An off couple of months for Doc Savage: Land of Long Juju and The Derrick Devil (#SFWApro)

6445331Laurence Donovan’s LAND OF LONG JUJU (cover by James Bama, rights with current holder) effectively combines two of the series’ standard openings. First we have one of Doc’s men stumbling into trouble: In Africa to build a railroad, Renny becomes a target for the Shimba, a revolutionary leader plotting to overthrow one of the local kings. Back in New York, African tribesmen wielding spears and blowguns (no mere automatics for these savages) try to stop someone from reaching Doc for help … though in a nice twist, the attempts to reach Doc are actually booby-traps for the bad guys. The plot that follows is familiar but competent, as Doc tries to save the king from the Shimba, and it includes one spectacular set-piece, where Doc in a WWI biplane takes down the Shimba’s modern air force.

Unfortunately Donovan dives into a pool of racial stereotypes and makes the story painfully unreadable (Okay, I did read it, but you know what I mean). All the blacks (except one Western-educated woman) are ignorant superstitious savages, easily swayed by a few tricks. Oh, and the villains are also cannibals, killers, blood-drinkers (the Masai do use their cows’ blood for food, or so I’ve read, but it’s presented here as something horribly ghoulish) and worshippers of evil gods (the jungle devils attempt to sacrifice Pat to their heathen deities at one point). And they wear all kinds of odd things in the massive holes they have made in their earlobes (that kind of thing was standard How Weird and Exotic They Are imagery back when I was a kid). And Ham remarks that there have to be “white brains” behind this (though Doc does disagree).

I am curious, by the way, why the Masai get presented as part of the savage side—in the books I read as a kid, they were usually on the Noble Savage side of the scale. Not that this would have made the book good, I’m just curious.

2390804THE DERRICK DEVIL (all rights to image to current holder)has a great opening in which the titular monstrosity begins oozing out of an oil well and preying upon hapless oilfield workers in Oklahoma. It’s almost Lovecraftian in tone, though I knew perfectly it would be another fake supernatural threat a la The Squeaking Goblin.
What I didn’t know was that the story would be rather drab. We have two gangs of dueling crooks (one trying to blame the other for the horror) and a scheme to terrorize leaseholders in the oil field into selling out fast. And an unremarkable female guest character who somehow reduces both Johnny and Renny to mush. That’s a mundane but workable plot (The Red Skull had fun with a Southwestern land grab and didn’t even boast a monster) but the execution is dreary. The great opening/routine execution made me think it was Donovan again (I had the same problem with some of his earlier works) but no, it’s Dent all the way.Trivia points include that Doc can shatter glass with his voice; that he never wears a hat, so that when he does, it makes an effective disguise; and his office windows now have one-way glass so nobody can see in. There’s also a description of Savage Sr.’s combat training methods that now seems rather creepy—when Doc was a kid, his father would pay his sparring partners to hit him and hit him hard, with bonuses for each punch they landed.Fortunately the two next up are, if memory serves me, way more fun.

Leave a comment

Filed under Doc Savage, Reading

And now, books (#SFWApro)

THE NIGHT OF THE RIPPER by Robert Block reread much better than the first time I encountered it, mostly because I knew up front it was a straight mystery and not to anticipate a “Yours Truly Jack the Ripper” twist. If nothing radical in Ripper fiction, a well-executed story as Scotland Yard’s Inspector Abberline and a fabricate American doctor try to figure out the identity of the man butchering White Chapel prostitutes and pretty much every suspect from Leather Apron to Prince Eddy gets dragged in. Very good on the details of the setting from clothes to slang.

COFFEE AND COFFEEHOUSES: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East by Ralph S. Hattox looks at the birth of coffee in the Muslim world (most probably in Yemen, then gradually catching on elsewhere) and the reasons why various religious authorities disapproved of coffee and coffee houses as they caught on. While some critics raised medical issues (coffee makes you melancholic!) they also debated whether caffeine’s stimulating effect constituted “intoxication” under Islamic law (the Koran bans “kham’r” rather than wine per se, leading to dispute among scholars what other beverages were forbidden). A bigger issue was the coffee house itself: while more respectable than a tavern, it was seen as equally likely to encourage loose behavior. Specialized but interesting, particularly the discussion of Muslim law and its interpretation.
BLOOD OF TYRANTS by Naomi Novik is the penultimate Temaraire novel, opening with Laurence shipwrecked in Japan, separated from Temaraire and suffering from amnesia which leaves him under the impression he’s still a rising naval officer (I will give Novik credit for not having him miraculously recover his memory down the road). Once they’re reunited, it’s on to China, then to assist against Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, which goes considerably better for the French in this timeline. There’s also our first look at Native American dragons, who in New England are now going into business with the Yankees. A good story, as usual.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reading

Fight the future with time travel! (#SFWApro)

Idaho-Transfer-Dutch-VHSIDAHO TRANSFER (1971) is Peter Fonda’s very low-budget film in which federal teleportation researchers secretly use their tech to send teens into the future after an upcoming eco-collapse, only to have several recruits on a test trip stranded when the project shuts down. Unfortunately their activities consist of walking across the wilderness and chatting around the campfire, so there’s no real sense of an apocalypse or even a future until the incomprehensible ending. Poor (all rights to image with current holder) “It could be 50,000 gallons of chartreuse high-gloss enamel—we could paint Portland!”

FUTURE HUNTERS (1986) has a traveler from a post-apocalypse Road Warrior-type future come back to the present where he enlists a couple (one half being Robert Patrick pre-Terminator II) to prevent Nazis from using the Spear of Destiny to bring about the world’s destruction. Even if this wasn’t a Philippines movie (and so outside my mandatory range) it might go in the appendix for how little the time-travel matters: after the opening scenes, it’s a straight Indiana Jones knockoff with the protagonists racing the Nazis to the Spear and encountering pygmies, Amazons, gunmen and martial artist Bruce Li. It doesn’t help that the female lead is useless except for screaming, nagging, getting rape threats and getting semi-naked (say what you will about badly written strong female characters, I still prefer them to badly written wimpy ones).It’s just like riding a bike except for two little things—takeoff and landing.”

CAMP SLAUGHTER (2006) has a group of college-age friends stranded at a woodland summer camp discover a slasher systematically butchering the campers, then doing it all over again when the day reboots. The low budget and poor acting  are undeniable, but more money probably wouldn’t have this the next Scream as the concept is so poorly handled (even those who are aware of the loop never try to change things). And the obnoxious leads are simply puzzled by the characters’ 1980s slang (the murder took place in 1981), they react like they’re talking Serbo-Croatian (it’s not so far back they’d find it that alien). And the repeated emphasis that they’re knocking off Jason Voorhees gets old pretty quick. “Please tell me the date is not Friday the 13th.”

TIMESLINGERS (2013) has a time portal not only drops two squabbling teenage siblings back into the Old West, it does so just as a stranded baby ET needs help rescuing his captive mother from a sheriff who plans to sell her to a Barnum-type exhibitor. Cliched and unimpressive. “I know we have to save Jiffy’s mother, but we’re dealing with a psychopath!”

TIMEKEEPER (1998) has a trio of kids discover too late that their spooky neighbor is actually a guardian of the timestream, the Too Late part being one of them has fallen into the past and thereby erased our reality in favor of a steampunk alt.history. Some nice touches, like time police from the alternate future trying to preserve it, but mostly routine Disneyesque fluff. “If I’d known the entire fate of my world would rest on my shoulders, I’d have checked my watch..”

JULES VERNE’S MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (2010) turns Verne’s book into a Lost knockoff in which Civil War soldiers and 21st century “Jules Fogg” find themselves stranded in the Bermuda Triangle (I suppose we should give JJ Abrams credit for putting his island in the Pacific) due to Captain Nemo’s accidental creation of a time-trap while attempting to rewrite history. Mediocre on pretty much every level, and if they were going to throw in modern women, why not make them more than just damsels in distress? With W. Morgan Sheppard and Mark Sheppard as different ages of Nemo. “We aren’t traveling in time—we’re lost in it.”

FIRE TRIPPER (1985) is a good anime fantasy in which a toddler time-jumps from a fiery death in feudal Japan to the present, then jumps back as a teen and becomes involved with an Obnoxious and Irritating village warrior (the manga is by the same writer who later created Inuyasha). This has a couple of nice twists, slightly confused by my conviction the two leads were siblings and finding it implausible how fast the girl accepted incest. “Oh, no, it’s like an indirect kiss!”

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies, Time Travel Book

Wait, I almost forgot to blog! (#SFWApro)

Not that things are hectic, quite the opposite, just feeling very relaxed.

This was a crazy week. Monday I had my annual general physical (all good—better on some things than I expected), Tuesday I had what was supposed to be a routine dental checkup after the deep, down-below-the-gum-line cleaning last month. Turns out they didn’t clean as much as they thought, so I wound up spending an extra hour there, get novocaine needles in the roof of my mouth and go home with numb mouth (so no eating. I’ve tried eating with a novocaine mouth and it doesn’t work) and an achy head. Plus I had errands to do which used up a couple more hours.

So I’m pleased that despite that, I had a productive week. I made my ehow quota, watched a full slate of movies and walked the dogs a lot. Next week I’m going to try to put in a full 40-hour writing week. It’s doable, if I stack the evening work early in the week, preferably getting most of it done in one shot). Evenings are tricky as I usually spend them with TYG and often wind up getting distracted by her or dogs. So if I can spend one busy evening and relax the next, that will be time well spent.

I’m still bummed about the tooth problems. Being told I have gum disease makes me feel like someone in an infomercial (“Seven out of 10 Americans suffer from gum disease. Now there is hope for these tragic victims with the new wonder drug, Supergums!”). My teeth were astonishingly healthy for so long, it feels unnatural to have problems with them. However, as TYG points out, I’d be worse off with my old dentist back in FWB who really didn’t put much effort in (he took my teeth health for granted too).

But lord knows, there are worse things to happen to someone.

Leave a comment

Filed under Personal, Time management and goals, Time Travel Book, Writing

The coming Republican race and other links

Digby catches a Washington Post article about high-powered Republican donors who were serious players in 2008 and 2012, but now they can’t get anyone to return their calls. Poor millionaires just can’t compete with billionaires who can dash off a seven-figure check without thinking about it. Which is actually scary, in a way, but damn, it’s also funny.

Given the scary part, I agree with another Digby post that it’s not entirely a bad thing religious conservatves are organizing to anoint its own chosen candidate, specifically positioning themselves in opposition to the Big Money (as Digby notes, this is an old, old conflict). Sure, anyone the religious right wants will be someone who makes me vomit, but they’re well within their rights to fight for the candidate of their dreams.

Case in point, Ted Cruz’ views utterly repel me. And they didn’t even include his proclamation that America needs 100 more Jesse Helms in the Senate (here’s some background on why that stinks). Although LGM links to some discussion that concludes Cruz doesn’t have enough support, even among the Republican base.

•Richard Cohen proclaims that liberal outrage over Ferguson is as absurd as Republican outrage over Benghazi. As noted at the link, Cohen’s views on race include that biracial families trigger a natural gag reflex and this in no way indicates bigotry.

•My own latest And article, on the topic of right-to-lifers who think rape is a beautiful way for God to give some lucky woman a baby.

•Roy Edroso often mocks right-bloggers (deservedly) for the fondness for proclaiming This Show/Music/Movie I Love Is Really Conservative!” Case in point, just because Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible about McCarthyism, if he were writing it today, he’d undoubtedly be attacking liberals! In point of fact he rewrote the play heavily for the 1990s movie adaptation and no, he didn’t suddenly become conservative.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

How not to do parody (#SFWApro)

About 30 years ago, I played the role of Pong Ping, the Chinese cook in a Western parody my theatre group did called Deadwood Dick.

In hindsight, I’m a little embarrassed that I played a role in yellowface. At the time I was bothered by something else, though it took me a while to figure out what. Then it came to me that while the show was a Western parody, the Pong Ping character was written perfectly straight. He spoke in broken English, cringed from the blackhearted, brutal villain, and had a doglike devotion to the virginal white lead. In short, a Chinese cook that would have fit into a real Western just easily—the equivalent of having a shuffling darkie character in a parody of a 1930s movie, but played exactly like a 1930s movie.

Since then, I’ve noticed other comedies that seem to think they’re parodies when they’re actually playing things straight. Case in point, one of this week’s time-travel (actually parallel world) films, DEEP IN THE VALLEY (2008).

The movie is an unfunny raunchy comedy about two loser buds. One works in a dead-end job and has a porn addiction; the other is trying to make something of himself but he’s shackled with that beloved figure of guy comedy writers, the Bitchy Girlfriend From Hell. But everything changes when they’re magically transported into a parallel world where the world works just like porn movies (for the record this appears to be “world inside a movie” rather than a real parallel world so it no more qualifies than Teen Beach Movie did).

I think there’s actually almost an idea there. For example, how do plumbers or pizza deliveries make a profit when they always wind up taking payment in sex? I’m not saying that would be good, but it would be more imaginative than anything in this pornoverse, which plays things perfectly straight (sorry). Women stand around discussing how they love taking showers together or big-chested sorority girls hold a fund-raiser car wash and get their clothes very, very wet … and that’s not actually funny (nor so sexy I’d have kept watching if it hadn’t been for the book).

At the same time, the movie doesn’t resemble real porn anywhere near enough. That’s a big mistake, because a parody of anything needs to look reasonably close to the source material. One of the things that frustrated me about Last Action Hero is that while some elements fit an action-movie world (every woman is incredibly hot, all phone numbers start with 555-) others (animated cartoon characters, Police Academy-type shticks) didn’t fit at all.

In Deep in the Valley, the main plot is that a male cop is hunting the guys down with the intent of getting to know them intimately and nonconsensually. While I’m not a porn expert, I find it hard to believe het male porn includes guy-on-guy rape (they’d have done better to stick to the female dominatrix cop as the hunter). And because this is a mainstream movie and not porn, for all the talk they never get beyond a hard R rating; there doesn’t even seem to be that much sex going on off-camera. It’s closer to a parody of a softcore sex comedy like H.O.T.S. or The Swinging Cheerleaders than something X-rated.

File this one in the “another ninety minutes of my life I’ll never get back” category.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies, Time Travel Book, Writing

Assorted Writing Linkage (#SFWApro)

•I don’t know how this applies to writers, but companies that pay for online reviews can’t pretend they don’t.

•One of the memes of writing advice is that writing is a horrible, unpleasant process and we all hate it. I can safely state that no, that’s not true: frustrating as it often is, I enjoy writing. As Lawrence Block once said, there doesn’t seem to be any other art form where it’s assumed the practitioners (actors, musicians, painters) hate what they’re doing.

•If you offer a resume and job-letter writing service, write your own letter, don’t copy.

•A new tactic against music-industry piracy: Release new albums everywhere in the world simultaneously. Would that help for books, I wonder?

•Kristine Kathryn Rusch discusses the problem of getting hard data on publishing, whether it’s for industry articles or for writers wanting to know how much their books are selling.

•Here Rusch talks about backlist being a valuable source of sales and that traditional publishers don’t get it. I’m wondering if this is a cyclical thing because for years I remember Publisher’s Weekly talking about the importance of the backlist (particularly for series books). Then as publishers got more bottom-line oriented in the 1990s, they made less and less effort to carry backlist … so perhaps the wheel has turned again (both links courtesy of Walk of Words).

•An agent tries to define “uneven writing.”

•From the Thrillwriting blog, a post on realistic fight scenes. And another.  And one more.

•Susanna Fraser on not restraining your enthusiasm.

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing