Monthly Archives: September 2013

gilmour

David Gilmour is a Bad Canadian

I’m not interested in reading books by David Gilmour. In an interview with Random House two days ago, Gilmour stated:

“I’m not interested in teaching books by women,” he says, making an exception for one female writer.

“Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories,” he says. “But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love.”

Instead, Gilmour says, “[w]hat I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.”

CBC

Now I know what you’re thinking: here goes another one of them Feminazi queer-loving bra-burners trying to impinge on this man’s free speech. So he doesn’t like the squawk-talk and jibber-jabber of female writers, gay writers, or Chinese writers? What’s it to you? Fair enough, imaginary Internet commenter.

But he’s said something much worse. You might want to sit down for this. David Gilmour, Canadian author, doesn’t like other Canadian authors.

Now, I’m not Canadian, but I’ve played one on tv, and some of my best friends are Canadian. My accent is in the ballpark, and if I drop in a couple “ehs” and “take off, hosers,” I can pass for one. From my intimate knowledge of the Canadas, I know that it is Canadianly constitutionally mandated that every time you have a conversation about any subject, you are required to note which famous people are from Canada. Talking to nerds? You know, Shatner is Canadian. Doing the chicken dance from Arrested Development? Michael Cera is Canadian. People with huge boobs? Boom: Pamela Anderson.

But that’s not all. The Canadian constitution requires that you don’t ever shittalk whole classes of Canadian citizens in front of Americans. You just can’t even do that, or Mounties will triangulate your location and force you to eat a bowl of moose cock and a case of Molson for your reeducation. I presume that right now, Gilmour is being very politely set upon by men in really hot red outfits while they prize his mouth open to accept the ungulate tumescence. (Oops, I started slipping into some of my Due South fanfiction. Is it hot in here?)

Due-South

So there you have it: David Gilmour has committed treason. Now, I know that I’m not allowed to write reviews based on author behavior anymore, but I think maybe Goodreads should make an exception in this case. I’m not dismissing Gilmour because he dismissed all writers who have a vagina, or are homos, or them Chinese. Obviously, that’s his right as a professor of literature who has been entrusted with educating Canada’s tender youth. That’s just table stakes for the Western Canon. But when you mess with the Queen, you get the horns, David. Who’s that knocking on your door?

How NOT to go about executive recruiting

This book was written by Roald Dahl. Wait a sec… isn’t he the same guy who wrote James and the Giant Peach? Yeah he is. And that’s all you need to know, to figure out his angle. He’s another one of those guys who likes to write about kids in fucked up food situations. Just a year after James…, Dahl couldn’t be satisfied with just one boy and one peach; he had to write this little gem, about a whole group of kids having crazy things happen to them with food, like the one kid who gets sucked up into a chocolate syrup pump, and then the little girl who gets turned into a blueberry. I read this book before I saw the movie, and I was pretty sure that one of the kids was going to get eaten, since a lot of the classics like Hanzel and Gretyl have child cannibalism. (Is a witch eating a kid considered cannibalism, or is a witch sufficiently other-than-human for it just to be run of the mill predation?) Jack and the Beanstalk doesn’t actually show cannibalism, but the giant (that means a giant human, right?) is such a connoisseur of human flesh that he can discern the blood of an Englishman from other nationalities. (does he go by family heritage, or citizenship? I wonder.) Even the kids’ stories which don’t have cannibalism still usually have somebody or something eating a child, like the Wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, or the whale in Pinocchio. (Does that count? I think Pinocchio was still a puppet when he got eaten.) And even if the kids don’t get eaten, there’s usually at least some sort of completely surreal food antics going on (baking 24 blackbirds into a pie? Somebody call the ASPCA!; gingerbread men who come alive and go running through town? And don’t even get started on The Nutcracker.

To my amazement, there was no cannibalism in this book. It turned out to be a sort of cautionary tale about safety in the workplace, and how NOT to go about executive recruiting. When I was little, my Dad worked at a factory which made industrial presses, and I remember two occasions when he came home and told us about somebody who was either killed or severely injured by a workplace accident. That was usually followed by a lecture about how the individuals in question hadn’t been following some precaution or another, and how “the rules are there for a reason”. (Yeah, like the rules that I have to pay a sizable fraction of my income to a bunch of old robberbaron families who own the “Federal” Reserve?) I was never allowed to actually go inside where Dad worked; it was too dangerous; so when this story started out with a contest whose prize was a tour of a chocolate factory, I thought they were all completely insane. Of course, a chocolate factory might be safer than a machine shop, but considering how this book plays out, I’d have to say it probably isn’t.

Pretty soon into the narration, Dahl starts laying down the old class warfare themes: Charlie’s family is poverty-stricken to the point that his grandfather has to go hungry, just to provide Charlie with enough to eat. But it’s a weird sort of poverty, where nobody is suggesting that Charlie or any of his apparently-retired grandparents get a job. Later, when Charlie tours Wonka’s factory and sees the Oompa Loompas, he demonstrates no particular compassion or identification for his bretheren in the exploited underclasses. Willie Wonka claims that he rescued them from a monster-plagued homeland, and they all work in the factory of their own volition, but the whole thing seems a bit dubious, and nobody probes too deeply into it. I was disappointed in Charlie for failing to do anything about the Oompa Loompa situation. They’re small, and orange and foreign, and Willie Wonka seems to be taking advantage of them; the whole set-up smacks of racism and neo-colonialism in the worst way. It’s hard to take Charlie’s complicity as anything other than tacit endorsement of their exploitation. Whenever anything bad happens to the kids on the factory tour, the Oompa Loompas make up a song about how the kid totally deserved everything he got, and probably worse.

I saw the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie when I was a kid in the early 70′s, and I think this image kind of scarred me.

On one hand, these songs seem judgmental and cold-hearted, but I can imagine how the misfortunes of these human children might be a salve to temporarily satisfy the seething Oompa Loompa rage boiling just below the surface. My big question for this entire book is: do the Oompa Loompas know that one of the kids on the tour is going to end up as their new boss? It is an incredibly insulting scenerio Wonka has constructed here. You’ve got the Oompa Loompas running the place with such skill that Wonka candies are considered the world’s finest. At the top of the organization sits Willie Wonka, contemplating his mortality. He sees that he can’t run the place forever, and he needs to start grooming an heir. Does he even consider recruiting from within, bringing one of those hard-working, experienced Ooompa Loompas up from the ranks into the executive suite? No… they are categorically precluded from any HOPE of career growth. Instead, (and here’s the real knife in the back) Wonka decides to give the senior executive position to a RANDOMLY SELECTED KID! The story seems to end on a happy note, with Charlie literally breaking through the glass ceiling (what glass ceiling? he’s a friggin’ white male in the early 1960′s!) and flying away in a magic elevator, bubbling with excitement that he’s just become – at age 12- CEO of a transnational corporation. But honestly, Charlie’s long-term prospects don’t look good; this ending has workers’ rebellion written all over it, and while I am absolutely opposed to planned economies and monolithic authoritarian states, I can understand how the Oompa Loompas’ rage and humiliation could easily result in a Russian revolution-type uprising, where they seize the means of production for themselves and put Wonka (and maybe Charlie too) on trial for his crimes against their people.

 

Personal, Political, Cultural: Parsing the Concept of Author Behavior in Goodreads Policy

Late last week, Goodreads announced a new “policy change”. The announcement opened with a reiteration of policy points regarding reviews which haven’t changed: reviews should be about the book, and members cannot threaten other members. This is what had changed:

[Goodreads will] Delete content focused on author behavior. We have had a policy of removing reviews that were created primarily to talk about author behavior from the community book page. Once removed, these reviews would remain on the member’s profile. Starting today, we will now delete these entirely from the site. We will also delete shelves and lists of books on Goodreads that are focused on author behavior.

Previously, the policy had been that reviews that spoke negatively about author behavior – I will not read this book because something the author sad or did – were removed from the main book page, but were still visible to friends. For those that don’t use Goodreads, if you look up a book, all your friends’ reviews are listed first, then those by people you follow, then the “community reviews”. This last category was where your review would not show up. This policy of hiding reviews I thought was a fair one: one that maintained the social aspects of the site, as users could signal to one another that they weren’t going to read something, and why, while muffling the effects of these peer-to-peer interactions on the larger community.

But Goodreads didn’t go through and just delete all hidden reviews, nor did they remove all shelves entitled “due-to-author” or similar. In this “policy change”, Goodreads instead removed the shelves and some reviews of 21 specific people. As far as I can tell, everyone else’s hidden reviews are still standing, and Goodreads spokesperson Kara indicated on the feedback thread that it wasn’t just the shelf names, but, like, the general feel of the reviews under that shelf header? Which, frankly, looks seriously personal and isn’t so much a policy change as swatting specific users, especially given the tone of the email they received.

Please refrain from posting content like this going forward. If you continue to act in a way that is contrary to the spirit and intent of Goodreads, your account will come under review.

Admittedly, Goodreads has apologized for not giving users time to edit, because alerting people to major deletions and then acting like people should have magically known the policy would change and were violating it on purpose is bunk.

This is the problem: if the reviews in question were all “this person was a dick to me on Twitter/Goodreads/etc”, then I can see Goodreads justifying their removal under the already existing guideline that you can’t say the author owes you money or whatnot. That could be construed as a personal interaction, and therefore not germane. This is a little complicated by the fact that Goodreads and Twitter are public, and the interactions become a matter of record. (At least until they don’t, as these sorts of interaction tend to get deleted.) But, okay, let’s just call them personal interactions, and say that kind of interaction is off the table, and always has been. No need for a policy change, as it’s just a policy refinement. The personal behavior – in the sense of person to person interactions – of an author amounts to gossip, maybe, fine.

But I’m a little more worried about what I see as creep in the policy towards silencing  political responses or cultural responses based on the author’s actions or words. Self-avowedlyMike’s review of Mein Kampf is a troll, because of course it’s stupid to say that you can’t mention that  Adolf freaking Hitler was a genocidal maniac. That’s a matter of the historical record, and unassailable. And in fact, when you deny Hitler’s actions, you can go to jail for it in some countries. Manny took the troll a step further in his review of The Destruction of Dresden by David Irving, who was convicted of Holocaust denial in Austria. (The Austrians have, historically understandably, harsher rules about this sort of speech there than in the US.) To quote from Wikipedia, because, shut up, Internet:

In the first edition, Irving’s estimates for deaths in Dresden were between 100,000 and 250,000 — notably higher than most previously published figures. These figures became authoritative and widely accepted in many standard reference works. In later editions of the book over the next three decades, he gradually adjusted the figure downwards to 50,000-100,000. According to the evidence introduced by Richard J. Evans at the libel trial of Deborah Lipstadt in 2000, Irving based his estimates of the dead of Dresden on the word of one individual who provided no supporting documentation, used forged documents, and described one witness who was a urologist as Dresden’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer. The doctor has since complained about being misidentified by Irving, and further, was only reporting rumours about the death toll. Today, casualties at Dresden are estimated as 22,700-25,000 dead.

Irving’s behavior isn’t gossip or personal; it’s a matter of political record. Knowing that he is a Holocaust denier in a history book about the Holocaust is absolutely germane to that content.

Kemper’s review of Josey Wales: Two Westerns is also about the author’s political actions. Asa Earl Carter (who wrote under several pen-names) was a longtime member of the KKK and one of two men credited with the “segregation now, segregation forever” speech by George Wallace. The choice not to read the works of vociferous racists in your precious leisure time isn’t some kind of readerly tantrum, and if it were, what’s it to you? Trigger warning: Asa Earl Carter was insanely racist. That has serious import on his work.

Arguably, GR could take the tack (tact? I’m a little unclear on this idiom) that these are historical actions, and it’s not like the authors are going to be flagging these reviews from the grave (or prison). But let’s take Orson Scott Card. (Take Orson Scott Card! Please!) Paul’s review notes Card’s very active and visible status as an anti-gay crusader. Mr Card has called for the overthrow of the American government, and worked visibly to pass Prop 8 in California. There are boycott movements all over the place for the upcoming film. Noting this isn’t “Card owes me money” or “Card was mean to me on Twitter” but a contextualizing of his work within a political and cultural framework. Orson Scott Card impacts me politically. This isn’t gossip. This is cultural engagement. Of course you don’t have to agree. Of course you can compartmentalize Card’s political beliefs from his work. But the refusal to read Card as a political act is valid too, and it’s a political act that cannot occur without knowledge of the larger context, context provided by reviews such as Paul’s.

I have also taken several swipes at serial plagiarist Jonah Lehrer, in defiance of the new “policy”. The first review was of How We Decide, one of two of his books that were recalled by the publisher for fabrication and/or plagiarism. Drat, I thought, that the book was recalled for its content is actually about the content. So I posted on on his only unrecalled book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist. But this is still about context. Lehrer has just an appalling track record of unprofessional behavior – behavior that has gotten him fired from multiple science writing gigs - and this behavior calls into question any science writing this man has done. He wasn’t mean to me on Twitter, he fudged data, which in a science writer in inexcusable. I guess I could append the namby-pamby “to me”, like science writing is about opinions, but I’m not going to. He violated the basic tenets of the subject he was writing about.

But let’s take this a step down, away from the political or professional. One of the reviews deleted under the new policy was Steph Sinclair’s for The Secret of Castle Cant: Being an Account of the Remarkable Adventures of Lucy Wickwright, Maidservant and Spy. The author, KP Bath, was convicted of possession of child pornography and sentenced to six years in prison, which is also a matter of record. It is germane to a review of his children’s book that he is a convicted pedophile. To quote U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton:

“It is shocking that a children’s author would contribute to the trauma these kids endure — both physical and emotional trauma from the sexual abuse itself, and psychological trauma from knowing that images of that abuse are circulating on the Internet.”

This is not gossip. Multiple reviews still left on Goodreads note this fact and literally nothing else about the book. I reviewed Jerry Sandusky’s book and noted his conviction on 45 counts of child abuse, and I’m not the only one. They are all still standing, because it is patently ridiculous to say that Sandusky’s conviction doesn’t have a bearing on the content of his self-elegy about how great he was to kids, or that Bath’s pedophilia doesn’t factor into his children’s book. That there are many, many reviews still standing that note these facts makes me wonder what the sandwich is going on with this new policy.

It’s looking to me that Goodreads is swatting very specific users, and backing it up with confusing, badly considered “policy changes” that aren’t so much changes as after-the-fact justifications. Out of a site of millions of users, that Goodreads went after 21 people looks underhanded and sneaky. The reason they cannot with clarity articulate what exactly the policy is – it’s not shelf names, or maybe it is; of course you can talk about the author, unless you can’t – is an indicator that it’s not a policy change but the ass-covering actions of an institution acting on some kind of personal whim. Which is absolutely no way to write policy.

But then, it’s not really a whim, more of a signal to users that Goodreads is changing its focus from community development to marketing to authors. Amazon acquired Goodreads last year, and I think this is the signal that things are going to change to a more business friendly site. There have always been important differences in Amazon and Goodreads reviews: Goodreads allows profanity, for example, because it’s not a store, but social network. (The terms of service, like most social networking sites, specifically disallows users under the age of 13, so you don’t have to think of the children.) There has never been a downvoting system on Goodreads either, because it really doesn’t matter if the review is “helpful” to every user; it has not been about sales. While I’ve been reluctant to engage in paranoid tin-foil-hattery about how Amazon was going to ruin everything, it is not mouth-frothing to note that Amazon has to make their money somehow, and I can tell you it’s not necessarily going to be through book sales, but the marketing dollars of authors.

In this interview by Community Manager Patrick Brown about Goodreads uploaded in August, he focuses largely on the utility of Goodreads to authors. explaining their recommendation algorithm and discussing how the social networking aspects fuel the discovery process. (Discovery being  the buzzword these days about how writers go about getting a book into the hands of readers, as the traditional publishing model splinters and bursts into flames.) Reviews that focus on author behavior – and of course we are not children, so we know this means negative reviews that focus on author behavior – are disruptive to the discovery process from the point of view of the author: you are hearing about my book all wrong!

So, so many of the writings I see out there discussing this policy change note the recent allegations of a young woman who claimed to have been bullied on Goodreads. Salon asks: Did a writer get bullied on Goodreads? They repeat her initial claims that her book was tagged with shelves titled “author should be sodomized” and “should be raped in prison”. The link to her Tweets, which was the only evidence of this claim, goes to a deleted page, and there was never a link to any Goodreads shelves, because they never existed. (Here we get into the issue of why a self-referenced post on Twitter isn’t a credible source, for those paying attention,  journalists.)

If you actually bother to read to the end of the article, there’s a lame ETA noting that that she eventually issued an “LOL, my bad”, admitting she misunderstood pretty much everything about Goodreads reviewing culture, the shelving system, and that the rape and death threats had never occurred. If you want an extremely thorough accounting of the timeline of events, check this post on ThreeRs, which documents copiously what exactly happened.

The damage had been done at this point, unfortunately, because in this brave new journalistic world that drives blog-arms of media outlets to half-ass their sources in order to get pages up fast while the controversy is breaking – page views! (I’m assuming things here about Goodreads’s motivation, but I can’t really figure why they’d kick this hornet’s nest so hard if they weren’t attempting to appear “tough on bullying” or something. Especially factoring in the recent rape threat meltdown on Twitter.) In this sloppy, bloggy new journalism, you get articles like this one on CNN, which credulously reiterates the fiction that an author had been bullied on Goodreads ZOMG, citing the Salon article, ignoring the retraction, and anemically noting that:

It’s hard to corroborate Howard’s story when she’s deleted her Tumblr (it’s not available in Google’s cache) and many of the Goodreads reviews and shelves allegedly devoted to bullying her have also been deleted. In addition, Howard backtracked on some of her statements.

Spoiler alert: you can’t corroborate the story because it didn’t happen that way at all.

But let’s just backtrack. Let’s say Howard’s books had been shelved in ways that said she should be raped and murdered. This would be horrible and wrong, and it would be right of Goodreads to delete these shelves and ban the users who said such things. I have seen threats on Goodreads – usually users against users and not involving authors at all – and Goodreads has always been good about deleting them once the comments have been flagged. (And sometimes going so far as to ban users.) The policy in place was already equipped to deal with personal threats.

Extending the Goodreads Terms of Service to this vague, mushy, overly broad policy about “author behavior” doesn’t solve Goodreads’s PR problem out there due to bad journalism, irresponsible blog posts, and the fact that people on Internet can suck. Maybe what they mean is “Twitter isn’t a credible source” (actually, no it isn’t) or “no more personal interaction stories, even secondhand ones” (ok, that’s a shift, but a slighter one than this encompassing “behavior” nonsense.)

Goodreads has been reticent to discuss specific user’s deletions, which I guess makes sense in terms of not gossiping in public about users, but in terms of parsing what exactly they are looking for, make it very difficult indeed. Goodreads employee Kara notes:

Anyone else with reviews or shelves created prior to September 21, 2013 that will be deleted under the revised policy will be sent a notification first and given time to decide what to do.  [emphasis hers]

I take this to mean that reviews not adhering to this vague policy written after the announcement will be deleted without notification. Given that I can’t even tell what’s actionable anymore,  I find this incredibly chilling. Way to turn a PR problem into a firestorm, Goodreads.

The implementation of this policy change has been breathtakingly badly managed, and the thinking behind their shift muzzy and indistinct, when it doesn’t look calculated towards aims that have nothing to do with the reviews in question.  Goodreads has moved from muffling users to silencing them because they are shifting their focus from peer-to-peer interactions – a social network – to the marketing potentials in a website of 20 million readers. It’s been said before, but the user is the product on any social networking site. They can’t sell you if you won’t behave.

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In which I disparage the author’s good name

 

This book was a steaming pile of pungent, worm-infested dog diarrhea… but NOT
because it attempted to marry Star Trek:The Next Generation (STNG) with Marvel
Comics’ “X-Men” (XM) series. In fact, that part actually didn’t go too badly. It
was author Michael Jan Freidman’s basic writing skills that were the disaster.
Here’s a run-down:

The Good
Crossovers between different comic,
television or movie series rarely go well, even under the best of circumstances.
On the face of it, a STNG novel with an X-Men tie-in looks like a horrible idea.
On closer inspection though, these series complement each other in a a number of
ways. In the history of the Star Trek universe, the Kahn character (Ricardo
Montalban in the movies) led a bunch of genetically-enhanced supermen (in the
Nietzsche sense, not the DC Comics sense) in a rebellion which started World War
III… that’s easy enough to tie in with the whole X-Men theme of super-mutants.
In this book, the X-Men are from an alternate timeline of Earth, which crossed
over with the Star Trek timeline becuase the Borg.. blah, blah, blah.. it all
sounded plausible enough for the level of suspension-of-disbelief which STNG and
X-Men already ask of their readers. The STNG and XM characters are already sort
of ideologically alligned because both franchises are already preachy as hell
about social issues, tolerance, acceptance, world peace and the
like.

Micheal Jan Friedman also does well going off on pseudoscienific
jibber-jabber tangents about things like how the transporters on the Enterprise
teleport things differently than how the X-Man “Nightcrawler” can teleport. That
seems like the sort of thing Star Trek fans usually get a hardon over, so kudos
to Friedman for playing to his audience.

The whole subplot with Erid
Sovar learning he has mutant superpowers is done reasonably well, too. This is
the sort of storyline you see in most of the X-Men stuff… the general public
is terrified of what mutants might do with their newfound powers. Erid is scared
about what’s happening to him, and feels isolated -even from loved ones. Other
young mutants in a similar situation deal with the experience differently.
Telekinetic character “Rahatan” uses his gifts to advance his megalomaniacal
political ambitions. There’s always one bad apple in these stories, huh?
Overall, this storyline had some potential; the dynamic between Erid and Corba
might have been interesting, had it been developed.

The Bad
The
real problem with this book is that Micheal Jan Friedman writes with all the
skill of a meth addict with Attention Deficit Disorder, who’s just started
learning English as a second language. The following is an incomplete list of
Friedman’s crimes against the written word:

1) The exposatory dialogue is
hamfisted and awkward. On p.86, for example, Friedman introduces a minor
character, Relda Sovar (Erid’s brother, it happens) by first dropping his name,
when another character says to him:
“I’ve always said that Reldo
Sovar knows his twentieth century artists.”

How often do you call
your friends by their full name in conversation?

On the next page, we
learn Reldo is a security guard when the same friend teases him:
Homesick?
A big, bad security officer like you?”

Ugh….

The
excruciating pain of Friedman’s exposition is greatly magnified by what
he feels the readers need explained to them. I mean… this is a Star
Trek/ X-Men fanfic novel, right? Isn’t it safe to assume that the only people
remotely interested in reading this trash are fans of Star Trek and/or the
X-Men? So why does Friedman devote a paragraph on page 21 telling us that the
transporters on the Enterprise convert matter into energy, transmit that energy
to some destination point, and then turn the energy back into matter? If you
consider yourself a fan of Star Trek but you still needed this little refresher
course on transporters, this book is probably taking away valuable time you
should be using to finish your Clown College applications. Not much later,
Friedman also feels the need to explain to us that CDR Worf is a Klingon, and
thus has difficulty being chummy and showing affection the way most humans do. I
don’t consider myself a super fanboy, but I think I had more or less gathered
that much about Worf over the years.

2) Storm: Yeah, the Halle Berry
character. Since when did she become the undisputed leader of the X-Men,
ordering everybody else (including Wolverine) around like a petty dictator? She
never did in any of the X-Men comics or movies. And what purpose does this
modification of her personality/role serve? None that I can see; it’s just
weird. And the Picard/Storm love interest? It feels very inauthentic, like a
random bedpost notch designed to Kirk-ify CAPT Picard. The last thing
Picard (or anybody else) needs is Kirk-ification.

3) Wolverine: The X-Men
movies got Wolverine right. He’s a man trying to hold back animalistic impulses.
He’s got a lot of humanity, but he’s struggling with the trauma of past forced
surgeries and brainwashing by some shadowy government agency. He’s also got a
lot of identity issues, because a portion of his memory is missing. He comes
across as a very three dimensional and sympathetic character in the first two
X-Men movies. In this book, however, he’s a ridiculous asskicking bozo who calls
everybody “Bub”, and then on page 133 he says “Yer’ darn tootin’”
unironically. Wait a second… does this novel also have a tie-in with that show
“Hee Haw”? The cover art doesn’t seem to reference it. Maybe they couldn’t fit
the big cartoon donkey in between Data’s head and that looming “X” logo.


4) Michael Jan Friedman has a pathologic obsession with where people are
standing in relation to one another. He clutters up his writing, subjecting
readers to tedious accounts of what order people walk into a room, or who’s in
front of who when they are walking down the hallway. For serious. You think I’m
joking? Check this out (page 132):

Just then, [Picard] heard the
chimes that signify the presence of a visitor outside his ready room. He leaned
back in his chair and faced the door.
“Come,” Picard said.
A moment later,
the door opened, revealing Commander Riker. But as the first officer entered the
room, Picard saw the man wasn’t alone.
Storm walked in after him. Then came
Banshee and Woverine. One by one, the X-Men took up positions on the oppostie
side of Picard’s desk, each with the same determined expression on his or her
face.
“They wanted to see you, sir,” said Riker.
The captain nodded.
“Thank you, Number One.”
He turned to the mutants. “Would any of you like a
seat?”
Storm shook her head. “No. Thank you.”
Resting his elbows on the
armrests of his chair, Picard made a steeple of his fingers. “All right, then.
What can I do for you?”
Banshee looked to Storm. So did Wolverine.
“Go
ahead, ‘Ro’”, said the mutant in the mask.
Storm regarded the Captain. “It is
very simple,” she said. “We would like to help.”


That’s really
the way Friedman wrote it. Half a page to walk into a room and offer help? Jesus
Christ, a person could go insane reading this stuff. Who does Micheal Jan
Friedman need to fuck around here to get an editor?

What’s that? Do I
think I could do better?
I know I could.
Here’s my revision of the same
passage:

The door chimed.
“Come”
Riker entered, with the X-Men
in tow.
“Sir, they requested a meeting with you.”
Storm approached the
desk, “It’s about the situation on Xhaldia, Jean-Luc. We’d like to
help.”

Done. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

5) The surprise
party for Worf: The less said the better. If you didn’t see that coming a mile
away, there are plenty of neurologists in the Yellow Pages who should be
qualified to help you.

6) The planet suddenly plagued with a rash of
superpower-enhanced mutants is called “Xhaldia”. Oh look! There’s an “X” in its
name. That’s so… oh, forget it.

Has all dignity been lost?

The Ugly
Up to the last page,
this book was just a bit of light bubblegum reading; nothing to take too
seriously. Nothing prepared me for the surprise ending, and I am deadly serious
when I say it was a GENUINE surprise. At first, I wasn’t sure what I was
reading… how it was intended, or whether it was even supposed to be real. When
I put the meaning of it together, it was like a horse kicking me in the chest.
It’s on the very last page of the book… two pages after the story ends, to be
exact; on the “About the Author” page. Right there in black-and-white it says
it: Michael Jan Friedman has authored thirty-two books. Thirty-two.
Oh! the
Humanity…

 

It appears there is also a Star Trek (TOS) / X-Men crossover comic.

Good, Lord. What’s next?

Oh… of course:

Temple of Juno, Agrigento, Sicily – August, 2007

Temple of Juno

So I’m just kind of messing around here… experimenting with the site’s capabilities.  I have a few short video clips of Chizuru and I, and our life in Sicily. I used to send these to friends and family as email attachments, kind of like little “video postcards”. Most of them aren’t too much to look at, but I have video of Mt. Aetna’s eruption in September 2007, which is pretty cool.

LIGHTS OUT!

 This is a nice, lounge version of Rage Against the Machine’s classic “Guerilla Radio” – one of my favorites!     -BB

Here’s the lyrics, for them’s that want’em:

 

 

 

 

“Guerilla Radio”

Transmission third world war third round
A decade of the weapon of sound above ground
No shelter if you’re lookin’ for shade
I lick shots at the brutal charade
As the polls close like a casket
On truth devoured
A Silent play in the shadow of power
A spectacle monopolized
The camera’s eyes on choice disguised
Was it cast for the mass who burn and toil?
Or for the vultures who thirst for blood and oil?
Yes a spectacle monopolized
They hold the reins and stole your eyes
Or the fistagons
The bullets and bombs
Who stuff the banks
Who staff the party ranks
More for Gore or the son of a drug lord None of the above fuck it cut the cord
Lights out Guerrilla Radio
Turn that shit up
Lights out Guerrilla Radio
Turn that shit up
Lights out Guerrilla Radio
Turn that shit up
Lights out Guerrilla Radio
Contact I highjacked the frequencies
Blockin’ the beltway
Move on D.C.
Way past the days of Bombin’ M.C.’s
Sound off Mumia guan be free
Who gottem yo check the federal file
All you pen devils know the trial was vile
An army of pigs try to silence my style
Off ‘em all out that box
It’s my radio dial
Lights out Guerrilla Radio
Turn that shit up
Lights out Guerrilla Radio
Turn that shit up
Lights out Guerrilla Radio
Turn that shit up
Lights out Guerrilla Radio
Turn that shit up
It has to start somewhere
It has to start sometime
What better place than here,
what better time than now?
All hell can’t stop us now
All hell can’t stop us now
All hell can’t stop us now
All hell can’t stop us now
All hell can’t stop us now
All hell can’t stop us now

супермен

Soviet Superman

Alternative history stories are like dream sequences. You get to do all sorts of things you would never do to your beloved characters in “real life”… but it’s okay! They’re in “just kidding” mode, so anything goes! When it’s all over, the franchise will be intact like nothing happened -because it didn’t. Wanna see Superman kill Batman? We got it here! Wanna see Batman tie up Wonder Woman with her own golden lasso, in a way that makes you feel a little bit sorry for her, but is also damn sexy? Come and get it! Wanna see Wonder Woman break free and kick Batman’s ass in a way that’s even sexier? Buy it while supplies last!

The premise is great: instead of crashing in Kansas and being raised by the wholesome Kent family, what if Superman had crash landed on a collective farm in the Ukrane, and been raised in Stalin’s Soviet system? The writing is very thoughtful about this… how it would have changed the Cold War, what America’s response would have been, even how the lives of Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen would have been different. There are also some other little details thrown in, which worked well. JFK didn’t get assassinated. He divorced Jackie, married Marilyn, and won a second term. Also, in a computer “error” which nods to Diebold, Lex Luthor wins the American Presidency by 101% of the popular vote. I liked all of that. Supes is the same well-intentioned guy he always was, except here he’s drunk the Marxist Kool-Aid, so he’s brainwashed with all the heavy-handed ideology about the Workers’ Paradise and so on. It’s probably what fans bought this edition to see, and fortunately the writers don’t wear it too thin.

The illustrations deserve special recognition, because the whole setting has a true, otherworldly “alternative history” feel. Also, the Russification of the costumes was very well done.

 

I particularly like Batman in Russified form:

 

 

Complaint Dept
Okay, so nothing’s perfect. Overall, this was a great comic, and well worth the time and money spent to enjoy it. There were, however, a few elements that annoyed me:
1) Joseph Stalin is portrayed as genuinely believing the ideology of Marx and Lenin, and enthusiastic for the opportunity Superman presents to spread them. I would argue that Stalin only saw these philosophies as a convenient avenue to power. When Koba privately gushes over what Superman will mean for the workers of the world? …that doesn’t fly with me. Stalin would have used Superman to consolidate and expand his own power. If he couldn’t control Superman, he would have been looking for a way to kill him.
2) In the regular franchise, Lex Luthor is supposed to be smart, but not as ridiculously smart as we get here. He simultaneously plays chess on 81 different chessboards (and wins every single game, natch), while teaching himself Urdu, and redesigning the Dept of Energy’s supercomputer?? WTF is this? -a cartoon? Let’s keep it real, folks!
3) The writers’ ideas about economics and politics are very naive. In one scene, Luthor proves his genius (once again) by providing a government official with “the formula” which will allow Congress to balance the budget! …as if everybody wants to balance the budget, but they just aren’t sure what numbers would bring it into balance! I guess once they have the formula, they’ll forget about earmarks, porkbarrel spending, and expensive projects to enrich their own districts? Gimme a break!
4) ***SPOILER ALERT*** The suprise ending was so close, yet missed the mark. The last two pages would have been perfect, if they would have chosen any other time and place, so as to suggest new possibilities, or a tie-in to the canonical Superman world. Making the whole story a recursive loop was just lame.