Category Archives: Media

The Pandemic In Fiction

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

We know, inevitably, the Pandemic of 2020 (and sadly, 2021) is going to eventually work it’s way into fiction. Humans use fiction to make sense of things, humans use real events in fiction to ground them, and known things sell books.

But what will the Pandemic of 2020 do, specifically to American media and fiction? I asked myself that recently – and then found myself standing on a precipice of imagination, looking into the unknown.

The Pandemic of 2020 is, for America, an unmitigated disaster, with 200,000 people dead as of this writing. We’re humiliated in the eyes of the world, our politics in chaos, our social media clogged with conspiracy theories, and no end in sight. Right now the biggest source of Pandemic fiction is people lying about the situation or making up stories to grift money or excuse our failure.

How do we fictionalize this?

If we step back, the Pandemic of 2020 looks like a badly written novel. If you had composed this a decade ago, would anyone have believed it? America having the worst outcome in the world? The CDC losing face? 200,000 deaths? This would be a made for TV movie or hack novel at best.

I asked myself again, how do we fictionalize this?

So as I stared into this abyss of the unexpected, I’ve come to a few shaky conclusions. Perhaps this is in my own head as I try to cope with the insights as well as the Pandemic.

First, I don’t expect to see “Pandemic In Fiction” as a theme for awhile. We’re still in the middle of it, and crass and exploitative as some media is, I don’t see this becoming widespread. Also we’re sick of it, and there’s little market for it when you’re living it.

Second, I expect any fictionalization of the Pandemic of 2020 will be politicized or seen as politicized. You can tell the most honest researched story, and some hack pundit will decry it for hits and to push products. In time this may pass, but not for a few years.

Third, I expect to see many a fiction piece that are political fiction of the Pandemic of 2020. Some will indeed have agendas, pundit ranting aside, and you can expect plenty of apologia and non-apologia. It is my hope this is minimized in the face of harsh reality, because even if I agree, crass fictionalization of important things may not do any good.

Fourth, I expect fictionalization of the Pandemic will have no middle ground. It will be done in wild metaphor or fantastical parallels in world of magic and science fiction – or it will be tales based on real life. The uncomfortable middle ground where we mix hard fact and big dreams will be too ambiguous, too uncomfortable. We’ll want the abstract fantastical – or the painfully familiar – because that middle ground is where speculation runs and harsh truths emerge.

We’re ready for Godzilla and Alien Plague, or for two people at a coffee shop decrying the state of life. We’re not ready for fiction with enough fact that the speculation cuts us.

The near future of Pandemic Fiction is going to be not much different than we have now, a mess of politics and agendas, the fantastic and the on the nose, and people arguing over it. It is my hope in time we can confront our experiece and our history with the power of imagination, but for the short-term I fear a muddle is where we’re headed.

May we reduce the time we’re in that muddle so our writing may clearly illuminate the human experience, our lessons, our losses – and those responsible. Because we’re doing it half-assed now.

Steven Savage

Pop Goes The Culture

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

There’s something about current pop culture that doesn’t really “pop,” doesn’t seem to engage us unless it’s heavily marketed and promoted. I wonder what can help us find stimulating, challenging work these days.

In fact, what do we want from pop culture beyond entertainment and common ground.

Serdar wrote about what he wanted out of pop culture . He described how really interesting pop culture work isn’t top-down, but feels that it somehow escaped into the so-called mainstream

“I kept coming back to that word, “escaped”. I like it when it feels like some piece of popular culture has gotten away with something. I liked that Blade Runner 2049 was essentially a $200M art film, because we should make more $200M art films, dammit. I liked that David Lynch’s Dune, for all that was wrong with it, also had a lot that was daring and unrepentantly weird.”

This is something I want as well. When I look back on my pop culture interests, I find these things that feel escaped, at that subvert things genuinely really appeal to me. It’s pop culture on fire, that honest lightning that strikes us easily as it’s “pop” and accessible, but also something that twists, advances, or subverts expectation. Good pop culture travels along our common cultural wires, but delivers an unexpected and enlightening shock.

Most of my pop culture tastes tend to this role. My Hero Academia mixtaped American Superheroes and classic Shonen ideas, threw in a liberal dash of body horror, and created a haunted funhouse of action. Farscape was the Adams Family to the Father Knows Best of too much washed out science fiction, subverting tropes while delivering drama with a smirk. One of my most-beloved video games was Dungeonmans, a comedic Roguelike game that deconstructed the tropes of its genre, while delivering an actual good game.

Also those “wow” factors produce social bonding. That sudden, fulminating bond of an escaped wild idea can’t be duplicated.

But a lot of pop culture is pop only in popular, with giant conglomerates churning out cautious product. It’s meant to be popular,its meant to be widespread, but it doesn’t have that jolt, that scruff, that edge that some other projects do. It’s safe on every level, but that also mean’s it’s not challenging. When something big subverts expectations – say Shazam’s embrace of the family idea or Bird’s of Prey’s over the top delivery – we notice.

At some point, I think things are just going to keep grinding away and be less interesting. We’re watching DC capitalize on Snyder Cut mania for . . . well, I don’t know what reasons. In this Pandemic, are we really missing movie theaters and the usual output? Right now our cultural changes are making us massively rethink our media and media choices.

Serdar and I have discussed several times that any big media company who wants to do more needs a skunkworks. You need to try a lot of different things and see which clicks. Hand people low-to-mid budgets and see what you can run with that allows really great and interesting ideas to “escape” from the confines of creators heads – and the current media machines.

But barring that, we creators, we indies, have to be the skunkworks. We’ve got to try wild things. Weve also got to market ourselves and each others. I’m not sure we can count on anyone but us.

(Note: Despite it’s many, many flaws, by I will defend David Lynch’s Dune as being unspeakably, daringly weird and bizarre. People gave him Star Wars money and he made a David Lynch movie.)

Steven Savage

The Infinite Goods

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Recently, I saw Promare for the second time. If you haven’t heard of this film, think “superhero firefighters with robot suits versus pyrokinetic terrorists” and then that’s only the start. In short order with this premise, it then races towards crazytown at the speed of light while slamming an energy drink. It’s a roller-coaster ride and visual treat, but not an emotionally deep story – it’s not aiming for that.

But, is it good? It seems to have been what Studio Trigger wanted.

I’m also catching up on Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, the animated series. It has many story arcs, and like Promare, starts with a simple premise – Victorian martial arts action where people battle a vampire. However, over time it becomes a generational tale of people with “Stands,” psychic doubles, battling various evils and each others. Oh, and it’s filled with music jokes, crazy posing, and character designs somewhere between Tom of Finland and a Rave.

But, is it good? The creator is obviously having a blast and it’s enjoyable being in on the ride.

We can ask that question of so many things. Recently I saw Fellini’s famous surrealist character piece, And the Ship Sails On. And the Great British Bake Off. And any number of things.

But, where they good?

Well the fact I put time into them and got a lot out of them tells you I thought they were good. The thing is there are different kinds of good.

Promare and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures are experiences that are almost about feels, they’re states of mind. Fellini’s bizarre piece was both mood and exploration. The Great British Bakeoff is a mix of human and history and information. All were good, but not necessarily the same kind of good.

Right now you’re doubtlessly worrying about your own writing, art, games, etc. You wonder if they’re good, but that belies the question.

It’s not if they’re good – is it the kind of good you want?

Maybe the game you’re writing is supposed to be an action game of mood, of feeling over continuity, of mashed buttons over careful strategy. And that’s fine if you deliver the right kind of good.

Perhaps your story is inaccessible to many, a thing of dense references and subtle connections. It might not be for everyone, but it’ll be good to the right audience.

It could be your current creative work just has to be good to you as it’s fun, and if other people like it, they can sign on for the ride.

Stop worrying about doing “good” work and aim for the right kind of good. Make your choice of how your book or comic is supposed to go and embrace that. It focuses you, it guides you, it tells you what to leave out and what to include.

Also picking your “good” means that you accept you won’t please everyone – because odds are you won’t. If you were inventing chocolate or pizza for the first time, you could please most people, but those have been kind of done. So don’t please everyone, please the right people.

Life goes easier when you understand this. Besides, when you pick one good, you can find others, or expand your “goods” later in your works.

But pick a good and go for it. It may be shallow or deep, silly or serious, but it’ll be yours, and you can focus.

Steven Savage