Dinocalypse Now!

So by now, you may have heard the news:

I am writing a SPIRIT OF THE CENTURY novel for Evil Hat games.

If it works out, I might be writing three of them, actually.

The first begins with –

DINOCALYPSE NOW!

All I’m saying is:

Psychic dinosaurs.

1935.

Get your head around that.

And once you have your head around it, I’ve some questions to ask you.

First up: if you’re a fan of the old pulps — and a fan of crazy adventure and pulp heroes and weird science and all that good stuff — then I gotta ask, what would you hope to see in a new pulp novel?

Second, if you’re a fan of SPIRIT OF THE CENTURY, what defines that game to you? What are the essential ingredients to any SotC adventure — both the adventure that unfolds with dice at your game table and the adventure that might unfold in, say, a novel? I’ve got a synopsis of the novel written down, but thus far I’ve got a lot of uncharted spaces. Which is why I’m here, looking to you to distill down what you feel — as a fan of the game — best embodies the awesomeness that is SPIRIT OF THE CENUTURY.

I’ll hang up and wait for your answer.

*click*

32 comments

  • I am a fan of old pulp. My goal when writing is usually to write fresh pulp. My kindle is full of Haggard, Lovecraft, Burroughs and Howard. New Pulp? Not sure really. If anything perhaps a bit less of the insane word explosions Lovecraft was famous for. Perhaps the occasional wink and nudge to the genres over the top ridiculousness now and then. I mean sure that could be overdone easily but lets face it it is a little insane sometimes.

    But really what I want from a new pulp is the same thing I want from an old pulp: A gripping, fast, energetic adventure. Peril, danger, ancient cults, badass heroes, strange science, sorcery, treasure, apes (so common in pulp, I swear). I look for escapist entertainment to dive into headfirst and wallow in it’s glorious language, fun cast, and occasionally insane plots. Some violence is nice as well. (sorry, fan squee is done).

    Don’t have a group at the moment and have not picked up Spirit of the Century. Really need to fix that, especially since I loved the Dresden RPG.

  • I want to see tiger-women riding dinosaurs on the moon.

    Oh wait, I already did that.

    Holy shit am I looking forward to this! I love pulp. I think what I love about it so much is how purposefully corny it is, while somehow still managing to get some serious issues through. This is going to be a perfect fit for you, Lord Chuckles.

    Now I want to write more Doctor Courage.

  • I’ll echo “fun cast” from above. The over-the-top tropes work best with characters that engage us. Indiana Jones engages us, and sure, Short Round was annoying as fuck, but we cared to a certain degree what happened to him because Indy cared (or maybe, in this regard, I stand alone…) Even though the actual pulp characters were often 2-D archetypes, giving us some character meat into which we can sink our teeths is a must-do, I think.

    Exotic places and thrilling chases. Cliffhanging action and impossible escapes. Romance between the characters, or between the major characters and a minor character. Enduring, persistent, truly nasty evil villains.

    Yeah… these are a few of my favorite pulpy things.

  • Congratulations! Love the era – my WIP is set in 1934. As a science-type, I have mixed feelings on how “weird” science should be handled in books. Do your homework and do your best to do “real” science justice, is my advice.

  • As far as the SotC game goes, I tend to be a formalist about this sort of thing. For me, SotC is all about the FATE system, particularly its embrace of Aspects and the extension of Aspects to locations, environments, and objects. Mechanical emulation isn’t the sort of thing you should strive for in your novels, so I’m not much help on this front.

    I’m arguably not much help on the pulp front either, but why let that stop me? You’ve probably anticipated my preferences here. Pulp is about breathless futurism. In the pulp world, the Enlightenment reaches its zenith. Adventurous men and women reshape the world using the combined powers of Reason and Science. It isn’t today’s science, drilling into the subatomic quantum world. It’s more grandiose, more hubristic. Draped over it all are the vestiges of a formal, polite Victorian society. I like a little “Thin Man” mixed into my “Rocketeer”.

    I’ve always admired the way that White Wolf captured the scientific view in “Adventure!”, if that is a useful example for you.

  • One of the things I always enjoy seeing in a pulp story/serial/book is a competent villain. A well organized, albeit crazy, mastermind really makes the hero more, well, heroic. We all know the good guy is going to win….it’s in -how- he/she wins is what makes a good story.

    That and crazy mad, weird, science….the kookier, the better.

    I actually own a copy of SotC (I think), packed away at my home in Kentucky. As I don’t have a gaming group down here in Florida, I wouldn’t have much use for it, anyway :(

  • I love fast, action-focused pulp that has a good dose of humor, both situational and wit. What separates great pulp from good pulp is when the book has a theme that runs through the story. This theme is usually a larger question: What is loss, love, free will, independence, courage, commitment? The things that happen, the conflicts the protagonists (and antagonists) face can all be read as bits of an answer to the question.

  • The first thing I want to see from a new pulp novel is good writing — too much of what gets released is pastiche of the “pulp style”, which (let’s be very honest) was often crap. You’re writing this, so I know I needed worry about that.

    The second is some familiarity with actual pulps — I blame ADVENTURE! (and, unfortunately, it was echoed in SPIRIT OF THE CENTURY), but gamers appear to have gotten into their heads that Pulp = 1920s. This is irritating as hell, since the heyday of the pulps were a decade later. It’s all a bit like wanting to do a post-Cold War thriller about ex-Soviet intelligence agents, and setting it in 1982 because you like the music better.

    However, in this very blog post, you mention 1935 — which means you’ve gotten that bit right as well.

    Generally speaking, though — a familiarity with the source magazines wouldn’t hurt. What modern audiences (and especially gamers) short-hand as “pulp” is often a mishmash of Serial Cliffhangers and Golden Age Comics filtered through a modern tribute “Indiana Jones/The Rocketeer” lens. The actual pulps had a much wider scope. But then that starts getting into my personal bugbear — namely that “pulp” is a medium, not a genre. But nobody likes a pedant. :)

  • Sweet! I love me some SotC. It’s good times all round, every session.

    Since you ask, my defining feature of FATE games I’ve run has been the endless supply of “uh-oh” moments as (usually my players doing it to themselves) aspects get compelled for Fun And Frolics. “Uh-oh. I think I remember this gang of heavies wearing junkyard automata exoskeletons… I *may* have designed horrifying laser weapons for them a couple of years ago. Sorry, guys…” It’s like everyone is some kind of wonderful bad luck magnet. Glorious!

  • My feeling on the pulps, which would extend to SotC, is these things:

    Optimism – Even in the 20′s, we’re at the beginning of a century of amazing possibilities. Science is already capable of so much, and we can only go up from here. There’s no place for angst. A character shouldn’t brood over how helpless he felt when the raptors snuck into his bedroom that night, and how could he ever be better than what he is now to overcome the rampaging dinosaurs? No, it’s “Those dinosaurs are rampaging through the city! C’mon, chum, we can beat those 20-foot-tall behemoths with a little bit of ingenuity!”

    Realistic fight physics – Punches and hits with giant crescent wrenches can cause fractures or broken bones, concussion, brain damage, etc. THROW THAT OUT! This isn’t ER! A well-placed punch or a club to the back of the head knocks someone out. That’s really it. Doesn’t matter whether it’s the hero or villain. POW! Out cold! No consequences except maybe a slight headache, which is immediately dispelled by a few shakes of the head.

    And if a villain dies, it’s because of his own actions. His evil has brought him down. That’s why he fell into the giant gears of his unstoppable machine when the hero side-stepped his punch. And no brooding on it! He’s evil, remember? Make a comment about cosmic justice and get out of there!

    Hope this helps. :-)

  • When I read the classical pulps I’m transported into a world of master villains, super science, lost words and civilizations, weird creatures, and good vs. evil.

    When I read modern/new pulp I hope for the same thing I look for in classical pulp. But, I also look for new twists, redirection of the standard cliches, and a more modern take on the entire concept.

    This means, to me, that the damsel is not always waiting to be rescued. The villain has, to them self, a legit reason for their actions and does not see himself/herself as the villain. The hero may not always be as noble as his classical counterpart, in fact, being an anti-hero is acceptable.

    All the above is what I look for when I sit down for a SOTC game.

  • Pulps are awesome!!!

    What I look for in a good pulp story is fast pace, a rollicking good roller coaster ride of a story, compelling characters, and lots of great banter. What I think differentiates a Spirit of the Century novel from any other pulp novel is the setting from the book, and the idea of several pulp heroes in their own right get together for a common goal. I can’t think of any other pulp series where a detective, a jungle lord, a gadgeteer, a pilot and a reporter stand side by side and on equal footing.

    You might want to check out http://www.allpulp.blogspot.com, or http://www.newpulpfiction.com, or even http://www.airship27.com. Lots of great stuff there.

  • Great modern pulp lives by its wits: by which I mean that the characters all need a greater capacity for wit and sass, regardless of the part they play. BlindGeek above me hit the nail on the head with banter. Action features everywhere; fast, switchblade scene changes are part and parcel of thrillers, procedurals, horrors alike. Everyone is cinematic. I think you can get too caught up making pulp seem cinematic when the spirit of the thing was more in the pace of the dialogue than that of the visuals. Everyone needs to “have a mouth on them”, so to speak, and that’s where I’d like to see the essential humour lie, more in the mouths of the characters than the stylings of the narrating voice. Which is a hard sacrifice.

    • This is all good stuff, people.

      @BlindGeek definitely nails the General Awesomeness of SOTC in general — that bizarre-o mish-mash of hero types.

      @Kathulos I think also sees it how I see it — modern pulp shouldn’t be so much a rip-off of the thing as it should be a blending of modern prose and storytelling conventions with that old style.

      @John R: The “cliffhanger” will be firmly in place in this book. :)

      @Gareth: Good writing. GOOD WRITING. Yes. I plan to bring all my guns to bear on this beast.

      - c.

  • Are you sticking to one “period” (Jurassic, Triassic, Cretaceous, etc.), or is this more of a mix and match scenario?

    One of the dinosaurs must wear a helmet with a laser eyepiece. And jetpacks. There must be jetpacks. (Of course, this would only be for the humans in the story, as a jetpack that could lift a dino would be massive and kill everyone. Though I guess it could work for the smaller variety.

    I can imagine a group of compies (Compsognathus, which are tiny, swan-sized scavengers) as bond-style hench dinos who have to do all the dirty work. I think T-Rex or Allosaurus would appreciate the field-leveling that would come with being psychic, as their arms were so tiny.

    And killer plants. You can’t have dino pulp without at least one ginormous man-eating plant that some idiot thinks is worth leaning over to smell.

    No idea if that’s the kind of stuff you meant, but it’s what popped into my (admittedly odd) mind.

    :-D

  • Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and playing AD&D in the 80s have made me the flawed creature that I am. I’ll definitely have to take a look at this when it comes out!

    My only advice is don’t kill the villain off immediately. It’s always fun if the nemesis gets away. Besides, evil henchmen are a dime a dozen!

  • Nice idea. :) I’ve run SOTC for over a year with various groups and the one thing they’ve all loved are the “Lost Civilization that destroys itself with its own hubris story” and a real knock down drag-out, ” my god we almost died fight.”

  • What defines the pulps for me? Action, adventure, propulsive forward movement, and an emphasis on plot first character second, and theme a distant third.

    What defines SotC? All of the above, getting propelled balls-first by rocket engines of unabashed gleeful craziness. Last time I ran SotC, a superman from the future, a renegade archaeologist and a magician-princess from the moon fought a hellhound-summoning Robert Johnson, dinosaur-riders and armored bears in a flying saucer on their way to confront Evil Doc Savage.

  • I want the hardest thing, the thing that the old pulps (not to mention most fiction) rarely delivered. I want characters to care about and that act in an authentic manner. This doesn’t mean that it has to be about how they drink coffee and have bills to pay (though it could be). I mean I want characters that have an emotional authenticity. They do things based on an internal consistency and motivation, even to their detriment. When a writer (or a conglomeration) created a transcendent character, it was because somehow the character connected with the audience because the characters, however mysterious, however amazing in their physical or intellectual powers, felt real, acted real, were real. I think SOTC, through the FATE system acknowledges this, and no matter how outrageous and amazing the adventures may be, the heart of it has to be authentic and all too human characters.

    I have bought hook line and sinker Greg Rucka’s artistic philosophy of writing, which he has been articulating (again) in a really interesting series of essays to accompany his web comic over at http://www.ineffableaether.com.

    And, of course, I want it to be fun, really fun. And they would not have picked you if you couldn’t do that.

    So, I am looking forward to it.

  • One of the things that I have enjoy from some of the classic pulps was the serialized format. There was often an ongoing story, but each article had only a part – and often by different authors. It was moderately self contained as it’s own section of the story (rise, twist, climax, resolution, cliffhanger); but, if done well, the effect took several good little stories and combined them into a great story – PULP VOLTRON!

    I mention this because one of the things I have enjoyed about SotC has been the wildly different characters that you can have all collaborating in the same adventure, and how it can sum up all the themes of Pulp in a huge melting-pot. I think it would be awesome to see Serialized Chapters that switch POV, expressing very different styles with different characters capturing very strong micro pulp variations, all within the same arc while.

    Also, I have been subscribed to this site for years, and it was very helpful for SotC story ideas, there is a lot of mediocre here, but some gold if you can sift through it:
    http://pulpgen.com/pulp/downloads/

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