Tag Archive | things I like

Sunday Funnies, part 40

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


Everything is Going to be OK by Dani Jones
This web comic doesn’t have a lot of strips, though the artist has a lot of other art and related materials available to share. I first became aware of the strip when her strip I grew up believing I was ugly because I could never be pretty enough was shared on a rather large number of social media accounts I follow. Dani is a queer artist who also happens to be a triplet and to have been raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — and if by now you haven’t figured out that I am immediately a fan of any queer people who have carved out an out life having grown up in a conservative religious community, you aren’t a regular reader of this blog. Anyway, she tackles a lot of different topics, and I have found her strips to be funny, cute, and informative. If you like her work and would like to support her, she has patreon and also a store where you can buy a lot of her other merchandise.


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 seem to have gone away entirely.

Kyle’s B&B by Greg Fox is hard to describe. The main character, Kyle, is a gay Canadian who owns a bed and breakfast that seems to be constantly occupied by hot queer guests. Many, many hot queer guests! There is some romance, and a lot of jokes about things ranging for sub-cultures in the queer community, to gardening and pop culture and… well, a lot of stuff. If you like Greg Fox’s work, you can purchase his books here

Good Bye to Halos by Valeria Halla. Fenic is trans and gay. The comic begins when Fenric is a teenager. Fenric’s father says that it is no longer safe for him there, and then pushes him through a portal and Fenic finds herself in a place call Market Square and unable to get back. She is befriended by an anthropomorphic lion and learns that Market Square is a place where queer kids from many worlds/dimensions find themselves when they are abandoned or lost. Later, as Fenic gets older and assumes that her father is never coming to rescue her, the adventures become increasingly fantastical. If you like the artist’s work, you can support her on Patreon.


What QQ by Carlisle Robinson. This is one of several comics created by Carlisle Robinson, a deaf trans masculine queer artist. If you like Carlisle’s work, consider supporting the Patreon

Casey at the Bat by Bob Glasscock. 20-something Casey was dumped by the man he thought was the love of his life, then a friend convinced him to try out for a local gay softball league as a way to meet new people. And thus begins the comic. Casey At the Bat describes itself as a lighthearted slice-of-live romantic comedy, that just happens to start a young gay man. The strip is entertaining and does mostly stick to the less serious topics. If you enjoy this comic (which is more about romance and friendships than it is about sports—though there is some of that, too) you can purchase collection of the comics here.

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.

“Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls” by Jessica Udischas is a hilarious web comic that tells of the adventures of Jesska Nightmare, a trans woman trying to make her way in our transphobic world. The comics are funny, insightful, and adorably drawn. The sheer cuteness of the drawing style is a rather sharp contrast to the sometimes weighty topics the comic covers, and I think makes it a little easier to keep from getting bummed out to contemplate that the strips aren’t exaggerations. If you like the strip, consider supporting the artist through her patreon.

https://lifeofbria.com copyright  Sabrina SymingtonLife of Bria by Sabrina Symington is a transgender themed comic that ranges from commentary to slice of life jokes and everything in between. Even when commenting on very serious stuff it remains funny—sharp, but funny. It’s one of the comics that I would see being reblogged on tumblr and lot and I’d think, “I ought to track down the artist so I can read more of these.” And I finally did. And they’re great! If you like Symington’s work, you can sponsor her on Patreon and she has a graphic novel for sale.

Nerd and Jock by Marko Raassina This is a silly webcomic about a Nerd and Jock who are good friends and like to have fun together. Frequently the joke of the strip is to take a cliché about jocks and nerds and twist it in some way. It’s cute. I happen to really like cute and low-conflict stories sometimes. If you like this comic, consider supporting the artist on Patreon.

Assigned Male by Sophie Labelle is a cute story about a transgirl (we meet her at age 11) and goes from there. Some of the strips are more informational or editorial than pushing the narrative forward, but they are in the voice of the main character, so it’s fun. The artist also has a Facebook page of the site, and is in the process of moving to a domain of her own (though currently it still doesn’t have the actual comic strips available). I mention this so you will not be put off by the words “old website” she’s added to the banner. If you like her comic and would like to support her, she has an Etsy shop were four book collections of the comics and other things are for sale.

Stereophonic by C.J.P.

Stereophonic by C.J.P.

“Stereophonic” by C.J.P. is a “queer historical drama that follows the lives of two young men living in 1960s London.” It’s a very sweet and slow-build story, with good art and an interesting supporting cast. But I want to warn you that the story comes to a hiatus just as a couple of the subplots are getting very interesting. The artist had a serious health issue which was complicated by family problems, but has since started posting updates to his blog and Patreon page, assuring us that the story will resume soon. If you like the 300+ pages published thus far and would like to support the artist, C.J. has a Patreon page, plus t-shirts and other merchandise available at his store.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson concerns the adventures of 9-year-old Phoebe Howell. One day, Phoebe skipped a rock across a pond, and the skipping rock hit a unicorn named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils in the face. This happened to free the unicorn from her own reflection, so she granted Phoebe one wish. Phoebe wisely wished that Marigold would become her best friend. If you like the comic, you can buy the books here and enamel pins and other stuff here.

Reading Doonesbury: A trip through nearly fifty years of American comics by Paul HébertThis blog is mostly about the Doonesbury comic strip by Gary B. Trudeau which has been being published for 50 years. Hébert looks at various sequences and themes and long arcs from the comic strip, writing essays analyzing how the story went, putting it in context of the time it was printed, and so forth. He also reviews other comics and graphic novels.

The_Young_Protectors_HALF_BANNER_OUTSIDE_234x601The Young Protectors: Engaging the Enemy 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.

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.

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!

copyright Madeline McGraneMadeline McGrane is a cartoonist and illustrator who is from Wisconsin and lives in Minneapolis. She posts vampire-themed comics and other art on her tumblr blog. My favorites are the vampire comics about three child vampires. They’re just silly. Her black and white comics are minimalist and really work well with her style of humor. Her color work is a bit more complex. If you like her work and want to support her, she has a ko-fi.

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.

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.

Pearls Before Swine by Stephan PastisThe heart of the series are two characters, a clueless Pig and an arrogant Rat, and they comment on just about everything. It’s hard to describe that subject matter beyond “human foibles and society.” The author says his goal is to poke fun at humans’ unending quest for the unobtainable.

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

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.

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.

Last Kiss® by John Lustig Mr. Lustig bought the publishing rights to a romance comic book series from the 50’s and 60’s, and started rewriting the stories for fun. The redrawn and re-dialogued panels (which take irreverent shots at gender and sexuality issues, among other things) are syndicated, and available on a bunch of merchandise.

Sharpclaw by Sheryl Schopfer. The author describes as “fantasy comic that blends various fairy tales into an adventure story.” The first story is about twin sisters who both have the potential to be sorceresses. One pursues magic power, the other does not. If you enjoy her work, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!

“Champion of Katara” by Chuck Melville tells the tale of a the greatest sorcerer of Katara, Flagstaff (Flagstaff’s foster sister may disagree…), and his adventures in a humorous sword & sorcery world. If you enjoy the adventures of Flagstaff, you might also enjoy another awesome fantasy series set in the same universe (and starring the aforementioned foster sister): and Felicia, Sorceress of Katara, or Chuck’s weekly gag strip, Mr. Cow, which was on a hiatus for a while but is now back. 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?

Private I, by Emily Willis and Ann Uland is a comic set in 1942 Pittsburgh in which queer gumshoe Howard Graves is trying to sort out a collection of bewildering clues and infuriating eccentric suspects. It’s an interesting take on a lot of noir tropes. It handles the queer elements well—being outed or caught by the wrong people can spell the end of not just one’s career, but possibly life–without being all grim-dark. If you like the comic and want to support the creators, check out their Ko-fi.

The Comics of Shan Murphy As far as I can tell, Shannon Murphy doesn’t post a regular comic on the web. But among the categories of illustration on her site are comics. Her art styles (multiple) are really expressive. And she just writes really good stuff. If you like her work, considered leaving a tip at her ko-fi page.

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: Legendary by Alex Woolfson. This is just a new story arc for the Young Protectors comic recommended above. However, Alex is changing up the artists he’s working with in this arc, and the focus is decidedly different. This new arc begins by exploring the changed relationship between our protagonist, Kyle (aka Red Hot) and one of his teammates, Spooky Jones. The story is NSFW, although unless you are a patron of Alex’s Patreon, you see a lot less of the explicit artwork. It isn’t porn, per se, and it isn’t a romance. If you check out the page, you’ll see that Alex has written several other comics, some of which are available to purchase in hard copy. And, as I mentioned, he’s got a Patreon account.

12191040If you want to read a nice, long graphic-novel style story which has 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.

Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 10.15.31 AM“Unshelved” by Gene Ambaum & Bill Barnes recounts the adventures of a teen services librarian named Dewey. The web site is also an online book club, with reviews, links, and samples of various recommended comics and other books. This should not be a surprise, since one of the creators of the strip, Gene Ambaum, is a librarian in real life. The strip is funny, and is available for free syndication on non-commercial websites. They’ve printed a number of collections of the strip and have various other cool things related to the love of reading and libraries for sale on their online store.

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)!


Note: Usually when I do one of these posts, I include the slightly shorter reviews of all the comics I’ve recommended previously. I do periodically go through those lists and remove comics that have vanished entirely. For now, I’m leaving in those that have stopped publishing new episodes but still have a web site.

But the list is getting awfully long, and I’m not sure how useful the older links are. I’m still thinking about it. Feel free to comment if you have strong thoughts on the topic.

Note the Second: For the first several years that I was making these posts, I foolishly inserted the title graphic for each comic using the WordPress defaults—so that when a reader clicked on the graphic, they would see the graphic full size. What I should have been doing was changing the setting so that clicking the graphic would take you to the home page of the comic being reviewed. Which I have been doing for a while with new reviews. But most the the mini reviews under each new review had the old behavior. Which I was reminded of when I saw that about half the clicks on my blog the day Sunday Funnies, part 39 posted were people clicking on the images. So I spent the time to fix them from that entire post. And will be using this fixed list from now on. I wasn’t a quick simple fix, so I’m not likely to go back and fix the 38 older editions of this blog series any time soon.

The Cabal That Wasn’t or, SF/F award numbers don’t mean what you think they mean

A tangerine-colored spherical space station spinning in the inky blackness of space. This is cover art for the 1977 Discus Editon of Isaac Asimov’s ‘The Planet That Wasn’t’. Art by Dean Ellis

This is cover art for the 1977 Discus Editon of Isaac Asimov’s ‘The Planet That Wasn’t’. Art by Dean Ellis

I’m deep in the middle of reading all the Hugo nominees that I hadn’t previously read so I can fill out my ballot, soon. Plus I’ve been working long hours at the day job while trying to keep up with the shambles that the world seems to be trying to turn itself into. So my attention has been a bit scattered. I was a bit surprised about a week or so ago to see a bunch of references to the “No Men Nominated for Hugos” cross my twitter stream. Which triggered an immediate WTF from me, because without checking the actual list, I thought, “But Ted Chiang, James Corey1, Michael Straczynski, Max Gladstone, and James Nicoll are all on the ballot, aren’t they? And those are just the men I can think of without looking it up!” But seeing so many mentions of it, I started to think that maybe I was confusing the Locus shortlist and/or Nebula shortlist.

I did eventually look up the long list, and confirmed that I was correct that all of those men had, indeed, received nominations23. But then I noticed that all of the books nominated for Best Novel were written by a woman4. And when I followed up to find a blog post from someone commenting on the issue and confirmed that, yes, the anger was about the Best Novel category, and how this is a terrible travesty and more proof that a political conspiracy has taken control of the Hugos, which is more proof of the downfall of civilization, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

They try what Asimov5 used to call a Judo Argument: the art of trying to use the enemy’s own strength against him. Asimov was specifically talking about arguments by people of faith to try to use science to prove the existence of god. But it applies to many other endeavors. In fact, the argument that these people who are upset about the Best Novel category of this year’s Hugo awards are using is specifically what Asimov called The Second Judo Argument:

“Suppose something exists, but the chances of it coming into existence due to random processes are so small (as determined by the laws of statistics and probabilities) that it is virtually impossible to suppose that it exists except as the result of some directing influence.”
—Isaac Asimov, The Planet That Wasn’t, essay 17, “The Judo Argument”

So, the argument that is being advanced, here, is that the having all six nominees in the Best Novel category of the Hugo Awards being written by authors of only one gender is so statistically unlikely that the only logical explanation is some kind of shenanigans. The least irrational way I’ve seen this notion expressed is in the form of a rhetorical question, “Are you seriously telling me that no award-worthy book written by a man in the field of science fiction/fantasy was published in 2019?”

Let me dispense with that question, first. There is nothing in the mission statement of the Hugos, nor in the rules, nor in a reasonable description of the awards that says the ballot must feature every single sf/f book which is worthy of a Hugo. Lots of great books fail to make the short list every year.

Since I participate in the awards, earlier this year I nominated five7 books for this award. Only two of the books I nominated made it to the ballot. Now that the ballot has come out, do I suddenly believe that the other three I nominated aren’t Hugo-worthy? Absolutely not! It just so happens that the four books I didn’t nominate that also did make the ballot were all books I hadn’t read8.

The other thing I want to mention about my nominations: when I went back into my emails to check what I had nominated, one of the five books I nominated was by a man. Was I disappointed that book didn’t make the final ballot? Sure! But not because of the gender of the author, just because it was a book I read recently that I really liked.

Let’s move on to numbers10. The other part of the argument is that having a category on the Hugo ballot dominated by one gender is somehow so incredibly unlikely as to prove some sort of cheating is going on. So, let’s look at the numbers, shall we? First, this 2019 article9 gives a lot of numbers: Gender and the Hugo Awards, by the Numbers. Nicoll breaks out more categories than I will recount here. The two most import numbers for our argument are these: how many times in the history of the Hugos has the Best Novel category been only men? And how many times have all but one nominee been a man?

The answers are enlightening. Out of the 66 years that there has been a Best Novel category for the Hugo Awards, 22 times the shortlist has been all men. That’s 33⅓% of all the years. And out of those 66 years the number of times that all but one nominee was a man is 20, which is just a touch more than 30%. So the number of years in which a single gender indisputably dominated is 64%. Which means that having one gender predominate isn’t a statistical anomaly at all.

Let’s be perfectly clear: this year is the first time, in 66 years of Hugo history, that the Best Novel category has only had women as the authors. But by no means is it the first year that any gender has had a disproportionate place on the ballot. While there were 22 years out of that time when the category had only men, which is a subset of the 42 years out of 66 in which one or fewer of the nominated works’ authors was a woman.

So, at this point we have discredited the idea that the ballot invalidates all work by male authors, and we have invalidated the assertion that a single-gender ballot is statistically unlikely. Maybe that’s where I should stop, but there are more problems here. Those problems are implied above, but the people whose arguments I have dismantled have demonstrated a decided inability to understand implications, so I have a bit more to say.

So, despite my dismantling of the arguments above—specifically that statistically there isn’t a problem in this year’s ballot—that doesn’t mean that there is no change worth discussion. For some context, let’s look at this recent essay: The Decade That Women Won. There has been a change in which gender dominates. What can we infer from the data?

Mathematically from the nomination and winning data we can’t conclude much. Having one gender disproportionately represented is the statistical norm for the entire history of the awards. All that’s happened in recent years is which gender of author that is being nominated most often has changed. There are a lot of perfectly reasonable explanations for this that don’t involve any shenanigans:

  • It could be that enough people are making an effort to read outside their comfort zone that they are encountering more books written by women than they used to.
  • It could be that reviewers and compilers of recommended lists are making more of a conscious effort to review a more diverse selection of works.
  • It could be that social media and other modern communication possibilities provide more ways to circumvent gatekeepers11.
  • It could be a slow generational change that’s just hit a tipping point.
  • It could be that a lot of the fans who are women and/or queer who bought their first WorldCon supporting membership in 201512 in order to protect the integrity of the awards from a slate-voting scheme stuck around13 and we tend to read a more diverse selection of sf/f books than the old guard
  • It could be that more women are managing to sell in the sf/f market than in decades past, and their increased presence is starting to have an effect.
  • It could all be statistical noise.

There is another form of the Judo Argument being used by the people unhappy with this year’s Best Novel nominees: “I thought all you people were opposed to discrimination, yet here you are cheering on the discrimination of men.” First, when I cheered when I saw the list I wasn’t thinking “Oh, look! No men!” No, I was cheering because two books I’d nominated had made the list, and two more that I’d heard enough good things about that I was already planning to read had made the list. Second, when we talked about discrimination against women and other marginalized communities in sf/f publishing and such, we had more statistics than just award ballots. We could show the statistical disproportions in who was published, which books were reviewed, which books were on recommendation lists, and many other statistics which all skewed very strongly toward cishet white men. We don’t have any such statistics showing a sudden skewing in the other direction. Even now, all those other numbers still favor cishet white men. And third, for decades the same people who are complaining now have insisted that an all-male or nearly-all-male ballot absolutely wasn’t discrimination, so they don’t now have the moral right to make that argument.

And that’s the crux of it: the people complaining now never cared during any of those years that no women were nominated. They don’t actually have any trouble with disproportionate nominees or wins. They only have a problem when it isn’t men who are being recognized.

In other words, they aren’t arguing in good faith, which is why their arguments fall flat.


Footnotes:

1. James S.A. Corey is actually a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck… but both of them are men. I just always forget their names, but I know it’s a pen name for two guys, right?

2. Straczynski is nominated in the Best Related Work, and Nicoll in Fan Writer, so if the other people were up in arms about the fiction categories, then I guess we can’t count them, but…

3. Here’s where I pedantically remind myself and the reader that people are not nominated in the fiction categories, but rather specific works of fiction which happen to be written by people.

4. At least one is a trans woman. Which I only mention because at least one of the commentators out there who are angry about no men being nominated in the Best Novel category this year had a side rant about the trans person and how having a trans author on the ballot somehow proof that something untoward has happened in the voting process. The trans woman is a woman, so for the rest of this entry I’m just going to agree that all the authors nominated in the Novel category this year are women, because they are.

5. Asimov was a Grandmaster of Science Fiction and for most of my teens and twenties I thought he was the greatest science fiction author ever. He has considerably tarnished in my eyes since I learned how he treated (and groped and otherwise sexually harassed) women who he encountered at conventions and otherwise. But the notion of a Judo Argument: someone trying to use their opponents’ principals to disprove the opponents’ conclusions, is apt6.

6. For more reasons than one.

7. One of the rules which the World Science Fiction Society adopted recently in order to make Slate Voting Schemes less likely to succeed is that nominators are allowed to nominate no more than 5 titles, while the top 6 nominees will appear on the ballot.

8. Although one of them was a book I had already bought but hadn’t yet read, and one other was in my wishlist, for what it’s worth…

9. Coincidentally written by a man, and even more coincidentally, one of the men I mention earlier who is on this year’s Hugo ballot!

10. In an earlier draft of this post I started to go into statistical theory, because my major at university was mathematics, and if I had gone on to graduate school my plan was to go into statistics, probability, and game theory… but all the math makes some people dizzy. Besides, the people who have asserted the argument I’m refuting clearly don’t understand logic, so…

11. And yes, there have definitely been gatekeepers.

12. My gay self, my bi husband, and a number of others, for example

13. Just as I and my husband have.

Weekend Update 5/9/2020: The Best of Cephalopods, the Worst of Cephalopods

This isn’t my typical Weekend Update. We’re all suffering from anxiety fatigue, outrage fatigue, bad news fatigue, and so on. So I’m not sharing any of the news stories that caught my eye after posting yesterday’s Friday Five. I’m going to post something cool and sweet and science-y that a friend brought to me attention:

This thread about a woman who is a squid scientist who put up signs in her window and set up sidewalk chalk so neighbors can ask science questions about squids and the like, and she would write answers!

Click on the tweet and read the whole thread. It’s adorable!

Danna Staff, the scientist in question, also has a blog. This is her post from which I stole the title of this update: The Best of Cephalopods, The Worst of Cephalopod.

She’s also got a book coming out this fall that you can pre-order now: Monarchs of the Sea: The Extraordinary 500-Million-Year History of Cephalopods.

“I’m not a lady, I’m a witch” — or, more of why I love sf/f

Photo of a page of a Terry Pratchett book:  “You’d have done the same,” said Lily. “No,”“ said Granny. “I’d have thought the same, but I wouldn’t have done it.” “What difference does that make, deep down?” “You mean you don’t know?” said Nanny Ogg.

Click to embiggen

Many, many years ago a friend was going on and on about this hilarious book he had been reading, and by the end of the conversation had pressed his copy of the paperback in my hand to take home and give it a try. I tried to read it. I really did, but I found it off-putting almost immediately. I think I got about a third of the way through it before I decided it just wasn’t for me. So I gave it back to my friend and confessed that I just hadn’t been able to get into it. He shrugged and we started talking about another book altogether.

About two years later—after I had transferred to university in Seattle—I was involved in a conversation with a couple of different friends who were enthusing about a book and its sequel that they both quite enjoyed. One of them had a copy of the second books with him, and suggested I give it a try. “You don’t need to have read the first book to get this one,” he assured me. The cover looked suspiciously familiar, but I didn’t quite put two-and-two together.

Until later that week when I was trying to read it, and realized that the author of the book was the same as the other book from two years ago, and the protagonist that I had despised before was the main character of this book, too. So I gave it back, thanking my friend from loaning it, but admitting that I hadn’t liked it.

About three years later, on our regular gaming night, a group of friends which included the two guys who had tried to get me into the series before were going on and on and on about this latest book in the series. One of them, however said, “Oh, wait, you already tried these books before, didn’t you?” But one of the other guys chimed in to say that the first three books in the series had not been anywhere near as good as the latest, and the next thing I knew I was borrowing someone’s copy of the eighth book in the series.

Admittedly, the main character of book eight was a completely different character who wasn’t quite as irritating as the other guy had been, but I still found myself getting bogged down and rolling my eyes a lot at things in the book until finally I once again gave up.

A few times over the eight years, some subset of friends or acquaintances in various fannish or gaming situations would talk about the series, including explaining which were their favorites and which they could take or leave. And at least one more time during this interval I picked up another book in the series, but it just didn’t grab me.

I found myself after that in a conversation with another friend about the series. She was a little bit surprised that I didn’t like it, as she thought a lot of the themes the author explored were things I enjoyed. We ended up having a very long conversation about books other people had recommended that we didn’t like, and why we thought that was in various cases. This last conversation happened around the same time that my first husband, Ray, was undergoing chemotherapy. Or maybe it was during one of his surgeries? What I know is that the conversation happened in a waiting room at a medical facility where she was hanging out with me specifically to give me emotion support and distract me a bit.

A few months later, Ray died —just two weeks before Thanksgiving. Just before Christmas, she dropped by one day to drop off a Christmas present, but more importantly, to loan me a few books. Most of the books in the pile I recognized as series that I had been interested in trying one day. And then one of the books was in the series that people had been trying to get me to try for a long time.

She pulled it out of the pile and said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about that conversation we had about why you didn’t like other books in this series. The more I think about it, I think if any of the books will appeal to you, it’s this one. Give it a try. I won’t be offended if you don’t like it.”

It was one of the books I stuck in my suitcase when I went to spent about a week at Mom’s for the holiday. Mom tended to go to bed a lot earlier than I did, at least on the nights that weren’t filled with holiday things with the family. So the first night after Christmas, I was laying in her guest room, trying to occupy myself quietly until I was ready to sleep. And I opened up the loaned copy of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters. I had intended to just force myself to read it for an hour or so until I go sleepy. Because I was not at all confident that I’d like it any more than any of the other Discworld books I had tried before.

The next thing I knew, I was on the last page of the book. The sun had risen outside. I had stayed up all night, eagerly turning pages to find out what happened next!

I re-read the book from beginning to end two more times before that vacation was over. Shortly after getting home, I was telling my friend how much I loved it and that I knew I needed to get my own copy. A couple days later she dropped by and loaned me the next book from the series with the same character, Witches Abroad. And while at the end of Wyrd Sisters I was a big fan of Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Magrat, and Greebo the world’s scruffiest cat, by the end of Wyrd Sisters, I was ready to say that Granny Weatherwax was the greatest fictional character ever created.

It was at this point that the friend advised me that there was an earlier book starring Granny Weatherwax, but it was “written while Pratchett was still figuring out the world, so it’s almost like she’s only a similar character who happens to have the same name.”

Over the course of the next few months I read all of the witches books in the Discworld series which existed at that time (Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, and Maskerade). By this time I was dating Michael, and he was as surprised as many other friends had been that it had taken me so long to start reading these books. It was his copy of the first Granny Weatherwax book, Equal Rites, that I finally read. And I could see that my other friend had been correct, if I’d read it before I had come to love the more fully realized Granny, I would definitely not have liked it.

Having reached the end of the witch books available at the time, I was eyeing some of the other books in the series, when the friend who had picked Wyrd Sisters for me said, “Skip the earlier guard books. Start with Feet of Clay, then if you like the characters try circling back to the beginning.”

And that’s how I eventually wound up reading (and buying my own copies of) almost the entire Discworld series mostly out of order. Because the earlier ones did make more sense once I had gotten into the mindset of the series overall.

The earliest books in the series feel like broad parodies of epic fantasy novels. They have their funny moments, but when the jokes clunk, they remind me (at least) of the non-parody fantasy books that I love and make me wish I was reading one of those.

Wyrd Sisters, in my humble opinion, was the first time that one of the discworld books became full-on satire. Parodies always contain satirical elements, but a full literary satire doesn’t lampoon or ridicule an individual person or work—it uses the elements of irony and humor to lampoon society as a whole.

Several of the books immediately following Wyrd Sisters strayed a bit back into more broad parody elements, but by Reaper Man and Witches Abroad, Pratchett had finally found the groove of holding up a mirror to the reader and the world we live in rather than poking fun at individual works.

This post was originally supposed to be about Witches Abroad, why I love it, and how it changed the way I looked at the world, so maybe I should get to those specifics.

The premise: the tiny mountain kingdom of Lancre is served by three witches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlik. There are many other witches who live in neighboring and not quite so neighboring communities, but these three form the core of most of the witches books. Nanny Ogg is the ultimate grandmother—she has outlived a rather large number of husbands, has sons working in various jobs in her hometown and the neighboring communities, a large number of daughters-in-law who fear her, and innumerable grandchildren. She loves to drink and is famous for singing a particularly naught song. Magrat is the youngest of the coven, and is prone to trying new and modern things like crystals and meditation. Granny is older, has never married, and would never, ever be described as nice. But she is also the undisputed leader of their coven, and the one that everyone turns to when the situation gets dire.

This particular book is kicked off when a witch who lives in a neighboring county dies, and leaves a powerful magic wand (and the fairy godmothering duties that go with it) to Magrat. And she writes her will in a way that she knows will provoke Granny and Nanny to insist on going with Magrat to help the girl she is now the godmother to.

The middle of the book involves adventures the three witches have traveling through unfamiliar lands (with a lot of funny events along the way). But there is also a growing sense of trouble, as it becomes clear that the goddaughter in the far-off land is under the influence of someone who is quite dangerous, indeed.

When they find the girl (living in a sort of parody of New Orleans), they quickly discover that the other godmother is someone known to Granny and Nanny: Lily Weatherwax, Granny’s older sister.

The image I included above is a bit of dialog from Witches Abroad.

“You’d have done the same,” said Lily.
“No,”“ said Granny. “I’d have thought the same, but I wouldn’t have done it.”
“What difference does that make, deep down?”
“You mean you don’t know?” said Nanny Ogg.
—from Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

Lily does not fit the mold of villain when we first meet her. She is nice and charming. She claims her only goal is to ensure everyone is happy and get what they want. It becomes clear fairly quickly that what Lily really wants is for everyone to act happy and cheerful and more than content with whatever their lot in life is.

I mentioned above that Granny isn’t nice. She is sharp-tongued and blunt. She is ruthless when going up against someone who is causing harm to others. But she isn’t one of those characters who is rough and mean on the outside and turns out to have a soft squishy golden heart. Granny is granite all the way through, but it is a granite of morality.

In the above quote, Lily just given her explanation for why she uses her magic to force people into the roles she deems them suited for. She has explained how people make foolish mistakes, live inefficient lives, and waste a lot of time and effort of frivolities, often causing themselves misery and trouble along the way. Isn’t it better, she argues, for someone like her who can see how they could be happier, to make sure that they are?

When Granny objects, that’s what causes Lily to say, “You’d have done the same.”

It is this exchange that shows the core of Granny’s hard, granite soul. She knows that she is capable of doing immoral things. She has had those unkind, cruel, manipulative thoughts. And she refuses to give in to them. She can be harsh-spoken, but she is always harsher to herself, and she knows that kindness isn’t about how we talk to people, but what we actually do for them.

In more than one of the books, Granny defines evil not as maliciousness nor cruelty nor depravity. No. Evil, she tells us, begins when you start thinking and treating people like things.

The book hits on many other ideas along the way, but I think the heart of it was the revelation that how you treat and care for each other is what matters. And there isn’t a grey area between treating everyone as a person entitled to dignity and consideration, and treating them as expendable.

Sunday Funnies, part 39

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

Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis This is another of those comic strips that I don’t need to check regularly because so many people are always posting strips, and when they do, I go catch up. The heart of the series are two characters, a clueless Pig and an arrogant Rat, and they comment on just about everything. It’s hard to describe that subject matter beyond “human foibles and society.” The author says his goal is to poke fun at humans’ unending quest for the unobtainable, and that’s probably why so many other reviewers describe it as a cynical comic. I don’t find it cynical, but I must admit that my basic optimistic temperament may be skewing my perspective. Or maybe I’ve just known too many cruel jerks who describe themselves as cynical that my definition of cynical is off. In any case, Pearls Before Swine certainly mocks human foibles without crossing into mean-spirited territory.


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 seem to have gone away entirely.

Kyle’s B&B by Greg Fox is hard to describe. The main character, Kyle, is a gay Canadian who owns a bed and breakfast that seems to be constantly occupied by hot queer guests. Many, many hot queer guests! There is some romance, and a lot of jokes about things ranging for sub-cultures in the queer community, to gardening and pop culture and… well, a lot of stuff. If you like Greg Fox’s work, you can purchase his books here

Good Bye to Halos by Valeria Halla. Fenic is trans and gay. The comic begins when Fenric is a teenager. Fenric’s father says that it is no longer safe for him there, and then pushes him through a portal and Fenic finds herself in a place call Market Square and unable to get back. She is befriended by an anthropomorphic lion and learns that Market Square is a place where queer kids from many worlds/dimensions find themselves when they are abandoned or lost. Later, as Fenic gets older and assumes that her father is never coming to rescue her, the adventures become increasingly fantastical. If you like the artist’s work, you can support her on Patreon.


What QQ by Carlisle Robinson. This is one of several comics created by Carlisle Robinson, a deaf trans masculine queer artist. If you like Carlisle’s work, consider supporting the Patreon

Casey at the Bat by Bob Glasscock. 20-something Casey was dumped by the man he thought was the love of his life, then a friend convinced him to try out for a local gay softball league as a way to meet new people. And thus begins the comic. Casey At the Bat describes itself as a lighthearted slice-of-live romantic comedy, that just happens to start a young gay man. The strip is entertaining and does mostly stick to the less serious topics. If you enjoy this comic (which is more about romance and friendships than it is about sports—though there is some of that, too) you can purchase collection of the comics here.

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.

“Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls” by Jessica Udischas is a hilarious web comic that tells of the adventures of Jesska Nightmare, a trans woman trying to make her way in our transphobic world. The comics are funny, insightful, and adorably drawn. The sheer cuteness of the drawing style is a rather sharp contrast to the sometimes weighty topics the comic covers, and I think makes it a little easier to keep from getting bummed out to contemplate that the strips aren’t exaggerations. If you like the strip, consider supporting the artist through her patreon.

https://lifeofbria.com copyright  Sabrina SymingtonLife of Bria by Sabrina Symington is a transgender themed comic that ranges from commentary to slice of life jokes and everything in between. Even when commenting on very serious stuff it remains funny—sharp, but funny. It’s one of the comics that I would see being reblogged on tumblr and lot and I’d think, “I ought to track down the artist so I can read more of these.” And I finally did. And they’re great! If you like Symington’s work, you can sponsor her on Patreon and she has a graphic novel for sale.

Nerd and Jock by Marko Raassina This is a silly webcomic about a Nerd and Jock who are good friends and like to have fun together. Frequently the joke of the strip is to take a cliché about jocks and nerds and twist it in some way. It’s cute. I happen to really like cute and low-conflict stories sometimes. If you like this comic, consider supporting the artist on Patreon.

Assigned Male by Sophie Labelle is a cute story about a transgirl (we meet her at age 11) and goes from there. Some of the strips are more informational or editorial than pushing the narrative forward, but they are in the voice of the main character, so it’s fun. The artist also has a Facebook page of the site, and is in the process of moving to a domain of her own (though currently it still doesn’t have the actual comic strips available). I mention this so you will not be put off by the words “old website” she’s added to the banner. If you like her comic and would like to support her, she has an Etsy shop were four book collections of the comics and other things are for sale.

Stereophonic by C.J.P.

Stereophonic by C.J.P.

“Stereophonic” by C.J.P. is a “queer historical drama that follows the lives of two young men living in 1960s London.” It’s a very sweet and slow-build story, with good art and an interesting supporting cast. But I want to warn you that the story comes to a hiatus just as a couple of the subplots are getting very interesting. The artist had a serious health issue which was complicated by family problems, but has since started posting updates to his blog and Patreon page, assuring us that the story will resume soon. If you like the 300+ pages published thus far and would like to support the artist, C.J. has a Patreon page, plus t-shirts and other merchandise available at his store.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson concerns the adventures of 9-year-old Phoebe Howell. One day, Phoebe skipped a rock across a pond, and the skipping rock hit a unicorn named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils in the face. This happened to free the unicorn from her own reflection, so she granted Phoebe one wish. Phoebe wisely wished that Marigold would become her best friend. If you like the comic, you can buy the books here and enamel pins and other stuff here.

Reading Doonesbury: A trip through nearly fifty years of American comics by Paul HébertThis blog is mostly about the Doonesbury comic strip by Gary B. Trudeau which has been being published for 50 years. Hébert looks at various sequences and themes and long arcs from the comic strip, writing essays analyzing how the story went, putting it in context of the time it was printed, and so forth. He also reviews other comics and graphic novels.

The_Young_Protectors_HALF_BANNER_OUTSIDE_234x601The Young Protectors: Engaging the Enemy 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.

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.

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!

copyright Madeline McGraneMadeline McGrane is a cartoonist and illustrator who is from Wisconsin and lives in Minneapolis. She posts vampire-themed comics and other art on her tumblr blog. My favorites are the vampire comics about three child vampires. They’re just silly. Her black and white comics are minimalist and really work well with her style of humor. Her color work is a bit more complex. If you like her work and want to support her, she has a ko-fi.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Last Kiss® by John Lustig Mr. Lustig bought the publishing rights to a romance comic book series from the 50’s and 60’s, and started rewriting the stories for fun. The redrawn and re-dialogued panels (which take irreverent shots at gender and sexuality issues, among other things) are syndicated, and available on a bunch of merchandise.

Sharpclaw by Sheryl Schopfer. The author describes as “fantasy comic that blends various fairy tales into an adventure story.” The first story is about twin sisters who both have the potential to be sorceresses. One pursues magic power, the other does not. If you enjoy her work, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!

“Champion of Katara” by Chuck Melville tells the tale of a the greatest sorcerer of Katara, Flagstaff (Flagstaff’s foster sister may disagree…), and his adventures in a humorous sword & sorcery world. If you enjoy the adventures of Flagstaff, you might also enjoy another awesome fantasy series set in the same universe (and starring the aforementioned foster sister): and Felicia, Sorceress of Katara, or Chuck’s weekly gag strip, Mr. Cow, which was on a hiatus for a while but is now back. 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?

Private I, by Emily Willis and Ann Uland is a comic set in 1942 Pittsburgh in which queer gumshoe Howard Graves is trying to sort out a collection of bewildering clues and infuriating eccentric suspects. It’s an interesting take on a lot of noir tropes. It handles the queer elements well—being outed or caught by the wrong people can spell the end of not just one’s career, but possibly life–without being all grim-dark. If you like the comic and want to support the creators, check out their Ko-fi.

The Comics of Shan Murphy As far as I can tell, Shannon Murphy doesn’t post a regular comic on the web. But among the categories of illustration on her site are comics. Her art styles (multiple) are really expressive. And she just writes really good stuff. If you like her work, considered leaving a tip at her ko-fi page.

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: Legendary by Alex Woolfson. This is just a new story arc for the Young Protectors comic recommended above. However, Alex is changing up the artists he’s working with in this arc, and the focus is decidedly different. This new arc begins by exploring the changed relationship between our protagonist, Kyle (aka Red Hot) and one of his teammates, Spooky Jones. The story is NSFW, although unless you are a patron of Alex’s Patreon, you see a lot less of the explicit artwork. It isn’t porn, per se, and it isn’t a romance. If you check out the page, you’ll see that Alex has written several other comics, some of which are available to purchase in hard copy. And, as I mentioned, he’s got a Patreon account.

12191040If you want to read a nice, long graphic-novel style story which has 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.

Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 10.15.31 AM“Unshelved” by Gene Ambaum & Bill Barnes recounts the adventures of a teen services librarian named Dewey. The web site is also an online book club, with reviews, links, and samples of various recommended comics and other books. This should not be a surprise, since one of the creators of the strip, Gene Ambaum, is a librarian in real life. The strip is funny, and is available for free syndication on non-commercial websites. They’ve printed a number of collections of the strip and have various other cool things related to the love of reading and libraries for sale on their online store.

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)!


Note: Usually when I do one of these posts, I include the slightly shorter reviews of all the comics I’ve recommended previously. I do periodically go through those lists and remove comics that have vanished entirely. For now, I’m leaving in those that have stopped publishing new episodes but still have a web site.

But the list is getting awfully long, and I’m not sure how useful the older links are. I’m still thinking about it. Feel free to comment if you have strong thoughts on the topic.

Note the Second: For the first several years that I was making these posts, I foolishly inserted the title graphic for each comic using the WordPress defaults—so that when a reader clicked on the graphic, they would see the graphic full size. What I should have been doing was changing the setting so that clicking the graphic would take you to the home page of the comic being reviewed. Which I have been doing for a while with new reviews. But most the the mini reviews under each new review had the old behavior. Which I was reminded of when I saw that about half the clicks on my blog the day Sunday Funnies, part 39 posted were people clicking on the images. So I spent the time to fix them from that entire post. And will be using this fixed list from now on. I wasn’t a quick simple fix, so I’m not likely to go back and fix the 38 older editions of this blog series any time soon.

Timorous heroes and erratic phantoms—more of why I love sf/f

Movie poster for The Ghost and Mr Chicken.

A hauntingly hilarious cinematic experience!

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love The Ghost and Mr Chicken. I know, based on when it was released in theatres and then when it came to television, that I was probably 8 years old when I first saw the film, but it was a staple of local TV afternoon movie fare for the next decade or thereabouts, so I saw it at least once a year from sometime in elementary school until well into high school. I acquired a VHS copy of the film for myself as an adult and watched it around Halloween for a number of years, and since then I’ve re-acquired it on disc and now I can stream it from our media server whenever I want. So I’m really familiar with the film, in all of it’s lovely, gooey, genre-goodness!

So, the story concerns Luther Heggs (played by Don Knotts), a middle-aged man who has always dreamed of being a Famous Journalist or other sort of hero, but has never been able to rise above his job as a typesetter working in the basement of the Courier-Express, the weekly newspaper of the town of Rachel, Kansas. The opening scenes of the movie establish Luther at the butt of just about everyone’s joke in the town, and given his tendency to jump to conclusions and become almost hysterical over the slightest odd occurence, the audience is not supposed to be surprised.

Then comes news that the Old Simmons Mansion, the site of a notorious murder-suicide decades ago which has been a decaying housed rumored to be haunted all of those years, is going to be bulldozed down soon, as the only heir to the Simmons’ is coming back to town around the time of the anniversary of the murder-suicide. Luther is dared/assigned to spend a night in the house on the anniversary of the horrid events and write an exclusive, the first time he has been offered a by-line at the paper in his whole life.

Luther also has had a lifelong crush on Alma Parker (played by Joan Staley), who is also being wooed by Luther’s most frequent bully, the only official reporter for the local newspaper. Being teased as a coward by said bully in front of Alma, Luther declares he will undertake the assignment.

Luther lives in a boarding house whose other tenants are all played by a gaggle of famous character actors of the period. And who amp up the fear by telling Luther the versions of the murder-suicide that each of them has heard.

Luther goes to the house, has a few very comedic misadventures that show how over-excited and fearful he is… and then the real spookiness happens. The painting of the last Mrs Simmons transforms during a flash of lightning from a regular painting to one with a pair of garden shears sticking out of it, with blood dripping down the canvas. The organ in the tower starts playing, but no one is at the keys. A bookcase swings open to reveal a secret stair way to the staircase. Other spookiness happens until Luther finally faints in terror.

The next day, Luther tries to tell his story to the editor and the only other reporter, and they translate his tale into a compelling story that runs on the front page of the next edition of the Courier-Express. This leads to a number of unexpected actions. Many people in the community think of Luther as a hero. The wife of the manager of the local bank happens to be the head of the local seance society and since she essentially owns the bank, suddenly the Simmons heir is prevented from getting his clear title to the house.

I should pause at this point and confess that despite being listed as an uproarious comedy, this movie did give me nightmares as a kid. However, the nightmares were because of the scene where Luther is forced to give a speech at the local community Fourth of July Celebration. It’s a scene that is extremely painful for anyone who suffers from excess empathy and can’t watch embarrassing scenes.

Anyway, the heir to the Simmons mansion sues Luther for libel, and uses the trial to trot out all of the most embarrassing stories of Luther trying to impress his classmates and neighbors throughout his life. Finally, the judge approves a jury request to go spend the night in the haunted house to see once and for all whether what Luther recounted in his story really happened.

Of course, under the observation of the jurors, judge, and neighbors, nothing untoward happens. The cringe ramps up as Luther tries to make things happen as they did on the night. It becomes clear that her lawsuit if going to go against Luther, and everyone who has supported him up to this point rejects him.

…except for Alma.

As the rest of the community leaves, with Luther standing in front of the house pleading for someone to believe him, she goes back inside, and finds the lever that opens the secret bookcase. Soon, the spooky organ is playing itself, and Luther goes back inside, finds himself confronting a fiend threatening Alma’s life. Eventually, Luther is vindicated before the whole community, and the truth about that murder-suicide decades ago is revealed.

Many years ago I mentioned that this movie was one of my favorite fantasy/horror films, and a friend got really upset at me for that claim. The ghost within the story is explained away in the final act, the person pointed out. Also, the entire movie is framed as a comedy about how easily Knotts’ character is sent into flights of fancy. “It’s a comedy with a fake ghost, not a fantasy or horror story,” my friend insisted.

I have a number of quibbles with that. First, there are a lot of very spooky moments in the middle of the film that definitely qualify as horror. Second, if you can’t accept tales about people investigating claims of the paranormal as part of the genre of sf/f then I don’t want to know you. And third, in the final scene of the movie, after Luther and Alma exchange their wedding vows, we see the chapel’s Wurlizter organ playing itself! So, sorry, just because most of the happenings (but certainly not all—in most cuts of the movie the bleeding portrait is never explained!) have a mundane explanation, that doesn’t mean that one of the murdered people didn’t hang around as a ghost.

I know what I loved about the film is that Luther—the guy no one in town takes seriously and who is bullied for not being sufficiently manly—is the hero who gets the happy ending. And I like to think that he had a long career afterward solving haunted house mysteries with the help of Alma and their ghostly sidekick.


Part of the reason I decided it was time to write about this movie was this story (which was included in last week’s Friday Five): Joan Staley, Actress in ‘The Ghost and Mr. Chicken,’ Dies at 79 – She also slapped Elvis Presley in ‘Roustabout,’ sang to Audie Murphy in ‘Gunpoint’ and played Shame sidekick Okie Annie on ‘Batman’.

Undying fiancées, melodramatic lab assistants, and monsters in the closet—more of why I love sf/f


I don’t know exactly how old I was the first time I watched The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, but since I’m pretty sure that it was on the Saturday afternoon Science Fiction Theatre on Channel 2 out of Denver (long the home of “Blinky the Clown”). Which means that I couldn’t have been more the 10 years old. I know the second time I saw it was a late Friday night Nightmare Theatre offering during a time I was allowed to stay up after midnight on Fridays, so that means I was between 12 and 14 years old. The third time was many, many years later as an Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episode… and it was one of the times I really wanted a means to mute the commenters. Because as campy and awful as The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is, I’m actually very fond of it.

And it really is a poorly made film on so many levels. It was released with the title The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, but yet when you get to the end of the film the credits appear under a title card reading The Head That Wouldn’t Die. The direction is clunky. A lot of the dialog is more than just clunky, it’s actually a wonder some of the actors could get the lines out! The car accident scene is so badly edited, it makes Plan 9 from Outer Space seem like a masterpiece.

And then there is the plot: Dr. Bill Cortner is a brilliant surgeon who has some unorthodox ideas—so unorthodox that his father (a more famous surgeon) urges him to take up a new profession. Dr. Cortner is taking his new fiancée, Jan Compton, to the family’s country home (I think to meet his mother), when they have a car accident. Cortner gets out with barely a scratch, but Jan is neatly decapitated. Somehow Cortner has the presence of mind to carry her head to his locked lab in the basement of the family country house, where Cortner’s creepy lab assistant, Kurt, helps him set Jan’s head into a pan of blood and attach various life sustaining equipment to the head.

There’s a monstrous Thing in the Closet of the lab that occasionally growls incoherently and bangs on the heavily locked door. We are told the Thing is the result of a previous failed experiment, but given no other details. Jan can mysteriously talk despite not having lungs nor any sort of breathing apparatus. And Kurt the assistant has a serious deformity on one arm.

Jan pleads with them to let her die, but Dr. Cortner has plan! He will find a body to transplant Jan’s head onto and they will be able to live happily ever after. He then drives into the city to search strip clubs, night clubs, and even a beauty contest to find a suitable body.

While Cotrner’s off doing that Jan and Kurt the Assistant have existential debates about the meaning of life and horror. It is also during the middle that we learn of Kurt’s sadistic streak, as he takes delight in teasing the Thing in the closet. Jan, meanwhile, realizes that somehow she had developed psychic powers, and she starts communicating with the Thing in the closet.

Eventually, Dr. Cortner settles on a suitably sexy body to steal of Jan: a model whose body is perfect, but she has a scar on her face which she is ashamed of. Lying that he can remove the scar, Cortner lures the model up to the family’s home where his lab is. Once there, he drugs her, and begins to prepare for the surgery.

Jan begs him not to do it, but Cortner is determined.

Jan eggs the Thing in the closet on, and in an extremely bloody finale it escapes and kills both Kurt and Corter. It’s egregiously gorey, and I remain a bit surprised that this movie was shown during the afternoon on a local TV station.

The Thing in the Closet, by the way, is played by Eddie Carmel, also known as “The Jewish Giant.” Eddie suffered from a form of gigantism and acromegaly because of an incurable tumor on his pituitary gland.

The fight has also started a fire, so the lab is burning down. Jan instructs the Thing from the closet to carry the unconscious woman to safety, but to leave Jan there to burn with the rest of the house.

Depending on which edit you see, the movie’s sleaze in the middle outweighs the extreme gore of the ending. The scenes of Cortner looking for a body include a lot of footage of the strippers stripping, at least one instance of models wrestling, and the women opening talking about how no one is interested in them other than for their bodies. Apparently full frontally nude scenes were filmed and intended for the international release of the film.

Despite everything wrong with it, the film still works. And mostly because of Virginia Leith’s performance as Jan. I mean, the film begins with a chillingly delivered line (over a totally black screen), “Please let me die.” The opening of the film is essentially a flashback from the moment that Jan realizes how her fiancé has revived her. Despite spending most the film sitting under the table with her head sticking out the pan, Leith makes you believe. Even the overwrought philosophizing during the debate with Kurt is loaded with pathos. She also gets some commentary in there about Cortner’s obsession with finding the perfect sex doll body for her, completely disregarding her wishes and opinions.

I don’t remember ever having nightmares because of this film. I’m not sure why that is. I certainly didn’t pick up on the gay subtext a lot of people seem to see in the film. The Thing in the Closet seems to be the component that everyone who claims there is gay subtext focuses on—but Cortner is so obviously the sort of narcissistic heterosexual man who only values women for the sex he can get from them, that I just don’t see it.

I do know that when I first saw the film I identified very strongly with both Jan and the Thing in the Closet. Jan refers to herself as the ultimate horror, but I think it would be more apt to describe her as the ultimate Person Without Agency. Which is why I really empathized with her. As a queer kid (technically closeted the first time I saw it, but I didn’t actually know yet that I was gay, so closeted isn’t quite accurate) with an abusive parent, I had almost as little control over my life as Jan. And of course, the way that Kurt bullied the Thing was also very familiar to me.

The ending of the story isn’t exactly a surprise: the mad scientist destroyed by his own creation is a very popular trope, after all. Though the level of gore in the ending was hardly normal when the movie was made. But again, Jan’s final comments, like the chilling opening line and her description of why death would be a kinder fate than what Cortner planned for her, elevates the film above the schlock.

And, honestly, schlock often makes for a great popcorn movie.


I linked to Virginia Leith’s obituary a couple of weeks ago, and it kicked off a trip down memory lane. One of the things I turned up was this fascinating story about the young man who played the monster in the closet: Eddie Carmel, The Jewish Giant.

Evasive geniuses, invisible monsters, and helpful (sassy gay) robots—more of why I love sf/f

Forbidden Planet!

I have written many times about my problematic relationship with scary movies. They give me nightmares, and I’m the kind of person who, while having a nightmare, climbs out of bed, running around waking up everyone I can find, frantically trying to explain the horrific danger we’re facing and how we have to come up with a plan to deal with the threat now. The very first movie that caused that reaction in me is a movie that many people don’t think of as a scary movie: the 1956 science fiction film, Forbidden Planet. Many people think of Forbidden Planet as the ultimate science fiction movie. Nearly every sci fi movie and series since its release has, whether consciously or not, copied its template. Which isn’t a bad thing, in my opinion. And most people don’t think of Forbidden Planet as a horror film, but…

So, in 1971 Forbidden Planet was shown on U.S. network television for the first time. I’ve mentioned many times before that my mom was a sci fi fan from way back. My dad was more of a spy and western fan, but he also liked some science fiction, so he didn’t object when Mom wanted to watch this show. The broadcast was a few months before my 11th birthday. The whole family watched the show together, though I think than my sister, who was 6 years old at the time, fell asleep before it was over.

I really liked the show while we were watching it.

But several hours later, I was standing in the hallway, very confused, because my mom had thrown a glass of water in my face because I had gone to sleep, and then got out of bed and found my parents and started jabbering about the monster that was trying to kill us. This was, as far as my family and I know, the first time I sleepwalked.

So, let’s get back to the movie…

The movie starts on the bridge of a spaceship where Commander John J. Adams is in charge. The movie is careful never to mention any nationality for the military organization in which the crew serves, though at a later point in the film they send a report back to Earth and await further instructions. They’ve been sent to a planet called Altair IV where a scientific expedition was sent many years before, but lost contact.

As Adam’s ship approached the planet, the make radio contact with one of the scientists from the expedition, Dr. Morbius. Morbius warns them not to land, saying he is the only survivor, that the planet is very dangerous, and he can’t guarantee their safety. Adams has his orders, and lands anyway.

They learn that there are two humans on the planet: Morbius and his daughter (named Altaira) who was born after the original expedition landed. Morbius explains that after the discovered the remains of an advanced civilization of aliens called the Krell, members of the original expedition had been killed off mysteriously by some planetary force, until the a small group tried to flee the planet to return to Earth, but the ship was vaporized. Morbius and his daughter have been living alone with their very helpful robot, Robbie, peacefully ever since.

As far as I have been able to tell, Robbie was the first robot in any film to be portrayed with an actual personality, rather than being a walking tin can that mindlessly followed his instructions. One of my favorite scenes with Robbie is when, later, Altaira wants Robbie to make her a dress covered with star sapphires, and Robbie explains that all of those sapphires will take many weeks to synthesize, whereas he could make her a dress covered with diamonds in a few hours.

Back to the main plot: Dr. Morbius is very evasive with the Commander and his crew. He does show them some of the remains of the Krell civilization, including thousands of underground nuclear reactors that are still generating unimaginable amounts of energy for no known purpose, an education machine, and other devices that Morbius still doesn’t understand. But because Morbius’s translation of the Krell records reveal that every last member of the race was destroyed by a mysterious force they couldn’t understand, and Morbius’s shipmates were destroyed by a similarly mysterious force, he keeps urging the commander and his crew to leave. And the first night the ship is on the planet, and invisible monster sneaks into the ship, kills a crewman, and disables the hyperspace communicator, making it impossible for the next several days for the ship to contact Earth.

And let me tell you, the way the showed impact of the invisible monster, who was so heavy his feet bent the metal of the stairway into the ship, was very, very creepy!

The plot continues, with one crewman flirting with (and clearly hoping to take advantage of) the very naive Altaira. The commander intervenes and sends the crewman back to the ship, but he also scolds Altaira for wearing revealing clothing around men. Which confuses her.

When Morbius is no help with explaining the monster, the commander orders his crew to take additional precautions. Each night the ship remains on the planet, the invisible monster attacks again, and each day the ship erects more elaborate defenses, including building a huge blaster. When the monster is trying to get through the force fields and being fired on my many weapons, we get a sort of aura-like outline of the creature, the only time it isn’t invisible. But all of the tech of the starship is unable to defeat the creature.

Eventually, the commander and his closest friend on the crew (who everyone calls “Doc” though it is never clear whether he is the medical officer or if the nickname is because of some other scientific expertise) have become convinced that the monster isn’t some ineffable planetary force. They decide that one of them needs to use the alien “education machine” which Morbius has warned them away from. Morbius has explained that several members of the original expedition has tried to use the machine, and all who had tried died, except Morbius. The commander winds up distracting Morbius while Doc get to the machine.

The machine does kill Doc, but as he is dying, he is able to tell the commander enough to solve the mystery.

There is a dramatic final confrontation, in which it appears that the mysterious force no longer thinks of Altaira, Robbie, or Morbius as beings to protect rather than destroy. And again, the way supposedly impenetrable Krell metal walls were being battered in by the monster was intensely scary! Commander Adams forces Morbius to face the truth. Which results in Morbius’ death. The ship is able to leave the planet, carrying Altaira and Robbie back to Earth, and the entire planet self-destructs after they leave.

Most modern analyses of the movie, if they acknowledge any problematic content at all will note the one and only woman in the cast is less than a full-fledged adult and the only agency she is granted in the plot is whether to remain loyal to her father or switch allegiance to her new romantic interest, Commander Adams. And this is problematic enough. However… all of the men in the story view Altaira as little more than an object that one of them will possess. It is precisely because Morbius perceives that he is “losing” his daughter to the commander that sets the final battle in motion. All of the other characters in the story are vying for the attention of the one and only woman.

I should say, all of the other characters except Robbie the Robot.

I’ve never seen any critic acknowledge that, in some ways, Robbie the Robot is Altaira’s Sassy Gay Friend. He’s clever, he is devoted to Altaira but not interested in her in a romantic way. He cleans the house, prepares meals, and takes care of all the domestic tasks in the Morbius household that would traditionally be fulfilled by a woman in a non-science fiction film of the era, right? One of the roles of the asexual or effeminate man who was the witty friend of the heroine in movies of the 40s and 50s was to have insight into the motives and character of other people that the protagonists did not. So it should be no surprise that in the climactic battle, Cammander Adams uses Robbie’ perceptions of the situation to convince Altaira and Morbius of the true nature of the invisible monster.

It was many, many years later before this queer geeky nerdy child realized that at least part of the reason my favorite character out of this classic sci-fi movie was Robbie the Robot was precisely because he was the only character who wasn’t vying for the attention of a woman. And while many other aspects of the story resonated with me, none of the other characters rose to the level of identification as the robot. So this queer child, who had nightmares because of the main plot, still found models for my possible futures among the supporting cast of this movie.

Hard Times reap hard lessons, or when did cyberpunk really begin?

If you search the web for the history and definition of cyberpunk, most places will tell you it is a dystopian sub-genre of science fiction which came into being in 1983 when Bruce Bethke published a short story by the name. Most definitions of the subgenre focus on a society controlled by computers and cybernetic technology. But I think a better definition is stories in which the main characters are marginalized and/or alienated, living on the edge of a generally dystopic society, where daily life has been transformed in invasive and sometimes grotesque ways by rapid technological change—a world where everyone’s access to information is controlled (usually by moneyed interests who in turn don’t realize the information and technology are controlling them) and information about individuals is used against them. These are the themes common across works that most people agree are cyberpunk.

Because cyberpunk was identified as a sub-genre in the 1980s, computers and their possible misuse figured prominently in early works. As computers became more ubiquitous in the real world, later works have tended to focus on the products of all the information technology. The hallmark of cyberpunk is stories which show that despite technological advances, the quality of life has degraded precipitously. Cyberpunk protagonists face off against the dehumanizing forces of technology, trying to reassert the worth of human imagination and connections.

Neuromancer by William Gibson (published in 1984) is said to be the first cyberpunk novel. Although other people have argued that Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a contender for the first cyberpunk novel, even though it was written years before the term cyberpunk was coined. And clearly since one of the themes of that book is that we must understand how technology encroaches on life in order to understand what technology is, and that is a very cyberpunk notion. There is certainly no doubt that the movie based on Dick’s novel, Blade Runner is cyberpunk, which could be another argument in its favor.

I am quite happy to include Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? within the sub-genre of cyberpunk, but I don’t believe it was the first cyberpunk novel. The first cyberpunk novel was written 114 years earlier than Dick’s novel, and 130 years before Gibson’s. The first cyberpunk novel was published in 1854, written by none other than Charles Dickens. It was a novel called Hard Times — For Our Times. I recognize that this seems an extraordinary claim, but bear with me.

Hard Times is not one of Dickens’ most famous works. It is one of the shortest novels he wrote. And unlike many of his more well-known novels, not a single sub-plot has any humor in it. Some characters get happier endings that others, but no one gets a classic happy ending.

The book is set in the fictitious industrial town of Coketown. The story opens with one of the villains of the piece, Mr. Gradgrind, a school board superintendent, quizzing a young woman (Cecilia Jupe) at the school about the definition of a horse. When Ceclilia describes it as a magnificent creature, he berates her for not knowing the zoological definition. Gradgrind is convinced that all education should be facts, only facts. Gradgrind lays out his belief that all of life can be understood if you simply know the facts and averages, and that things such as art, music, or imagination are wastes of time. Later in the book we will learn that Gradgrind has named one of us one children after Rev. Thomas Malthus (famous for writing about overpopulation problems and tangling his mathematics with his moral philosophy), which I think is telling.

Another important player in the book is Mr. Bounderby, a wealthy mill owner who is the employer of many of the other characters in the novel. Bounderby and Gradgrind are friends and business associates. Bounderby wants to marry Gradgrind’s daughter, Louisa, even though she is more than 30 younger than he. Bounderby is also big on numbers and calculations—he makes all his decisions—both business and person—based on cold facts and numbers. We also learn that Bounderby is the sole shareholder of the only bank in Coketown. As the plot of the novel develops, it turns out the Bounderby has financial ties to just about everyone in the city.

Much of the plot concerns itself with the toll that factory work takes on workers and their families, which we mostly see through the eyes of Stephen Blackpool, one of the workers. Dickens portrays the dehumanizing effects of industrialization, particularly when the same people who own the means of production also control both the flow of capital and information. He also has a subplot about an attempt by the mill workers to unionize. Unfortunately this is the weakest subplot of the novel, because Dickens didn’t seem to understand how unions work.

A driving force of many of the subplots is Bounderby’s network of spies. He uses his financial power over people to force them to spy on their neighbors, families, and co-workers, and report to Bounderby so that, for instance, he can prevent the workers unionizing.

So, how does this map to my definition of cyberpunk?

All the sympathetic characters (Louisa, Cecilia, Stephen) are marginalized in various ways, either because of the economic status or because their lives are under the control of others because of their gender of familial dependent status. Coketown is definitely a dystopia, and many aspects of the various social and economic forces he describes are worse than actually existed at the time of writing, so it can be argued it is a near-future dystopia, at that. Many of the difficulties and challenges the sympathetic characters face are because of the invasive way the industrial revolutions has disrupted social norms. The quality of life has degraded significantly, and many characters remember relatively recent times when things were better. Between them, Bounderby and Gradgrind control what information most of the inhabitants of the town have access to. Bounderby actively uses information he gathers through is spies to blackmail or otherwise harm characters who don’t do as he wishes.

In short, the protagonists face off against the dehumanizing forces of technology, and at the end, only those who have been able to reconnect with human connections, emotions, and imagination get a sort-of happy ending.

Dickens doesn’t explicitly say that the tale is set in the near future, even though I argue that was his intent. He’s clearly trying to show where the utilitarian philosophy that was becoming prevalent among the movers and shakers of his time will lead. But if that isn’t enough to make you think of this as, at least, proto-science fiction, there is also Bounderby’s obsession with numbers and calculations. What Bounderby is talking about when he says he makes life decisions based on numbers and calculations sounds an awful lot like an algorithm. And what are computer programs but algorithms? The way he explains his philosophy to Gradgrind at one point would not sound out of place coming from a character in one of Isaac Asimov’s stories involving psychohistory (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation, et cetera).

The dehumanizing aspects of technological advance is a theme that shows up in later works by Dickens. His last completed novel, Our Mutual Friend similarly warned against the loss of humanity to the cold demands of industrialization.

The way we think of genre now wasn’t how writers, readers, or publishers thought of stories in Dickens’ time. Dickens didn’t think of his Christmas ghost stories, for instance, as being a different kind of writing than his less fantastical ones. I know I’m making a stretch, here, but I think it is useful to try to look at stories—new ones we love today, and those that came before—from new angles. Cyberpunk’s core is the negative impacts of technology on individuals and society—cyberpunk is always about a dystopia. Whereas steampunk, despite having a similar name, at its core is optimistic.

Given that contrast, this particular novel, and several others Dickens wrote after, falls more clearly on the ancestral tree of works such as Neuromancer and Blade Runner than Boneshaker or Morlock Night. Maybe what Dickens wrote wasn’t cyberpunk, but I feel quite safe calling him one of the grandparents of cyberpunk.

Astounding Stories of Super-Science, or name changes are nothing new in sf/f

The February, 1930 cover of Astounding Stories of Super-Scinece, cover art by  H. W. Wesso. In 1930 the magazine's editor was Harry Bates.

The February, 1930 cover of Astounding Stories of Super-Scinece, cover art by H. W. Wesso. In 1930 the magazine’s editor was Harry Bates.

Just last week I commented on the kerfuffle in sci fi fannish circles about how problematic some of us think it is to have one of our major awards named after an extremely racist (and misogynist, classist, xenophobic, anti-democracy advocating authoritarian) and long deceased editor. I only linked to a fraction of the commentaries and arguments posted online since the acceptance speech that kicked this off. And while the kerfuffle has raged on there has been a very significant development: A Statement from the Editor.

As we move into Analog’s 90th anniversary year, our goal is to keep the award as vital and distinguished as ever, so after much consideration, we have decided to change the award’s name to The Astounding Award for Best New Writer.

So, Dell Magazines has decided to rename the award. They pledge that the award recipients will continue to be selected in the same way as before, and pledge to work with WorldCon going forward to implement the change. This might seem like really swift action on the company’s part, but another article published just the day before this announcement, the current editor is quoted as saying that he has been having this conversation within the company since shortly after he read an early draft of Alec Nevala-Lee’s book about the Campbell era: Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction.

As many people have pointed out, there have been previous op-eds, letters, and even petitions suggesting changing the name of the award, so it is hardly a new idea.

This decision has been no less controversial than the aforementioned speech. And I find it particularly amusing that one of the arguments being put forward by people who don’t want to change the award’s name is that changing names is bad and it somehow erases history.

This argument is particularly amusing in light of both an award an an editor tied to the magazine formerly known as Astounding.

When the magazine just began publication in 1930, the full title was Astounding Stories of Super-Science, as you can see by the image of the ‘zine’s second issue included above. A few years later, the title was shortened to Astounding Stories. Then, shortly after Campbell took over as editor, he renamed the magazine Astounding Science Fiction, which is the name it operated under until 1960, when Campbell changed the name to Analog Science Fact & Science Fiction.

That last name change was handled in an interesting way, graphically. For a few months both the name Astounding and Analog could be seen, with Astounding fading more and more each month. There was also a lot of variation with the rest of title, sometimes appearing as Science Fact & Fiction, sometimes Science Fact/Fiction, and sometimes with the ampersand or slash replaced by a glyph that looked like an inverted U with a line through it which Campbell said meant “analogous to.”

Which gets us to another faulty argument being made against the new name: calling it the Astounding Award still makes the name honor Campbell, and why isn’t that problematic? First, Astounding was published for seven years before Campbell became editor, and the previous two editors weren’t quite as ideologically driven in their story choices as Campbell. Second, Campbell was the one who wanted to stop calling the magazine Astounding all along. And third, while Astounding is one of the names of the publication in question, it’s also an adjective which is a synonym for wonderful or amazing.

Based on a lot of comments I’ve seen from the irritated ones, most of them don’t actually know that much about Campbell. They certainly haven’t read any of his notorious editorials. I suspect that for most of them, they know that he published Heinlein and Asimov and the like—and I suspect they haven’t read many of those author’s works, either. Campbell’s sort of a Rorschach test in that way: they see what the want to see. And frankly, the main thing they know is that those darn Social Justice Warriors and uppity people of color and decadent queer fans are critical of Campbell, therefore he must be defended at all costs no matter how illogically.

I didn’t start regularly reading sci fi zines until shortly after Campbell’s death, and even then, the magazines I preferred were Galazy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Most of what I knew about Campbell in my early years came from the autobiographical bits that Isaac Asimov included in his anthologies (especially The Early Asimov) but even Asimov’s portrayal of him did not ignore some of Campbell’s eccentricities and flaws.

I recall Asimov seeming least happy about Campbell’s insistence that if aliens appear in a story, they absolutely must be shown to be inferior to humans in some way. It so bothered Isaac, and Isaac felt that he owed Campbell first shot at any of his stories, that Asimov simply stopped writing aliens at all. Asimov’s future history galaxy-spanning society was inhabited by humans and their robots and that was it.

Campbell had a lot of other rules about stories that pushed the field of science fiction into a specific idealogical corner. One in which rich, white, aggressive men were always on the top of the heap, and where the working class, poor, less educated, and women and people of color were always on the bottom—and always in need to the leadership of the folks on top.

For all that Campbell is often regarded as a proponent of keeping science in science fiction, one has to note that Campbell meant physics and chemistry. Sciences such as geology, paleontology, anthropology, linguistics, and sociology weren’t part of the Campbellian vision.

Society changes. Our understanding of the universe and our place in it changes. Science fiction as an art form and the fannish community of Campbell’s peak years wasn’t very welcoming to women, queer people, people of color. Yes, there were always fans and creators within the sci fi community who came from those other communities, but it was clear that we weren’t meant to be heroes. That our stories never mattered. That our role was always to be supporting characters or sit quietly and marvel at the competence of men like Campbell.

And that’s neither true of the real world, nor is it something an ethical person should aspire to.

So, yes, the name change is a good thing. Because one of the things I love about good science fiction, are those moments that astound me.

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