I had the perfect post, but Plush dog stole it

Vet visit Monday because his skin was so itchy, he’s been licking it very loudly in the night. I barely got any sleep Saturday, and TYG suffered the same Sunday (I’d relocated to the spare bedroom). He got a shot and some shampoo and he’s all better now.

But that sucked up quite a bit of time, and I didn’t catch up yesterday. So here’s a memorable Hannes Bok illustration of Frank Belknap Long’s story of time-devouring hounds from other worlds. Back with normal posting tomorrow.

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Is it the zeitgeist or the nonfiction?

After I read Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates to the writer’s group last week, it struck me how much of my recent fiction work has been grappling with the subject of sexism.

Chocolates started out as a story about what happens when Hope gets out of Pandora’s box at last. Now it’s a story in which Pandora’s box releases a wave of stupid macho behavior across a small Florida town (Destin, where I used to work, but with the serial numbers filed off).

Bleeding Blue deals with misogyny and sexism in policing.

Only the Lonely Can Slay starts with a woman paying an assassin five bucks to kill the woman’s abusive husband (the assassin’s cut rate is her equivalent of pro bono legal work).

Impossible Takes a Little Longer, if I ever get back to rewriting it, will have a misogynist/incel-ish villain (or so it looks now).

My as yet untitled tarot in Hollywood story may deal partly with the Patricia Douglas rape case (again with the serial numbers filed off).

Am I just responding to the male supremacy rallying behind Trump? Or is it that writing Undead Sexist Cliches has set my mind in this groove?

Either way I don’t think it’s hurting the story so I shall let my mind rove as it will.

#SFWApro. Image by Caroline Marsh, all rights remain with current holder.



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It’s a sick sad world (reprise)

First Ihlan Omar was threatened after Trump launched his attacks on the Squad. Now a cop suggest on Facebook that A-OC should be shot.

According to the Daily Beast, Kristian Brunovich Rouz, a reporter pushing conspiracy theories and bullshit for the right-wing One America News Network is also working for Russian state media.

Yet another attempt to blame Trump on liberals.

“Senator Josh Hawley—a graduate of Stanford and Yale and a former instructor at an English private school—warned the attendees gathered in the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Washington, D.C., about the threat of élite cosmopolitanism. ” Which is usually (and in this case, probably is) a euphemism for Jews.

Nixon blocked LBJ’s efforts to arrange peace in Vietnam to ensure Nixon’s 1968 election victory.

“My otherness is on display every time I open my mouth, but people rarely consider me an immigrant — as if that status were reserved for needy brown or black people who cross borders in large numbers.”

Jeffrey Epstein’s life while nominally in jail: “On July 11, 2009, another deputy drove Epstein to his house, where Epstein stayed for four hours. “I backed into the driveway and provided security to prevent unwelcome guest[s] from entering his property,” the deputy wrote in his report. “I did not go into the residence.”

A Greek orthodox bishop claims mothers who have anal sex will have gay babies.

A woman sues on the grounds her legally emancipated daughter should still have gotten Mom’s permission for trans surgery.

Immigrants hold a 9-year-old Latino U.S. citizen for two days on the grounds her story wasn’t consistent. Yes, how strange a terrified child wouldn’t be clear and linear in her thinking.

Unsurprisingly Mitch McConnell still refuses to protect election machines from foreign hacking. I wonder if a Dem wins in 2020, with Traitor Mich start using hacking as a reason not to concede?

Sorry, Amy Wax, insisting Mexicans should be kept out because of culture is just a cover for racism. Vox suggests part of the problem is the right’s conviction that racism is what other people do. And of course, they choose to believe lies. The Republican challenger to Ihlan Omar is a devout Qanon believer.

A Pennsylvania school district threatened parents who are behind on their kids’ school lunch bills with putting the kids in foster care. A local businessman offered to pay the cost, but the school board refused.

To end on an upbeat note: the Straight Pride Parade listed Netflix on its website as a possible sponsor. Netflix told them no:  “Our legal department is here, it’s queer, and it’s telling you to steer clear.” Anti-gay bigot Michael Brown unsurprisingly freaks out.

Oh, and New York state has approved an anti-revenge porn bill.

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Historical fantasy, gaming mysteries and graphic novels: this week’s reading

WHERE OBLIVION LIVES: A Los Nefilim Novel by T. Frohock is set in 1930s Spain and Germany (Franco and Hitler are rising to power in the background) where the Nefilim (half-angels acting as heaven’s agents on Earth) Diego finds himself tormented by a magical violin from one of his past lives. Attempting to stop the attack and prove himself to his brethren (he’s part-demon too, which makes him suspicious), he ventures into Germany, unaware that both an imprisoned fallen angel and a former Nefilim leader have plans for him.

I know T. Frohock from Mysticon, but I sincerely enjoyed it (thank goodness — as I’ve said before, I always worry I’ll read a friend’s book and hate it). It’s very low-key but it works here, has a gay protagonist and a solid story. There were times I wasn’t clear about the mythos (I didn’t realize until late in the book that Diego’s much older than a normal human), but nothing that got me lost (and better light exposition than too much). The details of the early 1930s setting worked well, too.

NEST OF THE MONARCH: A Dark Talents Novel by Kay Kenyon is set in 1936 as psi-spy Kim (a “spill,” meaning people blurt out secrets around her) goes undercover as a diplomat’s wife in Germany, where she learns the Nazis have a Big and Evil Plan involving a White Russian with a special ability they see as the key to taking over Europe bloodlessly. This was well executed with excellent period detail (vastly better than MJ-12, which employed  similar elements), but it didn’t click with me as much as Frohock’s did; possibly it was that it’s more spy thriller than SF, but it may just have been my mood.

While I”m not a cozy mystery fan, I looked at NO SAVING THROW: A Ten Again Mystery by Kristin McFarland because the gaming-store setting seemed more fun than the usual restaurants and yarn stores in the genre. The story of the store’s owner investigating a murder that took place during some LARPing, possibly by a deranged gamer, gets the gaming parts right (and the stereotypes of gamers that the cast have to deal with) but the mystery flopped for me. The owner’s decision to investigate on her own lacked a very good reason, and I really couldn’t see her cop best friend accepting this so casually.

COPPERHEAD by Jay Faerber and Scott Godlewski is a competent space western graphic novel about a female sheriff with a troubled record, starting over with her son in the eponymous mining town. She doesn’t like the local android population, her deputy resents not being made sheriff and the local rich guy thinks she’s going to be a problem; meanwhile she has to solve the murder of alien family. First in a series, this feels very much like a pilot episode establishing the series. Competently done, but not terribly compelling (admittedly my lack of interest in Westerns may factor in).

GHOSTBUSTERS: Mass Hysteria by Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening is twenty issues or so of a  Ghostbusters series from IDW, with the Ghostbusters and a junior team (created for the series) battle against the usual array of menaces, plus the looming threat of Gozer’s old adversary Tiamat rising in the background. Captures the spirit of the films very well (I don’t believe it’s drawing on the cartoons at all).

#SFWApro. Cover by Richard L. Aquan and multiple others, all rights remain with current holder.


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“I know there ain’t no sanity clause.” A Night at the Opera

It’s been years since I’ve seen A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935) and it holds up very well. It’s also an interesting turning point in their career, one I have mixed thoughts on.

The story has Groucho as wheeler-dealer Otis P. Driftwood sucking down a fat salary for supposedly helping wealthy Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont) rise in society. His efforts to actually deliver on this result in Claypool dumping him to help stuffy opera manager Gottlieb (Sig Ruman) bring an arrogant tenor to the US (as there’s no establishing shot or other information, I didn’t realize we were in Italy at first). Driftwood winds up contracting with Ricardo (Allan Jones), a greater tenor and nicer human being, but lacking the reputation for A-list gigs. Groucho, Chico and Harpo work together to bring Ricard to the US, land him an opera gig and unite him with Rosa (Kitty Carlisle), the singer Ricardo and his arrogant rival are both interested in.

The three previous comedies the brothers made for Paramount (Horse Feathers, Monkey Business and Duck Soup) were insane, anarchic frenzies (I mean that as a compliment); Duck Soup, now considered a classic, was a flop, ending their association with the studio. Chico, however (it’s pronounced “Chick-o” by the way), played bridge with Irving Thalberg, MGM’s superstar producer, and so the Marx brothers shifted to MGM for a more conventionally plotted comedy (conventional compared to their earlier work, that is). There’s a dramatic arc, with the brothers apparently losing on all fronts before the climax.

It works beautifully, but as one book on their movies says, it worked against their strengths. Lots of comedians could do a movie about stowing away on a ship; only the Marx Brothers in Monkey Business would stow away, then go to the captain to complain about the lack of service, then try to get off the ship by impersonating Maurice Chevalier. Other comics got laughs avoiding trouble; the Marx Brothers welcomed it.

Making them more vulnerable worked with Opera, but their later MGM films got increasingly formulaic, wasting their talents.

But Opera did work. As Leonard Maltin says on the excellent commentary track, it’s a trickier film to pull off than it looks. The Marx Brothers have a great time disrupting the opera at the climax and deflating Gottlieb’s pomposity, but the happy ending hinges on Ricardo and Rosa becoming opera stars so the film can’t mock opera too much.

It succeeds. The film has wonderful energy, great lines (“This bill is an outrage! If I were you, I wouldn’t pay it.”), cheerfully insane scenes and good performances. This DVD also came with a mini-documentary on the brothers, a brief interview with Groucho, and two 1935 non-Marx comic shorts, HOW TO SLEEP (Robert Benchley discusses the art of sleeping) and SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE TROCADERO, a musical sketch piece.

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Wisp likes me!

So this week I went out on the deck to trim some rosemary leaves for a roast potato dish. Wisp was out lying by the pot (like this, although it’s an older photo) and I assumed that as usual, she’d run off under the deck instead of being close to the human.

Instead, she rubbed against me as I clipped the leaves, weaving around my legs, rubbing on my butt, and letting me scratch and stroke her head and back. It was soooo cool.

If I’d had the confidence to pick her up and place her in a carrier, we’d have solved our problem of getting her to the vet. But I suspect she doesn’t like me that much yet. TYG has been trying to snag her with the kind of loop on a pole people use for wild animals, but Wisp’s wary enough to stay away from it. I think the simplest method would be dropping a laundry basket over her while she’s eating, but we’re going to try the pole a few more times.

This was a productive week, though as often happens, it doesn’t feel like it: a lot of the work I did is still in progress, so there’s no tangible result.

I’ve almost completed my proposal for the (hopefully) next pitch to McFarland, Space Invaders. If all goes well I’ll send it off next week.

I pitched my first article query in a couple of months, to The Writer. I think it’s a long shot, but it only took me a few minutes, so what’s the heck.

I posted a blog at Atomic Junkshop in my ongoing series on what comic books are like in comic-book universes. This time up: what was the Marvel Comics in the Marvel Universe like in the 1940s?

I contacted And Magazine again about writing for them, but it looks like a no-go. The current incarnation seems to be more conservative and more national-security oriented than when I was one of the contributors and I don’t think the stuff I want to write will be a good fit (this may explain why my older articles are no longer online there). A shame — I’d really like to reach a larger audience than this blog, though I appreciate all of you who do read me here.

I redrafted Death is Like a Box of Chocolates for the better and read it at Tuesday’s writer’s group. The feedback was helpful, though nobody said anything that helps me see how to end it right. I redrafted Only the Lonely Can Slay and I’m definitely getting a little closer to making it work. Not close enough yet, though. I also read over my untitled Tarot in Hollywood story, trying to figure what I want for the next draft.

I submitted my usual articles to Leaf, although I ended up one short of what I’d intended for the week. My brain just balked and I knew better than to try pushing it.

I finished the rape-cliche chapter of Undead Sexist Cliches, breaking it into two to make the size manageable. The first half deals with cliches about consent (it’s not important. The slut probably wanted to be raped.) and not believing the victim, the second deals with “she asked for it!” and “do we want to ruin his life just for a little rape?” cliches.

My work-week included three hours on Sunday, as it did the week before. It wasn’t as effective, as I was sitting with the dogs that afternoon, but it still feels good getting the last hour of the regular workday to myself.

Oh, and the Medscape video that went live last week has generated more than 1200 hits and some very favorable comments (“Visual presentation from patient makes it interesting and simulates actual consultation.”). So I guess it did some good. To celebrate, let’s look at a spooky tree!

#SFWApro. Weird Tales cover by Joseph Eberle, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

Some comic book covers for Friday

Not — the Four-Armed Men! Marie Severin improves on the original Kirby cover (this was a reprint)

My Greatest Adventure stories were mediocre, but I wish I knew why he built the super-cage, don’t you? Art by Ruben Moreira.

DC war comics did a lot of these unusual angles. Art by Jerry Grandenetti.

A funny animal cover by Sheldon Mayer.And a Kirby monster cover to wrap up with.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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Illegal immigration isn’t the issue

While I have seen several people on FB freaking out over “Democrats want open borders” (which is no more true than “the Squad are Communists” or “the squad are fascists!”), and warning against the threat of illegal immigration, I don’t believe illegal immigration isn’t the real issue. It’s having “too many” Latinos or Muslims.

It’s not just people on FB.  Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, for example, lists legal immigration as one of the reasons that “the America we know and love doesn’t exist any more.” That’s not about open borders, that’s about having too many people who don’t look like her. Law professor Amy Wax argues for white priority in immigration because “our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites” (she pretends this is about “culture,” not race, but polices like that are always about race). Or conservative Latino Marco Gutierrez warning that if we allow more Latinos in we’ll have “taco trucks on every corner.

I’m all in favor of managing our borders better, but if we had roughly the same number of immigrants we do now, and the same racial makeup, but they were all legal, I’d be cool with it. Too many Republicans wouldn’t be. So I part company with them.

And of course it’s nothing new, even though they think it is. In the 19th century it was about keeping out the damn Irish (subhuman, barely better than black!) and the damn Catholics (America is Protestant! Catholics are sheeple whose first loyalty will be to the Pope, not America!). By the end of the century it was the damn Asians (forcing demographic change on the west coast! Outbreeding us! Taking over parts of the country! Always loyal to their emperor, not to America!)

In the 20th century it was also the damn Poles, the damn Italians, the damn Germans, the damn everyone-who-wasn’t-a-WASP. Speaking foreign languages! Not learning English fast enough! Inferior culture and genes! And in every era it was the Jews. Never really American. (rootless cosmopolitans with no loyalty to anything but each other).

Astonishingly enough, they all adapted just fine. They all became American. Our “culture” didn’t collapse. It won’t collapse from the presence of Muslims, Middle Easterners, Latin Americans.

The people who oppose immigration are on the wrong side of history. And given so many of them think “more Latinos” is worse than “immigrant children kept in cages” they’re on the wrong side of justice too.

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The women of early Star Trek

A few weeks back I started doing something I’ve wanted to do for a while: rewatch the original Star Trek series. It was very much a part of my teen years as I watched episodes over and over in syndication, but it’s been years since I caught any of the episodes, except in passing when TYG was rewatching them. When I began, I discovered Netflix’s run includes the original pilot episode The Cage preceding the first episode, Man Trap. The difference between them was interesting.

Gene Roddenberry has rightfully taken crap for a vision of the future in which women, even though qualified to serve on a space ship, are primarily eye candy. The Cage is a step up from that. The ship’s first officer, Number One (Majel Barrett) is competent; Captain Pike’s female yeoman, Colt (Laurel Goodwin) is much more tomboyish in demeanor than ST: OS’ Yeoman Rand; the show emphasizes that having a female yeoman on the bridge is a novel thing.

The show does make it clear that the woman are attracted to Pike, so who knows how they’d have been written if the original pilot went to series. But having a woman as first officer, and clearly competent, is still striking, particularly in that era.

A little too striking for the network, which told Rodenberry to either dump Number One or get rid of Spock; he opted to keep Spock, believing viewers needed to see an alien on board. Colt got replaced by Rand.

The opening episodes of the regular series do feel much more sexist. Yeoman Rand is mostly there to be pretty and smile and run errands (watching as a teenager, I thought “yeoman” must be something like a valet). Uhura flirts quite a bit with Spock. It’s disappointing to compare.

But then we get to the second episode, Charlie X. This gives the Enterprise it’s first encounter with a cosmically powerful foe, a teenage boy raised by disembodied intelligences who taught him their ability to transform matter. It’s apparently a limitless power, and Charlie’s a teenager, full of raging hormones and completely unused to dealing with other humans. He reacts viciously to slights or hurts and winds up a lot like Billy Mumy’s demigod on It’s a Good Life.

He also looks like the embodiment of the #metoo villain. Once he meets Yeoman Rand she’s all he can think about, and he can’t tolerate being told no. She tries introducing Charlie to a girl his own age; he treats the girl like dirt. His feelings, his needs, are all that he cares about; he thinks he loves Yeoman Rand but she’s just a means to an end, the end being his own satisfaction.

Watching in my teens, I knew he was out of line, but I saw him mostly as a tragic figure, screwed up by his own lack of experience dealing with people. Now I see him as much creepier.

I don’t think I’ll have more to say about the series until I finish S1, but you never know.

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

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Is our writers learning? Magicians on two different worlds

Today I look at two books from recent reading that I liked, but I thought had serious flaws (of course both authors are way more successful than me, so perhaps you should my opinions of them with a grain of salt)

After Year of the Unicorn Andre Norton returned to Estcore for WARLOCK OF THE WITCH WORLD, focusing on Kemoc, the second of the Tregarth triplets. In the aftermath of Three Against the Witch World, Kaththea has found a boyfriend, the noble warrior Dinzil. Everything about Dinzil sets off Kemoc’s alarms, but everyone tells him he’s just jealous of his sister finding someone besides him and his brother. He tells himself that’s right … but then, during one military sortie, he winds up injured, poisoned and alone. And he learns that Dinzil is, indeed, a dangerously bad dude, offering Kaththea training in magic with an eye to luring her to the dark side. With the help of the mer-woman Orsya, Kemoc journeys to Dinzil’s dark tower, picking up a magic sword along the way. Unnervingly, a seer predicts there are three possible outcomes, all of which lead to Kemoc killing Kaththea. As she can’t tell him what events trigger those dooms, he’s completely frozen in deciding what to do next (a nice touch).

The sword, unfortunately, is the book’s big flaw. It’s like a really overpowered magical item in D&D; in addition to standard stuff (flaring in the presence of evil) it can dig through magical barriers, move by itself and at the climax, when Kemoc does kill his gone-to-the-dark-side sister by throwing the sword into her heart, it’s the sword that saves her, turning so she’s just knocked cold by the pommel. That’s the part that really bugged me because it felt like a complete cheat.

AN UNKINDNESS OF MAGICIANS by Kat Howard (of Cathedral of Myth and Bone) takes place during a power struggle between the great Houses of New York’s magical community (if Howard referenced any magic outside of NYC, I missed it). Sydney is the key player among several POV characters: recently released from the House of Shadow (which imprisons mage children as a battery of power other sorcerers can draw on), she’s the champion of one man hoping to found his own house; has a hidden agenda assigned her by Shadow; and an agenda of her own, to smash the nightmare House of Shadows once and for all.

The magic system is pretty simple: apparently you just will it and it happens. As the effects are weird and colorful, this doesn’t come off as Charmed-style magic as psi-power. The magic duels are over fast, with little suspense (Sydney’s very, very good) but that’s okay as the focus is more on character and political scheming: actually winning the duels is secondary.

Where the book disappointed me is that all the character conflicts, the political scheming and Sydney’s war on shadow wrap up with about a fifth of the book left to go. The plotline veers to the mysterious malfunctioning of magic (something set up early on), a battle with one evil, ambitious schemer and Sydney sacrificing her own power so that magic doesn’t disappear completely. It felt like none of this tied in to what the book was about — Sydney’s sacrifice and the need for it came completely out of left field.

I liked both books, but I could have liked them a lot more.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jack Gaughan, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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