Wednesday, February 2, 2022
Sunday, October 31, 2021
Tuesday, June 15, 2021
I started watching https://www.twitch.tv/bardandbarbarian one night when, among the Twitch recommendations, I saw that an Episode 1 of Dread Rising, a zombie apocalypse game, had started. I figured that it would be easy to dive in, and I could drop it if it wasn't interesting.
Well, I've been watching every week; the finale is [June 16, two days from this writing]. I love this ill-assorted trashfire of a party, playing their roles with conviction no matter how much conflict that creates with the other characters. Some are genre-savvy while others are decidedly not. Some are trying to save loved ones (including a Honda), while others are ready to just destroy anything that gets in their way. It's been very amusing.
Two weeks ago, I wrote bredliks for each character, during the stream:
Quin Strong: My name is Quinn, I have a gun; Shut up soldier, and let me run!
Maxwell Gray: Barbara my love, we need to move; and I to you, my love will prove.
Clyde Myst: Jetta my queen, our love is true! Don't walk away! Oh, boo hoo hoo.
Daniel Smith: My genre lore will save the day; survival by zombie cosplay!
Last Tuesday, I wrote a limerick as the show started:
Finally leaving the hospital; key to surviving the zombiefall.
This party of four Could live one day more,
Though they work as a group not at all.
Having become a fan of that, I have added another show on that channel, "Call of Cthulhu: Iron Dust & Blood." It's cosmic horror set in the Wild West. For this one, I jumped into the middle of the campaign.
Last Thursday, at the beginning of the CoCIDB episode, naive young Maybelle Monroe slipped an anonymous sonnet under the hotel door of Dallas Rex Mason. He read just enough to realize what it was, and stopped reading.
I decided to take the challenge and write the sonnet that Maybelle might have written. Given that it was supposed to be by a teenager, I did not polish away the word repetitions, etc.; this is pretty much how it came into my head. I take some pride in the rhymes in the first and third lines in the middle quatrain, and I am particularly fond of the dreadful fourth line in that stanza.
Love in the Dead of Winter: An anonymous letter
"Spending all winter in this tiny town
Has made me think much on how I feel.
But it's hard to pin those feelings down;
How much is imagined, and how much real?
"You surely are a fine gentleman;
Courteous, capable, kind.
But maybe I'm too sentimental when
my heart could all be in my mind.
"Is it just that I'm scared and need a broad shoulder,
Or can I trust the warmth in my heart?
You, sir, would help if you'd be a bit bolder;
if you'd only step up and play your part!
This poem right here is all I can dare;
please let me know whether you, too, care!"
I finished it before the stream ended and posted it in the chat after they finished the action and were wrapping up. Diana, who plays Maybelle, was kind enough to read it on stream, in character!
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
Happy New Year!
Since my last social media update on 12/1/20, I've been up to a few more things.
Two more Stargate SG-1 reviews have been released. I'm the host, with David Schaub and Andrew Pontious:
Where Do Little Goa’ulds Come From (Stargate SG-1 “Bloodlines” to “Singularity”)
and A Little More Oomph (Stargate SG-1 “Cor-ai” to “Solitudes”)
All the Stargate podcasts can be found here:
We announce new episodes on Twitter, and welcome comments:
Members of The Incomparable's Slack can also discuss things with us there.
Two more SG-Fun podcasts are in the can that haven't been edited and released yet.
Two more SFFAudio podcasts that I'm on have been released, and I've been on a few more that aren't released yet:
The SFFaudio Podcast #610 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: Star Hunter by Andre Norton, Dec. 28, 2020. I was astonished at how disappointed I was in this book's bait-and-switch meandering plot, since I read and enjoyed a lot of Andre Norton in my teens. We all disliked it, but the discussion was good. I recommend fast-forwarding to 3:37:53. With Jesse Willis, Paul Weimer, Will Emmons, and J. Manfred Weichsel.
The SFFaudio Podcast #611 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: Jewels of Gwahlur by Robert E. Howard (Jan. 4, 2021). Not the best Conan story, but fine, and as always, the discussion ranges far afield. With Jesse Willis, Paul Weimer, Will Emmons, and Alex (pulpcovers.com).
The ShadowCrew's campaign, where I play a Tabaxi Bard, Grace of the Refreshing Breeze, continued on Dec. 3.
Arv streams Day 18 of Community D&D: Dragon of Icespire Peak--The Sword & the Stalker!
Next episode, hopefully, is tomorrow, Jan. 20, at 9 Eastern on https://www.twitch.tv/arvaneleron !
I also played a druid, Willow Kingsfoil, in what was supposed to be a D&D With Viewers one-shot but stretched into two nights in December, called Winter's Splendor. The first night was a little agonizing, as we fumbled around trying to solve a mystery, but I was very pleased to collaborate with Brandon O'Brien in crafting a poem in-game!
Arv streams a special holiday edition of D&D with Viewers--Winter's Splendor!
Arv streams a special holiday edition of D&D with Viewers--Winter's Splendor, Part Two!
Update 1/24/21: We did play CD&D on Jan. 20. Here is the link for "Day 19 of Community D&D: Dragon of Icespire Peak--Favors at Falcon's!":
Update 1/25/21: Another SG-Fun podcast was released!
Goo Not Go (Stargate SG-1 “Tin Man” to “Within the Serpent’s Grasp”)
I've been on another SFF Audio podcast, discussing The Untamed, a 1919 Weird Western sort of novel by Max Brand, with Paul Weimer, Jesse Willis, Evan Lampe, Maissa Bessada, Will Emmons, and Jonathan Juett. The linked podcast includes the 7+ hour audiobox from Librivox, and then we have a wide-ranging and very interesting (to me, at least) conversation about it. I don't think you need to listen to the audiobook to enjoy our talk, but I do think you'll get more out of it. The tale is a bit old-fashioned, in language and pace as well as some attitudes, but I liked it.
Another Stargate SG-Fun review has been released. I'm the host, with David Schaub and Andrew Pontious:
Goo Not Go (Stargate SG-1 “Tin Man” to “Within the Serpent’s Grasp”)
And I continue to play D&D on Arvan Eleron's Twitch stream, with the ShadowCrew:
Day 20 of Community D&D: Dragon of Icespire Peak--Metamorphoses at the Manse, Part One!
David Schaub and I returned to the Supergirl Supercast to review the pilot of the new CW show, Superman&Lois:
I continue to play in the Community D&D campaign on Arvan Eleron's Twitch stream:
Arv streams Day 21 of Community D&D: Dragon of Icespire Peak--Of Manse and Magic!
I'm in this with host Jesse Willis and fellow guests Paul Weimer, Evan Lampe, and Will Emmons. The story is about 53 minutes, then we have about 90 minutes of fairly on-topic discussion, we return to the topic occasionally for the next half hour, we talk another 20 minutes and wrap. Then Jesse tacks on our 40 minutes of pre-show chatting!
Yesterday, I recorded another SG-Fun (we have quite a backlog built up), and today, I recorded a discussion of the Supergirl S6 premiere!
Finally, I continue to play in the Community D&D campaign on Arvan Eleron's Twitch stream.
Arv streams Day 22 of Community D&D: Dragon of Icespire Peak--Hog Hooves of Thunder!
Shaun Duke and I discuss Samuel R. Delaney's Captives of the Flame!
David Schaub, Alan Yu, Brianna Taeuber and I return to the Supercast to discuss the Season 6 premiere and sort-of-Season-5-finale of Supergirl.
The SFFaudio Podcast #626 – READALONG: The Jewel Of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker with Jesse Willis, Maissa Bessada, and Will Emmons
David Schaub and I discuss Supergirl Season 6, Episode 2, "A Few Good Women"
Supergirl S6E03 Review: “Phantom Menaces” (released April 28) with David Schaub
The SFFaudio Podcast #629 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: Rastignac The Devil by Philip José Farmer with Jesse Willis, Will Emmons, and me. This is an odd book with some odd ideas; maybe skip it and just listen to the discussion. (released May 10)
Finally, our Community D&D campaign continues on ArvanEleron's Twitch channel!
Arv streams Day 23 of Community D&D: Dragon of Icespire Peak--The Summoned Swine! (released May 20)
Arv streams Day 24 of Community D&D: Dragon of Icespire Peak--An Inquisitory Interlude! (released May 20)
I made my first appearance on the Hugos There podcast on July 1. I discussed the 2020 Hugo Best Novel winner (and my own top vote), Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire, with the host, Seth Heasley.
I was on another SFFAudio podcast, this time discussing Sin Hellcat by Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake, with Paul Weimer, Evan Lampe, and host Jesse Willis. I love both those authors, but I do not recommend this book, especially for modern readers. But the discussion was certainly interesting!
As explained in a separate 6/15 post, I wrote a love sonnet during the BardandBarbarian Twitch stream, and the player was kind enough to read it at the end of the session.
I continued to play a Tabaxi bard, Grace of the Refreshing Breeze, on The Dragon of Icespire Peak on Arvan Eleron's Twitch stream. Day 25&26:
and I cosplayed as Grace during the May 29 session. It was a significant game, as part of a significant weekend. Read on ...
Wednesday, December 9, 2020
I've idly wondered for quite a while about the connections between certain words that sound very similar to me.
First of all, Iscariot is the surname of the Biblical Judas who betrayed Jesus. Izchierdo (or izchierda) is Spanish for "left" -- as in the direction. Iskierka is a very aggressive and self-centered dragon in Naomi Novik's Temeraire series.
I've known the name Iscariot since childhood, of course. Izkierka is a name that seemed oddly familiar to me when I ran across it in Novik's books -- about dragons in the Napoleonic wars -- but I couldn't pin it down then.
Finally, the association clicked for me after I resumed studying Spanish on DuoLingo. I speculated that all three words might come from a root word meaning "left" that might also mean malicious or sinister, according to the common old superstition that left-handedness meant something was wrong with somebody, perhaps cursed by the devil. Indeed, the word sinister comes from the Latin for left, or left hand, which also carried connotations of unluckiness and bad omens.
But I finally looked the words up, and it turns out that my speculations were just wrong.
Etymonline.com and other sources say that Iscariot comes from Greek Iskariotes, said to be from Hebrew ishq'riyoth "man of Kerioth" (a place in Palestine).
Wiktionary says that izquierdo is derived from the Basque word ezker (left), and ancestry.com says the word has pre-Roman origins and also mentions ezker. Houseofnames.com goes further and says
The word "izquierdo" is ultimately of Basque/Celtic origin deriving from a combination of the Basque word "escu" meaning "hand" and the Celtic "kerros" meaning "left."
Finally, I hadn't remembered Iskierka's origin clearly. It turns out that her name is explained in Black Powder War, the book where her egg hatches. As naominovik,fandom.com summarizes it,
The name she chose was "Iskierka", from a Polish folksong which a local girl had been singing nearby. (The literal translation of iskierka is "little spark", an affectionate diminutive. The song may have been Bajka iskierki ("Little Spark's Fairytale"), a popular Polish lullaby by Janina Porazińska.)
So there you have it. These three words sound quite similar to me, but they are apparently completely unrelated.
A Twitch streamer whom I follow was GMing a science fiction game on Friday. The party encountered some beings in a marketplace who speak in a mechanical-mask voice that he said resembled what Leia sounded like in Return of the Jedi when she was disguised as a bounty hunter, saying something that sounded like "Yo toe, yo toe," and then he tweaked that a little, with his aliens using a greeting that sounds something like "Ya tey! Ya tey!"
Actually, I just went back and watched the clip from RotJ, and Bounty Hunter Leia sounds like she's saying Ya tey, ya tey, yo toe.
I've read a lot of Tony Hillerman mysteries, so the "Ya tey" phrase reminded me immediately of the Navajo / Dine Bizaad greeting , sometimes transliterated as "ya teeh" or "ya ta hey" but more formally as “Yá’át’ééh." Various sources say this literally means "it is good" or "it is well" rather than "hello."
Note, I wouldn't be all that surprised if George Lucas appropriated the greeting from the Navajo for RotJ, or maybe Lawrence Kasdan although I know far less about him. I just don't have time right now to go down a rabbithole of Star Wars research to find out.
I mentioned the Twitch thing to someone else who said (before I mentioned the Navajo word) that she was reminded of Hiro Nakamura's triumph phrase he says after the first time he teleports, in Heroes, which I had remembered as being close-captioned as "Ya tai! (I did it)" but which fan lore spells Yatta!
Yatta (???) is a Japanese short form for “yarimashita”, which translates to “(I/We) did it!”, but can also have meanings of “okay!”, “it’s done!”, “ready!”, or “all right!”
The words in this example are a little closer in meaning than the Iscariot/izchierdo/Izkiera trio, but I seriously doubt there is any linguistic connection between the Navajo and Japanese words. However, that article says Yatta is a more modern Japanese usage, so I suppose it's faintly possible that it was taken from Navajo code talkers in World War II? If anyone knows anything about this at all, let me know!
Finally, I asked my phone's Google assistant verbally to translate what I pronounced as ya-tey. It detected Spanish and spelled it yate and said it meant "I already." I haven't run across that one yet in my irregular Duolingo study.
Anyway, I was interested that those different clusters of similar-sounding words grabbed my attention during the same week. I'd be really interested to hear about any other clusters of words that sound similar but do NOT have anything to do with each other.
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
As I posted on Twitter last night, "With no new Supergirl to review for a while yet, @DavidPSchaub @apontious, have started a new SG-Fun podcast about a 20-year-old show. SG-1 is mostly optimistic, though with some problematic elements. Want some comfort-food critiques? Join us!"
Monday, August 31, 2020
I have been really busy at work since I came back from my latest furlough, which was the first week of August. I never even took the time to blog about WorldCon, where I was on 3 panels! Then I volunteered with NASFiC! I'll try to write those up soon, but meanwhile, this is time-sensitive (scroll on to see why), so it gets priority.
I've played two more Community D&D sessions on Arvan Eleron's Twitch channel since my July 21 post. Yes, these games take time and energy, but they are also very refreshing breaks from the daily grind.
Here's Day 11, which happened a few weeks ago (I started with this group on "Day 9"). This is all about our party fighting a group of orcs that had raided a farm, and trying to rescue the farmer. We performed some cool maneuvers! It's off Twitch by now but posted to YouTube:
"Day 12" this past Wednesday, Aug. 26, was probably the most fun combination of humor, character development and combat yet. I had an absolute blast! But a big part of the excitement was how very engaged the Twitch-stream watchers were with what was happening. That's why this is time-sensitive: If you're at all interested, I highly recommend watching on Twitch, where you can easily see the comments in chat, rather than waiting for it to show up on YouTube. Remember, you don't have to register with Twitch to watch, only if you want to comment during a session.
What happened was, after we had saved the farmer last time, he begged us to go save his favorite cow, Petunia. Our characters are mid-level but none of us are experienced cattle wranglers, so this turned into a comic misadventure. We players started some weird and funny conversations about 45 minutes into the session, and Isil had his usual problems with his horse, but the cow pun-ching really started to moooooove at an hour in, when Arvan Eleron started ramping up the wordplay, and many people played along, adding their own. Chat was on fire for a while! I was laughing a lot.
Eventually, around 1:14:45, we got the cow headed homeward, and the tonnage of chat punnage started dwindling a little. Then my character, Grace of the Refreshing Breeze, a Tabaxi (felinoid) bard, unveiled a song I had written last month about Isil, the warlock who keeps trying to read while he's riding. There wasn't any opportunity for this humorous ditty during our combat-heavy Day 11 session, so I had to wait for the right time.
Here's the clip:
And here are the lyrics:
Silly Isil on a horse, his nose is in a book;
Drakes and dangers line the course, but he won't even look.
Up and down and all around, he's riding for a fall;
Reading every chance he gets, no time to read them all.
Why does Isil read so much?
Learns a lot, but out of touch!
Isil's useful in a fight, once his attention wakes,
but he's easy to surprise, eyes up for goodness' sake.
Save your scrolls for camp and town; be ready for some strife;
Join us Isil, if you please, and learn by living life!
My fellow players really appreciated the song, and chat liked it too. Then the puns resumed as things progressed.
Finally, at the end of the episode, there was an adrenaline rush of combat! I was really afraid for a while that we were in for a Total Party Kill!
Here's "Day 12" on YouTube, if you really don't want to deal with Twitch. The comments are tiny and on the right.
For the record, I also played on Arvan's D&D with Viewers night on Saturday, Aug. 30, but it was basically puzzle-exploring and some fighting, with some people I hadn't played with before, and no character development. If you're interested, it's here, not yet on YouTube:
UPDATE 9/1: I did finally write up my CoNZealand (WorldCon 2020) experience, but rather than a new post that would have had to explain a lot of backstory, I added that as an update to my previous "I'm on panels at CoNZealand (WorldCon)" post! The update is almost as long as the original post, so if you're interested in fan activities, I think it's worth checking out.
Saturday, August 15, 2020
By popular acclaim (well, my sister mentioned this and someone else liked her Tweet), I am resurrecting a 1997 post from a defunct blog of mine. I'm in a hurry and I haven't taught myself how to do tables in HTML, and tabs would probably look odd in mobile, so I'll just put the comparisons on top of each other instead of side by side. I did add the quotes and run-times today, since IMDB makes that easy.
Major spoilers for movies from 1997 and 1959!
Why Titanic pales in comparison to Ben-Hur, despite 11-Oscar tie
Titanic has: Doomed romance
Ben-Hur has: Seemingly doomed romance with a happy ending!
Titanic: Costume drama (early 20th century)
Ben-Hur: Costume drama (Imperial Rome/Jerusalem)
Titanic: Class hatred (first vs. steerage)
Ben-Hur: Race/empire hatred (Romans vs. Jews and Arabs)
False imprisonment for political/career motives! Ex-friend's betrayal!
Revenge plots! Civil war plots!
Titanic: Leonardo DiCaprio handcuffed to a railing
Ben-Hur: Charlton Heston chained shirtless to an oar
Titanic: "Jack, I want you to draw me like one of your French girls." - Rose
Ben-Hur: "Look... look for them... in the Valley... of the Lepers! If you can recognize them!" - Messala
Titanic: "I'm the king of the world!" - Jack
Ben-Hur: "Your eyes are full of hate, forty-one. That's good. Hate keeps a man alive. It gives him strength." - Quintus Arrius, to Judah Ben-Hur
"You seem to be now the very thing you set out to destroy. Giving evil for evil. Hatred is turning you to stone. It's as though you had become Messala." - Esther, to Ben-Hur
Titanic: Ship sinks
Ben-Hur: Naval battle with lots of ships burning and sinking!
Miracle cures of lepers! Crucifixion!
Titanic: 3 hours, 14 minutes
Ben-Hur: 3 hours, 32 minutes
Titanic: Hero dies; villain survives; heroine escapes fate only by erasing own identity
Ben-Hur: Hero lives, redeemed by love/God; villain
trampled (dragged) to death by his own horses; heroine, hero's mother and hero's sister all get a happy ending.
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
UPDATE: The next CD&D session has been postponed, probably to Wednesday, Aug. 5.
Saturday, July 18, 2020
I had never seriously considered going to WorldCon in New Zealand, since the Dublin WorldCon last year put a large hole in my budget. I had simply bought a supporting membership this year. But since CoNZealand went online-only, due to the coronavirus pandemic, and I need to start using up vacation time (no one in my group at work has taken vacation yet this year, due to furloughs, and vacations don't roll over to next year), I decided to pony up the fee to attend virtually.
I also summoned the courage to apply to be a panelist this time around. CoNZealand told me a couple of weeks ago that I would be on a panel, The Art of the Review! I was thrilled, because that looks right up my alley; however, I was forbidden to announce it until the schedule was finalized.
This week I found out that I am on not just one panel but three! Whee! And I am moderating two of them! Uh-oh. Not only have I never moderated a panel, I've never even been on a live panel, although I've been on plenty of podcast discussions. So I'm facing a steep learning curve. However, I have attended hundreds of panels at WorldCons and other conventions, and I have seen many examples of both good and bad moderation. Also, my sister sent me a list of articles about moderating panels, and I'll read them all when my vacation starts. It'll be a little different moderating on Zoom as well, probably harder in some ways, but easier in others. For example, I can ignore this-is-more-of-a-comment-than-a-question queries instead of making everyone sit through them or trying to cut them off.
Unlike Balticon and some others, CoNZealand is still charging full admission for virtual attendance. My understanding is that they had made financial commitments they couldn't cancel, and then had to spend a lot on tech for the virtual programming. However, my instructor during a CoNZealand online panel training session said panels would be recorded and archived somewhere, the University of Toronto if I recall correctly. I'll post links whenever that happens.
For people who ARE attending, or just curious, here's my schedule. Times are New Zealand, with US Eastern time below them:
The Art of the Review
29 Jul 2020, Wednesday 13:00 - 13:50, Programme Room 2 (Webinar) (Programming)
That's Wellington, New Zealand time.
In the Eastern U.S., this panel will be on Tuesday, July 28 at 9 p.m.
Reviewing a book is dead simple -- right? Uhmm, nope. We find what goes into reviews (of anything: Book, articles, songs, films) and what to look for.
James Davis Nicoll (James Nicoll Reviews / University of Waterloo Theatre Centre), Trish Matson (Moderator), Claire Rousseau, Anne-Louise Fortune (Independent Scholar), Kyla Lee Ward (Prea Press)
The Death of Genre?
29 Jul 2020, Wednesday 15:00 - 15:55, Programme Room 5 (Zoom Meeting) (Programming)
That's NZ time.
In the Eastern U.S., this panel will be Tuesday, July 28 at 11 p.m.
Is it epic fantasy, or heist novel? Science fiction, or romance? Writers and readers are rebelling against the traditional "types" of fiction. They're reading and writing what they like, not what makes the book easy to shelve. Do genres even exist any more?
Amanda Pillar, Trish Matson, Caren Gussoff Sumption, Joshua Bilmes, Soon Lee (M)
In Space No One Can See You Hide the Evidence: Crimes in Space
2 Aug 2020, Sunday 12:00 - 12:50, Programme Room 4 (Webinar) (Programming)
That's Wellington time. In the Eastern U.S., this panel is on Saturday, Aug. 1, at 8 p.m.
The panel discusses SF mysteries set in space.
Trish Matson (Moderator), Carl Fink, Becky Chambers, Kat Clay
Wish me luck! I've got a lot of research to do in not a lot of time! By all means, if you have any points you'd like any of these panels to address, suggest away!
UPDATE 7/19: Today I became aware that some people I really respect have petitioned CoNZealand to include more diverse people on their panels and to put more Hugo finalists onto panels they feel are relevant to their expertise. I emailed the Programming committee to offer to step back from two of my three panels. I want to stay on The Art of the Review, because I've already put a lot of thought into it. However, I offered to step back from the other two panels, in the interests of diversity and harmony, if needed. CoNZealand already responded to thank me for my offer and said they'd get back to me if there are any programme changes.
UPDATE 7/27: CoNZealand Programme staff emailed me yesterday confirming my schedule as above.
I've followed several of the panelists on social media, and they've followed me back. Nice to make some congenial connections!I watched a number of really interesting panels by other people, too. The panel recordings will eventually be available at the University of Toronto's Merrill collection, but will apparently only be available to researchers there, not online to the public.
"And to think people laughed when I named my fists HOOK (demonstrated with a hook punch) and SINKER (overhand fist straight down)!" The players and GM all laughed, so that was a win.
Note, this was not counter-programming, but rather complementary programming. All 15 Fringe panels were held during European-friendly hours, when CoNZealand had gone dark for their night. The people who organized it made strong efforts to include panelists diverse along several axes.
All those panels are available to watch free on YouTube. Enjoy!
Monday, June 22, 2020
Thursday, June 18, 2020
The villagers gravely misinterpreted what was happening. I thought it was hilarious, and I wrote a seven-stanza ballad to commemorate it. I put it up on YouTube. The lyrics are all mine. The tune came to me, but it's a pretty basic ballad form and it's possible I'm using something I heard elsewhere and forgot.
Hippolyta, the Terror of Tilkha
Eighty-four parents lay prone on the ground;
the rest of the village in shock stood around.
Some children were wailing and others were flailing
The Terror of Tilkha
She and her minions had come here as heroes
But then they revealed they were villains and zeroes
Sowing confusion and and fear in profusion
The Terror of Tilkha
This Centaur of Chaos claimed our children weren't right,
brought in some imposters and started a fight.
Attacked by surprise "just to open our eyes,"
The Terror of Tilkha
Even her allies cried out in protest, but
Her whirlwind of violence kept on with great zest.
One even tried to stop her, but nothing could top her
The Terror of Tilkha
Mothers and fathers, they fell down in rows
Then even our children, she treated as foes,
One hit from her hoof and they'd simply go poof!
The Butcher of Tilkha
Dozens of children just vanished in smoke,
And parents thought the new ones were theirs when they woke.
What else could they do? But the rest know what's true -
The Terror of Tilkha
Now she and hers have gone, and our lives just go on.
May she never return, but we've set her deed in song.
Oh she was ill met, and we'll never forget
The Terror of Tilkha
The Terror of Tilkha!
Monday, April 27, 2020
|artist: not listed in book|
This is fairly unusual contrasted with the majority of ERB's oeuvre, where many books have just one significant female character, most women exist to scream and be saved, even the occasional wandering princess generally doesn't have much agency except to reject a few suitors, and the hidden-city queens basically exist merely to lust after and lose Burroughs' heroes.
|artist: Frank Frazetta|
So I've read more than 20 Tarzan books, about a half-dozen of the Mars/Barsoom books, one of the Venus books, a half-dozen Pellucidars, The Land That Time Forgot and a couple of sequels, and a half-dozen more of his stand-alone books. I reread only a few specifically for this essay, but there are several more that I've revisited over the years because something about them stuck out in my mind. I've been thinking about them a lot since recording the SFF Audio podcast. Following are my impressions of the strongest female characters that I've encountered in Edgar Rice Burroughs books.
Jane Foster in Tarzan of the Apes and The Return of Tarzan, The Beasts of Tarzan and The Son of Tarzan, primarily (read here or listen here). (Content warning for nearly all Tarzan books: racism and fights to the death.) She is mentioned in many later books in the series (he's a one-woman man, but often separated from her, so she doesn't have scenes in all of them) but past the first four books or so, often just needs rescuing (she often needs that in the first three too). But beyond being beautiful and brave like all Burroughs heroines, Jane is remarkable through changing the way of life of the hero who loves her, at least changing it for a while, as opposed to many Burroughs women who want nothing better than to join with the hero and follow his path.
MILD SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST FOUR TARZAN BOOKS: At the beginning of The Beasts of Tarzan, she and John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, are married and living in London with baby Jack. At the beginning of The Son of Tarzan, they've returned to "civilization" and she forbids adolescent Jack to read books about animals or explorers, or even to go to the zoo, for fear that it should rouse his apparently inherited "savage" instincts -- which is pretty insulting to Tarzan, really, if you think about it. John/Tarzan protests mildly, in private, but in front of Jack, he concedes and backs up his wife in imposing these restrictions, which Jack objects to as mollycoddling. After Jack goes to Africa and grows up there in the jungle, and they eventually reunite joyfully, they all go back to England again! Jane is clearly wrong-headed about this, but I have to admit she is strong-willed.
Meriem in The Son of Tarzan (read here or listen here). (CW: A villain uses the N-word, and "Bwana" calls his African employees boys. A rich man acts on classist attitudes. Violence.) Jack/Korak is the protagonist, but Meriem is the second most important character, with six full-page illustrations plus several smaller ones in my family's tattered 1917 first edition.
|artist: J. Allen St. John|
MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS HERE: After she grows up, they're separated by circumstances; she thinks he's dead, and the Europeans whom she encounters think that her jungle tales are delirious ravings, and her memories fade. But when peril threatens, she's able to leap into action again. She's self-confident in her jungle lore, but she is very naive and easily manipulated.
Also notable: All the Claytons think Meriem is an Arab, but not even Jane minds her marrying Jack. But, perhaps to appease the early 20th century readers, it turns out she's French nobility after all.
Meriem also appears briefly in Tarzan and the Ant Men, with Korak and their toddler son Jackie, but doesn't play any significant part there.
Bertha Kircher in Tarzan the Untamed (read here or listen here). (CW: This book is written during and set near the beginning of World War I, and all Germans in it are treated as irredeemably evil.)
MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THIS BOOK! Skip this paragraph if you haven't read it and might sometime! After his estate in Africa is attacked by Germans and Jane is apparently slain, along with many Waziri warriors, Tarzan goes on a rampage of revenge. However, he can't quite bring himself to overcome his gentlemanly instincts and kill the German spy, Bertha Kircher. Near the end, it turns out that Bertha was a double agent for the Allies all along, thus proving her courage, intelligence, resourcefulness and goodness.
Dejah Thoris in Under the Moons of Mars/A Princess of Mars and sequels (read here or listen here). (CW: Debatable stand-in racism: These are alien species, but later books advocate separate rulers for each race of Barsoom, united under one white-savior Warlord; also, protagonist Captain John Carter is a Confederate veteran, although that's merely mentioned, not discussed. Additionally, of course, there are many fights that end in death.)
|artist: Roy Krenkel, Jr.|
Sola, a female thark, also stands out as a character in the book by being different from most of her green-skinned, six-limbed race in that she demonstrates compassion instead of just ferocity, and argues in defense of that despite social scorn.
Thuvia in The Gods of Mars is the princess of another Red Martian city, who also falls in love with John Carter; however, she risks her life to help Dejah Thoris. It's also significant that Thuvia has charms to soothe the savage banths. Other female characters include Phaidor, a third and spiteful rival for JC's affections, and Issus, the evil "goddess" of Barsoom. Thuvia and Phaidor also appear in The Warlord of Mars.
Sadly, when Thuvia gets her own book in Thuvia, Maid of Mars, one of only two ERB books titled after a woman's name, she basically just plays the captured/rescued princess role, although she does get to stab somebody. Carthoris is the real protagonist of the book.
And now, finally, back to The Efficiency Expert. Aside from just the plot points, it's very well written regarding both language and structure, with some surprising twists, humor, and insights. Burroughs constantly writes in a way that invites the reader to laugh at the protagonist's foibles yet eventually root for him, while giving sidelights on poverty, class prejudice, bad cops, labor movements, and other issues.
I'm about to give some MAJOR SPOILERS TO THE PLOT OF THE BOOK, so I encourage readers of this essay to view or listen to it before continuing. Jimmy Torrance Jr. is the aforementioned protagonist, who graduates last in his college class but still thinks he just has to advertise his availability to land a job as a manager. He doesn't, gets desperate, takes a series of low-level jobs, and sinks so low as to briefly consider a life of crime as an accomplice to The Lizard, a safe-cracker. Then he cons his way into a job as an Efficiency Expert, and then there's a murder.
Elizabeth Compton, her friend Harriet Holden, and Little Eva/Edith Hudson are the three women who affect his life. Elizabeth is the daughter of a factory owner, snobbish and judgmental, and Harriet is her friend, classy and thoughtful. After they encounter Jimmy several times and he helps them, Elizabeth figures there must be some flaw in this guy's character that has made him sink so low, but tells him to give the chauffeur his address and they'll send him some money. Harriet gives him her address and invites him to come by so she can help him find a better job through her connections. He is too proud to accept help from either. Meanwhile, working as a waiter, Jimmy meets Little Eva, who likes him because he treats her "like a decent girl" despite her bad-girl profession. The Lizard tells Little Eva that Jimmy's too good for her, but she stands up for herself and says, "I'm as good as you are and a damn sight straighter. What I get I earn, and I don't steal it."
Little Eva encourages him to apply for an advertised Efficiency Expert job, loans him money for good clothes and helps him forge some references.
"What do you have to know to be an efficiency expert?" asked the girl.
"From what I saw of the bird I just mentioned the less one knows about anything the more successful he should be as an efficiency expert, for he certainly didn't know anything. And yet the results from kicking everybody in the plant out of his own particular rut eventually worked wonders for the organization. If the man had any sense, tact or diplomacy nothing would have been accomplished."
"Why don't you try it?" asked the girl. Jimmy looked at her with a quizzical smile. "Thank you," he said.
"Oh, I didn't mean it that way," cried the girl. "But from what you tell me I imagine that all a man needs is a front and plenty of punch. ..."
Jimmy buys a book on industrial efficiency, which focuses on streamlining and common sense, and is hired. Harriet recognizes Jimmy, now the Efficiency Expert working at her father's plant, as the hosiery clerk/waiter/boxer/milkman she has kept running into; she seeks to denounce him, but he threatens to tell her dad all the places where she's been slumming, so she backs down. Little Eva gets a job working as secretary Edith Hudson.
Then the murder happens, and Jimmy is the prime suspect. Harriet and Eva help him in different ways. Alas, despite how much I like Eva/Edith, her self-reformation isn't enough to overcome the Bad Girl tropes, so Burroughs clears her out of the plot to make way for Jimmy to choose Harriet.
One of my main delights in this book is how different all the women are from each other, with distinct personalities and ways of interacting with others. Burroughs doesn't do deep character studies on any of them, but they all are pretty vivid on the pages.
|artist: Boris Vallejo|
Shannon Burke goes to Hollywood and takes the stage name of Gaza de Lure, but all the directors she meets just want to sleep with her, not give her roles in movies. One of them tricks her and gets her addicted to cocaine; she still refuses to become his mistress, but becomes a sub-dealer for him. Eventually, she reforms herself and helps some other people.
The Girl From Hollywood is not full of humor like The Efficiency Expert, but it does contain a few smiles like these:
During the deer season, if they did not have it [the banned liquor] all removed by that time, they would be almost certain of discovery, since every courageous ribbon-counter clerk in Los Angeles hied valiantly to the mountains with a high-powered rifle, to track the ferocious deer to its lair.
NEAR-TOTAL PLOT SPOILERS FROM HERE: When her mother dies, Shannon stays at the ranch of some neighbors for the funeral and gets involved in their lives, and the neighbor family's lives. She conceals her sordid past and kicks her habit, but makes an error in judgment that gets the ranch heir, Custer Pennington, arrested. He suspects her of betraying him to a gang of bootleggers, but actually she was trying to protect him. Custer convinces Shannon not to tell the authorities that it was actually the neighbor Guy Evans who was in league with the gang, because Custer's sister Eva is engaged to Guy, as Custer is engaged to Guy's sister Grace, who has gone to Hollywood to try to make her mark there as an actress. Custer gets six months in jail.
After Custer serves his time, Guy finds Grace dying after domestic violence, having succumbed to drugs and sex in the wicked city, and he collapses mentally and emotionally. Later, after Eva cajoles her father into allowing a movie company to film on the ranch, there's a sexual assault, an attempted suicide, and a murder. Both Custer and Shannon are charged with the murder, but she is acquitted and finds evidence to clear Custer.
Shannon is by far the strongest character in this book. Custer has moral standards but also has a weakness for alcohol, getting blackout drunk during a crucial moment; Eva is volatile and silly, and their parents are wishful thinkers; Grace is a victim, and Guy allows his best friend to serve his prison term. In contrast, Shannon reforms her way of life, keeps her commitments and acts generously to protect others.
Incidentally, the 1950 cover portrays Shannon/Gaza as Hispanic, but I didn't find any evidence in the text to confirm that; she might have just given herself the Gaza de Lure stage name to make herself seem more exotic. Neither her mother nor her eventually discovered long-lost father have Hispanic names (although we only learn the nickname, not the first name, of the father).
Corrie van der Meer and Sarina in Tarzan and the Foreign Legion (1947, not public domain). I'm describing these characters later than the other Tarzan-book women I mentioned because Foreign Legion is pretty different in tone, more of an ensemble piece and told from more perspectives than any other ERB I can think of, and written decades later. (CW: Set during World War II, this book is viciously racist toward the Japanese soldiers, condescendingly colonialist toward indigenous Sumatrans and a Chinese worker, and also stereotypes the Dutch. However, if you are willing to look past all that, there are some strong and active female characters to enjoy.)
Incidentally, Foreign Legion refers to the mixture of Allied characters in the book, not the French military force. Here, ERB inserts Tarzan into the Pacific Theater of Operations by having RAF Col. John Clayton be an observer on an American flight over Sumatra that gets shot down, so he can fight tigers and encounter orangutans. Just go with it.
BIG SPOILERS AHEAD: Corrie is 16 years old at the start, when the Japanese invade Sumatra. They murder her stubborn Dutch planter father, and she and her family's faithful Chinese servant hide out for two years, wandering the mountains until the end of Chapter 1, when she's captured and he's left for dead. Tarzan and the American flight crew rescue her in Chapter 5, and she quickly learns how to make bows and arrows and becomes a good shot at guns too. Capt. Jerry Lucas is initially disturbed that this sweet little blond girl has not only learned to hate but exults in it, while she argues that her hatred is pure and good.
Jerry looked up to see Corrie disentangling the slung rifle from the body of the other J**. He saw her standing above her victim like an avenging goddess. Three times she drove the bayonet into the breast of the soldier. The American watched the girl's face. It was not distorted by rage or hate or vengeance. It was illuminated by a divine light of exaltation.
She turned to Jerry. "This is what I saw them do to my father. I feel happier now. I only wish that he had been alive."
"You are magnificent," said Jerry.
Some other Burroughs women have killed in self-defense, but she's the only one I know who gets to go to the full length of glorying in her frequent revenge killing, and is rewarded by Lucas' love and the adoration of the rest of the flight crew.
Sarina (no last name) doesn't get quite as much page space as Corrie, but she is the most badass Burroughs woman of all, who is allowed to succeed. We encounter her as a member of a group of bandits, sleeping with their chief. She is a 35-year-old Eurasian, daughter of a Dutch pirate and on the other side, granddaughter of a headhunter and of a cannibal, and has served time in prison for murder. She sees Corrie, whose parents she knew, and decides to join Corrie's band instead.
"When I got in trouble, your father hired a fine attorney to defend me. But it did no good. Justice is not for Eurasians, or perhaps I should say mercy is not for Eurasians. I was guilty, but there were circumstances that would have been in my favor had I been white. That is all past. Because your father and mother were kind to me and helped me, I shall help you."
Sgt. "Shrimp" Rosetti, who grew up in gangland Chicago but is good-hearted despite his lack of schooling and initial mistrust of women, falls like a ton of bricks for Sarina. She thinks he's cute, and learns that he is brave, so she gets a happy ending too. It is entertaining to imagine her back in Chicago after the war, correcting Rosetti's English (she was well taught by Catholic missionaries) and terrorizing his neighborhood.
So there you have it. By the 1940s, Edgar Rice Burroughs' books are still full of racism, but he admits through character backstories that colonialism may contain elements of systemic oppression, and he allows women to be out-and-out killers without suffering social consequences. Instead of letting only virginal white women prosper, he writes a murderous, mixed-race, middle-aged Bad Girl who is Winning at Life.
I'm not at all saying that it is necessary for a modern SFF reader to read ERB. There are numerous very objectionable elements in his books, and there are many entertaining modern writers whose works are not full of cringeworthy moments. However, for someone who is digging into the history of the genre, Edgar Rice Burroughs offers many points of interest, including several surprisingly strong female characters.
*Objectionable elements in The Efficiency Expert:
1. The Lizard refers to Jimmy as "a white guy" as a compliment, meaning he's a good guy. Google says "white" originally meant radiant or clear, but by the 1870s it was used as slang for fair and honorable. I doubt Burroughs meant to use this word in a racial way here, but a modern reader may find it jarring. Growing up in the South, I only ever heard that expression used sarcastically, e.g. "That's mighty white of you." YMMV.
2. Burroughs describes the inferior boxer Young Brophy as "a pu*** fighter" -- and doesn't use asterisks. The Language Log blog says the word originally meant sweet and amiable, but applied to men came to stand for weak and effeminate. Language Log says this is parallel evolution for the slang for female private parts, but definitely then and now is a pejorative applied to men. I doubt ERB meant Jimmy thought of Brophy as homosexual, just kind of feeble or cowardly, but it's an ugly term.
3. Perhaps more objectionable than those words is the fact that apparently in ERB's version of 1919 Chicago, no people of color live there, or move in any circles that the protagonist encounters, despite his activities throughout various levels of society. One might suppose that POC live in ERB's Chicago but he simply doesn't mention them, except that he does state (neutrally) that a married pair of landlords are Jews.
4. Not really objectionable, but it's definitely weird that the book, published in 1919, does not mention The Great War or its veterans AT ALL, although it does mention the 1918-19 influenza pandemic. I guess Jimmy missed the war by staying in college.