On a pale horse — no, it’s a white horse, but that wasn’t good either

Gotta say, if I were editing Revelation, I’d tell John that having a white horse and a pale horse makes it hard to distinguish the characters …

The bowman on the white horse is plague (at least in some interpretations) as in this image from the Cathedral de Agnani. The potluck we had a couple of weeks back apparently planted a seed in TYG, who spent this week with the 24-hour bug, only it lasted around 96 hours. I’ve been feeling draggy the past two days but nothing more than that’ hopefully it won’t get any worse.

But between extra dog walks, errands for TYG and feeling wiped out, I did not get much done. I did complete my quota of Leaf articles, so I made the money shot as it were. Southern Discomfort, though? I did get past the scene that blocked me last week, but not much further. We’re getting to the point where it’s mostly new material and it’ll take seriously harder rewriting to finish it. I suspect at this point I’m going to have to push my deadline back to October 31 instead of the end of September.

I spent a lot of yesterday lying around (in between helping TYG). and most of today lying around.  And I intend to spend much of the weekend lying around, though I will have some shopping to do (I think we’re running out of food for Wisp). Usually when I feel this exhausted, simply going inert and relaxing does the trick. It’s certainly preferable to the hacking TYG has been suffering.

Wish me luck. And TYG a swift recovery.

#SFWApro. Image is public domain, courtesy of wikimedia commons.

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And call the kitty .. Wisp!

Ever since we found the kittens in our compost bin, TYG has been putting out food for the momma cat, who’s still in the neighborhood. We’d talked about taking her to Independent Animal Rescue for neutering, and finally last week TYG saw her on the deck out back. She looked really skinny which touched TYG’s heart, so we decided to forge ahead and take her to last Sunday’s spay/neuter clinic (they do it two Sundays a month).

Friday we picked up a trap from my friend and fellow author Heather Fredericks, who volunteer with IAR. We set it out with tuna fish; early Saturday morning, when it was raining, I got up to check.

Got her! And put her under the deck for protection from the rain.

She was not happy. And had actually bloodied her nose pushing against the trap. Saturday morning, we got her to the volunteer vet. Tuesday we picked her up.

She’d been neutered, vaccinated, dewormed and deflea’ed. And her bloody nose had been treated. As she’s feral she can’t be adopted, so the best we can do is bring her back to her home turf. She sat in the trap, mewing plaintively until we opened it. Then she just sat in the trap.

As soon as we went indoors, she bolted. But she came back for the food, not that we saw her.

Given that she’s grey and hard to spot, I named her Wisp.  We’ll do our best to keep her fed, and we’re researching some sort of cat shelter we can put out for the winter months.

#SFWApro. Photos are mine.

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Caitlin Flanagan and Jordan Peterson; two bad tastes that taste bad together

Anti-feminist Caitlin Flanagan insists that sexism guru Jordan Peterson has the left terrified because he’s knocking our legs out from under us by shattering identity politics. Once you take the liberal fixation with identity politics off the table, “it was possible to talk about all kinds of things—religion, philosophy, history, myth—in a different way. They could have a direct experience with ideas, not one mediated by ideology.”

Like Laura Ingraham’s complaints about America, that’s sort of true. If you eliminate race and gender from the discussion of history and religion (as this slacktivist post notes), then we do talk about things in a different way. But it’ll be wrong.

Whether you’re male or female, black or white is massively woven with religion and history, with how they treat you and how you experience them. Even today, we have people who preach that blacks are cursed to inferiority by the sin of Ham, and that women are made by god to have no rights. Peterson’s take on this amounts to Big Whoop, Everyone’s Disadvantaged “Maybe you’re too short, or you’re not as beautiful as you could be, or, you know, your parent, your grandparent was a serf — likely, because almost everbody’s grand-, great-grandparent was. And you’re not as smart as you could be.” Oh, and maybe you’re Hispanic or black and you’ve suffered discrimination, can’t get your kids in a good school, lost a job, but it’s the same thing. Nobody’s got a perfect life.  The solution is the free market!: “We’re going to outsource it to the marketplace. You’re going to take your sorry pathetic being, and you’re gonna try to offer me something that maybe I want. And I’m going to take my sorry pathetic being, and I’m gonna say, “well, all things considered, as well as I can understand them, maybe I could give you this much money”, which is actually a promise for that thing. And you’ve packed all of your damn oppression into the price. And I packed all my oppression into the willingness to pay it. And that solution sucks. It’s a bad solution. But compared to every other solution – man, it’s why 10 percent of us have freedom”

As Flanagan says, Peterson reaches this nitwit conclusion by ignoring “identity politics.” If you ignore that it was perfectly legal when I was born to refuse to hire a woman, a black man, a Jew, to shut them out of the free market, to bar blacks from even spending money in the same stores and restaurants as white people yes, that’s seeing things in a different (though entirely unoriginal) way. But it’s wrong. It’s the same-old, same-old about how identity politics is bad, a ridiculous issue, rather than stuff — abortion, birth control, integration, equal rights — that has a massive effect on people.

And, of course, to assume that Peterson is somehow operating from a dispassionate, rationalist stance free of ideology when he glorifies male dominance is just nonsense. Or that Flanagan, a woman who hires a nanny then condemns feminists and working mothers for hiring nannies (see first link in post) is making an objective judgment. She despises feminists and working mothers and here’s a guy who doesn’t have any more use for them; is it surprising she fantasizes he’s going to end feminism?

Liberals don’t fear Peterson’s bad ideas. Speaking personally, I fear the number of people who will swallow them and advocate for them because there are always people willing to embrace the bullshit that white, male supremacy is both right and natural so discrimination is okay. That doesn’t make Peterson any righter. And it doesn’t mean he’s the antidote to identity politics; he embodies them.

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The Story Behind the Story: The Spider Strikes

The Spider Strikes is the third story in Atoms for Peace (available for purchase at Amazon in paperback and multiple retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble as an ebook). Like the others in the collection, I wrote it with an eye to setting things up for (the still-unfinished) Brains From Outer Space. Specifically, this would introduce Steve Flanagan, my primary protagonist, and introduce him to Gwen Montgomery who appeared in the initial story in the collection. It proved a lot of work, because there was a lot to introduce.

For one thing, in the two years since Atoms for Peace, Gwen’s becoming a science investigator for the Technology and Science Commission. The federal government has decided that to avoid the kind of mad-science research that figured in the first story (or in movies such as I Was a Teenage Werewolf or Fiend Without a Face), researchers must apply for a federal license. The TSC reviews them, deciding thumbs up or down. This can be based on potential risks (nuclear research is very unlikely to pass muster) or the character of the applicant (will they follow the rule). The guys behind the TSC (Senators Jack Kennedy and Richard Dorman pushed the bill that created it) realized that some researchers might just go ahead unlicensed, or start exceeding parameters once they got the license. Someone needed to investigate and prevent that, so the TSC suddenly acquired an investigating arm.

While I don’t go into a lot of detail, I had to explain the basics. And then there was Steve, whose backstory is a lot more complicated than Gwen’s or Dani Taylor’s. He and his brother Tommy grew up in a tenement, got taken away by social workers (this was largely accepted practice until decades later when it began affecting middle-class Americans) and raised in an orphanage (their parents, by the 1950s, are both dead). Tommy was a good, quiet kid; Steve pushed back against bullies, including the bullies on the staff. He got beat up a lot and went for  couple of short stays in reform school. After he realized the orphanage doctor was putting something bad in the shots he was giving the kids, he tried to smash all his equipment. That got him a long stay (what was in the injections? Well, that’s a key part of Brain).

Tommy got adopted by two Soviet agents who were caught working against the country. He disappeared. Steve, now all grown up, is determined to find him, somehow. While following up a trail in Philadelphia, he winds up helping Gwen against a killer robot spider. He doesn’t know it but his life path just changed …

One of the reasons Gwen recruits Steve to help her is that while some branches of Science Investigations allow women agents, they all insist on pairing them with men who can handle “the rough stuff.” Gwen is perfectly capable of handling trouble, but rules are rules; with her partner hospitalized early on, the only available alternative is a sexual harasser, so no. Telling her boss she’s found someone to handle the “rough stuff” so the harasser can stick to his current investigation solves that problem.

Throughout the book I’ve tried to acknowledge the sexism of the time without making it unpleasant to read. Hopefully I found the sweet spot (I feel better after reading  Robert Jackson Bennett’s argument that “realism” isn’t a good reason to show lots of rape).

*A minor alt.history point is my reference to the computer company Eckert-Mauchly. It’s named for the inventors who built ENIAC, the original computer, but wound up losing control and credit for their work. In this timeline they hung on to both. Philadelphia’s “Engineers’ Row” will wind up becoming the Silicon Valley of this timeline.

*A true history detail is the derogatory “slopie” for the North Koreans (Steve’s a Korean War vet). It occurred to me people might think it’s some kind of mutant, but no, just racist slang of the day.

#SFWApro. Cover by Zakaria Nada, rights are mine.

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Black Hammer and the ends of heroic ages

One of the Atomic Junkshop reviewers recommended Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston to me; as the library had V2, The Event, I picked it up. It was probably a better intro than the first volume, Secret Origins.

The premise of the series is that after an epic battle between Spiral City’s superheroes and the world-ending Anti-God, a half-dozen heroes — Black Hammer, Abe Slam, Golden Gail, Barbalien, Madame Dragonfly and Colonel Weird (all recognizable as pastiches — Black Hammer is a hybrid of Thor and the New Gods’ Orion, Barbalien is the Martian Manhunter and so forth) — wake up in the small village of Rockford. They can’t seem to leave (Black Hammer dies when he tries) and have to get along as best they can, posing as ordinary people. It’s particularly rough on Gail, a 50something woman now trapped in her nine-year-old superhero form. At the end of the first book Black Hammer’s daughter Lucy arrives, and some of what’s going on becomes obvious. In the second volume, The Event, we explore Rockford in more detail and things get more interesting. To date there’s also a spinoff, Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil, which looks at how Lucy wound up there.

Overall it’s a fun series, even if the riffing on established character types gets heavyhanded at times. But it got me thinking how often in the past two decades we’ve seen this sort of thing.

It started, as far as I remember, with Kingdom Come about 22 years ago. The Age of Heroes has become the Age of Super-Powered Showoffs Throwing Buses At Each Other (to paraphrase the creators); can the older heroes return in time to put things right.

Marvel’s Earth X and its sequels likewise showed the Marvel Universe sliding into its dotage. Then came Terra Obscura, a spinoff of Alan Moore’s Tom Strong in which a parallel world’s superheroes are freed from captivity after forty years and the world has to deal. Albion similarly assumes the superhumans and adventurers of British 1960s comics have all been locked away. Project Superpowers took many of the same characters as Terra Obscura, sealed away in Pandora’s Box in a misguided attempt to seal up evil (because they’re the hope that was also in the box). Now they’re out, facing a world that’s grown much worse without them. And there’s at least one more I don’t quite remember.

I’ve seen lots of other stories showing superheroes in the future, but without assuming a collapse of some sort; Gerry Conway’s Last Days of Animal Man, for instance, looks 10 or 15 years down the road, but assumes superheroes are still going strong. In the Spider-Girl series, everyone’s older, but the new Fantastic Five and the new Avengers are just as heroic as their predecessors. So Heroes in Decline isn’t automatic when writers look to tomorrow.

I suppose it could just be that everyone wants to knock off the critically acclaimed Kingdom Come. But I wonder if it also doesn’t reflect the aging of the superhero genre and its fans. It’s easy if you’re a long-time fan to feel the best years of the genre are behind you; Mark Waid and Alex Ross were quite upfront that Kingdom Come represented their take on 1990s superheroes and how they’d fallen from the Silver Age. It may also reflect, as Eric C. Flint puts it, that longtime fans want more than an entertaining story. They want metacommentary and deconstruction, and stories like these tend very much that way.

Regardless, Black Hammer is worth picking up. Though if I’d read V1 first, I don’t know I’d have been interested enough to try V2.

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

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Laura Ingraham pretends her words have no meaning

So Fox News’ Laura Ingraham went on a long rant about how “in some parts of the country it does seem like the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people and they’re changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like. From Virginia to California, we see stark examples of how radically in some ways the country has changed. Now, much of this is related to both illegal and in some cases legal immigration that of course progressives love.”

In a strange way, she’s right, just not the way she thinks. The America I know and love doesn’t exist in some parts of the country. The parts where they hate and fear Hispanics, adore Trump and desperately fear equality for non-whites. Sure, those parts have always been there, but at least when I was a teen we were lurching, in awkward baby steps, toward greater equality for all, back before the right-wing began pushing back in favor of white supremacy in the 1980s. Back then, while immigration had a lot of opposition, there was also pride that someone from a “shithole country” would want to come here and start fresh. When the Statue of Liberty was still “the mother of exiles.

Ingraham’s anti-immigrant screed (which also included bashing Ocasio-Cortez) got a thumbs-up from David Duke. Apparently being so blatantly racist didn’t suit whatever Ingraham’s target demographic is, so she promptly announced it had “nothing to do with race.” Nope, she was upset because “the rule of law, meaning secure borders, is something that used to bind our country together …, I made explicitly clear that my commentary had nothing to do with race or ethnicity, but rather a shared goal of keeping America safe and her citizens safe and prosperous.”

Um, no, talking about demographic change is about race. It’s nothing to do with secure borders, particularly when she cites legal immigration as part of the problem. This is a standard racist dog whistle, pretending they’re concerned about legal immigration rather than America having more Hispanics than they want. It’s why even though I don’t like illegal immigration I’ll never sign on with anti-immigrant groups. I’d be fine if we had the same number of people coming in legally; most of them wouldn’t. Likewise, I suspect the stuff about keeping America safe references the constant alt.right theme that white people need safe spaces, by which they mean anyone who isn’t them should be excluded from everywhere white people want to be.

Even if she wasn’t dog-whistling in her apology (“See, alt.righties, I’m still one of you!”) her apology is bullshit. What she said simply doesn’t mean what she claims it does. It’s roughly as convincing as Jordan Peterson explaining when he calls for enforced monogamy to solve the incel problem, he obviously didn’t mean we should enforce monogamy. Like Ingraham, I guess his career still depends on not being caught crossing certains lines.

 

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The Klan, divorce in America and the Sub-Mariner: books and graphic novels

THE SECOND COMING OF THE KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition by Linda Gordon is a history written in full awareness how much that Klan’s anti-immigrant, anti-semitic, anti-Catholic politics mirrors the current era, and how the Klansmen (and women) saw themselves as the Real Americans in contrast to their opponents (Jews being their biggest bogeyman). After the initial attempt to revive the Klan in the wake of Birth of a Nation flopped, a couple of PR whizzes (Elizabeth Tyler and Edward Young Clarke) bought the organization and took it national. Their trick was that along with politics they presented the KKK as a fraternal organization much like the Masons or the Elks (and it did have a lot in common with them), with the added plus that if members recruited new Klansmen, they got a commission (part of which was passed up the line). Tyler was the first of several prominent Klanswomen who found the organization a perfect outlet for ambitions as motivational speakers, organizers and businesswoman. Interesting, and depressingly familiar

When I was a tween, my impression from TV was that divorce was slightly edgy, disreputable and just not done by normal people. Ah, youth; DIVORCE: An American Tradition by Glenda Riley shows that the US was already divorcing at a much higher rate than Europeans, and had been doing so for years (the US allowed judicial divorce long before Great Britain did). Riley tracks the constant push and shove between those who wanted to make marriage eternal, those who thought an exit option was necessary, and those who thought marriage, not divorce, was the real problem (the whole “we don’t need a piece of paper to prove we love each other” of the 1960s had lots of precedent). This has lots of detail, some of it amusing, such as learning Indianapolis was once the quickie divorce capital of America (though the statistics don’t confirm the reputation). Interesting again

MARVEL MASTERWORKS: THE GOLDEN-AGE SUB-MARINER by Bill Everett and others was one I picked up on sale last year. While I’m not particularly a fan of Namor, there’s some fun to be had here; in one story, when Namor busts up a ring of radium thieves he keeps the rare element for use by his own people (not yet identified as Atlantean) rather than returning it. The backup, the Angel, is pretty fun too; the protagonist apparently has no secret identity, being the Angel full-time (not the only Golden-Age hero of whom that was true). Entertaining, but I doubt I’d have bought it at full-price.

#SFWApro. Art by Alex Schomburg, all rights remain with current holder.

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Atlantis, Doctor Mabuse and H.G. Wells: movies

UNDERSEA KINGDOM (1936) is one of the worst serials I’ve ever seen, despite being produced by Republic, the master of the genre (creator of Tiger Woman, for instance). It’s clearly modeled on the classic Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials: Unga Khan, evil tyrant of Atlantis, plots to destroy the surface world, so instead of Flash, Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov we have Lt. “Crash” Corrigan (Ray Corrigan), Professor Norton (who like Zarkov is forced to work for the villain) and reporter Diana. Unfortunately the acting is terrible (even Gene Autry in Phantom Empire did better); Corrigan, a physical fitness coach in Hollywood at the time clearly has no idea how to act (though they do show off his physique as much as possible), and the guy playing Unga Khan is equally stiff. Worse, the cliffhangers are terrible. In one, a tank smashes into the wall; in the next episode, the impact doesn’t happen. Crash’s plane is blasted by a missile, he’s buried under a toppling temple and caught in a rocket exhaust but in the following episode he just gets up unharmed. That’s Grade-Z stuff. “We’re trapped in a metal tower that is being brought to the surface of the ocean by a madman!”

THE LIVING CORPSES OF DOCTOR MABUSE (1970) is a British film (from Amicus, the British horror studio that isn’t Hammer) titled SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN when it was released in the UK, but Mabuse-ified to juice the German box office. The film switches between seemingly unrelated plotlines such as a jogger who keeps losing his limbs, a serial killer haunting the London disco scene, kindly doctor Vincent Price (spoiler: he’s not kindly!) and sinister goings on at a secret police HQ somewhere in Eastern Europe (East Germany in the source novel by Peter Saxon). Does it all fit together? Yes, and not in a happy way. Despite the poster, Cushing doesn’t appear with Price or Lee, and the latter two only have one scene together. That said, this is fun, like a lot of Amicus. Oh, Price’s character is the one turned into Mabuse for the German market. “In this instance, this license has been taken to an excessive and gruesome extreme.”

While I rewatched THINGS TO COME (1936) just a year ago, I picked up Criterion’s edition during Barnes & Noble’s DVD sale. This definitive version adds three minutes to the DVD I had (the original ran 130 minutes before the editors began cutting), telling the story of how World War II runs into the 1960s and reduces the world to barbarism, only to have an enlightened cadre of scientists and technicians rebuild it. A century later, it’s time to head out into space, but for some small minds the thought of such adventures reduces them to terror. What got me to pick this one up was that David Kalat (author of the definitive book on Dr. Mabuse) provides the commentary, detailing how H.G. Wells actively involved himself in this project, with a clear understanding it would be filmed his way (which it was, but Michael Korda reshaped it in the editing room). The film’s fixation on ideas over character or plot reflects that Wells really did fear what another world war would do, and this movie was his Western Union on how to prevent it. Wells also wanted the film to be the anti-Metropolis (too simplistic a view of the future!) but never captured or understood the power and drama of Fritz Lang’s film. Raymond Massey plays the voice of reason in three eras (“Our revolution didn’t abolish danger or death, it simply made danger and death worthwhile!”) while Ralph Richardson plays a warlord who doesn’t realize he’s already a dinosaur. Flawed, but I freely admit I’m a fan. “God, what is the use of trying to save this mad world?”

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Life came out swinging. I took a dive

So instead of a bad Friday, the entire week was a mess for writing I think by Wednesday I’d unconsciously thrown in the towel.

It didn’t help that the next section of Southern Discomfort needs serious changes. When I got to the second scene (a confrontation between Maria and FBI Agent Rachel Cohen) I realized Cohen’s actions didn’t make sense. I’m not sure what will work, which made it very easy to wander off mentally.

Monday, disruptions in TYG’s schedule led to me sitting up in bed in the early morning with the dogs. I’d intended to write, but they positioned themselves so there was nowhere to place the computer. I settled for research reading instead. And gave way and spent the whole day (other than my Leaf articles) finishing the book.

Tuesday, I’d had my second Alexander technique class. As noted at the link, the technique is supposed to counteract bad posture and body-tensing habits, like the ones that put such strain on my voice. Taking the class, then practicing the exercises at home definitely has a good effect, though I’m a long way from incorporating them into my everyday movements.

Wednesday I woke up from a very bad night of sleep. I also had to meet with an electrician for a light-repair job. He’s efficient, but I still lost some time. And dang, I was soooo tired. So I did some work, but not much (except, again, the Leaf. That’s the money stuff at the moment).

Thursday I had to go back to my eye doctor to check on my floaters. They have receded back to normal levels so I can relax — my retina’s not about to fall off. But I’d forgotten the checkup required dilating my eyes; I arrived home in no shape to stare at a screen. Instead I took a nap, then started cleaning (which I normally do on the day the dogs are in day care). And just kept cleaning: fridge shelves wiped, spices sorted, old stuff in the back corners of the closet thrown out (sun dried tomatoes from 2013!), storage containers tidied up. It was productive, but not the kind of productive I’d planned to do. But I just couldn’t drum up any enthusiasm for writing, even after my eyes recovered.

Plus the cat that gave birth in our compost bin is still hanging around, and so we’re going to get it spayed. Working out the details with a local clinic consumed some time, and today I left work early to pick up a cat trap. Now let’s just hope the cat actually goes into the trap (we’re baiting it with tuna).

With the rewrite blocked, I went back to some of the early Southern Discomfort chapters and read them aloud to make final corrections and word-choice edits. So far I haven’t found anything that needs more work.

Oh, and I put in more time than I should on a new post at Atomic Junkshop on what comic books were like on Earth-Two. Was there a Superman in comics in a world where he was also in the newspapers (spoiler: yes).

Ah well, occasionally slacking off won’t kill me. If anything, blowing stuff off once in a while is kind of liberating. But next week I’d better do better.

#SFWApro. Cover by Carmine Infantino, all rights remain with current holder.

 

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Strange Adventures for a Friday morning

Art by Murphy Anderson

The cover that started DC’s gorilla-cover trend. Art by J. Winslow Mortimer.

Art by Gil Kane

Murphy Anderson again. Trixie could totally handle saving the world.

Gil Kane on another gorilla cover.

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