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Shameless Self Promotion for Christmas!

Because it can’t hurt to encourage people to buy my books, right? So here they are, with some links.

Atlas Shagged, a collection of short stories.

Atoms for Peace, set in a world where 1950s SF films (alien invasions! Pod people! Giant bugs) are everyday reality.Sex For Dinner, Death for Breakfast, my book on the James Bond films.

Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan, on 20th century made-for-TV specfic films.

The Wizard of Oz Catalog on the Oz books/movies/radio plays/stage plays and comic books.Screen Enemies of the American Way, my look at political paranoia in American movies and TV.

And most recently, Now And Then We Time Travel.I should have two more self-published books out next year. So don’t delay, start collecting my works today! Get the entire set! Everyone on your block will think you’re cool (this statement is for promotional purposes and cannot be treated as a binding commitment by the author).

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

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Sherlock Holmes: “The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning.”

Once again it’s time for seeing how a Sherlock Holmes quote applies to writing. With this line from Sign of Four I think Holmes is letting his ego get in the way.

The quote was his review of Watson’s first published account of Holmes’ exploits, A Study in Scarlet. Holmes grumbles the story should have been little more than a true-crime monograph, showcasing Holmes’ deductive genius. Instead Watson drags in all those dramatic, emotional details to make an entertaining yarn, thereby muddying the sublimity of Holmes’ intellect.

Though supremely egotistical, Holmes was, of course, as brilliant as he thinks he is. But he’s dead wrong. It’s the emotional stuff in Watson’s stories that makes them stand out: his banter with Holmes, Holmes’ own arrogance, quirkiness and intense emotional drive, the plight of the clients at finding themselves inexplicably imperiled. The logical stuff is secondary. Jacques Futrelle’s Augustus Van Dusen, AKA “The Thinking Machine” was a titan of logic, but that’s all he is; he’s devoid of any of Holmes’ passion or personality. Futrelle’s mysteries are fun to read, but they don’t stick with me the way Doyles’ do. Neither do the excellent Dr. Thorndyke mysteries of R. Austin Freeman or the mediocre Martin Hewitt mysteries by Arthur Morrison (Hewitt and his sidekick are exceptionally bland).

That’s not to say that clear reasoning isn’t important. To write the best stories we can, we have to apply reasoning to the plot, the characters and the editing. Even if people’s reactions are irrational, they have to make sense. The ordinary character who confronts supernatural horror or tries to solve a mystery needs a very good reason for sticking their neck out. Nobody should do something stupid just because the plot needs it; I’ve seen more than one story where a careful, calculating villain becomes inept and ineffective when they have to kill the hero. Or the romance has no motivation beyond “they’re the protagonists, they should get together.”

But the emotional quality of the story probably hooks readers more than story logic. If we care about the characters, that’s a plus. Or if we don’t but the story makes us feel strongly anyway: Lovecraft’s protagonists aren’t particularly engaging, but his best work conveys a definite feeling of horror.

As for Holmes, it’s possible that underneath his indignant dismissal, he was happier with Watson’s work than he admits. Holmes usually let the detective on the case take credit in the papers; Watson’s stories must have been excellent publicity for Holmes’ business in the early years. Holmes periodically recommended one story or another as suitable for Watson to adapt. The stories undoubtedly grew Holmes’ legend (they had to be at least as popular in-story as in reality) and his ego could hardly have objected to that.

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

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Greece, quasi-countries and Anarky: books read

THE MASK OF CIRCE by Henry Kuttner and CL Moore (various sources ascribe it to one or the other alone) didn’t work for me as well as I expected. We open with protagonist Jay Seward telling a stranger (the framing sequence struck me as unnecessary) how he was mysteriously drawn back to ancient Greece or an alt.version of it due to his ancestral memories from his forefather, Jason (yes, the Jason). It seems Hecate and her priestess Circe trusted Jason to help defeat Apollo (a rogue AI created by the advanced science of these alt.Olympians) but the ever faithless adventurer fled instead. Now Jay has to come back and stop Apollo before he does very bad things …

While Apollo is impressively intimidating, the ancestral memory stuff gets really complicated, and Circe is wasted — even given it’s not classic Circe, I’d expect a priestess of Hecate to play a bigger role in the action than she did (and she’s not really a romantic lead either). Hs it’s moments but not enough of them.

INVISIBLE COUNTRIES: Journeys to the Edge of Nationhood by Joshua Keating is an interesting look at countries that hover awkwardly outside the standards of what makes a nation, including the Knights of Malta (recognized as a sovereign entity despite not having an actual territory of their own), Somaliland (a peaceful secessionist area within Somalia that’s tried and failed to gain recognition from other nations), Kurdistan, island nations looking at their territory disappearing as climate changes and various attempts by private citizens to start their own countries. Keating points out that since the wave of decolonization and Soviet collapse in the last century, there’s been little change to the roster of nations, largely due to existing nations’ preference for stasis (the U.S. may be willing to replace governments it doesn’t like, but we don’t like it when the borders get redrawn). While that means Somaliland and similar secessionist countries get the short end of the stick, Keating has no illusions that secession is automatically a good idea: there’s always some group who doesn’t like belonging to the state they’re in, and ethnostates usually exist because of blood and violence in their past. Extremely interesting.

ANARKY by Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle collects their brief attempt to turn Batman’s teenage genius adversary, Anarky, into the star of his own series (he got a miniseries of his own which I have yet to read). A teenage revolutionary and cynic, Anarky distrusts all authority, so sticking him in Washington dealing with corrupt politics and power brokers seems like a great fit. As I mentioned some years back, I like the idea of anti-authoritarian heroes who challenge the status quo but aren’t terrorists; that’s what prompted me to pick this up. And it does have some great moments, such as Anarky trying to convince R’as al Ghul to help people instead of scheming to commit mass murder.

But not enough moments. The first three issues are an uninspired cosmic adventure with Anarky battling a reality-warping monstrosity alongside the Justice League; I can understand wanting a solid guest cast for the opening issue, but it doesn’t fit where the series was heading, and it’s nowhere near as interesting. The final issue concerns Anarky’s fear his birth father is the Joker; that didn’t work for me either. That’s a lot of wasted space for a series that lasted only eight issues.

I still plan to get the collection of Anarky’s earlier adventures and see if that works better.

#SFWApro. Top cover by Michael Herring, bottom by Breyfogle.

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Sen. Thom Tillis, Tony Perkins: both a pair of tools

Loyal Trump toady Thom Tillis (one of my two senators) notified me by email (standard mass-mailing, it’s not like we chat) that he’s still backing a bill penalizing local governments that refuse to cooperate with ICE. Given that ICE is not above detaining American citizens or leaving children abandoned by arresting their parents without warning, I think refusal to cooperate with the agency is by far the lesser evil. But of course, I’m not a loyal enabler of white supremacy like Tillis (not that Senator #2, Richard Burr is any better).

Then we have right-wing Christian Tony Perkins who Christiansplains that the reason for all these mass shootings is we teach kids evolution, so they have no morals. Of course we’ve been teaching evolution for decades without that happening — and that’s a good thing. Evolution is a fact, a literal reading of Genesis’ creation story is not. And lots of Christians are okay with that: we know that God’s there whether he personally shaped us out of clay or not. Atheists and agnostics are generally moral people because morality does not require faith in God.

And it’s not like teaching Christianity or putting prayer back in schools would miraculously fix or woes. Some American Christians supported slavery and segregation. Many contemporary Christian conservatives are fine with hand-waving spouse abuse away. And Perkins has very loudly declared that he’s going to support Trump regardless of how immoral the president’s conduct is. He’s hardly in a position to lecture us on morality until he explains his own corruption — but I suspect he’d throw himself off a cliff first (he seems very much the type who loves being holier than thou).



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Let’s talk about God, and people who think they know what he wants

Creationism is … evolving. A look at how young earth creationists are expressing views that forty years earlier would have been considered heretical evolutionary concepts.

Even the devil can quote scripture to his purpose. That doesn’t mean he’s right.

The Anxious Bench blog discusses how after the end times and the Antichrist entered pop culture in the 1970s, films like The Omen reshaped the concept of the last days. And made the idea of Satanic, child-torturing cults seem perfectly believable (fake Satanist Mike Warnke was cited as a reliable source about Satanism in some of the later Satanic Panic trials). Fred Clark adds more. including a link to one massive miscarriage of justice.

Steve King’s argument against rape or incest exemptions for abortion: “What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled those people out that were products of rape and incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that?” Because, you know, it’s not possible those rape and incest victims might have had other babies if they weren’t raped, is it? Samantha Field points out his views, despite the phrasing, are commonplace: “King is not arguing pillaging and incest are intrinsically good, but God makes them good. Rape resulting in pregnancy, in King’s view, is theologically a blessing, it is the mechanism by which God makes “all things work together” and transforms a horrific, traumatizing event into a life-giving miracle. Needless to say, this theological thought process completely removes bodily autonomy, self-determination, and agency from consideration. What the pregnant person wants is irrelevant.”

Do white evangelicals like that Trump’s a bully?

A Colorado pastor running for the state house thinks women shouldn’t wear pants. Fred Clark discusses “culotte fundamentalism.”

How one Kentucky school district got around a requirement to post In God We Trust on the school walls.

As you may have heard, the Labor Department is considering allowing federal contractors to discriminate against gays, not only based on religious conviction but moral views.  Also if they’re straight but pregnant and unmarried.

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That was a neat trick

So last Sunday I settled into my usual place on our love seat, putting my hand on the arm of the seat to support myself. No big, I’ve done it lots of times.

Except this time my hand somehow slid out and over the arm and I fell, banging my side hard on the chair arm. It hurt! And continued to hurt for two or three days. I have no idea if I just put my hand wrong or flung myself into the seat too fast.

The second day I worried I’d busted something internally, but then it occurred to me that it only hurt when I moved. That made me think it was more a bruise to my muscles than my pancreas rupturing or whatever. And sure enough, the pain started to go down. So yay!

While I didn’t have to hit the Urgent Care, I’m going to illustrate this post by saluting comic-book doctors good—
—and evil.

#SFWApro. Covers by John F. Rosenberger (top) and Bob Kane (bottom).

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Paperback (and one pulp) cover for Tuesday

Not quite enough time to write an articulate post, so …

First, Powers.

And then Robert Gibson Jones

Powers again

A photographic cover by Paul Bacon.Powers!

And a nicely stylized cover, art uncredited.#SFWapro. All rights to cover images remain with current holders.

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Reader I married her

So last Tuesday was anniversary number eight for me and TYG. It seems we’ve made it past the seven-year itch without any trouble.

We had two dinners this year. Saturday we ate at Sage, which is one of our favorite restaurants. It is, however, enough of a drive that we’d sooner go there on a weekend than a weeknight. Tuesday we went out to Bocci, which is an Italian place within walking distance (though given the heat we didn’t walk). Both meals excellent.

The anniversary gift options are pottery and brass, but we didn’t really come up with anything good. I framed a copy of TYG’s high-school photo (the last one she has, so she wanted it protected), she bought us tickets to the North Carolina Zoo, which is what I’d asked for. Actually she bought us season tickets, so we don’t have to worry about her schedule derailing the day she bought tickets for. Smart wife!

And that was it. But it was enough.TYG is my amazing, intelligent, funny, remarkable angel and I love her to pieces.

Below a shot of me dressed for the wedding back in 2011 (TYG doesn’t want photos of herself posted, so I don’t).


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Cover Girls

It’s cover art time! The first one is surprisingly restrained for a 1950s paperback about adultery.

Here we have a cover that’s just a head shot but it works for me. It’s a Gothic romance so I’m guessing the handsome Baron isn’t a vampire, but I don’t know for sure.

One I first posted last year. The cover makes it look like a Gothic romance when it’s actually contemporary horror.

Bob Pepper does this eerie cover for a terrific book.

This one always fascinates me for the “you know what you’re getting, folks” cover copy.

Finally this cover for Jirel of Joiry perfectly captures a scene from the story Black God’s Kiss. I don’t know the artist.

#SFWApro. Art is uncredited except where noted otherwise.

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A poisoner, a dragon, a witch: books read

THE POISONER: The Life and Times of Victorian England’s Most Notorious Doctor by Stephen Bates recounts the story of the once infamous William Palmer, a Victorian medic put on trial for poisoning his best friend with strychnine and suspected of dozens more cases. Although Arthur Conan Doyle name-drops Palmer as a brilliant doctor and criminal in The Adventure of the Speckled Band, Bates shows that he was neither — more a desperate man, under water on his gambling debts, who resorted to poisoning a friend (and possibly a couple more people) to get money. Part of the public’s morbid fascination with the story was the use of strychnine, a new and hard to trace poison (up until the early 20th century, poison was close to undetectable), partly that Palmer was precisely the kind of dignified middle-class chap who ought to be above such behavior (as Black Swine in the Sewers of Hampstead discusses). Its cultural impact aside, like the shooting of Stanford White this former Crime of the Century isn’t that startling by today’s standards; Bates does a good job making it interesting even so, but the trial really bogs down in detail (as usual, I don’t blame him for getting into more detail than I was interested in).

I had the same reaction to the third volume of SAVAGE DRAGON ARCHIVES as I did to Savage Dragon: A New Beginning, that auteur Erik Larsen’s way too fond of recycling Jack Kirby to no purpose. This wastes a lot of space on New Gods/Thor-style deities engaging in Kirby-style conflicts and it all felt canned, with none of the passion Kirby showed for that kind of storytelling. On top of which, the sheer number of dramatic moments — Dragon’s dead! No, he’s alive in a new body! Now his Great Love is dead! Now someone else he loves is dead! OMG, he has a son! — and the lengthy exposition about past continuity made the whole thing feel like a parody, except parodies are actually funny (and if Larsen was trying for ironic meta-commentary, Astro City does that a lot better)

IT TAKES A WITCH: A Wishcraft Mystery by Heather Blake didn’t work for me at all, but I guess that’s not surprising: I’m not particularly a cozy mystery fan and I’m not a fan of complicated magic systems. And this book is full of multiple magical paths, each with its own elaborate rules (it feels very much like D&D specialists or subclasses); the protagonist is a “wishcrafter” who can grant wishes but only if they meet a variety of rules (no killing people, the wish must be sincere, you can’t grant another mage’s wishes — and you can’t tell anyone you’re a witch or you lose your powers). The first couple of chapters are very info-dumpy and the protagonist’s attraction to a studly cop felt canned (I will discuss this more in a later post). That said, this has become a successful cozy series so obviously a lot of people who are not me like it.

Finally, if anyone wants to click over to Atomic Junkshop, I reviewed the Joker’s 1975 solo series, recently TPB-ed as JOKER: Clown Prince of Crime.

#SFWApro. Top cover by Erik Larsen, bottom by Dick Giordano.

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