My computer’s back but not early enough to write this post

So it’s covers! For starters Bob Pepper’s cover for Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast.

Naturally when the troops came ashore in Normandy, they found women crouching at their feet.

I don’t think “gay masters” conjures up the image the cover text was originally going for.

I don’t think we see enough lavender horrors in specfic. Cover by Robert Gibson Jones.

And this one by Milton Luros comes from the school of “sexy astronaut” cover women.

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder. Top two covers are uncredited.

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So I was thinking about the upside of secession

Not for me personally, as North Carolina’s a red, Republican state outside of Durham, but the upside if some of the blue states finally called it quits (overlooking that in reality it would inevitably lead to violence). And imagining life in all the Trump-loving rural states that want to make women second-class citizens and fantasize that their tax dollars are going to support lazy black people, immigrants and homeless vagrants in the big cities.

What a shock they’d have when they discover it’s the other way around: they’re the welfare queens depending on federal funding — farm support, Social Security, Medicare — to stay afloat. And that areas like California and NYC are the ones who put the money in the federal budget for that stuff. Take those blue areas away and presto, Alabama, Northwest Florida, Nebraska are going to look like Bangladesh.

Trouble is, I don’t think making more of the world look like Bangladesh is a good thing. I don’t think even Bangladesh being Bangladesh is a good thing. The goal should be less suffering, not more.

One of the things I truly despise about the right wing these days is that so many people on the right seem to want others to suffer. Like the petty spitefulness of the Trump administration deciding if gay couples are naturalized citizens, their kids are not US citizens. I know Trump dislikes birthright citizenship (too many icky brown people coming in!) but I can’t see any purpose to this other than shitting on gays out of pure spite.

But the solution is not to make life worse for any anti-gay bigots who think this is awesome. It’s to stop the policy (which will make the bigots feel worse but only as a side effect).

Any policy whose primary rationale is to hurt people is a bad policy.

“A good man will seek to take the pain out of things. A foolish man will not even notice it, except in himself. And the poor, unfortunate evil man will drive pain deeper into things and spread it about wherever he goes.” — William Saroyan

“The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.” ― Italo Calvino

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A psi spy, Helen of Troy and a return to the Witch World: Books

THE BRAIN BOY ARCHIVES by Herb Castle and Frank Springer (with Gil Kane providing art on the first issue) collects the adventures of psychic teen spy Matt Price. Recruited by the US government, he uses his telepathic and telekinetic powers to tackle various threats to America, most notably the Latin American dictator Ricorta, a psi himself.

I’d heard that this Dell Comics series was above average and it is. In Brain Boy #3, for instance, Matt investigates the disappearance of a number of Americans in the Arctic. Is the threat foreign espionage? No, it’s a Tyrannosaurus mentalis, an intelligent, psionic tyrannosaur! The plots in most of the issues (six total) are similarly well done. The only problem I had with it is that Matt’s girlfriend Maria, despite being another psi, is largely written as a typical 1960s nagging women-are-never-satisfied character.

I’d assumed HELEN OF TROY: Beauty, Myth, Devastation by Ruby Blondell would be a look at interpretations of Helen through the ages down to our own time, but Blondell instead focuses entirely on the ancient Greeks: how they prized beauty in women while fearing its ability to override reason, and how various poets, philosophers and writers rationalized waging a ten year war for a woman who abandoned her husband. Specialized, but interesting within that specialized range.

While jumping to the next generation is a common way to stretch out series, I’m surprised Andre Norton made the jump just three books into the Witch World saga. THREE AGAINST THE WITCH WORLD covers twenty years (following Web of the Witch World) in the first chapter or two, shuffling Simon and Jaelithe offstage in favor of their telepathically linked triplets. The Wise Woman of Estcarp seize the sister, Kaththea, as a new recruit, forcing her brothers Kyllan and Kemoc to free her, then head east into Escore, a land mysteriously blocked from the awareness of Estcarp blood (being half Terran, they can make it). Here they discover a region where magic was once much more powerful until a devastating war drove Estcarp’s founders out. Things are quiet but the Tregarth siblings’ coming is stirring up powers that were better left sleeping.

The levels of magic in Escore are much wilder, more alien and nastier than what we saw in the first two volumes, which makes this book work better for me. However it always seemed a little unfair that where his siblings have some degree of magic, Kyllan’s limited to controlling animals.

#SFWApro. Cover by Frank Springer, bottom cover uncredited, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Siberia, Italy and Eddie Izzard!: entertainment viewed

THE LETTER NEVER SENT (1959) is a Russian “socialist realist” drama in which four geologists hunt across Siberia for a hypothetical diamond lode, not for personal greed but to advance Soviet industry! At first there’s the minor distraction of their personal dramas (such as one of them constantly adding to the letter he forgot to mail to his wife), but then the real challenge becomes returning to civilization after a devastating forest fire sweeps across the region. More interesting than enjoyable though it picks up steam as it goes along, and certainly some striking location footage. “You have raised yet higher the glorious banner of Soviet geologists!”

Adapted from the successful musical, NINE (2009) stars Daniel Day-Lewis as a 1960s Italian director (the source play is based on Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2) with a film about to shoot and writer’s block about the unwritten script. That leaves him stressed out, sliding into fantasy and memory and dealing with his issues about the way too many women in his life including long-suffering wife Marion Cotillard (“Even the moments I thought were ours are not!”), not-quite-as-suffering mistress Penelope Cruz, randy journalist Kate Hudson, star actor Nicole Kidman, costume director Judi Dench, and childhood fantasy Fergie. Better than I expected, great to look at and solidly acted. “I can’t tell you what my film will be about — I still don’t know what my last film was about!”

As I’m a fan of the British comic Eddie Izzard, TYG got me tickets to his WUNDERBAR! tour (“I adopted a German word because your government and mine are both embracing certain behaviors from the 1930s.”) which hit Durham last Monday. Izzard speculates about God’s drug use, gives the history of England (“William the Conqueror’s father blew up.”), talks politics (“Donald Trump eats his own backside.”) and discusses dogs (“Assassins! Assassins Assass — oooh, poop. Is it mine?”), which unsurprisingly was my favorite bit. Fun to see the guy live, though it’s not the kind of show that will suffer if you saw it on tape. “That’s right, dogs are American conservatives.”

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

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Bedevilled by batteries!

First tech problem: some glitch with our alarm made it go off randomly early Wednesday morning. Freaked the dogs out, woke us out of sleep and wasted time searching for possible intruders and then on the phone with the alarm people. Who gave us two contradictory explanations, which didn’t help things.

Early Thursday morning, a different window went off. Early Friday, it was the other window again. Fortunately we were savvy enough that TYG was able to go back to bed and let me deal with it the second and third nights. Unfortunately that meant I got no sleep; I was useless Thursday and worse today. Fortunately the company sent a tech; turns out the batteries are way overdue for replacement. We’ll replace them on the other windows and doors before those go haywire too.

Second, my Mac’s battery is losing power fast and I’m getting the “service battery” warning. So, Thursday I took it into the Apple Store. Yep, battery’s dying (after two and a half years, not that shocking). They’re ordering in a replacement so I’ll have to give up some writing time in the next few days to take it in and get it repaired.

Before the alarms reduced my brain to mush. I redrafted Impossible Things Before Breakfast based on the writing group’s feedback and it looks good. Maybe one more pass (and a review by one more beta-reader) and I’ll print it out for a final reading.

I got part way through another chapter of Undead Sexist Cliches. Would have been more productive but lack of sleep Wednesday and having no computer today…

On the plus side, Wisp hasn’t been fazed by the cage around the tomatoes. And two of my writing group friends who know cats say her purring around us and rubbing against us means she really does like us. Cool!

She’s also defended the little shelter against an intruding cat, though she seems comfortable with cats eating on the deck as long as she’s fed.

And that’s about it. Computer’ll be back next week.

#SFWApro. Photo is mine.

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Filed under Personal, Short Stories, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

The car and the squirrel

Last Saturday was not good, though in hindsight it had a half-empty/half-full quality to it.

We drove to Whole Foods with our newly repaired car; normally we hit the Sprouts near us, but TYG wanted some stuff we could only get at Whole Foods. As we pulled into a parking space, the Check Coolant light came on and the engine suddenly overheated. We finished our shopping, called AAA and then I took a Lyft home with the food while TYG waited for the tow truck. That was primarily because I had a blood donation appointment later that morning and if I’d been the one to wait, I’d have missed it.

Didn’t help. By the time I got home and put the food away, it was too late. If I’d rescheduled for that morning I couldn’t have done the double-volume donation I wanted (much easier that way, as I get two donations done at once). Plus it’s a dead-cell area and I didn’t want to be out of touch with TYG, just in case. Everything went fine on her end, except the truck took until an hour later than they’d projected to arrive. She rode with them to the dealer, read the service department the riot act and now … well, we’re waiting for a call.

But it could have been much worse. We could have lost all the coolant (when we tried refilling the radiator, it ran out as fast as we poured it in) while we were still on the highway and never got our shopping done.  Or just gone to Sprouts, in which case it might have leaked at some far more inconvenient moment later that weekend. Still, I’d much sooner it hadn’t happened at all, especially after all that time I spent at the dealer last week (on other issues, in case you were wondering).

Then Sunday, TYG (with me helping) put together a cage to protect our tomatoes from Mr. Squirrel. We’ve lost all of them the past two years, and we couldn’t find any cages that looked like they’d work (a lot of them are weighed down by stakes driven into the earth which isn’t an option on the deck). This is actually a couple of wire-frame modular shelving kits radically reworked for our purposes. I’m optimistic it’ll work. Time will tell.

#SFWApro. Photo is mine.

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New frontiers in the Republican war on women

One of the staple claims of the forced-birth movement is that they don’t want to persecute or prosecute women; no, the only people who should be prosecuted are the doctors, the evil baby-killers. If someone slips and says sure, the women need to go to prison too, it’s quickly walked back, as with Donald Trump saying it in his 2016 campaign.

As Jessica Valenti says, this is an obvious lie even before this past month. Now? Well,  Georgia, which passed a 20-week limit to abortion a few years back, has a breathtakingly extreme heartbeat bill that says women can be prosecuted as killers if they get abortion. Georgia  attorney Andrew Fleischman explains that as the bill also gives fetuses full human status as legal persons, that implies most rules on dealing with human deaths would apply. That raises the possibility women can be prosecuted even if women go outside Georgia to abort, or that law enforcement could investigate miscarriages Just In Case (the late, unlamented Georgia Republican Bobby Franklin proposed that a few years ago). Mark Joseph Stern warns against assuming it can’t happen here.

The reaction from all those right-to-lifers who don’t want to punish the mother? Crickets. Or arguments that the law may allow that but Of Course it won’t be enforced. The Resurgnt website (no links, sorry) objects it didn’t go far enough, and rants about people who support abortion because they’ve “gotten so used to being able to have sex whenever they please.” The writer considers this a bad thing.

In Ohio, Republican state Rep. John Becker has sponsored a bill banning private insurance coverage of abortion, as well as birth control methods that could block a fertilized egg implanting in the womb. This doesn’t usually happen with birth control pills, often not even morning-after pills — good discussion here — but I’m sure even a .1 percent chance will be found illegal. Becker doesn’t see this as a problem: if women can no longer afford current birth control methods, someone will invent new ones, right? Oh, but the bill specifically states that transferring an ectopic pregnancy (the embryo develops outside the womb) back to the womb is not abortion; this actually can’t be done. Possibly Becker’s an idiot; he’s actually said he doesn’t know what the bill blocks, he’ll leave that to “people smarter than me.” Or given the right’s distaste for birth control, he knows perfectly well. Maybe the ectopic pregnancy exemption is to make it look like ectopic pregnancies are viable so they can’t be aborted despite the health risks to the mother (El Salvador won’t allow ectopic abortions until the embryo ruptures). Yes, I’m that cynical about forced birthers.

Ohio is also a heartbeat-bill state, banning abortion after six weeks, with no rape or incest exception; as A-OC has pointed out, abortion is illegal if your period’s just two weeks late.Which could mean an 11-year-old rape victim has to complete her pregnancy. More details here.

And then Alabam passed an abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest, but an exception for IV embryos that die in the lab. According to state Senator Clyde Chambliss, IV’s different because “it’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.”

I have never understood liberals who insist Republicans don’t want to outlaw abortion. Supposedly that would ruin the power to get people out voting to Stop The Holocaust, but how? It’s not like “Vote Republicans or Dems will bring back abortion!” wouldn’t work — they’ve been doing well with “Democrats will confiscate all your guns” for years and that’s complete bullshit. Plus, a lot of Republican officials are true forced-birth believers; as Scott Lemieux details, it’s pure chance the Supreme Court didn’t outlaw abortion under Reagan.

That doesn’t mean their beliefs make sense: if abortion is equivalent to the Holocaust, as Fred Clark says, forced-birth terrorism would be the moral response, not “vote Republican.” But believe they do.

For extra sexist goodness, Alabama Republican Dickie Drake wants to make it a crime to file a fake rape/sexual molestation charge. Of course, filing a false charge is already illegal, so presumably the goal is to broaden the scope of what can be punished and thereby intimidate victims into silence. The bill doesn’t specify what qualifies as “false” — no charges filed? Wrong person identified? DA decided not to prosecute? — which makes me suspect the worst. It’s not like law enforcement is objective about rape. And some Republicans are that rotten.


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An extra post of comic-book TPB reviews

BLACK LIGHTNING: Cold Dead Hands by Tony Isabella and Clayton Henry has Jefferson Pierce return home to Cleveland after his father’s death (unlike the pre-New 52 continuity or the TV show, peacefully in his sleep). The Tobias Whale that Black Lightning once battled has been replaced by the real Whale whose identity he misappropriated (a fatal mistake), a Keyzer Soyze-style shadowy schemer whose current plot is to put alien weapons in the underworld’s hands, thereby creating an outcry for police to use them too, and for private citizens to get them. And guess whose going to reap a fat profit from supply the demand?

This is good, but frustrating. Whale’s scheme is good, and Jeff’s new supporting cast is fine, but I hate it when a reboot leaves me baffled what’s still canon. I understand and applaud Isabella wanting to get away from the Evil Albino stereotype of the original Tobias, but are Jeff’s battles with him still in continuity or not? It appears so, but then again why doesn’t Jeff react to facing another Whale, or Tobias point out he’s way more dangerous than the imposter? Why did Jeff even go to Suicide Slum where he began his career? That he’s never met Lynn until recently is further jarring. So like I said, frustrating — though I’ll be happy to keep reading if we get more.

BPRD: The Devil You Know: Pandemonium by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie and multiple artists is the penultimate volume before the inevitable (so we’re told) apocalypse. Hellboy’s back with the BPRD, but will it do any good as the demon-cbild Varvara turns New York into ground zero for her new kingdom of the damned? Once again (as Hellboy notes), the BPRD has to invade a nightmarish Big Apple, but this time they have all the big guns, from old-timers like Abe and Liz to relative newbies such as Ashley Strode. Will it be enough?

Action-packed certainly, but it feels like Mignola’s rushing too fast to wrap up everything in the final volume, which makes it choppy and confusing at times. And given Varvara and Hellboy were both fond of Professor Bruttenholm, I’d really have loved to see them talk about him a little. Still I look forward to the finish later this year when we (hopefully) learn how the ending twists and reveals here make sense.

BLACK HAMMER: Age of Doom Part One by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston follows up the first two volumes by having Lucy, newly empowered as the second Black Hammer, bounce through a series of nightmare worlds before returning to Rockford and learning the truth about what’s been happening to her fellow heroes. It’s a good story, but the reveal is actually one I suspected earlier, and not that interesting. Given how much of the book has been riffing and meta-commenting on various superhero types (Abe Slam, the nonsuper Golden Age tough guy, Golden Gail as Mary Marvel, Madame Dragonfly as one of DC’s horror anthology hosts), I’m worried that returning to the real world will lack the appeal of the series’ stranger moments. Fingers crossed I’m wrong.

#SFWApro. Cover by Clayton Henry all rights reserved to current holder.

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Doc Savage and Branding

“Branding” gets tossed around as a magic word a lot (I rarely see any branding-related writing advice that wouldn’t work just as well if you didn’t take the word “branding” out) but I think it’s reasonable to argue that any long-running character — James Bond, Superman, Archie — is a brand of sorts. It’s inevitable that the character changes, but it’s essential they don’t change so far they no longer fit the brand.

Superman, for example is light years from the original Siegel/Shuster brawling roughneck — more powerful and a lot better behaved. Nevertheless, he’s still the same character. While I hate the way writers handle Batman in the 21st century, I’d hardly argue he’s no longer Batman. For many fans, however, the 1950s Batman battling monsters and alien invaders was very, very off-brand (I like the 1950s a lot better, but its critics do have a point).

Archie has proven to be an exceptionally flexible brand. At various points he’s been a superhero (Pureheart the Powerful), a spy (The Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.), a zombie slayer, grown up and gotten married and played in a rock band. He’s remained Archie throughout, though as writer Mark Waid has said, there are limits (“Betty fails a pregnancy test” or “Opening shot: Jughead’s meth lab.” would not make the cut).

But rebranding doesn’t always work for every character. Wonder Woman’s been through a lot of changes as my WW-reread shows, but the non-powered, karate chopping Diana Prince phase didn’t work at all for me (or most people). As I’ve said before it would have worked as a new character, but not for the Amazing Amazon. The Snagglepuss Chronicles was too far from Hanna-Barbera’s original to work for me, though others liked it.

And then there’s Doc Savage. As both Bobb Cotter and Will Murray have written, Doc’s 1940s adventures became much more realistic, with Doc himself much more human. The Derelict of Skull Shoal and Satan Black have very little in common with stories such as The Squeaking Goblin or Sargasso Ogre. Doc’s adventures are more down to Earth; Doc himself is just tough and competent and much more fallible.

Cotter and Murray like the transition to a more human Doc Savage; for me they damage the brand. I’ve enjoyed some realistic pulp and paperback adventures over the years, but that’s not what I read Doc Savage for. I read Doc to watch the amazing Man of Bronze take on and triumph over wild threats like the cult of the Thousand-Headed Man or Ool from the Land of Always Night, not to smash a relatively ordinary adversary. I want gadgets, deathtraps, bizarre lost races and doomsday weapons.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the WW II adventures, but for me they are not adding luster to the brand.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Joe Shuster, Sheldon Moldoff, Fiona Staples, Modest Stein and the rest by James Bama.


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It’s a sick sad world, and I’m not sure it’s getting healthier.

What Trump is now is what he’s always been: a career criminal. He cheated contractors, ran a scam online school and a scam charity. And he’s never suffered for it: “Trump, in other words, is an example both of how legal rules barely apply to privileged sociopaths, and of how much the legal system relies on essentially voluntary compliance.”

And after Jerry Falwell Jr. declared Trump deserved an extra two years to make up for the time the Democratic investigations have cost him, Trump liked the idea. And so we face the question, if he tries it, how does the country stop him? Republicans will support it, and oppose anything that threatens Trump. Can Dems or the public do anything without them? Or does it turn out presidents stepping down is ultimately “voluntary compliance” with the law.

“It’s heartening to think that in a year and a half we can vote our way out of our predicament,” Dahlia Lithwick says, “but it’s a bit like suggesting that we have a good long national think about how things are currently going and tend to it all in 2020, when all the systems that were already broken in 2016 are more broken.

And let’s not forget, the religious right, which was so shocked and appalled about Clinton’s womanizing, changed their minds on Trump. And as soon as it becomes politically necessary, they’ll change back. What does letting a corrupt, venal, immoral scum matter compared to cracking down on Muslims? Or smearing liberals as not caring about attacks on Christians.

While Trump’s actions are bad, his rhetoric is also horrifying. This piece from the Niskanen Center makes a good case that Trump’s words and his willingness to say the quiet parts out loud further weakens us:

over the last year Trump has successfully radicalized the Republican electorate, with his words, in their support of him personally. Congressional Republicans who, a year ago, were still at least trying to keep Trump at arm’s length don’t dare to anymore. Trump has successfully belittled, marginalized, and demonized his occasional critics among Senate Republicans, with his direct line to the Republican electorate (and, again, as always, its amplification in the Trumpist media). The absurd drumbeat to “release the [Nunes] memo,” by its very absurdity, reveals Trump’s current power over Congressional Republicans. A year ago, more of them would have objected to delegitimizing the FBI. But Trump has successfully communicated to his voters that being on their team means not being on the FBI’s team. He’s changed what being a Republican means.

And he’s trying to change what being an American means. The power of elite speech in a democracy is only partly that of giving partisan cues to one’s supporters. It’s also the power to channel and direct the dangerous but real desire for collective national direction and aspiration. Humans are tribal animals, and our tribal psychology is a political resource that can be directed to a lot of different ends.

Case in point, as noted at the link: how many Republicans would have been decrying the “Deep State” before Trump, or declaring the FBI an enemy of Real True Americans? I’m sure if Trump sticks with that Two More Years line, we’ll see supporters picking it up. I’ve already seen friends of mine on FB discussing Muslims entering federal office as an “invasion.” I pointed out it wasn’t, but I’m sure that didn’t change their views (Fox News and the rest of right-wing media contribute a lot to this too).

And Trump has slashed the budget for monitoring right-wing extremists, despite the fact most of our terrorists are white right-wingers.

And conspiracy theories like the secret Democratic pedophile ring terrorizing America are getting crazier and based on less evidence than ever before. At the link, an analysis of why.

While it’s not much of a balance to the scales, though, I do take some comfort from seeing Pat Robertson say flat out that young Earth creationism is nonsense.

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