Say goodbye to July, hello August

So I accomplished 55 percent of my goals for July, though very few of them were writing goals. Between Leaf and Undead Sexist Cliches I got very little done on anything else. Next month I need to manage my time much better; I took Wednesday off precisely to think about what comes next.

  • Undead Sexist Cliches get top priority, though not 100 percent of my time. It’s the “eat the frog” approach — proofing it is the toughest job ahead and I’ll be happy when it’s done.
  • I need to start work on the Alien Visitors book for McFarland as it has an actual not-just-personal deadline. I’d hoped to finish Undead Sexist Cliches and Questionable Minds first, but as that’s not going to happen …
  • The final proof of Questionable Minds comes next.
  • The rewrite of Impossible Takes a Little Longer is third place.
  • And getting back to short stories comes after that.
  • I also need to read more on marketing and make some plans for my self-published stuff. The joy is in writing it, not promoting it, but if I don’t market, nobody reads and nobody pays me. Both would be desirable.

That may prove ambitious but I’m not setting my total accomplishment in any of those so absurdly high it’s unattainable. I have alternate goals depending when Leaf, which wrapped up the most recent cycle this week, starts up again.

To achieve them I really need to take breaks regularly during the day. It’s very easy to get locked in until I get just that one little extra section/chapter done, maybe five more minutes … and then I look up and it’s been an hour. I’d be fresher if I took the break with the section/chapter unfinished and came back to it. And fresher will make me more productive at day’s end.

I’m also spending some of my break time to pet Wisp. Sometimes she doesn’t want it and swats at my hand; other times she can sit there for five minutes, almost dozing while I stroke her. We’ll have to take her in to the vet next month; hopefully it won’t set back our relationship too much.

Oh, I did get one thing done I can link to: a post at Atomic Junkshop on sexy movies of my teen years. Like this mesmerizing poster.

To celebrate the ongoing struggle to finish stuff, I’ll wrap up with this Powers cover. Because it’s always good to include a Powers cover.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

 

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Short Stories, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

I’m not planning to make this a weekly food post, but …

But I don’t have much to talk about this morning (let’s face it, I’m not traveling much), so here’s a photo of the maple oat bread I made last week.I’ve no idea how I stumbled across this online recipe because with a dozen bread books, I don’t usually go looking unless there’s something specific I want to bake with and don’t have recipes for. But this one turned out well. It’s a no-knead bread which made it easy: mix, leave it to rise, then dump it into a pot heated to 450 degrees in the oven. It came out great, though the maple isn’t as strong as I’d expected; the baked flavor of the crust drowns a lot of the sweetness. Toasting it, however, amplifies the maple taste a lot. So does eating it with cheese. I also tried eating it with something spicy but that didn’t enhance the flavor.

It’s also quite a large loaf, which is good as I go through my homemade bread very fast. Or bad, because when I have a huge loaf I often wind up eating that much more.

I think for my next loaf I’ll try something more demanding, with kneading, before I get too lazy.

#SFWApro.

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From Trump University to the Trump Virus and beyond!

“The saga of Trump University showed how far Trump would go to deny, rather than fix, a problem, they said — a tactic they have now seen him reuse as president many times, including now, in the face of a worsening pandemic. For months, President Trump promised something wonderful but extremely unlikely — that the virus would soon disappear.”

And when it didn’t, Trump could have turned things around for himself just by looking decisive and taking action; when it looked as if he was, his ratings inched upwards. Which is why, as Camestros Felapton points out, the idea COVID-19 is a conspiracy against Trump is nuts: “As a plot against Trump, a pandemic would be a terrible idea: all Trump would need to do is look presidential, let experts speak and pat them on the back… In short, as a plot against Trump, a pandemic would only undermine Trump’s popularity if Trump was actually a uniquely bad president.” And now Republicans want to cut the $600 unemployment payments by two-thirds. To say nothing of Trump wanting to gut Social Security. Or sending out storm troopers to Portland, and possibly other cities.

“Donald Trump has many weapons at his disposal if he wants to try to cling to power after an election loss, but the general impression that he’s a figure of stability is not one of them.” However one Christian columnist suggests you think of it this way: Trump may be a sleaze but he appoints lots of non-carnal people so think of yourself as voting for them! An alternative theory: “He’s their strongman that God has given them to protect them. So, again, the ends justify the means here. But I think it’s important to understand that the appeal of Trump to evangelicals isn’t surprising at all, because their own faith tradition has long embraced this idea of a ruthless masculine protector.”

Plus, of course, they can count on Trump to nominate someone like Brett Kavanaugh.

“America is a great and noble country founded on the proposition that all mankind is created equal. We have always struggled to live up to that promise, but no country has ever done more to achieve it,” says Tom Cotton, who’s very, very upset that the NYT’s 1619 project about how racial inequality has always been baked into the US, might be taught in schools. But no, despite giving lip service to the dream of equality, many of the Founders were indeed slaveowners, and others were willing to compromise with slavery — the 3/5 clause gave the “slave power” a lot of political clout because that’s what it took to get buy-in on the Constitution from the South. The book Dark Bargains is a good source on this, just as  The Negro President and This Vast Southern Empire show the influence of the slave power on the federal government and foreign policy.

And just as Republicans reject history, they’re also becoming more openly anti-science and anti-vaccination. This doesn’t end anywhere good.

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Wonder Woman in images

So as I’ve written so much about Wonder Woman, I figured I’d showcase some of her memorable covers. Like HG Peters’ cover for the start of her series in Sensation ComicsAnd a Ross Andru cover for one of Robert Kanigher’s rather zany issues—Here Andru captures Kanigher’s insanely racist and just plain insane concept for a new villain, Egg Fu.And one for the Wonder Family era, also by Andru.Now we get a Dick Giordano cover featuring Catwoman, Diana and Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser (face it true believer, this one has it all!).The George Perez cover that kicked off his Wonder Woman reboot.And Perez’ truly chilling version of Ares from a few issues later.Then we have Gene Colan from his too-brief run with Roy Thomas.A Mike Sekowsky cover from Diana’s depowered years.I’ll end with two bits of interior art — this Ross Andru scene from the late Silver Age story in which Kanigher fires most of the supporting cast (this particular scene among fans looks like a prescient parody of online fan debates)—And this HG Peters scene giving us a memorable example of William Marston’s interest in bondage and dominance.#SFWApro. All rights to all images remain with current holder.

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A hip Amazon who swings? She’s not your mother’s Wonder Woman!

So a couple of weeks back I became proud possessor of WONDER WOMAN: Diana Prince: Celebrating the ’60s Omnibus which collects the complete run of her non-super years (1968 through 1972). As I’ve already reviewed the TPBs (Vols 1, 2 and 3 at least) thought I’d do it this time much the way I handle rereading the rest of her run, posting about story arcs and similar obvious benchmarks. So I’ll start with a focus on Wonder Woman #178; it’s a one-shot story that doesn’t really tie into the following arc (Diana’s still Wonder Woman, for instance) but does serve to alert readers to what’s comingWonder Woman’s Rival by Denny O’Neil and Mike Sekowsky opens with police arresting Steve Trevor for the murder of someone named Alex Block; Steve claims he has an alibi — a girl he met at a hippie nightclub called the Tangerine Trolley — but he didn’t get her name and can’t locate her. At the trial we learn Block met Wonder Woman and Steve at a party where the creep told WW she was a disgusting freak, then tried to grope her. Steve decked the dude. Later an emergency needing Amazon involvement ended a Steve/WW make-out session so he went to the club and flirted with the girl.

The prosecution’s case boils down to: Steve has no alibi, he beat up the guy and killing him was the one way he could feel like a man when hanging out with Wonder Woman (who, on the stand, testifies that Steve said Block was a rat who ought to end up dead). While comic-book jurisprudence has never worried much about legal procedure, this seems exceptionally unconvincing: motive yes, but no weapon, no evidence, nothing that ties Steve to the crime. I’m sure juries convicted decorated war heroes on that kind of evidence all the time (sarcasm font). However it works, and when Lt. Prince comes to see him, Steve confesses to being pissed at hell at Wonder Woman for betraying him. Because testifying truthfully is totally not what he should expect Wonder Woman to do on the stand, right? So Di decides if she can’t save Steve as Wonder Woman, she’ll save him as Diana Prince by finding that vanished girl. Which requires visiting clubs like the Tangerine Trolley, which will require Diana to blend in so she goes clothes shopping —All of which is almost certainly modeled on Cornell Woolrich’s The Phantom Lady, a noir novel involving a wrongly accused man, an unnamed woman alibi and the guy’s lover trying to find her. And just as in Woolrich, someone’s determined to stop Diana cold. Eventually Diana does track down the girl, Tina, with the help of Steve’s best friend, Roger Seely. Unfortunately it turns out Roger is the killer, having murdered Block to cover his embezzlement of company funds. He tries to eliminate Diana and Tina to ensure Steve’s conviction stands, but of course, he doesn’t know he’s dealing with Wonder Woman …

At the end Steve, as you can see, reconciles with Wonder Woman but tells her he’s so impressed with Diana, he wants to date her (one of the few times someone’s found the secret identity more desirable than the superhero). Wonder Woman worries that if he’s going to date other woman, his next pick might be someone who isn’t her secret identity.

None of this ties in to the following Dr. Cyber arc; in fact that last page has so little relation to the changes ahead I suspect O’Neil was pulling a fast one so that we’d be blindsided. At the same time it does establish a lot of the tone they were shooting for: cool fashion, hip contemporary settings and playing up the men in Diana’s life a lot more (of course the late Silver Age Wonder Woman had already gone heavy on romance-comics tropes).

As Kelly Sue DeConick says in the excellent intro to this volume, this is one of the big problems of this era of WW. In trying to remake WW into a Realistic Modern Woman (or close as a martial-arts mistress battling an international crime syndicate can get), O’Neil and Sekowsky frequently default to sexist tropes where good as Diana Prince is, she still needs a man to be the boss (something I discussed recently). Diana gets a buzz off all her new fashion, and she delights that guys are finding her attractive; you’d think she’d never had any identity but dull, drab Lt. Prince. Which is one of my own complaints about the adventures to follow, that not only would they work better if she were a new character, the creators often treat her that way.

On the plus side, Sekowsky’s art is some of his best and will continue to be so.

I’ll be back soon with the de-powered Wonder Woman’s first story arc, as she and “the incredible I Ching” (and boy, does he bring a heaping helping of problems to the story) take on the half-man, half-machine Dr. Cyber!

#SFWApro. All art by Sekowsky, all rights remain with current holder.

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That notorious letter and the free speech debate

So as some of you may have heard by now, Harper’s recently published a letter decrying “a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity … it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought” Thus editors get fired for running the wrong op-ed, books are withdrawn “for alleged inauthenticity,” journalists are told not to write about certain topics and “whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.”

Among the signatories: Mark “identity politics is bad” Lilla, Bari “intellectual dark web” Weiss, antifeminist Cathy Young, David Brooks, JK “trans exclusionary” Rowling and Anne “stop persecuting Roman Polanski over raping a tween” Applebaum (Applebaum has also written stuff I agree with, I should note). But also a great many people I respect (I do respect Rowling as a writer, just not on politics): Dahlia Lithwick, Michelle Goldberg, Gloria Steinem, Gary Wills, and Margaret Atwood.

The immediate reaction from a lot of people was that it’s ridiculous for a bunch of successful writers with steady gigs who are obviously not being censored to complain about political correctness stifling them. But as TYG pointed out to me, they weren’t writing in response to their own condition (though it’s hard not to think Rowling’s responding to her online critics), they were raising a general hue and cry which is legit; if I can complain about police violence when I haven’t been beaten, they can presumably oppose censorship.

That said, it’s a little hard to tell if they’ve got a case when they don’t get down to cases. It’s like arguing political correctness is killing comedy: without specifics it’s impossible to tell if the issue is a hypersensitive audience or an offensive (and not in a good way) comedian. I’ve seen lots of people express outrage about various actors, entertainers and authors online and suggest they be cancelled, but “somebody said it online” is not the same as “an angry mob intimidated the employer into firing this innocent person!”

While I agree authenticity is a dubious standard, “inauthenticity” isn’t a precise term; it could easily mean a nonfiction book with major errors (as discussed here) or who knows what. Another reference in the letter appears to mean this case, (a teacher who quoted James Baldwin’s use of the n-word in class got into trouble) which seems unfair and wrong; however literary groups are sticking up for the accused (so it’s not as if she’s become a non-person). The editorial firing is presumably James Bennett of the NYT due to his Tom Cotton column (which might explain so many Times reporters and columnists signing). The vagueness probably helped get people to sign, as they can interpret it as they choose, but it also prompted others not to sign.

As Roy Edroso says, the signatories don’t seem to be making an issue of people much less prominent than Bennett who got fired or disciplined for saying things their bosses objected to or where the pushback wasn’t an example of left-wing PC. Which doesn’t mean they wouldn’t support them, but is their issue PC or employers’ freedom to slap down workers for anything they say off the job?

Truthfully, I don’t think I can be objective about the letter because I tend to react to the signatories I distrust more than the ones I respect (Brooks. for example, is now complaining that brilliant conservatives aren’t getting columnist gigs because Political Correctness). And because it is vague, and because the cases — to the extent I can guess which ones they are — are a mixed bag. I think Bennett made a very wrong call on Cotton and at some point firing is appropriate for bad calls. I don’t know if it was the right move here, but I’m not sure it wasn’t, either (do I know how to take a daring stand? Yep). The teacher, on the other hand, seems to have done nothing wrong. I agree there’s a boundary between “pushing back against offensive/misogynist/racist speech” and “ruining people’s lives for relatively trivial offenses” but I think the latter is far from a tidal wave sweeping over our discourse.

I do believe in free speech but given the vague arguments and the general history of anti-PC bullshit arguments (here and here, for instance) the letter leaves me unconvinced.

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Devil dogs, Welshmen and more: books read

Despite the cover copy, THE HAVEN by Graham Diamond is actually a post-apocalyptic (though we don’t learn that until late in the book) fantasy adventure. The Haven is the city that rules over a human empire surrounded by a vast, seemingly endless forest (one character waxes rhapsodic about how vast the Haven’s domain is — OMG, twenty miles across!) populated with talking beasts: birds (human allies), feral dogs (enemies), wolves (neutral) and venomous bats (enemies). Now a supreme dog overlord has arisen, plotting to sweep all humanity away: can the Haven survive? Can Lord Nigel succeed in his quest to find land outside the forest (something the Havenites aren’t sure exists)?

This blew me away when I first read it in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Not so much now — not that it’s bad, I’ve just read so much more and it’s harder to impress me. I did enjoy rereading it though, but I do think the post-apocalyptic aspect should have been seeded better (it turns out there’s at least some awareness among the learned in Haven, but this never comes up until near the end).

THE REVOLT OF OWAIN GLYN DWR by R.R. Davies does a good job on one of those historical figures I know Of but not About — though Davies notes there’s really very little anyone now knows about Glyn Dwr (best known to most people as Shakespeare’s braggart rebel Owen Glendower) besides his revolt (in contrast to many historians who face that problem, Davies admirably restrains himself from padding his book by speculating). What we can reasonably guess is that conflicts with an English neighboring landowner mixed with longstanding Welsh resentment at English dominance led Glyn Dwr set himself in revolt against Henry IV, a war that benefited from Wales lack of a strong administrative English state, pressure on England from France, Scotland and Ireland, as well as internal English unrest (resolving these various problems led to the revolt’s collapse, though contrary to Shakespeare Glyn Dwr was a much more formidable foe than Hotspur). Reminiscent of History in Three Keys, Davies shows that Glyn Dwr’s memory endured because he could be adapted to multiple agenda: the English stereotype of the hotblooded Welshman, the mystic who calls spirits from the vasty deep (Glyn Dwr never claimed magical powers, but did invoke Merlin’s prophecies as justifying his revolt) and later the heroic father of Welsh nationalism. Good job, though very dense (Davies covers Welsh life and culture at the time in great detail).

WELCOME TO MARS: Politics, Pop Culture and Weird Science in 1950s America by Ken Hollings was my second unsatisfying reference-read for my McFarland Alien Invader book (though it’s head and shoulders above Them or Us). Going year by year through the decade, Hollings argues that the 1950s were as open to weird and unconventional ideas as the two decades that follows: UFOs appeared and obsessed America, the CIA dabbled with LSD, the Bridey Murphy story made people think about reincarnation and technology took the first step into space. Unfortunately the execution is a mess, Hollings never being as clever as he thinks he is (like an early argument we can think of the United States as the lost continent of Lemuria — as Lemuria isn’t imaginary, can’t it be anywhere?). The movie reviews aren’t very good either; Hollings’ review of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers focuses more on snarking about suburbia (sure the pod people are placid and complacent, but that’s because they’ve moved into such a nice suburb!) than anything substantial.

GREEN LANTERN: Intergalactic Lawman by Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp has Hal trying to stop God from kidnapping the Earth, battling the sinister Blackstars and going undercover on a mission for the Guardians, but it doesn’t really click with me. Part of that is that like a lot of 21st century comics writers, Morrison’s fond of cosmic technobabble (“The Ubomb will condense and bind all matter in the universe to a quark core, instantaneously.”) which feels more Babble to me than Cosmic; part of it’s just that the story felt really choppy, nor does Hal’s character come across strongly.

#SFWApro. Cover by Wayne McLoughlin, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Bad drama, bad horror, mediocre TV but some good TV too

Adapted from Isabel Allende’s novel, HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS (1993) was one TYG watched but I just used as a talking lamp and never felt I missed anything. The three-generation story of family and politics in Chile didn’t seem to catch fire despite a cast that includes Antonio Banderas, Winona Ryder, Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, and Meryl Streep.

VIVARIUM (2020) starts well as a creepy realtor shows a couple what he assures them is their forever home in a new development — and it turns out he’s right, because no matter which way they drive, they end up back at the same house. Unfortunately the weirdness takes second place to becoming foster parents of the Kid From Hell, and it became less interesting and as meaningless as Aronofsky’s Mother. Jesse Eisenberg as one half the couple isn’t as annoying as he was in Dawn of Justice but I’m still not impressed. “Silly mother — you are home.”

I watched the first episode of Netflix’ urban fantasy WARRIOR NUN (based on a comic of the same name) but unlike several of my friends, felt no need to watch any further. A Buffy variant, the opening episode has quadriplegic Ava (Alba Baptista) dying, then coming back to life fully abled due to having a chunk of the magic element divinium embedded in her, thereby making her the latest Slayer (so to speak). Part of my problem was that it felt really slow (too much Origin and not enough action). A bigger problem is that other than one scene where Ava’s dancing on the beach and glorying in being able to move, her backstory doesn’t seem to matter — Ava’s your standard-issue snarky, pop-culture referencing teen hero and not as interesting a one as Buffy or Dead Like Me‘s George. “What if I told you the forces of evil are real?”

On the plus side, I wrapped up Apple TV’s DOLLLFACE (on Hulu) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Kat Dennings (best known to me as Jane Foster’s sidekick in Thor) plays Jules, whose boyfriend has been her entire world the past five years, but he just dumped her for someone else. On the advice of an old cat lady (literally, she has a cat head) Jules tries to reconnect with her former besties, perfect Madison, sexy Stella and neurotic Izzy. What follows is whimsical and oddball (Ally McBeal was a big influence) but also frequently funny and with some great lines —

“Every experience is a birth. Except birth.”

“Thank you for bringing your dope goddess energy into this space.”

“The answers were inside you all along … sorry, that only works if you really do have the answer.”

The focus of the show is the women and their friendship, so I was glad that’s what became the heart of the final arc: Jules discovers Madison’s supposedly divorced older boyfriend is her boss’s non-divorced husband, so how does she tell Madison? And what happens when it looks like Jules is blowing her buddies off for a man again? It’s a shame S2 has been kicked back to 2021 like so many other shows. “Maybe we should navigate by the stars — I’m an Aquarius, if that helps.”

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

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And lo, it came to pass as I had dreaded …

So I mentioned last week that the problem with doing extra Leaf articles (or any sort of immediate-income work) instead of personal projects is that “I’ll make up the personal work next week” never seems to work out. Sure enough, having done three extra last week (based on a standard of 10 articles) I wound up doing six extra this week. There were simply too many that looked like they’d be reasonably interesting and not too hard to do (the measure of “hard” is a mix of how easy it is to find good references and how complicated the topic is). So while I did finish Chapter Five of Undead Sexist Cliches, that was it for personal stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to get the $, particularly as I had a dentist’s visit and an unexpected medical bill from a couple of months back this week (they’d been dickering with the insurer without success). But I want to work on my own stuff too (I strike a dramatic pose: “What good is wealth if my creative spirit is slowly dying?”)!  But yes, having too much paying freelance work is very much a first-world problem in these days.

And I did find one amusing moment while working on an article about copyright: the U.S. Copyright Office FAQ Page actually answers the question “How do I protect my sighting of Elvis?

I also went to the dentist and holy crap, was that terrifying! Dr. Robinson (of New Smile Magic here in Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill — she deserves a plug) takes great care to prevent any transmission, but getting my teeth cleaned — which I definitely needed or I wouldn’t have gone — requires much more close-up work than the other medical stuff I’ve done lately and I was not comfortable. Still with all the face shields and masks, I can’t think of any reason I’d have trouble. Hopefully I’m right. Oh, and my teeth are in way better shape than they used to be; aggressive cleaning and using a water pick seems to have turned the tide.

And that’s pretty much it. But I’ll throw in this striking cover for the novelization of a rather dreary (IIRC) film. Art is uncredited.

#SFWApro.

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Family and pie

So last weekend my kin and I — my brother, Dad, my sister and her and my mutual BFF Cindy — had a Zoom sit-down dinner. You get the idea, I’m sure, even if you haven’t tried it: they eat, TYG and I eat and we all chat over dinner (though my brother, being on Pacific time, didn’t participate in the eating part). For myself and TYG, I made a vegetarian pot pie from one of the Moosewood cookbooks

The Zoon hangout was my idea, I’m proud to say, and I also paid for a Zoom subscription so that I could host (the duration and number went beyond what a free membership would allow). It was worth it. I won’t be traveling anywhere outside Durham this year, but this way I got to see everyone and catch up.  It only lasted about 45 minutes, but we can do it again whenever we want, maybe with other relatives in on it.

I do think it’s a little limited. If we’d been there in person we’d have had side conversations and moments when conversation stopped while we chewed. The Zoom set-up sort of focuses against stuff on the side so when we ran out of conversation we just stopped. Still fun. Way better than not seeing them until 2021.

#SFWApro.

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