“They have taught that man may be a slave”

Quotes for Martin Luther King Day, though the title comes from one by Frederick Douglass: “They have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is palmed off upon the world for Christianity.”

Now, some King:

“Let nobody give you the impression that the problem of racial injustice will work itself out. Let nobody give you the impression that only time will solve the problem. That is a myth, and it is a myth because time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I’m absolutely convinced that the people of ill will in our nation – the extreme rightists – the forces committed to negative ends – have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic works and violent actions of the bad people who bomb a church in Birmingham, Alabama, or shoot down a civil rights worker in Selma, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.” Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals. Without this hard work, time becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. So we must help time and realize that the time is always right to do right.”

“The road to freedom is a difficult, hard road. It always makes for temporary setbacks. And those people who tell you today that there is more tension in Montgomery than there has ever been are telling you right. Whenever you get out of Egypt, you always confront a little tension, you always confront a little temporary setback. If you didn’t confront that you’d never get out.
You must remember that the tensionless period that we like to think of was the period when the Negro was complacently adjusted to segregation, discrimination, insult, and exploitation. And the period of tension is the period when the Negro has decided to rise up and break loose from that. And this is the peace that we are seeking: not an old negative obnoxious peace which is merely the absence of tension, but a positive, lasting peace, which is the presence of brotherhood and justice. And it is never brought about without this temporary period of tension. The road to freedom is difficult.”

“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”

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International intrigue, overpopulation and spelunking: books read

John LeCarré’s ABSOLUTE FRIENDS is the most disappointing novel of his since The Naive and Sentimental Lover. The protagonist, Bruno Salvo, is a Congolese/Irish mixed-race translator with a flair for African languages. A client in British intelligence hires Salvo to attend a conference at which a visionary Congolese leader will build an alliance with Western power players to unite his war-torn country and restore Freedom and Democracy … eventually. When Salvo realizes the conference does not have his people’s interest at heart (which I’m pretty sure anyone who’s read it figured out as fast as I did) he tries to do something about it but runs headlong into the corrupt British forces involved. Just as the last third of Absolute Friends recycled war on terror cliches, this book feels like a Cold War thriller of 60 years ago (just switch out the corrupt business interests for Commies). Even LeCarré’s writing couldn’t hold me on this one.

Robert Bloch’s THIS CROWDED EARTH is set in a dystopian late 20th century world where curing disease and age has led to massive overpopulation: skyscrapers are hundreds of stories high, elevators can take an hour to deliver you (to say nothing of how crowded they are) and having one room to live in is luxurious. The protagonist finally snaps and gets sent to a mental hospital — but with space at such a premium, why does it have private rooms and spacious grounds? Why do the nurses keep jumping his bones? It turns out he’s part of the big and secret plan to save the world, but there are a few bumps along the way …  This comes off less as the dystopian fiction I expected and more a metacommentary on dystopian SF, showing the usual solutions won’t work (we can’t colonize the Solar System to drain off the crowds), the Resistance is half-assed and incompetent and all the predictions about dystopia from the 1950s (this was a late-1950s novel) turned out wrong. Given Bloch’s usual cynicism, I’m surprised he actually offered a happy ending; overall this was more interesting than good, and it’s very sausage fest-ish (two hot nurses and one mom in one scene are all the female presence we get).

In the Silver Age, spelunking adventurer Cave Carson headed an adventure team on the lines of the Sea Devils or the Time Masters but he never got his own series. Nevertheless, he has popped up several times since that era, and finally landed a starring slot with Gerard Way, Jon Rivera and Michael Avon Oeming’s CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE: Underground. His glory days over, Cave now works on underground drilling vehicles for the powerful EBX tech and struggles to rein in his rebellious daughter Chloe (Mom, a subterranean princess, has passed away). When it turns out EBX is up to no good, Cave, Chloe and the obscure superhero Wild Dog (yes, the prototype for the guy in Arrow) must work together to save the lost race of Muldoog and stop EBX from unleashing a demonic monster. Hardly up to the level of Way’s Umbrella Academy, but fun as a weird pulpish underground adventure (certainly better than Paul Chadwick’s The World Below).

#SFWApro. Art by Bernard Bailey, all rights remain with current holder.


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A Man With a Camera Rides a Wonder Wheel: Movies Viewed

Reading Documentary led me to watch THE MAN WITH THE MOVIE CAMERA (1929) in which Russian director/cameraman Dziga Vertov chronicles a day in the life of the USSR: trolley rides, industrial workers, sports competitions, a magician at a kids’ party, young women with parasols and crowds rushing two and from work. Vertov hoped to create an international language of pure visuals, without the use of intertitles; an impressive job, though constantly filming his camera crews at work undercuts the realism.

Given Woody Allen’s nostalgic streak I’m surprised the 1950s-set WONDER WHEEL (2018) isn’t a Radio Days-style tribute to Coney Island’s past. Instead, it’s a Tennessee Williams-style psychodrama in which lifeguard Justin Timberlake narrates how he came to have an affair with Kate Winslett, only to have the arrival of her stepdaughter Juno Temple (fleeing her mobster spouse) throw everything into chaos. Not only does Timberlake fall for Temple, Winslett’s husband Jim Belushi finds himself siding with his estranged child over his wife, all of which culminates in tragedy and heartbreak. A hamfisted drama with characters who are way too self-aware and dialog too self-consciously theatrical (Timberlake explains that away as his fallible memory but it still doesn’t work. And like Blue Jasmine this has echoes of Allen’s affair with Mia Farrow’s daughter and not in a good way (once again everything would have been fine if the Mom wasn’t such a bitch).“What power — to tell a tragic story about the human condition and how we have to lie to ourselves to live!”

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I’m getting those colored lights going!

Title is a paraphrase of Jean Kerr’s play, Mary, Mary. It’s a sort-of way of saying that while I’m zonked, I had a very productive week (if you want to figure out the context, I recommending reading the script or catching the stage play — the movie version is disappointingly dull).

While insomnia frequently allows me to get some extra work in, and at an hour of the day I’m not dealing with puppies, this week it was as much a hindrance as a help. TYG came back from her trip last weekend with the equivalent of con crud so she’s been coughing in her sleep pretty much every night (the cough’s lingering although all the other symptoms are gone). I sleep way too lightly not to wake up when she coughs, and then I can’t get back to sleep because she’s still coughing. And once I’m up, I can’t seem to get back to sleep at all.

I have the freedom to take naps throughout the day, whenever I want, but I can’t nap long enough to make up for the sleep I missed. I suppose I should have slept somewhere else, but I’m not sure it would have helped. TYG’s coughs are loud!

Despite all that I had a productive week. I resumed work on articles for Leaf so I have some money coming in, which is nice. Although due to being so tired, they kept taking much longer than I’d budgeted for them. That was frustrating. Another week I might have tried putting in extra hours to compensate, but I was too wiped.

I finished No One Can Slay Her (finally!) and submitted it, as well as sending off Rabbits Indignateonem, a flash fiction I finished last week. I also submitted queries for one article, one op-ed and sent Southern Discomfort to a few agents. I haven’t quite decided how I’m going to work submissions: at what point do I give up on agents (assuming I don’t land one) and submit to publishers directly? But I’ll figure it out.

I’m really pleased about this. Submitting stuff usually stops cold when I’m working on Leaf articles, and if I don’t submit, I don’t sell. So this is a big improvement.

I didn’t get much done on Impossible Takes a Little Longer. The rewriting is still going much slower than I anticipated, and it wound up being the main victim of the added time spent on Leaf articles. However the replotting for Let No Man Put Asunder went freakishly well. It actually left me wondering if I was doing something wrong, but on reflection, it’s just a very different book from Impossible or Southern Discomfort. Those both have rather tangled, non-linear plots; Discomfort has a large cast with several POV characters. Asunder has two first person narrators and a fairly simple set-up: freak event happens, two people caught in it become targets for a mysterious villain and they end up running across the multiverse to escape.

So other than lack of sleep, I think I’m grading this week as an A.

Below a couple of photos I took during an early morning drive recently.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals, Writing

I never remember to take photos

So last weekend I attended Illogicon once again. As usual I had a great time. As usual I didn’t take many photos. And a lot of them were the kind of photos I could take anywhere. Well, anywhere with a parking garage.

I did get a shot of the Author Dating Game I participated in. Modeled on the old Dating Game date show, this has each contestant play a character from their work, answering a contestant’s questions. Whoever she picks gets to give her the relevant book.

Above we see Natasha Barron (r.), Sam Bryant and the guy in the hat and wig (I forget his name). In the second round I played Steve from Atoms for Peace. It was a lot of fun, though as Steve’s attached to Dani, the dating part didn’t go so well (I didn’t think we’d be approaching as literal dating). I didn’t get picked but I had fun. And later in the weekend I sold two copies (plus a copy of Now and Then We Time Travel).

I moderated one panel (how do we capture the strange attitudes of the past) and sat in on several. I was supposed to do a reading Saturday but oops — I was reading from Atoms for Peace and guess what? I sold both the copies I brought. So I had nothing to read from. But I consider that a fair trade. Doubly so because my voice, as usual, was straining. I think twenty to forty minutes of reading would have done me in.

I also hung out with various authors I knew — writer/publisher John Hartness, Gail Z. Martin, Tracy Deonn Walker (her first book comes out this year or next) and Michelle Berger plus Allegra Gullino and Ada Brown of my writing group. And got to talk with several new people (Alexandra Christian, Lauren Harris). Plus I picked up a few books in the dealer room (and some jewelry for TYG).

Because it looked like the weather could turn very nasty, I took Lyft back and forth. Pricey, but deductible. And if a car has to crash, better it not be mine. It was a different hotel from the one Illogicon’s used in the past (that one’s being renovated) which worked out well in one way — they had a Starbucks so I could get hot tea when I needed it.

All in all, it was very nice weekend. Bonus points for not losing my voice. Extra bonus because TYG was out of town and we boarded the pups so I enjoyed my down time at home completely alone.

#SFWApro. Images are mine. Cover by Zakaria Nada.


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Sherlock Holmes: “Never guess. It is a shocking habit.”

Once again it’s time for a Sherlock Holmes quote about writing (even if he didn’t know it) based on my mug from the Philospher’s Guild: “Never guess. It is a shocking habit, destructive of the logical faculty.”

Holmes, of course, guessed all the time. He’d hear an account of the case and formulate a theory by the time he got to the crime scene. I’d say that counts as informed (at best) guessing. And frequently he got it wrong, as in The Yellow Face; what he guessed was a case of blackmail was actually a woman hiding her mixed-race child from her second husband.

As to writing, I think of it two ways. Only one is good advice.

The good advice applies to getting our facts right, one of the topics I panelled on at Illogicon last weekend (more on that tomorrow). If it’s important to the story, don’t guess about what the law is, how doctors treat a stroke victim, how they played chess in the 10th century (the queen was a weak piece, moving one square diagonally in all directions). Get the answers. For Southern Discomfort I had a scene in the final draft where St. Luke’s Hospital is dealing with a string of paralysis cases. I’d assumed they would treat them as a mysterious plague of strokes. My friend and MD Heather Frederick said no, they wouldn’t automatically assume that. Figuring out a more plausible response vastly improved the story.

Sometimes guessing is the only option. We don’t know much about what life was like for our earliest ancestors. We don’t know what Lincoln’s own plan for Reconstruction would have been. We can only guess what JFK would have done in a second term as president. According to one of my co-panelists, there’s no floor plan for the Bedlam asylum, so he was free to make it up (within reason).

Doyle himself was often sloppy about the Holmes canon. As he admitted later, he wrote Silver Blaze with zero knowledge of horse racing; people who did wrote to him afterwards and said most of the characters would have been banned from racing for life after what they’d done.

Now, the bad advice: when we’re drafting or plotting stories I think it’s perfectly okay to guess. I’m not sure it’s even possible to avoid it.

Unless we’re writing something based very closely on true-life incidents, we’re making it up as we go along. Even if we outline everything before we write, that doesn’t mean “Shelob captures Frodo” follows automatically from “Frodo enters Mordor.” We have to think of potential options and guess or intuit what the right one will be. Sometimes we’re wrong and have to go back and fix or rewrite or replot. Sometimes we’re spot on.

But even when it feels perfect, we can’t be sure there’s not a better option we didn’t even think of. As Henry Petroski says, engineers can never be sure their design is perfect. It’s always possible there’s a better one. Same with writing. I’m pleased with Southern Discomfort but it’s possible there were twists or scenes that would have worked better than the ones in the finished volume. I’m guessing there weren’t but I don’t know for sure. As Petroski also points out, money and time limit design options: to get anything finished, at some point we have to say “this is it,” or “this is good enough” and not worry about what might be better. And hope it is, indeed, good enough

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Filed under Sherlock Holmes, Writing

A whole lot of Watsons (and Holmeses): A Study in Charlotte

As I’ve mentioned before, stories of modern-day Sherlock Holmes were a thing long before Sherlock and Elementary. By making Charlotte Holmes a descendant rather than simply a modern-day version though, A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE by Brittany Cavallaro is able to put a fresh spin on the concept. Dan Funderburgh

Not a unique spin. The 1990s’ Adventures of Shirley Holmes gave us another female descendant and the 1980s’ Sherlock Jones and Proctor Watson gave us a miniature Holmes-clone in the present. Nonetheless, Cavallaro gives us something Sherlock or Elementary can’t, a world where the canon still exists. In the worlds of those series, there was no Arthur Conan Doyle writing stories of the Great Detective, nor a Dr. Watson writing first-hand accounts. Charlotte’s universe retains the original Holmes canon, the Basil Rathbone films, the works (maybe not the current shows, I guess).

The narrator is James Watson, a teenage descendant of John. He’s been sent to a stateside private school on a rugby scholarship and hates it, but he’s intrigued that Charlotte Holmes is also a student there. Not that every Watson and Holmes hangs out with each other, but the legend does give Jamie a fantasy that if they met, maybe they’d be the newest team.

Even before that point, Jamie defends Charlotte’s honor when a dickhead fellow student claims to have slept with her; Jamie later learns the guy raped Charlotte while she was strung out on oxycodone. When the guy turns up dead, both Charlotte and Jamie become prime suspects. The real killer taunts them by patterning his murders after Watson’s stories, for example a plastic blue diamond stuffed down someone’s throat to choke them (based on The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle).  Trying to clear themselves, Holmes and Watson become the team they were obviously destined to be.

I really enjoyed this Y/A but I did have a couple of problems with it.

Charlotte’s a brilliant detective because her parents trained her from birth, to be the same kind of observing and deducing machine as Sherlock. All the kids in the family go through this. But why? Do they figure, like Doc Savage’s father, the world needs heroes? Is it just a family tradition? Some explanation would have been nice.

Second, it turns out Charlotte’s been less than ethical in her past. Her tutor in her early teens was a Moriarty, one of the good ones, and she developed an insane crush on him. When he didn’t reciprocate (he was an adult) she manipulated him into scoring her some drugs, then got him busted for it. That feels less like an anti-hero and more like the “high functioning sociopath” Cumberpatch’s Holmes always claimed to be.

Third, Charlotte has serious drug issues. Holmes was primarily a recreational user relying on cocaine when he couldn’t get stimulation from life; Charlotte’s a hard-core addict (you can primarily blame Nicholas Meyer’s Seven-Percent Solution for elevating Holmes’ drug use into a defining part of his character). As one Goodreads review pointed out, nobody seems inclined to provide the teenage addict with any sort of support or treatment. It’s just accepted that a Holmes does this crap and that nobody’s going to make Charlotte stop if she doesn’t want to. Since Cavallaro made the point of front-and-centering this stuff, I think it could have been handled better.

And I definitely could have done without working rape into her backstory.

Despite the flaws I look forward to reading the sequels eventually.

#SFWApro. Cover art by Dan Funderburgh, all rights remain with current holder.

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Pssst, want some weird books?

I always enjoy when the used-book website Abe Books periodically posts a display of weird books. These include the truly weird, the extremely specialized and some that I don’t find weird at all. The page at the link, for instance, includes the book Tulipomania about the financial speculation in tulips in the 1600s. It was the first known financial bubble and more worthy of study than listing as a Weird Book makes it sound. Others, however? Well, take a look, first at some specialized topics:

Daghestan medicine symbols may, like tulipomania, be a subject worth of study, of course. Some of the others below, however …

Like Tulipomania, this seems a worthy reference book if you’re interested in snails.Not that there’s anything objectionable in books catering to a niche market, but even so …. English smocks?

Next, some that strike me as really odd.

I believe this one is a humor book.

There’s lots more at the link.

#SFWApro. All rights to cover images (I don’t know the artists) remain with current holder).


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Another post about the shutdown

As it stretches out longer and longer, Vox points out one reason: Trump’s a lousy dealmaker who can’t be trusted to do anything he agrees to (and he’s not currently agreeing to anything). Plus he seems to have no idea what’s going on, just like he and his team didn’t know what effect a shutdown would have (for what it’s worth, at least he’s a lousy autocrat)

So it’s small wonder even his advisers are hoping he’ll issue an emergency declaration and courts will shut it down. Saves face, doesn’t waste money on a useless wall — but this could go horribly wrong. Unfortunately Trump’s base loves the wall, so we’re stuck in a shutdown. Plus the possibility Trump will take disaster relief funds from Puerto Rico and California to build it.

Oh, and the White House now says even if Trump gets an emergency declaration, he might keep things closed so the Democrats don’t feel they’ve won. Because he’s a petty, vicious little shit-gibbon who’s not only a sore loser but a sore winner.

All rights to Münch’s The Scream remain with current holder.


Filed under Politics

Links about sexism

Only 32 percent of rape cases are closed by the cops. That’s down from 62 percent in 1964.

Laura McGann wrote a story alleging reporter Glenn Thrush had a history of harassment. Here’s what happened next. And plenty of other men accused of harassment promptly bounce back after a little time off. Though it looks like Kevin Spacey may not be one of them.

Producers didn’t think the RBG biopic On the Basis of Sex would sell unless it made her supportive husband look like a jerk.

Pushing back against #MeToo isn’t a sign the movement’s gone too far, it’s a sign “some men crave the poisonous high of feeling wrongfully endangered.”

The concept of the Democrats as the mommy party explains why Dems getting angry upsets Washington more than Republicans freaking out does: “No matter how much male privilege you have and regularly wield, going up against cardinal masculine virtues like violence, wealth, and the unchecked use of power taints you with a feminine stain, and in our society, femininity is disdained.” No More Mr. Nice Blog suggests Republicans are still seen as they were in the late 1960s, the law-and-order party. I think the two interpretations dovetail, actually.

If critics don’t like a movie targeted at women (or blacks, or Hispanics), the problem may not be lack of diversity among critics.

The challenges of analyzing gender differences.

Foz Meadows on the sexism of the Scream franchise.

In Ireland, a defense attorney brings up a 17-year-old’s thong panties to prove an alleged rape was consensual.

The Daily Stormer neo-nazi site suggests we revive the burning of witches.

A ‘smart dress’ shows just how often the wearer was groped while clubbing.


Filed under Undead sexist cliches