Friday, February 26, 2021
Friday, February 19, 2021
(ETA: I wholly endorse Larry Correia's open letter. Every. Single. Word.)
Quite a few folks associated with Baen - including David Weber, Eric Flint, Larry Correia, and Toni Weisskopf - have already responded to this transparent attempt to cancel a significant SFF publisher -- but I'd like to add my $.02 because the cherry-picking, the hypocrisy, the ideologically-induced reading comprehension failures, and the princess-and-the-pea prissiness of this guy's post are all deeply offensive and should be called out as often and by as many people as possible.
Let's take each claim in turn.
Major Claim #1: "Baen’s Bar has also become well-known in the genre community as a place where racism, sexism, homophobia and general fascism continually pop up."
The link provided in this sentence takes us to a forum thread on another website in which the transgender originator shares screen caps of people in Tom Kratman's conference being rude to her. Now, I'm no fan of rudeness as a general rule, but there are a couple of things I notice about this link:
- It's from 2014. If this behavior were a persistent and wide-spread problem on the Bar, surely more recent evidence would've been provided.
- The complainant at the link self-servingly elides her own contributions to the flame war while insisting that she's been perfectly reasonable the whole time and that the response of the folks in this conference is an over-the-top and bigoted reaction to what she said. Yeah, sure. Because the Bar is down, I can't search for the entire argument. However, the Barflies I know don't pop off like that for absolutely no reason.
Now to zoom out a little bit: When a leftist claims that something is -ist, my first instinct is not to believe it. And, I think, I have a very good reason to initially approach such assertions with skepticism. As we all know, bourgie progressives like the writer of the above "exposé" (and the individual whose negative run-in with the Kratskeller he's using as an example) are absolutely obsessed with how we all talk to each other. But in my personal view, policing our words is often a way to look like you're doing good while actually unconscionably imposing upon other people's freedom and peacocking about your superior social status.
The pronoun thing, for instance, definitely falls into this category. I will use people's pronouns if I know them. But it should be said that pronouns are only used when you're talking about someone -- so demanding that we use your preferred pronouns is in fact demanding control over how we talk about you beyond your earshot. Who gave you the right to expect total acquiescence to your preferences at all times and in all places from people who most likely have no personal relationship with you whatsoever? Further, people who aren't from one particular rarefied class in our society don't really understand radical gender ideology (because it's mostly nonsense if we're being perfectly frank) and find the singular "they" (or the ever expanding slate of invented pronouns) confusing -- so taking people to task for resisting pronoun edicts is, in many cases, taking people to task for being poorer and less "educated" than you are. (And I put "educated" in scare quotes here because a sheepskin is no longer a reliable signal that you are genuinely learned. I've got one of those things - and from a pretty prestigious public Ivy too - but I don't even think I'm truly educated. And I've been trying to fix that for my entire adult life.)
From what I've observed in my own interactions with the Barflies, a lot of the people who are active on the Bar come from working class and/or military backgrounds; in said milieus, rough discourse is a way of life. Indeed, as a military brat myself, I have personally witnessed how our servicemen routinely roast each other using epithets that would absolutely get a lefty upper-middle-class fella's ears all a-smokin'. At the same time, I have also witnessed how well people handle racial and cultural differences in the very same military contexts. A group of diverse Marines may toss no-no words around like they're candy, but fundamentally, respect reigns among them regardless of race.
Mind you, I'm not trying to say that the people in Kratman's conference at that link were somehow being respectful in a different way. They weren't. Nor am I trying to say that we should just drop all concern about the language people use. We shouldn't. But I still think it's worth pointing out that different classes in our society have different communication styles because it speaks to the shallowness of the left's linguistically-focused approach to justice. Judging people solely by their adherence - or lack of adherence - to the exquisitely sensitive standards of speech of the progressive Brahmandarins is a piss-poor way to find real racists/sexists/homophobes/etc. You have to look deeper. You have to consider action, intent and context. And that brings me to...
Sub-Claim #1a: "For example, a Baen’s Bar user from India was nicknamed “The Swarthy Menace” on the forum by author Tom Kratman. People on the forum thought that was the height of clever humor."
This is what I mean when I say this take-down of the Bar is prissy. The user in question was a willing participant in this particular joke. "The Swarthy Menace" has the same exact energy as "White Mormon Men with Fantastic Racks," which is what we lady-Pups called ourselves in response to false claims that the Sad Puppies were all cishet white men. From the link provided: "This came about due to a left winger from Space Babies claimed Arun was afraid of the Swarthy Menace while debating one of the Colonels books. What made it funny is that Arun is from India." (sic) As you can see, in both cases, the intent was perfectly legitimate: to make fun of people's stupid assumptions. Yet here come the conversation cops to tell all of us that ackchyually, we're being super racist and having fun wrong -- even though literally no one involved was insulted. Mind your own bee's wax, you buttinsky.
Sub-Claim #1b: "Racist comments and innuendos frequently appear in many forum discussions. In a thread last year titled 'Soft Civil War & Trump’s Army,' user Captrandy wrote that political conflicts in the USA could be solved if 'all the angry and non angry white males should stop going to work for a month or so.'"
Okay, let's consider the context in which this was uttered. For the past several years - or more - the commentariat has pushed the idea that white people - especially white men - are the fount of all evil. And in response, the education system, the corporate boardroom, and the government have all consented to the further propagation of this toxic worldview by bankrolling so-called "diversity training" in which whites are singled out solely due to their skin color and subjected to Maoist struggle sessions in which they're forced to confess to crimes they did not commit and to prejudices of which they are not aware.* If you're shocked that this has led to resentment - and to a desire to assert (truthfully, I might add) that white men have contributed and do contribute in a positive way to our nation and the world - then you, cupcake, have zero idea how human beings actually work.**
(*Note: I'm happy to talk to folks about the unique disadvantages certain groups face in this country -- but not if it involves blaming all living white people for circumstances most of them had no hand in generating or holding them responsible for things that might lurk deep inside their ids. Most white people - particularly po' whites - are not all that powerful. And berating people for so-called "unconscious bias" is like throwing people in jail for their dreams. It's ridiculous -- and abusive.)
(**And now the boogaloo: I think it's a bad idea for white people to develop a "white identity." But if you want to stop that from happening, the last thing you should do is start treating white people as if they're an undifferentiated mass of malefactors. As we can see right now in freakin' real time, all that does is remind white people that, waitaminute, they're white.)
(And now I think it's time to put a jump on this before this post eats my whole front page...)
Friday, February 12, 2021
The stream above is the start of a new series discussing mid-20th century dystopian literature and its concerning parallels with today's political landscape. In said stream, we talk about Ray Bradbury's ability to anticipate censorship's true origins -- with, of course, many tangents thrown into the mix.
Friday, February 5, 2021
Western Comics: Capsule Reviews
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artists: Marco Checchetto & Mike Hawthorne
To everyone reading this column: please don’t sleep on Chip Zdarsky’s Daredevil run. It is, in my opinion, one of the best things Marvel’s publishing right now — yet as far as I can tell, hardly anyone is talking about it.
Way back In Zdarsky’s first issue, Matt accidently killed a guy. Since then, he’s been working through a fascinating existential/religious crisis in which he’s questioned the morality of his actions as a masked vigilante and struggled to atone for his mistakes. That’s why issue #26 opens with Matt sitting in a prison cell: at the end of the last mini-arc, he ultimately decided to turn himself in and, over the objections of allies, plead guilty to manslaughter. Meanwhile, Elektra has donned the Daredevil costume and is doing her best to live up to Matt’s example — despite her own personal preferences.
It’s a dicey thing to call out your protagonist’s privileged position vis-a-vis law enforcement. It’s also a dicey thing to replace the hero readers have come to love with someone else. But in his most recent contribution to Daredevil’s canon, Zdarsky manages to do both without pissing off the reader. His secret? He allows everything to unfold organically within the context of the story he’s telling. It’s logical, for example, for a fellow inmate to complain that Matt’s mask provides him with protection other convicts don’t enjoy. And Elektra’s role here has been properly built up — and is properly humble. She doesn’t claim to be the all-new, all-different, always-superior Daredevil. Instead, the narration reminds us that, temperamentally, Elektra is not quite prepared for the job she’s taken on.
Oh, and finally: did I mention that Zdarksy, while doing all of the above, also seamlessly ties his ongoing story into the King in Black event? Because yes: he does that too. I will have more to say about the King in Black elements of this comic when said event finally draws to a close. For the time being, however, just know that the “interruption” is handled with praise-worthy competence and should not be missed. ★★★★ 1/2
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Javier Garron
The Phoenix Force is a world-destroying entity so powerful and so dangerous that, back in the 80’s, Jean Gray had to sacrifice her very life to expunge it and save the world. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to reduce it to a magical MacGuffin in a WWE style tournament.
Hopefully, you detected the sarcasm in that last sentence. Avengers #41 is, in fact, an absolute mess of a comic. The Phoenix Tournament is a dumb idea at its base; worse, it’s executed in a manner that’s deeply boring and scattershot. The internet chatter has focused on one page in particular on which T’Challa gets into a bizarre CNN-style debate with an adversary, but honestly, nothing in this issue is good. No insights into character are provided, and there appear to be no stakes. Aaron, in short, fails to persuade the reader to care about the outcome of this supposedly epic contest, rendering this book a hard miss. ★
A Quick Note on the Lack of DC Reviews This Month:
I have been keeping up with Future State. However, I would like to hold my full commentary until the rest of the books have been released and I can definitively share my personal high- and lowlights. This month, however, I will offer this preliminary impression: the event is not a cluster. Some of the books are worth reading, particularly in the Bat line. Go check them out if you’re so inclined (and can absorb the pain of the higher price point).
The Kill Lock
Writer/Artist: Livio Ramondelli
(IDW; Science Fiction)
The setting of this miniseries is an interstellar civilization in which capital crimes are punished in a novel way: four convicts are linked via a “kill lock” that terminates the other three if one should die. This, says one character, is designed to rehabilitate criminals by forcing them to care about someone other than themselves. And in fact, as the story proceeds, something like this does happen for two of Ramondelli’s four principals, for it turns out the starring quartet includes an innocent: an “unfinished” robot with the mind of a small, slow child.
All of Ramondelli’s leads are robots with distinctly non-human features, which adds an extra level of challenge when it comes to characterization and acting in the art. Nonetheless, Ramondelli leaps over this hurdle with no problems at all. Indeed, the way he gracefully - and economically - establishes his characters’ unique personalities and backstories through both the art and the writing is genuinely impressive. I fell in love with the alcoholic laborer bot, was properly creeped out by the sociopathic engineer bot, and definitely wanted to know more about the crusader.
The only downside? This series ends far too soon — with certain promises of redemption left unfulfilled. I only hope Ramondelli returns to this concept for a much-needed sequel. ★★★★
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
The title character of this miniseries (which, for me, is a late discovery) is a simple gas station attendant who was born with incredible strength and the uncanny ability to find anything (or anyone) that’s missing — superpowers he uses to perform at least one kind deed each day for the people in his hometown. Huck lives in obscurity, protected by neighbors who adore him and appreciate his holy foolishness — until a newcomer blows Huck’s cover and consequently makes the man’s life infinitely more complicated.
After reading the trade for this series, I definitely wanted more. Huck is a refreshingly innocent character whose acts of charity are performed for no other reason than advancing the good. It’s rare to encounter something like that in a modern comic — and contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t lead to uninteresting storytelling. Put this in your “to read” list if you’re looking for something that celebrates old-fashioned purity and selflessness. ★★★★★
Yes, I take requests! If there’s a particular review you’d like to see, please contact me at email@example.com and tell me the title, creators, and - most importantly - point of sale. Assuming the comic in question is available for immediate purchase, I will respond in the following issue!
Jinny Hex Special #1
Writer: Magdalene Visaggio
Artist: Gleb Melnikov
(DC; Weird West)
Around the turn of the new year, this one-shot was generating some surprisingly positive buzz on YouTube; thus, when our fearless editor requested that I take a look, I was happy to oblige. My verdict? Notwithstanding the online excitement, I don’t think this book is good enough to cure cancer — but it is a solidly enjoyable read. Jinny comes off as a likeable protagonist who reacts to events with genuine human emotion, and the design of the villain here is legitimately compelling (and disturbing!). True: given her experience in the superhero world, Jinny probably should’ve reacted to the arrival of her supposed long-lost “father” with a bit more skepticism. Still, her resulting conflict with Three-Eyed Jack fits pretty well with the weird west aesthetic readers associate with the Hex family name. I don’t love it — but I don’t regret reading it either. ★★★
Friday, January 29, 2021
Guest Post: N3F Publications Eligible for the Hugo Awards (Best Fanzine of 2020), by George Phillies
This week, I've decided to help George Phillies get the word out there about the apolitical National Fantasy Fan Federation (or N3F) and its available fanzines. Since he's welcomed me aboard as a contributor for Tightbeam, I figure it's the least I can do!
Note: George wrote these for a German website that ultimately rejected his submission for BS political reasons. What a shame.
The N3F Review of Books Incorporating Prose Bono
Tell us about your site or zine.
Perhaps the N3F Review of Books Incorporating Prose Bono is a modestly long name for a fanzine. The idea for the N3F Review is entirely my creation. I have the invaluable assistance of long-time Neffer Jean Lamb as Lady High Proofreader, and a large cast of contributors (see next question). We are a fiction review zine, open in length; recent issues have run over 40 pages. We are always looking for more literate, sensible book reviewers.
Who are the people behind your site or zine?
The zine is published by The National Fantasy Fan Federation (founded 1941), the world's oldest continuously extant non-local SF club. Contributors, many of whom have their web sites, now include
Declan Finn http://www.declanfinn.com
Jason P. Hunt http://SciFi4Me.com http://SciFi4Me.tv
Mindy Hunt: http://SciFi4Me.com http://SciFi4Me.tv
Patrick Ijima-Washburn http://patokon.com
Jagi Lamplighter http://SuperversiveSF.com
Jim McCoy http://JimbosSFFreviews.blogspot.com
Chris Nuttall http://ChrisHanger.wordpress.com
Pat Patterson http://Habakkuk21.blogspot.com
George Phillies http://books-by-george.com
Cedar Sanderson: http://www.CedarWrites.com
Tamara Wilhite also appears at http://LibertyIslandmag.com
I am always looking for more reviewers, people who will write about the books, not the authors' political beliefs. (Sometimes this becomes challenging.)
Why did you decide to start your site or zine?
First, The National Fantasy Fan and Tightbeam for different reasons have fixed maximum lengths, namely 12 and 32 pages, so the number of book reviews we could publish was too limited. I had more reviews than I could publish. Second, the N3F Review was created to fill a felt but unfulfilled need, namely to generate reviews of every published SF novel. I spent a year contributing to the National Fantasy Fan a list new SF, Fantasy, horror, and occult novels. Ignoring stfnal romance novels, there were readily a hundred of these a month, not counting books from large and independent paper publishers, few of which were being reviewed. In addition, there are a lot of independently published -- indie -- writers whose work could be better. (There are also a lot whose work is superb). To serve these folks, I added Prose Bono (yes, there is a pun in there) to the mix. There are rare volumes of STFnal literary criticism and the history of fandom. Our own Harry Warner, Jr., wrote several of these. Those we also review, under their own heading. Finally, we accidentally acquired a continuing series of excellent author interviews, leaving us in the end with separate fiction, non-fiction, Prose Bono, and literary criticism sections.
What format do you use for your site or zine (blog, e-mail newsletter, PDF zine, paper zine) and why did you choose this format?
The N3F Review is circulated electronically to all N3F members; at latest count, there are over 300 of us. The N3F Review format is PDF, 8.5 x 11", Times New Roman 12 point type (larger for titles and section headings), Front and Second page being the table of contents. One somewhat narrow column appears on each page. Titles, author names, Section headings, and Table of Contents are in scarlet ink; all else are black. Unlike some other fanzines, we deliberately publish absolutely no art.
The fanzine category at the Hugos is one of the oldest, but also the category which consistently gets the lowest number of votes and nominations. So why do you think fanzines and sites are important?
Fanzines are one of the important ways in which fen communicate with each other. Yes, there are also fen who go to conventions, publish web sites and blogs, and the like, but fanzine fandom including efanzines are central to the hobby. They are how we find out what is happening in our wonderful hobby. Having said that, why are there so few votes? Because so few fen are connected in an extensive way to fanzine fandom. That's why the N3F Fanzine Franking Service circulates the zines of other people to all Neffers. I could complain about the extremely well-known fanzine site that refuses to list our zines, but there would be no point to doing that.
In the past twenty years, fanzines have increasingly moved online. What do you think the future of fanzines looks like?
Electronic. Some paper publishers. A few people will take advantage of modern technology to generate full-color fanzines like our Tightbeam, but electronic, especially with increasing shipping costs. I've said all the following before: More and more, fanzines will be ezines. Some paper zines will doubtless continue. There has been an enormous improvement both in the quality of cheap paper printing and in the ease with which web sites and ezines can be produced. If I were to return to 1941 with a copy of Tightbeam, most fen would find it impossible to believe – except for the tell-tale staple – that it was not a top-price prozine.
The four fan categories of the Hugos (best fanzine, fan writer, fan artist and fancast) tend to get less attention than the fiction and dramatic presentation categories. Are there any awesome fanzines, fancasts, fan writers and fan artists you’d like to recommend?
Among fan writers I would note our own Jon Swartz for historical articles and Pat Patterson for book reviews. Our current artists are Alan White, Jose Sanchez, and Angela K. Walker; see covers of Tightbeam for their work. Among fanzines other than our own I would note Bob Jennings’ Fadeaway and Nic Farey’s The Incompleat Register, which incidentally leads you to many other fanzines.
Friday, January 22, 2021
Edited to add bonus content: