Steampunk and Sexism: The Wild, Wild West (#SFWApro)

mv5botaxmte0mtq4mf5bml5banbnxkftztcwmzu1mze1mq-_v1-_cr317342481_uy268_cr40182268_al_So a couple of years back, I picked up the complete DVD set of Wild, Wild West (1965-9) but dropped watching it while working on Now and Then We Time Travel. So it’s only recently I found time to finish the first season. It’s fun but frustrating.

The premise: James Bond in the wild west. Jim West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) are Secret Service agents in the post-Civil War Southwest. In the wake of the Civil War, President Grant tells Jim in the first episode, the country is unstable; plenty of people think they could succeed where the South failed (the secession, not the slavery). Jim and Artie are to patrol the lawless frontier, posing as a wealthy playboy and his buddy, watching for trouble (the secret-identity angle was never used again).

What’s fun. The steampunk. Long before the William Gibson/Bruce Sterling novel The Difference Engine established steampunk as a subgenre, this series was doing it.

•In Night of the Human Trigger — all titles start with The Night Of — Jim and Artie battle a professor (Burgess Meredith) who can create artificial earthquakes.

Night of the Howling Light involves a disciple of Pavlov using conditioned reflex to brainwash James West into killing on command.

Night of the Steel Assassin has a vengeful veteran (John Dehner) who’s become a 19th century cyborg, out to kill the man he blames for his injuries.

•And most memorably, starting in Night the Wizard Shook the Earth we met Dr. Miguelito Loveless (Michael Dunn), dwarf super-genius, arrogant egotist and mad scientist par excellence. Beautifully played by Dunn, Loveless would continue as a running foe to the end of the series.

CBS had seen the show more as a mundane but tongue-in-cheek Western, so quite a few episodes are mundane, pitting West against outlaws who wouldn’t be out of place on most Westerns of the day (and in the 1960s there were a lot of Westerns on TV). As someone who doesn’t like Westerns, that’s a drawback, but overall the first season is a blast.

Except … the sexism. The show’s handling of women has not aged well. Most of it is the standard cliches of 1960s adventure series. Women are beautiful, they’re totally into the heroes, gone the next episode. Like a good Bond clone, West can turn a bad girl good with a single intense kiss. While their are exceptions, such as the villainous Dana Wynter in Night of the Two-Legged Buffalo, if you’re looking for women to be anything but eye candy, this ain’t the place to find them.

And then there are episodes that surpass that simple baseline. In Howling Light, the finish is the villainous doctor’s experimental subjects turning on him with murderous intent. Jim and Artie suddenly realize his conditioning technique could be used to train a wife to always be sweet, never nag, never be late with dinner … and so they rush to save the doctor. In Night of the Red-Eyed Madmen, Col. Grim (Martin Landau) has recruited an army to conquer the Southwest, and it includes women — Grim allows complete equality for those who can earn it. At the end, Jim and Artie have ensured the women get off scott-free because, cute women. And then to reaffirm the decision and show how silly that equality stuff was, the show ends with the two supposedly liberated women cooing and gushing over fashions and fabrics while the men stand and smirk.

If you can get past the sexism, Wild, Wild West is a lot of fun. If you can’t, I certainly wouldn’t blame you.

All rights to image with current holders.



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Trump in revolt and some other links

As you probably know, Trump refuses to commit to accepting a Clinton win. I don’t know why anyone’s surprised, because what’s the downside? At least in his fantasy, he could pull a Bush 2000 upset; if not, maybe he can harass Clinton and pay her back for beating him. And certainly those followers who celebrate Trump for fighting the non-male, non-Christian, non-white, non-straight oppressor will be happy. He has nothing to lose. As Paul Campos says, if it’s close, he’ll claim it was rigged; if it’s overwhelmingly against him, he’ll claim it was rigged. But don’t worry, only latte-drinking elites care about this stuff.

•Right-winger Wesley Pruden explains that Trump’s foul language is no big deal because men are good at foul language and women aren’t. Other right-bloggers struggle to recover from the tape. Ace of Spades applauds Trump for sticking it to the female oppressor. And unsurprisingly, Trump supporters are calling for repealing women’s suffrage—which is, of course, not a new demand on the right.

•Sen. Paul Ryan is still endorsing Trump. But he wants you to know he hardly knows the man, lives a much more moral lifestyle than Trump and didn’t even learn about the nomination until it was too late. Sounds like an alibi from a murder mystery.

•Maine’s Governor LePage explains that after Obama’s tyranny, we need Trump to free us. Matt Bevin says we may need bloodshed to protect conservative freedom, but later claimed he’s just talking about the need for a strong military.

•Trump didn’t just implode by chance. Clinton played him, and played him well.

David French babbles about football player Colin Kaepernick and how football players should be conservative because liberals hate them.

•Once again right-wingers are warning us against international Jewish bankers.

•Trump talks a lot about getting tough with other nations—but on Russia, he believes Clinton is too tough.

•Surprise! Evangelicals support Trump and they suddenly decide private moral conduct isn’t important in politicians. The Weekly Standard argues as others have done that liberals are at fault for debasing American conduct.

•The “locker-room defense” for Trump’s recent tape ignores that he wasn’t talking in a locker-room.

•Vox points out, as others have, that the fuel for Trump voters is racial resentment.

•Never troubled about making sense, Trump insists that when he said Obama founded ISIS, he meant it literally.

•Hackers turn household smart device to evil.

•A judge refuses to sign off on charges against journalist Amy Goodman for filming corporate goons assaulting protesters.

•The government says nursing homes that accept Medicare or Medicaid can’t force patients or their families into arbitration instead of court. The industry objects.

•As I’ve mentioned before, law enforcement would really like easy access to encrypted phones. Here’s a new approach: a warrant for a particular location that requires everyone there to unlock their phones on the grounds that one of those phones might have had the information the cops wanted.

•Medical testing company Theranos sold inaccurate tests to consumers. This has bad consequences for customers.

•The Moody’s credit-rating agency gave good reviews to the mortgage-backed securities that helped create the mortgage bubble. The Department of Justice is suing Moody’s, charging the ratings were knowingly skewed to ignore the securities were worth crap.

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Filed under economics, Politics, Undead sexist cliches

Rogue Kryptonians, Tesla and terrorism: books read (#SFWApro)

Not a great week for comic-book TPBs …

SUPERMAN: H’El on Earth by Scott Lobdell and various artists has Superman’s lost kinsman H’El show up on Earth and enlist Supergirl’s help in restoring Krypton—without admitting the energy involved will suck the Solar System dry. The action is pretty good, but Superman’s personal problems (drama with Lois, and quitting the Planet to start a blog) is not — and that aside, Supes comes off as a pompous jerk at times, while Luthor seems almost as loony as the Joker.

And then came SUPERGIRL: Out of the Past by Lobdel, Michael Alan Nelson and various artists. As a result of H’El on Earth Supergirl is dying of kryptonite poisoning so she flies off into space and encounters a weird planet of polymorphs run by a Kryptonian cyborg with a secret. All of that is okay but nowhere near as good as the first two volumes — and then comes a continuation of the H’El story which (as I read this first) made no sense at all (and even after reading H’El on Earth, it’s clear there’s a few issues collected elsewhere). Seriously, if they’re going to throw in two issues of some crossover unrelated to the main story arc, couldn’t they at least provide a recap?

I had the same problem with BATGIRL: Deadline by Gail Simone and (again) various artists: the first story appears to be a dream sequence (fun but as pointless as every It Was All A Dream comic is) but it’s actually the crossover Gothtopia, stripped of context or any sense. Beyond that, the final showdown between Batgirl and Knightfall is good, but ends with a sequence that couldn’t work anywhere but Victorian melodrama. This was the last Simone collection, followed by Batgirl of Burnside—I can see now that the latter dropped a whole bunch of plot threads.

THE FIVE FISTS OF SCIENCE by Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders has a team including Samuel Clemens and Nikola Tesla coming up with a plan to end war forever, only to fall foul of the evil science team of Andrew Carnegi, Thomas Edison and Marconi. Twenty years ago this would have been mind-blowing but now it’s just a third-rate steampunk/League of Extraordinary Gentlemen crossover. And I get very tired of the constant iconization of Tesla, which turns him into the same wonder-worker Edison was considered a century ago (i.e., I don’t think criticism of Edison’s many failings really shows us becoming smarter about judging our historical heroes, we’ve simply picked a different guy).

THE DAY WALL STREET EXPLODED: A Story of America in its First Age of Terror by Beverly Gage looks at the 1920 bombing of JP Morgan’s Wall Street offices, which with its 38 dead marked the worst terrorist attack in America before Oklahoma City (and never solved, though Gage sides with one theory about Italian anarchists). Gage sees the attack as the last major gasp of the anarchist/labor radical wave of “propaganda of the deed” that began several decades earlier, and so examines how dynamite made it possible for the workers to rise up against their bosses with extreme prejudice, as well as looking at the crime and its aftermath. Unsurprisingly foreshadows both McCarthyism and the war on terror in showing an America willing to imprison first and ask questions later, the general loathing for the radical left and the FBI’s willingness to push the boundaries to get what it considered the job done. Good work (all rights to cover with current holder)



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Madcap French misadventures: movies watched (#SFWApro)

MIDNIGHT (1939) is a Cinderella-riff in which impoverished gold-digger Claudette Colbert arrive in Paris on the hunt for a rich husband. That’s perfect for wealthy John Barrymore, who convinces Colbert to dangle herself as bait for Barrymore’s wife’s (Mary Astor) wealthy boyfriend. Taxi driver Don Ameche, however, only has to give Colbert one trip before deciding he wants her for his own, leading to his efforts to expose her as a fortune-hunter vs. hers and Barrymore’s efforts to conceal the truth. All of which culminates in Monty Woolly’s court where Colbert has to get divorced from Ameche even though they’re not married … Like the earlier movie Easy Living this allows Colbert to enjoy the luxury and couture of a kept woman without actually compromising her virtue; a real charmer. “The Budapest subway was finished in 1893.”


THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) was neither the first or last adaptation of Dumas’ swashbuckler, but it certainly boasts one of the most impressive casts — Michael York as D’Artagnan, Oliver Reed, Frank Finlay and Richard Chamberlain as the musketeer trio, with Faye Dunaway’s Milady, Charlton Heston’s Cardinal Richeliue and Christopher Lee’s Rochefort as their adversaries and Raquel Welch as York’s lady love. Casting aside, the movie is a mixed bag—fun swashbuckling as they try to save the Queen of France from scandal, but very heavy on slapstick and historical set-pieces (like a court tennis game that serves only to show How They Did Things Back Then). Overall a good one though. “In the Bastille there is no ‘afterwards.’”

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I broke through the barricade! (#SFWApro)

So Monday I sent out the first 70,000 words of Southern Discomfort to my beta-readers. And then I set down to finish it. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not that I didn’t know how the personal arcs would end, but getting the actual defeat of Gwalchmai plotted and choreographed was really difficult.

To my surprise, having a deadline — there wouldn’t be much point in recruiting nearly a dozen beta readers if I didn’t have an ending — seemed to open the floodgates. I pounded to the finish relatively efficiently and hopefully it’s decent for what in many sections is a first draft. I opted to drop the epilogue I had in mind, which would have followed up on the cast two years later. I think that was the right choice, but I’ll probably find out next month. I’ll be hosting my beta readers, or as many as can make it, for a critique dinner the weekend before Thanksgiving: I provide them with food, they provide me with feedback. It’s how our group usually handles critiquing novels, although a lot of us will critique each others’ books even without that incentive. We’re pretty cool.

I’ve already got like twenty ideas or changes I need to work into the next draft. I’m sure after the dinner, I’ll have more.

Other than that, not much done, but hey, I think finally getting this draft polished is accomplishment enough.

•I now have most of the text of Martinis, Girls and Guns rewritten and finalized.

•I read Oh the Places You’ll Go to the writing group Tuesday and got more than I bargained for. The general take was that they loved the concept, but not much the execution, which is what I needed to hear. They brought up many questions about my premise that I hadn’t even considered; I suspect Liz was right when she said I can either execute this with no explanation at all or an elaborate explanation that covers everything, and I’ve fallen between them. When I do the next draft I think I’ll head to No Explanation.

There were several calls for me to make this much longer, even novel-length, which I hadn’t expected to hear. I’d prefer to stick with short story — it’s so good to get a short project turned around and out in the world while I’m working on big ones — but I’ll think about it when I review all the feedback. As usual after a critique, I’ll leave it a couple of weeks to simmer in my head before I take it up again.

And that was it. I’m looking forward to having a wider variety of projects while Southern Discomforts lies fallow, though I’m not sure what they’ll be yet. But I am very, very, very, very, very happy this draft has been put to bed at last.

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Filed under Martinis Girls and Guns, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Writing

What Fall Brings (#SFWApro)

IMG_0613Longer walks with the pups, because as the mid-day temperature drops, they can endure more time outside. And they usually want to (Trixie always; Plushie’s more temperamental). This will probably end up requiring me to shift more writing to the evenings, but it’s worth it. It’s good exercise for all of us (and both pups really need to loose weight) and just fun to spend more time outside.

•Better sleep. I’m not sure if it’s the reduced heat or some response to the change in the light, but come fall, I start sleeping normally most nights (come March I’ll turn insomniac again). This has the slight drawback that I seem to need more sleep to be functional, but it still feels great.

•This year it also means more bicycling because exercising outside was a complete non-starter in summer. Even today, I got a little overheated—the temperature spiked up this week, but it’s going back down, thank goodness. But man, global warming is going to suck.

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Fighting the Patriarchy (at least in fiction) #SFWApro

As I’ve mentioned in the past (here and here), I’m disappointed when historical fantasies present me with a female protagonist whose most distinctive characteristic is not wanting to conform to gender norms. Not that this is a bad characteristic, but it’s not usually enough to impress me.

I was reminded of this again reading Breath of Earth recently. When we meet the protagonist, Isabel, she’s sitting at the college of Earth mages, frustrated because she has more power than any of them but daren’t reveal this because girl parts plus magic is forbidden. Immediately I began to lose interest. But now I’m wondering why I react that way to such characters

A big part of it is that even though fighting for equality a worthy subject, in these books its cliched. Woman vs. sexism was a staple of fiction during the 1970s as second-wave feminism grappled with the same thing in real life. And there’s no shortage of earlier examples either. That part of these stories feels like it could have been written back in the 1970s (even though other parts, like Cato’s black female mage do not); even though those attitudes are still out there, I’d like to see something different. As I said in reviewing Weighing Shadows (cover by Cortney Skinner, all rights to current holder), 21st century sexism has changed in lots of ways from what I saw when I was a teen: online harassment, men’s rights activists, the backlash from the religious right. In some way, I’d like to see that reflected in the story.


Of course we’re talking historical settings, not the present, but the challenges don’t feel particularly historical either — not the way Bettina Krahn’s romance, The Last Batchelor does.  Krahn’s book shows the kind of backbreaking labor Victorian women dealt with, and political problems of the day such as “surplus women” (i.e., more women than there were men to marry them); the challenges for the female protagonist don’t feel at all modern even though there’s a lot I imagine a present-day reader could identify with. In The Twelfth Enchantment, protagonist Lucy is completely a product of her times — she’s terrified that saving England from evil is forcing her to go against proper feminine behavior (but does so anyway, of course).

Another problem is that the books I’m complaining about present the gender-nonconforming woman as being a unique freak, where as Krahn actually looks at sexism as something systemic. Ditto Sorcerer to the Crown, in which the fight isn’t just for Prunella’s right to practice magic, but for women in general.

And as far as personal taste goes, I’d sooner read about a woman going off and doing something awesome than read about her being frustrated because she can’t, or isn’t supposed to (in fairness, Isabel does get to do lots of heroic stuff). Or at the least, where defying norms isn’t the most pronounced aspect of her personality, or the first quality we’re introduced to. One of my writer’s group colleagues is working on a story where the heroine doesn’t gender-conform, but I don’t feel like that’s all there is to her.

This may, of course, reflect that as a man, even a feminist man, I don’t have a dog in the hunt: maybe if I were a woman I’d connect with these characters more strongly. But I’m me, so I’ll have to go with my own reactions.


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Filed under Reading, Undead sexist cliches, Writing