Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #21

Review: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

By Chris M. Barkley:  

Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (****, 2017) with Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew and Joonas Suotamo, Oscar Isaac, Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern, Gwendolyn Christie, Billie Lourd, Donhall Gleeson and Lupita N’yongo.  Written and Directed by Rian Johnson.

December 13th, Wednesday Morning, 3:15 AM.

I am wide wake in bed, on my back.

One of our cats, Luna, is lying quietly on my tummy, looking at me expectantly.

She peers at me, I look back at her.

I don’t have to be a Jedi to know what she’s is thinking; she’s thinking if stays there long enough, her six pound weight on my bladder will induce me to go to the toilet and her ensuing mewing will lead me to turn on the bathtub tap, where she will happily lap up something resembling mineral water from the faucet.

Luna, the 3 AM rambler.

Me? I’m thinking about The Last Jedi.

I’m thinking about the tickets for the advanced screening that I purchased a month ago and cleverly hid in our townhouse, JUST IN CASE OF A HOME INVASION, don’t cha know.

Eventually, Luna admits defeat and leaves. I roll over and happily dive back into dreamland.

Avoiding spoilers, specifically involving Star Wars films, has been a tradition with me since The Phantom Menace (1999). For the past year and a half, I have been dodging rumors, possible storylines, memes, photos and especially those dreaded trailers, popping up unexpectedly during my favorite shows and sporting events. My partner, Juli, became very amused at my efforts to mute the tv and cover my eyes to avoid spoilers.

I admit that these feeble attempts to recapture the stunned feeling of being enraptured in the sights, sounds and fury of my first viewing of Star Wars in the Uptown Theater on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington DC on Memorial Day weekend in 1977.

But, deep down, I know I am being naïve about this; I have stumbled across some little bits of information about The Last Jedi by accident or happenstance so there is really no real way to recapture that initial thrill of discovery.

I know that some of my close friends and acquaintances have openly declared they are not bothering to see The Last Jedi because they are tired of the relentless hype, the good vs. evil plotlines or of the odious nature of Walt Disney Company (who purchased Lucasfilm Ltd in 2012 for four billion dollars).

The Last Jedi premiered in Los Angeles this past weekend and in London yesterday, December 13th. And this evening, I, along with several dozen moviegoers, saw it for the first time, in 3-D, no less…

“THIS isn’t going the way you THINK is it!”
Luke Skywalker

As foreshadowing goes, the quote above perfectly sums up The Last Jedi. Needless to say, NOTHING goes according to plan for anyone concerned and deeper you go into the film, the more uncertain the outcome becomes.

None of the Star Wars previous films, even the worst of them, has been about holding back emotions or having a restraining story narrative. But this difference with this film is that characters matter here and their motivations and actions match the roller coaster plot.

Episode Eight’s writer/director, Rian Johnson starts out with a few simple plots that quickly branch out into several different directions: Rey (Daisy Ridley) has come seeking Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) for guidance with her newly found powers and has some trouble convincing him to help her. General Leia’s (the late Carrie Fisher) challenge is to lead her remaining Resistance forces to safety after being discovered by the forces of the First Order.

The situation proves to be so desperate that Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and a new-found friend, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) undertake a dangerous (and unauthorized) side mission to save the rebel fleet.

Meanwhile, Ben Solo (Adam Driver) is trying to find a way out of the First Order doghouse after his previous failures enrage Snoke (Andy Serkis), much to the amusement and disdain of General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson).

There are some thrilling moments of revelations that are balanced out with battles sequences, cliffhangers and, surprisingly enough, some of the best character developments since the first set of films.

Also worth noting are performances by Laura Dern as a loyal Resistance Admiral and Benicio del Toro as a shady underworld thief.

The Last Jedi is a big, long, heartwarming and heartbreaking epic that will take your breath away too many times to count. At 152 minutes it is the longest film in the series and, dare I say it, one of the best.

It is memorable in every way possible. I have a feeling you’ll be seeing it several times. I know I will be!

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #20

The Pre- Last Jedi Fall Movie & TV Roundup

By Chris M. Barkley:

Replicants are like any other machine. They’re either a benefit or a hazard. If they’re a benefit, it’s not my problem.” Rick Deckard, Blade Runner

Blade Runner (1982, ****) with Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Joanna Cassidy. Screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, Based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, Directed by Ridley Scott. Bechdel Test: Failed.

I have seen Blade Runner only twice, once during its initial theatrical run and The Final Cut, a 2007 DVD release that director/producer Ridley Scott personally oversaw. It has to be said that for a 35-year-old film, it holds up incredibly well.

Nestled down in 27th place on the 1982 list of box office films, making almost $34 million on a $27 million dollar budget, Blade Runner was considered a financial failure at the time. It might have fallen into obscurity, had it not been hailed as a cinematic masterpiece by film critics, movie fans and the sf community at large.

Visually, Blade Runner has never been more dazzling. Scott, following up Alien, teamed with Douglas Trumbull, Richard Yuricich, and David Dryer and production design by Lawrence G. Paull created a rather environmentally dark, nightmarish backdrop which the director once called “Hong Kong on a very bad day.”

The removal of Deckard’s voice over narration and the addition of an ambiguous ending vastly improve the Final Cut over the previous six versions that were made before 2007.

It was the consensus opinion at the time that Rutger Hauer practically stole the film acting-wise with his portrayal of Roy Batty. And as far as I’m concerned his performance still rather iconic, but the real surprise is Harrison Ford, who wisely underplays and grounds Rick Deckard in reality, which actually helps contrast his character with Batty’s. Each is desperate in their own way, Batty to extend his and fellow replicant’s lives and Deckard, who simply wants to survive in the endlessly grimy, nightmarish dystopia.

As Deckard hunts the fugitive replicants, the theme of identity and humanity is weaved throughout the narrative; are humans like Deckard (whom I firmly believe is human) becoming less so? Or are replicants, programmed to be as human as possible, are more so than their masters? These are the questions that will mark Blade Runner as an enduring classic for years to come.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017, ***1/2) with Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoekes, Screenplay by Hampton Francher and Michael Green, Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Bechdel Test: Fail.

As one of 2017’s most intriguing and anticipated films, Blade Runner 2049 had an almost impossible pedigree to live up to; the 1982 sf classic film Blade Runner. And for the most part, director Denis Villeneuve, producer Ridley Scott, screen writers Hampton Francher and Michael Green and cast, succeeded.

Ryan Gosling plays a Nexus-8 blade runner named K, charged with running down and ‘retiring’ renegade replicants still roaming free on Earth. When K finds a long-buried body on a routine mission, the discovery comes to the notice of Niander Wallace, a reclusive billionaire who now owns the Tyrell Corporations assets. As K’s superior Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) orders him to quietly investigate of the homicide, Wallace dispatches his murderous replicant aide-de-camp, Luv (Sylvia Hoekes) to recover the remains and monitor K’s every move…

Director Denis Villeneuve, cinematographer Roger Deakins and producer Ridley Scott spared no expense to recreate and expand upon the environs of Blade Runner; from the even darker, damper city streets of Los Angeles, the lonely hydroponic farms of the countryside to the desolate landscape of the dead city of Las Vegas, Blade Runner 2049 is filled with a series of stunning images that enhances the story.

The questions regarding the humanity of replicants go even deeper here, as KD9-3.7 (later renamed Joe) seems to be content running down replicants equal to or lesser than him. We see that he is given a certain latitude in his activities off duty, which includes a salary, a place to live and a virtual girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armas), who, we are led to believe is there solely to mollify himself. The trade-off is that K is rigorously tested with a modified “Voigt-Kampff” test on a regular basis, which measures the safety parameters of his programming. K’s treatments during the tests are compelling, brutal and chilling.

But Blade Runner 2049 has a flaw that prevents me from declaring it as an equal to its progenitor and that’s its portrayal of women. The images of women, as objects of searches, whims and desires of the male protagonists dominate the core of the film and not in a good way. As an example, it fails the Bechdel when two women in authority have a conversation, but it’s only about a male protagonist. It’s also rather sad not to see any LGBTQ representation in the year 2049, because we know they are not going to vanish, even in a eco-dystopia presented here.

While Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoekes do excellent work, the real revelation here is Harrison Ford, who gives an Oscar caliber performance as an older, more grizzled and haunted Rick Deckard.

The underlying mystery (which I will not spoil here) sets up a seemingly insolvable conflict between humans and replicants, and remains an open question by the end of the film. Will there be more? Only time will tell. The ambiguous ending presented actually works. But, if there is more of a story to tell, I’m sure we won’t have to wait another thirty-five years.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, (2017, ***1/2) with Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Oliver Platt and Connie Britton. Written and Directed by Angela Robinson. Bechdel Test: Pass!!!!!

I think if the Merchant-Ivory production company were to make a film about the three creators of Wonder Woman, it would look EXACTLY like this.

This film is a recounting of the intertwined lives of William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and their mutual muse/lover Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) and the creation of an American icon.

Given the era in which they engaged in what was considered then as being unconventional and scandalous, writer-director Angela Robinson dials back to more titillating aspects of their relationship and, in a tasteful and restrained manner, focused more on the practical (and problematic) aspects of how they lived and loved together. The most fascinating aspects of the film, to those paying VERY close attention, is spotting the few vital elements in the troika’s lives that slowly coalesce into the eventual creation of Wonder Woman.

Angela Robinson’s screenplay was based on her own research and is in many ways, historically inaccurate in some instances to serve the dramatic purposes of the film. But if you want a truer version of their story, pick up a copy of Jill Lepore’s 2014 book The Secret History of Wonder Woman (Vintage, 2015.)

If a film like Hidden Figures can be nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, I can only hope that those same nominators can extend the same courtesy to Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, because it will certainly have a place on honor on my ballot.

Stranger Things 2 (2017, nine episodes, ***1/2) with Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalie Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Cara Buono, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink, Joe Keery, Dacre Montgomery, Matthew Modine, Sean Astin and Paul Reiser. Created by Matt and Ross Duffer. Bechdel Test: Passed.

When we last left our favorite dimension-busting heroes, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) has been rescued from the “Upside Down” by his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour), Will’s best friends, Mike, Dustin and Lucas (Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin) were saved from an “other side” were-beast by supergirl Eleven (Mille Bobby Brown), various teenage, angst driven subplots (except for poor Barb) were resolved and the world was saved.

And if you believe THAT, I’ve got a slightly used Correllian freighter I wanna sell you.

Season two picks up more than a year later, at Halloween. While the majority of the town of Hawkins, Indiana prepares for trick or treat:

Will is still suffering PTSD (and more) from his time from the “Upside Down”.

Sheriff Hopper is harboring Eleven in a remote location in an attempt to shield her from the outside world, with mixed results.

Eleven discovers a secret Hopper has been keeping from her which leads to other devastating revelations.

Some new kids, a mysterious step brother and sister (Dacre Montgomery and Sadie Sink) hit town and are responsible for some rampant speculation.

Is Joyce’s nerdy new boyfriend Bob, who works at the local radio Shack, too good to be true?

The “Department of Energy’s” new head of management looks eerily like that corporate weasel in 1986’s Aliens, which, strangely enough, still two years away from being released in this timeline.

Barb’s parents hire a conspiracy theorist (Murray Bauman) to find out what happened to her.

Dustin acquires a “pet”.

And there is a bigger and badder menace lurking on the other side of the “Upside Down” that is actually BIGGER and BADDER!

The problem with any sort of sequel is whether or not it can equal or surpass its progenitor. It’s very clear the creators of Stranger Things, writer-directing twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, know their genre tropes, the cultural history of the 1980’s (when they were kids themselves), their characters and what sort of story they want to tell.

The cast not only interact well together (as their Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series can attest), you can sense that they are having a great time doing it.

Some critics and viewers have expressed dismay or anger in particular about Episode Seven, “The Lost Sister”, which, I will say not to present too much of a spoiler, is Eleven centric. As a viewer and a fan, I felt that this particular part of the story was ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for Eleven to find out and experience for herself, in order for the character to continue her journey towards understanding herself. It also happens to be, in my opinion, the best single episode of Stranger Things (so far).

Netflix has greenlit Season Three for next year and the Duffer Brothers have stated that they have a fourth and final season on the drawing boards. The whole world will be waiting and watching for what comes next. I’m betting it will be even more amazing than we can possibly imagine.

Thor: Ragnarok, (2017, ****) with Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Idris Elba, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Jeff Goldblum and Anthony Hopkins. Screenplay by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost based on The Mighty Thor created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Larry Lieber. Directed by Taika Waititi.

Among all of the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is generally agreed that the Mighty Thor is easily one of the most pompous and boring member of the Avengers.

Oh, there is no doubt the first film and The Dark World were very competent, workman like adventures that ably fill in Thor’s backstory, establishes Asgardian history and advances the MCU storyline forward. But let’s face it; Chris Hemsworth is great looking while kicking everyone’s ass and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki practically steals every scene he’s in.

So it was (for a while at least) a real head-scratcher when the first trailers and promotional ads came out, viewers were inclined to laugh out loud at the antics from the cast. But title of the film, the old Norse term “Ragnarok” roughly meaning doomsday, suggests some dire events are in store for Thor and company.

And indeed things are quite dire as the film opens; Odin is missing from Asgard thanks to Loki’s treachery and Thor strong arms him into a search, which in turn leads to an amusing cameo by Doctor Strange (as played by a slightly bemused Benedict Cumberbatch) and touching, but entirely too brief reunion with Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Then Hela, the goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) shows up and all hell breaks loose. Then there’s the matter of the Hulk popping up unexpectedly, wanting to beat our hero’s face in as hard as possible.

Had Ragnarok been handled with a straight and narrow narrative, it would have been another ordinary action film bridging the lead up to the inevitable showdown with Thanos. So, Marvel think tank called an audible on the line of scrimmage and subversion became the order of the day.

Yes, Ragnarok is devastatingly funny but also leavens the humor with tragedy and a tinge of regret. The cast eagerly takes up the challenge and delivers performances swing between being dramatic and self-deprecating that dance up to the line of parody but never crosses it.

Besides the screenwriters, New Zealand director Taika Waititi is mainly responsible for injecting the rather wry and scathing sense of humor this movie needed.

The result is that Ragnarok can be ranked among the best of the sixteen MCU films. See it!

Justice League, (2017, ***1/2) with Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds and Henry Cavill. Screenplay by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, Story by Chris Terrio and Zack Snyder, based on Justice League of America created by Gardner Fox. Directed by Zack Snyder (with Joss Whedon). Bechdel Test: Passed.

I have no doubt that a lot have you have heard that the Justice League movie sucks. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 43% rating. NPR’s Bob Mondello said “nice try”. Rolling Stone said it was loud, noisy fun. The Hollywood Reporter said it was “ugly and boring” while Uproxx opined that what this movie really needed was Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins.

And, in the interests of full disclosure, I’ve been a reader and a fan of the Justice League of America ever since my cousin Michael first placed a copy of August 1966 issue (number 46, if you’re scoring at home) in my hands on a hot summer afternoon.

Well, surprise, I didn’t like Justice League, either.

I LOVED IT!

Sure, it had a basic plot that bears more than a few similarities with the first Avengers movie; the Earth is being menaced by an alien invasion. But the strength of the film (as it was in The Avengers) is the story of how a group of heroes who are basically loners, come together.

Set just after the tragic death of Superman, the world not only mourns, but seems to be coming apart at the seams. Between random acts of terrorism and encounters with alien para-demons, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) seek out to recruit some super-powered help; a lightning fast speedster (Ezra Miller), a cyborg enhanced with alien technology (Ray Fisher) and the King of Atlantis (Jason Momoa).

The screenplay, by director Zach Snyder, Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon doesn’t make it easy for them to come together as a team, but when they do, it is a thing of cinematic beauty. The direction, split between Snyder and Avengers alum Whedon, hits all the right notes at precisely the right time.

Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck anchor the film with their performances, but they give enough space to the newcomers, and they shine. Making Ezra Miller’s Flash a nerdy motor mouth (as he’s portrayed in numerous animated renditions) was a safe, but smart move. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is a bit of an enigma, but his character seeming leaves plenty of room to explore in future adventures. But the real revelation in Justice League is Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, giving a forceful, swaggering, in your face, breakout role that will permanently put to rest all those countless putdowns comedians have heaped on the character for decades.

In the days since the opening, I have read many critical reviews of Justice League that have lambasted the story structure, the “lame” villain, the preponderance of CGI effects, the Amazon warriors costumes, Henry Cavill’s troublesome upper lip (oops, SPOILER!) and a host of other nit-picking details. What a majority of them consistently fail to realize or acknowledge is that DC movies are not Marvel movies and vice-versa. I have been admiring Justice League and other DC films for what they are, not what other people think they should be.

By the way, it might be a GOOD IDEA to stick around to the VERY end of the credits, just as you would for the other guy’s films because you might miss an item or two that may interest you. Just Sayin’…

Mari Brighe: Statement on Windycon 2017 and the “Tutti Frutti” controversy

[Reblogged from the author’s site by permission.]

By Mari Brighe: As someone who writes about LGBTQ issues and feminism professionally, I’m fairly used to finding myself embroiled in controversy, whether in digital spaces or otherwise. Something I never expected, however, was to find myself in the center of a imbroglio as bizarre as the happenings at Windycon this past weekend. A whole lot of unclear wording has lead to a whole lot of over-the-top drama, and it would honestly have been my preference to not engage with any of this at all. However, the pitch of the conversation within certain circles of the fannish community has more or less forced my hand, and this is my accounting of my part in this whole hullabaloo.

Here’s the story, from my side.

Before the panel

I’m someone who has been in and around science-fiction conventions for almost a decade, primarily in the Detroit and Chicago areas. I’ve been doing panels at conventions for about four years now, and I’ve probably done 50+ panels at this point, primarily on diversity issues. I’ve been a panelist at Windycon in particular on a several prior occasions, and I submitted to be a panelist once again for Windycon 44 (held this past weekend).

When I was provided with the programming list to indicate what I might be interested in talking about, I noted a fair number of programming items that were of interest to me, including one called “Tutti Frutti Literature” that contained a short description about discussing the effects of shifting social norms and “lifestyles” on SFF literature. “Shifting social norms” quite often refers to the increasing visibility of queer and trans folk in my experience, and so I submitted for that panel since there were few other panels connected to gender and sexual minority experiences. When I received my panel schedule later on, I noted that I was assigned to this panel and would be moderating it. Not having any objections to either item, I gave the situation little further consideration, other than to do my usual prep for moderating such a panel.

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Shortly after I arrived at Windycon, a friend contacted me to let me know that there was some buzz objecting to the language of the panel title and description. I read through the threads on Twitter of people who were upset by the “Tutti Frutti” terminology, given the history of “fruity” being a colloquial slur against gay men. These folks, like me, interpreted the panel description as at least somewhat applying to queer and trans issues. They repeated tweeted at the convention, and did not receive a response. I initially decided not to wade into the social media conversation, but once I started to get tagged by people in the conversation, and receiving pretty hard (and quite undeserved, IMO) criticisms for being involved in the panel, I clarified as much as I could at that moment.

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My general assumption with this panel is that it had been proposed by a queer and/or trans person who was couching their language to make the panel sound more widely applicable, and that the panel title was something of an attempt to reclaim some previously hurtful language. Reclaiming language is a frequent occurrence among marginalized people, and I’ve sat on panels with titles using reclaimed slurs (including terms like Queer, Tranny, Dyke, Crip, etc). I also generally give cons the benefit of the doubt in such situations because I’ve had mostly positive experiences with programming staff. But, I also didn’t write the panel title or description, and I shared all of these facts with those commenting on social media. I planned to make similar commentary at the opening of the panel, and then continue on to moderate what I had hoped would still be an interesting and valuable discussion.

At the panel

When I arrived at the panel, I was initially struck by the number of folks who seemed interested in what we (as panelists) had to say about the social media controversy, as well as the fact that I was the only woman sitting on the panel (something fairly unusual for sexual and gender diversity panels). One of my fellow panelists, Mr Chris Barkley, indicated that he had a statement he wanted to read about the social media response that would later be posted to the digital fanzine File 770. The Head of Programming Ops, Louisa Feimster, also arrived and indicated she would also be addressing the social media criticisms.

When we started the panel, I indicated that I would let Louisa and Mr Barkley speak their minds before I said what I needed to say, and moved onto the actual discussion. Louisa went first, and explained that when she envisioned the panel and wrote the description and title, she had intended it to refer to kink. This caught me completely off guard. I had imagined that kink, poly, sex work, and other forms of sexuality outside the charmed circle could be part of our discussion, but I had not for a second imagined that the primary focus of the panel was intended to be kink in SFF literature. Louisa went on to explain that she used the term “tutti frutti” in contrast to the term “vanilla”, which is common in-community slang for non-kinky folks.

For what it’s worth, I absolutely believe that Louisa had exactly that intention in mind when she wrote the panel, and simply wasn’t aware that it could be a loaded term for queer folk. That said, given the ways in which queer and trans people have been kept at the margins and frequently experienced harassment and erasure within the fannish community, I also absolutely understand why people were upset and concerned about the panel title. One only need look at the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies movement to know how real and current backlash on diversity topics in SFF culture is. The fact that Louisa offered no concession or even slight apology that the title had upset people was concerning.

After Louisa’s comments, I immediately began reformulating my approach to moderating the panel in my head, but I still fully intended to remain and participate. I then turned things over to Mr Barkley to give his statement. I was not prepared for the angry, vitriolic response that Mr Barkley gave. It caught me even more off-guard than Louisa’s clarification. There was NOTHING but absolute denigration and belittlement for those who objected to the panel title, including language like “Someone was offended…TOO BAD!” and “save your outrage” that has LONG existed as the discourse of the so-called anti-PC movement that routinely attacks and harasses people like me for our work towards shifting language and culture towards inclusivity and multiculturalism. He accused the critics of unwarranted attacks on “fandom as a whole”, and definitely seemed to imply that fandom/fannish culture (and Windycon by extension) were saintly entities beyond reproach, the proverbial good guys.

Mr Barkley’s egregious tone-policing of queer concerns made me feel quite unwelcome. As a young queer trans woman on panel of unfamiliar older men who clearly had some anger at my community and were predisposed to thinking we were overly-sensitive, I did not feel especially safe. I’ve been in similar panel situations before (including one at Windycon several years ago), and the usual result is me being shouted down by men until I’m nearly in tears. Given that I already had one clearly angry, hostile panelist harboring very negative beliefs about someone like me, I made the decision that I would recuse myself from the panel for my own safety and emotional well-being, and in protest of the kinds of over-the-top tone-policing and complete dismissal (and denigration) of the concerns of queer folks that Mr Barkley had engaged in.

I introduced myself. I gave my name, my credentials as a writer, critic, educator, activist and fan. I identified myself as a queer trans woman (that’s TRANSGENDER, not TRANGENDERED), and offered my deep concerns about the kinds of tone-policing and categorical dismissal that Mr Barkley was engaging in. I explained that my own experiences at Windycon and in fandom in general, as well as the well-documented experiences of other queer and trans folks, showed that SFF convention culture is far from saintly and stainless with regards to its treatment of LGBTQ people. I then stated that I was not interested in engaging further with a situation that was so dismissive of the concerns of people like me, and I did not believe that the panel was a place for me, and walked out of the room.

Further Considerations

I’ve endured men on panels shouting me down and cutting me off until I was in tears. I’ve endured audience members engaging in such egregious disruption and offensive commentary that I’ve had to ask them to leave and report them to Con Ops. I’ve endured levels of mansplaining, ableism, and acephobia so severe that they left another panelist shaking and traumatized. I’ve endured an author derailing an entire panel to deride me as “what was wrong with media” and accuse me of “destroying her livelihood” because I’m a professional critic. But this is the first time I have ever walked out of a panel that I was sitting on, and I do not regret that decision. Mr Barkley’s behavior was downright hostile to the point of hyperbole. He made it clear that criticism of fandom were not welcome to his mind. Given my own experiences with the ways in which men will defends each other’s toxic hostility, I did not feel safe as a highly marginalized woman in that space, and I did what I felt was necessary for my own well-being.

For those who are still insisting that the original critics of the panel title and description were being overly sensitive, I charge that perhaps it is you who are hypersensitive to even modest amounts of criticisms of either yourself or fannish culture. Fandom is not perfect, stainless, or utopian. The same biases and marginalization that exist in the mundane world exist at conventions and in other corners of fannish life, and marginalized people have absolutely every right to make their criticisms. Marginalized people do not owe you benefit of the doubt.  If you don’t want people to be looking so critically at such things, then do better and make fandom not just a tolerant place, but a place were differences and diverse experiences are embraced, valued, and supported. When mistakes are made (and mistakes DO HAPPEN) then consider following the three simple steps to addressing a fuck-up in a restorative manner:

  1. Offer an genuine, contrite apology.
  2. Make amends, and promise to do better in the future.
  3. Actually do better.

Whether you intended the slight or not is only somewhat relevant. Intent is not magic, and it does not completely absolve your mistake automatically. It only provides a basis for why you actually deserve forgiveness. To respond by claiming the parties objecting to your actions have no right to object only makes things worse, and quite quickly marks you as someone with little concern for them. It is not the behavior of any ally.

Finals Thoughts

I regret that this minor misunderstanding has now exploded into days long ordeal of fannish drama. I am concerned that Windycon was clearly aware of the social media uproar at least a day before, but took no action to address it until the actual panel, either on social media or with the panelists.

I find it DEEPLY hypocritical that Mr Barkley finds the space to justify his own “outrage and anger” (his words) over a criticism that wasn’t even directed at him personally, while denigrating the fairly tame and measured concerns raised by people on Twitter about the panel’s title and description as a “witch hunt”  and “angry, unwarranted attack”.

Criticism is not malice. At no point did any person attempt to demean the entirety of Windycon or fandom as anti-LGBTQ, and Mr Barkley would have you believe. Someone pointed out a concerning panel item that could be interpreted as problematic, and stated their concern, which was echoed by others. Those concerns were reasonable, given the historic context of the general air of dismissiveness much of fandom has had towards the concerns and interests of LGBTQ fans.  An unwillingness to accept criticism speaks to worrying degree fragility, especially when it also leads to lashing out angrily rather than engaging with the criticism. If Mr Barkley responds to impersonal criticisms this way, then I can only imagine how extreme his response to a criticism of his own actions or words might be. Given that information, I will think twice before agreeing to appear on a panel with him, and perhaps other women and LGBTQ folks should do the same.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #19

Burn The Witch and Shoot the Messenger – Windycon 44

By Chris M. Barkley:

Red crosses on wooden doors
And if you float you burn
Loose talk around the tables
Abandon all reason
Avoid all eye contact
Do not react
Shoot the messengers

From “Burn The Witch” by Radiohead

It’s not as though I seek out unpleasantness, it seems to find me. The latest round of is playing out this weekend at Windycon 44, in Lombard, IL.

I week ago, I emailed the programming staff of Windycon to inquire about the panels I was going to be on. I had filled out a questionnaire several months ago and had not heard back from them.

On November 4, I received several urgent emails from Louisa Feimster, the head of Programming of Windycon, apologizing because Mail Chimp had lost some emails and mine was probably among them.

Even though it was far past the deadline to include me in the program book, she sent me a link to fill out a new survey and programming application. Within 24 hours of doing so, I was inserted into several panels which had members drop out for one reason or another:

  • Friday, 5:00 pm, Geek Chic: We don’t have to hide anymore. When did it happen and how long will it last?
  • Saturday, 11am, Creature Comforts: What would you miss the most? Ice, TV, Chocolate, etc.
  • Saturday, 12 pm, You Know Nothing, John (sic) Snow: Game of Thrones is very popular but there is a division between show fans and Song of Fire & Ice reader fans. Can we bring peace to the 7 kingdoms or at least the two fandoms?
  • Sunday, 10am, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: A lot of today’s technology was yesterday’s science fiction. Join a discussion about that past and what might be tomorrow’s tech.
  • Sunday, 11am, The Obligatory Doctor Who Panel: Discuss fandom’s favorite Doctor.
  • Sunday, 12pm, Tutti Frutti Literature: With changing social norms and lifestyles, how is this affecting our literature?

On Friday, at 6:18pm, I received a tweet from author Jim C. Hines: “Damn…@cmzhang42 – any idea what the heck’s going on with this one?” (screenshot)

I had NO idea of what he was talking about.

So, I immediately went to my Twitter feed and found a post from @leeflower, who was complaining about the “Tutti Frutti Literature” panel:  (screenshot)

After thinking a moment, I decided to enter the fray by directly asking @leeflower, “Hello, I’m on this panel. Can you explain what your objection is, please?”

I immediately tweeted back to Jim Hines, @leeflower and @Windycon, “I have made an initial inquiry with the person who complained. Stand by…” To date, I have yet to receive a response from @leeflower.

In the meantime, the shit was hitting fan. All sorts of people piled onto to this haywagon of condemnation of the Windycon Programming staff, based solely on the objections on @leeflower.

[Editor’s note: Chris supplied these screencaps without indicating their order. Looked at Twitter and attempted to reconstruct it. The inconsistent order of the internal timestamps (e.g., “14h”) is due to not all the screencaps having been made at the same time. That said, they still might not all be in order.]

No one in the Windycon administrative pipeline has responded in any way because…did I mention that Windycon was THIS weekend? And I might also add that as far as I know, NONE of the plaintiffs in this debacle are actually attending Windycon.

I happened to run into Louisa Feimster at the Saturday afternoon at the Art Show. When I outlined what was happening on Twitter in the past twenty-four hours regarding the “Tutti Frutti Literature” panel, she did a huge eyeroll and said, “You want to know what really happened? We were under a lot of pressure to come up with titles for panels and we kinda finished up in the middle of the night. Really, we didn’t mean to offend anybody, we were just tired.”

She also went on to explain that in her end of the BDSM world, ‘tutti frutti’ does not have a negative connotations and she thought it would be an interesting way to title a panel on the changing forms of literature.

So, there was no grand conspiracy to offend the gay community. While the choice of the term “tutti frutti” may be regrettable, it was NOT done in any sense of malice, at least from my point of view.

So, in every sense of the term, THIS was a witch hunt, but no actual witches were found. We only burned ourselves. (Author’s note: I in no way condone the burning of witches, good, evil or otherwise. It’s just a metaphor, OK?)

So at the appointed time, the panelists gathered; authors Cliff Jones, Ross Martinek and the moderator, Mari Brighe. Everyone had been briefed and I was looking forward to an interesting panel. The audience was rather sparse, it numbered no more than a dozen people.

Louisa Feimster was also in attendance, to make a statement about the controversy before the panel started. Her appearance seemed to annoy Ms. Brighe who asked if she still had control of the panel.

Louisa Feimster said she that she did, but wanted to make a brief statement about the title of the panel and to outline what the intentions of the the Programming staff was when they made the decision to title this particular panel. After eloquently stating her case from what she had said to me yesterday, she indicated that the panel should begin.

Then Ms. Brighe surprised me by asking if I wanted to make my statement then. Surprising to me because usually the moderator introduces themselves before the other panelists do.

“Some of you may have heard of a dispute that started on Twitter Friday evening regarding the title and subject matter of this particular panel, ‘Tutti Fruitti Literature.’ Someone with the twittter handle @leeflower has stated that the use of this term, in the context of a discussion about our changing social norms and literature is a slur against the gay community.”

I then went onto explain, perhaps a little too forcefully, that there was no intended slur and that in the big scheme of things, we had more to worry about than a perceived slight by people who were not attending the convention and did not know the context of how the phrase was being used.

“The main point is that damage has been done to the honor and reputation of Windycon because someone was offended.

“To which I respond : BIG DEAL!

“This is the double-edged sword of the pervasive use of social media; yes, when wrongdoing is detected and a bright harsh spotlight is aimed at targets like Wells Fargo, Volkswagen, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K., the world can be enlightened and warned about a situation.

“But when there is an angry, unwarranted attack, as this shows every indication to be, it does a huge disservice to the accused party and to fandom as a whole.

“To @ leeflower and other offended parties I say this; save your indignation and anger for the bigger issues and targets, like the social forces who seek to divide and demoralize us. Save it for the corporations who seek to pocket more of our tax dollars to support their businesses and interests. Save it for the judicial and police forces who oppress and kill our brothers and sisters every day. Save it for the politicians and lobbyists who are plotting and this very moment to suppress voting rights and subvert the Constitution of the United States. And most of all, save it for the current occupant of our White House, whose list of crimes and misdemeanors grow with each passing day.”

“We have plenty of enemies to worry about. Windycon is definitely NOT one of them.”

Now, I have to admit that during the latter part of my statement, I was channeling my inner Keith Olbermann, my voice filled with more than a little outrage and anger. Because, let’s face it, I was more than a little angered and outraged.

Well, I had hoped that this little outburst would rally the troops to my cause and there would be a large burst of applause as the cherry on top.

It was met with mostly silence and a few angry faces. And then came the kicker.

Ms. Brighe then took center stage and stated, in no uncertain terms, how she as a transgendered fan, was very disappointed in Louisa’s leadership with the Programming staff and with this program item in particular. She also stated that she thought that Windycon was not as progressive as they thought they were and that she still found instances of “micro-aggression and homophobia” at the convention and that as a consequence, she was relinquishing her responsibilities with this panel and was leaving.

With that she got up and left the room, leaving all us in stunned silence.

After a moment or two, Ms. Feimster picked up the moderating duties. We started with a discussion of what the hell just happened. One woman (whose name I did not catch) seemed to blame me personally for the walkout; she thought Ms. Feimster’s speech struck the right note by my speech was loud, noisy and did not take Ms. Brighe’s point of view into account.

Cliff Johns remarked that the whole incident appeared to be an unfortunate misunderstanding. I followed up by saying that this would have been a great opportunity to more understand her point of view, HAD SHE STAYED to moderate the panel.

Then Ross Marinek came to my aid by stating that he understood my point of view because he saw this attack on Windycon as an act of bullying. None of the people complaining were actually attending the convention and were triggered to make an assumption of the programming staff’s intentions without knowing the context of the offending phrase.

After this rather tense disacussion, we settled down to throwing out some examples of books, television shows and films that show how we as a society have progressed in the past 75 years.

In the aftermath of the panel, people online have proclaimed that I am a “puppy,” a bully and guilty of being homophobic myself.

The only thing I can say is that in my passion for defending the kink positive panel and Windycon, the LGBTQ community sensed a dog whistle that did not exist. If I was being overly assertive in defending a convention I dearly love and cherish, I apologize.

I may choose to do it differently next time, having learned from this experience.

However, I will always defend all of fandom, all of the time.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #18

#Me Too

By Chris M. Barkley

“Disregard for the past will never do us any good. Without it we cannot know truly who we are.”

? Syd Moore

When I was a young boy of nine years old, I liked to take long walks by myself. Looking back, I must have seemed a bit strange; short in stature, horn rimmed glasses, a Malcolm X haircut (courtesy of my Uncle Jake, a professional barber), introspective, not prone to talking much and more likely to be reading than playing outside with the other kids.

But walking was something I liked to do, go places where I had not been before just to see and experience it. This was not as unusual event back then but I think if my parents had found out I was doing it, they would have told me to walk with someone or stop altogether.

I remember the day it happened as though it was yesterday. It was summertime, the sun shining brightly and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I had just finished walking as far south as I could on a local street and was headed home. A portion of the trip took me through the parking lot and playground of the school I attended, St. Francis de Sales. I walked through the narrow passage between the church rectory and the school, which then opened up to a wide playground that was as wide and long as a football field, except it was all asphalt.  A fence bordered the grounds along the parking lot of the adjacent high school, the street towards home and a gas station.

As I rounded the corner of the rectory, they spotted me.

Eight boys, all black, all much older than me, laughing and talking. Before I knew it, they had surrounded me. I was terrified.

They pushed me to the ground and began to pull at my shorts and shirt. Then my pants and underwear were around my ankles. They put their hands on my groin, buttocks and chest. I screamed bloody murder and a few of them tried to cover my mouth. There were a few kicks as well.

And then, it stopped.

The boys ran off, cackling like hyenas. I was left on the playground, alone, in broad daylight, nearly naked.

I pulled up my pants and walked home.

I told no one about what happened. The walks alone became more infrequent.

The world kept spinning. I became the target of bullies, in the neighborhood and at school. My father was a track star so those genes came in handy.

In high school, there was more of the same; more bullies and more verbal and physical abuse. I got tired of running and stood my ground. More often than not, I got beaten but I fought back hard enough that I was no longer an easy target. All during that time, through grade and high school, I remained an introvert, with very few friends. Puberty was a confusing time; I had read enough biology books to know what was happening to my body but going to an all boy’s high school complicated matters.

There were also very bad days. I remember that after one especially bad day in my sophomore year, I seriously considered committing suicide. Late that night, while everyone slept, I ventured down into the kitchen and held a knife to my chest for several minutes. The only things that held me back were the thought of my parents finding my body on the floor and not giving the people who were tormenting me the satisfaction of knowing they drove me to my death.

After rejecting my pleas to attend San Francisco State University, my parents mandated I would be attending the University of Cincinnati. My majors were Broadcasting and English.  My sexuality was pretty fluid in the mid 1970’s. This was mainly because I had very little experience socializing with either sex. I met a lot of men and women from all walks of life. I was fortunate be around during the first wave of feminist-humanist movement, which I followed with some interest. When I found out counseling for emotional problems was available, I signed up immediately. Talking about my loneliness and detachment helped me internally but did not help me connect with people.

But the biggest breakthrough in development in my social life was joining fandom in 1976. After attending a few conventions, I found myself coming out of my shell. I was so happy to be among fellow fans that it was a full year before I found out sex was a thing at cons.

To be sure, it was not a bed a roses. Mistakes were made, as they say. Misunderstandings. Setbacks and betrayals. Which, I found out, is par for the course when fans, or other people for that matter, interact.

One of those setbacks led to the birth of my daughter, Laura, in 1983. I was on the rebound from a bad relationship when her mother and I met. While I may rue the day we ever started a relationship, I do not regret having Laura for a daughter and having her in my life. Although Laura’s mother and I rarely speak, I am proud and happy we produced a woman who is strong, opinionated, funny, mindful, kind and loving human being.

Laura is the main reason I transitioned into a fully grown adult. As I watched her grow up, I was also a witness to her struggles, which mirrored my own. She too was bullied and harassed. But, like her mother and I, she proved time and time again to be resourceful and resilient.

All during this time, I became more mindful of harassment and abuse women suffer, mostly at the hands of men. When I was a direct witness to such actions, I spoke up or acted to intervene.

Although I have made my share of mistakes in my relationships, I have made poor choices and I apologize for them and regret their impact.  I have never knowingly, willfully committed harassment, stalking, verbal abuse and sexual assault towards anyone, in or out of fandom. I found it repugnant and sickening decades ago and I am amazed and disheartened that we are still encountering and dealing with this problem today.

I was prompted to write this column due to the widespread reaction to the alleged criminal acts of Harvey Weinstein towards women in the film industry over the past thirty years. I truly hope that the reach of this story and the number of women and men who have experienced it first hand, will finally shatter the veneer of how widespread the problem actually is around the world.

Fandom has already had its watershed moments. There have been several high-profile cases of abuse in fandom over the past ten years that have received so much attention that convention committees have been adding harassment policies and incident response teams as a matter of course.

Becoming aware is the first step towards a societal change. I find it amazing that humanity has evolved, progressed and survived, and we are still battling these same tropes, stereotypes, falsehoods and intolerance from empowered people who delusional enough to think as above civility, compassion and the law. We have a long, hard fight ahead of us.

Despite what happened that me when I was nine, fourteen, eighteen , twenty-two and twenty-seven, I am a father of a strong woman, a grandfather to the sweetest two-year old in the world and the loving partner of a woman I will cherish and adore to the end of my days. I did not let what happened destroy me.

All of this is too hard for me to contemplate right now.

I think I’ll take a walk.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #17

Nobels, Guns and Money

By Chris M. Barkley

NOBELS

For several years, literary critics had been putting the Nobel’s Literature committee’s feet to the fire (and I count myself among the match lighters) on their long exclusion of American writers. Since they threw us a huge (and oddly shaped) bone last year in naming Bob Dylan, the consensus was that another American was probably not in the cards. Meaning Harlan Ellison, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, Louise Erdrich, Don DiLillo other perennial Nobel benchwarmers will have to wait until next year. (SIDE NOTE to the Nobel Literature Committee: You KNOW there is absolutely NOTHING stopping you from awarding more than one person in this category every year, right? One woman, one man. Two women. Two men. Just Sayin’.)

And the winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature is…Kazou Ishiguro from the United Kingdom!

Mr. Ishiguro’s anointment to the highest level of literary immortality is well deserved and we in the f&sf community should enthusiastically applaud him.

Well, yeah, with a few pointed qualifiers, which I am more than happy to provide for you.

Mr. Ishiguro’s 2005 novel Never Let Me Go is a dystopia tinged novel set in our near future. It received generally good reviews and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award and, (SURPRISE!), the 2006 Arthur C. Clarke Award.   Upon the 2011 release of the film in the UK, he was quoted in The Herald of Scotland saying, “It’s almost like they’ve given us older writers license to use it [science fiction]. Before, it was ghettoized and stigmatized. For years there has been a prejudice towards sci-fi writing, which I think has been to the loss of the literary world, and not vice versa. But with things like graphic novels now, people are taking it seriously.”

Which was very gracious of Mr. ishiguro. That is, until he then qualified his statement later in the interview with, “In truth, the sci-fi label is misleading, says Ishiguro. ‘I’m just wary like everybody else that it’ll bring in the wrong audience with the wrong expectations.”

I confess to be a little puzzled by this attitude since, if he truly felt that way about sf, he had every opportunity to decline the Clarke nomination.

In any event, it was the publication of The Buried Giant in 2015 that brought Ishiguro into direct conflict with our very own Ursula K. Le Guin when, in an interview with the New York Times, pronounced his novel, an Arthurian era set tale complete with ogres and a dragon, was NOT a fantasy. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. Will readers follow me into this? Will they understand what I’m trying to do, or will they be prejudiced against the surface elements? Are they going to say this is fantasy?”

This drew the ire of Le Guin, who tartly replied:

Well, yes, they probably will. Why not? It appears that the author takes the word for an insult. To me that is so insulting, it reflects such thoughtless prejudice, that I had to write this piece in response. Fantasy is probably the oldest literary device for talking about reality…  No writer can successfully use the ‘surface elements’ of a literary genre — far less its profound capacities — for a serious purpose, while despising it to the point of fearing identification with it. I found reading the book painful. It was like watching a man falling from a high wire while he shouts to the audience, “Are they going say I’m a tight-rope walker?’”

To be fair, The Buried Giant is Mr. Ishiguro’s work; if he does not want to call it a fantasy, it’s his call. However, in doing so he does what most “mainstream” writers do when they publish a work that is perceived as “genre fiction”, either vehemently deny it and incessantly worry how their peers will react, their standing with literary critics and how it will affect their career.

Literary snobbery, whether it is perpetrated by the literary establishment or the rest of us on the outside looking in at them, does not help the cause of literature. Congratulations are in order for Mr. Ishiguro; he may have written two “genre novels” but he still managed to win the Nobel Prize in literature. I sincerely wish I could forward the following view from one of his esteemed American colleagues, Michael Chabon, taken from an interview with WIRED Magazine in 2012:

One of the points I was trying to make in those McSweeney’s anthologies, and in the introductions I wrote for those, is that it was not even 100 years ago — and certainly as long ago as 150 years ago — when all kinds of incredibly important work was being done by writers in France, and England, and Russia, and Germany. The great European literary 19th-century tradition is a genre tradition, and it’s unmistakably, unashamedly, unabashedly in the works of the greatest writers of the 19th century. You find sea stories, and ghost stories, and adventure stories, and early forms of proto-science fiction and fantasy, across the board.

And that kind of boundarylessness, or literary realms where the boundaries are very porous and indistinct and can be reconfigured at will, is much more interesting and appealing to me as a writer than a world where the categories are really set and really distinct, and the boundaries are really high, and people have to stay where they start, and can’t move out of those categories. I mean, that’s just inherently deathly. And the reasons why it changed are bad reasons, they’re economic and financial and marketing kinds of reasons, and they have to do with snobbery and academic laziness. I mean, there are almost no good reasons involved for that change that took place since writers like Dickens, who wrote crime fiction and supernatural fiction as easily as social realist fiction, and often all in the same story.

A final word to the Nobel Committee: a literary work should be judged on its own merits, not the “genre” of literature it is arbitrarily assigned to by people who make it their business to discriminate and squash it.

GUNS

“An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.”

Robert Anson Heinlein (Beyond This Horizon, 1948)

The day after the Las Vegas Massacre, Monday, October 2 was a very emotional for me. Two fans I know well were in Las Vegas. Both of them (whom I am not naming due to privacy concerns) marked themselves safe on Facebook within 24 hours.

I’ve only held a real firearm in my hands only twice in my lifetime and by an astonishing coincidence, both guns were WWII era German Lugers. (It’s a long story. Ask me about it some other time.)

At the moment, I have no desire to own a gun. I don’t want to take anyone’s legally owned guns away from them (unless it warranted). I would be willing the pick up a firearm to defend myself, my family, my friends and my country if I were called upon to do so. I also have an incredible amount of respect for what they can do in the hands of a skilled professional and a pathological fear of what can happen in practically anyone’s else’s.

Libertarians and gun enthusiasts love Robert Heinlein’s quote because it simply purports that the presence of a firearm in everyone’s hand insures harmony amongst everyone. Well, THAT may work in a novel but when you apply this maxim to real life and real people, you quickly discern that this isn’t a dream scenario; it is America’s ongoing nightmare.

The NRA and their supporters, lobbyists, apologists and sycophants are creating a dystopia of fear in this country. They want the wearing of firearms in public everywhere to become a social norm in all fifty states and territories. They advocate this “utopian” goal in spite of five thousand years of recorded human stupidity regarding the widespread human use of weapons and armaments all over the world.

And when an individual fires into an unsuspecting crowd of twenty thousand people, kills fifty-eight and wounds over five hundred, something unusual happened. The gun lobby, finally alarmed at the massive casualties in Las Vegas, blinked. Three days after the tragedy, the NRA signaled that “bump stock’ devices, which convert semi-automatics into automatic weapons, should be subject to “further regulation”. Needless to say, gun enthusiasts nationwide started a run on bump stocks before they are banned.

Now the cynic in me thinks that the real reason for this tiny bit of capitulation on their part is because of the hue and cry from all sides of the political spectrum, including some of their most ardent supporters, and that the use of bumps stocks were the primary reason so many were killed and injured. They are deathly afraid (pun intended) that this will be the incident that will lead directly to the banning of the most popular semi-automatic sold in the US, the AR-15.

My inner cynic also feels that if the gun lobby were truly serious about promoting gun safety over gun rights, something would have been done after another crazed person cut down twenty children and six school teachers in cold blood back in 2012. And if they were truly interested in promoting public safety and responsible gun ownership, their response about regulating bump stocks and its use at the Las Vegas massacre should have taken twelve hours, not three days.

But the gun culture has progressed so far and deep into the American psyche, outright prohibition is out of the question. We all know what happened when we tried a constitutional ban on alcohol. It solved nothing and caused unintended consequences we’re still dealing with today.

The best, practical, common sense goal is to make those who would want to purchase a gun at a certain point in the future more responsible for their weapons and their actions.

The minimum we should require of a purchaser would be a mandatory waiting period, say 72 hours, should be established for any purchase, along with some proof that each weapon is insured for loss and liability. In addition, there should be some mandatory certification or a state issued license that the purchaser has undergone firearms training.

Whether progressives, liberals and gun control advocates like it or not, we are awash in guns and the only thing concerned citizens can do now is to pursue a course of moderation and hope we gradually come to our senses.

I would like to think that Robert Heinlein would approve.

Nita Green with her son, Merritt and her daughter, Rose-Marie.

…And MONEY

Rose-Marie Lillian has a BIG problem and she is sorely in need of your HELP!. Her mother, Nita Green, passed away in April 2015. Her intent, as stated in her will, was to have her only daughter inherit a logical percentage of her worldly goods. Rose-Marie was promised Nita’s collection of original paintings by Frank Kelly Freas, a legendary, multiple Hugo Award winning artist and long-time personal friend of them both. Rose-Marie lived with and cared for her mother and stepfather for the last two years of her mother’s life. Since Nita’s death, she has been denied her inheritance, despite the stated wishes of her mother and an agreement made at a legal deposition in December 2016. At this point, she has no recourse but to sue.  Though her husband (the esteemed fan writer and multiple Hugo nominee, Guy Lillian III) is an attorney, he is licensed in Louisiana and her cause of action is in Florida. All attorneys rightly require retainers before beginning representation and the urgent need now is to obtain funds to pay it.

Rose-Marie turns to you for help.

The retainer required will fall between $5,000 and $7,500. She also has past legal bills incurred in this matter to cover, and future expenses to bear. Funds are needed as soon as possible to move this long-delayed case forward and to help bring Nita Green’s last wishes for her daughter to reality. Meticulous accounting of all donations will be kept and a strict account of expenditures supplied.

Rose-Marie Lillian is a longtime member of our sf community in good standing and deserves our BEST EFFORTS!

I can personally vouch for her; I LIKE her so much I once gave her a Justice League of America sweatshirt, which she proudly wears occasionally.

CAN YOU HELP?  DO SO TODAY by going to the link below! THANK YOU!

“Save Rosy’s Inheritance”

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #16

An Amicus Brief for The Dragon Awards

By Chris M. Barkley:

To the Dragon Con Committee,

I am willing to bet that this year’s Dragon Awards ceremony was barely over before the fannish naysayers and provocateurs began to bray that the Dragon Awards went to dismal writers and creators, and thank maker our own awards aren’t tainted like theirs…

What a load of BS.

Well, I want to assure all of you that I do not hold the same opinion as that rabble; I am here to offer some advice, not to slay the Dragon Awards.

And believe me, I KNOW how hard it must have been for your committee to start a set of awards from scratch; selecting categories, setting up a voting system and eligibility rules.

Since 1998, I have been at the forefront of nearly all of the changes to the Hugo Awards categories. I urged the splitting of the Best Dramatic Presentation and Best Editor categories, helped established of the Best Graphic Story category, co-sponsored the Best Fancast category and, over various and numerous objections of the more conservative elements in fandom, spearheaded the effort to recognize Young Adult books in the Hugo Awards ceremony starting next year.

I’m not reeling off these accomplishments as just braggadocio; I just want you to understand that I’ve gone through years of email exchanges, online taunts, face to face arguments, compromises and interminable hours of parliamentary procedures, pointless points, haggling and compromise at numerous Worldcon Business Meetings in order to keep the Hugo Awards fair, honest and relevant.

I admit that even though I have never attended Dragon Con, your convention has several enviable attributes over the Worldcon that I (and others I’m sure) have admired from afar.

You are based in a populous, major metropolitan area. You are not burdened by moving Dragon Con from year to year and your committee is a stable, fixed entity. And most importantly, you have the flexibility to change the structure of your awards on a dime from year to year as needed.  As you may have noted, it took the World Science Fiction Convention’s Business Meeting cabal SEVERAL YEARS of contentious debate before they could effectively block various miscreants from interfering with or gaming the Hugo Awards.

My own personal obsession about awards started when I began watching the Emmys and Academy Awards broadcasts of the late 1960’s and early 70’s. My earliest and most vivid memory was watching the 1972 Oscar show as Liza Minnelli presented Gene Hackman with his Best Actor award and the simple, halting and eloquent speech he gave afterwards.

As the decades have gone by, my interest in the process has deepened; it’s easy to follow most movie, tv and literature award shows and ceremonies, either being streamed or online. I cheer when someone I know or like wins and commiserate when they lose.

(Note to self: Ann Dowd, who won a Best Supporting Actress Emmy Award for The Handmaid’s Tale is a fine actress but there’s no way in hell she was better than Millie Bobby Brown was in Stranger Things. You’ll get over this. Eventually. Just Sayin’… )

Since Dragon Award nomination period is opening up later in next month, I want to offer you the following recommendations:

  • First of all, KEEP THE SINGLE VOTE SYSTEM!

I have a confession to make: I really dislike the Australian ballot system that the World Science Fiction Convention has been using since the mid 1970’s. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Australian ballot process, you can see a simplified explanation of how it works here: http://www.chickennation.com/2013/08/18/you-cant-waste-your-vote/)

The Hugo Award voters (and administrators) seem to prefer to rank their preferences but frankly, going through the tabulations and rows of figures every year make my eyes roll around in my skull like a pair of out of control dice. In fact, I try to vote for one nominee on my Hugo ballot if I find a single story or work deserves the honor.

I must say that it is quite refreshing to sit down and actually make a single choice on the Dragon Award ballot for a change. (And yes, I did participate in the voting this year.) The only thing I do regret is that the eligibility period, which runs from July 1st  to June 30th of this year, meant that I had to choose between Arrival, Logan, Rogue One and Wonder Woman for Best SF film on this year’s ballot. But since Arrival had already won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation this year, I was happy to acknowledge Wonder Woman with a vote (and a win) this year. This brings me to my next point:

  • Use the 5% rule to focus choices:

I don’t know what criteria your award administrators use to finalize the number of nominees on the final ballot, but if Dragon Con is going to continue with the single vote system for the foreseeable future, I recommend that they be named on at least five percent of the nominating ballots. The World Science Fiction Society Constitution had a rule until recently:

No nominee shall appear on the final Award ballot if it received fewer nominations than five percent (5%) of the number of ballots listing one or more nominations in that category, except that the first three eligible nominees, including any ties, shall always be listed.

(This was taken directly from a previous version of the World Science Fiction Convention Constitution.)

Please note that this would allow for the same number nominees IF they meet the five percent rule. The rule also insures that you are putting the most popular things on the ballot and will also give you an indication that a category is not working out well enough to continue on the ballot. If you’re doing this already, great! Also, you might want to list NO AWARD on your ballots as an option for voters.

  • Divide Best SF and Fantasy-Horror film and television categories:

Spread the wealth; with dozens of film and television projects coming out annually, I think you can afford to be more generous in with these categories. I am quite certain that the voters would appreciate it as well. Another major plea; PLEASE list the writer of the film or television episode with each nomination. This is a personal pet peeve of mine; I don’t buy the auteur theory (that the director is the ‘true author” of a work) so unless the director was also the author of the work, it’s just common courtesy to list writers, too. After all, this stuff doesn’t write itself, you know.

  • Establish a Best Artwork Category:

I applaud the number of awards for the creators of comics but I am quite sure that you realize that artists who render book covers, art books and other illustrations and  are a BIG part of the sf and fantasy community. Establishing an award for a body of yearly work would be quite a nice gesture towards them.

  • Special/Life Achievement Awards:

This is a versatile award that can truly express the appreciation of the committee, and by extension, fandom itself, than a special or lifetime achievement award to some of the more notable members of the fantasy and sf community. Also, it might be fun to include the attendees in on the selection as well.

  • Restrict voting to Members Only!

Once upon a time, I thought it might be a great idea for the Hugo Awards to have voting open to the public OR voting with a small fee that was lower than obtaining a supporting membership. I think that the slating efforts of both set of Puppies have put an end to that sort of utopian thinking. Thus, bringing me to my last point:

  • Make the voting process MORE transparent:

Publishing and the nomination and voting results annually and publicly naming a rotating set of administrators would be immensely helpful to Dragon Awards. Starting an award is hard work. Establishing and maintaining high standards of a new award in the modern information age is even harder.

In any event, I wish you all the best of luck with the Dragon Awards and with Dragon Con.

Cheers (or Seinfeld),
Chris B.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #15

Flash Review: Star Trek Discovery
“The Vulcan Hello” and “Battle at the Binary Stars”

By Chris M. Barkley: STAR TREK: Discovery, The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars, (4 out of 4 stars, 2017) with Sonequa Martin-Green (First Officer Michael Burnham), Doug Jones (Lieutenant Saru), Michelle Yeoh (Captain Philippa Georgiou) and James Frain (Ambassador Sarek). Created by Alex Kurtzman and Bryan Fuller, Story by Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman. Teleplay by Bryan Fuller and Akiva Goldsman. Directed by David Semel (The Vulcan Hello) and Adam Kane (Battle at the Binary Stars).

When a Starfleet monitor goes silent on the edge of Federation space, the USS Shenzhou, commanded by Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) is sent to investigate. The situation becomes complicated when an inspection of the monitor shows deliberate damage and an unknown object in a nearby asteroid field is obscured from their sensors. The First Officer, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) performs a flyby of the object, which turns out to be a Klingon scout ship. The occupant attacks her without provocation, which in turn starts a cascading sequence of events that will bring the Federation and the Klingons to the brink of war…

I went into last night’s airing of Star Trek Discovery with very low expectations. While I was very familiar with the works of writer-producers Alex Kurtzman (Sleepy Hollow, Hawaii Five-O), Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, Pushing Daisies), Akiva Goldsman (Fringe) and director David Semel (House, Heroes), there was no guarantee any of them could crack and tame a vast franchise like Star Trek.

I have watched EVERY version of Star Trek over the past fifty plus years and I must say that I am far more excited by them than I was by the first three episodes of The Orville.

The first thing that I was impressed by was the way the dynamic was set between Commander Burnham and Captain Georgiou in the first sequence on the desert planet. Some complained that a captain and her XO on a long walk to perform a minor mission was about as unusual as those Kirk and Spock missions, I saw it as a chance for the show to set a tone with the main characters, which is clearly a master-apprentice situation.

With seven years of duty as a First Officer under her belt, I was beginning to think that the series was setting Burnham up to be the captain of her own vessel. But no, that rug got pulled out from underneath me right away when she’s nearly killed by a Klingon warrior and then nearly fried to death by radiation exposure. So I thought, hey, maybe she’s not ready for command after all.

By the time the third and fourth acts roll around, I was really in a tizzy; is Burnham actually thinking of doing something that very few characters have attempted in Star Trek… DID SHE ACTUALLY…Jose, Mary and Joseph! In the very first freaking episode? At the end of the second episode we find Burnham in a deep dark hole that is perfectly designed to tantalize viewers to come back for more.

After watching the pilot episode on Sunday, I immediately went to social media outlets to gauge the reactions of the fans. And, as I suspected people were polarized about nearly every single aspect of the show. Some of the more negative ones were:

  • It was too dark (both in the tone of the story and the lighting of the sets).
  • What, a war with the Klingons?  That’s not what I signed up for.
  • Michael Burnham is not very likeable. The focus should have been on Captain Georgiou.
  • It’s a production design in search of a story.
  • Hey, those weird-looking Klingons aren’t canon.
  • Lens flare? REALLY?
  • And the inevitable, I don’t wanna pay for Star Trek!

Well people, you’re going to have to face up to a few facts: we don’t live in 1966, 1987, 1993 or 2005 anymore. Things change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse and that applies to television drama, too. The best dramas challenge their audiences in every way. And in the crowded state of television today, ST: Discovery is going be competing for the time and attention of audiences against dozens of streaming, cable and network shows.

Having said that, I still think that ST: Discovery has a chance to be one of the best versions of Star Trek yet AND one of the best shows on television, period.

I remember not being very impressed by a good majority of the first season episodes of the Next Generation. But I stuck with it and was rewarded on the fifteenth episode, “11001001” one of the best of that season.

Similarly, with Deep Space Nine (which had an exceptionally brilliant pilot, BTW), Voyager and Enterprise, I’ve heard all of the same cycle of complaints. Look, my advice to the naysayers is this: either give the show a chance to find its sea legs or find something else to watch. If you don’t want to watch on CBS All Access, you’ll just have to wait for the release of the DVDs some point next year.

To the people who don’t want to pay for Discovery, fine. But I’ll just point out that an All Access subscription costs just $5.99 a month or $9.99 without those pesky commercials. If you pay streaming or cable fees for Shameless, Game of Thrones and Homeland, this is no different than paying for that. True, CBS has only two original programs streaming at the moment (the other being the Good Wife spinoff, The Good Fight) but they do have several thousand episodes of shows to watch anytime. And it’s a relatively low-cost monthly subscription that won’t tie you to a long-term contract.

CBS has the rights to Star Trek and they are demanding money from fans in order to produce a quality show on this scale. But the question remaining is will Discovery turn out to be a great entry into the pantheon of Star Trek lore or a bust?

I’ll end on this note; if Discovery had been just a another clone of the Original Series or the Next Generation with a weekly meet and greet of alien species, problem stories and planetary intrigue, I would have been incredibly disappointed. All I can say is that I am suitably impressed by the pilot and it far exceeded my own meager expectations. I believe that these creators know what they’re doing and are building a credible and, dare I say it, fascinating storyline that I am more than eager to follow.

And I’m willing to pay for it; I subscribed to CBS All Access earlier today.

When the season ends, I’ll be back with a full review.

See you on the other side!

Pixel Scroll 9/17/17 You Cannot Move This Pixel. It Is Still Used By A Scroll On Your Computer

(1) JUST DESERTS. Will Collins describes a little-known influence on Frank Herbert’s Dune, in “The Secret History of Dune” at LA Review of Books.

Melange, the hallucinogenic drug at the heart of Herbert’s book, acts as a prerequisite for interstellar travel and can only be obtained on one harsh, desert planet populated by tribes of warlike nomads. Even a casual political observer will recognize the parallels between the universe of Dune and the Middle East of the late 20th century. Islamic theology, mysticism, and the history of the Arab world clearly influenced Dune, but part of Herbert’s genius lay in his willingness to reach for more idiosyncratic sources of inspiration. The Sabres of Paradise (1960) served as one of those sources, a half-forgotten masterpiece of narrative history recounting a mid-19th century Islamic holy war against Russian imperialism in the Caucasus.

Lesley Blanch, the book’s author, has a memorable biography. A British travel writer of some renown, she is perhaps best known for On the Wilder Shores of Love (1954), an account of the romantic adventures of four British women in the Middle East. She was also a seasoned traveler, a keen observer of Middle Eastern politics and culture, and a passionate Russophile. She called The Sabres of Paradise “the book I was meant to do in my life,” and the novel offers the magnificent, overstuffed account of Imam Shamyl, “The Lion of Dagestan,” and his decades-long struggle against Russian encroachment.

Anyone who has obsessed over the mythology of Dune will immediately recognize the language Herbert borrowed from Blanch’s work.

(2) THE STORY THAT KEEPS ON GIVING. Pajiba’s Kayleigh Donaldson is still hot on the trail of the fake bestseller: “The ‘Handbook For Mortals’ Saga Continues As Lani Sarem Goes On The No Apologies Tour”.

Remember Handbook For Mortals, the urban fantasy novel about magic in Las Vegas that catapulted out of nowhere to take the top spot on the New York Times best-seller list? We thoroughly documented the torrid tale of Lani Sarem’s debut novel, which gamed the system through bulk purchases in order to debut at number 1 on the YA list, knocking off Angie Thomas’s mega-hit The Hate U Give. It had everything – scams, Carrot Top, Blues Traveller, Glory from Buffy, the guy from Rookie of the Year, an in development film adaptation with the author set to play the lead role, art theft, and Jasper from Twilight. It was such a fascinatingly layered scam that even the author of the worst fan-fiction of all time came forward to deny any involvement with it.

The book is no longer on the list, and clearly that’s upset Sarem and her team. While GeekNation, the near abandoned geek news website who published the novel, have been silent on the subject, Sarem has gone into PR overdrive to try and scrape together a semblance of goodwill after angering YA fans, the publishing community and John Popper himself. First, the music manager turned author wrote a piece for Billboard. You know, that bastion of publishing, where she defended her actions. Now she’s over at the Huffington Post doing the same….

(3) LOSING A LANDMARK. More coverage about the closing of a historic bookshop (the story is from July): “After 41 years, Berkeley sci-fi bookstore Dark Carnival is closing”.

“Passion or mania would certainly have played a factor,” he wrote. “One long-time friend described him as a ‘business genius,’ though I felt that, due to the nature of small bookstore business, he was actually more adept at responding to crises (financial) which regularly crept up on him.”

Juricich continued: “It was probably the best stocked, most complete store for sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery fiction in most of California, though The Other Change of Hobbit might have given it a run for its money before it, too, finally closed some years ago. I’m sad for the loss of the store to the community and no one could ever blame Jack for not having applied his intelligence and passion to its continued survival, but, much like the business of comic book retail, selling reading matter is an uphill climb.”

As Juricich points out, running a brick-and-mortar bookstore, or indeed any retail business, in the age of Amazon is notoriously tough, and it’s not the first time Rems has struggled with Dark Carnival. In December 2013, he put out a public plea to the community, writing: “No other way to say this. We need your help. To our staunch supporters: it’s thanks to all of you that we’re still here. Please, if you have any shopping to do, now and for the holidays, do some of it here… P.S.: If you’re broke, and believe me I understand, please come in anyway, say hi, hang out, I’ll give you something good to read, no charge.”

(4) NIGHT OF THE LIVING AUTHORS. Jeff VanderMeer told Facebook readers about his nightmare:

I had this horrible dream last night that I was the host of the World Fantasy Award ceremony, but this was sometime in the future when there were 1,200 categories instead of the dozen or so there are now. And the banquet hall was so huge and I had no assistant, so I had to ride a tiny tricycle (!?) to the back of the hall each time before announcing a winner….

And it gets worse/funnier after that.

(5) LIVE FROM NEW ZEALAND. Well, it was a live performance – now hear Seanan McGuire’s LexiCon concert online.

Did you miss Seanan McGuire’s concert on Saturday night – or enjoy it so much you want to listen again? We recorded it for you and it’s now on YouTube! You can hear Seanan – accompanied by local fans Daphne Lawless of Vostok Lake and Alastair Gibson.

 

(6) ABOUT THOSE SUPPORTING CHARACTERS. In From a Certain Point of View (Star Wars),  Random House Audio Publishing invites fans to “experience Star Wars: A New Hope from a different point of view.” All participating authors have donated their proceeds to charity.

On May 25, 1977, the world was introduced to Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, C-3PO, R2-D2, Chewbacca, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, and a galaxy full of possibilities. In honor of the fortieth anniversary, more than forty contributors lend their vision to this retelling of Star Wars. Each of the forty short stories reimagines a moment from the original film, but through the eyes of a supporting character. From a Certain Point of View features contributions by bestselling authors, trendsetting artists, and treasured voices from the literary history of Star Wars:

  • Gary Whitta bridges the gap from Rogue One to A New Hope through the eyes of Captain Antilles.
  • Aunt Beru finds her voice in an intimate character study by Meg Cabot.
  • Nnedi Okorofor brings dignity and depth to a most unlikely character: the monster in the trash compactor.
  • Pablo Hidalgo provides a chilling glimpse inside the mind of Grand Moff Tarkin.
  • Pierce Brown chronicles Biggs Darklighter’s final flight during the Rebellion’s harrowing attack on the Death Star.
  • Wil Wheaton spins a poignant tale of the rebels left behind on Yavin.

Plus thirty-four more hilarious, heartbreaking, and astonishing tales from: Ben Acker • Renée Ahdieh • Tom Angleberger • Ben Blacker • Jeffrey Brown • Rae Carson • Adam Christopher • Zoraida Córdova • Delilah S. Dawson • Kelly Sue DeConnick • Paul Dini • Ian Doescher • Ashley Eckstein • Matt Fraction • Alexander Freed • Jason Fry • Kieron Gillen • Christie Golden • Claudia Gray • E. K. Johnston • Paul S. Kemp • Mur Lafferty • Ken Liu • Griffin McElroy • John Jackson Miller • Daniel José Older • Mallory Ortberg • Beth Revis • Madeleine Roux • Greg Rucka • Gary D. Schmidt • Cavan Scott • Charles Soule • Sabaa Tahir • Elizabeth Wein • Glen Weldon • Chuck Wendig

Narrated by a full cast, including: Jonathan Davis, Ashley Eckstein, Janina Gavankar, Jon Hamm, Neil Patrick Harris, January LaVoy, Saskia Maarleveld, Carol Monda, Daniel José Older, and Marc Thompson.

All participating authors have generously forgone any compensation for their stories. Instead, their proceeds will be donated to First Book—a leading nonprofit that provides new books, learning materials, and other essentials to educators and organizations serving children in need. To further celebrate the launch of this book and both companies’ longstanding relationships with First Book, Penguin Random House has donated $100,000 to First Book, and Disney/Lucasfilm has donated 100,000 children’s books—valued at $1,000,000—to support First Book and their mission of providing equal access to quality education. Over the past sixteen years, Disney and Penguin Random House combined have donated more than eighty-eight million books to First Book.

And the contributors have been hyping the book with designer pull quotes.

(7) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • September 17, 1978 — The original Battlestar Galactica premiered on television on this date.

(8) COMICS SECTION.

(9) PAY TO PLAY. Gabino Iglesias, in “Submission Fees are Classist as Fuck”, delivers an invigorating rant, but it’s just as full of holes as the cases he’s criticizing.

  1. “It’s really about gatekeeping”

If you don’t want to read bad fiction/nonfiction/poetry, don’t edit a book/magazine/blog/journal. Bad writing is to the writing game what dirty teeth are to dentistry; it will happen all the time, the only that varies is the level of awfulness. Submission guidelines, genre specifications, and word counts should help you do your precious gatekeeping. If you need to rely on charging writers $30 to enter your chapbook contest in order to keep what you think are bad writers away, know these two things: having money has absolutely nothing to do with having writing chops and your fees, not to mention your bland gatekeeping excuse, are nothing but classism in action. I’ve also heard that charging writers is just a way to “reduce the workload for overworked editors.” Get the fuck outta here with that. You’re sitting in front a computer because you want to, not working in the mines. Don’t want to edit? Don’t be an editor. There’s a ton of jobs out there that need to get done that don’t involve the arduous task of having to deal with a huge slush pile.

(10) TALK ABOUT YOUR WORK. The Kingsman “funny dinner” movie clip —

(11) OUTRAGED. Lou Antonelli issued a strong challenge to Chris Barkley’s column posted yesterday at Amazing Stories, in particular the part where he was named:

“Their views vastly contrast with The Rabid Puppies, primarily represented by Theodore Beale (aka Vox Day), John C. Wright and Lou Antonelli, they are unabashedly and enthusiastically racist in their worldview and their fiction. They believe a white male hegemony over all peoples of color, women and the LGBTQ community is the best course for the human race AND any aliens we may encounter, to put it mildly.”

Ok, I don’t know what kind of stupid bullshit rumors have wafted through Mr. Barkley’s empty cranium, but it is specious to lump me in with Vox Day and John C. Wright. Plus to claim I am “unabashedly and enthusiastically racist” in my worldview is simply libelous. I dare this hatemonger to point to anything I have ever said or did that was racist – because I’m not. As the first generation non-white child of an illegal immigrant, I have always felt revulsion towards ethnic and racial prejudice – I have been on the receiving end, believe me….

…Just to make my position on racism clear, I’m a Christian. God made man – all men: White, Black, Brown, Yellow, Red, whatever. A racist is God-defiant. He’s putting himself above God by saying God made a mistake. A racist does the Devil’s work.

(12) DANIEL JOSE OLDER NOVEL REVIEWED. Amal El-Mohtar reviews Older’s Shadowhouse Fall for NPR: “In ‘Shadowhouse Fall,’ Magical Threats Map Real-World Peril”.

Everything I loved about Shadowshaper is found in Shadowhouse Fall, but sharper and fiercer, pushed harder and farther. The love and loyalty Sierra and her friends feel for each other is all the more affecting for being forged in fire: They walk through metal detectors into school every morning, endure and resist casual assaults on their personhood and bodies in relentless routine. As with Shadowshaper, the parts I loved best were the characters, the exuberance of these people’s voices, the intimacy and honesty of their interactions. I loved seeing more of Sierra’s relationship with her best friend Bennie, more of Izzy and Tee’s romance, more of Juan and Pulpo’s devotion to each other. All of these relationships are complex and full of friction, and the sparks they give off illuminate important facets of the story.

(13) DOESN’T PASS GAS. A new type of space drive? “Will This ‘Impossible’ Motor Take People to Other Planets?”

When NASA one day sends humans to Mars, the journey could take six to nine months each way. But there’s a highly-experimental device being developed that could help get us there in less than half that time — if it really works.

A small lab at NASA is creating a motor to propel ships through space much faster than today’s conventional rockets can. Decades from now, a trip to Mars might take mere weeks, without burning any fuel. The only problem? The motor seems to violate the laws of physics.

To power a spacecraft, a propellant is ejected out of the rocket’s end, because you can’t accelerate forward without pushing back against something. But NASA’s alternative gadget, called an EM drive, would generate thrust without the need to belch exhaust. And dropping the weight from fuel could make ships much lighter and space travel more efficient.

(14) SPACE SNAPPERS. The BBC has “In pictures: Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2017”, with the winning picture and many runners-up:

The winning images from this year’s competition have now been announced, with Artem Mironov’s vibrant clouds of dust and gas in the Rho Ophiuchi Cloud Complex scooping first place.

(15) IG NOBELS. SJW Credentials studied: “Ig Nobels Awarded For Research Into Big Ears, Feline Fluidity”.

Can a cat be both a liquid and a solid? Does contact with a crocodile influence a person’s willingness to gamble? And do old men really have big ears?

Those are just a few of the questions studied by scientists who received Ig Nobel Prizes at Harvard University on Thursday, at the less-than-prestigious ceremony put on by the otherwise-august institution for the past 27 years.

“Each winner has done something that makes people laugh, then think,” said Marc Abrahams, who founded the awards in 1991 and writes for the decidedly non-peer-reviewed journal Annals of Improbable Research.

The complete list of winners is available from Improbable.com.

(16) MAKES THEM WONDER. The Columbian believes “Jenkins the future of DC movies, but not the way you think”.

Jenkins will lead WB/DC into a future where story comes first, not multimovie connectivity. Yes, the potential of “Justice League” movies is exciting, but every single DC film doesn’t have to be a two-hour commercial for the super-team’s gathering. “Wonder Woman” taking place in the past — far away from Batman, Superman, Doomsday and horrible Daily Planet story-budget meetings (why is Clark Kent going from the city beat to covering football?) — was the best thing that could have happened to DC. It showed that singular stories and a strong supporting cast are more important than movie-universe building.

Jenkins also showed the power of having DC Entertainment president Geoff Johns, formerly one of DC Comics’ top comic-book writers who now spends most of his time on the movies, at her side. As the new president, “Wonder Woman” was the first DCEU movie where Johns could provide his superhero storytelling skills in a more authoritative way.

(17) VIDEO OF THE DAY. “Auto Nom” by Foam Studio is a silly story about all the fun a yellow Mercedes-Benz has in the city.

[Thanks to Rich Lynch, Carl Slaughter, Chip Hitchcock, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Hampus Eckerman, Martin Morse Wooster, ULTRAGOTHA, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Peer.]

Pixel Scroll 9/16/17 We’ll Have Fun, Fun, Fun, ‘Til Her Daddy Scrolls The Pixel Away.

(1) PROOF AND REPROOF. David Brin, after congratulating N.K. Jemisin for her latest Hugo win, asks readers to predict what’s coming next in the sff genre, in “Perspectives from Science Fiction: Hugos and other marvels”.

Oh and also, let’s celebrate that science fiction has always – and yes always, ever since it was founded by our revered grandmother of SF, Mary Wollstonecraft (Shelley) – been the genre of literature most welcoming to bold ideas about human and non-human diversity, and brashly exploratory authors. Yes, SF was always “better than its times” when it came to such things, though every decade deserved the reproof of later decades, for its own myopic misdeeds. Leaving our self-critical movement always looking for the next cause for self-improvement!

So what are we doing now, that will cause later generations of brave questioners and boundary-pushers to reprove? What terrible habit will reformers tell us to break next, when we get the upper hand on racism, sexism and cultural conformity? I think I know what it will be! (Hint: what is the most harmful and nasty thing that even good people now routinely do to each other, with barely a thought to fairness or consequences? And I include people as good as you envision yourself to be. Discuss in comments, below.)

(2) THE SHAPE OF YEARS TO COME. And at Examined Worlds, Ethan Mills wants to know “Where did all the far-future science fiction go?”

This is a question I’ve thought about a lot lately.  I recently re-read the last book in the Dune series and am working my way through the delightfully/impossibly difficult Book of the New Sun, which my Goodreads review describes as “like taking an acid trip through a thesaurus.”

These days far-future stuff is harder to find.  There’s even a popular genre of science fiction that takes place in the past: steampunk.  Contemporary readers will call a book “far future” if it takes place a mere few hundred years or even sooner. See this list of allegedly “far future” science fiction that puts Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 on the list, and even more weirdly, Charles Stross’s Accelerando.  One of the main complaints about Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves was that people didn’t care for the the part that takes place in thousands of years (which for the record was my favorite part — see my review for more).

(3) THE RONDO OF A LIFETIME. Steven J. Vertlieb recently found buried digital treasure:

Discovered these wonderful photographs for the first time recently on my brother’s cell phone while vacationing in Los Angeles just a couple of weeks ago. This marvelous shot was taken in Louisville, Kentucky during the prestigious annual Rondo Award ceremony in early June, 2016, after which actor, director, artist, writer, and old pal Mark Redfield and I were awarded these coveted Rondo “Hall of Fame” plaques in joyous recognition of a lifetime of creative productivity, and dedication to the arts.

(4) PUPPIES AND RACE.  In “Words Matter, Actions Matter and Race Definitely Matters” at Amazing Stories, Chris M. Barkley rebuts author Christopher Nuttall’s editorial, “A Character Who Happens To Be Black”.

When a writer, of any ethnicity, admits using characters of different ethnicities without even the slightest hint of any sort of context for doing so, it is the worst sort of cultural appropriation and is an insult to his readers as well. Using the “I don’t see color” explanation to pander his own world view about race may be satisfying to his bubble of readers ordering online, but I am quite willing to bet it would not pass muster at most publishing houses or with discerning and critical readers as well.

By erasing ethnicity, class or race as a factor in his characters, Mr. Nuttal is stating those centuries of history and culture, on which his future or fantasy worlds are built upon, don’t matter or worse, never happened. By homogenizing his black characters with his white male viewpoint, he is giving them the “gift” of being white and being as good as anyone else and calling for their heritage and culture is a bad thing and should essentially be swept under the rug. His attempt to do so does not make them equal, it diminishes them. It’s disingenuous at the very least and a patronizing example of white privilege at worse.

No person who is consciously aware of their ethnicity, culture and history would tolerate such a cleansing. By taking away their joy, you also take away their sorrow and their history. We are all human and that is the factor that should unites us, not divide us. By erasing our differences to make everyone the same, no one is special or an individual.

(5) APOLOGIZING. At Fast Company, Mike Su proffers “7 Lessons White People Can Learn From Bodega’s Apology”.

… Setting aside the idea of rebranding a mini-bar and putting it in apartment buildings and street corners and calling it disruption, there are some important lessons that can be learned from their poor apology that can be particularly important for well-meaning white people to understand when they unintentionally offend. Here are my key takeaways:

1. “I Didn’t Mean To” Doesn’t Matter

“Despite our best intentions and our admiration for traditional bodegas…”

Most of the post was focused on helping people understand what they were really trying to do. Why they weren’t super evil, and all the steps that they took, and basically, “I know we seemed like assholes, but we’re not! Or, at least, we didn’t mean to be!”

But here’s the thing?—?just cause you didn’t mean to hurt someone doesn’t mean you didn’t actually hurt them.

But if you spend all your time explaining what you meant to do?—?you’re spending all your effort on trying to make yourself look less bad, and make yourself feel less bad. That may do it for you, but then your apology is not about actually making the person you offended feel any better. Which leads me to…

(6) IN THE NEWS. Brookline, MA Town Meeting member (and noted sf writer) Michael A. Burstein isn’t kidding: “Town Leaders Seek to Make ‘Selectwoman’ the Official Title”.

“There’s been some recent interest in Massachusetts to change the name of board of selectmen to something that would be a bit more gender-neutral,” said Michael Burstein, a town meeting member.

Two warrants have been submitted to the Board of Selectmen and take aim at changing the governing body’s title and title of its members.

“One of them is kind of a straight forward and just wants to create gender-neutral language,” said Hamilton.

The other warrant filed by Burstein is very specific.

“I deliberately and specifically filed a warrant to change the name of Board of Selectmen to Board of Selectwomen,” he said.

The Boston NBC affiliate interviewed him for its September 14 news broadcast.

(7) ROMM OBIT. SF Site News reports the death of Minneapolis fan Baron Dave Romm.

Fan Dave E Romm (b.1955) died on September 14. Dave was active in Minneapolis fandom and was an avid photographer, taking pictures of various Minicons and other conventions he was able to get to. He traveled to Antarctic in 2005 and wrote about his experience in Argentus. He also hosted Shockwave Radio Theatre on KFAI-AM and archived the podcasts on his website. Romm became a baron of the micro-country of Ladonia in 2001.

(8) GOGOS OBIT. Bloody Disgusting bids farewell to “Legendary Monster Artist Basil Gogos” (1939-2017)  who died September 14.

Some of the most iconic pieces of classic monster art were found on the front covers of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine throughout the ’60s and ’70s, that art no doubt responsible for countless monster kids being bitten by the proverbial bug. Vibrant and eye-catching, the magazine’s cover art made horror stylish, beautiful and cool.

Those paintings were the work of illustrator Basil Gogos, who we’re sad to report is the latest in a long line of true horror legends who have recently left us….

Gogos also provided cover art for several other Warren magazines including Creepy, Eerie, Spaceman, Wildest Westerns and The Spirit.

(9) HANGDOG CHARACTER ACTOR. Harry Dean Stanton (1926-2017) died September 15 says The Hollywood Reporter.

Stanton, who also was memorable in Cool Hand Luke (1967), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (1981) and John Hughes’ Pretty in Pink (1986) — in fact, what wasn’t he memorable in? — died Friday afternoon of natural causes at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, his agent, John Kelly, told The Hollywood Reporter.

(10) TODAY’S DAY

Play-Doh Day

Play-Doh Day is an opportunity for everyone, whether a child or simply young at heart, to celebrate this iconic modeling clay. Play-Doh was originally developed in the 1930’s, not as a toy but as a product for cleaning wallpaper! It was not until the 1950’s that it was marketed as a toy, in the trademark vibrant colors of red, blue, yellow and white.

(11) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • September 16, 1926 — Many people reported seeing lake monster Ogopogo in Lake Okanagan, British Columbia.
  • September 16, 1963 The Outer Limits premiered on television.
  • September 16, 1977 — Returned television audiences to the world of Logan’s Run.
  • September 16, 1983 – The aptly-titled Strange Invaders was first screened.

(12) TODAY’S FORBIDDEN PLANET BIRTHDAYS

  • Born September 16, 1927 — Jack Kelly
  • Born September 16, 1930 — Anne Francis

(13) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • Born September 16, 1917 – Art Widner

(14) JAY KAY KLEIN PHOTOS. Crowdsourced identification of Jay Kay Klein’s digitized fanhistorical photos is proceeding apace.

J.J. Jacobson, the Jay Kay and Doris Klein Science Fiction Librarian at the UC Riverside Library, says —

The first re-index of the Klein photos on Calisphere has loaded. We’ve harvested amazing amounts of amazing information, thanks to the generosity of the fan community.

She has been keeping an eye on the info form and as of September 11 there had been 448 entries, many of them containing multiple identifications.

(15) QUARRELING CURATORS. New Statesman says “Two museums are having a fight on Twitter and it’s gloriously informative”. They’ve collected the tweets.

2017 is undoubtedly the year of the feud. As celebrities and corporations alike take to Twitter to hash things out, two of the UK’s most respected scientific institutions, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum have got in on the action.

It all started with this rather innocous tweet, during The Natural History Museum’s Ask a Curator event on Twitter, where users could tweet in questions to The Natural History Museum’s twitter account. The resulting back and forth is both amusing and educational….

(16) THE TRUE MEASURE OF A MAN’S INTELLIGENCE… JC Carlton’s goodbye to Jerry Pournelle at The Arts Mechanical begins with a memory of the author’s opposition to the lowered expectations policy of the Seventies. That was one of the first things that came to my own mind when I heard he had died. And while Carlton was looking at another collection of his science essays, I was taking down That Crazy Buck Rogers Stuff from my own shelf.

At a time when technical optimists were as scarce as hen’s teeth, at least in the public eye, Jerry was unabashedly that technical optimist.  I did a post about  A Step Farther Out when I started this blog and how relevant it still remains today.

https://theartsmechanical.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/stepping-farther-out/

At a time when the language of the day all across the media was how we were all DOOMED, DOOMED by the monsters of our own creation and that there was nothing that could be done to save us.  Even the best stuff in media, like the classic series Connections was mildly pessimistic. Contrast that with any column in A Step Farther Out. 

… He thought though that, that people wouldn’t just collapse into a series of unending ghettos and endless tyranny.  he thought that people would use the skill and minds, the technologies that humans had created to overcome the problems we had.  He never accepted that we would just surrender and mostly die. he was also optimistic that with a little more oomph people would reach for the stars and create wealth for all.

(17) THE BREWS THAT MADE SPEC FIC FAMOUS. Charles Payseur is back with another installment of his review column where he pairs short stories with the appropriate beer: “THE MONTHLY ROUND – A Taster’s Guide to Speculative Short Fiction, 08/2017”.

Welcome! Pull up a stool—let me tell you what’s on tap today. August represents the height of summer for some, and for others the first step toward Autumn. For my SFF reading, the month seems full of heat, decay, distance, and ghosts. Which makes a certain amount of sense, what with 2017 on its downward slope, having cleared the peak of June and July and entered into the fast descent toward the end of the year. And what a year…

The flavors are mostly heavy, alluding to the coming harvest with the sweet tones of apple and barley. Looming behind that, though, is the specter of winter, and scarcity, and cold. The bite of IPA stands as a resistance to going gentle in that good night, a fire to guide lonely travelers through the chilling dark. The stories are pulled from across SFF, with a lean toward fantasy, from contemporary to historical to second world, but there’s a hint of science fiction as well, a glimpse of the void and a voice calling out into the distance of space….

Tasting Flight – August 2017

“Avi Cantor Has Six Months To Live” by Sacha Lamb (Book Smugglers)

Notes: Singing with notes of sweet romance complicated by the spices of trust, betrayal, and perception, its cloudy pour slowly resolves into a golden hue that shines with warmth.

Pairs with: Chai Spiced Ale…

 

(18) FAVORITE SON. Are you ready? In “Holy Adam West Day, Walla Walla!” the Union-Tribune tells everyone what’s laid on for the celebration happening Tuesday, September 19.

From before noon and into the evening, businesses around town will display Bat signal stickers and posters of West and offer special promotions. The city will also install a new sign commemorating West near his childhood home at the intersection of Clinton Street and Alvarado Terrace.

Other memorials to West can be found at the post office at 128 N. 2nd Ave and at the Marcus Whitman, both based around photos from the collection of Joe Drazan.

West will also be the focus of a series of events throughout the day. Here’s the itinerary, as listed by Grant:

11 a.m. — Opening ceremonies at the corner of First Avenue and Main Street. Mayor Alan Pomraning will present a key to the city to members of West’s family, and attendees will have the opportunity to meet Batman and pose for photos with an exact replica of the Batmobile that West drove as the Caped Crusader….

(19) ESTATE SALE. The LA Times reports “Debbie Reynolds’ family ranch and dance studio to hit the auction block in October”.

The ranch-estate in Creston, Calif., had been offered for sale before Reynolds’ death last year for $4.8 million but was taken off the market in June. The studio on Lankershim Boulevard is for sale, with an asking price of $6.15 million.

Both will hit the auction block Oct. 7-8 in Los Angeles as part of the Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds personal property collection, according to auction house Profiles in History.

Owned by Reynolds for more than two decades, the 44-acre ranch comprises a main house, a guesthouse, a caretaker’s cottage, an art studio and a barn. A 10,000-square-foot support building with metal and stage workshops and a 6,000-square-foot film and television production studio are among other structures on the estate.

(20) HOBBITS INHALE. Matt Wallace’s tweetstorm shows that where there’s smoke….there’s even more smoke.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Steven H Silver, Martin Morse Wooster, Cat Eldridge, JJ, Andrew Porter, JJ Jacobson, and Steve Vertlieb for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Xtifr.]