Rediscovering the foundations of fantasy and sci-fi…

I’ve recently come across two interesting developments in the world of fantasy and sci-fi books.

First, I discovered a somewhat new “genre” or “category” of fantasy and sci-fi, what readers call LitRPG. These are, from what I can tell, basically books that are inspired by video game playing, to such an extent that the main characters have stats that “level up” and gain rewards as they would in video games. They seem to have become quite popular in Russia and are beginning to spread. A small publisher that specializes in translations of popular LitRPG works states on their site:

LitRPG is a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy which describes the hero’s adventures within an online computer game. LitRPG books merge traditional book-style narration with elements of a gaming experience, describing various quests, achievements and other events typical of a video game.

These aren’t just stories that take place in online worlds, like Ready Player One. These books actually have game-like status updates in their scenes. You might see something like:

Damage taken. Hit Points reduced by 5: 11 (weapon damage + strength) – 6 (armor). Total: 35 of 40.


You’ve been hit by Messenger Gnoll! Damage sustained: 12 points. Life 32/60

So, to me, these seem a bit like book-form fictional Let’s Plays. I don’t think I play enough video games to appreciate this sort of style, but I find it interesting nonetheless. It’s certainly something that only this age of self-pubbing makes possible; I highly doubt these sorts of books would have ever come to fruition through traditional publishing alone.

Second, and more interesting to me (and perhaps more recent?), is what’s being called the pulp revolution. This is mainly an effort to rediscover and celebrate the early fantasy and science fiction, the old masters like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Poul Anderson, Leigh Brackett, E. E. “Doc” Smith, etc.. I’m just kind of guessing these names, because I must admit that I haven’t read them. But, hey, that’s what the pulp revolution is for! See “What is the Pulp Revolution?” Of course, the idea is not only to rediscover these classics, but, if you’re a writer, to be inspired by them. There’s sometimes a notion that these early works were less “mature”, full of shallow writing and tropes and loved only by the uncool nerds, and that their absence from modern bookstore shelves is not a great loss. “Not so!” sayeth the pulp revolution. “They are actually awesome! Read them!”

So in the manual for that old 1970’s table-top game, Dungeons and Dragons (obscure, I know) included an “Appendix N”, a reading list of the stories the game creator had taken inspiration from. Fast-forward to present day, blogger Jeffro Johnson reads all the books in the list and writes about them, ultimately compiling his articles in the recently released Appendix N: The Literary History of Dungeons and Dragons. He also does a pretty nice job of selling the book about other books on a recent episode of “Geek Gab”:

Sold! I definitely look forward to reading some (all?) of the books on this list. I don’t need any extra inspiration for my writing endeavors, but I’ll take it.

Granted, collecting and reading the books from “Appendix N” is not necessarily a new thing in and of itself, especially among fans of D&D. Still, I suppose this “revolution” is bigger than just this particular list. I’ll be interested to see where it leads, especially in terms of modern day indie authors…

(On a side note, I’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons (I need more nerdy friends), but its influence on fantasy and sci-fi is certainly palpable, so I certainly find it interesting anyway. I have recently been reading another book called Playing at the World by Jon Peterson which spends a fair amount of time talking about the literary influences of the game, so these older works have been on my radar.)

RIP Duotrope is a free resource which lists writing markets. That is, if you have a piece of short fiction or non-fiction that you’d like to get published, Duotrope is an excellent resource for finding a potential publisher for your work. Users are also able to keep track of their submissions. This is handy if you are submitting multiple pieces to multiple markets. Duotrope also keeps lots of submissions statistics.

Unfortunately Duotrope announced today that, as of January 1st 2013, they will no longer be free. They plan on charging users $5 a month or $50 a year to use their service.

I can’t analyze this issue from Duotrope’s point of view. I don’t know how much their hosting costs are, who’s doing all the coding, how much work goes into their updating, etc. So if the site’s current donation business model is not maintainable, I can’t argue with that.

From a writer’s perspective, however, I am called to ask myself: Do I get enough out of this resource to justify paying $5 a month or $50 a year for it?

Answer: No.

I mainly use Duotrope for finding speculative fiction markets. Before discovering Duotrope, I used for this. It’s not nearly as professional looking as Duotrope, but it’s kept well maintained and up-to-date.

Duotrope has a handy search feature. Useful, but not worth paying for. I can search through’s listing on my own.

Before I discovered Duotrope, I tracked my own submissions in a spreadsheet. Easy stuff. I don’t need to pay for an automated system to do that.

Duotrope lists some handy response statistics, including how many submissions were pending for a certain market, an acceptance ratio, and average response times. Interesting stats, but do I really need them? No. (After submitting to various markets for a few years, you naturally get a feel for who’s fast and who’s slow on your own anyway.)

Some writers on Facebook have argued, “Well, if you’re a serious writer, this is the cost of doing business.” I reject the notion that willingness to shell out money for resources of convenience determines whether or not you’re serious. Any writer who mentions seriousness with this issue is a snob. All writers who use Duotrope are serious.

So, like many other writers out there, I’ll most likely be returning to for my sff market listing needs.