I need to begin this review by offering my friend Brian Niemeier a sincere apology. I promised him this review a long time ago. [Full disclosure: I received a review copy free of charge.] In my defense: The Secret Kings is the first non-Silver Empire fiction book that I’ve read in 2017. Yes – that’s for the last five months. Thankfully, I’ve had some time to catch up a bit. I’m I lucky, I might clear my backlog before Monster Hunter Siege comes out.
I should have made The Secret Kings a bigger priority, and not just because I promised Brian. This is a heck of a read. The story is crazy – and I mean that in the best possible way. Old friends return – beaten, battered, and bruised, and then thrown into the fire one more time. This tale will take you from one end of the galaxy to another – and it revisits the premise that started the series. Once more, the space pirates return to hell. Only this time everything is different, and the stakes are even higher.
This stunning space opera carries you all over the known universe – and outside of it. The intriguing characters will stick in your thoughts long after you’ve finished the book, leaving you thirsty for more. Furthermore, this book ties together books one and two a bit more clearly, pulling the whole thing into a cohesive whole.
Jeffro’s new post on Jupiter Rising hits upon a key insight I’ve wanted to discuss for some time.
But the acting and the dialog is not what ultimately ruined this film. Structuring it around a female romantic lead did. Here’s why:
Stinger: Bees are genetically designed to recognize royalty.
Jupiter: Boy, are you going to be surprised when find out what I do for a living.
Stinger: It’s not what you do, it’s who you are.
This is an inherently anti-pulp premise that is being grafted onto an otherwise pitch perfect expression of classical space opera. Granted, Tarzan was Lord Greystoke. Arthur was the son of Uther. And Luke Skywalker turned out to be part of a space dynasty. “Who you are” does matter in these things. But what these characters do matters more. And these characters proving their worth and their mettle matters even more.
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend over the last four decades or so (and perhaps longer). The iconic heroes of my childhood were all ordinary men. Luke Skywalker, John McClain, Rocky Balboa, Indiana Jones, etc. At least, in their original incarnations.
Consider Luke Skywalker from A New Hope (and, for a moment, pretend that none of the other films exist). He’s a nobody farmer on a backwards planet. His parents aren’t amazing to speak of, and certainly aren’t shown as royalty. He’s the son of a knight, nothing more. Even so, it proves to be a huge step up from his own life. Yet he goes on to rescue the girl, defeat the bad guy, and save the rebellion.
Next consider Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Again, pretend that the other films don’t exist. He’s an ordinary, everyday American. His parents? Not even mentioned. He earns his position himself, through hard work.
John McClain? A New York cop, an ordinary guy. Rocky Balboa? Another nobody. Every single hero Heinlein ever wrote? Still ordinary, self-made men.
Now, consider the transformations even some of these same characters have undergone over the decades.
Luke Skywalker? It turns out he’s the scion of the greatest royal family in the galaxy.
Indiana Jones? His big-name archaeologist dad set the stage.
But who are the big pop culture heroes of the new millennium?
The trend isn’t universal, but it trends distinctly in favor of aristocrats and away from self-made, ordinary men. This isn’t a healthy sign for our society. Indeed, it’s one more symptom of our devolution from democratic rule to aristocratic rule. Jeffro rightly picks up on this as being anti-pulp. Yet it’s more than that – it’s distinctly anti-American.
I leave with one last passing observation: note this particular moment and its distinct reactionary nature to this phenomenon. I cite this as one (of many) reasons that this franchise performed so well.
In the ongoing discussion of the pulp revolution making its way around the blogosphere, one question has vexed many who have entered the fray: what, exactly, does it mean to be “pulp?” Many have tried to answer. Most have struggled. The current winner seems to be answer by exclusion: defining what pulp isn’t. Today I propose an answer by analogy: Dwayne Johnson (aka “The Rock”) is the living embodiment of Pulp.
His entire career is built on charisma. But where does his charisma come from? He’s not a particularly great actor. Many of his movies aren’t particularly great from a writing standpoint, yet people love them. Why?
It’s because he’s having fun. And that fun is infectious. It doesn’t matter if the movie concept is patently absurd (The Fast and the Furious). That’s ok – in fact, it’s a great Pulp trait. It’s crazy, but it’s fun. It doesn’t matter if it’s a mediocre remake (Get Smart). We don’t care if he’s a good guy (The Scorpion King) or a bad guy (The Mummy Returns). It doesn’t even really matter if the movie’s any good (most of his films actually aren’t). Watching him on screen is always tremendous fun.
The Rock picks films that have an absurd – but cool – premise. He plays over-the-top roles, and he plays them as larger than life. His sense of fun shines through in every role, and his fun is infectious. He doesn’t care that people don’t take him seriously – because he never takes himself too seriously, either. His style plays to the tastes of the masses, not the elites. He’s never afraid to make fun of himself.
You ask me, “what is Pulp?” My friends, I give you The Rock.