Golems, Jews, zombies: a book I contributed to

JEWS IN POPULAR SCIENCE FICTION: Marginalized in the Mainstream, edited by Valerie Estelle Frankel, is the book that contains my essay on golems in speculative fiction along with a dozen others. Typically for a book like this, some of them didn’t work for me: I’m familiar with debates over Superman as Jewish symbol and couldn’t get into Jewish themes allegedly found in The Last Airbender (the essay on Jewish themes in Tolkien worked better for being conscious it’s an odd thing to look for). Most of them, though, worked very well indeed.

One article, on the Ferengi as “space Jews” argues they do start out as negative Jewish stereotypes but the writing on DS9 makes them more complex and the Jewish elements less stereotypical. A couple of articles look at Jewish characters in comics, concluding that even characters whose Jewish faith initially runs deep get less noticeably Jewish as time passes, and not Jewish at all when they jump to TV. And “Jewish” is often limited to things instantly recognizable to non-Jews, such as menorahs and Hanukkah.

And while I remain a fan of Ragman, one essay makes a good case that his abilities aren’t Jewish — the whole idea of evil souls getting trapped for their sins in the rag suit is much closer to Christian themes.

My favorite article by two teachers showed how they demonstrate to students the way you apply Jewish religious war to new issues. The topic was the zombie apocalypse: given Judaism’s mandate to treat the dead respectfully, is it acceptable to burn or mutilate the living dead? If the zombies are living virus-carriers, is murdering them acceptable? The answers are a)yes, saving the living counts for more; and b)yes, but only if someone’s in imminent danger, not if the zombie is infected but not turned.

My essay’s awesome too, so if you want to pick something up as a gift this month and you know someone who’d be interested, here’s the link.

#SFWApro. Ragman cover by Pat Broderick. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Money makes the world go round. This is not necessarily a good thing

Hospice is now dominated by for-profit corporations. Unsurprisingly some of what they do to generate increasing amounts of profit is unscrupulous, illegal and harmful to patients.

Companies that buy up cheap housing make it harder for people to afford housing.

“As crypto’s self-appointed ambassador to Washington, Bankman-Fried was pressing for federal regulation even as he dodged U.S. oversight from his corporate headquarters in the Bahamas.” — a look at the now toppling crypto-kingdom of Sam Bankman-Fried. Who insists that when his FTX gambled with depositors’ money he didn’t realize that’s what he was doing. Reuters reports the company also bought Bankman-Fried a vacation home. LGM weighs in.

“Time and time again, Americans fall prey to the myth of the billionaire genius, the man (because it is almost always a man) who is better than us mere mortals, able to solve any business or political or philanthropic problem that comes his way — till, suddenly, he is not.” — Helaine Olen. See also Elon Musk running Twitter into the ground and (though she’s not a man) Elizabeth Holmes.

While this Forbes article on Trump’s secret debts to a Korean company is good, but I don’t buy the assertion that most people of Trump’s wealth could be corrupted by a mere $20 million debt. Trump has, after all, allegedly cheated contractors of much less money. I’ve seen this argument before — billionaires have too much money to be tempted — but the billionaire mind doesn’t seem to see it that way.

Alex Jones loves money and he has a lot of it. He’s doing his best to make sure the Sandy Hook parents who won their lawsuit against him don’t get any.

“A nudge is ultimately a highly conservative approach to the question of how a society should think about the public good.”

“The shooter who terrorized a Colorado movie theater in 2012 charged more than $9,000 worth of guns, ammunition and tactical gear in the two months leading up to his attack that killed 12 and injured 70. The man who shot up the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people, put more than $26,000 on credit cards.” Nevertheless, crediit-card companies refused a proposal to create a unique code for firearm sellers which would help flag suspicious purchases.

Amazon’s policy of letting readers buy an ebook, then return it after a week, means some authors end up with negative royalty balances.


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Reading about war: WW I, War in Space and a Martian Invasion

BLACK MAX Vol. 2 by Ken Pepper and Alfonso Font follows in the same vein as V1, showing WW I pilot Tim Wilson and his Co, “Groucher” Grommett battling against Maximilian von Klorr and his squadron of giant bats. This works some variation on the premise, for example having von Klorr brainwash a British pilot as his agent; a rookie pilot getting in over his head; and Black Max turning one bat into an unstoppable giant after Tim wipes out the rest. Great fun.

URSA MAJOR: Resonance Books II by Casey E. Berger (a friend of mine but my enthusiasm is sincere) is a sequel to First Light in which ex-Marine Jaya and her various allies organize a revolution against Jaya’s father, who’s seized control of the Terran Empire. Unfortunately the Empire is massively increasing the number of super-soldiers its putting in the field so figuring out a kryptonite to stop them is as essential as organizing the colonies to fight back.This is good, with plenty of action on the scientific, political, and character-arc fronts. I’ll probably get V3 next year.

KILLRAVEN: Warrior of the Worlds collects Marvel’s 1970s sequel series to H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds, the premise being that the Martians attacked again at the end of the millennium, having immunized themselves against bacterial infection. A couple of decades later Killraven — former gladiator in the aliens’ slave arenas — launches an insurrection with his warrior skills, backed up by psi-abilities implanted in him by a human scientist.

The series started with Gerry Conway on script and Neal Adams followed by Howard Chaykin on art. Then came Marv Wolfman and Herb Trimpe, followed by what’s considered, I believe, the definitive team of Don McGregor and P. Craig Russell (their 1980s graphic novel wrapping the series up is included too).

Killraven has a cult following but it never clicked with me as a teen, nor now. It’s not awful but somehow it just doesn’t come together: the McGregor/Russell run, for instance, spends way too much time wandering around encountering odd creatures and cultures, as if the creators didn’t really care about the fight against the Martians. I did, however, enjoy Bill Mantlo’s Killraven/Spider-Man crossover in Marvel Team-Up because of Spidey’s horrified realization that despite everything he does to save people, ultimately they’ll be wiped out by the invasion (don’t despair, Marvel later retconned Killraven into a parallel timeline).

#SFWApro. Covers by John Romita (top) and Gil Kane.

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Movies from Halloween to Christmas

HALLOWEEN ENDS (2022) has an aging Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) fretting that even with Michael Myers dead and gone, years of dealing with his attacks have warped her hometown of Haddonfield into a paranoid, fearful mess. Case in point, everyone’s convinced that a local guy whose babysitting charge died accidentally, years ago, killed the kid and got off; that leaves him enough of an outcast to bond with Laurie’s granddaughter but also with the ghost (I think) of Michael Myers …

Despite the film’s efforts to show Michael has joined the choir invisible, gone to meet his maker, become an ex-parrot etc., the implication he can possess others leaves them a path to Halloween: A New Beginning if they want to take it. That aside, this is a mixed bag for me. Curtis gives an amazing performance (“Did you really think I’d kill myself?”) but the babysitter’s arc doesn’t quite work. Still, getting me to watch another movie in this franchise (my last was Season of the Witch) is no small accomplishment. “Did Michael Meyers let you live — or did you escape?”

A SNOW WHITE CHRISTMAS (2018) kicks off my annual deluge of Christmas treacle with a mediocrity in which heiress Bianca’s scheming stepmother using hypnosis to erase the young woman’s memory, thereby ensuring she won’t remember to claim her inheritance before the stepmom gets it. The actors are weirdly self-conscious and mannered, like they couldn’t get into the story, not that I blame them. “It’ll be alright, Bianca — I have a hunter to help me.”

HAUL OUT THE HOLLY (2022) has a recently dumped woman stay in her parents’ home over Christmas while they’re in Florida, only to fall afoul of the homeowners’ association’s Christmas rules which penalize people for not getting Christmassy enough. And which are, of course, enforced by the Most Obnoxious, Most Irritating Man She’s Ever Met. Talking lamp material. “The first thing you do is think of tigers.”

CHRISTMAS ON REPEAT (2022) was more fun, even though it recycles cliches from all the other Christmas time-loop films I’ve seen, such as the protagonist playing matchmaker for her elderly neighbors. The protagonist hopes that if the time-loop keeps repeating she can meet the demands of both her boss and her family and make everything perfect — but is perfection what she really needs? I’ll give them a point for not having her simply choose family over job, though I’m also reminded of the complaint that showing the conflict as Love Vs. High Powered, High-Paying Job ignores that people often end up working 60 hours a week at very low-powered job. Still, this was pretty fun. “If you were up all night, why are you so perky?”The sixth and penultimate season of YOUNGER was enjoyable but feels a lot like shuffling pieces around the board. Last season Liza’s (Sutton Foster) relationship with Charles (Peter Hermann) firmed up but he wound up stepping away from the publishing company, leaving it in Kelsey’s (Hilary Duff) hands. This season has Charles launch his own company before finally returning to Empirical, after which Kelsey leaves, then comes back. And Josh (Nico Tortorella) just wanders around pointlessly now that he and Liza are no longer together. The most interesting element was Charles’ ex freaking out when she learns Liza’s not a twentysomething (losing your husband to a younger woman is one thing but a woman your own age?) and exposes the truth. Overall, it’s probably a good thing there’s only one season left. “Ladies, there are bulging crotches in your face — please focus.”

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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Metrics aren’t everything, but they help

So I wrapped up November with somewhere under 50 percent of my goals completed … I think.

One of the errors I keep making is that when things get hectic I stop tracking my progress. I don’t record how many hours I’ve spent on writing projects or whether I remembered to wipe the kitchen counters every day. So I don’t know if I achieved them or not. So I’m working to consistently report metrics at the end of the day, before walking the dog (afterwards I’m usually off the computer for too long). We’ll see how I do.

This week was uneven but overall productive. A large part of the unevenness is that my insomnia the past couple of months has been exceptionally consistent. Some of that may be the warm weather — even in a heated house, winter usually makes a difference — and some of it’s definitely psychological. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I psych myself out about “Well, if I try to get to sleep and don’t succeed I’ll have to take naps during the day so I should definitely get up and write because then I won’t need the time but then again I really need sleep …” That kind of chatter makes it impossible to get to sleep.So Wednesday became a waste. I was tired plus I had my second checkup of the year. Overall good, and a couple of things I was worried might be serious are just me getting older. My doctor is way more reliable than the Crime Surgeon on Bob Kane’s cover above.

Today was productive but choppy. I was sitting with the dogs most of the day and they were often barky, plus Wisp came in which meant having to keep three pets happy. I can write and pet Wisp in my lap but if Trixie gets on the couch too, she demands petting too and then I have no hands left to type. And yesterday I walked to a nearby dispensary to pick up Plushie’s meds. It’s close to a mile further away than I anticipated so that was more time lost. The exercise was good, however.

So what got done?

First, I finished a rewrite of Bleeding Blue on Monday. It’s much improved. This may be the next piece I read to my writers’ group as menstruation is important in the story and I need women’s feedback.

I reread Paying the Ferryman and I was dismayed how much the energy and tension drop once we move from New York to a fairy-tale setting. I spent most of my writing time today working to fix that but between naps and pets I didn’t get finished. It’s already improved, though, and shorter.

I wrote 4,000 words on Impossible Takes a Little Longer. The book’s definitely improving, though I still wonder about length.

And I started to think about what I want to do next year.

All totaled, I made my hours for the week.Over at Atomic Junkshop I looked at the time Iron Man deliberately killed his opponent, a drastic thing in the Silver Age. You can see in Gene Colan’s (under his Adam Austin synonym) panels above that Iron Man’s throwing the Black Knight (not the one from Eternals) off his flying horse to his death.

Over at ConTinual I participated in a panel on worldbuilding in small towns and one discussing my two new releases. They’re on FB but they’ll be on ConTinual’s YouTube channel soon.

And speaking of my new books, I sold some copies of Questionable Minds this week! That feels very cool.

And needless to say, our Christmas tree is up.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

A trip to the library/Has made a new man out of me

(Title is a line from the musical She Loves Me).

Last weekend was, of course, Thanksgiving weekend, and I had a great time. It’s rare to have a big block of time as a staycation and it was incredibly relaxing (for TYG too). Thanksgiving dinner, as usual, was at Parizade, a local restaurant that hosts a massive, and extremely tasty, vegan meal. I managed to stop at the point of complete fullness without going over, despite the temptation to eat more, more, and then more.

Saturday, as our date for the weekend, TYG and I went to Durham’s new main library. It closed for remodeling a few years ago which broke us of the habit of regular visits — I hit a closer branch library instead — and when it reopened it was during the pandemic. But we kept saying we should go check it out, and finally we did. And damn, it looks good.Plus some of my books are in the catalog, which is pretty cool.#SFWApro

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Filed under Atlas Shagged, Atoms for Peace, Personal

Not unsafe enough

“This is not the sort of life Rebecca Grossman was supposed to be living. The 58-year-old former flight attendant turned socialite was meant to be spending her middle years enjoying the bounties of upper-class privilege [but instead] the  Hidden Hills socialite became a pariah after her speeding Mercedes struck and killed two school-aged kids.” And your objection would be?

According to the LA Magazine profile at the link, just that, in Grossman’s husband’s words, “she is in an emotional prison that she may never be able to get out of.”  As LGM says, the article reads like a cancel-culture — how can people turn their back on her just because she zigzagged eighty miles through a residential neighborhood street? Sure, she’s out on $2 million bail but life is so hard! It’s hard to imagine someone who’s black and poor in the same vote getting such a sympathetic portrait, even if they were stuck in jail because they couldn’t raise bail.

The resistance to punishing rich, prominent people runs deep. It’s equivalent to himpathy for male misogynists: men are more important than women so they get cut slack. The more important they are, the more slack: writer Heather MacDonald has argued Placido Domingo’s history of harassment doesn’t matter because he’s a great opera star — how can we derail his career because he felt up a few nonentities?

Or consider that New York Magazine profile from earlier this year: a popular, good-looking boy showed off naked photos of his girlfriend and his classmates stopped speaking to him (good for them!). The article takes a sympathetic view of the poor guy — just because he did something shitty to his girlfriend, he’s now an outcast, waaah! As LGM pointed out at the time, if teenage cancel culture is an issue, lots of teens get canceled for considerably less valid reasons; some kids spend their whole high school lives as outcasts. But nobody’s going to profile them — it’s the guys who are popular and goodlooking and cool enough to supposedly deserve being in the in-crowd whose cancellation raises eyebrows.

We’ve seen the same thing regarding the Trump administration. The Washington Post profiles Trump’s surgeon general who’s not having the usual smooth transition from White House position to lucrative private or academic gigs: “he would receive polite rejections from university officials who worried that someone who served in the administration of the former president would be badly received by their left-leaning student bodies. They felt it when corporations decided he was too tainted to employ.”

As Roy Edroso says, nobody’s entitled to a good-paying post-government position, and there’s no reason working for a corrupt, incompetent, fascist and parroting his talking points shouldn’t cost you: “Eichmann, Mengele – you know they’re bitching in hell that no one gave them this kind of treatment.”

Donald Trump once bragged that if he shot someone in public, he’d get away with it. I’m not sure he’s the only one. Rather than making “wickedness unsafe in any station” we’re making it perfectly safe, as long as the station can be described as white, male, and/or rich.

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Doc Savage, Reborn? The Perfect Assassin by James Patterson and Brian Sitts

Given what a mess James Patterson and Brian Sitts made of The Shadow, I read their Doc Savage reboot, THE PERFECT ASSASSIN, without much enthusiasm. It isn’t good, but it doesn’t mangle the Man of Bronze the way the duo (which I assume is mostly Sitts, with Patterson providing marquee value) mangled the Master of Darkness.

Our protagonist is Brandt Savage, grandson of Clark Savage Junior. He’s aware of his ancestor’s legend, though he assumes it’s exaggerated, and the apple has fallen far from the tree: Brandt is a dull, scholarly introvert who’s happiest spending his evenings reading at home (I did bristle a little at the implication this is a bad lifestyle choice). Then he’s kidnapped by a woman named Meed. She subjects him to an insanely intensive training course that also remakes his body (taller, buffer) in ways I doubt made sense but I wasn’t reading closely enough to find out.

These scenes alternate with scenes of Meed’s past, undergoing training in what looks like a rip off of the Red Room that gave birth to Black Widow at Marvel. Eventually she balked at the ugly hits she was sent to do and escaped, but the Russian establishment is still training kidnapped girls. She wants to end it. Brandt is going to help, like it or not (contrary to the cover copy he is not being made into a perfect assassin).

Why pick Brandt? Meed eventually reveals she’s John Sunlight‘s daughter Kyra. The Red Room knockoff operates on a twisted version of the training program that created Doc Savage, based on information Sunlight got from the twin brother we didn’t know Doc had. The twin was Clark Savage Sr.’s test case, given none of the training Doc did so their father could quantify it’s effectiveness. I can understand the brother having issues.

Together, Brandt and Kyra take down the organization, become lovers and Brandt becomes a true heir to his grandfather — don’t call him doctor or professor, just call him “Doc,” okay?

As the book doesn’t use Lester Dent’s Doc Savage, it doesn’t piss me off the way The Shadow did. The Perfect Assassin doesn’t rewrite Doc’s history the way they authors did the Shadow, either. One of the best moments is when Brandt winds up in Doc’s Fortress of Solitude and it finally sinks in that everything he’s ever heard about Clark Savage Junior is true. There’s a genuine sense of awe in that moment.

Despite that, and some good action scenes, I did not care for the book. The long training sequences are dull, the scenes from Kyra’s past are stock (she’s not far off from assassin-turned-Batgirl Cassandra Cain) and after the bad guys go down we spend a pointless amount of time on wrapping the story up. I skimmed more than half of the story and don’t feel I missed anything.

On top of which I have some picky fan criticisms. Back when Marvel had the Doc Savage rights they had a team-up with Spider-Man — actually a story where Doc and Spidey fight the same menace in the 1930s and the 1970s. Rereading it along with Marvel’s first Doc Savage series, it struck me that instead of Peter Parker vaguely remembering Doc as an early superhero, a science nerd like Peter would probably remember him as a groundbreaking scientist (e.g., “I read his Atomic Science Simplified when I was 10, it made the physics so clear!”).

Same problem here: long after Doc’s adventures have faded, his science work would keep his name alive. Brandt’s an anthropologist so he ought to remember Johnny Littlejohn, Doc’s aide, as a top guy in the field. I can’t believe Johnny didn’t have some landmark research that Brandt would have heard of.

And John Sunlight’s daughter really should be more distinctive than Kyra. If she were just a straight graduate of the assassin academy with no significant parents it wouldn’t have changed anything. Being Kyra Sunlight rationalizes her going to Brandt for help, but that’s it.

#SFWApro. Covers by James Bama, Bama again, and Gil Kane. All rights remain with current holders.

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Trends go in, trends go out, they turn you into sauerkraut

As I think I’ve mentioned before, I have no great skill at writing for the market — stuff that fits current trends and styles (see here for some discussion of that topic). The few times I think I’ve hit the sweet spot the editorial response is either “everyone’s doing that now” or “no, that’s not quite right for the genre.” It’s a topic I thought about recently in relation to Questionable Minds and The Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Both of them were a little more novel when I completed the early drafts, less so now. They’re still good (at least, Impossible should be when it’s done) but their relationship to the market has changed.When I finished Questionable Minds some twenty-plus years ago, steampunk was still in its infancy as a genre. Had it sold to anyone it would have stood out because being steampunk stood out, plus a psi-based steampunk book wasn’t something I’d seen done. It still isn’t, though I might be wrong about that (there’s so much steampunk available now I know I haven’t seen a fraction of it).

The point is, the reaction to a steampunk novel in 2022 is going to be different from if it came out in 2002. I’ve seen reviewers who are sick and tired of books all being set in London, for instance. Genre conventions and tropes have become more standardized; will not having dirigibles or more advanced technology be a turnoff for some readers? Is my novel more gaslamp fantasy than steampunk science fiction, and if so, will readers be annoyed I mislabeled it? I’m not agonizing over these questions — it really is a good book, after all — but they do make me curious.

Or consider my superhero urban fantasy, The Impossible Takes a Little Longer. When I finished the original novel back in the late 1990s, superhero novels were few and far between, particularly if you eliminate Marvel and DC tie-in novels. There’s a lot more of them now which means being a superhero story, by itself, won’t stand out. On the other hand nobody’s going to roll their eyes at the idea of a specfic novel about superheroes.

My treatment of superpowers is different in multiple ways (here’s one) from most of the superhero novels I read. But different, by itself, isn’t magic: it’s possible to be different, original, or unique and still suck. What ultimately matters is that the book’s good, not where it fits in the market. Because I can’t control the market, or predict what it’ll be like when Impossible is finally done. I have to think about marketing  — Questionable Minds was my first real attempt to do so — but my top priority is having something worthwhile to sell.

I have a feeling this post was a little rambling, which may reflect that analyzing the market, let alone fitting it, isn’t my strong suit.

#SFWApro. Cover by Samantha Collins, all rights remain with current  holder.

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Links about women and the damage done to them

“If the vulva as a whole is an underappreciated city, the clitoris is a local roadside bar: little known, seldom considered, probably best avoided. “It’s completely ignored by pretty much everyone,” said Dr. Rachel Rubin, a urologist and sexual health specialist outside Washington, D.C. “There is no medical community that has taken ownership in the research, in the management, in the diagnosis of vulva-related conditions.” — NYT article on the lack of medical interest in the clitoris.

“At an amateur contest in 2009, she placed fourth and was surprised that it was taking so long for her to earn her pro card. When she asked why, she said, a prominent judge told her: ‘Because you didn’t come to my room last night.'” — female bodybuilders speaking out about harassment in their sport.

“And considerable gaps in death exist based on geography, too, with women who live in rural communities about 60 percent more likely to die from pregnancy complications than their urban counterparts.” — from a WaPo piece about how Dobbs is making the availability of rural ob/gyn care worse.

“An Indiana doctor who provided an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim has asked a judge to stop the Indiana attorney general from accessing patient medical records as part of an investigation into consumer complaints her lawyers have called a “sham.”

Kentucky voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have eliminated any right to abortion found in the state constitution. The state’s forced-birther AG insists there’s still no such right. Over in Tennessee, the law doesn’t offer a life of the mother exemption — doctors can cite it as a defense though — and forced birthers like it that way: “The burden of proof, the onus, is on the doctor to prove that he or she was in the right.”

“All of this comes as right-wing commentators scrabble through the detritus of last week’s elections, and have concluded that the real problem was … cat-owning single women.” Because the days when that might encourage Republicans to modify their polices are dead and gone — it has to be the women’s fault for defying them!

Even by the standards of crackpot anti-PP conspiracy theories “Planned Parenthood gives out contraception so they can make that money back with the higher number of abortions that ensue” is some seriously deranged stuff. And no point does this thread begin to approach a more coherent or empirically grounded thought.” — LGM on National Review‘s latest right-wing bullshit recruit, Alexandra DeSanctis Marr. And no, they’re not distorting her positions.

“Policies that center women do not exist in this world. They are inconceivable in the sense that minds in this world cannot contain or consider them. It’s an inability to imagine that women contribute particular ways of looking at policy, due to their history and circumstances. Women are allowed to be in the conversation but not of it.”

”I don’t think you’re having children any time soon,” — Marjorie Taylor Greene on why older women’s pro-choice views don’t matter. In contrast to all the men writing these laws who are going to pop out a baby, I take it?

“The FDA’s approval of chemical abortion drugs has always stood on shaky legal and moral ground, and after years of evading responsibility, it’s time for the government to do what it’s legally required to do: protect the health and safety of vulnerable girls and women,” — the rationale forced-birth groups are offering for suing in a right-wing district court to ban the morning after pill. Never mind that abortion is safer than giving birth.

I discuss more misogynistic bullshit in Undead Sexist Cliches, available as a Amazon paperback, an ebook and from several other retailers. Cover by Kemp Ward, all rights remain with current holder.


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