See the repression inherent in the system! Alex Jones, Andrew Kavanagh, Sarah Jeong

A lot of conservatives love to claim they’re uniquely, horribly oppressed. They’re denied writing gigs for harmless tweets about executing women who get abortions. They’re criticized for saying stuff people disagree with. And now Facebook has blocked Alex Jones, which is exactly like Kristalnacht in Nazi Germany! Or that covering religious leaders who don’t support Trump is “trying to steal the microphone” from his supporters (because there’s only one mike?).

This is, unsurprisingly, bullshit. A private company denying Alex Jones (the guy who claims the dead in the Sandy Hook shooting were all fake and that the government has child sex-slaves on Mars) access to people’s FB feeds isn’t censorship or “unpersoning Alex Jones” As Infowars is still up and running, they ain’t “deplatforming” him either (LGM mocks them some more). It’s FB deciding it looks better if it’s not in bed with a Trump-allied bullshit artist (I assume Jones lies his ass off about this stuff, rather than being delusional). If conservatives want to argue that private companies shouldn’t be allowed to regulate free speech, fine; so far they’re focused entirely on FB and Twitter because they’re cracking down a little on hate speech and right-wing bullshit.

While they do enjoy posing as persecuted victims, I think this is just a case of working the refs. If FB caves, great; if it doesn’t, they can tell readers and listeners that the liberal power is growing and getting ever more scary. Never mind that going by Infowars’ terms of service for commenters, Alex Jones would have to ban his own content. Throughout this century the right-wing has been whining about liberals saying mean things (or dominating college campuses)while claiming persecution if anyone questions their own bullshit.

Case in point, Sarah Jeong, the tech reporter hired by the NYT. She’s said some outrageous and funny things on Twitter. For instance, in response to Andrew Sullivan, who thinks it’s perfectly rational and not at all racist to consider whether black people are genetically dumber, Jeong tweeted ““Are white people genetically predisposed to burn faster in the sun, thus logically being only fit to live underground like groveling goblins?” So the right wing started screaming about how this should not disqualify her for a job — oh, wait, their free-speech beliefs evaporated and they demanded the Times axe her. To its credit, the Grey Lady kept her on.

And then there’s supposed persecution of Brett Kavanagh, Trump’s Supreme Court pick. Self-proclaimed liberal feminist Lisa Blatt insists she knows Kavanagh, he’s a really nice guy, and his intellectual qualifications are great. So his actual policies should be irrelevant, right? Why, she doesn’t even know how he’d rule on abortion, but she’s sure it’ll be a really awesome reading (at the link someone describes this as “West Wing fanfic”). I’m sure it’s completely irrelevant to Blatt’s assessment that she might be arguing cases before the court and she likes how he votes. Though she’s not the only one to make similar bad arguments.

As Dahlia Lithwick points out, Obama’s pick, Merrick Garland, was perfectly nice and perfectly qualified, but Republicans didn’t care. They know perfectly well it’s not about competence or how nice you are (and being nice to people in his set doesn’t mean Kavanagh is actually nice), it’s about politics. Blatt may somehow have missed this but before Kavanagh got picked, conservatives were touting him precisely because he’d be a dependable anti-abortion, pro-business, pro-religious conservative vote. Just as one National Review writer thought George W. Bush getting his second term, thereby getting to appoint Roberts and Alito, the Iraq War was worth it. What are 100,000 dead compared to a solidly conservative Supreme Court?

 

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Story Behind the Story: The Claws That Catch

In The Brain From Outer Space I introduced Dr. Dani Taylor, National Guard medic and girlfriend to my protagonist Steve Flanagan. I referenced her fighting something in Boston called the Devilfish, so for this story I decided to focus on that incident. That would also explain how she came to be a medic.

My template for the story was a straight 1950s SF: radioactive accident mutates lobsters, creates a race of humanoid Devilfish. They swarm into the city, killing and destroying. Dr. Danielle Taylor, daughter of Paul Taylor, distinguished founder of Taylor General, finds herself cut off with a young intern, a candy striper, a black doctor and her husband. They hole up in a department store; attempts to get anywhere invariably run into the Devilfish. Rather than run, they develop an improvised clinic for other strays — tourists, an injured National Guardsman, a pregnant woman.

As I fleshed out the story, it developed something of a Cloverfield tone. These aren’t the heroes fighting the monsters, they’re ordinary people struggling to stay alive and keep others alive. The battle we’d see in the movies is taking place somewhere off screen.

This gave me a much better handle on Dani’s character. She’s a daughter of privilege, her life clearly mapped out for her. She’s been following the map even though her parents died in the Invasion a couple of years earlier. Now, for the first time, she’s starting to see a different path, and she chooses to walk it.

She’s also very bad at triage. She wants to save everyone; as the story opens she’s given their last morphine to a dying guy instead of saving it for the living. That forces Dani to go out and scavenge for more. That’s definitely something I want to work into Brain From Outer Space when I rewrite it.

I’m also pleased with the period details in this one. Senator John F. Kennedy showing up. Smoking in hospital rooms. A passing reference to the then-current bestseller The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit. Dani’s awkwardness at working with a black doctor. Like I said in last week’s post, writing racist protagonists doesn’t come easily to me, but I try not to write them as too modern either.

I also included several continuity references showing how things have developed since Atoms for Peace: hearings confirming the AEC corruption, another rogue experiment with a nuclear powered rocket (the sort of thing that shows the need for Science Investigators). I’m pleased with it. Hopefully whoever buys the book is too.

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Doc Savage, Monk and Women: The Talking Devil and the Running Skeletons

As I’ve mentioned before, Lester Dent didn’t bother much with continuity. If one of Doc’s team has a moment of character development beyond the standard characterization, Dent doesn’t follow up on it. However after establishing in The Devil’s Black Rock that the guys were trying to break Monk of his skirt-chasing, Dent has been referencing it regularly, as in May 1943’s THE TALKING DEVIL. Not that it works any better here than in previous books.

The book starts with Doc’s crew introducing him to wealthy millionaire Montague Ogden whose right-hand man Sam Joseph is suffering dementia centering around a grotesque devil figureine Joseph thinks talks to him. After consulting with some top brain experts, Doc decides it’s a brain tumor. He operates … but there’s no tumor. And the other doctors insist they only agreed with him because they couldn’t think of questioning such a legend.

Oh, and an organized press campaign suggests that Doc has been performing illegal brain surgery on all those criminals he busts that never show up for trial. Could that have something to do with why several men with no memory of their past (Doc pegs them all as graduates of his crime college) have suddenly turned criminal? Doc realizes he’s been set up but why? And for whom?

Oilman “Rotary” Harrison fills in the gap when he and his daughter “Sis” (it’s been a while since we’ve had such quirky nicknames) contact Doc, who subsequently rescues them from the bad guys. They’re reminiscent of Tex Haven and his brainy daughter Rhoda in The Freckled Shark; like Rhoda, Sis’s brains and talent don’t play much of a role in the story, but I’d sooner have a smart supporting female character than a dull one.

From this point, the story moves fast until Doc learns what it’s all about: a scheme to blackmail him into giving up a share of his wealth in return for stopping the rumors. Doc believes that surgically reforming criminals will someday be accepted as the solution to stopping crime, and he doesn’t want it tarnished before society’s ready. Of course, it doesn’t come to that.

A background point is that even when Doc’s cracking cases like this, he’s working on the war effort: when he uses a chemical to track the bad guys’ airplane exhausts, he mentions to Monk it’s already at use by the army overseas.

Similarly, in THE RUNNING SKELETONS, we learn Doc’s fleet of cars is now down to two: the military have taken the others to use as models for making better vehicles. Even Doc sacrifices for the war effort. This story is much more tied to the war: after his son starved overseas, a scientist developed a formula that enables men to live without eating. The side-effect is that their flesh becomes translucent; the other side effect is that it’s a short-term fix that eventually kills the subjects if they don’t change back.

All we really know at the start, though, is that salesman Tom Lewis is trying to reach Doc Savage and traveling with a dog-carrying case that contains something terrifying (it’s a dog transformed by the formula). The bad guys try to stop Lewis meeting Doc; Monk and Ham get a message from Lewis and decide to investigate solo. Their buddies, fed up with their perpetual squabbling have been bombarding them with “peace is beautiful” messages (even having a skywriter paint it out over the city). So why not cut Doc, Rennie and the others out and hog the action for themselves? That’ll show them! Doc spots what’s going on, though, and catches up with Monk and Ham. Together, they hunt for the case and the secret behind it.

Also joining the action: Tom’s showgirl girlfriend. Willie (“Not Billie. Ten chorus girls out of every dozen are called Billie, and I resent being part of the mob.”). Willie’s not the typical female lead – she’s brave, reasonably capable, but what really sticks out is, she’s fun. Part of the fun is that she’s crushed on Doc for years, and keeps putting him in a state of embarrassment.

It would be a terrific book, but the opening and the ending flop badly. The opening has a black porter open Lewis’s case and jump off the train. It’s a racist clone of similar scenes in movie comedies, and that makes for unpleasant reading.

At the ending it turns out that the real villain isn’t the scientist but a crook who’s taken control of the drug to exploit it for evil by …. Well, Dent doesn’t actually say. Maybe a plan to treat people with the drug and bill them for a cure?  Possibly, but overall this is one of the weaker criminal schemes. Between the start and the finish, it’s fine, but the two ends underwhelmed me.

 

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The zero sum game

A zero sum game is one where if one side does better, the other side has to do worse. For a lot of conservatives, that’s the game of life in the USA: if minorities or women succeed, whites or men have to fail.

In some specific situations, that can be true: if the jobs at the local auto plant open to women or black Americans but the number of jobs don’t increase, it’s possible some white men will lose jobs they’d otherwise have received. The game is zero sum. But most life-games don’t work like that. And they shouldn’t: the goal, as blogger Fred Clark puts it, isn’t to get ahead at the expense of others, it’s that we all get ahead.

Trouble is, as noted, some Republicans don’t see it that way. Sure, maybe having black people not shot by cops, having gay people able to marry freely doesn’t take anything material from them. There’s room for all the marriages: straight, gay, same-race and interracial, same faith and inter-faith. But if gay interracial atheist/Muslim couples get to marry just like straight white evangelicals, straight white evangelicals must have lost something right? It’s only the satisfaction of knowing they’re better than The Other, but if they lose it when gays gain, there you are! Zero sum game. As Clark also put it, “The tribal anxiety felt over every advance of feminism is intermixed with the anxiety felt over every advance in civil rights for ethnic minorities. The sense of tribal besiegement that perceives a same-sex wedding as some kind of setback is intermingled with the anxiety over the new neighborhood mosque.”

Which leads us to another Clark post on Slacktivist, discussing Sheila Butler, a 67-year-old Southern Baptist church-goer in Alabama who supports Trump as the one thing between America and a black uprising. All that stuff like Black Lives Matter, football players protesting, Confederate monuments going down, closet Muslim President Obama — she spent the Obama years as terrified as back in “that Rosa parks time … that was a scary time.” Because nothing implies a physical threat to white people like a black woman wanting equality?

Butler goes on to explain that blacks really have no cause to complaint (slave owners treated them very well), but at the same time she’s terrified that things like memorials to lynching victims will make blacks have “violent feelings — feelings of revenge.” So at some level, she’s aware that black people have justifiable reasons for anger, she just can’t admit that to herself. And so she rationalizes that what she’s opposing isn’t a cry for equality, but a cry for revenge, a cry to lash out and punish white America. And so, of course, she’s perfectly justified in refusing them (“If they want justice, that’s scary.” as someone put it in comments). Revenge and retribution makes it a zero sum game; why should she lose so they can get ahead.

I’ve read earlier articles discussing white Americans who are convinced that’s the real issue: one race has to be on top, and if it’s not whites, then whites will be on the bottom. Oppressed. Punished. They’ll have to take what white America’s always dished out. (“This would be a nation where whites weren’t only a minority, but disadvantaged, punished for their collective crimes, because, as he put it, ‘we haven’t been the nicest race.'” as one WaPo article summed it up). I’ve always assumed that was a failure of imagination — the speakers couldn’t believe in a better world — but maybe, as Clark points out, it’s also a failure of courage. If they want revenge, there’s no reason for whites to support change. There’s no reason not to resent blacks, Hispanics, women doing better. There’s no reason to feel resisting them makes you the bad guy. It’s a zero sum game. If they want justice, it isn’t.

It’s the difference between what BLM says (Black Lives Matter …. too) and what they imagine it’s saying (Black Lives Matter … yours don’t).

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Witch hunts and suicide missions: books read

A TRIAL OF WITCHES: A Seventeenth Century Witchcraft Prosecution by Gilbert Geis and Ivan Bunn works much better than Malcolm Gaskill’s tedious Witchfinders, wisely focusing on one single 1662 trial, of accused (and found guilty) witches Amy Denny and Rose Cullender in Lowescroft. The authors detail the accusations at trial (Denny supposedly hexed merchant Samuel Pacy’s daughter after Pacy refused to sell Denny some surplus herring); the learned personages testifying or sitting in judgment (most notably the once-legendary judge Sir Matthew Hale, now best known for his warnings about the dangers of women crying rape); the accusers; and the village itself. The authors agree with the theory witch trials were less about the Inquisition sweeping down and more about local, personal interactions: the two women were quarrelsome and strongminded, and Pacy refusing Denny’s request (by local standards a very reasonable one) may have given him an incentive to believe she was evil and therefore not entitled to charity. Other factors in play include religious outlooks, recent political turmoil and the sexism of the era. A very good book on the subject.

SUICIDE SQUAD: Trial By Fire by John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell launched the long-running 1980s series about a team of supervillains working for the government as disposable agents (if they’re caught, they can be written off as crooks doing criminal stuff). This was a little too grim-and-gritty for my taste when it came out, and even now I’m not rushing to get V2. That said, it is well done as the team tackles an Arab terrorist super-team (the Bad Arab stereotypes have not improved with age), rescue a dissident from the Soviet Union and stop a white supremacist from using a fake superhero to launch a race war (black crooks get dragged to the cops, white criminals get to go free if they join the militia). And of course, with a bunch of sociopaths, possession victims and broken people, there are no end of potential problems that can break the team apart. If this is your sort of thing, definitely worth buying,

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Dr. Mabuse vs. the Black Panthers, Abba vs the Librarians: Movies and TV

With THE DEATH-RAY MIRROR OF DOCTOR MABUSE (1964) the 1960s Mabuse cycle ends not with a bang but a whimper. Peter van Eyck, who was adequate as part of the ensemble in 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse is miserably dull as the central character, a super-spy out to secure the title McGuffin for England while You Know Who wants it for his own ends. This is a Mabuse film done as a Bond film, with a lot of similarity to Thunderball (David Kalat, author of The Strange Case of Dr. Mabuse, wonders if Death-Ray Mirror could actually have influenced the later 007 adventure) but none of the flair Eon brought to the Bond films of this era. It’s also much more sexist than Bond in its treatment of the female lead, and has the least mind-control of any of the films (mostly just a vague reference to Mabuse mindwiping people at the start of the film). “The almighty took seven days to create the world, and you could destroy it in a few seconds.”

THE BLACK PANTHERS: Vanguards of the Revolution (2015) is a good documentary about how an Oakland movement to stop police abuse of blacks (which, of course, makes this depressingly relevant) broadened into providing free breakfasts and health clinics while attracting followers across the country (as much because of their apparent pride and self-confidence as their actual policies), including a large percentage of women. The film chronicles the FBI’s obsessive war against the Panthers, the party’s attempt to switch to straight politics (“After the loss, there was no plan B.”) and the gradual internal collapse, heavily influenced by the FBI’s efforts at subversion. “We didn’t get those brothers to revolutionary heaven.”

MAMMA MIA: Here We Go Again (2018) is the sequel to the 2008 stage-to-screen musical, alternating the story of Amanda Seyfried struggling to open late mom Meryl Streep’s dream hotel despite everything going wrong with her secret origin as her mother heads to Greece for a summer of love and winds up bedding three different men in rapid succession. This was pleasant enough, but doesn’t feel as well structured as the first Mamma Mia — Cher’s appearance at the end is quite gratuitous, though she does give a great rendition of Abba’s Fernando. “You have the courage of the lion, the heart of the panther and the wisdom of the flamingo.”

The third season of THE LIBRARIANS has the cast coping with an unleashed chaos demon plotting to turn the world upside-down and a new government magic-hunting agency that’s determined to put the Librarians and their assets under lock and key. This has the series’ usual quirky fun, such as a reluctant cult leader trapped by her own popularity, a reunion of evil monsters and a magician wreaking havoc as he tries to impress his (he thinks) true love. I’ll also give them points for resolving Cassandra’s cancer problems without the usual miracle cure. “He didn’t tell you the Eye of Ra requires a human sacrifice.”

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Friday was only moderately inconvenient

In contrast to the July Fridays, I only suffered a slight inconvenience with added dog care this morning. And I’d already put in extra time this week, just in case, so no time lost.

The big accomplishment this week was getting Atoms for Peace released. While Draft2Digital makes it easy to format the ebook and get a CreateSpace-friendly PDF, having to get a table of contents for the paperback meant doing two slightly different versions. That proved more time-consuming than I expected, especially getting the ToC looking right. So rather than think about the stuff I didn’t get done (as I was doing this morning) I shall take pleasure in having accomplished a demanding job (Michelle Berger’s comment on this morning’s post helped). And now it’s done. Finished. Nothing left to do but watch the dollars pile up as it flies off the digital shelves (I can dream).

I got about 3,000 words further on Southern Discomfort which is good, given I didn’t get anything done Monday or Tuesday (so I could get Atoms out before the end of the month). I did my usual quota of Leaf articles (if you need to know the difference between general liability and public liability insurance, just ask!). A couple of them were higher-paying long-form articles, which took more time than I wanted. As they pay three times as much, I want to finish them in no more than three hours, which is three times what the normal article takes. I took a good deal longer than that. It’s the same problem I had when Screen Rant bumped up articles to a minimum twenty entries — finding that much more information takes a lot of time. I need to fix that or stick with shorter stuff.

I did get some new short story stuff written: I have an unfinished, untitled first draft so I worked on that Thursday. Friday I got past a block in the first draft of a short story involving the Tarot and 1930s Hollywood. That made me feel much better, even though neither one is anywhere near even rough-draft level yet.

And I went to a smaller writer’s group this week and got some feedback on one of the new-this-draft chapters of Southern Discomfort. The feedback was very helpful.

For no particular reason other than I think it’s cool, I’m closing with this glorious image of Earth After Disaster from Jack Kirby’s Kamandi comic.

 

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Goals for July, accomplished (and not)

Sigh, only 56 percent accomplished. I can blame this mostly on added doggy-parenting requirements off and on, and on being really tired the first couple of days of this week.

That said, I did get the key ones done. I released Atoms for Peace and got to 52,000 words total on Southern Discomfort‘s final draft. I also completed the latest draft of Undead Sexist Cliches.  I still can’t seem to get far on my short stories though. Though that’s partly because I had to spend a lot of this week finishing Atoms for Peace. I also wound up blowing off lots of little projects, such as submitting stories, pitching article ideas and the like.

I held a writer’s work day at my house, which I’ve been meaning to do for a while.

And I relaxed a lot, watching movies, reading, getting out to the movies, going on our Mensa trip. And finally getting around to signing up for BritBox so I can watch more Doctor Who.

I got really sloppy about applying sunscreen, which is a big no-no at my age. It was so overcast that even knowing that cloudy weather doesn’t eliminate the need, I just shrugged it off. More generally I’m falling behind on some of the everyday paperwork tasks I need to keep up with (in fairness that’s because several new ones kept popping up).

So no particular deep insights, just one month with fewer goals completed than average. Nothing as startling as the scene below (art uncredited)

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The Story Behind the Story: Atoms for Peace

Woot! Atoms for Peace and Other Stories is available for purchase at Amazon in paperback and other retailers such as Barnes & Noble as an ebook. Unlike Atlas Shagged, the stories in this one are all tied together, part of an alternative 1950s in which movies such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds, Creature With the Atom Brain, Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Them! were all real. While I’ve covered most of the stories in early Story Behind the Story blog posts, I started this blog after the first story had come out. So here’s the odd tale of how the book and the first story came to be.

Back in the 1990s, Clinton’s Secretary of Energy, Hazel O’Leary, declassified the reports about U.S. radiation experiments on unwitting patients (they weren’t told what the doctors were doing, or given an option to consent). That started me thinking (at least I think so, the exact chain of reasoning is a bit blurry after so long) about how that mirrored so many SF films of the 1950s, like I Was a Teenage Werewolf (and gives the lie to every How To Write SF article that declares mad scientists experimenting on innocent people could never happen in real life). And then it hit me: what would the US be like if those movies had been real? If by the end of the 1950s we’d been under attack by multiple aliens, radioactive mutants, pod people and reanimated dinosaurs?

Hmmm …well scientific research would be tightly regulated, of course. With investigators to double-check nobody was doing illegal experiments on the sly. The National Guard would be busy fighting mutant horrors. And maybe we’d have made it into space years earlier than we did. Now if you throw the effects of one of those radiation experiments into the mix …

I liked it. But back then I had a day job, so The Brain From Outer Space took a long time to work on. Finally I had it in reasonably satisfactory shape around 2008 or 9. Then it hit me the first chapter, written to show investigators Steve Flanagan and Gwen Montgomery on a case and so introduce my world, worked pretty well as a standalone short story. So I tweaked it a little and sent it out.

The Big Pulp website liked it and accepted it. Then they suggested I write a series of stories leading up to it, showing how my world came to be so different. I jumped at the chance. The stories are still up there, if you’re curious. Unfortunately some of the elements and relationships in the book no longer fit the backstory. I’d also discovered problems in the story that really needed fixing. The book needed a major overhaul … and to date, I haven’t been able to fix it.

But the stories are still worth it.

The first story, Atoms for Peace, takes it’s name from the post-war slogan: sure, the a-bomb was terrifying but nuclear energy, turned to peaceful uses, was our friend! Wonderful things would come from it (check out the book Nukespeak for a look at the sunny nuclear utopianism of the era). The Atomic Energy Commission (now the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) was supposed to both regulate and promote the industry; it usually came down on the “promote” side and did its best to minimize the risks of radiation.

I decided that would be the basis for my story: the first documented case of “rogue science,” using ordinary people as guinea pigs. My protagonist would be Southerner Gwen Montgomery, former OSS agent. As the story opens in 1954, Gwen thinks she’s done with adventuring. But then she found the strange half-man half-lizard under the street light …

It’s a good story and I think it’s a good book. It’s a lot whiter than I’d do it today (I hope), but I know from Southern Discomfort that simply switching some of my characters to black or Latino would take lots of work, especially in a world where segregation is still the norm. As I wrote this to reuse old work, not start fresh, I kept it as it was. Though I’m pleased with my female representation as Dani, Kate Meara, Gwen and Claire all get a good share of the adventure.

I’ll have more to say about the book next week. Hopefully you’ll all have bought it by then.

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Two books that didn’t work, and why

A slightly different version of Is Our Writers Learning? this month as I look at two books that disappointed me and the reasons for it.

MEDUSA’S WEB by Tim Powers was a big disappointment because I usually love Powers’ work. Like Lisa Goldstein, when Powers doesn’t work for me, I’m surprised.

After their Aunt Amity commits suicide, Scott and Maddy, who grew up with her after their parents died, reunite with cousins Claimayne and Ariel. The quartet’s dysfunctional relationship is complicated by the supernatural element: a spider motif that when stared at detaches your mind through time. You can wind up in your own body in the past or future, or in someone else’s. As Scott and Maddy start using the spiders again, they find themselves visiting famous figures in Hollywood’s past who’ve dabbled in the magic. Claimayne, however is using the spiders for evil; Aunt Amity hopes to time jump into Maddy’s body for good; and rival groups obsessed with the power see Scott and Maddy as potential threats.

All of that is vintage Powers. What isn’t typical is that the dysfunctional quartet and their relationship plays a large role in the story and the characters just don’t work. Scott’s a bitter burn-out, Maddy’s a New Age burn-out, Ariel’s bitter and vicious and Claimayne’s just an evil cripple stereotype. While Powers does beaten-down, burned-out characters well (“Scarecrow” Crane in Last Call for instance), his books don’t usually focus on the characters relatiionships as much as this one. That may have been smart.

Plus the magic really doesn’t hold together the way Powers’ powers (ROFL) usually do. I never quite saw how the power enables Claimayne and others to steal youth from people or how Amity would use it to take someone’s body permanently. And the happy ending involves Maddy jumping back in time to live with Rudolph Valentino even though the time-jumping power of the spiders is supposedly broken by then.  I like eucatastrophe endings, but this one doesn’t make sense — and Maddy’s just not interesting enough to care she’s happy.

A minor problem is that while we get references to Hollywood history and appearances by a few people, Medusa’s Web doesn’t immerse itself in history the way Declare did. That makes the mythos much less vivid and interesting.

MJ-12: INCEPTION by J. Michael Martinez, however, is a whole ‘nother level down from there.

The premise: in post-war occupied Germany, Allied forces discover a mysterious energy thing which when disturbed sends out waves of dark matter across Central City — no, wait, that was TV’s Flash, wasn’t it? But the effect is the same, as people spontaneously develop meta-powers. The government recruits a number of “variants” (and man, am I tired of everyone trying to come up with a new name for superhumans — variants, post-human, evos, etc.) for MJ-12, a new black ops agency. However the Soviets have their own Variants and when the U.S. team goes into the field, it’s time for a Clash of Titans!!

By that point I’d already lost interest. Martinez spends half the book doing nothing but set up. He sets up the premise, then introduces us to all the characters before we finally get going on the plot. That would be maybe workable if the premise or the characters were riveting but no. Sure, I’m a comics fan so “superhumans working for the government” is old news. But even if all I ever watched was TV, the premise is old news: Agents of SHIELD‘s Inhumans, Heroes’ evos, the metas of Flash. It doesn’t take much set up any more. And the characters are stock: tormented healer, tormented living Cerebro, racist transmuter, tormented empath. Even more stock, we learn at the end of the book that future volumes will give us mutie-haters—er Variant haters—and a Variant supremacy movement. That’s old hat too; the first X-Men movie was almost two decades ago.

Spending half the book to set up a formula situation born of a formulaic concept does not a winning novel make.

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