I’ve had the dubious honor of living in rough parts of the world, and speculative fiction helped me survive. As a researcher at the Ronin Institute, I do not have a conventional university as a safety net or resource to draw upon, so I turned to the Ronin Institute and IGDORE. When I was a teenager, I wrote speculative fiction as an escape from my daily life. When I was a globe-trotting scientist and Ronin, I wrote speculative fiction as a life goal.
Speculative fiction reflects present concerns, but great speculative fiction is timeless. While speculative fiction is a truly ancient genre with roots in ancient Rome’s “True Stores” by Lucian of Samosata, it is lamentably consigned to genre fiction today, or a niche market product (such as science fiction, fantasy, horror, or adventure). However, it has demonstrated its ability to inspire generations of scientists, engineers, and intellectuals. From great philosophers to visionary engineers like Sikorsky taking inspiration from Jules Verne, speculative fiction has inspired awe, wonder, and inventions.
However, speculative fiction is a broad category. The contemporary genres of science fiction, fantasy, adventure, and horror fiction have common ancestors. Three notable American writers were contributors to the Weird Tales pulp magazine: Howard Philips Lovecraft, Robert Ervin Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith. Their influence on popular culture is understated, to say the least.
Lovecraft was the creator of the famed Cthulhu mythos, the iconic inspiration of cosmic horror. Howard was the creator of Conan the Barbarian, Solomon Kane, and the fantasy subgenre of sword and sorcery. Smith indirectly inspired tropes in space opera, high fantasy, and the inspired Jack Vance’s Dying Earth subgenre with his grim continent of Zothique. These stories liberally merged elements from across genres, and they became known as weird fiction.
A media source only lives as long as its fans do. My own life choices were heavily inspired by my reading of classic weird fiction in my teenage years. For example, reading Lovecraft’s short stories inspired my own work in biomedical engineering and brain-computer interface.
Weird fiction saw a revival around the turn of the millennium, largely inspired by works from China Mieville and Jeff Vander Meer. The New Weird movement brought several niche areas into mainstream culture. For example, the tabletop roleplaying game inspired by Lovecraft’s works, Sandy Peterson’s Call of Cthulhu, spread knowledge to a generation raised on livestreaming of RPG campaigns. This revival was not limited to the English-speaking world.
The public domain nature of Lovecraft’s work contributed to its widespread use. This enabled game developers, writers, movie makers, and others to draw upon a widely documented and known cultural resource for their own works. While occasionally controversial, the international nature of this surprised many older fans of the genre. For example, Call of Cthulhu became the most popular tabletop RPG in South Korea.
A media source only lives as long as its fans do. My own life choices were heavily inspired by my reading of classic weird fiction in my teenage years. For example, reading Lovecraft’s short stories inspired my own work in biomedical engineering and brain-computer interface. Since I had interacted with many fans of Classic and New Weird around the world, I founded my own independent publication: Ombak. While working in Southeast Asia, I wanted to give back to the community of weird fiction writers and fans I’d interacted with.
Like the ronin of feudal Japan, I employ my skills to fuel my passions… As a biomedical engineer and brain-computer interface researcher, I can make more with my technical skills than literary ones. I may delay the next magazine issue, but I will not abandon it… I hoped to have fed back into the ecology of speculative fiction..
Many professional organizations for speculative fiction authors required members to sell stories at a particular price per word. My explicit goal with founding Ombak was to make Southeast Asian authors eligible for membership in such organizations. I personally paid at competitive rates to ensure we exceeded the minimum rates for new authors. We provided editing and illustration of an annual issue, similar to how the old pulp magazines operated. We released each issue for free, since the goal was aesthetic instead of economic. Lamentably, financial stress has pushed back our issue for 2021.
Like the ronin of feudal Japan, I employ my skills to fuel my passions. Even the great swordsman Musashi had to survive. Lamentably, my current situation is one of part-time consulting and odd jobs, rather than a reliable revenue stream. As a biomedical engineer and brain-computer interface researcher, I can make more with my technical skills than literary ones. I may delay the next magazine issue, but I will not abandon it. I write at least two short stories a month as a habit.
I hoped to have fed back into the ecology of speculative fiction, though I have found little direct financial support. While New Weird is a small genre, it is an influential one to those exposed to it. I am content to support it as a hobby, while pursuing a “day job” as an engineer and research consultant. I have written recreationally for two decades under the pseudonym Jave Harron, but my passion is building my own inventions. I have self-published two novels, as well as had my writing featured on the Youtube channel Diverse TV. I contribute back to the weird fiction ecology to hopefully inspire those who will follow in my footsteps.
I am an engineer. I am a researcher. I am a reader. I am a writer. I am a publisher. I am a Ronin.
John LaRocco has lived and worked in 4 countries across 3 continents. He has a PhD in electrical engineering, and he founded Ombak magazine in 2018. He is an avid reader, writer, and martial artist.
This post is a perspective of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Ronin Institute.