More stories of people coming together at Christmas (#SFWApro)

While I’ve enjoyed watching these on Netflix, next week I anticipate viewing more of my favorites (and getting more into movies actually tied to the holiday rather than just a convenient excuse for gatherings).

THE FAMILY STONE (2005) is one of my sister’s Christmas perennials, and it does hold up well. Sarah Jessica Parker plays the uptight executive accompanying boyfriend Dermot Mulroney to his family home where she has to cope with smartass Rachel McAdams, stoner Owen Wilson, dying mother Diane Keaton and the arrival of Parker’s sister (Clare Danes) who has her own interest in Mulroney). Just a very well-executed family film—one I’d choose to watch even if it wasn’t tied to Christmas. “You have a freak flag—you just don’t fly it.”

In NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS (2008) it’s a Chicago Puerto Rican family coming together to work out its problems, which include patriarch Alf Molina secretly struggling with cancer, mom Elizabeth Peña wanting a divorce and an even more uptight guest in the form of whitebread Debra Messing accompanying John Leguizamo home. Not as much to my taste as Family Stone (I think primarily it’s the everyone-having-a-crisis story), but that aside, nicely done. “Google is a search engine.”220px-happened5avenue-1Getting away from family get-togethers, IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE (1947) has hobo Victor Moore slip into a millionaire’s mansion while he’s away for Christmas, then discover his squat is turning into a mini-community that includes homeless veteran Don DeFore, the mansion owner’s daughter (Gale Storm), and eventually the owner himself (Charles Ruggles). This never rises above amiable, but if that’s good enough … This would double-bill well with Come September (for Rock Hudson as a mansion owner with an unwanted guest problem) or Devil and Miss Jones (another where a rich man passes himself off as poor), though both are superior.“Marriage is a great thing—no family should be without it.”When I needed to stream something while cooking, the most convenient thing was 12 DATES OF CHRISTMAS (2011) even though it’s quite familiar to me from being in Now and Then We Time Travel. A pleasant rom-com with a time loop twist, this has Amy Smart trying to figure out why she’s reliving Christmas Eve over and over, at first assuming it’s so she can get her old boyfriend back, then wondering if destiny is steering her towards blind date Mark-Paul Gosselaar. Not bad. “In my life, ‘weird’ has a very very high bar.”

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This week, in two images (#SFWApro)

Working on the index, most of the time, I felt like this. Spider-Man, not the giant hands about to crush him (art by John Buscema). They’re the index.

amazingspiderman067But I’d catch my wind and then I’d feel ready for a project to flatten! Art by Chuck Patton.

justiceleague235And now it’s done. Just a little tidying up to do and the whole book’s done. But I’m too fried to detail my struggles now, so I’ll postpone that until another post.

All rights to images reside with current holders.

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Indexing is Hell (#SFWApro)

So I thought I’d just post some Batman covers I’d already put on FB for a friend of mine.

A striking one by Irv Novick.

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And another reflective cover by Marshall Rogersdetective474

J. Winslow Mortimer isn’t my favorite Bat-artist, but here are a couple of interesting cover hooks. Good stories, too.

detective192detective222Neil Adams is, of course, one of the greats, so here’s a couple of his (including a Christmas story).

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And now one from Jim Aparo, one of the definitive Bat-artists.

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All rights retained by current holder. My weekly wrap-up post will be later today, of course.

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But would it improve things? (#SFWApro)

So last week I got a rejection on Atlas Shagged that came with feedback. One part of which was silly  to wit that “Ayn Rand wouldn’t like your title.” I’m sure she wouldn’t; given her ego, I doubt she’d like being parodied at all. Even if she were alive, I wouldn’t care.

But several comments (it was a multiple-readers thing) were to the effect that they couldn’t get into it, it read more like a synopsis or an article than a story, and there’s truth to that. It is very much like an article — no protagonist, just an accounting of events. I always figured that at flash-fiction length that wouldn’t be too big a problem, and it gets a snarky tone in my writing that I don’t think I could pull off from a regular POV.

However, this is far from the first time that It Doesn’t Read Like a Story has been brought up. So even though my writing group and others love it, perhaps I need to change that.

If I stick in some White House bureaucrat as POV character, I can get a more personal perspective on what’s going on … but given the nature of the story, it’s only going to be a perspective, not an active agent. It’s not like he can influence the power of Big Johnson Galt to stop the engine of the world. And that’s something I’ve had complaints on in stories too, that the character is just carried along by events.

And if anything, if I actually put a person in there rather than watching from a distance, the sexual element will probably feel rawer. And the sexual element has definitely turned off a few readers, too.

So would a thorough rewrite do any good? Maybe I should just post it here and let people download it if they like, for free. Or put it on Smashwords or a similar website and charge 99 cents maybe? Or is that too much for flash?

I shall give it some thought.

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No, superheroes are not fascists (#SFWApro)

invaders36So an article a couple of months ago on The Mary Sue discusses Batman vs. Superman in light of the author’s supposedly deep insight that super-heroes stories are “politically fascist” (no, I’m not linking to the tripe) Which is not an original thought (I’ve heard variations going back years), and it’s not accurate. Except, you know, Nazi super-heroes like the WW II retcon villain Iron Cross, who sees himself as a patriotic German hero (cover by Alan Kupperberg, all rights to current holder).

The post’s rationale is that super-heroes use violence with very little oversight or restraint on their actions. But that’s not actually fascist. Fascism is not a philosophy that might makes right (I’ve heard that one used when explaining that Conan is a fascist narrative, though “might makes right” isn’t really fair to the Cimmerian). It’s a political belief that includes:

  • A willingness to use violence.
  • Nationalism.
  • A belief that the nation must return to its fundamental principles (or alleged principles) to make it great again.
  • Every citizen must subordinate their rights to the needs and the greatness of the nation.

None of which fits your typical super-hero narrative. Not even specifically nationalist heroes such as Captain Britain or Captain America.

And of course, super-heroes are a lot more than people who use violence on those who break the law, or to protect property and wealth (the argument that all super-heroes really do is protect the propertied classes is not new either). Super-heroes do lots of things that don’t even remotely fit under a fascist rubric. Charity drives. Stopping national disasters. Feeding the hungry. Helping orphans find their parents. To look at just one Superman story, this tale of him answering letters for help shows him doing all kinds of good deeds, none of which actually involve punching.

Admittedly I don’t think super-vigilantes would be a good thing in the real world (we’d probably get super-powered versions of incidents like this). But labeling them fascist is just silly.

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A for Effort, F for Execution, or maybe C-: The Night Land (#SFWApro)

ballentinethenightlandbywilliamhopehodgson565If you read book reviews or writing books you’ve undoubtedly heard that an original, even a brilliant concept, doesn’t help if the book is poorly executed. William Hope Hodgson’s THE NIGHT LAND is a perfect example (cover by Robert LoGrippo, all rights with current holder). The setting—a dark Earth so far in the future that daylight is considered an ancient myth like Eden—is absolutely incredible. The execution is very poor. Lin Carter (editor of the Ballantine two-volume reprint shown above) ranks it as Hodgson’s masterpiece, but I think it’s a poor cousin of The House on the Borderland.

In the opening scenes, the protagonist (apparently a 1600s or early 1700s guy) meets his dream woman, falls in love, marries — and loses her in childbirth. He’s distraught until he gets a mystical connection with his future reincarnation, in an era when the sun, while it provides heat, generates zero light. Earth swarms with unholy horrors such as the Silent Ones, the Watchers, the House of Silence, the Night Hounds, the Grey Men; to survive, millions are huddled together into the gigantic pyramid known as the Last Redoubt, every level of which is a city in itself. Few go outside, and those who do carry the equivalent of a cyanide capsule. That way if you’re faced with the loss of life and soul to the horrors, you can take your own life and save your soul.

But of course, the hero has to go out. It turns out there’s a Lesser Redoubt somewhere, but its protective shields are failing. The protagonist is in telepathic contact with Naani, a woman from the second pyramid—whom it turns out is his dead love, reborn like him into the far future. Come what may, he has to try to get her to safety, even though the very location of the Lesser Redoubt is unknown.

It’s a terrific set-up, and the world outside the pyramids is indeed nightmarish. There are lots of creepy scenes, such as when a band of young men seeking the Lesser Redoubt are drawn into the House of Silence and don’t come out (and we never learn what’s inside, or what happened to them). It’s also close to unreadable.

The first problem, though not the worst, is that Hodgson wrote in an archaic style that adds nothing and distracts quite a bit (e.g. “While that we were a space off from one of those gas shinings, there went past us at a distance, as it did seem, people running in the night, as that they be lost spirits.”). Even HP Lovecraft, whose style was hardly subtle, though Hodgson’s style here was affected. It’s particularly bad, to the point of self-parody, when he names things: a headland near the Last Redoubt from which strange things peer is literally named The Headland From Which Strange Things Peer. The road where the Silent Ones walk is named The Road Where the Silent Ones Walk. Sorry, Mr. Hodgson, those are not names.

A bigger problem is that Hodgson constantly bogs down in detail. Along with encounters with giant slugs and Humped Men, the narrator obsessively monitors  how long he’s been walking, eating, sleeping —e.g., 12 hours of travel, followed by downing two food pills, six hours of sleep, two more pills, another 12 hours … Maybe Hodgson was trying to ground the story in mundane details, but it didn’t work (I had the same problem with parts of his Boats of the Glen Carrig).

And then there’s the love story. This is obviously meant to be the emotional core and anchor for novel. The thing that keeps the narrator going against all odds. The big emotional payoff for us. But it fails on every level. It’s maudlin in the Victorian style, focuses on the narrator’s rapturous love rather than anything as mundane as personality, and it’s pretty much unreadable. It’s not so bad in the first volume, where the hero’s trying to reach his woman. After he finds Naani and has to protect her, shelter her, coo at her (and she at him) it takes up way too much space (the first half I could just skim bits) and drowns out the horror.

It’s a surprising failure for someone as good as Hodgson, and a real waste of a wonderful setting.

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Political links unrelated to Trump? Amazing!

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court believe the U.S. military has tortured at least 61 people in Afghanistan, with the CIA adding more victims on top of that. The incidents occurred during 2003-4, and would count as war crimes.

•So would Syrian and Russian attacks on civilians in Aleppo.

•JP Morgan is paying $264 million to settle charges it bought off government officials by hiring their friends and family.

•When iCloud is turned on, the iPhone sends all your call records to Apple.

•A bill currently sitting in Congress would ban the federal government from taking action against anyone who denies service to gays based on either religious belief of “moral conviction.” And apparently (judging from the text) would allow them to also deny service based on a belief/conviction that sex should be reserved for marriage. So apparently if someone wants to fire a woman for having sex before marriage, that would be a-okay.

•On the plus side, a bill banning gag clauses — contractual fine print that says you can’t criticize the company, even if your criticisms are true — has gone before Obama.

•Another case or right-wing terrorism. Here’s one from England.

•No, Hitler was not a vegetarian.

•Gringa of the Barrio looks at her family’s history of KKK membership.

•A new rule change gives the government lots more power to hack into people’s computers. The Senate tried unsuccessfully to block it.

•Right-wing preacher John Piper blames a miscarriage on the father’s interest in porn. Slacktivist says right-wing evangelicals can’t allow themselves to understand miscarriage. Because if you believe that a fetus is ensouled from the moment of conception, that means most of the people in the afterlife were never born.

•Chicago is suffering a massive shortage of health inspectors for restaurants.

•Baylor U athletic director Ian McCaw has been accused of covering up gang rape allegations involving the football team. Liberty University (a right-wing Christian flagship) doesn’t see that as an issue: they’ve hired him to “develop champions for Christ.”

•Remember Mike Pence’s rule in Ohio requiring aborted fetuses be buried or cremated? Now it’s Texas. And the Church of Satan is against it on the grounds burial decision are a religious matter. Meanwhile Utah pushes a bill that claims (with no scientific benefit) women can reverse the morning-after pill and stay pregnant.

•Alabama’s top officials are mired in scandal.

•The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has run into trouble over its legal structure (one commissioner, who can’t be summarily removed by the president). Some congressmen are coming out in support of the CFPB.

•The Associated Press says if reporters use the term alt-right, they should clarify it’s a euphemism for white supremacy.

Android malware has taken over more than 1 million Google accounts.

•Here’s a very SF idea: some local governments in China are giving people a “credit score” based on their lives — rules broken, neglecting parents, saying things online the government disagrees with.

•A right-winger claims that because the big fire in Tennessee only threatens red state areas, the media are ignoring it. He’s wrong.

•So Google fiber is coming to Nashville using the regular cable/phone poles. That required a city ordinance change, which led to Comcast suing to stop the change. The city is suing back.

•Dallas has a $3 million fund for incentivizing supermarkets that move into the city’s food deserts. It’s not helping.

•Product disparagement laws allow the food industry to sue if someone says bad things about their products. Olive oil, for example, is suing Dr. Oz.

•Wells Fargo customers can’t sue if the bank opened fake accounts in their name because their contracts impose binding arbitration instead. A new bill would change that.

•Fidel Castro is dead. His legacy of repressive laws lives on.

•An Asian-American author’s new book says no, the US did not become more tolerant of Asians because they’re a model minority.

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Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches