Tag Archive | sf/f

In “One World, One People” Sam and Bucky Bring This Adventure to an End


The finale of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was a lot of fun. This is a superhero story, so there was a lot of superheroics. They did a much better job wrapping up most of the problematic plotlines than I had feared in the middle.

I’ve been reading a lot of other people’s reviews of the earlier episodes, and someone made an observation that echoed something I had been thinking about, but I can’t find the review where I read it so I can credit them. Marvel had a plan for this phase of their cinematic universe, which was to be kicked off by the Black Widow movie last summer, and then we were supposed to get The Falcon and the Winter Soldier series and then after that we were supposed to see WandaVision.

Instead, that part of the schedule was reversed. WandaVision was a very out-of-the-box story and didn’t follow typical superhero combat outlines. Because we saw it first, it raised the bar. So when The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is more of a typical superhero story, we keep expecting something more because WandaVision was so different.

It has also been revealed that at least one character who was introduced in this series is also in the Black Widow movie, and that was supposed to be our introduction to them. Not sure how, if we had been able to see Black Widow first that might have changed some of our perceptions of this series.

I think the series overall was fair, but not entirely good and certainly not great. I know opinions vary on this.

But to talk about the finale and what I thought worked, I’m going requires some spoilers. Before we jump into that, because this is a Disney owned property and for some time Disney has been refusing to pay some writers royalties owned, it is nice to note that Disney and Alan Dean Foster approaching settlement on royalties

Okay, so, let’s get into it:


Warning: Spoilers Below!


We finally see Sam in a Captain America themed costume. That favor Bucky called in really paid of, because Sam’s new flight suit is a major upgrade. This episode had lots of fights, and those were all thrilling.

The identity of the Power Broker is revealed as being Sharon Carter. I was a bit disappointed in this development since in the comics Sharon was never a villain. I’m also disappointed because all the previous clues pointed to Sharon so obviously that I was certain they were red herrings. I think this is another one I have to chalk up to WandaVision having raised my expectations too high.

The political parts of the plot don’t hang together well. Camestros Felapton opined in a previous review that this is because the writers are attempting to riff on the original Captain American’s unwavering moral compass, but the writers don’t seem to have the same moral compass. Cora Buhlert pointed out more than once that the supposed villains, the Flag-Smashers, are mostly right in objecting to the policies of the Global Repatriation Council, while the GRC’s policies amount to genocide under real world international law.

I have a really hard time believing, even when half the population of the planet disappeared five years previously, that the remainder of most of the world’s governments would cede all decisions about international travel and so forth to a single committee. If you can suspend your disbelief enough to at least see the GRC’s vote as having something other than symbolic value, you can kind of muddle through that part of the plot.

The fights play out, with Sam and Bucky each getting to be probably heroic. Captain Nationalism shows up in the middle of things and for a bit it looked like it was just going to be a repeat of him murdering one or more members of the Flag-Smashers. Instead, when Karli endangers a truck load of hostages, he breaks off from the fight and tries to save the hostages.

The Karli does get killed before everything is said and done, but it is Sharon Carter who does it, under circumstances where it appears to Sam that Sharon was just acting to save him. The viewers know that Sharon had tried to recruit Karli and the remaining super soldiers to come work for her, and then Karli refused, Sharon needed to kill her or be exposed as the villainous Power Broker.

Sam gets to have a debate with the members of the GRC, the entire thing filmed not just by news camera but by dozens or more bystanders. So the whole world heard him talk about being a Black man wearing the Stars and Stripes. The speech was moving, but we still didn’t take a very deep dive into the problems of systemic racism.

Isaiah Bradley’s stories gets a good closure. We get a scene where Isaiah sees that the story of him and the other black soldiers involuntarily experimented upon is now part of the Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian. I’ve been trying to avoid reviews until I finished writing this but I did notice something on Twitter and Tumblr. Fans (as far as I can tell) are white, thought this scene wasn’t very important to the plot or was too superficial a take on the troubling relationship between the American Medical Establishment and the African American community. Whereas fans I know are people of color found the scene very moving; some declaring it the most important moment in the whole series.

I thought it was a good scene, though I would have liked a bit more of an examination of the meaning of Isaiah’s earlier declaration that no Black man should want to become Captain America. But I’m going to defer to the opinions of the PoC on how well this scene really worked.

We get to see Zemo one more time, but he isn’t talking to anyone, and that’s a shame. The rest of the super soldiers in the Flag-Smashers are killed by a bomb. The Contessa has a short scene with Captain Nationalism and his wife, where he gets a new uniform and the name USAgent. Bucky goes to the elderly man from episode one and finally confesses that he was the one who murdered the man’s son, and apparently explains about the whole Winter Solider thing. And Sharon got her pardon–which she is going to use to steal secrets from the government.’

And it seems that the powers that be are all okay with Sam declaring himself Captain America. We get a final wrap up with Bucky and Sam back in Louisiana with Sam’s sister, nephews, and all the community members we met earlier. I have to say I like that Bucky is able to smile again.

And the final title card changes the name of the show to Captain America and the Winter Soldier.

One of the jobs this series set out to accomplish was to show us that Sam could step into Steve Roger’s boots and be a great Captain America. It pulled that off, but it’s fair to say it did that in spite of the main plot of the show, rather than because of it.

The show is uneven. It worked for me, I think, because the character arcs for Bucky, Sam, and USAgent held together, again, sometimes in spite of the plot, not because of it.

At least for me, I’m left wanting to see what happens next for Sam, and Bucky, and Zemo. I want to know what kind of trouble the Contessa is going to get USAgent into. And I want to know how Sharon’s plots will be thwarted.

And I’m hoping that Loki is better.


These reviews might also interest you:

Camestros Felapton: So I guess that was Falcon & the Winter Soldier then

Cora Buhlert: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier come to the conclusion that it’s “One World, One People”

‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ finale completes its ambitious hero’s journey

Sam and Bucky Face the “Truth”


Episode five of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was very enjoyable. The storyline made some progress on a portion of the plot that has been muddled in previous episode. They also finally made a few specific mentions of racism, rather than relying on Hydra as a stand in for white supremacy/white nationalism. They dipped a toe in, at least. It’s still unclear whether the whole story is going to hold together, and there is only one episode after this.

I can’t be more specific without some major spoilers. So if you haven’t seen the episode and don’t want to be spoiler, don’t scroll past the warning below.

Before I get into that, this show is on Disney+, and the parent company, I should remind you that the parent company, Disney, continues to refuse to pay royalties owed to Alan Dean Foster and others for novelizations and similar work.

Okay, so, let’s get into it:


Warning: Spoilers Below!


The episode picks up apparently only minutes after the end of the previous episode. USAgent, aka the new Captain America, aka Captain Nationalism has fled the scene of his street execution of an unarmed member of the Flag-Smashers. Bucky and Sam are hot on his tail.

They try to talk him into surrendering, which of course he won’t do, so we get a fight. It’s a superhero series, there has to be a fight, but I have to say I was a bit impatient for it to be over.

See, in Captain America: the Winter Soldier Bucky, as the Winter Soldier, was able to give the real Captain America quite a run for his money in combat when Cap had Black Widow and Falcon assisting. And later when Cap had to go up against the Winter Soldier alone, he lost the fight (though he won the war). So, I’m sorry, Captain Nationalism, even with the super soldier serum, is no Steve Rogers. Bucky should have been able to take him down, by himself, in half the time that the showrunners stretched out the fight against Bucky and Sam.

Okay, that’s my fanboy nerdy moment over.

It was very poignant after the fight seeing Sam try to wipe the blood of the murdered man off Cap’s shield.

I found my suspension of disbelief stretching later in the episode when we find out that, Captain Nationalism murdered an unarmed man while literally hundreds of bystanders recorded it and uploaded to the internet, that instead of being turned over to the authorities in Latvia to face charges, he apparently got back to the U.S. only to face a disciplinary hearing. If the government whisked him away, surely they would have already known that he no longer had the shield right?

Whisking him away would be a violation of international law… but in the real world the U.S. military is notorious for violating those laws and treaties when service members commit crimes in allied countries where we have military bases. We are particularly guilty of doing it when white American G.I. commits sexual assault against a person of color. So it isn’t unbelievable that we would do it. I would just feel a whole lot better had the writers made some acknowledgement that that’s what happened.

Before I get back to Sam and Bucky, I just want to say what a wonderful surprise was the cameo of Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. That’s a character who is a bit of a deep-dive. She was original introduced in the late 60s in the super-spy version of the Nick Fury comic books. She was much later revealed to be a sleeper agent all along and became a villain. There are several possibilities for how Marvel plans to use her later, but I think it is particularly telling that she shows up right after Captain Nationalism’s trial to offer him a job.

It was a very short scene, but she was awesome in it. And I look forward to seeing her interact with other characters–dare we hope she gets significant screen time with Daniel Brühl’s Zemo in a future show?

Speaking of Brühl, we get a very satisfying scene with Bucky confronting him at the Sokovia Monument before he is arrested by the Dora Milaje and taken away to that floating super prison which I believe we last saw in Captain America_ Civil War.

Sam, meanwhile, returns to the U.S. and meet with Isaiah Bradly, the black super soldier buried from history that Bucky introduced Sam to earlier. They have a couple of moving scenes. Not surprising that it is moving because Carl Lumbly is a talented actor. This is the scene where the writer’s finally stop used code, allowing Bradley to talk about the racism inherent in how he and his former comrades were chosen to test the early attempts to duplicate the last super soldier serum. Anyone familiar with the Tuskegee Experiment will not be surprised at some of the horrible things Bradley reveals.

He makes an impassioned argument that, first, certain people will not stand by and let a black man take up the name Captain America. And second that, because of the way America treats its minorities, no black man should want to wear those stars and stripes.

The action then moves back to Louisiana. Sam calls in favors from the community and starts working to fix the family’s fishing boat so his sister can sell it to save the family home. Bucky shows up obstensibly to deliver a “favor” he cashed in with the Wakandas (perhaps a new flight suit, since Sam’s was destroyed during the fight with Captain Nationalism).

Anyway, this leads to the best parts of the episode. I have mentioned so many times how episode two was so awesome because if you just let Bucky and Sam interact, wonderful things happen. There is less snark between them in their scenes here. And the scenes do a good job of dealing with the the family legacy subplot while showing realistically Sam and Bucky bonding, and trying to move past being two guys who happened to both love the same man. Er, that is, I mean, both were extremely close friends with and worked as sidekicks to.

Heh.

While it may be a bit formulaic, even the superhero trains himself montage they gave Sam felt earned and meaningful. If one of the purposes of this series is to convince fans of the Captain America and Avengers movies that Sam is ready to become the new Captain America, it seems to be accomplishing that.

The political plot still seems to be a mess. The mulit-government council the Karli and the Flag-Smashers are fighting is proposing things that are blatantly bad. So the viewer ought to be cheering for the Flag-Smashers. I can’t tell if that writers simply don’t realize this is what they are doing, or if they trying so hard to to cast what are clearly alt-right/white nationalist ideas as objectively immoral because they don’t want to offend American conservatives.

We get more clues implying the Sharon Carter is the mysterious villain known as the Power Broker. The fact that she hires the international terrorist, Batroc, who has fought both Captain America and Falcon earlier certainly doesn’t bode well for her not being a villain.

It’s still too soon to tell. In the comics the two roles that Sharon Carter played in most storylines was to be Captain America’s modern era girlfriend, or to be a spy usually working for S.H.I.E.L.D. In the latter role she often was working in what could at best be termed morally grey areas (which often caused tension between her and Cap). So it is still possible that it’s going to turn out that these clues hinting at her being the Power Broker are red herrings.

The show ends with the Flag-Smasher’s taking the members of the Global Repatriation Commission captive. Sam seems read to be a hero again. We presume he will take up Bucky’s offer to call when he needs back-up. So expect a big fight next episode.

And then, of course, there is the post-credits scene. Nothing is going to be simple.

I can’t tell, yet, if this is a series that aimed at a very difficult goal and isn’t quite pulling it off, or if it is going to completely crash and burn.

I guess we’ll find out on Friday!


You may find these reviews useful:

Review: The Falcon & The Winter Soldier episode 5 (sort of)

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Face the “Truth”

Also, this is being reported now:

Disney and Alan Dean Foster approaching settlement on royalties

We Have the 2021 Hugo Ballot… and a really looooooooooong time to fill our our ballots!

This year's trophy, base designed by John Flower.
The 2020 trophy, base designed by John Flower. More pictures and an explanation of the design of the base are here: http://www.thehugoawards.org/hugo-trophies/2020-hugo-award-trophy/ (or click on the picture)

Hugo 2021 List

The Hugo finalists were announced on Tuesday on the DisCon III YouTube channel, and it is a really good ballot, again. I’ll first just give the list, then follow up with my comments.

Best Novel

  • Piranesi, Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury US; Bloomsbury UK)
  • The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • The Relentless Moon, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor; Solaris)
  • Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir (Tordotcom)
  • Black Sun, Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga; Solaris)
  • Network Effect, Martha Wells (Tordotcom)

Best Novella

  • Finna, Nino Cipri (Tordotcom)
  • Ring Shout, P. Djèlí Clark (Tordotcom)
  • Upright Women Wanted, Sarah Gailey (Tordotcom)
  • Come Tumbling Down, Seanan McGuire (Tordotcom)
  • Riot Baby, Tochi Onyebuchi (Tordotcom)
  • The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Nghi Vo (Tordotcom)

Best Novelette

  • “The Inaccessibility of Heaven”, Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny 7-8/20)
  • “The Pill”, Meg Elison (Big Girl)
  • Helicopter Story, Isabel Fall (Wyrm)
  • “Burn or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super”, A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny 5-6/20)
  • “Monster”, Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld 1/20)
  • “Two Truths and a Lie”, Sarah Pinsker (Tor.com 6/17/20)

Best Short Story

  • “Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse”, Rae Carson (Uncanny 1-2/20)
  • “Metal Like Blood in the Dark”, T. Kingfisher (Uncanny 9-10/20)
  • “Little Free Library”, Naomi Kritzer (Tor.com 4/8/20)
  • “The Mermaid Astronaut”, Yoon Ha Lee (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 2/27/20)
  • “A Guide for Working Breeds”, Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Made to Order)
  • “Open House on Haunted Hill”, John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots 6/15/20)

Best Series

  • The Daevabad Trilogy, S.A. Chakraborty (Harper Voyager)
  • The Lady Astronaut, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor; Solaris; Audible; F&SF)
  • The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager)
  • October Daye, Seanan McGuire (DAW)
  • The Interdependency, John Scalzi (Tor; Tor UK)
  • The Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells (Tordotcom)

Best Related Work

  • A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler, Lynell George (Angel City)
  • Beowulf, Maria Dahvana Headley (MCD x FSG Originals)
  • FIYAHCON, L.D. Lewis, Brent Lambert, Iori Kusano & Vida Cruz
  • “George R.R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into the Sun, or: The 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony (Rageblog Edition)”, Natalie Luhrs (Pretty Terrible 8/20)
  • The Last Bronycon: a fandom autopsy, Jenny Nicholson (YouTube)
  • CoNZealand Fringe, Claire Rousseau, C, Cassie Hart, Adri Joy, Marguerite Kenner, Cheryl Morgan & Alasdair Stuart

Best Graphic Story or Comic

  • Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, Octavia E. Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy, illustrated by John Jennings (Abrams ComicArts)
  • Die, Volume 2: Split the Party, Kieron Gillen, illustrated by Stephanie Hans (Image)
  • Once & Future, Volume 1: The King Is Undead, Kieron Gillen, illustrated by Dan Mora (BOOM!)
  • Monstress, Volume 5: Warchild, Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image)
  • Ghost-Spider, Volume 1: Dog Days Are Over, Seanan McGuire, illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa, Rosie Kämpe, and Ig Guara (Marvel)
  • Invisible Kingdom, Volume 2: Edge of Everything, G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Christian Ward (Berger)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  • Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
  • Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
  • The Old Guard
  • Palm Springs
  • Soul
  • Tenet

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

  • Doctor Who: “Fugitive of the Judoon”
  • The Expanse: “Gaugamela”
  • The Good Place: “Whenever You’re Ready”
  • The Mandalorian: “The Jedi”
  • The Mandalorian: “The Rescue”
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: “Heart” (parts 1 and 2)

Best Editor, Short Form

  • Neil Clarke
  • Ellen Datlow
  • C.C. Finlay
  • Mur Lafferty & S.B. Divya
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form

  • Nivia Evans
  • Sheila E. Gilbert
  • Sarah Guan
  • Brit Hvide
  • Diana M. Pho
  • Navah Wolfe

Best Professional Artist

  • Tommy Arnold
  • Rovina Cai
  • Galen Dara
  • Maurizio Manzieri
  • John Picacio
  • Alyssa Winans

Best Semiprozine

  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies
  • Escape Pod
  • Fiyah
  • PodCastle
  • Uncanny
  • Strange Horizons

Best Fanzine

  • The Full Lid
  • Journey Planet
  • Lady Business
  • nerds of a feather, flock together
  • Quick Sip Reviews
  • Unofficial Hugo Book Club Blog

Best Fancast

  • Be the Serpent
  • The Coode Street Podcast
  • Kalanadi
  • Claire Rousseau’s YouTube channel
  • The Skiffy and Fanty Show
  • Worldbuilding for Masochists

Best Fan Writer

  • Cora Buhlert
  • Charles Payseur
  • Jason Sanford
  • Elsa Sjunneson
  • Alasdair Stuart
  • Paul Weimer

Best Fan Artist

  • Iain J. Clark
  • Cyan Daly
  • Sara Felix
  • Grace P. Fong
  • Maya Hahto
  • Laya Rose

Best Video Game

  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  • Blaseball
  • Final Fantasy VII Remake
  • Hades
  • The Last of Us: Part II
  • Spiritfarer

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book (Not a Hugo)

  • Legendborn, Tracy Deonn (McElderry; Simon & Schuster UK)
  • Elatsoe, Darcie Little Badger (Levine Querido)
  • Raybearer, Jordan Ifueko (Amulet)
  • A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, T. Kingfisher (Argyll)
  • A Deadly Education, Naomi Novik (Del Rey; Del Rey UK)
  • Cemetery Boys, Aiden Thomas (Swoon Reads)

Astounding Award for Best New Writer

  • Lindsay Ellis
  • Simon Jimenez
  • Micaiah Johnson
  • A.K. Larkwood
  • Jenn Lyons
  • Emily Tesh

In every category other than the Artist, Video Game, and Editor – Long Form, at least one item from my nominating ballot made it to the final ballot. And in eleven categories two or more items I nominated made the final list.

On the one hand, I suppose this means I have similar enough tastes to much of the regular Hugo nominating community. On the other hand, this means that in a whole bunch of categories I have a lot of reading/watching to do. On the gripping hand, well, that means I have to read a bunch of stuff for the next few months! Which, as a bibliophile, that’s a good thing.

Let’s get a little specific: in the novel category, two books I nominated made it. All four of the other titles that made it to the ballot were already on my radar to read. In fact, two of those four I’ve already bought, I just hadn’t started reading them, yet.

I should mention that four of the six people who made it to the ballot in Fan Writer are people I nominated. And honestly, the other two are people whose works I’ve read and if I could have nominated more than five people they very well might have made it to my nomination list. Which means that much like last year, this is going to be a very painful category to rank. Some of these I read some much that they basically feel like extended members of my family, so I want to put them all at position number 1 on my ballot. Dang it!

I feel like one particular entry in the Best Short Story list requires an entire post or more on its own — and it already got a post on this blog 13 months or so ago! So I’m not going there.

The only book that I nominated for the Lodestar Award, A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking is a book I loved so much last year that I bought many copies of it to give to various friends and family members for Christmas and birthday presents. I also wasn’t absolutely certain it belong in the Young Adult category, so I nominated it for both Best Novel and Beat Young Adult Novel. In addition to how awesome I think the book is, full disclosure, I should mention that while I don’t expect the author to remember me, the two of us have had dealer’s den tables across from each other at certain conventions, so I may have an extra level of bias in regard to her work.

Finally, thanks to the uncertainties of the pandemic, the committee running this year’s WorldCan has decided to reschedule to convention for a date when they are certain they can host an in-person convention. So instead of being in the latter half of August or the first bit of September as has been tradition for a number of years, this year’s WorldCon will begin on December 18 in Washington, D.C. Way too close to Christmas and in the middle of Advent season for a lot of people.

Bucky and Sam are reminded that “The Whole World is Watching”

(L-R): Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba) in Marvel Studios’ THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Julie Vrabelová. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

I’ve started, scrapped, and re-started my review of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode four, “The Whole World is Watching” several times. The episode is a big improvement over episode three, but the basic story still appears to have more than a few major flaws. I think the way to stop myself from digressing down a lot of rabbit holes is to focus on what I think the source of the flaws is, before talking about the plot.

Before I get into that, I have neglected to mention that this show is on Disney+, and the parent company, Disney, continues to refuse to pay royalties owed to Alan Dean Foster and others for novelizations and similar work.

I can’t really talk about the episode without spoilers, so:


Warning: Spoilers Below!


Television shows and movies and the like have always had problems when trying to incorporate the real world and real history into their narratives. Sometimes it is mostly an annoyance, such as all the times that shows are supposedly set in the City of Seattle, where I live, but are very obviously being filmed in Vancouver, Canada (which means most of the world doesn’t even notice). This particular shows shares a sin with lots of American shows in that the Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, is being used as a stand-in for several different European locations, much of which bear little resemblance to Prague.

That kind of muddle doesn’t usually create plotholes, so those of use that do recognize the difference can still enjoy the story.

Unfortunately, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is also suffering from another kind of dissonance with the real world. For example, the villain, Zemo — who is still belng played deliciously well by Daniel Brühl — makes several references to his family’s legacy and his own childhood that just make absolutely no sense for a person who is supposed to have grown up in a fictional country which is, according to previous films in the MCU, sandwiched inbetween the real nations of the Czech Republic and Slovokia. Nor does another of his references to a childhood visit to the real world city of Riga, capital of Latvia.

At least they don’t make sense if you assume that these stories are taking place in the year 2021, which they appear to be. I should pause here to point out that Cora Buhlert goes into much more detail about these discrepancies in her reviews.

Rather than retell this information, I want to present my theory for why the writers or The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and other MCU properties are making this mess. I think it comes down to two things. First, Americans (by which I means inhabitants of the U.S., not to disparage our Canadian or Mexican neighbors) or embarrassingly ignorant of both history and geography. Second, the comic book origins of the Marvel Universe have a particular time warp baked into the origins and themes of most of the classi villains and heroes.

To the first point, I want to hasten to point out the most of my fellow citizens are woefully ignorant of the geographic of Europe, Asia, Africa, and so one. But they’re also extremely ill-informed about our own country. I spent my late teens and early twenties traveling around the country in a touring choir, and do not exaggerate when I say I met thousands of people who did not know that Washington State, where we were from, is not the same as the city of Washington, D.C., and that the two Washingtons are literally on opposite sides of the continent. More recently there was that viral meme about how many millions of people were shocked and sometimes angry to learn that Alaska isn’t an island. And let’s not forget the Trumpers from the U.S. state of Georgia who were running around the capitol waving not the flag of their home state, but the flag of the Eastern European Nation of Georgia (because they search for Georgia flag on Amazon–I kid you not!)!

So, Americans, including most of the writers and show runners of any series you can name, literally do not know the difference between Albania, Austria, Latvia, Serbia, or Romania; let alone have any idea of their relative histories. Similarly, if they’ve even heard of events like the Turkish Invasion of Cyprus, the Kosovo War, the First or Second Chechen Wars, the Romanian Revolution, the Hungarian Revolution, or any of the Albania Civil Wars, they have no idea what the conflicts were about nor which ones came before and which after the Dissolution of the Soviet Union.

So fictional European characters written by Americans are going to have backstories that make no sense and contradict history at every turn.

Then there is the Marvel timeline problem. Most of the classic Marvel heroes and villains have their origins in the 1960s and 1970s. Things about American culture and which parts of recent history were important to Americans during that time are baked deeply into the DNA of the fictional lives, themes, and backstories of those characters.

One of the concepts that ghosts along just under the surface of the very essence of a huge number of Marvel characters is that World War II was only 20 or 30 years ago. Trying to translate those origins into modern times means that writers wind up half-heartedly tying major turning points in the lives of both heroes and villains to a more recent conflict, which likely has little culture or economic similarities to WWII as perceived by Americas during the Viet Nam War era. This results in some very confusing elements to the personalities, motivations, and backstories of those characters in a modern setting.

Enough explanation of why most of the socio-politico motivations of any of the villains in this series makes absolutely no sense. Let’s get the the actual episode. “The Whole World Is Watching” is a significantly better entry than episode three. The action sequences (particularly the one involve the Wakandan Dora Milaje) are much more exciting, engaging, and have a lot of emotional heft.

In a completely different arena, we see Sam using his skills as a PTSD counsellor to try to get through to Karli, the leader of the flag smashers. I should note that Cora Buhlert has pointed out the Sam’s true superpower is empathy, and I have to agree that this comes through really strong in this episode.

Karli cross the line from activist to terrorist last episode, and in this episode we see that even some of her most loyal followers are uneasy with this shift. Even so, Sam does seem to reach a moment of understanding. And it is during the conversation with Sam that Karli herself acknowledges that her philosophy, goals, and tactics have some contradictions.

During Karli’s conversations with her followers and with Sam, we get a lot more details of what happened to at least some of the people who didn’t vanish in the blip, and a slightly better explanation of why Karli and her followers are doing what they’re doing. It would have really made episodes two and three make a lot more sense if the writers had found a way to include some of the information in episode one. For example, some of it could have logically been brought up during the scene where Sam and his sister try to take out a small business loan. Just sayin’.

Sam isn’t able to talk Karli down, however, because USAgent, aka Captain Nationalism aka the new Captain America, is too impatient to give Sam the ten minutes he asked for. Zemo uses the ensuing fight to shoot Karli and destroy most of her vials of super soldier serum. Unfortunately, New Cap finds what might be the last surviving vial, and later in the episode we learn he’s injected himself with it.

It is during the second fight with the Flag Smashers that we see that New Cap has super strength. When his loyal friend seems to be killed in said fight (I’m not convinced he’s dead, because the camera cut back to his motionless body at a really odd moment after all of the rest of the characters left the building, chasing the Flag-smashers), New Cap gets even more reckless, leading up to the extremely bloody and shocking final scene.

I’m going to put a stake in the ground here and say that if the rest of the series doesn’t use that final scene, where an unarmed man who is trying to surrender it brutally murdered with the entire event caught on the cameras of hundreds of smart phones as a metaphor for real live incidents of police brutality, than the whole series has missed the boat.

Despite a lot of improvements, we don’t get anything as enjoyable as the banter between Bucky and Sam in episode two. Which is a shame.

While this episode did a lot to salvage the mess of episode three, there are still a heaping pile of details to wrap-up with only two episodes to go. I suspect it’s going to be a wild ride, whether they succeed in tying everything up or not.


These reviews might be of interest:

“The Whole World Is Watching” The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Falcon, the Winter Soldier & the MCU’s Original Sin

Bad Guys and Good Guys in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s “The Whole World is Watching”

TEMPERS FLARE IN THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER EPISODE 4


Note: When I mentioned above how poorly Americans know geography and history, I am including myself. I literally used to read Encylopedias cover to cover for fun, and I love reading reference books of all kinds, but I also know I have some big and occasionally embarrassing holes in my knowledge. I can draw, from memory, a fairly accurate map or the borders of European countries circa 1914, for instance, but give me a blank modern map of Europe and tell me to fill in names and I know I’ll get several of them wrong.

WandaVisions Wraps Things Up in the Awesome “The Series Finale”

© Disney+

Having now seen the entire series1, I can sum up my feelings quite succinctly: It’s f-ing awesome2!

It did not end the way I thought it would. Thank goodness it didn’t end the many weird ways that some fans, fancasts, and so-called leakers were predicting. The show ended much, much better than any of those predictions.

The last episode took the meta of all the earlier episode titles all the way to 11: “The Series Finale.” It was fun, it didn’t have plotholes, it didn’t introduce wild twists (but it had more than one surprise3). Most importantly: it is a complete story. It did not feel as if it was just setting us up for the next show4.

It also is exactly the kind of story I, for one, needed right now. But I can’t explain why without spoilers. But before I warn you not to click through or otherwise read further, may I remind you that the Disney corporation is still refusing to pay Alan Dean Foster and other authors money they are owed for media tie-in novels.

Anyway…

Spoliers ahead!

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Seriously, every single sentence below is full of spoilers…

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Seriously, turn back now!!!

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I warned you!!!

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Seriously, spoilers ahead!

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Read More…

WandaVision gives us some answers and fills in Wanda’s backstory

© Disney+

The penultimate episode of WandaVision gave us a lot of answers, revealed a lie or two, and set the stage for a big battle. I think it also showed us that this show should not be thought of as a spin-off. It has leaned into the things that television does well, telling a story more nuanced that any of the big movies are able to with their set pieces and epic battles. Not that next episode won’t have a battle, because that seems inevitable at this point.

Episode eight, “Previously On” is not as delightful as episode seven, nor as fun as episodes one through six, but we’ve reached the point where answers must be forthcoming, and since the show centers around Wanda’s trauma, that means things have to be a bit more serious, at least for no. I can’t say more without spoilers, so the rest of the review will be behind a cut-tag

Before I get into it: this show appears on Disney+, and may I remind you that Disney corporation is refusing to pay Alan Dean Foster and other authors money they are owed for media tie-in novels.

Spoliers ahead!

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Seriously, every single sentence below is full of spoilers…

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Seriously, turn back now!!!

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I warned you!!!

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Seriously, spoilers ahead!

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Read More…

WandaVision goes Modern while really breaking all the walls

© Disney+

Things really got moving in this episode, “Breaking the Fourth Wall.” I think we may have learned enough that it’s possible to start making some judgement calls on some of the plot and delivery decisions made in earlier episodes. Despite the fact that there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth during the first about hour after the episode became available for streaming. Disney+ was experiencing problems. For some people the service crashed completely and didn’t come back for a while. A lot of others experience multiple long pauses in the middle of the action. Many are inferring that a lot more fans of the show are waiting up on Thursday night until the episode becomes available, and simply overwhelmed the system.

This episode gave us a couple of answers to questions swirling around the underlying mystery and hinted at more to come. I’ve seen a few people already claiming that the reveal near the end of this episode completely eliminates a few other fan theories, and I think those people are jumping the gun. Which I will get to below. But before I get into any spoilers, I think it is worth mentioning that for the first time in the series there is a post-credits scene. I won’t tell you what it is above the break, but just in case you’re one of those people who stop playing or skip to another show once the credits start, you might want to stick around this time.

One more thing before I get into it: this show appears on Disney+, and may I remind you that Disney corporation is refusing to pay Alan Dean Foster and other authors money they are owed for media tie-in novels.

I can’t say more without spoilers, so…

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Seriously, every single sentence below is full of spoilers…

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Seriously, turn back now!!!

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I warned you!!!

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Seriously, spoilers ahead!

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Read More…

WandaVision Brings Tricks, Treats, and a Growing Menace

© Disney +

Last week brought us the 6th episode out of 9 of WandaVisiom, entitled “All-New Halloween Spooktacular!” I’m still enjoying the series a lot. But I realized after I finished my review last week, that if the answers to the various mysteries they are aiming to aren’t close to my guesses, the series may have gone completely off the rails. Two of my favorite fan writers have commented that it’s nearly impossible to review this series because you can’t tell whether things make sense if you don’t know the ending. So maybe it’s okay that I’m somewhat conflicted. This review is so late because I kept trying to write it without it being a long recap of the episode.

Before I begin my spoiler-heavy review, because this show appears on Disney+, I am morally obligated to tell you that the Disney corporation is refusing to pay Alan Dean Foster and other authors money they are owed for media tie-in novels.

This is the first episode where I was completely clueless as to who they were doing an homage to during the opening credits. I mentioned previously that due to various life events I watched virtually no television in the 1980s, right? So, due to very different life events1, I wound up missing a lot of television and other pop culture events in the 1990s.

Other viewers, more knowledgeable than myself tell me that the show skipped over the 1990s entirely to make a full-throated embrace of Malcolm in the Middle which aired from 2000 until 2006. And I’ll take their word for it.

The rest of my review/partial recap is rife with spoilers, so don’t scroll down or click below if you don’t want to be spoiled!

I can’t say more without spoilers, so…

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Seriously, every single sentence below is so full of spoilers you need a vomit bag…

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Seriously, turn back now!!!

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I warned you!!!

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Seriously, spoilers ahead!

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Read More…

Bullying, gender, and the importance of horses – or, more of why I love sf/f

Across the Green Grass Fields is the sixth book in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series;

I read the sixth book in the Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire a bit over a week ago. While I tried for several days to write a review, I realized that I couldn’t really talk about it without talking about the fifth book in the series, and how that left me feeling. But for some reason I didn’t write a review of the fifth book last year. My draft of the review of the sixth book wound up having more than a thousand words about the fifth book, so I decided to separate them and publish that review last week. And now I think I can tackle the sixth book.

There are spoilers ahead, though I try to avoid the biggest ones.

I was predisposed to love this series before I read the first bopok, after hearing the author explain that the inspiration for the first story was her own reading of tales (when she was a child herself) in which a child or group of children were transported to a magical world where they had a world-saving adventure but then were forced to go back home and just be ordinary kids again! And as a kid I had felt exactly the same way as I reached each of various fantasy books that I read.

For reference, I wrote about the first three novellas in this series here. And then I wrote about the fourth book (which left me sobbing uncontrollably) here, and the fifth here.

When Seanan McGuire explained how she came to write the award-winning first story in the series, she mentioned specifically the original My Little Pony cartoon as one of her inspirations. I was exactly the wrong age when the original series came out, but the more recent My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic series roped me in. So much so that for several years now with a group of friends I have been running a tabletop roleplaying game using the Fate system to run a campaign in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic universe, with the twist that we are crossing the series over with the Cthulhu Mythos (with a heavy sprinkling of things like Ash vs Evil Dead).

The upshot of all of this is, that once the title of the sixth book, Across the Green Grass Fields and the official blurb was released, I was essentially vibrating in great anticipation for the book. Because it was going to be about kids crossing through a portal to a world of adventure, but also specifically the original world which had inspired the author to start the series. So since this story would be about the aspect of this theme about which the author feels most passionate, presumably it would be one of the stronger entries in the series. Given that the fifth book was “merely” Really Good, but was therefore a letdown (for me) from the Stupendously Incredible that was the fourth book, I really wanted this book to wow me.

So, the book follows a young girl named Regen—who happens to be really into horses—who is having a bit of difficulty navigating grammar school. She had two very good friends, until one of those friends did something which the other friend felt wasn’t properly girlish and thus needed to be shunned. Regen feels very badly for the shunned friend, but also feels she can’t risk losing the regard of the bullying friend. There is some discussion to be had about whether deciding to stop being friends with someone should be regarded as bullying, but I’m afraid I come down on the side of the shunned girl’s mother that this behavior is a form of bullying.

Some years later, Regen begins feeling more insecure around her remaining friends because they seem to all be going through puberty and she isn’t. When she talks to her parents about it she finds out that she is intersex, specifically she has androgen insensitivity. They explain how the doctors discovered it, and reassure her again and again that this doesn’t mean anything is wrong with her. It’s just she won’t undergo puberty on her own, but she can with hormone replacement therapy.

This revelation bothers Regen even more. The next day at school she makes the mistake of telling the bully who she thinks is her friends. This does not go well, and she flees the school grounds, intended to go the long way back home. In the wooded area she is walking through toward home, she finds a mysterious door, which she goes through, and she winds up in another world.

She meets some of the inhabitants (a family of centaurs), and is informed that whenever a human comes to the Hooflands (which is what they call the world) something big will happen, and the human will save the world. Regen doesn’t want to save the world, particularly when she hears some of the stories of humans who came before her who all disappear after saving the world.

The Hooflands are inhabited by a lot of mythical creatures, all with some kind of hoof or other. The unicorns seem to be dumb animals (and are raised as livestock to be eaten by the centaurs). There are kelpies, fauns, perytons, and so forth. Some of species do not get along with others. Kelpies, for instance, are describe as mindless beasts and monsters.

Regen lives with the centaurs for a time. The happy family is disrupted because the Queen of the Hooflands puts a bounty on Regen. The centaurs relocate to a place where they think the Queen can’t find them and live there more or less happy for several years. Until it becomes clear that the Queen is evil and is hurting the other inhabitants of the Hooflands, so Regen sets out to try to save the world (without vanishing afterward).

There was, for me, a big problem with the book. The opening chapters, while Regen is dealing with the difficulties at school and discovering that she is intersex and so forth was extremely compelling. You know how some people yell at the TV when a character does something foolish? I was talking to the book when it became clear that Regen was about to tell the bully about her gender. I knew it was going to go badly, and McGuire had me on the edge of my seat about how badly it would go and what happened next.

But, again, this is how I experienced the book, not long after Regen arrived in the Hooflands almost all dramatic tension evaporated. I literally fell asleep while reading the second half of the book. Twice. It took me two more days than it ought to have to finish it because it just wasn’t grabbing me.

I’ve read other reviews of people who absolutely loved the book and found it rivetting to the end. The writing is good. There is not a big glaring plothole or anything like that. I just wasn’t able to make myself care about what happened to the Hooflands. I kept wanting to know what was going to happen when Regen got back. It just didn’t feel like anything important was at stake within the Hooflands part of the story.

This doesn’t mean that the book was badly written. It means this falls into the category of books that aren’t for me. This is not the first time that I have encountered this phenomenon with an author whose stories I otherwise adore. For whatever reason, this one didn’t grab me.

And I’m not happy about that! Because I really wanted to adore this book. I wanted it to move me the way book four did.

I might try to re-read it again later. Maybe I was just not in the right place mentally that week for it to resonate for me.

I still highly recommend the series. As mentioned above, there are people out there who absolutely loved this one. So maybe you will, too. I’m still looking forward to the next book. I hope it’s one that grabs me.

Ask the Next Question, or how SF/F has always been confronting social issues

I need to get my other hosting issues sorted out and get a couple of my other sites back up on the web. But a conversation elseweb made me dig out this essay I wrote and first published 22 years ago and resurrect it on this blog. Homophobia is not a recent development in the sci fi community. But also neither is allyship, so:

(Originally published 18 June, 1999)

Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985) was one of America’s finest writers. He was one of the great figures of the Golden Age of science fiction. During his lifetime he produced over 200 stories, several novels, film and tv scripts (including two of the most famous episodes of the original “Star Trek” series), plays, and dozens of non-fiction reviews and essays. His many literary awards include the Hugo, the Nebula, and the International Fantasy Award.

Sturgeon wrote such great fiction because his philosophy was “Always ask the next question.” He even created a symbol or personal shorthand for “Ask the next question,” a capital “Q” with an arrow through it. He was never satisfied with conventional wisdom or pat answers.

And that tendency got him in big trouble in 1953, making him the central target of an intense “anti-homosexual blacklist” within the publishing community. Prior to the 1970s, it was virtually unheard of for gay men, lesbian, or bisexual characters to appear in any kind of fiction, and when they did, they were either vile villains or tragically flawed creatures who committed suicide before the end of the story. While many science fiction authors were questioning racial stereotypes or decrying McCarthy’s rabid anti-communism, they closed ranks with the rest of the status quo on the question of homosexuality.

Not Theodore Sturgeon. At the time a father of four and somewhat notorious womanizer, Sturgeon still couldn’t help but ask the next question. If racism was wrong, why not sexism and heterosexism? He wrote three short stories in quick succession. The first, “The Silken Swift” was a twist on the unicorn legend that questioned society’s definitions of purity and innocence, while making some comments about the role of women in most cultures. It caused a slight stir, but didn’t seem too far out. Then “The Sex Opposite” started showing up in editor’s mailboxes, in which Sturgeon posited a whole subspecies of humans who could change their gender at will, and whom engaged in long term relationships with members of all three sexes. This provoked a mild uproar, and many editors shied far away from it. Sturgeon started receiving unsolicited advice, some of it implied that people were assuming he was homosexual (because only a “pervert” would even think of portraying such relationships as possible, let alone successful and happy) and suggesting that he tone it down, for the sake of his career.

Which seemed to firm up Sturgeon’s resolve. He sat down at his typewriter and created “The World Well Lost” in which homosexual characters were not only portrayed as normal, well-adjusted people in the future, the story came right out and referred to the homophobic past has a horrible time. Fear and loathing of homosexuals was a sign of an immature society, the story said. This was too much for some people. The editor of the magazine Fantastic, Howard Browne, was so outraged by the tale, not only did he reject it, he immediately started phoning all the other editors he knew to organized a boycott of Sturgeon. Browne wasn’t satisfied with bullying other editors into agreeing never to publish anything from Sturgeon again. He and his cronies promised to completely ruin the career of anyone who dared publish “The World Well Lost” itself.

Ray Palmer was a feisty man who was editor of Universe Science Fiction, a small pulp sci-fi zine at the time. Perhaps it was because Mr. Palmer had suffered from disfiguring disability since childhood, and had little sympathy for bullies, but in any case, Palmer put “The World Well Lost” into a fast track to get it published right away. And he publicly dared Browne’s group to make good on their threat.

Browne’s coalition quickly crumbled, and the “Homosexual Blacklist” faded away before it had a chance to damage any other careers.

Sturgeon kept on asking the next question, never afraid to broach topics just because they were controversial. And Palmer enjoyed a long and successful career in publishing. Thanks to them, other writers in the fifties, sixties, and seventies could explore the subject of homosexuality in a more balanced and tolerant fashion. While it was true that, even into the late seventies, most readers, critics, and editors assumed that any author who wrote such a story was probably gay, bi, or lesbian themselves, it was because of two courageous heterosexual men, Sturgeon and Palmer, that those authors could give us those rare, early glimpses into a world where homophobia was neither common nor acceptable.

This pride month, remember to raise a toast to Theodore Sturgeon and Ray Palmer, two people who knew it was better to do the right thing than to be perceived as the right kind of people. Where ever their spirits are now, I’m sure they are still asking questions.

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