Monday, July 31, 2017

Feminism in Unexpected Places

I don't talk about being a feminist much - mostly because, unfortunately, some people have taken it away from my own definition of feminism (for example, I honestly despise some aspects of "radical feminism"). But the truth is, I am one. And I've been thinking this weekend about finding feminist messages in strange and unexpected places in media.

The Deadpool movie is a recent example - complete with non-sexualized teenagers (and female villains) and a guy in the exploitative "bearskin rug" pose.

But right now I'm thinking of a much older work that has a feminist message most people miss:


Yes, I do mean the musical based off of a silly poetry book about a bunch of cats. Which I finally got to see on Broadway (the current revival closes December 30, so if you happen to be in New's an excellent performance). I already knew the plot, I knew and had sung most of the songs, but nothing compares to seeing it on the stage.

Yes, that musical. That's basically a series of song and dance numbers with a thin plot as a framing mechanism.

Most, but not all, of the songs are taken from T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. The musical's signature song, Memory (covered over 150 times) is not, however. And the character who sings it, Grizabella, was cut from the original book for being too sad, with only a fragment of her poem surviving. The message behind her, thus, is entirely the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the director, Trevor Nunn, who wrote the extra lyrics.

The framing device used for the songs is that the leader of the Jellicle Cats, Old Deuteronomy, is selecting one cat to go to the Heaviside Layer (i.e. Heaven) and be reborn. At the Jellicle Ball, the case is made for various felines.

One of them is Gus the Theater Cat. Gus is the old, washed up actor, who mostly has only stories of his glory days but is, nonetheless, respected and adored as he talks at the stage door.

And the other, of course, is Grizabella the Glamor Cat. Who is shunned and despised by all of the cats. Why?

Because she's not beautiful any more.

Even as a child I sensed the unfairness, but I had to get into my twenties to understand what the unfairness was.

Gus is the old actor, respected even though he can't really do it any more.

Grizabella is...the former leading lady. Cats was first staged in 1981 - 36 years ago. And yet, we still see it going on. Harrison Ford looks fantastic, Carrie Fisher looked old and tired and sad. Women in Hollywood simply aren't allowed to age...once they do, they're put on the shelf and forgotten.

And yes, sometimes despised and hissed at.

Webber was, of course, a theater person. He had been writing musicals since 1965, although his first effort wasn't published until 2005. But he saw success in 1968 with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He must have known theater.

And he must have seen women pushed aside because they were too old. He must have seen the focus on looks.

So in Cats he takes Grizabella from a fragment of a poem, puts her center stage, shows us how she is treated and then literally sends her to heaven to be reborn.

But people still think it's a silly musical about cats.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Heading Out

Heading out of town for a small trip to New York to celebrate my 20th anniversary (and probably, because it's me, get in some research).

A couple of updates before I leave:

1. I've been confirmed as a guest for Farpoint Convention next February. The writer Guest of Honor will be, once more, Timothy Zahn - who's well worth seeing and hearing from.

2. The Equal Opportunity Madness anthology conceived a couple of years ago at Balticon is finally available as an ebook. Print books should be available soon. It contains my story "Golem." If you are coming to Farpoint and let me know well ahead of time I will take pre-orders. (I'm trying to save most of my luggage space for Lost Guardians books).

3. Lost Guardians #3 is progressing well. I don't have a launch date yet but am trying to get it done and available for, you guessed it, Farpoint.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Alternate History and This Thing With The Bad Guys Winning

Alternate timelines in which the bad guys win are starting to turn into the new vampires - the trend we've all seen enough of but which people are jumping on the coattails of nonetheless.

Unless you hide under a rock and avoid social media you'll have heard about the controversy of the new TV show Confederate, set in a world in which, ding, the South won the Civil War. And the explosion about it indicates just how done people are with it. (It doesn't help that the show is going to be run by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who's handling of GoT has not exactly been the best in terms of gender or race).

But it's not just that "Two white guys are making a show about slavery" - it's a symptom of the fact that people, right now, simply don't want stories in which the bad guys won. Even if it's alternate history. Agents of SHIELD experienced a 15% drop in audience three episodes in to their Agents of HYDRA arc, where the bad guys virtual reality.

And again, you'd have to be living under a rock not to hear just how done a large proportion of the Marvel fanbase are with Secret Empire...and were before it even started.

It doesn't help that the bad guys that keep winning are white supremacists, when a lot of people are starting to fear that they may be winning in real life too.

And maybe, just maybe, people are a little tired of dystopias in general? I don't know. But I do think that if you're considering writing a story in which the bad guys won (most especially an alternate history in which the South won the Civil War or Hitler won World War II) you might want to put it on the shelf right next to the novel I started about the Second Great Depression...right as the Great Recession started. Oops.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Is European Fantasy "Done"?

...well, in some ways it's more popular than ever, given the Game of Thrones TV show. But a lot of readers complain that all fantasy is set in Europe.

Truth is, what they actually mean is it's all influenced by Tolkein. And there's nothing wrong with that - the work of Elizabeth Moon, for example, shows that northern European fantasy can still be good. It can, however, be a little bit boring.

Lately, the push has been to go outside Europe for inspiration, but that then runs up against (in my mind stupid) arguments about cultural appropriation and stereotyping.

Well, back in 1992, Lois McMaster Bujold (better known for the Vorkosigan Saga) wrote a book which shows there's still plenty of space in Europe.

The Spirit Ring is a true historical fantasy - it's history written as if magic was real. And it's set in...Renaissance Italy.

This is a brilliant choice. Southern Europe seldom shows up in either historical or secondary world fantasy. Take note, kids - and consider Spain, Italy or even Greece as setting or inspiration.

On top of that, Bujold's female lead, Fiametta, is...

She's black Italian. Her mother came from Africa - but was never a slave, and Fiametta is treated no differently from other women of her class. She's also a nice, strong female character who never, at any point, comes off as a "guy with breasts."

I got my copy second hand at a convention, but I've checked, the book IS available, although the hardcovers available are mostly in only decent condition, so I was glad to get mine.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Deborah Watling

I'm not happy to be talking about Doctor Who again - not happy at all.

One of the things I've missed about the new series is the avoidance of multiple Companions. When we did get them, we had lovers (Amy and Rory) or characters who barely seemed to know each other (Bill and Nardole).

The first Doctor had no less than three Companions (the word assistant was also used, but fandom dropped it a lot more quickly than many people think).

The second also had more than one, and, for 40 episodes in 1967 and 68 (remember, 25 minute episodes), he had two - Jamie and Victoria.

Deborah Watling played Victoria Waterford, the girl of the pairing (she was only 19 at the time, and the character was 14-15 years old). She was "rescued" by the Doctor after her father was killed by Daleks. The dynamic between the three was very close to a family. She returned to 1960s Earth to live a normal life - leaving Jamie bereft of his "kid sister."

Oh, and she was from the 19th century (another artificial limitation of NuWho is the lack of companions from the past, unless you count Me). Like a lot of early Companions she had a bad habit of screaming a lot (a tradition I'm glad NuWho has dropped).

She was the Companion hardest hit by the BBCs policy of not keeping episodes - only just over half of her episodes have been found so far.

In addition to Doctor Who Watling (who was the British equivalent of a high school dropout) also played Alice - as a nod to that Who established that Vicki was, at one point, photographed by Charles Dodson) and was prominent in The Newcomers in 1969. She was originally a child actor, making her first TV appearance at the age of 9...and her last in the Five(ish) Doctors in 2013.

She was only 69 years old.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

If you...

...have more time than I do, NASA just did one of their infamous mass uploads. This time, it's hundreds of historical aerospace videos. 500 videos of experimental flight including early space shuttle type. I think I'm going to have to walk away now.

The videos are coming from the Armstrong Flight Research Center. And they include blowing up a Boeing 720.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017


A Republican Congressman asked NASA if it was true there was a civilization on Mars thousands of years ago.

I realize he's a Republican but really, Dana Rohrabacher, do your basic research before asking scientists stupid questions in public. ;) (Okay, at some levels, there's no such thing as a truly stupid question, but...)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Because I did promise.

So, I saw it this weekend. And it wasn't the best superhero movie I've ever seen.

What it was, was the best young adult superhero movie I've ever seen.

And that matters, because the superhero universe, on the whole, caters poorly to the middle grade and young adult audience. Kids grow out of all ages comics and seldom have anything to grow into. Ms Marvel is without a doubt the best YA comic right now, but it has very little competition.

Homecoming was a true YA movie. I've complained in the past about "YA creep" - the tendency to classify anything with a protagonist so much as a day under 18 as YA whether it is or not. Hunger Games being a classic example.

Peter is fifteen - and looks and acts fifteen. He has to deal with teenaged problems - being teased and bullied, sneaking out of the house, finding a date to Homecoming. Being neither a child nor an adult. Not being taken seriously.

He's also fighting bad guys. But the superheroics is spliced in neatly with what closely resembles a classic 80s high school comedy. (Watch for the mascot). It's a fun movie. You get to see Spidey learning to be a hero and learning to improve his classic banter. And getting things dropped on him, of course.

I have to give this movie kudos for knowing what it needed to be.

I also have to give them some major diversity points - and not just for casting Zendaya to play MJ (she actually looked great except for not being ginger).

No, this movie did background diversity right in a world where so many movies are doing it wrong. The kids in the school looked like I would expect kids at a magnet school in New York to look - a great mix of white, black, Asian, etc. It felt right and looked realistic rather than the checklisting that's becoming sadly prominent (claims of "forced diversity" are 99% BS, but some people really do make their diversity look forced). And, of course, we didn't have the "There's one black kid in Smallville and it's Pete Ross" phenomenon.

Oh, and it's full of easter eggs - the black guy on the bad guys' team is Miles Morales' uncle (which I missed because I've never tracked Morales that much). Two Deadpool jokes - one in dialog and one in the end credits. And if that white haired girl seen a couple of the times in the background isn't Felicia Hardy they're wasting the actor.

So, yes. A lot of fun.

Watch for the mascot.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Lady Versions - Gender, Doctor Who, Thirteen and Role Models

So - I was going to write a review of Spider-Man: Homecoming today. You'll get that tomorrow because the BBC decided to rather abruptly distract me.

This is the face of Thirteen:

This is Jodie Whittaker - from Huddersfield, Yorkshire, and previously known for Attack The Block and Broadchurch. I've never actually seen either of those. So, I can't judge her as an actor, not fairly. I've been looking at Youtube clips of some of her past roles - the BBC has a little compilation here.

The thing that strikes me about the clips I've seen is her control over her body language, probably because she's done a lot of theater work. For a physically demanding role, that's important. She moves differently when she's acting than when she's herself in a very obvious way.

But, of course, the reactions have been many, varied, and not all of them positive. I don't think there's been more hate over the casting than there was over Matt Smith (Too young!) or Peter Capaldi (Too old!) - but it has been more intense hate. The Doctor Who groups on Facebook have been full of some pretty nasty comments. Memes with Capaldi's face and "The Last Doctor." "The only reason for a female doctor is feminism". Comments about the Doctor was designed as a role model for boys. Jokes about not being able to park the TARDIS (Which are hilarious because the Doctor has NEVER been able to park the TARDIS correctly). Nurse Who jokes. "It makes it less science fiction" was probably the one which offended me the most.

The winner, of course, is "Nobody wants a TARDIS full of bras." Which Don Sakers pointed out rhythms perfectly with "Yellow submarine." As in "We all live in a TARDIS full of bras." Because I've been suffering with that since yesterday, so you have to too.


Is there a legitimate complaint about a female Doctor?

There's one - it takes away a male role model who is not traditionally or toxically masculine. The Doctor has always subverted masculinity. Always. His weapon is a screwdriver - what are screwdrivers used to do? Make things. Build things. He defeats his enemies with words combined with sheer grit and determination. He eschews guns and swords. And...they have a point. They have a very good point. We do need those kinds of role models - but it highlights something else.

I was a little girl. And as a little girl I sought role models on screen. You know what?

Most of them were male.

The first female character I actually wanted to be was Emma Peel. I don't remember many others. The women in the shows I watched were often sidekicks. They were Companions, they were the Amazing Friends not the Spider-Man. So, who did I look up to? I looked up to Spider-Man, my first superhero "love." The boys of International Rescue, because who actually wanted to be Lady Penelope. Superman. Luke Skywalker - oh, I loved Leia, but I could tell she wasn't the lead. Spock - more than Kirk - because as cool as Uhura was, as a little girl I didn't understand how important her role as xenolinguist was.

And, of course, the Doctor.

Little girls have historically had to look up to male role models (even worse for little girls who aren't white).

Little boys have the luxury of not having to do that.

And little boys who never look up to women, respect them, and learn from them turn into men who don't respect women either.

So, yes, it's a good point, but: Little boys need to learn to look up to Thirteen.

And how do they learn?

The key to doing this right is going to be...the Companion. We don't know who will be chosen yet. But...and I know some feminists will howl at me for this because some already are howling about how the departure of Pearl Mackie is because "we can't have two female leads" needs to be a boy.

It needs to be a boy who learns to look up to the Doctor, to respect her, and shows little boys that looking up to a woman does not emasculate you.

(And for ratings' sake should be reasonably attractive so the young heterosexual women have somebody to drool over, which was one of the issues with Capaldi).

But I hope Chibnall is thinking about this - and I hope that whoever the Companion is they keep the balance.

Oh, and if the negative comments above depress you, here are some points to cheer you up.
1. Alex Kingston wants to come back to hit on her as River Song *ducks*
2. Colin Baker is over the moon because he thinks his daughters will love this.
3. Little girls squeeing in happiness.
4. LOTS of little girls squeeing in happiness.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Okay, People

Quantum teleportation is not:

1. The physical movement of any matter.
2. A precursor to matter transmitters.
3. Anything that can remotely lead, dear BBC-who-knows-better to teleporting people.

Quantum teleportation is:

1. A remarkably secure way to move information.

Also. Sunday Sunday Sunday...

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Guess Who...

So, I went over my picks for the next Doctor back in February. We still don't know who it is.

Neither, mysteriously, does Rachel Talalay, who directed the Christmas Special - which should, per tradition, end with a regeneration scene. So, where is Thirteen?

And who is Thirteen?

A lot of people want it to be Phoebe Waller-Bridges, but unless she's secretly a superfan I can't see her giving her up her own show that she writes to be the Doctor.

But by using that little titbit of Thirteen not being present on set, I applied a bit of logic and came up with a reasonable guess as to who it is.

My educated guess, which is logical and thus probably wrong is:

Richard Ayoade.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tips To Avoid Scammy Publishers

A follow-up to yesterday - here are a few things to watch for when submitting to small presses:

1. Publishers do not exist to help aspiring writers. They may have that as part of their goal, but publishers exist to help readers. If the website focuses on "helping writers" then that means writers, not readers, are their customers. This is a classic sign of the stealth vanity press - the publisher that only attaches a dollar amount to the contract when they send it to you.

2. As I said yesterday, look at the publishers' product. I recommend buying two books - one in your electronic format of choice and one in print (if they do print). Is the quality acceptable? How many typos - a couple are acceptable, a lot are not? What does the layout look like?

3. Look at their existing authors. How many do they have? If it's only two and three and more than one have the same last name - I suggest waiting rather than risking on what's obviously a self publisher moving into publishing other people. Some people have made that leap successfully. Most fail.

4. Do not sign over rights the publisher will not be exercising. I.e., do not sign over the audiobook rights unless the publisher does audiobooks and has a strong history of doing them right. Try to keep as many of your rights as you can. Never sign over the copyright.

5. Make sure the contract has some kind of sunset/reversion clause. A good publisher will have periodic opportunities to renegotiate the contract. Look also for a way to get your rights back if the book isn't selling. What if the company goes out of business.

6. Do not sign a non-compete unless it is very limited. It is good manners not to release your self-published book the same month as the one your publisher is doing, but saying you won't release anything for a couple of years? That's too much. If the publisher wants first refusal on your next book, make sure that is time limited - give them X days (90 is standard, but 60 is better) to consider it rather than letting them sit on it.

(Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and cannot give actual legal advice. This is based on the experiences of myself and others).

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Recent Reads

So, I won a book raffle at Balticon and have finally got through my, uh, winnings.

First up, Bud Sparhawk's collection "Non-Parallel Universes." I admit to bias here. Bud is not just a fantastic writer of short stories but fun to hang out with in convention bars. I already owned some of the stories in this collection, due to his regular contributions to Analog, but some were new to me. All excellent, as always.

Second - The Biggest Bounty by Brian Koscienski and Chris Pisano. I was quite skeptical about this book - it's not exactly serious and I keep my funny bone in a very odd place. So I was delighted and surprised to find I loved it. It's basically the same tone and feel as Guardians of the Galaxy - so I highly recommend it to GotG fans.  It's about two less than competent bounty hunters bumbling their way towards...well, yeah. The biggest bounty ever.

Third - Three short novels by Diana Bastine. I did these, I swear, in the order I read them. I liked the look of these - Source, Shapeshifter, and Selkie. They focus on fairies, which I am inordinately fond of.

I was...profoundly disappointed.

First of all, the print layout of these books was literally the worst I'd ever seen. I know mine's not great (Uh, yeah, I do know there should be headers) but I don't double space. Or leave Word artifacts in the book. To be fair, it was remarkably clean and typo-free, but the layout was terrible. Brief research indicated that it was even worse than I thought. Bastine's publisher, Helm Publishing, appears to be a vanity press. Assuming I have the right Helm Publishing, and I think I do, the publisher has two thumbs down from Writer Beware. Now, Bastine has got her rights back and the books will be re-released. I don't know what happened, of course. I do know that the layout is too shoddy for any publisher to put their name to. But I'm inclined to see Bastine as a victim of the desire to be published.

Second, unfortunately, I found Bastine's knowledge of fairies to be insufficient (Most especially, she doesn't seem to know the difference between Tuatha de Danaan and Cait Sidhe). If you aren't bothered by that the way I am, the books are fun, and hopefully the new versions (apparently e-only) won't have the layout issues these do. And she does get diversity points for having same sex couples and treating them as pretty much normal (except for the homophobic bad guy, of course :P). But I found it very hard to get past the layout issues.

Tip #1: Never pay to be published.
Tip #2: If you are signing with a publisher, get your hands on their finished print books so you know they make a quality product.

At the same time, I acquired "If We Had Known" - a science fiction anthology of "cautionary tales" by e-Spec books. To end on a good note, this book was also excellent and enjoyable and I highly recommend it. (I figured it would be from the names in the TOC, but...)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Fingers Crossed

Virgin Galactic is about to resume powered testing after the 2014 crash that killed one test pilot and injured another. They say they will be on track to test the VSS Unity this fall.

Fingers crossed for no more problems and a safe return to flight!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Toxic Planet

Turns out the surface of Mars is even more hazardous than we thought.

We knew perchlorates in Martian soil were deadly. It turns out they're even more deadly when combined with straight up UV light...likely rendering the Martian surface completely uninhabitable. This doesn't mean there's no life, though.

It's just likely to be life IN Mars, not life ON Mars.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Check out...

NASA's amazing images of Jupiter's Great Red Spot. Which we're studying before it, well, ends. The storm is shrinking rapidly - and while it has been around since at least 1830, it's still a hurricane. No storm lasts forever.

Juno will pass over the storm at 7:06pm PDT on July 10 - giving us the closest look at the storm yet.

Find some of the images here:

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


...chocolate? Seriously? What's the point of that?

Oh man, it's even worse. It has all those "energy" herbs. Don't do it, people. Here, have a Hershey's bar.

In more serious news - the FLASH! anthology is currently on schedule for a late July or early August launch - thank you to everyone who backed the kickstarter.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Secrets of Rome

I have to admit - I have something of a fascination with ancient Rome. At this point we've regained most of their technology and, of course, gone past it in many areas.

But there's one thing Rome was still better at: Sea walls.

And with climate change, we need good sea walls. The secret? The Romans worked out to make concrete that chemically reacts with seawater - in a way which makes the concrete stronger.

Of course, it'll probably take years to work out the full formula, but if we can - well, Roman concrete didn't need to be reinforced (and it's the metal reinforcements that fail, in most cases), didn't erode over time...


It just so happened that the minerals they need were plentiful in volcanic soil...

Monday, July 3, 2017

Heroes Wear Masks

I've been doing a fair bit of work for this line, including this:

Heroes Wear Masks 5th Edition

And, as a companion:

HWM Powers 5E Version

These books are intended for diehard D&D fans that want to do a superhero game using a familiar system. I do recommend getting the Powers book as well as it allows much more flexibility.