Clawed by Cats! Clobbered by Computers!

No, not literally clawed, thank goodness. Neither Snowdrop nor Wisp seems inclined to get physical, even when the dogs get in their grill. But Snowdrop did tear up a chunk of writing time for me this week.

As our cats live outdoors most of the time, catching them for the annual checkup is hard. We caught Wisp in July and now it’s Snowdrop’s turn. We couldn’t get him last week but I’d already made a backup appointment for Tuesday the 13th. Monday night, while I was hosting my Shut Up and Write Zoom group, TYG called me down. Some years back she bought a pole-and-lasso contraption to catch Wisp, but it never worked — until now. However, ensnaring Snowdrop in the loop did not get him into the cage for transport so she needed my help.

Eventually we caged him, but not before he’d astonished up by running up the blinds on the French doors and then up the outside of a bookcase. Of course, once he was caught we were in for hours of plaintive meowing, and more in the morning. So my regular morning routine went out the window, plus I was the one who had to take him to the vet (my freelancing schedule is way more flexible than TYG’s time).

It used to be they’d tranquilize the cats before examining them, but they’ve moved away from that now. Which is good, except that meant I stuck around with Snowdrop instead of coming back hours later. You can see him below, looking at me and hoping for rescue. He didn’t get it.To my surprise, he didn’t put up a fight at all, but let the vets examine him, give him his shots and so forth. He’s in great shape (yay!) and not overweight (yay again!). I took him home, then we let him out in the backyard. He didn’t bear us a grudge and was quite happy to accept petting later.

Now, as to the computer: my laptop has been suffering from keys sticking for a while but it’s been getting really bad lately. I cleaned out the keyboard with compressed air but it didn’t improve things enough, so Monday I ordered a new laptop. Arrival: Wednesday.

Or so I thought. Because I added memory, they couldn’t just take one off the rack and the delivery date is Oct. 5. I didn’t realize that — they didn’t exactly highlight that detail — so Tuesday afternoon after getting back from the vet I just blew work off, ditto Wednesday morning. Why work with a glitchy keyboard when I’d have a smooth-operating computer so soon?

That’s a couple of days I won’t get back. I’m annoyed at my inefficiency, though I still finished one of my paying accounting articles. And I got most of my advance promotional work for Questionable Minds done Monday. I also posted at Atomic Junkshop about the New Mutants team and Richard Powers’ cover art.For really good news, I got my payments from Draft2Digital for a couple of books that sold this summer. And my golem article came out in Jews in Popular Science Fiction at last.I haven’t read it yet but the table of contents looks interesting.Being published makes up for a lot. Have a great weekend everyone.

#SFWApro. Rights to book covers remain with current holder.

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Two strange weekends in a row. But good strange

Labor Day weekend, as I mentioned before, I took off to chill after finishing Aliens are Here. But I don’t think I mentioned how strange it felt to not be doing anything for five days (Sept. 1-5). A little blogging, yes, but no other writing. I rarely take vacations that long and it’s always when I’m going somewhere, which means I don’t just lie around and read or take walks.

Of course, I did do things — shop for food, cook — but still, it was unbelievably relaxing to let myself off the hook for anything more than that. As TYG was out part of Saturday, I couldn’t do much because I had to keep an eye on the dogs. That helped me give myself permission, I think.

Then, last weekend, I attended my first Mensa event since 2019. It was the Atlanta Mensa gathering; I’d been invited because they had a time travel theme and the organizers wanted me to speak on time travel on film. How could I resist? Though work kept TYG away (we could probably have managed it, but by the time we knew that, I’d already had to book the flight).My talk went great, even though I managed to erase the outline I’d saved on my phone. Fortunately I’d practiced enough and know the material enough that I could do it even without notes. Beyond that I got to hang out with my fellow Mensans, eat some good food — the vegan meal Saturday night was so good, apparently even the meat-eaters in the Atlanta group wanted that restaurant to cater — and participated in a quiz or two. Didn’t win but one question asked for a Batman villain with a time-themed name. I gave them four (Clock, Clock King, Time Commander, Calendar Man).

I must admit, though, the socializing was a little overwhelming after so long without. Sure, I was at ConGregate and ConCarolinas this summer but cons are primarily about activities — selling books, sitting on panels — with socializing squeezed in wherever possible. In gatherings, the socializing’s the priority. I spent a lot of time re-energizing alone in my room.

Oh, I also got my first case of acid reflux in years, due to eating chocolate cheesecake late at night. With no other food in my stomach to cushion the shock. But it was very good cheesecake.

I had no problems with my flights though the airport was packed both times. I used to laugh at myself a little for always following the “get there two hours before the flight” standard. I don’t laugh so much any more.

Below, a closer look at that chocolate cheesecake (with a brownie on the side).

#SFWApro. Comics cover by Gil Kane, rights to images all remain with current holders.

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Linkpost covering abortion, kids and schools

Good news: The Biden Administration has issued rule saying the VA will provide abortions and abortion counseling to veterans in cases involving rape, incest, life or health of the mother, even in forced-birth states.

In 2021, because of increased government assistance, food insecurity for families with children dropped to its lowest rate in two decades. As NC State professor Sarah Bowen says, “This shows that food insecurity is a solvable problem. We have the power to fix it.”

“Concerns about the economy start and usually end with concrete, personal concerns: Do I have enough money now? Will I have enough money later? And you know what blows a big hole in the personal economy? Pregnancy.” Which is why telling voters to prioritize the economy over abortion may not be a winning Repub strategy in November.

Similarly, “New research shows that the states banning abortion could see up to hundreds of thousands of new births each year, most of them unplanned, and concentrated among lower-income families already facing the greatest financial and health care challenges.

The Dobbs decision will not get courts out of evaluating abortion.

“Our culture loudly but also stealthily, promotes abortion. Telling women they should look a certain way, have careers, all these things.” — Minnesota Republican Matt Birk, who thinks pro-choice advocates play “the rape card” too much.

Utah Republican Dave Alvord thinks “the umbilical cord and the placenta do not directly connect to the woman” which proves pregnancy isn’t about the mother. He is obviously not an ob/gyn and obviously did not stay at a Holiday Inn last night either.

How to interview and report on pro-life politicians.

The effect of Dobbs on IV and embryos.

Should we be concerned that misogynist Peter Thiel is backing a period-tracking “femtech” company?

A Satanist responded to after-school Bible clubs by forming an After School Satanist Club. Christian theocrat Dalton Clodfelter thinks he should be locked up for terrorism along with anyone else who teaches children a “false religon” (presumably everyone who’s not Clodfelter’s brand of Christianity).

Broward County’s school board instituted a program to end the school-to-prison pipeline. Ron DeFascist removed the official responsible on the grounds the program caused the Parkland shooting.

NYC’s Hasidic Jewish schools are mostly crappy at secular education — but they get millions in state funding anyway.

Jeez, in Israel anyone who’s romantically involved with West Bank Palestinians has to register the relationship with the government.

Dennis Prager, who think a wife refusing to have sex with her husband is like a man refusing to do the job he’s paid for, also thinks women are too emotional (not a direct link) and don’t have traditional religious values any more. He’s not even an original misogynist.

Alex Jones is very upset he’s still criticized over Sandy Hook denialism.

As always, you can find more on this topic in Undead Sexist Cliches, available as a Amazon paperback, an ebook and from several other retailers. It came out pre-Dobbs, but it’s still timely.

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“You have the habit of not necessarily looking for implausibility but of not avoiding it if it’s useful.”

The title quote is from the Hitchcock/Truffaut documentary I watched a while back. It’s one of several quotes and discussions that stuck with me now that I’ve finished the relevant book, HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT.

Francois Truffaut established himself as a serious filmmaker with his first movie, The 400 Blows. He was also a serious thinker about film, one of several future directors who started by writing for the magazine Cahiers du Cinema which made the radical claim for the time that some American directors were serious artists too. He saw that Hitch, whom America’s Serious Critics dismissed as a gifted but commercial director, was also a serious artist, which led to the book, a biography of sorts starting from Hitchcock’s childhood and working through his career, film by film. It’s fascinating reading even if I don’t agree with either man at times (Truffaut considers Under Capricorn a neglected classic, for instance).The opening quote strikes me as good advice for writers. Going and looking for implausibility might not be productive but if it’s useful, why avoid it? The Fast and Furious series is a good example: the movies are engaging when we have our heroes, say, driving off towing a money vault in Fast Five but a lot less successful when they’re taking on a Russian submarine base in The Fate of the Furious. Diminishing returns and all that (though obviously it didn’t kill the series).While I’ve heard Hitchcock discuss the difference between suspense and shock before — a bomb going off suddenly is a shock, knowing it’s there and counting down is suspense — his discussion of Vertigo added weight to it. The studio thought the ending lacked drama so they wanted a big reveal that Kim Novak was not merely a lookalike for Stewart’s lost love but the same woman. That’s shock; revealing it to the viewers much earlier, as Hitchcock did, is suspense: can she keep up the impersonation or will Scotty (Jimmy Stewart) catch on?

The two men inevitably discussed Hitchcock’s view of MacGuffins — that it doesn’t matter what the bad guys are out to steal or the good guys trying to protect, except that it puts the plot in motion (as I pointed out recently, that’s how I think about the anti-mind control drugs in Black Widow). This raises the risk that when the reveal comes, the audience will be disappointed; Truffaut observes one way Hitchcock deals with this is make the reveal a couple of reels ahead of the climax so it’s not too important to the finish.

But of course the real focus of the book is Hitch’s movies; I rather wish that I’d had this book handy all the way through so I could read the discussion while the film is fresh. Truffaut has the eye of both a critic and a movie maker so we get very interesting discussion of key moments, strengths and weaknesses and film quality. I do think some of Hitchcock’s analysis is skewed by his notorious control issues: he thinks the actors’ role is “to do nothing in an interesting way” rather than act — leave it to Hitchcock’s camera work and set design to tell the story. Unsurprisingly Truffaut, one of the originators of auteur theory (the director’s control makes him the true author of the movie, not the actors or the screenwriter) seems to agree. In Rear Window, he argues, Jimmy Stewart doesn’t have to act: Hitchcock simply shows him watching the neighborhood, then cuts to the scene and we imagine the reaction because Hitch has primed us to see what he wants on Stewart’s face.

I strongly disagree Stewart isn’t acting in that film. But the idea it’s all in the hands of the director and his storyboards must be appealing when you are the director; Truffaut quotes Hitch saying that “I dream of an IBM machine in which I’d insert the screenplay at one end and the film would emerge on the other.” Possibly that also influences Hitch’s view that silents are better than talkies — dialog is theatrical, getting in the way of pure film.

But even where I disagree it’s a fascinating book.

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Questionable Minds: Meet the villain

We meet the primary villain of Questionable Minds at the end of the first chapter. First we encounter my protagonist, Simon, at a tense dinner party. Then we meet Polly Nichols, a broken down woman desperate to turn a trick so she’ll have money to pay for a bed for the night.

Unlike the real Polly Nichols — the first victim of Jack the Ripper — this Polly is a mentalist, a “human telegraph” with the power to read thoughts. Trouble is, Victorian snobbery, as I’ve mentioned before, believes the lower classes are fit only to wield gross physical powers such as TK or firestarting (AKA levitation and incendiary). A woman at the rock-bottom of the social order isn’t to be trusted with telepathic ability so she was turned out of the Academy with only a little training.

The result? Polly has a half-formed ability that only picks up thoughts about her, and only negative ones. Her power amplifies even the slightest, fleeting touch of resentment or discomfort and convinces her she’s despised. She’s alienated from everyone, and she’s miserable.

Then she meets Jack and falls in love. Instantly. She happily follows him to a dark spot on the street where he butchers her (I do not use the term casually. There’ll be a trigger warning for violence against women). She’s too happy to resist.

Scotland Yard’s Mentalist Investigation Department initially turns down the Nichols case: there’s no sign that Jack used any sort of mental powers and that’s their field of interest. Simon, however, has the freedom to investigate unofficially and learns some strangely suspicious details. Still, the MID has bigger fish to fry, a telegrapher who’s obtained documents about important international negotiations — the odd murder of one mentalist is hardly in the same league. But then a second murder happens. Psychic probing reveals the victim was in love, so in love she let the murderer kill her. And it’s only getting worse from there.

In the first “finished” version of the novel, I had Jack’s POV crop up in multiple scenes throughout the book, giving some explanation of his motive and showing his mindset. The brutality of the killings is a ruse, to distract the police from his real agenda — but Jack’s POV scenes show he’s lying to himself. He’s a raging misogynist and he’s getting off on cutting women up.

That still comes across, I hope, despite my cutting out most of Jack’s POV scenes. In the years since I wrote the earlier version, I’ve come to dislike villain POVs. Not always, but with serial killers in particular it’s pretty tedious stuff. His superiority, his gloating about the sheeple around him who are his unwitting prey, etc. My guy’s definitely not like that, but even so I wasn’t sure the scenes were necessary. I cut almost all of them.

That’s about all I can say without giving away major spoilers, so I hope it’s enough.

#SFWApro. Cover by Samantha Collins.

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Lying liars who lie: Republican bullshit

“In his speech, Trump claimed without evidence that Fetterman supports “taxpayer-funded drug dens and the complete decriminalization of illegal drugs including heroin, cocaine and crystal meth and ultra-lethal fentanyl. And by the way, he takes them himself,” Trump added. There is no evidence to suggest Fetterman has ever used illicit drugs. Fetterman has never expressed support for decriminalizing the drugs mentioned by Trump, although he has advocated for marajuana decriminalization.”

I blogged a while back about how Michelle Evans, running for office in Texas, lied that some schools provide troughs for furry kids to eat like animals. When an interviewer for some right-wing outfit parrots this to Marjorie Taylor Greene, Greene treated it as fact.

Sen. Ron Johnson has talked about cutting Social Security. It isn’t a popular stance so he denies it.

Sen. Marco Rubio opposes abortion in rape and incest cases, which isn’t a popular position. So he lies about his opponent’s position.

Texas’ new policy says schools must accept and hang donated In God We Trust posters. One school district twisted its interpretation to avoid hanging posters in pride colors or in Arabic.

“As “evidence” of this claim, Bachmann asserted that “you can find scripture” throughout both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—which, as we have pointed out countless times, is entirely untrue.” And no, our nation wasn’t founded on the Torah, either.

Ron DeSantis pretends he’s busting people who willfully registered to vote, knowing they weren’t entitled to. That’s another lie — the targets had no idea they were doing anything wrong.

It’s also untrue that all Trump declassified all his documents before stealing them.

I am pro-disinformation because one man’s disinformation is another person’s fact, right?” — Greg Gutfeld of Fox News. No, one person may think disinformation about covid (the topic of discussion) is a fact, but it’s still not a fact, any more than the creation story of Genesis or the QAnon belief in the vast pedophile conspiracy.

Fox host Mark Levin says that by calling out Republicans’ shift to fascism, Biden dehumanizes them. Alexandra Petri satirizes all such whining by fantasizing about what Biden could have said: “There is an election coming up. I think, and a lot of Americans do too, that for our democracy to continue, we need to accept the results of that election, even if our side loses. Other Americans agree: They will accept the results of the election if my side loses. That’s common ground, I think!”

Contrary to Michael Flynn, the covid vaccine did not unleash the zombie apocalypse.

Missouri’s attorney general is coming for the fact checkers.

Misogynist, racist law professor Amy Wax (also racist and misogynist), whose politically extreme statements have put her job at risk. She’s calling for charitable, tax-deductible donations to help her sue the university; Paul Campos cries bullshit. He’s probably right.

Republicans are still all in on the big lie Trump won in 2020.

For bonus non-Republican bullshit we have the bizarre spectacle of Andrew Yang’s Forward Party. Judging by this interview, Yang thinks not having any specific policies is a plus.


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From WW I to WW II: books

A PEACE TO END ALL PEACE: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin shows how the roots of the conflicts continuing to tear apart the Middle East go back to the misconceptions of the Allied Powers in the Great War: that the Young Turks who’d taken over the Ottoman Empire were puppets of Jewish interests; that if Britain controlled the caliph of Islam, they’d control the tnire region; and so on. The officers on the front lines made their own share of errors: Fromkin concludes the Navy could have taken Constantinople and avoided the disastrous Gallipolli campaign but the commander got cold feet and decided to wait for the Army instead.

The end result? A longer war, a badly designed peace and a failure to enforce the peacetime settlement Europe wanted due to a reluctance to keep a massive presence in the area (though our own occupation in Iraq shows that a heavy occupation force might not have been a game changer), feuding among the allies, resistance among men in the field (a lot of British officers opposed England’s support for a Jewish homeland in the region) and continued misunderstanding (David Cannadine’s Ornamentalism discusses a lot of the same misconceptions). Dry and very detailed, but interesting.

MURDER BY MATCHLIGHT by ECR Lorac is one in a long mystery series about Det. MacDonald, this one taking place during the London Blitz. The strike of a match in the pitch darkness draws the eye of one witness to a murder; MacDonald investigates the case which involves a silent killer, a number of show folks and and Irishman who faked his own death. This is too old-school for me, with lots of reconstruction of people’s whereabouts on the night of the murder and a long and rather dull explanation of the case at the end. Where it stands out, though, is the backdrop: houses destroyed, people fleeing bombings or displaced by them, entire blocks gone, and the fatalistic acceptance of it all (in a tone distinctly grimmer than the stereotypical Stiff Upper Lip).

Reading that prompted me to check out Connie Willis’ BLACKOUT and see if the complaints about how she treats the death and disaster of the Blitz as an amusing theme park were valid. After reading the book, I think they’re codswallop: the various time-traveling historians do find some fun in their journeys but there’s also death, destruction, fear and desperation. That said, I found it a very dull book, closer to a historical slice-of-life than anything else. That would have worked at 300 pages, perhaps but at 500 it just drags on too long with not enough narrative spine to support it — and there’s another volume behind it to wrap up the story (it shows my lack of enthusiasm that I settled for reading the synopsis on Wikipedia).

As none of the covers of this week’s reading grabbed me, here’s a Joe Kubert cover from a WW II story instead.#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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Czech animation, comic-book based superheroes: movies and TV

JAN SVANKMAJER: THE OSSUARY AND OTHER TALES (1964) collects some of the Czech animator’s bizarre shorts (I’ve seen some of his longer works, such as Alice or Faust), not all of which work — some are just odd and pointless — but most do, including a film about a human fence and one involving a slowly assembling body (I think I caught it back on MTV’s old Liquid Television, which introduced me to Svankmajer). “Plant an engineer between two butchers.”

The 1994 cartoon of THE TICK was my introduction to Ben Edlund’s superhero parody (I found the comic book some years later) as the dumb but mighty hero, his sidekick Arthur and allies such as American Maid—— battle Dick Tracy-esque villain Chairface Chippendale, Bond-style tyrant Pineapple Pokopo, mock adventures in Pretentious Surreal Mindscapes (I hate those) and parody superheroes about as well as it’s ever been done. For some reason this set misses one episode (“The Tick vs. the Mole-Men”) but it holds up well, with the season improving as it goes along. “I’m not Stalin, I’m Stalingrad — a graduate student in Russian history who decided to become a supervillain.”

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY‘s third season follows up on the ending of the second (though I can’t find a review here for anything but S1), in which Gerard Way’s misfit comic-book heroes return home to discover they’ve been replaced by the Sparrow Academy. It turns out following S2’s changes in the timeline, Hargreaves (Colm Feore) created an entirely different team — more formidable fighters, it turns out, but shallow and selfish, exploiting their heroics to become celebrity. Can the two teams work together when the world once again faces the apocalypse?

I like the set-up and would have loved to see the two team square off, with the Umbrellas ultimately proving their merit. The “kugelblitz” apocalypse didn’t work out as well as I expected. And the ending, leading into the final season, is more frustrating than satisfying — it may all look better once we learn Hargreaves hidden agenda in S4, but that’s really not good enough. “The best way to bring a family together is at a wedding — or a funeral. We’ve tried one, now we’ll try the other.”

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


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First week NOT working on Aliens Are Here

It went okay, given that I was off Monday for Labor Day and took most of today off for social activities.

With Aliens Are Here in the bag, I figured the thing I needed most to catch up on was the promotional activity for Questionable Minds. I’ve signed up for a blog tour and spent much of Tuesday and Wednesday prepping materials for that — book blurb, blog posts, stuff like that. I also contacted a couple of book bloggers to ask for reviews, though I think I’ve left it too late.

I also submitted a couple of stories and two queries for nonfiction articles.

Thursday — wait, I forget if I mentioned I’d submitted my short story Impossible Things Before Breakfast to a friend’s anthology. It’s a collective anthology with all of us giving feedback on each other’s stories, selecting the cover, etc. Based on the feedback I’ve been rewriting the story, and it’s done. I didn’t agree with all the suggested changes, but the ones I did follow improved the story. The others, not so much, but that’s typical with more than a couple of beta-readers.

However there were multiple disruptions Thursday so I lost my focus after that. I’d hoped to work on Don’t Pay the Ferryman — I’m thinking the final title will be something like Smiles in Dark Mirrors — but no. Next week, for sure, unless I get some Leaf articles to work on.

I was also slowed down by my computer keys sticking a lot. We ordered some compressed air and I gave the keyboard a blast this morning. I think it’s done the trick so I can postpone buying a computer a bit longer.

One good thing: based on the amount of time I put in proofing and indexing The Aliens Are Here, I figured I might be able to up the time I spend writing during the day. I managed six hours both days which is only a half-hour more but that’s 2.5 hours a week. However it does make it harder to get blogging done.

And speaking of blogging, I posted at Atomic Junkshop about indexing and why Marvel’s Sgt. Fury doesn’t measure up to even a bad WW II movie. Jack Kirby’s cover is for Sgt. Fury #5, the focus of my post.

#SFWApro. Questionable Minds cover by Sam Collins, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Not as scary as it looks

We weren’t sure what this dead insect was, but it’s impressively large. We wondered if it might be the infamous murder hornet.Striking though it looks, friends told me it was a cicada-killer wasp, so it’s murderous fury isn’t directed at humans. We can sleep easier now.


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