Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #50

Juneteenth 2020

By Chris M. Barkley:

“Won’t it be wonderful when Black history and Native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.” — Maya Angelou

On this, the 155th anniversary of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston Texas, the one word that is uppermost in my mind is…endurance.

Endurance can be the only word that can be applied to my African ancestors, brought here involuntarily, the Native Americans of this continent, and all those others who have migrated or immigrated here from other lands.

For we have endured despite the numerous and myriad attempts by, let’s just say, other, richer, less melanin enhanced Americans, who have done their damnedest to dominate, assimilate, and commit waves of genocidal acts and otherwise erase us from history.

And, for long stretches of our mutual history, they succeeded. But the funny thing about history is that it can never completely be erased or forgotten, especially by those who are the ones being oppressed.

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Liberation Day and Jubilee Day, started out as a regional celebration in Texas state holiday. Though it was somewhat eclipsed by the Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s and 60’s, the celebration began anew in the 70’s, particularly in the American South.

I first became acquainted with Juneteenth in the 1990’s when National Public Radio’s All Things Considered did a lengthy feature story about it. Having grown up in a Catholic grade and high school, I was never taught about the contributions of people of color to American History, with one single exception, the death of Crispus Attucks, an African-American stevedore who was killed by British troops at the Boston Massacre of 1770. He is widely regarded as the very first casualty of the American Revolution.

As I progressed through high school and into college, I discovered even more tidbits of hidden Black History, explorers like Matt Henson, journalist Ida B. Wells, scientists and engineers such as George Washington Carver, Granville Woods, and Willie Hobbs Moore. This was during a time when the hidden figures of Black History were being rediscovered and elevated by revisionist historians at universities all over America.

This was also the era when I discovered sf fandom.

I had been reading sf authors like Bradbury and Asimov since the eighth grade and had discovered the first two volumes of The Hugo Winners (the book club edition) when it was first published  during my sophomore year in high school. 

As I recounted in File 770 over twenty years ago, I was puzzled by the mention of conventions where the Hugo were given out but there were practically no information on how to attend them. Little did I know that I was living in one of the hotbeds of sf fandom at the time, Cincinnati, Ohio.

When I came across a notice of Cincinnati’s annual convention, Midwestcon, in an issue of Analog in the summer of 1976, I persuaded my best friend and neighbor, Michaele Jordan, to come with me to a small hotel less than five miles from our homes.

It just so happened that Midwestcon 27 had a rather high number of professional writers and fans attending that weekend. I not only found myself surrounded by writers whose books I had read, I also were with people, for the very first time in my life, who did not judge me by the color of my skin but by the content of my character.

In the forty-four years since that joyous weekend, I have been to nearly two hundred conventions (YES, I saved ALL of my badges) including twenty-nine Worldcons.

I did notice that unlike today, there were not a lot of African Americans attending conventions in those days. As I made my way around the east coast conventions I did encounter three African-Americans I looked up to and admired from afar.

Samuel R. Delany.
Photo from SFWA website.

Samuel R. “Chip” Delany still walks among us. We met in 1986 when I chaired and organized a one-shot sf convention, Cinclave, which was done in conjunction with the University of Cincinnati. Despite my best efforts, the convention was a financial disaster for me but Chip Delany was a delight to converse with and he graciously signed all of my books. I recently made it a priority to spend some of my COVID-19 stimulus cash on acquiring all of his most essential works. You know them; Babel-17, The Einstein Intersection, Dhalgren, Triton, Nova, Distant Stars. A tremendous writer, he was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2014. 

Elliot K. Shorter at HexaCon, in 1980, a convention in Lancaster, Penna. Photo by © Andrew I. Porter.

Elliot K. Shorter (April 2, 1939 — October 1, 2013) was an impressive looking man; an ex-marine MP, he stood at 6’4” he was easy to spot. He won a TAFF race against Charles N. Brown and Bill Rotsler and was the Fan Guest of Honor at Heicon in West Germany, the first Worldcon held on mainland Europe. He was a regular conrunner at many east coast conventions and very active in the Society for Creative Anachronism. When I found out who he was and how accomplished he was, I wanted to be just like him.

D Potter (who died October 25, 2017) was a very tall, funny and effusive soul, who ALWAYS seemed to be having a good time wherever she was. She was an avid and prolific fanzine writer and apazine editor. I never got to know her very well and that was my loss. But I remember her vividly as a welcoming and good soul. 

D Potter at “New York is Book Country,” mid-1980s. Photos by and copyright © Andrew Porter

My time in fandom, has, for the most part, been a very good journey. It has not been without a few controversial moments and bruised toes but overall, there are very few things that I regret doing or experiencing.

My first volunteer effort was a brief stint in the Iguanacon Art Show in 1978. I started appearing regularly on Worldcon panels starting at Noreascon 2 in 1980. I have mostly been either staffing or running Worldcon Press Offices starting with ConStellation in 1983 to MidAmericon 2 in 2016.

In addition, there was the twenty-year odyssey at the Worldcon Business Meetings, wherein I labored to persuade members to change, modify or create new Hugo Award categories. Although I have been the subject of derision and abject scrutiny because of my efforts, I am quite proud of the work I and the like-minded fans who either supported these efforts and gave up their precious time at various Worldcons to come and vote on measures, motions and amendments.  

So, where does fandom stand today?

Goodness knows we can safely say, we are in VERY INTERESTING TIMES. Most cons have been either canceled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and there is no end in sight. 

Add on the uncertain and unsteady leadership in our government, the economic crisis that came as a result of the disease and the incredible social upheaval in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police, every branch of fandom has reason to worry about their future endeavors.

Which brings me back to that word.

Endurance. 

Fandom has been here before. In 1968. In 1972. In 1980. In 2001. In 2016.

Oh yes, we have been here before and we will endure, as we have always have.

Fandom has never been more diverse, more aware and as WOKE as ever.

On this Juneteenth, I may be wary of what may lie over the horizon but I do know that we, as fans, writers, editors, artists and conrunners are ready to weather almost anything that may be coming.

Right now, our institutions, fan groups and individuals are rallying around the victims of COVID-19, economic distress, police murders and riot damaged businesses. And we didn’t need to be told that Black Lives Matter, we ALWAYS knew that.

More than ever, like the generations of black and other minorities we call our allies and brethren, we cannot be silenced. We will not obey. We will not comply. We will always ask the next question. We will always question authority.

We will endure. No matter what comes next.

“If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.” — James Baldwin

Capricon 40: The 40th Anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back

Recorded and Archived by Chris M. Barkley: In October 2019, I was invited by Tammy Coxen to be a program participant at Capricon 40, an annual sf convention held in the Chicago area. The author Guest of Honor was Tobias Buckell and the 2020 theme was “The Tropics of Capricon” – exploring SF from Central and South America and other balmy climes, and the science of climate change. 

Among the most exciting items on the schedule was a panel on the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes back, considered by many to be the best of all the Star Wars films AND one of the finest movie sequels of all time.

I remember the memorable evening I saw a preview of Empire in a local Cincinnati, packed with fans, radio station ticket winners and local media. It was a rollicking, fun night as the audience was thrilled amazed…and then ultimately shocked by a story revelation that, so far in my opinion, no filmmaker has managed to match in the decades since.

The panel was held on Thursday, February 13 at 3:30 p.m., which was very early in the programming schedule. I and the other panelists, our moderator, Shaun Duke, and local fans Toni Bogolub and Megan Murray, were worried that the attendance would be sparse, at best.

AT-ATs advance, shooting laser bolts, toward the defending Alliance troops during the Battle of Hoth.

But, as it turned out, we all underestimated the interest in this panel and had well over fifty people in attendance.  

What has been documented here is the wild and undying love for Star Wars and our unbridled opinions about the best and worst of things about it.

I hope you enjoy our panel discussion: “40th Anniversary Empire Strikes Back.mp3”

(L) David Prowse (as Darth Vader; voice: James Earl Jones), (R) Mark Hamill (as Luke Skywalker)

Masked Filers Reading SFF:
The Green Hornet

Chris Barkley says, “Let’s roll, Kato!”

So, when I first started wearing a mask a few weeks ago, I could not stop thinking about one of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s best known compositions, “The Flight of the Bumblebee”, which was also adapted and famously used as the theme music for the radio and television versions of The Green Hornet.

When I was gifted with a black mask by a relative, I made it a priority to buy a classic patch and sew it on myself. 

I get a few off looks but that’s ok. When I put it on along with my fedora and jacket, I feel like the outlaw vigilante I was always meant to be…

“The Green Hornet! He matches wits with racketeers and saboteurs, risking his life so that criminals and enemy spies will feel the weight of the law by the sting of the Green Hornet!”


If you want to see this series continue, send photos of your mask and social distancing reads to mikeglyer (at) cs (dot) com

Pixel Scroll 4/23/20 Send Me The Pixel That You Scroll On

(1) THE TEN DOCTORS. The BBC’s Big Night In fundraising telethon broadcast April 23 included “The Doctors’ inspiring message to all frontline workers” delivered by regiment of actors who have played Doctor Who — Jodie Whittaker, Peter Capaldi, Matt Smith, David Tennant, Paul McGann, Sylvester McCoy, Colin Baker, Peter Davison, Tom Baker, and Jo Martin.

Doctors, past and present, unite together to send a powerful message to all frontline workers in the fight against coronavirus. Comic Relief and Children in Need join forces for the first time to deliver a very special night of television during these unprecedented times.The Big Night In brings the nation an evening of unforgettable entertainment in a way we’ve never seen before. More importantly, it will also raise money for and pay tribute to those on the front line fighting Covid-19 and all the unsung heroes going that extra mile to support their communities.

An excerpt from the YouTube transcript:

…We have all come together together together together together together together together for one important reason to praise salute and give the heartfelt thanks to real-life special doctors nurses and everyone everyone working on the phone lines in our NHS and care homes and hospices what you all do and have done for all of us is amazing it’s crucial phenomenal…

(2) HOLLAND CON DELAYED. Kees Van Toorn’s Reunicon 2020, a 30th anniversary celebration of the Worldcon in The Hague, has been postponed until August 2021.

Due to official regulations enforced by many countries worldwide concerning the covid-19 virus, all public events and travelling restrictions have been scrapped or postponed. That includes REUNICON 2020, alas. However, we have rescheduled the convention in August 20-22 in 2021. We are confident we will be able to host REUNICON next year, making it a good place to come to and share memories of CONFICTION 1990 as well as to remember all those we have lost in the past years and the grim period we now face. In the meantime, be well, stay healthy and take care of each other. And stay tuned for more information!

(3) TODAY’S THING TO WORRY ABOUT. Steven Saus found a problem: “Minecraft Bug: Despawning Named Zombie Villagers”.

We discovered what seems to be a bug in Minecraft. Named mobs are not supposed to despawn when the chunk unloads, but named villagers that are turned into (named) zombie villagers end up despawning too.

.. My named villager “Bait” was turned into a named zombie villager all right, but he also immediately despawned when the chunk unloaded.

If you want to spend 90 seconds you can watch it happen – yes, I admit I did…

(4) ACHIEVEMENTS TO UNLOCK. At the SFWA Blog, Cat Rambo begins “Effective Goal Setting for Writers” with this overview:

Something I work on with my coaching clients is goal setting, which is made up of several parts:

  • figuring out where they want to be in six months to a year
  • figuring out what the milestones of that goal are and mapping them against the schedule
  • figuring out the monthly goals they need to hit in order to achieve that schedule
  • figuring out the weekly goals necessary to achieve those monthly goals

(5) US IN FLUX. The third story for Center for Science and the Imagination’s Us in Flux project launched today: “When We Call a Place Home,” by Chinelo Onwualu.

On Monday, April 27 at 4 p.m. Eastern, they’ll have another virtual event on Zoom with Chinelo in conversation with Robert Evans, a conflict journalist and host of the podcasts Behind the Bastards and The Women’s War about the story “When We Call a Place Home” and the real-world community in Northern Syria that inspired the tale.

(6) REASONS REVISITED. [Item by Chip Hitchcock.] In a free reprint from 2001, The London Review of Books’ Jenny Turner discusses “Reasons for liking Tolkien” — long, meaty, and balanced.

A writer, born around 1890, is famous for three novels. The first is short, elegant, an instant classic. The second, the masterpiece, has the same characters in it, is much longer and more complicated, and increasingly interested in myth and language games. The third is enormous, mad, unreadable. One answer is Joyce, of course. Another – The Hobbit (1937), The Lord of the Rings (1955), The Silmarillion (1977) – is J.R.R. Tolkien.

A writer, born around 1890, raged against ‘mass-production robot factories and the roar of self-obstructive mechanical traffic’ and ‘the rawness and ugliness of modern European life’. Instead he loved the trees and hedgerows of the English Midlands he had known as a boy, and the tales of ‘little, ultimate creatures’ he came across in the legends of the North. Clue: it wasn’t D.H. Lawrence.

A writer, born around 1890, worked bits of ancient writings into his own massive masterwork, magnificently misprising them as he went. Clue: it wasn’t Pound.

…A writer, born around 1890, declared himself a monarchist and a Catholic; and no, it wasn’t Eliot. In form, in content, in everything about it, The Lord of the Rings is the most anti-Modernist of novels. It is really very funny to think about how similar it is in so many ways to the works of the great Modernists.

(7) WHAT’S A WRITER TO DO? From The Guardian: “Margaret Atwood’s lockdown diary: life as an eccentric self-isolationist”.

As the first world war dragged on, volunteer women’s groups of all kinds formed in aid of the troops in the trenches: bandage rolling, preserved foods box packing, knitting. My grandmother joined a knitting group in rural Nova Scotia. You started on washcloths, progressed to scarves; then, if you were sufficiently adroit, you moved on to balaclavas and socks, and ultimately – the pinnacle! – to gloves. My grandmother was a terrible knitter. She never got beyond washcloths.

I’ve often wondered about these knitting groups. What were they for, really? Were they providing much-needed knitted items, or were they boosting morale by giving a bunch of otherwise very anxious civilians, whose sons and husbands were in jeopardy, something to do with their hands while waiting, waiting, endlessly waiting? I can see the socks and gloves making it to the frontlines, but the washcloths? Photographs of muddy, cramped, stinky trench life don’t show much washing going on. And my grandmother’s wonky, hole-filled washcloths in particular – were they sent to a secret depot where they were unraveled, and their wool reclaimed for something more functional?

So, in the spirit of my grandmother’s washcloths – not ultimately useful, perhaps, but let’s hope they focused the mind and gave a sense of accomplishment – I present some of my more bizarre self-isolation activities. You can do some of them at home. Though perhaps you won’t wish to.

…Another activity I’ve been doing lately is squirrel foiling. Hear a gnawing sound in the ceiling? These are your choices, in this part of the world: raccoons, possums, rats, squirrels, Google Earth. Probably squirrels, I thought, and so it proved to be. At first I foiled them by playing hot jazz and acid rock right under their gnawing station, but they got used to the wailing and screaming, so I climbed up a stepladder, placed a large steel bowl against the ceiling, and whacked it with a big metal serving spoon. Yes, I know, I shouldn’t have been doing that alone at night – the Younger Generation will scold when they read this – because people my age fall off ladders and break their necks, especially when not holding on because you need two hands for steel bowl banging. I won’t do it again, promise. (Until next time.)…

(8) MANDALORIAN MAKERS. Here’s a two-minute teaser for the next season of The Mandalorian, with appearances by Jon Favreau (creator/writer/executive producer), Dave Filoni (writer/director/executive producer), Deborah Chow (director), Bryce Dallas Howard (director), Taika Waititi (director/IG-11), Pedro Pascal (Din Djarin), Gina Carano (Cara Dune), and Carl Weathers (Greef Karga). Starts starts streaming May the 4th, on Disney+.

(9) MILLER OBIT. Ryder W. Miller (1965-2020)  passed away March 15 after a six-month fight with pancreatic cancer. A critic, poet, writer, and journalist, he was a regular contributor to The Mythic Circle, Beyond Bree, Mythprint, EGJ, and Rain Taxi, and also appeared in Mythlore. He published stories at The Lost Souls website. He is the author of Tales of Suspense and Horror, co-author of San Francisco: A Natural History, and editor of From Narnia to a Space Odyssey: The War of Letters Between Arthur C. Clarke and C.S. Lewis (ibooks, 2005).

(10) TODAY’S DAY.

Through reading and the celebration of World Book and Copyright Day, 23 April, we can open ourselves to others despite distance, and we can travel thanks to imagination.

In concert, Wikipedia has selected as its word of the day unputdownable:

Of a person, etc.: difficult or impossible to put down (in various senses). (specifically) Of a book or other written work: so captivating or engrossing that one cannot bear to stop reading it.

The unofficial annual holiday celebrates the day in 2011 when the first episode of the sixth season of the series was aired in the United KingdomUnited States, and Canada.

Doctor Who is a sci-fi series that first aired on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 1963. The show follows the adventures of the Doctor, a time-travelling alien, who travels through time and space in a time machine and spacecraft called Time and Relative Dimension in Space or TARDIS. The TARDIS looks like a London police box from the 1960s.

Called The Impossible Astronaut, the episode became one of the most appreciated and watched episodes of the series.

(11) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • April 23, 1974 Planet Earth premiered. Created by Gene Roddenberry, written by Roddenberry and Juanita Bartlett, it was — not surprisingly – also based on a story by Roddenberry. It starred John Saxon as Dylan Hunt. The rest of cast was Diana Muldaur, Ted Cassidy, Janet Margolin, Christopher Cary. Corrine Camacho and Majel Barrett. It was intended  as a pilot for a new weekly television series, but that never came to be. It was the second attempt by him to produce a weekly series set on a post-apocalyptic future Earth with Genesis II being the previous pilot.  Roddenberry recycled both the concepts and characters used in Genesis II. Some of the characters here would show up in the Andromeda series such as Dylan Hunt. It was generally well-received by critics at the time, and it currently has a 45% rating among audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes. You can watch it here.

(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born April 23, 1879 Talbot Mundy. English-born, but based for most of his life in the States, he also wrote under the pseudonym of Walter Galt. Best known as the author of King of the Khyber Rifles which is not quite genre and the Jimgrim series which is genre, much of his work was published in pulp magazines. (Died 1940.)
  • Born April 23, 1923 Avram Davidson. Equally at home writing mystery, fantasy or science fiction, he wrote two splendid Ellery Queen mysteries, And on the Eighth Day and The Fourth Side of the Triangle. I’m fond of his Vergil Magus series if only for the names of the novels like The Phoenix and the Mirror or, The Enigmatic Speculum. (Died 1993.)
  • Born April 23, 1935 Tom Doherty, 85. Publisher of Ace Books who left there in 1980 to found Tor Books. Doherty was awarded a World Fantasy Award in the Lifetime Achievement category at the 2005 World Fantasy Convention for his contributions to the fantasy field.
  • Born April 23, 1946 Blair Brown, 74. Emily Jessup In Altered States (based on the Paddy Chayefsky novel) was her first genre role. Later roles include Nina Sharp, the executive director of Massive Dynamic, on Fringe, an amazing role indeed, and Elizabeth Collins Stoddard in the 2004 television remake of Dark Shadows. Her last genre role was Kate Durning on Elementary.
  • Born April 23, 1955 Paul J. McAuley, 65. Four Hundred Billion Stars, his first novel, won the Philip K. Dick Award, Fairyland which I adore won a Arthur C. Clarke Award and a John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best SF Novel. He was Toastmaster along Kim Newman at Interaction, 
  • Born April 23, 1956 Caroline Thompson, 64. She wrote the screenplays for Tim Burton’s Edward ScissorhandsThe Nightmare Before Christmas, and Corpse Bride. A stage version of the latter with director and choreographer Matthew Bourne was co-adapted with her this year. She also wrote the screenplay for The Addams Family
  • Born April 23, 1962 John Hannah, 58. Here for being Jonathan Carnahan in The MummyThe Mummy Returns, and there was apparently a third film as well, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. In a more meaty role, he was the title characters in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and of late he’s been Holden Radcliffe on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series.
  • Born April 23, 1973 Naomi Kritzer, 47. I saw that her 2015 short story “Cat Pictures Please” had been a  Hugo Award winner at  MidAmeriCon II, so I went and purchased Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories off iBooks so I could read it. It was superb as is her newest novel Catfishing on CatNet which is nominated for a Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book at this year’s Hugos.

(13) COMICS SECTION.

(14) STILL IN THE DUGOUT. Last year Chris Barkley sent retiring Cincinnati Reds baseball broadcaster Marty Brennaman a copy of his “So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask” column full of advice about how to improve Major League Baseball, and he was ecstatic to finally receive an answer.

(15) EARTH DAY. Brain Pickings will celebrate Earth Day on April 25 with its The Universe in Verse event, a charitable celebration of science and nature through poetry, streaming on Vimeo.

“I don’t think it would have been conceivable to me when I was seventeen that science would ever need defending, let alone by a poet,” the poet Jane Hirshfield says in her beautiful and poignant meditation on her memory of the first Earth Day in 1970, prefacing her reading at the 2020 Universe in Verse, celebrating 50 years of Earth Day. (Tune into the global broadcast at 4:30PM EST on Saturday, April 25, to hear Hirshfield and a constellation of other radiant minds.

…Expect readings of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, Pablo Neruda, June Jordan, Mary Oliver, Audre Lorde, Wendell Berry, Hafiz, Rachel Carson, James Baldwin, and other titans of poetic perspective, performed by a largehearted cast of scientists and artists, astronauts and poets, Nobel laureates and Grammy winners: Physicists Janna LevinKip Thorne, and Brian Greene, musicians Rosanne CashPatti SmithAmanda PalmerZoë KeatingMorley, and Cécile McLorin Salvant, poets Jane HirshfieldRoss GayMarie Howe, and Natalie Diaz, astronomers Natalie Batalha and Jill Tarter, authors Rebecca SolnitElizabeth GilbertMasha GessenRoxane GayRobert Macfarlane, and Neil Gaiman, astronaut Leland Melvin, playwright and activist V (formerly Eve Ensler), actor Natascha McElhone, entrepreneur Tim Ferriss, artists Debbie MillmanDustin Yellin, and Lia Halloran, cartoonist Alison Bechdel, radio-enchanters Krista Tippett and Jad Abumrad, and composer Paola Prestini with the Young People’s Chorus. As always, there are some thrilling surprises in wait.

(16) ANATOMY OF A BLACK HOLE. “In a photo of a black hole, a possible key to mysteries” from the Harvard Gazette.

So little is known about them and the image hints at a path to a higher-resolution image and more and better data

Billions of people worldwide marveled at the first image ever captured of a black hole. The photo of the glowing, blurry doughnut, taken by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) team, showed the massive dark region, a monster the size of our solar system, that, like its peers, gobbles up everything — even light — that ventures too close.

“I definitely got shivers down my spine,” said Alexander Lupsasca, a junior fellow in Harvard’s Center for the Fundamental Laws of Nature, remembering the moment he saw the photo for the first time. It was thrilling because so very little is known about black holes. And now, Lupsasca and a team of scientists at Harvard’s Black Hole Initiative say the image may help provide more answers: Hidden within the glowing ring are an infinite number of sub-rings that offer a way to capture an even higher-resolution image and more precise data on the massive enigmas of the universe.

“They’re paradoxical objects. They’re the epitome of what we don’t understand,” said Andrew Strominger, the Gwill E. York Professor of Physics at Harvard. “And it’s very exciting to see something that you don’t understand.” Black holes are one of the great puzzles of modern physics — where Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and quantum mechanics collide. Scientists still know so little about them — their mass, how fast they spin, what’s inside their warped space-time. Until the EHT produced the first actual image, Strominger could only investigate their mysteries with complex mathematics, pencil, and paper. “I cried when I saw their picture,” he said. Then, he asked: “What can we learn from this?”

…“As we peer into these rings, first, second, third, etc., we are looking at light from all over the visible universe; we are seeing farther and farther into the past, a movie, so to speak, of the history of the visible universe,” said Peter Galison, the Joseph Pellegrino University Professor of the History of Science and of Physics, in the Black Hole Initiative’s press release.

(17) A DREAM WITHIN A DREAM. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] A new project at MIT may allow one to control lucid dreams (those in which you’re aware you’re dreaming)… at least a bit. As one drops into hypnagogia, that liminal state between being awake and being asleep, a wearable in development detects this and triggers a pre-selected one-word audio cue. In theory this may help the wearer to be like David Beckham and bend a lucid dream to follow a desired trajectory.

To say that the Popular Mechanics article’s author, Caroline Delbert, is skeptical of the usefulness of this would be an understatement. “Would You Wear This Glove to Hack Your Dreams?”

(18) DRAWING FOR HEALTH. “The Japanese monster going viral” – BBC has the story.

People across the world are drawing images of a mythical Japanese spirit believed to help ward off plagues.

In Japan, as parts of the country declare a state of emergency, people here have been reacting to the Covid-19 pandemic in a unique way: by sharing images online of a mystical, mermaid-like being believed to ward off plagues.

Largely forgotten for generations, Amabie, as it’s known, is an auspicious yokai (a class of supernatural spirits popularised through Japanese folklore) that was first documented in 1846. As the story goes, a government official was investigating a mysterious green light in the water in the former Higo province (present-day Kumamoto prefecture). When he arrived at the spot of the light, a glowing-green creature with fishy scales, long hair, three fin-like legs and a beak emerged from the sea.

Amabie introduced itself to the man and predicted two things: a rich harvest would bless Japan for the next six years, and a pandemic would ravage the country. However, the mysterious merperson instructed that in order to stave off the disease, people should draw an image of it and share it with as many people as possible.

(19) HEAL, SPOT HEAL! Spot the Robot Dog is trying out for a job as a telemedicine worker reports Forbes: “Spot The Robot Dog Roams The Coronavirus Pandemic’s Front Lines”.

Spot, the famous robot dog from Boston Dynamics, has been conscripted into service to work on the front lines helping medical professionals battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Engineers at the company, which was formerly a subsidiary of Google before being purchased by Softbank, have been working for the past six weeks to develop the means for Spot to help reduce the exposure of healthcare workers.

So far Spot has been working with Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where robots outfitted with a special payload are deployed in triage tents and parking lots to help staff receive patients suspected to have COVID-19 and perform initial assessments.

“With the use of a mobile robot, hospitals are able to reduce the number of necessary medical staff at the scene and conserve their limited PPE supply,” explains a release from Boston Dynamics.

(20) VIDEO OF THE DAY. A video on YouTube as “vol. 5 Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798/1861)” is an animation by Pasquale D’Amico of works by a 19th-century macabre Japanese artist.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter, Cat Eldridge, JJ, John King Tarpinian, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, Chip Hitchcock, and Michael Toman for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day StephenfromOttawa.]

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #49

**BEWARE SPOILERS**

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – A Review 

By Chris M. Barkley:

Star Wars – Episode Nine: The Rise of Skywalker (2019, 142 minutes, ****) with Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Kelly Marie Tran, Domhnall Gleeson, Naomi Ackie, Richard E. Grant, Billy Dee Williams, Keri Russell, Ian McDermid AND Carrie Fisher. Screenplay by Chris Terrio and J. J. Abrams, Story by Derek Connelly, Colin Trevorrow, Directed by J. J. Abrams.

“NEVER underestimate a droid.”
General Leia Organa

Last month, I had the privilege of meeting actor Anthony Daniels when his book tour in support of his memoir, I Am C-3PO, stopped at my old place of employment, Joseph Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, Ohio.

As Mr. Daniels personalized my book, I gave him a brief re-telling of my first viewing Star Wars in May of 1977:

While attending Disclave in Washington D.C., I fairly stumbled into discovering that a new movie, Star Wars, was showing at the Uptown Theater on Connecticut Avenue, just a half a mile from the Sheraton Park Hotel. On that Saturday evening, it was one of only 30 places in the entire United States showing the movie. (It rolled out to several hundred more after that weekend.) 

I was lucky enough to get a ticket to Saturday’s midnight showing. And when I emerged, dazed and deliriously happy two hours and a minute later, I ran into one of my new fannish friends, future Worldcon chair Michael Walsh. When we spotted each other, we simultaneously and spontaneously started dancing on the sidewalk outside the theater making a spectacle of ourselves.

When I finished my story, Mr. Daniels had a look of utter surprise on his face. After reading the first chapter of his book (which I HIGHLY recommend, by the way), he has stated that he is always surprised and amazed by how many people have been touched in some way by this series of films.

When I first saw what eventually became Episode IV: A New Hope, I was almost twenty-one years old. And amazingly, here I am now, forty-two years later, writing a review of the final film in what is now known as the Skywalker Saga. And what a wild ride it has been over nine feature films, spin off films, several television series and hundreds of novels and comics.

There has been been an immense wave of backlash from detractors of J.J. Abrams and haters of the previous two Star Wars films in advance of the premiere of The Rise of Skywalker. As for myself, I try to stay away from both the hype and the churn of internet spite, least anything disrupt or bias my enjoyment of this film. 

Does anyone out there remember the good old days, when personal beefs and flame wars were either settled within the confines of printed, mimeographed fanzines or in person at sf conventions on panels (or, in some cases, the hallways or the consuite)? Nowadays, all it takes is just a smartphone and two minutes of idle brain farts.   

But alas, I have digressed a bit too much. On with the show… 

[The main review follows the jump]

Continue reading

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #48

Who Watches The Watchmen?  Part Three: Episodes 7-9

By Chris M. Barkley:

Mr. Phillips: “Was I a worthy adversary, Master?”

Adrian Veidt: “No. But you put on one HELL of a show!”

  • Episode 7: “An Almost Religious Awe,” Written by Stacy Osei-Kuffour and Claire Keichell, Directed by David Semel.
  • Episode 8: “A God Walks into Abar,” Written by Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen, Directed by Nicole Kassell.
  • Episode 9: “See How They Fly,” Written by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse, Directed by Frederick E.O. Toye.

*BEWARE SPOILERS*

In the beginning, there were good guys and bad guys. And all was well.

Until it wasn’t.

The good guy versus bad guy scenario could sustain the comics industry, and their readers, for only a relatively short period of time. Nowadays, the good-evil paradigm has been replaced by who lives or dies, whose ethics are in question, will the right thing be done or will the most pragmatic or expedient course be taken? How far can a hero, or a villain, be pushed in a story?

Have you ever stopped to think about who would ever want to be a superhero? To actually put on a mask, cowl or a cape? Or, conversely, would you have the nerve to do it yourself?

This is particularly pertinent question in a week that not only closes out HBO’s Watchmen miniseries, it also coincides with the momentous milestone of Superman publicly disclosing his Clark Kent identity, a decision that is not likely to be reversed anytime soon.

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen wasn’t the first comic book story to dabble in social injustice, heroic ambiguity or the psychological costs of double identities, but the storyline’s deconstruction of the superhero myths brought it to an entirely new and enthusiastic audience. Everyone who has ever been involved in the industry since its publication has recognized it as the gold standard of visual storytelling.

When Laurie Blake told Angela Abar back in Episode Three (“She Was Killed By Space Junk”) that people wanted to become masked vigilantes because of their unresolved issues with some deep, traumatic experience that they have never resolved, it was a moment resonated with me.

As a victim of many childhood traumas myself, I sometimes look back and marvel (no pun intended) at how I held onto my sanity, progressively healed and survived.   

And while Laurie’s cynical observation is somewhat tainted by her own personal history of tragedy, it does, to a certain extent, ring true… .

But, let’s face it, what we’re really talking about here is a basic desire for wish fulfillment; to right wrongs and on some level, fight injustice. And ever since Stan Lee, Bill Everett, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Jack Kirby, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox and many others created the comics industry in the late 1930’s, many variations have been spun from their creations and mythologies.

The abandonment of Superman’s secret identity has been the latest in a long line of  events and stunts solely created to keep readers involved, engaged and. most importantly, buying comics and graphic novels.

Damon Lindelof and company’s adaptation of Watchmen is a corporate extension this notion, a television event no one could have possibly imagined doing, a proto-sequel to one of the greatest graphic novels ever written. And while it’s too bad it was done at the expense of its original creator Alan Moore, I am very grateful that it turned out so magnificently. 

After seeing Episode Nine of Watchmen, I can hardly wait to buy a DVD of this series to wallow in and unpack the details of how Damon Lindelof’s puzzle box of a story eventually comes together to form a perfect mosaic of ego, false entitlement, pride, desperation, faith and fate and, of course, love.

In addition, Watchmen is also an exciting, and paradoxically, meditative parable about how America has continually failed in reconciling its past injustices, racist acts and broken promises.

As a viewer, I found it immensely satisfying to watch all of these thematic threads of race, white privilege, cultural appropriation, class, revenge, arrogance and egotism and redemption play out.

Just the musical (and egg) references alone are worth a deep dive, as evidenced here in a (very spoilery) analysis by Jen Chaney at Vulture.com: “Let’s Talk About Watchmen’s Egg-cellent Finale”

In the first six episodes, we more-or- less wondered when Doctor Manhattan would show up. In Episode Seven, we found out he was right in front of us all along.

Besides the big reveal involving Angela (Regina King) and Cal Abar (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) at the end of the episode, the most remarkable thing that happened was Laurie Blake’s (Jean Smart) boneheaded mistake. Since her first appearance she has repeatedly shown herself to be an almost preternaturally observant investigator and usually the smartest person in a three-mile radius. But her blunder, which ended up in her being captured by the Seventh Kalvary, was an attempt to reach out emotionally to a person central to the investigation. And while it advances the plot, it also reveals her to be as human and vulnerable as anyone else in the story.

Another admirable moment happened when Senator Joe Keene, Jr. (James Wolk) attempts to explain his nefarious plot, Laurie, who has obviously experienced this particular trope literally her entire life, cuts him off and says she doesn’t give a shit about his monologuing to her. While monologuing has been a standard (and WAY overused) tool to clue the audience into what may come next, it was refreshing to see it being rejected on screen here (AND in the finale as well).

Episode Eight was an acting showcase for both Regina King and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and I expect both to be nominated for Emmys next year because of it. In this mostly timey-whimey set piece, we discover how Angela and Jon Osterman met a decade earlier in Saigon, experience the devastating deaths of her parents and grandmother, which, in turn, leads her to becoming a police officer in Vietnam and meeting and being initially wooed by a disguised Doctor Manhattan.

As often as he as been portrayed as aloof and omnipotent, the one boldest risks of the series was the decision to have him roll the dice and attempt to be human again. (But then again, he saw himself being in love with Angela, so he may have just been following the fate he saw for himself.) However, his ability to see the future, and be in several places in the time continuum at the same time, turns out to be his greatest power and his fatal flaw.  

In the brief vignette with Adrian Veidt (Jeremy Irons), he finds himself on the wrong end of a kangaroo court trial with the “Game Warden” as the judge. When called upon to defend himself, Veidt rises from the defense table and gives one of the most unusual, and deliberately hilarious, defenses in the history of television. 

Over the hour and nine minute finale, all of the narrative strands of our story come together and are pulled taut; Doctor Manhattan finds himself in imminent danger of being utterly destroyed by the Seventh Kalvary AND Lady Trieu, Adrian is freed from his virtual prison to be a spectator of the impending disaster, Will awaits to see his final act revenge comes to fruition and Angela, Laurie and Wade are helpless as they see the  climax unfolding before them.

In the aftermath, Angela ponders the possibility of becoming Doctor Manhattan herself. And while she seemingly accepts the challenge, she, and the viewers, are left in suspense; has she gained his power or will something else happen?

“Considering what he could do, he could have done more,” her grandfather Will tells Angela, which is her impetus to take up the reins of power. Angela may have learned to look past putting on a mask to deal with her trauma, but is she seems to be ready for what happens next.

Because, at its very core, Watchmen is about power; who has it, who doesn’t, who thirsts for it, who dares to accept it and uses it responsibly.

Angela thinks she’s ready. I hope she is. And collectively, we should be rooting for her, too.

Because she is us.

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

This column is Dedicated to Curtis Flowers, an African-American political prisoner who was freed on bail on December 16 after spending more than half of his life behind bars. Mr. Flowers was tried FIVE times for 1996 robbery in which four people were killed. Three of the convictions were thrown out due to prosecutorial misconduct by the district attorney who prosecuted him, Doug Evans, and two other trials resulted in hung juries. While his innocence is still in question at this point, the case against him has been found to be incredibly suspect by several independent investigations of the crime. I hope that the small measure of freedom he has been granted this week allows him the opportunity to see and enjoy Watchmen.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #47

Who Watches The Watchmen?  Part Two: Episodes 4-6

By Chris M. Barkley:

BEWARE, SPOILERS AHOY!

“I’m in. All the way! Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock…”

– Will Reeves, Episode Four

  • Episode 4: “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own.” Written by Damon Lindelof and Christal, Directed by Andrij Parekh.
  • Episode 5: “Little Fear of Lightning.” Written by Damon Lindelof & Carly Wray, Directed by Steph Green.
  • Episode 6:  “This Extraordinary Being.” Written by Damon Lindelof & Cord Jefferson, Directed by Stephen Williams.

As I entered the middle passage of the Watchmen mini-series, I was literally on pins and needles wondering if Damon Lindelof and company were going to serve up more narrative curve balls. Needless to say, I was NOT disappointed…

In the fourth episode, we are introduced to Lady Trieu (Hong Chau), the mysterious Viet-American billionaire who swept up Adrian Veidt’s assets after his disappearance. In the opening moments, she commits a rather shocking piece of extortion (that was chillingly reminiscent of some of the shenanigans they used to pull on J.J. Abrams’ Fox series, Fringe) just before a spacecraft crash lands on their property.

Meanwhile, Angela (Regina King) finds her hijacked car but unfortunately for her, so does Laurie (Jean Smart), who impounds it and finds her grandfather’s fingerprints inside. What Laurie doesn’t find are a bottle of pills in the glove compartment that he apparently left for Angela to find. Angela takes them to the only person she truly trusts, Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson), so they can be independently analyzed by his ex-wife.

While disposing of the evidence of her grandfather’s stay in her police hideout, Angela spies a masked vigilante tailing her. She gives chase but her prey proves to be a bit too slippery for her to catch. 

It turns out there’s another connection with the car that leads Laurie, Petey and Sister Night directly to the immense Millenium Clock project complex. They meet with the mysterious Lady Trieu and her daughter, Bian, who both pledge their full cooperation in the investigation. Trieu also passes along a message to Night from her grandfather in Vietnanese, which she coldly deflects.

Trieu and Will have a plan in motion; they want Angela to be a part of it, but Will insists that his granddaughter must figure out what’s going on on her own. Otherwise, he reasons, she won’t accept the truth directly from him. Trieu disagrees, saying family entanglements may endanger their agenda. Will reaffirms that he is in, no matter what may come.

Meanwhile, Adrian Veidt continues to test the limits of his virtual prison by catapulting the corpses of his clones slaves up in the air to an unknown void…

Episode Five gave us the inside story on how Wade Tillman (Tim Blake Nelson) became the sardonic Looking Glass, the human lie detector. When the infamous giant squid was teleported into New York City in 1985, Tillman was a teenager working as a Jehovah’s Witness in neighboring Hoboken, New Jersey amusement park when it happened. While he survived the attack, he was psychologically traumatized.

As a Tulsa cop, he uses his keen powers of observation to interrogate suspects and solve crimes. But those powers are of little use in his personal life; he’s divorced, lives alone, has trouble connecting with people on a personal level and seems to spend a great deal of time studying and/or living in fear of the next “squid attack’ from another dimension.

Wade is also under pressure at work; Chief Crawford’s murder remains unsolved and Laurie Blake has taken control of the force for the forseeable future. She is also pressuring Wade for information about Angela, whom she strongly suspects knows more about the murder than she’s telling.

One of those things is a bottle of pills that Angela desperately wanted analyzed. His  ex-wife Cynthia informs Wade that the pills are Nostalgia, a pharmaceutical memory aid that has been outlawed due to its dangerous side effects. (It also turns out to be a drug that was invented and marketed by Lady Trieu’s corporation!)

Wade’s cover identity is market research consultant and his public service hobby is helping people who are still traumatized by the 1985 attack or the infrequent “squid drops” that keeps the populous on edge.

When Wade meets Renee (Paula Malcolmson), a new member of the support group, he is initially smitten with her until he spots a clue that indicates she may be a member of the 7th Kalvary. He trails her to a warehouse but turns out to be a trap; Wade is confronted by Senator Joe Keen, Jr. (James Wolk) who is seemingly using the 7th Kalvary as a front for his presidential aspirations. He offers Wade a choice, either watch a video revealing the truth about the ‘alien invasion” or have his life ruined by his operatives.

Keen also wants Angela served up to Laurie and out of the way while the 7th Kavalry’s plan, involving an elaborate teleportation system, goes operational.

In deep despair over his newfound knowledge, Wade tells Angela about Nostalgia in the presence of one of Laurie’s surveillance bugs and she openly admits her grandfather’s involvement in Crawford’s death. When Laurie immediately moves in to arrest her, Angela swallows all of Will’s pills…

Using a powerful trebuchet and wearing a primitive pressure suite, Adrian is launched into the air…and onto an airless moon. He rearranges the numerous corpses of his clone servants into a distress message that may (or may not) be observed by an orbiting satellite. But just as he rejoices in triumph, he is pulled back into his virtual prison by the Game Warden, who arrests him, promising “no mercy” in violation of the rules of confinement.

In Episode Six we take a deep dive into the life of Angela’s grandfather, William Reeves (Jovan Adepo) via the Nostalgia pills she ingested during her arrest. He was the little boy who rescued a child from the Tulsa massacre. In 1938 New York, that child grows up to be his wife, June (Danielle Deadwyler).

Will was inspired by watching silent movies a distant relative, the famed US Marshal Bass Reeves, to become a policeman. But, unlike the movies, life proves to be more complicated. Hired in a move to mollify black activists, he encounters racism from his fellow officers and the public at large.

When Will catches wind of a conspiracy run by the KKK and some NYPD officers in his own precinct, he’s nearly lynched and warned not to “mess in white people’s business”.

Enraged, Will dons a dark hood and becomes Hooded Justice, the first of the many masked vigilantes of the Watchmen universe.

Disguising himself with white makeup (in a similar manner as Angela does with her Sister Night identity), he continues to investigate the Klan and their insidious plans to kill or destroy the lives of African-Americans.

Will heeds a call to join the Minutemen, a group of masked adventurers sanctioned by the authorities, but is disheartened when their leader, Captain Metropolis (Jake McDorman) belittles his pursuit of racists in favor of criminal masterminds.

Several years later into his police career, Will discovers that the Klan is testing a mind control device on black movie audiences in order to cause widespread riots and mayhem. When he discovers their warehouse, he brutally murders the Klansmen, takes a prototype of the device and burns the base to the ground. In doing so, he becomes the very antithesis of the fictional movie version of Bass Reeves, who once intoned,  “There will be no lynching today! Trust The Law!” to moviegoers.

However, his efforts have a price; June, bitterly aware of his vigilante activities, leaves him and takes their young son back to Tulsa.

A flashforward shows Angela exactly how Chief Crawford was killed; Will, using a modified version of the mind control device, forces him to hang himself…

And when Angela awakes from her coma, she is surprised to be in the company of, and treatment, of Lady Trieu…

The pleasures of re-watching HBO’s Watchmen (and what will make it eminently so in the future) is seeing the various references to the past of the origin comic AND our own past intertwined with narrative. I can pluck three from Episode Six alone:

For instance, Bass Reeves was quite real, the first black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi. His exploits were so remarkable that they may have inspired Fran Striker and George W. Trendle in the creation of the Lone Ranger in 1933. In a fairer, better world, Bass Reeves would be a better known and loved than a fictional white character.

The immigrant newsstand owner recounts the origin of Superman in Action Comics to Will Reeves, who almost instantly connects with the tale of an alien baby sent to another world to escape his planet’s destruction. 

Fred T., the racist grocery owner who clashes with Will early on in his policing life, could be modeled on the life of Fred Trump, the father of our current chief executive, who was also known to be a not very pleasant person.

Another thing I found admirable about Watchmen was Damon Lindelof’s dedication to making this production as diverse as possible. A majority of the writers (ten of the fourteen) were people of color and three women directed episodes.

Besides being a top-flight piece of entertainment, Watchmen is also a reaction against the willful erasure of the more violent aspects of American history, race relations, colonialism, political hegemony and policing. Heady stuff, to be sure. But so was Alan Moore’s source material.

It’s quite clear to me after six episodes that the narrative strands of the main characters; Angela Abar, Laurie Blake and Adrian Veidt, are slowly being drawn together.

Of the three, I feel emotionally invested in Angela’s story the most; she is learning about her family legacy in a very hard way. Her neat and tidy life of black and white, good and evil has been upended in the most unusual manner. And while she has acted in her own self interests in the protection of her family and herself, we can see the toll it’s taking on her through the sheer acting prowess of Regina King. Jean Smart and Jeremy Irons may delight us by chewing the scenery around the edges of the story but Ms. King’s performance is the living, beating heart of this epic. And I hope the Emmy Award nominators remember that going into the new year.

Also, I must highly commend the original score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, which I neglected in my previous review of the first three episodes. It’s a fantastical, electronic wonderland that invokes thrills, whimsy and dread in all the right places.

Watchmen also features a remarkable number of period pieces from several musical eras, from the Inks Spots, Eartha Kitt and Billie Holiday to Devo, Howard Jones and the Beastie Boys. A weekly updated list of the music being used can be found at:

https://www.menshealth.com/entertainment/a29516167/watchmen-season-1-soundtrack-songs/   

As for me, I don’t know how Damon Lindelof and company are going to pull off this feat of narrative derring-do in the final three episodes.

In an interview published online in Gen Mag (which can be read here) before Watchmen’s premeire, Damon Lindelof made the following statement: “I envision myself holding two stacks of plates each in my outstretched arms and we’re putting plates on both sides to find the perfect balance, but in finding that balance, plates are fucking breaking, man. You can’t play this game and not break stuff. But I hope when plates break, it’s not irreparable. Talk to me in a few months and then we’ll have a conversation about whether it was worth it.”

In three more weeks we’re all going to find out if this ambitious, audacious and totally unauthorized endeavor is going to pay off. Stay tuned…

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #46

2019 Windycon Fan Guest of Honor Speech: An Apocryphal Story, 43 Things I Learned Being In Fandom and Mean Comments From File 770 Readers

By Chris M. Barkley: Good Morning. I’m Chris Barkley.

A word of warning: At one point during this speech, I will be making a partisan political reference that may offend some of you. The rest of you can laugh. Don’t worry, you’ll know it when you hear it. Viewer discretion is advised…

I am very honored to be Windycon’s Fan Guest of Honor this year. Ever since I was asked to be Windycon’s Fan Guest of Honor nearly a year and a half ago, I felt like I was asking to host Saturday Night Live. Because when you think about it, conventions are very much like live television. There’s a lot of spontaneous action and unpredictable stuff going on, sometimes all at once. Well, ok, here the sketches are also longer and it would help if they were better written.

And as a “reward” I am obligated to regale you with some musings and philosophical insights I have gained in my many years in fandom.

I also note that in some circles, I have what is quaintly known as a “bad reputation”. Well, I can tell you that Joan Jett was speaking directly to me when she sang:

(singing BADLY)  

And I don’t give a damn ’bout my bad reputation

Oh no (No no no no no no)

Not me (Me me me me me me)

I was born in August of 1956. Dwight David Eisenhower was the President of the United States. Some weasel from California was the Vice-President. (And NO, this isn’t the political comment you’re waiting for. Patience.)

My mother became an elementary school teacher who specializes in reading. My father was a mechanical engineer for General Electric’s jet engine division. So, it stands to reason that their oldest son is an avid fan of science fiction (and under certain conditions, fantasy).

Comic books were one thin dime apiece. Penny candy actually cost a penny. There were only three broadcast television networks. Rock and Roll, the bastard child of rhythm and blues and jazz was poised to take over the world.

And, aside from the racism, marginalization of minorities, lynchings, rampant, sexism, homophobia, the Cold War, governmental malfeasance and the imminent threat of nuclear war, it was a great time to be alive in the most prosperous nation on the planet.

Not that I’m complaining.

Much.

Chris Barkley

From my perspective as a 63-year-old African American, with forty-three years and five months plus in fandom, I have seen a lot, done a lot and survived all of the cultural and political forces that were lined up against me since my mother, the late Alice Barkley and my father, the late Erbil Augustus Barkley, gave birth to me on a sweltering August summer evening at Jewish Hospital. (PS: I’d like to take a moment to thank them for the free circumcision. A very cool gesture for that era.)

Nineteen years and ten months after my birth, my best friend, Michaele Jordan (no, not THAT Michael Jordan, Michaele Jordan the fantasy novelist my other official, big sister) and I discovered fandom on the back page of the July 1976 issue of Analog, which ran, for the only time in its history, an announcement of a science fiction convention just a few miles away from where we resided. It was held at a run of the mill hotel called the Quality Inn in Norwood, Ohio. The convention was called Midwestcon 27.

“We should go to this convention,” I recall saying to her, most emphatically.

“Are you kidding?”, she replied. “It’s probably just for professional writers. They would just throw us out.”

“Well,” I said, “you can sit at home if you want, I’m going to go there and find out.”

And so we went. It changed the course of our lives forever. Going to Midwestcon 27 introduced us to an entirely new world of people, opportunities and social interactions that resonate to this very day.

The end. Thanks for coming, you’ve been a great audience, Chicago…

NO! WAIT! Just kidding!

Among conventions, Windycon hold a very special place in my heart; I’ve been attending a semi-regular basis since the early 1980’s. I have also attended the four worldcons that Chicago has hosted since I got into fandom and happily served on the staff of three of them.

My slight digression is an Apocryphal Story about Chicago that happened at Chicon 2000, which was held in downtown Chicago.

BUT, in order to do that, I need to digress further and tell you another story about the late Harlan Ellison.

(Oh, so you knew him, too?)

I first met Harlan in 1978 at Kubla Khan 5 in Nashville, Tennessee. Like countless other people, I found him to be a brilliant writer of fiction and essays, a dynamic personality and above nearly all of his other talents, an amazing and brilliant raconteur.

One story he shared with the audience at that convention was been burned into my synapses forever was an incident he had experienced at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Harlan had just finished doing his ‘business” in a washroom when he noticed out of the corner of his eye that a middle-aged patron was leaving without washing his hands.

Now THIS greatly offended Harlan since, if anything, he was a real stickler for health and cleanliness.

“Hey! You”, he said in his loud, nasally, faux-Brooklyn accent. “You forgot to wash your hands!”

The man in question turned and said something incredibly rude about Harlan’s parentage and proceeded to walk out into the terminal.

Enraged at this person’s intransigence, Harlan burst out of the restroom and trailed behind the man screaming at the top of his lungs, “UNCLEAN, UNCLEAN! DON’T TOUCH HIM! HE DIDN’T WASH HIS HANDS!”

And he did this. All the way to this person’s departure gate.

Now, I told you that story to tell you this one: For Chicon 2000, I was promoted from my regular duties in the Worldcon Press Office to serve on Chairman Tom Veal’s staff AND as the Fairmont Hotel liaison. It was a very important position, which I shared with my ex-wife, in that both the Masquerade and the Hugo Award Ceremony were being held there.

One afternoon, I was finishing my “business” in the restroom, when I noticed out of the corner of my eye, a middle-aged fan was leaving without washing his hands.

My mind immediately flashed back to Harlan’s story. My first thought was, I am NOT Harlan Ellison. And then my second thought was, “What would Harlan do?”

So, within a few seconds, I screwed up my moral courage and, in my even tempered, faux-midwestern black accent, I spoke up and said, “Excuse me, but you forgot to wash your hands.”

The fan whirled around and shouted, “YOU’RE NOT MY DAD!”

Needless to say, I was taken aback. But fortunately, my skills as a radio talk show host and a standup comedian kicked into high:

“You see this?” I pointed to the bright blue COMMITTEE ribbon hanging on my convention badge and stated with absolute authority:

“While you’re here at this convention, this ribbon says I AM YOUR DAD!!”

The fan sighed, turned and washed his hands.


I’ve learned a LOT of things in my time in fandom. I would now like to pass along some of the more profound life revelations that have occurred to me over time, one for each year that I have been in fandom:

  1. Smiling and being polite costs you nothing and may gain you new friends.
  2. Reading is the best gateway to other worlds and other points of view.
  3. I am convinced all fascists and Nazi sympathizers were once involved in Home Owner Associations. It’s the only possible explanation for their actions.
  4. Cultural appropriation is like porn, I KNOW it when I see it.
  5. You must challenge the past in order the forge the future.
  6. When you are making policy or changes in your life only three factors matter; Is it true, is it necessary and most importantly, is it vital?
  7. Try and learn at least one other language in your lifetime. For example, Welsh, Irish, Scottish or Australian.
  8. Never forget that taxes pay for civilization. And that those who don’t pay their fair share are welchers and cheats.
  9.  Buy a copy of the Constitution of the United States. In this day and age you never know when you may have to invoke it, especially to people who haven’t read it.
  10.  Public radio has saved my life and sanity for decades. And it can do the same for you!
  11. BUT, if you love your NPR station and donate your car to help out, would that be considered autoeroticsm? Asking for a friend…
  12.  Occasionally, you may be asked to take a stand and make your voice heard. And yes, you will be afraid to do it. But the alternative, of silence and token assent, is much, much worse.
  13.  Congratulations, you’re working on a convention. Here’s a big piece of advice for you con-runners. To preserve our sanity at Chicon 2000, my friend Bridget came up with a simple working mantra we repeated every morning: There will be a convention. There will be rooms at the convention. Some will be right. Some will be wrong. And then IT WILL BE OVER!
  14. Nothing keeps you more grounded and humble than owning a pet. Pro Owner Tip: If you own a cat (or vice versa), consider emptying an entire bag of cat food into their litter box. That way, you just skip the middle process altogether and get on with your day.
  15. By the way, cat dandruff is a first world problem.
  16.  Never, ever, annoy writers. Especially the good ones. Not only will they say nastily adroit things at you, you may become a victim of embarrassing situation, imprisoned or murdered in a book, play or screenplay with the name of said person so barely disguised, EVERYONE will KNOW it’s YOU!
  17. Speaking of writing, NEVER give in to censorship, either in your works or in the defense of others. Free speech does not mean being free from consequences. But either everyone has the opportunity to express themselves or no one does.
  18.  Unless you are the author or editor, DON’T WRITE, HIGHLIGHT, ANNOTATE OR SCRIBBLE YOUR NAMES IN BOOKS! Well, at least in the books that I want to buy. It’s so damn annoying!
  19. When you write, write for yourself. You should welcome criticism of your writing. But do not make the fatal mistake of pandering to appeal the masses. If you can satisfy your own standards of what you like to read, others will see it as well.
  20.  Also, KEEP WRITING. You’ll get better at it.
  21.  Also: READ! As much as possible; fantasy and sf for sure but try to be as diverse as possible. Don’t confine yourself to literary bubbles and for god’s sake, don’t denigrate anyone else who reads, even if they’re reading something you don’t like. If they read and comprehend and understand what they are reading, there’s a chance, a hope really, that they can understand what is truthful from what is fantasy or propaganda.
  22. You have never known true fear until you see a full-grown Great Dane take a baby chick in its mouth and start running around the yard like a seven-year-old on a playground with their mouth full of Halloween candy. And unfortunately for you, are are trying to catch a three-year-old Great Dane who can run twice as fast as any NFL or Premier League defender. (PS: Yes, I eventually caught the dog and safely freed the chick. But she has yet to lay a single egg. I don’t blame her.)
  23.  Do you know where your water come from? Do you know where the wastewater goes?    Find out. And then pledge yourself to not wasting a drop of it again in your lifetime.
  24.  Music is my friend. Music is my life. No matter what you listen to, enjoy it and let it massage your brain and imagination. And if you actually make music, I envy you because that is one of the greatest gifts of all.
  25. Whether you’re at a convention or not (especially not) if you see something is amiss, if a person is being bullied or harassed, do something or say something. Render assistance in any way you can. Is anyone here familiar with the lyrics to the alternative rock anthem “How Soon Is Now” by The Smiths? One part of the main chorus has always touched by heart every time I hear it:

         I am human and I need to be loved

         Just like everybody else does

               Because that should be the core of our values in fandom and in life.

  1. Fan writing is much cheaper than therapy.
  2.  Han Solo’s Rules for Life: Get In. Sit Down. Buckle Up. Hang On.
  3.  Chris Barkley’s Rules for Hitchhikers: See the Han Solo Rules for Life.
  4.  Leading into: If you don’t use your car’s turn signals, YOU GET WHAT YOU DESERVE!
  5.  I think everyone should take a CPR and Emergency Aid course whether it’s offered by the Red Cross or any other agency in your community. I was once employed to be a caretaker for a disadvantaged person and I took an exhaustive, seven-hour course covering nearly everything and anything that might happen to you. Let me tell you something, it was a real eye opener to find out how many things could go wrong with the human body on a daily basis with the introduction of an infection, virus or pathogen. At this very moment in Los Angeles, the partner of a friend of mine named Genny is fighting off an extremely debilitating disease called Guillain-Barré Syndrome, which struck her suddenly and without warning. The treatment is long and extensive but there is no cure. You should do it because the life you save may very well be a family member, a friend or your own.
  6.  If you want to be loved, start by loving yourself first.
  7.  This past Monday was Veteran’s Day. I would be remiss if I did not remind everyone that at this moment, there are thousands of men, women, members of the LGBTQ, transgendered, non-binary communities and otherwise, are out here serving in our armed forces. And sooner or later, they too, will be veterans. It has been estimated that more than 20 percent of the service personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And thousands of others are suffering from debilitating injuries while serving. And don’t forget that there are still living veterans of World War Two, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Lebanon deployment, Desert Storm and Shield and the invasion and occupation of Iraq. As they protected us, we need to do everything we can to help them. Find out what your local, state and federal representatives are doing for veterans. If you find out they aren’t, then vote their asses out of office and vote for candidate who will.
  8. Failure is part of life. Don’t be afraid to fail. Success is fine but unless you fail, you don’t learn anything and you never progress as a person. And more importantly, you mustn’t be afraid to fail. In a book that was just published last week, You Are AWESOME, How To Navigate Change, Wrestle With Failure and Live an Intentional Life, author Neil Pasricha points out that one of the main things that hold people back from their full potential is the inability to tell the difference between truth and the narrative lies we keep telling ourselves such as, “ I’ll never learn this”, ”I’m going to be stuck in this job forever” and the always deadly, “Other people are better off than I am”. Your life does not have to be a runaway, non-stop train of doom and gloom. I know because I’ve been there myself and I got off that merry-go-round, with the help of my good friends and beloved partner. You can do it, too. My advice is to stop, take a deep, metaphorical breath and try and find out what you are capable of doing or achieving. Then go for it. If you can do that, you have just taken your first steps to self-discovery.
  9. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood should be mandatory viewing. For the current ‘president of the United States. As part of his sentencing conditions. If he objects, the ONLY alternative should be Paw Patrol. (CHASE! MARSHALL! SKYE! ZUMA! TRACKER! ROCKY! RUBBLE!) Just Sayin’. Period. Full Stop.
  10. Be woke, aware and informed. Try and understand why people come to different conclusions than you. As actor-philosopher Edward James Olmos once said, “There is only ONE race; the human race.”
  11.  On the other hand, don’t take yourself TOO seriously. Don’t be a drag in the consuite.
  12.  If someone likes something you loath, don’t rain on their parade. Let them enjoy it. Don’t post that comment on Facebook or Instagram. Just walk away. Knowing that you haven’t ruined someone’s day.
  13.  I attended a lecture in 1995 at the University of Kentucky in which Stephen King imparted some very pertinent advice to young people: “If an adult tells you NOT to read something, make it your business to go out, find it, read it for yourselves and make up your own mind about it. Don’t ever depend on some ‘well meaning’’ adult with an agenda to tell you what to read, make up your mind for you or dictate how you should lead your life.” Best. Advice. EVER!
  14. Always try to meet your heroes. It’s better to find out that they are just as human and fallible as you are. And maybe even more so if they truly believe they belong on the pedestal people have placed them on.
  15. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. once wrote in his novel Mother Night: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” He also said, “There is love enough in this world for everybody, if people will just look.”
  16. Three more things: I know that we’re all here to have a good time and celebrate with our friends and guests of honor. But remember, as bad as things are here in America, our problems don’t begin and end with our country. Hong Kong. Brexit. Bolivia. Chile. The immigration crisis in Central America and Africa. South Sudan. Spain and Catalonia. The Philippines. Myanmar. Iran, Iraq and Syria. Hell, in comparison to those places we are living in paradise. When you leave here this weekend, don’t forget that.
  17. Whenever possible, Be Kind. And always carry a towel.
  18.  And finally, let me leave you with these wise words, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead.

    Thank You.   

And lastly, I want to dedicate this speech to the memory of the late Frank Johnson, a fellow member of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group who died earlier this year. His very last convention was last year’s Windycon. I’d like to think he would have enjoyed this speech.

Thank you for attending and listening to me ramble or a while. Be good to each other and have a great convention.

Frank Johnson

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #45

Who Watches The Watchmen? –  Part One: Episodes 1-3

**BEWARE SPOILERS**

By Chris M. Barkley:

WATCHMEN by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, 12 Issues, September 1986 – October 1987, omnibus edition DC Comics/Warner Books, 1987.

“This city is afraid of me…I have seen its true face”

-Rorschach

It is widely regarded that Jack Katz’s The First Kingdom (1974) and the late Will Eisner’s A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories (1978) should be credited as being among the first great, modern graphic novels. 

Watchmen, by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons is, without a doubt, acknowledged as the first masterpiece of this literary form.

This psychological and sociological deconstruction of the nature and mythology of superheroes has been a towering inspiration to nearly everyone who has aspired to work in the comics industry since its publication in the mid-1980’s.

I had the privilege of reading Watchmen in its original twelve issue run when it was first published. I vividly remember being very excited about reading this series. And I, as a jaded 30-year-old-reader, had not been taken by surprise by a graphic novel or comic book since I was nine years old and encountering the Fantastic Four and the Justice League for the first time.   

I was mesmerized as Ozymandias’ (Adrian Veidt) diabolical plan to unite the world by making it fearful of a faked alien invasion played out; the murder of a remorseful ex-hero Eddie Blake (The Comedian), the relentless and brutal investigation of his and other murders by Rorshach (Walter Joseph Kovacs), Doctor Manhattan’s (Jon Osterman) growing alienation from humankind and the personal struggles of Sally Jupiter (Silk Spectre) and Nite-Owl (Dan Dreiberg) and the eventual destruction of a good portion of New York City and a massive death toll., .

And the plan worked. Or did it?

A nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States was averted, and the surviving heroes, with the exception of Rorshach, agreed to keep silent. Doctor Manhattan kills Rorshach to ensure his silence. But knowing he might not be able to speak out, he cleverly planted a diary outlining most of plot with a tabloid newspaper. We, the readers, were left with an ironic, ticking time bomb waiting to go off…

Moore and Gibbon’s original contract with DC Comics stipulated that if Watchmen went out of print, the publishing rights and characters would revert back to them to do with them as they wished. But, not only a critical success but a big moneymaker for DC. Moore, citing this and other contractual disputes with DC, is totally estranged from the publisher and has repeatedly refused to have anything to do with Watchmen. And I don’t blame him a bit. If we were all moral and ethical people, we would boycott anything and everything Watchmen-related. 

Unfortunately, we are not very moral or ethical people. Are we?      


WATCHMEN (Director’s Cut: 3 Hours 2 minutes, 4/4 stars, 2009) with Malin Åkerman, Billy Crudup,Matthew Goode,Carla Gugino,Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Patrick Wilson. Screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse, based on Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Directed by Zach Synder.

“People’s lives take them strange places. They do strange things, and sometimes they can’t talk about them… I know how that is.”.

Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II

The film rights to Watchmen were immediately snatched up by renowned producers Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver. They were the first of many who tried, and failed, to make a movie out of Watchmen. Several writers and directors were employed to give it a go, among them Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame, who exclaimed at one point it would be better as a mini-series and at another said the graphic novel was “unfilmable”.

In 2005, Gordon and a new partner, Lloyd Levin, tapped director Zach Synder, who had just completed the special effects historical epic, 300, to try to bring it all together. Synder and new screenwriter Alex Tse used elements of an earlier script by David Hayer, restored the Cold War setting of 1985 and an element involving Doctor Manhattan working on an energy conversion project backed by Adrian Veidt.

I saw the film when it premiered a decade ago but hadn’t seen it since then. I remember being impressed with it and thought was a very good adaptation. Looking back, I gave it three out of four stars (on the Leonard Maltin rating scale) because as good as it was, I found the underlying themes of the source material somewhat muted. 

To re-acquaint myself with the film, I purchased a copy of Zach Synder’s director’s cut (which has 24 minutes of additional footage) and found it that it was a more satisfying experience. Sure, it features extended action scenes but it also gives more nuance and character motivation to Laurie Jupiter (Malin Ackerman), her mother, Sally (Carla Gugino) and Nite-Owl (Partick Wilson). Their character arcs actually heighten the performance of Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorshach, whose contrasting performance as the hard ass, uncompromising vigilante burns even brighter. In a fairer world would he have been nominated for an Oscar and aced the winner Christoph Waltz (for Inglorious Basterds) for the award.

Synder and screenwriter Alex Tse received a lot of criticism for changing a vital element of the original story; the conspiracy behind faking the alien invasion. Instead, a subplot involving Doctor Manhattan and Adrian Veidt developing a new source of energy derived from his superpowers and Veidt framing him for a far more heinous crime, the utter destruction of several major global cities. While I thought this was a brilliant way to set the film apart visually from the graphic novel, other critics harped that it was either still too faithful version or or disagreed with the choices storywise. As for me, I think that; filmmakers have a better chance of producing more interesting and innovative art when they bring their perspectives and ideas to an adaptation than being a slave to the original material.

(To get an author’s first-hand perspective on how they viewed an adaptation of their own work, interested readers may want to hunt down David Mitchell’s essay on how his 2004 novel, Cloud Atlas, was handled by its three directors. It was originally published in the 2012 movie tie-in edition and, as of this post, is not available online.)

Watchmen was not the huge financial success Warner Brothers and DC Comics had hoped for at the box office, earning $185 million worldwide against an estimated budget of $138 million. Sales of various home video editions have been moderately good. In bookstores and online, the graphic novel spiked in advance of the film and did so again this past year upon the announcement from HBO that a limited series was in the works. 

Despite the failure of the film, DC embarked on a series of prequel stories called Before Watchmen in 2012, featuring individual characters from the novel.

Naturally, Alan Moore was very unhappy with these developments, stating in a 2012 interview on the Seraphemera (Books & Music) website:

“All the nasty comments that I was making when I was angry–about the comics industry not having had an idea of its own in the last 40 years…it would seem that DC are really going that extra mile in trying to prove me incontrovertibly right.”

and

“What the comics industry has effectively said is, ‘Yes, this was the only book that made us briefly special and that was because it wasn’t like all the other books.’ Watchmen was something that stood on its own and it had the integrity of a literary work. What they’ve decided now is, ‘So, let’s change it to a regular comic that can run indefinitely and have spin-offs.’ and ‘Let’s make it as unexceptional as possible.’ Like I say, they’re doing this because they haven’t got any other choices left, evidently.”     


WATCHMEN: White Rabbit, HBO, DC Comics, based on Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, with Regina King, Jean Smart, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson,Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Andrew Howard, Jacob Ming-Trent, Tom Mison, Sara Vickers, Dylan Schombing, Louis Gossett Jr. and Jeremy Irons.

“I’ve got a nose for white supremacy and he smells like bleach.” 

Angela Abar/Detective Sister Night, Episode 1

  • Episode 1: “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice”, Written by Damon Lindelof, Directed by Nicole Kassell
  • Episode 2: “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship”, Written by Damon Lindelof & Nick Cuse, Directed by Nicole Kassell
  • Episode 3:”She Was Killed by Space Junk”, Written by Damon Lindelof & Lila Byock, Directed by Stephen Williams

Which brings us to Damon Lindelof’s “remix” of the original graphic novel for television.The veteran of high profile genre shows like Lost and The Leftovers, he turned the job down twice before accepting. He went in knowing that he would never get Alan Moore’s approval and that whatever may come, the die-hard fans of the graphic novel (or the film for that matter) would never be satisfied with the results.

Taking a deep creative breath, Lindelof took to Instagram and made the following statement: “I am compelled despite the inevitable pushback and hatred I will understandably receive for taking on this particular project. This ire will be maximally painful because of its source. That source being you. the true fans.”

He also said: “I’m a true fan, too. And I’m not the only one. What I love about television is that the finished product is not the result of a singular vision, but the collective experience of many brilliant minds.”

Among those brilliant minds is Watchmen’s original artist, Dave Gibbons, who signed on with Lindelof as a visual consultant. His contributions are immediately evident in costumes of the characters and the style and feel of the production itself. 

The story begins with one of the most stunning opening sequencing in the history of television; a brutal recreation of the ransacking, murderous rampage and destruction of the Black Wall Street of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921. Emerging from the carnage, a young black child rescues an infant and flees the burning city.

We then shift ninety-eight years into the future and thirty four after the events depicted in the graphic novel. Loud rap music drones from of a pickup truck late at night. The middle aged driver become apprehensive when police lights signal for him to pull over and it appears he is a victim of racial profiling. And as the officer questions the driver in an antagonistic manner, it verifies these suspicions with one startling twist; the driver is white and the Tulsa cop is African-American and wearing a mask. When the cop is brutally assaulted and critically injured, it set in motion a series of events that will range far across this alternate universe.

And what a strange universe it is. Over the course of the first three episodes several several passing glances and easter eggs have revealed the following observations and easter eggs:

  • That actor Robert Redford has been President for decades. 
  • That African-Americans were granted some substantial reparations from the government over the years.
  • There are no cell phones or the development of any social media outlets. But electric cars seem to be a standard mode of travel.
  • Author/Attorney John Grisham was appointed to the Supreme Court and is retiring.
  • Masked vigilantes were banned in 1977 but apparently many persist in the practice.
  • A newspaper announces that Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias) has been officially declared dead.
  • Tiny squids fall from the sky on an irregular basis, a stark reminder that mankind is still living under a threat of an impending “invasion:’
  • A dramatization documenting adventures of the first vigilantes called “American Hero Story” is being promoted on television (a clear call out to the Tales of The Black Freighter comics in the original Watchmen AND to Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s American Horror Story).
  • And Doctor Manhattan has been spotted on Mars, puttering around building and deconstructing things on the surface and, presumably, keeping an eye on Earth.

Tulsa’s police chief, Judd Crawford (Don Johnson) quickly deduces that a white supremist group, the Seventh Kalvary, was responsible. Three years earlier, the force and their families had been targeted in a surprise attack that left them dead and the few that remained demoralized. In response, the state government funded a pilot project that allowed officers to mask themselves and detectives to don elaborate costumes to protect their identities. Unfortunately, as the first episode amply demonstrates, this habitually leads to the abuse of the civil rights of criminal suspects and innocent civilians alike.

Our main protagonist, Angela Abar, is a survivor of the attack and has adopted the guise of a mild mannered, civilian identity of a local baker. But, when she’s alerted via pager to an emergency, she swiftly enters the back room and, like Spiderwoman, the Green Hornet and countless other heroes, transforms herself into Sister Night; with a nun’s habit and balaclava clad, she is a total badass supercop.

Sister Night forcibly brings a suspect into Tulsa’s secret police facility where he is subjected to an interrogation by Detective Wade Tillman, aka Looking Glass (played a droll and sardonic Tim Blake Nelson), who wears a reflective mirror mask. After conducting a very strange method that seems imitate Bladerunner’s Voight-Kampff test, Tillman concludes that while the suspect may not have been directly involved with the attack, he definitely knows something. And Sister Night proceeds to beat the location of the Seventh Kalvary out of him.

Meanwhile, at an undisclosed location, we spy a man (Jeremy Irons) riding horseback through the countryside. (Although he isn’t identified, I immediately suspected this regal looking rogue to be Adrian Veidt. And I was right.) While he seems to be right at home, he gives the appearance of being preoccupied with writing a play called “The Watchman’s Son” and recruiting his servants, Miss Crookshanks (Sarah Vickers) and Mr. Phillips (Tom Mison) to help him bring it to life.

At first, I thought these might be androids, but no, after Mr. Philips is burned alive during the performance of the play, it’s revealed that there are multiple copies of him and Miss Crookshanks, clones, doing his bidding around the castle in various roles. And who knows, they might even be clones of himself!

It also becomes evident that while Veidt lives in relative comfort, he is not at liberty to leave the compound at any time. After another one of his Philips clones expires in a grisly manner during one of his experiments involving a primitive pressure suit and a trebuchet, it is evident that the World’s Smartest Man is trying to escape. And the person who is standing in his way is a mysterious character named “the Game Warden”, who sends Veidt a written warning that he suspects his current activities may be in violation of the terms of his imprisonment. And Veidt, being the person he is, doubles down on his efforts.        

Meanwhile, Sister Night and Chief Crawford lead a nighttime raid on the Kavalry’s remote safehouse, which, like the first two episodes, are thrillingly directed with precision and verve by Nicole Kassell. And while they succeed in breaking up the gang’s current plan, they don’t gain enough intelligence to know exactly what they’re up to. 

Angela goes home only to receive a phone tip from a strange voice who tells her knows who she is and proceeds to demands she drive to a location in a field she knows well. Fearing that her identity and family has been compromised, she drives there only to find Crawford’s body hanging from a tree and a VERY elderly black man in a wheelchair (Louis Gossett, Jr.), proudly claiming to be the murderer.

This man, who calls himself Will, also claims to be Angela’s grandfather and to being 109 years old. Angela takes him to her bakery hideout, handcuffs him and takes a DNA sample to be tested and later is shocked to find out his claim is valid. Having kept Will out of the investigation of Crawford’s death, she decides to formally take him into custody as a material witness. But as she places him in her civilian car under the cover of darkness, a mysterious craft swoops in with an electro-magnetic grapple and spirits Will, and her car (!), away. A paper flutters down from the car; the tattered leaflet with the words “Look After This Boy” scrawled on the back, the same note that was placed in the pocket by the father of the boy who survived the 1921 Tulsa riots. 

The third episode introduces the audience to a middle-aged Laurie Blake (Jean Smart, who is equally snappy and ironically sad in her role) the second Silk Spectre and daughter of Sally Jupiter and Eddie Blake. A hard-bitten veteran of the FBI’s Anti-Vigilante Task Force, she also appears to be trapped in a life she doesn’t enjoy very much. It is heavily implied that her ex-husband, Nite-Owl, is languishing in prison for violating the 1977 federal anti-vigilante act and Laurie feels guilty for receiving a get out of jail free card in exchange for her services. 

Enter Joe Keene Jr., a US Senator from Oklahoma (and an aspiring Presidential candidate) who comes calling on Laurie to do him a favor; he has arranged with the Bureau to send her to Tulsa to investigate the death of Chief Judd Crawford, who he strongly suspects might not have been killed by the Seventh Kalvalry but by a masked vigilante. .Should Laurie succeed and he becomes President, he strongly suggests he just might pardon Daniel Dreiberg.

But Laurie doesn’t only pine for her ex-husband, in her spare time from the investigation, she also records phone messages beamed directly to Mars via special booths for her ex-boyfriend, Doctor Manhattan to “hear”.

As sad and lonely as Laurie seems, her demeanor in public is sharp and professional. In her interactions with Angela, Wade and her nerdy FBI partner Dale Petey (Dustin Ingram) she lets it be known that does not suffer fools gladly and that she has read all of the reports, seen all of the video and is as smart as a very sharp, venomous tack. And if anyone is hiding anything, she’ll be the one to suss it out. Wade seemingly bows to her authority but not Angela, who puts on a brave and defiant face. That’s because she has plenty to hide at this point, including finding evidence that Chief Crawford may have been on the take and is concealing her grandfather’s role in his death.

And at the end of the third episode, as Laurie completes her phone call to Mars that evening, pleading for a sign from Doctor Manhattan that he might still care for her or the human race. As she is walking to her car, a huge clue falls into her lap from the sky above. And as she looks to see where it came from, she catches sight of Mars, glowing ominously in the distance. We leave Laurie as she laughs maniacally at the night sky and the audience wondering what the hell is going to happen next.

I must admit that I have been fairly overwhelmed by what Damon Lindelof has done with this production of Watchmen. He clearly reveres the source material but is totally unafraid in taking it in unexpected and startling directions.

There has been some blow back from fans who have complained at great length that Lindelof has made Watchmen too “political”, which is laughable because a more discerning reader should have caught on to those themes in the very first issue back in 1986. 

Others have vociferously objected to Rorschach being held up as a modern-day symbol of white supremacy. Well, those people thought he was the “hero” of previous iterations of Watchmen, when in fact, he was a damaged human being who was given the worst aspects of Batman, which were then magnified to the nth degree. A nihilistic, psychotic and inflexible, Walter Kovacs was the perfect character for other nihilistic, psychotic and inflexible racists to glom onto as their object of adulation.

Furthermore, Lindelof and his crew of creators are daring the audience to immerse themselves in a world where they may have to either root for, understand or have empathy for people, especially police officers, who are going about their jobs and lives in a completely aberrant and disgusting manner as they try to grapple with forces and circumstances they are having a hard time comprehending.

Also, in an era where more television shows and films are telling more diverse stories, it is utterly refreshing to see a gerne-oriented show tackle racial and political issues head on for a mainstream audience. These are exactly the sort of entertainment vehicles we need more of in these confusing and turbulent times; confounding, controversial and profound, they excite the intellect and stir meaningful conversations about who we are and what we should be doing.

This past spring, I stated that I was only going to list HBO’s magnificent techno-horror miniseries Chernobyl as my lone entrant on my Best Dramatic Presentation-Long Form Hugo award ballot. Well, I think may have been a bit premature saying that; if Damon Lindelof and company can pull it off this daring adaptation over the remaining six episodes, I’ll be nominating Watchmen as well. 

And from what I’ve seen so far, I’ll be VERY disappointed if they don’t make it. But, after seeing the first three episodes of this series, I have a sneaking suspicion they will stick the landing, in the biggest way possible.

Anthony Daniels On Tour in Cincinnati

By Chris Barkley: Actor Anthony Daniels’ book tour in support of his newly published memoir, I Am C-3PO: The Inside Story, stopped at Joseph Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, Ohio Wednesday evening.

The brief question and answer period was highlighted by a question from a very young fan who demanded to know why C-3PO interrupted the kiss between Leia and Han in The Empire Strikes Back. (Answer: It was not his fault, it was in the script!)

The event was attended by several hundred enthusiastic fans, with many of the attendees in full cosplay mode. (Note: The author was dressed in chinos, a dress shirt, a leather jacket topped off with an NPR baseball cap. DON’T JUDGE ME!)

Daniels’ famous co-star, R2D2 was also on hand to amuse, amaze and pose for pictures with fans…

[Photo of Daniels taken by Paul Glasser, all others by Chris Barkley.]