More on “Sword and Flower”

Jeffro has an interesting post up on the Castalia blog where the pulp guys discuss my “Sword and Flower” review. It more or less stands for itself, but I want to respond to a few points.

Disclaimer: If this sounds harsh, it’s only because I’m being direct. I’m not angry or anything. I’m just trying to cut to the heart of it here. At any rate, I’m hardly more harsh than they are towards me (which I have no problem with).

Its story beats are only a surprise because they haven’t been seen in decades and/or the vast majority of culture creators are constitutionally unable to do them with a straight face.

So? When did I ever deny that? For that manner, when did I mention my surprise or lack of it one way or another?

This thing with “the story is crying out for a redemption arc” bit. I have no idea what that is about. I mean the point of a pulp story is to have somebody punch evil and kiss the girl, right?

Well, in my original review I said that my big problem with the story is that the characters don’t act like people. And they don’t.

The redemption arc is an attempt to solve that problem by giving the characters motivations beyond “survive”. And it’s a superversive motivation that is even suggested by the setting. You can have a more pedestrian motivation that can work perfectly well too, but it would at least be shooting for a lower mark.

Star Wars didn’t have a redemption thingy in the first movie.

“Sword and Flower” isn’t “Star Wars”.

Even if you grant that whatever Anthony is talking about is essential, I just don’t see why you’d absolutely have to have it in the first installment.

It’s not essential. Characters acting like humans? That’s essential.

Still, if the Daredevil television show is more supeversive than Rawle’s story… then I don’t know what superversive is anymore. I just have no idea what they’re talking about!

This is correct. He doesn’t.

“Sword and Flower” never tries to look beyond itself. Sure, it’s set in lesser Heaven. Sure, the protagonist fights demons. But everything is motivated by self-interest; either that, or none of it makes any sense. Dimity admits several times that she doesn’t try to escape because that would be even more dangerous than staying. She fights the demons because she has a stake in it just as much as the Puritans; she says herself that she’s doing it to “never have to worry about rejection from Weatherford again”; they’ve been trying to kill her the whole novel, after all. Jeffro even ADMITS outright that Rawle isn’t shooting for superversive:

I mean the point of a pulp story is to have somebody punch evil and kiss the girl, right?

Right. That wasn’t the point of Daredevil. It was far more than that. It’s about a deeply flawed and weak human being who overcomes all of that to be a hero. “Sword and Flower” may try for this (and I give Rawle credit for that!), but with cardboard cutout characters that don’t act like real humans and have thin motivations, it just doesn’t work.

Remember, my original review didn’t mention lack of superversive as the main flaw. It mentioned lack of realistic or interesting characters, with the exception of the (briefly appearing) Elizabeth. Plus the egregious oversight of mentioning the dead Elizabeth but not the team of dead warriors at the end of the story.

Later on:

P. Alexander: Usually when a Japanese show is about redemption, the [stuff] went down prior to the start of the story, and the whole show is about trying to make up for whatever the hero failed at, which may be shown in a series of flashbacks.

It’s too bad I didn’t mention a specific character who could literally have that exact arc.

Oh, wait, I did. Mash.

 And, there is a redemption bit. I’m not sure how fighting demons can be seen as anything other than an act seeking redemption for people condemned to a lesser heaven.

Survival? Dimity doesn’t seem particularly concerned with being a demon hunter until Mash convinces her, and Mash convinces her because the demons are threatening their town. There isn’t a hint of redemption there.

And, this continual comparison of short works to full novels or even whole seasons of a tv show just isn’t a fair comparison as to how much can be achieved in a given space.

All right. Then don’t bring that up to me when asking for a specific comparison.

As for “The Wish List”, it’s not very long. It’s also much better, and very pulpy itself. Seriously. Read it. Not to sound like too much of a jerk here, but it’s MUCH better than “Sword and Flower”.

P. Alexander: From now on, I’m gonna read “Not Superversive enough” as “Literal Santa Claus didn’t show up to hand out plot items.”

I’ll leave you all to judge whether or not this is a fair reading. For my part, since I never mentioned anything remotely like that, it just comes off to me as as ridiculous a strawman as anything I’ve seen so far. Come on, man. do better.

Nathan Housley: The funny thing is I can see Jagi Lamplighter recognizing Sword & Flower as a different type of superversive than Anthony is trying to make it. (Anthony is misreading genre and beats here. Sword & Flower is not the type of story he wants it to be.)

Yes, the type of story with characters that act like people.

“Sword and Flower” might try, but it tries in the same way “Suicide Squad” tried to be superversive: When your writing isn’t up to snuff, you’re inevitably not going to hit that mark as well as you should. Rawle tries, but there’s a noumenal level there he misses; perhaps he can hit it in his next book. Or maybe he doesn’t go superversive at all, and just improves generally.

I really want to emphasize here that the bigger issue is the characters. They just don’t work.

Like symbolism, it exists, but in recognition, it usually reveals more about the what the reviewer sees in the text than the text itself. And when fundamentally and intentionally subversive works are held up as superversive, it makes me wonder if superversive is not short for “I like it.”

I will note that this is the exact issue the superversives had had with the pulp rev all along, and now you’re going to pull that same thing on us? Seriously? Without batting an eye or seeing a hint of irony there?

Look, if you think we’re calling subversive work superversive, then yeah, you disagree with us that the work is superversive. It happens; we don’t always agree on everything.

With that said, Nathan is also just wrong. We DO, in fact, have guidelines for what makes a story at least noumenally superversive. Here it is. And here’s why Daredevil meets those guidlines, by the way. If you want to know what makes a story “simple” superversive, you can always read Tom Simon’s original essay.

Jeffro: It’s the first time in years that you see a female character (a) operating in a helper role and (b) not surrounded by a Greek chorus of cheerleaders. It’s astonishing. The fact that she did something “wrong” in order to do something right… the fact that she puts herself at odds with society to do the right thing… that makes her instantly likable in a way that no characters on Iron Fist or Jessica Jones ever achieve.

No argument there. Elizabeth was great.

Jon Mollison: The Superversives want to remind people to do the right thing by having literal angels show up in their stories. I want my stories to remind people to do the right thing.

Full stop. You don’t need angels.

Wait. Were you even taking part of the same conversation? My original example was Daredevil.

Hey, remember that scene from “Daredevil” where the literal angel shows up to help Daredevil?

No?

Me either.

Look, I respect the pulp rev guys. We won’t agree on everything. That’s okay! But when they directly contradict themselves (how can you possibly say my idea of superversive has to do with “literal angels” showing up or “Santa Claus bringing presents” when earlier in the same conversation you’re complaining that you don’t see how Daredevil is more superversive than “Sword and Flower”?) to accuse us of things that nobody has even hinted at (where on earth did any of us hint that “Santa Claus had to being presents” for a work to be superversive? How do you even get that reading?), I don’t think it’s unfair for me to call them out on it.

Rawle has potential. He can improve. But “Sword and Flower” wasn’t good because his characters didn’t act like real people, or were two-dimensional cut-outs; the problem could have been solved by giving them stronger character arcs and goals, and a powerful one, hinted at by the setting, even, is a redemption arc.

That was my case.

You should read the work; a lot of people are disagreeing with me, after all. Let it speak for itself, and decide whether I’m totally off the mark or whether I have a point. Who knows? Maybe it really is JUST me.

And also, read “The Wish List”. I’ll have to do a write-up on that one day.

 

Strong Female Characters in the Castle in the Sky

This is a companion post both to my “Castle in the Sky” retrospective (consider that my official “Castle in the Sky” addition to the full Miyazaki retrospective) and colleague Marina Fontaine’s excellent article on strong female characters. This was originally written as a section of the Castalia post until I realized it both made the article too long and didn’t really fit with the rest of the piece. But I liked how it came out, so here you go:

After reading Marina Fontaine’s terrific article on strong female characters, it got me thinking.

Sheeta is a GREAT character, one of my favorite female characters perhaps in all of fiction. She is brave, she is competent, she is important, and she is very, very girly. In frightening or dangerous situations she’ll cry, she clings to Pazu for protection often and throws herself into his arms, and she never even attempts to fight anybody head-on; the few times she engages with someone physically it’s always when they’re paying attention to somebody else, and even then she’s sometimes overpowered.

And yet, she is very much a heroine; her bravery and intelligence are essential to defeating Muska, and even when she is kidnapped she’s always actively trying (and sometimes succeeding) to escape and foil Muska’s plans.

And Sheeta is likable too, even lovable – and I think this is a testament to both her and Miyazaki’s portrayal of men in”Castle in the Sky”.

I’ll explain. There is, of course, that notorious scene at the beginning of “The Force Awakens” where Rey is surrounded by unsavory characters and beats them all up with her amazingly fantastical stick-fighting skills. When Finn tries to jump in and help, Rey snarls at him and throws him away; she is a wymyn. Hear her roar! She don’t need no man.

Well, you know the scene.

In order to make Rey appear more competent “The Force Awakens” minimizes the skills and bravery of its men. When Finn goes to help and is rebuffed, he dutifully obeys; apparently he got the memo that Rey is a Magical Stickfighting Master. I’d say he was hoping that the desperado gang would beat her up, but considering how he follows her around like a puppy dog the rest of the film this is definitely out.

In contrast, whenever Pazu goes to help Sheeta, she is always, always tremendously grateful. Even the several times she doesn’t want Pazu to help her, her rebuffs are never angry, but instead take the form of desperate pleas, made not because she doesn’t need him, but because she’s worried he’ll be hurt. Sheeta knows Pazu is trying to help, knows Pazu is protecting her, and – quite unlike Rey and those other Strong Wymyn Characters (See: Black Widow in “Iron Man 2”) – she appreciates it. When Pazu is obviously outnumbered and unable to effect a difference and he still stands up for Sheeta, unlike in films like “Star Wars” and “Iron Man 2”, it’s never once played for laughs. Pazu isn’t a loser for standing up to people stronger than him. He’s a hero!

And – importantly – sometimes, Sheeta DOES need Pazu’s help. Even more shockingly – shockingly, I say! – she’s actually humble enough to ask for it!

Can you imagine something like this being made in the west? It’s simply not done anymore. Strong Wymyn Don’t Need No Man’s help, right?

And somehow, with pigheaded ignorance, western feminists praise Miyazaki as One Of Them. Nonsense. None of them would dare to make a character like Sheeta the lead when there are Reys to be worshiped.

Interesting Article From Doris V. Sutherland

I’m going to start out by being somewhat controversial (for this community, anyway; in the worldwide publishing community they probably dislike or hate me for voluntarily associating myself with Vox Day, however loosely, but whatever): I no longer really have a dog (heh) in the Sad/Rabid Puppies fight.

If I did I’d be supportive of the Rabids, mostly because I was disgusted by the behavior of the Hugo regulars at the Cons. So, die Hugos. But truthfully I’ve basically stopped caring except to say that I genuinely hope the Dragon Awards continue getting more popular year after year and eventually supplant the Hugos entirely.

This is all a lead-in to say that when I call Miss (Mrs.?) Sutherland’s article interesting, I actually mean it. I found it interesting.

This is probably not going to make me too popular among some of the superversive folks, who seem to have decided Miss Sutherland is an enemy. And maybe she is; I haven’t been following along with the exchanges all along. All I know is that this particular article is one I thought was mostly fairly well-written and reasoned. There was a bias, of course – there always is, it’s human nature – but, I thought, not an angry one.

That’s not to say I agree with everything, of course.

Miss Sutherland says this:

Towards the end, he makes an abrupt change of subject from heroic horror films to heroic horror literature: but does he mention Robert E. Howard, whose sword-and-sorcery protagonists regularly faced Lovecraftian abominations? Does he acknowledge the writers who have shaped the occult detective genre, from H. and E. Heron through to Jim Butcher? Does he namecheck anyone from the legion of authors, from Bram Stoker onwards, who have thrilled readers with tales of cross-wielding vampire hunters?

Nope, nope, and nope. It is Brian Niemeier who has the distinction of being the only writer mentioned in Young’s survey of horror.

This is a very odd complaint to make. The article Miss Sutherland is referring to is this one, by Josh Young. In the article, Josh made one – one – extremely brief name check of a horror novel that he liked and happened to be superversive. There was no “abrupt subject change”. After that extremely brief name check of a guy who happens to be part of the superversive team and wrote a book Josh enjoyed, Josh continued making his overarching point. He even asked people to offer other recommendations for superversive horror.

Which point of hers Miss Sutherland thinks this supports completely escapes me. Superversives like his novel? Well, sure. Since he’s part of team superversive Josh made a point to mention it? Okay. It illustrated Josh’s point? Sure. But why are any of these problematic?

Miss Sutherland’s point that “Souldancer” is not popular among the sorts of horror fans who follow the Bram Stoker awards seems solid enough, though I’m not sure if this really makes her case that “real” horror fans don’t like Brian’s novel. One of the main puppy points is that we’re trying to end the sort of divide between fans and trufans, who REALLY know what’s what and look down on “Not really” horror fans.

If anything her argument seems to be that the Dragon Awards should get more exposure, so that the long time and hardcore horror fans can have more influence. Good point. They should. But so what?

And I think that’s the biggest point here. Miss Sutherland seems to be saying that, though Brian won, it doesn’t really mean his work is the most popular horror novel, since most horror fans haven’t been following the Puppies controversy and the various literary movements that have sprung up in opposition to SJW convergance. Okay. If that’s the case, vote for something else. Seriously. The option is there. Nobody is stopping her. If she wants to get the word out to the horror community that there’s a new horror award, and see if people are interested in voting for it, that’s great! Go for it.

The problem here is that she’s acting like this delegitimizes Brian’s win. But why? Brian won an open vote fair and square. It’s not his fault that hardcore horror fans didn’t vote for it. He still won.

Miss Sutherland makes some decent points that Brian’s novel wasn’t actually the most popular horror novel written that year, sales wise. Fair enough; I don’t think Brian said it was, but maybe I missed something. He did say it was voted most popular by Dragon Award voters, which is quite true. She also makes the fair point that as of her writing, Jemisin’s traditionally published novel was outpublishing Neimeier. Fair enough. But none of that changes the fact that the Dragon Awards 1) Weren’t started by Puppies groups, and 2) Aren’t open only to puppies groups.

The reason Puppy writers won is that more people voted for them.

She also loses a LOT of credibility by writing this:

Nevertheless, the Puppies – or, more specifically, Niemeier and his immediate circle of friends – kept up the charade that the little-known Souldancer was the most popular horror novel published within the Dragons’ twelve-month eligibility period. Niemeier’s blog post received replies comparing me variously to a spoilt child, a high school mean girl and a wiggling worm for venturing to suggest otherwise. My personal favourite comment came from Niemeier himself; apparently channelling his inner Benjanun Sriduangkaew, he felt it appropriate to threaten me with physical violence:

It’s not the easily excitable guys whose anger you should worry about. It’s the patient, reserved guys quietly sipping their drinks and reading Heinlein novels until they decide they’ve had enough of the loudmouths making a scene, take you out in the parking lot, and bust out your teeth.

(The bold is Brian’s quote.)

As should be clear to – bluntly – anyone with half a brain, Brian wasn’t actually threatenting to bust Miss Sutherland’s teeth. He was making the point that the people who have been quietly taking it for a long time are losing their tempers and starting to fight back; that fighting back is taking the form of the many negative comments and insults she is so concerned about.

More than that – that’s not a threat anyway. Brian’s not threatening to punch anybody, merely warning people that if you keep making a scene, people will eventually get tired of it and fight back. Calling it a “threat” is just an obvious lie.

Later on, she quotes an article by the Injustice Gamer, referring to him as one of Brian’s friends. Well, I don’t know if this is true or not, but she takes issue to this comment by him:

Genesson starts his three-pronged rebuttal by suggesting, bizarrely, that people who give positive reviews to Souldancer are in danger of losing their jobs. He seems to expect us to believe that the legions of Souldancer fans have gathered into some kind of Fight Club-like underground subculture that dare not speak its name.

 

Okay. I read the linked article. I am confusedas to what she is referring to. Maybe this?:

It would seem that Souldancer succeeded in beating out more popular horror nominees, such as Christina Henry’s Alice, merely because its author is pro-Puppy.

Yes, we all trust reviews, do we? Maybe some of us realize how active your type is at disemployment.

Non-bold is Miss Sutherland, bold is the injustice gamer.

Miss Sutherland seems to be extrapolating an extraordinary amount from the Injustice Gamer’s quote. He appears to be observing that SJW’s – which, true or not of Miss Sutherland (frankly, it seems to be true; maybe she wouldn’t even deny it), the Injustice Gamer seems to be referring to – actively try and end the employment of people they don’t agree with. This is observably true; this is a pretty casual article, but if I tried I could come up with quite a few examples of this. This, the Injustice Gamer seems to be contending, means that perhaps some people are worried about leaving positive reviews of Brian’s books.

What this has to do with a “Figh Club underground subculture” escapes me.

For the record, I don’t really agree with the Injustice Gamer. We’ve got enough of a base now that people actually seem to enjoy writing reviews of books a larger segment of the population would denounce as somehow bigoted or dangerous. John C. Wright and Vox Day are far more hated than Brian, but each gets hundreds of reviews of their books. Probably the reason Souldancer doesn’t have as many reviews as either of those guys means Brian doesn’t have as big of an audience. But really, who doesn’t know that?

In that sense, Miss Sutherland is correct. Brian IS held up as the leading Puppy horror author, and he is not one of the most popular horror writers in the world right now. But what Brian IS is an author who is now, by writing horror novels, making enough money to pay bills, gaining more and more popularity as time goes on, and representing a subculture of horror fans that haven’t been catered towards for awhile. He won the Dragon Awards because of those fans, that is true; but other people were perfectly free to vote. They didn’t.

In that sense, the Dragon Awards really are a populist award, because you don’t need to pay to enter, there is no real chance of secret ballot pushing since everything is out in the open, and partially, at least, as a result of that works are winning there that wouldn’t have a chance in the Hugo Awards. That’s important!

She later says this:

If you want to argue that Souldancer is a good novel, then go ahead. If you want to argue that it deserves to be popular, and may someday be popular, then go ahead. But you cannot argue, with any kind of intellectual honesty, that it is currently a popular novel amongst fans of the genre.

This is going to probably get me some hate from all sides, but here it is: I both agree and disagree with this sentiment.

I agree in the sense that of all of the horror books out there, “Souldancer” is not – yet – among the most famous or popular, though its fame and popularity is growing.

What I disagree with – what the Puppies have been fighting with all along – is the distinction between various types of fans of the genre. What about the Josh Young fans of the genre? She mentions earlier that Josh didn’t mention Jim Butcher, which is true. What she did NOT mention is that Jim Butcher IS held in extremely high regard by virtually the entirety of the Puppy fandom. She, bizarrely, points out that Josh didn’t mention Robert E. Howard when Howard is 1) Practically a deity in the Puppy world and 2) Is long dead and not representative of the sorts of people who gets votes in awards. Brian won not because he has a bunch of friends – most of us have probably never met Brian in person and know little about him (like me) – but because he catered to a segment of the audience that had been ignored for a long time.

Is this audience small? Apparently not as small as originally thought. And as awareness for Brian’s novel grows, it is quickly becoming apparent that more and more people are happy that a novel like Brian’s exists.

And YES, it is true that the Puppies were knocking a lot of the paranormal romance/urban fantasy varieties of horror. The reason for this isn’t because the fans didn’t count, but because the novels could hardly be classified as horror. So I’ll move on.

Miss Sutherland, in her anger at how polemic some of Brian’s responses and posts directed towards her were, seems to be unable to help herself from lying or misrepresenting Brian’s comments. She says this:

Incidentally, when I first reported on the Dragon Awards at WWAC, I received a reply from one of the non-Puppy nominees where she mentioned her “obscure indie published military sci fi book”. She has the right idea. She sees that there is no shame in being a little-league writer who does what they enjoy, who picks up a few fans along the way, and who may someday go on to bigger things.

Brian Niemeier does not seem to realise this. For him, it is clearly not enough to have a small but loyal readership that has pushed him to the top of an online poll. He has to present himself as being fandom’s favourite horror writer – the “Dragon of Horror”, as he styles himself – even though he knows full well that this is simply not the truth.

Well, let’s look at that post of Brian’s she linked to. Why does he call himself the Dragon of Horror, anyway?

By popular acclamation, authors of Dragon Award-winning books shall now be styled according to the category in which they won.

So what? Now it’s a problem that Brian is proud of the fact that he won the Dragon Award for best horror novel, and can’t mention that when talking about himself? He calls EVERYONE who won a Dragon award the Dragon of [category]. It doesn’t reference anything except for the fact that he won the award – which is true.

Let me end it with this:

Miss Sutherland seems to be mad that Brian is “keeping up the charade” that his novel was the most popular novel during the period of Dragon Award nominations and voting. She goes on to prove – it seems pretty decisively, to me at least – that Brian’s novel is not more popular than Jemisin’s. Fair enough.

But I’m trying to find where Brian said his novel was actually the most popular. I can’t find it. He’s not an idiot.

He DOES say that it is popular. Well, you can quibble with that I guess, but Brian recently paid some of his bills with the royalties from his writing*, so that seems like something of a stretch at best.

You can point out that it’s not up to 50 reviews, as he claimed. That’s true, but really tangential to the main point.

He does try to argue that the Dragon Awards DO represent the fans. I think he is right for the simple reason that anyone can vote for them, and the awards were made public and spread pretty far. I think she DID successfully prove that he misrepresented – probably unintentionally – his sales numbers.

She did not prove that Brian won merely because he is “pro-puppy”. She didn’t really even make the case, except to say “It kind of makes sense”. I would respond that – as the current rise of Castalia, Superversive SF, and others are proving – he won because he filled a niche.

Sure, not as many people voted in the awards as theoretically could have. It’s the first year! That doesn’t mean he didn’t win the vote – the popular vote.

So while Miss Sutherland made some good, intelligent points, I think she missed the forest for the trees – and she would look quite a bit better if she didn’t grossly misrepresent what some of those writers she quoted were saying. So it goes.

*The J List – 

  • Authors who are still getting used to the idea people want to read their crap.
  • Authors who have sold a respectable number of books.
  • Authors who check their book’s Amazon rank every hour.
  • Authors who start to pay most of their bills with their royalties.

EDIT: Brian responds, and points out that he did not say “Souldancer” sold more copies than Jemisin’s book, but rather that it moved more copies. Brian is correct, meaning that Sutherland was actually wrong about that. As far as I can see the rest of my points still stand.

Also, now that I’m already here I shouldn’t forget to mention that I was wrong about it being Miss Sutherland, since it’s actually a man who got disfiguring surgeries. In the interest of accuracy, please disregard the uses of Miss and insert Mr.

Two New Trailers

Both Marvel!

First, “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2”:

Next, “Spider-Man: Homecoming”:

My thoughts…

GotG 2 looks absolutely fantastic. The second best trailers Marvel has ever done (next to the amazing stuff they put out for “Civil War”). Almost everything about that trailer works. I suppose the action seems pretty pedestrian, but when was that ever the point in the GotG films?

“Spider-Man”…hmmm (I almost wrote SMH until I realized that was the acronym for “Shaking my head”. Pluses: Tom Holland, avoiding the origin story completely (since we don’t need it), being the first movie to actually have street level superheroics (which I’ve always been fond of), and an EXTREMELY retro costume that hearkens allllll the way back to Spidey’s very first appearance (WEB WINGS!!!!).

Here’s the thing, though: None of that has to do with the trailer (except that it makes it clear we’ll be seeing some street level superheroics, which is nice).

What the trailer DID show:

– As mentioned, the heroics appear to be relatively low scale in comparison to the other Marvel movies – the only other Marvel film that didn’t involve huge world-wide or worse catastrophes was “Ant-Man”* (I suppose “Captain America” too, but that was barely even a superhero film – aside from some fancy jumping and Hugo Weaving’s face it was basically just a PG war movie after you get past the super-serum at the beginning). I can’t confirm that this will be the case for sure, of course, but it SEEMS that way. Either way, the focus on street level heroics is something the films have never done and is much appreciated.

– “Homecoming” seems to be trying to get a balance in its humor level between the more serious Marvel films and the outright comedies of “Ant-Man” and “GotG”. This is a good sign, since that’s exactly the tone “Spider-Man” should shoot for.

– The “John Hughes movie meets superhero movie” vibe is very strong, which is great. I approve.

– I really like the plot arc they’re going for. It’s something really different from Marvel’s other films, and I appreciate that.

The downsides…

There seems to be a LOT of diversity casting going on, from Peter’s best friend to his romantic interests. In theory, this makes sense. Peter goes to High School in NYC, right? Of course it would skew very multiracial. It’s something they hardly would have considered back when Spider-Man began.

But – and maybe it’s just me – this sort of thing makes me jumpy. The truth is that decisions like this are never made in a vacuum; we live in a society that is pushing diversity on us from every angle…and the people pushing diversity are almost always the SJW’s. See the comments from the creators of “Rogue One” and “The Force Awakens”. See “Hamilton”. See Kevin Feige fumbling around while trying to justify casting a Scottish woman to play the oriental mystic in “Doctor Strange” (As good as Tilda Swinton was I mourn the missed opportunity to cast Jackie Chan). In Hollywood, everything is calculated: It’s never just about story. There’s always an underlying narrative being pushed.

That said…the truth is, this is right in line with the Marvel formula. Marvel plays a very careful balancing act when it comes to race. Their theory – at least in their films – seems to be this:

– Cast a lead who seems like he’d be a good fit for the character, regardless of what race the character might be. So far it’s been white male heroes, but with Black Panther and Captain Marvel movies coming out, they seem to have no issue casting for other races and sexes. It’s just that their most popular heroes are white males, so when they wanted sure bets that’s who they went with. Now that they can take more risks, they’re branching out.

– Try to stunt cast/diversity cast the minor roles. That’s why we see the Falcon, Black Widow, a race-bent Baron Mordo (and the Ancient One, of course), Rhodey, and even the small detail of adding an oriental to Captain America’s Howling Commandos. The point here is to blunt criticisms of racism and sexism without alienating the fans of the original comics.

This is a very clever plan, and one Marvel has instituted successfully in every single one of their films (backlash around “Doctor Strange” seemed to pose a brief threat and provoked a silly response from Feige and the director before being shut up by the quality of Swinton’s performance and the presence of the always welcome Chiwetel Eijofor). It essentially satisfies everybody, from the die-hard fans to all but the real die-hard SJWs, who can’t be satisfied in any case.

“Homecoming” would worry me more if it didn’t fall right in line with that. Neither of the love interests appears to be Mary Jane (reports Zendaya would be playing the role appear to be exaggerated – if she’s supposed to be MJ she’s at least MJ in name only), who is one of the more recognizable female characters in comics, so that’s good (the only one I recognize is Liz Allen, who I believe was on a Spider-Man cartoon from a few years back). Otherwise, we’re seeing basically what we always see: White male lead (as befits the character), mixed race background players.

It just worries me that his best friend AND his love interests seem to be mixed race. Is this fair? Maybe not. Marvel doesn’t have a history of messing up its movies with shoehorned politics, and the movie itself appears to be utterly unconcerned with racial issues. But I noted it and am at least not going to be surprised if “Homecoming” skews more SJW than the average Marvel film.

Otherwise, the trailer strikes me as unremarkable. It hits every checkmark of what I want to see in a Spider-Man film, which means it’s certainly successful on the metric of “Am I still going to go see it after watching this trailer?”, but…I don’t know. I forgot what happened in it almost immediately after I watched it, but I can pretty much quote the GotG trailer verbatim. It has a fun vibe to it and gets across what it has to, and I look forward to seeing it, but it does it in a very by the numbers way.

…Also, if Spidey is holding that ship together, they made him VERY overpowered (though I suppose Tobey Maguire singlehandedly stopped a train in its tracks, so I guess it’s not exactly unprecedented).

In summary, after a lot of rambling:

“Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” trailer grade: A, marked down from an A+ for generic action scenes

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” trailer grade: B+. For all my griping I have to admit that I’m very happy with where they’re taking this and it made me really look forward to this film.

Looking forward to the summer!

*Having Hydra spread secret agents around the world and having a war start vetween Asgard and the Frost Giants do indeed count as

Review: “Daredevil: Underboss”

Image result for daredevil underbossBIG spoilers throughout, if that matters to you. Just so you’re aware.

After re-reading “Born Again” and reminding myself just how good a Daredevil story could really be, I’ve decided – with some misgivings – to seek out some more of the character from non-Miller writers. Specifically, I decided to take a look at Brian Michael Bendis’s run, which is almost as critically acclaimed as Miller’s. I started off with a story of his titled “Daredevil: Underboss”.

I’ll start it off bluntly: I’m just not a fan. “Daredevil: Underboss” was an odd read. First off, I’m REALLY not a fan of Alex Maleev’s art. Part of this is that I was recently spoiled by the near perfection of Mazzuchelli, but even so. I like dark and gritty as much as the next guy, but we’re a step beyond that here. I was sitting in a perfectly well lit place and still felt as if I had to squint to work out what was happening. And when it comes to expressing body language and facial expressions…well, Mazzuchelli was a master at it, so I may be being unfair here, but it’s not even close.

He’s having a rather bad day.

The comic produced a rather weird effect for me. By the time it ended, when I looked back over it I realized a good deal had actually occurred…but when I read it, I was just bored and impatient. The plot: The Kingpin is betrayed by a group of conspirators, among them his own son, who attempt to assassinate him. He survives, but goes into hiding. Meanwhile, a mysterious man has put out a hit on Matt Murdoch – not Daredevil, Murdoch. Matt believes it’s the Kingpin at first, but when he discovers otherwise it sets up a mystery: Who else knows Daredevil’s secret identity?

The story has a lot of potential. Were I writing it, it would be structured as a mystery, with Daredevil working through the criminal underworld, trying to piece together who could have figured out who he was. Perhaps he would enlist the help of reporter Ben Urich, whose investigative skills could be a highly useful asset.

But that’s not what we get. From Daredevil’s end we get several boring scenes of Daredevil going around, grabbing people by the collar, and shaking them. It doesn’t work, probably because it’s stupid. The more interesting story – told via flashbacks, which was a mistake and which interrupted the flow of the story several times – is about how the Kingpin is betrayed, and how his wife takes revenge. I say “more interesting”, but it’s only marginally so. There’s nothing clever going on here. A guy shows up. He offers something better than the Kingpin. He convinces them to try to kill him. Ta-da. It’s the same old story. The only moderately interesting twist is that Fisk’s son is the architect of the plot, but even that’s old news; even Fisk’s backstory in the Netflix series involves him murdering his father.

They know who he is now…

The story ends with Daredevil’s identity outed to the police. It’s not as if there wasn’t potential here, but it needed to be a mystery, and Daredevil needed to be smarter. It probably should have taken several issues, perhaps as traps and assassins close in on Matt Murdoch’s life and friends. It’s all right there! But instead we get a boring story that doesn’t break new ground and is told in  an annoying fashion.

It’s not exactly “bad”, however I make it sound. The dialogue is fine, occasionally great. The art is overdone but well executed. The ending reveal is juicy and looks to set up for some exciting plotlines. It’s just…I’ve seen some people claim that they like Brian Michael Bendis’s run even more than Miller’s, but from where I sit there’s no comparison. I think people forget how highly regarded Miller used to be. Some were declaring him perhaps the greatest comic book writer of all time (he’s still high up on that list). And “Born Again” was written when Miller was at the height of his creative genius; it’s a tour de force, a masterpiece. So the impression I get is that Miller and Mazzucchelli  were playing chess while Bendis and Maleev were stuck at tic-tac-toe. It’s a well-played game of tic-tac-toe, but what Miller and Mazucchelli accomplished was more ambitious, more exciting, and just generally better executed than what Bendis and Maleev did. And frankly, I really don’t find myself particularly excited to read the rest of their run, however well received it is critically.

So it goes.

How you play the game

This year’s list of Hugo finalists held a few surprises for me.

The magazine that published my first short story–SciPhi Journal (SPJ)–and the online group to which I was a contributing member–SuperversiveSF (SSF)–were listed under Best Semiprozine and Best Fanzine, respectively.

Wow, what an amazing year… I would have liked to think.

But it didn’t take long to realize that the Rabid Puppy slate had heavily influenced this year’s Hugo nominations process and that SPJ and SSF had likely benefited from it. This was both highly ironic and highly troubling for me, given that my main contributions to SSF last year–beyond commentary–were two essays criticizing Sad Puppy (RP) and Rabid Puppy (RP) campaign methods.

While mulling over what to do, Anthony M posted an essay at SSF, explicitly arguing that  SSF’s nomination was due to the RP slate and only the RP slate.  His post motivated me to publicly challenge his position at the site while privately raising the question to the group if SSF should decline the nomination.

Sadly the answer was no, and involved a number of responses, some of which were credible and others I felt were less than credible.  The following points go through my process of reasoning based on those responses and the conclusions I have reached.

1) The exact role the RP slate played in SSF’s nomination is unknown

It was a relief to find that others at SSF did not share Anthony’s beliefs.  The fact is that many members of SSF–including the editor of both SSF and SPJ–are active SP and/or RP supporters.  Throughout 2015-16 they were active in publicizing to and networking with those communities, with SSF podcasts targeted primarily to SP/RP interests.  Likely due to these efforts, SSF and SPJ made the SP reading list too, which was definitely not a slate.

With this in mind, it was plausible for them to argue that SPs and RPs alike had a genuine interest in voting for SSF and SPJ.  In that case being on the RP slate did not in itself distort or unduly amplify the interest of those voters in the nomination process.

And if that possibility is true then making the finalist list was not due to anything improper.  Based on this possibility, arguments made by Brandon Sanderson for keeping his nomination, and calls by George RR Martin for finalists not to decline, SSF members had arguable reasons and precedent not to stand aside.

Still, I would argue that “not definitively improper” is not good enough.

2) An appearance of improper conduct remains

Despite the possibility that RP members may have wanted to vote for SSF anyway, we will never know that for sure since they–or at least enough of them–appear to have voted in lockstep fashion with the slate, regardless of their personal interests.  Such suspicions are highlighted by the success of obvious oddball finalists such as Space Raptor Butt Invasion and My Little Pony, and underscored by statements from people such as Anthony M at SSF, who basked in having benefited from the RP slate. Indeed, claims in his essay read more like an indictment to me–or confession?–than what I would expect from a victory speech.

So even if nothing improper occurred, a clear appearance of impropriety exists and is enough for me to argue that SSF should step aside. That “appearance of impropriety” is a crucial distinction, separating SSF and SPJ from other finalists like Sanderson and those Martin discussed.

3) There are additional levels of impropriety

Two contradictory arguments were made in defense of the RP slate.  The first is that it was meant to expose the Hugos as a sham, given the systemic flaws which allow for such exploitation.  The other was that it was meant to overcome an effective if not intentional slate–so fighting fire with fire–ran by elitist, cliquish, left leaning voters.

The problem is that both of these do not account for the nature of the RP slate.  Neither goal required placing nominees in all categories, much less taking all slots within categories.  Those tactics, if anything, seem to support the argued intentions of the author of the RP slate, which was to act as a spoiler for the Hugos. This was a point not missed by SPs last year, but about which many SPs are found silent or dissembling this year.

But more important, neither reason required the author of the RP slate to place himself or those with whom he is associated on said slate.  This is especially true if the author had any intention of getting broadly positive notice and awards for people and works outside the supposed elitist clique.  Finalists would have looked a lot more credible if not stacked among, or almost solely constituted by, those connected to him. Put another way, it would have been more useful if the author of the RP slate had acted more selflessly, than in a seemingly self-serving fashion.

Clearly, the RP slate had the potential to benefit its author, both directly–the author placed himself on his own slate–and indirectly–listing business/personal associates.  This kind of conduct is described by terms such as self-aggrandizement and cronyism, and adds another level/form of seeming impropriety to the RP slate.

4) Declining would not show a lack of gratitude

It was argued that declining the nomination would be an insult for those that voted for SSF. That it would show a lack of gratitude.  I am not sure why this is true.

If I had an extended family that got to feeling sorry for my never winning an award, and then bought enough voting memberships in order to vote me in, with many of them not having read anything I wrote, that would be improper.  And it would not show a lack of gratitude on my part to say “Wow, thanks guys for wanting to help me out, I really appreciate your effort, but this method does not get me what I wanted in the way that I really needed to get it. So I have to decline.”

When people vote, even if they pay to vote, there is no guarantee you will win, and there is no obligation that you have to take the nomination or prize if their votes place you there.  Appreciation is different than accepting the benefits of their actions, which can be declined for numerous reasons, both personal or practical.

As it is, if what those at SSF claim is true, that the RPs were likely to vote for SSF anyway, then the RP slate was the biggest slap in the face–the biggest show of ingratitude–to both SP and RP voters, since it cast an unnecessary shadow over the value of their votes.

And it would seem that anyone championing the RP slate at this point is de facto showing ingratitude to SP voters, by downplaying the importance of all the work done by that campaign to improve their methods this year. In fact it forms an argument that they and their kind are no longer needed next year as they were entirely superfluous.

Frankly, I would have been more impressed with this argument, when used to support keeping the nomination, if it had been backed by actual words of gratitude at the SSF site beyond a singular tribute to the RP slate.

5) Accepting it means hypocrisy and more of the same

For those SPs at SSF that railed against the RPs last year, accepting this year’s nomination would mean becoming hypocrites.  And while I am not an SP, or perhaps because I am not, that would go double for me.

Some argued that the No Award reaction to the slates last year drove many SPs to the RP campaign this year, or made them sympathetic to RP methodology. The strength of this argument is not clear to me. If No Award was a reaction to what one considered an unworthy method last year, then how did its use–even if it was admittedly ridiculous–make that first unworthy method acceptable this year?  It would seem the only stable ethical position is to be critical of both again this year.

What’s more important however, is that in accepting the nomination, and so rewarding such methodology, SSF loses its ability to criticize that method in the future–from any political quarter–while signaling its openness to be party to such methods.  And that makes it more likely such things will happen again.

6) Reaching conclusions.

SSF is a young movement still in the process of finding its character and audience.

While described as a literary movement, the line between that and a political movement has become increasingly blurred.  That is to say SSF has allowed itself to get caught up in political machinations, placing temporal political interests above artistic goals.*

Along these same line, it has yet to decide if subversive acts and statements are in keeping with superversive ideals.  With this nomination SSF has become openly aligned with a provocateur whose general repertoire appears subversive in nature, methods I will point out once again were criticized by SSF members last year.  I do not see how this aligns with the ideals SSF has stated it intends to promote artistically.  Some expressed feelings that they are tired of “losing nobly” and/or suggested that subversive acts are allowed to support superversive concepts. Both appear the exact opposite of what I thought superversive was about. It would seem crucial for SSF to settle this question in order to develop a consistent voice and persona, regardless of larger political interests.**

I should point out that SSF–to their credit–wants to build a diverse community of authors.  I was invited and allowed to contribute despite holding very different political, social, and religious views from many at SSF. I have always been treated well, having been asked to stay on despite the recent issue and told my voice would be of value to SSF. Indeed, I was asked to write a post such as this to show that Anthony’s position is not the only one held at SSF.

The problem for me is that with its character still unsettled, and trending in ways I am not interested in taking part, I find the best solution is to step away from SSF.  Not in anger or as an enemy, but as someone who is no longer clear that SSF will end up fitting with my character, or vice versa.

I tend not to like provocateurs or intentional negative provocations–no matter what political stripe–and I do not like having to deal with their fallout. By attaching itself to, or accepting benefits from, a known provocateur it would seem this will become a regular part of SSF membership. That would not be very fun or rewarding for me, no matter how many awards sticking with it might promise.

Since diversity is one of SSF’s goals, I encourage the group to rethink their position on things like the RP slate. In order to attract authors still willing to “lose nobly”, or who have zero interest in winning “by hook or crook”, it will arguably have to do so.

Outside of dire circumstances, life to me has always been about how you play the game. And with luck it always will be.

In this case, I feel certain that playing the game justly demands stepping away. If not from the nomination, which is not my call, then from SFF.

And so I go.

Cheers!

Kieran Sterling Holmes

*Anyone who wants to dispute this point is encouraged to explain the superversive qualities of Space Raptor Butt Invasion.  Granted, Tingle is all about Love…

** A somewhat cheekier version would be to ask the question: “What good is it to gain the Worldcon and lose one’s soul?”  As cheeky as it is, it is something worth considering.

Thoughts on the Hugo Nominations EDIT: A File 770 Update

So, for those who have been living under a rock (at least, for those who read this blog who have been living under a rock), the Hugo awards have been announced. There are several notable things about it, but in terms of this blog the biggest are these:

1) Jeffro Johnson, who invited us to write for the Castalia House blog, has been nominated! Congrats to him.

2) Our own Brian Niemeier has been nominated for the John W. Campbell award! Congrats to him and L. Jagi Lamplighter, his editor.

3) Jason Rennie has been nominated for multiple categories! The Sci Phi Journal has been nominated for best semiprozine and…

4) Superversive SF has been nominated!

But wait. There’s one more notable point here:

5) These have all been nominated the same year that “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” has been nominated.

This point deserves some talking about. And get ready, because I’m probably going to disagree with my peers…but not in the way you think.

This nicely sums up what just happened

It’s no secret that the Rabid Puppies dominated in a way that is unprecedented in the history of the Hugos. It was an SJW massacre of epic proportions. But what does this mean?

We got nominated because of a slate. This is slate voting. It’s time we all admit it – Sad Puppies is not that, and wasn’t at the very least since Brad Torgerson started taking reader input into account, but the Rabid Puppies absolutely are. It is the slate of Vox Day. And honestly, I think everybody here knows that. We know “Space Raptor Butt Invasion”, a parody story by a guy who calls himself “Chuck Tingle”, was not going to be nominated unless people voted based entirely on Vox Day’s orders, and in impressively consistent concert. This is pretty much undeniable.

And truthfully, that’s why Superversive SF was nominated. We’re a pretty new blog, with a lot of relatively little known writers among us. Take me. I’ve edited one book and published a few short stories and articles. Not a lot of people have heard of me. Josh also hasn’t published anything but short stories yet (looking forward to “Do Buddhas Dream of Enlightened Sheep”!). And we’re two of the blog’s more prolific posters.

This isn’t an insult. I think Josh is a terrific writer. I asked Josh to be in “God, Robot” because I loved the stories of his I read. I think his articles are great. As I said, I’m really looking forward to his novel. But, as of now, he’s not very well known. As for me, “God, Robot” has gotten great reviews so far, and for an anthology out for a short period of time, with only eight contributors and published by an indie publishing house, we have a relatively decent number of reviews – eleven with only one below five stars, at four. So I certainly haven’t been doing too badly myself as I try to grow something of a reputation.

To put this another way – John C. Wright, who almost certainly got more votes than we did, did not get nominated, because the novel category gets way more votes than the best Fanzine category. We got nominated because this was a category without a lot of voters that was easily able to be dominated by the Rabid Puppies slate. Combined with our presence on the Sad Puppies list we were pretty much a lock.

Does this bother anybody? It shouldn’t. It doesn’t bother me. We’ve been growing a fanbase since we started, and the fact that the Sads AND the Rabids both had us on their lists does mean we’re leaving a mark. I don’t believe we were picked as a parody, for the simple reason that Castalia likes our work enough to give us a weekly column on their increasingly popular blog. An anthology unassociated with us recently opened up submissions for superversive stories. We’re doing very well, and this only gets us more exposure. This is great!

And yet, if we weren’t on the Rabid Puppies slate, we still probably wouldn’t be on the Hugo shortlist. So why doesn’t this bother me? My answer is simple: I agree with what Vox Day is doing.

Vox is not trying to “fix” the Hugos. He’s trying to nuke them, and frankly, he’s already succeeded.

Actually, that’s not really true. He’s not trying to nuke them. He’s trying to expose them, and he has. The Hugos are a joke. Anything with “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” on its list of award nominees is not to be taken seriously. It’s still an honor to be nominated if you weren’t picked as a thumb in the nose because it means you’ve attracted the attention of some fairly big players in the sci-fi world, but the fact is that Vox has proven that the Hugos are so irrelevant that the Most Hated Man in Science Fiction is able to get a relatively small group of volunteers to dominate it in a way that should be impossible if the awards mean anything at all. The Hugos have a little over 4,000 nominees this year. To put this in perspective, Dragon Con, which is starting its own awards, attracted over 65,000 people. And even that is a fraction of the millions of sci-fi fans throughout the country.

The rabid puppies didn’t do anything to the Hugo awards. They just exposed the Hugos as an insular group of back-patting leftists easily overwhelmed by a rather small force of right-wing sci-fi fans. The Hugos were already dead. The Sad Puppies valiantly tried to fix them. They failed. It’s time to show the world what they really are: A joke.

So, I’m honored to be on the Rabid Puppies slate. I’m honored to be part of a group doing its small part to expose SJW’s and turn the tide of the culture war, even if we’re only a small part. And congratulations to the Hugo nominees – you’re part of something bigger than yourself. That’s something to be proud of.

UPDATE: Mike Glyer at File 770 says this about the article:

Like Anthony M at the Hugo-nominated Superversive SF blog who is thoroughly okay with the reason that happened, so why should you have any problem?

I will note that it is a rather sleazy trick to pretend that my argument was anything close to “I don’t have a problem, so neither should you.” That’s not what I said.

I’d explain what I did say, but then I just wrote an article about the subject. And now Mike Glyer has just assured that a bunch of people will think they know the content of said article without actually reading it. So thanks, said the author sarcastically.