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.

Can We Go Back To Good Story Telling?

It seems my rant on Strong Female Characters hit a chord with people. I was not expecting that at all. Usually, I am the minority opinion when it comes to just about everything.

I thought I’d follow that up with a game plan of where I think fiction should be going. (This may end up in multiple parts because I don’t want it to end up with a novel length blog post.)

The simple answer is we should be producing fiction that is less superficial and with more substance. We should be rediscovering the basics of good storytelling.

I have to admit, I haven’t had as much time to read as I’d like the last few years. Much of my reading has been via audiobooks while I’m cleaning or working on manual tasks. That dwindled when the variety of books took a sharp left turn. Movies aren’t any better, I’ve only watched the occasional movie when I force myself to slow down that long for a movie that looked good. Going to the theatre helped, because popcorn, with all its buttery goodness.

But, I digress.

I miss the days when I could walk into the library and walk away with a dozen books worth reading. I’m terrible with names, but I recall going through the entire section of John Saul books and hundreds of historical romance novels. Then I moved on to the fantasy genre and some science fiction. Then, somewhere along the way, popular fiction lost me. Romance became more about hot sex scenes and less about romance. Horror turned to gore. And science fiction and fantasy took too much LSD or something. Vampires became the good guys, religion became a bad thing and agendas trumped good stories.

I finally discovered good storytelling again in indie books.

Complicated Characters Make For Good Stories

There are a number of authors who do an excellent job of creating characters that could step off the page fully formed.

Mandy from Codename: Winterborn and Codename: Unsub by Declan Finn is one of my favorites. She is tough, but believable. She compensates for her size with weapons and her disadvantages are evident when in direct confrontation. Close combat is not her thing. Besides being tough, she’s also compassionate and loyal and somewhat of a daddy’s girl. Her moral code is a bit lacking in places, which helps round out her character.

Another character by Declan Finn that I’m in love with is Marco from his Love At First Bite Series. That is one very flawed character, who gets his butt handed to him a few times. It’s rare that I find a character who is the hero, who could pass for a villain. He’s got anger issues (not unlike a few people I know), but he’s also very protective of those he cares about. He also thinks that his penchant for violence makes him a monster. Instead of becoming the monster he thinks he is, Marco directs all of that hostility towards the menace that is trying to take over and trying to do what’s right.

Others authors who have great characters are Amie Gibbons, author of The Gods Defense and  Marina Fontaine, author of Chasing Freedom. In both books, I could pick out characters that reminded me of people that I know. And even though Amie’s characters wield power or shape shift, the motivations, feelings, habits and personalities of the characters are familiar and relatable.

In my recently released novel, Path of Angels, my goal was to tell a good story and to have relatable characters. I have to admit, I failed at first. My draft had my lead female character, Aadi, too weak and whiny and my male lead lacked a purpose other than to keep Aadi from getting herself killed. It made the story weak, even though I had a good deal of action and adventure. The characters brought the story down.

I had to go back in and find that purpose for Mischa. His storyline had to be something that was not all about Aadi. He had to have his own goals and ambitions. His antics and those of his other friends he kept hidden from Aadi, because she wouldn’t agree with him being so openly rebellious. His motivation for accompanying her on her quest was not as altruistic as it had been originally. It was more pragmatic. I also, ended up separating them in part of the story to give Aadi a chance to grow and learn on her own rather than being coddled the entire journey.

With this being my first novel, I know there are likely still issues that I need to work on in the next books. There are places that aren’t as strong as they could be in the story, but I have tried to follow the basic rules of storytelling and making my characters as real as possible.

It think you get the picture. So what is my point in all of this?

I propose that we go back to the basics of good writing again.

  1. Build characters that could walk off the page fully formed. Whether that is a homeless man on the streets of NYC or a superhuman with powers to move the Earth. Deep down, they all have motivations, feelings, flaws, strengths and weaknesses that make them relatable.
    .
  2. Give them purpose. Characters learn and grow through obstacles, so give them some. There should be the question of whether they will overcome the obstacle or not.
    .
  3. Make sure the story is theirs to tell. The strongest stories come from the characters with the most to gain or lose. Find that character in your story and follow them.

To be continued….

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?

“Tales of the Once and Future King”: A Sneak Peek

This scene is from the frame story of the anthology/novel “Tales of the Once and Future King”, which will be released within the coming months. This scene takes place near the end of the book, when our stalwart heroes are on the run from the villains. Gavin Erewood is the only man standing between them and a horrible grave.

Gavin rose from the dust and dirt with an unholy scream of rage. Gavin was a patient man, but it was still no picnic to sit alone all day baking in the sun while everybody else performed their tasks in the village, and the opportunity for action was a release.

The first arrow he fired whipped through the chariot’s wheels. Bennett’s ingenious system of knots caught between the spokes and sent the chariot tumbling down. The one behind it was forced to swerve out of the way, tilted precariously, and followed its brother into the ground.

The final group of charioteers paid more attention and managed to avoid the pile, but a second arrow did its job. In less than a minute, all three chariots were smashed.

Most of the soldiers were too dazed, or too injured, to move. One managed to turn in Gavin’s direction. He had just enough time to give a yell and rush forward before an arrow hit him in the shoulder, causing him to collapse in pain.

The other soldiers had the good sense to simply flee. Only two managed to keep their wits and courage about them. One of them, who appeared to have a sling on his left arm, amazingly managed to mount one of the horses bareback and go off galloping towards the wagon. Gavin fired an arrow, but it was too late. The rider was long gone, and Gavin had bigger problems.

One last man remained after the crash, and Gavin recognized him immediately from Brand’s description: Count Dima. His face was contorted with anger. He pulled out a sword from a scabbard at his side and started walking slowly into Gavin’s direction.

Gavin hit him with an arrow directly in the chest, sure that the shot was fatal. Dima stumbled back a half step, grimaced in pain, and ripped the arrow out. Gavin fired again and again, wasting his last two arrows, but each time Dima simply ripped them for his flesh.

He sped up as he walked. “Foolish boy! You think your arrows can kill me? You think me a mortal man? I am not! I am darkness!” His face started to contort, the color rushing away until he was as pale as a corpse. “I am your nightmare!” He jerked his head to the side as fangs started forming in his mouth. “I am death itself!

Gavin remembered Fox’s warning from the forest: Vampires. He started hyperventilating. He wanted to run but found himself unable to get his feet to do more than stumble backward. His mind flashed to another day, years ago, an army of undead soldiers bearing down on him and his friends, transforming into flying, bloodthirsty monsters, scratching and biting…

He forced himself to calm down and look around. One of the horses had wandered off after the crash and was only a few yards away. Perhaps he could make it and take off before the night fell and the vampire got the ability to transform. The sun was already getting low in the sky, and Dima was only feet away.

Dima noticed him glance at the horse and gave a terrible smile. “Do you wish to try and run, coward? Oh, don’t think I don’t know who you are. You are the coward knight. The knight who ran. Well, run again! Perhaps you’ll make it. Perhaps not. But the night is almost here. Your friends will die either way!”

It was the vampire’s first mistake. Gavin thought back to that terrible night, many years ago, the day he abandoned his friend. He thought of Lance, finding him in the Scottish highlands and nursing him back to health, and of Fox’s address to him in the forest: Sir Gavin.

Gavin turned towards the vampire and stood up straight. He drew a short knife from his side. He knew he couldn’t kill Dima, but perhaps he could slow him down. “I am Sir Gavin Erewood,” he said, more confident than he really felt. “I am a Knight of Avalon, servant to the Pendragon of Britain. And I do not abandon my friends. Make your stand here, monster.”

Dima’s smile grew wider. “With pleasure.” He rushed towards Gavin with inhuman speed, mouth opened impossibly wide, snarling like an animal. Gavin waited until the last possible second then turned to the side, slashing outward with his knife. Despite his desperate gambit, Dima’s sword managed to slice him across the chest: Not a deep blow, but a painful one. Gavin cried out; blood spilled onto the dry earth.

And time froze.

…To find out what happens next, keep and eye out for “Tales of the Once and Future King”, coming soon!

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.

Maine in The Princess Bride

Today, instead of a throwback, we have a new article by S. Dorman, who has been an occasional but long-time contributor to the Superversive Blog.

The house of Steven King
in Maine

he first thing I noticed about The Princess Bride was its intriguing frame. I was taken in both by the narrative frame, telling how it came to be written, and by the fantasy novel’s conceit that it was based on an early 20th-century story which was itself based on older versions. Apparently William Goldman and the author S. Morgenstern were treating this old tale, in part, as satire. I wanted to know: was this frame a sham? Was it real, a guess, a farce?

I began reading William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of Love and High Adventure for the first time earlier last year. I’ve wanted to read the novel and watch the movie for years. Then I found an online offering of Mythgard Academy a perfect opportunity to do both in community with an enthusiastic scholar.

Two paragraphs into this piece you may be wondering what this has to do with anything Maine. Often I begin a piece wondering how it’s to be fitted together and given unity, but here I discovered how to make it work—on coming to the novel’s addendum, written in the late 1990s, entitled, “Buttercup’s Baby.” In real need of its rather desperate framing, it’s a truncated story, which cannot even be called a novella. Did you know there was a Princess Bride connection to Maine? That latter section of the novel is where we find it.

It turns out that the notorious spookster, Mr. Stephen King, is in some way connected to this fantastic sword-and-sorcery—through his ancestry (no less). (As is Mr. Goldman himself.) And you must know that the master of horror is a Maine author. I can testify from experience that Bangor, Maine is one spooky place. And that the Bangor International (yes!) Airport is another. You don’t want to go walking through either after dark without someone like Mr. King to hold your hand. Please keep this in mind if you ever have to travel from one nation to another via this famous connecting airport and its dim and spooky old-town-sinking-down into the Penobscot River Valley nearby. Remember, this Gothic metropolis figured as the nearest town in the initial isolated coastal, glam-vampire soap opera, Dark Shadows (famously ushering in the current sexy vampire craze). Dark Shadows featured Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins. Beware.

Frames are one way a writer triples his fun in writing. And it’s apparent that this author was rolling on the floor of his study even as he wrote. Entertainment all to the good—he must from time to time, as all writers must, wrestle with writer’s block. But, this time, blockage is the reason for the rolling around.

(The Princess Bride in the early 1970s was a time when American writers did not roll around in cafes because there were no cafes then. Only coffee shops and diners. In Maine the inhabitants of diners would frown and make no eye contact if someone started rolling around between the booths and lunch counter of, say, Moody’s Diner on Route 1. If it happened in Bangor they might suspect Barnabas Collins had something to do with it and quickly leave, dropping a dime on the table and hastily settling up with two bits at the cash register. You don’t neglect to pay even if you are scared out of your mind. It is expected. In fact, I’ve heard it said you’re not even to enter any kind of establishment in this state without buying SOMETHING.)

Apparently, as a child, Mr. Goldman was introduced to S. Morgenstern’s story by his melancholy and perplexed barber father. Even though the story’s setting is quasi medieval—even pre-medieval, say, the dark ages—the Barbers do not figure in the story of the Princess Bride except in this rather oblique reference. Instead, readers rely on “The Machine” with its frightening blood-boiling gadgetry—and the Bangor International Airport—for the terror they are willing to endure that Mr. Goldman might at last complete his profound and massive struggles with writer’s block. I’m a writer myself. I know how these things play out. You should see my study after I get done with one of these essays. Or the Nomad Cafe in Norway, Maine. Yes, there is a Norway, Maine. Unlike Florin’s rival city-state Guilder, it’s not just some made up frame meant to deceive you the reader.

Mythgard Institute is also not made up in order to tear down a writer’s block. It’s a real Tower of Guard meant to look out over the sea through a very great distance. It is not rubble for academics to paw through after its demolition.

Mr. Goldman, though a very tolerable writer, had to—I say HAD TO—humble himself and approach the great Master of Horror in the Bangor Maine International Airport, begging for the opportunity to retell Buttercup’s Baby as a complete story… because the publisher (who held rights) wanted to give it to…. Yes, the bloodsucking publishers had lost faith in Mr. Goldman, presumably because of his now infamous colossal writer’s block … and had given these precious rights, along with the baby and its bathwater, to—Mr. Stephen King.

Why would they do this?! you ask. (I presume here. I presume you are still with me even though my framing appears to be bogus and I’m dragging out this awful essay by stuffing it with excessive wads of heavy padding. Why doesn’t she just get on with it? you’re saying. Again, I presume. You aren’t saying any of this, are you? Really I’m just making this up? You’re just in my head. I’m only imagining you, right?

In other words, you’re not really laying down your tip and slowly backing away. (You will, of course, stop nonchalantly at the cash register on your way out.)

So why would those publishers do that too poor Mr. Goldman after all his success, in which, btw, they shared?

In the Bangor Airport, Mr. King chastised Mr. Goldman for being afraid to do his research properly in Florin, where all the materials of this old story are neatly filed and collated and cross-referenced, lexomically analyzed and algorithmically vetted; and where the real landscape, ancient fortresses and towers, pathetic hovels still stand for the writer’s scholarly or fictive paws.

“Why is it, Bill,” said Mr. King (they knew each other from before; having worked together on a screenplay about another writer smitten with writer’s block and tied up by some maniac woman inside a spooky mansion in Beverly Hills, California right next to the LA Regional Airport).

“Why is it that you’ve got the gumption” (Yes, he used that rather old-fashioned word that nobody knows what it means any more) —”You’ve got the gumptions” (in the plural so we can know which part of the anatomy he’s really talking about) —”Why is it,” (etc.) “that you’re here in the Bangor International Airport, but you’re scared to get on a plane to go to Florin to research your heritage and the rest of this story? Tell me. Why is that?”

So that’s my essay on framing Maine in The Princess Bride. Since I presume much here, and no one else is raising a hand to stop me, I’d better just block myself there for now.

Dorman writes speculative Maine, and Otherworld science fiction. Her current-world story, “Pilot of Varying Lights” is slated for the June issue of Sci Phi Journal.