The wonders of the cosmos, captured by pulp covers!

Earle Bergey provides the cover for an Edmond Hamilton novel (which I confuse with the Kuttner/Moore Earth’s Last Citadel). Margaret Brundage ilustrates a Manly Wade Wellman “menacing drama.”I’ve no idea what’s happening on this Frank Kelly Freas cover, but it does look interesting.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Talking tough, talking stupid

As I’ve mentioned before Republicans love to talk about killing their opponents but they don’t want to be held responsible for their rhetoric. Case in point, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene declaring Americans must use the Second Amendment to fight liberal tyranny, but of course she’s not suggesting violence, not her!

Conversely, when indulging in heated rhetoric about liberal fascism or the communist takeover, they evoke Stalin while offering tame examples like liberals “manipulating their access to status and comfort.” Stalin did a damn sight more than that, dudes. Likewise, lying Trump toady Matt Gaetz claims that blaming Republicans for 1/6 is the blood libel. Dude the blood libel involved mobs killing Jews for supposedly using children’s blood in their Passover bread; I don’t see mobs coming for your head, The QAnon accusations about cannibal pedophiles are much closer to the blood libel in substance, and they’ve already led to some violent incidents. And they do want people’s heads.

That does not, however, stop them from just making up injustices, like J.D. Vance claiming dozens of 1/6 seditionists have been jailed without charges. It’s a lie. So is Dennis Prager’s claim the 1/6 insurrection was a false flag like the Reichstag fire. Ted Cruz told the truth about 1/6 this month, but then had to walk it back. SC Senator Lindsay Graham has a shit fit that Biden calling out the insurrection as just that is politicizing events. Yes, what could be political about an attempt to overthrow the duly elected president.

By contrast Republicans have no problems with the Republican party committing to the goal of more people dying of covid. And yet some members of the press pretend there are no significant issues in current politics.

Now, to the stupid —

Speaking of covid, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, brings the stupid to his anti-vax arguments with “Why do we think that we can create something better than God in terms of combating disease?” Yes, remember how natural immunity has conquered smallpox, polio, tetanus, measels and flu? Oh, wait, we get shots for those. In Wisconsin state government, nitwit Republican Treig Pronchinske argues that since we can’t see covid virus particles, we can’t tell if anyone has it, let alone treat it. Again, a few centuries of medical history show he’s full of it.

Then there’s anti-vax militant Christopher Key, who says you can beat the Trump virus without a vaccine by drinking your own urine. And the conservative who claims, a la Ron Johnson, that God’s a better doctor: healing through prayer will be like universal health care with no deductibles. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court is siding with anti-vaxers on the dubious grounds that workplace safety laws don’t specifically cover pandemics.

And then there’s the guy who said history classes about Nazism and Soviet communism should be impartial.

David Bateman of the Silicon Valley firm Entrata lost his CEO gig after claiming the covid vaccine is part of a Jewish takeover plot (“For 300 years the Jews have been trying to infiltrate the Catholic Church and place a Jew covertly at the top. It happened in 2013 with Pope Francis.”).

Returning to  the tough talk, at least a few bullies are getting their comeuppance. Kaleb Cole of the Atomwaffen Division neo-Nazi group got seven years for threatening journalists with death. The leader of the right-wing Oathkeepers has been arrested for his 1/6 role.

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Batman, an escape artist and an athletic lesbian: graphic novels

The ninth volume of the Golden Age Batman Omnibus continues much as before, though the mediocre SF stories that so many fans hate about the 1950s are on full display (“Valley of the Giant Bees” is particularly weak). However we have several of the clever criminal schemes I blogged about at Atomic Junkshop and the returns of both Catwoman and Two-Face to active duty in the Rogue’s Gallery. Selina Kyle, however, would only have a couple more appearances in the 1950s — her last battle with Batman before the late 1960s should be out in Vol. 10 — and Two-Face wouldn’t return until 1971. The Comics Code has been given the blame (Catwoman too sexy a Ba Girl, Two-Face too close to a horror character) but DC was very cautious about not offending the anti-comics activists even when it was within the code.

In any event, this was overall a great one to read. There should be about one more after which they switch to a series of Silver Age omnibuses (the first one comes out this year).

THE INCREDIBLE ADVENTURES OF JANUS STARK by Tom Tully and Francisco Solano Lopez was a British comic strip set in the Victorian Age. Stark is an orphan with an uncannily rubbery body; after escaping from a cruel orphanage he learns the secrets of lockpicking from cunning old Blind Largo, then uses his skills and his amazing body (if this were DC or Marvel, he’d be a mutant) to become a star of the music halls, astonishing everyone with his impossible escapes. His real passion, though, is justice. Using his skills he helps punish the cruel and powerful while bringing aid to the poor and downtrodden.

This is the first volume of Stark’s exploits and entertaining, but it settles quickly into formula. We have a couple of “criminal frames Stark who must clear his name” plots and two involving Stark being forced to free a criminal from prison. Unlike some of the adventurers of the day, his stories are all one or two episodes long (British comics were weekly anthologies) which limits the range of plots. Still, I look forward to getting V2 eventually.

Alison Bechdel’s THE SECRET OF SUPERHUMAN STRENGTH is way more engaging than it has any right to be, given it’s the story of her lifelong obsession with physical fitness, even in the days when women weren’t supposed to want six-pack abs. This covers her experiences with gurus (like me, she watched TV fitness dude Jack LaLaine in the mornings before school) and her experiences with running, yoga, skiing and weight lifting. All of which interweaves with her love life and her career, from her career-making strip Dykes to Watch Out For through her career-redefining Fun Home. While Are You My Mother? didn’t work as well as Bechdel’s other books, Superhuman Strength is a winner.

#SFWApro. Cover image for Batman by J. Winslow Mortimer, other covers by Bechdel, all rights remain with current holders.

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From Greenwich Village to Schmigadoon; movies and TV

I resumed working my way through Alfred Hitchcock’s films with one of my favorites, REAR WINDOW (1954). Jeff (Jimmy Stewart) is a globe-trotting news photographer who’s been stuck in his Greenwich Village apartment for weeks with a broken leg. In between visits from his girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly), a fashion entrepreneur, he passes the time vicariously watching the neighbors on the far side of the apartment-complex courtyard. A middle-aged couple with a pampered dog; the sexy dancer, “Miss Torso”; a sculptor; a couple of newlyweds; a struggling composer; quiet, desperate Miss Lonelyhearts; and a salesman (Raymond Burr) with an ill wife. When the wife disappears, Jeff becomes convinced the salesman murdered her. His cop buddy (Wendell Corey) scoffs; can Jeff, Lisa, and Jeff’s home nurse (Thelma Ritter) prove there’s been a killing?

This works well as a suspense thriller, but also as one of Hitchcock’s romances. Lisa and Jeff are clearly in love, but her business is in NYC; while he could do fashion and local news that’s not what he wants. He’s convinced himself she could never be comfortable traveling with him, there’s no point even trying to make it work — but events come to show she has the stuff of an adventurer in her.

It’s also the story of a small community, reminding me of another of the small town in another of my favorites, Shadow of a Doubt. There are multiple character arcs playing out before Stewart’s eyes, from the depressed Miss Lonelyhearts to Miss Torso fending off wolves (one theory touched on in the special features is that they represent various potential futures for Jeff and Lisa). While most analysis sees this as a film about voyeurism, the book Celluloid Skyline argues it’s about privacy: everyone is comfortable letting their neighbors around the courtyard peer into their lives in ways they wouldn’t be in front of a street-facing window (even Jeff is equally casual about what he lets people see). “That feminine intuition stuff sells women’s magazines but i real life it’s still a fairytale.”

By contrast TO CATCH A THIEF (1955) is pure fluff, though with a Riviera setting, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in the lead roles and Jessie Royce Landis as Kelly’s tart-tongued mother, it’s winning fluff. Grant is John “The Cat” Robie, a cat burglar who used his criminals kills for the resistance during WW II. That got him paroled from prison but after a series of burglaries following the Cat’s MO, the French cops are convinced he’s gone back to his old ways. Robie decides the only way to catch the Cat Mark II is to find his next target and intercept him. This brings him into contact with Jessie Stevens (Landis), a gem-dripping widow who thinks he’d make a great match for her daughter Frances (Kelly). Frances, however, knows who John is and sees herself as his partner in crime. Can Robie catch the thief? Can Frances catch her man? It reminds me in some ways of the rom-com thrillers Hitch did in the 1930s such as The 39 Steps, though not as well written. “From where I sit, it looks like you were conjugating some very irregular verbs.”

PEPPERMINT SODA (1977) is a French coming of age story in which two sisters in the 1960s deal with oppressive teachers, jerk boyfriends, Mom taking a lover, the stirrings of sex and a growing awareness of politics. I’ve been wanting to catch this since seeing the sequel, Cocktail Molotov, some years back; while nothing other films haven’t done, this film does it well.

THE CLAUDIA KISHI CLUB (2020) is a 17-minute Netflix documentary on why Asian Baby Sitter Club fans loved Claudia, not only for giving them some representation in the series, but non-stereotypical representation at that (“You’ve no idea how amazing it is for the Asian-American to be the cool one.”).

When I upgraded my iPhone last year I got three months of Apple TV free. I activated it for Come From Away, then went on to watch the first season of Ted Lasso. Ted (Jason Sudeikis) is an upbeat, folksy college football coach recruited to become coach for Richmond, a struggling British soccer team. He doesn’t know the owner, Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), hired him in the belief he’d fail: her ex loves the team and seeing it go down in defeat would hurt him (“I want Rupert sodomized with a splintered cricket bat. In and out, again and again.”). Can Ted handle cocksure players, perky girlfriends and local skepticism? The results are funny as hell, though I may postpone watching S2 rather than keep my subscription going.

At my brother’s recommendation I also caught the six-episode SCHMIGADOON! Josh and Melissa (Keegan-Michael Key, Cecily Strong) are two doctors who’ve been in a relationship for a year, but it’s fraying a little. On a hiking trip they stumble into the magical town of Schmigadoon, where people break out spontaneously into song and there’s no way to leave except in the company of your true love. Trouble is, when Josh and Melissa walk away from the town, it won’t let them leave — so does that mean their love’s no good? Can they find true love in town or are they trapped there forever? With a cast that includes Martin Short, Jane Krakowski and Kristen Chenoweth, this references musicals from Carousel to Sound of Music (“Yes, I’m totally a Nazi.”). Great fun though the cliffhanger ending makes me wonder what they have in mind if this makes it to S2. “This place has completely destroyed my concept of the structure of reality because that was a fricking leprechaun!”

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Second week of 2022: Progress and chaos

I came about four hours short of a full work week which is annoying. The trouble is, there are just too many unpredictable elements.

For instance Thursday I had to pick up prescription dog food after lunch, then find a gas station with diesel to fill up our almost empty car (under the assumption the winter storm this weekend might mess up supply). That took longer than planned because the diesel pump at the station we usually use was down, so I had to drive further.

Today, we took the dogs on a big lunch walk which used up some unplanned extra time, then Wisp came in, then I was chatting with TYG for a bit … and so lunch increased by an unexpected 45 minutes. As I’ve said before, there’s really no good place in my schedule to put the time back in and it adds up, day by day.

That said, the work I did get done was good and productive. I decided that Draft2Digital’s payment rate for hard-copy books was less than I liked (their ebook rates, by contrast, are excellent) so I tried KDP, Amazon’s publishing arm. This works out much less well than I remember from earlier books but it pays me more than Draft2Digital on a lower price.

Draft2Digital’s process, however, does provide an Amazon ready PDF but getting the system to handle my friend Kemp Ward’s cover proved remarkably difficult. I finally worked it out, though, and I’ve got a proof coming next week. Assuming no problems, both paperback and ebook will be available this month.

I finished another draft of Oh the Places You’ll Go. It’s very clunky but it does include all the elements I want and has (I think) a workable plot. Next week we’ll see what the writer’s group makes of it. I suspect the best solution to making it less clunky would be expanding it. I don’t want to go novel but maybe 15,000 words or so, about double the price? I think that would slow down the rate at which I share information and it will help explore the character relationships I think are the heart of the story. And it’ll give me time to work with the ending too — it’s kind of rushed right now.

Last week I found myself stymied by the next section of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. This week I saw how to get past that. There are things I don’t like — it takes Sarah off the board for longer than I wanted — but I think the revised plot holds together.

That was pretty much it. Oh, plus I’ve been posting at Atomic Junkshop: The past two weeks I’ve covered out-of-date satire, abandoning movie theaters, Batman’s con-man villains, and that bad Dunwich Horror cover I posted here Tuesday. Much less effective than the poster for the bad 1970 film.#SFWApro. Book cover by Kemp Ward, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

A fun goal to keep working on

One of the goals I’m trying for January is to read one book or watch one movie a day. Not literally, but an average. Thirty-one books and movies combined.

If it works, it will trim down my TBR pile, much of which comes from the library. I reserve the books I want but when I pick them up I invariably find a few more. After a while, it mounts up.

So far it’s gone well, though it doesn’t leave me as much time to read comic books as I like. And I’m not including the TPBs I read over time toward my book/film quota, so the latest Golden Age Batman Omnibus doesn’t count. I will see about tweaking that for February.

It has focused my mind so that I’ve managed seven books so far this month, ranging from the serious — Madness Rules the Hour, about Charleston in 1860 — to engaging fluff like Edmond Hamilton’s space opera Return to the Stars. And I make sure to arrange my weekends so I have plenty of time for movie watching. I resumed my Hitchcock viewing last weekend starting with one of my favorites, Rear Window.

It’s not that hard, of course, when we’re not going out much anyway. But it’s still surprising how much more reading and viewing I can squeeze in when I consciously commit to it.

#SFWApro. Cover image on the Batman book by J. Winslow Mortimer; all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Undead Sexist Cliche: Only women have agency

Over at Lawyers, Guns and Money they coined a phrase, “Murc’s law,” for a commenter who observed how often people arguing politics assume “only Democrats have agency.” On the extreme left it takes the form of “Obama could totally have made the ACA single-payer insurance if he’d wanted” and ignoring the opposition. On the right it’s endless variations of how this or that person doesn’t want to vote for Trump but they just have to because the Dems are so radical/socialist/communist. They have no choice! Tellingly, no conservative making these arguments ever suggests that Republicans should nominate someone more centrist to stop Democrats supporting A-OC (or whoever). Or Sen. Ron Johnson explaining he’s forced to break his pledge to serve only two terms because Democrats are evil.

It occurred to me that a lot of discussion makes the same assumption about women. Men are helpless creatures, subject to their primal drives; it’s up to women to rein them in.

For example, there’s the argument that men can’t help raping women, so it’s entirely women’s responsibility to avoid getting raped.

If young men aren’t achieving anything it’s women’s fault for having sex with them before marriage.

If boys become juvenile delinquents or homosexuals, it’s all the fault of the mother.

When men go on killing sprees, women make them do it.

Men can’t become grown-ups if they don’t settle down and get married, so if women don’t marry and have kids, men won’t grow up. As Echidne says, this works out much better for men — in the 1950s family so many of these arguments invoke, the mother had a shit-ton more work. Dad could put in his 9-to-5, come home and relax. Mom had to make him dinner, wash the dishes, put the kids to bed. “Honey do” tasks (as they used to be called) for the man of the house were lighter and a lot less frequent.

You can see some of that in the sitcoms so many right-wingers complain about. You know, the ones that show Mom has her shit together while dad is either a goof-off or a boob. Right-wingers love to blame this on feminism; a worldview where men get to slack off, duck their responsibilities and clown around knowing Mom will fix everything feels much more like a male fantasy. As the shutters Hathor Legacy blog put it, the message is not that men are idiots, it’s that”it’s okay to be a massive screw-up, because a woman will come along to fix it for you or take the blame.”

Likewise, when you have Republicans attracting men by playing on anxieties about not being manly enough, someone will complain that feminists (or at the link, liberals in general) are not offering men a better alternative. If men are feeling insecure about their manhood — and a lot of men do — and the right insists the solution is machismo and reasserting male dominance — then the left has to come up with a better narrative, one that reassures men.

As a political tactic, this makes a certain sense. But I can’t help thinking the left and feminists offer guys pretty much what the author at the link says they need, the freedom “to become sissies, scrawny historians or even women.” I suspect a lot of the guys listening to the right don’t want to hear this, they want to hear that they’re entitled to dominate women, to be the head of their household.

Saying they can break out of male stereotypes won’t be enough. Like the religious conservatives Kristin Kobes Du Mez writes about, they’re rejecting the alternatives; I think the right-wing Catholic young men profiled recently by The New Republic are in the same boat. If someone wants to make the case that feminists/liberals should launch a massive pitch, I want to hear what the winning strategy is, and how it works without compromising on equality. Otherwise, it’s just more hand-wringing about how liberals could totally win over the right wing if they’d just do … something unspecified.

Gender equality is justice. If men don’t like it, I don’t think that’s feminism’s fault.

Cover by Kemp Ward, all rights remain with current holders.

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Southern Discomfort: second round of feedback

So as I mentioned late last year, I got Southern Discomfort back from a second publisher, once again with feedback. The rejection letter emphasized it made it much father than the majority of submissions, and that they think it has “some merit” — just not right for them.

Pluses: Story is well done, characters are likable, I know my elf lore and add some good twists on it (I won’t go into detail on the specific twists).

Negatives:

•Events move along for reasons that don’t make sense.

•Maria isn’t likable. She lacks agency and is pulled along by other people’s actions.

•Gwalchmai’s motives are hard to follow.

•I put message before story.

•The racial subplot adds little and might distract readers.

•The dialog, like double negatives, didn’t work.

•FBI wouldn’t have carried semiautomatics.

The mixed: Worldbuilding is competent, dialog is competent, dialog moves smoothly, characters voices are distinctive but the whole is less interesting than the individual parts.

There is enough stuff there to think about that I’ll reread the book soon and see if I agree (it wouldn’t be the first time an editor’s been right). They’re definitely right about the semiautomatics — it would have been revolvers back then. Other comments are in conflict, which is the problem with any group review: my plot is competent/my plot doesn’t make sense; Gwalchmai’s compelling/Gwalchmai’s motivations are confusing. Doesn’t mean the negative comments are wrong though.

I don’t have a problem with the dialog — as someone who’s lived in the South much of his life I think it works.  The “message” comment puzzles me as I didn’t think I had one. I’m guessing it refers to the general exploration of race and politics in Pharisee, but that’s definitely something I’m keeping. That could also be the racial subplot or Maria passing as black but I think I’ll keep both.

The comments about Maria are fairly accurate, though I think I’m okay with how I’ve written her. I’d originally had her more heroic but I just couldn’t buy it — that required a very good reason and she doesn’t have one. I’ll keep the comments in mind (and the comments from my first round of feedback), but I don’t know that it’s fixable without changing Maria more than I want.

I appreciate the feedback — not as much as a sale, but a form letter would have been a lot easier.

To give this post some visual kick, here’s the chocolate chip chocolate muffins I made Sunday.

#SFWApro.

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Let’s start today’s post with a sad, bad cover

I mean, H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror is a classic of cosmic horror, right? Yet, the uncredited artist couldn’t do better than the bland image below?This next uncredited image at least looks more like a horror cover.Then we have Charles Binger whose cover does not, I think, capture the spirit of Huxley’s Brave New World.And doesn’t this Robert Gibson Jones 1951 cover look a lot like the Star Trek episode “Bread and Circuses?”#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Riffing on the Texas abortion ban (and other links)

As y’all know, Texas broke new anti-abortion ground by authorizing private citizens to sue anyone involved in an abortion, with a $10,000 reward for each bounty. Sondra Sotamayor has pointed out in her dissent that the Supreme Court refusing to intervene gives a green light to other schemes. As noted at the link, there have already been proposals along those lines.

For example, Typhoid Ron DeSantis wants to empower parents to sue school board for teaching critical race theory — which in practice will mean lawsuits over “you said racism is a problem in America!” File a few dozen and a lot of school boards will roll over and back off, I’m sure. Oklahoma allows parents who request a book ban to sue if it isn’t granted and, if they win, collect $10,000 for each day the book is on the shelves.

Which is, of course, just part of the renewed vigor with which right-wingers are fighting to ban books, even in public libraries. One woman quoted at the link says she wants to protect children, which is a nice way of saying she wants to decide what other parents’ kids can read at the library, not just her own. This also fits with the more militant right wing turning its eyes on vulnerable local politicians. And threatening federal elected officials, of course.

In Trump virus news, LGM notices America is shifting its approach from stopping the surge to coping with the casualties. But some Very Clever People insist that its liberals’ fault the anti-vaxxers are anti-vaxxing. And presumably for cutting the power of health officials — no covid restrictions! — to the point one city says it can’t fine restaurants for unsanitary conditions.

Some healthcare workers seem to be becoming increasingly militant anti-vaxxers.

Native American churchgoing teenage girls drop off a Christmas message at the local sheriff’s house. He pulls a gun on them.

One of the staple right-wing arguments for taking away women’s right to vote is that they vote too liberal. Right-wing racist law professor Amy Wax thinks the same should apply to Asians. Much stereotyping follows in defense of Wax’s argument against increased immigration.

I’m not at all surprised by Marjorie Taylor Greene being in favor of a second civil war. She won’t be risking her own neck to destroy the country and if it never happens, calling for it will cement her post-Congress career on OAN or Newsmax or wherever she ends up.

American attorney Alan Dershowitz has been accused of banging underage girls at Jeffrey Epstein’s parties. The BBC shouldn’t have had him comment on the Ghislaine Maxwell case without mentioning this.

For all the whines from the right about Biden wrecking the economy, job claims are at historic lows.

Several right-wingers informed me in 2020 that they voted Trump because Biden wasn’t strong enough to confront China. Turns out Trump’s relying on a shady Chinese firm as his new media venture’s partner.

Good news: a sheriff’s lieutenant who participated in the Jan. 6 riots has been fired.

More good news: Oklahoma’s governor challenged the Biden military vaccine mandate and lost in federal court.

Back to bad news: Several of this year’s school shootings were kids killing kids. Republicans still won’t support a bill mandating parents keep guns away from kids.

Lyndon McLeod, the recent Denver shooter/killer, had extremist views that are actually conventional Republican mainstream views.

Where is Typhoid Ron DeSantis? Of course by the time this post comes out, we may know.

Moscow Mitch calls for shredding what’s left of campaign finance law on the grounds it’s been so weakened, the remnants aren’t constitutional.

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