The final deadline for this year’s voting is upon us (midnight tonight in my timezone), and I think that I’m finished fiddling with my ballot. Maybe. I may give in to temptation and login to move a couple around. Once again, I’m happy to report that all of the categories have plenty of excellent entries. Which isn’t to say that I absolutely loved everything nominated. But even those stories that weren’t particularly my favorite, I can appreciate how well they were crafted and understood why someone nominated them. This is, again, a vast improvement over the situation a few years ago. I think we can see that the rules changes instituted to limit the effects of block voting have been a success. And we should keep them.
I mentioned the temptation to move things around, and I should explain that a bit. The Hugos use a ranking system, so you pick which entry is your first choice, your second, and so on. Along with the option to placing No Award in the ranking. And one of the recently adopted rules adds a kind of instant run-off along with the ranking. It’s all well and good that the system has a way to break ties, but that doesn’t help the individual voter when you sincerely feel too or more nominees in a given category are equally excellent.
So one place where I had that dilemma this year was Best Novel. Three of the novels I nominated during the nomination phase made it to the final ballot. When I first saw the ballot announcement I was over the moon. Yay! I loved three of those books! And other people liked them, too! But then I started trying to decide how to rank them… and see in the nomination phase you just list five books things in a category without regard to whether any of them are better than the others. They are all five my favorites! Yay!
But now… now I have to pick. I can’t just say, “they’re all wonderful!” I have to rank them.
It was easy to procrastinate, because while three of the books were ones I’d already read and thought was great, the other three were ones I hadn’t read, yet. One of those other three was a book I had purchased and was in my to-read pile (because my husband had enthused about the audiobook), but I hadn’t read it yet. Obviously I couldn’t rank the category until I had read all the books. Similarly, there were at least two stories in each of the other fiction category that I hadn’t yet read, either.
Anyway, while several of the categories were ranked on my ballot weeks ago, I hadn’t touched the novels until Monday night. Because I finally finished the last novel that day. And I’d gotten through everything else. So I didn’t have any excuse.
It was so hard. I like them all. I want to give a Hugo rocket to each of them. I made a choice. I ranked them.
There is another category that I think is giving everyone problems. It’s the relatively new category of Best Series. To be eligible the series has to consist of a minimum of three works totaling a minimum of 240,000 words.
When the new category was being debated, one of the arguments that swayed my opinion was the the category would allow us to recognize the excellence of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. A long-running series might consist of a bunch of merely good books, one or two mediocre entries, and only a couple of truly stand-out stories—yet the overall story, the long arcs that play out of the course of the individual tales, is award-worthy. The category offers a way to recognize the skill of spinning a larger tale, of keeping the reader coming back for more, in a different way that the individual book and short fiction awards.
Implicit in that idea, to me, was that Best Series should go to a group of books that had otherwise been overlooked by the Hugos.
But then, the very first year it went, the award went to a series which had won two Nebula awards, two Locus awards, and four Hugo awards. Now, it happens to be a series that I loved, and okay, I admit, I put it at the top of my ballot that year. But not without some trepidation about whether the award might better to another series. I rationalized this by reminding myself that the six most recent books in the series had not won awards, even then three of those were my favorites of the whole series, two of which I thought were absolutely robbed by not getting an award.
The next year the winner was a different series written by the same author. The first book of the series had won a Mythopoeic award; the second book won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. While the total number of awards the series had won was smaller, it was also a shorter series (only three books and a bunch of short stories). Again, it didn’t feel as if it was a series that had been overlooked previously.
On the other hand, both of those wins went to series that had been going from many years, and since one of the objections that other people raise to the category is to ask, “Can you really judge a series that isn’t complete?” Since the speed at which new entries in both series as considerably slowed, and each have had a book published that feels like an ending to a saga, it can be argued that they meet that objection as close as you can meet it without making a rule that the award is only allowed to awarded posthumously.
And I don’t like that for several reasons. To the extent that awards are recognition, I prefer recognizing excellent work while the author or artist is alive to feel the love, you know?
A few nominees each of the three years the award has existed thus far as series that seem quite clearly to still be in the middle. So I have some issue putting them at the top of the ballot. And I remain uncertain what criteria we ought to be using to decide which is best. Is the idea to look for qualities of the series that span multiple books, or is it okay if a series just has a bunch of great entries?
I don’t know.
I figured out how I picked my number one in this category this time. And I know since the only rules the Hugos have ever had is to define eligibility, I don’t think anyone is going to make it clearer how we ought to be judging them.
I started to assemble this post about an aggrieved conservative sci-fi writer last week, but other things kept coming up, and since the kerfuffle seems to have blown over, I wasn’t sure there was much value in throwing in my two cents. But then a couple of the most recent developments in some national news stories made certain similarities between the actions of certain distressed pups and other angry white men. I decided that with so angry white men claiming to be victims, and maybe it was worth looking at a fairly inconsequential example that played out over a handful of days to get some insight into the motivations of the others. So, first, the meltdown of one of the fringe members of the melancholy canines.
Note: At no point in the following will I link directly to the angry, profanity-laden posts of the bullied bully. All links are to others talking about the situation. Some of them link to the rants, if you really need to read them.
So, a writer who markets himself** to a particular subset of science fiction fans—conservative, pro-gun rights—got really upset when some editor at Wikipedia tagged his wikipedia page to discuss possible deletion. The original article looked like it was lifted almost entirely from his own web page, and the only citations it had was to his blog and webpage. Under various editorial guidelines of Wikipedia the article certainly didn’t appear to meet the minimal criteria for keeping. I mean, come on: a bunch of the links on the first author’s page were places where you could buy his merchandise and his custom knives!
Of course, this happens all the time. Articles get flagged. There is one author’s article (that got referenced in some of the rants) that was tagged over seven years ago… and it has never actually been deleted. Part of the purpose of tagging such articles is to try to get some attention to them so that people will clean them up, add citations, and so forth.
Anyway, because of the angry screed, dozens of people went to Wikipedia and screamed at the editors, accusing them of being angry libtards targeting conservative writers. Which, given the fairly well-documents conservative bias of Wikipedia editors, is more than slightly hilarious. Said wikipedia editors quickly determined that a certain number of the angry attack accounts were sock-puppet accounts belonging to the aggrieved author, and banned his account (though the discussion continued).
Equally of note is that a large number of identifiable actual liberal members (or not-so-liberal but still despised by the aggrieved author and is allies) of the sci-fi community logged in to argue against deleting the conservative author’s page, arguing that his long publishing history, award nominations, and so forth qualified him as notable. They also helped clean up the article and added a lot of third party citations (to places like Publisher’s Weekly, Locus Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Stars and Stripes, et cetera). In other words, the people he always claims are out to get him were actually helping.
But that wasn’t enough! No, being an angry little white puppy he was absolutely certain that there is a conspiracy to bully people like him, so he started predicting specific conservative writers would have their articles flagged next. Then, lo and behold, a few hours after each time he went online to make such a prediction, the authors he named had a deletion tag added to their Wikipedia page by a mysteriously recently-created wiki account. Many of those were very quickly untagged by the administrators.
It should be noted that, in addition to the sock puppet activities that got his account banned during this kerfuffle, the author has a history of getting accounts suspended on other social media platforms for setting up sock puppet accounts to follow him and agree with him. So, applying Occam’s Razor, we can assume that his predictions are not proof he is an oracle, but rather a troll.
The aggrieved author and his allies are so defensive that they don’t notice who is willing to help them. I also think contributing to the problem is how incredibly insular they are. The old version of his wikipedia page and a couple of the others that were briefly flagged only had links to pages controlled by the people who were the subjects of the articles. Yeah, some of the pages had a lot of self-promotion, but I think it doesn’t even occur to them to search for mentions outside their own favorite web portals. It didn’t take long for other people to find dozens of articles outside that insular bubble that mentioned the author or his work.
But despite overwhelming evidence that the content of the articles was the issue rather than any politics, and that people they insist are enemies are more than willing to help out if they see a problem, they insist that they are victims. It’s a classic persecution complex: a delusion that they are constantly being tormented, stalked, tricked, or ridiculed.
Except I think it goes beyond delusion. Being despised is their life blood. One commenter said on one of the blog posts: “Nobody hates them as much as they seem to need to think someone hates them and that is just a miserable way to go through life.” They feel miserable because they aren’t receiving the adoration or acclaim or praise they feel entitled to. But, they can’t admit that they are to blame for how other people perceive them. They need scapegoats. If other people hate them and are conspiring against them, then their misery isn’t their fault. Yes, it is a miserable way to live, but to them it seems less miserable than holding themselves accountable.
And that brings us to other, more serious ways this need to be hated can effect all of us. It begins yesterday when Senator Mitch McConnell took to the senate floor to whine about American citizens pointing out that his actions in blocking election reform again and again despite overwhelming evidence of foreign interference in our elections isn’t in the best interest of Americans. How dare we, the citizens who of the country whose Constitution he has sworn to uphold, express an opinion about his actions! How dare we present the evidence that of actions that at least border*** on treasonous!
His actions aren’t the problem, he insists. No! The real problem is all of us haters. Oh, and any of us citing this evidence are being just like McCarthy—you know, the angry Senator who in the fifties destroyed a bunch of people’s careers and lives without ever actually presenting any evidence that they were enemies of the nation. This is an interesting twist on crying wolf, I must say.
Again, the problem isn’t him attacking anyone and everyone, the problem is all those mean haters. And if you think I’m stretching things to compare the alleged president to the aggrieved author: remember the many times that Trump has called into various radio shows and the like, claiming to be someone else praising Trump.
So, I guess a fondness for sockpuppets is another way to spot these angry bullies who think they’re victims.
They claim to be defenders of free speech, yet they are always throwing tantrums when other people say things they don’t like.
* The title is a riff on Harlon Ellison’s Nebula- and Hugo-winning short story from 1966, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. In no way should this be read to infer that the late Mr. Ellison is involved in any way.
** When describing this situation to some friends I mentioned that all of the author photos available for him feature him holding a gun. And in at least one I saw, holding it incorrectly. I must state for the record that that characterization was wrong: there are also biographical pictures of him holding various hunting knives, swords, or wearing bandoliers of shotgun shells.
*** Personally I think he went way past the border when he blocked the release of the information about Russian interference just before the 2016 election. Everything since has just been him going deeper and deeper into treason.
Since I was busy with friends most of Saturday (and thus I started my usual errands earlier than typical), I didn’t have time to do a Weekend Update. So, here are some stories that either didn’t make the cut for this week’s Friday Five, or broke after that post was assembled, or just provoke a desire for more extensive commentary than I like to put into Friday Five.
First, I have written more than once about financial and other shenanigans of local political gadfly and perennial anti-tax, anti-gay, anti-well-anything-decent initiative filer: Tim Eyman. A while back Eyman was caught on video stealing an office chair from an Office Depot. The video was kind of funny: he finds the chair set up near the door, sits in it, spins around in it, then stands up and wheels it out to his car. Moments later he came back inside and bought some other stuff. According to the testimony of the employees, he did not mention the chair to the cashier. He did not pay for the chair. When the cashier called someone over to help Eyman carry his purchases (which included some heavy printers), Eyman tried to turn them down. When they insisted, he led them to his SUV, and had the guy stack things next to the back of the SUV but pointedly did not open the back of the vehicle until after the employee had walked back into the store.
Eyman claims he meant to pay for the chair. But the sketchy behavior in the parking lot clearly said otherwise. Anyway, the case came to a close this week: Lacey lets Tim Eyman off with $193 fine for stealing chair. He also is barred from entering that Office Depot for nine months. The sheer pettiness and stupidity of stealing a $70 office chair when he’s going to be paying for $300 worth of printers other things is, to me, the perfect metaphor for the kind of entitled scam artist that he is. He hasn’t worked an honest day in decades. His only source of income for many years are the political campaigns he wages to cripple the state’s tax system or take rights away from gay and trans citizens.
And that income isn’t all on the up-and-up, either. He’s involved in a lawsuit over campaign finance violations, and he had some bad news there this week: Thurston County judge finds Tim Eyman in contempt again. According to the judge, this charge is for “refusal to disclose complete information related to hundreds of thousands of dollars of payments he solicited from individual donors.” Back in 2002 he settled a campaign finance lawsuit by paying a $50,000 fine and agreeing to a lifetime ban on being the “signer on any financial accounts” for political committees. In the current lawsuit, in which the state says he illegally funneled $300,000 from a 2012 initiative campaign into his personal accounts, the state is seeking $2.1 million dollars plus court costs and a lifetime ban on handling any finances of any political campaign. His previous contempt charge, for not turning over required documents, has been racking up a daily fine that the state says adds up to more than $200,000 so far. I don’t know if this second charge means more daily fines or what.
Meanwhile, another of his initiatives to severely limit local and regional citizens to tax themselves for capital projects will be on the ballot in the fall. He previously filed for bankruptcy protection, but then withdrew that once he learned that monthly reports on his personal finances would be available to the public, and might make some of his supporters question whether they wanted to keep donating to him. It has been said that the most dangerous place to be in this state is standing between Eyman and a TV news camera. Strange how he keeps refusing to turn over information, huh?
His wife filed for divorce last year—he claims that it’s because the state is being mean to him. Which is a really funny way of spelling “tired of being in close proximity of all this negative publicity that her husband’s actions have brought down on him.”
Speaking of men with no morals and sketchy finances: Financier Jeffrey Epstein found nearly unconscious in jail cell, suicide attempt suspected. You may recall the Epstein has been arrested in connection with sex trafficking and sexual abuse of underage girls. You may also recall that the evidence against submitted to the court includes what was described has a massive drove of photos of said underage girls in sexual situations. You may also recall how he got a sweetheart deal on similar charges years ago that meant he didn’t have to do serious jail time and was allowed to leave the jail 6 days out of every week to keep running his so-called business? And that after serving his ridiculously short sentence, he failed to report his movements to law enforcement as required under his plea deal?
Well, the case isn’t exactly looking any better for Epstein: The Feds Want to Talk to the Pilots Who Flew Jeffrey Epstein’s “Lolita Express”. Yes, the feds issued subpoenas earlier this month to Epstein’s pilots. I wonder if that may have prompted the alleged suicide attempt. And I’m using alleged for a couple of reasons, but mainly because it hasn’t been ruled out that he staged the stunt to get transferred out of the prison and into a hospital or mental institution.
One of those wild theories is based on something that Alexander Acosta (the former U.S. attorney who made that sweetheart deal years ago, and who was forced to resign as Trump’s Labor Secretary when the new Epstein charges brought that old deal back into the press) during the vetting for the Labor position. He said that old deal with Epstein wouldn’t be a problem because the only reason he made the deal was that someone warned him to back off because Epstein “belonged to intelligence.” The implication was that Epstein had been providing some sort of information to U.S. intelligence agents. That’s the one I think is least likely. But his secretive money management funds might actually be a big Ponzi scheme, or blackmail could be a major component (and might be a better explanation for why someone would warn Acosta away from the case), or all his off-shore account, besides being a tried-and-true way to avoid paying taxes might also be a money laundering scheme.
I hope that it all comes to light as his trial proceeds. And I hope all the men who participated in the sex parties filled with young girls get what’s coming to them. Whoever they are.
While many parts of the world were experiencing record-breaking heat, we were having daytime highs in the 70s. Work continues to be crazy. The pollen count remains high. And I spent way more time reading than writing this week.
Anyway, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: the top five stories of the week, five stories of interest to the queer community, five stories about the impeachable one, five stories about haters and their ilk, five stories about the lack of exoneration, and five videos (plus things I wrote and notable obituaries).
A discussion about writing advice crossed my social media stream this week. One topic was archaic similes that literate people know the meaning of, but because they refer to practices or objects that are no longer part of daily life, no longer conjure a vivid picture in the mind of the reader. The first example was “hoist with his own petard,” which many people more-or-less understand, but since almost none of the people who recognize it knows that a petard is a small explosive device, and that the word hoist being used here is the past participle meaning to “lift and remove.” So the full meaning of the phrase as Shakespeare first used it is that a person who has tried to set a bomb against another person has instead had it blow up in his own face (and removed them from the situation).
An informal survey I conducted many years ago among acquaintances at a gaming event proved that a substantial number of people were certain that a petard was part of a sailing ship, and so the image they all had was of people being hooked on some sort of winch and raised into the air. One could argue that that is close enough, but it is definitely a different image than the evil bomber who is taken out by his own bomb.
Someone else suggest that the phrase “chock-full” fell into the same category because many people don’t know what a chock is. And… well, it is probably true that a lot of people don’t know what a chock is, but the noun, chock (meaning a block or wedge of wood) didn’t enter the English language until the 1700s, where it derived from a French word meaning a log. Whereas chock-full was an English word more than 400 years before chock, and it has no connection to the noun.
chokkefulMiddle English crammed full
The earliest written version is from the year 1400, but there is reason to believe the word is older than that. And it has always meant “crammed full.” Which is kind of amazing, when you think about it. The only thing that etymologists aren’t sure of is whether it is a derivative of the Old German (and Saxon and Old English) word chokke which as a noun originally meant “jaw or cheek” and as a verb meant to grasp a person by the jaw, or if it comes from on Old French word choquier which meant to “collide, strike, or crash.” If the former, than the image our 15th century ancestors was imagining was a mouthful. If the latter, the image was of someone forcing more things into a container than it ought to be able to hold.
Now, if the argument is that one must imagine the exact same physical manifestation of a word for it to be meaningful, I guess you could say people ought not use chock-full, given that some people think it has something to do with chocks. But if that is the standard, than no words can ever be used. Besides, I abide by a slightly different school of thought. Chock-full hasn’t been a simile for at least 600 years. It is simply a word that means “crammed full” and since that meaning has been the same for all that time, well, the only native English speakers who are going to be confused by it are those that are over thinking things.
If chock-full is a word that you use in every day speech, then if it seems to fit in something you’re writing, use it.
The problem with making word choices while writing isn’t whether a specific word would be defined exactly the same by every reader, but whether the word flows naturally in the narrative. For a lot of people, “hoist with his own petard” is an affectation that has been inserted into the narrative to emulate Shakespeare. And every writer goes through a phase where they are trying on styles and phrasings of writers they admire. If you do that, the reader will seee that inauthenticity right away.
So the first rule is: is it a word that you use yourself without having to think about it? If so, it fits your style and is probably okay to use. The second rule is, is the way you use it one of the commonly understood definitions, or it is jargon—is it a specialized meaning of the word that is only understood by members of a particular profession, sub-culture, or clique? Well, then maybe limit its use.
Of course, there is a difference between word choices in the narration than words used in dialogue. Maybe your character fancies themself a Shakespearean hero and is constantly quoting (or misquoting) lines from famous plays. Of course a character like that is going to use the phrase “hoist with his own petard,” and you, the author, will likely have another character ask what it means or correct him when he says it wrong (and I have heard so many people, probably because they think a petard is a winch or similar rather than a bomb, say it “hoist on his own petard”). That works just fine!
There is also the choice of audience. Maybe you intend your story primarily for members of a particular community. Even then, I still point back to rule number one: stick to words you use conversationally yourself. And if you’re not sure, read the whole scene outloud. Any phrase or sentence that trips up your tongue needs to be re-written, because if you can’t say it without getting tongue-tied, it isn’t written in your voice.
Don’t choke on the vocabulary, don’t shove in pretentious phrases, and don’t get cheeky.
I thought I was getting over the current illness, and since when I woke up Friday morning I saw that my husband had gone into work rather than call in again, I figured he was feeling better, too. Well, not so much. I do not want to go into graphic details, other than to say that we spent a good portion of the evening, for different reasons, taking turns in the bathroom.
Speaking of things that turn one’s stomach,
Catholic Church Spent $77 Million To Remodel Crystal Cathedral Built By Scamvangelicals. A long, long time ago (1955) an evangelist named Robert H. Schuller rented a drive-in theatre in Garden Grove, California one Sunday morning. He invited people to come to church as they were in their cars. It was a drive-in church. He also preached at more traditional church building he rented about a mile away, but the thing that got him coverage in the news were the services (complete with an organ) at that drive-in. As money poured in, he eventually bought a 10-acre plot nearby, and in 1958 broke ground for a “walk-in, drive-in.” That’s right, he had a regular church building, but also a drive-in style lot with an enormous screen where he projected the sermons. Eventually he built the 13-story “Tower of Power” as an office building with a 90-foot illuminated cross on top, and then bought another 10-acres and constructed the “Crystal Cathedral” — hailed as the largest structure in the world constructed completely out of glass, and it contained the fifth-largest organ in the world. By this point he was broadcasting his sermons on television as the “Hour of Power” while continuing to have the drive-in section outside the church and was raking in the dough like never before. They built a giant Prayer Spire beside the building, they opened a private school on the property, the built a memorial garden (a portion of which was an actual cemetery). They staged elaborate holiday pageants at Easter and Christmas every year, charging $45 per person if you wanted to sit inside the church to watch it (admission fee? wouldn’t that mean this wasn’t a church service?). Anyway, despite the fact the Schuller literally once said that spending all those millions was better than trying to feed the poor because “the poor will always be with us, but this monument to god will stand for the ages” money just kept pouring in!
Until it didn’t. As Schuller aged, he eased into retirement, first appointed his eldest son as pastor in 2006, and then due to unspecified disagreements, asking his son to resign and eventually appointing one of his daughters in 2009. In 2010 the church’s board filed for bankruptcy protection. Eventually court filings would reveal that the money problems had been ongoing for a few years, with the board borrowing heavily from the endowment to pay the lavish salaries of the many relatives of Schuller who made up most of the senior staff. Hundreds of more modestly paid employees were laid off, actors and musicians and costume-designers and set-builders who had already put in months work for that year’s Easter Pageant were told they weren’t getting paid after all and so forth.
In the midst of all of this, Schuller’s wife fell ill with pneumonia, and in a particularly tone-deaf move, the church sent out a plea to members to make meals for the Schullers, but not to take them to the Schullers’s home, but rather take them to the Tower of Power and leave the meals with the limo drivers who would deliver the food to the Schullers. I kid you not!
Anyway, as part of the bankruptcy settlement, the property was eventually sold in 2012 to the local Catholic Archdioceses for $57 million dollars. The Catholics have since spent about $77 million dollars more renovating the building (including shipping that enormous organ off to Italy to the refurbished, then shipping it back). And this week, they consecrated the main building, now renamed the Christ Cathedral.
I give all these details because, as an ex-evangelical myself, throughout my childhood and teen years there were always people in my life who watched Schuller’s show faithfully. I thought it was always clear that he was in it just for the money. Schuller died in 2015, but despite the horrible bankruptcy, Schuller’s grandson is still broadcasting the Hour of Power every week from their new home, a nearby Presbyterian building called Shepherd’s Grove. Schuller’s eldest son runs his own ministry, broadcasting services online. His daughter is now a pastor at another church in Orange, California: Sheila Schuller Coleman: Hope Center for Christ opens in AMC Theater.
Which I guess is a very long way of saying, the scam goes on?
It’s been a weird week. Started out trying to convince myself that it was just hay fever. Instead, I’ve been unwell all week.
Anyway, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: the top five stories of the week, five stories about sf/f and science, five stories about haters and their ilk, and five videos (plus things I wrote and notable obituaries).
‘Batman’ DVD Robin storyboard sequence – The sequence introducing the Boy Wonder – ultimately cut before filming began – was taken from an early draft of the 1989 ‘Batman’ movie, put together using original pre-production storyboards and voiced by B:TAS’s Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Mark Hamill (the Joker):
I’m not sure how old I was the first time I saw Columbia Pictures’ Jason and the Argonauts. I used to believe that I saw it in a movie theatre on the big screen for the first time as part of one of the series of kid-friendly matinees that I got to attend from the age of about 6 through 10… but after doing some research I discovered that the film wasn’t made available in theatres at that time. Because the film’s box office take from the first theatrical run in 1963 (just a few months before my third birthday) was underwhelming, it wasn’t re-released into the theatres until much later, after spending years as a staple in syndicated television, which is where it became a hit, prompting the studio to re-release it to a much more successful run in 1978.
This post runs a bit longer than usual, because I wrote much of it while re-watching the film for the first time in many years. And I watched it because after reading this review of a Ray Bradbury story that was clearly inspired by Ray Harryhausen (the special effects genius) I just had to. If you don’t need the detailed commentary, you might want to scroll on down to my Conclusion.
Jason and the Argonauts is based on the Greek tale of Jason and the Golden Fleece. Jason was the son of the king of Thessaly. His parents and at least one of his sisters was killed by the usurper Pelias. Pelias misunderstands the prophecies of his soothsayer, and tries to eliminate all of the heirs of the king of Thessaly. Just before he murders the eldest daughter of the king in the temple of Hera, a shadowy figure who he believes is a priestess (though she is actually the goddess Hera herself) tries to warn him away from this path. When he kills the king’s eldest daughter anyway, Hera tells him that one day a man with only one sandal will usurp him. She also warns him that if he kills Jason, the son of the king himself, that he will also be destroyed. Then she vanishes, along with the the third child, another daughter of the king.
Before I summarize the rest of the plot, there are a whole lot of subplots that were left dangling in this movie implying that there would be a sequel, and I’m just a little bit annoyed that no one has done anything with that.
Anyway, the story that follows is frequently intercut with scenes of Zeus and Hera (and a couple of other Olympian gods) discussing the happenings on Earth. In some of those scenes human history is portrayed as a board game between the gods. It is an interesting conceit that is used in a lot of other mythological-based movies in later years. I think this one happens to play out better than many of the others.
Back to Jason’s story. Twenty years after the bloody coup, King Pelias is riding his horse near a river, is thrown from said horse, and a passing stranger jumps into the water to save him. The stranger loses his shoe in the process of saving the man, and quickly identifies himself as the long lost son of the previous king on his way to take back his throne. Perlias realizes who Jason is before he introduces himself, because he has spent twenty years waiting for the man with only one sandal. Jason, on the other hand, never asks the name of the man he rescues. And never becomes the slightest bit suspicious that the man he rescues has a camp staffed with a lot of guards in royal armor and a rather large number of scantily clad entertainers. Nor does Jason, who is sworn to kill the man who killed his father and has been king of Thessaly for 20 years, recognize the only son of said king when he is introduced to him by name.
Despite all of this obliviousness, we are still rooting for Jason who wants to pursue another prophecy that Pelias ignored: that at the end of the world there is a tree, and hanging from the branches of that tree are the skull and skin of a golden ram with magickal powers that will ensure a long and successful rule to the man who captures it. Jason holds a contest, and several characters from Greek myth win a spot on his crew. Because the shipwright Argos builds his ship, he names it the Argo, and with a figurehead that looks like the goddess Hera, they set out looking for the Golden Fleece.
Hera is only allowed to help Jason five times, and Jason manages to burn through those five helps in less than half the movie. This gets into one of those infuriating questions, because part of the set up of Jason’s life from back when he is a baby is Zeus decrees that Jason will kill Pelias and take back his father’s kingdom. So why the heck does Zeus tell Hera she can only help Jason the five times?
I need to be honest here: those questions didn’t occur to me during the dozens and more times I watched this show on various local TV stations from the mid-60s through the 70s. The incredible battles with the giant bronze statue of Talos, the harpies, the seven-headed hydra, and the skeletal warriors all loomed much larger than any plot inconsistencies. Special effects master Ray Harryhausen owned this movie, and many of his special effects still stand up 56 years later.
One of the men who competes in Jason’s ad hoc Olympics and gets a berth in the crew is Pelias’ son, Acastus. Once again, it’s unclear why, when all the greatest athletes and warriors of Greece come to compete in the games, no one recognizes Acastus as King Pelias’ son and happen to mention that fact? Anyway, Jason now has a large crew of bronze-skinned manly men. About half are dressed in tunics with extremely short skirts, like Jason. The other half in loincloths that look kind of like baggie briefs.
The Argo sets sail, without a clear idea of where they are going, and their provisions run low. Hera directs Jason to the Isle of Bronze and warns them to take only food and water. Hercules and Hylas (who had become friends during the games when Hylas defeated Hercules at a discus challenge using a bit of cleverness) find a valley filled with giant bronze statues, in the base of which are hidden giant pieces of jewelry. Hercules decides to take a giant brooch pin because he thinks it will make a fine javelin, and the statue Talos comes to life and starts chasing them. The giant looms and menaces the entire Argo crew. When they try to flee, he intercepts the boat at the harbor mouth, shaking all of the men out of the boat and braking the ships mast and the figurehead of Hera.
Hera tells Jason to look to Talos’s ankle for his weakness. In the next fight, while the other Argonauts yell and scream and run around distracting the giant, Jason sees a stopcock in the ankle of the giant, runs forward and unscrews it. Even when I was a kid, I never understood why Talos simply stands there, staring down at the Argonauts and sort of swiping at them with his sword. Why didn’t he just start stomping on them like ants? Anyway, magical fluid pours out of Talos’ ankle, the bronze statue goes stiff and falls over, apparently dead. Also, clearly crushing Hylas.
But somehow the rest of the crew never saw that, so we are given to understand that during whatever length of time the subsequent shipbuilding montage takes place, Hercules wanders around yelling out Hylas’ name. Once the ship is repaired, Hercules refuses to leave without Hylas. The rest of the crew refuses to leave without Hercules, so Jason has to call on Hera again. She warns him that this is the last time she can help, but he insists, so she addresses the crew directly, explains that Hylas is dead and that Hercules now has another destiny to pursue, and that they must sail to another island and consult the blind prophet Phineus.
So off they go. We see Phineus (played by Patrick Troughton, the second Doctor) living a sad existence in a ruined temple. People from a nearby village bring him food every day, but harpies attack him each day, eating the food themselves and leaving him only scraps. This is how Jason and his crew find him. They are all, by the way, now dressed in matching white tunics (still with extremely short skirts) and matching armor. I have no idea where they were keeping this change of clothes, because the ship, as depicted, is barely big enough to hold the crew sitting at the oar seats. There aren’t any cabins below decks or anything. No wonder they ran out of supplies!
Anyway, Phineus explains that he misused his gift of prophecy and Zeus cursed him with the harpies. Phineus will only help Jason if he frees him of the harpies. So the crew arrange a trap, then build a cage for the harpies. Now that Phineus can eat in piece (and torment the harpies), he tells Jason that the fleece is on the Island of Colchis, which can only be reached by sailing between the clashing rocks (which destroy any ship that sails through). Phineus’ vision doesn’t tell them how they can survive, but he gives him an amulet that he says is the only other help he can provide.
They sail again, find the clashing rocks. They aren’t sure what to do, then see another boat sailing between the rocks, and then see boulders start falling down and destroy the ship. Jason insists the gods want them to sail through, so the Argonauts start rowing. The boulders start falling all around them. There are a lot of frightened reaction shots. Jason gets angry and throws Phineus’ amulet into the sea.
Up on Olympus, Zeus is smugly watching the ship in danger and says something to Hera about it being too bad that she can’t intervene any more. Hera moves a piece on their game board, a sort of merman figure that looks suspiciously like the amulet Jason just threw into the sea. Triton, son of Poseidon, rises up out of the sea and holds the rocks back. The Argo sails under one of Triton’s armpits, and all is well. I think we’re supposed to assume that Triton’s arrival doesn’t violate the rule that Hera could only intervene five times because Phineus’ amulet was involved. It’s not clear.
Anyway, they find the wreckage of the other boat, and clinging to the wreckage is a woman. And thus we meet the third female character out of the entire film who has lines of dialog! Medea tells Jason she was sailing from Colchis (though not why) and tells him that the King of Colchis is Aeëtes. When they make shore, Medea tells them which way to go to reach the city, then walks off in a different direction, telling them she must go a different way.
After Jason meets Aeëtes, the king invites him and the Argonauts to a feast, and we see Medea again and learn that she is the high priestess of Hecate. Midway through the feast, Aeëtes reveals that he knows Jason has come to steal the fleece, because Acastus has betrayed them. This is when Jason finally learns that Acastus is the son of Pelias. So the Argonauts are locked up and sentenced to die. Medea goes to the idol of Hecate, her goddess, and asks what to do. The statue doesn’t answer.
This is another place that as a kid I was trying to figure out why we don’t see Hecate. Why isn’t she up there with Zeus and Hera and Hermes and the other gods watching all of this?
Medea decides that she can’t betray her heart, so she drugs the guards, steals the keys to the jail cells, and lets Jason and his crew out. I have to pause here to say that as a kid I had no problem believing that Medea had fallen in love with Jason during the voyage. As an adult I have some questions, though. I mean, yes, Jason looks really hot in that mini skirt, but there was an entire crew of men, most of which are all equally hot and just as sexily going about their nautical duties in equally revealing tiny skirts.
Doesn’t matter. While Medea was arranging the jailbreak, Acastus has snuck out of the palace and gone to the sacred tree to steal the fleece himself. I guess he was planning to take the Argo and sail it all by his lonesome back home to dad? We never learn the details of his plan. Medea leads Jason and his crew to the tree, where they are confronted by the 7-headed hydra. And this is when we see that Acastus has already been killed by the hydra. Jason manages to stab the hyrda in the heart. They take the fleece and flee.
Aeëtes and a bunch of soldiers are closing in. One soldier shoots Medea with an arrow. Jason uses the fleece to heal her. And all of the enemy soldiers apparently just stand around waiting to see what the fleece does? It isn’t clear. Jason picks two of his crew to face Aeëtes and send Medea with the others to fetch the boat. I don’t know if Aeëtes never thought to seize the ship, or if we’re expected to assume that the Argonauts have to fight to get it back.
Anyway, Aeëtes had called on Hecate when he found the dead hydra and saw that the fleece was no longer there, and fire had come down from heaven and burned the hyrda. Aeëtes had his soldiers gather the teeth of the hydra. Now that he has confronted Jason, who is accompanied by only two of his crew, does Aeëtes have his larger group of soldiers attack? No, he monologues for a moment, then throws the teeth onto the ground. From the ground seven skeletal soldiers armed with swords and shields rise, and they attack.
This fight scene seems to be everyone’s favorite part of the movie. And it is fun. As far as it goes. Jason’s two companions get killed. So far as we know only one skeleton is taken out when its skull is chopped off. But the way Jason “defeats” the remaining six is to leap off a convenient cliff into the sea. He survives the dive, and the Argo is conveniently nearby. The skeletons jumped off the cliff chasing Jason, and apparently despite being magical skeletons, they don’t float.
Jason has reached the ship. He and Medea kiss, and we cut to Olympus where Zeus tells Hera to let them enjoy this victory while they can. There is a bit of philosophizing, then the end credits roll.
The film follows the myths rather more faithfully than one would expect from Hollywood. The section with Pheneus and the harpies comes straight from the original Greek saga. Traditionally the Golden Fleece was guarded by a dragon whose teeth would transform into skeletal warriors. Talos (who in the original isn’t encountered until after Jason has obtained the fleece and is sailing home) is killed by the removal of a plug in his ankle. The Greek Tragedy trope that the more you try to fight destiny or prophecy, the worse things go for you is illustrated in some of the character arcs. It could be argued that Medea’s inexplicable quick fall for Jason comes from the myths, too, since in the saga, Hera persuades Aphrodite to send Eros to make Medea fall for Jason, and much later when Medea finds Jason plotting to marry another woman, Jason reveals that he knew Medea was acting under the spell from Eros the whole time.
Even without knowing the myth, viewers saw many, many hints for a sequel in the script. I mean, it ends with Zeus literally saying that the rest of the adventure is yet to come.
It’s clear the studio was hoping this would be a hit and they could have some sequels. And clearly they would have had to bend the myths further to do so. In actual Greek myth Jason never becomes king. He and Medea try, but things don’t work out. Medea tricks Pelias’ daughters into killing their father, but Acastus becomes the King of Thessaly (because he doesn’t die on his voyage with Jason in the myths). Jason and Medea have a falling out that gets even bloodier than the murder of Pelias. Eventually Jason and his new allies do kill Acastus, but Jason’s son is the one who ends up king. And it’s all very messy.
Alas, the show, while not being a flop, exactly, didn’t do that well in theaters, as I mentioned above. But the film influenced other mythic films to follow. The much later film, Clash of the Titans depicted the gods of Olympus moving mortals, monsters, and other gods around a map of the world as chess pieces on a board precisely the same way this film did.
The film’s big cultural impact derives from being played so frequently on television during the 60s and 70s. Back in the day when most people had access to only three or four channels, it was possible for a movie like this to be put in heavy rotation and get seen by a large segment of the population. So there are a lot of people, maybe 40 years old and up, who have very fond nostalgic feelings for this film. While watching it this week I found it still a fun popcorn movie, though it requires a pretty big dose of credulity to overlook some plot details. To be fair, those inconsistencies aren’t worse than many other movies—particularly those made in that era. the fight scenes with the stop motion monsters are a bit cheesy—in many of the shots the harpies and the hydra look like they are made out of brightly colored modeling clay. The bronze giant and the skeletal warriors stand up a lot better.
I made more than a few comments above about the skimpy costumes the men wear throughout the film. And I have to confess that that part contributed to the film’s appeal to me, even if I didn’t realize why when I was very young. I do quite clearly remember thinking it interesting how many of the men were shown with hairy chests. In other movies and TV shows at the time, if men were shown shirtless, their chests were almost always completely hairless. It is worth pointing out that while Medea is often dressed in a flimsy diaphanous gown that doesn’t conceal much, most of the men in the movie are showing a whole lot more leg than any of the women ever do.
The film had a big impact on my conception of mythic stories and epic fantasy. Until I re-watched it this week, I didn’t realize how much of what Zeus and Hera had to say about the nature of the relationship between the gods and humans had soaked into my own feelings on those topics. Just as the way prophecy is treated in the story has continued to inform my own fantasy writing on the topic. And the fact that most guys my age at the time loved the film, it was one of the few bits of fantasy I could talk about at school without invoking the teasing and bullying. Thank goodness I never mentioned those hairy chests, though!
The film was released in a time before Best Dramatic Presentation had become a regular category of the Hugos. Also during an era when any work published in the 12-ish months prior to the actual WorldCon was eligible. And because of its release dates, it would have technically been eligible in either 1963 or 1964. It didn’t make the short list in ’63 (and the category was No Awarded that year). And the category wasn’t offered the next year. Given that the film didn’t become popular until later, that isn’t a surprise. Which is too bad, really. I think many would agree with me that the skeleton fight alone would have deserved all the awards.
And what comes to the top of many of the google searches I did looking for recent stories on the camp situation were people arguing about terminology. It doesn’t matter whether you think that the camps meet a particularly carefully cherry-picked definition of concentration camp: the conditions in the camps violate U.S. law and international treaties; locking people who present themselves at a border and ask for sanctuary is illegal; it is not illegal for people to present themself at a border and ask for sanctuary; the treatment of the children in particular is immoral, unethical, illegal, and appalling.
Call them Detention Centers if you must, but they are still illegal, they are as immoral as any historical Concentration Camp, and you should be ashamed of yourself for not caring what happens to any fellow human beings, but especially children.
People who want to discriminate against others get really angry when you call what they are doing discriminate, despite that fact that a couple of years ago some of them made this argument at the Supreme Court: White House: We’d Be Fine With Bakers Hanging “No Gays” Signs In Their Windows. The weird part is, that in many states they can do just that. They are free to both discriminate against queer people and even put up signs in their shop windows saying so, and yet, virtually none of them do. And here’s why:
They want to quietly and discreetly refuse to serve individual customers who happen to be gay without their other customers finding out. They wanna hate on the down low because they know that customers who may not be gay themselves—people who know and love LGBT people, customers who don’t approve of discrimination on principal, other minorities who worry that they could be next—will take their business elsewhere.
I commented on the weekend about the poorly written, nasty, inappropriate op-ed that The New Republic published about presidential hopeful Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and then removed for the site while listing a lame apology. While it was roundly condemned by straight people and queer people alike—and even some publications that no one would describe as gay-friendly—we have now reached the point where certain queer journalists are falling all over themselves to defend it. They are really leaning into the fact that several of the critics of the original piece saying that portions of it come off as homophobic. The counter argument is that, since the author of the piece, Dale Peck, is himself gay, the thing he wrote can’t possibly be homophobic. One particular op-ed that lots of people are linking to agrees that the piece was rude, and that it demonstrates a part of gay culture that many queer people are uncomfortable with, but insists it isn’t at all reasonable to describe it as homophobic because not only is Peck a gay man, but he was a gay man who was active in Act Up back in the day (which apparently means he can’t be homophobic), and the piece is simply a case of “reading” which has a long tradition in queer culture. The author of the defense piece also made the assertion that it was only straight people who were objecting, and clearly as straight people they don’t have a right to call out homophobia(?).
In case you don’t know, reading in this context is usually defined as the act of pointing out a flaw in someone else (usually publicly and addressed directly to them) and exaggerating it in a humorous way. It’s that last bit—that the exaggeration needs to be funny that I first complain about—because I didn’t find it any of it funny. And while, yes, reading is a tradition in parts of the queer community, it still is an ad hominem attack, which only belongs in political analysis if one is offering proof of several character flaws or harmful ideologies. In other words, if the piece had called Mayor Pete a bigot of some sort and offered up some evidence to back it up, then maybe doing so in the reading-style would have been appropriate. But that isn’t what happened.
So, since these folks think that only straight people object, let me be clear: I’m a gay man. I see Peck’s Act Up crendentials and raise my own Queer Nation involvement. I found the use of phrase “Mary Pete” over and over homophobic. The rest of the essay is a mess—badly written, the opposite of persuasive, and one long ad hominem attack—and The New Republic was right to pull it (and shouldn’t have published it in the first place).
Dan Savage has said many times that queer people have the right to throw slurs back and forth at each other so long as they meet this criteria: “so long as it’s used affectionately and ironically and so long as the term is embraced by the user and so long as it isn’t tossed around in front of strangers and so long as it isn’t used as an insult…”
Peck was not using the term Mary Pete affectionately nor ironically,
There is no indication Mayor Pete embraces the term “mary,”
This use of the slur wasn’t just tossed around in front of strangers, it was written specifically to be published in a publication whose target audience is the general public,
It was definitely intended as an insult.
So this queer man has absolutely no problem calling b.s. on these attempts to spin one bitter gay man’s homophobic attempt to read (and if this was reading, oh, it so missed the mark) another gay man for not being the right kind of gay as anything other than it was.
There is an argument to be made that some of Mayor Pete’s policy proposals are further to the right of center than both most Democratic voters and the country as a whole. One can legitimately critique the tepid response he had to a recent incident of a person of color being killed by police in the town of which he is mayor. And I want to point out that even Peck’s defenders aren’t certain if these were the sorts of things he was trying to imply in his essay.
But vulgar speculation about his sexual desires and practices (which was what most of the so-called “reading” was about) doesn’t belong in a opinion piece published on a serious political news site. Yeah, if you’re sitting with your friends in the local queer bar tossing back drinks and gossiping about people, that sort of commentary may get you some laughs. But it isn’t how you educate voters about issues you disagree with him about.
I’ve written before (many, many times) about the frustration at being unable to distinguish a really bad hay fever day from the early stages of a head cold. For a couple weeks the pollen count has been high or very high, so my hay fever has been pretty bad all of that time. By the middle of last week, in addition to the usual hay fever symptoms, I got two new ones the usually indicate more than just allergies are wrong: my blood sugar was suddenly all over the place, and I felt so thirsty that I couldn’t seem to get enough cold water in me. Either of those usually means that my immune system is fighting an actual bug, so I figured that I’d caught a cold, right?
Friday night/Saturday morning I could not stay asleep. I would wake up because I felt too hot and kicking off blankets hadn’t helped. Then after dozing for a while I wake up and felt like I was freezing. So Saturday morning I checked my blood sugar, took my morning meds, and laid back down to try to get some sleep. By late afternoon I felt a lot better. We showered and walked to a nearby restaurant where a friend’s band was playing and had a good time. I thought that if it had been a cold, I was actually getting over it.
Again, I had trouble sleeping the next night, but Sunday went a lot better.
Sometime in the wee hours of the morning Monday I woke up with a much worse sinus headache than I had had in a long time. I was so out of it that I stood in the bathroom for a while staring at the clock and trying to remember when I had taken the last set of anti-histamines and such and whether I could take some more.
The upshot is that when my alarm went off in the morning, I did my blood sugar, took my prescription meds, took the over-the-counter allergy meds, called in sick, and crawled back into bed.
Today was the first time in nearly a week that my blood sugar was behaving. If it goes out of kilter because of a cold or flu (a very common problem for people with diabetes), it going back to normal usually means that the virus has run its course.
Today headache, congestion, and red itchy eyes are all usual hay fever symptoms, just much, much worse than normal.
So I don’t know what’s going on? Did I have a cold on top of the allergies? And then by random chance as the cold was subsidying something new bloomed and my sinuses had a melt down?
I don’t know. But please pass me another kleenex. Thanks.