Book covers for Friday (#SFWApro)

The first one’s by Steele Savage — I’m guessing that’s a pseudonym.

Next we have Powers, as usual for these posts of mine.

Uncredited but fairly creepy cover art.

Switching to comics, we have one of Steranko’s pop-art pieces for Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD.

And one by Jack Gaughan

And another uncredited cover.


All rights to all covers remain with current holders.


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Believing the worst, and other topics

For openers, we have a Trump-backing pastor’s claim Hollywood is rife with cannibalism and human sacrifice. Why do people swallow this stuff? Like Alex Jones’ claims about Satanic pizza parlors sex-slave rings based on Mars,  it’s a convenient way to feel good: “Their message here is not ‘x is bad’ but ‘I, personally and heroically, disapprove of x'” as Slacktivist puts it at the second link. For example, those people who were excited to know evil liberals were going to wage war on them last weekend.

As Hilzoy points out this is seductive (a way to feel virtuous without doing anything virtuous) but it’s also self-destructive, unjust and toxic. Slacktivist adds, however, that when we see evidence people aren’t arguing in good faith, we should trust the evidence (“The presumption of charity in conversation is just like the presumption of innocence in a criminal trial”).

Moving on—

Harvey Weinstein employed an army of detectives and spies (literally ex-Mossad agents) to keep his victims quiet (h/tip the Mary Sue). And David Brooks explains it’s all those people engaging in free love that make Weinstein possible. Lucy Prebble looks at casting-couch culture. And what of Weinstein’s employees?

The Republican tax plan specifies that fetuses qualify for college savings plans.

One of those baker vs. gay couples cases is headed to the Supreme Court. Scott Lemieux discusses why the cake shop is in the wrong.

Right-wing pundits respond to the most recent shooting massacre. Like the inevitable claims more guns in church is the solution. Novelist Brad Thor made a similar point about the New York vehicular homicide recently, but he’s wrong.

No More Mr. Nice Blog suggests if right-wingers keep demanding Muslims police their extremists, gun culture should be held to the same standard. Echidne, however, argues against sweeping generalizations.

In response to John Kelly’s claim the Civil War failed through lack of compromise

If Republicans want to make taxes simpler they could support proposals for form-free filing.

Trump picks anti-feminist Penny Nance, who thinks Frozen should have had a male protagonist, as our ambassador at large for women’s issues.

Coal country workers still believe Trump will revive the industry.

Trump’s ruling that employers with moral objections to birth control don’t have to cover it begins to have effect. Or does it — apparently Notre Dame University is backing off.

Trump may be president, but he’s indistinguishable from a pissed-off loudmouth drunk. Unfortunately his core supporters are totally committed, insisting simultaneously he’s accomplished a lot and that they don’t care he hasn’t accomplished anything. I think the interviewees are an excellent example of people not arguing in good faith — for all their claims Trump’s a dynamic, accomplished leader, they can’t actually cite any evidence.

According to some right-wingers, the correct response to any terror attack should be fear and pants-wetting.

Mark Silk looks at the divisions over immigrants in the Catholic Church.

All the reasons we shouldn’t be nostalgic for George W. Bush’s presidency (“The Iraq disaster killed 4,500 U.S. soldiers, something like 400,000 Iraqis, and radically destabilized the entire region. It led directly to the rise of ISIS and contributed powerfully to the Syrian Civil War. It was the worst foreign policy blunder in American history.”)

To end with good news: woot, that was some great electioneering Tuesday! It doesn’t make President Shit-Gibbon dissipate (and some of the racist ads at the link are horrifying), but all those victories prove that (as usual) the same side of America isn’t dead yet.

And to end on a really fun (but very raunchy note — NSFW people!) here’s Rachel Bloom’s Hugo-nominated music video, Fuck Me Ray Bradbury! All rights to cover below remain with current holder.


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I’d never have imagined it! (#SFWApro)

The late specfic critic Baird Searles had a great comment some years ago in discussing Sean Connery’s 1981 SF film Outland: there wasn’t a single detail in the film that made him think “Yes, that’s exactly the way the future would be — only I’d never have imagined it!” Which as soon as he said it, made me realize that’s what the film lacked — it’s far-future High Noon riff didn’t offer anything unexpected or surprising. It does offer other good things, such as Sean Connery in the Gary Cooper role, but it’s definitely a weakness (all rights to image with current holder).

Outland is hardly unique in this. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Thendara House, for example, takes us inside the Free Amazons, the one place for independent women on the violent, patriarchal, psionic world of Darkover. Unfortunately it turns out that the Free Amazons deal with exactly the same problems as a twentieth-century US feminists at the time (should we accept men as allies in the movement?). I found that thuddingly unimaginative (it’s an extreme case of the problems I have with some female leads in historical fantasy).

It’s certainly not a fatal flaw not to offer the audience something they’ve never seen before. Lots of people enjoy series that go over the same ground with minor variations. Why else would I like comic books or Doc Savage, for instance? Even in specfic, there’s no shortage of stories that make no attempt to reinvent the wheel.

Others try to be new and different but are just variations on a theme. A different magic system. A colorful, eccentric detective whose eccentricities are different from all the other colorful eccentric detectives. A cozy mystery set in a different kind of shop from the other shop-owner amateur-detective cozy mysteries. Then again, if you’re a fan of a subgenre, mild differences may be enough. And if the book is really good (great characters, terrific writing, clever plotting, whatever),  familiarity may not be an issue. Conversely it’s possible to write a book or movie showing readers something new, but the book still sucks.

Still, if we can write something that’s both groundbreaking and good, that’s a very cool thing. Lovecrafting creating the Cthulhu Mythos. Steampunk when it began (even given there were precursors). Urban fantasy when it started.

I’m not sure I’ve written anything that would qualify, even though I’m pretty proud of my work. But I’m still writing, so who knows?



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Wonder Woman: Cartels, assassins and Animal Man (#SFWApro)

So having seen Paul Levitz take over from Jack C. Harris (as described in a previous post), I said I was tentatively looking forward to Levitz’ run as he was a better writer. His “run” lasted all of four issues after which Gerry Conway took over with #259 (cover by Jose Delbo, all rights to current holder). Conway would stick around for a while, but he’d erase Paul Levitz’ changes — bringing her back to NYC and the UN — within a dozen issues. And two of those were stories held over from when Diana was an astronaut in training.

After a couple of unremarkable Levitz issues, Conway launched his first plotline, involving a scheme that felt like another hold over, from when he’d been a writer on Thor: Mars usurps Zeus’ control of Olympus, then manipulates Wonder Woman to make her look like a public menace, sets up Hercules as Earth’s new hero and schemes to thereby rule Earth as well as Olympus. It’s not dreadful but it’s not terribly good.

There’s also a subplot followed up from the astronaut period in which Diana’s been redflagged by security: someone’s discovered Diana Prince doesn’t exist, and is therefore a security flag. This doesn’t make much sense — it was established in both Silver and Golden Ages that Diana borrowed another woman’s identity — and it’s promptly dropped.

The big plot is Wonder Woman’s fight against the Cartel, a sinister crime syndicate run by the Master Planner who gives directives to his agents from the submarine he uses as a base. The Bushmaster (see the previous post above) was one assassin, who gets an upgrade (amped up versions of African weapons such as the knobkerry club) but they also have four other top killers each representing a different continent. The Gaucho is reasonably decent, but Red Fang (deadly martial artist), Lumberjack (axe-wielding Canadian killer) and the European disguise master the Chameleon (which is hardly a distinctively European skill) are far more forgettable.

More memorable is that she wound up teaming up with Animal Man in part of the adventures (cover by Ross Andru, all rights remain with current holder). While Grnat Morrison established A-Man as a good B-lister, this was his first appearance in a decade, so it was really notable (I was a fan of his early stories). Conway establishes a lot more about Buddy than we knew originally, like his last name and his profession (stunt man), though he also plays down Buddy’s previous stories to make him even more of a minor character.

The final confrontation with the Cartel is jaw-dropping, but not in a good way. It turns out the Master Planner is really UN troubleshooter Morgan Tracy (introduced first as a possible love interest, then as Diana’s boss) which makes no sense—it’s not just completely out of the blue but we never get any sort of explanation. And then we have Tracy declaring that as UN security chief (which isn’t his job) he’s the one responsible for Steve Trevor’s most recent death, which doesn’t make any sense at all (including motive). It feels like an awkward, rushed wrap-up to justify Diana moving on to a new setting/job. Knowing what’s ahead, I’m guessing it was another attempt to juice sales when the return to NYC didn’t do it, but I don’t know that for sure.

The next phase actually lasted until the mid-1980s George Perez reboot erased all previous WWs. So I’ll probably do my next post after I finish Conway’s run (about a dozen more issues).

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The First Amendment is not just for religions you believe in

So recently we’ve had Bryan Fischer, who thinks the First Amendment only applies to Christians, declaring Muslims should be denied positions in Congress, even if they’re elected. Roy Moore, the probable soon-to-be-senator from Alabama, says the same. and other Republicans aren’t going to fuss about it.

They are not unique. So here’s an unpublished (slightly revised) column I wrote for And Magazine before they dispensed with my services:

To paraphrase the Slacktivist blog, anyone who feels compelled to follow up “I support religious liberty” with a “but” probably doesn’t support religious liberty. Case in point, Southern Baptist pastor Dean Haun of Tennessee. “By all means let s stand for religious liberty in America, but—” Haun said in January. The “but” being he doesn’t support freedom for Muslims, and opposes other Baptists supporting it.

Haun recently resigned from the Southern Baptists’ International Mission Board after it filed a court brief supporting the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, NJ. A township had refused to approve the society’s proposed mosque, the society sued (and won). For Haun, supporting the rights of a religion he doesn’t believe in goes against his faith: “If we defend the rights of people to construct places of false worship, are we not helping them speed down the highway to hell? I want no part in supporting a false religion, even if it is in the name of religious freedom.” He adds that Islam isn’t a religion anyway but a “geo-political movement that seeks to replace our values and even our faith with sharia law. I doubt if the situation were reversed if the Muslims would stand up for our religious liberty.” (He is, by the way wrong on that).

Supporting religious liberty only when you agree with the religion is the equivalent of “honest when convenient” — you don’t believe in religious freedom, you believe in your own religion’s freedom (I’m sure Haun would shriek to the skies if someone denied his church any rights). This is the reasoning that’s led to so much bloodshed in the name of religion. Muslims have warred on Christians, Christians have warred on Muslims. Catholics persecuted Protestants for rejecting the one true faith. Protestants persecuted Catholics for believing in a false church. Puritans fled to America so they could worship as they chose; when Quakers in Puritan territory wanted to worship as they chose, Puritans whipped, exiled or hung them.

The drafters of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (and the many Americans who supported and ratified them) understood this. They gave us a founding document that guarantees freedom of religion for all and bans religious tests for federal office. A lot of Americans thought that was unChristian — a Jew, a Muslim, even an atheist could become president. George Washington, however, celebrated that in the United States, “all possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.” Haun, apparently does not.

There’s an old quote to the effect that “they came for the Jews and I did not speak up because I was not a Jew; they came for the socialists and I did not speak up because I was not a socialist … they came for me and there was nobody left to speak up.” The point being that protecting the freedom of people you disagree with is, if nothing else, enlightened self-interest as well as morally right. As JFK put it, an attack on one religion should be viewed as an attack on all. Unfortunately too many people don’t see it that way: like Haun and Fischer, they want the government to come for the Muslims. Either they’re so naive they imagine their obviously true religion will never be on the receiving end, or they see oppressing Muslims as one more building block in the Christian theocracy (their version of Christianity, of course) they intend to build here.

Haun talks about Islam trying to impose its religious laws on us, but how is that any different from the Republican religious right? Zealots who think their beliefs about gay marriage, women’s rights, birth control and countless other things should supercede the rights and beliefs of anyone who disagrees. I’m pretty sure Haun and Fischer ain’t going to stand up for my religious rights any more than they do for Muslims. I support their right to believe and advocate for a government that favors Christianity — but if they think that’s “religious freedom” they’re either lying to us or themselves.


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The kitchen, the home and more: books read(#SFWApro)

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SPICES AND HERBS: An Essential Guide to the Flavors of the World by Padma Lakshmi doesn’t really qualify as “culinary reference” for me (I’m happy with whatever spices the cookbook tells me to use) but it is interesting as an exhaustive look at many spices unknown to me (nigella, galat dagga) and information about many I do use (I had no idea mace was taken from the outer wrappings of nutmeg seeds). Interesting to browse, if nothing else.

THE WOMAN’S OWN BOOK OF THE HOME was more fun, a 1931 book on home management that I assume belonged to my Granny back in England. Want to know how to make brains on toast? First, wash the brains to get off blood clots and loose skin. Did you know boiled mashed parsnips are a poultice for abscesses (I rather doubt that’s true)? Or that when you serve calf’s head (not a metaphor) you can cook brain sauce by mixing cooked calf brain with a pint of melted butter plus some salt and cayenne? Or that cannabis is a wonderful garden plant, very easy to grow? The publisher apparently wanted a one-size-fits-all book, as it ranges from the upper-class (have your servants entertain your friends’ chauffeurs during visits) to things like making axle grease, which I assume would be something only farm families needed to know. There are some bread and pie recipes I wouldn’t mind trying but this dates to days when ovens didn’t have temperature gauges so the instructions are “bake in a moderate oven until browned.” That might not work so well. Still, it’s a cool read that makes me wish I were writing something that could use all the cool real world world-building.

OVER THE HILLS AND FAR AWAY was Ballantine Adult Fantasy‘s final Lord Dunsany collection (the line itself would put out only a couple more books before Ballantine became Del Rey Books and did away with it), and more varied than either At The Edge of the World or Beyond the Fields We Know. In addition to several of his secondary-world fantasies we have some set in London, a couple of Dunsany’s plays (he was better known in his lifetime as a playwright than a fantasist) and four of his stories about Jorkens, a clubman who trades outrageous tales for a free whiskey. Some of them, such as Unpasturable Fields are just fluff, but there’s more than enough good stories to be worth reading. I’m particularly fond of Where the Tides Ebb and Flow, which I used in speech contests in high school. Cover by Gervasio Gallardo, all rights to image remain with current holder.

THE NINE-POUND HAMMER: Book One of the Clockwork Dark by John Claude Bemis is a Y/A historical fantasy (late 1800s) in which a young boy finds himself and the Barnumesque sideshow he’s traveling with caught up in a battle between the anti-life Gog and the heroic Ramblers (portraying the clash as Civilization vs. Frontier Spirit didn’t work for me, but it’s a minor problem) which involves a siren, a pirate queen, and the son of John Henry. Fun enough I’ll pick up Vol. 2 eventually.

The same cannot be said for STRANGE PRACTICE: A Dr. Greta Helsing Novel by Vivian Shaw as I didn’t even finish this volume. This is an urban fantasy about a London doctor treating supernatural patients, then helping them against a cult of anti-magic fanatics. Nothing in this was particularly fresh, and the vampires were generic — they could as easily have been in Vampire: the Masquerade.



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Movies: Shakespeare’s Henriad (#SFWApro)

Sam Mendes’ The Hollow Crown, which I’ve been watching over the past few weeks, is a quartet of plays sometimes known as the Henriad: Richard II, Henry IV Part One and this week’s viewing, HENRY IV Part Two (2012) and HENRY V(2012). The book Shakespeare After All explains that they form a dramatic arc: Bolingbroke usurps the crown from Richard in the first film to become Henry IV, then his son redeems the dubious claim to rule by proving himself a true king. It would also have had added meaning to Shakespeare’s era: the story of how Prince Hal starts out wild, then reforms was common knowledge, as was the awareness that for all Hal’s triumphs in Henry V, they would ultimately be frittered away by his son.

Henry IV Part Two is one I’ve never actually seen before, wherein Tom Hiddleston’s Hal discovers that his reputation as a hedonist still leaves the powers that be (including father Jeremy Irons) suspicious he’s not worthy of the crown, even after his triumph over Hotspur in the field. Ultimately he proves himself not just by valor but by his rejection of Falstaff — hypocritical (he condemns Falstaff at the climax as if he’d never participated in the man’s roguery) but necessary to be a good king. To the cast of Part One, this adds Geoffrey Palmer as the Chief Justice.. “Let order die, and darkness be the burier of the dead.”

I’m familiar with both the Olivier and Branagh versions of Henry V and this falls somewhere in between, neither Olivier’s patriotic morale booster nor quite as gritty as Branagh’s. Hiddleston does a good job as a new king struggling to live up to his responsibilities as he goes to war against France and finally triumphs in the climactic victory at Agincourt (this includes the documented historical fact that he had his knightly prisoners executed when the proper act would be to hold them for ransom). A good job. “If we are marked to die, we are enough to do our country loss; but if to live, the fewer men the greater share of honor!”

The logical follow-up to the Henriad was Orson Welles’ THE CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (1965), which reworks the two part Henry IV to focus on Falstaff (Welles) and his antics, his cheerful but repellent amorality (like Harry Mudd, he’s always looking for an angle) and his final falling out with Hal. Welles does a good job not making the rogue purely sympathetic but showing his corruption as well; with Keith Baxter as Hal, Jeanne Moreau as Doll, Margaret Rutherford as Quickly, Ralph Richardson narrating and John Gielgud as a very icy Henry IV. “There are but three good men in England yet unhung — and one of them is growing old and fat.”

(All rights to image remain with current holder).

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