She Is A Wonder

wonder-womanIt is easy to forget that “wonder” is a much bigger word than its normal usage.  We say, “I wonder what time the movie starts.” Wonder Woman brings the wonder in its old sense, the emotion aroused by something awe-inspiring, astounding, or surprising. Gal Gadot also delivers a noble and yet wondering quality to her portrayal of the Amazon princess. So for both the story and the woman, I say it’s time to go to the movies. Now to the details. . .

I could go into huge detail breaking down the symbolism and tropes expertly deployed in Wonder Woman, which is, in my opinion up with the best of the DC superhero movies recently released. But I won’t. I’ll tell you a few things I liked, and a couple of things I didn’t; though the movie is great, it isn’t perfect.

(Here There Be Spoilers.)

 

Likes

The lush cinematography was worthy of a superhero movie, none of this sepia-toned stuff like we’ve seen in the last couple of Superman movies. It’s not four-color, by any means, but it’s brighter.

This Diana is the Wonder Woman of long established comic-book canon; of the three big DC heroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman), her movie portrayal has been the least deconstructed.

I was wondering how the DC Cineverse would tell Diana’s origins and portray the Greek gods; after all, as with the Marvel Cineverse, the DC movie writers have largely avoided invoking straight-up magic and mythology. It’s all been “superscience,” really. The answer they came up with was. . . a story Hypolita tells to her daughter. My best guess is that the Greek gods were some kind of “space gods”, and in any case they’re no longer around except for Ares.

Speaking of Ares and the gods, the portrayal of their actions and motivations in the story Hypolita tells is a thinly disguised Christology. The gods create man to be good, Ares hates them and corrupts them, and goes to war with the other gods when they won’t help him destroy mankind. Ares is defeated, but not forever, and he remains in the world to further the corruption of mankind. Zeus creates Diana, who finally defeat Ares to save mankind. . . Diana, raised in a paradise, is innocent of all the evils of mankind, but is willing to fight and die to save humanity from Ares. Right there in the movie, it says that humanity is corrupt, undeserving of salvation. We are saved by love. It’s hard to get much more Christological than that.

And the action was fast, furious, leavened by just the right amount of humor and even serious commentary on war. It’s a great ride, and a movie worth adding to my collection.

Dislikes

Every movie does stuff like this. Every. Single. Movie. So this stuff doesn’t really count against it.

Thymescria (Paradise Island) is located somewhere in the Aegean Sea, between Greece and Asia Minor. We definitely know this, because Steve Trevor’s plane, which he flew from a base in the Ottoman Empire (probably somewhere in modern-day Turkey), crashes there. He and Diana leave the island by boat, which, overnight, arrives in England, sailing up the Thames to London. What?

I know why they did this; there had to be a few scenes that highlight Diana’s amazement/bewilderment with “man’s world.” They wanted to put those scenes in London to keep the plot pace clicking. But there are other things they could have done that wouldn’t break your suspension of disbelief. There were a few pieces like this; other than the overnight voyage, I was able to pretty much ignore them.

But there was this; the Amazons spoke English. This is handwaved by Diana claiming (and demonstrating) that the Amazons know many, many, many languages. Okay, but how? After all, they are completely cut off from and ignorant about the rest of the world. There are hints of sacred “superscience” in the background (instead of a Blue Healing Ray, they have blue-glowing healing pools, and Diana’s armor and weapons are super as well). I think the original plan was for them to have some kind of Sacred Object of Understanding that could instantly learn and teach such things, but if so it was dropped. I think it would have been cool if they’d spoken ancient Greek (with subtitles), until suddenly gifted with the Language of Man as spoken by Steve Trevor. I could imagine the Amazons having a Classical Age understanding of the world (they used bows and arrows, after all), while possessing some millenia-old gifts from their space gods.

Oh yeah, and then there was the question of Diana’s age. Either she took a long, long time to physically mature, or her birth was much more recent than you would think from the story her mother told her, or. . . I’m not sure what the alternative is; possibly the whole island being a Brigadoon? If it did take her a long time to grow up, that would explain at least how she learned so many languages; she was in school forever (though it still doesn’t explain her teachers).

In Diana’s final battle with Ares, it was like the two of them were just pulling new powers out of their hats from moment to moment. In Diana’s case, it was foreshadowed that she didn’t know her full potential, but the whole thing violated one of the major rules of superhero fights; before the Big Fight, you must clearly establish the strengths of each side. Ares used superstrength, telekinesis (down to the molecular level), ultra-class electrokinesis, and, oh yeah, command of mental powers, illusions, maybe teleportation. It really was hard to keep track.

Truthfully, the most satisfying fight of the movie happened much earlier.

But these are minor details; overall I give Wonder Woman 4 out of 5 stars. It was a solid, satisfying movie, a worthy entry into the ranks of superhero movies of the last few years. I look forward to the sequel.

 

 

 

 

 

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Book News and Chapter One

special-edition-cover

So, the edits of Wearing the Cape have been returned to me, and I’m going through them this week to prepare the final draft of the Wearing the Cape special edition (the above illustration will be on the cover, although the titling might be a bit different). The special edition will also include six illustrations provided by one of the excellent artists who contributed to the gamebook’s amazing look, so the result is going to be real pretty.

On other news, I haven’t been letting all the writing for the sourcebooks and other projects get in the way of working on Recursion, the next book in the Wearing the Cape series. So I just thought that I’d toss the first chapter of it up here tonight for you to get a first look at.

Enjoy!

Marion G. Harmon

RECURSION

Chapter One

Second only to the Event itself, the Big One was the single biggest society-changing event in early 21st Century US history. Before the Big One, we’d been mostly trusting of our breakthroughs. Sure, there were some bad ones, but the good guys seemed totally up to the job of keeping them mostly in check. Then Temblor proved that all it took was one with the power in the right place to bring suffering and hardship to millions. After that, we looked at our breakthroughs different—even the good ones.

Astra, Notes from a Life.

My hands were shaking, an internal micro-tremor but I’d learned how to ride it. I left them folded, relaxed in my lap. It wouldn’t be obvious, and if I kept my breathing even and deep then it wouldn’t move up into my diaphragm and voice.

“And, how are you?” Dr. Mendel’s pen tapped a metronome beat on her notepad. She recorded our sessions, so I’d always supposed the pad was for insights or think about later stuff. Or a prop.

I smiled and nodded, making sure my head bobbed slowly instead of spastically, stepped down hard on a leg-jiggling rebellion in my right knee before she could see it, and kept from fiddling with the skirt of my black Astra uniform. “Things still ache a little when I move a lot.”

I’d healed fast. Just over a month since the Whittier Base Attack, with Chakra’s help I’d healed the millions of breaks and micro-fractures in my bones from using myself as a missile against Seif-al-Dinn. I hadn’t peed blood in weeks, and Dr. Beth had pronounced me fully recovered from all my organ and soft-tissue damage. It was still safer to talk about the physical stuff, admit to a weakness that wasn’t Dr. Mendel’s concern.

She looked interested anyway. “Can you be more descriptive?”

“It’s like when I push myself past my limits in my exercise program. Just, achy.” I wondered if this was what early-onset arthritis felt like—especially the ache that had decided to be concentrate in my left shoulder sometime list week. I hadn’t messed my shoulder up any more than the rest of me—was it psychosomatic? I wasn’t about to say that, and anyway all my tests had come back clean.

She nodded, made a note. “Does it hurt worse when you train?”

“No, it actually feels better.” It did, even when I took hits sparring. And I’d been doing a lot of that this past week, part of my game plan leading up to today. Breathe.

Her gaze drifted to the old-fashioned calendar she kept on her office wall. “It’s been three weeks since the state funeral, and you were on your feet for that. What’s your official physical readiness state?”

“I’m cleared for field duty.” She had to know that, it was certainly in my accessible file.

“So you’re just waiting on a clean psych-eval.”

My diaphragm clenched, but my nod was enough for her and I counted to relax. Her eyes dropped to my hands, and I realized I’d clenched them, too.

Tap, tap, tap.  “And what are you afraid of?”

You. I couldn’t say that, either, even if my teeth were going to start rattling if I let the tremors climb my arms. I was heading for a 4.5 on the freak-out scale, it was just a question of when. “Clowns. They still scare me.” And why had my mind gone to that old shiver?

She smiled and made another note, shifted in her chair to uncross and re-cross her legs, settled in. “Dreams?”

“I’m getting a full night’s sleep.” I hadn’t had the fighting-in-Hell or the watching-my-own-funeral dreams in a week. I’d had both on rotation in the first nights after the state funeral, both woke me in cold shivering sweats, but the funeral dream was the worst—fighting in Hell wasn’t fun but at the funeral I got to watch how it hit my family.

Regardless, both had gone away. My sleep patterns had changed so fast I suspected Chakra was doing something without telling me. I wasn’t going to ask.

Dr. Mendell made another note in her book. “Then let’s talk about what’s going on with you, now.”

My nails bit my palms.

—————————————————–

“So? Did you pass?”

Shelly floated beside me in the sky—when I’d checked out of the Dome I’d headed for the cloudline that hung low and heavy today, dropping more snow on the streets. Her t-shirt said Say No To Evil.

Half the time I had no idea what they meant.

“I think so.” I didn’t ask if she’d watched; it had been more than a month since she’d come back from the dead as my own personal quantum-ghost, and we’d worked out my privacy spaces.

Shelly only appeared “in the virtual flesh” when we were alone. I was trying hard enough to make everyone believe that I was okay—having my eyes track to someone who wasn’t there wouldn’t help at all. Thankfully, my oldest BF seemed content with being a voice in my head when we were in company. She also had “privacy protocols” that covered things like my appointment with Dr. Mendell.

Dr. Mendell didn’t know about Shelly.

Nobody did, other than me, Jacky, and Blackstone.

I mean, really, how did I explain it? Hey, you know my best friend who killed herself breakthrough-chasing our freshman year? She’s come back as a 22nd Century quantum-copy ghost in the machine. Only I can hear and see her, because of a neural link grown in my head by the Teatime Anarchist without me knowing. Yes, I took candy from a stranger.

I so wanted to tell at least my parents, but my BF had sworn me to secrecy even with them. I had no idea why, and my new BF couldn’t help with that. Jacky had disappeared just days after the funeral, and all Blackstone would really say was she was fine but taking care of DSA business. What the Department of Superhuman Affairs needed Artemis for, I had no idea either; only Blackstone’s repeated assurance that she wasn’t in any trouble kept me from obsessing over it in the moments when I wasn’t…

“And are you okay?” Shelly searched my face. Yeah, I was her obsession.

Worth it. “I think so.” I smiled, drew in a shaky breath. “Maybe?”

Shelly was so worth it, worth all the physical rehab, the shakes and the near panic-attacks. (They weren’t coming up in training, or even sparring, but they happened often enough that I was pretty sure I had a touch of PTSD.)

She gave me the eye, finally sighing dramatically. “Which is it? You think so, or maybe?”

“Yes? It’s not like before, Shell. I know I’ll live.” And I would. I forced my smile to be genuine. I didn’t have to pretend, really, except at certain moments. Even the Bees, my merry band of stalkers, had relaxed their Hope Watch a bit—and they knew the full story about me and Atlas. “So, is it quiet?”

“It’s pretty dead.” Shelly’d hacked into the Dispatch system in the first week—she’d had to so we could have these conversations while I was wired to Dispatch. She just edited my side of our conversations out of what Dispatch heard, and of course they couldn’t hear what she said through our quantum-neural link. “The South Side Guardians handled a bad accident this afternoon, routine stuff. Street-villain activity has been down all week, some kind of truce between the Brotherhood and Sanguinary Boys, no professional villains trying anything in town.”

“Okay.” Dead was good. Dr. Mendell had signed off, and though I wasn’t on the official duty roster until Blackstone did the same I was clear for outside activity. I could fly a few circuits, low enough that people saw me, and call it a night.

Astra,” Dispatch said in my ear. “Confirm availability.”

Or not. “Dispatch, I confirm availability.” The regulation response rolled off my tongue as I watched Shelly’s eyes widen—obviously “reading” my orders.

There is a reported superhuman homicide on South State Street and 27th, Dearborn Homes. Blackstone has approved you for Superhuman Crimes Liaison.”

My gut clenched, but I was already dropping through the falling snow. “Tell Blackstone I’m on it.”

SCL duty had been something mostly handled by John—Atlas—before. He could fly out to a reported superhuman crime scene, stand around with the detectives on-scene and look good for the press, and also be useful to the forensic investigators—super-duper senses were forensically handy, especially where superhuman crimes left non-standard traces.

At least that’s what I’d been told. I had no idea how useful I’d be, but I understood the “show the flag” part of it. Half of superheroing was appearances, and I was Anne Marie Corrigan’s daughter—I’d always known how important appearances were to doing good.

I could have touched down in under a minute, but I slowed as I came over the scene. There’d be civilians, twitchy officers, possibly news cameras, and landing fast and hard was never a good idea if you weren’t responding to a live incident. If you looked un-calm, you un-calmed those around you—Dealing With The Public 101, according to John and his brother Alex.

Calm. I could fake that. Shelly faded out as I landed with a “Good luck!” and two thumbs up. I touched grass outside the police perimeter, on the side of the park staked out by the press but not close enough for them to immediately engage me. The young officer closest waved me through, her breath puffing in the air as she called my name.

“Astra! Detective Fisher said you should go right over!”

The perimeter enclosed a stretch of grass in the center of the park. High winds over the past few days had cleared the turf of snow, and the police had erected a sort of tent to cover something against the thickening snowfall trying to bury it all again. I thanked the officer, took a breath, and headed over.

I caught the smell of it before I saw it, cooked and carbonized meat over the scent of snow, and my stomach twisted. A detective standing beside the tent waved me over.

“Detective Fisher.” He held out his hand and we shook.

“Astra. It’s nice to meet you.” I winced at the automatic and stupidly out of place response.

Duh, like he doesn’t know you.”  Okay, Shelly wasn’t good at staying out completely.

The detective’s mouth twitched. “Likewise. Wish it was better circumstances.” He held the covering up so I could duck inside, his lean height making it easy. Brushing snow off his rumpled suit, he followed me in.

I didn’t need the portable arc lights they’d set up under the tent to banish the shadows of the gray day. I carefully didn’t look at the lights, and breathed as shallowly as I could. Nobody else seemed bothered. Darn super-duper senses.

“About half an hour ago someone saw a flash in the park and reported it. Uniforms arrived to find this and covered it with a tarp from their cruiser before calling it in.”

This was a circle of scorched and baked ground, with a lump of something else fused into it. My nose told me the lump had been a person. Something had almost completely carbonized the body, with only a trace of oxygen-driven combustion to burn some of the flesh and fat for the revoltingly mouth-watering barbeque smell while turning the rest into a kind of vaguely man-shaped charcoal briquet.

Now that’s just. . . ick.”

With the detective watching me, I opened my mouth before gulping and ducking back out of the tent.

Focusing on Chakra’s breath-control technique, I managed to not double over and vomit up my lunch and got the shaking under control before the tent flap rustled behind me.

“Do you need a minute?” He kept his voice low, though his long face showed more mordant humor than concern.

“I’m fine, thank you.” Another meaningless and out of place courtesy.

“No, you’re not. But nobody really is at a homicide scene. What did you see?”

It couldn’t have looked that bad to them—just a fused lump on the baked ground. “Smelled. I smelled it.” I inhaled deeply, focusing on the smell of snow. “Whatever did that cooked a bit of— Him? Her?”

“We don’t know, yet. Or age, either. Can you tell me anything?”

“I’ll try. What—how did nobody see more?”

“Look around.” He waved a hand.

Right. We were standing in the middle of the Dearborn projects, public housing towers on all sides. Things had gotten better here in the last few years as the city had made a major renovation and law-enforcement push in Dearborn Homes, but it was still gang turf and most residents wouldn’t talk to the police if they’d seen anything. From Blackstone’s briefings I knew the Brotherhood had a foothold here.

And hardly anyone would have been out on this gray cold day, anyway. Even now, with officers and cars on the grounds and a gaggle of press, only a few residents were showing themselves to watch the scene.

Most of them were watching me.

Sometimes it’s interesting to watch people watch me. I’m a little disappointing; for one thing I’m shorter than the actress playing me on Sentinels’ new season. I’m also not as pretty, but that’s normal—Megan once expressed her willingness to sleep with literally the entire show’s cast, guys too. She wasn’t serious, but I was pretty sure the actresses who played Chakra and The Harlequin really were on her Would-Do List.

Beside me Detective Fisher actually laughed, watching the media-gaggle. Just a little ha, under his breath, but his unconcerned amusement braced me; he was treating me like an adult, and not someone who needed special care. It was refreshing.

“Did anybody get shot?” I could smell a hint of gunpowder, too. Faint but sharp in the cold air.

“Nobody reported anything.”

“Wait.” I sniffed, made myself ignore the barbeque smell. There… I took a few steps, remembered every police-procedural show I’d ever seen, and elevated myself to float along, feet carefully off the ground. Behind me the detective grunted approvingly as I sniffed again, looking around. With all the blowing snow, they’d have focused on covering the body and obvious ground zero, wouldn’t have searched the frozen ground. And there it was. “Right here, detective.”

Detective Fisher stepped over to look. “I’ll be damned. Hey! Send somebody out here with a bag!” At his yell a uniform crime scene tech poked his head out of the tent, trotted over to follow orders. “Good work, kid.”

“Just call me Old Yeller.” Wow, I’d been useful.

“Can you smell anything else? Want to look around? The news team probably has all the pictures they need, but…”

“Sure.” I made myself nod. “That’s why I’m here.” I looked around. How could I quarter the ground and not miss anything?

The detective read my mind. “Walk with me—well, bob along and look down. With the frozen ground and the wind, you’re not likely to find anything, but we’ll do a couple of circuits and then it’s coffee and donut time.”

————————————————-

“I think that went well,” Blackstone greeted me in Dispatch. He’d probably watched on live feed from the police cameras, and his smile was real as he gave me the nod. “What did your friend have to say about it?”

“Shelly kept the comments to a minimum.” I left it at that, knowing without looking that I had the covert attention of the Dispatch stations around us. Official first-day-back, I was very much an unknown quantity to everyone. To me, too.

So far, Blackstone was the only one besides Jacky I’d told about Shelly. After wrapping his head around the idea of a 22nd Century quantum-ghost cybernetically linked to my cortex, courtesy of the Teatime Anarchist, he’d asked me to keep it quiet while he investigated some possibilities. I had no idea what he was thinking or doing about it, and was kind of afraid to ask.

There were a lot of things I wasn’t asking.

He nodded again when I didn’t elaborate. “Good. I have an idea of what she can do with us. How would she feel about becoming your official Dispatch wingman?” His smile widened and his eyes twinkled, like he was contemplating some new grand illusion or bit of sleight-of-hand. “Please tell her I’d like to speak with her tonight.”

All I could do was blink. “I’m sure she just heard?”

“Splendid. Then let’s go downstairs, shall we? Our new teammates have arrived, and you remember what an event we turn welcoming meetings into.” The twinkle stayed in his eyes as he waved me forward. The magician had something up his sleeve.

I followed. I’d learned that the Sentinels ran on meetings.  The morning Day Briefing. The after-action briefings. The media briefings. The intelligence briefings. Only major ones took more than twenty minutes, the way Blackstone ran them, but he assigned homework and prep work and only training took up more of my time. This would be the first welcoming meeting since we’d brought Jacky on, and that one had been a bit informal since she’d fought right beside us already.

“So, who are they?” I really hadn’t been paying attention to Blackstone’s vetting process, focused on keeping my head down and fighting through the black clouds that had just seemed to choke me until a week ago.

Blackstone held the elevator door for me. “That would be telling.”

I rolled my eyes. “Then don’t tell. It’s not like it’ll be an invisible white rabbit or something.”

He chuckled. “No, I couldn’t get Harvey. You remain the only one on the team with an invisible friend.”

“Shell!” I burst out laughing. Shelly had appeared beside Blackstone wearing a coat-and-tails tux like his and a pair of long twitching bunny ears.  He smiled indulgently, eyes following mine and understanding without seeing.

“I’m glad she’s here.”

Which was still a wonder and a relief to me, considering the security implications he had to deal with. The doors opened and Shelly faded out, starting from the feet up until her ears vanished. Laconic Bob waved us past his desk. Always the gentleman, Blackstone let me precede him into the Assembly Room, where we were obviously the last ones to arrive.

The room was a lot fuller than it had been since Whittier Base.

Chakra sat beside Blackstone’s empty seat, the seat on the other side—the one that had been Atlas’s—being occupied by an Asian woman in a dark leather bodysuit. The Harlequin and Rush sat in their usual spots. Rush had gotten back a couple of weeks ago, with a new hand and full clearance by the DSA of his involvement with the Dark Anarchist; outside of our circle and Veritas’ investigating team, nobody knew about his getting recruited by DA’s network.

I still found it hard to forgive him. Blackstone had assured me Rush had been a patsy, recruited by Euphoria and thinking he’d been on the side of the angels, but his grabbing the Teatime Anarchist had led to my capture and brief torture—and me killing twice, up close and bloody. I could still feel the crunch of Volt’s chest caving in under my punch, see the life leave his face, though that image had faded into sepia like a lot of the horror of those January days. Again, since last week. I really was going to have to ask Chakra what she’d done for me. Would it last, or was it the psychic equivalent of anti-depressants? A band-aid for now?

I shook it off. The rest of the recently empty seats were filled, too. There was a guy in black-and-gold spandex I didn’t recognize, but Riptide sat beside him, looking uncomfortable in a new leather coat. He gave me a twisty smile and I waved back, glad to see him. Across the table a long, lean man in a rumpled lab coat with ratty black locks slumped in his chair, eyes on his epad and not really paying attention to the room. Beside him sat—

“Seven!” I darted for the empty chair beside him. Stopped before I pulled it out, realizing I was being rude. I’d ignored the girl—young woman actually—who’d be on my other side. I’d guess she was twenty? Not much older than that. A redhead like Shelly but at least half-Asian, she looked up at me with bright almond eyes, smiling as I hesitated.

“Hi, Astra. I’m glad to finally meet you.”

“Oh—thank you. And you, too.” I sat down inclined towards her, shook her hand. “I’d ask, but I think Blackstone wants to introduce everyone?” What was her smell? I still had the crime scene in my sense-memory, but whatever musk she was wearing, subtle enough I was sure no one without super-duper senses was smelling it, was chasing that memory out. It wasn’t a perfume, and oddly, it made me relax.

“Thank you for waiting, everyone.” Blackstone took his own seat and began. “I see that Willis kept everyone topped up.” An arm from my left silently deposited a porcelain cup on its saucer beside my hand and I looked up to smile thanks at the Dome’s major-domo as the heavenly smell of his coffee filled my nose. I turned my attention back to the head of the table as Blackstone looked at each of us in passing. “This is an important day for the team. Astra has at last been cleared for field duty, and has already had her first turn with assisting Superhuman Crimes. She acquitted herself admirably.” He stopped for the applause while I flushed. I hadn’t lost my lunch. Yay.

“She fills a hole in our patrol roster, as well. Additionally, as you can all see we are filling some other holes today.” His smile slipped into seriousness. “As always, we can never truly replace our losses, but we fill our ranks and continue on. So. Most of you know each other, but I’ll do the introductions like a proper host. Beside me—” he nodded to the Asian woman on his left “—you see Lei Zi. Her name means Mother of Storms in Chinese, and I’m told is mythically appropriate. She is an A Class Electrokinetic, which provides us with more firepower, and more importantly, she has come to be the team’s new field leader. I know she’ll impress us all with her experience and professionalism.”

The smile she returned and then directed to the rest of the table was cool but open. “Thank you.”

“All of us old hands know Seven,” Blackstone nodded across the table. “He’s decided to take a break from making movies on the coast to bring the team his luck. And Riptide—” he turned to the now ex-street villain “—has completed his CAI certification sufficiently to join our ranks. I’m sure we’ll find his hydro-powers very useful here by the Great Lakes.”

I gave the bald and tattooed man a wide smile. If I’d been Shelly I’d have winked at him, but I at least caught his eye and he smiled back, sitting a bit less stiffly.

“Riptide,” Blackstone addressed him directly, “I’m throwing you upon Quin’s mercies for the next little while. Team training is important, but she’s going to be doing a full PR job on you. A lot of that will be reminding people that you stood with us, when everything went bad. You’ve been on our team since L.A.” The man relaxed even more, nodding back.

“Beside him, we have Variforce.” Blackstone turned his attention to the trim man in the black-and-gold spandex. “Veriforce is an A Class forcefield manipulator, come to us from the US Marshals Service. We have had some high-impact fights in civilian environments in the recent past, and Variforce will strengthen our ability to protect bystanders in the future.”

I eyed him. He looked as cool and professional as Lei Zi, and thinking about the damage to the zone trading shots and blows had inflicted in the Whittier Attack, I had to wonder why he hadn’t been on the team already. Maybe we were still learning what we really needed? Blackstone continued, recapturing my attention.

“We have also been lucky to acquire the services and residency of Vulcan.”

Under our focused attention, the guy in the lab coat looked up from his pad. “Hello.”

“Vulcan is an A Class Verne-Type, who specializes in fabricating anything material. He supplied Rush with his new cybernetic hand, and we’ve bribed him with facilities here and the opportunity to tackle interesting challenges and examine any ‘prizes’ we find on other Vernes we may need to deal with.”

A laugh went around the table, but Vulcan’s attention had already dropped back to his pad.

“And last, but certainly not least, we have a loaner from the Japanese government. An exchange-hero, if you will. This is Kitsune, a shapeshifter and a scamp.”

A shapeshifter? I blinked. Everyone else was bringing field strength or logistics support to the team, so what would a shapeshifter be doing with us? I could see the thought on a couple of other faces around the table.

“What does ‘Kitsune’ mean,” Rush asked.

She smiled at everyone, placing her hands on the table. “Kitsune means fox spirit.” And in a blink a fox sat on the table in front of her chair. A large white fox with seven tails. “And I think you’ll find I’m useful.”

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Congress Shall Make No Law.

Freedom of Speech, Chomsky

So I was going to ignore “politics” for awhile. Unfortunately, Freedom of Speech has become a hot social issue… I know, right? This is America, and we’ve got this little sentence in our founding legal contract.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

So, you may have been hearing about the recent campus riots where crowds of “liberals” (and I put that in quotes because the students rioting might be progressives but they aren’t liberals by any meaningful definition of the term anymore) managed to shut down speeches by speakers they felt should not have been allowed to spread their dirty filth on hallowed campus grounds. Hate speech is violence, so apparently they were acting in self-defense. And yes, that is how some of the rioters have been justifying their act of denying those they despise the right to speak in a public forum and others the right to peaceably assemble to listen to them.

Now, to be clear, I have little patience with much of what some of those speakers had to say. But I would feel the same about the riots if the speakers had been Flat Earthers, or anti-religious zealots calling for a constitutional amendment banning Hate Speech, or anti-white racists who claimed that whites are a subhuman species responsible for every evil in the modern world. Let them open their mouths in a public forum and argue their point with anyone who wants to come out and listen to and debate them.

But this morning I read a New York Times editorial, by a university provost, that forced me to sit down and actually refute it. I strongly recommend before reading on that you read his think-piece.

Read the article? Good, now here we go.

Speech Must Advance a Common Public Good.

As erudite as Dr. Baer is, he starts to go wrong fairly early in the article, a sure sign that his basic premise is flawed. You begin to see it here:

During the 1980s and ’90s, a shift occurred in American culture; personal experience and testimony, especially of suffering and oppression, began to challenge the primacy of argument. Freedom of expression became a flash point in this shift. Then as now, both liberals and conservatives were wary of the privileging of personal experience, with its powerful emotional impact, over reason and argument, which some fear will bring an end to civilization, or at least to freedom of speech.

But the question of whether or not to “privilege” personal experience over reason and argument isn’t a question of free speech. You can decide to pay more attention to personal experience without shutting down those who want to privilege reason and argument (or mix both) in coming to their conclusions.

He conflates Freedom of Speech with something that doesn’t exist: Freedom to Be Taken Seriously:

“Instead of defining freedom of expression as guaranteeing the robust debate from which the truth emerges, Lyotard focused on the asymmetry of different positions when personal experience is challenged by abstract arguments. His extreme example was Holocaust denial, where invidious but often well-publicized cranks confronted survivors with the absurd challenge to produce incontrovertible eyewitness evidence of their experience of the killing machines set up by the Nazis to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Not only was such evidence unavailable, but it also challenged the Jewish survivors to produce evidence of their own legitimacy in a discourse that had systematically denied their humanity.

Nobody needs to take the Holocaust-denier seriously, and nobody needs to debate him (although it is certainly a good idea if someone at least debunks his “facts”). But Dr. Baer is leading to something more dangerous:

“Lyotard shifted attention away from the content of free speech to the way certain topics restrict speech as a public good. Some things are unmentionable and undebatable, but not because they offend the sensibilities of the sheltered young. Some topics, such as claims that some human beings are by definition inferior to others, or illegal or unworthy of legal standing, are not open to debate because such people cannot debate them on the same terms.”

Not open to debate. To see the problem here, let’s substitute a few facts to create a hypothetical: instead of Lyotard, we have Unbeliever X.

Unbeliever X tours America arguing that not only is there no God, but religion is responsible for most of the evils of the modern world. Furthermore, religious superstition and bigotry is the reason why we’re not living in a utopia right now, and we need to amend the constitution to outlaw all institutions of organized religion as Enemies of Reason and of The People. Mr. X categorizes everyone who witnesses to profound personal encounters with the divine spirit or offers argued reasons why he might be wrong as delusional or deceitful, systematically denying that their position can be both rational and moral. Believers are either ignorant or mistaken, in which case they must be re-educated, or they are evil, in which case they must be cast from society. At minimum, in order to vote, citizens must take an oath denying all religious convictions and so prove that they can vote rationally. Progress demands it.

There are probably at least some militant atheists who believe all that, but that’s not the point; the point is Unbeliever X’s view is fundamentally opposed by a great majority of Americans, and is deeply, deeply de-legitimatizing to all religiously inclined Americans. So should his free speech be restricted? Should religiously inclined students riot to shut down his speech when the local student-atheist club invites him to speak on campus? Should insulted and threatened groups declare his repugnant views not open to debate?

Who decides what is or is not open to debate? A national majority? A violent minority? Lawmakers? College presidents or student senates? Dr. Baer seems to completely miss the worm in the apple. Instead, he believes that speech that does not “lead to the truth” is not worth protecting. Such not-good speech must be restricted so that freedom of speech for “those who previously had no standing” may somehow increase. To continue his explanation:

The great value and importance of freedom of expression, for higher education and for democracy, is hard to underestimate. But it has been regrettably easy for commentators to create a simple dichotomy between a younger generation’s oversensitivity and free speech as an absolute good that leads to the truth. We would do better to focus on a more sophisticated understanding, such as the one provided by Lyotard, of the necessary conditions for speech to be a common, public good. This requires the realization that in politics, the parameters of public speech must be continually redrawn to accommodate those who previously had no standing.

So he has expressed his approval of terms like “Not open to debate,” and “the necessary conditions for speech to be for a common, public good.” And what does he suggest be done with speech that is not open to debate (by whose judgement?) and not conducive to the public good (again, by whose judgement)?

Simple; let it be restricted to that cesspool of all things bad, the internet. After all, if someone wants to read something not open to debate, or to debate something not judged conducive to the public good, he or she can go there. Since the internet is available, how is shutting down a public speech by the Not Good an infringement of their Freedom of Speech?

Lest you feel that I am exaggerating, here’s his conclusion:

The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community. Free-speech protections — not only but especially in universities, which aim to educate students in how to belong to various communities — should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents, can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned.

In other words, Hate Speech is not Free Speech. I’ll leave that conclusion there, but now that I’ve laid out what Dr. Baer thinks, what do I think? Do I have a different, constructive, definition of Free Speech?

Freedom of Speech is Simply Freedom

The founders and ratifiers of our government system were deeply hostile to government power. To be more specific, they were hostile to creating a system of government that might lead to rule by a “distant and arbitrary” power. After all, they had only recently finished revolting against the distant and arbitrary power of London; they had no intention of filling the vacuum with a geographically less distant but no less powerful government on our side of the Atlantic.

They were also deeply studious thinkers, well-read in history and in political theory, and cognizant of all of the potential usurpations of government power by historic example. How paranoid were they? Paranoid enough that, to win ratification, the Constitution’s backers had to swear on their immortal souls that the the first order of the new government would be to write out and vote into law a Bill of Rights explicitly laying out what the new national government could not do.

What was their attitude towards Freedom of Speech? Optimists like Thomas Jefferson argued that, in a free marketplace of ideas, where truth may freely do trial by combat with error, truth would win out. In other words, he considered Free Speech an inherent good. Lyotard and Baer obviously think that Jefferson was, at best, a Pollyanna. (He was certainly arguing from a rather privileged point of view).

But the majority of the new Americans didn’t share Jefferson’s sunny opinion of the positive social good of Free Speech; they defended freedom of speech (outside of a couple of very, very narrow parameters like incitement and libel), because, again, they were deeply suspicious bastards. They understood that any power you give a government for good reasons can be used for bad reasons. Governments naturally seek to expand their powers, and to make the broadest use of the powers they are given.

In other words, no party or group will stay on top for ever, and rational people fear what their political enemies might do with the powers they hand over to government, once those enemies wield the levers of power for their own benefit. If that sounds too abstract, go back to the Holocaust/Atheist examples. Who decides what is not open to debate? The correct answer is nobody; if a government can make that decision, then those in power will make that decision in their own favor. Instead, as a free person, you decide what is worth your time to listen to, or what is vital for you to debate. If you don’t want to listen, don’t listen. If you don’t want to debate, don’t debate. But don’t tell anyone else that they have no right to express their opinion in any venue that will allow them to, or seek to shut down or block access to a public platform they have been given. They are entitled to their soapbox and to their willing audience. If they are not, then their speech isn’t free. And if theirs isn’t free, then yours isn’t either; it’s only tolerated for now.

And yes, this means allowing some people whose opinions you consider to be truly vile to speak on your college campus. If you exercise the Mob Veto to shut down speech you find abhorrent, you set the stage for the mobs who find your speech abhorrent to return the favor. If your rewrite the laws to favor Good Speech over Bad Speech, using what you think are perfectly rational criteria, you give government power to someday favor what you consider deeply bad speech and suppress what you consider good speech.

Remember the lesson from A Man For All Seasons.

Alice More: Arrest him!
More: Why, what has he done?
Margaret More: He’s bad!
More: There is no law against that.
Will Roper: There is! God’s law!
More: Then God can arrest him.
Alice: While you talk, he’s gone!
More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!
Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast– man’s laws, not God’s– and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law for my own safety’s sake.

If the Devil himself is invited to speak on campus, by all means protest as loudly and as eloquently as possible. But let him speak unhindered, and let those who wish to listen and debate, listen. Not for his sake, but for yours.

To be absolutely clear, we have not enshrined Freedom of Speech in this country because we hope that the resulting speech will be valuable and serve some social good; when it does, that’s just a bonus. We have enshrined Freedom of Speech because we know that the first liberty to fall before creeping tyranny is speech.  Free Speech isn’t meant to make the world a better place, although when Truth does win out in the marketplace of ideas, it’s a wonderful thing. Free Speech, like Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Assembly, is a safeguard against government, written into our founding document by people deeply convinced of the corruptibility of all human institutions and of the tendency of all governments to increase their power.

So, for our safety’s sake, we will put up with the idiots, the ignorant, and the hateful, because tolerating their speech protects the freedom of our speech. That is the greatest common public good of all.

Posted in The Radical Moderate | Tagged | 17 Comments

Free Falling

Free Fall

I just realized it’s been well over a month since my last blog post. Since the past few posts have either been about my RPG or politics, I thought I’d surprise everyone with a blog talking about someone else’s work for a change. So let me introduce you to Free Fall.

Free Fall is a long-running internet strip. Long running; Mark Stanley started drawing it back in 2006, and its up to around 3,000 strips now. It starts off in black and white, but eventually goes to color.

So what’s the strip about? Well the main characters are Sam Starfall, Florence Ambrose, and Helix. Sam Starfall is a larcenous squid in an human-shaped environmental suite and captain of the Savage Chicken. Florence is a genetically enhanced Bowman’s Wolf and the ship’s engineer. Helix is a very simple robot.

The ship’s computer keeps trying to kill Sam. It’s programmed to protect humans and itself, and considers Sam a grave threat. It’s more or less right.

So what, exactly, is the story? Well it starts of pretty simply, running as an episodic sit-com series of insane adventures, most of them kicked off by Sam doing something stupid, criminal, and often both. But as it goes along it develops into a deeper exploration of several science-fiction questions. The main one is “What will happen once robots are sufficiently advanced to completely replace humans in the economy?” It also asks what would be our moral responsibility to robots we’ve advanced to true sapience and self-awareness. We’re not talking SkyNet, here, or even I Robot’s robot revolution; we’re talking about fully self-aware robots who have only the best wishes for humanity (who are their gods, after all), and no intention of taking over to run things for humanity’s sake. One conclusion being played with is that the robots are still a terrible threat to humanity’s future as a species. Why? Read it and see.

I’ve made it sound serious. Yes, some themes are serious, but it’s a Terry Pratchett kind of seriousness; the situation might be serious, but the people involved in it are hilarious. Mark Stanley has a true gift for whimsy that will make you giggle insanely at inappropriate moments; at least if you’re at work. In fact the whole strip is Not Safe For Work, and not for the normal NSFW reasons. So read it at home. Pick some time when you have a few hours you can use to catch up. Maybe a weekend (nearly 3,000 strips, remember).

To entice you to check Free Fall out, here is some representative dialogue:

Sam: Bottom line. How safe is a .2 millirem dose [of radiation]?
Florence: It’s safer than driving with you across town.
Helix: Florence, standing in a burning building while blind circus midgets throw knives at you is safer than driving across town with Sam.
Florence: You’re right. Bad example.

Florence: Your helmet, that’s not what you really look like, is it?
Sam: Immigration insisted I don’t show my real face. Apparently my race triggers a nurturing response in humans. They would take one look at me and immediately begin to regurgitate their last meal for me.
Florence: I can see where that would be a problem.
Sam: I mean, how do you politely say “No” to something like that?

So far, neither the government nor the media is involved, so we still have a chance of coming up with a workable solution. Florence

Oh, hush, or I’m not going to let you alter social structures on a planetary scale with me any more. Florence

Sam: Helix, we’re just going to talk. There’s no need to bring the stick.

Helix: But you’re better at talking than I am. When you talk, sometimes I get confused. My ideas of what’s right and wrong get mixed up. That’s why I’m bringing this. As soon as I start thinking it’s all right to steal from our employees, I’m going to start hitting you with the stick.

Sam: It’s reasoning like that why you’re not allowed on corporate boardrooms anymore.

Florence is good at keeping things civilized, because she makes it so clear what will happen if things get uncivilized. Helix

Good afternoon, sir. The spaceport computer informs me that you are my inspector. I am 1071-CCN, standing by for inspection. Standing by. I would like to say I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in this inspection. ….. Still standing by. Sir, might I suggest your time could be better utilized by inspecting my rear end instead of the engineer’s. Ship’s Computer

Seriously, NSFW and you’ve got to read this Free Fall. You’ll thank me.
Marion G. Harmon
Posted in Comic Reviews | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

A Good Month

special-edition-cover

So we’re in the last week of the Kickstarter, and closing on the milestone which will unlock the sweet hardback printing of the Wearing the Cape Special Edition. For everyone who has been waiting for this, the ebook and paperback stretch goals have already been unlocked; whatever happens the book is getting a professional edit, new cover, and interior art. That will be sweet.

Just to make sure everyone knows, the ebook is priced at $9.00, and the paperback + ebook at $19 (the ebook becomes free). If the hardback printing happens, that will be priced at $29.00, for both the hardback and ebook.

If anyone following this blog is wondering how to get the book without pledging for the game stuff (and yes, I know I have readers who aren’t that interested in tabletop role-playing games), all you need to do is go to the Kickstarter page and pledge $1 to become a Cape-Watcher, adding another $9, $19, or $29 depending on which publication (ebook, paperback, or hardback) you want.

Oh, and if you want to make sure that the hardback printing gets unlocked, spread this around! Tell all your friends! We’ve got 5 days to bring in $5,000 dollars. Not impossible, but some work required.

I’ve got to say, this campaign has succeeded to a degree I really didn’t expect; I would have been glad to just hit the $15,000 milestone so I could publish the gamebook and sourcebook. Instead we’re funded at 450% of the initial goal with 5 days to go. Thank you, everyone who has been participating in this.

And thank you, everyone else who has enjoyed and boosted the series over the years; this wouldn’t have gone anywhere without you.

See you in 5 days.

Marion G. Harmon

Posted in Wearing the Cape | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

We REALLY Have Launch.

wtc_16001_rpg_game-book-cover-r-1

Seriously, folks. Due to an interesting oops (I had no idea the green button would do that, I swear), the Kickstarter campaign for Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game has launched. Hey, I’m just rolling with it, so see you there.

Marion G. Harmon

Posted in Wearing the Cape | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

We Have Launch.

wtc_16001_rpg_game-book-cover-r-1

Longest project I’ve ever worked on.

So this is it. Crossing my fingers and praying there are no other obstacles, the Kickstarter Campaign for Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game will launch February 1st. It’s been a long, long road.

So what to say about it?

First off, I can’t believe it’s finished. Now that the production phase of the project is complete, I can confidently say that, if I’d known just how much would be involved in making the game a reality, I wouldn’t have done it. I’d have paid someone else to do it.

First off, there’s the art.

I thought I knew what I was doing there. After all, I’d been good at finding great cover artists, right? Not just once, with my discovery of Viktoria Gavrilenko, but twice, the second being Jamal Campbell. Well…

The art has wound up being mostly the work of four artists, with another two thrown in. All of them good, but all of them having to wait upon my art direction. After all, none of them were psychic. Also, only one of the main four artists (Jamal), was a superhero artist (he now does lots and lots of comic covers for Marvel and Boom, the reason I needed to bring on more artists). It all still turned out pretty darn good, though; Kasia and Christopher picked it up to to marvelous work. Here’s a sample:

robbery-2-2

I told myself at the beginning of the project that I wasn’t going to settle for less than great art, and I didn’t. I wish there was more of it, but then the gamebook still wouldn’t be finished. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in five years of self-publishing, sooner or later you’ve just got to get it done.

Aside from the art, my biggest obstacle with WtC:RPG had been the system itself. I was not about to try and design a whole new RPG system from scratch. “Darn it, Jim! I’m a writer, not a game designer!” You may remember, a couple of years ago, I thought we had it nailed with the Cortex+ system, a “universal” system used by Margaret Weis Productions. They caught my attention with the Firefly RPG and, even more impressively, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. It looked perfect, and I corresponded with them before throwing together a gamebook for their approval.

Then I learned that MWP would not allow me to do a stand-alone gamebook; we could only produce a Wearing the Cape Sourcebook for use with their Heroic Roleplaying system. That might have worked, but they never published the core system—it was always “coming soon.” (As an update to that, MWP has recently licensed the Cortex System to Cam Banks, who is an excellent game designer, for further development. Good for them; if they do great things with it—which I expect—then there may yet be a Cortex System gamebook for Wearing the Cape in the future.)

But all that work wasn’t totally wasted; I had the world-background stuff written, and I just had to find another system. I found it in the Fate Core system.

Fate Core is in many ways a foundational system that inspired specific parts of the Cortex+ system. The great news with Fate Core is that unlike Cortex, it is a fully open-source system; I was able to make the complete and stand-alone gamebook I wanted with it.

Now I just needed to learn a new game system.

One that was completely different from any tabletop RPG I’d previously played.

So, no problem. I read, reread, and re-reread obsessively, picking up several of Evil Hat’s worked gamebooks to see how the Fate system worked out in a developed setting. I joined Fate Core’s Google+ community and asked lots of questions before starting to answer questions from other newbies. Comparing my answers to the answers of Fate veterans was a great way to see if I’d gotten it right—sort of like answering essay questions in school. And I pulled together not one round of playtesting but two, with gamers who’d played with Fate before, as well as gamers who, like me, hadn’t even heard of the system before playtesting began. They helped a lot.

The end result of it all is a game system that isn’t quite Fate Core. Call it Fate Core Compatible. There were a couple of things I wanted to do that Evil Hat’s excellent system didn’t quite stretch to, but fans of Fate Core will have no trouble with it—or with dropping my little additions and playing it with straight-up Fate Core if they want to.

And it’s finished. I can’t tell you how amazing that feels.

So, what about the Kickstarter Campaign? How does that work, and why am I doing one? Kickstarters are normally for selling an idea and convincing backers to pledge money so that you can make a game or whatever it is you want to produce, and my production costs are behind me, right?

Not quite.

I have produced the gamebook on a pay-as-I-go basis, which means that the development and art is paid for. It’s all sunk costs now. But to fund the print run of the quality hardback gamebook, now that’s another story. Basically, to pay for a print run of sufficient size to be economical, I need to scrape together another $10,000.

To do that, I’m offering a little extra for fans who want to help. The electronic edition of the gamebook will be a reward for backers who pledge at least $19 to help make it all happen. (After the Kickstarter Campaign is over, successful or not, the electronic edition will be available for purchase through DriveThru RPG for $25.) Fans who want the beautiful hardback printing of the gamebook will be able to get it (together with the electronic edition) as a reward for pledging $59 or more to the cause. Anyone who wants to go a little crazy can pledge more for some cool custom dice (see previous blog posts for pictures of those, they were a lot of fun to design).

And then there is the reward connected with Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans (see the Dec. 3 post). Because nothing says “thank you!” quite like making you part of my world. That’s going to be a lot of fun. Seriously; growing up, I used to create my own personal characters to adventure in the worlds I most enjoyed. Just in my imagination, quite apart from the roleplaying games I so much enjoyed. Middle Earth. Narnia. The comics. Later the Honorverse and Vorkosiganverse. That’s how I learned character-creation and plotting. It will be interesting to see what others do with my own world.

So the campaign launches in nine days. What can you do to help?

Naturally I hope everybody who follows my blog wants something in the campaign enough to make a pledge. But also, these Kickstarter campaigns succeed or fail by word-of-mouth, so I hope that everyone who’s as excited about this as I am will spread the word wide. Link to the campaign on Facebook. Tell their friends about it. Get the word out that there’s a new, awesome, tabletop superhero RPG in town.

Because it is awesome. I’m sure I’m biased, just a bit, but I think that everyone who has been patiently waiting is going to be amazed.

I’ll see you there.

Marion G. Harmon

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Imagine. Please.

brains

So this is it. The end of another year.

And I’ve got to admit, I can’t remember one when we have been more divided as a community (I’m speaking of my American readers here). The 2016 Election was the most rancorous election cycle in living memory. The two major parties and their electorates increasingly view the other party as the enemy in a Manichean struggle of Good vs. Evil. Righteous anger seems to be the prevailing sentiment on both sides, and it’s only getting worse. So I’d like to take this moment to suggest, or even plead for, a New Year’s resolution.

Imagine. Please.

To explain what I mean, here’s a counterexample.

“No U.S. president, I expect, will ever appoint a Secretary of the Imagination. But if such a cabinet post ever were created, and Richard Foreman weren’t immediately appointed to it, you’d know that the Republicans were in power. Republicans don’t believe in the imagination, partly because so few of them have one, but mostly because it gets in the way of their chosen work, which is to destroy the human race and the planet. Human beings, who have imaginations, can see a recipe for disaster in the making; Republicans, whose goal in life is to profit from disaster and who don’t give a hoot about human beings, either can’t or won’t. Which is why I personally think they should be exterminated before they cause any more harm.

“This opinion is presumably not shared by Foreman; you can gauge the breadth of his imaginative compassion from his willingness to extend it even toward George W. Bush, idiot scion of a genetically criminal family that should have been sterilized three generations ago.”

This quote comes to us from the relatively temperate year of 2004, and the pen of Michael Feingold. I could dissect Feingold’s hyperbole in all sorts of ways, but here I’ll simply point out that he himself perfectly illustrates the singular lack of “imaginative compassion” he ascribes to Republicans. To him, they aren’t human beings. He thinks they should be exterminated before they can do more damage.

So spoke the Nazis and the Bolsheviks; you could change a few nouns and the paragraph would read like a familiar anti-Semitic or anti-capitalist screed.

This is the failure of the imagination; reducing others whose beliefs and motivations you don’t understand to a literally subhuman category. You can use other words: barbarian, bigot, racist, sexist, hater, etc. I’ve talked a bit about this human tendency with The Syllogism:

  1. I am a rational/good human being.
  2. Because I am a rational/good human being, I believe X.
  3. If you do not believe X, you are either ignorant, stupid, or evil.
  4. Because you are ignorant, stupid, or evil, it is useless to debate with you and pointless to listen to you.

I don’t often talk about non-fiction books in this blog, but I have a book I strongly urge everyone to read, one especially appropriate to this year and our modern political climate; The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.

It is written by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist. Haidt is a self-described liberal, but his research focuses on morality – its emotional foundations, cultural variations, and development. To quote the blurb, “He began his career studying the negative moral emotions, such as disgust, shame, and vengeance, but then moved on to the under-studied positive moral emotions, such as admiration, awe, and moral elevation. He is the co-developer of Moral Foundations Theory, and of the research site YourMorals.org. He uses his research to help people understand and respect the moral motives of their enemies.”

Haidt basically argues that conservatives and liberals disagree because they are being motivated by different moral matrixes. When they see each other as “evil”, it’s because they don’t understand the moral matrix the other is operating from (Haidt is not a moral relativist, and does believe in evil, he just doesn’t apply the word to most political or philosophical disagreements).

I don’t agree with everything that Haidt says, but I recommend this book to everybody. Why? Because he does a tremendous job of explaining liberals to conservatives and conservatives to liberals. Not in terms of specific political policies, but in terms of morality and ideology. He develops and works with a few axioms, two of which are:

There’s more to morality than harm and fairness.

Morality binds and blinds.

The second axiom sounds purely negative, but it’s not; rather it’s the acknowledgement that while a strong moral code can be a powerful tool for personal happiness and social order, at the same time it blinds us to the validity of competing moral codes. I could go on, but Haidt’s entire book is an exercise in the scholarly and scientific application of imagination to the problem of moral social conflict, and especially to the necessity of understanding the other side.

And this is important. Understanding does not mean agreement, and The Righteous Mind does not attempt to proselytize conservatism to liberals or liberalism to conservatives. Instead, I think anyone who reads this book will come a long way toward understanding how people he knows, family, friends, people he thinks or thought were good people, voted differently than he did in this divisive election.

If you’re a Democrat who wants to know how a good person could have voted conservative, read this book.

If you’re a Republican who wants to know how a good person could have voted liberal, read this book.

Because understanding doesn’t mean agreement, but it can help with acceptance.

And in 2017, we’re all going to need it.

Happy New Year.

Marion G. Harmon

 

Posted in Book Reviews, The Radical Moderate | Tagged | 4 Comments

Good Will to All.

Christmas_Joy_by_adni18.jpg

No big news to share, no deep opinions. Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game moves forward (with art still the current bottleneck), and drafting for Recursion (what will hopefully be one of two Wearing the Cape books for next year) continues. Meanwhile I just wanted to wish everyone a merry Christmas; 2016 has been a stressful year for all of us, and we can all use this seasonal celebration of joy and good will. To quote Dickens, God bless us, every one.

“One candle’s light dispels the night.  Now our eyes can see.”

Merry Christmas.

Marion G. Harmon

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Wearing the Cape: the Kickstarter.

Cover Flight

Coming soon, to a Kickstarter page near you!

I have been telling everyone that, once Team-Ups and Masterminds was behind me, I would be focusing on Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game to drive the project through to completion.

So now the good news.

Although the Kickstarter campaign will not be launching in December as planned, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Here’s why; unlike most Kickstarter projects, when this Kickstarter campaign launches (hopefully in January), the primary product to be funded will already be finished. What this means is that Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game will already be fully produced as a downloadable set of game rules. That’s right, it will be an ebook, fully laid out and with all the art, ready to read, enjoy, and play.

I realize this is not the “traditional” way a game is produced by crowd-funding; I decided to take this route because I had no idea if I could actually do it. Yes, I have years of roleplaying game experience. Yes, I found a great open-source game system, readily adaptable to the task of bringing the heroes and world of the books to life. Yes, I have five years now of self-publishing experience.

But a roleplaying game? Designed, produced, indie-published without the backing of an established game company? I had no idea if I could do it, or how long it would take, and I have seen too many Kickstarter campaigns that promised everything and a set delivery date, then folded years later promises unmet. I wasn’t going to do that.

So I wrote a draft of the game, solicited playtesters, found the artist. Found another artist. Found a third artist. Got help with the graphics and layout (lots of help). Went through two rounds of playtesting, with veteran Fate players and novices. Sought and received the input of two seasoned writers of Fate System games. Payed the art and development costs as I went. Found a small press willing to do the full print run of the quality gamebook at a reasonable price.

As a result, I will be able to promise everyone who decides to back this dream project two things: 1.) the week the Kickstarter campaign ends, they will be receiving their tickets to download the full copy of the finished game, and 2.) the instant the campaign ends, the small publisher will receive their money and commence printing of a fully prepared book.

In short, the purpose of the Kickstarter will be to fund the printing and distribution of several hundred quality hardback edition of the gamebook.

But that’s not all the Kickstarter is going to be about; like most Kickstarter campaigns, this one is going to have room to grow.

First, I’ve found a dice company able to stamp high-quality custom dice; as a Stretch Goal Add-On, Wearing the Cape fans who want custom dice to play their game with will get them as part of a deluxe package.

wtc-dice(Don’t panic; the game will be perfectly playable with standard Fate Dice or  6-sided dice.)

Second, Kickstarter campaigns form communities of enthusiastic people with lots of input to give, and I’m going to take full advantage of that. I have decided to produce, as a second Stretch Goal Add-On, Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans.

Barlow’s Guide will be a sourcebook. The core game only has room for around 30 pages of background for the Post-Event World, and only the Sentinels—as seen at the beginning of Wearing the Cape—are fully written up. Most of the campaign background only deals with The Event and it’s aftermath in the US. So Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans will go far beyond that. The sourcebook will hugely widen the background, to include experiences of The Event in other countries and describe how many parts of the world dealt with superhumans over the 10 years between The Event and the beginning of the series. Wearing the Cape fans will be polled for places and capes they would like to see in the sourcebook.

Also, there will be a limited number of pledge slots for fans who want to put their own cape characters into the official Post-Event World! They will need to pay extra for the excellent character art that will portray their personally designed heroes  (I have gained the commitment of the artist who did the cover art for Team-Ups and Crossovers for the individual pieces).

Throughout the 35-day campaign, I will be publishing Kickstarter updates tracking the ideas and work to go into Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhuman—which will also be released as an ebook within 3 months of the end of the Kickstarter.

Will there be anything else? I’m not sure, but if the campaign does as well as I hope then I am considering adding a third Stretch Goal Add-On: a special hardback edition of Wearing the Cape, re-edited and with interior art pages.

What will all this look like? That’s still a bit up in the air, but I’ve roughed it out like this.

Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game (PDF): $19.

Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game (hardcopy): $59. (PDF copy and US/Canada shipping included.)

Hardcopy with Dice: $75.

Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans (PDF): $19.

Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans (hardcopy): $49. (PDF copy and US/Canada shipping included.)

Wearing the Cape, Special Edition (ebook): $9.

Wearing the Cape, Special Edition (paperback): $19. (Includes ebook)

Wearing the Cape, Special Edition (hardback): $30. (Includes ebook)

A Barlow’s Guide entry for your hero: $200 (Includes WtC:RPG hardcopy, PDFs for WtC:RPG and WtC:BGtS, and a print of your hero.

And if all goes well, backers will be receiving their e-copies of WtC:RPG in February. Thoughts, anyone?

M.G.Harmon

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