War draws closer: Doc Savage Meets the All-White Elf and the Golden Man (#SFWApro)

THE ALL-WHITE ELF starts off with an interesting protagonist, Arnold Haatz. Unlike the typical young drifter or woman in distress Dent uses regularly in this period, Haatz is a middle-aged civil service functionary whose past is more colorful than his office could guess (service in the army, rode with Pancho Villa). When, like so many Dent characters, he discovers something horrible, he calls in Doc Savage.

Then Haatz encounters the white creature of the title, blazing with an unearthly glow that leaves Haatz and others temporarily blind and disoriented. Doc and crew are as vulnerable to this mystery thing as everyone else, but of course, Doc soon starts to figure out how it works.

It’s fairly obvious that it’s a crooked operation, and it turns out to involve a shipment of gold some European nation is sending over to store in the US (presumably to keep it out of Axis hands). The elf is the super-weapon that will help the crooks get it.

It’s a solid story, though unusual in that the guy with the mystery weapon isn’t planning to take over the world or sell it to one side or the other in the war, just to steal.

THE GOLDEN MAN is the one where the war really plays a role. It opens with Monk and Ham returning from Europe, where they’ve actually been thinking about volunteering for the war (again, Dent don’t specify which side, which might have implied he was taking sides, something a lot of people still frowned upon). Doc however, calls them home first. On the way back by transatlantic ship, they discover the eponymous figure of the title, floating in a weirdly shining patch of ocean under a dark star in the heavens.

The guy turns out to be a precog, knowing all kinds of stuff about the people on board and predicting correctly that the ship the guys are on will be sunk by a foreign sub (using the other side’s colors in hopes of turning the US against them, a fear Dent also touched on in Devils of the Deep). The ship is hit, but everyone makes it too land in Central America. Where Monk and Ham are promptly arrested as suspicious aliens, part of the villain’s plan to get them out of the way.

By the time they get back to NYC with Doc, the Golden Man has been set up as the head of a cult thanks to his strange psychic gifts. Which he demonstrates to Doc by revealing the location of Doc’s birth (on the steamer Orion), something nobody knows (although it’s not exactly a blockbuster revelation, more like a trivia note). What’s the dude’s secret? Or that of the black star?

It turns everything has a perfectly mundane, if not dull explanation. The golden man was an amnesiac British spy, which is how he knows so much about everything. The glow was a side-effect of a new anti-submarine weapon; the black star was just a fluke, smoke from his exploding plane that briefly looked like a star. It’s almost an interesting twist, but it comes off rather rushed and a bit of a cheat. A shame as this was fun up to that point.

(Both covers by Emery Clark, all rights remain with current holders)

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Still a wretched hive of scum and villainy

By letting Medicaid cost increases rise slower than the rate of medical inflation, the Senate version of Trumpcare/Ryancare/McConnellcare will eventually destroy Medicaid. But hey, that will set the stage for massive tax cuts on millionaires; as Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are both millionaires (along with their cohort), we shouldn’t be surprised. Oh, and saying that the Republican bill will get people killed for lack of treatment is now hate speech — the kind that got Steve Scalise shot! Presumably totally different from when Republicans screeched about Obamacare death panels, just like the Obama-as-Julius Caesar production was totally different from the Trump Caesar.

•You probably know AG Jeff Sessions wants to go after marijuana, even in states where it’s legal. Turns out he also wants to prosecute medical marijuana because, drugs! We could face a massive increase in crime at some indeterminate time in the future! International drug rings! Plus he saw Reefer Madness once and it really scared him! Okay, I made up that last part, but seriously, what’s his glitch?

•And yet Frank Bruni is worried that Sessions reputation is being unfairly tarnished.

•Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to delay rules on for-profit colleges that would make it harder to scam students: taking tuition (heavily backed by federal aid) and not giving them useful skills or education. Some state governments are doing their best to compensate for the lack of federal protection. Oh, DeVos also wants to put the head of a company that originates and refinances student loans in charge of the student aid office.

•Republicans in Congress are doing their best to weaken lots of other protections for consumers.

•As Lance Mannion points out, Republican moderates aren’t what most people consider moderates.

•General Robert E. Lee is held up as the face of the moderate, non-racist part of the Lost Cause. It’s not true.

•The Far Right in Europe is raising funds to interfere with rescue missions saving refugees from drowning on the trip to Europe.

•Trump’s lawyer is claiming that James Comey talking about his conversation with Trump violates executive privilege. It doesn’t.

•DC and Maryland are suing Trump for violating the anti-emoluments clause of the Constitution.

•Sam Brownback, Kansas governor and theocrat who thinks rape is God’s way to give women a baby, has run the state’s economy into the ground. They’ve finally had enough.

•The Russian hacks of our electoral system are looking much more horrifying.

•Speaking of hacks, President Shit Gibbon scoffed during the campaign that it was only the Democratic National Committee that got hacked because he was computer-savvy and told the RNC to prevent that. Apparently they didn’t listen.

•When modifying mortgages, Wells Fargo allegedly added years to the length of the mortgage without telling the homeowner. That led to lots more interest and fees for the bank.

•More right-wing freaking out about the Julius Caesar production that made Caesar look like Trump. Meanwhile, conservatives prove once again how they’re opposed to political violence. Case in point, Trump administration member William Bradford, who thinks legal scholars who aren’t anti-Islam enough are legitimate military targets.

•To end on a cheerful note, here’s New Zealander Taiki Waititi on how to help racism — you don’t have to be openly, horribly racist, just smile at other people’s racism and they’ll know you have their back! (yes, it’s satire. Good satire)

•David Brooks looks back at when Whitewater, rather than email servers, was the issue thrown at the Clintons. He gets the facts wrong (of course he does, he’s Brooks) so he can pretend it was much, much worse than the current Russia revelations.

•A Southern Baptist minister presents a proclamation calling on the Southern Baptist Convention to denounce racism and the alt-right. It ran into trouble.

*Are you a woman? Have you had more than one partner? Online incels (involuntary celibates) say you shouldn’t go to college.

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Graphic novels of all sorts (#SFWApro)

BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2011, edited by Alison Bechdel was disappointing — a lot of the collection is excerpts from larger works, and didn’t really work without the context of the whole thing. Others didn’t work at all. I did love “Pet Cat,” a satire on comics that continue beyond their creator’s retirement, and “The Ultimate Graphic Novel (in Six Panels)” Only the excerpt from Rasl convinced me to check out the source.

LEAVING MEGALOPOLIS was a kickstarter funded project by Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore reads like Irredeemable except instead of Superman it’s an entire team of heroes gone bad. What keeps it from being a knockoff is that the focus is on a handful of residents struggling to get out of the city and away from the heroes gone bad. Good reading.

SUPERMAN: Son of Superman and Trials of the Super-Sons by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and Jorge Jiminez return the pre-New 52 Superman, somehow hanging out in the New 52 after the death of his counterpart, drawing attention from the Justice League (just what happened to the real Superman?), and the Kryptonian AI the Eradicator, which is determined to purify the Kents’ half-human son of his “tainted” genes. In the second volume, Damian Wayne and Jonathan Kent try to get along (but not very hard) while Batman and Superman shake their heads about kids today. Surprisingly entertaining, and a welcome change from the mopey New 52 Man of Steel.

SPIDER-GIRL: Too many Spiders by Tom DeFalco, Pat Ollliffe and Ron Frenz has May continuing to fight crime despite having lost her power in the previous volume, Endgame. May’s parents freak out, her love life continues to founder and what exactly is Tony Stark up to with this new mystery hero? Good fun and clearly demonstrating that it’s May’s heart, not her powers, that makes her awesome.

 

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India, Czechoslovakia, London, Argentina: Around the World in Movies (#SFWApro)

CHARULATA (1964) was a disappointing film from Satyajit Ray in which the wife of a 19th century Indian newspaper publisher finds herself strongly attracted to his ne’er do well intellectual brother. The best moments are between the husband and wife, so the focus on the wife/brother connection didn’t work for me. “Have you ever seen actors play dead soldiers on stage?”

HANGMEN ALSO DIE (1943) was made a year after the Nazi officer “Hangman” Heydrich was assassinated (though as the film notes, “executed” for his crimes would be a fairer term) in Czechoslovakia, showing the resistance struggle to shield gunman Brian Donlevy in the belief his escape makes him a symbol of the Czech spirit. But can they keep it together when the Germans start shooting random hostages and weasel Gene Lockhart is ratting out the resistance from within? Well made by Fritz Lang, who co-wrote the script with Bertold Brecht, and while uplifting, also grimly realistic about the price of defiance — parts of the plot concerns the efforts to get kindly professor Walter Brennan off the hostage list before he’s shot and they don’t work. “I happen to remember another Hitler joke.”

STORY OF A HANGMAN (2014) was a documentary special feature by the author of a Heydrich biography, revealing that unsurprisingly things did not go as well in the real world as in the movie. Not only was the Nazi retaliation horrifyingly brutal, but the execution was arranged by the Czech government-in-exile, not by the resistance. And depressingly much of the operation was given up by informers, resulting in the killers committing suicide rather than being taken alive. As all I know of Heydrich was watching films (e.g. Hitler’s Madman), this was a welcome addition.

THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1939) has George Zucco’s Moriarty inform Basil Rathbone’s Holmes that to pay the detective back for almost sending him to the gallows, Moriarty will destroy his reputation by pulling off the crime of the century under Holmes nose. Holmes is supposed to be helping with security at the Tower of London, but Moriarty knows a routine job will bore him compared to the spectacular mystery the Professor arranges to distract him (the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a fake clubfoot, Incan death music — it all makes sense!). This is an excellent film (nominally based on a successful stage play, but nothing of the play remains), though Nigel Bruce’s Watson remains an appallingly dim bulb. Zucco and Rathbone are both great though (though Rathbone is too high energy — he never does capture those moments when Holmes relaxes into uneasy calm) with great dialog between Holmes and Moriarty (“I admire your brain so much I’d like to donate it, picked in alcohol, to the Royal Medical Society!”) and Moriarty and his butler (“All that’s left of him is one boot.”). With EE Clive as a Scotland Yard boob and Ida Lupino as a damsel in distress. The commentary by a mystery-magazine editor was interesting too, pointing out the usual trivia along with comparisons to the stories (he’s quite right, stories of avengers rising from the client’s past to kill are quite common in Doyle). “This is no childish game, Miss Brandon, but a cryptic warning of avenging death!”

GILDA (1946) has gambler Glenn Ford become the right hand and kept man of George Macready (they don’t come out and say it but the subtext is pretty much text here), who gets knocked for a loop to discover his boss has not only married, but it’s Ford’s old flame, Rita Hayworth. What follows is a really twisted romantic triangle (as one of the special features says, it probably makes more sense if we think of Macready, not Hayworth, as the apex of the triangle) which is far more interesting than the crime plot involving a tungsten syndicate. Very good. “A man who makes his own luck, as I do, recognizes it in another.”

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On the plus side, I slept well (#SFWApro)

And I did finish Southern Discomfort, which is a big win. I also got more articles in for the Leaf project, which will put a little more money in the bank. And as usual, submitted a Screen Rant, 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Spider-Girl (cover by Pat Olliffe, all rights remain with current holder). I even found a little time to work on a short story, though it got squished between talking to a contractor and taking care of the dogs.

And sleeping well is a very sweet thing. I’ve found that if I wake up in the middle of the night, I’ll go back to sleep once I lie on the couch. This hasn’t always worked in the past and may wear off at some point, but for the moment it’s great.

Unfortunately, I’m still spending lots and lots more time than usual with the puppies, and as I said last week, my sense of personal space has evaporated. It’s not affecting the way I treat them, thank goodness — I still have no trouble cuddling and petting them, etcetera. But they leave me with zero space and zero privacy, and that leaves me feeling very uncomfortable a lot of the time (I can’t quite describe it, but it’s a very physical sensation). And that cuts into my ability to work and concentrate. Fortunately Screen Rant and Leaf don’t require as much creativity as working on a short story.

It doesn’t help that they’re really demanding of attention when I’m done for the day (I think it’s because they’re used to TYG coming home to play, and so if she’s out late, I’m the designated petter). So I can’t really do anything that gets away from puppy care. I’ve been compromising this week by putting in a movie so I have my hands free for petting and playing.

Another bright moment, there was an identity theft incident (someone took out a Verizon account in my name) and I got it successfully resolved this week. Kudos to Verizon’s fraud department and the Durham PD for being so helpful.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

Do you know who you are? (#SFWApro)

So for my birthday this year, I asked TYG to have my DNA tested through ancestry.com. She said yes. I’ve wanted to do it ever since TYG did hers because she’s had great fun with the fact she has a lot of British DNA (i.e., England/Scotland/Wales) — more than I could have, from what I know of my ancestry.

The process itself is simple. They sent me a small vial, and I had to spit and spit until it was around half full. Then I mail it off, then three months later the results came back. As I thought, biologically I’m not very British:

European Jewish: 40 percent.

Ireland: 34 percent.

West Europe: 6 percent.

Great Britain: 5 percent

Caucasus: 4 percent

Middle East: 4 percent

North African: 2 percent.

Scandinavia: 2 percent.

Iberian peninsula: 2 percent.

Italy/Greece: 1 percent.

(image taken from Science Daily, photo by DigitalGenetics)

The big one isn’t surprising. My Dad’s Jewish and his dad came from the Ukraine.

The Irish surprised me a little. I know my Great-Grandfather, Tommy Farrell, was Irish, but that’s 12.5 percent of my genes. But it’s not that remarkable that the rest of my English side had some Irish mixed in.

West Europe? My paternal grandmother was German, so that probably explains it.

Great Britain: Well, I am English.

Caucasus/Middle East: I’m guessing these might be something picked up among my father’s Jewish ancestors.

North African: Common in Spain and Portugal so it might be tied to that Iberian Peninsula DNA. A number of the genetic traces are found outside the region referred to so it may be I’m really tied to much fewer regions.

Scandinavia: I have been told there’s some Danish on my mother’s side.

And as there’s no Mongolian or anything east of the Middle East, it appears I am not one of the 50 billion people descended from Genghis Khan.

Overall, nothing that transforms my sense of self. Being English has never been about my DNA, any more than being American. And it’s certainly interesting. Also good for lots of fun with TYG (“You’re the really English one!” followed by whatever failing of Mother England I can think of to indict her with).

 

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Southern Discomfort: draft done (#SFWApro)

Which is good. But then again, it’s done because it ended about 8,000 words sooner than the last draft. 78,000 which is a little short. But not so short I can’t make it up next time. Add sensory detail, clarify some scenes that I suspect are confusing, etc.

This draft is, I think, a huge improvement (and the scenes I’ve read to the writing group confirm this). Characters are stronger, confusing bits are clearer, and the challenge level for the characters is higher. The troubled parts where I move into the Hither Country still need the most work, but they’re better too.

On the downside, I think character suffers as things move to the climax. Of course with everything that’s going on, personal issues are going to take a backseat, but still, Maria feels too much Generic Character and not herself. I’m not sure how to fix that, but I want to. And I think I need to.

Joan on the other hand, is a lot better, with more to do and a stronger character arc.

I think I have a better handle of all the supporting-cast scenes. Fewer POV characters, less scenes where people just stand around chatting with no tension. And I think the people who need ending scenes will all get them.

Of course, I feel like focusing on all the things that are still wrong, but I shall not. It’s finished, it’s improved, I think I can get the next draft I want done by the end of the year (story and scenes complete, so there’s only a final edit and proofread to go). This is good.

I shall probably wait until August to start replotting and rethinking. That will give my mind some clarity and I’ll be able to look at it with at least slightly fresh eyes.

Whoot! To celebrate, here’s a Pissaro from the North Carolina Museum of Art. I love the impressionists.

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