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Review: Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods

Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods by Danna Staaf My rating: 5 of 5 stars Disclaimer: I won a copy via Lib...

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Reading List for Anti-Confederates

Considering HBO’s recent and ill-conceived move in terms of future television, I thought I would present a brief list of books to read that will either educate you about slavery that are not objectification.  Please keep in mind that I am undoubtedly missing or forgetting some books simply because my area of interest is not Civil war.  I am trying to highlight books that are slightly less popular than Roots, the works of Frederick Douglas, or Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

1.       The Hanging of Angelique by Afua Cooper.    This book is not about American slavery but about slavery in Montreal.  Angelique was a slave woman who was accused and found guilty of setting a fire that destroyed part of the city.  The book details slavery in Canada and illustrates something that people in the United States really don’t know about.  Cooper spent at least 15 years researching this book, and she expands the topic slightly to deal with slaves in the colony in general. 

2.       Kindred by Octavia Butler.  So, you can’t read Sci-fi and not include Butler’s book on a list like this.  Butler’s heroine finds herself in a time jump, where she is forced backwards to exist at the same time of her ancestors, including both slaves and the “owner” who raped them.  It is a stunning and wonderful novel.

3.     
Segu by Maryse Conde.  This novel concerns a family in Africa at a time when both slavery and Islam take hold.  Members of the family responded to the conflicts differently.  While most of the book takes place in Africa, there is a sequence set in the New World that deals with slavery and one members of the family’s reaction to it.  Conde’s writing is impassioned and her characters live.  There is also a sequel, Children of Segu.  Her book I, Tituba is about the slave in the Salem witch trials and is highly recommend as well.

4.       The Benjamin January novels by Barbara Hambly.  Hambly’s series is about Ben January a listened doctor who returns to New Orleans from Paris after the death of his wife.   Ben is a black man, his mother and father were slaves, and he cannot practice medicine in New Orleans, which is part of the recent purchase.  The series concerns January solving various crimes while dealing with tensions between Americans and member of New Orleans, as well as the racism that he is subjected to every day.  His mother (a freed slave) and his sisters (both free, one a mistress) also play central roles.  The book takes a harsh look at slavery as well as what free blacks dealt with; Hambly even uses real life cases in the books.  Much of the series’ strength comes from the development of Ben who eventually remarries and resists the slave owning structure.

5.       The Land Shall be Deluged in Blood by Patrick Breen.  Breen’s book is a history of the Nat Turner Rebellion.  He presents as much biographical detail about those involved in the Uprising as he can, examines why there wasn’t more support, and compares it with the events of Haiti.

6.       The Underground Railroad by Coulson Whithead.  In a slim volume that imagines the Underground Railroad as a truly a railroad, Whithead uses real life examples of reactions and escapes from slavery to chronicle one woman’s fight for freedom.  The book is quick read and worthy of all the praise it gets.  Every section has a real-life story that it is based on.

7.       Gateway to Freedom by Eric Foner.  Foner’s book is about the Northern areas on the Underground Railroad.  He looks at the various groups in places lIke Philadelphia who tried to help slaves to freedom.  He also highlights the various laws that made such actions illegal as well as how slave catchers took everyone who was black regardless. 

8.       Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horowitz.  This book is less about the Civil War or civility, but about how certain people cannot get over the Confederacy losing.  In other words, Horowitz’s book showcases why a show such as Confederate is wrong.  Scary reading.


9.       And finally – slave narratives.  Today, with the advent of ereaders and Project Guttenberg, it is quite easy to read slave narratives in addition to 12 Years A Slave or Narrative of a Life by Frederick Douglass.  This is not only due to the copyright free nature of the works (copyright expired to be more exact) but also Federal Programs that sent people out to record the narratives.  Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Escape in a Chest, William Brown’s narrative (as well as his fiction story about Jefferson’s daughter), Noah Davis’ narrative.  You can also read the works of Ida B. Wells, who wrote about lynching as well as various anti-slavery tracts.  All for free.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Comic Round Up #2

Source comiXology
In my last comic round up, I started with a series of comics based on a video game, so I figure I will do the same here.  The four issue World of Warcraft Legion series is apparently a set up for the video game (or part of the video game).  The series isn’t as good as Overwatch, in part because it relies a bit more on reader familiarity, but it isn’t bad.  Part of the series focuses on the relationship between fathers and daughters, in one case, a father upset that his daughter isn’t a son.  Each issue is more of a character study with some action.  The first and last issues being the best.

                To be fair to World of Warcraft, the female characters are actually drawn in ways that make sense and not as objectified as many other comic books would have done them.  Take for instance, Tellos, which has had all good markings of a good fantasy story – exciting chases, a tiger man, magic, a female pirate with intelligence – until you realize that said female pirate with the triple DDD bust size constantly spans her own waist with one of her hands.  Every Time She Puts Said Hand On Her Hip.
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                I’m done.

Where are her eyes?  Source comiXology
                There are exceptions to this trend.  Marvel’s Ms. Marvel being an example.  She is nicely geeky, she tries to be a good daughter, she is nice and insecure.  She’s a Muslim.  In other words, she is everything Donald Trump would hate.  The fact that she is a normal teen and minority is a huge step forward.  She isn’t perfect.  It’s good that Marvel is finally doing something like this.  I wish they would go back and rescue some of their less known woman heroes as well.  I really want Firestar done well. 
Source pinterest

                Ms. Marvel, however, does give me hope.  Not only in terms of the future of comics, but also that hype can be correct.

                And she is drawn realistically, and the issue passes the Bechdel test.





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                Tiny Titans doesn’t, at least not entirely.  There is jokes about who has a crush on Robin, and while this might be a reference to Nightwing’s butt, it is rather annoying.   Still, the comic is a little cute, though the DC Super Hero Girls was better.

        
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        Tales of Honor (#1 and FCBD issue) is a series based on the Honor Harrington novels by David Weber.  #1 is basically a start of Honor’s story, starting around book 6 or 7.  The FCBD issue is a standalone story.  Both have the info dumps that do tend to populate Weber’s books.  Interesting, Nimitz, Honor’s treecat is drawn differently in each, at one point so large that he would not be a shoulder perching cat, which is what he is supposed to be.  Issue #1 sexualizes Honor a bit, though not as much as some comics would have.  I have to give the edge to FCBD issue, though, the story was complete and straight forward.  It showed Honor at her best.  However, if you like Honor, you might want to check out this series.


              

 Murena is a graphic novel series that in some ways is the sequel to Claudius the God.  The story focuses on Nero and the bastard son of Claudius, Murena, who are friend despite being, whether they know it or no, on opposite sides.  The art work is fine, the history good, and the storytelling well done.  If you want a I Claudius again, this is the one for you.  What is interesting is the use of Nero, in particular making him an almost sympathetic character.  The first volume seems to be an indication that part of what the series is going to look is the corruptive nature of power. 

Source comiXology

  
Fantasia via Youtube
              A few years ago, I was in DC and saw the Diaghilev and Ballet Russe exhibit at the National Gallery.  It included footage from a performance of Rite of Spring.  Now, I am of the generation who knows that music thanks to Disney’s Fantasia, which means I hear it and think dinosaurs. 

                There were no dinosaurs.
From the Rite of Spring Ballet, pinterst

                Thankfully, there is Age of Reptiles, which is about dinosaurs.  In fact, it is nothing but dinosaurs.  There is no dialogue, just dinosaurs being dinosaurs.  It is absolutely cool and enthralling.  Be warned, there is blood so if you are a parent, you might want to check it out before kiddo reads it.

                Closing note- American McGee’s Grimm #1 is a hilarious take down of the super hero comic book.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review: Heathen Vol. 1

Heathen Vol. 1 Heathen Vol. 1 by Natasha Alterici
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

There are two mythological cycles that I have a fondness for – the Story of Troy and the Volsung saga. In fact, I prefer Norse myths to Greek. I’m not entirely sure why, but I always have.

Heathen is a comic book that draws upon ancient Norse stories but adds more.

The story is about Aydis, a young woman who is a warrior, despite her wearing bikini type clothing in the north. Unfortunately, Aydis has been labeled unnatural by her village because she likes other women. She does not want to get married, at least not to a man.

The story of how her life is saved is actually one of the most touching stories of acceptance, I’ve seen lately.

Because she has lost almost everything (she still has her horse Saga), Aydis decides to go on quest. She is going to brave the fire and rescue Brynhild, but this quest becomes more difficult as the focus on her quest changes – she is going to challenge the status quo in a more direct way.

To be honest, the artwork in this volume isn’t to my taste. This is just a preference issue, not an artistic judgement. Certain aspects of it are appealing – such as the horses and the wolves. The women just look a little strange. It’s like Aeon Flux – storytelling is great, but the art work is my type of thing. Yet, I couldn't put this down because the storytelling and characters are so great.

There is some humor here – particular when it comes to animals – and if you are familiar with Norse myths and legends (not the Marvel version, BTW), you will get some of the character names. The book also draws more closely on the mythology than the Marvel comic, and there is even historical reference to the coming of Christianity.

What is more important, and just lovely, is the book does examine the question of love and truth though the characters, including the goddess Freya who meets Aydis.

It really is a wonderful human story.

Look, I loved it so much, I went to see when new issues would be coming out.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Review Beasts of Burden series

In the film 101 Dalmatians, Pongo and Perdita howl for help once their puppies have been stolen.  It is an interesting concept, this use of howling and work because any dog owner can believe it.  Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson start their excellent series about a group of dogs the same way.  The dogs of Burden, however, do so to call on the help of a wise dog.

                Wise Dog = Merlin or Gandalf, he is an English Sheep Dog after all.

                In Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites (the first four issues as well as a short story) chronicle the beginning adventures of Ace, Jack, Whitey, Rex, Pugsley, and their cat friend Orphan.   The story starts as the friends with the help of the Wise Dog, investigate why Jack’s dog house is haunted. 

                Apparently, Burden is the Sunnydale of the dog world because there is quite a bunch of weird things going on. 
                 Over the course of the first volume, the group of friends becomes wise dogs in training, guardians of the area, tasked to protect it.  Like most fiction involving super hero teens, owners (the de facto parents) are largely absent and a dog owner sometimes wonders what is going on with these people.  Yet, despite that wobble (and necessary plot hole.  To be fair, owners do make some appearances), the series is pretty darn good.

                In part, this is due to the dogs and cats remaining dogs and cats.  It is also because of the strength of the storytelling.  Animal Rites is in many ways, an origin sequence.  But the stories are heartfelt, and while not having the lecture footnotes of Atwood’s Angel Catbird series, the stories do comment on how we treat animals and each other in the world. 

                At first, the group is seeming to be entirely male, but female characters in the form of a dog and a cat are added.  In many ways, too, the dogs act like their respective breeds (though my Dobie was braver than Rex).  This isn’t a story for children, there is death of some pets (but not of the major characters), and the dogs sometimes are a bit, well, fierce.  It would be fair to say that the series is in part horror story from a dog point of view.  It actually remembers me a bit of Wayne Smith’s Thor.

                The issue Neighborhood Watch contains stories that are referred to in the later part of animal rites.  Included are a story about a chicken stealing goblin and a flock of strange sheep.  Honesty, the sheep story is one of the spookiest I’ve read in a long time.


                Hunters and Gatherers and Issue #0 seem to occur after Animal Rites.  Issue) details the story of one the cat characters in greater detail.  It is also a story about family.  IN the closing panels, you can easily see why the series has won awards.  Hunters is an adventure tale that does seem to change Watership Down in part.  The crossover with Hellboy is also very good, making Pugsley more than simply a downer.  It was both funny and touching.


Friday, July 21, 2017

HBO's Confederate Problem and its Stupidity

Like most people when I heard about the new project from the showrunners of Game of Thrones, my reaction was WTF.  My reaction is based on the objectification that occurs from the first episode of GoT, not so much from the project itself.  Then as a fellow member of an online group pointed out, we don’t really know.  Perhaps the show will be nuanced and sensitive.  That is true.  It wouldn’t be the first such project to be based on alternate Civil War ending, that has been done before.

                But considering GoT and its gender and race problems, I’m not holding my breath.

                The other thing that bothers me is bigger.  Why this series?  Underground, a series set pre-Civil War, and boasting a predominately black cast was recently cancelled by WGN America.  If HBO wanted to tackle the question of slavery and race, why not pick up this excellent, well-acted, and well written series?  (Honestly, the “Minty” episode needs to win awards and awards and be taught in schools).  While Underground focuses on escaped slaves, it also has slave catchers (if that is really important to HBO) as well as abolitionists.  Honesty, you will never look at Chris Meloni the same way, and one of the best arcs during the first season was that of the slave-catcher’s son. 

                But, you say, HBO wants fantasy to replace GoT.  Okay, okay.  The thing is that there is plenty of fantasy out there.  Hell, there is plenty of fiction.  How about Segu by Maryse Conde?  Not fantasy, but the book and its sequel chronicle an African family as Europeans and Muslims start to influence/take over their lands.  It has everything in it.  Sex, violence, debates about religion.  Why not Segu?

                Or why not some of the work of Tananarive Due, such as her African Immortals series?  Fantasy, vampires, and far better than Trueblood.  I dare you not to cry after reading the first book.

                Or how about anything by Octavia Butler?  Hell, her works could keep HBO going for years.  


              Are those works (and works by Okorafor, Hopkinson, Jemisin, Banks,  James, Mosely among others) too black?  Is that it?

                Okay then, how about the Free Man of Color series by Barbara Hambly.  She’s white, her main character is black, and it takes place in New Orleans right after the Louisiana Purchase.  Benjamin January, the title character, solves mysteries, and one his sidekicks is a white guy.

                Does that work for you? 

                Or how about this – adapt some Forgotten Realms stuff.  You got your fantasy, you got your dragons, you can have white people in it but you can also have Drizzit who is a black elf.  You can make the characters purple for all you want.  There you go.  Why not that? 

Or if you want alternate history, look at works such as Tremontaine or the Elephant and Maccaw Banner.  You could also do the Forgotten Realms Empire trilogy.   How about the Monoglaid?  The works of Cherie Priest or Chelsea Quinn Yarbro?  

                OR how about the works of Max Gladstone – he has everything, including gods in his Craft series.

                In some ways, HBO’s greenlighting of the project is a showcase of why representation matters.  IF the answer to a lack of people of color in GoT is the construction of a series based on an idea that is some people’s wet dream (honesty, read Confederates in the Attic), you are missing the point.   Hell, I’m probably missing the point with some of my suggestions. 

                We need representation.  Gene Rodenberry knew this.  He knew this, though he might not have called it that.   It’s great that the rough cut of the Black Panther movie is four hours, but it shouldn’t have taken it so long to have been made. Just like Wonder Woman. 

                Look, I know we had Electra, Catwoman, Steel, but look at the production of those movies compared to the white male hero movies.  It’s not the same.  And that is part of the problem.  Compare the advertising for Batman movies vs the advertising for Wonder Woman.  Look at the reaction to WW, and that shows you why we need it.  I hope the lines for Black Panther are just as long.


                Representation matters but so does what you chose to represent.  To take a fantasy/sci-fi genre and use it just for slavery, again, is at best a lack of literacy and sensitivity.  Why must all heroes be white and mostly (all) male?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Comic Round Up

Over the last month I have read several comic books/graphic novels that have been offered for free for kindle or on Comixology.  Here’s a some of the highlights.


Overwatch Series – This comic series, offered for free, is based on the video game of the same name.  It is a game I haven’t played.  The comic series, spanning ten issues, is pretty damn good.  There are quite a few woman characters, several of whom are women of color.  The series also covers several morality questions – what is good, just, right.  The series also uses characters who are older.  The artwork is pretty good as well.  While eight of the issues are basically character studies with action, the last two issues deal with Halloween and Christmas, and so are somewhat a guest star list type of story.  Familiarity is with the video game is not needed to read these, though they should be read in order.  This is because a character in one is the mother of the central character in the following issue.  While the series does offer a must know cliffhanger, it is resolved in the ten issues.

Various Batman Comics -  Overall the Batman comics were what you would expect from Batman, and yet, they were in some ways the most disappointing.  The Rebirth first issue was good, though perhaps straining at the very loose sense of reality that holds things together.  The sequence involving passengers on a plane was, in particular, really great.  Neil Gaiman’s Batman in Black and White was clever, if not as clever as it thinks it is.  But the taste of Batman was soured by two freebies, the 10c Adventure and Gotham Adventures. 

                Batman and the Ten Cent Adventure is not as bad as Gotham Adventures.  The basic set up is that Bruce Wayne is framed for a murder.  The story is told from the viewpoint of his bodyguard.  A young woman who reminds a bit of Black Canary.  She was Wayne’s bodyguard until she discovered his identity as Brue Wayne and then she became is crime fighting partner, just don’t call her Robin.  Her voice tells the story so we get very much of Wayne worship and of course, she is in love with him, though he doesn’t know it.  And poor Bruce had to break up with his true love which he does by inviting her to his mansion so she can walk in on him when he is with some other women.  Of course, then he stalks her when he is Batman because that is so romantic. 
                You see my problem. 


Source ComiXology

                Gotham Adventures is worse, even though it features the extended Bat family.  That comic opens with Batman, Robin, and Batgirl chasing the Joker.  Robin gets delegated to help some woman, and I am not really sure what Batgirl does because she doesn’t have anything to do with Batman catching the Joker.  The Bat group take Joker back to the Batcave because there is a bounty on Joker’s head.  Nightwing shows up and gets a few lines.  Finally, after several pages, Batgirl actually gets to speak.  Everyman had lines, mostly several, before Batwing gets even one.  She is left to guard the Joker, who of course knocks her out.  If it was Alfred getting the drop on the Joker the shit would have hit the fan.  While she is knocked out, the Bat men are all doing heroic things.   So, one woman, who can’t even guard a prisoner who is handcuffed.  It’s a shame really because it is leaves a sour taste in the mouth, and stops what would have been a pretty fun comic read from being so.

Various Wonder Woman Comics – So these include Wonder Woman Rebirth (FCBD editions and #1 itself) as well as DC Super Hero Girls.  The Rebirth issues are very interesting and good.  And guess what, one of the FCBD editions has two men talking about a woman and her relationship to one of them.  That is just awesome.  Really awesome.  In particular, what I enjoyed about the Rebirth idea was the concept of storytelling and retconning which WW’s Rebirth storyline seems to directly tackle.  This is wonderful because all the multiple origin stories get a tad confusing.   

                There was also an older Wonder Woman, apparently after Crisis of Infinite Worlds.  This is interesting because Diana Prince is no longer Wonder Woman, at least in name, though the villains still see her as such.  Which shows you that villains know better.  And this raises a question.  I have not read mainstream comics for several years.  But I do know that have been quite a few times when Diana Prince has lost the title of Wonder Woman (once to her mother).  I know that in the last few year, Marvel’s Thor lost his hammer to a woman, and Iron Man is, wonderfully, a young black woman but my question is this -  do any male super heroes lose their status or title as much or more as Wonder Woman has?  Why Wonder Woman?  I’m not trying to be snarky, I am legitimately curious.  How does this break down?  Anyone know?

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                The Super Hero girl comics are cute, and intended it seems for a younger audience.  The two I read where actually the same story, one just longer than the other.  The story concerns summer break where Wonder Woman and Bumble Bee go to Mount Olympus.  The cast is multi-ethnic, though a bit strange – why Poison Ivy – but the series does show the girls working together and being there for each other.  Though, why Batgirl sightsees as Batgirl I don’t know.









I mean how does this work?
There were some surprises in this comic freebie read – Red Sonja 0, written by Michael Avon Oeming and Mike Curry was actually quite good, despite the   costume that makes no sense and seems to have a magical power to stay still and not show X-rated bits.  Red Sonja Vol 4, #0 was not as good, in fact it was just annoying, with more teasing of body parts.  Damsels: Mermaids was also quite good and a wonderful take on Andersen’s Little Mermaid.  Honesty, this might just be my favorite version.
 
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Of course, not much has changed in comics.  Women, in particular the heroes, are usually drawn with Triple DDD bust sizes and a middle that couldn’t house a liver or intestine.  The men are buff too, let’s be honest, but they at least have some room for internal organs. 

Where does the food go?




 This is particularly distracting in Grimm Comics because the story telling is good there, but the female characters so sexualized that it is nerve wracking.  The explanation seems to be Neverland, a spin off, because the Wendy character was actually dressed.  The Godstorm spin off was good too  - Zeus mediating on fatherhood was really great.  The expection to this is Jem and the Holograms - though there the real sized, curvy women are the only minority characters as well.  The white women are still super skinny.  It does easily pass the Bedchel test though.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Personal Canon: Watership Down

Watership Down
Richard Adams
First Read: 3rd/4th grade

Hazel and Fiver from the movie


                 I first read Watership Down after seeing the cartoon.  I was dusting my parents’ bookcase, and boom there the book was.  So, I read it and loved it.  Except for that one chapter.

El-ahrairah (movie)

                The basic plot of Watership is a quest by a group of rabbits as they try to find, first, a home and then female rabbits.  The rabbits have a trickster god called El-ahrairah.  The chapter that freaked me out when I first read it was a story about El-ahrairah going to the Black Rabbit (death).  El-ahrairah wanted to save his people so he gambled with the Black Rabbit.  Each time he lost, he lost body parts.  His ears were replaced with cabbage leaves and so on.  It freaked me out.  Really freaked me out.  It was the only time I ever needed a night light.


                It was the cabbage leaves.

The Black Rabbit

                Yet, even this chapter couldn’t kill my love for the book.  I re-read pretty much every year though college.  Until high school, I skipped that scary chapter.  But then I read it again and loved it.
  
              The great thing about Watership Down is the whole language.  The whole world building.  The characters – Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, Dandelion, Blackberry, Pippin, and Keehar (who is not a rabbit).
            
    I love those characters.  I love this book.

                Rabbits taught me much.

                

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Review: I read it, so you don't have it

How to unlock her legs make a woman to have sex with you and to do anything for you How to unlock her legs make a woman to have sex with you and to do anything for you by David Right
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

So as you can tell from the title, this is one of those get laid books. It includes gems like how to make the mood on a date (a first date) lighter - by slapping the girl on the bum. Also other girls will always be more attractive than your girl, but that's okay just go after them.

In fairness, he does recommend honesty and passion for a woman, including her interests. Though he keeps using the word girl and not woman. I am presuming he means adults and not illegal age relationships..

And sentences like: "Men need lose hope because all is not lost". I'm not sure what that means really.

or "Where Seduction forms the basis of foreplay, in fact is a part of foreplay".

There is this wonderful gem, "where romance never lasts and maybe makes you feel weak and give in, seduction is a cycle that keeps repeating"

By the way, all woman yearn to give men "deep passionate desires". Even lesbians.

He does, to be fair, have some good points - like humor and listening, but then says to lie because that will seduce her faster.

He also says you should hypnotize women, in particular when they rejection you or are out of your league. So he really does look like a scumbag despite the nice points.

Then in the chapter about sex he worries about surrounding sexist. BTW, women use sex as a bargaining chip but this has been overlooked by a stereotype that uses it (I think that is what he is saying).

Women are easily addicted to food, shopping and spending money, according to this chapter on sex.

And he has 3 perfect lines for after sex.

Boobs. He uses the word boobs! He tells you to bite and talk dirty.

Men should be in control, he says, because women really like that. Then he tells men to do doggy style but five pages later says this is bad for the man, so I really don't want to tell you guys.


(There is also a huge disclaimer so you can't sue the author. Now you know why).

Hello rape culture book, how was your day?

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