The Victorian Past, the Unimaginable Future and parallel worlds

After reading Black Swine in the Sewers of Hampstead, I thought THE INVENTION OF MURDER: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders would provide more insight in the same vein. Unfortunately it’s more like a listicle of once-sensational crimes — a lot of them don’t stand out by today’s standards — and the press coverage and stage dramatizations that fed on the public’s interest in them. Black Swine had more insight into the Victorian psyche and Jess Nevins’ Fantastic Victoriana is more interesting on the development of crime and detective fiction. So I put this one down unfinished.

In his historical notes on Flashman, George Macdonald Fraser referenced A JOURNAL OF THE FIRST AFGHAN WAR by Lady Florentia Sale as a good source on the disastrous events in his novel; discovering TYG had a copy I finally got around to reading it. Writing in 1842, Sale chronicles a long string of missteps and bad judgments made by British military and diplomatic leaders in Afghanistan, ranging from soldiers retreating when they should have won to wildly misreading who among the Afghans was trustworthy. This ultimately led to a disorganized withdrawal bogged down by servants, camp-followers and families, that ended for most of the retreating Brits as corpses strewn across the landscape, though Sale herself made it to safety. A grim study of military ineptitude and some tart-tongued writing.

THE TIME AXIS is a very Olaf Stapledon-ish epic by Henry Kuttner in which a boozing journalist doing an article on a high-powered scientist discovers the real purpose of his assignment is to join a team traveling to the end of time and finding a cure for the mysterious indestructible substance slowly taking over the world’s matter. The story that follows (Arnold Schoenberg’s cover captures a lot of it) seems like Kuttner just kept pumping out ideas and throwing them in — mandroids, transporters, time travel, psi-possession — but it worked for me.

Leigh Brackett’s THE BIG JUMP has a protagonist investigating the aftermath of Earth’s first interstellar expedition: what happened to his friend who apparently didn’t come home with the ship? Why is the Solar System’s most powerful corporation covering up what happened on the journey? Learning that something bad happened to the crew, the protagonist deals himself in on the follow-up flight, only to discover their destination holds a threat he hadn’t anticipated. I love the monstrous alien Transuranea but the sexism of this hardboiled SF yarn gets heavy.

CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE: Every Me, Every You by Gerard Way, Jon Rivera and Michael Avon Oeming starts poorly: a flashback to a Superman crossover, then some really confusing jumping to parallel worlds for more battles with the Whisperer. Things pick up after they finally land on another world where they join forces with an older counterpart of Cave and Cave Carson Jr. against the bad guys. The end result is not as fun as the first volume, but it’s good enough I’ll try the third and final volume eventually.

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One winner, two meh in this week’s movie viewing.

The winner was THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (1936) which I mentioned in passing Tuesday. Errol Flynn plays the Lancer stationed in fictitious “Suristan” who copes with personal drama — fiancee Olivia de Havilland loves his younger brother! — while warning his superiors that the Suristan king (C. Thomas Gordon in brownface) is not happy they’ve cut off his slush fund and that things could get very dicey very soon …

When they don’t listen, the king takes a bloody, treacherous vengeance, then flees to Russia (Britain’s rival in the “great game” of empire). When the Crimean War erupts, Flynn and his Lancers are sent into the thick of things and finally get a chance at revenge — but only by defying their commanding officer to make the eponymous charge.

The real charge was the result of a stupid screw-up, but Alfred Lord Tennyson made it sound epic and heroic in his poem about the battle. This film makes Tennyson look positively anti-war (he did at least acknowledge the blunder) but it’s the kind of old school imperial romance that I get a kick out of, even knowing it’s unhistorical nonsense. Along with Flynn and de Havilland we have Nigel Bruce as a henpecked officer who proves to have the right stuff, Donald Crisp as the man who warns Flynn off ( (“You can’t charge, Vickers — it’s a valley of death!”) and David Niven. There’s also the spectacular final battle, which is truly epic, though aided by the brutal “Running W” for tripping horses (some sources say its use here triggered the animal rights protests that eventually led to abandoning it). “That is why the 27th Lancers has been ordered to Sevastapol.”

Based on W. Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden, the WW I-set spy drama THE SECRET AGENT (1936) works better than Hitchcock’s silent melodramas but that’s not the same as saying it works. John Gielgud plays Ashenden, a novelist/war hero who discovers the Secret Service has faked his death so that he can work undercover tracking an enemy agent carrying vital intelligence back to Germany; Madeline Carroll, who was wonderful as the love interest in The 39 Steps is much less effective as the agent posing as Gielgud’s wife here.

This has some interesting elements such as the protagonists’ growing horror at the ruthlessness of their work, but Gielgud (this is the first time I’ve ever seen him as a young man) feels miscast: he’s stiff and unconvincing and having him and Carroll fall in love comes out of nowhere. Robert Young plays a likeable American and Peter Lorré plays a British-employed killer. “What is this strange power you have over coachmen?

IN ANOTHER COUNTRY (2012) falls even flatter as a Korean woman distracts herself from her troubles by writing three different fantasies about French immigrant Isabelle Huppert showing up in the woman’s small seaside town and having romantic adventures. Way too meandering. “Why Are You So Quiet?”

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Pandemics and productivity: my new normal

Happily, I recovered a lot of my regular rhythm this week. Exercise, meditation, juggling practice, cooking (baked bread last weekend). It feels good to have structure.

This is slightly complicated by having TYG at home. I spend a lot less time with the dogs, which frees up a little more concentration. However I can’t predict when she’ll need me to take Plushie because he’s acting up and distracting her, or when she’ll come down and eat lunch (again, I have to distract Plushie so he doesn’t just demand food). I have no problem with the request — she is, after all, watching them most of the day now — but it does make my schedule less predictable: I may end up feeding Plushie lunch early or walking him late or having to watch him when I was anticipating going outside. The first couple of days that really seemed to throw me off my game, but things have picked up since. I’m not sure if that means I’m adapting or that Trixie going to surgery and back was really pulling focus or that I was working on Leafs both days and they didn’t hook me the same way my own work does.

But I did make my Leaf quota, and I got some of my personal work done too:

•I finished the Undead Sexist Cliches chapter on sexual harassment. Two more chapters to go; I’m hoping to finish this draft next month.

•I tackled the big reveal of Impossible Takes a Little Longer which as I mentioned last week I had no idea how to pull off. When I actually sat down and started, however, it was obvious: the hell KC winds up trapped in is an emotional one, targeting her particular vulnerabilities (which have nothing to do with sex — I was determined not to have the villain rape her or reduce her to a sex slave). It worked, and segued neatly into the follow-up chapter. As it turns out, it no longer reveals who the villain is, but I may change that back again. I think he needs at least a little build-up before the climax or the reaction will be “Huh? When did he show up in the book?”

The Schloss and the Switchblade came back, which I expected. A story taking place at a con feels wildly unreal right now (of course that may not have been the issue); sure, everyone’s still gathering together on TV, but even so it seemed to scream “pre-social distancing.” So I rewrote it and set it in 2014; I think it actually works better, plus it avoids having to rewrite again the next time President Tiny-Brain does something that changes the world around us. I resubmitted it yesterday.

•I rewrote Laughter of the Dark, but didn’t finish it. It’s shaping up, but still a long way from usable.

•I attended a local writing meet up, Shut Up and Write, which I’ve been meaning to get to for months but never got around to. No, I didn’t break social distance, we did it on Zoom. My regular writing group will be doing the same with their next meeting.

•I posted on Atomic Junkshop about the enduring mystery of Teen Titans #32.

•And I’ve joined in a Smashwords promotion so Philosophy and Fairytales is free from Smashwords until April 20.

I’ll wrap up with a 1959 cover dealing with the pros and cons of self-isolation. Art by Curt Swan.

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In spite of her rage, she is still just a chihuahua/cairn terrier mix in a cage

So Monday we took Trixie in for surgery on her bad knee. She’s improved a lot since the accident, but it doesn’t look like she’s going to heal completely, so this is the best option. But not an easy option. Because we have eight weeks of crate rest ahead, and she has to wear the cone of shame for the first two weeks to avoid licking her stitches and infecting them. A week and a half to go! But the vet says the surgery went well, so we’re not going to screw it up.

Wisp came in Tuesday, after Trixie was back from the hospital and seemed quite intrigued by the set-up. Trixie, not so much. She’s getting less petting and cuddles, can’t sleep in the bed with us — misery for my little snuggler. But I make sure to make time for opening the cage and giving her some attention.

Fortunately it’s okay for her to stand on the leg and walk a couple of steps, so taking her for potty breaks isn’t as frustrating as when she first injured her leg. She’s much more likely to go rather than decide it’s too uncomfortable; I hope that’s a good sign.

Plushie is baffled why he can’t play and rough-house with her, but he’s been baffled by that since she got injured. Come to think of it, he’s baffled quite a lot; he isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Trixie spends most of the day upstairs with TYG, but comes down for medical care. TYG takes care of the meds, I walk Trixie and do the physical therapy her leg requires. So far everything’s going smoothly; the real challenge will probably be in a month when she feels ready to run and jump and we’ll have to discourage her. Positive thoughts and/or prayers appreciated.

And while Trixie and Plushie were both upstairs yesterday, Wisp came in. I didn’t want to stop work so I just stayed on the couch and she jumped up and went to sleep next to me. It was delightful, and if she’ll keep doing that, it’ll be easier to have her around without losing my workflow.#SFWApro. Photos are mine


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Yes, calling COVID-19 the Chinese virus is harmful and racist

The standard argument I keep hearing is that “Chinese virus” is totally nothing to do with racism, it’s just a description, like the “Spanish” flu. And I’m sure some people using the term aren’t using it as anything but a description, so they assume it’s harmless.

It isn’t. For Trump’s administration and a lot of his acolytes in the media, it’s deliberate racism. And when people echo their terminology, we further their agenda.

This is not a new issue. WHO said back in 2015 that sticking geographic names on disease is bad as it can stigmatize races or nationalities, something we’re currently seeing Chinese-Americans dealing with. Even something like “swine flu” can leave people thinking they should avoid eating pork or killing their livestock, causing more economic problems.

And the names aren’t as descriptive as we think. According to John Barry in The Great Influenz, “Spanish Flu” probably began in the U.S. It got its name because most of the countries with initial cases were under wartime censorship. Spain wasn’t censoring the media as much so the first news reports of Horrible New Disease! came from Spain, ergo Spanish Flu.

Or consider syphilis: “The inhabitants of today’s Italy, Germany and United Kingdom named syphilis ‘the French disease’, the French named it ‘the Neapolitan disease’, the Russians assigned the name of ‘Polish disease’, the Polish called it ‘the German disease’, The Danish, the Portuguese and the inhabitants of Northern Africa named it ‘the Spanish/Castilian disease’ and the Turks coined the term ‘Christian disease’. Moreover, in Northern India, the Muslims blamed the Hindu for the outbreak of the affliction. However, the Hindu blamed the Muslims and in the end everyone blamed the Europeans.”

Possibly “Chinese flu” is a totally rational choice of name, untainted by a desire to shift blame or racist considerations …nah.

The arguments that OMG it could maybe possibly conceivably have come from a Chinese bioweapon lab! are also in a tradition of racist/nationalist arguments. When the Spanish flu hit, there were stories it was a German bioweapon; there were also rumors tubercular Germans were sneaking off submarines and into New York crowds and infecting people. And of course, racists have long invoked warnings that Those Minorities are disease-bearing subhuman filth. The Bigot in Chief has made this argument himself about Mexicans.

Scientists say in the case of COVID-19, it’s a product of nature. If it was a bioweapon it could just as easily be a Russian attack on China, or a U.S. attack that got out of control, or hey, Alpha Centauri trying to destroy humanity before they colonize Earth. One wild-ass baseless guess is as good as another.

Calling it the Chinese virus serves multiple purposes for the gutless man-baby in the Oval Office, currently sniveling that it’s unfair he’s actually being held responsible for his failures. Most presidents would worry, like Trump, about how a pandemic would affect their re-election chances, but they’d realize the best solution is to fix the problem. Trump’s only real concern is protecting his brand by lying or shifting the blame.

“Chinese virus” feeds red meat to the part of his base that’s happy to hate foreigners, particularly nonwhite ones. Anti-Asian bigotry hasn’t been as prominent in recent years as hating Hispanics, but dormant doesn’t mean gone. Stories of Chinese Americans being spat on, insulted and blamed for the virus remind me a lot of the late 1980s when Japan was suddenly our economic superior and some Americans had shit fits (it was Pearl Harbor all over again, a deliberate attack on America by the fiendishly cunning Oriental devils!).

It allows President Man-Baby to pretend it’s not his fault. He’d like us to ignore his manifest self-serving incompetence over the past two months and blame China instead. A recurring argument on Twitter and FB is that Trump closed the borders, ergo he flattened the curve! How dare people say he’s a bigot instead of a savior?
Well, because his border closings have always been about bigotry, though mostly against Muslims. And we’ve had multiple accounts of patients not getting quarantined as they returned from overseas, and Trump’s initial decision not to stop travel from the UK when he restricted travel from Europe (UK has a Trump resort). But the worst of the Republican base wants to believe Trump is infallible and awesome so being told it’s the damn foreigners who are really responsible and the Shit-Gibbon saved us will make them happy.

Now consider Fox host Tucker Carlson’s argument: “The Chinese coronavirus really is Chinese. It arose in that country for the same reason American businesses have sent so many of our jobs there – lack of health and safety standards and endemic corruption. China did this to the world and we should not pretend otherwise. That’s not xenophobia. It’s true. The most bitter irony of all of this is that a few years from now, when every last victim of this virus has recovered or been buried, the Chinese government can easily grow stronger because of this disaster. And America can grow weaker.”

Note the phrasing that China “did this to the world” — despite the Chinese government’s appalling handling of the problem, that’s pretty loaded. Not to mention phrasing it in Clash of Civilization terms — China’s growing stronger, we’re growing weaker! And they Did It To Us.

Keep in mind, Trump is the incarnation of endemic corruption. His administration is weakening all sorts of health and safety standards. And we could easily argue that Trump did this to the country. But Trump’s a rich white supremacist right-wing white man so Carlson applies different rules.

And finally, there’s the fact that people all over America have decided if it’s the “Chinese virus” then Chinese Americans must be at fault. Never mind whether they’ve ever lived in China or traveled there or have any emotional connection to the country, it’s their fault! They deserve to be assaulted, insulted condemned and despised (see the link earlier). And if there are no Chinese in Kansas, Kansas must be safe.

A lot of the vectors in this country will be white simply because we have so many white people in this country. But the people who shriek and curse at Chinese Americans (or ordinary Chinese who happen to be over here) would be outraged if anyone started treating all white people as if they were collectively guilty (heck, a lot of Trump voters whinge at being held responsible for putting him in office). White people are entitled to be judged individually; non-whites get collective guilt.

So yeah, calling it Chinese flu is harmful and it’s racist. Q.E.D.

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Finding inspiration in a pandemic world

As I mentioned, so far I haven’t been getting much creative work done due to the pandemic distractions. I can understand if you out there aren’t either. However, I think COVID-19 is still a valuable learning experience, much as it’s a class I’d rather skip.

A week and a half ago I went into the grocery store to pick up some emergency supplies. I’d figured it would be early enough nobody would be there, but there was a big line and very few staffers, so the lines crawled. I was standing there, surrounded by people. No way out without just abandoning my purchases. Would one of them be the carrier who put me in the hospital?

I was, quite simply, terrified. I didn’t leave and got through the line, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a situation that scared me simply by having people around. Maybe not since dealing with bullies in junior high. And even then it was specific individuals, not just the idea of being out with people.

This is close as I will ever come (at least I hope so) to that classic thriller situation where the guy is wandering through a crowd, conscious any one of them could be an assassin with a knife sent to eliminate him. If I were writing that situation, I’d use what I felt: the desperate desire to be somewhere safe with nobody around. The constant awareness of my surroundings. Second-guessing whether my decision to stay or go or to pick up X or Y is right.

Next, there’s fears about my health. I’ve had those before but constantly evaluating my coughs (is it mucusy? Yes? Phew!) or feeling relief because I just completed a workout and I’m not short of breath is new. If I had a character worried about this kind of issues, either serious or funny (obsessive hypochondriacs are a staple of humor) this would certainly give me fresh perspective. Hopefully the pandemic won’t show me personally what it’s like to actually have a serious illness.

Then there’s the general sense that we’re staring at a sea change in the world, not for the better, and having no idea how it’s going to play out. Will it be over in a year? Will the restaurant TYG and I were going to eat my birthday dinner at still be there? Will any of the non-chain restaurants around here survive? Can I honestly cope if this drags on for months? How can I help?

I’ve long been fascinated by the realization that people living through WW II had no idea how it would end. I used to read old issues of Time for that reason (my local library in Florida had them going back to the 1950s), to see what the world thought of events as they were occurring. You’d be amazed how often victory in Vietnam was imminent, for instance (Time in those days was conservative and anti-communist). And that by the mid-1960s, it was obvious students at American colleges had no interest in protesting or getting involved in politics — they were in it for education and career, nothing more!

Now I’m living in one of those events, along with everyone else. It gives me fresh appreciation for songs like When the Lights Go On Again, All Over the World or The Last Time I Saw Paris. Again, I don’t have anything that immediately gains from this insight, but hopefully it’ll come. I just have to remember the feelings … and somehow I don’t think that’ll be hard.

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We fight pandemics with the government we have. Too bad.

In the UK, “he United Kingdom’s Conservative Party unveiled a plan to keep British workers paid and employed for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. The Tory proposal would effectively cover 80 percent of sidelined workers’ salaries, while forbidding employers who accept the government’s help from laying off staff. The policy closely resembles one implemented by Denmark’s Social Democrats, except that Boris Johnson’s wage-replacement rate is slightly more generous than the Danish left’s. Although the Conservatives have a well-earned reputation for sacrificing Britain’s vulnerable on the altar of deficit reduction, even they recognize that social welfare must take precedence over budgetary concerns in the context of a historically sudden and deep economic crisis. On Friday, Tory chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that there would be no limit on the funding available for covering workers’ wages.”

In the US, the Republicans aren’t offering anything that generous, or that will guarantee firms that get money from the government don’t just lay off workers anyway (it could, however, be great for corporations). Trump wants to end social distancing as soon as possible so the economy can restart. And Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick told Tucker Carlson that if 70somethings have to die as a result, that’s okay — he’s in that age range and he’d gladly do it to keep the economy running for his grandchildren (left unsaid was that in his position, he’ll have considerably better care than millions of people, and that the economy is increasingly shitty for people who aren’t rich).

I remember when Republicans denounced Obamacare because it would set up “death panels” that would ration healthcare and condemn seniors to death. I’m sure we’ll see the same outrage now … oh, who am I kidding?  This is what we have taking point in the pandemic. It’s in Republicans’ own interest we have neither mass deaths nor economic collapse, but their opposition to government actually helping ordinary people runs to deep. God help us all.

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Krynoids vs. Rutans: the life of supporting casts

So I recently watched the Doctor Who serial Horror of Fang Rock, an outstanding four-part story. And one of the things that leaped out at me was the supporting cast.

The plot concerns a monster lurking at the Fang Rock lighthouse (an alien Rutan, as we eventually learn), which has begun killing off the keepers when the Doctor and Leela arrive. Midway through the story, a ship crashes on the rocks nearby, due to the owner, Lord Palmerdale, having pushed to reach London. The survivors — Lord Palmerdale, Col. Skinsale, Adelaide and Harker — arrive and become added targets for the monster (it’s a small cast, but the body count is high). But at the same time, they’ve all got their own dynamic going on and it keeps on going as the bodies pile up.

We learn that Palmerdale bought up Skinsale’s debts to pressure the latter, an M.P., into giving him confidential government information. If Palmerdale can reach London, or at least contact them by morning, he’s in the money. Skinsale knows he’s acted dishonorably, so he’s thrilled that Palmerdale can’t act on the information, especially as his lordship burned Skinsale’s IOUs. If he can’t act on the information, too bad.

This affects the plot a little (Skinsale smashes the lighthouse “wireless telegraph” at one point to keep Palmerdale from contacting anyone) but it’s mostly independent. And it makes things much more interesting — regardless of the nightmare they’re stuck in, the men’s personal issues take more precedence (and also fill up more time).

But that’s not the only way to handle supporting casts. At the other extreme we have Seeds of Doom in which the Doctor and UNIT battle the alien Krynoid. The guest cast has none of the agendas Fang Rock‘s do: they serve the story. UNIT’s out to stop the creature; Chase wants to enable it; his henchman want to kill anyone who interferes (nothing personal, they have a job to do); the victims die. But that works too.

For something in the middle, there’s 1936’s Charge of the Light Brigade which I watched last weekend. The plot is a highly fictionalized version of events leading up to the idiotic and suicidal charge at the Battle of Balaclava, but along with the military derring-do there’s a B-plot. Geoffrey (Errol Flynn) is engaged to Elsa (Olivia de Haviland) but she’s fallen in love with his brother Perry (Patric Knowles). Perry, confident Geoffrey will understand, tells him how they feel, but Geoffrey refuses to believe it — of course Elsa doesn’t love Perry! And she can’t bring herself to tell Geoffrey yes, she does. But deep down Geoffrey knows, and as the movie approaches it’s end, he tells Elsa to go and find his brother and be with him. Then Geoffrey makes damn sure Perry is away from the battlefield before the Charge. This triangle doesn’t play as big a role as the financial scheming in Fang Rock but it’s more of a B-plot than the characters got in Seeds of Doom.

Which I guess means I don’t really have any insight. There’s no one right way to handle subplots and the lives of supporting characters; it’s whatever works for the story. Which isn’t a terribly surprising conclusion, but there you are.

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Sen. Richard Burr is human feces

I didn’t think NC’s Senator Burr could sink lower in my estimation but it turns out three weeks ago he was warning well-connected constituents that COVID-19 could be Spanish Flu bad — and said nothing to anyone else. And then sold off $1.6 million in stocks, particularly in the travel industry. So did Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Sen. Ron Johnson sold between $5 and $25 million in stock in a family-owned company that makes plastic for the medical device market — but he voted against government aid during the current crisis because having millions of Americans die is not reason to take action.

In more COVID-19 news:

Rand Paul holds up federal aid for the COVID-19 crisis.

Salon argues Trump’s lies about COVID-19 have become so blatant, the media should preface his statements with reminders he’s a liar.

A right-winger argues that if we give people money for the problems caused by coronavirus, next thing we’ll be paying welfare to trans people. Rep. Andy Biggs similarly opposes covering same-sex couples with the COVID-19 relief bill.

QAnon believers continue to fantasize the virus is just a cover for Trump to destroy his enemies … like Oprah Winfrey.

“Never mind that Republican leaders are among the most highly educated on the planet; it’s just that they now feel compelled to embrace ignorance as a cost of doing business.” — and right now, that’s not working out well.

And in other links (a little random, due to clearing out bookmarks last week).

“The chief pathologist was altering his deputy’s reviews to show them as concurring with all of Levy’s diagnoses, ” — a grim look at how a VA physician misdiagnosed patients for years.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp got his position through vote suppression. Now he’s simply canceling a state Supreme Court election to pick his own judge.

The pros and cons of automatic voter registration.

The role of luck and past success in measuring future success.

What happens when Google Maps gives a house the wrong address?

Roy Moore may have missed out on the Senate but the bigoted theocrat sexual harasser is pushing for the Supreme Court to overturn its gay marriage decision.

Betsy DeVos thinks students who attend shitty for-profit schools that defraud them (you know, like Trump University), shouldn’t get student-loan forgiveness. The Senate’s voted to overturn the rule (including ten Republicans, but not NC’s senators) but will it pass Trump?

” I couldn’t imagine a publishing and media world that made Afrofuturism legible. This is how imaginations are colonized” — Michele Berger on Afrofuturism and the gaps in imagination it fills.

Ben Shapiro, one of the mainstream media’s “cool” conservatives, lies that no major Republican figure ever embraced birtherism.

American right-wingers love calling COVID-19 the Chinese coronavirus. China thinks it’s an American disease.

Two Pennsylvania public defenders criticized the system — so the county fired them.

You know who thought literacy was good? Communists!

The number of homeless in Helsinki is dropping steadily.

What do you know, giving poor people money can produce good results.

The drawbacks to electing the sons of the rich to the White House.

Vox looks at the decline of the suit. Fast Company looks at women’s suits in politics.

I remember when women’s restrooms came with a women’s lounge attached.

What makes Nancy Drew such an icon — and so hard to adapt to the screen?

Words about feelings for which there is no English equivalent.

How Donald Trump once killed the USFL football league.

Who invented the TV dinner?

Jack Kirby’s Julius Caesar!

Frederick Douglass’ vision of a post-Civil War America.

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Bronze Age C-listers and Nexus: Graphic novels

MS. MARVEL: This Woman, This Warrior by Gerry Conway, Chris Claremont and multiple artists, begins the superhero career of the woman who’s now Captain Marvel. According to Gerry Conway in the text page, the creative staff came up with the name, then developed the character, reintroducing Carol Danvers, a Cape Kennedy security head who’d worked with the original Kree Captain Marvel. Now she’s a writer for J. Jonah Jameson’s new magazine (Conway, a former Spiderman writer, drew heavily on that cast, but Claremont moved away from that) — who also transforms into a split personality, Kree warrior Ms. Marvel. Can she keep her job when she can’t explain why she’s blacking out all the time? Can she survive against AIM, Grotesk, Deathbird and the Elementals? The results are enjoyable to read, but not at all memorable — I can see why I didn’t feel the urge to buy this one back when it was on the stands.

THE ESSENTIAL IRON FIST, written by Roy Thomas, Tony Isabella and Chris Claremont, with multiple artists (most notably John Byrne) is a better book, despite the (as they say) problematic overtones of having a white guy become the greatest martial artist of the lost city of K’Un Lun, far superior to all the Asians (and ending up in the same category as B’Wana Beast and the Western Ghost Rider, the white guy who becomes the sacred champion of a nonwhite culture). After his parents’ murder, Danny Rand winds up in K’Un Lun, eventually rising to become its ultimate champion, the Iron Fist, then heading to NYC to get revenge on Meachum, the man who the Rands. But Meachum is powerful, Danny knows nothing about the Western world and there are a whole bunch of supervillains who wind up drawn into his orbit …

Claremont’s writing is a lot stronger here and Byrne’s art is dynamic in some of the martial arts sequences. I still don’t regret skipping this on the stands (except for one issue, guest-starring the X-Men), but I enjoyed reading it.

BLOODSTONE AND THE LEGION OF MONSTERS is actually two generations of heroes. Created by John Warner, Ulysses Bloodstone was an immortal monster-hunter who had a backup slot in Marvel’s Bronze Age Rampaging Hulk black-and-white magazine; when they totally rebooted the lead feature (originally it had been a retcon set during Hulk’s early years), His daughter Elsa debuted about two decades ago, in a four issue series written by Dan Abnett, who had more success rebooting Guardians of the Galaxy a few years later. Ulysses’ back-up run (this also includes his first appearance in Marvel Presents) is an odd mix of supervillains, monsters and Jim Starlin-style 1970s mysticism (Bloodstone’s psychic senses can read auras, for instance) before Steve Gerber kills the protagonist and wraps up the series in the final story (a really heavy handed Everything You Know Is Wrong twist ending). The Elsa material includes a visit to a secret city of monsters under NYC and several one-shots, including pairing her as buddies with the mutant Boomer. Overall a fun collection.

The seventh NEXUS OMNIBUS brings Nexus’ saga to a satisfactory stopping place (as I wrote about recently) but overall it’s a weak collection. The Nexus the Liberator miniseries (done without either of Nexus’ creators, Mike Baron and Steve Rude) is awful and much of the collection is spinoffs involving various supporting characters, though mostly enjoyable spinoffs.

Oh, and speaking of comics, I have a new post at Atomic Junkshop on change in the Silver Age.

#SFWApro. Bottom cover by Gil Kane, upper two by Dave Cockrum.


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