Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Some reading not previously mentioned

Recently, I read Greg Bear's Hull Zero Three. The only Bear I'd read before was his short story "Blood Music"; I didn't read the novelized version. If you're interested, I give a full critique of Bear's latest in this discussion at the Asimov's forum. In short, the book was intriguing but disappointing, busily racing from one thing to another as if the writer, and not the character, were pursued by unearthly beasts. It's too bad, because Bear certainly had adequate material for a rich and complex novel, had he let it become fully enfleshed. It did move quickly, in any case, whereas some other sf I've read in the past few years—as part of the loose readers' group at the Asimov's forum—has disappointed but also been enormous work to get through.

As I'm on break, I felt compelled to order several comics collections (they aren't graphic novels, these) from the library.

For decades, I've heard about Marvel's famed "Kree-Skrull war." I own two of the Avengers issues in which the war takes place, but never had a full sense of what happened. Well, not much happened, as it turns out, and the storyline is borderline incoherent. Had this been a modern story arc, like Marvel's "Civil War," I'd suspect that what's missing is the narrative threads from the dozen or so other books implicated in the tale, but nobody did anything like that back in the '70s, and aside from some information and characters coming in from earlier stories in Thor, Fantastic Four and adventures with Captain Marvel, the tale is meant to appear intact in the Avengers. There's terrific buildup, especially in the penultimate, Neal Adams–pencilled issue, but the conclusion is something of a mess, with heroes from another age emerging from the head of Rick Jones . . . for about two panels each. Also, Rick Jones is sort of the Wesley Crusher of '70s Marvel: you really wish he'd move on or finally get killed. His catch-phrase? "Faaaan-tastic!" Not sure who's to blame for that, Stan Lee or Roy Thomas. Of course, all the characters speak too casually or pseudo-hip-ly, except Thor, who is utterly joyless. The collection has a new Adams cover which, for some reason, was chopped in half and stuck on the back cover of the paperback, which makes Roy Thomas's essay about it approximately 50% confusing.

Also read a Bruce Jones–scripted Hulk collection. (Everyone who gets killed comes back. I guess there's an explanation in a later collection. I've got more coming.) In addition, I read the first volume of Thor's return from the netherworld. I like the new costume. Looking at that, then going back to those old Avengers issues, you can see how hard Neal Adams had to work at not making Thor look like an idiot. The Buscemas were far less successful at this.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A black man in Asgard

Here's the news:

White Supremacist Group Boycotting Thor; Because of Elba Casting

"The Council of Conservative Citizens attacks Marvel for giving the role of the deity Heimdall to Idris Elba, star of The Wire."

The CCC is calling the casting of Elba "left-wing social engineering"—because of course the portrayal of a Norse god will have some effect on the actual society of Asgard, which, as we know, exists in a realm reachable by the rainbow bridge but not the Rainbow Coalition.

When I saw Idris Elba as Heimdall in the Thor trailer, I was thrilled, because Marvel was doing what the narrow minds behind the Lord of the Rings movies failed to do, moving past the definitions established by the myths. Keep in mind that that's what we're dealing with, myths, not historical dramas.

Sticking with Lord of the Rings for a moment, it doesn't matter how Tolkien saw his characters—and certainly he saw the hobbits and elves and all of the good guys, all the "races of men" on the side of right as white people, because he's thinking of Northern Europe and the Eddas and a particular kind of world. But when you translate those tales into images in the 21st century, how can you not see that only white folks were on the side of goodness? Every indigenous actor who showed up to audition: you're getting covered with dark stuff and made an orc. Some other people, we'll give them dark complexions, dress them as Arabs and stick them on elephants or on pirate ships. Did no one notice this sharp line? There was no need for it, because "black and white" wasn't part of Tolkien's calculation, nor was it essential to his tale.

Must every god in Asgard be white because the Norse were white? If the Norse mythology is true, and all people of all colors are their people, wouldn't the gods also share that variety? And that argument aside: it's all made up. They can look however we want! I mean, shouldn't they all the male gods have beards? Any good Norseman would, after all.

At least bigots continue to make it easy for us to find them.

Monday, December 20, 2010

At last

I have the climax of "Unearthed." Half I'd known. All right, a third. Now that it's clear, I've written some of it and left much to fill in. It all seems perfectly logical (in a dreamlike way), the right outcome for the story and my protagonist, and so I have to recraft everything around where the story is heading.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rejection, submission and fortuitousness

"The Dearness of Bodies in Motion," a realistic fiction tale, came back today from Alaska Quarterly Review, which is located in New Jersey, since no one actually lives in Alaska. After some research (and factoring in the relevant data that a street in my childhood hometown was called Sycamore), I sent the story on to The Sycamore Review.

I realized a day or two ago, though I then forgot, only to later recall, that a male character in my story "Unearthed" should be female; it made the character's presence much more plausible and opened up the story in other ways. This led to some research which turned up facts that made my choice of a this particular female protagonist (who is a Mohawk; and who was a Mohawk when she was a he) in this particular occupation even more perfect than I'd known, and this led me further to a legendary tale related by Canadian Mohawk writer Pauline Johnson that fit my story so perfectly, I had a bit of a scare. How strange and wonderful, and now I feel more confident about my tale.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"The Life to Come"

In the space of less than two weeks, I wrote a new short story, "The Life to Come," in response to an anthology (which shall remain nameless for now) request. Once it was finished, but before the final run-through (every sentence said aloud), I sent it to my friend Berry, who heaped it high with praise or tossed it atop a heap of praise or praised it heapishly or something. He found one dud line that had been a line that stuck out to me as well. All right then. Cleaned it up, sent it off, and now I wait. I think it's solid and does what it's supposed to do. I had a hard time judging it, since I knew where it was going from the outset, and since it's short--a little more than 3K--it doesn't contain the number of surprises for me that my recent longer works have contained. Still, I think it's properly packed and concise and sounds good throughout.

I had been reading Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories for a few weeks. I have a giant compendium from the library. Struck the other day that I'd had the book out for so long, I checked my library account: the book isn't signed out. Guess somebody's electronic scanner wasn't working right that day. Anyway, if you read them, I suggest spacing them out. Early on, Bertie Wooster himself concedes the formula of the tales: if a problem arises, tell Jeeves and he'll sort it out. That's pretty much the length of breadth of the business. Jeeves serves as a kind of deus ex machina for the stories, so that, as with many a Sherlock Holmes tale, the fun is in the setup more than the resolution. Holmes always notices something no human would have noticed to solve the case; Jeeves always knows somebody who gives him a piece of information that resolves the difficulty. Priceless, though, is Bertie's voice, slangy and marginally self-aware of his purely comedic self and absurd world.