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Women and their men: books read

Tim Hanley acknowledges that the title of his BETTY AND VERONICA: The Leading Ladies of Riverdale isn’t always accurate: for a lot of their history the girls have been supporting characters in Archie’s life, either prizes for him to win or plot obstacles (can he take them both to the same dance without either girl catching on?); progress away from that was often two steps forward, three steps backward (as might be expected from books created by men in their fifties, the women’s liberation era was particularly painful). At the same time, the need to create lots of stories within a limited fromula led to increasing emphasis on them being capable, and to their friendship becoming more important than their rivalry over Archie.

Hanley looks at how the girls’ stories has adapted to the many trends of Archie’s long history: the spy and superhero era (Betty became Superteen), writer/artist Al Hartley putting lots of Christian themes in the books (the point at which Good Christian Girl Betty began stealing some of the spotlight from Veronica), the rise of specialty comics stores (surprisingly good for them as the effects on the comics market led to their books outselling Archie’s), 21st century variations such as Life With Archie and Afterlife With Archie and the various attempts to bring them to other media (including a radio show, lots of TV cartoons and most recently the hit Riverdale). I’ve never been an Archie fan, but I still found this one fascinating.

Listening to the soundtrack of Six: The Musical (What If Henry VIII’s Wives Were a Spice Girls-Like Pop Group?) and realizing how little I really know about the women prompted me to check out THE WIVES OF HENRY VIII by Antonia Fraser from the library. Fraser does a good job showing there’s more to the women than their stereotypes (Betrayed Wife, Sexy Temptress, Good Woman, etc.). Anne Boleyn, for example, was just as interested in religion as Catherine of Aragon, though less devout and considerably more Protestant (a view that often put her at odds with her husband); Catherine Parr wrote a couple of religious texts herself. Fraser does well detailing the tangled scheming and political maneuvering around not only Henry’s marriages but the proposed marriages for children Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, as well as on some of the mundane details (no sooner did the royal decorator replace Catherine of Aragon’s symbols with Anne’s than he had to start over replacing Anne’s logo with Jane Seymour’s). She also makes clear that Henry was seen even at the time as an outlier, one monarch quipping he’d marry off his sister to Henry if only she had a second neck. Very good.

#SFWApro. Covers by Bill Vigoda (top) and Brittney Williams, all rights remain with current holders.

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Feeling a little crazy this week

I now have two friends posting QAnon memes on FB. I got curt enough to tell one of them her LARPing and posting memes wasn’t saving any children.

I also had to deal with a woman who responded to one of my posts about paranoia about Obama’s presidency (remember the FEMA concentration camps?) by claiming she’d been put in a “financial concentration camp” when the IRS targeted her for being a right-winger and billed her an outrageous amount of back taxes. She kept linking to evidence that proved absolutely nothing (yes, the IRS did subject a lot of tax-exempt right and left-wing groups to excess scrutiny but that’s not the same as “the IRS hit me with a big bous tax bill!”). So I blocked her.

And as sometimes happened, the realization how totally insane things have gotten left me completely freaked out for a bit.

On the plus side, I recommended my friend Sherry Harris’s new book, From Beer to Eternity, on Facebook, and people actually bought it! Signal successfully boosted (review to come this weekend).

Even so, this chaotic Powers cover expresses my mood this week well. #SFWApro, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Pet photography

So last weekend I walked Trixie and Wisp followed us the entire way. She always sounds upset when we go, but this time it sounded a little different — given how fast she tucked into her dinner I think she was hungry. But as we were going up one nearby street, she and Trixie saw a rabbit on someone’s lawn and both immediately stopped and dropped into Hunting stance.You can just make out the rabbit in this shot.Then TYG set down one of our treat containers in front of Plushie. He smelled ’em, but he couldn’t get to them so he looked up at Mommy for help.And while our dogs rarely snuggle together, they somehow wound up doing it on the couch after I got up.Hopefully all that will brighten your day and tide you over to the weekend.


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Characters whom you may never meet

As I mentioned last week, part of rewriting a story is knowing what’s essential to keep and what isn’t. Replotting Impossible Takes a Little Longer I’m thinking that some of my characters may, in fact, have become disposable. I like them, but they just don’t fit the story any more.

In the previous draft, KC’s aunt and uncle provide her with shelter when she’s framed for murder — only it turns out they’re being mind-controlled by the novel’s villain and call the cops on her. Now, although she’s still framed, she gets out of jail on a legal technicality. She doesn’t need to run and hide so she has no need to visit them. And even if she did, there’s no reason to report her to the cops. So I’ll probably establish they died some time prior to the story’s beginning.

KC’s friend Rachel played an even larger role but now she’ll be in one or two scenes at most. Her role included revealing a conspiracy; expressing a religious viewpoint opposite KC’s agnosticism (they’re both activists with similar politics but Rachel’s fueled by her faith, KC by her lack of faith); and providing some exposition near the end. The conspiracy is completely different and Rachel no longer knows anything about it; KC’s best friend Sarah has taken over the religious arguments; and another supporting character, Alyssa, is handling the exposition. And the bad guy changing KC’s personal history midway through the book will prevent Rachel from showing up (the person whose wedding they were getting together for now died years ago).

I like Rachel and I hope she’ll play a small role, but unless I see some new potential — the book’s short enough I could easily add her in if I hit on a fresh angle — that’s as far as it goes.


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A bit of the world ends

A friend of mine I’ve known since the 1970s passed this week. Heart attack, in case you were wondering.

I met Martin back when our families were hanging out together, due to being in the same theater group (as our mums eventually wound up becoming life partners, I imagine that was another reason). We continued in Stage Crafters together for years; we both worked in various capacities on Johnny Belinda, Fiddler on the Roof and many others. He was also in my D&D game, which I ran for about a decade. Plus we both read many of the same comics.

We haven’t spoken much in recent years — distance, plus some long-running health problems on his part means the last time we really spoke was at Mum’s funeral — I miss him. And I miss the sense of shared experience with someone else: jokes, pop-culture references, shared history, familiar quirks, all of that. Martin was only a few years younger than me so a lot of our pop-culture experience overlaps; the number of people I can say that about who I’m also still in regular touch with is smaller than it used to be (we scatter hither and yon over time). Even though we didn’t sit and discuss comics much any more, or reminisce about theater experiences, the fact that I can’t do that is … unsettling. It’s much like one of my friends who passed a few years ago; it surprised me how often I’d be thinking “I’ll have to tell him about that when I see him again … oh, crap.”

Martin was a funny guy, a smart guy and a talented actor. He’s far from the first of my friends to die, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

I’d add a photo but I couldn’t find any handy.


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It’s the end of the American century — and of America too?

The 20th century was the “American century” for a variety of reasons. We played a major role in ending WW I and in WW II (though the USSR’s fighting on the Eastern Front was probably more important). As a nation that hadn’t been bombed (besides Pearl Harbor) or invaded, we emerged from the Second World War in great economic shape. While we did many horrible things during the Cold War (overthrowing multiple democratically elected governments and putting in despots), we also helped relieve ravaged Europe with the Marshall Plan, and organized an airlift to keep Berlin going after East Germany cut off access. We gave the world TV, popular movies, rock-and-roll and put a man on the moon. An immigrant arriving in the country with no money or a kid who’d dropped out of high school could still land a job and become a success, at least to the point of putting a roof over their head and their family’s (if the kid was black, of course, it was a damn sight tougher).

Not so much any more. Eonomic mobility is dying: the poor can’t move up, the rich are protected from falling by the glass floor. Our economy increasingly rewards the people in finance who push papers and move money around than the people actually doing the work (including the supposedly essential grocery workers and such). Our infrastructure is crumbling, our medical system is overpriced with poorer outcomes than many nations and our maternal death rate is the highest in the developed world). We’re turning into a rich failed estate.

Internationally, Trump’s been vigorously shredding our alliances, agreements and treaties and our handling of the Trump Virus is wrecking them further.  I wouldn’t mind us backing off being the world’s policeman — we’ve done horrible things as well as good — but I’d rather do it without alienating the rest of the world. And I suspect it’s less about withdrawing than that 21st century Republicans much prefer using brute force to negotiating or working out alliances. Former Veep Dick Cheney, for instance, had his macho posturing moment where he declared (quite untruthfully) that “we don’t negotiate with evil — we destroy it!” As Iraq and Afghanistan proved, that’s a clumsy, ineffective approach.

George MacDonald Fraser has written what a seismic shock the loss of the British Empire was to his generation; I wonder if we’ll see that here. When Japan outperformed us economically 30 years ago, it led to a major freakout portraying good business as an act of war, Pearl Harbor II (Michael Crichton’s racist Rising Sun, for instance). Then again, people who believe in American exceptionalism accept America is “the greatest country in world” regardless of what we actually do. So perhaps they won’t care.

As for the survival of America itself … well we have open calls from Canadian white supremacist Faith Goldy for white America to secede and form its own nation. Goldy is, of course, a chickenhawk — I guarantee she has no intention of putting herself on the front lines to make it happen — and it’s not like most of Trump’s aging base of support are ready to take up arms either. Despite all the tough talk that Virginia passing new gun legislation would trigger civil war, it didn’t happen (instead, look at the results).

But Republicans are doing everything they can to restrict the vote including exploiting the Trump Virus to do it (though in Wisconsin they lost); one bullshit artist proposes (not seriously I think) that the U.S. force all liberals to live in California, then strip them of voting rights. And prioritizing supplies in the crisis based on how thoroughly Trump’s ass is kissed. This is civil war by other means: it doesn’t divide the country into separate states, but divides us between the minority with the right to vote (Trump’s own agenda) and a minority that will impose its white/male/Christian supremacist views on everyone else.

Speaking of which we have California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom declaring that as federal government isn’t providing equipment to deal with the Trump Virus, California, as “a nation state,” will take care of its own and possibly export to other states. As California isn’t a nation, that’s generated a lot of questions about what he meant. The article at the link speculates (I’ve heard similar thoughts before) that some Dems may be ready to pay back Republicans in their own coin: if they’re going to ignore the rules, the rules they make aren’t binding either. If California goes ahead and ignores Trump and the Supreme Republican Court, what will the feds do? Marijuana legalization might be a forerunner: the feds still count it as a dangerous drug but lots of states don’t care.

Either way, I suspect the concept of the United States by mid-century will be very different from what we see today.

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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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