Thanks (#SFWApro)

To TYG, for being in my life.

And to the pups, because no matter how frustrating it may be working while caring for them, I’ve never once regretted that we adopted them. That has to be a good sign.

Come to think of it I’ve never regretted moving up here to be with TYG, either.

There are lots of other people in my life to thank, but I’ll stop there.

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Filed under Personal, The Dog Ate My Homework

Is Our Writers Learning? Welcome to Nightvale (#SFWApro)

contentIt’s been more than a year since I did an Is Our Writer’s Learning? post, but WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (cover by Rob Wilson, all rights with current holder) is a perfect book to resume, precisely because it’s a curate’s egg (a British reference that means some parts are very good) so there’s plenty to learn.

The story: The novel is set in the same town as the creators’ smash-hit podcasts (which I haven’t listened to). Jackie Fierro, a pawnbroker who stopped aging at nineteen, is content doing business according to her time-honored rituals (“There will first be some handwashing, which is why there are bowls of purified water throughout the shop.”). Then she receives a slip of paper with “King City” written on it, and to her horror, cannot get it out of her hand. She can burn it, throw it away, cut it to shreds, but it comes back. Meanwhile, office drone Diane Crayton has her own problems: a coworker has vanished and apparently never existed; she’s seeing her ex-husband everywhere, literally; and her fifteen-year-old son Josh is well, a teenager. Inevitably, the two women’s respective problems turn out to be related, and King City is where they both need to get answers. If they can only find a way out of Night Vale ..

The parts that were good: As I mentioned writing about the fifth Harry Potter, details count for a lot in fantasy and Night Vale is all about the details. It’s a place where clouds are created to hide the UFOs hovering overhead, there’s a faceless old woman living in Diane’s house, people visit the pawnbroker after a moment of existential angst “A stab of panic about how alone you are—it will be like most showers you’ve taken.”) and plastic flamingos can hurl you back in time. The library is a Hellmouth. During a visit to a video rental store, Jackie and Diane drop some tapes. They crack and there’s nothing inside but moist dirt and crawling insects. A city board randomly changes the meaning of words. The details are awesome.

The book also has great weird scenes, and some good lines (“People are just deaths that haven’t happened yet.”).

But then there’s the setting: Rowling, as noted at the link above, has great detail, but it fits in with her world. Night Vale isn’t a world, it’s a big accumulation of weird detail piled atop weird detail. I enjoy all the details, and in short podcast doses I think I’d love the details, but at novel length it’s obvious “there’s no there there.” Night Vale has no substance; it has no internal logic that makes me believe all the weird things can co-exist in one town (and I’ve been reading Marvel and DC since I was six, so I have no problems believing that gods, androids, African monarchs and mutants all coexisting on the same team). It’s like sketch comedy stretched out to feature film length.

And also the characters: I like that in Night Vale everyone calmly accepts the insane facts of life, but again, this doesn’t work so well stretched to 400 pages. Jackie and Diane are phlegmatic about a lot of what goes on; Jackie knows she’s stayed young for some reason while her friends have aged and grown away from her, but she’s just resigned to it. It’s hard for me to care if the characters don’t. And while Jackie freaking over the accursed paper is a nice touch (it reminds me of a Kafka story where a bachelor is constantly followed by two bouncing rubber balls), at 400 pages it feels, again, like a gimmick more than something substantial (Kafka’s story was short).

So I think I learned quite a bit from this. And don’t get me wrong, I liked it, but I don’t think Fink and Cranor transitioned from podcast to book as smoothly as they should have.

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Filed under Is Our Writers Learning?, Reading, Writing

Catching up on Hellboy (#SFWApro)

And I’ve already added these to the Hellboy Chronology page, in case you were asking.

HELLBOY AND THE BPRD: 1952 is an account of Hellboy’s first field mission, as written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi and illustrated by Alex Maleev. The mission involves a string of mysterious deaths in Brazil, which leads Hellboy and his human companions to a secret laboratory, killer apes, leftover Nazis and a traitor in the BPRD’s own ranks. I hope we see more of this—I really do miss the old days of Hellboy working for the agency. And someday I want to see Varvara and Hellboy meeting.

ABE SAPIENS: A Darkness so Great by Mignola, Scott Allie and Max and Sebastian Fiumara has Abe and Grace arrive in a small Texas town miraculously untouched by the horrors swarming over the country. Wouldn’t you know, it’s because the local preacher has been praying to something that is not Jesus … Good, though it shows the problems of the Chronology that according to the first chapter here, all of Abe Sapiens: Sacred Places took place within a two-week span (I’d figured on a couple of months at least—and in terms of publication, it’s five months of Abe’s series). Like Hellboy in Hell, this presents the netherworld as being plunged into chaos by recent events, forcing demons to stake out new turf in our world, something I’m sure will pay off more as time passes.

24688091BPRD HELL ON EARTH: Flesh and Stone (Mignola, Arcudi and James Harren—cover illustration by Laurence Campbell, all rights with current holder) has Johann and Howards (the BPRD agent who got plunged back to the stone age) lead a monster fighting mission into a small town. Meanwhile the Black Flame prepares to strike again and in the most interesting plot thread, Russia’s Nichaeyko and Varvara debate whether letting her lead the forces of Hell against the monsters would be a net win. The main plot feels like a routine installment in the overall arc rather than a standalone story, but the Nichaeyko stuff is good (I love Varvara).

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More Paris, more politics

Along with lying about how many whites are shot by blacks, Trump has also claimed that on 9/11 he saw thousands of Muslims celebrating in New Jersey, despite being in NYC at the time. Roy Edroso looks at the right’s continuing condemnation of the Syrian refugees, and its defense of Trump—just because Trump overestimated the number of Muslims hardly proves he’s a liar! After all, it’s just as much a lie to say Muslims are peaceful, so Clinton is as bad as Trump, QED!

•Ted Cruz says we can let Christian Syrians in because Christians don’t commit terrorism. That’s bullshit.

•We also have several white guys arrested for shooting at black protesters in Minneapolis.

•One water law for rich and poor alike, resulting in millionaires being able to keep five swimming pools during a drought while people who xeriscape and only flush toilets occasionally still get fined.

•Yesterday I linked to the story of an FBI informant who seduced an activist into a terrorist plot. That sort of thing happens in Britain, too.

•The Mayor of Roanoke, Va., said that shutting out Syrian refugees is a smart policy just like interning Japanese Americans. At the link, he insists his statement was very respectful and moderate and he had no idea that if he posted it online, lots of people outside Roanoke would hear about it.

•The New York subways object to running some positive Muslim ads, but they’re okay with decorating a car with Nazi imagery for Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle.

•A North Carolina historian rips into claims from Niall Ferguson about how Muslims living in Europe is the fall of Rome all over again.

•A blogger wonders why an obit would only mention the deceased’s male parent.

•Beware the security flaw on new Dell laptops.

•Justice Richard Posner points out that requiring abortion doctors have admitting privileges at hospitals in case something goes wrong ignores that abortion is safer than many procedures that don’t have this requirement. It’s almost like the law was trying to drive abortion doctors out of business …

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Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

How not to write coincidences (#SFWApro)

bravebold125I like Bob Haney’s Silver Age work on Aquaman and the Teen Titans but his Brave and the Bold was often hit-or-miss. The stories of Batman teamed with various heroes are often so discontinuous (like having the Earth One Batman old enough to have operated in WW II) that there’s an old joke that they should be consigned to the parallel world of “Earth B.”

And then there’s #125 (cover by Jim Aparo, all rights with current holder), a striking example of how not to write a story that relies heavily on coincidence. The standard rule is that coincidence can get you into a problem, but not get you out of it, but this issue is just … messy. “Streets of Poison” opens with Batman busting a street gang pushing heroin produced by dictator/drug kingpin General Chan. The U.S. government is negotiating a payout to Chan in return for burning his crop, and by an implausible coincidence they’ve picked Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen as the negotiators. Even by comics standards, that’s a bit unlikely, but by itself, not horrible—and after all it does get them into trouble, which is what coincidence is supposed to do? Oh, we also see a woman bust out of prison, which plays a role down the road.

After the heroes arrive in Chan’s domain, they spot Amelia Earhart (with the serial numbers filed off) walking around, but can’t catch up to her. Then when they visit Chan himself, they discover Earhart is his prisoner/sex slave, and unable to leave … so how did she show up in town? It turns out that the escapee went to an underworld plastic surgeon and arbitrarily picked Earhart’s face as her new identity—oh, and she’s a former lover of one of Chan’s henchmen, so she showed up in the area looking for help from her boyfriend (unfortunately Chan has killed him for skimming off the top).

None of these are unworkable plot elements in themselves: doubles are a classic plot twist, and having someone’s plastic surgery turn out to be the Wrong Face isn’t bad. But having all these coincidences happen in just the one story—Earhart, and a lookalike, and the lookalike showing up in the right place, and Bruce and Barry being there … it just strains belief. If Haney had focused on one strand (Bruce sees the lookalike and assumes it’s Earhart, but the latter remains missing at the end) I’d have been willing to buy it. But not this set-up.

Oh, in case you’re wondering it turns out Earhart is the general’s lover and has been making drug drops for him using her plane. And Chan secretly plans to fake destroying his crop despite receiving American money, but Batman puts the fear of god in him so he burns off the opium poppies for real. But still stays in power and still gets a big bonus. Which as heroic victories go, ain’t exactly much.

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Filed under Comics, Reading, Writing

New And column and other links

The new column is on the current furor over the Syrian immigrant menace and how much it resembles past freak-outs over Japanese, Jewish and Catholic immigrants.

•Speaking of which, the Holocaust Museum reminds us that refusing refugees can get them killed.

•Digby takes a closer look at Eric Erickson’s whine about how he’s too scared to go to the movies without a gun. Digby also pokes holes in Erickson’s claim that he’s not afraid of ordinary shooters, it’s only Muslims that are scary. Tell that to people involved in a movie theater argument that elevated to a shooting, a shooting in Tennessee, or the retired cop who killed a man for texting in a movie theater (but had been texting himself). John Scalzi, while not specifically referencing Erickson, suggests being terrified is not a good approach to this crisis, or to life (an FB friend of mine discussed how liberals are all advocating letting people in because they’re acting on feelings—like fear isn’t a feeling?).

•Speaking of guns, Digby also covers a group of armed anti-Muslim activists waving guns outside a mosque while insisting that Muslims are sooo scary it’s not safe to confront them unarmed. I can just imagine the reaction if a bunch of Muslims did this outside a church …

•Right-wing columnist Kurt Schlichter fantasizes about how real men would crush ISIS. Ben Carson thinks we should bring back torture because not using it is just political correctness.

•Antonin Scalia thinks of himself as a strict interpreter of the Constitution. Scott Lemieux shows the holes in his pose.

•McDonalds has settled claims of discrimination against immigrants for $355,000.

•The sugar and corn industries settle a lawsuit over whether high fructose corn syrup can be called “corn sugar.” Somehow when libertarians complain about “frivolous” lawsuits they never mean this kind of B2B four-year legal battle—it’s only frivolous when ordinary people file suits.

•Scott Adams explains that even if he buys a woman dinner, she gets to decide whether they have sex or not, so therefore we live in a matriarchy. And that men are driven to commit terrorist acts partly because they don’t have enough sex (a common view).  As noted at the first link, Adams doesn’t explain what the alternative is to letting the woman decide (but he’s on the record with saying the problem with rape laws is that they make natural male behavior illegal). Nor does he consider that the man can refuse too, and some men, with a given women, may indeed say no (if any date had ever told me “But you agree about the Holocaust, right? The Jews had it coming.” I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have put out).

•Jennifer Lawrence says a lot of guys act like jerks with her. Men’s rights activists freak out and explain how she has it coming.

•Trump lies about how almost 90 percent of whites who get shot are shot by blacks.

•An FBI informant flirts with an activist and pushes him to organize a terrorist plot. The FBI covers up how much it directed her in manipulating him, so that it would like the target was the real ringleader.


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You can’t go back in time to kill Hitler, so stop saying warhawks were wrong on Iraq!

Needless to say, a post on the Federalist about going back in time to kill Hitler caught my attention. Unsurprisingly, given it was The Federalist (run by Mollie Hemingway, who thinks women who are not her should let men be the boss), it was … flawed.

Author Robert Tracinski explains that New York Times Magazine tweeted a question: if you could go back and kill Hitler as a baby, would you do it? And that bugs Tracinski because:

•It’s not possible outside of SF stories, so the question is a waste of time. Fair enough, though it’s not as if any magazine or paper doesn’t publish it’s share of fluffy pieces. Heck that’s the nature of twitter, to toss out questions like that.

And it’s not actually that daft a question. Even given it’s a hypothetical, it can be a way to explore perfectly good ethical questions (is one life for millions valid? How much of the Holocaust was Hitler, how much Germany?). And it’s not as if hypotheticals are alien to human discourse.

•You’d be killing a baby. By definition, that’s immoral. Again, a fair point. It’s one of the poles in the debate. No argument there.

•Saying you’d go back and kill Hitler is just a way to feel smug and superior, like all those people who say Tracinski (an Iraq war supporter) was wrong: “Isn’t the assumption behind the baby Hitler example precisely the sort of thing we love to hear — that if only someone as enlightened as me had been around back then, every bad consequences could have been avoided, and universal peace and love would reign?”

Umm, no. As Tracinski seemed to realize up to this point in the article, the hypothetical is not “would you have stopped Hitler if you’d been FDR or Chamberlain?” (though some people have said yes they would, like the right-wing pundit Walter Williams), it’s what you’d do if you time-traveled. As Bud Foote has pointed out, the time-traveler is automatically in a different class from the people in that time, because he has knowledge they don’t. She is more enlightened, just as psychics and prophets are more enlightened about what’s to come.

Continuing to break er, fresh ground on this topic, Tracinski argues the question for liberals would be “Would it be right to kill Jefferson?” because he was a slave-owner so obviously we think he deserves to die. Evidence? None (though he argues that calls to take Jefferson’s name off institutions is exactly the same thing) but I’m sure the straw-man liberals he argues with in his head were very voluble on the point.

Tracinski then goes on to complain—and I suspect this is the real issue—that the Killing Hitler question is exactly like asking politicians whether they’d have invaded Iraq knowing what we know now. I agree this is a flawed question because it implies the invasion made logical sense at the time despite the lack of any evidence Saddam was allied with Al Qaeda or had a WMD program. Tracinski however, seems to think it’s a bad question because it implies we shouldn’t have gone to war (his preferred solution is that we use future knowledge to do a better job invading Iraq—not to, say, find Osama bin Laden and avoid the war altogether), and that implies he and other war supporters were wrong (when it’s obviously Obama who screwed up what was a glorious winning strategy). In short, the Megan McArdle approach: if you were dead wrong about a war that demolished a country, cost thousands of lives and wasted billions of dollars, it’s unfair to criticize you because nobody could have done better… even though multiple people called the outcome.


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Filed under Politics, Time Travel Book