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Sunday, April 24th, 2016
4:11 am - 7 Reasons** Why (insert) I Like (/insert) F&F* (strike) is (/strike) Better Than Star Wars*
*the franchises - but the movies work too...

** I watched the vid where Cracked explain clickbaitiness.

[There are 7 Fast and Furious films out at the moment and 7 Star Wars films (although it looks as though Disney is going to churn out additional films at excessive speed for as long as they make money)... I haven't seen Star Wars 7 and probably won't for a while but I've heard some talk.]

1. Fast & Furious films are about a familia of characters and Star Wars turns out to be more about a family of stereotypes who barely know each other.

The Toretto familia is very much the medieval household -- a collection of blood relatives, clients, dependants, etc who're to some extent interdependent but bound more by affection, obligation, and debts of honour than pure self-interest. From the first film onwards we are given characterisation for and reasons to like even the most minor members of Dom's familia. In the second film Brian develops relationships not unlike those he's seen Dom create and in Fast 5 those friends reappear to join the familia. In Tokyo Drift Han is also shown as having created his own form of familia (the eventual timeline means this film actually happens between Furious 6 and Furious 7)

The Skywalker family is... well how do I put this... excessively dysfunctional? (Even knowing he also has a daughter Anakin/Vader doesn't appear to be fussed) You also don't get much in the way of backstory characterisation -- what do you know about Han Solo from the first movie? What do you know by the end of Jedi? He was a smuggler. He won his ship from Lando (so presumably he was doing something prior to smuggling that made enough of a stake to wager against a spaceship). And he's one of the three main characters. All I know about Luke is that he's bored with his life and wants to go and be a pilot for the Empire. And actually if you swap Empire for Rebellion that's pretty much his character arc for the first three movies -- starts place A, goes to place B because of a message, goes to place C to fight in climactic battle. In the prequel films the characterisation is also excessively limited -- to Annakin pretty much. So, along with purely plot-based and narrow characterisation the Skywalker family has very little in the way of visible long-term friends. Han Solo has two friends. The only familia the Skywalkers have are a couple of robots... who they abandon, memory-wipe, and otherwise treat really badly. These are not people who make and keep friends.

2. The Fast and Furious films have more, and more proactive, women characters.

I specified characters because the backgrounds of the F&F films are full of, often half-naked, women. Although I would point out that these don't feel like slave girls and they may be half-naked but they're there as women who've chosen what they're wearing. Even some of the half-naked ladies are allowed a few moments to demonstrate character.

Star Wars has two main women characters in six films. They're both princesses (although quite how they're titled princesses is a bit vague and hand-wavy). They both talk quite a bit, have a good grasp of girlish banter, and like their hair complicated. We get very little idea of them having family and they've both been put into politically dangerous positions at relatively young ages where other choices would seem to be limited. And until the seventh film I couldn't have said this, but the main role of both princesses is marrying a hero and having kids to be in the next set of films. I honestly can't remember either of them being particularly successful at anything else that's plot critical. The original film starts with Leia failing to get the plans of the death star to the rebels, and the prequels are fairly insistent that Anakin goes to the darkside because of his affair with Padme and the death of his mother (who you'd have thought maybe Padme could have arranged to have bought and installed in a guest room somewhere? Or would that have been really uncomfortable when her relationship with Anakin became obvious?). There are few other women in the later Star Wars universe, fewer who get even one line of dialogue, and the women are slaves, handmaids, wives, mothers, a few junior rebels, and a Mon Mothma. I've not taken a stop watch to the films (seriously I fall asleep in 2 and 3 most of the times when I try to watch them) but I suspect there's more run-time of background females that are aliens than women. Let's face it, I'm pretty sure that the meeting with Grand Moff Tarkin in the original film has more spoken lines by totally forgettable Imperial men than the entire original trilogy has dialogue by women other than Leia.

F&F has four main women and so far only one of them -- Mia Toretto -- has produced children. All of the main women -- Mia, Letty, Elena, and Gisele -- are, or have been, involved in the heavy lifting. They all have back stories too (Mia is Dom's sister and they share backstory with Letty who was a girl next door, Elena's husband was an honest cop and when he was killed she joined the police, Gisele was military and then sold her services). Women also show up as uniformed, plain clothes, and undercover police officers in multiple countries. Also bodyguards, minor members of the familia, evil criminals, and even as a computer expert. The women involved are diverse and diverse in appearance, not simply eye-candy you can't believe capable of their roles, and unlike many major films the female characters are not continually recast with other actors, nor do they appear in one film, get bedded, and vanish without mention. Elena even returns in Furious 7... after Dom is no longer romantically involved with her.

3. Cars

Star Wars doesn't have cars and pod-racing is not car racing. No I don't like the real sport stuff I like film street races and car play/stunts. I liked driving and when I was younger and had the reflexes I would have loved to drive a fast car fast. (Also dance parties and cars)

4. Music

There's no denying that the score for Star Wars is pretty impressive and leant the original trilogy a level of serious passion that sf and fantasy films seldom aspired to. I adored and still love the original musical ending of Jedi and the fight music from Phantom too.

But F&F has theme music for various players too *aaand* some great choices of soundtrack songs. I enjoy classical music, but there's a lot to be said for music you can sing and dance along with.

5. Character diversity.

I may be overlooking someone but the cast of Star Wars was pretty white except for Darth Vader who is a white guy with a black voice-over. Then there's Lando in Empire... who betrays his old friend before handily changing sides again. He's the guy who destroys the second death star. Does he get a mention in 7? The prequels do somewhat better with a black Jedi Master but...

I'm not crazy against using aliens or robots or whatever to address issues around diversity, human rights, othering etc but Star Wars isn't using aliens to remove direct heat from an issue. Aliens are there in great diversity to sell collectible toys. When you're concentrating on that it may be easy to miss that you have hundreds of intelligent species hanging around but very little human diversity. (Or it's like The Hunger Games where you get the feeling no one noticed or questioned that the agricultural district seems to be all black people)

The first F&F film is perhaps the least diverse -- leaving aside the problem of Dom himself (and whether you consider the character or actor in judging his diversity credentials) you still have Letty and the Vietnamese racing gang led by Johnny Tran. The third film has a majority of the characters being Japanese or of Asian descent. By the time we get to 5, 6, and 7, the familia consists of four 'white' characters out of ten (Dom, Mia, Brian, and Vince) and while we lose two of the other six by the end of Furious 6 three more have been added to the main character line-up so it becomes 3/8. And yes, a chunk of the romances are interracial. Oh and the diverse characters get screen time talking to each other and building relationships between themselves without being seen only in relationships with main white characters (kind of like a Bechdel test but for diversity :P )

6. Han.

Both films have Hans in. I fell in love with both Hans.

But Stars Wars gave me a baby Harrison Ford playing a guy whose relationship is perfect for teenage girls in the last millennium (which is what and when I was). No baggage except a Wookie, and way less immature and whiny than Luke. He and Leia have one of those sniping at each other, insults = love, relationships that helpfully skirts around any awkwardness about one corner of the initial love triangle being incestuous but doesn't otherwise make that much sense to me as an adult. I can't blame Twilight etc on this but... you know I want to :P

F&F gave me Han played by Sung Kang who is as hot as (maybe hotter than) Ford and gets better dialogue. He's seen in two relationships, the first casual and the second serious. They don't snipe or undermine each other. The attraction is based on looks and mutual interests/admiration and grows through the two movies they share. The point where a small army of police officers (led by a woman) delivers a summons from Dom/Hobbs demonstrates that they literally have each others backs, and fronts, and a relationship I find way more attractive than Leia and Han's. They are totally heart-breaking.

7.Fight Scenes.

Light sabres are neat. They don't entirely make sense in a universe with blasters etc but that fight in the prequel where force fields come down and... Okay maybe it's the music that really kicks ass in that fight scene but still I loved it the first time I saw it.

I just enjoy the fight scenes in F&F more. And yes, please tell me that the physics in F&F is wrong or that these fights would cause serious injuries and possibly deaths... and then explain lightsabres

Action movies are not thrillers and none of them involve realism. SF movies are not about science and yahdahyahdah.

7a Women drive, women race, women fight, women kill, women (and other featured characters) die.

Yes I'm back on the women thing. Because while the fistfights are pretty much woman on woman the women do get to race men, and fight men when it doesn't involve fists (and while I've heard that brought up as a male gaze problem, I personally don't want to see a fight where a man goes all out on a woman -- I don't like to say never but it's more likely to misfire than work for me -- too soon)

There is nothing Star Wars has done (and I doubt does in 7) to rival Letty, Gisele, or Elena. And Mia more than gives either princess a run for her money.

I had a childhood attachment for Star Wars -- in part maybe because we didn't have videos or other home play devices -- once you'd seen it at the cinema it was a few years before it would be on tv. Eventually there was video rental and DVDs etc but I didn't watch the films over and over -- when a never ending parade of Star Wars started happening on TV in this last decade I realised I wasn't sitting down to watch. A clue might also be found in the fanfic I wrote for a competition after Empire came out -- which had non-Jedi genetically engineered force users (several female) one of which was a female protagonist who protagged... and more stuff happening :D

F&F films I can sit down and watch repeatedly and when one's on TV while I surf through it is always a temptation to keep watching.

I could pretend to hang on to a childhood attachment for Star Wars... or I can admit I'd much rather get my kicks watching fun diverse films, with human relationships that I'd want to emulate. I'm going to go with not waiting on Star Wars to stop having scenes that make me cringe -- and give my time and money to the creators who already know there are people who'll love them for Han and Gisele (and Elena and Mia and...)

I don't own any Star Wars DVDs - I have all 7 F&F films. I guess I made my choice before I knew I'd made a choice.

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Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016
9:36 pm - Last Night I Had A Crazy Dream
Or if you know me and my sleeping habits - this morning.

I was with my father and brothers in a town where people weren't speaking English - a train passed us on the street as we went to the airport to go home. There was a great deal of people at the airport with some commotion as they were being stopped from getting through to the check-in etc and being made to queue in parallel lines between which foam walls then exploded up (almost knocking people over) into a weird kind of maze through which people had to find their way -- only some how I was thrown out of the maze and became the problem of several people in uniform. Then I saw my father in a big white hall the other side of the maze, but though I called he did not hear me and kept walking away.

It was one of those dreams with a deal of realism and just the odd bit where you actually felt in the dream that this was SYMBOLISM! and moved along past it as best you could. And yes, I thought it was probably something about death and my family (my father being dead)

I still thought that when I got up and my brother told me there'd been a terrorist attack in Brussels.

And then while I was listening to the news and making dinner I started humming the Matthew Wilder song Break My Stride...

Synchronicity or less meaningful coincidence (although airports would not be high on any list of 'things appearing in my dreams - they'd definitely be below the giant Disney version of Rabbit with big red spots - an infectious killer bunny - that used to make regular appearances when I was young)


Back when I was 18 I went to Belgium with my mother - we noticed even then that there was some tension about Algerian immigrants, including the woman on the train home who became increasingly racist in her comments until mother gently introduced some verbal moderation and re-education. It isn't entirely surprising that in a country with an ongoing set of bilateral cultural divides the presence of a third community - perceivable as outsiders and with no obvious commonalities with either 'native' faction - might result in dissing the immigrants becoming a conversational glue for the existing communities. aka My Brother and I against My Cousin; My Cousin and I against the Stranger. The unstated follow-up to which is - when the stranger's kids grow up they will have no love for you, your brother, or your cousin...

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Friday, March 4th, 2016
9:53 pm - Cancer Scare 2
(Cancer Scare one involved the ginormous fibroid when they spotted it in A&E)

So as not to build any tension or cause any distress - I don't have breast cancer.

Five weeks ago, at the same time as I was sorting out my right eye doing the flashes and spiders thing, I discovered a significant lump in my right breast. There was a very slight yellow bruising alongside it but I didn't remember doing anything particularly evil and the bruising was unimpressive. Still, the emergency appointment for my eye was not a contact with the GP I could use for discussing lumps (it's very definitely one appointment one problem these days and it was the guy I most blame for my mother's death to boot so... )

When my eye had been checked and the lump was still there... and I believe somewhat larger... I fixed an appointment with a female doctor not excessively tainted by the events of last year. So it took about two weeks for me to see the GP, who touched the lump and said that it was policy now to refer all lumps to the Breast Clinic. (Which definitely beats the time many years ago that I showed a small breast lump to a GP and she told me it was very probably nothing but to come back again if I noticed it growing).

Fifteen days later, and a last minute arrival of my appointment letter later, I made it to the clinic -- not unduly worried although it was still there, still solid, and I'd been trying to avoid thinking of it or getting disturbed by the internet (google breast cancer and you will run across information sites where the comments are filled with worried girls asking about lumps they've been worried about for six months plus and looking for reassurance that they're too young to have cancer). I was pretty much counting on being told it was something other than cancer.

The junior consultant (JP) was a nice man who had a chat and then fondled my breasts at which point his smile faded and he said something close to 'I'm sorry but that does not feel good'. And at that point I realised that he thought it was probably cancer. He drew a line round my lump in black marker pen, assured me that I was in good hands and they would do their very best for me, and sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound.

The mammogram and ultrasound are reasonably routine for lumps and I'd been told to expect both... and that if it was necessary I might have a biopsy done. I kept my fingers crossed but after the ultrasound the doctor checking those tests decided that I needed not a needle biopsy but a core biopsy - they spray on local anaesthetic, cut a three quarter centimetre slice into your breast, and then use a kind of punch to grab bits of boob near the lump. They took a couple of samples and slapped on a dressing that I had to keep on for twenty-four hours (no straining or heavy lifting, and no water on the wound).

Most people leave the clinic with some kind of answer - I did not. I had a week to my next appointment... which was today. And it was a week where I wanted to yell at the world sometimes but had nothing to yell. I spent a little time on how my father had died of cancer just last year, and how hard my mother's death had hit me and how purposeless I felt, and despite mostly not entirely believing I had cancer and feeling slightly silly for not believing now and then being more than a little scared that just as I was getting less sad I'd hit a new dip on the emotional rollercoaster.

So I kept away from the internet so that I didn't end up causing people to think I had cancer if I didn't... because bad news can always wait a week.

Today I went in, the nurse smiled and said how she remembered me and that I'd be seeing JP again and he came through all smiles and told me it was fat necrosis. I'd been crossing my fingers for that to be the result and he was happy to be wrong. I'll be back at the clinic in three months to check if it's fixing itself or needs something done to it.

In the mean time I have a scab and a couple of rings of bruising plus another bruise the other side of the lump from the scab.

But it isn't breast cancer.

Seeing the doctor again in three months)

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Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016
2:24 am - Zombies or Angry White Men?
So I managed to finish the zombie anthology 'Living Dead' - and the George R R Martin SF story I finished on was one of the best in the book. And then I saw another anthology and I thought... WTF???

'Zombies The Recent Dead' was published two years after 'Living Dead' and has three of the same stories (the so-so Neil Gaiman story 'Bitter Grounds', the racist, sexist 'Dead Man's Road', and Andy Duncan's 'Zora and the Zombie')


And ZRD actually mentions the existence of LD so it's not like they didn't know they were publishing three stories that had already appeared in a zombie anthology.

This is how you make sure people don't find anthologies value for money. Given the incredible forgetability of most of the stories in LD if I hadn't only finished it a few days before seeing ZRD I wouldn't have realised until I started reading.

(And if I were going to reprint from another anthology of reprints there were better choices... and wouldn't everyone liable to read a zombie anthology have already read the World War Z story?)


I really wanted 'White Cargo' to be a good book. The treatment of indentured servants (or slaves) in the Americas is something I wanted to read about. Sadly it's badly written tabloid history by a pair of angry white men who can't research, can't get any kind of order into the mess, but do manage to be wearyingly angry. The thing about writing a book in ANGRY is how quickly the word choices become boring and how they highlight the one-sidedness of the 'facts' presented...

Popham was a man whose character was written in his face. In one portrait, he appears a physical giant, the scarlet robes of the High Court clutched around his bulk, a heavy, ugly face glaring out, cold eyes cunning and suspicious; the face of a calculating, unstoppable bully. In his voluminous Lives of the Chief Justices of England, Lord Campbell refers to the portrait and adds decorously ; 'I am afraid he would not appear to great advantage in a sketch of his moral qualities, which lest I do him an injustice I will not attempt'.

And yes, I'm not big on angry people divining personality from a portrait. Nor leaving to the end notes that the book being quoted was written in 1876 about a man who died in 1607


I could as easily point out that a Campbell would likely be a Scot and at the date when he was writing his opinion of a man involved in the trial of Mary Queen of Scots might be less than unbiased. Just as the authors of White Cargo repeat a scurrilous rumour about his taking a bribe in a murder case...
but they don't bother giving the name of the alleged murderer -- thankfully there is the internet.


"John Aubrey tells that Littlecote was a bribe to Popham as his judge in a criminal case, which is impossible: Darrell was not charged or tried, and Popham was not yet a judge."

So, the rumour would appear to be garbage debunked before White Cargo was written... (It's part of a ghost story for heaven's sake, those are always 100% accurate.)

Basically -- angry white men writing confused garbage in tabloid (World in Action) style create more questions than answers. It also leads one to look at the notes and realise that they've not bothered to go to anything like original source material. But hey, a bunch of reviewers fell for it (or is that just journalists demonstrating the social corruption of their trade?)

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Wednesday, January 20th, 2016
12:29 am - Sure DWP, Ignore the Tribunal
As summer 2014 got going the DWP stopped my disability. The main reason being that since I am not prescribed painkillers above the level of paracetamol* I couldn't be in pain...

Anyhow, long story short, by March the following year I finally got to the appeals tribunal and won. At that point the tribunal stated that the DWP should pay me my back benefit and leave me alone for at least 12 months.

The DWP sent me a letter saying I wasn't entitled.

After some further fretting they told me I wasn't entitled because they believed I must have done some work or other benefit-stopping thing during the 9 months they'd denied me benefit or how was I still alive. They had not been going to send me a letter explaining their problem, just the one saying they wouldn't reinstate my benefit. I did not tell them CARER'S ALLOWANCE BITCHES!!! but I did say that they were well aware I got carer's allowance since my looking after my mother had been the second reason they'd come up with for the tribunal. (She tells her mother when to take pills, that means she can work!) I said I'd lived off carer's allowance and since I lived with my Mother she'd been paying my share of some bills. At which there was some slight pause, I asked how I appealed the new decision, and they decided that I was entitled to my back benefit etc (which they got wrong at first and had to send an extra amount but that may still not have been the full amount since my entitlement then changed)

So... you'd think a ruling from a tribunal that I should be left alone for 12 months would be something a government organisation would want to follow. Well, clearly no because I got the form I got a new ESA50 form today. 10 months exactly after my tribunal (and less than ten months since they restored my benefit). It needs to be filled and sent back before 11 months from my tribunal. I rang... couldn't get a Decision Maker just the call centre, despite asking to be passed on, and the logic is that they want to get all the paperwork done on my claim so that they can deal with it exactly 12 months after I won the last tribunal... or in other words rather than leave me alone for 12 months they want to be sure that they have everything ready to cut off my benefit again right on the dot of the minimum time the tribunal suggested leaving me alone for.

I can't help thinking they're hoping that this time round, without my mother and without the carer's allowance, I won't survive the nine months it takes to get a tribunal hearing.

Thankfully probate on my mother's estate is nearly done with, so with luck there will be some money for me to live off soon, but... if she hadn't died, if they were just going to come at me every year, like clockwork... well I'm pretty certain that worrying about my struggling along on carer's allowance and the increased disability that stress caused me didn't help either of us focus on her health problems. She was dead within a month of my winning the tribunal.

Forget what government and the media say about austerity... it's been the biggest and best tool ever for dismantling the last wisps of a benefits safety-net.

*because those still available either make me vomit them up or my heart and brain do weird trippy-skippy things when I take some, or there's co-codamol that just doesn't do anything.

ADDENDUM - And of course I could also just get one of the not-much-good-GPs to prescribe me stronger painkillers (honest, they won't notice the reaction info unless I tell them myself, don't apparently even have my allergies noted on their computer), cash the prescriptions, and just not take the drugs... That would needlessly add to the expense of the NHS drugs budget but help with the 'but if you're in pain why don't you get painkillers' mantra of the DECISION MAKERS!

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Thursday, January 14th, 2016
3:49 am - Dead Like Me - Adam-Troy Castro
Because this time I'm going to be quoting I feel obliged to name the story, which means naming the author.

Let's talk about how the SJWs destroy fiction... this is a perfectly well written story that starts well and which some time in the past I might just have read and been fine with but the damn SJWs have ruined that (or just maybe a life of reading stuff has done it for me... could be either or both).

So there I was reading along and then this happened...

After lunch, spot one of the town's few other Living people shuffling listlessly down the centre of the street.
You know this one well. When you were still thinking in words you called her Suzie. She's dressed in clothes so old they're rotting off her back. Her hair is the colour of dirty straw, and hideously matted from weeks, maybe months of neglect. Her most striking features are her sunken cheekbones and the dark circles under her grey unseeing eyes. Even so, you've always been able to tell that she must have been remarkably pretty, once.
Back when you were still trying to fight The Bastards -- they were never "zombies" to you, back then; to you they were always The Bastards -- you came very close to shooting Suzie's brains out before you realized that she was warm, and breathing, and alive. You saw that though she was just barely aware enough to scrounge the food and shelter that kept her warm and breathing, she was otherwise almost completely catatonic.
She taught you it was possible to pass for the Dead.

What bugged me? Why is it that the male character worked out how to do this inspired by the female character, who didn't actually work it out but was made catatonic from being in the same situation he is? You can probably find a Joanna Russ quote that fits here. The set-up is that woman is surviving by accident, despite having diminished capacity because of the living nightmare of the situation, where the man is surviving by imitating her having observed that the zombies don't notice she's actually alive and so he's being smarter than the average by imitating her. Oddly enough though, even while being certain the woman is catatonic and barely capable of keeping herself alive... he is choosing to have brief and unromantic sex with her. With the woman so traumatised she can't be told from a zombie except that she's still got a heartbeat.

And as you instinctively cross the road to catch her, you should take some dim, distant form of comfort in the way she's also changed direction to meet you.
Remember, though: she's not really a lover. Not in the proper emotional sense of the word. The Dead hate love even more than they hate Thought. Only the Living love. But it's quite safe to fuck, and as long as you do it here the two of you can fuck quite openly. Just like the Dead themselves do.
Of course it's different with them. The necessary equipment is the first thing that rots away. But instinct keeps prodding them to try.* Whenever some random cue rekindles the urge, they pick partners, and rub against each other in a clumsy, listless parody of sex that sometimes continues until both partners have been scraped into piles of carrion powder. The ultimate dry hump.

At which point I stopped reading for a little bit and thought about how one bit of thoughless defaulting had made problems for my suspension of disbelief.

Because the default settings don't just make women appear lesser creatures they introduce some definite plot problems. If zombies are coupling up... as in a default male/female how do they know they're getting it right? I mean disintegrating clothing, the observation about the early loss of certain tissues... how do the zombies know male from female? Does it matter to the story, not so much except... in the situation where our hero has already stated that his being warmer attracts other zombies somewhat, although not dangerously, wouldn't the combination of heat and his being identifiably male cause female zombies to want him? I mean how consensual is zombie sex. How many zombie women does he have to turn down? How many zombie men try it on because they can't tell, or don't care, that he's male? If zombie men are humping zombie women till they're in bits... how does he avoid this fate, and how does this element add anything but confusion to the story? Well confusion and the chance for the hero to have brief meaningless sex with a woman who's too far gone to give consent and who we're is told does not get pleasure out of the deal (but still seeks him out for these events to occur despite being catatonic?)

The thing is, once something in a story goes that badly tits-up the rest of it becomes more questionable.

Our hero is beaten up by four living people who're not zombie imitators and hate zombie imitators more than zombies. Yes, by this point I'm starting to think this story is meaningful** -- these living people won't kill him because (?)... there are enough Dead people giving them trouble... (???) So there's no way to kill the Dead so they won't come back, even if the Dead can rub each other into dust? Couldn't they make enough small pieces of him that he wouldn't be trouble? Or use the chain and padlock they hit him with to secure him to something solid so he can't go anywhere when he comes back? But hey, reading on...

After the beating, our hero warns himself not to get up and look in a mirror he's seen nearby, because if he does he will see himself and want to go out in the street and die by zombie and he must not do that because...

And if you let yourself die, then within minutes what's left of you will wake up hungry too, with only one fact still burning in its poor rotting skull: that Suzie is faking.

Only... Suzie hasn't previously been given the dignity of faking -- she's catatonic -- not conscious enough to fake anything. And if only Suzie was a guy, or our hero was the girl, or... but after all the mumbling of bile from our hero the end is both an unconvincing motive and back to a default of man-saves-women. Having excluded that 'Suzie' in any way consciously provided the narrator with the pattern for surviving, whether one takes him at face value or considers him an unreliable sleeze, the conclusion of the story is that 'man must protect the woman'. That the woman first saved the man and so deserves this loyalty has been removed by making her 'catatonic', the guy is living to save a woman he knows nothing about but has had brief meaningless sex with an unknown number of times.

Sadly, there was also a line about 'Maybe you'll see each other again. Maybe not. It really doesn't matter either way' after the humping, so I also get to wonder how much it matters that for a short while after he joins the Dead he'll remember Suzie isn't Dead, because he's given no indications that the Dead can or would seek out a particular person or that he would know where Suzie is to go find her before that first thought becomes the thoughtlessness of zombie existance ( if zombies sense thought and attack those who think then one must presume that they do not think or hold on to thoughts themselves... ) Makes. No. Sense.

You can't just throw in a bit of sex to make me believe a guy cares for a woman because real life teaches us otherwise. Denying the woman the honour of having had the idea to fake before him - by making her a living zombie - doesn't help, but following that the introduction of sex makes everything problematic. It makes Suzie a sex toy. The narrator a rapist. And the ending a weird lie, about a toy he may never see again, which the narrator tells himself to justify his desire to live.

Bah humbug.

And it started out fine...

*try what?

** to write an effective *meaningful* story it's best if the story which you want to have depth, from the point of view of also being commentary about something else, works as a story about zombies. If your top story fails the rest of what you're trying to do can't succeed.

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Sunday, January 10th, 2016
5:46 am - Eeewww For The Wrong Reasons
Still working my way slowly through "The Living Dead" anthology (figuring that spacing the stories a little more might help give each more va-va-vooom) when I fell across a not-zombie story that over-used several of my personal ew-buttons.

So I am going to share :P

1. Bad Man is Bad -- in the effort to make sure I know a bad guy is bad some writers have pretty much chased down to the bottom of the barrel and poured half a dozen sauces on top. Almost always the terrible things involve violence to women, children, and animals. Here we had two bad men -- so we got a *lot* of such crimes. Rapes, murders, buggering a man to death with a stick, cutting the tail off a puppy...

One problem here comes when you make some of the crimes into jokes -- so the guy who burned a woman to death in an outhouse gets to complain that she made a stink and should have eaten better.

2. Inciting Incident is a Bad Thing -- much like fridging... in this case the undead man was cursed with a dying woman's last breath because he'd abducted and raped her preteen daughter, who, managing to escape, dies of her injuries in her mother's arms, causing the widow-woman to go summon the old gods and killing herself as a sacrifice to them. Honestly this kind of thing has a tendency to slip into the darker areas of porn -- raping a child to death is an) idea that's a fantasy turn-on for some people and while I would never say never because I know it can be done right... using it as a casual and lazy reason for the bad guy being turned into an undead monster is not doing it right. Not even close.

If you've already used rape, murder, and child abuse to make someone a bad guy you maybe think you need to go that bit further for the big evil.

3. Magical Victims of... Racism -- at least, in general the Magical Negro is a positive figure in a story, but when it comes to curses etc the victimised perpetrator is all too often 'other'... Gypsies are popular, as are 'natives' with knowledge of Ancient Powers... this being a "Western" the woman and her child are Native Americans (I don't think there's any identification of nation but I may have missed the clue in the face of the 'gal'/child being named and identified as 'Indian'). Again this is the laziness of the narrative that needs a way of making the monster but has so piled up the evil quota on the man you need an 'explanation' that isn't a whole other story in itself so...

4. God the Unfeeling Bastard -- this is a purely personal one but honestly the excessively simplistic grimdark philosophy that allows authors to have magic bibles etc while detaching from any positivity about the religion that spawned them. Hey, the power of God's word makes my Bible burn in the presence of evil but God is an uncaring dick! In the case of this particular story since I find myself entirely out of f***s to give for any of the people appearing in the story, except possibly the raped preteen I have zero picture of, beyond the level of attention she'd probably get in a national newspaper, I empathise with God. These people should be left to free will themselves to hell.

5. The Hero's Contrast Character -- here a lawman who shows a lack of judgement but backs up the hero until it is required for him to wig out and become cowardly in order to make the hero look more heroic. There are varying incarnations of this and in some cases it's used well -- in Happy Feet only Mumble finishes the quest... but we understand that it is because it is *his* quest, the other penguins do not have to be portrayed as cowards and otherwise humiliated, we can understand the difference between ordinary and heroic without having to disparage the ordinary. (Or the people who don't have the experience and a magic Bible etc)

6. Smug-Ass Hero Is Smug -- the more often your hero characterises himself as having heroic virtues during a story the less I will believe it. If the end of your story is your hero mocking the weak-sister you've pretty much squashed the bit of how he just killed the monster (not very interestingly, mind you, but still...) Self-congratulatory smugness in your hero seriously reduces your chances of pulling off a traditionally modelled monster-killing story.

7. Change The Story To Match Your Grimdarkiness -- you can have morally ambivalent, suspect, or downright unpleasant characters and with very little work make me sympathise with them enough to be concerned as to whether they succeed in their quest or not. Sure, write a story where I care for nothing and no one, but then you can't write it with the same beats as the more traditionally balanced-morality story. The end of that story is not hero kills monster and lives to think bad thoughts about the guy who went almost to the final battle with him. 'Kills the monster' is not a sufficient representation of change, or lack of change, once you take the whole story into grimdark. If you have no 'good' then the removal of a representation of evil (or in this case a monster who was also the dead widow's revenge on the community who allowed the evil guy to do what he did) has an entirely different story value from where it occurs in a balanced or mostly good universe. You can't just drop the words happily ever after from the end of a fairy tale and make all the characters unappealing to refashion it as grimdark.

And yes, when you hit that many tell-tales of lazy-ass writing in a story I will walk away not simply unsatisfied but deeply unhappy with it.

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Thursday, January 7th, 2016
4:52 am - Hunting vs Gathering
There are things that get passed around as scientific and that get said an awful lot (including in history books that disappointment me) which, to me don't survive a challenge particularly well.

Take the terrible dangers facing men in our hunter-gatherer prehistory when they go hunting, versus the relative safety of being women staying closer to 'home' doing that whole gathering thing that's seldom worth explication.

The entire idea that gathering is safe womanly work and hunting is dangerous masculine work isn't silly because gathering is hard work too (much like housework was pretty damn hard physical labour a century ago) but because it is dangerous. At least as dangerous as hunting, and I suspect more so.

As I see it, when a group of guys go hunting, they're generally armed and watching each other's backs (to some extent). They go to a place where they will hunt and then stalk or ambush prey in some way and then return home. There are obvious dangers, but these being obvious the trick to survival is to anticipate trouble and avoid it. If things look dodgy you can often, like other predators, just give up the hunt. Mostly hunters are moving around with their head's up, weapons in hand, looking out for danger, and with some other guys doing the same not far away.

When a group of women go gathering they don't have the luxury of looking up all the time. Imagine digging roots... you have to look down to find the leaves of the plant you're looking for, take your stick and dig it out, pick it up, stow it about your person in some way... repeat. At least half the time taken requires you to be looking down. Picking berries? You push into the underbrush and pull the berries from the branches, watching so you don't rip your hand open on thorns or sharp-edged leaves, or drop the berries. Even when you're finding eggs, or small game animals, you're busy with your eyes focusing on something that isn't the leopard in the grass. Or the snake in the bush. Or the stinging insect. Or the angry rat. Not only do you, like any other grazing animal around, make great prey for big animals, you're additionally at risk from a variety of poisonous flora and fauna that a hunter is far less likely to disturb. Yes, you're with other women, but equally they have to spend time look at what they're doing. Yes, you can set kids to watch for big predators, but not for every biting spider, and once they're old enough to be useful most are likely to be picking berries and hunting bird's nests right alongside the women. There again, women are very often the ones who fetch water, and predators often sit around waterholes waiting for an opportunity to grab thirsty animals.

Yes, hunting is dangerous. But I suspect that the stack of firewood, the bowl of water, the leaf envelope full of termites -- those gathered things probably resulted in more direct and indirect fatalities.

Of course, hunting a rhino get's you a lot more kudos than picking berries, and even today the mythology of hunting lives in the backs of our minds...

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Monday, January 4th, 2016
4:53 am - I Should Invent Some Snappy Continuing Subject Lines For 2016... But This Is On Zombies
I've been reading various stories (and a couple of books) and watched a couple of films... (and apparently have mislaid the copy of 28 Days Later BRB left aaages ago) and come to a startling conclusion...

Zombies are really bad monsters.

Yes, one can argue that as vampires and werewolves and every other popular culture monster has been romanticised the hell out of (vampires and werewolves will save you from rapists) zombies were shoved into the gap to provide a monster-child of imagination that even a mother would have trouble loving (and especially French kissing)*

The zombie, post-Romero, is a walking corpse with at least some degree of rotting or visually unappealing damage, probably a bad smell, and no intelligence. They are animated corpses that either shamble with little or no purpose - when a tasty living human is not in reach - or speedier hunters with no fear of damaging themselves in their quest for tasty living flesh because they're operating at the most basic level of viral ambition (living to reproduce).

The majority of stories I've read so far in 'The Living Dead' collection, or even World War Z, find it incredibly difficult to make zombies the central monster of their tales. And that's maybe because the Romero zombie, or subsequent viral zombie reboots, are not easily slotted in to our current stereotype roles for villains. There was a place, once, for forces of nature in our fictitious lives, but whatever storm or flooding or fire we face we don't deal with in massive death tolls. Even epidemic disease only touches as a story from a hundred years ago.

Yup, some of the stories I've read so far in "The Living Dead" are okay stories, and might have been better if not shoved in with a bunch of other living dead stories with an implied promise that there would be entrail munching madness. But none of them have managed to take the zombie we think of as a zombie (brain-dead, hard to kill, and hungry for human flesh) and create a monster/horror story around it.

I had always thought that zombies must exist in fiction the way other monsters did... and that I just didn't read them. But if they do they're harder to find than I would have guessed.

[Plus there's maybe a whole side-bar to be had here about why the other monsters have grown ever weaker in our imaginations... as a society we're increasingly detached from death and attached to the ideal of personal immortality but that is a way bigger thought to be thought on]

*although that does not appear to be entirely true

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Sunday, January 3rd, 2016
3:48 am - The Cat Strikes Back!
Because he didn't see his snack in his bowl before going out early this morning the cat has responded to my lack of proper service by running inside wet and putting lightly muddy paw prints on the clean-since-Xmas cushion covers in the sitting room. Now he must sleep on a towel and so honour demands he not come across to my chair every hour or so to steal my body heat. Poor chilly kitty.

(If I burst into quiet song he will almost certainly frown at me and come across to put a stop to it - he was terribly busy during Les Miserables - but I do not currently want his head on the mouse and under my palm)


For the future ref of any writing professionals... should I ever be in a position to approach you for a chat and you offer me the cut direct because you have a disagreement with a significant other of mine (or your significant other has a disagreement with my significant other or whatever) -- I will slap your face with a glove and demand that we fight it out there and then. Words or fists would seem to be the appropriate weapons for such an insult.

Nor would I expect, in this age of networking wonders, to be instructed to deliver a message to a male relative or friend that would be more properly delivered without involving an intermediary... (Much as it's amusing in movies in reality it's just icky) On a good day you may get away with me bursting into tears in shock, but on a bad one I will most certainly bite back... hard.

(One time a cousin 'playfully' grabbed at my breast and I playfully grabbed his shoulders so that my rising knee hit him nicely under the ribs - a purely instinctive and untrained reaction that made me very happy with whatever bit of brain was responsible)

Seriously, if your *only* reason for not being polite* is that you have a beef with a spouse, friend, or relative... moreover if there is at least some reason to pull out a professional manner (frex that the woman you are cutting is published with your house)... then be professionally polite.

Why should a wife be held accountable for her husband's sins? Or any woman for the perceived misdeeds of a male relative (or any relative or friend for that matter)? There might be some excuse for the cut direct if the woman in question has herself insulted you, perhaps, although many women have learnt to rub along with work associates whose opinions insult or distress them, but otherwise... no. Sorry. I don't care if you yell and scream at her or do it in that soft threatening voice women are very familiar with from men or a with an incongruously cheery smile... If you say you're insulting her because of something her husband said or did... how is that the slightest bit reasonable? If there's something you have against *her* by all means state that as a reason you don't wish to talk to her (though don't then expect not to fuel theories that not agreeing with you can damage a writer's career) but otherwise... you're being a jerk.

Personally I, frex, would not wish to shake the hand of the deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness, because he belonged to a terrorist organisation and has lied a lot about that... but it would be quite another matter for me to refuse to treat his wife with politeness because I don't like *his* politics. That would make me a jerk.

People should not want to be seen as jerks.

* and if Regency Romances teach us anything it is that cutting someone dead in public is not nice and not to be done lightly.

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Saturday, January 2nd, 2016
3:33 am - 2016
In despite of those unhappy souls who feel the need to tell people that their hate of 2015 will be matched by their hate of 2016 in six months time... My mother died in the first six months of 2015, that's a one-time event of horrid that 2016 can't match (my father also died last January but that alone would not have made for the worst year going)

Even if I fall in love tomorrow and the object of my affections dies before the year is out... it won't be as bad. If I die... won't be as bad. Yes, I may well find that missing my mother is an ever increasing burden that makes every year from now a hopeless grind... 2016 will likely not be the absolute hope-killer so... not as bad.

2017 has a better chance of being evil than 2016.

January the 1st last year I wrote a friend's locked post about everything that had happened the year before and that my father might be dead in the next couple of weeks. If someone had told me then that next year (2015) would just be the same again I would have punched them...

Yes, it ended up being worse, but there are too many prats in the world happy to tell other people not to hope next year will be better.

For anyone out there who has had a tough year and is hoping against hope that 2016 will be a break from pain, or exhaustion, or oppression, or fear, or the stupidity of people who don't know how much a ritualised break with the past can mean....

I wish you a bright sparkling new year and all the hope you can find to face it (and fuck the thought-police)


I'm not going to resolve to write more or journal or whatever... this year is still going to involve a lot of sorting out of the mess from last year and the build-up of actual physical mess from the previous five years where no one was keeping an eye on resident brother's bedroom or worrying about rooms my mother couldn't see. I have to cope with lots of adult things that previously went through a parental-figure filter (yes I was calling the plumber but it was with a nod of agreement to the choice and to the plans of what would be done). Now I get to be the grown-up. Make Christmas happen. Pick a new landline provider. Start planning how to get the windows replaced and that bit of pointing on the roof fixed and... panicking because there's no one to talk to about it (well no one who will actually be listening and contributing useful comments) and the world is full of disappointing tradesmen... and scary shit.


I still haven't found a new purpose.


I miss writing and stitching and learning new things. 2015 had very little of any of that and I need 2016 to have more. Yes I have no audience for the things I make, but I need to be creative... the longer I go without any of that stuff I go the crappier I believe my efforts to be and the harder it is to try.


I miss things that are not the house and food shopping. My world has shrunk to the bare essentials of a carer... if I've lost my mother at least I need to get back in touch with trees. (Not locally, pretty much every place I used to go has been built on or otherwise improved and they will make me sad)


So, 2016... a year in which I need to refind myself, do things that make me happy, and improve my health and environment. Hippy New Year!

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Monday, December 14th, 2015
3:45 am - Max Brooks - World War Z
Let's just start by saying I liked the movie - it had some neat bits, and the zombies piling up to climb a massive concrete wall was fun. It was a good film to watch while doing other things.

The book... *sighs* I really liked the start of the book -- among other things it made me hopeful that it would take away the need to write a zombie story/book myself. Since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies I've been checking out a few zombie-related films and books as 'research' and become increasingly aware that you can learn a lot from the zombies...

WWZ starts well, with what I'd call an adaptation of the 'string-of-pearls' structure. String-of-pearls is where a story is told by stringing together a number of relatively short narratives... they are nearly short stories on a theme except that they have a connecting string, and don't have to be entirely stand-alone -- you don't have to revisit the set-up and world-building. WWZ tells its story through a fairly large number of individual narratives that cover various aspects of life after the zombie-plague hits. They're strung together by their place in the greater narrative of the ten years of the 'war' and also, less sensibly by being told as oral history/interviews to a man with an official job at gathering statistics(?) who has also gathered people's stories (though mostly not very ordinary people).

And that's where the writing of this book errors begin. Although it works for a little while, the short journalistic-ish introductions to each story being like knots in the necklace, the choice to use that interview technique doesn't just break up the story-telling for an effect (of his questioning statements and making observations about the characters as they speak) it kills much of the suspense -- if you're talking to a survivor that person has not died during the events they're relating. To that you add the distancing effect of a person telling a story to another person who has written it down for you to read. What might seem an effective frame works better in relatively short news articles than as a book length narrative -- at the start I was eager, and with the first stories being about the exciting things happening as doom approached humanity (strangely left out of The Walking Dead) the style was less of a problem. But somewhere in the end of the middle... I stopped wanting to read more. And by the time he did the quick return trip to other countries... I realised I didn't like his politics or his lack of thought and sometimes vaguely offensive treatment of the other -- which weren't zombies. Plus there were big deep plot holes and the dog section was not a good enough distraction. Oh, he also was at pains to ridicule the notion of human beings waging 'total war' - with an offensive lack of understanding of the term, which made sense only once his mouthpiece insisted that zombies were capable of total war because ... zombies. Except that really only high-lighted that this wasn't a war, that zombies never intentionally acted together or intelligently, and that much of what he'd carefully constricted about zombies was likewise a desperate attempt to make them appear more frightening.

Also, a dig at Clement Attlee? Seriously?

If the film had a 'my family got kicked off the island' subplot that made no sense and didn't move me that much because of the making no sense aspect, I can see that it acquired one because the book itself has no forward drive. The stakes are 'will humanity be wiped out?' and the answer, whatever torments the narrative tools have suffered is known from the start 'no'* and with the political class intact. Since you knew the end, the end really needed to have some surprises or emotional punch or some cleverness (which the film at least tried for) -- a speech from the US president and a determination to defeat the zombies... was lost on me... the few guns n' ammo narratives looking awfully like Independence Day style wand waving... but more so. The end was less of an end and more of a stop, with the author jazz-handsing a 'move along nothing to see here' goodbye section that was neither triumph nor tragedy or... anything much.

If he'd cut a good fifty pages - made it actually US centric rather than covering the world but with US sensibilities - actually used narratives which took us through the full ten year period - and show/told a little more of how it ended - WWZ could have been a good zombie book. Sadly it's more of a good attempt at a zombie apocalypse... and while I sit writing I remember a couple of people bits but mostly the puppies dying of thirst and the zombie chasing a golden mole as viewed from space IIRC (yes that made me WTF in a not good way for the book)

From what I've been reading so far the zombie is a pretty crappily handled monster that writers struggle to make scary enough to support a plot (and which work in movies predominantly through the visual effects). Maybe the truth is that in a zombie apocalypse the biggest danger is, as it is every other day, the walking dead who haven't been converted to zombies yet.

* but I did first type yes because I could have lived with these people all dying.

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Saturday, December 5th, 2015
9:07 am - These Foolish Things...
I can't sleep for thinking and the thoughts being chained one to another and inescapably to mourning and regrets.

I think perhaps, that the straw was when I asked resident brother what we should watch now we've finished season 4 of Grimm... Non resident brother has not returned season 3 (and it's currently lost) so he changed his mind about re-watching from the beginning.
I mentioned the new season of Castle being out and then wondered if he wanted to watch it (uncertain if he'd watched it because he liked it or because he didn't hate it). He decided we had to watch Castle from the first episode and straight on to the new season saying something along the lines of 'of course I can't not find out what happened to him after that cliff-hanger'

And I thought what I'd thought a little while watching Grimm -- that mother doesn't get to see the resolutions to those cliff-hangers. At least it isn't because I was waiting on the prices coming down... But she loved Castle and Grimm (and yes she liked Monroe best)...

So we watched Castle, and then I watched a couple more episodes of Dark Matter than I'd meant to... and trundled off to bed happy enough and expecting to fall asleep in minutes.

Only I didn't.

And maybe it's because the wind has been knocking around and where I used to find that okay when I was younger and didn't have to worry about what it might do. And shared that worry when it became a worry... now there's no sharing it.

And the cat wasn't in, but I didn't notice myself noticing that.

And I suspected I'd have a bit of a low after the high of the Knitting & Stitching Show... but I thought I was getting over that...

And Christmas is coming... with a whole lot of mess to get sorted out before I can even think about getting a Christmas together (and rb actually deciding in the last couple of days that yes we should try and have a Christmas... I think because he's afraid that if I skip this year I won't start up again and he might be right)

So, here I am, alone in the house, with the wind and the quiet -- which drags around me too much and too often. Alone as I've never been alone before. Running through thoughts that don't help, and distractions that end up in the same places...

And, much as smarty-pants atheist declare that people have religion to comfort themselves over such things as death... I get to be me and believe in things that are not entirely comforting (yes there's an afterlife, yes my soul has moved on, yes my mother is a memory/experience of that soul... but that soul is not simply my mother disembodied and in any case no longer directly shares the life in which *I* am her daughter...)

And if I don't get some sleep soon I won't get any work done on the multiple things that need to be done and will feel even more of a failure and...

I really wish I'd just fallen straight asleep. And yes, I'm not forgetting the rows etc... I miss her, all of her, good, bad, annoying, comforting... every bit.
Monday, November 9th, 2015
2:49 am - Hmm...
"One of the favourite activities of the human mind is to imagine what some day in the very distant future the world and mankind will look like, what scientific miracles will have been accomplished, what social problems will have been solved, how far science and social organisation will have progressed, and so on and so forth. The majority of these Utopias, however, do not omit to be very keenly interested in the question as to what in that better, more progressive, or at least technically more perfect world will happen to institutions which are ancient but perennially interesting like sexual life, reproduction, love, marriage, the family, women's problems, and so on. In this respect the reader is referred to the relevant literature, like Paul Adam, H.G.Wells, Aldous Huxley, and many others."

Karel Čapek - War With the Newts. 1936.

Not sure if it matters whether this is a satirical comment or not -- all those silly social problems that are not supposed to be part of SF... there's been talk for rather a long time about them being in there.

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Saturday, November 7th, 2015
6:15 am - The War With The Newts by Karel Čapek
This is the translation of a book written in 1936 - if the name of the author seems vaguely familiar it might be because he's the guy credited with the invention of the word robot (from the Czech for 'forced labour). Here again the basis of the story is social economics and a source of non-human labour, here however it is a genus of intelligent amphibians. The story of the Newts and human interactions with them is told through a historical viewpoint narrator, in three sections, with footnotes of scientific papers and newspaper cuttings and various episodic chapters and ends with the narration moving to a speculative conversation between the writer and himself on how the story ends beyond the rather bleak ending in the penultimate chapter. There are several actual characters involved, the major part perhaps being that of the porter who grants the slightly piratical sea captain who 'discovers' the newts access to a man of money. He is there at the beginning, takes pride in his creation of history during the middle, and has bitter regrets at the end. Along the way are the sea captain, the zookeeper, the rich kids, the holidaymakers, and a broad sweep of nations and politics.

The back of the book tells me that this is "a darkly humorous allegory of early twentieth-century Czech politics" but it sweeps wider than a single nation, and while the politics of the age (and more than the 30s) is essential to the story it's far wider than politics alone. And I'm not sure about ohe allegory bit, while I don't know enough about Czech history to rule it out it does feel more satirical. Nor is it entirely humerous... wrly in parts, but not laugh out loud funny, and in more than one place uncomfotably dark -- the descriptions of the science applied to the newts and newt in the fairground show, and the s-trade (both legal and piratical... though with an official unofficial blind-eye being turned) ... and the explanation of the stock exchange indexing of newt sales. There's absolutely no humour but sharp observatioon on cruelties we have accepted and in some cases continue to accept. There is science included, and I suspect the author was aware of the results of introducing rabbits to Australia - the newts have the same explosive population enlargement once men transport them around the world and provide them with the means to defend themselves from sharks (who presumably also fare badly by the end of the book).

This is not a book you have to read because it's a genre classic -- it's a book that should be read because it is extremely readable science fiction... and there's some pretty good science (for the day) in with the page-turning not-story (this is not a traditional narrative... being shaped more like a very readable popular history). The title tells you where the story will go, but it is a smart ride to get there, one which leaves you both aware of the crimes against the newts but without it being puppy-kicking... the puppies get very cruely treated, but every bit is believable and if I was writing my version now it probably would include much of what's in here. (I never got beyond the notes for the second set of EO books).

There are no more than a handful of female characters and those much as one might expect from a satire in an age where women are mainly wives (and a wanna-be film star and a socialite) but there is also a headmistress whose influence is pivotal in the start of educating the newts and there's a woman scientist in there (if not more than one) and the wife who is also a poetess... (there is at one point a mention that the influence of the newts causes modernist humans to drop the feminine endings from words). There are also not many featured male characters -- and I've seen plenty of history books with much less representation of what was happening with women.

Warning - the word Negro is used for black people, including black Americans... for anyone who can't read for the age it might be problematic. I should also point out that the newts of the story do not represent other races... American Negros, the Chinese, the Japanese, all have mentions... including American Negro Churches being attacked after the Negros object to newts being lynched and burned. Nor does the author only point out the sins of other nations -- the casual racism of the newts first champion and his interaction with the money-man... who is a Jewish boy he used to bully... are (I believe) deliberately uncomfortable observations (rather than, as with Lovecraft). The newts petty much experience ever crime the western world has inflicted on other men -- except extermination (and there's mention of the American Indians to cover that sin)

The one thing you can't avoid, though, is realising that some of the comments about Germany and war, are made about the past, but also being read post WW2 are no longer speculative warnings but seen from a-ways into he future. Somewhere around the time his book would have ended. Disturbingly, this doesn't make the book feel dated. Compared to some of the Nebula 7 short stories this is more like an alternative time-line story... or even a successful version of Pride and Prejudice with Zombies... If you like thinky stories that come from a seriously different POV, and can deal with the nihilism, this is for you.

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Monday, November 2nd, 2015
4:01 am - The Last Ghost by Stephen Goldin.
Having talked about the girl stories in Nebula 7 now it's the boys' turn.

The girl stories were mostly names I'd not really heard of or read before - four of the boy stories are by names I recognise. So of the total eleven stories I'd heard of five of the writers (and I will admit I'm more aware of Joanna Russ as the writer of How to Supress Women's Writing). Part of my personal name recognition is, perhaps, because I live in the UK and until the age of the internet could only shop in local bookshops (or on the occasional trip to London) . Mac, who was in charge of adult SF department ordering at WHSmith, did order in women writers - but I didn't buy that many mixed short story collections (because mixed collections are more likely to have total - personal - duds) so I would only have become aware of a writer if they wrote novels and were 'important' enough to be published in the UK (or have their books imported). Mac might not have been sexist (and also used to have little chats with the teenage me to discover which authors I wanted more of) but he was limited to what was available for order -- but even if further up the line there was a belief that women didn't write SF... there were women on the bookshelf for me to buy. And, I think, back in the seventies, more women available than there are now (with ever more limited and centralised ordering in all the chain shops).

Anyhow, first up in the volume is Queen of Air and Darkness by Poul Anderson . It won the novelette category of the nebulas (and was the winning novela in the Hugos... where Kathrine Maclean didn't make the short list). It's lead character is a Holmesian private detective and there's a mildly Shakespearean tone to the faerie characters. The detective's client is a woman who won't be put in her place and the ubervillain is the queen of the title (who may or may not actually be female). It's an excellent story about colonisation and literary archetypes. In the seventies the choice at the end would probably have been equal opportunity optimism, but today I'm more likely to think the colonists will choose the darker path.

Sky by R A Lafferty. Is a drug story. While the drug itself could be considered SF, perhaps, it is pretty much a fantasy story that ends where you think it will with just a little oddness along the way. It's a pretty enough read but there've been a lot of drugs stories over the years.

Mount Charity by Edgar Pangborn is well enough written but doesn't really hit any high notes for me. It also has the heavy late sixties/early seventies certainty that the younger generation would be better people than their parents. From four decades on that is either wryly amusing or heart-breaking. The story is also told at great distance with the characters trying to explain themselves in what is almost a framing story but without the picture in the middle. It's a set of ideas loosely knitted into a narrative which amounts to 'we'd like you to help us in our great work but... oops' (And the only female character was killed six hundred years earlier). And yes, it is one of those where you think it could be good and are disappointed.

Good News From The Vatican by Robert Silverberg is a story that shouldn't be past its sell-by date but is. It's built round the idea of a robot being elected to the Papacy and... well that's the entire story, a small cast of characters waiting for the announcement with some opposed and some for and... maybe because we have a black president of the US and maybe because challenging Catholisism is less of a potential hot-button issue, it doesn't really feel like a nebula winning story should, indeed the end feels a lot like a cop out.

Horse of Air by Gardner Doizis plays with tense a little... and starts out feeling as though it will go somewhere, but as I read on either I lost the plot or the plot lost itself. I am not, in general, fond of stories which throw in any form of 'it was all a dream' into the last paragraph... In many ways it struck me as a set of circumstances that the writer tugged into a middle but couldn't find an acceptably entertaining ending for. The patches that were added would work as social comment back then but don't have the supporting chords to strike now. And I don't think I'm sad about that :P

Heathen God by George Zebrowski is another very period piece... (think of movies like Silent Running and you get an idea of what I mean by period although this isn't an ecological story). We're back with religious comment and big wide questions about what happens when man kills god. It has an idea. It has a barely there female character who carries a briefcase for the POV character. As with pretty much all of the preceeding stories the characterisation is given less weight than the circumstances. This one is pretty much how you think it will go and hope it won't and does feel a lot like it is built round a single idea... one that doesn't seem like enough to carry the wordcount these days but may well have way back when.

As before I've used the title of my favourite story as the subject for the post. In this case, however, it wasn't a winner. The Last Ghost is a post-singularity story and it made me really feel for the main character. There are only two characters, one of indeterminant gender (a ghost that has forgotten almost all of itself) and a woman who has been part of the machine world for thousands of years and, due to an impossible glitch, has died. It is, even for a non-singularity fan/believer like myself... a heart-breaking story of human need. If you can find it and read it do so...

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Sunday, November 1st, 2015
3:37 am - Revenge of the Butternut Squash
(the moustache is a slug getting in early for a hot meal)

Last year the pumpkin scared the butternut squash (they were a Laurel and Hardy of fat fearsomeness and tall thin distress)... this year the butternut squash is taking revenge for that scare -- by eating the pumpkin alive! So internet.

There was a bunch more to this post -- me being particularly forthcoming about why I was nervous about doing my usual Halloween witchery and what convinced me to go ahead, and how the only fireworks of the night went off suddenly at the moment I lit the candle (not to any clock but my own) and how the sky was bright and noisy and then silent not just while I did the rest but until now.

I am sitting, wrapped in the smell of smoke, feeling mellow and at peace with my sadness. Mother was the only one who paid attention to this side of me (I can't imagine my brothers don't know but they don't talk about it - John frex drove me out to get something I needed from a particular tree but neither made a fuss nor asked why).

In the end any doubts I had about working magic while sad, and purposeless, and weak, were eased from me by a combination of my finder bringing back several lost things and a curious dream I had last night in which my mother came back to life - died again eight hours or so later -- then, after I was struck numb with grief again and wishing I'd spent less of that brief life questioning the miracle, she came back to her body once more and this time I knew to enjoy the hours, to spend the time wisely, and accept that there would be pain and uncertainty when she quietly faded away again.

Other than buying a lottery ticket with her numbers, today has been one of acceptance of the now and the what is. No answers, because I didn't ask any questions... I am not magically unsaddened, just wrapped in smoke and feeling the universe turn.

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Friday, October 30th, 2015
4:25 am - The Missing Man - Katherine Maclean
Having picked up a copy of Nebula Award Stories 7 (same charity bookshop) I started by reading the girls... and yes that's plural. The Nebula Awards featured here are for the year 1971, a year when (according to the introduction) 304 SF books were published against 269 the previous years, and the first tower of the World Trade Centre reached its final height. Also SF was gaining academic respectability, most SF magazines were losing circulation, and Apollo astronauts named a lunar crater 'Dune'. The Clarion writing workshop was held for a third year and Vonda N MacIntyre came second in the first New American Library annual prize contest.

There are 11 stories in the collection and (at least) 4 of them are by women. There always has to be some doubt when identifying women writers because sometimes the men turn out to be women writing under pseudonyms. And I can bring that up because some of Katherine Maclean's early stories were published under men's names.

I've noticed that quite a lot of the TV shows from the seventies are somewhat abbreviated compared to their modern counterparts. These days I suspect there would be a lot more scenes filmed and a lot fewer assumed with a line of dialogue (for proof -- there aren't many half-hour episodes of anything except sit-coms)

There's some evidence of that compression in these stories too. It doesn't really surprise that successful novellas were very often turned into novels -- there's always plenty of room for more without it becoming padded.

Joanna Russ's story 'Poor Man, Beggar Man' is somewhat more of a historical tale with ghosts (and the editor's introduction tackles why some of the stories are in an SF anthology with the kind of happy dismissal of complaint that would lead to epic fail wars now -- glorying in the genre's infinite variety is not entirely fashionable). Alexander is plagued by a ghost who leads him to the famous quote about weeping because there were no more worlds to conquer. The story would never make a favourites list for me, and Roxanne won't win any strong female character awards.

Doris Pitkin Buck wrote 'The Giberel'. A post-apocalyptic tale which touches on a few ideas I've met elsewhere in sixties/seventies era stories. There's a deliberate obscurity that I suspect would not win any fans now - frex which of the two kinds of people are human, or most human, or becoming human, or... The lead characters are female, and in amongst the world-building is a story that made me worry about what would happen.

Kate Wilhelm wrote 'The Encounter'. Her introductory paragraphs make a point that while she is married to Damon Knight her 'individuality is as distinctive as her writing'. She also, apparently, appeared on the ballot four times, which was a record at that time. (She didn't win a Nebula however). Her story features three women, although almost entirely through the eyes of a man whose judgement of others is continually questioned. Again I'm not sure any science fiction magazine would be able to take this story today... it being, maybe, a little bit horror and mostly a dissection of a man's character. Again it has a seventies style... which is harder to read and tends to slip from current events to the main character's various memories without so much as a line break of guidance. The ending is not open, but it does beg a few questions... and I wasn't entirely convinced by the slip back to Korea, as a source for his coldness, so as to make his fate deserved. I suspect if I was writing the story for myself I would have been happier to make the outcome an inevitable part of his journey (and possibly the writer did the same and was edited). It's a readable story that is a little rushed in the climax but has some very nice subtle character.

So to the nebula winning novella - The Missing Man. Which has only passing appearances by women, could do with the expansion I hope it got when it turned into a novel, and is the best of the girl stories. Seriously, it page turns, and has a wonderful moral uncertainty that I'm pretty certain is meant -- opportunistic terrorism by a kid who is fighting against a society that has a deal of freedom for those who can find jobs but requires people to pay to have their ability to have children restored. The title is also multiply meaningful, which I always like (and, okay, tend to like when my own titles turn out that way) -- the top layer being that the opportunity for terrorism arises when a group of outcast kids find themselves in possession of a grieving 'computer man' whose job is to predict the tiniest flaws in systems that can make, for example, an undersea city explode, and they (or more precisely one smart revolutionary) use his drugged ramblings in a cunning plan to turn the city on itself. It's a story with deep world-building (the kind that happens organically and grows around you until you're deep enough in to wonder who you'd be) and lots of neat ideas, and enough action that it would make a really neat movie. (Although it only has two disasters and no ticking clock at the end...) It's a story that hasn't aged badly (yes the mobile TV screens people have instead of books would be more like ipads, but they are not jarringly unlike ipads) It's a story that might even get published as SF now. And I really enjoyed it. Including that the lead character, George, is not the smartest man in the room, or the toughest, or the prettiest -- indeed no one looking at him would assume he would ever have a job (in a world where that means never having children or a place within most of the communities available). His 'handler', Ahmed, is a 'friend' from childhood, who sometimes has to be deliberately misled, and who becomes more likeable as the relationship unfolds but also more complicated. And it's a story which ends with an interesting philosophical position that is still relevant now, possibly more relevant. Liked it a lot.

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Monday, October 26th, 2015
2:07 am - Pride and Prejudice and Chipmunks. Part 3
I mentioned ignorance bordering on the offensive, didn't I...

The Orientalism squicked me a fair bit... but hit a peak where the housekeeper in charge of Mr Darcy's stately home is 'shuffling about' on bound feet. Leaving aside that Mr Darcy and his relatives are Japanese trained and look down on the Chinese traditions of martial arts, and that a servant with bound feet would have had to have them first broken and bandaged before she was seven years old, she could hardly start off as a housekeeper... and would be too crippled to rise through the ranks to that position. Might as well have thrown in that all the household's female servants were circumcised to stop them chasing after the young gentlemen of the family... Lotus -feet are not just a bit of orientalist scenery.

Anyhow, Elizabeth Bennet continually raving about killing people for imagined (or real) slights - so not having absorbed any of the philosophy of a martial art. Her physically assaulting Darcy to emphasise her rejection of his proposal. Mr Bennet worrying about marrying his daughter to a man who is merely her equal in the 'deadly arts' since unless she marries someone who is her superior the marriage is doomed. Elizabeth's acceptance of servants being beaten (in ways that in reality would kill) yahdah yaddah it's all in good fun. She repeatedly kills pairs of Lady Catherine's ninjas (including pulling out the heart of one) presumably as evidence that she's better at ninja-ing than the ninjas, but murdering oriental servants is again a laugh.

The climactic battle of the book is not against zombies but Elizabeth versus Lady Catherine (fifty years her elder) in fight to the death that... ends with both women surviving (although Lady de Bourgh does some of her best work with a knife in her guts).

After Lydia runs away Darcy cold-bloodedly (as part of the marriage agreement) beats Wickham into paraplegia -- and the book subsequently takes pleasure in the now 'lame' man soiling himself on multiple occasions. Indeed it suggests that he does so at times deliberately so as to punish Lydia... The bits about disability aids is also laugh out loud funny "whenever Wickham's studies required the purchase of a new hymnal for the lame, or lecturn for the lame, or altar for the lame; either Jane or herself were sure of being applied to for some little assistance towards discharging their bills."

It feels like there's a lot of low-level ism-ing that builds up through the book to the point where ignorance doesn't feel quite enough of an excuse for it.


I think I'm now defining a bad book by how many bookmarks for OMG NO I simply discard because I've already killed, behead, and buried the corpse of the book and there's only so much stomping you can do on the grave before you're actually churning the damned thing up again.

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2:00 am - Pride and Prejudice and Chipmunks. Part 2
I read on, slowly and painfully, regularly turning away to do just about anything else but read on... and got to the end.

It got worse. There's boring. There's boring and stupid. And then there's boring and stupid and ignorant bordering on offensive (which side of the border being a matter of opinion).

It's hard to illustrate boring, so let's go a little with stupid...

"... after a moment a second chipmunk scurried across the road with equal alacrity. It was followed in short order by a pair of weasels, then a skunk, then a fox and her pups. More creatures followed, and in ever increasing numbers; as if Noah himself beckoned, offering refuge from some unseen flood."

The glaring errors are Disney - chipmunks and skunks in the UK, foxes with pups not cubs... A large number of panic-stricken creatures running from zombies as if there was a forest fire. So let's stay with Disney, because Chip and Dale teach me that chipmunks climb trees. So do squirrels. When there's a predator in the woods the squirrels run up trees. If a zombie was capable of climbing a tree, which seems doubtful in this book, the squirrel would simply hop to the next tree, and the next. Why would a chipmunk run away from a predator on the ground and into the open if it can climb trees?

A writer can get away with stupid errors and dumb world-building if they're writing a page-turner... but it helps to make a book a page turner if you cut as much unnecessary stupid and dumb as possible.

Next up, probably the most vividly described bit of zombie mayhem, where some chewy zombie goodness actually happens...

"She kicked open the door and sprang atop the coach. From here Elizabeth could appreciate the full measure of their predicament, for rather than one hundred unmentionables, she now perceived no less than twice that number. The coachman's leg was in the possession of several zombies, who were quite close to getting their teeth on his ankle. Seeing no alternative, Elizabeth brought her sword down upon his thigh -- amputating the leg, but saving the man. She picked him up with one arm and lowered him into the coach, where he fainted as blood poured forth from his new stump. Sadly, this action prevented her from saving the second musket man, who had been pulled from hi perch. He screamed as the dreadfuls held him down and began to tear organs from his living belly and feast upon them. The zombies next turned their attention to the terrified horses. Elizabeth knew that she and the present party were all doomed to slow deaths if the horses should fall into Satan's hands, so she sprang skyward, firing her musket as she flew through the air, her bullets penetrating the heads of several unmentionables. She landed on her feet beside one of the horses, and with her sword began cutting down the attackers with all the grace of Aphrodite, and all the ruthlessness of Herod."

A little later the writer discovers the name 'Brown Bess' and uses that interchangeably with musket and the Brown Bess was indeed a military musket used during this period. It is not a musket that fires multiple 'bullets' without needing to be reloaded. Both servants, the middle-class Bennets and the super-rich Darcy carry Brown Bess muskets... in an age where the rich man's servants would more likely have fowling pieces, and he himself a finely made one-off (or a set, with matching powder horns). Amputating a man's leg with a single sword cut will not have saved him since she then allows him to bleed out. The two hundred zombies are clawing at the coachman's leg without paying attention to the horses until it becomes plot-worthy. If they don't want the horses until they've finished with the people, why do they not swarm Elizabeth and the coach before turning their attention? Why are the zombie hordes constantly referred to as being Satan's horde? Pride and Prejudice is set in the early 19th century not the 17th. Where the heck have 200 zombies come from, and how do they not overwhelm a single woman with a musket and sword, however high she can jump? Instead she drives them back, 'leaps into the driver's box', cracks the whip, and drives the horses forward... presumably through the regrouping zombies.

And yes, I have considered that it is meant to be funny... but if so it lacks any comic beats or timing thereof. There are sad bits of double entendre (over fingering and balls mostly) but they're pale ghosts of humour for a culture that's loved such lines since Chaucer.

Elizabeth makes a statement that she has travelled to the 'darkest reaches' of the Orient (aka China) twice it being 'frightfully long and fraught with bears'... and in case you'd thought it was metaphorical, she later repeats that she and Darcy will take their children to be trained via an overland journey.

Although why after fifty-five years anyone is still going abroad to learn rather than establishing training at any number of boarding schools... even if you allow that oriental martial arts make any sense in fighting shambling monsters who're demonstrably easy to trap (and there are men making money catching and delivering them to burning ground).

By page 200 the writer himself has tired of the zombies and they don't pop up again until the end of the book... where Darcy and Jane battle some who're crawling on the ground biting cauliflower heads (because they look like brains...)

Indeed, the level of zombie mayhem in the whole book made me think of Plants Vs Zombies a lot.

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