Category Archives: Writing

Discrimination as metaphor in specfic (#SFWApro)

In a 2012 blog post I read last year, Aliette de Bodard takes issue with the idea of showing nonhumans (mutants, ETs, vampires, fae, mages) as a discriminated minority, much like blacks, gays, Jews, Latinos. Her specific criticisms:

•Real minorities are not, in fact, nonhuman, nor are they dangerous as vampires (for example) are.

•Creating a minority that’s an alien race perpetuates stereotypes about real minorities not being really human.

•Authors in focusing on discrimination against their fictional creatures don’t show any real-world discrimination against blacks, gays, etc.

•By showing the fictional creatures wanting to become a part of mainstream society, the subtext is that mainstreaming should be everyone’s goal, that alternative lifestyles are inferior — the old 1950s idea of a melting pot where immigrants and minorities would win their rights by proving they could conform to white American standards.

This is an argument I’ve heard before, though more in the sense of justifying legal discrimination against mutants, Inhumans, whatever: unlike real minorities, mutant powers make them a genuine threat to society. Isn’t registering them reasonable? de Bodard would seem to be arguing that by implication, registering or imprisoning mutants says laws against minorities are legitimate (I may be misinterpreting her logic here). I don’t think I’d agree with that. Discrimination doesn’t have to be an allegory or metaphor, it can be a thing in itself; while I think discrimination against paranormals is a tedious cliché, I don’t think it’s implausible at all.

And as Steven Attewell has shown in some of his Marvel History posts, discrimination against mutants isn’t automatically racial: in the Silver Age it often reflected paranoia about Commie subversives lurking among us (made specific in the second Sentinels story — cover by Neal Adams, all rights remain with current holder), the same sort of paranoia I wrote about in Screen Enemies of the American Way.

Which is a long-winded way of saying I don’t think discrimination against Fictional Race/Beings/Culture is necessarily as objectionable as de Bodard finds it. And I’ve known people, both black and gay, who did identify and connect with the X-Men’s plight. Even though I have my own reservations about X-Men as Metaphor, I can hardly disagree with people who are minorities and do feel the metaphor works (unlike me, they have a dog in the hunt).

But I also can’t disagree with de Bodard’s point about not portraying real discriminated minorities alongside the fictional ones. Or as one gay acquaintance put it back in the 1990s, it’s nice that X-Men can make a statement about gay rights, but it would be nicer if they had some actual gay members. I can think of a number of other stories where that criticism could be made, for example the Alien Nation TV series (IIRC).

I have nothing to say about the “melting pot” aspect of her post. If I think of anything, I’ll post again. I do have some ideas about discrimination as it relates to mages, but that’ll definitely be a post in itself.

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City of Blades and worldbuilding (#SFWApro)

Reading reviews of Robert Jackson Bennett’s CITY OF BLADES (cover by Sam Weber, all rights to current holder) it struck me that what most of the reviewers were impressed with (I’m talking review columns, not individuals on Goodreads) was not at all what I liked about it.

First, the story: grizzled Saypuri General Mulaghesh, a supporting character in City of Stairs, gets dragged from her retirement to investigate the disappearance of a Saypuri official in the city of Voortyashtan.  Voortyashtan was the heart of the Divine Empire, which once ruled the world, until the Saypuri brought it down with anti-magic weaponry. Now they’re trying to rebuild the port city, despite the unrest of various local factions (it seems the Iraq War was a big influence on the politics here). And as Mulaghesh learned in the previous book, not all the miracles have gone …

I thoroughly enjoyed it, except for some awkward modern terminology (not totally inappropriate for the setting, but it jarred just the same). I like Mulaghesh as a middle-aged lead (much more interesting than the oldsters in Black Wolves), the magic set up is intriguing, and the story is solid. But most of the reviews I read didn’t think Bennett was that much as a storyteller, they liked him (to the extent they did) as a world-builder.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen a book recommended because of cool world-building, and it didn’t make sense to me then, either. I’ve seen many books where I love the setting and the premise, but for me world-building is only important to the extent it generates a great story and good characters. The depth that Tolkien gave to Middle Earth is impressive, but I’ve never had the slightest urge to read through those appendixes in LOTR. Elaborate magic systems, as I’ve mentioned before, usually bore me. As I mentioned in the Black Wolves review, endless exposition about culture, society and whatever usually leaves me cold if it’s not in the service of the story (or the characters). I had the same reaction to An Accident of Stars — the world is interesting, but nothing much is happening.

Yet obviously for lots of people the world-building is fascinating. And I can sort of understand it: I have the same reaction to super-hero comics. The endless details of how the Scarlet Witch’s powers or Superman’s abilities work are something I can immerse myself in happily. Ditto the details of real history. But fantasy worlds? I need to know as much as will advance the story or dramatize the characters’ reactions, but not much more than that (as I mentioned in the Black Wolves link, something I’m having to think about working on Southern Discomfort).

Does that indicate my writing is fundamentally out of sorts with what publishers and readers want? Maybe. Or maybe not: most of the Blades reviews on Goodreads liked Bennett’s story a lot more than the formal reviews. Whatever that signifies.

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Another changing tide? (#SFWApro)

But changing in a good way, happily. As King Cnut demonstrated (image borrowed from Medievalists, don’t know artist, all rights reside with current holder) we cannot hold those tides back. Before I get to tidal matters, here’s a quick overview of the week:

•I wrote and submitted my newest Screen Rant, as I mentioned this morning.

•I submitted more articles on the current Leaf project.

•I sent in my first sales tax payment on sales of Philosophy and Fairytales. It was less than a buck so the charge for paying online was actually more than the tax. On the other hand, it is kind of cool that I need to pay sales tax.

•I continue to struggle with fixing up Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast. I think I have the problems fixed but I’m ordering a test copy (about $6) just to make sure.

•The best part of the week is that I got back to work on Southern Discomfort. I just promised myself that no matter what, I’d get a thousand words done every day, and I did. I’d like to do more, but it feels wonderful to be moving forward with it.

And that’s the tide part — after swinging so heavily to nonfiction, they’re moving me back to fiction. Okay, technically I moved myself back by conscious effort. So much for the metaphor. But then again, the nonfiction does seem to be slowing down a little. This latest Leaf project will wrap up by the end of next week at the latest. One of those nonfiction projects I talked about at the link just isn’t happening (not the first time I’ve gone through Welcome Aboard! followed by Crickets!). I have another one that may start next week — we’ll see what happens. So that could mean less money (boo!) but more fiction time (yay!). And I have a few potential nonfiction projects, both articles and long-term gigs, to look into next week.

On a non-writing note, I had a frustrating experience making calzones this week. The dough just didn’t work, which I assume is my fault though the recipe did seem off (very little time for the dough to rise). However I made the filling without the calzones and its delicious.  I shall make it again soon.


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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast, Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

New Screen Rant: Sixteen Things You Didn’t Know About Brainiac (#SFWApro)

Brainiac started his career as a bald alien criminal capturing cities in bottles. Then he became a computer, a different computer, a human with delusions, a flesh-and-blood alien, a Kryptonian … Learn his history here.

Al Plastino art first image, Gil Kane second. All rights remain with current holder.

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Time management stuff (#SFWApro)

So last year I took a different tack to time management: assign myself X amount of time to take breaks, then count down through the day as I use it up. It worked reasonably well, except for insomnia.

I frequently sleep poorly. Various reasons include the puppies, work calls for TYG in the dead of night, stress …. well, you get the picture. So if I get up at, say, 3 AM, I have two extra hours before the day officially starts. Which would be awesome if I didn’t need sleep.

But the thing is, it makes focusing on break time impractical. On a typical day I budget about 2.5 hours for all breaks, leaving 7.5 hours of work. But somehow getting in another two or three hours, less the catnaps I take to make up for it, seems more than I can manage (“Okay, I have two hours of break left, but I have to add in 1.5 hours for getting up at 3:30, then subtract 20 minutes for the nap …”). It really should be simple but my mind does not see it that way. So I’m back to just counting hours and it seems to work fine. The lack of sleep not so much but at least working from home lets me catch up on sleep when I can.

A bigger problem lately has been emails. The Screen Rant email list is very active, and since it’s actually relevant (did they like my list pitch?), I keep checking it way too frequently. Much the way I used to when I expected or needed a response from an editor. So I need to break myself of that.

To wrap up, here’s a neat little Kirby cover from Strange Tales. I think it’s interesting how he squeezes two such very different strips — Dr. Strange and SHIELD — onto the cover and (with the word balloons) doesn’t make it feel dissonant.


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Filed under Personal, Time management and goals

My screen rant column on Green Lantern is out (#SFWApro)

greenlantern59As I mentioned yesterday, it covers the secrets of Hal Jordan’s (and others’) ring. Why Green Lanterns can’t kill the renegade Green Lantern Sinestro. Why the ring doesn’t work on yellow. The appalling lack of any sort of failsafes built into it. And more fun facts. Cover by Gil Kane, all rights remain with current holder.

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A productive week, but …. (#SFWApro)

But almost no work on fiction, as I noted this morning. I’m much more focused working on nonfiction than I used to be, so that’s good, but in April I will have to squeeze in extra fiction time somehow.

So what did I get accomplished?

•Several articles for Legal Beagle, one of Leaf’s (the renamed Demand Media) customers. The pay was good, the work fairly easy — it’s the same style as before so I’m very familiar with it.

•My next Screen Rant column (which will probably come out right after this post goes live darn it) about the amazing quirks of Green Lantern’s ring: the prison world inside it, the reason it doesn’t work on yellow, the time Hal Jordan turned himself into an envelope and the convoluted retcon that led to the end of the Green Lantern Corps. Image by Gil Kane, all rights to current holder.

•I did the paperwork for another web-writing informational article gig, and it was quite a lot of paperwork. So that took up some time.

•And I finally resolved my access problems to CreateSpace. I put a lot of work in getting Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast ready for hard copy; hopefully by next week it’ll pay off and I can announce the book is live (of course it’s already live as an ebook). Contrary to this morning’s post, that’s an extra goal I completed for March, pushing my success rate (along with a couple of minor goals I finished today) to 62 percent, woot!

•I got maybe a chapter done on Southern Discomfort. Total for the month, maybe 15,000 words. Not enough. Next month I will have to improve. I’m tired of taking so long to finish it. I know I can’t pull a nanonano (I’ll still have some nonfiction to get out) but I’ll have to make it work somehow. ‘Nuff said.

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Filed under Comics, Nonfiction, Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals, Writing