Monthly Archives: February 2011

Speaking of my 101…

February went pretty well. I made all my various once-a-month goals and I’ve finally begun putting my juggling practice (yes, I am that nerdy) and sign language sessions back on a regular basis. Not as often as I used to do them on breaks from work at The Destin Log (hey, if someone can take a smoke break, I can take a juggling break!), but some of my admittedly limited skill is returning. Plus I’ve been able to keep up semi-regular cleaning schedule, and I’m doing my part for the wedding planning.
As far as any one-shot, one-time goal, I’ve accomplished one: TYG and I are taking dance classes (this is actually a double-header: Learn to dance and take a class in something).
For writing goals, nothing really done yet, but enough stories are under way I feel pleased.
Bring on March.

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Something I’ve wanted to do for a looooong time

I’m a huge fan of the old Doc Savage pulp series. Lester Dent (who wrote most of them under the “house name” of Kenneth Robeson) knew how to turn out a great adventure story and one of my goals for the 101 in 1,001 is to complete my collection (there’s about 20 of the paperback reprints to go). I suspect that the James Bama covers I went through my teen years with didn’t hurt.

Back in the early eighties, after I started writing, the idea of a story about Doc Savage’s daughter occurred to me. With all the natural ability, skills and training of her father. The same itch for adventure. And a rather tight-jacketed life, too: Her “uncles” Monk and Ham, being skirt-chasers themselves, would make things really, really hard for any guy who tried getting to first base with her (let alone further).
But I had no idea what to really do with the idea, beyond fanfic. Then, a while back, the concept resurfaced with a more definite cast. Doc has a baby in 1950. She turns 18 in ’68 and heads off to find adventure in an America in upheaval.
Somewhere in San Francisco, she meets Secret Service Agent Art West, descendant of Wild Wild West‘s protagonist, who works as an occult investigator for the government (he takes after his ancestor, but also after his crazy sorcerer great-great uncle, Herbert). And trouble starts …
And then this weekend, a voice in my head said it was time. So this morning I started on the first few pages, almost immediately developed a villain and had a monster fly through the window (the fantasy equivalent of Raymond Chandler’s “When you can’t think of anything else, have a man come through the door with a gun.”). Hopefully I’ll finish the first draft and eventually have a workable story (that doesn’t violate anyone’s trademarks). Workable meaning that it would be a good story to read even if you’ve never heard of Jim West or Doc Savage.
Wish me luck!

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Enough is enough, Part two: One-shot villains

DC recently announced that it will bring back Doomsday—the juggernaut responsible for the death of Superman in the 1990s (don’t worry, he got better)—for a big company wide event later this summer.
I’m not impressed. Doomsday worked the first time simply because a mindless, destructive brute capable of smashing through everyone, even Superman, was something different (and of course, he killed Superman). Reuse him and he’s just one more villain—big, strong and powerful, but a little more mundane than before.
Unfortunately, this happens a lot. If a villain works once, the temptation to reuse him seems to be irresistible. Consider:
•The Wrath. After a cop shoots down his petty hoodlum parents, a small boy vows revenge. As an adult, he’s an infamous assassin, specializing in contract-killing cops. But now he’s ready to retire, as soon as he deals with the man who shot his folks—Commissioner James W. Gordon.
Playing Batman against his evil counterpart works beautifully here, but bringing the Wrath back a few years ago (albeit a second Wrath, not the original was just pointless).
•Pluto. I like Marvel’s Olympian death-god in his first appearance, wherein he schemes to trick Hercules into assuming lordship of the underworld, freeing Pluto to join the other gods on Olympus. Thor shows up and agrees to fight for Hercules (despite having been beaten and humiliated by Herc in their last clash) and the subsequent battle reduces the netherworld to a shambles. Pluto realizes the realm he created means too much to him to see it destroyed, and relinquishes his hold on Hercules.
Nicely done. But since then, Pluto’s never been anything but Generic Evil Deity, which not only spoils the original idea of him embracing his role but—well, he’s generic. You could plug any evil deity in for the same effect.
•Galactus. Okay, they could have used Galactus again, but never on Earth.
At the climax of the original Galactus story, Reed uses the Ultimate Nullifier (secured with the help of the Watcher and the Human Torch) to make Galactus back off. Big G gives his word never to threaten Earth again and the Watcher assures Reed that’s as good as gold.
Only it isn’t. Barely two years later, Galactus is having trouble finding planets to eat so he returns to Earth, explaining that yes, of course he gave his word and it’s unbreakable, but—he’s hungry!
In other words, it’s not unbreakable at all. He’s what’s known as honest when convenient. The idea that he’s “above good and evil” and “doing what he must” is nonsense (of course, vampires could say they only do what they must, but the original Galactus story was clear this was the first time he’d threatened a world with intelligent life; later stories would establish he’d actually eatn hundreds of them). And Reed should totally have used the nullifier because there’s no other way to keep Earth safe (and saving Galactus’ life during John Byrne’s run on FF was really, really stupid).
I can understand the appeal of wanting to use a great villain again. But I wish more writers would resist it.

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Enough is enough, part one: When the legend dies, stop printing the legend

(Title refers to a classic line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, in case you were wondering).
Steven Erikson’s Toll the Hounds isn’t the best in his Malazan series. It has lots of rather annoying authorial observations and several dull bits, and it doesn’t seem to advance the overall arc very much, just a lot of fighting, scheming, traveling and talk.
That being said, it didn’t sour me on the series. Partly, I think, because the dull bits are broken up and scattered so there’s never a long boring stretch (in contrast to the first Wheel of Time book or Name of the Wind where the boring bits were in one massive clump). And there are some spectacular bits—how often do you see an apocalyptic battle inside a soul-stealing sword?
But the fact I’m looking forward to reading #9 and #10 (though if the report Erikson’s expanding to 22 voumes is correct, I think I’ll stop there) got me thinking about other series I’ve given up on, and why. The biggest reason, I think, is that the author decides to “explore” their world and forgets about the plot.
Take Laurel Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, for example. I loved the series when it started, but as Anita became more enmeshed in the monster side of things, the series became more and more talky. Lycanthrope pack structure. Lycanthrope politics. Vampire politics. And not in an interesting way, either (I freely admit that as the series is still going strong as far as I know, presumably lots of Hamilton fans do find it interesting). In the last book I tried—Narcissus in Chains, I think, but I’m not sure—Hamilton devoted a huge amount of space to a lengthly political debate between Anita and her vampire allies and the bad vampires. And the topic? IIRC, nothing but the terms for the big upcoming vampire meeting (to make sure they were favorable to the good guys).
There’s nothing wrong with political gaming in a fantasy setting, but one of the first things they tell government reporters (I did the city government thing for 10 years) is that most people don’t care about the political maneuverings or procedures, they want to know what’s actually happening and how it affects them. In Hamilton, nothing happens but the maneuvers are covered in excruciating detail.
Gods of Riverworld is another example: After wrapping up the Riverworld series in the previous book, Philip José Farmer decided to squeeze one more book out. What resulted was exploring the implications of Riverworld technology (which allows you to resurrect the dead) and how people would use it, and that simply wasn’t enough to sustain a novel. There was no there there.
There are also novels in which the relationships between the series characters squeeze out the plot—and then there’s Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. I loved the first few books, but in Faith of the Fallen, Goodkind—a devout objectivist—decides to make the book a statement of objectivist principles. It turns out the evil empire his heroes are fighting is actually a collectivist dystopia where everyone is taught that the community is everything, the individual nothing. Protagonist Richard Rahl explores this in excruciating detail before showing them the individual is all and serving other people is batshit (which is a rather odd philosophy for a guy who’s spent five books putting his life on the line for others).
Not only was this dull, but even for a polemic, it was bad: Why show the empire as something vaguely resembling Soviet collectivism rather than anything contemporary America could identify with? Or is it that Goodkind genuinely believes modern America is a collectivist dystopia and that his story portrays it accurately (much the same way some Christians believe secular society is a depraved orgy where people have no inhibitions on having sex with goats).
Even with a series I love, this kind of thing is guaranteed to kill my interest.
Part two of this post will follow later today.

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Movies and books

First off, an RIP for Nicholas Courtney, the Brigadier on countless episodes of Dr. Who.
Second off, an RIP for Dwayne McDuffie, writer of multiple comics and DC Universe cartoons. Among his many fine works, Damage Control—about the company that cleans up after super-hero battles and alien invasions—remains a personal favorite.
Moving on …
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) is probably the most Cold War of the James Connery bonds—no surprise since the film takes the book’s plot (a Russian attempt to take out Bond) and simply establishes SPECTRE is pulling the Red strings in its scheme to lure Bond to destruction (at the hands of sociopath Robert Shaw) with the combined appeal of a Russian decoding device and sexy file clerk Danielle Bianchi. A landmark for introducing SPECTRE’s Number One and his white cat, and solidly entertaining. Also interesting to see how slow the cuts and jumps are compared to a modern thriller, and how relatively human Bond is (taken down by Shaw’s hitman who, while formidable, is hardly up to the Oddjob or Jaws level). “Your plan was perfect—except you forgot you were dealing with Bond.”
QUAI DES ORFEVRES (1947) was HG Clouzot’s big comeback after Le Corbeau (which was indirectly critical of French collaborationists during WW II) got him blacklisted for several years. This drama has a singer’s jealous husband attempting to cover for her murdering a lecherous film producer, only to find everyone’s stories unraveling under the yes of a disheveled, grumpy cop. Not as dark as Wages of Fear or Diabolique, but very good. “When she showed him her tra-la-la, he surrendered!”

OD MAGIC by Patricia McKillip has a gardener reeking of Earth magic and a street conjurer whose magic may be extremely real find themselves at odds with a kingdom where magic is very carefully controlled for the Good Of All. Not McKillip’s best, but good, remininding me of Diana Wynne Jones’ Year of the Griffin in portraying a school of magic as more likely to straitjacket students’ skills than teach them the real potential of magic.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE: Dr. Death and the Night of the Butcher is my first look at Matt Wagner’s reinvention of the 1930s superhero as a pulp detective, here battling a couple of serial killers while trying to explain to his girlfriend why he didn’t tell her about his double life. Despite much critical acclaim, this didn’t work for me—too slow paced for a good pulp, and not enough of anything else to offset it.

CAIRO is a graphic novel by G. Willow Wilson and M. Henry Pekkar in which an Israeli deserter, an aspiring suicide bomber, a petty drug dealer, a jinn and a naive American are among those caught up the search for a mysterious McGuffin that could determine the destiny of the Middle East (the McGuffin shows Wilson’s fondness for words and symbols from her Air comic-book series, though it got a little heavy-handed). A fun, fast-paced read.
(And no, I don’t know why the picture came in wrong side up).
FIRE by Kristin Cashore has a telepathic mutant in a fantasy setting reluctantly becoming involved in helping a king win a civil war despite her fears using her powers will lead her down the slippery slope to becoming the mind-controlling manipulator her father was. Cashore does a good job on her lead character, but this runs longer than could hold my interest, partly because she’s not tempted by the dark side enough for it to be a serious factor in the story.
THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES—2007, edited by Stephen King makes me wonder if the top short stories writers are all getting older or if that’s where King’s interest lies, since a large number of them deal with either seniors struggling with their own aging or Baby Boomers coping with having aging parents. As usual with serious literature, a lot of this didn’t work for me, though there was the excellent fantasy “St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised By Wolves” and even mainstream pieces such as “My Brother Eli” that I enjoyed. Overall, though, not quite to my taste.
INVISIBLE DEATH: A Tale of Zarkon, Lord of the Unknown From the Files of Omega, by Lin Carter has Carter’s Doc Savage pastiche and his crew investigate why a series of wealthy men have keeled over dead after receiving mysterious letters from a “Grim Reaper” (now it’s hard to read without thinking of the 2001 anthrax letters). This is weaker than the first book (doing a pulp knockoff doesn’t justify pulp ethnic cliches) though it does have a lot of pulp and comic references such as Zarkon chatting with Bruce Wayne, Lamont Cranston, Britt Reid, Richard (The Spider) Wentworth and Doc Savage’s aide Ham Brooks. Enjoyable, if hardly first-rate.

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A mostly good week, but I’m glad it’s done

As with the previous week, this was a little disorganized. I had my regular doctor’s checkup Wednesday morning and my first visit to a Durham dentist in the afternoon. Looks like I’m due for my first filling in a couple of weeks.
This cost me less eHow time than I thought, which was pleasing, and despite a lot of above-average expenses (business license, some birthday presents, the trip down to Florida) my income covered my outgo. Always a nice feeling.
As for writing:
•I’ve sketched out a time frame for reworking Brain From Outer Space. If all goes as planned (cue the ominous music) it should be in replotted and in roughly finished form by the end of September.
•Went over the various short stories again and they look good. I’m going to put them away for a month, look at them at the end of March and if there are no problems, I’ll have them out in April.
•My McFarland royalties came in. Only two of Screen Enemies sold for the accounting period, alas (plus some copies of my earlier books). So I’ll have to wait until September for more.
•My conspiracy theory comedy, Original Synergy came back from Tor.com. Out again next month! Although I’ve no idea where yet (for various reasons, it’s a hard one to place).
And that’s about it. Goodness, for what felt like a busy, frantic week, it’s not much to talk about.

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Since I’m not asleep just now, I might as well point out some right-wing nonsense

Roy Edroso scrutinizes some of the right-wing reactions to the Obama administration deciding not to defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (unsurprisingly, they think it’s horrible, shocking, awful). Of particular interest is this Megan McArdle post quoting another pundit, Orin Kerr.
Kerr’s point: This is exactly the same as when Bush violated the Constitution with all that torture and illegal detention and warrantless spying (“there’s an interesting analytical similarity.”).
McArdle’s point: “I think it would be disastrous on a whole lot of levels if the GOP managed to undo ObamaCare with this sort of thing. But if the precedent stands, I think you can expect them to try it the next time they have the presidency.”
Not to worry, Ms. McArdle. As Talking Points Memo shows, there are already multiple examples of past administrations doing this. And it’s not as if Obama defending this would restrain Republican reactions toward the healthcare bill: As John Yoo and David Addington showed under Bush, precedent is something that binds little people, not Republicans.
As for Kerr, as Lawyers, Guns and Money details, this isn’t even remotely comparable to Bush’s torture, eavesdropping and detention policies. Obama isn’t ignoring the law or claiming the “unitary president’s” power to break it or forcing state governments to recognize each other’s gay marriages. The White House is simply not defending it (though apparently that is highly significant). The arguments of one blogger LGM quotes that not defending the law amounts to tyranny don’t add up to a hill of beans.

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Why does Georgia’s Bobby Franklin hate women?

Georgia’s Bobby Franklin, previously noteworthy for suggesting the state laws refer to rape victims as “rape accusers,” has now proposed a fetal personhood bill. The gist: The legislature knows for a fact that life begins at conception, so abortion is murder. And if any woman has a miscarriage, there will be an investigation and she will have to explain the circumstances of the case—or the investigator will ask her friends and family.
Yes, a wonderful use of state tax dollars in a tight economy, Rep. Franklin: Harass women who’ve just suffered a miscarriage! Has he the slightest idea how many miscarriages take place (about one in three pregnancies, I’ve read)? Very effective getting government off our backs, Mr. Franklin!
As one of the commenters at the link (to Echidne’s blog) points out, by this logic, Franklin should be targeting companies that produce birth-defect causing chemicals. Anyone want to bet that will happen? If so, I’ll take that bet: This has nothing to do with protecting fetuses and everything to do with keeping women in a subordinate position. The Republican policy is that no woman should be able to have sex without the risk of pregnancy (though a fair number of right-to-life—or as Digby calls them, forced-birth activists—are willing to make an exception for their own families), and if the pregnancy threatens her health, she should just die. Amanda Marcotte discusses that here.
The bill also asserts,that Roe vs. Wade was unconstitutional and that Supreme Court decisions, in general, are only binding on that particular case. E.g., Brown vs. Board of Education couldn’t affect segregated schools outside that particular school district, Roe vs. Wade couldn’t strike down all abortion laws, etc.
Variations of this have been around for years. It’s shown up in several bills in the past decade, for instance, that propose to strip the Supreme Court of authority in prayer-in-school cases or any government endorsement of religion.
I have no idea if Franklin expects this bill to pass, or if he’s just hoping to shift the playing field further to the right. If creating a miscarriage police becomes an acceptable part of the discussion it may happen eventually; even if not, less extreme (but still ugly and anti-woman) measures may look good by comparison. And Dems who want to look bipartisan and wise can accept policies that now look outrageous and hold them up as “compromise.”
Which is a mistake. The forced-birth movement isn’t into compromise, it’s into taking away the rights to abortion, contraception and women’s sexual freedom, step by step.

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Historian, shmistorian

I’ve been meaning to get to this for a while. Earlier this month Kevin Leman’s Civil War Memory posted about a new book revealing The Truth about the Civil War (i.e., the modern myth that secession had nothing to do with the desire to keep American Negroes in chains—my thoughts on this are here). One of the selling points: “Gordon Spencer Gantt has no accolades, holds no super diplomas, has no pedigree of published writings to impress you with. He’s an average guy, a Joe Sixpak type of guy, and he has written this book from the viewpoint of the common man.”
Now I’m hardly one to argue that having a lack of published writings is a bar to doing a good book. Or that you need a diploma to write about something; I’ve ehowed a lot of topics that I never knew crap about before I wrote the article.
But I find it interesting (and not in a good way) that Gantt’s lack of expertise is held up as a plus. And that he’s supposedly writing from “the viewpoint of the common man” rather than someone who’s seriously studied the subject.
This could reflect the right-wing’s disdain for elitists, but I think it’s the more time-honored American disdain for intellectuals and the educated (there’s some overlap, but I think they’re separate strains).
Not that being educated and trained is always a bad thing, even for anti-intellectuals. Nobody would tout a new pro football quarterback as having “no pedigree of wins to impress you, he’s a regular guy …” I don’t think anyone wants a car mechanic with no experience. But of course, those are Manly Skills for Manly Men, not cissy stuff like studying history (I guess the female equivalent would be the uneducated woman who may not be able to run a business, but she sure knows how to catch a man, and that means she outranks all them smart educated frigid bitches, don’t it?).
Why the hostility for intellectuals? I’m not sure of the root cause, but these days it takes several forms.
•Intellectuals have no practical skills! Pundit Peggy Noonan once praised Bush as a common-sense guy who would help out in a fire by making sure everyone was safe, in contrast to intellectuals who would … well, she doesn’t explain, but presumably they wouldn’t have the real-world smarts to actually do anything useful.
This crops up in Britain, too; one newspaper hailed one of the 1920s Prime Ministers with the compliment that “he doesn’t think too much.”
•Intellectuals ask questions!

My Son John (1952) is a textbook example of this. The movie reveals that the first step Commie spy Robert Walker took toward the dark side was to start questioning the Catholic Church and his parents’ beliefs. British preacher/author Charles Kingsley made the same complaint about intellectuals in the 19th century: Instead of just doing what’s obviously right and proper, they start thinking. And then they start challenging what everyone accepts is right. Which leads to point three—
•You don’t need some educated, PC intellectual to explain stuff! Anyone can see the real facts if they just open their eyes!
An awful lot of people want to believe that their preconceptions are, in fact, objective facts (some of these people are quite educated and intellectual, admittedly). Everyone we lock up in Gitmo is guilty. The Bible and the Constitution confirm my personal beliefs about the way things are. Men are naturally superior. Slavery wasn’t that bad. Communists are plotting to take over America. Men rape because they’re oversexed.
And here come the intellectuals, saying it all isn’t so. Dammit, they’re just a bunch of PC-liars, covering up truths that are as plain as the nose on your faith! Do they think they’re smarter than we are? Do they think we can’t put two and two together? (Okay, maybe resentment of “elites” does play a role).
So if someone wants to reassure the bigots of America that of course slavery wasn’t a problem and all the coloreds are just a bunch of whiners, (I admit I haven’t read the book, but the ad seems to thump a familiar drum) why would he need a degree? He’s right!
UPDATE: I realize I was remiss not including the multiple press criticisms of Al Gore in the 2000 presidential campaign for being Too Damn Smart. The Daily Howler has covered this repeatedly over the years, such as this 2003 post.

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Apparently this is a good week for blogging about sexism

In this interview on HuffPo, antifeminist activist Phyliss Schaffly asserts that “None of the feminists’ goals, including the Equal Rights Amendment, offered women a single benefit they didn’t have before, zip. But it would have taken away a lot of the rights and benefits women then possessed such as the right to be exempt from the military and the right of a wife to be supported by her husband. Feminists demeaned marriage and motherhood even though most women want marriage and motherhood. Feminism has run its course, and surveys show that women are not as happy now as they were in the 1950s.”
The question before us is, is Schaffly a baldfaced liar, or is she simply an expert at the NahNahNah I Can’t Hear You school of blocking out inconvenient facts that disagree with her worldview.
The benefits that have been gained by feminism?
•One of our last two Democratic presidential contenders was a woman. We’ve had two female Secretaries of State in a row (I’m not a fan of Condoleeza Rice, but it’s still significant) and now four female Supreme Court justices.
•Sexual harassment is taken seriously. Of course, Schaffly’s view of harassment (stated in a column some years ago) is that it’s a fitting punishment for sluts: Men respect virtuous women, but if a woman’s giving it away, naturally they feel entitled to a share.
•Rape is taken far more seriously. Although antifeminists still want to turn back the clock on that.
•Society takes seriously the idea that women should have equal opportunity to men. Not that glass ceilings and workplace sexism don’t exist, but they’re not uncontested and we no longer hold them up as the unquestioned right of men to get all the jobs.
•Spousal abuse is taken seriously.
•It’s no longer illegal to be a lesbian.
•Married woman can get credit, buy a house, open an account without having to have their husband’s say-so.
As for demeaning marriage and motherhood, feminism is more about making sure women get an equal shake: Pointing out how much work women do that’s taken for granted, the advantage it gives men in the workplace and the stigma that still attaches to working mothers.
Phyliss Schaffly posing as a supporter of women’s rights is like Dracula posing as a defender of necks.

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