Doc Savage, High and Low: The Flying Goblin and the Tunnel Terror (#SFWApro)

Both books this month are by William Bogart, not Lester Dent, and both covers are by Bob Larkin. All rights to covers reside with current holder.

2846284THE FLYING GOBLIN starts off in cracking style: two hoods summon a hurtling Something from the sky to smash into Doc’s crime college (which hasn’t appeared since The Annihilist) and bust out Birmingham Jones. Jones has undergone Doc’s memory-wiping surgery, but he hasn’t been broken of the desire to kill, so the bad guys recruit him. Meanwhile Ham and Monk, acting on their own, investigate a pretty young woman’s story of seeing a similar flying object near Sleepy Hollow (there are references to the Headless Horseman, but nothing really comes of that angle). The flying thing destroys their car, almost killing them. What is this mysterious super-weapon/being? And what are the bad guys’ goals?

It’s a lively story until it falls apart at the end. There’s no good reason for the guys to have attacked the college (which is, after all, guaranteed to draw Doc’s attention, a thing to be avoided) as Birmingham Jones isn’t really any tougher or nastier than umpty-zillion other thugs in the series. And how did they know his mental state, given there’s no hint they have a spy inside the college?

Then there’s the climax in Paris. Once again, WW II infringes on the series, but only in the sense that there are two unidentified countries fighting somewhere else in Europe (apparently only two), and both sides think the other is using the flying weapon (a super-fast radio-controlled missile) against them. France? Apparently in the Savage-verse it hasn’t been fighting in the war since the previous year. Oh, unlike The Evil Gnome, the bad guy’s real goal isn’t to sell his weapon, it’s to terrify the world into making peace (in another WTF moment, the two warring countries do indeed stop fighting. It’s as incompatible with the real world as Fu Manchu assassinating Hitler).

In a minor note, Bogart forgets that Renny looks saddest when he’s happy and vice versa.

THE TUNNEL TERROR is flawed, but a lot better. It starts, like a lot of recent Dent stories, with an unemployed drifter; this time it’s veteran tunnel digger (“mucker”) Hardrock Hennessy. Hitchhiking out West to get a job with one of the big dam projects, he encounters a mysterious fog that burns when it touches and fatally desiccates anyone caught inside it. He narrowly escapes, but the fog is soon threatening other people in the digging tunnels around the big dam. There are also remnants of a lost civilization of giants — is it possible they’re still down there, alive? As with The Awful Egg, it’s not a possibility we can rule out.

It turns out, though that the gas and the supposed giants — the artifacts are real, but the makers are long gone — are part of a scheme to stop the dam project and relocate it to land someone else owns (land grabs are a familiar series plot). Today, of course, they might be able to stop the project based on the archeological significance alone. It’s a solid story, but the lost race probably needed to be played up or somehow tied in with the gas — as is, it’s like the bad guys were just throwing plots at the wall to see what sticks (which admittedly would be plausible). We do get one of the series’ competent women, Chick Lancaster, a tough-minded but (of course) gorgeous engineer working on the dam.

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Right-wing myths vs. reality

Women cannot fight or be heroes vs. a Nigerian hunter who tracks down Boko Haram members.

•Right-wing terrorism isn’t a threat vs. this guy and these guys.

•Republicans have nothing against women vs. shutting up Sen. Warren. At least neo-Nazis don’t even try to pretend.

•Congressional Republicans will stand up to Trump vs. blocking a resolution referencing Jewish deaths in the Holocaust.

•Republicans will give us something better than Obamacare vs. wanting to repeal ACA before coming up with a new plan, because “if we load down the repeal bill with what comes next, it’s harder to get both of them passed.”

•Taking the oil is an easy way to pay for our costs if we invade the middle east vs. the practical challenges of taking the oil.

•Trump doesn’t have to be smart because he’ll hire smart people vs. Tom Price (HHS nominee). Or Kellyann Conway.

•Republicans respect the Constitution vs. Trump who objects to an independent judiciary. Or Mike Huckabee, who thinks submitting to court rulings emasculates the Oval Office.

•People who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear vs. concealing data that might show whether companies are violating animal welfare laws.

•Republicans hate tangling business in regulation vs. Oklahoma requiring businesses post anti-abortion signs in their restrooms.

•Republicans are fighting voting fraud vs. Republicans voting to eliminate the agency that guards election tech against hacking.

•Republicans care about pregnant women and their babies vs. quit your job if your employer refuses to let you breastfeed, sit down when you’re pregnant, take extra bathroom breaks, etc.

•Sen. Paul Ryan is a principled believer in limited government, vs. Paul Ryan voted for Attorney General Jeff Sessions because Democrats said mean things about Sessions instead of saying stuff that would totally change Ryan’s mind

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Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

One of those weeks where most of my reading is “Meh” (#SFWApro)

Of course that’s partly because I already reviewed the most interesting stuff.

22351151The pick of the week was THE ACCIDENTAL ALCHEMIST by Gigi Pandian, the start of a very off-the-wall paranormal cozy. Protagonist Zoe Faust is a 300-year-old alchemist, settling down in Portland. Unfortunately the settling is complicated by a murder on her front doorstep, and by a magically animated gargoyle asking Zoe to help preserve his existence (or he turns back to stone, but with living consciousness). I liked this quite a bit, but not as much as Whispers Beyond the Veil; the weakness for me is that it’s one of those food-centric cozies (yes, that’s a thing) and there’s far too much time spent discussing the details of how Dorian the gargoyle adapts French cooking to Zoe’s vegan ways. Possibly if I liked foodie cozies, I wouldn’t have minded. Cover by Hugh D’Andrade, all rights reside with current holder.

HOW TO BUY A LOVE OF READING by Tanya Egan Gibson hooked me with the premise — worried helicopter parents hire an author to convince their daughter to love reading for fear she won’t get into a good college — and some nice language (like an ice sculpture dripping water from its ice penis as if it were syphilitic). But this is the kind of Serious Literature where every second of everyone’s inner life gets detailed and micro-analyzed, and that killed it for me. In fairness, I’m not much for serious mainstream stuff anyway, so possibly if you are you’d be fine with it.

Much as life Gene Wolfe’s New Earth stuff, his magical realist stuff like Peace or There Are Doors leaves me cold. And so it was with THE LAND ACROSS, in which a travel writer visiting a small European nation finds himself trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare  (“I can’t show you my passport because your border guards confiscated it.”) which leads in turn to his involvement with both a revolutionary cult and the secret police. The Kafka stuff held my attention but it fades as the book goes along and Wolfe offered nothing else to replace it, even when the supernatural appears. It didn’t help that the American narrator sounds almost like he learned English as a second language — I’m sure Wolfe had a reason for the voice he chose, but it didn’t work even a little for me.

UN-MEN: Get Your Freak On by John Whalen and Mike Hawthorne takes the synthetic grotesques introduced in the Bronze Age Swamp Thing and places them in Aberration, a small town founded as a home for freaks. But not everyone’s down with having the Uns in charge, people are turning up dead, and now the government’s coming to check things out … This is readable, but the political struggles in Aberration aren’t well-handled or clear enough to engage me. And I don’t see why people keep talking about fake freaks when it appears everyone in town really is one.

ACTION COMICS: Bulletproof by Grant Morrison is another frustrating example of DC’s inability to make a coherent TPB collection. For example, while the story about the black alt.Earth Superman who’s also president (yes, it’s an Obama tribute) probably worked as a backup in a single issue, stuck in here I found it confusing, wondering why it didn’t play off. And while I like Morrison’s Superman better than most of the New 52 Man of Steel, the stories weren’t A-list. Captain Comet, for example, shows up talking like an ubermensch from some fifties SF film about super-evolved mutants — possibly that was the point, but his dialogue just sounded clunky.

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The end of the world, an arranged marriage and a Communist steel horse! Movies (#SFWApro)

Azalea Films was an obscure company whose main claim to fame is ripping off several of Roger Corman’s AIP films for their even lower-budgeted, lower-quality company. IN THE YEAR 2889 (1968) was a knockoff of Corman’s superior The Day the World Ended, only showing that Corman could make a cheap quickie much better than most people could. In this leaden drama, the Bomb Has Dropped, so a scientist and his daughter are holed up in their country home to see if they can last out until the fallout dies down. Only they hadn’t prepared for the arrival of a Nice Guy and his irradiated brother, a drunken Latino, a thug and his stripper mistress (Quinn O’Hara), or the mutates lurking in the hills in very bad monster makeup … Forgettable except for the name, which makes no sense. It does show how generic, in a way, this kind of apocalypse is, as the cast could just as easily have been hiding out from the Walking Dead. “Once I got my motor running, I didn’t hear nothing but the sound of their breathing.”

220px-jump_tomorrowJUMP TOMORROW (2001) is a charming rom-com of a type familiar to most of us. The protagonist, George (Tunde Adebimpe), is a rather uptight Nigerian American heading to Niagara to meet his Arranged Match (“My parents arranged this, my uncle arranged this — she and I helped a little I think.”). Along the way he finds a traveling buddy in a lovesick, suicidal Frenchman who insists George pursue Alicia (Natalia Verbeke), a young woman he felt an instant connection with … but who’s heading to Canada with her oh-so-perfect boyfriend. Very winning.“It’s very scenic—lots of trees.”

EARTH (1930) is the classic example of the “boy meets tractor” Soviet drama, showing how a tractor enables the protagonist to overthrow the power of his village’s rich farmers, collectivize and feed the people! We see our hero drive the tractor past his father, scything away in the field, then show him how much easier it will be to thresh the wheat with a tractor. Women bind the sheaves with smiles as if they were achieving orgasm, bread rolls out of the village ovens and someone exults that “a communist steel horse has overthrown the thousand-year-old forces!” An interesting, if old-fashioned film, despite its propagandist intentions. “We’ll get tractors and take the earth away from them.”

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My week in review makes me think of that TV series Hindsight (#SFWApro)

One of the things I liked about VH1’s Hindsight was that after the protagonist travels 20 years into the past and fixes her big problems (her train-wreck first marriage and her dead-end job), she has no idea what to do next. Knowing what was wrong in her past doesn’t show her what path will lead to happiness (her best friend points out that she’s no worse off than anyone else). Which is sort of what I felt like working on Southern Discomfort this week.

The one part of the book I still haven’t outlined is Joan and Maria journeying to Caer Gwalchmai. It has to be less than the relatively simple “waltz through the Otherworld and get the magic McGuffin” sequence in the last draft, but I’m not sure what. This week I got a clearer idea of what I don’t want: it shouldn’t be just a struggle fighting through supernatural forces and monsters. My gut says that’s wrong, and I trust my gut. However I’m not sure what the alternative is. A series of traps and wards they have to circumvent? Maybe. Or something I haven’t yet thought of. Quite possibly. I’ll keep pushing until I figure it out. And start on the earlier chapters while I’m thinking, so I don’t waste too much time staring into my navel for inspiration.

I did not get as much work on the novel done as planned because of those two assignments I mentioned last week — a History Magazine article assignment and a trial run as a writer for Screen Rant. I got the History research collected and managed to bat out a rough draft (very rough, but it gives me a sense of how I want the piece structured). And I found the photos I need online.

The first Screen Rant column, as I suspected, took much longer than I wanted it to. If I’m going to stick with the gig (assuming they like my work), I’ll have to write much more efficiently. But that was the case with Demand Media: the first few articles were crawling, then I found my rhythm. I’ll also have to structure my time so that I don’t work on them over the weekend — this one will have to be wrapped up Sunday. The writing’s done, except for proofreading, but I have to enter it in the system, which will probably take a bit longer. And I have to find illustrations and crop them which will be a pain. But then again, writing about comics and getting paid for it is pretty damn cool, so onward!

I applied for a couple more freelance jobs, and that was about it for work, even with more than the usual number of hours in. Of course that’s partly because reading White Flight was slow going, because the book’s so packed with information. And I got stressed and tired Wednesday which made hump day less productive than I’d planned.

To end on a high note, here’s a look at Plushie after his new cut. Adorable, is he not?

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Filed under Nonfiction, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

Paper and Pen: two weeks of organizing old school (#SFWApro)

So as I mentioned after buying my new computer, I found myself dissatisfied with the new Calendar app. I went out a week later and picked up a planner (I did try a couple of new apps, but none of them worked as well as iCal for me).  It turns out I’m not one of those people who desperately needs to kick it old school.

The planner is way better than Apple’s Reminder, and much easier to use than the other calendar/list making apps I tried. But still, I’m not going to carry it along with me when I move my computer from one room to another, which makes checking on my progress a little more awkward.

And also I just picked the wrong planner. Understandable, as I haven’t used one in what, six or seven years? This is a page-a-day planner, and I think a bigger one with a week per two pages would have suited me better. That way I can see all the tasks I have for the week without flipping any pages.

Come the end of 2017 I think I’ll take a much closer look at what planners are out there, see which will really suit me.

But I miss my iCal.

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Research for Southern Discomfort (#SFWApro)

My research this past week or so was pretty grim. A reminder that America has always been haunted by the shadow of racism, and the resistance of whites to doing anything to change their privileged status.

According to HOW THE IRISH BECAME WHITE by Noel Ignatiev, the early Irish immigrants were the lowest of the low, little better than blacks, and considered by Protestant America the ones most likely to “amalgamate” with blacks. The Irish had been treated as a lower race in their own country since the English occupation, and many of them — such as Daniel O’Connell, who was active in Ireland fighting to repeal the union of Ireland and England — were abolitionist. Others were not, seeing abolition as alienating potential American support for repeal. Many embraced the white labor axiom that the life of a slave, with guaranteed shelter and food, was easy compared to that of the real slaves, the white working men (Frederick Douglass pointed out that if they really believed that, his running away had left a slave position vacant). Beyond that, racism against free blacks became common, both before and after the Civil War. Free blacks doing the same job as whites was seen as lowering white workers to their level. The Irish, like most whites, wanted to establish they were well above that level, which meant as much segregation as possible.

Ignatiev’s focus is primarily the north, which limits its usefulness for Southern Discomfort. It does make me conscious that I’m not going to be able to sum up all of Irish/black race relations in one novel (yeah, I know, obvious). However it does give me ideas for a couple of background details.

345070(Cover image from the Calvin Fred Craig papers at Emory University. All rights reside with current holder)

WHITE FLIGHT: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism by Kevin M. Kruse looks at how Atlanta, known as “the city too busy to hate” for its moderate desegregation efforts (in contrast to other parts of the South that believed the color line had to be defended at all costs), actually did quite a bit of hating from the post-war years through the 1970s. While the civic and business leaders were willing to work with black Atlanta — allowing blacks to buy homes in white neighborhoods, desegregating some public parks, minimally desegregating schools — the working-class saw this as a sell-out by rich people whose private schools and private parks wouldn’t be affected. For some the solution was neo-Nazi groups or the KKK, but over time they adopted more euphemistic approaches, such as their right to “freedom of association” — which in their eyes meant a)they should be free not to associate with blacks; b)therefore segregation so blacks were kept away from them, even in public spaces; c)if segregation fell, then whites simply abandoned facilities to Those People and over time fled to segregated suburbs. Kruse argues that the roots of modern conservative attitudes were born here: a conviction white taxes went to support black moochers, enthusiasm for privatizing public facilities (in the hopes they could then deny blacks the right to use them), opposition to spending on public projects or infrastructure (when Those People would use it) and so on. While Kruse didn’t tell me anything about racism I didn’t already know, it’s gut-wrenching to read 250 pages about so much hate.

This book definitely got me thinking about how I handle racism in Pharisee, and how desegregation came to the town. And also about the makeup of the white newcomers from Atlanta; obviously if they’re moving to a town that isn’t all-white, they probably aren’t the die-hard segregationists. Not necessarily liberal on racial issues, but more moderate than I’d be thinking. It also gives me some insight into the generational divide for Pharisee’s blacks (the older go-slow generation and younger more aggressive activists).

In its own right, a very good book but horribly depressing.

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Filed under Politics, Reading, Southern Discomfort