The Product is on Sale for 99 cents

Before Superversive Press took aim at the very foundations of the Social Justice movement with the Forbidden Thoughts anthology, they took a chance at publishing my dystopian novella The Product. There has been some question as to whether Forbidden Thoughts is superversive, and I can see why people would say it’s not. However, there’s an angle that does tie into the superversive philosophy, and my novella, although fairly apolitical for a dystopia, addresses it.

I have long stated that those who worship at the altar of Social Justice do worse than break everything they touch. A significant side effect of their meddling is to remove all joy and inspiration from whatever they target, be it social interactions, scientific discovery, or entertainment. Since everyone loves Harry Potter references nowadays, SJWs are the real-world Dementors. My novella does not specifically mention Social Justice, but it does present its end result: a world without joy or hope. However, human nature being what it is, someone, somewhere, will find a way to resist, which brings us to…

The Product

The Product will change your life. It will give you joy and confidence, make you more aware of the world around you. You will find new friends. You might even fall in love.
Few people know its name. Fewer still dare say it. It is, after all, illegal. Users are jailed. Dealers meet an ugly death. Yet the temptation is irresistible.
Kevin is a dealer. And he is about to get caught.

Seraph from Tangent Online* and Jeffro from Castalia House Blog present different takes on the specifics, but both reviewers agree that The Product is a good representation of a superversive story. (This being a promotional post, I also have to point out that it made Jeffro’s list of Best Short Fiction of 2016). And for the next couple of days, it will only cost 99 cents for the readers to judge for themselves. Happy reading!

*This review has a spoiler at the end, so if you prefer to discover the nature of the Product on your own, stop reading about mid-way through the last paragraph.

Marvel 1602 and the Wet Fish Slap Redux

Mike Glyer of File 770 linked to my post “Marvel: 1602 and the Wet Fish Slap”. Against my better judgment I ended up responding to some folks in the comments section who – naturally – disagreed with me.

Worth noting: Despite the fact that I specifically attempted to be polite and tried to make my case as clearly and coherently as I could, my showing up to defend myself seemed to make people much angrier.

The original posts are on the thread; here were my responses:

[From the commenter] Has it never occurred to you that one of Gaiman’s characters happened to be gay simply because a significant percentage of the human population is gay, and Gaiman wrote his story to reflect the actual human population?

No. I’m sure that it didn’t. ?

Despite the monster under the bed stories you might have heard, I was indeed not so blinded by my hatred of the gay population nor my rage at Neil Gaiman to neglect to consider this possibility. After I calmed down from my Smaug-like wrath caused by catching sight of a gay guy in the comics, I did try to think of why.

Here’s the thing: This is not a red-headed scenario, or a blue-eyed scenario.

This was obviously structured near the end of the book as a dramatic reveal. Gaiman clearly considered it significant that Angel was gay. This was a fact about him that *mattered* – not to me, mind. To him. Gaiman.

And – people seem to want to ignore this, but it bears repeating – telling Cyclops made no sense. None. Angel is even offered an opportunity, sitting right in front of him, both to keep his secret and keep Cyclops off his back…and instead he reveals his deepest secret, a secret that in 1602 could potentially be enough to get him ostracized or blackballed from his new community, to the one guy who is *most likely* to want to use it to hurt him.

There was NO REASON AT ALL FOR THIS.

And finally – Angel was not gay in the original X-Men comics. Gaiman changed it. While other updates for characters make at least some sense, it does seem rather difficult to find the connection between being born in 1602 and being gay.

To pretend that adding this in doesn’t spark any sort of questions, isn’t meant to make any sort of point, even though he actually changed a character’s sexuality around specifically to wring out this particular scene, which doesn’t need to exist at all…

…Well, maybe Neil said “Hold on guys, there are no gay guys here! I better try to represent, you know, just for realism”.

Or maybe had a reason in mind when he made the change.

And even THAT doesn’t necessarily harm the narrative, but he handled it in such an incredibly poor, ham-fisted way I couldn’t believe it.

So he doesn’t get a pass from me. I’ll let others decide if it’s my horrible right-wing bigotry informing my opinion or not.

[A commenter] Speaking as a visitor from the 17th Century, I am profoundly grateful to such among your pamphleteers who employ empty inkhorn terms, as “virtue-signalling” and “box-checking”; it is a way of informing this reader that he careth less about the story he revieweth, than he doth making himself look good to rattle-pated, clotpole knaves and boobies.

*Sigh* I sent off my last comment, saw this one, and decided to write this up quick before I left; as I add this section in via edits, one other person has already come in to ignore everything I’ve said (for example, I didn’t say the presence of a gay character was unrealistic, I said it was stupid for a gay character in the year 1602 to out himself to somebody he already knows has a reason to dislike him) and accuse me of being a bigot in as many words. Good stuff.

I didn’t use the phrase box-checking, Mike [Glyer] did.

I did indeed use the phrase virtue signalling, but again, everybody has gotten worked up as if I threw out that word and then neglected the rest of my case, which is simply not true at all.

Now I’m certainly open to the possibility that I was only seeing what I wanted to see because I have such a reflexive disgust and revulsion towards gays, subconscious though it may be.

But nobody seems interested in actually responding to what I really said, but they sure are interested in announcing how they aren’t interested in what I want to say. The one person who tried to respond to me so far twisted the point I made so thoroughly I find it hard to believe he was making a good faith effort.

And NOW I’m gone.

Science Blast: Whale Kind Has Long Hated The Sun

The great battle between whales and the sun continues beneath our very eyes.

Are Solar Storms Causing Mysterious Sea Animal Beachings?

17 Again Pt 5: Liang and the Domestic Female’s Journey

I’ve noticed there has been a lot of talk on the blog about female characters, especially about the SFC. It’s just timely that this came up while I was writing these articles, because I was wanting to speak on this in regards to Liang.

See, some people push the unrealistic SFC, girl power stories, and ladies that “don’t need no man”; but I rarely find that way of doing them very appealing. In those stories, the girl either has no interest in domestic things or men, or worse, they totally stomp down on them. Because after all, womyn are SO much better than those pig-like men! But what about something I can relate to? Like being strong AND having a man?

17 Again was that story. The character is like most other girls, she wants a good life, a good home…. And a family. But she is held back, by herself as much as by Mao. Wanting to be a house wife is not a bad thing. Indeed, it is a very good and noble thing to strive for. Running a household and raising children is certainly not without its challenges. But I can agree with feminists and the like on one point, you shouldn’t be a mindless house wife with absolutely no life outside of your husband. Even the quiet house wife should have hobbies, something she enjoys or is passionate about. However, this is the rut we find Liang stuck in at the beginning of her journey.

The strong domestic woman is a very important force. I have more I’d like to say on her, but I shall save that for another post. For now, it is enough to say that a good society wouldn’t be able to hold together without them. To me, Liang’s Journey is in her going from a passive, clingy girl, to an intelligent and passionate woman. You’ve heard of the hero’s journey? Well, this is the domestic woman’s journey!

So what makes Liang change from a lame not-house wife, to an awesome woman and possibly real house wife? I think the biggest answer is she rediscovered her passion, and then worked for it. In some ways, she took on the actions of, “I don’t need no man” kinda girl. She kicked Mao away (although, admittedly, that was Little Liang’s doing) She went off and had her own fun and adventures, and she created a career for herself. She had dreams and passions, she perused them, and made them a reality. However, unlike the “don’t need no man” girls, Liang still wanted her man. But before she could have him, she had to learn to live without him. She had to learn to be strong in herself. Only then, could she have the relationship she always wanted.

See, good men don’t want a child for their wife. Some people make marriage out to be a man making all the decisions and dominating, while the woman stays quiet and goes along with whatever he says. That is askewed idea of marriage. Only bad men with control issues take advantage of their wives like that, and it is women without confidence in themselves, who have too many insecurities, that let them. But think about it. How much of a tiresome burden would it be to have a spouse that you have to do everything for? Who can’t make their own decision and opinions? Who has no ambition? Who sits around cleaning and making food while you do everything else?

That’s a maid, not a wife.

Men, good men, want someone to be on the same level as them. They want a partner, not a dependent. Because life is hard, a man wants a woman who can support him as much as he supports her. Now keep in mind, men and women are different, so the way they support and help each other will be different. But the point is, honest men don’t want a pretty-faced, mindless maid for a wife. They want a strong woman who inspires them, whose beauty shines from the inside out. One who will make a house into a home to come back to, and who will be there to catch them when  life is heavy. Someone who they can dream with, and make a life with.

Liang is not that woman when we first meet her. She got one part of it right; she’s there to take care of Mao and make a nice home. But she missed that part about having that deeper level of confidence and support. And because of that, her actions fall short, and somewhat superficial. The nice breakfast cannot be everything, there is something deeper that she is missing. And because of that, Mao has never bothered to marry her.

It’s not until Liang finds confidence in herself that Mao really starts to see her again. Gone is the drifting, shallow Liang. Now she is strong and confident in herself, she glows with the joy of her younger years. She has made herself a woman worthy of great attention and love. And because of this, Mao sees his short comings. He realizes that if he wants to keep this new Liang, he must change and become worthy of her. Because Liang has made herself great, she inspires Mao to make himself great as well.

At the beginning,  both of them are stuck in a rut, and have all but lost their love for each other. Love is  tricky, it’s something you must work to maintain. But by the end, once they both have grown, they are able to come back, stronger, and fight for each other and their love. Very pro-marriage. And I know, they weren’t technically married, but they seemed very much like a divorcing couple. But instead of giving up, they grow and learn, and eventually come back together. This is sooooo refreshing to see. I wish more movies and stories would give that same message of hope. That you shouldn’t give up on marriage just because it became boring or hard. That love is worth fighting for.

Because of that, 17 Again has a very superversive feel. But that is not the only reason. Liang is the focus of the story, the change in her relationship is provoked by her personal journey. And so it was her journey that left me with the greatest feeling of hope and inspiration at the end of the movie.

As someone who is still young and full of passion and dreams, but who also has a desperate desire to never let go of my inner child, I really connected with this movie. I wish to keep that joy and wonder at the world that a child has. I want to have passion to create and chase my dreams. I’m getting a taste of adulating and what real world life is like. With jobs, responsibilities, money, and bills, I’m discovering different kinds of stress and troubles that sometimes weigh heavy on me, and I don’t like it very much. But as long as I have my imagination to run wild, and my stories to get lost in, I can keep my younger self alive, and I’ll be alright. But….. If I ever lost that, if I ever stopped writing and imagining…. Well, the thought is truly terrifying.

And so the story of Liang finding her younger self, reconnecting with her passion, making herself better, and working for her dream, is very moving. She has adventures, learns from her mistakes, makes her dreams a reality, and gets her man back – even better than he was before! She became a stronger woman, but not a womyn. It’s hilarious, it’s refreshing, it’s inspiring, and it is superversive. Plus, there was chocolate! And in case you couldn’t tell from the FIVE articles and 5000 words I’ll spent on this thing, I really really loved it!

Hope you enjoyed my absurdly in-depth look into this movie! Time to go eat some chocolate.

“Marvel: 1602” and the Wet Fish Slap

Recently I was at the library and a book caught my eye: “Marvel: 1602”. I went over and looked at the back cover. It looked fantastic! It was a story set in a re-imagined version of the Marvel universe set in 1602 Europe and America. How cool is that? And it was written by Neil Gaiman who, hey, is known to be a pretty excellent comic book writer at least, right?

So of course I picked it up.

The book was awesome! It was everything I could have hoped for. The story was interesting. The 1602 “updates” of the characters were clever. Gaiman didn’t just use the setting as a backdrop but actually made it an integral part of the comic. It was great!

I particularly liked Gaiman’s version of Daredevil, always a favorite of mine. Normally I would have been annoyed at how different this version of the character was from his current incarnation, but after learning about Daredevil’s original pre-noir personality I realized that Gaiman’s Daredevil was actually a really entertaining version of that character, and I enjoyed it immensely.

And yet…

Much like with “Stardust”, Gaiman simply can’t seem to help messing up otherwise excellent stories with moments that slap you across the face like a dead fish.

Throughout the book young Jean Grey, a powerful mutant (called Witchbreed in Marvel: 1602), is disguised as a boy and is used to help power a ship through the water and air. One character (I wasn’t even sure who he was an update of…the obvious choice is Wolverine but he appeared to already be a part of the story in another form)  seems to have taken a liking to Jean…but he didn’t realize Jean was actually a girl.

Near the end of the book – I will spoil this, because it made me REALLY mad – Jean dies. Not the bad part.

The bad part is that later, Cyclops, who was in love with Jean, apologizes to the aforementioned character; he thought he had a crush on Jean, and didn’t realize that he still believed she was a boy the whole time.

…And then he reveals that he DID have a crush on Jean. Jean as a boy. He was gay.

And, for absolutely no reason, when he is offered an out, a way to keep it hidden, he tells Cyclops this.

Cyclops, who he knows already didn’t like him because of his crush on Jean.

And he tells Cyclops this in the year 1602, you know, that most progressive of time periods, where outing yourself as a homosexual to somebody who doesn’t like you was certainly a wise thing to do and would lead to no negative consequences at all, right?

And the worst part? There was no reason for it. It added nothing – nothing – to the story. Why can’t he have known Jean was a girl and had a crush on her, but was too shy to tell her? Or too afraid that Cyclops would be angry at him? Or simply been upset because Jean was his friend?

Or even, if you are really, really incapable of not virtue signaling, if it’s truly so very important to you that people know you’re Totally Not Homophobic, why on earth would you have this character tell Cyclops he’s gay?

It was stupid, it was pointless, and it was insulting that Gaiman decided to make his story worse in order to tell the world that he was Totally Cool With Being Gay. It was a way of telling the reader that he cared less about them than about making himself look good to the right people.

And it’s such a shame, because it’s such a great story otherwise! It was creative, it was fun, it was interesting.

But Gaiman just can’t seem to help himself from delivering that wet fish slap at least once.

And people are getting tired of it.

17 Again Pt 4: The One About Love

 I REALLY like the romance in this. And I say “romancE” not “romanceS” because I don’t consider the fling between Yan and Little Liang to be any more than that, a fling. However, I know it was very real to Little Yan, so I’ll take a moment to say my piece about it.

It was a teenager in love. Fast, intense, exciting, but ultimately shallow. They had nothing really that much in common, only their infatuation and thrill of adventure. They shared some tender moments, but nothing truly deep. However, it’s hard for young hearts to know the difference between twitterpated love and deeper love, and heartbreak is no less painful because of it. Their story is of first love, and first heartbreak. Very suiting for Little Liang and her wild ways.

Now….. Let us talk about the important one. Mao.

Even though Liang and Mao are not actually married, from the very beginning I couldn’t help but think of them as if they were. The way they lived together and interacted around each other, the fact that they’d been together for so long, and how they had grown stale in their routine; everything about them was like a married couple, except for the ring and the kids. But they were not only like a married couple, more importantly, they were like a married couple that no longer wanted to be together.

See, in my view marriage is a very important and sacred union. Something that should be valued and respected. Too many people today treat the status of husband and wife with the same weight of girlfriend and boyfriend. It’s so frustrating to see people take that vow, and then toss it away when they loss interest, or they get bored, or loving that person becomes hard. True love isn’t supposed to be easy. A good marriage takes work from both sides. And that’s what people have forgotten.

That’s why I love the romance between Liang and Mao so much. She didn’t immediately give up on someone she deeply loved and go running off with someone new. Instead, Liang and Mao both have to work, grow, and ultimately come back to each other. To me this is very touching, for it shows perseverance and true love.

I’d like to get further into the character arc of Mao, but first there’s one other character I need to put some light one. Mao’s cute work assistant. She is always fluttering at his arm, and it’s obvious she likes him. Although Mao never expresses direct interest from what we can see, there are times when it’s hinted they might be seeing each other a lot more than work requires. To me, she is just one other thing dragging Mao away from Liang. It’s a subtle threat, but one I’m sure Liang feels. Often one relationship can be broken up by the forming of another. I don’t know for sure if that is what was happening here, but it’s a possibility.

Another thing we eventually see, is the shift in Mao. As I’ve mentioned before, Mao has no confidence in Liang. But then he sees her at the opening of the gallery. He sees her younger self, the one full of spunk and sparkle. This must be the first time he has really ‘seen’ Liang in a long time. He sees the girl he fell in love with.

If you watch him during these scenes, you’ll find he is slow in moving closer to Liang. Walking around the gallery, you see him closely examining her paintings. At the beginning of Liang’s speech, Mao is standing right next to his assistant, who was no doubt his date there, and yet he has all his focus upon Liang. There is a moment when his doubt comes back, when Liang runs away from the stage. But then she comes back, with the confidence of her younger self and the grace of her older self, and Mao is again transfixed. He doesn’t take his eyes off her while she paints, and we even see a little smile from him. The pretty little assistant casts glances at him, but in that moment Mao only has eyes for Liang. This is perhaps one of my favorite scenes of the whole movie. Because in a way, we see both Mao and Liang rediscovering themselves, and each other.

Following this scene, is a car ride and a conversation between Mao and Liang. In which Mao, having begun to realize how special Liang is and how much he’s taken her for granted, apologizes to her. Liang smiles sweetly and says, “You don’t have to apologize. Actually, it’s not all your fault. I just don’t want to stand behind and wait for you to turn around anymore.” This leaves Mao somewhat forgiven, but also further away from Liang than ever.

One other point, that might seem a little out of place at first, is the confrontation between, Mao and Yan. When Liang had went off to ask Ning to inform Little Liang not to waste any more time on Yan – after she had talked to him at the biker party – Mao gets his own revenge. Mao must have found out about Yan, because he comes to confront him….. With a punch. The very small fight scene may seem random, but really it’s not. What it is showing is that Mao still cares about Liang, he is jealous, and he wants her back.

And now we come to the end of the movie.

First we see Yan, sitting on his motorcycle, alone, looking up at a billboard with Liang’s face on it. He stares at it a moment, puts his helmet back on, and drives away.

And then there is Mao.

Liang is enjoying time with Ning and her little family, including the cute twin babies. This makes it obvious thatquite a bit of time has passed, and from the billboards and the smile on her face, Liang is doing quite well for herself. Then Ning notices something on the new. A man is running through the streets naked, trying to win back his love, holding up a sign with her name on it. At that moment, Liang hears her name being called from outside. She runs to the window to see Mao, holding the sign, in nothing but his running shoes, fulfilling the promise he made to her over a decade ago. The movie ends with Ning asking, “Well, are you sure you don’t want to reconsider him?” Then Liang laughs, and smiles down at Mao.

It’s a little open ended, but I think it’s satisfying enough. Liang is able to make something of herself, plus I really like that Liang and Mao come back together in the end. To me, this seems very pro marriage. In that, instead of throwing away the 10 years with Mao to go off with some other guy, Mao and Liang rediscover each other and why they fell in love.

This is very touching. Too often marriage is treated with no more gravity than just regular dating – and that when the going gets tough or boring, it’s easier to break up and move on, regardless of vows. At least, that’s the way I see it in movies a lot of times. It was so refreshing and inspiring to see the bad boyfriend get redeemed! It’s not often you see that, but I loved it! It shows that love takes work, and to never give up.

Realism in Fiction and the Spice of Life.

The hard SF debate has sort of come and gone, and between work, school, and a brand new infant in our house, I kind of missed the boat on it. But I’ve been chewing over “realism” in fiction a lot lately, and I wanted to weigh in.

I tend to prefer a sort of realism to my stories. I love my giant robot anime show, but I tend, as I’ve said, to drift towards “real” robots. Mass produced, engineered military equipment. Things that require fuel and repairs and ammo. Superhero stories have to work very hard for me, because I have a hard time accepting the superhero power set more often than not. I’m quite capable of enjoying something absurd and off the wall, but I’m happier when I don’t have to, say, sit there and wonder if Star Wars even takes place in a universe where space is vacuum.

But why? Why do I balk at giant face-robots powered by fighting spirit and embrace airplanes that turn into giant robots because of alien super-tech? The best thing I can think of is that realism, like “hardness,” is a sort of spice. Some things are great with lots of it. Some are better with little dashes. Some stories work better with it; some work better without it.

I’m a big fan of spicy foods—if you ask people who are not spicy food people. Real spicy food people probably think I’m a wuss, because I find there’s a point, right around the far end of the jalapeno level, where heat starts to make things lose their flavor. When you stop focusing on flavor, and start focusing on heat, you’ve lost the point.

Realism is like that, I think. There’s a time when slavery to verisimilitude makes you lose the point—and I think, like spicy foods, it’s actually a fairly low point.

But what are we using it for? Like it or not, all entertainment is, on some level, a manifestation of the author’s worldview; and as a manifestation of that worldview, meant for widespread dissemination and consumption, fiction has something evangelistic about it, whether we mean it or not. It’s one of the cardinals of the Superversive mindset: fiction has a perspective that is communicated (and internalized).

I’ve talked about the difference between good science fiction and bad science fiction before. To recap:

A good science fiction story will look upward, towards the stars and away from the self.

A bad science fiction story will fixate downward, towards the ground and focus on the self.

Realism can be used in service of either of these sorts of stories. It seems to me that, along with science fiction stories, realism comes in two flavors. I’ve tried to come up with pithy names, but turns out that you can find an already existent idea of  “[X] Realism” for just about any value of X, so I’m just going to call them what I want to call them: Mundane Realism and Superversive Realism.

Mundane Realism is the “bad” realism. It’s the realism of post WWI disillusionment. It takes V’ger’s question and turns it into a statement: “This is all that I am. There is nothing more.” Nothing greater. Nothing beyond our ken. Mundane Realism is the perspective of nihilism, of a deterministic meat machines, of  people who see only problems, who lump people into categories. Mundane realism is the death of dreams—and it’s the enemy of absolutely everyone who loves science fiction. I hate to keep harping on Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, but I’m going to: it’s the kind of perspective that writes a book about colonizing another planet, only to spend the last third of it with the colonists coming home with their tale between their legs and the message that humanity is confined to one solar system, because anything else is impossible, and should be, because it’s cruel to expect your descendants to struggle for something. It’s the worldview that suggests that no external struggle is worth it or meaningful, that the only thing that matters is the small scale. Screwed up people doing screwed up things. It ignores the transcendentals: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, because, hey. They don’t exist.

But there exists something else. I’m a theologian by training, and maybe that colors my perspectives. (We seminary folks would call it a “hermeneutical lens.”) Superversive Realism acknowledges that truth. That reality. Not every Superversive story is going to be hard SF—and, in fact, in Hard SF, or Campbellian SF, or Blue SF, whatever you want to call it, it’s probably going to be precluded by the worldviews of many authors. But it’s also not excluded by the nature of the sub-genre.

Consider Interstellar. The film’s pretty far up there on the hardness scale for most of the runtime. Some folks—particularly those of the Mundane Realist ilk—had a problem with the resolution of the film because it “softens” in the last act. All that gushy stuff about love. But I submit that from the perspective of a theology student, Interstellar is a realist film from start to finish. It posits a realist perspective that embraces our best knowledge of the universe’s mechanics—and then opens that up to embrace the theologian’s perspective of love as a motive force. (The motive force; some theologians talk about the Holy Spirit as the bond of love between the Father and Jesus.) Interstellar’s realism—and the strength of its realism—comes in precisely because it knows when to back down on realism. Interstellar recognizes a suprarealism. A Superversive realism.

At the end of the day, the issue is less about realism per se and more about our use of it. Overuse results in a bitter taste—a lingering, foul thing taste you can’t shake. But it’s a useful seasoning when applied with skill—or you’re just not trying to beat someone over the head with it.