’s approval for that view. The whole thing only becomes hidden when the creators shy away from committing to it. Either out of a fear for controversy or a desire to please everyone for all the sweet, sweet moneys.

I think this is a mistake. If you have to say something, stand up for it and defend it. Things are controversial only because society has not yet reached a consensus yet on what is acceptable or not. And they will remain controversial until people come out an take a stance for what is right and speak up for what is wrong. I am German, and in Germany we take reflecting on the errors of the past very seriously. To slightly misquote Edmund Burke, we know that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to say nothing.”

I do understand that there are many people who genuinely can’t handle loudmouthed idiots shouting hurtful shit at them, regardless of how obviously wrong and stupid it is. Not everyone is made to just have it bounce off and forget it. I am all for picking your fights and knowing when to walk. But wanting to please everyone, even the idiots who are obviously wrong in their bigoted beliefs, is not a sufficient reason to deny having an opinion on things. Few people become writers to get rich (which would be one of the worst ways to get there). People start writing because they have something to say and want it to be heard. All fiction stands for something and writers should be able to fully stand behind it. Sanitizing your work to be free of “controversial content” defeats the entire point of writing it in the first place. If people have a problem with the values expressed in your works, and you feel certain that these people are wrong, then so be it. Don’t try to sneakily get them to read your work and hopefully not notice what you believe in. I think all artists should be open about what they believe in.

I recently added the two flags to the sidebar of this site because of it. Though not to gain attention through virtue signaling and hoping people will like me more if they know I believe in social equality and diversity. The actual intention is as a deterrent for people who might mistake me for being supportive of their reactionary bigoted views of “traditional fantasy classics”. My interest in fantasy fiction leans very heavily to Sword & Sorcery, which is a genre that looks very simple and pretty dumb on the surface, but has very interesting hidden depths once you start looking for them. With the stereotypes of hyper-manly barbarians killing whoever they please and rescuing voiceless naked slave girls, Sword & Sorcery is one of the most obvious styles of fantasy that has huge appeal to the worst kind of fantasy fans. I always feel like walking on eggshells when I discover a new site with Sword & Sorcery content and take a careful look around to make sure I didn’t stumble into some neo-nazi hate pit. I really don’t want to deal with these people and always worried that the currently resurgent interest in Sword & Sorcery could be mutating into some alt-right hate forum.

I think a new Sword & Sorcery movement would have great potential to be boldly progressive and inclusive. It has always been about protagonists who live outside the accept structures of society and assert their individuality against the expectations of others. When you write them poorly they can be self-congratulating bullies, but they can just as well be people who have what it takes to ignore social expectations to do what is right, instead of what is accepted. It’s also a genre that never aspired to be respectable and willing to cross boundaries in the pursuit of fun. There is potential for abuse, but also great potential to be a force for good. But to keep it from getting hijacked by people with bad intentions, I think is is absolutely mandatory for writers to establish the developing space of dialog and exchange of ideas as one that doesn’t tolerate hateful bigotry. If you wait until some alt-right idiots or neo-nazis start spewing their poison, it will already be too late. You can never get rid of them and end up with the progressively thinking people gradually hemorrhaging away and dispersing instead of making the required step of making a deliberate split.

For that reason I think it is necessary to make my stance on these things known now. Better to be rejected by certain people early than finding out later that you’ve fallen in with the wrong crowd and participated in helping them getting a stage.

Synthwave

I’m not dead! I think I’m getting better.

I’ve been somewhat busy with my RPG stuff and also now fast approaching my final exams of my training as a gardener, and so this site has fallen somewhat to the side. But there’s a good couple of topics regarding fantasy and fiction I really want to write longer pieces about. Just don’t expect them in the next couple of days.

In the meantime, I want to share my love for Synthwave. The music genre that has its own color scheme. I’m usually not into electronic music, but there are some exceptions. Even though I was born in the 80s and just young enough to not have memories of Daft Punk not yet being around, I only really started listening to it three or four years ago after Random Access Memories came out. I’m one of those heretics who thinks Human After All was their best CD to that point, but also really liked their soundtrack for Tron 2. I heard it’s not a good movie, but a great super long Daft Punk music video. I think it was that soundtrack that made me run into the soundtracks for Hotline Miami and Drive on youtube. I thought those three were neat, but that was it.

However a good time later, I don’t know what we were talking about, someone on a fantasy writing forum gave me a link to something by Pertubator, thinking I might like it. And it was then that I realized that there’s a whole genre of this music. It’s great stuff, with Pertubator and Trevor Something now being my favorite musicians.

One interesting thing I noticed was that some parts really reminded me very strongly about the music from the Mass Effect games, especially Mass Effect 2, which I think is one of the very best games of all time and my clear favorite. And also some lesser but still clear similarities with the music from Mirror’s Edge, another of my top favorite games. And then it came all together:

Synthwave is the music of Neo-Noir!

The two go together as well as they did back in Blade Runner. It’s a shared aesthetic that picks up right where Blade Runner had already been 30 years earlier. I did some looking around, and you find a lot of people saying that Synthwave really took of with Drive, perhaps the quintessential neo-noir movie of the current generation. And then Hotline Miami cemented its foothold the following year. Though that was still after Mass Effect 2, so the actual roots have to go even further back .

A place as from a dream

Recently I have been talking with my father about visiting the places where my grandfather grew up and where our family takes its name from, which now lie in Poland. Even though it’s now almost 30 years since visiting for West Germans became possible, we never did. We’re planning on making a trip next year and I plan to write a longer piece about the experience and the wider context when we return back. But it also had me thinking back to my own experiences of spending a lot of weekends and holidays as a child with my mother’s parents who lived right on the border between West and East Germany. I was only 6 when Germany was reunified, but I still have some memories from before that which now in hindsight seem hilariously absurd. One local oddity I would find hard to belief if I hadn’t been there myself.

Behind my grandparents’ house was a road that led down the hill and disappeared into the trees of the swamp. In the middle of the swamp, the road ended at the overgrown remains of a ramp. A ramp that once led up to a bridge that no longer existed. Across a small river that marked the border of the no man’s land beyond the edge of the Western World.

West Germany ends about 20 meters to the right.

And beside that ramp at the end of a road that leads nowhere, there was a lone small inn run by an old couple, the last two remaining people of a village that had once stood on the other bank. The locals from the village, who occasionally came by for a drink, called it the Russian Embassy. Since the barkeep was a Russian soldier who rather fled into exile than facing the punishment for having allowed himself to be captured alive by the Germans.

I still remember going down that road with my grandfather and getting icecream. And being told to never, under any circumstances, swim to the other shore, because the patrols were under order to shot anyone trying to escape from East Germany and you could sometimes hear mines going off in the woods across the river.

It’s just wonderfully absurd.

And I’ve heard there is a new bridge now.

So I got a new website

Yes, it’s actually completely new. Everything before this was copied over from my old one because I wanted to have all my reviews in one place.

Why a new website? Things are getting increasingly serious with my efforts to write and release Sword & Sorcery stories and I need a place where people would be able to find them and get into contact with me. Spriggan’s Den has always been primarily an RPG site and over the years it got quite messy and contains a lot of junk. There’s worldbuilding material from four different settings that isn’t properly labled in any way. From an author’s website I am expecting more and a higher standard. Tidying up that place would have been a huge amount of work and I am never a fan of removing content from the internet. There might still be someone wanting to read something again years later and I still regret simply deleting my first website about futurisitc stuff without any backups. I got a partial snapshot of the first page at the Wayback Machine and it made me realize it was quite awful, but I’d really have liked to be able to look at some of those really early reviews and read what I’ve been thinking back then. And I might always want to get back into writing about RPGs and then having lost a good portion of my old stuff would be really sad. And I might still write there about other stuff that doesn’t belong here.

So a new, tidy website that is all about the creation of stories in the Kaendor setting, general purpose thoughts about writing and storytelling, and looks and my opinions on related works of fantasy and beyond. Here it is.

(Though it still looks awful and I don’t have a proper title or adress yet.)