Category Archives: Uncategorized

Slipping into the workflow (#SFWApro)

So as I mentioned last Friday, I’m dealing with several paying gigs for the first time in a while. Though I haven’t heard from one of them, which makes me wonder if it’ll be one of those that just never gets around to giving me assignments (no big, it’s not like it cost me anything but time to try).

What I’m pleased about is that I don’t seem to be following my usual pattern which is to let my mind wander off and drag out the work. I was very bad about this with my work for Raleigh Public Record a few years ago; I did good work, and I didn’t miss deadline, but it always took far more time than it should have.

Now if my mind glitches on one project, I switch to another instead of wool-gathering. When I didn’t have some information I needed yesterday, I started doing some work on Southern Discomfort. This is a good thing; the more work I have the more I need to use my time efficiently. Particularly to get the fiction done. I think that may be the main reason I’m so focused — I really, really don’t want to lose any more time for fiction than I have to.

So let’s hope it keeps up. Fingers crossed.

In unrelated news, I made a vegan chocolate cake with fudgy icing and hazelnut topping this weekend. Went over like gangbusters at the vegan potluck we attended.

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Paper Girls, Talking Apes, Wonder Woman and More: TPBS and Books (#SFWApro)

I’ve frequently complained that DC super-hero trade paperbacks are hard to follow, so I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to pick up PAPER GIRLS 2 by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang without having read #1. It seems that in that one, a group of 12-year-old paper girls stumbled into a time war; in this volume, they wind up in the present, which has the usual cultural shocks (“Spencer’s Gifts is gone but that doesn’t mean the future is post-apocalyptic.”) plus Erin meeting her future self and being decidedly unimpressed. Plus there’s another Erin counterpart, time coming undone, a floating hockey stick … and it all makes for great reading. The 1980s references (“You look straight out of AIRWOLF!”) reminded me of Stranger Things but I liked this a lot better.

HARROW COUNTY: Countless Haints by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook is a good rural Gothic horror. The protagonist, Emmy, thinks she’s a normal girl despite some odd incidents, but her father, much as he denies it, sees a connection between Emmy and the witch the locals killed right before Emmy was born … Well done.

THE WICKED AND THE DIVINE: Fandemonium by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McElvie worked much better for me than the preceding The Faust Act as Laura tries to figure out what the ending of that volume means for her, and for the pantheon. Plus the gods have to deal with a crazed stalker fan who seems intent on picking them off — or is someone trying the Prometheus Gambit (kill a god, gain their power). Not really a lot happening, but this held me despite that.

WONDER WOMAN: Flesh by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang is a big improvement over the previous volume, War, as the creators’ god-awful take on Orion only appears briefly. Here we get the history of the First Born of Zeus (quite good), Zola goes hunting for truffles (I was pleasantly surprised how that turned out) and the First Born making his move for the throne of Olympus. Unfortunately the scenes of Apollo torturing the First Born didn’t work for me for various reasons, which I’ll get into when I discuss the follow-up, Bones.

BANANA SUNDAY by Root Nibot and Colleen Coover has teenage Kirby struggling to fit in at her new school despite the awkwardness of having three genetically engineered talking monkeys following her around (actually it’s one monkey two apes). This is targeting a younger audience than me, I suspect, and the supporting human characters are weak, but the monkeys made this fun enough to keep reading — Go-Go the midget gorilla reminds me of Plushie with his priorities (“Banana! Nap”).

41m5aytyrnlI interlibrary-loaned SEERS, WITCHES AND PSYCHICS ON SCREEN: An Analysis of Women Visionary Characters in Recent Television and Film by Karin Beeler under the assumption this McFarland volume would cover everything from Medium to Bewitched but I should have read the description: Beeler’s focus is specifically on psychics/clairvoyants (“witches” gets in because of precog Phoebe in Charmed). It’s also geared for a much more academic audience than me, so I couldn’t get into it (and I must admit, I don’t agree with her analyses).

OUR MAN IN HAVANA (cover by Geoff Grandfield) was the Graham Greene spy spoof that inspired Tailor of Panama. The protagonist Wormold is a British vacuum-cleaner salesman in Havana recruited by British Intelligence for insight into local politics; as he needs money, Wormold simply makes crap up, which his credulous superiors swallow whole (though unlike the later novel, it’s more them buying into their own fantasies than any calculating motive). Very funny, though Greene can deftly switch to grim or violent without missing a beat; odd to read now as Wormold’s claims of a big sinister military project being built read like a foreshadowing of the Cuban missile crisis.

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China, Egypt and Stars Hollow: Movies and TV (#SFWApro)

THE GREAT WALL (2017) is the historical fantasy in which medieval sell-swords Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal arrive in China to steal some gunpowder, only to be caught in the middle of a clash between monstrous horrors swarming the Chinese border and the “Nameless Order” that guards the Wall against them. I wasn’t planning to catch this until several reviews convinced me it wasn’t just a movie set in China that’s all about a white guy (e.g., Forbidden Kingdom). Damon’s character is definitely the star, but the Chinese warriors have more to do than just support his heroics. It’s also a beautiful, visually delightful film, with some great supporting performances (Pascal is particularly fun as a much more weaselly mercenary than Damon). Both TYG and I enjoyed it. As the somewhat reptilian horrors swarm like ants and are controlled by a queen, I’m inclined to suggest the Charlton Heston vs Army Ants film The Naked Jungle as a double feature.  “I have been training my whole life for this shot.”

THE SQUARE (2013) is a documentary on the Egyptian pro-democracy movement as it moves from fighting Mubarak through a series of street protests to locking horns with the military and then the Muslim Brotherhood (both of whom are happy to position themselves as the Real Revolutionaries). Impressive in the Egyptian reformers determination to keep fighting despite the odds (“One night, you will call for my son, and his mother will tell you he is not there.”) but grimly sobering in showing how much harder “set up a democratic new government” is than kicking the old one out (not news to me, but it’s still unsettling to see it demonstrated). A good job. All rights to image reside with current holder. “It makes me happy that ‘Protest’ is now a children’s game.

GILMORE GIRLS: A Year in the Life was Netflix four-episode reunion series for Gilmore Girls, bringing back pretty much everyone (except Ed Herrman, now deceased). Just like in our world, a decade has passed since the series ended: Luke and Lorelai are together, Emily is coping with her grief over her husband’s recent demise, and Rory’s writing career is suddenly falling apart (we catch up on a lot of other characters too). Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino still has a great flair for her bantering, pop-culture referencing dialog, but it’s not up to the level of the original (which I’m a fan of). After ten years, why is Rory suddenly so inept at managing her career? What did Lorelai’s attempt to hike the Oregon Trail do other than pad the running time? This may reflect that Palladino got yanked off the series before the last season, so this reunion is her chance to do her own solution — that is, things like Rory’s career woes might have worked better when she was 22 instead of 32. But now that I’ve heard Palladino’s famous last words for the series (which she had in mind from the get-go), they really don’t work for me. So I’m not one of those clamoring for more, especially as Palladino (or so I’ve read) never had plans for anything further, so who knows what we’d end up? Still, I’m glad I caught up with the characters for a little while. “I’ve been injected by anthrax and the antidote is in my other pants!”

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Titans, Time Travel, Tractors and More! (#SFWApro)

TEEN TITANS: The Culling and TEEN TITANS: The Trial of Kid Flash show author Scott Lobdell (with various artists) at his best and work on this strip (don’t get your hopes up, even his best isn’t that good). The former reminded me of all the reasons I stopped reading X-Men during the 1990s — bombastic villains, sadistic villains, umpty-zillion dark secrets. As I said of X-Men: The Shattering, it’s a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Although I will give the editors points — there’s a crossover issue that isn’t included here, and they actually provide a synopsis, rather than leaving me going “Huh?”

The second TPB was Lobdell’s last with the team and he does a fair job wrapping things up on a mostly happy note; on the other hand, the political plotline (Kid Flash’s secret life as a future terrorist) gets very muddled.

SUPERMAN: War of the Supermen by James Robinson, Sterling Gates and various artists was the climax to a story arc involving the long-lost survivors of Krypton settling into the solar system under the leadership of General Zod and Superman having to figure out whether his loyalties lie with New Krypton or Earth. I found this story arc interminable and dull, but I must admit this final segment is pretty entertaining as it’s all action — Krypton invades, Earth retaliates, Superman battles Zod, etc. However Zod’s still a dull villain — as I’ve said before, nobody can think of anything to do with him other than vicious Kryptonian supremacist (but Superman II has embedded him too deeply in the mythos not to recycle endlessly, I guess).

I thought Eric Shanower had long ago given up on his Age of Bronze series adapting the Trojan War myths but BETRAYAL Part II turned up at the local library. This focuses primarily on the doomed love of Troilus and Cressida, which works well; however I don’t find Shanower’s normally excellent art works with the battle scenes, and there’s a lot of those. So a curate’s egg (partly good, partly not).

THE HISTORY OF LUCY’S LOVE LIFE IN TEN AND A HALF CHAPTERS by Deborah Wright is a paranormal chick-lit tale in which a woman getting cold feet with her boyfriend uses a time machine to try out the Great Lovers of History. Even if I hadn’t spent two years watching time-travel films, nothing in this is terribly new as Lucy keeps discovering life in the past isn’t as easy or smooth as she imagined. In fairness, I don’t read much chick-lit, but I’ve read some and liked it better.

1918FORDSON, FARMALL AND POPPIN’ JOHNNY: A History of the Farm Tractor and its Impact on America by Robert C. Williams (all rights to image of Fordson Tractor with current holder; source here) chronicles how tractors, like so much later tech, went from a high-priced tool few could afford to an indispensable part of farm life. Henry Ford’s Fordson tractor was a major player in the transition, thanks to assembly-line manufacturing cutting costs and prices. However the Fordson was still too big to work with row crops like cotton or corn, so it wasn’t until the smaller, more maneuverable Farmall that farmers could completely replace horses with machines. Whether that was ultimately good or bad, Williams finds hard to say, savings in labor and time being counterbalanced by farmers shifting from self-sufficiency to debt in order to afford the machinery (“Being a farmer is now as much about managing finance as managing crops.”). Specialized, obviously, but good if the topic interests you

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Not Being the Chosen One: Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth (#SFWApro)

kamandi1Jack Kirby’s Bronze Age series, Kamandi, Last Boy on Earth (cover by Kirby, all rights remain with current holder) is a good comic — heck, after Kirby’s “Fourth World” books wrapped up, this and Eternals at Marvel are the only Kirby work I thought was any good. But it’s also interesting to look at for (though I doubt intentionally) having a protagonist who’s not in any sense a Chosen One.

Kamandi was a riff on Planet of the Apes, a post-apocalypse world where homo sapiens existed as animals while the former animals ruled. Not just apes but tigers (a civilization modeled on ancient Rome), rats (running a crime ring out of sunken NYC), lions (a relatively advanced society in the Southwest) and dolphins (aquatic civilization, of course). Kamandi grew up inside “Command Bunker D” (hence his name) with his grandfather, sheltered from the world. Until a wolf raider penetrated the bunker and killed his grandfather. Now Kamandi’s out in the world, endlessly moving, looking for people like himself (it turns out there are a few), helping out where he can.

What made me frequently dissatisfied with the book as a kid was that Kamandi was often a passive participant in his own book. He’d run into trouble — giant gorilla, rat kidnappers, leopard pirates — but most of the time someone else would get him out of it, such as the lion Sultan or the human mutant Ben Boxer. Kamandi was the lead character, I wanted him to be more of the hero, and he wasn’t. Though I noticed when I reread the series a few years earlier that he does more than I thought at the time: in one issue he averts a bloody battle between tiger and gorilla forces by convincing them to resolve things with a game of chance. But generally he’s a POV character rather than a hero.

Rereading the series, though, that’s part of what I like about it. Seriously, he’s a teenage boy trapped in a world he never made (as the old Howard the Duck catchphrase put it), it’s not surprising he’s out of his depth. He’s courageous and resourceful, but it works for me that he’s only able to make small changes here and there. He’s not the Chosen One destined to remake the world and restore humanity, nor the hero who triumphs over the world through sheer awesomeness, he’s Everyboy. It’s quite refreshing (and I say that despite liking lots of heroes who change their world through sheer awesomeness).

I think this helps explain why the world often seems to real. Even as a kid, I got the impression these animal communities existed before and after meeting Kamandi: sure, meeting a talking, intelligent human cub was weird, but it wasn’t the defining moment of their existence, it was a colorful story they’d tell the family over dinner. The world didn’t revolve around him, so it had more space to be a world.

I really appreciated this after Kirby left (#36 was his last issue) and other writers took over. The strange animal cultures stopped feeling real: they existed purely to be a menace to Kamandi and didn’t feel like they had any other existence. Some of the animals started seeing Kamandi as an existential threat that might lead to humanity reclaiming the world. The final issue launched an arc that would have established Kamandi as indeed a Chosen One of some sort (the book ended first). In general, it was just not as good.

So there is something to be said for not being a Chosen One or a mighty hero, but as my younger reaction to Kamandi shows, that often works against reader expectations. Which doesn’t always generate a favorable response. Most of the Kirby run is available in reprint so pick it up sometime (if you have the money to spare, they’re hardback reprint collections and not cheap) and see what you think.

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Newsflash: America is not the white homeland (new And column)

That’s the gist of my new column, about the white nationalist conviction that the United States belongs to white men more than any other group, and that the election was a mandate endorsing them.

While I didn’t get into it in the column, it’s worth noting that no matter how much Trump’s team lies and insists this was one of the greatest electoral victories ever, Trump lost by close to three million votes. His electoral college win was sixth largest of the last eight. He’s wildly unpopular. Doesn’t make him any less president, but we should remind him and his racist, sexist supporters at every opportunity that they do not have the will of the people. They want to believe they do, or they want us to believe they do. Don’t let them.

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Seas are rocky but I’m still afloat (#SFWApro)

The big rock is continuing problems with Southern Discomfort. After running aground last week, I was able to get going again, but it’s still difficult. While I had broadly mapped out the finish (Maria and her friends attack Gwalchmai from faerie, while the cops and the FBI approach through his gate on the mortal plane), I didn’t put much detail into my outline. So now I have to answer questions about just what sort of magical protection Gwalchmai has on his fortress, and how they’re going to get past it (or not). My earlier versions of this bit are so far removed from the current set-up, I have to start completely fresh, and that’s difficult.

A minor problem is that I think I’m going to end up in the low 70,000s, which is short of what a lot of publishers will accept. I think I can fix that without too much trouble though (and without padding for length).

I got It’s Never Jam Today restarted too, but it’s still uncooperative. On the other hand, the latest draft of Oh the Places You’ll Go! looks much closer to what I want (but very far from what it needs to be).

I also looked at two older unfinished stories. Never Call Up What You Cannot Put Down is better than I remembered it, but falls apart at the end. That’s fixable, I think, but it’s also a rather stock story of encountering the magical in WW II—I’d really like to add something that will make it stand out more from the pack. And the other story, untitled, looks good as far as it goes, but I haven’t even finished a first draft yet, and I’m not sure how to do so. It’s a portal fantasy and I’ve no idea what’s on the far side of the portal, so …

I did finish tidying the index for Now and Then We Time Travel and did a little more work on Martinis Girls and Guns. I also began looking for new freelance gigs and drawing up queries, but didn’t get very far.

I also had to deal with two things I haven’t faced in a while. I had a contractor to deal with (some carpentry problems) and it was actually cool enough on Wednesday I could take the dogs for a longer walk. I will have to keep the possibility of longer walk-time in mind when I plan out next week.

To wrap up, here’s a before/after. First photo of Trixie when she was a stray in the Durham animal shelter almost two years ago, weighing a little over five pounds.

IMG_1126And here’s Trixie today. I hate thinking of what it must have been like for her as a stray, but I feel very happy to have made such a difference in her life.

trixie big eyes

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