A Culture Fractured

The old magic is gone.

There won’t be another Lord of the Rings. Nor will there be another Narnia, Conan, Shadow, Zorro, or any other cultural icon that will bring a culture together. The ones still in existence have been parasitized by corporate interests, transformed into one part soulless cash cow, one part propaganda machine.

The old masterworks endure across decades and centuries, because they touch on the timeless and the transcendent. What passes for pop culture today is merely product, vehicles to deaden men’s souls in exchange for profit. The indie revolution, once so promising, so filled with vigour, has mostly become a twisted mirror of the Pop Cult. They sacrificed art on the altar of politics and profit, and installed in its place a mockery of past glory. And they expect to pay them for the privilege of desecrating all you love.

Do not pine for what is lost. Do not imitate the shadows of lesser men. Do not follow them into the abyss.

How Did We Get Here?

Once, the West was one. Different countries have their own respective cultures, but they were united in common faith and common values. Christianity and its fruits were reflected in the works of previous eras, along with a common understanding of what it was to be a man, a woman, and a part of society.

Today, civilisation is atomised. The lowest common denominator is the NEET, the incel, the wine cat pawrent, simultaneously connected to the entire world and isolated from the local community through the omnipresent Internet. For decades, the Left has eroded the common culture of the West, drip by venomous drip, their cultural products designed to subvert, overthrow and replace the good and the beautiful and the true with the false and the ugly and the corrupt. The cultural cornerstones of the West are gone, replaced by the shadows of Marx and Mao, Goebbels and Floyd. Every vestige of individual national and cultural identity is ruthlessly ground into dust, replaced by a bland, amorphous state that is one part cringe, one part fake, and one part envy.

The big corporations care only about two things: propaganda and profit, in order of importance. Hollywood injects the toxin of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity into every film. Big Pub pushes woke ideology in books penned by women (but only the right kind of women) and exotic (but not too exotic) minorities. Big Games parade wokeism at every new opportunity. The corporations make a profit by flogging established IPs with large fanbases, and invest the monies into the propaganda machine. Then they corrupt the established IPs with propaganda, and repeat the process ad infinitum.

Indie bestsellers care only about two things: speed and profit, also in order of importance. Kindle Unlimited rewards—or used to reward—those who pump out huge volumes of words on a regular basis. To pursue five- and six-figure payouts, they take the easy route: they copy previous bestsellers, spin the tropes around a little, and hit the publish button. After all, it worked for two decades of indie bestsellers. It is easier to copy than to innovate. Easier to remix the masters than to master the craft.

At the macro level, we see cultural stagnation everywhere. Almost every major IP today is a sequel, reboot, remake or adaptation of an older IP. In the world of indie fiction, we see this in authors churning out endless series and shared universes, copying Hollywood’s strategies, milking every last drop from the parasocial relationships their readers have formed with their characters. There is little appetite for taking on the risk of creating a fresh IP—one whose existence alone will stand out from the crowd, and guarantee attention and interest. And if one of those rare new IPs becomes successful? It becomes a series, a franchise, an expanded universe, and just like that it becomes part of the very system it used to rebel against.

Stagnation, risk aversion, propaganda—what we see here is not culture but cult, an ideology of decay that rots everyone who consumes it.

Why Should You Care?

When was the last time you experienced awe and wonder?

I don’t mean the latest serving of Hollywood special effects, Whedon one-liners, or incestuous pop culture references. I mean a sudden realization of that which is higher, greater, deeper and truer than the surface world. An experience that blows all previous experiences away, giving you a glimpse of your place in a wider, brighter, grander universe. A revelation that there are universal laws and constants that underpin existence, observed everywhere from the smallest blade of grass to the orbits of planets and stars.

When was the last time you felt you were more than a meat machine?

You won’t get this from the Pop Cult. To them, you are a machine to be programmed, a paypig to be squeezed, a number on a balance sheet. They treat you like a lab rat addicted to heroin. You pull the lever, they feed you your crack, and you coming back for more, until there is nothing left but a hollow, glassy-eyed stare and an empty , drooling shell that once housed a living soul. And they expect you to love them for degrading you.

You won’t get awe and wonder from the cult of write to market either. They may treat you as human, they may shun overt propaganda in their works, but they are built on a strategy of remixing stagnation. In the pursuit of fast and cheap, they have let good fall by the wayside. They don’t even know what ‘good’ means any more.

Here’s an example: what is an elf?

In the hands of the old masters, an elf is an inhabitant of the wild lands of Faerie. Capricious, whimsical, acting in obedience—or disobedience—to laws barely known by men, an elf lives a life that only briefly intersects with the world of men, bringing peril and pleasure in equal measure. Or perhaps an elf symbolises the very best of Man, the highest of virtues, the finest of graces, a living example of the ideals all men should strive for. However an old master handles an elf, the presence of an elf speaks to the deep undercurrents beneath mundane reality.

Today’s writers treat elves as humans with pointy ears.

There is no depth to modern tropes. Everybody uses them everybody else uses them, to trigger the pattern recognition reflex and a shallow hit of dopamine. There’s no attempt to dig deeper, to cast wider, to explore what it is like to share a world with sapient non-humans. This requires effort, and effort gets in the way of vomiting words on the screen. Volume uber alles, that’s the guiding principle. When everybody pushes out minimum viable products, there will be no more masterworks.

Even setting aside symbolism and literary themes, much of modern literature—corporate and indie—fails to live up the standards of craft established by previous generations. The corporates only care about propaganda. The indies copy everybody else—corporates and fellow indies—including writing style, tropes, craft. Or lack of craft.

The most common indie fantasy novel opening today is the main character waking up in bed and going about his daily routine. The second-most common indie fantasy opening is the main character waking up to discover he has died and has been or will be reincarnated. Why? Because everybody else does it. It’s boring, it’s cliched, it is a poor start to a series, but everybody does it, so the cult of write to market insists that you MUST write it.

That’s how elves became humans with pointy ears: because everybody else does it, because everybody expects it, because nobody goes deep.

Read negative reviews of indie books and you will see the same complaints show up over and over again. Shallow characters, uneven pacing, word dumps, boring dialogue, filler. This might be excusable for first-time authors. But for indie authors with ten, twenty, thirty, fifty, even a hundred titles to their name, to see these same issues consistently appear in their works is a sign that they have not grown at all. Practice makes perfect, but all they perfected is the art of churning out words, not the art of writing.

Indie bestseller Mark Dawson stands accused of plagiarising other authors. Why plagiarise when he can write? Because it is easier to plagiarise than to do the research. It is faster to copy and paste Stephen Hunter than to study the art of the sniper. Why spend a lifetime learning the way of the gun when you can steal from your betters in seconds? Such writing is informed not by understanding or experience, but simply a desire to sound smart, intense, or interesting. See past the shallow writing and you will see only a yawning void where potential should have been.

A common piece of writing advice is to write for a fifth-grader. Sure, this makes individual works easy to understand. But when everybody does it, it means everybody is stuck at the level of a fifth-grader. If you do not read beyond fifth grade, you will never be ready for more advanced texts. And if the intended audience has the reading level of a fifth-grader, everybody else must write at that level, creating a vicious cycle.

Re-read this essay from the start. How many complicated, sophisticated, foreign or otherwise utterly unknown words have you encountered? I used only the words I had known when I was in the equivalent of fifth grade. And yet, even with this limited vocabulary, I write with the register not of children, but of kings and poets.

Many indie authors can only write with the voice and perspective of an immature American high schooler. They are limited to this—because that is the cult of write to market says, because everybody knows that you should only write to children. Big Pub does the same, just that their authors prefer to write from the perspective of an emotionally dysfunctional Westernised female, or token queer male. In their voices you hear their limited ranges—a range that limits you from experiencing the wonders of the universe. If you cannot experience life as anything other than a stunted American stuck in fifth grade, how can you empathise with other peoples, other cultures, other worlds?

You become what you consume. If you regularly consume mediocrity, then mediocrity becomes your baseline. Do this long enough and you will lose sight of excellence. Drink slop once and you will yearn for steak. Drink slop for a year and you will forget the taste of steak.

And if you consume that which treats you like a meat machine, then a meat machine you become.

A Time of No Masters

It is said that in a time when masters are everywhere, it is difficult to stand out, but in a time of no masters, a man of excellence distinguishes himself.

We live in both times.

The old masters are dead, retired, or soon to retire. New masters today are few and far between. The gulf of a generation divides them, a generation raised on Pop Cult and Kindle Unlimited, and deliberately made ignorant of previous greatness.

When trash-tier entertainment dominates, a work that is a cut above will naturally be recognised as superior. But such works are lost in the background noise. It’s not enough to shout louder than everybody else; the established non-masters have larger advertising budgets and bigger captive audiences than a newcomer to the scene.

Others authors say that this is why the scene needs indie publishers, those who can help indie authors amplify their presence. I do not disagree. I merely have not encountered an indie publisher with sufficient clout to move the needle and yet is not devoted to the rites of writing to market.

Where does that leave us?

As I discussed in my previous blog post, I will change my writing direction. It’s a change that will determine the next 10 years. I will have to go to where readers are looking for what I write, to take advantage of new platforms, technologies, and approaches.

I have dozens of story ideas floating in my head. I will choose only those that play to my strengths. I choose to write only those that inspire fear and trembling, that will in turn invoke awe and wonder.

I would urge you to raise your own standards. Writers, focus on honing your craft. The craft of writing is sorely underappreciated; by elevating your own craft, you improve the entire industry. Readers, do not settle for lesser-quality work when superior works are readily available. Reviewers, influencers, and publishers, seek out the new masters and give them the support they need.

For indie authors, every book is an uphill struggle against the Pop Cult, the corporate leviathan of Hollywood and Big Pub and Big Gaming, and the indie leviathan of Write to Market. They need all the help they can get. If you wish to see a culture of excellence, then you must do everything in your part to manifest it.

Yet we cannot yearn for a return to the old ways. Even if the mindset of mediocrity and the ideology of idiocracy can be rolled back, the genie stuffed back into its bottle, it is too late. The times have changed. Technology has changed. Tastes have changed. The old masters were a reflection of their era. This new time will not resurrect the old. There is no going back to the way things were.

The calling of the artist-craftsman is to create, to build, to open eyes and uplift hearts. Thus, from the shards of a culture broken, we must build a new one.

I have a vision of a culture reborn. Witness it in Dawn of the Broken Sword.


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