Truckers, sex, pseudoscience and girl heroes: books and TPBs

THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE WHEEL by RS Belcher makes me wonder if Highway Fantasy is the coming thing, as this shares a lot of elements with Sparrow Hill Road: America’s r0ads as a supernatural domain, phantom hitchhikers, demonic pacts at crossroads. The premise is that the Knights Templar are still around helping out travelers in the guise of state troopers, truckers, bikers and such. Now a supernatural serial killer working out of a town that doesn’t exist plots to commit a brutal sacrifice that will raise his dark god to destroy the world; can this motley group of heroes stop him? This is well done but doesn’t grab me like Belcher’s Weird Westerns — the nuts and bolts of trucking and forensic evidence didn’t interest me at all (but that’s more a YMMV thing than a flaw in the book).

SEXUAL SCIENCE: The Victorian Construction of Womanhood by Cynthia Eagle Russett looks at how breakthroughs in physics, medicine, phrenology and biology gave 19th-century scientists a chance to establish exactly what it was that made women inherently inferior to men — was it brain size? That women were simply more average and less individuated than men? Too emotional? Lack of maturity (children don’t have beards, women don’t have beards, so obviously women are immature men)? The need to divert their finite body energy supply to reproduction (the discussion of how researchers applied the Second Law of Thermodynamics to human bodies makes me understand why draining energy through masturbation was seen as such a threat)? Why yes, it does appear they might have been basing their ideas on sexism rather than science, though many of them were happy to pull the Different Not Inferior card (many of them recoiled from the implication women’s lesser intellects might make them unfit to be mothers). Very good, if depressingly familiar.

SCARLET ROSE: I Knew I’d Meet You by Patricia Lyfoung is a pleasant enough graphic novel about a proper young miss who to her grandfather’s horror is more interested in following the path of Robin Hood-esque “the Fox” than attending balls and making a good match. This was too familiar a set-up for me, but it’s YA so I’m not the target audience.

HOW TO FAKE A MOON LANDING by Darryl Cunningham is a collection of comics explaining that no, the moon landing wasn’t faked; yes, vaccines save lives; yes, global warming is a thing; and so on. While I applaud the intentions, there’s nothing new to me in the material and visually Cunningham’s work is very dull. I gave up midway through.

Rereading the second volume of PAPER GIRLS (this time following Volume One) by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang, I found it holds up really well. Mac, Tiffany and Erin arrive in the present (their future) and discover what’s become of them, with Erin decidedly unimpressed with her future self (it reminded me of Disney’s The Kid — no dog, no husband, and a stupid job?). Who’s the other Erin showing up in a spacesuit? Why doesn’t adult Erin remember any of this adventure? Very enjoyable, with some great pop culture references (“Oh my god, you grew up to be Airwolf!”).

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


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Wild, Wild West: In living color, with slightly less sexism

Due to Trixie being ill last weekend, I wasn’t in the mood for watching any movies. However I did recently finish the second season of Wild, Wild West, so it gets this post all to itself. The two big differences from S1 are that it’s in color, and a lot less sexist.

Not non-sexist. It’s still a show where men are men and women are eye candy. However it’s not as over-the-top sexist as I found the first season, just average sexism for 1960s TV. It also had one memorable female role: Agnes Moorehead (best known as Endora on Bewitched) as Emma Valentine, a society matchmaker with a plan to take over the United States and a biting tongue. After her steampunk computer-matchmaking system processes Jim West’s taste, Valentine sneers that “your ideal girl is a combination of Helen of Troy, Aphrodite and Lola Montez,” the latter being a well known dancer/courtesan. There’s also an enjoyable female crime boss in “Night of the Poisonous Posey.”

Racewise, there are some problematic episodes. Sammy Davis Jr. in “Night of the Colonel’s Ghost” is an early example of the Magic Negro and Nehemiah Persoff gets into yellowface for “Night of the Deadly Blossom.”

Airing the show in color is a mixed bag. It’s nice to see, but it sometimes feels too bright and pastel. That may reflect that color TV was knew and they wanted to make the most of the palette. Or maybe not.

Dr. Loveless, played by the swaggering dwarf Michael Dunn, returns for four more episodes (the scene above is from “Night of the Bogus Bandits.”). The show tried expanding the rogue’s gallery with Count Manzeppi (Victor Buono), a sinister stage magician who leads a team of circus performers turned killers. Manzeppi appears in two episodes, but he really doesn’t work for me. He’s just too arrogant, and invariably seems to be four steps ahead of Jim and Artie, and I never really bought him as believable. Emma Valentine would have been fun to reuse but even though she escapes at the end of the episode, the teaser has her recaptured off-stage.

A minor change in the show is that Jim and Artie’s status as government agents are now publicly known. They’re famous undercover men; when Jim apparently kills Artie in “Night of the Skulls,” it’s front page news.

Overall, though, the series delivers what it did the first season. Lots of action and spectacular fight scenes, strong guest stars (Moorehead, Davis, Ed Begley Sr., Boris Karloff) and plenty of steampunk science (shrinking rays, robots, mind-control drugs, difference machines [not called that]). Plus the occasional supernatural-ish episode, whether explained away (“Night of the Wolf’) or not (“Night of the Man-Eating House.”).

I’m looking forward to S3, though there’s enough to watch I haven’t started it yet.

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

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The actor’s nightmare? Seriously?

I mean, come on! It’s been eight years since I was on stage and I’m having this now?

For those who don’t know, the actor’s nightmare is a dream in which you’re going on stage but you have no idea what your lines are, or maybe even not the show. I’ve had it several times in my life, though none of them were in relation to actually doing a play. So maybe having this one Wednesday night is not surprising.

We open with me driving to where the actors are assembling for a production of Born Yesterday, a 1950s comedy (I was actually in it around 30 years ago) directed by my old drama teacher, Jo Yeager. I know we’re meeting in a hotel before we go to the theater (a lot of my dreams are set in hotels), so I drive into the lobby, which the staff take with great aplomb, directing me to the lower floor. I’m figuring how to get down there in my car, but when I actually arrive, I’m somehow on a bicycle.

Sam, one of my writing group colleagues (he’s a real person, unlike most of the people in this dream), tosses me a line and waits for me to say mine. I’m blank, so he gives it to me. It’s something to the effect of “I have to know it if I’m going to New York,” “it” being some Irish play (because there are lots of Irish Americans in New York). I realize I don’t know any of my lines. I haven’t even practiced them the past week! I spent the rest of the dream trying to pick up peoples’ scripts and flip through them to jog my memory, but none of the scripts have my lines in them. I’ve no idea how this resolves itself; the end of the dream is my driving home and trying to figure out what direction home is.

I’m pretty sure the underlying meaning is that I felt really stressed this week. First, Trixie being sick and not really relaxing this weekend. Then having trouble focusing because Trixie was sick. Then trying to make up for lost time because I’d been unfocused. Thursday was when this week’s Screen Rant was due (on Sailor Moon, hence the illustration), and I was much further from completion than normal for deadline day. So stress is understandable, is it not?

Doing Leaf articles and Screen Rant compounded my stress. Unlike say my film books, they’re short, tight deadlines so I don’t have much wiggle room. And because I’m doing two different Leaf projects, the amount I’ve been writing has been higher than usual. When it’s my own deadlines I can always be flexible if I have a reason. Not so much this week, though I did unclaim a couple of Leaf articles I’d planned to do today (four is enough). One of the projects is wrapping up though, so I’ll be handling much fewer the rest of the month (and April, if the work lasts).

I did complete my Screen Rant on the Sailor Moon/Tuxedo Mask relationship (above is the photo of their wedding from the live-action Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon).

I started proofing my test copy of Atlas Shagged and almost immediately found errors. One of which is prominent enough I’ll need to re-upload the corrected text. C’est la vie.

I finished the next draft of No One Shall Slay Her but didn’t make my 1,000-words-a-day quota. Partly that’s the slowing down, partly that the next thing I planned to work on (The Impossible Takes a Little Longer) is at an awkward point that needs some thought to fix. However I got back in the groove today, with a thousand-words on a new story I’m tentatively calling Neverwas. It felt soooo good to write some fiction.

All in all, I think I did well.

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


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Filed under Atlas Shagged, Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Personal, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals

My poor little puppy!

So a week ago, Trixie started needing to go out every couple of hours to take a very diarrheal poop (I give her top marks for doing her best to get me to take her instead of just going somewhere in the house). Not good, but not that alarming.

Early Saturday morning, she puked. Which dogs do, so not disastrous (yet).

Then I went out around 6:30 to wait at the closest driver’s license office. I needed mine renewed and it’s easiest to go on Saturday. Of course it’s easiest for a lot of people so there were already a dozen ahead of me, waiting for the office to open at 8 a.m. To the staff’s credit, once it was open, things moved smooth as silk, and I was out and back home pretty quick.

By then TYG had texted me that Trixie continued puking, so she’d made a vet appointment. We arrived around 11, with Plushie in tow (so he wouldn’t be completely alone — he hates that). The vet said she’d keep Trixie for tests and to see how she progressed, so we left her and came back around 4:30. They’d given her antinausea meds for the vomiting and found gas bubbles in her stomach, nothing more. Usually when she’s nauseous she’s eaten something, but perhaps this was just a bug.

When we brought Trixie home, she was tired, listless and miserable. And then vomited again. So we did what the vet said and took her to the 24-hour vet service. They kept her overnight, giving her meds/food/water intravenously.

We brought her home the next day and she was even more miserable. No surprise; she hates needles and they’d stuck her quite a bit. So we worried and fretted about whether that’s all it was, or whether she’d need to go back.

Not to worry. By Tuesday she was completely back to her usual self, thank goodness. But needless to say, that was not a restful weekend. And dealing with a sick pup was very distracting when the work week started up — but I’ll get to that with this afternoon’s post.

#SFWApro. Rights to image are mine, please credit me if you use.



Filed under Personal, The Dog Ate My Homework

Books are too expensive, so it’s okay to pirate them. Oh, really?

While I liked the book Brand Name Bullies, one thing that didn’t go over so well was David Bollier apparently buying into the stock anti-copyright/pro-piracy arguments (some of this is my interpretation so if I’m getting him wrong I apologize). As lots of people will create for free, do we really need copyright to have a thriving culture? If the industry would just make the price more reasonable, or release the album/book/DVD immediately, people would be happy to buy it.

I blogged about some of these arguments a couple of years back, but I’d like to take this post to argue again against the “they’re just too expensive” stance. This is the view that the price of books, or at least ebooks is too high so hey, you shouldn’t have to pay that much, so hey, you’re entitled to steal.

First off, let’s point out the obvious: some people just want their books free. Ditto music.

Second, how exactly are the people who make this argument calculating the “right” price? Are they assuming it’s the labor of putting the book in digital form — laying it out, editing it, creating a digital file? Do they consider the cost of paying for the cover, or publicity? Do they include the value of the actual story itself, because that’s why the book has, you know, words instead of just being a bunch of blank pages. And why, other than I Want It do they assume their assessment of the price is better than the author/publisher? As John Scalzi points out, even physical books of similar size and format don’t cost the same for lots of valid reasons.

To take an obvious example, the price of my self-published books is based on a)a price I think the market will accept; b)a price that gives me an adequate return on my effort. That takes into account that the online bookstores that sell the ebook (or Createspace for physical copies) take a cut; I have to set a price large enough to cover them. Believe me it’s not a substantial return, but what if it was? I’m the one who produced it, I have the right to set a price. If it’s more than the market will bear, people won’t buy it. Except the “you should have made it cheaper” people don’t accept that. They figure they should be able to get the book if they want it and not pay me anything (I’m willing to bet if I had a PayPal or Patreon they wouldn’t be contributing the “fair” price to compensate).

I have no sympathy for this crap. In the many years I did the struggling-writer shtick, I saw lots of books I couldn’t afford. I didn’t steal copies. I wouldn’t do it if I were still struggling. If it was a paper copy, would they shoplift it from Barnes & Noble if they thought it was overpriced? Or how about a restaurant — if the service takes too long (the “they don’t release it fast enough” argument), does that mean they’re entitled to steal food from the salad bar? Soft drinks cost a fraction of what they sell for, does that make it okay to steal them? Or movie tickets — lord knows those are outrageously priced, but does that justify sneaking in without paying?

One argument I see occasionally is that because digital copies are so cheap and easy to replicate, pirating one of them doesn’t hurt the way stealing something physical does. I don’t think that holds up: stealing one copy of Dan Brown’s latest from Barnes & Noble or swiping some breadsticks from Olive Garden certainly won’t cause a massive shortage. Sure, if everyone did that, it would be a problem, but that’s true of ebooks. If 100 people pirate Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast, that’s around $100 out of my pocket. That won’t leave me in the poorhouse, but it’s not nothing (and for people who aren’t two-income families, $100 could be very significant indeed).

I realize even if my readers include pro-piracy types, I’m unlikely to change anything. But still, it’s worth saying.

#SFWApro. Image courtesy of Wikimedia, from Charles Elms’ The Pirates’ Own Book.



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From short story to novel, two examples

Many specfic writers have taken a short story and turned it into a novel. This makes sense — start with a proven success, make more money off it — but I think it’s trickier than it looks.

Case in point, Robert Sheckley’s The Seventh Victim, which became a movie and then turned into the novel The 10th Victim. The short story is an effective little thriller: in a future where humans work out their aggressive impulses through hunting each other (all legally, with targets who volunteer), the protagonist gets assigned a woman. Flirting with her to get close, he falls in love. He discovers, too late, that she knew who he was and she doesn’t love him at all… (This idea obviously appealed to Sheckley as he used it in The Prize of Peril and as an element in the novel Immortality, Inc.).

The trouble with expanding a story to novel length is that it requires adding material, and it’s not always as good as the short story. Borrowing heavily from the movie script (I haven’t seen it so I don’t know how close it comes), Sheckley has the female hunter working in a Hollywood studio. Her boss decides to film the whole thing as a reality show (so we’d call it now). The Hollywood humor takes up a lot of the expanded story, and that just didn’t work for me. It’s old, stale stuff — people have been sending up Hollywood Yes Men since P.G. Wodehouse mocked them in the 1930s.

Sheckley also follows the movie by having his hunter and quarry fall in love. That might have worked with the right performers conveying sexual interest, but he couldn’t pull it off on the printed page.

SPARROW HILL ROAD by Seanan McGuire is a much better book, built in a series of short stories. The premise is that years ago, Rose Marshall died fleeing a soul-stealing occultist, Bobby Cross. Her ghost escaped him and became the Phantom Hitchhiker, wandering the roads of America (the highways are drenched with magic) and helping people out. When she convinces someone to give her a ride, they discover later that if they’d gone home the usual way, they’d have wound up in a fatal crash. But Bobby Cross is still out there, and the time is coming for them to meet again …

I liked this, but I think novelizing a short story series created problems (as I’m doing the same thing more-or-less with Atoms for Peace, this is obviously of interest). It’s not just a short story collection — it has an overall arc that I don’t expect from, say, Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes or a Lord Dunsany collection — but it doesn’t have enough. It’s simply Rose having adventures over and over, gaining friends, occasionally running from Bobby Cross, but like Lovecraft Country it doesn’t really build up to anything. Even the final clash with Bobby Cross doesn’t feel like a climax just an installment.

Another problem is that a lot of the information about this system of magic gets repeated more than once. That makes sense in individual, separately published stories, but editing would have helped. It’s something I’ve worked hard to prune from Atoms for Peace, because the original stories did it quite a lot.

Sparrow Hill Road is still a good book, though. Certainly better than The 10th Victim.

#SFWApro. Cover by Aly Hill, all rights to image remain with current holder.


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Catching up on graphic-novel reviews

TOTALLY AWESOME HULK: My Best Friends Are Monsters by Greg Pak and others is set during a period when Korean-American teen genius Amadeus Cho had become the Hulk and discovers it’s not as easy reining in the monster as he assumed (unsurprisingly, we’re already back with Bruce). Pak writes Hulk well, but this is a collection of random issues from different storylines, so it’s more a teaser than a standalone.

CHEW: Just Desserts by Jon Layman and Rob Guillory continues the goofy tone as Tony and John continue the hunt for rogue FDA agent Savoy, Tony and Amelia finally get into bed and we meet the super-chicken Poyo, who plays a larger role going forward. Low-key fun, but very fun.

HOW TO FAKE A MOON LANDING by Darryl Cunningham is well intentioned in exposing crackpot theories such as climate-change denial, The Moon Landing Was a Fake and anti-vaccination mythology. Unfortunately the visual style is flat (in contrast to say Larry Gonick’s flair for doing science in comic-strip form) and there’s nothing new to me besides the moon landing stuff.

SHELTERED: A Pre-Apocalyptic Taleby Ed Brisson and Johnnie Christmas is a grim little drama about a group of survivalists (“preppers” I guess is the current slang) who face an unexpected threat — the psycho teen son of one of them, who murders all the adults to set up his own little tyranny. Two teenage girls begin to suspect what’s going on, but will their friends listen? Grim and competently done, but not to my taste.

FEEDING GROUND by Swifty Lang, Christopher Mangun and Michael Lapinski is a good, absorbing story about a Mexican who helps illegal immigrants slip across the border; when his family piss off a local crime boss, they have to make the trip themselves. Unfortunately it’s interwoven with an unsuccessful story about werewolves that I couldn’t figure out and didn’t really care to. So ultimately, not a success.

I recently began rereading Jack Cole’s PLASTIC MAN ARCHIVES with Vol. 1, and once again found myself in awe of Cole’s ability. While stretching, shapeshifting heroes are common enough today, Plastic Man represented something new in the 1940s (and was named, of course, after that cool, modern technology, plastics!). Cole takes full advantages of the visual potentials, plus he has a great sense of humor, pairing Plas with the most unlikely sidekick, fat, dimwitted petty crook Woozy Winks. By the end of the book (in which Woozy drags Cole himself into one adventure) Cole has definitely got the hang of things. Even before that he has some insane comedic ideas, such as a crime boss using an old-age home as a source of slave labor (every young guy he recruited got snatched up by the draft board, so …) Small wonder that while Plas started out as as backup in Police Comics (the breakout star was supposed to be Reed Crandall’s dynamically drawn Firebrand) he took the cover with #5 (by Gill Fox) and never looked back. Highly recommended.

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