The End of The Beginning

Hello, everyone! I’m back from my various convention adventures, and working hard on finishing up the first full draft of Repercussions. I won’t be on the road again until early September (Salt Lake City Fan-X), and my goal it to be through the first-draft stage entirely and deep into the alpha-read and polishing stages. I appreciate everybody’s patience through this; as I’ve said before, Repercussions is a game-changer for Astra, her friends, and much of her world. So I need to “stick the landing” as never before. (And no pressure at all.)

Just to reassure everyone, although there’s been hints of other projects (for one, an informal Facebook poll on the possibility of producing a high-quality Astra figure, something on the order of DC’s Bombshell figures), none of that is slowing down the writing.

On the writing itself, I appreciate the feedback many of you have given on the released scenes from Chapter 1; your comments have been very helpful (in one case causing me to go back in a later chapter and expand on a description of the aftermath). I intend to release additional scenes past the first chapter over the next few weeks to return the love. In the meantime, here’s the last scenes from Chapter 1. Enjoy.

Somewhere, On a Beach.

Wisps of cotton floated across Littleton’s clear summer sky, a sky one-hundred percent free of jet contrails and the slight tints of gray from civilizational haze that Hope could see in every skyscape in the “real world.”  The whispering warm breeze lulled her into a meditative drowse, unbroken by the laughter drifting up the beach from the water. The breeze had evaporated the last drops from her skin and dried her suit, the warm sand under her towel unwinding the little knots of tension in her muscles, and even knowing their idyll would end in a couple of days couldn’t shake her contentment. She closed her eyes, drifting like the clouds.

The team deserved it. Everybody did. She and Mal hadn’t been back very long from their top-secret space trip to help reduce an asteroid-of-mass-destruction to a really impressive meteor shower, and none of the team had had any real downtime before or since. On top of that the “junior team,” all of them now at least eighteen and fully certified, had caught Mnemomic (their horribly named supervillain-of-the-month) and weathered a total media circus while she’d led them all a merry chase from crime to crime.  They’d even managed to tie everything up in time for Annabeth and Dane’s wedding—where of course Astra’s presence as one of the maids of honor threatened to turn it into an even bigger media circus. One with all three rings and aerial and clown acts.

Before what would probably always be remembered as WD, Wedding Day, Annabeth and Dane hadn’t been enthusiastic about Shelly’s invitation for everybody to come to Littleton where they could honeymoon while the Bees and the team vacationed in one of the most secure places on Earth. WD had changed their minds.

Hope still couldn’t believe what one photographer had done to smuggle himself into the wedding venue.

“Are you going to sleep all day?”

She opened her eyes as Shell dropped to the sand beside her.

Her BF had worn her Shelly/Galatea body to the beach. The very first one Vulcan had made for her, the teleoperated body sculpted with muscle-mimickers and syntheskin wrap let her pass as the “real girl” she’d been before she’d died.

“Well, are you?” Shell proceeded to undo the sun and wind’s work by shaking out her long red hair, raining drops of water all over her.

“Hey!” Hope jackknifed up, reaching for her BF as Shell dodge her grasp.

“You could always throw her in the middle of the lake,” Jacky murmured lazily from her other side. “It’s two hundred feet of water and she’d sink like a rock.” As a living breathing Daywalker (the only one, as far as Hope knew), even though Jacky couldn’t exactly tan she loved laying out in the light and warmth of the Sun.

“Shut up, Vampirella.”

“Make me, Robotica.”

Laughing, Hope dropped back down on her towel. “I will separate the two of you.” Looking around, she saw that Dane and Annabeth had left the swimmers to head off down the beach by themselves. Megan and Julie had started what looked like a game of beach ball water-tag with Jamal, Mal, and Ellie, their newest teammate. Ellie’s flock of little Rainbow Drakes darted around their heads and Hope smiled to see it. Despite the rockiness of their first couple of meetings, she’d pushed to bring Ellie—Kindrake—on the team when Tsuris left to join the L.A. Guardians, and it was good to see her in the middle of the fun. Of all the Young Sentinels, only Brian and Ozma had passed on the vacation.

Kitsune had passed, too.

“Hey,” Shell said, reading Hope’s frown. “Missing your hubby already?”

Hope huffed without force. “I haven’t had a chance to get used to him being here, yet. He’s off playing James Bond for the Chrysanthemum Throne again.” She hadn’t seen her husband since just after their short trip to the Bear Mountains to watch the spectacular meteor shower from the cabin. And didn’t that make her parents happy? They were a long way from accepting her coming back from an adventure married. To a non-Catholic, non-Christian spirit-fox.

She’d thought she was past having to fight her parents over her life choices.

Shell sat back and laughed, squeezing water out of her hair to pull it into a tail. “Out of sight, out of mind? The Harlequin’s good with that—she’s going crazy trying to figure out how to spin the inevitable big reveal of you two. I think she wants you to keep your married status under wraps and publicly date first. And your mom would love to throw a big wedding.”

“Noooo . . .” Hope moaned, hiding her face in her hands. Quin really did want to turn the whole thing into a romcom plot. Kitsune would love the idea; introduced to America as Yoshi Miyamoto, sneaking around behind everyone’s back while “dating” under the public eye (he was after all, in Shell’s words, the greatest sneak-master of all time). Her fans would go insane, the media-frenzy would make the one they’d just lived through look like a minor blip of public attention…

Their names would be linked. They’d be Hoshi.

Or Astune? Oh, that’s just awful. Hope swallowed a hysterical giggle. “Don’t say any of that too loud. He’ll try and sneak up on me when he gets back. He always does.” She looked up and down the beach half-expecting to see him pop up from the sand. If he finished his business while they were still on vacation, he’d probably jump at the chance to break into Littleton again just to prove he still could. “At least I can spot him coming now. . . What?” Shell was suddenly looking improbably innocent.

“How do you know it’s him?”

She tapped her nose. “My super-duper sense of smell. I’ve got his scent, now. Male, female, whatever of his thousand faces he wears he always smells the same under it. And he’s got some tells—that lopsided smile, the way he stands. Stuff like that.” Within thirty feet, she could spot him every time now.

“Yeah . . . Not so much.”

“Huh?”

Shell sighed, gave up on her hair. “I’ve got hours and hours of video files of that sneaky fox in lots of shapes now, and motion analysis only confirms it’s him when you’re around. Chemical air analysis also only finds a consistent olfactory signature when you’re nearby. He does all that just for you.”

What? Wait, what?

Jacky burst out laughing. “So Kitsune’s developed a ‘secret signal’ just for Hope?”

What?

Shell started laughing too, probably at Hope’s gaping-fish expression, the traitor. “Duh. Everything about him’s a trick. Okay, it’s a thoughtful trick maybe, but he—” She collapsed right on top of Hope, like a puppet whose strings had been cut.

“Shell? Shell?” Hope rolled her friend’s robot body off her, easy enough even with her heavy carbon-alloy bones and musculature. When she flopped limply to the sand Hope almost reached to feel her pulse—which was absolutely stupid since she was a dronebot. “Shell?” No virtual-Shell popped up to explain why her teleoperated body had suddenly collapsed.

Jacky stood up beside them, eyes scanning the sand, sky, and water like she expected something else to happen any second. “You can’t hear her?”

“No, she’s not in my head at all.” Rising to look around, Hope couldn’t see anything that shouldn’t have been there and her senses were even better than Jacky’s vampire ones. “But her body’s still live—I can hear her micro-servomotors going, the tiny ones that power her fake respiration.”

“Do you think Littleton is testing a new security measure? Something that blocked her connection?”

“Yes!” That would do it. Hope looked around for her cellphone, which rang. There she is. The first thing Shell would do if something blocked their quantum-link would be to reach out the fastest low-tech way she could. She snatched up her cell. “Shell—”

“Astra,” Dr. Leiman Hall said in her ear. “Ms. Hardt is on her way to you. She said Shell has gone silent, and she believes it’s a sign of an imminent attack on Chicago.”

A burst of wind blew Hope’s hair in her face and, clearing her vision with her free hand, she watched Brian and Ozma come rushing out of nowhere to wipe out in the sand. She dropped her phone.

—————————————–

Shelly leaped out before the security minion brought the jeep to a stop, her office loafers slipping on the sand as she ran. She almost tripped over the blur of fur that scrambled from Grendel’s pack and hurled itself at her as the big guy got to his feet—somehow he’d managed to face-plant into the sand without squashing Ozma under him.

She hugged a stiff-furred Shell. “I’m not there!” Shell hissed, and she didn’t need to ask what she meant. Back from Oz, even in the pocket-reality of Littleton, cat-Shell should have reconnected with herself. She looked once at Shell’s fallen Galatea body, lying too much like a corpse, and looked away.

“We’ll be fine,” she whispered, scratching cat-Shell’s ears before clearing her throat. “Guys, there’s a coordinated strike going down against hydroelectric dams across the country. And a minute ago electronic and quantum interdiction cut off all links to Shell at her source.”

“Her source?” Hope squeaked, dialed her voice down, and tried again. “Where’s her source? Shell’s AI core is in some super-secret base somewhere, right? So secret only God and you guys know where it is?”

Shelly scratched harder, trying to calm cat-Shell’s continuous low yowling. “Yeah, but the super-secret location is under the Chicago Dome. The Teatime Anarchist set it up by going back to when the Dome was being built and installing us under the foundation before the final concrete footing was poured. It’s completely shielded and self-powered.”

Why?”

“He knew we’d likely be joining the team. Or we’d at least be hanging around there virtually because of you. Psychologically, it helps us to feel present by being present.”

And now it was too present. If something destroyed the Dome it might just take out Shell. Shelly tried to imagine what having a piece of her quantum-twin permanently stuck in a cat body would mean. If Shell was gone, would Ozma be able to keep cat-Shell from eventually transforming back into a drone? If her transformed drone-body did change back, then would the piece of Shell in it now disappear too? She tightened her grip on her furry twin. “So something’s happening at the Dome and I can’t think of any move to isolate it on every level that’s not a prelude to an attack on it or Chicago.”

“But—” Hope sputtered until Ozma caught everyone’s attention with the sparking blood-red orb she held up. “Right. Ozma, if you have any Travel Dust left we need to use it now. Everyone!” She hadn’t needed to shout; Jamal popped in behind her and the others had started wading ashore when Grendel and Ozma appeared. “In uniform, now! We’re going home!”

She matched her words by twisting the tiny gem-green ring she wore, changing into her Astra outfit complete with armor in a flash of light as Malleus appeared in her hand. Jacky, Grendel, and Ozma followed suit as down the beach Mal and Ellie got to the sand and triggered their own transformations into Megaton and Kindrake. Julie and Megan watched it all from the water, Julie wrapping her arms around the shorter girl.

Hope absently gave cat-Shell a quick ear rub. “Shell will be safe, I promise. Take care of everyone while we’re gone?”

Shelly nodded, stepping back and clutching her furry twin tighter as the team circled up to link hands and Kindrake’s rainbow of tiny drakes settled on her like birds covering a tree. When Hope nodded, Ozma flung her pouch-full of Travel Dust over them and the team disappeared in a blast of wind.

“So that’s it,” she said to herself—or to cat-Shell, pretty much the same thing. Toeing off her sand-filled shoes, she headed down the beach to brief the Bees. At least it was something she could do.

“Keep me out of the water,” Shell muttered in her arms.

———————————————–

That’s all for now! Have a great weekend.

MGH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in Wearing the Cape | Tagged , , | 23 Comments

Movie Review, Update, and Closer to Home.

Spider-Man, Far From Home

Prepping for my flight tomorrow, I realized that I couldn’t go off to a convention without meeting people who were going to ask me what I, as a writer of superhero fiction, thought of Spider-Man: Far From Home. And I hadn’t seen it yet…

Have no fear! I ran out and caught a matinee showing. My thoughts? I can’t discuss it much without spoilers, but 1) it was an excellent movie, very much in line with Spider-Man: Homecoming, and 2) it does a very good job of providing an epilogue for Avengers: Endgame.

Seriously, this movie sets us firmly in place for the next stage of the MCU, showing us how the Great Snap–what they’re calling The Blink, because that’s how it felt to everyone who got snapped away and then back again–affected people like Peter, Aunt May, MJ, etc., were affected by it. The MCU Spider-Man story has been about web-slinging and teen angst, and  Far From Home sticks to that formulae; if you enjoyed Homecoming as much as I did, you won’t be disappointed.

So, where am I flying to? I’ve decided to attend a convention that wasn’t on my schedule, Connecticon! Well, Bards’ Tower called and said, “Hey, want to come to Connecticut?” I said “Sure!” So that’s where I’ll be from Friday to Sunday this week. (And I just got news I’ll be sharing the booth with Jim Butcher of Harry Dresden fame. Very cool. Last time I got to meet Mercedes Lackey, so it’s all a fan-boy experience.)

XVII-Logo

And next week, I’ll be at the San Diego Comicon!

ccibanner_2019_v1

I’ll be attending with a writer friend also from Vegas, Maxwell Alexander Drake. He’ll be there to teach a few genre-writing classes, and they give him a table for his stuff. He said “Marion, would you like to put your stuff at my table this year?” I said . . . well you get it. Really this is just an excuse for me to finally attend THE biggest comicon in the US at least once. I won’t be spending the entire time at the table, but I will be around if someone attending wants me to sign stuff or just chat.

So, what does all this mean for Repercussions?

I’ll not lie, it’s going to slow me down a bit. But I’ve bought a new laptop, and am committed to writing during the conventions. Actually not so much committed as obsessed; I hit a major stretch of writer’s block earlier this year, which put me way behind. The block overcome, I can’t not forge ahead.

Meanwhile, just to prove I have written more words than the ones you’ve seen so far, this takes place before/after the An Inn in Oz scene. Enjoy.

…………………………………………..

Earlier and closer to home . . .

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art long and dry.”

Shelly snorted, slapping a hand to her mouth before a full-blown laugh could escape and sink her. If Shell had been virtually present in the conference room instead of just whispering in her ear, she’d have glared at her quantum-twin. Instead she turned the snort into a cough and supported her cover by taking a sip from her water bottle.

Not that she fooled anyone around the table—her fellow Ouroboros all felt the soporific power of Dr. Hall’s “summations.” Usually she stayed awake by subvocalizing moves in a verbal chess game with Shell, but today wistful daydreaming of fun with the team on Littleton’s beach made even focusing on chess moves impossible.

“In short,” Dr. Hall concluded way too late, “with three years since the final ‘future-history’ update from the Teatime Anarchist, the emergent property of causation has reduced our predictive abilities to close to parity with that of other think-tanks that have no access to our library of formerly likely potential futures.”

The Big Book of Contingent Prophecy has pretty much passed its expiration date,” Shell interpreted needlessly. Shelly’s last sip nearly came out her nose.

On her right General Rajabhushan politely ignored her coughing fit. “We’re still ahead of the game with our future-actors watchlist,” he pointed out, Vivian and Kelly nodding their agreement.

“Yes, and no,” Leiman launched smoothly into his next point as Shell blew a raspberry only Shelly heard. “We’ve observed that breakthrough triggers are hugely contingent. Most post-California Quake breakthroughs our future-histories recorded have not been experiencing those triggers and breaking through as they previously would have. A very few have experienced different triggers, with the same or divergent results, but most post-quake breakthroughs have been new superhumans not seen in our future-histories. Since most threat vectors of our time come from superhumans and organizations that make use of them, this means that fresh threats are increasingly unanticipated as our future-actors watchlist also loses its predictiveness. We’re still able to better read constellations of events and predict repercussions, but—”

Shelly nearly jumped out of her seat when the alarm went off and the conference room’s lights went red.

The alarm tone meant Urgently Bad News-Feed Crap Coming In, very different from the Incoming Threat Prepare for Immediate Institute Lockdown alarm—as if anything could reach them in Littleton without more warning than that—and she got a few be-cool points back by not joining in the four-expert stampede from the conference room to their group workroom. “Shell, what’s happened?” she asked as she followed in the wake of her senior Oroboros.

Her quantum-twin wasn’t allowed anywhere near the Oroboros Group’s data systems, but she had her own newsfeeds and now she appeared beside her, wearing beach shorts and a printed top that read Life’s a Beach and Then You Die. Shelly almost returned her twin’s earlier raspberry; Shell’d made her virtual image a copy of the gynoid drone-body she was wearing down at the beach—a twenty-one-year old version of them, one that looked their mutual chronological age. Experientially only eighteen due to the three-year gap between her death and “awakening,” Shelly’d been a living, breathing girl for only sixteen of those years and she was so ready to be done with her protracted teens, which meant she’d look old enough to drink by the time she was twenty-five. But Shell, more than half a year younger than Shelly experientially, could just virtually age herself out of their teens or pilot a more mature looking drone-body. She liked to rub it in.

But not now. “Somebody just blew a huge hole in the Grand Coulee Dam,” she said. “No idea how, yet, but video-feed of the attack hit the internet right behind the government alert.”

“Bystanders? Tourists?” The rest of the group ignored her, by now totally used to Shelly interacting with her invisible quantum-twin.

“They’re not the source. The video’s too steady and pointed in just the right direction, and it’s a new account.”

“So, totally planned. Crap.”  The Grand Coulee Dam was one of the country’s largest designated infrastructure-security targets. It didn’t just generate nearly seven megawatts of power for the state of Washington, it provided irrigation for more than half a million acres of agricultural production in the Pacific Northwest.

And it wasn’t on any of the Oroboros’ prospective target lists. Shelly’d held out a small hope the explosion was from a new, disastrously manifesting, breakthrough.

In the operations room, she barely looked at the screens the rest grouped in front of; she’d grown taller than Vivian in the past year but she still couldn’t see over any of the men’s shoulders and Shell was feeding her a virtual heads-up display of data anyway. The signal boost her twin got now meant that translating from the Real World into the extrareality pocket that was Littleton barely slowed her down.

“Fast-response capes up and down the coast are scrambling to get there now,” Shell supplied. “Washington State doesn’t have a lot of local capes.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.” So much for the beach. Shell was there now, multi-tasking quantum-ghost computer AI that she was, but she’d be here analyzing probabilities and repercussions for hours as the facts came in and—

“Hoover Dam just went,” Shell said flatly, and Shelly’s blood turned to ice. Hoover Dam, outside Las Vegas Nevada. Her brain kicked into overdrive “General, Hoover Dam’s hit. Get everyone off the top ten hydroelectric dams in the US. Bath County PSP, Chief Joseph Dam, Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant—”

His fingers flew over his station keyboard. “Department of Homeland Security confirms, civil emergency alerts sent, downstream evacuations ordered. Reasoning?”

She took her eyes off the second video-file Shell was playing just for her. “One is an accident or terrorist act, two is a bigger statement and who knows how loud the statement is going to get?”

“Suspects? Nobody in any potential future used this angle of attack before.”

Tell me what I don’t know. “No idea boss, but a coordinated infrastructure attack rules out a lot of maybes.” She kept her focus off the spinning meter ratcheting up the number of estimated dead in the corner of her virtual display. When she’d been Shell, a future-tech quantum-computer AI, she’d had no real adrenal response and could always mute her simulated one; now she missed that useful ability—horrified panic wasn’t helpful.

Who do we know who can do this? And this absolutely ended Hope’s vacation. Dammit.

It was a horrible, heartless thought, but her BF deserved some downtime; between secretly saving the country from a Meteor of Death, Annabeth and Dane’s wedding, and the never-ending training and publicity grind that was just being Astra, she deserved every carefree second on the beach she could—

“The Bath County and Niagara dams just went,” Shell sang out. “Evacuation of the dams was only—” She disappeared.

“. . . Shell? Shell!” Hearing only silence in her head she rushed to her console, ignoring the stares of her fellow Ouroboros as she typed furiously. A password and query of signal security status buried one nightmare and dropped her into another. “General I’ve lost Shell that means quantum interdiction. The interdiction isn’t on Littleton, it’s on Chicago, the city’s being targeted!”

Cool brown eyes stared into her wide green ones for seconds, then the old military man turned away to bark into his console mic. She breathed for only a moment before heading for the door.

“Ms. Hardt!” Dr. Leiman called. “Where are you going?”

“Hope! My team!”

“If there is an unfolding attack they can hardly get from the beach to Chicago in time to do anything!”

“You couldn’t possibly be more wrong! Call Hope, tell her I’m coming!” The door slid closed behind her as she bolted up the hall to the open inner well and took the emergency stairs up, three at a time, calling ahead to Ed. The institute’s head of security didn’t ask why, and sprinting through the lobby Shelly found one of his minions waiting for her outside. Lake Peppas was two minutes away. One minute if they didn’t stop between the institute parking lot and the sand.

———————————————–

Be safe, stay cool out there, later.

MGH

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments

Updates, Thoughts, and Somewhere In Oz . . .

Wow the year is flying, and wow am I behind. I blame my shifting to a very different POV with Repercussions (Third Person Limited, multiple POVs) than I’ve used for most of my other stuff. The result has been an exponentially more complex plotting process. Also, a lot is happening in Book 8. The status quo is getting completely upended in this one, folks, so I’ve got to get it right.

I do have other activities this year, although I’m trying not to let them get in the way of the work. For anyone attending Fyrecon ’19 in Salt Lake City (a writer’s conference), I’ll be there presenting superhero fiction subjects (defining the genre, creating superhero worlds, etc.). I’ll also be at San Diego Comicon, with some of my stuff available for signing at a table shared with Maxwell Alexander Drake.

Nobody’s more impatient for Book 8 than I am. As I said, it’s going to be big. And since I’m way past deadline on this, by way of apology here’s one of the scenes from Chapter One.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Oz . . .

Brian kept his scowl in place without pointing it directly at the object of his anger, the quisling officer in Emerald City greens talking to their host. The Weary Traveler’s common room had been warm and inviting when he’d sat down in the corner by the stairs and propped his pack and staff against the wall. Now that he might need to fight his way out of it, not so much.

Ozma had left him there with their things to attend to “female business” upstairs—female business being the idiot girl up in one of the inn’s guest rooms. She’d been caught on the road by labor pains and stout Master Gwelf, their harried host, had almost wept with relief when Ozma and Brian had arrived and he’d seen her broad-brimmed pointy hat, the headwear that declared her a witch. They were still dusty from the road, but when Ozma heard that the last local witch had departed a year ago, she’d frowned disapprovingly and left Brian with a kiss on the cheek to go upstairs and see to the Quadling girl and her child.

That had left Brian in the common room to down mugs of heather ale and look intimidating for any locals who might carry word to those who might want to know for a few coin. The job wasn’t hard since with his hulking form, gray skin, and fanged mouth, Brian looked like nothing so much as a Quadling troll. Nome-occupied Quadling Country had gotten pretty lawless, but even on the open road Ozma’s pointy hat and his huge iron staff (held in his huge troll fist) were enough to warn away all but the most ambitious bandits. The small but well-armed troop of Ozian soldiers that had just entered the inn might be braver, and with their spears and guns they could probably take down a troll.

Brian was a lot more dangerous than any troll, but he might have to teach them that the hard way. And if I do, our cover’s blown to shit.

Taking care not to change the shape of his ears, he sharpened his hearing and focused on blocking out masking audial frequencies, a skill built up from hours of mind-numbing training. Gotcha.

“What’s he saying?” Shell asked, licking white drops off her whiskers. In Oz the sight of a cat elegantly polishing off a bowl of cream while talking to its tablemate didn’t turn any heads at all.

“Quiet,” he growled softly. And how the hell could an artificial intelligence, living in a secret CPU somewhere, be the soul of an animal that wasn’t wired for quantum-wifi or whatever it was? When he’d made the mistake of asking, Ozma had simply replied “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.” Hope had fallen out of her chair laughing.

“What’s he saying?”

He put his hand on Shell’s tiny head, rubbing behind her ears with thumb and finger as she reflexively closed her eyes and purred. “He’s asking about new and recent travelers. Finish your cream, we may be running.”

How long did labor take? Hours? A day?

Shell flicked her tongue over her whiskers again, scrubbed with a paw and licked it. “Yeah, like a full stomach will help. . . Uh oh.”

Brian tightened up. “What?” The officer was still talking to their host, and his men hadn’t looked towards them again.

“Not them. Look down.”

He did. “Well, shit.” He’d leaned his tall pack against the wall by their table, one of its many pockets open so he could see her majesty’s storm glass. They always had to be able to see it or feel it, and on the road it sat under the top flap where Shell could feel it under her perch. Looking at it now, he had to force his shoulders down and stop his claws and teeth from growing.

He’d helped Ozma make the damn thing before they left. She’d filled the crystal sphere with a pinch of water from Lake Michigan, rain runoff from the Dome, and cloud vapor she’d had Hope collect, all mixed in with a breeze from a bright summer day. Crazy Oz magic, it didn’t predict the weather like a real storm glass was supposed to do. It predicted danger, danger back home in Chicago. If the blue of its sky darkened and clouded, danger loomed. What the hell does a red sky full of lightning mean? He could practically feel the static charge coming off the thing. “Get Ozma. Now.”

Shell nonchalantly jumped down from the table and sauntered up the stairs to the inn’s guest rooms while Brian kept his eye on the soldiers. None of them looked his way, but the officer, a young lieutenant, finished his questions and crossed the crowded room to their table. Silence followed him like an invisible shroud as the inn’s patrons bent their ears or tried to be invisible.

“Good day, Master . . .”

“Benagain.”

“Good day, Master Benagain.” He emphasized the Ben properly, obviously working to attach such a proper Emeril name to a Quadling troll (Ozma had told Brian it was like naming a Black kid Aethelred). At least the name and the embroidered patterns of Brian’s vest and tunic sleeves—the princess had been quite firm about the fancy stuff—marked him as a civilized troll. “Lieutenant Borgan, at your service.” He touched the brim of his polished helmet. “Master Berimore tells me you’re traveling south?”

“My wife and I, yes.” He kept his hands below the table and away from his iron staff. Whatever his fancified clothes said, his oiled dreadlocks marked him as a troll proud of his strength and ready to defend his honor.

“Travel is getting dangerous, especially away from the high road.”

“The yellow brick one is risky, too.”

The man nodded reluctantly. “The Royal Army is spread thin. Since measures taken after the attack on the Tick-Tock Works, desperate people haunt the hills.”

Brian scowled. “And not a local tinker or hedge-witch to be found from the Cascades to the Great Sandy Waste.” His ears twitched as the high wail of a healthy new pair of lungs echoed down the stairs. The lieutenant looked past him and swallowed as Brian chuckled.

He couldn’t get over the average Ozian’s fear of babies. But fair was fair, he still had a hard time wrapping his head around the way reproduction worked in Ozma’s fairyland where almost nobody died of old age. Elders could live for centuries, until they eventually either heard a call to wander or just got tired of life and slept a lot until they didn’t wake up. And if the population level was where it should be (and who knew how the Land of Oz knew where that balance was) parents didn’t mature beyond a healthy young middle-age and kids just didn’t grow up either. Some of them didn’t leave their teen years for centuries, some of them never hit puberty, and childbirths only matched the incredibly low death and maturation rates.

It was just one more crazy thing about Oz, but Mombi and the Nome King’s conquest had killed a lot of people and Quadling Country’s low-boil resistance was killing more. Which meant suddenly lots of kids were growing up and lots of women were having babies in a society that didn’t normally see that many of them at a time.

And the paranoid co-rulers of Oz were imprisoning all the witches or chasing them into hiding. Also all the wizards, tinkers, mechanics, anyone with knowledge and powers that could threaten them and whose loyalties were the least bit questioned, but the witches with their magic and midwifery skills were especially missed.

Lieutenant Borgan brought his gaze back to Brian. “Your wife, Mistress . . . Pennigal? Is upstairs?”

Brian put his hands on the table. Big, clawed, troll hands. “And from the sounds, will soon be down.”

The man hooked a finger in the strap of his brimmed and peaked helmet—the thing looked like a shiny steel hat to Brian, something old Spanish conquistadors would wear. “Good. That is very good. And where are you—”

Footsteps on the stairs turned Brian’s head and his fists clenched, nails tips digging curls of wood from the table. Shit.

Ozma descended the stairs in all her glory, Shell at her heels. Though she still wore her Quadling outfit—red vest, embroidered white tunic, and matching short bloomers Brian liked to make fun of—she’d changed her willow wand back into her royal scepter and her flame-red hair back to its golden locks. Her golden wire crown wasn’t needed at all; any Ozian would recognize the perfect face minted in profile on their pre-conquest coins. She ignored the lieutenant to look to their host, frozen like the rest of the room.

“Mistress Pansy is resting,” she informed him, her perfectly modulated voice commanding attention without volume. “And young Mistress Delia as well. If your good wife would attend to them, I must be on my way.”

Brian had to give the lieutenant points, he didn’t stay frozen.

“Your—your majesty. You are to be arrested.”

She turned lambent blue eyes his way and smiled an even more perfect smile. “And will you arrest me?”

Brian gave the officer more points for not flinching. Instead, whatever he was thinking, he dropped to a knee—an act followed quickly by the whole room. “Lieutenant Borgan, your majesty, at your service. But . . .” His eyes left hers to dart to his own men and then sweep the now deathly-silent common room.

Ozma’s gaze changed from regal to sympathetic. “I understand, lieutenant. And everyone.” She raised her voice to be heard from the stairs to the kitchen door. “Oz is conquered. The blood of the fairy Lurline no longer sits on the Emerald Throne. I know that you are loyal, but I am not yet ready to return. Since I am not, I cannot be seen. That would ignite an open rebellion that we cannot yet win, and the cost would be truly terrible. Brian.”

Handing Brian her scepter, she drew a crystal vial from the pouch she’d taken upstairs with her, holding it out to the lieutenant as all eyes watched. “This is crystalized Water of Oblivion. One grain in each cup will be enough and all here will forget that you have seen me here today. Master Berimore, will you serve yourself and your guests?”

Their host shook off his paralysis and bustled about, bringing fresh mugs, glasses, and goblets to everyone. The lieutenant walked behind him to infuse each drink with a grain of Ozma’s magic, an especially sharp eye turned to his own huddled soldiers. Brian picked up their pack, scooping Shell up and dropping her on top of it as Ozma accepted her scepter back, whispering “Lim tin tak!” Her hair returned to red, her alabaster skin tanned, her crown and magic belt disappeared, and her scepter shrank back into a willow wand. She looked around, satisfied. Nobody had refused a cup, and her soft smile took in the room. “Will you all toast my health?”

Lieutenant Borgan stood at attention. “Masters and mistresses, her majesty’s health!” Brian and Ozma crossed the room and slipped out the door as toasts echoed around them. In the courtyard, she turned them towards the stables.

“You just asked a roomful of people to drug themselves,” Brian growled, “and they did it?”

“They are my loyal subjects,” Ozma returned cheekily.

“All of them? And that was nice timing, upstairs.”

“She turned the baby into a rattle!” Shell enthused.

“You what?”

His princess laughed, a sound like chimes. “There was no time, Brian, and Mistress Delia’s mother had hours to go yet to bring her into the world. As a little rattle, she came out very quickly. And I didn’t leave her that way for long.”

“Yeah, well that still can’t be good.”

“She might show a talent for turning herself into small knickknacks and oddments as she grows. I imagine she’ll excel at hide-and-seek. But we couldn’t stay. The storm glass—” She fished it from the pack as they reached the stable doors, took one look at the sparking thing and dug around some more to pull out a pair of silver filigreed slippers.

Brian stepped away as she bent down. “Oh, no. Not those.”

The Princess of Oz rolled her eyes, elegantly of course. “Don’t be a gooch, Brian. We need to go now and we’re not going straight home. We need to get to the team.”

“Fine.” He tried to ignore her laugh as she pulled both his boots off and slipped on the silver shoes that magically became just his size. Patting his leg, she stood up and then gave a little hop, forcing him to reflexively catch her. “I hate you,” he growled. Tapping his heels three times, he chanted “There’s no place like Hope!”

Wind roared through the stables, catching them up and whirling them invisibly through the air, out the back, and into the sky.

—————————————

Hope you enjoyed it.

MGH

Posted in Wearing the Cape | Tagged , , , | 23 Comments

The Perfect Endgame

Endgame

I’m just kidding; there is no such thing as a perfect story. What there are, are stories that are so great to experience that they don’t leave room in your head to criticize them while enjoying them. That’s Avengers: Endgame.

So, some background.

As everyone knows, I’m a lifetime comic-book fan. Not a rabid collector, but I can’t think of a year when I wasn’t picking up one or two titles. I’m not a die-hard fan of any particular superhero or comic; instead I tend to look for those comics where the writer/artist fusion creates magic, and at various times I’ve collected The X-Men, The Avengers, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. I’ve read the titles I like long enough, off and on, to see at least two big reboots of my favorite characters. This is the lens I’ve been watching the ongoing rollout of the Marvel Cinematic Universe through; I knew going in that the characters and their stories would be recognizable but different, and just hoped that we’d see good stories. And it’s been a wild ride.

Viewing List Some of these movies were stronger than others (to me Captain Marvel and the Guardians of the Galaxy movies felt weakest), but all were enjoyable and a step above almost anything else out there in superhero-fiction. The Incredibles I and II and Big Hero Six matched them, but MCU are the best of the live-action movies.

So now we come to Avengers: Endgame. How does it stack up to what’s come before?

I’m not really sure how to answer that. Why? First, because it doesn’t stand alone; A:E is really Avengers: Infinity War I-II, a more than 5-hour movie. I’ll call it A:I/E. Second, A:I/E can’t stand alone, either. It rests on the other 20 films, which introduced us to the monster cast of heroes and deepened their stories, relationships, and themes over the course of nearly a decade.  That’s the genius of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This is all leading up to why I consider A:I/E the Best Superhero Movie Yet. Not perfect, but Best Yet. First, because of the 20-movie buildup, there has never been a collection of characters in which I have been so emotionally invested. These. Are. People. We’ve watched them grow, change, triumph, fail, love, grieve, etc. With that kind of investment, A:I/E could fail in only one real way; it could fail to provide an emotional payoff to the character arcs of heroes whose stories are ending.

And this is the ending of a chapter of MCU history (the coming Spider Man 2 is a sort of prologue).

A:I/E doesn’t fail. I’ve seen it twice, now, and I can’t think of a more perfect ending. So now that I’ve given it the accolade of BEST SUPERHERO MOVIE EVER!, go out and see it if you haven’t already. If you have seen it, lets move on and talk about it.

WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS, ABANDON SUSPENSE ALL YE WHO VENTURE HERE!

A:I/E finishes two hero story arcs, Iron Man’s and Captain America’s, definitively and perfectly. It gave both the right kind of happy ending. You might not think Tony Stark’s was so happy, but it’s what Pepper told him: “We’ll be okay, Tony. You can rest, now.” This echoes what she said earlier in the movie, and also echoes the key “want” Tony has always had. In Iron Man I, his motive was to fix his mistakes (among other mistakes, being a weapons-maker and war-profiteer). He’s always worked hard to do good, driven by guilt for his mistakes and fear for the world. Well, he saved the world from the biggest threat it had ever faced. Yeah it’s sad he died, but it’s a kind of triumphal sad. He WON.

As for Captain America, Steve Rogers has always been a hero driven by an overriding sense of duty. To his family, to his friends, to his teammates, to his country, to his world. It’s his greatest strength; whatever tragedies befall, as long as his duty is clear, he’s a rock. He’s also been the least-changing MCU hero, in a good way. Constancy is an undervalued moral trait, and he embodies it. But that constancy of heart had a price; Cap couldn’t move on. Even ten years after waking up from the ice, he couldn’t move on from his first love, Peggy Carter. Natasha twitted him about it, as only a friend now as close as a sister could. So the last scene, where Steve gets to finally dance with his girl, confirming that, after everything, he got to live a full and happy life with her, is perfect.

Although Tony and Steve had the best story-endings, two others are nearly as strong. Natasha/The Black Widow, who in earlier movies displayed great regret over the “red in her ledger” and the loss of her opportunity to have a family, found two families in the end: The Avengers and Clint’s family (especially his children, to whom she was Aunt Natasha). She gave her life for both those families, and specifically so Hawkeye would be reunited with his. Hawkeye’s “ending” is implied. No, he didn’t die. But after all he’d been through losing his family, with them back I can’t imagine him doing anything other than hanging up his bow for good to be with them. He might remain involved as a trainer/consultant, but not a field agent.

Accounting for the last original Avengers, there’s The Hulk and Thor. I don’t need to say anything about Bruce’s ending. I imagine that he probably even got the love of his own life, Betty Ross, but Marvel didn’t need to go there (although it would have been cool if she’d been at the funeral). Thor’s ending was the weakest.

Speaking of the funeral, I figured out who the lone boy I didn’t recognize was; the teenager kind of standing off by himself; Harley Keener, the smart kid Tony met in Iron Man 3 while he was on the run. At least that’s my guess.

Lest I make you think it’s all about the ending, nope. The other thing A:I/E nailed was the sheer epic payoff. For power and impact, I can’t think of a Final Battle that’s done it better–not even the epic battles of The Lord of The Rings. Once Bruce snapped his fingers and Hawkeye’s cellphone buzzed, you know all of the snapped-away are back. So I was expecting the snapped-away heroes to show up like the cavalry coming over the hill for a last-minute rescue, but they weren’t the cavalry, they were the entire army. Actually, three armies–an army of Asgardian warriors, Wakandans, and sorcerers. How cool was that?

A final note on the overall plot; I went into A:I/E expecting that the Avengers would somehow get the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos and just reverse the Great Snap. And while that would have been doable, plot-wise, the decision to avoid the easy way and instead hit the heroes with total failure and five years to live with the failure was a brilliant choice. Because in the Real World, failure has consequences. Hitting the heroes–and the audience–with those consequences was gutsy and brilliant.

And the Timey-Wimey Stuff

Finally, I can’t tell you how inexpressibly happy I am that A:I/E avoided the Timey-Wimey Ball. What’s that? To quote TV Tropes:

The Timey-Wimey Ball is the result of a series or movie where the writers are a wee bit confused or forgetful about exactly which kind of time travel can happen, sometimes within the span of one episode! One day You Can’t Fight Fate (or at least not without the Butterfly of Doom coming along), but the next you can Screw Destiny and Set Right What Once Went Wrong by killing Hitler and changing the past for the better. Especially headachy because there’s no Temporal Paradox, or if there is it’s totally arbitrary.

I’ve read a couple of complaints from viewers who thought they saw a bouncing timey-wimey ball somewhere in there, but that’s because with everything going on the explanations for what was happening went by kind of fast (and they staged a less-than-clear ending that confused some people). Here’s the “science.”

In the Marvel Universe, you can’t change your past. You can change the past, but that’s because when you travel back to the past, the instant you arrive you split off a new quanta of time that can be described as Past X + YOU. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t seem like you changed anything; just your arrival creates a divergence.

If the idea of creating whole new universes every time you time-travel gives you fits, you could instead use the model I did for the Infinitude; there are an infinite number of quanta (alternate realities), a subset of which–still infinite–are exactly or near-exactly identical. Traveling back in time takes you to one of these identical quanta, which you can completely knock off the rails of subsequent history through your actions, creating a massively divergent timeline from that point. It works out the same; you can never visit your past, just a past that looks like yours until the moment you arrive.

A:I/E stayed true to this model of time-travel from beginning to end. The Avengers visited four different quanta pasts, “creating/diverging” four new histories. And no, there was no reset when Captain America took the stones back to their original quanta; all of their actions in New York, on Asgard, and on other planets changed things. The movie didn’t even try and address those changes, but I’ll give you a few. To keep things straight I’ll talk about MCU Prime (the unaltered timeline), Alternate NYC (the visit to the Chitari Invasion of New York), Alternate Asgard (of Thor 2), Alternate Space, and Alternate SHIELD.

Alternate NYC: In that timeline, Loki escaped with the Tesseract/Space Stone. Among other changes, this derails Thor II since he wasn’t in his cell in Asgard to tell the Dark Elf agent where to find the shield generator (and that’s not considering all the mischief Loki might have gotten up to between Thor I and II in that history). Captain America also left some very confused Hydra agents, who were bound to Do Something about that confusion, and a Captain America who now knew Bucky was alive somehow (if he believed the older Cap, and he would after his Tony Stark made sense out of what had happened). This totally diverges the timeline leading to Captain America II and III. Since I’m sure Cap didn’t give the Mind Stone back to Hydra, this messes up the timeline for Avengers II as well (at the least, no Wanda and Pietro).

Alternate Asgard: The Aether/Reality Stone was extracted from Jane Foster, removing the need for the sophisticated plot to get it out of her and destroy it. Lady Frigga, Thor’s mom, probably survived in Alternate Asgard since Malaketh wouldn’t have been coming for Jane. (To answer a stupid objection, bringing the stone back, there is no way Captain America would have re-injected it into Jane Foster even if they could have returned the stone to it’s previous viscous state.)

Alternate Space: The chain of events leading up to the formation of the Guardians of the Galaxy . . . absolutely derailed. Also, the Thanos of that reality is dead with all his minions.

Alternate Shield: Like the Reality Stone, the Space Stone is also returned in a very different shape than it was taken. Not sure of the effects of that, but there have to be some. Also, the theft of some of Henry Pym’s Ant-Man juice has to have changed things too, if only with initially small but cumulative effects.

And none of this takes into account the changes Captain America makes on his own journey to return all of the stones to their quanta. Technically, to do his duty there all he needs to do is hit each quanta long enough to drop each stone anywhere. But it’s Cap we’re talking about; he knows they’ve changed things–you can bet he stuck around in each quanta long enough to put the stone in a good situation and at least make sure they didn’t Destroy Everything in any of them with their interference. (I’ll bet he fought alongside Thor repelling the Dark Elves’ attack on Asgard.) Which brings us to our last new alternate-universe.

Alternate Carter: All we know about this quanta is that, after returning the Infinity Stones to their rightful quanta, Steve decided to grab his Happy Ending. With more Pym Particle charges in his suit, he traveled back to the end of Word War Two to find his girl, Peggy Carter, to whom he’d promised a dance. To make it nice and tidy, I prefer to think he found a quanta whose own Captain America had died in that final flight rather than getting frozen for 70 years. He made that his new home–where I’m sure he completely changed the post-war timeline (after all, he’d had 10 years to study post-war history from V-Day to 2010). He was their Captain America and, after a long and eventful life, he brought that quanta’s Captain America Shield back to MCU Prime to present to the Falcon. The End.

Perfect.

 

M.G.Harmon

 

 

 

Posted in Movie Reviews | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments

A New Marvel

Captain-Marvel-international-poster-1724182

It was the best of films, it was the worst of films.

Just caught Captain Marvel today, and it was worth the price of admission. It added another brick to the structure of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and had quite a few fun moments. The acting was uniformly good, with Brie Larson playing a very believable Carol Danvers. I give it a 6/10; it’s not the best Marvel movie, but not the worst.

Why only a 6 out of 10?

Because it has no heart. Warning, some spoilers ahead.

The basic story seems to be one of rediscovery; Carol Danvers starts the movie as Vers (pronounced Veers), a highly trained Kree commando (she describes them as “warrior-heroes), engaged in a war with the Kree Empire’s enemies, the Skrull. She has amnesia, was told she was the sole survivor of some attack somewhere, but has dreams that don’t quite match up with that. She also has some kind of energy projection power she doesn’t have full control over, and her superior/mentor/trainer tells her she needs to “control her emotions.” But hey, she can still physically kick ass.

A mission to pick up a Kree agent goes badly wrong and she winds up captured by Skrull, who promptly use a device to scan her memories–in the process showing her a bunch of Earth memories–in search of something. This something is the McGuffin of the movie, and it turns out it’s on Earth. Carol escape the Skrull ship, and engages in a race with the Skrull agents to get to the device first. In the process, she uncovers her own history, meets her old US Air Force partner and BF, recovers her past, saves the day, etc.

But here’s the thing. You never feel that she has a personal stake in any of it.

Back on the Kree homeworld in the beginning, her lack of memories didn’t seem to bother her; her response to a “memory-nightmare” was to spar with her mentor. She doesn’t feel incomplete in any real way.

As she realizes her history is a life on Earth, she expresses no amazement at the revelations, no sense of betrayal that her superiors were obviously lying to her. Even her reconnection with her BF is undertaken as part of the “mission.” Sure, she looks wistfully at a bunch of photographs of her past, but it feels almost like she’s just assembling a Truth File on herself; at no point does if feel like she emotionally reconnects with the people she loved and who loved her.

Then she goes off and saves everyone who needs saving. And leaves Earth with a new, self-assigned mission.

So I walked out of the theater feeling like I’d seen a decent action-movie, but . . .

In the beginning, she should have expressed deep frustration at the loss of her past.

When by stages she learned the truth, she should have been angry. She should have become obsessed with the quest for answers. She should have had a beautiful moment of connection, full of tears and joy.

She should have been deeply pissed at her Kree superiors, and channeled that anger into determination to right the wrong she found.

In the end she should have been deeply torn, wanting to stay with the people she loved and remembered now, but needing to go to keep them safe.

As a writer, this pissed me off, mostly because it was so unnecessary. The plot itself didn’t need to change one iota; Danvers still would have had to retrace every step, have every moment of realization she had in the movie. It would have begun, and ended, in the same place. Just adding a few little scenes, giving Danvers a few real and emotional reaction beats, would have added a heart to the movie that just isn’t there.

It wasn’t an acting problem, it was a writing/directing problem.

And I think I understand; the writers/directors wanted to portray Carol Danvers as the warrior-hero she called herself, a warrior-hero built on a female USAF pilot with nerves of steel and a determination to never quit. And they did that very well. But they forgot about the person. For comparison, think about the MCU’s Captain America, Steve Rogers. He needs, deeply, from the moment you meet him. He needs to do something. To contribute. He connects with people deeply throughout the movie; Bucky, Dr. Erskine, Agent Carter, the Howling Commandos, etc., and fights for them as well as everyone else. In the end he sacrifices everything for them, too.

With Danvers, you get no sense of a driving need. Worse, in the end she makes a similar sacrifice, giving up the life she rediscovered and people she loves to protect them and others–and you get no feeling that it’s a real sacrifice. She’s just got a new mission, now.

So, 7 or 8 for the action, 2 or 3 for the missing emotional heart. A solid, but disappointing, 6/10. If you’re a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, go see it. Otherwise . . . meh. Just be aware that it’s very much a YMMV film, your mileage may vary.

Marion G. Harmon

 

Posted in Movie Reviews | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Hashtag Activism and The Modern Mob.

Moderation cartoon

Is being radically moderate the same as being moderately radical? In any case, I feel impelled to put on my Radical Moderate hat again. Not to say anything radical and new, just to again register my dismay at what Hashtag Activism is doing to our society and conversations.

Hashtag activism: A term coined by media outlets which refers to the use of Twitter’s hashtags for Internet activism. The term can also be used to refer to the act of showing support for a cause through a like, share, etc. on any social media platform, such as Facebook, Google+, or Twitter.

Two incidents brought this back to mind. One, the Incident At The Capitol Mall (you know, the one with the Catholic teens and the Native American elder) is still churning Twitter, Facebook, and many, many professional media platforms. More on that in a moment, but I’ll talk about the other incident first.

Earlier this month, a Chicago woman was assaulted by a young man in an attempted mugging. He approached her while she was waiting alone for the bus in the early morning, brandishing a gun. The police report is short on concrete details, but it makes it clear that 1) there was a struggle, 2) the woman was also armed and she drew her own gun, 3) she shot her attacker in the neck, 4) he took her gun from her, but 5) fled the scene. The young man was apprehended only a few blocks away, and taken to the hospital where he died of his injury.

The incident was picked up by a local news channel. Locals were interviewed. It seems the area is known for its assaults and shootings, and the neighborhood response was pretty much “She did what she had to do. Good for her.”

That probably would have been the end of it, except that a few conservative voices online took note of this woman successfully protecting herself by exercising her 2nd Amendment Rights and gave her kudos for it. Cue Zack Ford, an editor for Think Progress.

Zack is very “anti-proliferation”; we know because he says so.

Zack Ford on Twitter, 2017.png For context, his philosophy of anti-proliferation is basically that it’s a bad idea for civilians to arm themselves because the criminals are armed. That just puts more guns out there, which is bad. Call it the neighborhood version of nuclear anti-proliferation.

Anyway, Zack took a look at the story and the conservative response, and fired off this sage hot-take:

Dw-O0nmX4AAVeEB.jpg

But although Dailycaller.com expressed satisfaction at the assaulted woman’s successful self-defense, it didn’t dance a jig over the death of her assailant. It simply reported “A 25-year-old Chicago woman with a concealed carry license shot and killed a man who attempted to rob her at gunpoint last week.” It also reported one of the interviewed local’s responses. ““It’s tragic that he did die, but the lady had to do what she had to do,” Bianca Daniel, a local resident, said about the bus stop incident. “I’m kinda of proud that, like, that’s what she did because she stuck up for herself.””

I’m sure a bunch of reader comments were less restrained, which is of course part of the problem. But Zack probably felt pretty righteous about his own tweet, until the numbers on his twitter-feedback started dipping very negative indeed. Also, while he got the expected indignation from conservatives, he also got a lot of push-back from liberals, followers on the left, the Good Guys, whose response was pretty much “Wait, what?”

So he tried to clarify his position:

hotaiZack-Ford-3.jpg

For some reason this line of progressive logic didn’t make Zack’s twitter followers any happier and as the criticism deepened he continued to make his case:

Dw-P3bJX4AIYZBD.jpg

Sooooo . . . yeah. Everything’s clear, now. If she hadn’t had a gun, she wouldn’t have shot him and he wouldn’t have died. She shouldn’t have resisted. She should have just let him rob her, at gunpoint, because he probably wouldn’t have shot her. Probably.

And anyway, her successful resistance led to praise for gun ownership, which is bad because, proliferation?

For some reason, this didn’t help. Finally, Zack took down his original tweet and put this up:

Screenshot_2019-01-15 Zack Ford on Twitter.png

Now, we can debate Zack’s line of reasoning all we like, but I think one thing clear from all this is the sheer stupidity of trying to intelligently debate anything on Twitter. Zack’s big mistake was two-fold. First, although you “tweet to your community” your tweets, once made, can and will go anywhere. Others will see them. They can respond. Their responses can very easily derail your pithy point if it’s even a little shaky. Even those who agree with you in general might see reasonable disagreement (fortunately for you, most tweeters aren’t more reasonable and restrained than you, but still, it’s a risk).

Second, you’re absolutely stuck with your original statements, however ill considered. You can try and spin them, but you can’t unsay them. The bit that made me laugh out loud was his first apology statement “I believe people have the right to defend themselves. My tweet suggested otherwise, and for that I apologize.” It’s very clear from his initial and follow-up statements that he does think that, while she might have had the right to defend herself, she didn’t have a right to defend herself with a gun. (Unless of course, he believes she has the right but shouldn’t have exercised it because proliferation. Or something.)

In other words, once you be-clown yourself on Twitter (or Facebook or online in general), it’s impossible to recover your credibility. Your stupidity is forever. To quote the Goblin King, “What’s said is said.”

Of course while Zack felt the heat, I’m sure he was only moderately mobbed. Actually, by today’s standards it wasn’t a mobbing, just a “What the f–?” cascade. But it certainly didn’t contribute to a thoughtful discussion of the right of self defense.

Since this blog’s getting a bit long, I won’t describe The Incident at The Capitol Mall or its media aftermath. If you don’t know what I’m talking about and want the history, go here.

http://reason.com/blog/2019/01/20/covington-catholic-nathan-phillips-video

Or you can do your own research; I like Reason.com because I’m an Independent and while I don’t agree with them on every issue they don’t usually parrot the spin of the Right or Left. The point is, when the Reason.com reporter wrote “Partial video footage of students from a Catholic high school allegedly harassing a Native American veteran after the anti-abortion March for Life rally in Washington, D.C., over the weekend quickly went viral, provoking widespread condemnation of the kids on social media.” he wasn’t kidding. Doxing and death-threats were made. It seemed like half the social media users in the country engaged in a perfect storm of Two Minutes Hate.

For those unfamiliar with the reference, “the Two Minutes Hate, from George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, is a daily period in which Party members of the society of Oceania must watch a film depicting the Party’s enemies and express their hatred for them for exactly two minutes.”

Everybody jumped on the kids. If you were on the left, you piled on because, well, what they did was hateful. If you were on the right, you did it because if  you didn’t utterly condemn their horrible, horrible, actions, then you were part of the problem. Or something. And it was social media, not government, that instigated this Two Minutes Hate. Orwell would never have seen that coming. Or possibly he would.

Then more video was released and . . . great, we all just condemned, abused, threatened, and generally horribly bullied a bunch of high school boys for . . . what? A huge number of pundits, bloggers, tweeters, journalists, and celebrities are now trying to walk back their Two Minute Hate. But a lot of other people are seeing the whole “Look! MAGA hats! White boys! In a chanting crowd! Horrible!” response and the stupidity of it all and it’s yet one more, forever-to-be-remembered pile-on by the social media mob.

So, two examples of hashtag activism gone horribly wrong, one small and one large. I’m sure everyone can think of their own examples, recent and receding, buried under the latest pile-on but always to be remembered when one side or the other needs a “how awful” club to swing at the other.

This is why I don’t tweet, and why I don’t usually respond to an “incident” on Facebook until more information comes out. Because I’m human, I do have firm opinions, and sooner or later I’ll be-clown myself.

Remember Zack. Remember the Capitol Mall. Don’t be a hashtag clown.

MGH

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in The Radical Moderate, Uncategorized | 14 Comments

So This Is ’19!

Hello, everyone, and welcome to 2019! I hope it’s a great year for everyone. On the professional front it looks like it will be a busy one for me; I hope to have Wearing the Cape #8 (still tentatively titled Repercussions) finished for a spring release. The printed edition of Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide & The B-Files is at the printers and I’ll finally be filling the last part of the Kickstarter campaign over the next month. I’m very proud of the sourcebook, and also proud of the creativity of the readers who’s characters went into the book. They came up with heroes (and even a few villains) I’d never have dreamed of.

One big milestone, which arrived in late 2018 and continues to roll forth in 2019, is the Wearing the Cape audiobook! Tantor has contracted with me for the first four books of the series, and Book #1 has debuted with excellent ratings. Check it out on Amazon:

Tantor is now working on Villains Inc., and here’s the humorous bit; while I’m glad that fans of my books who’ve been asking about the audiobooks for a couple of years now are finally getting them, I can’t listen to them myself.

Seriously, I can’t listen to audiobooks. I’ve tried to listen to audiobooks, both fiction and non-fiction, and I can’t. After the first couple of minutes my mind starts to wander far afield and next thing I know I’ve missed whole “paragraphs” or “pages.” So I go back to what I last remember, and . . . yeah, it doesn’t work out. It’s very weird and not a little frustrating.

But between my books being published in German, the audiobooks, and future projects I can’t talk about now, things are happening. Among other events, I’m going to have my first Guest of Honor appearance, at VCon 43 in Vancouver this October.

vcon 19

From the Guest of Honor list, it’s obvious they’re focusing on the growing Superhero Fiction genre this year and it’s a huge honor to be tapped for it. It should be quite the experience.

But that’s all in the future. Back to today and writing at least 3,000 words.

MGH

 

 

 

 

Posted in Wearing the Cape | Tagged | 7 Comments

Merry Christmas! So this thing happened. . .

Operation Pole Star Cover

I wasn’t planning on publishing in December. Really. Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide and the B-Files has only now finally taken up by the printer to produce the 240-page book (tons of detail about the Post-Event World, nearly 80 characters, etc.), and I’ve been focusing on the outline for the next Wearing the Cape novel while pulling together ideas for The Archon Files.

But this idea wouldn’t leave me alone.

Astra has met Santa in the course of her cross-reality adventures two books back. But of course he was only a Santa, not the Santa Claus of the Post-Event World, and Astra’s amazement at meeting Father Christmas seemed to indicate that what is her Reality Prime doesn’t have one. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t get one; after all, the Post-Event World is becoming increasingly populated with people like Ozma. If she’s possible, anything’s possible.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that, sooner or later, Santa Claus was going to make his appearance. But I’d already written a Santa Story; writing another, even as a piece of flash-fiction, seemed redundant. So instead I decided to introduce the Santa Claus of Astra’s reality through an adventure supplement for Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game. The players get a chance to do what Astra did; meet Jolly Old Saint Nicholas. Well, he’s not that old. Or that jolly, given the situation.

So Merry Christmas. Of course I’d love it if everyone who reads my books ran out and bought this little adventure file (you can find it here). But since a lot of you aren’t into RPGs, and $2.99 is a bit steep for just a page of background (all that will interest you if you aren’t interested in playing), here’s what you need to know about the Post-Event World’s new Santa Clause.


“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.”

The New York Sun, 1897

Before the Event, and for more than a decade after, the famous answer to young Virginia O’Hanlon’s question was a metaphorical truth. Not anymore. Three years ago, on the precise local instantiation of Christmas Day (defined as one second after true midnight, the second in the Earth’s rotation when that longitudinal slice of its surface is opposite to the Sun on Christmas Eve), homes across the world were invisibly and instantaneously visited, leaving presents and stockings filled with candy and toys. Or with coal. The types of toys and candy were all found to be culturally appropriate to each region and child, and analysis showed the gifts to be expertly hand-crafted, not industrially produced. None were more technologically advanced than wind-up toys, driven by clockwork and spring-driven mechanisms also of the finest sophistication and craftsmanship.

As the news spread—first through social media images of the gifts or coal left, then through the news as reporters quickly jumped on and broadcast the story—the full magnitude of Santa’s first visit slowly became apparent. It quickly became apparent that millions of homes had been visited in the night, with no evidence of any intrusion other than nibbled cookies and what Santa left behind.

Not all homes with children were visited, however. Far from it. And researchers carefully interviewing thousands of families across the world quickly determined the apparent parameters of the obviously Omega Class breakthrough phenomenon. All visited homes had three things in common; 1) a child in the home wrote some kind of message to Santa Claus and the message was “sent” in some way the child believed efficacious, 2) some kind of gift (generally but not always milk and cookies) was left for Santa Claus to partake of upon his arrival, 3) nobody in the household was awake to observe his arrival, nor were any devices in place to record his arrival.

Also, apparently Santa really likes fresh chocolate chip cookies. And snickerdoodles. He’s not so fond of oatmeal cookies. And yes, that’s just one of the factoids learned as everyone went nuts over the Christmas mystery. Santa Claus. Santa Claus.

Well alright, then. Adults shocked, kids not, and the next Christmas hugely widened the number of visits—a forgone outcome since the news of the first Santa’s Visit had spread around the world within days and researchers had tentatively agreed upon the necessary conditions for Santa’s Visit before January was over. Millions of children around the world had nearly a year to prepare.

So did the scientists.

Testing on the second Christmas was variously successful. From recording instruments turned on at different intervals after true midnight, researchers learned that the visit, where it happened, was entirely completed between the last second of Christmas Eve and the first second of Christmas Day. All the deposited gifts appeared only in that slice of time. From this, they posited that “Santa Claus” operated only in that moment of Real Time—possibly from an overlapping reality similar in nature to a speedster’s Hypertime. Several of the world’s most powerful Mentalist and Merlin-Types also focused their gifts on perceiving Santa’s Christmas Ride in operation on that second Christmas, either in transit or arrival. None were successful, and those that focused on undetectably perceiving his arrival blocked those arrivals as completely as an awake witness or recording device would have.

Compensatory gifts were provided to the disappointed children, and researchers began plotting a new line of investigation; if they couldn’t spot Santa Claus, whatever he actually was, in transit—well then they were going to go to the source and find him at home.


Of course the point of the whole adventure is A Meeting With Saint Nick, but don’t worry about what isn’t here; in keeping with a lot of the more mysterious beings Astra has met before, Santa remains mysterious even after meeting him. You get to tell your own story of exactly what he really is, which is how it should be—how dreary an explanation would be!

So Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and may God bless us, every one.

Marion G. Harmon

Posted in Wearing the Cape | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Ten Rules for Successful Writing

Repercussions Cover, Small

I was just distracting myself from working on anything that will pay me, and realized that I hadn’t put up a blog post in awhile. And I do have some news. The news is Wearing the Cape: The B-Files is finished and out on DriveThruRPG. Yay!

What? You want more? My plots and thoughts on the next Wearing the Cape novel (still officially titled Repercussions but likely to be something else) continue to develop. It’s going to be a doozy. After the last couple of books mostly maintaining the status-quo with a bit of forward momentum on Astra’s arc, this one’s going to shake the Post-Event World to its foundations. It’s going to be so big I probably won’t be able to put the first couple of chapters up here before I release it, because fans would read them and then hunt me down. The most I can say is . . . that’s the cover up there.

Sorry, that’s all I can tell you.

But, I’m not done. I found a humorous conversation-thread that has spanned Facebook and Twitter, that at least got my absurdist juices flowing. What was it?

Jonathan Franzen’s 10 Rules for Novelists.

Now I must confess that I’ve never read Jonathan Franzen’s stuff. Doing a quick search of Amazon told me he had a couple of books up there with more than a thousand reviews each, and that’s a good indication that he’s Somebody Known.

But his 10 Rules? Yeah . . . .

I direct you to commentary provided by Chuck Wendig’s Twitter Feed. (Profanity Warning.) Personally, I think most of the reactions I’ve seen have been kind of over the top. I even feel a little for Franzen; when you’ve written a few commercially successful books you can start feeling a bit full of yourself. And you should–it’s an accomplishment. When you’ve written a couple of critically successful books, which I gather his are, and all the Right People are saying how good you are, feeling full of yourself is pretty unavoidable.  And then somebody asks you “How do you do it? What are your rules?” You must have some, right?

In fairness to Franzen’s critics, though, a bunch of these aren’t rules. They’re observations of debatable usefulness.

So, in the spirit of my need for distraction, I started thinking about my own 10 Rules for Successful Writers. And here they are.

Marion G. Harmon’s 10 Rules for Successful Writers

  1. Read. Read a lot. Read until you know how good writing reads. This may involve reading books on writing.
  2. Write. Write a lot. Write until people who don’t care about your feelings tell you that this is good writing.
  3. Let this uncaring person or people tell you how your writing could be better. They might not be right in their suggestions, but they’ll point you to things that you probably need to improve one way or another.
  4. Put what you write out there. To friends. To writers groups. To contests. To agents. To publishers. And see rules 2 and 3. Whether you get a publishing contract or self-publish, you’ll know you’re on the right road when somebody pays money for your stuff.
  5. When somebody pays money for your stuff, write more of that. Also, continue to listen to the people in rule #3.
  6. Now that somebody is paying to read your stuff, listen to them too. Not everyone will like everything about your stuff, and while everyone’s mileage varies, not everyone with criticism is an idiot. Really.
  7. Listening doesn’t mean agreeing. Listen to them, look at your stuff, and make up your own mind. After all, you did a lot of things right already; otherwise they wouldn’t buy your stuff.
  8. Money is nice, but don’t write stuff just because you know people will buy it. You’ve got to like it, too. After all, your name is on it. And it gets boring if you’re not invested in it yourself.
  9. Form habits that help you to write more stuff. But don’t go crazy.
  10. See rule #1. Keep reading other people’s stuff.

So there you go, my ten rules for successful writing. Be inspired. Or laugh a little. To quote a wonderful scene from Parks and Recreation:

Amy Poehler: “That’s not really the attitude I’d expect from an award winner.”

Nick Offerman: “Everything I do is the attitude of an award winner, because I’ve won an award.”

People pay to read my stuff, so all my rules are the rules of a successful writer.

MGH

Posted in Wearing the Cape | Tagged , | 15 Comments

Presenting: WtC: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans

TempCover

It’s done! Well, sort of; 1) despite best editing efforts, I fully expect to get a bunch of errata notes back from early readers, 2) the cover will be modified once a previous file is recovered (long boring story). The important thing is, after way too long, WtC: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans has been submitted to DrivethruRPG, and should be approved aaaaaany minute now. (And of course I will follow up with a link when they do.) The second sourcebook, WtC: The B-Files, will be available soon. And then it’s on to the next Wearing the Cape book, operating title: Repercussions.

What is Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans?

Readers of my series will be familiar with the fictional BGS. It was modeled on the Jane’s Guide books, a series of annual publications identifying aircraft and ships of the world, both civilian and military. They were the pre-internet guide to the subject, and still are the definitive guide. I named it Barlow’s Guide in homage to an amazing book, Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials (Wayne Barlowe provided the art and Ian Summers and Beth Meacham wrote the text). Published in 1979, it had quite the impact on my young imagination.

When I ran the Kickstarter campaign last year, I was aware that the Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game gamebook had a problem; it only gave the reader cape-files for the Sentinels. And while their powers varied a bit they didn’t present anywhere near the full potential of the system. Also, the campaign background chapter only went into real detail about what happened to the United States in the Post-Event World. That left a lot of the world described only in passing.

So Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans was planned to rectify that problem. It would cover the rest of the world much more extensively (although hardly completely, it’s a big world). It would give context to superhumans in other places and how their societies influenced the way other superheroes wear the cape. It would go into more detail about Post-Event organizations, and about other places (space, the past and future, and other realities). Additionally, it would provide at least 20 fully worked up cape-files of characters from the books, complete with their backgrounds, plus an unknown number of characters created by Kickstarter backers. Those new characters would be approved by me to be fully world-compliant, vetted by me to make sure their stories and powers fit the setting and made good use of the rules.

It was an ambitious project; almost as ambitious as the gamebook had been. And now it’s finished, with only one slight hiccup. I’d let myself forget just how long it took to write the world background sections for the gamebook.

Here’s the thing; I didn’t include the wider world in the gamebook background because I hadn’t really done a lot with it. Any writer will tell you that one of the keys to getting anything done is not writing up lots of details that aren’t going to affect the story. Not that the deep-detail approach doesn’t work; JRR Tolkien wrote whole languages, alphabets, and histories out before finally getting to writing the books that revolutionized fantasy. But I’m no Tolkien and he also took years and years to finish. In fact he never did finish, he just set it aside.

And now I’d committed to figuring out what happened to much of the rest of the world, Post-Event. And it couldn’t be off-the-cuff stuff, either; the Post-Event World, as I described it in the sourcebook, would henceforth be series canon. All this while writing the next book in the series, Recursion. So, no pressure.

And that’s the long explanation before the heartfelt apology for how long this has taken, and I hope it’s worth the wait! So, what’s in Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans?

Ooooohh, lots of goodness.

What’s In the Book?

There are 20 pages of geopolitical world background, detailing the post-Event fates Eastern and Western Europe, Southern Africa, the Americas, much of Asia and the Indian sub-continent, and the Middle East. It touches on events in specific nations, including Russia, Finland, China, India, Iran, Botswana, and Mexico among others, and lays out post-Event alliance structures. I love this map:

Post-Event Europe Map.pngMoving beyond post-Event societies and geopolitics, there are another 15 pages covering organizations and the interesting “other places.” It covers known organizations like The Ascendancy, Heroes Without Borders, and the Undying Caliphate, and adds a new international criminal syndicate, Illyria as a worked example of potential enemy organizations. It demonstrates the potential of other realities with a worked up example, The Dreamlands, which ties into a new Power-Type: Dreamweavers.

Those 35 pages are almost entirely “rules-free.” They’re intended as pure background, real additions fleshing out the canonical Post-Event World beyond what has yet shown up in the books. Because they are canonical, they make up the section that took the longest to complete.

And yes, a bunch of the stuff that I “discovered” writing the additional background will have a real influence on future stories. BTW, special thanks is due to several Kickstarter backers who actually live in Europe and could give me feedback on the “political realism” of what I thought happened there; they changed more than a few details (events in Finland specifically are almost entirely due to the character backstory written by a Finnish fan).

And then there’s the expanded Power-Templates, and the cape-files. Soooo many cape-files. So many fans responded to the Kickstarter challenge to create their own characters who could be vetted for inclusion in the Post-Event World that I had to break it up; in addition to 20 author-created characters (Ozma, Grendel, Vulcan, etc.), WtC:BGS includes almost 30 fan-created original characters. A few of them (Ambrosius and The Lady of Doors, to name two) have already appeared in Recursion.

Ambrosius

Ambrosius: a White-Hat from Texas.

Are you excited? ‘Cause I’m excited. Sometime this week DriveThruRPG will put the book online, I’ll email coupons to all the Kickstarter backers waiting for it, and one long-delayed project will be finished. I will spend the rest of October prepping the cape-files going into Wearing the Cape: The B-Files, launch on DriveThruRPG, and combine both sourcebooks for the printed edition of WtC:Barlow’s Guide and The B-Files. Close to 100 cape-files of superhuman heroes, villains, and civilians in the Post-Event World.

Won’t that be something?

MGH

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Wearing the Cape | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments