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Simon Templar, Jesus and Batman! Books read

THE SAINT: A Complete History in Print, Radio, Film and Television 1928-1992 by Burl Barer looks at the career of Simon “The Saint” Templar, gentleman adventurer, troubleshooter and “Robin Hood of modern crime,” a man who took down criminals the law couldn’t catch while also using their loot to cushion his bank account. Barer tracks the Saint’s growth from the early 1930s novels to international popularity and an expansion into movies, radio, comic strips, hardback reprints, TV and mystery magazines. He parallels this with a look at creator Leslie Charteris’ career, which came to focus entirely around the Saint after The Saint In New York became a best-seller. Unlike many authors, Charteris was quite protective of Simon Templar in other media, aggressively complaining if he thought their treatment hurt the brand. He also worried surprisingly about whether Simon’s age as the series progressed made his adventures ridiculous; I just accept that kind of agelessness as a gift of the fictional gods.

The book ends right as work on the 1997 Val Kilmer Saint film was beginning which left Barer optimistic it would launch a whole new franchise. Instead it tanked, and I suspect Simon Templar is very much now a “dad hero” in the sense that while he was huge for my generation (particularly when Roger Moore played him on TV), I doubt he means anything for Gen X, Y, etc., any more than the characters referenced in Clubland Heroes mean to me. Damn, I’m old.

ZEALOT: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan acknowledges in the introduction that trying to capture a historical image of Jesus isn’t really possible, then blithely asserts that he’s done it anyway. Aslan’s version is that Jesus was one of the countless Jewish Messiahs out to free Palestine from the yoke of Rome with the help of Jehovah: he came to bring not peace but a sword (Aslan concludes Jesus gentler admonitions were all meant for Jews on how to deal with each other, not outsiders). This is no worse than most other biographies of this sort I’ve read, but no better; Aslan suffers the usual dilemma of having to separate the parts of the Gospels imposed on Jesus’ life by later Christians with the ones that capture authentic history, and his unsurprising conclusion is that whatever fits his thesis is historical.

THE GOLDEN-AGE BATMAN Vol. 6 pretty much continues the style and spirit of the previous volume which despite the increasing number of time-travel stories is, I think a good thing. We have more Joker and Penguin, the introduction of the Riddler and less well remembered villains such as the Gong and the Pied Piper (not the Flash foe, a criminal who uses pipes as an MO). There’s also the debut of Vicki Vale: having only known her as a rather annoying Lois Lane-clone who was either trying to marry Batman or unmask him (Lois at her best was much better than that) it was quite a surprise to see her in her first story as a determined photojournalist with no qualms about taking a risk to get the right photo. Among the standout stories are “The Case of the 48 Jokers” for how Batman and Robin wrap it up by playing practical jokes on the Joker, and “The Man With the Fatal Hands,” a clever riff on the old Hands of Orlac horror plot. I’ve already started volume #7.

#SFWApro. Batman cover by Dick Sprang; all rights to both cover images remain with current holders.

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Trixie in a clothes basket

Due to her leg injury, we’ve been carrying Trixie downstairs in the morning. Thursday TYG did it in a laundry basket.Trixie is actually doing much better this week. She’s willing to pee and poop despite the strain it puts on her leg and she’s eagerly walking as far as we’ll let her. When TYG gets home in the evening, Trixie is excited and eager to play, though we’re careful there too about not letting her over-exert herself. I’m starting to hope surgery won’t be necessary, but we’ll see. Next appointment is in a little over two weeks. By then we’ll have some doggy PT under our belts, both at the vet and at home.

The best part is Trixie being so happy again. She’s such a lively little dog that when she was just quiet and listless the first couple of days, it felt awful.

It’s still disrupting our schedule — taking them out separately when I’m home alone takes more time (the shorter walks balance that out) and we haven’t taken her to daycare in a couple of weeks. But maybe the end is in sight. If not, and it’s surgery, so be it. Fingers crossed though.

#SFWApro. Photo is mine.

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Bruce Lee, Andre Norton, Agatha Heterodyne and Cats: books read

Reading Nerds of Color‘s post on how Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood disrespects Bruce Lee got me curious to read about the legendary kung fu star. Fortunately the library had BRUCE LEE: A Life by Matthew Polly, chronicling, Bruce’s story from hyperkinetic mixed-race child actor (his nickname as a kid was “Never sits still”) to teenage brawler and street punk to cha-cha fanatic to gung fu master, and all of that before he began his climb to become Hollywood’s first Chinese superstar. Martial arts movies and Asian-American actors are so much more common now (though obviously Hollywood’s still solidly white-dominated) that it was a shock to realize how out there Lee’s ambitions seemed at the time, and how much discrimination he had to deal with (one newspaper article on Lee actually worked “Rotsa Ruck” into the headline). Nor did he have it easy in Hong Kong, where initial enthusiasm for the hometown boy’s success was later shaded by concerns Lee’s biracial heritage meant he wasn’t Chinese enough. Very good.

TREY OF SWORDS by Andre Norton (striking cover by Charles Mikolaycak) is set in Escore roughly during the events of Warlock of the Witch World. The characters are a stock type in this series: Yonan and Crytha, both mixed-race, both orphans, both uncertain where they fit in and Yonan crushing on an oblivious Crytha. The first two sections of the book involve Yonan discovering the magical Sword of Ice (or vice versa — the Sword chooses it’s wielders) and alongside an ancient warrior traveling back in time to avert one of the Dark’s great triumphs in Escore’s past. The effects of this in the present aren’t really dwelt with, except Crytha, who has just enough untapped power to be vulnerable to the Dark’s control, encounters some of the leftover villains of that battle and has to choose her own destiny. I can’t say this really grabbed me but that’s partly because I read it while I was surfeited with dog care and unable to focus. It does have an unusual end for a Witch World book in that Crytha doesn’t come to return Yonan’s feelings, and chooses a life alone to study her craft.

GIRL GENIUS: The Second Journey of Agatha Heterodyne: The Incorruptible Library by Phil and Kaja Foglio continues Agatha’s adventures as the threat of the mind-controlling Other looms over Europe and Agatha and her crew penetrate the catacombs under Paris in search of a McGuffin that … well, actually I’m not quite sure. There are so many characters, plot threads and character bits that I found it impossible to keep everything straight. It was still amusing (“I write love poetry about cheese.”) and I still look forward to the next volume, but it wasn’t very coherent.

YOUR CAT: The Owner’s Manual: Hundreds of Secrets, Surprises and Solutions for Raising a Happy, Healthy Cat by Dr. Marty Becker didn’t actually have any surprises as it covers the same material as the other cat books I’ve read recently. Which isn’t a criticism of the book — if it had been the first one I picked up, I’d have liked it fine — but I wound up skimming most of it. The chapter on cat training may come in useful though.

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


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Scooby-Doo, Smash and Robert Bloch: books read

SCOOBY DOO TEAM-UP Vol. 2 by Sholly Fisch, Dario Brizuela and Scott Jeralds continues in the spirit of V1, except broadening the range: rather than sticking to DC superheroes, they time travel back to the “modern stone age” of the Flintstones, forward to the age of the Jetsons, then encounters with Superman Jonny Quest, Secret Squirrel and Harley Quinn. A lot of the fun is the in-jokes (“I’m glad you kids won’t be here for breakfast — Barney keeps trying to steal my cereal.”) so the weakest installment is with Secret Squirrel — he simply doesn’t have enough of a history to contribute much material. Second weakest is Superman, because while funny, the kids really don’t affect the plot any. Still, a pleasure to read.

SMASH: Trial by Fire by Chris A. Bolton is a graphic novel in which pre-teen Andrew accidentally acquires the powers of the world’s mightiest hero when the villainous Magus’ attempt to steal the powers of the Defender goes slightly awry. The results as Andrew struggles to live up to his new powers are funny, but the art got too confusing in the action scenes.

THE BEST OF ROBERT BLOCH is a collection of short stories ranging from Yours Truly Jack the Ripper (which Bloch himself considers somewhat overrated), to the pastiche The Man Who Collected Humor the gentle humor of All on a Golden Afternoon (easily his gentlest mockery of psychiatry) to the utopian World Timers and the computer-terrorism story The Oracle. Not all A-list — The Learning Maze is a tedious Western Union — but overall excellent. The cover comes from Bloch’s Hugo-winner That Hellbound Train, a funny but pointed story about our inability to know how good we have it.

#SFWApro. Covers by Dario Brizuela (top) and Paul Alexander, all rights remain with curren tholders.


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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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