B is for Bradbury

In the midst of this brutal cold we’ve been experiencing the last few weeks, a sunny spring-like day popped up. All the kids were out in all the playgrounds and it was delightful weather and I was reminded of a Ray Bradbury story, All Summer in a Day: the clouds on Venus part once every ten years and all the kids go outside for a few hours. I then wondered if anyone still reads Bradbury.

Do they? Or is he another one of those authors everybody knows but doesn’t read, like Heinlein and Asimov; you know, a nod of respect to the founding fathers of science fiction, but there’s newer and, admittedly, better writers out there like Daniel Suarez, Alastair Reynolds and such? We know the importance of George Washington, but only academics read his Inaugural Address.

And I guess that is the way of things and something I must also admit to: I do not read the classics anymore, or, more accurately, re-read them, because been there and done that and there is so much else unread. I’m in the middle of Dan Simmons’ The Terror right now, and then I’ve got to finish Suarez’ books and then Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Trilogy

and I subscribe to Clarkesworld and then there’s my own writing and there you go. I think the last classic I re-read was The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,

and only because I found a copy and bought it for my son…uh huh, yeah, read it before giving it to him. It’s not like I took a bite out of his hamburger, ya know. Don’t look at me like that.

But I make an exception for Bradbury. Whenever I find his books in some used bookstore or a Goodwill, whatnot, I buy it and read it, the last one being The Illustrated Man.

I’ve got an eye out for The October Country and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Not reprints, mind you, or at least not recent ones. It has to have the same cover from back when I first read it in the 60s or 70s and yes, yes, I know, I could order from Abe Books but that’s cheating; it’s far more satisfying to stumble across it the same way I first stumbled across Bradbury in the Ft. Rucker, Alabama library, when I was about 12 or 13. He quickly became my favorite author growing up, and running through one of his collections is the quickest way I now have to evoke the feel and the sense of possibility of those years. He quickly became my biggest influence, too. I try to copy his lyrical style…with little success, I must admit, although I write the same long and winding sentences that careen from one subject to another. I don’t have his poetry, though.

The first Bradbury I read was The Martian Chronicles.

I used to spend quite a bit of time in the library picking up Alan Nourse and Sheila Moon and Have Space Suit, Will Travel

and what’s this? A novel set on Mars? Cool! So I checked it out, not realizing it was actually an anthology of short stories with a Martian theme. Didn’t care, because the writing was magical and echoed that wistful sense of wonder which was (or should be) the background music of growing up.

After that, I picked up anything of his I could find. Fahrenheit 451, The Golden Apples of the Sun, S is for Space…all science fiction, but not hard scifi. Literary scifi, I guess would be the best description because Bradbury played loose and fast with the rules of science, like the clouds on Venus, which can actually strip you down to a skeleton in about five seconds flat. But getting all the hard science exactly right wasn’t the point. It was more important to capture a mood, such as the one in R is for Rocket,

which imbued the sense of excitement that we NASA geeks had back then. We watched the space program go from Mercury to Gemini and then, and then…that fabulous July night of the moon landing. And while the world Bradbury described in R was actually dystopian, it was a world that looked forward, like I did, to mankind’s ventures into space.

It was his horror writings, though, that affected me the most. Before I read The October Country, horror was all about ghosts and ghouls and bad guys getting their comeuppance like in some EC comic.

But Bradbury showed the horror that could exist in the everyday, such as a pedestrian out for a nightly stroll, and that horror is best conveyed simply, without slashings and over-the-top scares. One of the most frightening last lines I’ve ever read is from a story of his called The Whole Town’s Sleeping in Dandelion Wine

(which is not even a horror or scifi collection): “Behind her, in the living room, someone cleared his throat.”

Scared the bejesus out of me.

As did the Eliot family in The Homecoming,

as did the novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, although I did find the ending rather corny. Bradbury wrote poetry of fear; the things that scare us could be a lyric.

One day I’ll write like that.

Posted in Reading itself, Writing itself | Comments Off on B is for Bradbury

Punishment

I was never a big Punisher guy. He came along in the middle 70’s, which is about the time I lost interest in comics. All I was reading by then were Iron Fist, Shang-chi, Ghost Rider,  and Tomb of Dracula

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martial arts and horror, those were my things. I knew about the Punisher because he popped up here and there but didn’t really pay attention until he showed up in some Spiderman cartoons in the 80s and 90s. I always regarded him as a Spiderman enemy along the lines of early Kraven: somewhat misguided but, overall, not evil. Yeah, saw the Dolph Lundgren movie, which was silly, and the dreadful Thomas Jane one but those didn’t move the needle.

What did was the Punisher in Season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil series. He was cool, and crazy. Punisher killed everybody, quite justified, IMHO. Jon Bernthal was an excellent cast choice, all broody and unpredictable and dangerous, just the way you think the Punisher should be, although Bernthal comes off as a bit denser and more uncouth than the comic book version. So when Netflix announced a stand-alone series, I was in. I finished it last week. Verdict?

It’s good. Damn good. Better than I thought it would be, given the way Netflix has screwed up the other Marvel shows.

The Punisher is Frank Castle, a man on a mission to kill the rotten bastards who staged the murder of his family in a botched attempt to kill him (BTW, you never see the actual murders of his family, just enough to know what happened. Which is an odd bit of restraint). The rotten bastards want to kill him because Frank is a former Marine Recon member of an assassination unit illegally set up by the CIA to take out terrorists in Afghanistan. Cleaning up the loose ends, doncha know. The CIA effs it up, leaving Frank Castle alive and berserk. Hoo boy, is he berserk.

Helped by an equally-savaged innocent bystander named Micro, Frank goes out to balance ledgers. And balance them he does. And it’s not pretty. Really, if you like your killings frequent and forensically correct, you’ll love this because every episode is murder porn and over-the-top violence with Frank taking and taking severe damage (which he recovers from in astonishing time, like he’s Wolverine or something). Add torture, great sex scenes, and various other forms of mayhem, and you’re in for an evening.

A lot of fun, but I don’t think murder and mayhem is what this series is about. No, it’s there’s no more justice. Not anymore. Not since the various government agencies discarded public accountability and became rogue departments with agendas and intents unto themselves, at the same time the courts became a way for lawyers to amuse and impress each other rather than the means of ensuring a just recompense for we Little People. Don’t you peasants know there are bigger Deep State and Elitist concerns than mere nuisances like your family’s murder? Yes, yes, regrettable, those murders, but you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. You peasants.

If your family is murdered in a regrettable but necessary covert action to cover up a government screw-up, you’re gonna have to get your own justice. You must become Frank Castle because it’s not that the police and the courts and the government don’t care as much as has other interests, like getting and retaining power and control, and your petty little bourgeois problems distract from that. Only DHS Agent Madani, played by the gorgeous Amber Rose Revah, wants to right the numerous wrongs, and she’s treated like she’s some kind of naïve idiot by bosses and other supervisors for so wanting. She eventually has to ally with Frank to get anything like justice done.

[An aside: Shoreh Agdashloo of Expanse fame, plays Madani’s mother. I declare my undying love.] 

Is this what we’ve come to?

Pish posh, no, it’s not, you say, this is mere over-the-top TV show exploitation of current events and besides, what Frank is doing is revenge, not justice.

What, exactly, is the difference?

Because the courts and the police and trials and jails were all developed to ensure passionate revenge was taken out of our individual hands to become dispassionate justice meted out appropriate to the crime and, more importantly, on the right person. Whenever someone does us wrong, from scraping the side of our car to murdering our entire family, our frustrated sense of outrage and lust for vengeance is mollified because these agencies resolve the situation, maybe not to our complete satisfaction, but as long as the result is reasonable, we’re usually okay with it. Until it is no longer reasonable. Until our concerns are given increasingly short shrift.

Consider, we now have agencies that spy on us without warrants or justification, that ruin us with innuendo, that apply the law to one class of people but not to another, and courts that let murderers go because of political ideology. We do not believe what the government or the press says about anything anymore. And the law abiding are increasingly blamed for the non-law abiding. I can see why people would go all Frank Castle on your ass.

And that ain’t good.

Posted in lesser mediums, Merry Marvel Marching Society | Comments Off on Punishment

The Darkest Hour. Also the Brightest

A hero arises at a critical moment and changes history…I think that’s a fairly decent summary of the Great Man Theory (spare me, feminists. That’s what it’s called). Either God raises a Great Man or society produces a person with the necessary characteristics, whichever, to save the day. I don’t see how one of those excludes the other so I shall add a corollary: at the right moment in history, someone nuts enough to take on everything shows up.

That’s the movie Darkest Hour: at what has got to be the worst possible moment in history, Churchill becomes Prime Minister of England. The government is dithering, Hitler is burning Europe, and no one in their right mind wants the job. It is the darkest moment; it becomes the brightest as we all with the benefit of hindsight now know and accept because Churchill saved civilization. Well, okay, the Americans helped but, if he hadn’t been nuts enough to take the job, there’d have been no England for us to help. We take this on faith. But if the movie is halfway accurate (and, apparently it is), it wasn’t all that cut and dried. Indeed, it was a Very Near Thing.

For a movie with little action, it’s incredibly tense. The five or six seconds here and there of bombs falling and things blowing up are actually a relief because, hoo boy, all the polite mannerly English drawing room talk which takes up about 95% of the movie has the atmosphere of a knife fight. That’s because Churchill was no one’s choice. For reasons not made clear, he is the only person acceptable to the political opposition when Chamberlain’s incompetence finally causes the just-as-incompetent Parliament to give Nev the boot. The king doesn’t want Churchill. His own party doesn’t want Churchill. Turns out he gets picked because the ever-so-smart sophisticates need someone to blame when Hitler invades England. Yes, when Hitler invades. The sophisticates have already given up. It’s a complicated, nuanced world you see, and we betters intend to negotiate a peace with Hitler after he destroys our army of commoners (poor blighters) on the beaches of Dunkirk because then the Fuhrer will be reasonable.

Yikes.

So, essentially, Churchill is set up to fail. His own cabinet, including Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, are conspiring behind his back to bring him down and force peace negotiations. And he’s the perfect fall guy. The son of scandalous parents, he’s broke and drunk all the time, incredibly difficult to work with, only his wife able to talk any sense into him (and she’s a piece of work herself), hated by his kids, laughed at by everyone from butlers to kings, and a colossal failure in his last wartime post (guy’s responsible for Gallipoli). If everything goes TU, then it’s obviously this guy’s fault. Except…

Except.

Churchill shares the one trait uniting all the other Great Men (and women. I’m looking at you, Margaret Thatcher) of history: he believes in doing the right thing. Oh, he shares some other unfortunate traits of Great Men and Women (still looking at Margaret): a jackass easy to dislike; not someone you want over to the house for Sunday dinner; loud and obnoxious and annoying and your opinion of him is shared universally with all the other Best People who are just simply appalled, but he’s going to do the right thing. He does not believe in a negotiated peace with Hitler. Oh no. We’re going to fight. On the beaches, in the streets, wherever, but we fight. We are going to get our boys off the beach at Dunkirk and we are going to defy the tyrant and remain England because that is the right thing to do.

He stands alone, is ridiculed, opposed by everyone. Even his faithful war minister turns his back. And he begins to waver, until that marvelous scene when Churchill rides the underground and asks the commoners, the serfs, if he should negotiate. Resoundingly, to a man, to a woman, to even a child, they say no. We fight.

Now, I could talk about production values and acting and writing and direction and lighting (and I gotta say, this is one of the most brilliantly lighted movies I’ve seen in years) like you’re supposed to do when reviewing a movie and yes, yes, all of that was great, but it’s not the point. It’s that the right thing is a function of the powerless, whose whole life consists of doing the right thing and who are not cynical nor jaded enough to accept fashionable opinions because, as Orwell said, there are ideas so stupid that only an intellectual could believe them. The powerless, the Great Unwashed, are laughed at and patronized and crushed by the sophisticates until events become critical and we’re all going to die and then the Great Man shows up and does the right thing, their right thing, which is counterintuitive, is always unpopular, and takes a man of great strength to stay on its course. I don’t think I could have, especially when such brilliant intellectual thinkers like oh, well, everybody else says how wrong you are. But Churchill did. And we’re not all speaking German today unless we want to.

Imagine. A leader arises who, despite the concerted and almost unanimous opposition of the elite and intellectual classes, does what the people want him to do.

Sounds vaguely familiar.

Posted in lesser mediums | Comments Off on The Darkest Hour. Also the Brightest

The Last Jedi. Please.

 

There are only three Star Wars movies. Just three. They are numbered episodes 4-6, which is stupid because they’re actually episodes 1-3 because there are no other Star Wars movies. None. Any other movies besides 1-3 are not Star Wars movies; they are bad, very bad, amateur fan boy Lucas-needs-more-money homemade attempts (except Rogue One, which was purty good but is not a Star Wars movie, it’s a Star Wars Universe movie). I have repeatedly made these point to my son but he insisted I accompany him to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi, episode…oh I don’t know what effin’ episode it’s supposed to be. I’d rather have red hot needles shoved in my eyes,but it was his birthday so I went. And I was not disappointed, meaning that I was as disappointed as I expected to be because it sucked.

Suckity suckity sucked.

It had a purty good opening battle sequence, the special effects hammering away because great special effects means a great movie because story? What’s that? George Lucas and the rest of the evil spawn know that the longer the laser shoot-em-ups, the later the gigantic gaps in logic and plausibility manifest, so let’s blow some crap up! And, boy, did they, depicting fearless big cojone pilot Poe Dameron disobeying orders to get hisself a dreadnought, getting the entire rebel fleet wiped out in the process, but, hey, it was still fun.

Now, on to the gigantic gaps in logic.

Rey is finally on Luke Skywalker’s island planet beach whatever and is finally ready to undergo Jedi training and Luke, after being a dick for some required period of time, starts training her and, five minutes later, she’s a full fledged Jedi Knight. No, really, five minutes, that’s all it takes. You just concentrate on feeling pretty good about yourself and, next thing you know, you’re juggling boulders. Which means, of course, Yoda was having Luke on during that whole somersaulting-through-the-swamps while riding piggy back in Empire Strikes Back (you know, the second real Star Wars movie?). Turns out Yoda is a dick, which seems to be a Jedi requirement because Yoda shows up in this one all shimmery and ghosty and does some pretty dick things.

Becoming a Jedi doesn’t even require your full attention because Rey and Kylo Whineface go through some baffling mind meld while Rey is undergoing her rigorous five minutes of Jedi training and talk to each other the whole time. Luke sends her off into the same tree cave that Yoda the dick sent him in to face his own fears and who do you think she’s gonna find in there, huh, who? Darth? Whineface?

Nope. Just some books, which Yoda, in a really dick move, ends up burning to ashes. Or did he?

At any rate, the Wonder Twins keep up their Professor X/Jean Grey telepathic link throughout the whole movie and you’d think people in telepathic communication across an entire galaxy would get somewhat of an inkling of each other’s intents but, nope. Because, see, Lucas is hoping you’ll be stupid enough to think this is going to be another “save Darth Vader” moment and you’re just waiting and hoping and, oh, no! Kylo Wineface has tricked everybody, including the Red Skull…er, Snoke. Snoke? What the hell kind of name is that for the leader of the Fourth Reich? Can you see yourself going “Hail Snoke!” without cracking up? Maybe that’s why Whineface wants to take over: “Hail Whineface!” has a better ring to it.

While all that’s going on, the three or four hoopdies that remain of the rebel fleet are being tracked through hyperspace by General Chucky Huxtable and his minions…wait a minute, you can’t track someone through hyperspace, unless someone on the rebel command ship is, oh, I don’t know, broadcasting? Five minutes after everybody figures that out, do they start looking for the obvious traitor on board? No, they decide to send Finn and a Japanese school girl one million light years across the galaxy to find a codebreaker who can breach the Death Star and turn off the tractor beam…wait, sorry, turn off the tracking device on Huxy’s command ships. Because, you know, that’s just sooo much easier than following the signal back to the traitor. I guess there was no other way for Lucas to recreate the Mos Eisley cantina scene and (a) add the required far left talking point about arms dealers profiting off the back of the cute little orphans taking care of the llama horses and (b) introduce Benicio del Toro, who talks with a stutter, either because of a defect or because he’s mocking everybody, and who must be a Jedi because he turns out to be quite a dick. At least we got to see a llama horse race-and-escape because Japanese School Girl used to be one of the cute orphans and knows llama horses. I think.

 

So when all of this predictably gets bollixed up beyond belief, Admiral Purple Hair pulls off one of the best kamikaze moves in history and blows the First Order fleet out of the sky, which makes one ask why in the blue blazing hell didn’t somebody pull the very same maneuver against the Death Star? Could have saved Luke’s hand.

So when all of that gets bollixed up beyond belief, everyone ends up on Hoth for a classic Star Wars Imperial Walker assault, complete with red soil so you can track the five or six rebels left as they launch a direct head-on slow speed counterattack. Sitting ducks, that’s the phrase you’re looking for, and they get systematically blown apart until…Luke shows up! By himself, with a light saber, right out front looking all menacing and Whineface has about the same reaction I do…shoot him. Every gun in the universe lights Luke up in a spectacular blaze of laser cannons, nuclear devices, phasers and photon torpedoes, you name it, red soil flying everywhere but, please. I turned to my son and did the shoulder brush and, three seconds later, Luke is making exactly the same gesture. Turns out Luke is doing the old Loki trick (“Will you never stop falling for that?”) to buy the three or four rebels left enough time to follow a bunch of cute ice foxes (who have suddenly become self-aware) out the back where Rey is juggling boulders.

Oy.

Next time, red hot needles.

Posted in lesser mediums | Comments Off on The Last Jedi. Please.

The Most Teenage of Them All

Marvel is taking over the universe. All’s right with the world, amen. But taking over the universe requires encompassing its tropes and stereotypes, including teenager-ness. Presented for your consideration, the Marvel TV shows The Gifted and Runaways, which are in a competition to be the most teenage of them all.

My vote? The Gifted, by several laps.

The Gifted is a slice of the distressingly effed-up X-Men Universe timeline, which was pretty much bollixed up beyond all recognition with the movie X-Men: Days of Future Past, a final stake put through its heart with X Men: Apocalypse. I have no idea anymore who is what and when, which is a good thing, I guess, because great liberties can be taken without bothering to reconcile story and time lines. In The Gifted, we have X-Force and X-Men and X-Factor and X-Wife characters all jumbled together in familiar mutants-versus-humans scenarios with familiar Trask and Sentinels and Registration Acts and prejudice and Brotherhood of Evil and Magneto versus Professor X…except there is no Magneto nor Professor X because the X Men are all dead or gone, can’t really say for sure, but the point is emphasized over and over so everyone can be assured this ain’t your pappy’s X Men. Which it ain’t. I mean, the only mutants I recognize are Polaris and Thunderbird and Blink. The rest are strangers.

 

Even more strangers populate Runaways of which, admittedly, I’ve seen only two episodes so I’m not really sure what’s going on. I have not read the comics, either, so even less of a clue but, so far, it looks like these kids’ parents are running some kind of weird cult that looks a lot like the Hellfire Club (which, oddly enough shows up in The Gifted) and from which the kids may…may…have derived some kind of powers, mutant or magical or something, not sure. So far, this does not look like the X Men universe. At all.

And maybe that’s why Runaways has, so far, managed to avoid the godawful teenagery of The Gifted because, if there’s one overarching X-Men universe theme, it’s being a Misunderstood Teenager. And, boy, everyone in The Gifted, even the adults, are Misunderstood Teenagers living Misunderstood Teenager clichés: oooh, we’ve got powers and the jocks and squares Don’t Get It and Mom and Dad are just so out of it and we’re in love and no one else has ever been in love before us and relationships are so much more important than, oh, say, trying to stay alive or out of jail or something. I mean, Polaris gets mad at her boyfriend Eclipse because he saves her life and the life of their unborn child (teenage pregnancy is so cool, especially when you’re in revolt against society and blowing up half of a city) by making a deal with an ex-girlfriend and grrrrr! I saw you two together! And this becomes more important than the fact that half the United States is trying to kill them.

Sheesh.

But probably the worst teenager of all is not a teenager but an adult, Kate Strucker (yes, THAT Strucker family), the non-mutant (so far) Mom of the Wolf Siblings, Andy and Lauren, who individually can rip metal apart and throw up air shields but, when joining hands, can rip holes in the space/time continuum. Actually Mom’s not so much teenager as a walking checklist, making sure they all sit down for a nice family dinner and do their homework and treat each other well and don’t speak to your Dad ― who, up until the revelation of his children’s status was throwing mutants in jail ― like that and my precious children will certainly NOT use their godlike powers to save everyone’s lives! They have a book report due!

You just want to slap her.

You pretty much want to slap everybody in this hormonal mess, from the unreasonable Polaris to the weepy Blink and their so-abused angst-ridden perceptions of everything. But, of course, that is the hallmark of being a teenager: it’s all about me.

Which, so far, does not seem to be an issue in Runaways. Yes, there is nothing more teenage than finding out your parents are evil jackasses, but this scenario is a level up and the kids are reacting rather normally to that revelation. Who of us wouldn’t want to get the hell out of Dodge when discovering our parents are bent on world domination? Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch certainly did. And this group of teenagers seems to exist within the tolerances; in other words, their overreactions and illogical conclusions are well within reason, not over-the-top self-regard to the point you risk killing everybody.

Got that, Polaris?

Posted in lesser mediums, Merry Marvel Marching Society | Comments Off on The Most Teenage of Them All

Ragnarok versus Armageddon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of COURSE, I went to see Thor: Ragnorak. What did you expect? The surprise is that I also went to see Justice League because, really, it’s DC and I usually can’t be bothered. Apart from the natural antipathy we Marvel True Believers have towards DC (did you see the way they treated Siegel and Shuster? Did you?? It’s almost as bad as the way Marvel treated the King!),they don’t have any compelling characters. Superman? C’mon, Kryptonite or no, it’s no contest with that guy. He could thwack Thanos with his thumb and what’s the fun in that?  Besides, he died in the last movie. Batman? The Dark Knight trilogy, sure, but everything else? Meh. Wonder Woman?

Well, okay.

So Marvel is going to get my interest far and above any DC title so, yeah, Ragnorak first. And, it was good. Excellent. Superior. And caused me a bit of suspicion.

About a week before I saw it, I read an article (whose author and specific title now escape me) declaring that Ragnorak marked the end of the superhero movie because it was trying too hard to be funny. To wit:

1. Marvel and DC and all the rest have a fan base (see above) that loves them regardless. When the movies appeared, the fans went berserk and scarfed up tickets, even to such clunkers as Punisher: War Zone (which I rate as one of the worst movies I ever saw, superhero genre or no) or the very silly Batman Returns (except for Michelle Pfeiffer in leather. Or Halle Berry in leather). When Iron Man, the first real Marvel movie came out (I refuse to look at you, Ang Lee ) thought I’d died and gone to movie heaven. Here it was, my entire childhood, in cinematic splendor.

2. The General Populace, you know, the people who think The Fast and the Furious  is gripping drama and Vin Diesel is poignant, glanced over and said, “Hmm. Superhero movies. That might be cool” and also bought tickets in droves, sitting elbow-to-elbow with the fan base, and were duly impressed. Not by the fan base, who are still nerds, but by the production values.

3. All well and good. But, there have now been what? fifteen, sixteen Marvel movies, eight to ten DC ones, covering ever more esoteric superheroes like Doctor Strange and Suicide Squad? You know, the kinds of comic book characters only fanboys love? So, the fan base remains berserk but the GP shrugs and goes “Been there, done that,” and they’re off to see Fasterer and Furioser number 52, convinced Vin Diesel is going to win an Oscar this time. Ticket sales waver, especially for the much ballyhooed Justice League movie.

What to do, what to do?

I know, shouts some self-delineated brilliant movie guy, let’s make the superhero movies more appealing to the GP! Let’s make them…funny!

Oy.

As the article writer pointed out, that waters down the superhero and the fan base gets PO’d and stops coming, and the GP sees it as nothing but another superhero movie and gets in line for F&FMCMLXVII.

He (or she) is right.

Because, although I really enjoyed Ragnorak, thought the opening sequence was outstanding, after about a half an hour or so, I was going, “What’s with all the yuks?” It seemed like they were trying too hard, instead of letting the humor flow incidentally. You wouldn’t be faulted if you thought this was a buddy movie instead of a superhero one. I was not PO’d by the excessive jokesterism but, instead, vaguely disturbed, detecting a rift in the Force and wondering if a dumbing-down had been initiated. You know, like the NFL and the secret three-foot rule that’s been invoked for receivers and quarterbacks?God, I hope not, because the Avengers have my heart and we’ve got to get through the Infinity Gauntlet and to the death of Captain America intact, people!So, vaguely disturbed, I allowed my son to drag me into the Justice League movie (he bought the tickets), fully expecting to dislike it the same way I disliked Man of Steel, Batman versus Superman, and even Wonder Woman. I mean, c’mon, it’s Superman and, even more c’mon, it’s Ben Affleck, not Christian Bale. And, yes, Gal Gadot,but there was something…off…about Wonder Woman. Can’t really say what but I think it has to do with that whole Ares thing.

But, ya know? Justice League was pretty good.

I can’t figure out why it was so universally panned. It had a compelling story line: a disparate bunch of adventurers are brought together by Gandalf…er, Batman…to find the Ring of Power…er, Mother Boxes…er, Mutha Boxes…before Sauron can bring them together and open a portal to let the Chitauri in.Okay, I can see why it was panned.

But, really, you’ve got limited plot lines at these cosmic levels of superheroism. What else are you going to have Thor or Superman do, stop muggers?

That’s the Punisher’s job.There were some excellent moments, like the Atlantis reveal, and some pleasing surprises, like the general all around dick-headedness of Aquaman, and the upgrade of Wonder Woman’s importance. Even Ben Affleck convinced me he’s equal to the Christian Bale Batman role.

So which was better? Well, I’m going to commit sacrilege and give Justice League a centimeter more kudos primarily because I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Not that Ragnarok was a slouch, far from it; it’s a good movie, too, with enough Easter eggs, such as Thor’s umbrella, to gladden this old Marvel fan’s heart. But the excessive humor and the excessive fate of Asgard are a bit off-putting, as are what I consider some post-modernist interpretations: “Asgard is the people, not a place.” Yeah? A few generations of Vikings might beg to differ.

Besides, pleasant surprises generally outweigh expected ones.

 

 

Posted in lesser mediums, Merry Marvel Marching Society | Comments Off on Ragnarok versus Armageddon

Outstanding in its Field

A few weeks ago, I listed the five best TV sitcoms in no particular order. I guess it should have been the top 6 sitcoms because I left out the Australian comedy, Rake. I’ll give myself an out by declaring Rake in a category by itself.

I don’t know Australian TV or Australian media overall. Mel Gibson and Nicole Kidman and ‘G’day, mate,’ and there you have it so how typical the show is, can’t say. A cursory look at reviews by knowledgeable persons, though, strongly indicates Rake is a delightful aberration in an Australian sea of mediocrity. Most of the reviewers seem stunned that Australia TV could produce this gem. I’m stunned that any TV anywhere could produce it; certainly American TV has struggled to give us excellent comedies (see previous post). But even a sewer will occasionally produce a diamond ring.

Rake follows Cleaver Greene, a morally challenged defense counsel (our equivalent, anyway)

defending some of the most reprehensible people ever born. The couple who enjoys sex with their Rotweiler serves as one lesser example, so be prepared. And “morally challenged” is an understatement: Greene is a series of disasters, a plane crash into the side of a volcano as a tsunami takes out a pre-school, but not in the typical way TV usually presents such reprobates…see, look how BAD they are? Isn’t that funny? No, usually it’s pathetic. Like the Kardashians.

Cleaver Greene’s reprobate-ness is of a different character because he really, really doesn’t mean for things to get so out of hand. And to hurt so many people. And ruin so many other lives. And he knows it’s all his fault, although getting him to admit it is nigh on impossible. Instead, he charms his way through, negotiating with leg-breakers about how much of a beating to give him over this week’s vig; trying to keep his best friend from finding out he slept with best friend’s wife; and moving back in with his long suffering ex-wife only to find his son is sharing a bedroom with Cleaver’s ex-prostitute girlfriend. In all of this, Cleaver gives off a wounded air: how can all of you people react so badly to my bad behavior and do exactly the same things yourselves? Don’t you learn from my example?

It’s a scream.

And not in the slapstick/laff trak/pratfall type of scream that most TV considers high art. It is complicated and layered and based on logic and reason and good writing. The best parts are Cleaver waxing poetic over social foibles, such as people who push the already-lit elevator button.

The cast is unbelievably good. I’ve seen Richard Roxburgh, who plays Greene only once before, in that dreadful Van Helsing movie

but that is no example of his brilliance. The guy actually makes you like Greene, even as you are shaking your head in disbelief. And are all the women in Australia this beautiful?

Booking my trip now.

Posted in lesser mediums | Comments Off on Outstanding in its Field

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.

Posted in Life in the Shenandoah Valley, The Adventures of Gracie the Wander Cat | Comments Off on Oh No, Not Again

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?

Posted in Interviews, Merry Marvel Marching Society, Pros and Cons, Reading itself, Writing itself | Comments Off on Capclave 2017