Tag Archive | things I like

Da, DA, da-da-da-DAAAA-da, da-da-da-DAAAA-da, dut-dut-da-daaaaaa! I love sf/f soundtracks

These fabulous two-disc sets have been in my collection for some time. I only yesterday realized I'd never imported them to my iTunes library!

These fabulous two-disc sets have been in my collection for some time. I only yesterday realized I’d never imported them to my iTunes library!

I saw the original Star Wars on opening night. I’ve written a few times before of being a 16-year-old geeky/nerd and my slightly older geek/nerd friends who always heard about every obscure genre movie before anyone else did who drove me down to a big theatre in a suburb of Portland, Oregon to see this thing… and it was awesome. The very next day we gathered up a bunch of our nerdy friends and made another trip to go see it. I immediately became one of the world’s biggest Star Wars fans. That summer, the soundtrack came out of vinyl, so I had to buy the album. The show was such an incredible surprise blockbuster, that someone made a disco single versions of the theme that became a number one hit. A bunch of my nerdy friends spent the summer touring with the evangelical teen choir of which I was technically a member (but was not deemed worthy to go—the ins and outs of that and how it was influenced by people’s suspicions I was queer is worthy of some separate posts, but not today). And I had a very hard time getting a couple of them to listen to the album when they got back, because they’d all heard the awful disco song on the radio.

But once I got them to listen, they all loved it, too.

I played that album a lot. But vinyl records lose fidelity over time because each time you play them the physical needle that has to run through the groove to vibrate because of the shape of the groove and translate those microvibrations into sound also wears the groove smooth, slowing destroying the sound. I played it enough that, a few years later when the second movie came out and I bought the soundtrack album for it, I could hear the difference in some of the repeated themes, and bought myself a fresh copy of the first album, played it once to make a cassette tape, and put it away. I also made a tape of the Empire Strikes Back soundtrack and stopped listening to the vinyl album. I listened to both cassettes often enough that eventually I had to get the albums out again to make fresh tapes.

And yes, eventually I ended up with a vinyl version of the soundtrack for Return of the Jedi. For many years after that, I would only occasionally play the vinyl albums, relying instead on the homemade cassette copies when I wanted to listen to them. I did this with a number of sci fi movie and TV series soundtracks through the 80s and early 90s: buy the vinyl album listen at least once while I made a cassette copy, then put the album carefully away and listened to the cassette as often as I liked. And I really enjoyed listening to the music for movies and other shows that I loved.

And then along came compact discs. I started buying new music on disc, and as I could afford it, if I found CD versions of favorite old albums, I would buy them. At some point in this period of time, I found a disc that was titled, “The Star Wars Trilogy” as recorded by the Utah Symphony Orchestra (the originals had all been done by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Williams) for a very reasonable price, and I bought it.

In 1997, 20 years after the original release of the first movie, a set of three 2-disc Special Edition sets of the soundtracks for all three of the original Star Wars movies were released, so I finally picked up the full soundtracks on CD. These sets had considerably more music than had been included in the old vinyl albums. They had also been remastered. Each of the discs was printed with holographic images of the Death Star and other ships from the universe. Each set came with a mini hardbound book with notes about the music. They were cool. I listened to them fairly frequently for a few years.

When I first acquired what they called at the time a Personal Digital Assistant (a Handspring Visor, to be specific), it came with a disc of software to help synchronize your calendar and contacts with your Windows computer. When I upgraded a couple years later, the new disc of software included a copy of Apple’s new music manager, iTunes (the Windows version), which you could use to put music on your PDA. At the time I often listened to music while working on computer by pulling discs out of a small shelf unit I kept in the computer room and stuck in a boombox we kept in there. The little shelf held only a subset of my library, as the rest of our discs were in a much bigger shelf unit in the living room next to the main stereo. So I grabbed some of the discs from the small shelf, stuck them in the CD drive on my Windows tower, and let them get imported into iTunes. That was the original core of my current iTunes library, from which I created my first playlists—imaginatively named “Writing,” “Writing Faust,” “Writing II,” “Layout An Issue,” and “Writing III.” And several tracks from the aforementioned knock-off Star Wars Trilogy disc were included, because that was the only Star Wars music disc I kept in the computer room at the time.

Many years later, I usually listen to music from my iPhone. I had thought that I had imported all of my music from disc into the iTunes library years ago, and most of the time I buy music as downloads, now. I have new playlists which include the Star Wars theme or the Imperial March. So I thought it was all good. I hadn’t gone out of my way to listen to the entire soundtracks of the original movies in years. I have continued to buy new soundtracks for movies I love. I tend to listen to them for a while, and then pick some favorite tracks that go into playlists.

Because of some articles I was reading about the upcoming films in the Star Wars franchise, I decided that I should re-listen to the original soundtrack, and was quite chagrined to discover that, even though I thought my entire iTunes library was currently synched to my phone, all that I had was the knock-off album. (And the wholly downloaded soundtracks from The Force Awakens and Rogue One.) I was even more chagrined when I got home and couldn’t find the original albums in my iTunes library on either computer.

So I went to the big shelf of CDs in the living room (which my husband was actually in the middle of packing), and snagged the three two-disc Star Wars soundtrack sets and carried them up to my older Mac Pro tower (because it still has an optical disc drive). I now finally have the albums on my iPhone. Sometime after we finish the move, I’ve going to have to go through playlists to replace the versions from the knock-off album with the authentic score. Because, that’s what I should be using!

Also, clearly, after we’re all unpacked at the new place, I need to go through the rest of the discs and see what other music which I thought was in my library is still sitting trapped in a physical disc which never gets used any more so I can import them to the computers. I mean, our stereo doesn’t even have a disc player!

Sunday Funnies, part 23

Another in my series of posts recommending web comics that I think more people should read:

© Jorge Cham (Click to embiggen) http://www.phdcomics.com/comics.php?f=1934

Piled Higher and Deeper (PhD) by Jorge Cham is a comic about trying to survive the world of academia. Cham has a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering and has been a professor. In addition to the comic which follows the adventures of several grad students, their families, instructors, and so on, Cham is one of the co-founders od PHDtv which is a cooperative education and science outreach video project. This is another of those comics that I found by people sharing specific strips on various social media, and I go read the strips that have come out since last one was shared and then I forget to check it again until someone posts another. It funny, occasionally educational, and always geeky!

If you like his work and want to support him, he’s got several books collecting earlier strips, mugs, and other fun things for sale!


Some of the comics I’ve previously recommended: Some of these have stopped publishing new episodes. Some have been on hiatus for a while. I’ve culled from the list those that have gone away entirely.

dm100x80“Deer Me,” by Sheryl Schopfer tells the tales from the lives of three friends (and former roommates) who couldn’t be more dissimilar while being surprisingly compatible. If you enjoy Deer Me, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!

The logo for Scurry, a web comic by Mac SmithScurry by Mac Smith is the story of a colony of mice trying to survive a long, strange winter in a world where humans have mysteriously vanished, and food is becoming ever more scarce.

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And I love this impish girl thief with a tail and her reluctant undead sorcerer/bodyguard: “Unsounded,” by Ashley Cope.

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 3.18.45 PMCheck, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu is the story of Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a former junior figure skating champion from a southern state who is attending fictitious Samwell College in Massachusetts, where he plays on the men’s hockey team. Bitty is the smallest guy on the team, and in the early comics is dealing with a phobia of being body-checked in the games. He’s an enthusiastic baker, and a die hard Beyoncé fan.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 5.36.43 PMMuddler’s Beat by Tony Breed is the fun, expanded cast sequel to Finn and Charlie Are Hitched.

The_Young_Protectors_HALF_BANNER_OUTSIDE_234x601The Young Protectors by Alex Wolfson begins when a young, closeted teen-age superhero who has just snuck into a gay bar for the first time is seen exiting said bar by a not-so-young, very experienced, very powerful, super-villain. Trouble, of course, ensues.

logo-1Fowl Language by Brian Gordon is a fun strip about parenting, tech, science, and other geeky things. The strips are funny, and he also has a bonus panel link to click on under the day’s strip.

3Tripping Over You by Suzana Harcum and Owen White is a strip about a pair of friends in school who just happen to fall in love… which eventually necessitates one of them coming out of the closet. Tripping Over You has several books, comics, and prints available for purchase.

The Junior Science Power Hour by Abby Howard logo.The Junior Science Power Hour by Abby Howard. is frequently autobiographical take on the artist’s journey to creating the crazy strip about science, science nerds, why girls are just as good at being science nerds as boys, and so much more. It will definitely appeal to dinosaur nerds, anyone who has ever been enthusiastic about any science topic, and especially to people who has ever felt like a square peg being forced into round holes by society.

lasthalloweenThe Last Halloween by Abby Howard is the creepy story of 10-year-old Mona who is reluctantly drafted to save the world on Halloween night. This is by the same artist who does the Junior Science Power Hour. She created this strip as her pitch in the final round of Penny Arcade’s Strip Search, which was a reality game show where web cartoonists competed for a cash prize and other assistance to get their strip launched. Though Abby didn’t win, she started writing the strip anyway. If you like the comic, you can support Abby in a couple of ways: she has some cool stuff related to both of her strips in her store, and she also has a Patreon.

12191040If you want to read a nice, long graphic-novel style story which recently published its conclusion, check-out the not quite accurately named, The Less Than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal by E.K. Weaver. I say inaccurate because I found their story quite epic (not to mention engaging, moving, surprising, fulfilling… I could go on). Some sections of the tale are Not Safe For Work, as they say, though she marks them clearly. The complete graphic novels are available for sale in both ebook and paper versions, by the way.

NsfwOglaf, by Trudy Cooper and Doug Bayne is a Not Safe For Work web comic about… well, it’s sort a generic “medieval” high fantasy universe, but with adult themes, often sexual. Jokes are based on fantasy story and movie clichés, gaming tropes, and the like. And let me repeat, since I got a startled message from someone in response to a previous posting of this recommendation: Oglaf is Not Safe For Work (NSFW)!

mr_cow_logo
“Mr. Cow,” by Chuck Melville tells the tale of a clueless cow with Walter Cronkite dreams. If the twice-weekly gags about a barnyard of a newsroom aren’t enough excitement for you the same artist also writes and draws (and colors!) some awesome fantasy series: Champions of Katara and Felicia, Sorceress of Katara. If you like Mr. Cow, Felicia, or Flagstaff (the hero of Champions of Katara) you can support the artist by going to his Patreon Page. Also, can I interest you in a Mr. Cow Mug?

Once more, with footnotes!

“….so I put a footnote on your footnote…”

So, I had a funny conversation on twitter the other night about people writing in the margins of books, and A Muse Dreams said she needed to write a post about marginalia1, and I said I’d love to read it3. She has since written said blog post: Marginalia: When you’re intrigued but simultaneously despise it. You should read it.

In the post, she quoted a college professor who was once shocked that she read footnotes. “No one reads footnotes!” the professor claimed4.

The professor could not be more wrong6.

The cover of Once More* with Footnotes, a collection of short stories, essays, and other odds and ends that was assembled when Terry Pratchett was Guest of Honor at the 62nd World Science Fiction Convention. The footnotes in the book are awesome.

The cover of Once More* with Footnotes, a collection of short stories, essays, and other odds and ends that was assembled when Terry Pratchett was Guest of Honor at the 62nd World Science Fiction Convention. The footnotes in the book are awesome.

Lots of people read footnotes. I have been doing a running gag on various blogs over the years where I would do posts several days in a row, each one with more footnotes than the day before, culminating in a blog post which consisted of a single word with a whole bunch of footnotes78. My footnotes often have footnotes of their own9. And sometimes the footnote of a footnote has more footnotes10. My point is that whenever I have done this, I get several favorable comments, often from people I didn’t know were reading my blog. And not just generic comments, but comments that clearly indicate the person tried to follow all the nesting structure.

Terry Pratchett published a whole book riddled with footnotes, in part because he had been known to throw footnotes in some of his fantasy novels, the footnotes frequently being the location of the funniest jokes in the book. In the early portion of my college career, I and some friends were involved in creating a bunch of faux adventure books where footnotes abounded11. We took delight in constructing footnotes that took up more of the page than the story text. We took even more delight in constructing footnotes that ran on for several pages. We had footnotes that had their own footnotes occasionally, though this was slightly less common than what I do now, because we were doing all of this on typewriters15not with word processors.

The award-winning fantasy novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke makes good use of footnotes throughout, to give another example.

Footnotes are great. They are fun to construct19, fun to read, and serve a valuable role of allowing the author to digress in a way that gives the reader a bit more control over when they follow the writer down a rabbit hole20.


Footnotes:

1. This was my fault, because my first contribution to the conversation that was already going on between three of my friends was simply to exclaim, “Marginalia!”2

2. marginalia noun, plural: marginal or incidental notes; written or printed in the margin of a page.

3. And I did love it!

4. I’ve had people just as emphatically insist that no one reads, period5!

5. When I was preparing to go away to university, an uncle and a cousin were recruited by my grandmother to help me move all the stuff I had packed up that needed to go into storage in her garage that I couldn’t take with me. About the fourth box of books one of my uncles picked up he asked, “You haven’t actually read all of these, have you?” And was shocked when I told him that 1) yes, most of them more than once and, 2) I had sold about of third of my collection to a couple of used bookstores recently.

6. All right, I’m engaging in a bit of hyperbole, here. There are many things the professor could say that would be every more incorrect than this, but you get my point.

7. When I did this on LiveJournal, I put all the notes below a cut-tag, so at first glance it looked like a very short post with a bunch of small numbers in and ever-decreasing line of superscripts.

8. I am too easily amused, I know.

9. Because they often need elaborations of their own.

10. cf note #9.

11. Because sometimes just the fact that someone decided to put a footnote on some ridiculous parody of action-adventure dialog is funny before you even read the footnote12.

12. The problem with that particular technique is, that you have to make sure that whatever joke or other pay-off you deliver in said footnote is more entertaining and/or funnier than the mere existence of a footnote where no one13 would expect it.

13. At least, no sane person14.

14. But we were the sort of college students who were assembling our own hard copy books, sharing them among ourselves, and writing sequels, collaborating on sequels, et cetera. Clearly we were not entirely sane.

15. Half of my work was done on an IBM Selectric16 electric typewriter at the school, and the other half on the 1952 Remington manual typewriter17 which my grandmother had given me back when I was 11 or 12 year old.

16. I think what I miss most about those glorious machines isn’t the wonderful CLACK! CLACK of the big clicky keys and the immediate response of the motor spinning the typeball and striking the correct letter against the paper, but rather the constant vibration of the motor you felt constantly against your fingertips.

17. One friend called it ‘The Tank’ because the typewriter weighed at least fifteen pounds and most of it was built out of machine-grade steel. Another friends called it ‘The Threshing Machine’ because the clatter and clacking it made when I was on a roll (typing a bit over 60 words per minute18, which was considered screaming on the old mechanicals) reminded him of some big farm equipment.

18. My speed on modern computer keyboards is generally a bit over 105 words per minute. And I still can’t keep up with the voices in my head when I’m really into a scene in a story.

19. Even if sometimes a bit messy depending on your HTML parser.

20. Whether figuratively or not.

She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness — more of why I love sf/f

Anthony Head, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Brandon Nicholas, Allison Hannagan and James Marsters from a BtVS publicity shot.

Anthony Head, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Brandon Nicholas, Allison Hannagan and James Marsters from a BtVS publicity shot.

I am one of the biggest, craziest Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans you will ever meet. But I wasn’t always one. I saw the original movie when it came out, and thought it was very funny. There were some things I didn’t like about it, but it was a good laugh and a fun inversion of the typical teen horror film. Then a few years later I heard they were making a television series out of it, and I was certain it would be very bad. My late husband, Ray, watched it from the beginning when it started airing as a midseason replacement in March of 1997 and told me it was awesome. At the time, it aired on a night when I frequently had board meetings or committee meetings for the chorus, so I wasn’t home while he was watching it.

He managed to get me to watch an episode or two with him that summer, because he had a lot of the season on video tape. I don’t remember hating it, but it also didn’t really grab me. Season two started that fall. I remember one particular evening when I got home for chorus rehearsal that Ray was telling me about the show and how much he was looking forward to next week’s episode, because there had been a cliffhanger.

Two nights later, Ray had a seizure and went into a coma. Then he died, and I fell apart.

Some time after he died, I was alone in the house doing something, and I heard a noise from another room. I went to see what was going on, and one of the VCRs was rewinding furiously, then popped its tape out. In 1997 DVRs didn’t exist. We owned three video cassette recorders, though, and Ray had a complicated schedule of pre-programmed recordings, and a pile of labeled tapes. He would swap out tapes at different times in the week, so that the different machines would record the next episode of whichever series was kept on that tape.

And I hadn’t been keeping up.

This was maybe two weeks after Ray had died. I was still deep in the shell-shocked stage of grieving. So the idea that I hadn’t kept Ray’s rotation going seized me as a terrible thing. I was letting him down! I had let the wrong shows get recorded on the wrong tapes! Who knows what else I had messed up? Never mind that Ray was beyond caring about these things. I wasn’t rational. When someone you love dies, even the most stoic and logical person has some moments of irrationality over take them.

So I tried to sort out what was going on with the tapes. And that’s how I ended up watching all of the season two episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, along with about half of the season one episodes out of order (because his labelling system wasn’t always discernible to anyone but him) in a very short time.

There’s a lot of things that happened to me in those first few months after Ray died that I don’t remember clearly. But one of the few crystal clear moments was one point when I was staring at the TV and I said aloud, “Dang it, Ray! You were right. This show is incredible!”

I was addicted.

Don’t get me wrong, the show has problems. I can rant for hours and hours about how monumentally awful were most of the decisions the writers made in season six, for instance. And the many ways that season seven doubled down on some of the failure. Even before the universally despised season six, there was the incredible frustration of how the first half of season four showed such brilliance and promise of taking things to a new level, then collapsed into a world of disappointment and lost opportunity. And oy! Trying to make sense of both the explicit and implicit contradictions about the nature of magic, demons, the biology of vampires…!

Dru and Spike!

Dru and Spike!

But there were so many things the show got right. One of the things they got most right is casting James Marsters and Juliet Landau as Spike and Drusilla, the Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen of the undead set (and if you don’t know who they are, your life is sadly lacking in Sex Pistols, is all I’m saying). There was a point, after I had acquired the complete DVD set of season two of the series, where literally at least once a week I re-watched the episode that introduced Spike and Dru, “School Hard.” They were evil and cold and vicious and Dru is crazier than a coked out mutt in a hubcap factory. But they were also madly deeply in love. Spike rather proudly proclaimed himself love’s bitch in a later season, “at least I’m man enough to admit it!”

What made the show work was the relationships between the characters. Joss Whedon and his crew created a world in which a small, pretty girl regularly kicked the butts of evil creatures. A world where the real problems that teens try to deal with often made the monsters seem trivial by comparison. Some of the creatures of darkness were metaphors for the problems humans face coming of age, yep. And sometimes the parallel between the mundane story lines and the supernatural ones were a little on the nose.

But then there were the moments of brilliance, such as when everything had been taken from her: her first love turned evil, her best friend lying dying in a hospital, she’s been kicked out of her home, everything she cared about either broken, dying, or lost; the villain has fought her back into a corner and is berating her about all she has lost and all who have abandoned her. “What have you got?” he asks with a sneer, as he thrusts what we think is a killing blow with an enchanted sword. She catches the blade between her hands, looks him in the eye with the most amazing fuck-you glare of determination and says, “I’ve got me.” Then proceeds to kick his butt and save the world.

Those sorts of moments, where a simple refusal to give up in the face of impossible odds, and the many times that various characters in the story sacrificed for their loved ones and found a way out of a hopeless situation—they were what made the ups and downs of the show worth it. And I want to be clear: one of the things they did right more than once was not that the characters found that one last glimmer of hope in the midst of despair and defeat; rather, the characters made their own hope. Yes, Buffy was about empowerment. Buffy was about the damsel being able to rescue herself. Buffy was about turning notions of victims and saviors on their heads. Buffy was about seeing that the questions of good vs evil aren’t always black and white; that part of being a hero (and a big part of growing up) is about learning to make your way through all those shades of grey without losing yourself.

But mostly, Buffy was about love, chosen families, and not giving up.

Destiny, prophecy, self-discovery, and love — more of why I love sf/f

Cover of Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell, cover design by Olga Grlic (click to embiggen)

Cover of Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell, cover design by Olga Grlic (click to embiggen)

Carry On — The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow is a ghost story, a love story and a mystery.” So begins the official blurb on this novel that I found myself enjoying far more than I thought I would. First, an explanation. Rainbow Rowell, the author of Carry On first came to my attention through a recommendation on a podcast. Her work was described by one of the people on the podcast as being young adult novels that didn’t feel like YA. They also noted that she handled non-heterosexual characters really well. So I looked up some of her books and put them on my wish lists, but I hadn’t gotten around to actually trying one.

And then fan art for a book that seemed to be about teen wizards (but not characters I recognized) started appearing on my tumblr dashboard for a series that I’d never heard of: the Simon Snow series. Except there is no Simon Snow series. One of the novels by Ms. Rowell that I’d put on my list was entitled, Fangirl, and the blurb was that the main character, Cath, is just starting college, and that for the last few years her life has been dominated by her love for a series of urban fantasy novels. And these novels star a young man named Simon Snow.

In order to write convincingly about a fan who is very active in writing fanfic and has a number of close friends within the fandom, Rowell had to plot out a fictitious fantasy series. At least enough for the characters to talk about it as if it were a real series. Fangirl was a success, and received a lot of praise, particularly in sf/f circles, despite not being a fantasy story itself, because the portrayal of fannish culture was considered spot on.

After finishing that book, Rowell wound up writing a Simon Snow book. She didn’t write the entire series, she wrote a book that can be looked on as the next book that was published after all the books that Cath and her friends had been fans of in 2013 (when Fangirl was published). So, Carry On is not a sequel to Fangirl. Carry On is a sequel to the fictitious series which is talked about in Fangirl.

The magical world of Carry On bears a strong resemblance to the Harry Potter series, though it isn’t a parody or a satire. It also bears certain parallels to other young adult fantasy series. The plot seems straightforward, at first. Simon Snow attends a wizarding school called Watford. He was not born in the wizarding world, but he has immense power and various prophetic signs indicate that he is the person who is destined to defeat the Insidious Humdrum. The Insidious Humdrum is a mysterious being which, when it attacks, drains all of the magic out of the area, leaving what appear to be permanent dead zones where wizards and other magical creatures become powerless. Simon doesn’t know how he is going to defeat this creature, and has so far failed to master his magical powers. His powers are massive, but out of his control, and things tend to get destroyed when he tries to use them. His roommate at the school, Baz (full name, Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch) is Simon’s nemesis at school, and is assumed by everyone to be the person destined to try to kill Simon when the big battle with the Humdrum finally happens.

But the story isn’t really about the conflict between Simon and the Humdrum. It’s really about the nature of prophecy, what does it mean to be a chosen one, and how people (whether mortal politicians or master mages) twist belief and hope to fit their own agendas. It’s about identity, not just what it means to be a hero or villain (or the fact that it is seldom either/or), but there are allegories for ethnic identity issues and class identity issues. Oh, and more than a bit about sexual and romantic identity (which aren’t always the same thing).

There is a ghost story. There are several mysteries. And there is even a love story. There are battles magical, political, and personal. And it all hangs together very well. I have to admit, I think the wizarding world portrayed in Carry On makes a lot more sense than the world of Harry Potter, or a number of other fantasies of similar ilk, even though the magic part of the story isn’t the main focus of the plot.

I’m not sure that those two observations are unrelated.

I enjoyed the book a lot. I didn’t find most of the plot developments surprises. As one reviewer put it, the revelations as the story moves along feel more like confirmations of your existing suspicions than plot twists. But again, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think that’s part of why the story hangs together better than some other books we could name.

I enjoyed the book a lot. It didn’t end quite as I hoped it would, but it ended in a way that felt right and satisfying regardless. It did make me wish that some of the series and fantasy books had handled their characters as well as Rowell does. I hope that the next person who undertakes this sort of tale takes note.

What’s better than Bikini Armor Battle Damage? Magic Meat March!

Magic Meat Week is reformatting into a month-long challenge (with a theme for every day of March). (click to embiggen)

Magic Meat Week is reformatting into a month-long challenge (with a theme for every day of March). (click to embiggen)

A couple of years ago fantasy illustrator Amanda Sharpe came up with the idea to dedicate an entire week to the creation of hot fantasy dudes… or… as they called it, Magic Meat Week.

For one week each the last couple years they encouraged artists to draw “hella objectified fantasy dudes,” post them to Tumblr, and tag the art #MagicMeatWeek ”

This year they want all of March to be Magic Meat March.

I learned about the event from of the awesome Bikini Armor Damage tumblr. I’ve linked to an written about Bikini Armor Battle Damage before, which pokes fun at the weird sexual objectification and impractical armor drawn on fantasy women in video games, comic books, and so on. You may recall the Bikini Magic Bingo card shared here and many, many places, for instance. Anyway, I’m not a good enough artist to really do this, but I love the idea of putting male characters in the same kinds of strange flesh-baring armor and fantasy costumes the women get drawn in all the time. So I’m spreading the word!

And yes, I like looking at the pretty artwork of the pretty, pretty men. I mean, the empowered men. Right! They’re empowered, not being objectified and shown in ridiculous costumes in overly sexualized poses which would never work in actual combat. No. Empowered. That’s what they are.

Oh! And there’s a theme for each day of the month! The event has its own blog: Magic Meat March. Check it out!

(Hey! I can’t just blog about serious stuff all the time! I’m a queer nerd, after all…)

Voting is our best weapon, but they’re trying to take that away, too

Voter ID laws don't effect everyone equally (click to embiggen)

Voter ID laws don’t effect everyone equally (click to embiggen)

Voter Suppression Laws Are Working. The real purpose of so-called Voter ID laws is not to prevent voter fraud. That’s how they sell it, but the real aim is to keep poor people, the elderly, and other marginalized people from voting. Voter fraud is a for all intents and purposes a myth: There have been just four documented cases of voter fraud in the 2016 election – three of them voted for Trump. The number of fraudulent votes cast are always such a tiny fraction of the total that they don’t effect the outcome of races. And we’ve known this for a while.

Seriously, during part of the George W. Bush administration, U.S. Attorneys were ordered to make finding voter fraud a higher priority than any other case they were investigating. And after a lot of time and effort was expended, they came back and told the administration what state officials who run elections have been saying for decades: voter fraud is virtually non-existent. The most common forms of voter fraud, which add up to far less than one percent of the votes cast, are relatives of recently deceased people casting an absentee ballot for the dearly departed. The next most common is a relative who has been appointed a legal guardian of an elderly relative believing (incorrectly) that the power of attorney they have been given over the relative with a diminished capacity gives them the legal right to fill out the relative’s ballot. And the third most common are people who are wealthy enough to own homes in multiple states registering in all of them and voting there under the mistaken notion that because they pay taxes in more than one place, they can vote.

The Republican party of my state several years ago famously spent more than a million dollars tracking down four voters who had voted illegally in the very tight governor’s race that year: all four of the convicted felons who hadn’t had their voting rights restored had voted for the Republican (because the Democratic governor had been the state’s Attorney General before, and the four felons held grudges against her).

A lot of people ask, “What’s so hard about showing your ID?” Which seems like a reasonable question to a person who enjoys a certain amount of privilege. The funny part is, that the people asking this know how hard it can be and you can prove it to them. All you have to do, is ask them whether they look forward to going to the DMV to renew their driver’s license. They will either brag about how wonderful it is now that their state allows people to renew on line, or they will tell you a horror story about being trapped at said office for a long period of time. While it is an inconvenience to someone who is able-bodied, has access to their own transportation, and has a work schedule that allows them to take the time to go stand in line, to anyone who isn’t in that situation, it becomes an insurmountable obstacle.

Most poor people in the U.S. work multiple jobs. They aren’t hanging around on street corners waiting for a welfare check (that’s an even bigger myth). The typical low income family has trouble finding the time to sleep and cook meals for their kids, let alone try to find enough time during one of the days a licensing office is open to go stand in line for hours. That’s if they can even get to the office. The states that have passed strict Voter ID laws also happen to be states that have fewer offices where people can get an ID. And coincidentally, they tend to only have those offices in locations convenient to affluent neighborhoods.

So you have to add many miles of travel (and the time and expense involved) to the difficulties to overcome to get an ID. That’s if the person has their own transportation. And it just so happens that the same states the have strict Voter ID laws also spend the least amount of money on public transit. Yet more barriers.

I think about the hassle my mom went through a few years ago after a move when she was trying to get her license renewed and updated with her new address. I don’t remember how many times she had to go back, but it was several. One time it was because whoever she talked to before she went in didn’t tell her the right documents she would need to prove what her new address was. I don’t remember what the problem was the next time, but then after she finally got it after her third or fourth visit, they mailed it to her and several pieces of information on it were incorrect. So she had to go back to get it corrected, and that took more than one trip.

My mom is retired, so she theoretically had the time, and she can drive herself, and the office wasn’t very far from her apartment, but she’s got a lot of health issues, and some days she just doesn’t have the stamina to sit in a non-ergonomic waiting room chair for who knows how long, right?

And then there’s the matter of the fee to get the ID. The constitution forbids poll taxes but the requirement of having state provided ID for which you are required to pay a fee is essentially a poll tax. And even if you argue that the ID serves other purposes, the fee is yet another barrier for low income and fixed-income people.

So, Voter ID laws effectively take the vote away from low income people, people with disabilities or mobility issues, and people living in certain communities. And the lawmakers who pass the laws are well aware that those populations tend to vote in favor of one party more often than the other. They want to take that vote away.

Fortunately, there is something you can do about it: Donate to and/or Volunteer with Spread The Vote (spreadthevote.org). Spread The Vote helps people get their required ID. They provide volunteers to help people collect the required documents, transportation to the apply for their ID, assistance with fees, and so forth.

If you want to help with the fight at a legislative and legal level, consider donating to Project Vote (projectvote.org). Project Vote is working to improve voter registration processes and remove the barriers to make it difficult for people to get registered and to vote.

“The human race might have one more chance…” – more of why I love sf/f

(l to r) Richard Hatch as Captain Apollo, Lorne Greene as Commander Adama, and Dirk Benedict as Starbuck. Promotional image from the original series. © 1978 Glen A. Larson Productions & Universal Television.

(l to r) Richard Hatch as Captain Apollo, Lorne Greene as Commander Adama, and Dirk Benedict as Starbuck. Promotional image from the original series. © 1978 Glen A. Larson Productions &
Universal Television.

Almost everything I thought I remembered about the original Battlestar Galactica television series was wrong. I started working on this post after Richard Hatch, the original Apollo passed away. I’d written some thoughts on my memories of the show, and was doing some research to put dates and context to my memories and discovered that my brain had apparently retconned lots of things. Since part of that post had involved recounting discussions that my old friend, Doug, and I had had about the show, and I had recently re-told the story of Doug and the Train Crossing to a friend, I decided to set the Galactica post aside for a while and write about my friend, instead.

Now, the things I misremembered about the series had almost nothing to do with the episodes or the storylines. And I’m at least a little bit curious as to why my brain made the changes in recollection that it did. The gist is: my recollection was that the series premiered shortly before my mom, sister, and I moved out to the west coast following my parents’ divorce (when I was 15 years old), that I initially liked the series but became dissatisfied with it as the seasons went on, and was slightly curious years later when the follow-up series Galactica 1980 was released, but was even more disappointed in how poorly the show had aged.

Which is all very, very wrong. And some of it was wrong in ways that are kind of flabbergasting. The original series premiered the same month as my 18th birthday and a little over a year after the worldwide premiere of the original Star Wars. It was only on the air for one season (24 episodes). And the gap between the ending of the original series and the premiere of the follow up was only 8 months.

Glen A. Larson originally conceived the series in the mid-sixties as a group of about three television movies called Adam’s Ark. It was a synthesis of space opera themes with Mormon theology (Larson having been raised in the Church of the Latter Day Saints). Larson had been unable to sell the idea to anyone. Even when a couple years later Star Trek became briefly a minor hit series. (Star Trek, of course, wouldn’t become a sci fi behemoth until later, after reruns had been running in syndication for several years).

Then, in 1977, the movie Star Wars was a worldwide blockbuster hit, and suddenly every network, movie studio, and anyone else in the entertainment/media/publishing world was looking to cash in on its incredible success. Larson’s pilot script looked very attractive.

They filmed the pilot, ABC bought it, put the series on the air with an incredible budget that wouldn’t be exceeded by any other TV show for many years, and we were off. The show did incredibly well in the ratings for the first month or so, until CBS shifted its schedule to put the very popular All In the Family and Alice up against it, causing Galactica’s ratings to slip a lot. Of course, the series might have slipped anyway. The initial spectacle of billions of people killed in the opening battle (not to mention the show’s willingness to cast more famous actors in roles that died within the first several episodes) really seized the imagination. Whereas a lot of the filler episodes were, well, pretty bad. And some things, like the robotic dog pieced together from parts to replace the real dog (killed in the pilot) that had once , were very cheesy.

And while those special effects were lightyears beyond anything seen on television before, they were very expensive. So the network expected not just good ratings, but unbelievably good ratings.

Still, the show had a lot going for it. It didn’t hurt that I had a big crush on Starbuck, of course. But I also had a different kind of crush on Apollo. It wasn’t until some years later, when I got to rewatch some of the original series after I had actually admitted to myself that I was gay that I realize I had the hots for Starbuck, but Apollo was who I wanted to fall in love with and settle down.

Hatch’s character was different than the typical leading man at the time. Unlike the reboot series, Apollo had a warm relationship of mutual respect with his father, Commander Adama. In the pilot he met and practically adopted Boxy (the young boy whose dog had died) helped reunite the boy with his mother, prompted fell in love with said mother, married her, and even though she is killed shortly after the wedding in a Cylon attack, remains a good father. Heroes had been family men before, of course, but unlike some previous fictional fathers, Hatch made you believe that he loved his stepson.

There was a lot to like about the original Galactica. Cool space battle, for one. The Cylon Centurions were a bit cheesy–their chrome colored bodies were always so shiny and unscuffed, even after tramping through a sandstorm on yet another planet that looked like a Universal blacklot generic Western landscape with inexplicable lights added to make it look spacey(?), for instance. But both individual Cylons and the fleet were appropriately menacing. The show did a good job of making it feel like the stakes were real. And the notion that even after the mass murder of billions of people, a group of survivors would claw hope out of disaster and look for a new home was more than just heartwarming.

The show had some problems, as well. Some of them are typical problems of producing a weekly science fiction television series with 1970s technology and practices. Others were more thematic. The fundamental premise from the beginning was that contemplating disarmament as a step toward peaceful co-existence was the most foolish thing people could do. Given the nuclear stand-off between the U.S. and our NATO allies on one side, and the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies on the other, and the very active policy and treaty debates going on at the time, the show was staking a blatant political position. Related, throughout the original series, the military leaders were shown time and time again to always be right, while civilians (particularly any who advocated non-violent philosophies) were always wrong–and not merely wrong, but naively and disasterously wrong again and again.

Remember that the next time someone claims that sci fi has only become political recently.

While caught up in an individual episode it was easy to ignore those problematic elements. Besides, I loved Commander Adama, he was a hero and a great leader! And his son, Apollo, respected him, and we saw a lot more of Apollo in action on screen and he was clearly a good man, brave, loyal, and so forth. Even the sort-of-rebellious Starbuck respected Adama! Therefore our affection for Adama was not misplaced, right? Except, of course, that the examples of civilians who had a different opinion than the military command tended to be one-dimensional or transparently designed to either be unlikeable or pitiably naive.

So Galactica was hardly nuanced.

I liked it. The idea of fighting on against impossible odds is almost always appealing. People who snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with nothing more than hope, courage, and a bit of cleverness are fun to root for. And Galactica gave us that aplenty.

And you can hardly fault a story for that.

The Secrets of the Universe

It’s been a really long time since I wrote any book reviews, so I’m going to try to get back in the habit of writing them more often.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, cover by Chloë Foglia.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, cover by Chloë Foglia.

So, let’s start with Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. This novel is set in the late 80s and concerned a Mexican-American teenager named Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza. Ari is the youngest child in his family, but there’s a significant age gap between him and the next oldest. The other kids were born before Ari’s dad went off to fight in Vietnam, while Ari was conceived after his father returned. Ari is troubled by at least two family secrets: his older brother was sent to prison when Ari was too young to understand what was going on, and no one in the family will talk about what happened. The other secretive thing bothering Ari is that his father never talks about his experiences in the war, and many other things which Ari thinks might be important.

Ari narrates the book, and frequently describes himself as having no friends, until one summer day when he met Dante Quintana at the city pool. Dante discovers that Ari is hanging around in the shallow end because he doesn’t know how to swim. So Dante undertakes to teach him, and soon Ari and Dante are inseparable.

Even when Dante confesses he is gay, while Ari assures Dante that he is not, their friendship remains strong.

The official summary the publisher slaps on the back cover is: “Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship – the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.”

That summary doesn’t really do the book justice. But I can’t explain much more about the plot without giving things away which I think a reader will enjoy discovering right along with Ari and Dante. Two different events that could have been tragedies happen over the course of the two summers plus that the book describes. Neither comes out of the experiences unscathed. Along the way both young men make important discoveries. And yes, by the time the book is over, they really do discover secrets of the universe.

One of the things I love about the book is that despite Ari feeling that his father is keeping part of himself distant, the relationship between each of the boys and their families is close. Each set of parents express their love and respect for their sons in different ways, but despite the secrets in Ari’s family, the relationships being shown here are not dysfunctional. That’s refreshing in itself.

The story explores lots of themes. Yes, there’s a coming of age through-line, but the novel also deals with identity (particularly intersectional identity: class, ethnicity, and sexual orientation), social expectations (what does it mean to be a man; what does it mean to be a Latino, et cetera), familial expectations, the nature of friendship, the meaning of the many kinds of love, as well as what it means to find answers. The characters feel real, their problems feel real, and nothing in the plot every requires any of the characters to be stupid. Yes, the teen-age characters (not just Dante and Ari) make foolish choices, but they are realistic foolish choices.

Unlike some books (and movies and series) I could name, none of the characters suddenly start acting idiotically so the plot can go a particular way. This kind of storytelling leaves me, at least, rooting for most of the characters—and that is not at all a bad thing!

I’m hardly the first person to notice that Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is an awesome book. It was awarded a Youth Media Award by the American Library Association, as well as a Pura Belpré Narrative Medal, the Stonewall Book Award, a Michael L. Printz Award for the best writing in teen literature, a Lambda Literary Award, and an Amelia Elizabeth Walden honorable mention. Perhaps the most interesting recommendation I have read of it was a fellow subscriber to a literary mailing list who said that when another award-winning novel had wrenched her heart, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe had restored her soul.

This all may sound like hype, but the novel really is very good. I loved it so much, that after finishing the book, I bought the audiobook (narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda who does an incredible job), and listened to it again. (Spoiler: I cried and laughed at all the same points the second time through as I did the first).

If you want a story that will restore your faith in humanity—and restore your faith that good books are still to be had—you can’t go better than Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

Not your typical romantic comedy storyline

Nineteen years and one week ago, Michael and I went on our first official date.

We had known each other for a few years. Ray and I had met him at a NorWesCon a couple years before that, and then again at the next NorWesCon (where he signed up for the Tai-Pan mailing list), and then he came to a Red Dwarf Marathon Party at our place and we started hanging out a lot. Then, when Ray died, Michael was one of the friends who kept me from completely falling apart.

It hadn’t been quite three months since Ray’s death when I asked Michael on a real date. I was nervous, not about the date, because we were already friends, but I wasn’t sure how some of my friends would react to the news. The first person I told was Kehf. She put her fists up, went “Woooo! I hoped something like this was happening. He lights up when you walk into a room.”

Michael at NorWesCon (and Easter Weekend) 1998

Michael at NorWesCon (and Easter Weekend) 1998

I have a confession to make. I don’t remember many details about the first date. I know where we went. I know we talked for a long time over dinner. But I don’t remember what we talked about, what he wore, a particular thing he said that made me laugh, or any of those cliché romantic comedy details. Worse, I don’t really remember falling in love with him. What I do remember was when I realized that had had completely fallen for him. We were at NorWesCon, again. And for many, many years that convention has been happening on Easter weekend, so I had brought an easter basket and a stuffed bunny to give Michael on Sunday morning. I asked to take his picture while he was grinning with the bunny, and something about his smile hit me. You know that moment in the movie, Scrooged, where Bill Murray’s character meets Karen Allen’s character who has just stepped out of a grocery store and the door of the store smacked Bill right in the face, knocking him to the sidewalk and the Ghost of Christmas Past says, “Cupid’s Arrow right between the eyes!”? That’s what if felt like.

And the only thing I could think of was that I wanted to keep making Michael smile. I wanted that smile in my life forever.

I didn’t propose that weekend. But it wasn’t long after. We didn’t tell people, because I was still getting some weird reactions from several friends (and even worse from family) at just the thought that I was dating so soon after Ray’s death. So we made this very sober and rational plan that we would wait until at least November before moving in together. And we might have sticked to it, too. But some weirdness happened with a p[air of new roommates at the house he was sharing with several (they weren’t hostile, they just had no sense of boundaries and did weird things like decide to switch rooms with him and moved all of his stuff without consulting first, and other creepy things) and I barely stopped myself from going ballistic. He was being calm and telling me I was overreacting, and I was “No! We’re getting you out of there now!”

So he moved in with me in August of ’98 and we’ve been together ever since.

I would have to go dig around in the filing cabinet to remember the date of our commitment ceremony. My then-employer changed the rules for adding domestic partners to insurance, and we had to have certain papers signed by a particular date, so the times was thrust on us. We decided to sign medical powers of attorney while we were at it, and since you need to have a notary and witnesses for that we made a small party out of it. It was fun, but wasn’t timing of our choosing. Neither to I remember the exact date we officially signed the paperwork for the state level civil unions, when they became legal.

Our wedding when marriage became legal in the state was also a date that wasn’t entirely our choosing (the very first day you could legally do it), but because of when the law passed the previous spring, and its implementation being delayed because of the anti-gay referendum attempt, and ultimately the voters getting to approve marriage by a comfortable margin, we had months to plan. And our friends threw us a great shindig. So that date I remember. It’s an anniversary, legally and otherwise.

This was taken before our friend Julie tried to teach me better selfie technique. Riding the monorail during a long weekend of touristy things when Michael's brother and wife visited us somewhat recently. I don't know why he puts up with my silliness.

This was taken before our friend Julie tried to teach me better selfie technique. Riding the monorail during a long weekend of touristy things when Michael’s brother and wife visited us somewhat recently. I don’t know why he puts up with my silliness.

But while I don’t remember other details of our first date, I do remember it was February 7, 1998, and it was clearly one of the most important days in my life. We didn’t have a meet-cute. We didn’t experience a lot of hijinks or drama. I still can’t quite believe such a funny, smart, talented, wonderful man can put up with me at all, let alone love me. But he does. And clearly I’m completely and totally gone on him. Happy Valentine’s Day, Michael!

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