Category Archives: blog

Odd Corners of the Multiverse 5/10/17

I often tell people that my roots as a storyteller are sunk deep in comic books and soap operas. Inside, I’m still the kid that compulsively collected every issue of comic book series I was interested in and scheduled my freshman college courses around General Hospital so I could keep up with Luke and Laura. I’ve always been a sucker for any kind of continuing storyline — so much so that I actually try to be careful what TV shows I start watching or what comic strips I start reading. There’s only so many hours in a day.

A case in point, I recently came across this

Picture Source: The CW

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12366721/1/Realizations

Like me, you probably didn’t know you needed a novel length Kara Danvers/Lena Luthor romance, complete with an engaging mystery plot. But here it is. I was absolutely hooked from the first installment.

And that’s the real joy and danger of the Internet/Netflix age for someone like me. Never before in history has there been such a flood of entertainment available. As a life-long television junkie, who remembers the day where there were only five channels on my television — one of which was PBS and another the local channel that showed only re-runs of old shows — I am constantly floored by the sheer volume of really good television available today. No matter what your genre is, there is literally so much good television out there that you cannot watch it all. It’s impossible. I’ve tried.

The same is true, now, in publishing. The advent of Amazon, ebooks, Kindle Unlimited, and other platforms means there is a glut of reading material available. The common wisdom is that most self-published fiction is badly written and poorly edited — and there’s enough truth in that to keep the attitude alive. Honestly, though, Theodore Sturgeon long ago observed that “90% of everything is crap”, and while I’ve always thought that estimate was a little too high, it applies here. Yes, there’s a lot of dreck out there — manuscripts that should never have been released to the public. But there’s a lot of incredible, quirky, original stuff out there too which is a joy to read and which would never have reached an audience in the old publishing paradigm.

Take this for instance.

Extra Credit Epidemic, by Nina Post. A young adult novel centering around an outbreak of food poisoning, featuring Taffy Snackerge, a teen obsessed with infectious diseases and picking up girls.  All she wants to do is track down the source of the outbreak, but her mentor, an eccentric teacher with issues of his own, forces her to work with two other misfit students, the neurotically neat President of the Young Attachés Club, and a boy who can’t go anywhere in public without wearing a Mexican wrestling mask.   Part mystery, part teen romance, part coming-of-age story, I guarantee you’ve never read anything like this before.  I absolutely loved it.   And it comes from Curiosity Quills Press — one of the quirkiest and most unique small presses around.

Or this:

Otters in Space: The Search for Cat Havana by Mary E. Lowd.  Imagine a world where humans have disappeared.  Dogs are mostly in charge, leaving Cats as second class citizens.  The Dogs even have a religion about the First Race, believing that humans will return to take them along to the stars.  Meanwhile, Otters have built their own space program.  They control the orbiting space station which is the gateway to the Solar System.    Kipper is a Cat who doesn’t like the way things are but doesn’t know how to change them.  When her sister, who is running for local office, disappears, Kipper takes off to find her.  Accompanied by the Dog thug hired to kill her, Kipper unravels a conspiracy that will lead her to the Otter space station — and maybe to a secret Cat utopia where they can live free of Dogs.  Otters in Space is endlessly creative in the way only the best science fiction is, filled with charming, unusual, fully realized characters that will tug at your heartstrings at every turn.  One of my favorite books of the last few years.

And while I’m on the subject of Mary E. Lowd, she has become one of my favorite authors, and one I don’t know how I ever would have found in the old days — before the internet, ebooks and the like.   I would encourage everyone to check out the Free Fiction page on her website.

And I couldn’t wind up my post without mentioning this:  My Best New Thing in the World for the past month.   The famous detective Dick Tracy attending a cosplay convention with his granddaughter Honeymoon, as she explains to him what furries are.

http://www.gocomics.com/dicktracy/2017/04/23?ct=v&cti=2134930

 

 

 

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So Not A Hero
by S.J. Delos


If you are a superhero fan, then I don’t really need to sell you on this book.  Just quit reading now and go get it.

If you’re not a superhero fan, then 1) what’s wrong with you? And 2) Do you like stories with funny, flawed heroines, a little bit of romance, work-place drama, family tensions, and the promise of redemption?  Well in that case, you can go pick up this book too.

S.J. Delos describes himself as a “typical geek” from Greensboro, NC, who has always loved comic books and enjoys making up his own stories.  Move the setting just over the state line into South Carolina and that could describe my own childhood.  Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I love this book so much.

Karen Hashimoto has just gotten out of super-max prison and is trying to put her life back together.  She must deal with a sleazy parole officer, paranoid landlords and a bunch of other people who don’t want to let her forget that she was once the super-villain Crushette — the right hand and love interest of the infamous Dr. Maniac.

But then she gets caught in the middle of a super-rumble between a gang of villains and Mr. Manpower — a member of the city’s premier superhero group, The Good Guys.  Karen helps round up the miscreants and before she knows it she’s been invited to audition for the team.

Her struggle to fit in with her new allies, to redeem her past mistakes, and to convince the world that she can be different is the heart of this fun, surprisingly moving novel.

Highly recommended.

No Big Deal

 

 

So, Mr. Sulu is Gay.sulu alt

I don’t mean George Takei is Gay. His very out personality has been enriching pop culture for — well, as long as I’ve been alive.  Literally.  Oh my!

No, I mean the character, Hikaru Sulu is Gay.  According to actor John Cho in an interview with The Hearld Sun in Melbourne Australia, it will be revealed in Star Trek Beyond that Sulu is Gay, has a husband, and is raising a daughter.  Mr. Cho says: “I liked the approach, which was not to make a big thing out it, which is where I hope we are going as a species, to not politicize one’s personal orientations.”

Those are nice sentiments, and most likely sincere.  What he means, I assume, is that in the world of the movie — the Star Trek universe — it’s no big deal that Sulu is Gay.  The other characters don’t have an issue with it.  It’s taken for granted.

The problem, of course, is that’s not the Universe we live in.  (Yet.)  In our world, making a major character in a big movie franchise Gay IS A BIG DEAL.  And to pretend that it’s not is disingenuous.  Mr. Cho is straight — he’s married to a woman.  So for him to say we shouldn’t “politicize one’s personal orientation” is an easy sentiment.  LGBTQ people don’t get that choice.  Their orientations are politicized for them whether they want it or not.

sulu originalThere’s an irony here that needs to be explicit.  Sulu — the character in the movie series — is now being revealed as Gay but is played by a straight actor.  Sulu — the character in the Original Series — was straight but was played by a Gay actor.  The Herald Sun article also quotes a News Corp interview from last year in which Take explained, “If I wanted to work as an actor back then, I had to keep it a secret.” So the original Sulu was a straight man played by a Gay actor who had to pass for straight in order to have the opportunity to play character at all.  With that kind of history involved, you don’t get to choose whether or not to politicize the question of orientation — it’s already as political a violation of the Neutral Zone.

But I have deeper concerns.

A lot of movie fans are familiar with The Bechdel Test.  Named for cartoonist Alison Bechdel, it is a way of gauging the representation of women in a film (or other media).  The idea is that a film has to have two female characters, they have to at some point talk to each other, and they have to talk about something other than a man.  Obviously this is meant to be just the bare minimum necessary for decent representation.  (An alternative version has been called the Mako Maori test — after the character in Pacific Rim.  There must be at least one female character who gets her own narrative arc which does not involve supporting a male character.)

The deeper meaning behind these “tests” is that in a society where the representation of non-white, non-male, non-straight characters is still problematic, we can’t just take their presence at face value.  To go back to the question of Sulu and Star Trek — when Gay characters are represented in film and television in anything like their actual proportion of the population and when their relationships and lives are presented as naturally as straight ones, then it will be NO BIG DEAL.  Until then, making a major character in a big movie franchise Gay IS A BIG DEAL and to pretend that it’s not is silly and a little insulting.

Compare this for instance, to Captain Kirk.  Kirk’s sexuality totally informs his character.  His randiness, his constant courting of womanly aliens of various hues, is an indelible part of his character.  His relationship with Carol Marcus (beautifully depicted in Wrath of Khan and horribly mangled in Into Darkness) is central to his long-term arc.

Captains

Now imagine if Captain Kirk was more like Captain Jack Harkness on Dr. Who/Torchwood? Captain Jack’s sexuality is also central to his character — he can flirt with Rose Tyler and The Doctor at the same time, with equal enthusiasm.  What if Kirk were openly bi-sexual and courted aliens of various genders?  Would that be a big deal?

You bet your tribble it would.

So what kind of representation are we really going to see?  Do we get a passing mention that he’s Gay, maybe a glimpse of his family, and nothing else?  Is that enough? Will his sexuality be as important to his character as Kirk’s is? (Or in this version of Star Trek, even Spock?)  I’m all for honoring George Takei, but is there any other compelling reason for this character to be Gay?  Will his being Gay inform his character in meaningful way, or is he basically just a sexless character with a GAY name tag stuck on him?  Are we satisfied with simply sprinkling characters through stories who are identified as Gay, Lesbian, Transgender — or for that matter who are played by actors of color —  and then have those identities play no further part in the story?  Is that representation or tokenism?

There are a wealth of fascinating questions to be explored.  Perhaps sexual and gender identity are “no big deal” in the relatively open and inclusive society of the Federation.  But what about among highly repressed Vulcans with their ritualized mating?  How about in the warlike culture of the Klingon Empire?  And what kind of new relationships, forms of expression, ways of being in the world have LGBTQ people found in the future? Or were they just absorbed into the homogeneous culture? Is the little nuclear family, two parents and a child, still the norm in the 23rd Century?  Really?  Good science fiction — good fiction — would ask those questions.  Star Trek over it’s long history has asked similar question about other hard topics.

Do we need something like the Bechdel Test for LGBTQ characters? Are they serving any other purpose than for the filmmakers and the audience to say, “Hey look how enlightened I am that this doesn’t even bother me?”

It’s no big deal.

 

Mystery and Fiction

 

 

mysteryThe crew over at Writing Excuses spent the month of June exploring “elemental mystery”.  That is, mystery understood not just as a bookstore genre like the murder mystery, but as a fundamental building block of almost all stories.  Their discussion is well worth listening to — in fact, their whole series, running since the beginning of the year, on Elemental Genre, is well worth spending some time on.

But it did leave me with a question I don’t have an answer to.  Is it possible to write an engaging piece of fiction that does not contain any element of mystery at all?  And what would that look like?

Anyone have any thoughts?

 

 

Welcome to the all new Alexwashoe.com

 

 

Z Monster Zeke celebrating the re-launch of my blog.
Z Monster Zeke celebrating the re-launch of my blog.

 

A new site, a new beginning.

Some people might remember that I used to have several blogs: Books and Beasts, which focused on book reviews, Birdland West, which was about birding and wildlife, plus a space for personal reflections on whatever caught my (admittedly scattered) attention.

It’s been a while since any of those blogs were active.  I’ve dragged my feet about re-building this site.  But in the meantime I’ve been writing.  My most recently completed novel Mouthpiece is currently making the rounds of agents and publishers.  I’m at work on a sequel and several other projects.

But it feels like it’s time to resurrect the public space.  So here we are.

All those old topics will be coming up often in this blog often.  Writing, books, music, movies, television, baseball, animals, current events.  Give me a little time and themes will hopefully begin to emerge.

I will also be putting up an archive of the best of my previous blogs for anyone who might remember it fondly — or who is just curious.

So here we go, up and running again.  I’ll try to keep it interesting.