A queen and a winged wonder: books read

THE TRUE QUEEN: A Sorcerer to the Crown Novel by Zen Cho is an excellent follow-up to Sorcerer to the Crown, surprisingly going in different directions. Amnesiac twins in Malaysia, one magical and one not, discover one of them is being eaten away by a curse; they flee through the spirit world to England to hunt the cause, only for the magical sister to disappear in transit. Her sister Muna arrives at Prunella Wythe’s academy for female wizards (a new and still controversial development) where she has to find a way to bring her sister back while getting caught up in the “magiciennes” conflicts both small (arranged marriage!) and large (war with the queen of Faerie). Everything worked and it had none of the problems that bothered me about the first novel.

THE HAWKMAN COMPANION by Doug Zawisza is one of the worst-edited TwoMorrows books I’ve read (“inspired by the tenants on which America was built,” for instance ) and occasional streaks of pretension, but it’s still an excellent guide to Hawkman’s history and how badly mangled it’s become over the past three decades (repeated reboots and twists warping the Silver Age Earth-One Winged Wonder’s backstory beyond belief). It’s also a good look at the problems of editorial mismanagement: Tony Isabella’s successful Hawkman reboot in the early 1980s tanked after his new editor told him to wrap up the planned multi-year arc in a couple of issues while William Messner-Loebs’ run suffered from editorial trying to rip off Image’s style (by which logic nineteen pages of action and one page of thought was too slow-paced). It’s also curious that while most of the interviewees are fond of the Silver Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl (married cops from the planet Thanagar) and the fact they were such a great couple, the Golden Age reincarnated Egyptian prince has been the only Hawkman since the 1990s, and the Hawks haven’t been married since the mid-1980s. I doubt things have improved with whatever version of Hawkman is operating in the New 52. Despite the editing flaws, a thorough job, as I expect from TwoMorrows.

#SFWApro. Cover by Murphy Anderson, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Two Western series, rewatched in full

KUNG FU‘s ratings slipped during S2 which gives me the feeling the show-runners were putting some extra effort into S3 (though it didn’t help). We have several episodes set entirely in China (Besieged and The Devil’s Champion) and some where Caine’s facing unambiguously supernatural forces (The Devil’s Champion again, one that absolutely fascinated me as a kid). There’s also the introduction of a running foe, a cult of Chinese assassins dedicated to hunting Caine down for killing the emperor’s son.Most importantly, we get the resolution to Caine’s quest as he tracks down his brother Danny (and Danny’s son), and gets embroiled in that ne’er do well’s feud with gambling czar Leslie Nielsen (the kind of serious role he was known for before Police Squad! established him as a comedian). I felt a little disappointed Caine just left his family behind to go on wandering, though it’s not out of character (as the episode Thief of Chendo shows, being a wandering defender of the helpless was what he dreamed of as a kid in the monastery. A good finish to a good series (unless, as I’ve noted before, you find the yellowface aspect a dealbreaker); followed by a good movie in 1986 (I plan to rewatch that one eventually) and a forgettable present day-set series, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. “Both roads, the right and the left, must have an end — and when you reach that end, you will know your destiny.”

The fourth and final season of WILD, WILD WEST picks up from the disappointing S3, though it still isn’t up to the first two years. The good episodes are really good, including Night of the Avaricious Actuary, the Phantom of the Opera riff Night of the Diva and the very Sherlockian Night of the Bleak Island but there’s way too many bland episodes as well. There are, as usual, some good guest villains, including Harold Gould in Avaricious Actuay and Jo Van Fleet in Night of the Tycoons.

There’s not much Artemus: Ross Martin had a heart attack midway through shooting (there was serious fear he’d die or be too weak to keep performing) so the show fills in with several Artemus substitutes, most frequently Charles Aidman as Jeremy Pike. They only show that Ross Martin brought something to the role that his pinch-hitters didn’t have (my favorite is probably Alan Hale Jr. in Night of the Sabatini Death, which ends with a Gilligan’s Island joke). There’s only one Michael Dunn appearance, in The Night of Miguelito’s Revenge. I suspect Tycho, the mastermind in Night of the Raven was a possible replacement if the series had gotten to S5 (super-genius, world-beating ambitions, physically peculiar — in his case, a giant head stuffed with brains).

Minor changes include that Jim smokes cigars frequently (I don’t remember that as much in earlier seasons) and there are a lot more black faces — minor roles, but it seems like a lot more episodes than previous seasons have black bartenders, dance-hall girls or government messengers. One change that had me scratching my head is that they de-emphasize the eye candy aspect, which has been part of the series since the sexist first season (and was normal for most action/adventure shows back in those days). Some episodes (e.g. Night of the Janus) have no pretty girl at all — not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s a surprising choice.

This show had two sequels that were also pilots for a reboot series, More Wild, Wild West and Wild, Wild, West Revisited. As my DVD set of the series includes them, I’ll have them for review soon. And I shall probably watch the widely panned big-screen version with Will Smith, Kevin Kline and Kenneth Brannagh soon enough.

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

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One of those “why isn’t everything finished yet?” weeks

Productive, yes. But I want to see stuff completed!

I finished the current draft of Undead Sexist Cliches, which was an accomplishment. But then I immediately jumped to adding stuff from some of the PDFs I have on my computer, mostly law journal articles about rape law. This will improve the book, but it’s slow going because there’s a lot of information (at some point I may discover I have too much material and have to prune back the text). So I don’t feel I’ve gone much further, even though wrapping up the last draft was.

I have finished writing the proposal for my next McFarland book (assuming they accept it), but I didn’t finish it. I have to open my old computer, convert it into word, check for spelling and polish it up before I send it off. I’ll get it done next week for sure, but it would have been nice to send it out this week.

I sent off one of my previously published short stories, Leave the World to Darkness to a new market that takes reprints. A Famine Where Abundance Lies came back last weekend, but I haven’t found a new market yet.

Fiction just kind of flatlined. I worked on my Tarot in Hollywood story (still untitled) but when I reached the point where I really needed to take it in a new direction, I just blanked. I have ideas where it can go but I couldn’t seem to translate them to the printed page.

And sitting with the dogs is becoming even more distracting than usual. Plushie seems to delight in squirming in my lap in ways that put me in increasingly awkward, uncomfortable positions, which does not sharpen my focus (I had to give up on one Leaf article today because I was feeling that out of balance) I can’t quite bring myself to deny the dogs snuggling opportunities (and it would be a lot of effort to keep them away), but I really need to think of some sort of solution. More, shorter breaks so I’m not sitting there quite so long, maybe?

I did put up a new post at Atomic Junkshop on loving characters vs. particular incarnations of characters. And last week, though I forgot to mention it, I contributed to a round table post about geek stuff we don’t get. Mine was mostly on the sheer amount of geek stuff out there now, and how my knowledge only encompasses a small slice of it, and it’s getting steadily smaller; I have no intention of paying for Disney streaming, so I’m going to miss all the various MCU shows they have planned.

So that was my week. I’ll wrap it up with one of my favorite Hawkman covers, by Murphy Anderson.

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

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

Trixie then, Trixie now

So going through some old dog paperwork I found our early release forms for Trixie and Plushie, including a photo Animal Protection Society of Durham took of her.

I honestly didn’t remember her looking so sad and miserable and skinny — only five pounds at the time (she was eight months old). Which is not a reflection on the shelter — she was a stray and she’d only been there a few days when we filed to adopt.

Even after we got her home, she was very scruffy.

Now though?

Happy and safe and loved. Nine and half pounds, occasionally more if we don’t watch portions and treats. I’m so glad she has a happy home with us, and it’s a happier home because of her and Plushie.

My little love.

#SFWApro. Top photo by Animal Protection Society of Durham, rest are mine.

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Trump’s war against Google and other political links

The Justice Department is looking at anti-trust action against Facebook, Google and Amazon. If this were part of a general pushback against monopoly and market consolidation, that would be great; however I’m sure it’s political. Amazon because Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post and Trump doesn’t like anything but adulation from the media. Google doesn’t turn up what some conservatives think are the correct results in searches — i.e., not enough right-wing bullshit — and Facebook is maybe slightly less keen on letting blatantly false narratives circulate. So, I’m cynical. Plus I know from years of watching the right that they can turn on a dime from complaints about how companies should be neutral to demands they suppress liberal speech.

Ditto Republican Senator Josh Hawley’s call to legally restrict our time on a given social network to 30 minutes a day (we’d have to formally request the network allow us more). I’m sure in other circumstances he’ll assure us that he wants government to stay out of our lives.

Trump shows a complete lack of empathy dealing with an orphan of the El Paso shooting.

Over in Ohio, police are investigating whether the explosion that destroyed an interracial couple’s home (with swastika graffiti left behind) was a hate crime.

What is it with this administration? Now they’re greenlighting the use of cyanide-spraying spring-triggered traps for wildlife. Yeah, no way that could go bad.

Billionaire Peter Thiel doesn’t like democracy, but he does like Trump.

Paul Krugman: The Republican Party “remains in lock step behind a man who has arguably done more to promote racial violence than any American since Nathan Bedford Forrest, who helped found the Ku Klux Klan, a terrorist organization if there ever was one — and who was recently honored by the Republican governor of Tennessee.” A look at how Republicans consider white terrorism a fair trade for tax cuts.

I despise a lot of what right-wing pundit Matt Walsh says, but I give him credit for calling a swastika a swastika (so to speak). Fred Clark wishes reporters would do the same instead of trying not to call Trump racist (“To account for his words and behavior with any other explanation requires a great deal of wildly implausible speculation that requires one to ignore most of what one is seeing while dreaming up a host of additional, “secret” facts for which no actual evidence exists. Either what Beto and Beutler say is true, in other words, or you must be willing to leap through the looking glass into the crackpot realm of conspiracy nuttery like QAnon.”)

He’s not trying to excuse white terrorism, gosh no, it’s just “eventually you just run out of options. You read this manifesto, you read what is said in here, and it’s an act of desperation. It says, ‘What else are we supposed to do?’”

Don’t blame Trump for racist shootings, it’s liberal racism’s fault!

Speaking of racist shootings, police keep their cool around a heavily armed white guy much better than unarmed black kids.

Individual donations to Trump’s campaign are a matter of public record. But Republicans are shocked and appalled that they’re being publicized. Isn’t the act of naming them an incitement to violence (I’d say an invitation to contempt and scorn, yes, violence no).

Republicans are also shocked that an upcoming movie shows wealthy elites hunting rural conservatives, even though they have no reason to think the movie makes the conservatives the bad guys (and as noted in comments at the link, right-wing “liberal hunting permits” have been around a while). As Snopes says, “it should be obvious to any mature consumer of culture that a movie that portrays wealthy psychopaths paying to hunt and kill other human beings is not likely to reflect well on the wealthy psychopaths.”


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“The Amazing Amazon as you’ve seen her before!”

That’s how Trina Robbins and Kurt Busiek described their four-issue mini, The Legend of Wonder Woman which came out immediately following the end of WW’s series in 1986. Despite the “never” on the cover, this was a deliberate call back to the Golden Age Wonder Woman: her villains, the style of art (Robbins, who co-plotted, does a great H.G. Peters). And what Robbins describes as the key to her appeal to girls back then: “a superior female character who had … trips to fantastic lost kingdoms and meetings with beautiful (and often evil) queens and empresses.”

At the same time, it has a lot of the visuals associated with the modern Wonder Woman (i.e., the one who starred in the book from the Silver Age through 1986) such as her chest emblem being a modified WW rather than an American eagle.

As Busiek put it in one of the text pages, the post-Crisis universe erased both the Earth-One and Earth-Two Wonder Women from continuity, so they were free for those four issues to ignore the little details.

The story starts after Diana’s death in Crisis on Infinite Earths (following the original proposal to make her a statue; apparently turning her back into clay was a last-minute switch). With the Amazons dispirited, Hippolyta (the blonde Earth-One version) uses the time-scanning magic sphere to recall one of Wonder Woman’s adventures. Atomia, the tyrant of a subatomic universe, appears and attacks Paradise Island and the world with her nuclear based powers and warriors. The Amazons and Steve Trevor are kidnapped and turned into slaves in the process. Caught up in all this is Suzie, a pre-teen girl Wonder Woman wound up babysitting. Suzie is a restless, spoiled child who’s torn between Atomia, who lets her do whatever she wands and then some, and Wonder Woman. Ultimately, of course, she chooses the side of good (it’s nicer!) and helps WW and Steve win.

After telling the tale, Hippolyta discovers not only are the Amazons not inspired, they’re confused: there’s never been a child on Paradise Island. Athena? reveals she’s been holding off the reality-altering effects of the Crisis but now they’re sweeping in. The Amazons are erased, but Athena promises something awesome will rise …

I didn’t care much for the story when I first read it, but I liked it a lot more this time, possibly because I’ve grown fonder of the Golden Age Wonder Woman in the years since first reading. This may explain why I found myself thinking “for a Golden Age tribute, shouldn’t there be more bondage?” Though we did get the cover of #3. The tribute still didn’t match the level of the last few years of the regular comic, but I did enjoy it, and it does catch a lot of the Golden Age feel. Suzie was Busiek’s creation but became Robbins’ surrogate, the girl having the adventures with Princess Diana Robbins would have loved to experience at that age.

Despite DC playing up Jodi Picoult as one of the first women to write Wonder Woman, women have been scripting her since 1945: William Marston’s secretary Joye Murchison, Dani Thomas co-writing with her husband Roy and Mindi Newell write before Wonder Woman ended (I believe there may have been some other uncredited female writers over the years). That’s still a small list but “one of the few” would have been a more accurate phrasing.

Following the finish of Legends of Wonder Woman came the George Perez-helmed reboot. I’ll be back in a few weeks when I review the initial six-issue arc.

#SFWApro. Covers by Trina Robbins, all rights remain with current holder.

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Once again, science links and science-fiction comics covers

Trump thinks Google is working for the Chinese government, based on the ironclad evidence of a discussion on Fox News.

An astronomer faked a video claiming a government cover-up of our imminent destruction by a rogue planet. People believed it.

With antibiotics losing their punch, are bacteria-targeting viruses a viable alternative?

I don’t want to contradict an obvious expert but I don’t believe country music actually changes listeners DNA.

Does the Superhuman email client software have a dark side?


Holy shit, tardigrades have landed on the moon?

What happens when a tectonic plate dies?


Baking bread with 4,500 year old yeast. I soooo want to do this now.

Changes in singing styles are why stars such as Adele keep losing their voice.

Debates in the medical world over whether the New England Journal of Medicine is on the wrong track.

Can genetic engineering save the American chestnut tree?

Has Sweden perfected recycling?

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Bob Brown, Dick Dillin, Bob Brown, Lou Cameron, Ruben Moreira and Brown again, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Trump voters hate being called racist. This is not surprising

In yet another “let’s see what Trump voters are like” article, we learn that while they openly despise Muslims, they are very, very angry that people call them racist. This seems to surprise some people, though I’ve seen articles pointing this out for at least a couple of years.

And beyond that, it’s par for the course. As I mentioned back in 2013, a lot of conservatives hate liberals criticizing them. They have the right to say liberals hate America (and are outright traitors), that homosexuals are pedophiles, that women who use birth control are sluts, that blacks are stupid and Muslims are terrorist. But criticizing conservatives for those views? That’s thought policing! Political correctness! Don’t we realize they are holier than thou? They are entitled to punch down, we are not entitled to punch back! So it’s hardly surprising they still resent being criticized for their views, or for supporting the president (as John Scalzi said, not all Trump supporters are white supremacists, but they’re willing to live with it).

Some of them may just resent the criticism. Some of them may have convinced themselves that they really aren’t racist, like a friend of mine who doesn’t like the way immigrants are treated in the new concentration camps, but it’s Their Fault — they didn’t have to come here! Like the Shirley Exemption, she can tell herself that she’s not really supporting locking children in cage and denying them necessities, even though she is.

It doesn’t help that Fox News imagines Bad People of Color where they don’t exist. And less conservative publications are willing to express racist sentiment, just blaming it on other people. And of course, the belief nonwhites are unfit for equality is deep-rooted.

In other links:

A reporter asks Sen. Rand Paul why he opposes the bill funding health care for 9/11 first responders. Paul’s response: I talked to Fox News, go away!

“One hundred thirty-nine years since Reconstruction, and half a century since the tail end of the civil-rights movement, a majority of white voters backed a candidate who explicitly pledged to use the power of the state against people of color and religious minorities, and stood by him as that pledge has been among the few to survive the first year of his presidency.” And even many anti-Trump conservatives like that part of Trumpism.

The Trump administration has issued rules allowing nursing homes to force residents and their families into arbitration over disputes instead of suing (arbitration works way better for corporations), even when the issue is neglect or elder-care abuse. Oh, Trump also wants to monitor disabled people’s social media to see if they look too abled.

Florida man shoots and kills man for texting in a movie. Here’s the update, several years later.

“If Donald Trump has a theory of anything, it is a theory of American citizenship. It’s simple. If you are white, then regardless of origin, you have a legitimate claim to American citizenship and everything that comes with it. If you are not, then you don’t.”

The Trump administration has amended the birth-control coverage requirement so that employers with moral but not religious objections can refuse coverage. At this point, a court has blocked it; we’ll see what the Supremes do. It’s important to remember that the administration is just as much male supremacist as it is white supremacist.

Fake documentaries do their own kind of damage to our ability to tell true from false.

It’s not a religion, it’s”a Political system, despotic in its organization, anti-democratic and anti-republican, cannot therefore coexist with American republicanism.” That’s what some said in the 19th century about Catholicism.

David French is upset the current Democratic candidates are criticizing past Democratic leaders. More mainstream pundits are worried that the candidates’ policies are too liberal, except for Marianne Williamson.

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Egypt, France and the Solar System: books read

THE HAUNTING OF TRAM CAR 015 by P. Djeli Clark shows why libraries are wonderful: at $15 for a paperback novella, I’d never have bought it for myself, and so I’d have missed a first-rate story.

The setting is 20th century Egypt in an alternate history triggered when an Islamic mystic opened a gateway and let magic and the djinn back into the world. While Egypt isn’t the only nation affected, Cairo was ground zero, giving Egypt a head start; the nation threw off Western imperialism and is now one of the world’s great powers.The protagonists are detectives working for the government body dealing with supernatural threats; when one of the city’s elevated tram cars becomes possessed, they have to figure out by what, and how to get rid of it. Which proves, of course, more complicated than expected.

Clark has a great setting with lots of convincing detail (at least to someone who doesn’t know Egypt well) and he tells a good story. As he apparently has other novellas out, I look forward to when they all come out in an anthology down the road (it’ll be a lot more cost-effective to buy this one then).

ELEANOR AND THE EGRET: Taking Flight by John Layman and Sam Kieth is a really oddball France-set graphic novel. Eleanor is an artist, mysteriously blocked in her painting, working with a talking egret to steal paintings by the celebrated Anastasia Rue. Which the egret then feeds on. Det. Belanger is the cop on the case, trying to figure out the who and the why behind the thefts and finding himself quite charmed by this young lady, Eleanor, that he’s met. Rue, however, is not at all delighted … Goofy and charming, I really liked this one (a lot more than Layman’s Chew).

Rereading NORTHWEST SMITH by C.L. Moore was a frustrating experience, and not just because it omits Moore’s crossover between space mercenary Smith and her sword-and-sorcery warrior Jirel (my Jirel of Joiry collection doesn’t have it either). The stories are solidly in that pulp style I love so much, but read collectively, they’re too much alike — almost half of them follow the structure of the first, Shambleau, in having Smith deal with some exotically alien Bad Girl who wants to suck out his soul.  Smith himself is surprisingly ineffective as a protagonist; while Moore reminds us he’s tough, he’s usually helpless in the grip of paranormal forces so someone else, such as his sidekick Yarol, has to save the day. He’s also a lot nastier than I remember — he grumbles a lot about working for slavers in one story, but money’s tight so he goes ahead and does it. The stories still work, but in hindsight I’d have enjoyed them better if I’d slowed down the reading to maybe one story every couple of days, interspersed with other things.

#SFWApro. Cover by Stephen Martiniere, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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A projectionist, Miss Marple and a frog princess: movies viewed

THE STARS’ CARAVAN (2000) is a documentary about a film projectionist in Kyrgizstan, doing his best to travel and show movies for nomads and village residents despite the cuts in government support in the post-Soviet era. The loss of support also led to an increase in foreign action movies rather than propaganda, which made me think this would double-bill well with Chuck Norris vs Communism. Interesting, but not hugely interesting. “This is an important shepherd, a hero of socialism, and his family.”

MURDER AHOY! (1964) was Margaret Rutherford’s second Miss Marple film (following Murder, She Said) in which she inherits a position on a local charity’s trustee board just in time to see one of the other trustees drop dead before he could make a Big Reveal. As Inspector Craddock of course refuses to believe Marple’s theory the man was murdered with poisoned snuff, it’s up to her and Mr. Stringer to investigate the old sailing vessel the charity uses as a training camp for wayward youth. Good fun, though even further from Christie than its predecessor. “I cannot ignore the death of Nelson!”

As Disney’s first black princess, the hardworking waitress Tiana really deserved a better movie than THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (2009). It’s N’Orleans in the 1920s and while Tiana sweats away to save enough money for her own restaurant, jazz-loving Prince Naveen is in town to party and land a rich wife (a white one, in fact — the movie just ignores all racial issues). After the sinister Shadow Man (who also deserves a better movie) turns Naveen into a frog and Naveen’s servant into the prince, Tiana tries curing him, but only winds up a frog herself.

Which is where the movie tanked, because it turns into stock funny-animal adventures with a jazz-loving gator and a lovesmitten firefly as supporting casts. On top of which, the romance felt completely unconvincing (plus it’s that annoying trope of the woman who’s too focused on her job to have a love life).  So thumbs down for me. “It’s the first rule of the bayou — never take directions from an alligator.”

That said, Princess Weekes of The Mary Sue explains why as a black woman she still loves princesses. More from Weekes about Tiana here, and another blogger looks at how prince characters have changed.

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