If you’ve ever watched TV, or movies, or read comics or books, you’ve probably encountered a rule-breaking hero or two.
This is the guy who works for the CIA, the military, the NYPD or some totally fictitious organization——but he’s definitely not an organization man. If his bosses tell him to do something he thinks is wrong, or tell him not to do something he thinks is necessary, he’s going to forge ahead, guided by his own inner compass. He may start rebelling when he gets up in the morning (Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry) or do it reluctantly as he realizes where justice lies (Chuck).
Almost invariably, no matter how much his bosses snarl, curse or threaten dire consequences, nothing really happens. Because he’s a series hero and if he’s fired or disbarred or whatever the penalty would be in the real world, hey, no series. So somehow, the bosses always wind up taking him back.
One reason I liked Naomi Novik’s Tongues of Serpents (and warning——herein there be spoilers) is that she’s willing to upset the apple cart and let the protagonists——Laurence and his dragon Temeraire——suffer big-time for their actions in the previous book (since I mentioned Chuck, I’ll note that series seems to have done the same at the end of the 2010/11 season)
In Victory of Eagles, a devastating disease cripples most of England’s dragons (the premise of the series is that dragons are real, and the aerial navies are part of the Napoleonic Wars), allowing Napoleon to land his troops on British soil. In the end, the good guys drive him off and the dragons are cured. The high command, however, sends a diseased dragon to France with the specific intention of wiping out the French dragons (the government looks on dragons as little more than a slave race).
Laurence and Temeraire do the honorable thing and deliver the cure to Napoleon, rather than allow the dragons to die. Their infuriared superiors aren’t willing to kill a powerful dragon and can’t do anything to Laurence (Temeraire would take that very amiss) so they transport them as disgraced felons to Australia.
Needless to say, there’s plenty to do there. They arrive in the middle of the New South Wales royal marines’ revolt (against Captain Bligh, the third mutiny he went through in his lifetime). There’s a smuggling network undermining British trade. While Australia doesn’t have dragons, it does have the formidable bunyips. And the smuggling network turns out to be the result of China breeding dragons who can fly to Australia laden with shipping goods.
But at the end of dealing with all this, Laurence and Temeraire are still stuck in Australia. I imagine they’ll get back to England eventually, but maybe not.
Another neat thing about the series is that Novik doesn’t assume her world’s history will track ours. African dragonriding tribes have made it clear they’re not going to be colonized. The Napoleonic Wars are turning out very differently (as witness Boney invading England). The Chinese trade war is clearly going to shift the global balance of power further.
I don’t know where it’ll end up (I wonder if Novik does) but I’m glad she’s playing it this way. Much as I loved Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I could not buy that the Napoleonic War fought with magic would mirror the war in our world so faithfully. Or consider Philip Roth’s Plot Against America, in which Charles Lindbergh becomes president in 1940, keeps us out of World War II … yet by the sixties, history is back on the “right” track (RFK and MLK both get assassinated on schedule).
Which is why I look forward to reading more stories of Temeraire.
Monthly Archives: August 2011
If you’ve ever watched TV, or movies, or read comics or books, you’ve probably encountered a rule-breaking hero or two.
I’ve written about Obama’s enthusiasm for compromise as a political goal here and here. And since reading this Lance Mannion post, I’ve wanted to tackle one more post.
Mannion’s view is that Obama has achieved more liberal goals than he gets credit for (for example requiring insurers to include birth control in their coverage) and that in many cases he’s done the best he can given the opposition in Congress. For those whose response is to compare Obama’s accomplishments with FDR’s, Mannion’s response is that “if we were alive then we’d have been screaming bloody murder about how FDR was always caving to [racists and segregationists in Congress], which is what he did, because he needed their votes.”
Which is actually close to Obama’s response to his critics on the left: If they’d been around during the Civil War, they’d have ripped Lincoln a new one for only emancipating slaves in the secessionist states, not the union.
I actually think there’s some truth to this. I just don’t think that means that Obama’s right and those of us who criticize him are wrong.
First off, it’s certainly true we’re getting more good outcomes from Obama than we would from a President Perry or Bachmann (although Glenn Greenwald has argued that libertarian Ron Paul comes closer to the left on a lot of positions than Obama). And in the voting booth, I’m sure as hell going to have that in mind.
But in day-to-day politics, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for activists to keep pushing and not settle for half a loaf if they get it. This is, after all, how the right has made such gains on banning abortion and cutting taxes on the rich over the past 30 years: No matter what they get, they come back and demand more. Maybe compliment whoever’s in office for what they did do, but pointing out that rich people still pay taxes and abortion doctors aren’t all dead yet, so step to it!
Gay rights activists, ditto. Since gay marriage became an option in 1993 in Hawaii (overturned later) they’ve been pushing forward. When they get civil unions, they cheer, but they don’t give up pushing for full marital rights. Which is why I think they’ll get them eventually.
Which brings up another point: Whether Obama’s doing a brilliant job or not depends in part on what issues you care about. If your primary passion is reproductive freedom, then the insurance decision may outweigh the negatives (surveillance state, state secrets privilege, increasing warmaking). If your goal is an end to war, that’s a whole ‘nother story. From a labor perspective, FDR’s New Deal was awesome; from the point of view of blacks trapped in Jim Crow or shut out of sundown towns, probably less so (surveys during WW II found a number of American blacks figured they couldn’t do any worse if Japan did win).
I also think there’s a sharp difference between not improving things and actually making them worse. It’s reasonable to argue that FDR shouldn’t be held responsible for segregation continuing long after his death. There’s no way to argue he isn’t responsible for interning American’s Japanese citizens and residents in prison camps, even though the government knew there was no evidence of any widespread subversion or espionage (and none ever turned up: As far as the record shows, there were no Japanese-Americans spies).
Likewise, I can accept an argument that Obamacare is the best he could have done (I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s a reasonable position) and an improvement on the current system. But I can’t ignore the things he’s done that have made things worse: The increasing use of the “state secrets” privilege to keep cases out of court, constantly widening wars in the Arab world, and calling for cuts to Social Security and Medicare well before his back was to the wall.
Better than the alternatives? Yep. Definitely.
So good he deserves a break from the criticism? Not even close.
Comic Book Legends discusses a 40-year-old claim that a misplaced decimal point in some German research led to medical researchers overestimating the iron content of fresh spinach in the early 20th century and this, in turn, inspired E.C. Segar to make Popeye a spinach-eater.
A paper (link at the site) does a magnificent job showing that while the merits of spinach as an iron source are exaggerated, there’s no evidence German research has anything to do with the error. And when Popeye made any reference to the merits of spinach, it was the vitamin A content that he ate it for.
The paper is an excellent lesson on the importance of going back to original sources whenever possible. For me, too——I’ve read elsewhere that spinach was only attached to Popeye by the Fleischer animated cartoons, and the sources seem definite enough I might have accepted it as accurate. I’d have been wrong.
•To follow up on yesterday’s discussion of conservative issues with women’s sexuality, here we have a right-to-lifer whose focus seems to be strictly on abortion (though she’s just as keen as so much of the right wing to annihilate Planned Parenthood).
So let me make it clear: I think abortion is a right, and it’s up to the woman to decide whether or not it’s acceptable to God. Even when the right-to-lifers’ motive isn’t some veiled (or not-so-veiled) hostility to women having sex, I still think they’re wrong.
As witness the activist, Charmaine Yoest, profiled at the link. Her stated motivation is the one I touched on in my first And column, the idea no woman really wants an abortion——therefore, by denying women what they think they want, Yoest is protecting them, saving them from a life of regret (conservative nanny-state time again). This also reflects an assumption I’ve mentioned before——Yoest was grief-stricken from a miscarriage, so she now claims no woman could ever want to lose a baby.
And I swear, if one more forced birther starts asserting, as Yoest does, that just because a woman got raped, we shouldn’t create “another tragedy” by aborting the baby …Anyone who thinks a woman bearing her rapist’s child against her will is not a tragedy needs some serious bitch-slapping.
In other links:
•My latest And column, on the pretense that gay-marriage opponents are motivated by objections to the legal process by which gay marriage gets approved.
•Articles here and here on the conservative myth that poor people——even the working poor——live free of tax and are therefore parasites leeching off the taxes paid by the hard-working rich (another take on this topic, here).
•The rich, meanwhile——specifically the banks engaged in crooked foreclosure activity——have Obama fighting to protect them from lawsuits.
Hullabaloo links to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner asserting that the banks can’t function if there’s legal uncertainty about their liability. I agree: If they were certain that lying in court about mortgage debt and forging signatures and affidavits (all of which have happened) would bring on swift retribution, they’d function a lot better.
I’ve written before about the role hostility to sexually active women plays in right-wing opposition to abortion and even contraception. If a woman has sex and doesn’t pay the price of having a baby, this sets all sorts of hackles rising on the right wing, even those who are not particularly religious in their conservatism.
Consider, for example, the right-wing push to strip any government funding from Planned Parenthood: So far as I know, nobody’s suggested that they’d cut the organization some slack if it stops providing abortions, which makes me suspect it has a lot more to do with horror at women actually having the option to have sex without conception——as for example, one Representative who dismissed the group as “invested in promiscuity.”
Obama’s recent, commendable decision to make insurers cover contraception also had right-wingers freaking out with indignation. Sean Hannity, for example, has revisited the time-honored argument that all women have a choice——they can choose not to have sex! So there! Or as he put it in another show, he’s not getting laid, why should he have to pay for the contraception?
By this logic, we shouldn’t cover lung cancer——I don’t smoke, why am I paying for the penalty?——or any of the various diseases that can result from an unhealthy diet (I didn’t choose to eat pizza seven times a week, why am I——well, you get it).
The same article at the link quotes a conservative on Fox News grumbling that if women have contraception they can have “unrestrained” “unlimited” sex. No explanation why that’s a bad thing. Nor any acknowledgement that there might be respectable married women who want to have unrestrained, unlimited sex without having yet another kid. There’s more right-wing outrage here.
Or consider the argument that inoculations against HPV virus (which is only transmitted via sex) are offensive because it sends a message to all our virgin daughters that we don’t trust them to say no to sex: “You establish a culture where young girls are resigned to becoming a sex object. It’s an assault on the dignity of young women.”
There’s no room in that argument for a girl who actually enjoys sex and doesn’t feel it compromises her dignity. Or for the possibility that as an adult, she’d like to have premarital sex without getting a cancer-causing virus.
In this context, it seems unsurprising (even though I was) that the Bush sex-ed budget included money for states to set up abstinence-only programs targeting not teens but 20somethings (please, conservatives, tell us again how liberals love the nanny state). I’m inclined to agree with this writer’s view that a fair number of conservatives don’t embrace abstinence ed because it works (it doesn’t), but because it sends the message Don’t Have Sex: Teaching them anything that would actually be useful in preventing teen pregnancy would require making some sort of concession to the fact that young women might choose to have sex. Of their own free will. And that this doesn’t make them the whore of babylon.
George Will once waxed nostalgic for the days when porn was completely banned, but everyone knew where you could go and find some——official denial coupled with reluctant, nudge-nudge, wink-wink acceptance. I think we’re seeing the same sort of thing here. Or maybe it’s discomfort with women who are not simply sexually available but sexually independent: They like sex, and they choose to have it and not just because they’re madly in love. For some guys (and women), even not of a particularly conservative bent that’s just wrong. The guy who made the Girls Gone Wild DVDs complained in an interview that he hates running into harlots who want to be in the videos; apparently it’s no fun if he can’t get the ego-boost of talking a reluctant girl into it.
Strange to think that in the 21st century enjoying sex and avoiding pregnancy are such controversial ideas.
ABOUT LAST NIGHT (1986) is a very loose adaptation of a David Mamet play (the opening straight-from-Mamet dialog sounds quite different from anything else in the script) wherein Rob Lowe and Demi Moore follow up a one-night stand with a tentative relationship while their respective best friends Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins bitch about being neglected. This worked better back when I was in the same age range and single, but still quite watchable——though I wonder if time won’t make it look as quaint to future generations as some old movie such as The Clock do to me today. “We all have to make sacrifices in our personal lives.”
COWBOYS VS. ALIENS (2011) is the SF Western that has amnesiac outlaw Daniel Craig finding himself locking horns with local boss-man Harrison Ford only to have an attack by gold-mining aliens force them to join forces, along with pretty stranger Olivia Wilde. Enjoyable, though it could have done with more SF and less mundane western-ness.
“Your mind controls it——stop thinking.”
ON THE GRID: A Plot of Land, An Average Neighborhood and the Systems That Make Our World Work by Raleigh NC resident Scott Huler is a look at the various forms of infrastructure——electrical, gas, sewage, water, roads——it takes to keep him (and most of the rest of us) secure in our modern lifestyles, what it takes in cash and technology to keep them operating and some specific history on their development within Raleigh. A good primer on aspects of modern life we often take for granted and quite informative (even given some of this is familiar to me from my past reporting and reading).
THE RITES AND WRONGS OF JANICE WILLS by Joanna Pearson is a Y/A novel about a young girl coping with coming-of-age in her small North Carolina town by adopting an anthropological perspective on her community’s goings on, only to discover she’s neither as detached or as unbiased an observer as she imagines. Departs from the usual clichés of Shy Geek Finds Love (though I did peg who Janice would wind up with) but I’ve read better in the Young-adult romance department.
DMZ: Body of a Journalist is the second TPB of the comics series, in which Matty discovers the US is trying to turn the Free Stater’s kidnapping of another journalist into a casus belli to justify an all out push into Manhattan, and intervenes to prevent his friends getting caught in a crossfire. This volume gives the backstory on the war, which typically for future-war stories is a Warning! about where we’re going (our involvement in overseas wars enables right-wing militias to sweep across the country). Good.
CROSSING MIDNIGHT: The Sword in the Soul wraps up the comics series as the amnesiac Toshi unwittingly hunts down her brother Kai on the orders of the evil sword-king Aratsu, then rallies Aratsu’s troops when Kai leads his own army to take down the evil one. I imagine had the original series lasted, the ending herein (which I won’t spoil) would have kicked off a new arc——still, a better finish than I expected for something that cut off earlier (I assume) than planned.
GODS, MEN AND GHOSTS: The Best Supernatural Fiction of Lord Dunsany, collects some of the best work by one of the seminal 20th century fantasists. The collection includes the kinds of lyrical fantasies Dunsany is best known for (“Idle Days on the Yann,” “Bethmoora” and “Horde of the Gibbelins” among them) plus some more whimsical contemporary fantasies such as “The Three Sailors Gambit” and “The Three Infernal Jokes.” It’s a pleasure to see that years after last reading Dunsany, I love him just as much.
In this case caused by, let’s see:
•My car overheating, which forced me to rearrange one appointment and hitch a lift from TYG for the other (thanks, honey!). Thursday they confirmed the engine is not long for this world; we’re going to start looking for a replacement car rather than replace the engine. My Mustang is old, and much else could go wrong if we get this fixed (transmission, axle bearings, who knows?).
•Time for appointments.
•Some problems w/the eHow system today which ate some assignments (they’re working on resurrecting them).
And some disorder caused by my own problems: I just could not seem to pull my election article for Raleigh Public Record together. It took me far too long and ate into other time. I must do better with the next one.
All of which scattered my thoughts enough that I couldn’t focus on short stories. So I turned to Impossible Takes a Little Longer, and I’m now probably 80 percent through the draft. Unfortunately, I can now see why it hasn’t sold yet: I thought I’d fleshed out my scenes and setting but everything was appallingly sparse or sometimes completely undescribed. Now it’s actually located somewhere, making for a much better read.
Good enough to sell? Guess we’ll find out next year.
As for eHow, my stories for this week:
•How to Document Meals With a Per Diem on Business Taxes
•Tax Credits for Alternatively Fueled Autos
•Can I Discharge the Unsecure Part of My First Mortgage?
•How to Calculate New Payroll for Small Business
•Can Borrowers Still Deduct Their FHA Mortgage Insurance on Their Tax Returns?
•Tax Deductions for Losses on a Second House
•How Much Will Buying a Car Boost My Credit?
•Can Your POA Open a Joint Bank Account?
•Can I Deduct Trustee Payments on My Bankruptcy?
•How to Bring a Declaratory Judgment in Bankruptcy
•How to Deduct Property Taxes on a Home Based Business
•Withdrawal of Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in Michigan
•Can a Manager Sell Half of an LLC?
•Can I Be Disqualified From a Job for an Inaccurate Background Report?
•The Effects of a Deed in Lieu on Your Taxes
•What Is the Residency Requirement to File for Bankruptcy in New York?
•Can Excise Tax Be Claimed on a Schedule A?
•Can I Claim Tuition From My GI Bill on My Taxes?
•How to Calculate Periodic Inventory Method
•Can I Claim Property Tax I Paid on My Parent’s House?
•How to Institute a Levy on Someone’s Bank Account
•How to Get My Bank to Agree to a Refinance
•Can a Lender Still Enforce a Debt if They Don’t Have the Promissory Note?
•What Causes a Deferred Tax Liability?
•Cash Balance Vs. Deferred Compensation
As I mentioned yesterday, the eighth in my Applied Science series is now up on Big Pulp.
One of the supporting characters in Brain From Outer Space is L.G. “Elegy” Walker, a Science Investigator from the TSC’s Cape Canaveral branch. I thought I had his character clearly fixed in mind: An ambitious Southerner of redneck stock who’d improved himself into a professional position. Competent and able, but he and Gwen, as a daughter of Southern aristocracy, distrusted each other on sight (while Gwen is very liberal for the time, classism is something she can’t quite get over).
As with several other characters in the story, giving him a spotlight in the series seemed like a good idea. Plus it would give us a look at the joint Soviet/US space program, which by 1958 is preparing to establish the first moonbase.
I soon came up with my core concept: Someone frames L.G. to get him out of the way in order to … what? And when I got the first glimmer of an idea, I had to ask why? What was L.G. Walker doing in particular that would make him a threat to the plan.
Eventually I figured them out, but in the process, Walker changes. He’s much less professional than the guy you’ll meet (someday I hope) in Brain From Outer Space; a guy from a poor family with a bad reputation whose overriding drive is to establish himself as someone to respect, whether or not he’s really worth of it. Image is everything.
Another development was that … well, most of my protagonists have been on the ineffective-liberal side of civil rights (the movement is doing a lot worse than it did in the real world): Yes, Negros should have equality, but we’re at war, there are higher priorities, they’ll just have to wait until things improve. In the real world, I suspect they’d probably be a lot more racist, so this is a compromise: Someone I can write about without hating them, but not too contemporary in their outlook.
But a redneck from the back woods? In the fifties? True, there were Southern whites who supported civil rights, but it seemed like a huge coincidence that my protagonist would be one of them.
So he isn’t. Instead, he’s a guy whose terror over being framed for murder isn’t anywhere near as intense as his horror at being accused of crossing the color line. Hopefully an acceptable hero despite that, but no question his attitudes are not attractive.
Another development I didn’t expect was Eisenstein. Valentina Eisenstein is a Russian security officer who formed up almost instantly in my mind, a no-nonsense professional, much more dedicated than Elegy, a former World War II sniper on the Russian front (the Russians used women for snipers, bomber pilots and more during the war). As most Russian characters seem to love being away from home and in the USA, I decided to go in the opposite direction: She hates Florida, hates the heat, hates the humidity but sticks with it out of duty. And one particular mission you’ll learn about if you read the story …
I liked Eisenstein instantly, and I’ve been working hard to bring her along into Brain From Outer Space (I think it’ll work).
So that’s the story behind the story. I’ll let you know when #9, Mayhem Ex Machina hits the web.