Wednesday, February 2, 2022

New for 2022

Happy Groundhog Day! This is a good day to revisit some of my creative activities, from October 2021 through January 2022, from podcasts to paneling, with some streaming writing and RPGS to boot.

Podcasts: Mostly SFFAudio in the past few months, but I also appeared on Hugos There again, and I've recorded on a new-to-me show that should be released soon.

Nov. 29:   "The SFFaudio Podcast #658 – READALONG: Dancing Aztecs by Donald E. Westlake" with Jesse, Paul Weimer and Scott Danielson. Westlake has written some science fiction, but this is a crime caper, one of my favorite standalone Westlake novels. In fact, I went so far as to compare Westlake's affectionate character sketches to Jane Austen's characterizations. Others compared this to the movie "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."

Dec. 6:  The SFFaudio Podcast #659 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: The Shadow Of The Vulture by Robert E. Howard" with Jesse, Connor Kaye, Alex (from Pulp Covers), and Chris Schweizer. Not a Conan story, this is 16th-century historical fiction, but it does introduce Red Sonya of Rogatino, who was later repackaged into the Conan comics and movies

Jan. 3:  "The SFFaudio Podcast #663 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: Murder In The Gunroom by H. Beam Piper" with host Jesse along with Paul Weimer.  A pleasantly competent mundane mystery by a writer better know for SFF, which reminded me of some of Rex Stout's non-Nero Wolfe standalone mysteries.

Panel on Video: In November 2021, I appeared again on Seth Heasley's Hugos There podcast, except that this time, it was a panel video recording. I thought it was also a podcast, but I can't find that in his feed. You can watch the recording on his Patreon at  or on YouTube at .


This panel on "2021 Hugo Nominees Best Dramatic Presentation (Long)" was a lead-up to the Hugo Awards voting, which was late this year due to the pandemic delaying WorldCon.  On the panel with me, discussing the Hugo finalists (they were all movies) from 2020, were host Seth Heasley and Juan Sanmiguel, David Agranoff, Nana Amuah, Paul Senior, Steve and Marshall from Androids & Assets, Josh Ziefle, and Lori Anderson. For my favorite, I went back and forth between "Palm Springs" and "Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)" ("The Old Guard" is what won). I think I settled on Palm Springs there, but Birds of Prey ended as my top pick on the ballot.

Speaking of the 2021 WorldCon, I went in-person to DisCon III in D.C. Attendees were required to be masked and show proof of vaccination, which was certainly reassuring. If I recall correctly, about 2,600 people attended, and about 25 attendees and staff reported COVID symptoms afterward, but many appeared to have contracted it before, and it definitely wasn't a super-spreader event. I attended many interesting panels, and I went to the Hugo Awards ceremony with a couple of my Skiffy and Fanty friends. I also took a lot of photos at museums and parks, which I posted to Twitter and may eventually upload to Flickr.

Flash Writing
ArvanEleron hosted another Infernal Salon on his Twitch channel, inviting numerous writers and other creatives to participate in a prompted writing session. They all had individual prompts and had about half an hour to write, and then read their creations. The audience also received one prompt ("Ruins are ruins for a reason") and several people, including me, submitted pieces that Arvan read onstream. The name Infernal Salon is from the fact that the writing prompts were taken from the Negocios Infernales card/writing game by Carlos Hernandez and C.S.E. Cooney. The event was a fundraiser for Worldbuilders.
This time I wrote prose. I didn't think it came together quite as well as my poem, but Carlos and CSE and chat all liked it a lot. The audience pieces start at about 2:06:00, and mine is from 2:12:05 to about 2:14:55. 

"Ruins are ruins for a reason"
The mock chapel ruins had always bothered the silent ones. A ruined church was one thing, that was right and proper. But to take the green meadow between the big house and the forest and build a ragged stone corner on it, with an unfinished steeple? What sense did that make?
But they liked the treacherous spiral stair. At night, they would creep from their shaded swards to nestle in those gneiss niches.
When the sun shone, children might play as knights and ladies, cowboys and Indians, astronauts and aliens, repurposing the purposeless ruins as castle or fort or moonbase as desired.
When the ruins were moonlit, their watchers mostly saw courting couples, playing at being scared and then taking comfort in each other. 
Once in a while, a curious soul would wander alone among the shadows, by day or night, fleeing noisy company or simple seeking a mood. The silent ones loved best to watch these loners, wondering at the moods crossing their faces. Sometimes they helped to set those moods, sometimes they reinforced them ... sometimes they swallowed them up!
When this had happened a few times, the chapel ruins became less popular with the children, and were forbidden by their parents, even though no bodies were ever found. Only a few courting couples with very particular tastes kept frequenting the ruins. 
Ghost-hunters began to haunt the ruins. Nobody mocked them anymore, except from a very safe distance.

Twitch Gaming
Because people's lives have been complicated, and some of us have also had hardware woes, the ShadowCrew hasn't played in The Dragon of Icespire Peak campaign on ArvanEleron's Twitch channel since mid-October. I should probably watch the last episode before resuming my Tabaxi bard character, Grace of the Refreshing Breeze, hopefully later in Feburary.  Here's the playlist:

However, I have played D&D a couple of times in a new campaign! Well, it was supposed to be a one-shot, but we've played two sessions so far, and are hoping to wrap it up on Friday, Feb. 18. It's a module by Critical Crafting called Midwintär’s Mourning. ArvanEleron GMed for Shaun Duke (of Skiffy and Fanty), PrinceJvstin (from so many things!) and me on the Sunday of WorldCon (in person! It was AMAZING to play D&D in person again!) and then we streamed on his channel for part 2. 
I am playing Vivian the Victorious, a halfling fighter. battlemaster specialty.  

Part 3 of Midwintär’s Mourning was played on Friday, Feb. 18! Between my character, Shaun Duke's tiefling bard, Sir Reginald Bartholomew III, and PrinceJvstin's dragonborn cleric, Elurian Bluewater, we resolved the adventure satisfactorily.

On Feb. 22, I guested for the first (but hopefully not last) time on Continuum Drag, a podcast "exploring the forgotten and little seen sci-fi television of yesterday." I really enjoy Luke and Jordan's wryly affectionate takes on old shows. We discussed episodes 9 and 10 of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker." This show from the 1970s features Carl Kolchak, an investigative reporter who keeps running up against stories with supernatural aspects. Naturally, I had a great time discussing "The Spanish Moss Murders" and "The Energy Eater" with Luke and Jordan.

On Feb. 14, I returned to SFFAudio to discuss "The Seascape Tattoo" by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes with Jesse, Paul Weimer and Scott Danielson. Set in the world of Niven's "The Magic Goes Away," this 2016 entry was far less impressive than the stories that started the series, but we still enjoyed an interesting discussion.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Late 2021 updates on Twitch and podcasts

When I started to add another update to my January 19 podcasts and Twitch updates, I was told I couldn't switch from HTML mode to Compose mode or else I might lose part of my post so I'm starting another roundup post. Wow, I haven't updated since July 29! 

I've attended a couple of Skiffy and Fanty livewatch events of Torture Cinema movies -- for "The Ghosts of Mars" and for "Lady Battle Cop" -- but I had conflict dates with the podcast recordings for both, so I haven't been on any of their episodes lately. 

 I've been fairly busy with an impending move, but I've been on four SFFAudio podcasts released in the last few months, recorded months in advance:

Aug. 9: "The SFFaudio Podcast #642 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: 'The Sowers Of The Thunder' by Robert E. Howard" with Jesse Willis, Will Emmons, and Alex and Connor Kaye. 

Aug. 16: "The SFFaudio Podcast #643 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: 'The Hound' by H.P. Lovecraft" with Jesse Willis, Evan Lampe, Will Emmons and Connor Kaye.

Sept. 13:  "The SFFaudio Podcast #647 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: 'The Picture In The House' by H.P. Lovecraft" with Jesse Willis and Connor Kaye.

Oct. 18: "The SFFaudio Podcast #652 – READALONG: 'Farmer In The Sky' by Robert A. Heinlein" with Jesse Willis, Paul Weimer, Maissa Bessada and Evan Lampe.

Yes, these are all old stories, but I and several others in each discussion try to bring a critical 21st-century eye to them, while recognizing some merits in each (except The Hound, which I remember with no fondness at all). However, this month we discussed a major story by James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Bradley Sheldon), which will come out in another six months or so.

Several of the channels I follow have been on hiatus for the last few months, due to hate raids, marriages and other reasons. ArvanEleron has continued to be an active streamer, and I've played Grace of the Refreshing Breeze, a tabaxi bard, live onstream for Community D&D: The Dragon of Icespire Peak, several more times. Episodes are here:

Finally, I wrote a poem for a 30-minute creative writing challenge (extended to 36 minutes) during an Infernal Salon fundraising stream for the 2022 Strange Horizons kickstarter on Oct. 24, hosted by C.S.E. Cooney and Carlos Hernandez on Arvan Eleron's Twitch stream. More than 20 people connected in some way with Strange Horizons came and did a panel, giving brief self-intros and then writing to prompts from the lovely and disconcerting Negocios Infernales card game.
Three non-panelist people who were watching the fundraiser also submitted poems or stories they wrote during the stream, and I was one of them. 
These are the three writing prompts; I used them all for inspiration: 
"If it unlocks, it's a lockpick"
"How perfect the poem before it is written"
"Live long enough for better stars"
Arvan Eleron kindly read my poem onstream, starting at about 3:39:33:

Here's the poem. I submitted the three stanzas that night and added the title the next day.

Keys to Better Stars

To find the key, first find your awareness:
What are you trying to open? What do you seek to unfold?
There is no understanding without a fair test.
Not all keys look like keys; the keyhole can be the whole.

The keyhole and key are partners in a dance.
Imagine what you want, feed it with your zeal.
Plan it out first or ride/write the winds of chance
Let it live in your mind and then make it real.

Let your desires build, for better or for worse.
Feed your seeds in secret, let them grow, then go through
into the wide and wondrous universe.
May the best of your dreams outlive you.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Barding for BardandBarbarian

 I started watching 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

Podcasts and Twitch Updates

 Happy New Year!

Since my last social media update on 12/1/20, I've been up to a few more things.


Stargate SG-Fun

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.

SFF Audio

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 (


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 !

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”)

Update 2/28/21: 

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!

Update 3/24/21

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!

Update 4/5/21

The SFFaudio Podcast #624 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: William Wilson by Edgar Allan Poe

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!

Update 4/6/21

Shaun Duke and I discuss Samuel R. Delaney's Captives of the Flame!

Update 4/11/21

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.

Update 4/21/21

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"

Update 6/15/21

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)

Update 7/1/21

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 ...

Finally, and most importantly, I helped run ArvCon, the Memorial Weekend charity fundraiser, May 28-31, on -- I was one of the moderators, and I carried out most of the giveaways. We blew past our goal and raised $7,000 for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.

Update 7/29/2021:
I discussed Milo Hastings' In the Clutch of the War-God on SFFAudio with Jesse Willis, Paul Weimer, Evan Lampe, Bryan Alexander and Kate Follis: 

I discussed Vonda N. McIntyre's Dreamsnake on SFFAudio with Jesse Willis, Paul Weimer, Scott Danielson, Maissa Bessada and Will Emmons:

I continue to play Grace of the Refreshing Breeze, a Tabaxi bard, on The Dragon of Icespire Peak, a D&D 5e campaign on . You can see the episodes here:

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Words that sound similar but appear to be unrelated

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. 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 says the word has pre-Roman origins and also mentions ezker. 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, 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!

Guillermo Paz claims on

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

SG-Fun and catching up on other social media

As I posted on Twitter last night, "With no new Supergirl to review for a while yet, @DavidPSchaub  and I, with @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!"

As that post explains,
"Thanks, Send More (SG-1 “Children of the Gods” Part 1 and 2)
Stargate SG-1 Unscheduled Off-World Activation Detected! Welcome to the start of a new Stargate TeeVee podcast on The Incomparable. We’ll only be covering Stargate SG-1 episodes we find most entertaining and important, in order. We’re starting with the two part pilot “Children of the Gods” and we all watched different versions!"

I'm a member/subscriber of The Incomparable network of podcasts (and live YouTube RPGs). That's where the Supergirl podcast is hosted. Several weeks ago, people on The Incomparable Slack's TeeVee subchannel were discussing shows they missed, and the one they talked most about was Stargate SG-1. My most frequent Supergirl co-host, David Schaub, and Andrew Pontious, who was on The Incomparable's podcast about The Good Place, and I kicked the idea around for a while and came up with a format and a name. We're planning to record every two weeks. We are NOT doing a deathmarch slog of covering every episode for 10 years of this show, let alone the spinoffs. The goal is to have and share fun! Instead, we'll be choosing some episodes from each season, in order, and discussing them.

You may well ask why, with all the fantastic new books and media being offered these days, we want to spend time on a show that premiered 23 years ago. Well, it's a fun show, despite some dark moments and, as I tweeted, some problematic issues. There's action and adventure but also a lot of character-based humor, and some character development. Also, it's an ensemble show -- Jack O'Neill is definitely the leader, but Daniel Jackson, Samantha Carter and Teal'c, along with General Hammond and a few other Stargate staff, all have their moments. Sometimes Jack is wrong and one of the others is right. And they are all likeable, although Jack can be gruff and dismissive of the science/linguistics/astrophysics stuff.

Also, Andrew and I saw the original, and David watched the spinoffs SG-Atlantis and SG-Universe, although he missed the original show. Addiitionally, SG-1 is easily accessible; right now it's available free to Amazon Prime and Hulu viewers.

Morever, the show is back in the news. Talks are progressing for a possible new Stargate series. That might or might not happen, of course. But right now, there's a new 5e RPG coming soon! It's already fully funded, although there it has a couple of days left on Kickstarter.

Finally, to be honest, although I've been diving into the new-to-me medium of Twitch, I have not had the mental energy to experience a lot of other new TV shows, or even new seasons of shows I've been following, or even new books. Besides my annual Hugo reading, and the short stories on podcasts I follow, and the "assigned" reading for podcasts I talk on, I've mostly been revisiting old favorites this year. (I did binge Watchmen in one weekend when HBO made it temporarily free to see, and it was AMAZING.) SG-1 is comfort viewing for me, even though some things are raising flags that I didn't notice so much 23 years ago when it premiered.


Well now, it's been quite a while since I updated this blog, so here is what else I've been up to in SFF and RPG activities:

First, we did finish discussing Season 5 of Supergirl. But since that had only two more episodes, I added them as an update to my podcasts roundup post from April:

Next, I've been on several more SFFAudio podcasts after my debut discussing Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Efficiency Expert, which is included in the roundup above. Dates are when podcasts dropped; usually the discussions are about 6 months before. Note that just because I discuss something in a podcast doesn't mean I endorse it! These are critiques, sometimes highly critical.
May 18: The SFFaudio Podcast #578 – READALONG: She by H. Rider Haggard, with Jesse Willis, Paul Weimer, Maissa Bessada, Will Emmons
July 13: The SFFaudio Podcast #586 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: The Tree Of Life by C.L. Moore, with Jesse Willis, Paul Weimer, Will Emmons
Aug. 3: The SFFaudio Podcast #589 – TOPIC: WORLDCON 2020, with Jesse Willis, Paul Weimer, Scott Danielson, Trish E. Matson, Evan Lampe, and Alec Nevala-Lee
Aug. 24: SFFAudio posted my 5-part Librivox narration of H. Beam Piper's Omilingual as a single SFFAudio podcast for the convenience of listeners.
Aug. 31: The SFFaudio Podcast #593 – READALONG: Omnilingual by H. Beam Piper, with Jesse Willis, Paul Weimer, Will Emmons
Sept. 7: The SFFaudio Podcast #594 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: The Horror At Red Hook by H.P. Lovecraft, with Jesse Willis, Paul Weimer, Evan Lampe, Julie Hoverson
Oct. 12: The SFFaudio Podcast #599 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: Hawks Of Outremer by Robert E. Howard, with Jesse Willis, Paul Weimer, Evan Lampe, Trish E. Matson, Alex, and Connor Kaye

Third, I've been continuing to play Dungeons and Dragons on Arvan Eleron's Twitch channel. I've discussed previous games elsewhere, but these are new since then:
Arv streams Day 13 of Community D&D: Dragon of Icespire Peak--The Shrine of Savras! (focus on combat and suspense)
Arv streams Day 14 of Community D&D: Dragon of Icespire Peak--Along Paths Old and New! (focus on shopping and character development)
Arv streams Day 15 of Community D&D: Dragon of Icespire Peak--Untravelled Trails to Tread! (decisions, development and combat)
Also, a couple of Saturdays ago, I participated in Arv streams D&D with Viewers--The House of the Midnight Violet! There weren't any D&D newbies this time: Along with me, they were Brandon O'Brien (therisingtithes on Twitch), @lightandpassion, Shadowcrew companion @echoAlpha_x5, and @wenchkin, so once we got our tech issues worked out and our characters picked, we were able to jump right into play, and had quite a good time interacting with each other and the GM, Arvan. The show picks up there, with introductions. Sadly, we didn't finish the mystery, but we did get in some combat, and I was satisfied with how I was able to portray my character, Perdita, a half-orc paladin (with her dog, Jaws), in not a lot of time.

If you watch these games live on Twitch, you'll have the fun of commenting along with the community. Sometimes there are highly amusing strings of puns, sometimes there are serious side discussions.

I've been posting nearly all of these on Twitter as they happen, so if you want to keep caught up on my podcasts, follow me on Twitter.

Another SFFAudio discussion that I'm in went live on Monday, Nov. 2:
We discuss a weird sort-of-science fiction and social commentary story from 1911, in with Jesse Willis, Paul Weimer, Maissa Bessada, Evan Lampe, and me.

UPDATE 12/1/20:
Two more SG-Fun podcasts have posted: i.e. Human Style People -- deep dives into "The Enemy Within" and "The Nox," with briefer mentions of the four episodes between those i.e. A Lot of Hugging -- brief mention of Brief Candle and deep dives into "Thor's Hammer" and "The Torment of Tantalus"

My Twitch gaming continues:
Arv streams Day 16 of Community D&D: Dragon of Icespire Peak--An Annoyance of Ankhegs!
Arv streams Day 17 of Community D&D: Dragon of Icespire Peak--The Depths of the Dead!
In Day 17 at 1:51:55, I sang a song of Inspiration for the party.

I've also come up with a couple of impromptu poems during people's streams:
a silly limerick for gcdarksiderob following chat comments by wookiecookie, and
a ballad-style thing for Arvan following an anecdote he told during an Adventures in Middle Earth ttrpg session.
Here's the tale of nine-fingered Greg,
Lucky not to lose an arm or a leg.
The knife from his dad was a perilous gift,
Meant well but could have caused a great rift.
Few presents are more thrilling than a multitool
for a young lad, but he's little more than a fool.
In his greed and his awe, he opened them all,
and sliced open his hand. Did he, pray, start to bawl?
But it turned out okay; now he treats blades with care.
And another tie with Dragonspeare Arvan doth share.

I also wrote a poem in praise of moderators and posted it on Arvan Eleron's mod channel in Discord, just for the other moderators.
Oh yes, Arvan promoted me from a follower/subscriber to be a moderator for his Twitch channel in November! Basically that means I have the power to ban trolls and spambots, in order to help keep the chat community warm and welcoming and somewhat on topic.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Cow pun-ching during CD&D on Twitch

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

Resurrected post: Titanic vs. Ben-Hur

 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

More D&D on Twitch

As I mentioned before, I've become a fairly active member of ArvanEleron's community on Twitch. About a month ago, one of the moderators, ShadowedMage, invited me to join the game he runs on Arvan's Twitch channel, Community D&D, and I was happy to accept.

He's running the Dragon of IceSpire Peak, a module, with his own variations thrown in. There are three other players, whose personas are Isil, an Aasimar Warlock; Malak, a Wood Elf Hunter Ranger; and Shakunas, a Drow Elf Assassin Rogue, all aligned Neutral or Chaotic Good. There used to be a fourth player in the campaign, but sadly, he died in real life, of complications of diabetes.

The character I created is Grace of the Refreshing Breeze (please roll the R's if possible), a Tabaxi Bard, CG. I've played in two sessions and am looking forward to more. The sessions are held every two Wednesdays. The next one will be Wednesday, July 29, starting a little after 9 p.m. Eastern. 

They appear first on Twitch, where viewers who are logged in can comment as the game goes on. The interactivity of the chat room, in particular Arvan's friendly and witty community, is what I really enjoy about this venue. Join us, won't you?

But if you want to check it out on a more familiar medium, just watching, without interaction, the episodes eventually migrate to YouTube. Here are the first two sessions where I appear:

UPDATE: The next CD&D session has been postponed, probably to Wednesday, Aug. 5.

NOTE: On Day 10, between 1:18:20 and 1:31:50, my bard, Grace, had an interesting discussion with Isil the Warlock and Malak the Ranger about their different types of magic.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

I'm on panels at CoNZealand (WorldCon)!

I'm excited that The Skiffy and Fanty Show is nominated again this year for the Hugo Award for Best Fancast! Unlike last year, I'm not named on the ballot, but as a regular podcast crew member through 2019, I certainly still feel invested in the result.

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 7/20:  CoNZealand Programme staff responded, thanked me, and said they'd get back to me.

UPDATE 7/27: CoNZealand Programme staff emailed me yesterday confirming my schedule as above.

UPDATE 9/1: My panels went off pretty well! 

CoNZealand did panels via Zoom, with chats and Q&A. Each panel had a behind-the-scenes Zoom host and a moderator. The moderator guided the panel's discussion and also monitored the Q&A, where questions were supposed to be submitted. If extra ambitious, the moderator could also look at the Zoom chat where general reactions, comments and side discussions were being typed by the audience.

It was really intense being on the panel and trying to watch the Q&A and chat at the same time, but there were comments from the audience saying that the panels I moderated were great, and I didn't hear any complaints from my fellow panelists. "The Death of Genre?" had three panelists show up instead of the listed five, but the chat was quite active, so that helped. "Crimes in Space" had a Mrs. Jacqui Smith show up as a panelist that I, the moderator, hadn't been notified would be coming, so she hadn't been included in the rest of the panel's preliminary emails, but we managed OK.

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.

I also played a really entertaining game called "The Claws of the Crab People" run by Ken Finlayson. The game was in the style of a 1950s B movie, and the players were investigating the problem, which turned out to be an alien invasion. My character was a fisherwoman whose poker buddy, a scientist, had gone missing. Players all had a set of lines that they were supposed to work into their dialogue, and I was ridiculously proud of how I completed the line "And to think people laughed when I named my fists..." You see, I had just been in a fight with some alien robots, and when it was over, I said,
"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.

Unfortunately, following (or concurrent with) the panelist assignment/inclusivity problems, CoNZealand organizers made some more egregious mistakes regarding the convention. 

1. Instead of honoring New Zealand writers and other creators during the Hugo ceremonies, they buried the Sir Julius Vogel awards in the last half of the Retro Hugo awards panel, held at the same time as a Guests of Honor panel. 
2. Most con members only found out about their eligibility to vote on the SJV awards far after that vote had been held. A packet of nominees' work, similar to the Hugos finalists voting packet, had been assembled, but it was never released to the membership. A footnote at the end of a newsletter that didn't say where or how to track the packet down does not count in any effective way.  CoNZealand did make that packet available to members after the con, but that is small consolation.
3. The Souvenir Book listed a number of creators' names (sometimes misspelled) with no descriptions. Most of these would have been easy to grab off social media, or even taken from their packet submissions. I don't know all the difficulties the people making the Souvenir Book had to struggle with, but it was a very bad look.
4. The Hugo awards ceremony was more than twice as long as it needed to be, because the host, George R.R. Martin, told many, many anecdotes about previous WorldCons he'd been to, and praised John Campbell to the skies in an obvious slap in the face to all the fans and finalists (including at least one soon-to-be award winner) who've moved fandom beyond that racist fascist. He also told some anecdotes that were inappropriate in other ways. He took the time to organize about 20 funny hat changes, but not to find out how to pronounce a bunch of the nominees' names, and also mispronounced the name of FIYAH magazine, in a way that sounded deliberate. The whole thing was arrogant and insulting. Moreover, his segments were mostly if not all prerecorded, so CoNZealand could have edited him down.
Many more details here, from Natalie Luhrs: 
I will concede that I am a bit biased against GRRM, because of his so-called Hugo Losers party at the Dublin WorldCon that snubbed the Hugo Losers (including me, incidentally), and his subsequent defensiveness and victim-blaming, lost him all benefit of the doubt from me. 

In summary, the parts of CoNZealand that I participated in were extremely enjoyable, but a lot of the organizers' decisions were extremely disappointing.

One more thing related to CoNZealand, although not actually affiliated with it: Following the programming fiasco, a number of people whom I respect arranged an unofficial supplementary program at

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

My first solo Librivox project: Omnilingual by H. Beam Piper

Two months ago, I participated in an SFFAudio podcast discussion of Omnilingual, a novelette by H. Beam Piper that appeared in "Astounding Science Fiction" in February 1957. I greatly enjoyed reading and listening to the story, and talking about it with other science fiction fans. (The episode hasn't been released yet.)

There were two fine audio versions of it in the free Librivox catalogue, ably narrated by Phil Chenevert and by Mark Nelson. However, the story is unusual for its time in that the protagonist is a female scientist, and there is no romantic subplot. I thought it would be nice to offer the option of hearing a woman voicing this story.

The story has academic politics but no overt sexual politics. There are several references to "girl lieutenants" and the like, but honestly, I found the constant smoking references even more jarring:
As soon as she had disposed of her oxygen equipment, she lit a cigarette, her first since noon...
The important thing is that the story focuses on Dr. Martha Dane as a scientist. I love the archaeological/linguistic puzzle Martha sets herself against, and how things work out. As I put it in my own Librivox summary:

Helped by some of her teammates on the Mars exploration crew, and hindered by others, she struggles to decipher the meanings of the artifacts left by an extinct alien species. What possible frame of reference can humans and the long-gone Martians have in common? The answer is very satisfying ...

I've narrated a few chapters of a couple of books for group projects at Librivox, but this is my first solo project. I had been looking for something appropriate for a while, and this one seemed perfect.

After that choice, and learning how to set up a solo project (with help from Mr. Chenevert himself), the first thing I had to decide was how many sections to break it up into. I first set up the projects for four parts, but during the editing process, I decided to put it into five parts instead. I think they are nice, logical breaks in the story.

The second thing I had to decide was how to voice it, i.e. how much inflection to give the narration, and what voice acting to do for the dialogue. Some Librivox readers narrate with a rather flat affect, but I prefer the more expressive readings, and my natural style is to read with inflections. So that's how I narrated most of it, and I used my own voice for Martha.

Sachiko Koremitsu, the other female character with dialogue in the story (yes, Omnilingual meets the Bechdel Test), is constantly referred to as petite, delicate, with tiny hands. I gave her a higher-pitched intonation, and tried to speak smoothly and rather musically for her.

Selim von Ohlmhorst has the most dialogue of any male character. I've studied German and would have been willing to try that accent, but he's actually of Turco-Germanic descent, so I just gave the grand old man a deep, round-toned delivery.

Tony Lattimer, Martha's main detractor, also has a lot of dialogue. I tried to make him sound a little too smooth and charming, a bit self-important, with occasional snideness.

I made Col. Hubert Penrose rather brisk, not quite barking-impatient but a man who obviously values efficiency. The other men with scraps of dialogue basically blended together.

Finally, I skimmed the text again looking for words that might make me stumble, and deciding how to approach them. For instance, the word loess has several variant pronunciations (low-ess, less, luss), but it's originally from German (Löss) so I aimed for the o-umlaut sound. 

It took time to narrate it (my version totals about an hour and 48 minutes), and significantly more time to edit the audio files. Since it was my first solo project, I was a bit obsessive about editing, so it took roughly five times as long to polish it as it did to record it. Then I had to tweak it some more to fix some problems that the project's proof-listener, cadastra, caught. 

The recording didn't turn out perfectly -- there are a few points where I found problems and inserted words instead of re-narrating whole sections -- but I am pretty well satisfied with the final result. Anyway, cadastra said she really enjoyed listening.

If you want to hear it, it's here:

Please enjoy! And if you want to suggest other public-domain works for me to narrate, especially with female protagonists and in the speculative fiction genres, feel free!

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Hippolyta, The Terror of Tilkha

On Sunday, June 7, I played D&D in a homebrew campaign with author Joseph Cadotte and some other friends. We had saved some children from a terrible fate, and returned them to their village, but their parents had been charmed into believing that the smoke-construct simulacra were their children, and rejected their actual flesh and blood. Fia the centaur decided the direct approach was best, and started knocking out parents in the belief that the illusions/charms would be dispelled when they woke up. The fake "children" tried to stop her, and she fought them then.

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.

YouTube link:

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
at Hippolyta
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,"
Said Hippolyta
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

Some Surprisingly Strong Women in ERB's Oeuvre

I made my debut a few weeks ago on the SFFAudio podcast, talking with the host Jesse Willis, plus regular contributor there (and my Skiffy and Fanty Show crewmate) Paul Weimer and fellow guest Evan Lampe about an obscure Edgar Rice Burroughs novel called The Efficiency Expert (1919). You can hear the podcast here, listen to the audiobook here or here, or read the book here. I highly recommend it, although a content warning is necessary for two objectionable words* used a few times, a little onscreen violence, and an offscreen murder.

Picture of Jimmy Torrance Jr. being menaced by some thugs.
artist: not listed in book
Set in 1919 Chicago, the book is a very good read, full of interesting incidents but also sparkling with sardonic humor and social commentary. (I'll say more about this later.) Although the protagonist starts out very full of himself, the epitome of an overconfident mediocre white male, he suffers trials and tribulations, sometimes of his own making, due to his principles or ego, and sometimes from bad luck or villains. Along the way, he meets three women, all with speaking roles, all of whose actions affect his life in significant ways.

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.

Picture of Tarzan in loincloth, carrying spear, with an elephant, ape and black panther at his side.
artist: Frank Frazetta
I am familiar with a lot of ERB's work, thanks to growing up with my daddy's extensive paperback library of  Science Fiction&Fantasy, Westerns, and adventure yarns. (Mom collected mysteries, Georgette Heyer and Literature.) In fact, the first adult-level speculative fiction book that I remember reading, beyond the level of, say, Alexander Key's The Forgotten Door, was The Beasts of Tarzan (1916), left carelessly on a coffee table. I suppose the animal-centric cover misled me a little, and I struggled with some of the concepts, but I had absorbed enough of the legend of Tarzan to keep going.

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.
Meriem, attacked by a lion, jumps from her horse into a tree.
artist: J. Allen St. John
We encounter Meriem as a child in an Arab compound in Africa, being beaten by the Sheik. Jack/Korak feels sorry for her and leads her into the jungle. He teaches her the great apes' language and to swing through the trees as lithely as himself.
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.)
Picture of Thuvia, scantily clad in jewels and silks, running down stairs in an abandoned city, pursued by a thark.
artist: Roy Krenkel, Jr.
Dejah Thoris is the princess of the red race of Helium. She's not a typical Burroughs damsel in that she can wield a sword in her own defense, although of course she doesn't measure up to the fighting skills of the comparatively heavy-gravity superman from Earth. Sometimes she needs rescuing, and during The Gods of Mars, it is discovered that she has given way to despair. (Things get better later.) But I actually love her character in the horribly marketed, unfairly maligned 2012 "John Carter" movie, where she is also a scientist trying to save her world, and eventually figures out some important plot points.
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.

Hispanic-looking girl on the ground, threatened by a man with a pistol, as a man rides up on a horse, in a Western-looking setting.
artist: Boris Vallejo
Shannon Burke/Gaza de Lure in The Girl from Hollywood (1922). Read here or listen here. (CW for a character using an objectionable epithet for Hispanics, casting-couch scenarios, an obscurely described miscarriage, and deaths.) This Prohibition-era novel portrays the corruptions of Hollywood as the lives of decent (although flawed) people are ruined.
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.