Oh No, Not Again

I was at the laptop doing something unproductive around 8-ish last Wednesday night when my wife said there was a kitten at the door. I wasn’t expecting a kitten so went to look and sure enough, there’s a kitten at the backdoor. It kept running away and then running back and then running away and then running back and hiding between the fences yowling at a volume that would make a lion proud so enough of this crap, I set up the Havaheart:

Looks like a raccoon, does’t she? Or a pirate.

Filthy, she was, tick and flea infested, so bath time:

Voila:

Took her to the Dakota Dream people on Saturday and they said keep her through the weekend and give them a call on Monday to see what we’ll see.

Already, though, she’s stopped hissing and swatting at me and is mewing for attention and rubbing against my fingers and eating well and playing happily. We’ve named her Tess.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

So do Gracie and Circe.

Looks to me that Circe is a relative. A very close relative.

I swear cats are leaving hobo signs on my fence.

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PSA’s Are the Devil

If the folks up there in DC are truly intent on cutting government waste (pause to let you finish laughing uproariously), then I volunteer the Public Service Announcements. The people producing them should be sent to Guantanamo and forced to listen to their products 24/7. Break them in an hour, it will.

Some of the worst ones:

  1. 1800CarsForKids. Every time I hear this, I am tempted to contribute to Planned Parenthood. From the Raffi-style to the faux rock n’ roll one, I get an overpowering urge to rip my radio out of its frame and hurl it into oncoming traffic.
  2. Pre-diabetes. Yes, I have pre-diabetes. I also have pre-plague, pre-leprosy, pre-Munchausen syndrome by proxy (see 1800CarsforKids). According to the smarmy announcer, pre-diabetes can be prevented. No doubt if you restrict yourself to eating only one carrot a day and exercise yourself down to -5% bodyfat, then you’ll win.
  3. Buzzed driving. So, darling, let me get this straight. You’re a waitress in a bar and you’re harassing customers about their drinking? Do you know what a pink slip is?
  4. Shelter pets. News flash: Keyboard Cat is not actually playing the keyboards.

Yes, yes, I know, not all of these are PSAs and some of them are privately funded charities okay, right, fine. They still suck. So stop it.

Except for Feed the Pig. Keep those.

Posted in lesser mediums | Comments Off on PSA’s Are the Devil

Capclave 2017

Capclave 2017 was held last weekend in Gaithersburg and I went because I like Capclave. It is a rare opportunity for the Great Unwashed to mix with the better science fiction writers/editors/artists/booksellers/whatnot unencumbered by security lines and overpriced autograph fees common to the big cons. Capclave is for true fans of the written word and the wielders of such words. Without cosplay. At least, intentional cosplay.

Some highlights:

  1. Scott Edelman did a reading of a story that’s about to appear in print and, master of suspense that he is, he ran out of time right at the reveal. Drat. Now I must buy it. Hey, wait a minute…

Scott Edelman is Mr. Syfy Channel, which is enough to elevate him to some pantheon, but he is also a former Marvelite, which lords him over such a pantheon. He met his wife at Marvel, which makes the two of them on par with those Egyptian husband/wife gods (yeah, yeah, there’s brother and sister issues in there somewhere but you know what I mean). I asked him if Sean Howe’s book, Marvel Comics the Untold Story  is accurate. After all, Mr. Edelman appears in it. He assured me it was dead-on, which is somewhat heartbreaking for us former Merry Marvel Marching Society members who grew up worshipping Stan Lee and Jack “King” Kirby and the whole Marvel Bullpen. Read it to see what I mean.

2. Inge Heyer is an astronomer (which also elevates her into pantheon status) and gave a delightful presentation on the recent solar eclipse. She had gone to Rimini, SC to observe totality, setting up in a campground. When the local crawdad fisherman sharing the campsite took note of the preparations, they inquired as to what was going on. “Total eclipse of the sun,” she sang and the crawdaddies said “Oh” and went back to work. Some people remain underwhelmed. She explained Bailey’s beads (named after some guy named Bailey. BFO), which are the bright spots caused by sunlight running down moon valleys, and the diamond ring effect, when sunlight runs down a particularly big moon valley and the eclipse looks like a big engagement ring set in the sky. God’s proposing to us, I guess. One thing I did not know: at totality, you can look directly at the sun unaided without adverse effects. No eclipse glasses needed. There’s not enough energy at totality to damage your eyes, But wait one second longer…

BTW, if you want to see if your eclipse glasses are frauds, wear them in a well-lit room. If you can see anything at all, then throw them away. Real eclipse glasses allow only a dim view of the sun.

The next total eclipse will be 8 April 2024, running from the southwest US through the northeast, opposite of this most recent track. Mark your calendars.

The most famous eclipse, at least, to the audience, was the 1919 one, which Einstein used to prove the theory of relativity. He had an opportunity to do so a few years earlier, but WW1 put the kibosh on eclipse observations. Which was a good thing because Einstein had gotten the math wrong and would have been disproved.

Who says war is not the answer?

3. Ken Liu was one of two Capclave Guests of Honor, and he gave a lecture entitled Betrayal of Integrity ― Conformance and Estrangement in Translating Chinese Science Fiction. I saw that title slide and immediately the robot was running around waving its arms and yelling, “Danger, Will Robinson!” And yep, Liu’s basic theme is power relationships between so-called “superior” and “inferior” cultures and the influence that has on translations, and guess which “superior” culture is imperialistic and racist even when it translates from and to its own languages? C’mon, you got this. Here’s a hint: science fiction is not understandable except as a literature of imperialism.

As George Orwell said, some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.

Despite all the dialectic, Liu presented some fascinating issues in translation, such as formal and dynamic equivalence. Do you try to recreate the form of the language you’re translating, or do you try to elicit the same reaction in the target audience as in the original audience? Formal equivalence is respectful of the translated language, but it’s more difficult to convey the concepts. Dynamic is more successful in concept conveyance but only if there are shared references. For example, there’s an idiom in Chinese about a very handsome man, “as good looking as Pai Man,” or something like that. We barbarians have no idea that Pai Man was a prince so popular with the ladies that his carriage would be filled with flowers from all the women running up and throwing them at him. We would say, “Adonis,” but look how much you lose in that. As Liu posited, how do you convey a steel building into a culture that uses bamboo?

Guess you don’t. You muddle along the best you can, relying on the commonality of the human condition to convey your meaning. But that’s not very academic, is it?

Liu treated us to a fascinating history of how late 19th Century Chinese intellectuals, in their desire to modernize China, translated English works to expose the populace to Western ideas. Lu Xun popularized science fiction by translating a Japanese translation of an English translation of Frenchy Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon. What could go wrong? He showed us. It was hilarious.

Liu had much to say about traditional imperialism, Western imperialism, of course, and it was pointed out to him that traditional Chinese culture has had its own imperialistic moments, just ask its neighbors. Liu responded there was no such thing as traditional Chinese culture because China was made up of different nations and Westerners called Chinese aggressive states ‘imperialistic’ but that was meaningless because Chinese aggression was towards other Chinese states so it’s not imperialism and “I’m Chinese and you can’t tell me about my culture.”

Really?

Well, I can tell you about mine, and we once had an identical concept. It was called anschluss.

4. The other Guest of Honor was Neil Clarke, who is just the best guy. Just is. Approachable, self-deprecating, encouraging, the right kind of editor for one of the best scifi magazines out there. One day I hope to write a story good enough for inclusion. One day.

Mr. Clarke said his first exposure to science fiction was Lost in Space and he was hooked because, really, what boy didn’t want to be Will Robinson and have a robot pal? He got hooked on short stories when his cousin gave him a copy of Adventures in Time and Space and the first magazine he subscribed to was Omni.

Mr. Clarke didn’t know that fandom existed until college, when his friends dragged him off to a convention, probably Lunacon. He went to several conventions after that, but then noticed a wall between the fans and the writers. Once the panels were done, the writers disappeared so he stopped going. He became a collector, sometimes having 3-4 editions of the same work so he’d sell on EBay to feed his habit. The collection turned into a bookstore called Clarkesworld that became quite successful, and he resumed con attendance.

At Readercon in 2006, Mr. Clarke was on a Meet the Pros panel and came up with a business plan for an online magazine spun out of the bookstore. He had it staffed and running within a week, a combination of “overconfidence and a little knowledge being a dangerous thing.” Mr. Clarke came from a technical background and didn’t feel qualified to be the editor, but stepped up when Nick Mamatas left.

Online magazines were considered low-class back then, the province of pirates and newbies and were shunned by named writers (even though Cory Doctorow observed that, if you ain’t being pirated, then you haven’t arrived. Words to that effect.). The ezines were starting up and disappearing in a matter of months and the first three years of Clarkesworld were simply survival. Ellen Datlow changed everyone’s mind about online fiction, though, and Clarkesworld flourished, winning a Hugo for Best Semi-ProZine.

Mr. Clarke has a “pay-it-forward” view and feels he owes the scifi community. There are too many scifi and fantasy markets right now and not enough readers, so either markets can close or readership can grow and which do you think he prefers? “We have to go to where the readers are” he said, and wants to eliminate any excuses anyone is using to avoid reading the stories. He’s expanded short stories internationally and has a YouTube channel that gets 50 percent of its viewers from outside the US.

Foreign scifi writers regard the American market as the pinnacle, and think themselves unworthy. No one should think themselves unworthy to submit to Clarkesworld, something I personally find encouraging. I mean, my stories suck, but at least I’m allowed to play. Mr. Clarke emphasized that the story gets rejected, not the author. He’s rejected stories submitted by NYT Best Sellers.

See why I love this guy?

Mr. Clarke had a “widowmaker” heart attack at Readercon a few years ago. He thought he was just sick so didn’t go to the hospital for three hours and he’s lucky to be alive because he suffered a lot of damage. I sympathize and empathize because my blockage was at the widowmaker site, too, but I didn’t have a heart attack so was spared the damage. He had a defibrillator installed and thought it would be great for a “cyborg to edit an anthology about cyborgs;” hence, the book Upgraded, which I bought from the Clarkesworld table in the Dealer’s Room, along with More Human than Human and I subscribed to the magazine, too. I figured it’s about time I put my money where my mouth was.

Mr. Clarke has been very cooperative with his cardiologist, which heart docs are not used to because older patients don’t want to put up with all the hassle. I may be one of the exceptions because I still got things to do.

He was asked what three stories he would put on Voyager’s golden disc and said that list would change every day but definitely something by Philip K. Dick because that would really mess up whoever found it. Sure would.

5. I spent the rest of Saturday afternoon learning how to play Terraforming Mars, under the gentle guidance and encouragement of the nicest lady. She only hit me once. What a great game. I came in second, behind the nice lady who only hit me once.

6. I spent Saturday evening at the best Chinese restaurant I’ve been to in years, the Yu Zhou Café. Chinese tour buses were pulling up and depositing Chinese tourists so that should give you an idea. This should give you another:

7. I went to panel on Sunday called Editing the Short Story, with Neil Clarke, his sidekick Kate Baker, Bud Sparhawk, Scott H. Andrews, and Scott Roberts, not pictured in that order. Basically, it was editors explaining why or why not they spend time with submissions. Mr. Clarke said he gets 1200 submissions a month so there’s no time for editing a story into something he wants. If he likes a story but it needs some work, he’ll send an Email to the author asking if there’s a willingness to fix it. Roberts echoed that he had no time for editing but he won’t ask for changes. If he likes a story but there’s issues he simply rejects it. Andrews does rewrites of accepted stories and personalizes all of his rejection letters, something that surprised the other panelists. Guess there’s a bit of variety out there among editors.

Sparhawk is not an editor and said every one of the other panelists had rejected a story from him at least once. He suffers from PSS: premature submission syndrome (I do, too). Sparhawk writes his story in three parts and, when it’s satisfactory, treats it like a piece of music, refining it until it’s ready. Nice.

A lot of authors don’t know where to start or end their story and lots of times the story gets edited to the middle of what was submitted. The rewrites, though, are usually quite good and Andrews ends up giving a contract to ¾ of them, something that also surprised the others. That Andrews is a surprising guy. Voice is important and becomes an issue if the rewrite is months later because often the voice is different. It’s like spackle on a wall.

Writers can be sensitive (ya think?). Andrews has developed a series of stock phrases when negotiating with a writer, like, “If this fits within the vision of your story.” All the editors spend a lot of time putting in stock phrases such as “to me” and “for me” to avoid tone issues. Roberts said that he used to make jokes in his rejection letters until Orson Scott Card told him to knock it off.

Clarke stated there’s a point in a rejected story where an author loses him, and it’s usually due to a problem in the setup. The pace of a story is not about the length but the sequence. Every story has a length it wants to be and sometimes it’s not cutting the story that fixes it but adding to it. Clarkesworld raised its word count from 4000 to 8000 and heard from many authors that the sweet spot was 5000. Clarke noted that quality went down after that because authors were no longer self-editing their stories to meet the 4000 word limit. Andrews would rather see too much in a story than not enough because then it can be cut.

Roberts reads his own stories aloud because he doesn’t have a “wise reader” or a writing group and everyone else pretty much agreed that reading a story aloud helps find the problems. Clarke will print a story out and read it because a change in medium helps, too. Clarke said that reading a submission to the end will drive an editor crazy so you have to know when to stop reading it, usually at the point where he loses interest. Becoming a slush reader for a magazine is an excellent way to learn what’s wrong with your own writing because you’ll see the same mistakes.

The worst kind of rejection is self-rejection, the feeling some writers have that they are not good enough. Don’t do that. Submit your stories. Otherwise, how will you ever know?

See why I go to Capclave?

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Still Can’t Hang

Another Lost Weekend (number eight, to be exact) was held this past weekend at the Winchester Alamo Drafthouse Cinema (which is a national treasure) and no, I couldn’t do it. Not all twenty-five movies, no way. A combination of disinterest and distraction kept me away, but I did manage to see some of them:

Step.  This is a documentary that threatened to be nothing but a Black Lives Matter propaganda film but, no, it was quite entertaining and quite fascinating. I’ve known about step since high school because a bunch of guys in my neighborhood formed a precision drill team, all on their own, and used to hold their practices in front of my apartment. They let me watch but not join because I couldn’t keep up. It should be a high school sport because, man, talk about teamwork!

Nocturama. This might be a good movie but I don’t know because I slept through half of it, not because of the movie but because I can’t hang. I caught enough of the gist to conclude that the wannabe terrorist idiots must have used action movies as their inspiration because, Holy Hannah, dudes, did you really think you were going to get away with this?

PattiCake$. About three seconds into this I turned to my wife and said, “It’s New Jersey.” North Jersey, to be specific, a place I studiously avoided because, well, it’s North Jersey and I lived in South Jersey and never the twain shall meet. All of New Jersey has an instantly recognizable look: a dreary, despairing architecture highlighting an atmosphere of confrontation and aggression over everything from sports teams to cheese steaks. Patticake$ is the story of typical Jersey Girl Patti Dombrowski, an overweight washed out blonde bartender of a local tavern populated by sensitive Teamsters and her drunken mother. You know, Jersey. Patti wants to be a rapper, which is like me wanting to be an astronaut, the difference being that I have bowed to reality while Patti refuses.

Herein reside the elements for dismal exploitive proletariat frustration and Jersey Shore commentary about how unfair everything is but, it’s not. It’s something else entirely, a fable of princesses and dragons and never giving up on your dreams because your dreams are yours no matter how unobtainable they appear. Patti is the last person besides me you’d ever regard as rapper material, but that doesn’t faze her one bit as she and her hilarious partner, pharmacy tech Jheri (played by the outstanding Siddharth Dhnanjay) meet in abandoned industrial parking lots to write. Jheri has the beats and Patti has the words, and they’re good. They’re damn good. This coming from someone who hates rap music, which I regard as nothing but self-referent braggadocio of biological imperatives by people whose only life accomplishment is a lot of self-regard over biological imperatives. Patti’s rap, though, ain’t that. It’s good. It’s damn good, downright poetic (interspersed with the requisite crudities. C’mon, it’s rap) on life in north Jersey, actual messages woven together in what should be disparate incompatibilities, like “Neosporin” worked into a verse about psychic wounds. Might have to reevaluate my whole hate-of- rap. Might.

The best character in the movie is Basterd AntiChrist

(played by Athie Mamoudou ), a weird heavy metal hermit living in a graveyard who knows how to mix tapes. I know that guy. He’s very Jersey. I used to hang out with all kinds of Basterd AntiChrist’s in my south Jersey days.

Cathy Moriarity deserves an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

This is my second favorite movie of the weekend.

My Friend Dahmer.  A look at the high school life and hijinks of Jeffrey Dahmer. Gives you a really good idea why he became Jeffrey Dahmer.

Have A Nice Day. An animated Korean crime movie, although it’s not Korean but Chinese but should be Korean because it’s as over-the-top crazily violent as one expects from Korean crime movies. It’s about a bag of money that various low life quasi-and-actual criminals want. Cartoon mayhem ensues.

The Bar. An over-the-top Spanish movie depicting unfortunate patrons of a bar who are gunned down every time they try to leave. Probably one of the dirtiest movies I’ve ever seen, and I don’t mean of the porno variety. You’ll feel the need to shower when it’s over.

Brigsby Bear. An absolutely delightful movie about child kidnapping. No, really. The deceptively complicated plot is really quite simple: kidnappee James, now almost 30 years old, has watched only one TV show his whole life, Brigsby Bear, an 8-900 episode-long series about a galactic bear fighting the evil Sunsnatcher, a series produced and broadcast closed circuit by James’ kidnappers (played quite sympathetically by Mark Hamil and Jane Adams) to maintain the illusion that the world ended when James was a baby and is polluted and that’s why he can never go outside. James gets rescued, and discovers there is no Brisgby Bear, no one else has ever heard of it, so he decides to continue the story on the internet, much to the consternation of his real parents and all the world’s psychiatrists.

We love what we love. No one can make you not love it.

Thelma. Stephen King’s Carrie on Quaaludes. Or lithium. Sooooooo sloooooow, with a few genuinely frightening moments. I think her Dad had the right idea.

The Road Movie.  This is an hour or so of slapped together Russian DashCam clips that we’ve all come to love, but not the best ones. Stick with YouTube.

Super Dark Times. A high school movie, this time portrayed quite accurately as the nihilistic, confrontational, unreality that we all so fondly remember. There is no one to like in this story of grab-assing gone very wrong, especially when one of the grabassers goes inexplicably homicidal. You don’t see it coming because there is no reason for it. Charlie Tahan reprises the teenage jagoff role that he perfected in Netflix’s Ozark.

Dave Made a Maze. Kudos to Bill Watterson and Steve Sears for taking this one trick pony of a cardboard maze that continues like a Mobius strip and keeping it going with innovative and creative takes, like a cardboard Minotaur and puppet changelings. This is how failure-to-launch can alter your reality until reality gets altered. In cardboard. Wait until you see the cardboard vagina room. Just wait.

My favorite character was the documentary crew’s cameraman, played by Scott Narver. He didn’t have any lines, or any that were memorable, but his expressions were priceless. Wouldn’t you know, he was there for the premier and spoke to us?

Yep, I got an autograph.

Infinity Baby. My favorite movie of the weekend. Genius. Just genius. Another failure-to-launch movie premised on a lab accident that leaves the Infinity Baby Corporation in possession of a thousand infants that never grow old. They’ll always be babies, always, a thought that should send shivers down your spine but these only need to be fed a couple of pills and changed once a week. Mostly they sleep and coo. Want one?

Well, no, and apparently no one else does, either, because Infinity Baby is paying people $20,000 to take one. Two of its techs decide to pocket the money while asserting the package has been delivered and further decide to make their lives easier by adjusting the baby’s pill schedule so they rarely have to change it. Shouldn’t have done that. A parallel story involves their supervisor, Ben (played by Kieran Culkin), who has developed a very effective method for breaking up with a girl. Until it’s not.

Nick Offerman and Stephen Root are in this, which is meta.

Gook. An excessively melodramatic movie about a melodramatic situation: looters getting closer and closer to a third-rate knock-off shoe store run by two Korean brothers. There are overly complicated family relationships here that will make you go “Huh?” a couple of times, and an overly cute little girl who is so doomed. Still, a good movie, but it should take some of Thelma’s Quaaludes.

Love and Peace. An ungodly mess of a Japanese movie that has no idea what it’s supposed to be. A kid’s movie? A growing-up movie? A monster movie? A movie? Sheesh. There is a scene where nauseatingly cute toys suffer Arya Stark’s revenge on the Frey’s and if this is a kid’s movie, it explains Japanese low birth rates.

Should have made turtle soup.

Dina. A documentary made for no discernible reason. Felt exploitative, was exploitative.

Lost in Paris. Fun. Cute movie. You’ll like it.

So, 16 out of 23. Next time, I’m shooting for 15 out of 25. Because I can’t hang.

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-2 Plus 2 is Zero

Netflix did two great Marvel series ― Daredevil and Jessica Jones…well, the first season of Daredevil, anyway. The second? Meh. There’s been no second season of Jessica Jones (yet) so it remains great. Netflix then did two not-so-great series: Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Luke Cage couldn’t figure out what it was, another noir-ish Daredevilish series or a Blaxploitation film. Iron Fist? Flat out disaster. Obviously, the four were heading to a Defenders team-up series and yep, here it is, a chance for Netflix to right some wrongs and bring the characters up to the Jessica Jones/1st-season-of-Daredevil level…

Fail.

I suspect some corporate people walked in right after the first seasons of Daredevil/Jessica Jones and said we need to add more cowbell. That’s why we got the Hand in Daredevil #2, instead of the expected and logical follow-on, the Rose.

That’s why the uber-urbanization of Luke Cage, who gets the theme song from Shaft every single time he strolls on screen (I expect everyone to break into a pimp roll), and the silly hippie-dippy Danny Rand. And that’s why the Defenders simply don’t work. Too comic-booky, too ridiculous. Too much cowbell.

Let’s start with the Hand which, at the end of Daredevil and Iron Fist, was some shadowy ninja crime organization led by the creepy and formidable Madame Gao and we’re not quite sure what’s their deal but they’re messing around with resurrection or something. We did get the best Punisher ever out of it, so it’s a wash. But now the Hand is this solar-system wide hyper-super-crime-running-everything Asian Hydra led by immortals and Ripley from Alien, with Madame Gao reduced to some simpering poodle. Thanos-level bad guys, they are, so the Avengers should be handling this. But no, to save us we get four bickering angst-ridden C-list street fighters working out their Personal Issues, which means we’re so doomed. Fortunately, the Hand is every bit as incompetent as they are ridiculous. Must have something to do with all that dragon blood they’re drinking.

The Hand is intent on dropping Hell’s Kitchen down a deep tunnel, and they need Iron Fist in order to do this. Why? Beats me, but it has something to do with the dragon blood, which apparently addles the mind because, Madame Gao, you HAD Iron Fist back during the Iron Fist series. Had ‘im! In your clutches! And you let him go. Bit short-sighted, wouldn’t you say? You’d think you Hand guys would work this stuff out ahead of time. Would have saved us a lot of third-rate badly choreographed martial arts fights all shot in the murkiest filtering possible so you can’t see how really bad Finn Jones and Jessica Henwick are.

More evidence of the Hand’s incompetence: Elektra. The Hand throws Elektra into one of their stone coffins and pumps it full of their last bit of precious dragon blood and create…Elektra! They’re calling her the Black Sky, but don’t be fooled, it’s Elektra. Looks like Elektra, fights like Elektra, just minus the attitude, so dousing her in dragon blood made her incrementally more pleasant. Certainly wasn’t to give her enhanced fighting powers, at least, not until the last two or three episodes when someone over there woke up and went oh crap, if we’re going to make Elektra into something called the Black Sky we should give her some kind of abilities that go with such an ominous and obscure name change. In other words, her kicks got better. No wonder the other immortals are PO’d at Ripley.

No wonder the Avengers didn’t bother showing up because the Hand couldn’t fight its way out of wet paper bag. Here you’ve got Madame Gao, who can point her finger and break down walls, and Ripley and some sword slingers and about ten thousand immortal ninja fighters and the Black Sky and they can’t even beat Daredevil by himself, much less the rest of the Defenders. Heck, a couple of traffic cops could have cleared this all up.

Not Iron Fist, though. He couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag, either, because that fabled Iron Fist? We get to see it for oh, say, a minute and a half during the entire series. And then, only when Danny goes through about twelve hours of meditation, and then only for about three or four seconds. When it does show up, it’s a mofo, but all the Hand has to do is wait for Danny to angst himself out of the glowy hand and then beat the crap out of him and then trick him into getting glowy hand back for the two or three seconds they need to smack down some wall (which Madame Gao could have knocked down over lunch) to get the dragon blood. So, Danny Rand spent his whole life working out twelve hours a day in some snowbound hellhole and then plunged his hand into the molten heart of Shou-Lao the Undying, just so he could chant up glowy fist every ten days or so?

Dude, you got gyped.

As did we.

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Everything is Permitted

At some past con, the lovely and hilarious Jennifer Jayne introduced me to the Museum of Science Fiction, so when MSF put on Escape Velocity 2017 in downtown DC, I decided to take myself down there and see what fusses were being made. This is not your standard con because it’s STEM oriented and had a lot of science stuff for kids. Science stuff, people. For kids.

                        

But there were still enough con elements to attract we geeks:

What universe is this?

 I have no idea what this is.

Iron Man and Captain A pitched me for Avengers membership, but my only superpower is bad jeans, so wouldn’t work.

In case you’re planning a visit to the desert:

Security:

While I was floating around, I noticed Cas Anvar manning a booth. I knew who he was from The Expanse (what? You don’t know The Expanse??? Stop reading, go watch Season 1, then resume reading) but there were Assassin’s Creed posters all over his booth and I queried. Some helpful bystander said, “Don’t you know he’s Altair?”

I did not.

So I genuflected before Cas Anvar and pledged my firstborn (Sky, you report on Wednesday) and told him what a fanatic Assassin’s Creed guy I was. Indeed, I had just finished Revelations a few months ago, which got me quite the askance glance and I had to explain that I’m really, really slow. “So, mortal!” Cas’ godlike voice boomed, “Thinkest thou an expert? Answer these questions three!” And he gave me a quiz, promising me treasure and a princess if I won and I blew it. Just. Blew. It. Couldn’t remember anything about the golden discs or the Apple and barely able to answer what Etzio found in the library. And, yes, YES! I DID see Etzio’s movie at the end! He took pity on me and signed an AC poster and then tried to kill me.

A little later on, Anvar had a panel

where he strived mightily to show clips from The Expanse but he was relying on Earth tech and not Martian so it didn’t work quite right. Didn’t matter, entertaining and informative panel, it was. Anvar (who was going to be a chemical engineer before getting the acting bug so no slouch, this guy) spent most of it talking about the science of the series, which he called a character in its own right. The producers are constantly consulting with physicists, astro and otherwise, to ensure effects are correct. Space is trying to kill them in every show, is an obstacle they have to overcome, so it’s gotta be right.

Anvar said he didn’t want to fake his way through the piloting sequences, so he learned the consoles for each kind of ship. When he got the console for the Rocinante, the badass Martian corvette the crew stole, there was no joystick like you see on every other kind of space ship in scifi-dom because the Rocie is too damn fast. In high g’s, your arms weigh forty pounds apiece so how can you whip a joystick about? His controls are actually fingertip pods.

Space battles aren’t punch outs between phasers and lasers, but involve rail guns hurling grapefruit-sized pieces of metal at each other. A grapefruit-sized piece of metal moving at hypersonic speeds turns a ship’s hull into plasma and goes right through, hot knife and butter, and out the other side for eternity. In a couple thousand light years or so, ET could get winged by a stray shot. Shredding the hull causes it to pop like a balloon so all the air has to be pumped out of the ship before a battle begins, which is why everyone suits up.

Cool.

Also cool, Joe Haldeman.

Yes, Joe Haldeman was there, author of The Forever War and maybe a lot of other things but that’s what everybody knows. He was introduced as the guy who invented military science fiction and no, he isn’t; Heinlein is. But this is a quibble because Haldeman introduced the mind bending concept of time differentials; you know, wormholes and distances age a soldier twenty years while the Earth ages 2000, so how do you keep fighting for a society that disappeared centuries ago? It’s like those Japanese soldiers on remote Pacific Islands still fighting WW2.

Haldeman’s wife was sitting in the front row and, several times, had to correct or remind him of events. Got pretty hilarious. Proof that wives remember everything. Every. Thing.

Haldeman got his draft number in the 60’s (young’uns, you’re going to have to Google that) and, like everybody else, panicked and asked the Army what could he do to improve his situation, which is like asking Hannibal Lector for dinner recipes. Why, you can go ahead and join, said the spider. Of course, said the fly, and I would absolutely like to stay away from war if I could, hearing that it’s not very healthy and the Army said sure! We’ll give you two years as a laboratory assistant…[whisper: after we send you to Vietnam for a year].

Things never change.

Haldeman was wounded 27 times in Vietnam, no doubt including those annoying little secondary cuts and scrapes that usually accompany the bigger things like bullet holes and eviscerations. Wound’s a wound, though, and raised glass in your direction, brother. This, of course, gave him a lot to write about, which was good because he’d always wanted to be a writer and the Army gave him the opportunity to visit exotic locales, meet interesting people, and kill them…only you vets will get that. Before going to Vietnam, Haldeman had studied astronomy and physics and the war gave him, as he put it, a “great existential advantage” to put all that into scifi form.

Scifi was his refuge. When he got back from Vietnam in 1969, he missed most of the social changes because he was immersed in the genre, isolating him from all the craziness. His “scifi buddies,” Heinlein in particular, helped him recover from combat.

His first published story was for Galaxy and, by the time he wrote the novel, he was an established scifi short story writer.

The Forever War was the right book at the right time. Most military scifi up to the point was right-wing, pro-government, and very male. His was different. It was based on Vietnam, for one thing, and had women combatants and homosexuality and these things don’t mix so get those women (and gays) out of there! He contacted seventeen publishers, not a one of them giving him the time of day, and was in a fairly foul mood when he attended the Nebula Awards dinner. He “pissed and moaned” to a bunch of his friends that no one wanted his story. Ben Bova had been running chapters of it as a serial called “The Hero” and mused that St. Martin’s Press, not known as a scifi imprint, was interested in Vietnam and might be approachable. They were, by chance, at the dinner, and Haldeman approached them and the rest is history.

The novel’s title came from riffs with his brother as they were driving somewhere. They went through several possible titles, his brother coming up with “The War that Lasts Forever,” and Haldeman responding, “The Forever War.” At that moment, a golden light enveloped the car and angels sang, so he kept it. Judy Lynn at Del Rey didn’t like the title. At all. Or the book. So that’s how he ended up at St. Martin’s.

Haldeman wrote the second Star Trek novel, called Planet of Judgment. It came after Spock Must Die. He also wrote The Forever Peace, which is not a sequel to The Forever War and he took a lot of crap because it wasn’t a sequel so he wrote an actual sequel, Forever Free, to shut everyone up. He writes his drafts in longhand. Haldeman got involved with Damon Knight and the Clarion Writer’s workshop from the beginning. No one back then intended to start a scifi industry; it just worked out that way. While he was at Milford, Disney approached him to write a ride for Epcot. Turned out to be A Journey Through the Solar System.

Despite the military theme of the book, Haldeman considered himself a failed soldier. He never was “into” the Army or the military lifestyle. His generation changed the world and left it a mess. He does not think much of academia’s attempts to turn any kind of genre writing into academic writing (I think he’s referring to scholastic papers about scifi and such). If you paint stripes on a giraffe, it’s not a tiger. Academic writing is just that, academic. And I freely admit to not being fully versed on what he meant here.

Afterwards, I got my copy of The Forever War signed and told him I’d spent twenty years in and that he’d written war from the viewpoint of the typical grunt: as long we’re getting paid, getting laid, and getting promoted, doesn’t really matter what the Army makes us do.

Ain’t it the truth?

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Can Die Now

A couple of May’s ago, I had double bypass surgery. Came completely out of the blue, like, I guess it does for anyone. I mean, it’s not like you get up one morning and say, “Hey, I think I’ll have double bypass surgery this afternoon.” It’s not normally how one plans to spend a summer.

Point is, there I was, all trussed up with duct tape and staples and getting hypodermic-ed every fifteen minutes or so when it occurred to me that I had some unfinished business. Not only was the last book of the Partholon trilogy, Col’m, hanging fire, but so were the second and third books of the Frank Vaughn trilogy, which I had started about seven years ago. Should the marvelous medical care I was receiving somehow not suffice, I’d leave this vale of tears with untold stories.

So, since then, I’ve been jobbing it. Haven’t been going to conventions or spending a lot of time promoting or doing blogs or Facebook; instead, I’ve been writing. And writing, And writing. And the result?:

a. Col’m is now with Genghis Jayne, the much beloved and quite murderous editor of Rebel E Publishers, the second set of edits and rewrites completed, the finishing touches being added while Eege does his formatting magic. The first drafts of the cover are under review and a tentative release date of September 11 (yes, that’s deliberate) set and…ta daa, the Partholon trilogy is finished. Well, the FIRST Partholon trilogy is finished which is, yes, a gigantic and obvious indication that a second Partholon trilogy is in the works;

b. Yesterday, I finished the last book of the Frank Vaughn trilogy. Called Looking for Don, it’s set in 1974-ish south Jersey and, while it is the third book, it is actually the interim story between the first book, called Frank Vaughn Killed by his Mom, and the second, called Southern Gothic. Wha? The first book is about a ten-year-old’s bizarre trip across the south in 1965 with his psychotic dad…and the spirit of a murdered classmate. The second book covers the same characters forty years later. The third book is how they got from there to here. Trust me, it works.

Col’m and the Frank Vaughn trilogy were the must-do’s, the books I absolutely had to write before kicking off. They’re bucket list. Anything I write from this point forward is gravy, by the grace of God. It is the grace of God that I finished the must-do’s.

Not that I don’t have anything else cooking. I’ve got a YA book called The Cryman, which is probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever written, sitting in a first draft. Thing is so blasted scary I’m not sure YA’s could handle it, even though the characters are 12 and 13 years old. The second Partholon trilogy, which may actually need to be a fourpology to do it justice, has already been mentioned, and I’m also planning a series of novellas to resolve the loose ends of The Ship to Look for God trilogy. That’ll be Tales of the 1st Ranger Battalion, or something like that. I’m also playing with an idea that would end up being the most racist novel ever written, just because of the fun it’ll cause, and another which would be one of the most brutal scifi stories ever written, far more brutal than Partholon.  And it’s not like the Frank Vaughn trilogy is reader-friendly right now. All three books are in serious need of re-write after re-write and then editing before they are presentable. So, I’ve got stuff to do.

But, at least the stories I needed to do are done. So I can go, should my name be called. Inshallah.

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Better Late than Never

I’ve never been a Led Zeppelin fan. Don, my best friend in high school,

was a Zeppelin fanatic, almost making a religion out of them, but I didn’t see the attraction. I was more of a Deep Purple guy.

Could be because my only exposure to them was the radio, and about the only Zep being played was the Immigrant Song and Whole Lotta Love and, ya know, fine. The first Zep album I listened to all the way through was Zofo, and then only for Stairway to Heaven which, when it first came out, blew us collectively away because it was such an out-of-character song, like Dream On for Aerosmith. The album seemed more of a novelty than standard and, after about a hundred playthroughs, meh, done with ’em.

Over the past five years or so, I have been re-creating my original album collection (of which only a few records survived the decades of travel and moving), picking up a few here and there from yard sales and thrift shops. I now have  about 1000 albums, give or take, and I am going through the very slow process of recording them over to CD or DVD or whatever. The other day I was selecting the next recording victims when I ran across a bunch of Zep albums. Huh, how ‘bout that, didn’t even know I had ‘em. Let’s see what the fuss was about, Don, and I put on Zep I.

Blew. Me. Away.

If nothing else, the little acoustic set called Black Mountain Side makes the whole album. The musicianship is outstanding, the songs are outstanding; it is one of the best rock albums ever. Don, you were right.

So I immediately put on 3 and Zofo and Houses of the Holy and In Through the Out Door and none of them, with the possible exception of Door, is as good. In fact, those albums tend to reinforce my lesser held opinion of the band. Goes to show, the first efforts are usually the best, back when you loved what you were doing and hadn’t gone all corporate.

Right, Stephen King?

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The Top Five TV Comedies In No Particular Order

I was channel-surfing and locked onto a binge of Scrubs and settled in to watch a few episodes and was reminded that there were, over the years, some outstanding comedies. Not many. The vast majority of sitcoms were populated with things like Laverne and Shirley and One Day at a Time; you know, laff track wretchedness. These, though, were gems:

1. Scrubs. Lightning fast repartee that requires you to rewind the DVR from time to time to catch everything said, this series was hee-larious. Doctor Dorian and his dream-world cutaways were comedy gold, simply gold. The series ended perfectly, too, that last show putting everything in its right place. And then some idiot tried to revive the show on another channel and another venue and, uh uh, uh uh.

2. Community. Even faster and funnier than Scrubs, with so many jokes coming at you from so many directions that a half-hour show became an hour from all the rewinding. For the first three or four seasons, that is, until the writers decided to turn it into the Abed show. Why’d they do that?

 

3. That 70’s Show.  This was my teenage life. My best friend, Don, was Forman; I was a combination of Hyde and Forman, and the Third Musketeer, Drew, was a combination of Hyde and Kelso. We all hung out in Don’s basement. Who were Donna and Jackie? Various girls who came and went. The stuff they do in the show? It was the stuff I did. You had to be there.

 

4. Frasier. The thinking man’s Cheers. Don’t get me wrong, Cheers was great, but Frasier was a step-up.

5. Newhart. The one where he’s running the inn, not being the psychiatrist which, itself, was pretty funny. But the oddballs in the later show put it in the win category. This is my brother Darrel.

Silicone Valley is a definite top five, it’s just I only  had five slots.

What, no Seinfeld? Nah. Too meta.

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10 Reasons Cats Are Better Than Dogs, Kids, and Wives

 

1. Dogs: “What are we doing? “What are we doing?” “What are we doing?” “What are we doing?” “What are we doing?” “What are we doing?”

Kids: “What are you doing for me?” “What are you doing for me?” “What are you doing for me?” “What are you doing for me?” “What are you doing for me?”

Wives: see “Kids”

Cats: “Hey, howya doin’? Thanks for breakfast. See you at dinner.”

 

2. Dogs: crap everywhere and anywhere at anytime.

Kids: crap everywhere and anywhere at anytime up until about two years old, with relapses.

Wives: won’t leave the damn toilet seat up

Cats: bury their crap

 

3.  Dogs: take over the bed and steal the blankets

Kids: take over the bed and prevent other activities

Wives: kick you out of bed

Cats: warm the bed up

 

4. Dogs: bark at the neighbors, the postman, and friends, never at burglars or Jehovah’s Witnesses

Kids: introduce potential burglars

Wives: swear every sound, especially at 2 in the morning, is a burglar

Cats: You kidding? Get a dog

 

5. Dogs: are disgusting.

Kids: are disgusting

Wives: say you’re disgusting

Cats: are disgusting but you don’t know it

 

6. Dogs: steal your food off your plate

Kids: steal your food out the refrigerator

Wives: buy food you do not want

Cats: bring you food

 

7. Dogs: eat revolting glop

Kids: want revolting glop

Wives: buy revolting glop for kids with your money

Cats: their glop could be tuna

 

8. Dogs: Slobber

Kids: Slobber

Wives: never slobber, dammit

Cats: Hairballs, but you can vacuum those up

 

9. Dogs: rolled up newspaper, lots of yelling, obedience school

Kids: rolled up newspaper, lots of yelling, boarding school

Wives: forget it

Cats: teach you, you don’t teach them

 

10. Dogs: constant licking

Kids: constant whining

Wives: see “Kids”

Cats: purring. That’s nice  

 

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