After the Hugos (or: Did I Hear You Say That This Is Victory?)

Last week, fans in Spokane, Washington and around the world gathered to watch the presentation 73rd Annual Hugo Awards, one of the greatest and most notable honors bestowed for achievement in the genre of science fiction. It’s been a tense year. Two separate but linked reactionary movements, the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies, made substantial gains in the nominations, successfully crowding out the sort of nominees that would generally be selected by the community at large. The Rabid Puppies enjoyed particular success due to a cult of personality centered on Theodore “Vox Day” Beale, who encouraged his followers to vote in lockstep. This practice was meant to counter the machinations of an imaginary cabal of liberal elitists who had been corrupting the soul of science fiction. In fact, it succeeded so dramatically because most fans not involved in the slates were already voting their conscience and nominating works they simply liked. Against this scattershot approach, lockstep voters were bound to succeed.

But the practices that allowed the Puppies of both houses to overwhelm the nominations could not allow them to carry the voting on the awards proper, particularly not after a record number of people bought supporting memberships in Sasquan, the 2015 Worldcon, and voted according to their consciences. For some, this meant ranking No Award – always an option, in ANY year – above nominees placed by the Puppy slates, whether because they disagreed with the reactionary politics or because they disliked slate voting on principle. For others, this meant reading all the works and judging them on merit. For myself, it meant rejecting some works that stank of particularly odious politics and personalities, or of obvious self-promotion (I rejected nearly anything published by Castalia House as Vox Day leveraging his political rhetoric to feather his own cap, for example), while attempting to review the rest fairly. I covered the nominees I considered worthy of consideration in The Dogcatcher Post, though due to limits on my free time and revised opinions on some of the nominees, I did not live up to my own standards as set out there.

In the end, No Award was given in five categories, doubling the number of No Awards given out in the entire history of the Hugos. The tension between the Puppies and the community at large did not abate. Victory was declared by some, defeat by others, and bad feelings continue to simmer all around. I have a few thoughts on how things shook out. The short version is that I’m not pleased, and worried about the short term, but optimistic for the long term. I’ll get into more detail, but before I do, I’d like to share my own final Hugo ballot, as registered on July 31st, noting the nominees in the order of my ranking (top to bottom) and the winners in bold.

Best Novel

  1. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu; Ken Liu, translator
  2. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
  3. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
  4. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
  5. The Dark Between The Stars by Kevin J. Anderson

Best Novella

  1. No Award

Best Novelette

  1. “Championship B’Tok” by Edward M. Lerner
  2. “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” by Rajnar Vajra
  3. “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” by Gray Rinehart
  4. “The Day The World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt; Lia Belt, translator
  5. No Award

Best Short Story

  1. “Totaled” by Kary English
  2. “On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli
  3. “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond
  4. No Award

Best Related Work

  1. No Award

Best Graphic Story

  1. Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt (Marvel Comics)
  2. Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick, written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics)
  3. Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery, written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch (Image Comics)
  4. Saga Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
  5. No Award

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  1. The Lego Movie, written by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, LEGO System A/S, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, Warner Bros. Animation (as Warner Animation Group))
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, concept and story by Ed Brubaker, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Entertainment, Perception, Sony Pictures Imageworks)
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
  4. Edge of Tomorrow, screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, directed by Doug Liman (Village Roadshow, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, 3 Arts Entertainment; Viz Productions)
  5. Interstellar, screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, directed by Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Lynda Obst Productions, Syncopy)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

  1. The Flash: “Pilot”, teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, story by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, directed by David Nutter (The CW) (Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television)
  2. Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)
  3. Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper”, written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, directed by Alex Graves (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  4. Doctor Who: “Listen”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Douglas Mackinnon (BBC Television)
  5. Grimm: “Once We Were Gods”, written by Alan DiFiore, directed by Steven DePaul (NBC) (GK Productions, Hazy Mills Productions, Universal TV)

Best Professional Editor (Short Form)

  1. Jennifer Brozek
  2. Mike Resnick
  3. Bryan Thomas Schmidt
  4. No Award

Best Professional Editor (Long Form)

  1. Sheila Gilbert
  2. Anne Sowards
  3. Jim Minz
  4. Toni Weisskopf
  5. No Award

Best Professional Artist

  1. Julie Dillon
  2. Kirk DouPonce
  3. Nick Greenwood
  4. Alan Pollack
  5. No Award

Best Semiprozine

  1. Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
  2. Strange Horizons, Niall Harrison, editor-in-chief
  3. Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Association Incorporated, 2014, editors David Kernot and Sue Bursztynski
  4. Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by Scott H. Andrews
  5. Abyss & Apex, Wendy Delmater, editor and publisher

Best Fanzine

  1. Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery
  2. No Award

Best Fancast

  • Did not vote in this category, as I did not have time to properly listen to the nominees.

Best Fan Writer

  1. Laura J. Mixon
  2. No Award

Best Fan Artist

  1. Spring Schoenhuth
  2. Elizabeth Leggett
  3. Steve Stiles
  4. Brad Foster
  5. Ninni Aalto

The John W. Campbell Award*

  1. Kary English
  2. Wesley Chu
  3. No Award

*The John W. Campbell Award is, as has been repeatedly mentioned, not a Hugo, but it is awarded with them and selected by Hugo voters. The nominees must be writers who have enjoyed their first professional publication within the last two years.

So. What have I learned? Well.

Lesson One: The Puppies Nominated A Lot Of Garbage

All right: it would, perhaps, be fairer to say they nominated a lot of material I simply didn’t care for. Not for political reasons, mind. What I read was simply…not enjoyable. I ranked plenty of their nominees in many categories regardless, because I wasn’t really thinking in terms of anything beyond the pool of nominees I was given, to be quite honest. But the best I can say about the majority of the slates’ nominees is that they were competently written. I had an awful time even attempting to read through most of them, and while the reactionary politics do them no favors, at this point, I’m mostly angry with the Puppies for making me read that dreck.

The bright spots were the Best Dramatic Presentation categories. Even the Puppy nominees in those areas were generally pretty good, and I actually think both The Lego Movie and the pilot of The Flash were excellent and deserving of awards. I am not terribly broken up about Guardians of the Galaxy and Orphan Black winning, though I don’t feel the episode nominated was the most Hugo-worthy of the lot.

The low point was Best Novella. By a long shot.

Lesson Two: I Should Not Have Given Lou Antonelli The Benefit Of The Doubt

Between harassing a critic of his actions at his workplace, writing the Spokane police about David Gerrold, setting his fans on Carrie Cunin, and generally whining and complaining in the aftermath of Sasquan (surprisingly, if you go into a convention where everyone thinks you’re an utter prat, you should not expect sweetness and light from those around you), he’s shown himself to be an absolute ass who cannot be trusted to conduct himself in polite society. This post goes into more detail on his rather disturbing pattern of behavior. I actually thought his short story mildly interesting, if not the best I’ve ever read, but now that I see him revealed for the bully he is, I shan’t be ranking him again. If he’s nominated in the future, in any category, I will rank him below no reward. Someone who goes around trying to call hell on other members of the SF community does not deserve one of its highest honors.

Lesson Three: I’m Mostly Happy With The Results…

I’m glad that Best Novel went to a worthy author, and that it was a historic award to boot. I’m absolutely stoked that Lightspeed Magazine took Best Semiprozine (and “I’d like to thank the patriarchy” was one of the best lines of the night). I can’t tell you how happy I am that Ms. Marvel‘s first volume took Best Graphic Story, in part because it’s a genuinely good book that I thoroughly enjoyed, and in part because I hope John C. Wright’s face looked like he’d just eaten a whole raw lemon. If anyone happened to snap a photo of him in that moment, I’d pay good money for it.

I love Orphan Black, I love its writers, I love its cast, I especially love Tatiana Maslany, and the show deserves a Hugo, even if that specific episode wasn’t my favorite. Guardians of the Galaxy was, while not my first choice, a great, fun film, and the fact that it won despite being a slate nominee shows that the voters were willing to set their feelings aside to reward quality work. At least in one case. More on that in a second.

The No Award to Best Novella was well deserved. I think the No Award to Best Related Work was, too. The No Award to Best Short Story was, perhaps, slightly less so, though I can see how many voters thought the quality of the nominees sub-par compared to the stories pushed off the ballot by the slates.

Lesson Four: …Except When I Wasn’t Happy At All

In retrospect, I think Best Novelette should have been No Awarded. I hate to say it, because Thomas Heuvelt is clearly so happy about his victory, but I didn’t think The Day The World Turned Upside Down was very good at all. As I look back on the nominees, none of them felt like the best work of the year. There were differences in their relative quality, but I wasn’t thrilled with the choices I was given. That’s my personal opinion, of course, and hindsight is 20/20, but in future years I think I’ll put a lot more thought into whether or not nominees deserved to be on the ballot in the first place.

But the hardest blows of the evening were, to me, the Best Editor awards. I don’t think either of them deserved to be No Awarded, and here, I think, the Puppies have a point about voters voting for political reasons. That said, there were a lot of new voters this year, and Best Editor is a tough category for the layperson at the best of times. It is somewhat easier with short form editors, because they are not only responsible for helping an author improve a story, but (perhaps more importantly) they are curators, assembling material into anthologies and magazines. A short form editor can be judged by their good taste.

In the long form, an editor’s work is invisible to the reader (at least if they’ve done a good job), and they may or may not have been responsible for selecting material for their publisher. The nature, level and impact of their input can vary widely. I make a point of reading authors’ acknowledgements, so I knew that Sheila Gilbert (my first choice) had edited Seanan McGuire’s work, and Seanan had expressed her deep gratitude…but not everyone bothers to read such things. I’ve seen a couple proposals to remedy this, and a couple calls to remove the Best Editor (Long Form) category altogether, but I haven’t made up my mind on the issue yet.

Regardless, though both categories were filled with Puppy nominees, they were worthy nominees who do excellent work. It is not just that no award was given in either category. It reflects poorly on the community. I do not celebrate these results.

Lesson Five: No One Likes Sore Winners Or Sore Losers

I think the cheering and applause for No Award was out of line.

I was shocked the first time I heard it, and mortified as it happened again, and again. I can understand the instinct to applaud each announcement on general principle. I can understand getting caught up in the moment, the feeling of victory as the voters rejected the Puppies’ agendas again and again, and breaking out into cheers and applause. I can’t honestly say that I would have resisted those impulses entirely. But it was obnoxious. It was rude. There were nominees sitting in the audience who, rightly or wrongly, believed in their work, hoped for a win. They did not need anyone to rub their losses in their face.

And, more to the point, I do not see a No Award as a victory. I see it as the least objectionable outcome under the circumstances (with the exception of Best Editor, as noted above). The appropriate response feels like a somber silence.

Fortunately, the Puppies have conducted themselves abominably in the wake of the Hugos. Mike Glyer at File770 has been rounding up a lot of it. Let me address a few arguments.

  • The Asterisks were a slap in the face! So, riffing off remarks that this year’s Hugo winners would have asterisks next to their names due to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the nominations and voting, ‘official’ Worldcon asterisks were made out of wood and sold at the con for charity. In addition, each Hugo nominee got their own wooden asterisk. Was this in poor taste? Perhaps. But David Gerrold made some beautiful remarks at the ceremony that turned them into more of a tongue-in-cheek symbol of pride at being part of SF history, and fandom has a long and distinguished history of taking the piss out of things, lightening the mood when tension is hanging in the air. This was just another part of that tradition.
  • How dare Robert Silverberg joke about Hare Krishnas when ‘offensive’ jokes made by the ‘wrong’ people are roundly scorned! Robert Silverberg spoke near the beginning of the ceremony about a similarly tense Worldcon back in Berkeley, and fondly recalled stepping outside now and then to seek peace by listening to the soothing Hare Krishna chant. He then produced a tambourine and led the audience in said chant, urging serenity and patience for the night ahead. It was an amusing and oddly reassuring experience. Was he insulting the Hare Krishnas? Maybe. I’m not a Hare Krishna, so I suppose I wouldn’t know. But then, I don’t think any of the people crying foul (particularly the Puppies) are among that distinguished number, either.
  • George R.R. Martin rented a mansion for an exclusive party and left out Hugo nominees and gave out the ‘real’ awards and conspiracy robble robble robble. George R.R. Martin is entirely within his rights to throw any kind of party he likes. He frequently threw parties for those who were nominated but failed to win Hugos back in the old days; these parties, as he himself has explained, eventually turned into a formal reception that he found rather stuffy. In the wake of the Puppies’ giant stinking mess, particularly in light of the people pushed off the ballots by slate shenanigans, he decided to resurrect the losers’ party, and to give out tongue-in-cheek awards named for Alfred Bester (the Alfies) and made quite literally out of hood ornaments of various rocket-like shapes and sizes. It was a way of honoring friends and colleagues he felt had been shafted. It’s true that some Hugo nominees were not invited to the party, that he had a list of ‘assholes’ he left out, but then, at least one of said assholes has demonstrated repeatedly that he is highly deserving of the label, and again, private party. So I can’t fault George there. It wasn’t a conspiracy. They weren’t the ‘real’ Hugos as awarded by the Secret Liberal Cabal of Social Justice. It was George R.R. Martin demonstrating the sort of kindness and good humor that lures you into a false sense of security before he brutally kills off characters you truly, desperately liked, George R.R. Martin, you unforgivable wretch.
  • No Award invalidated my vote! I’m launching a class action suit! I don’t…but…elections don’t work that way…
  • THIS WAS A SECRET VICTORY FOR THE PUPPIES! WE GOT THEM TO BURN IT ALL DOWN! Wiser people than I have already compared the Hugos to the climactic scene of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, where Christmas comes without presents, et cetera and so forth. Yeah. It’s a lot more like that. A couple significant bumps in the road, but quite a lot like that.

Lesson Six: It’s Always Darkest Before The Dawn

The Puppies, both Sad and Rabid, have already promised to pull their crap again next year. They will probably succeed, to be honest. There may be more categories going to No Award. More unworthy contenders. More garbage I’ll feel honor-bound to read. The only effective way to counter them would be an anti-Puppy slate nominated in lockstep. I refuse to do that. I won’t take part. I will nominate stories I enjoyed and editors my favorite authors have praised. I will not vote in lockstep with anybody. Because lockstep slate voting is a repugnant concept to me. It ignores everything that makes the fan community great. It replaces word of mouth and the cultural zeitgeist with an organized political movement.

I will not abuse the spirit of the Hugos on a misguided quest to ‘save’ them. Even if it means I have to vote No Award in every single category next year.

But I’m not going away. I’m grabbing a supporting membership for next year’s Worldcon. I’ll be participating in nominations and in final voting (and in site selection, as I’d quite like a New Orleans Worldcon in 2018). I’m just one person with one vote, but I can be part of the effort to resist the Puppies.

Here’s the thing: I agree with many of the Puppies’ most superficial stated goals. I want science fiction to be fun again. I am tired of dystopias, tired of endings, tired of the apocalypse. I want hope for the future. I want inspiration. I want fun. I want the fandom of today to look to science fiction and see ideas they can incorporate into the solutions of tomorrow. I want us to dream of turning our world into a paradise and sailing outward among the stars. We have never needed the hope and promise of science fiction more than we do now. It is as Isaac Asimov said:

Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today — but the core of science fiction, its essence, the concept around which it revolves, has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.

The problem, of course, is that few if any of the Puppies’ nominees offered that promise – and that my idea of the utopia we can and should build here on Earth is a place where everyone is allowed room to grow and change as they must, and pursue what happiness they can find in this life, provided they do no harm to others. I don’t think the masterminds behind the Puppies of either camp want a world where I would belong. And so they fight to drag SF back into their idea of a golden age, while the rest of us fight to expand its boundaries into a new one of limitless promise, endless challenges and infinite opportunities. The culture war goes on, and this is just a minor skirmish.

Still. There is hope everywhere, and the Hugos are no exception. Two proposals to change the nomination system were ratified at this year’s Worldcon. If they are ratified again next year, they will be implemented. One, E Pluribus Hugo, creates a multi-round system which should diminish the impact of lockstep nominations. The other, 4 and 6 (sorry I don’t have a link), creates a system where each voter selects four nominees, but six finalists are selected; this could still be exploited by some mildly clever maneuvering, but combined with EPH, it might be quite effective. Though Vox Day in particular insists he has enough support to overcome any effort to block his slates, preliminary data crunching on EPH alone indicates that it would limit the damage lockstep slate voters could do. Data on EPH combined with 4 and 6 is not yet available.

So, in the short term, none of us are going anywhere. We’ll all be watching the entire Hugo process, not to mention next year’s Business Meeting, with great interest. We’re in for another tense and difficult year full of rhetoric. Many suggestions have been made to the Puppies of both camps as to how they might make more reasonable arguments and avoid alienating Hugo voters; I expect them to take none of those suggestions. The new leaders of the Sad Puppy crew seem even more reactionary than their predecessors. This will be unpleasant.

But science fiction is all about the future just beyond our grasp. The best of it is about finding hope there. And I think there’s reason to hope here. The reactionary elements of our community may gain some traction. But, to quote Angels In America, the world only spins forward.

And to paraphrase Firefly, no power in the verse can stop us.

The Dogcatcher Post

It’s been nearly two years since my last post here. Sorry about that. Every time I had an idea and thought about getting back into the swing of things, something came up to distract me. I have lots of updates and lots of ideas for posts, and all of that will follow, but this particular post needs to come first.

In the wake of the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies campaigns, I’ve gone ahead and purchased a membership to Sasquan, the 2016 Worldcon, so I can vote in the Hugo Awards. I’ll be doing this with every Worldcon I can support from now on, because if I have the ability to raise my voice and be heard, I should probably do it. With a bit over a month left before the voting deadline, it’s time for me to decide who I’m going to vote for…and that’s a problem which has required a certain amount of research and soul-searching.

It would be easy for me to vote NO AWARD in every Puppy-influenced category, in protest. Some have called for this. It would be just as easy for me to eliminate all the Puppies’ nominees and vote only for those who were not on the slates; some have called for this also. But I don’t in good conscience feel that I can do this. Not everyone on the slates knew they were on them, or knew what they were getting into. There are works that were on the slates which I personally find worthy of consideration despite the ugly politics behind their nomination. (Skin Game comes to mind; while the Dresden Files books can be problematic, I am a fan, and I thoroughly enjoyed Skin Game and thought it was a real return to form for the series.) So I have settled on threading the needle, and I’ve found a distinct lack of resources geared toward voters interested in that strategy.

I’m a documentation nerd, which has been a useful trait in my professional endeavors. If a document doesn’t exist, I’ll dig in and create it. So here it is: my attempt at a guide to threading the needle. The Dogcatcher Post. An attempt to point out Hugo nominees who actively participated in Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies, or (in the case of works from Castalia House, Theodore “Vox Day” Beale’s publishing house, especially) whose publishers did, as well as nominees who are thoroughly morally repugnant due to racism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. Anyone highlighted in bold is someone I urge you to eliminate from your consideration, and I’ll explain why at the end of each category. Of course, if you want to use this list to vote only for the nominees I’m calling out for elimination, I can’t really stop you.

This list is constructed based on two principal rules:

The Card-Wright Rule

This is a long-standing personal rule of mine. Simply put, I don’t give money or support to living authors who hate me or mine. I will absolutely not consider people who have engaged in virulent bigotry, called for violence against me or people like me or people I care about, called for us to be openly oppressed and rounded up, and so on and so forth. Am I eliminating all problematic creators under this rule? No. I won’t even pretend to try. This is intended for the worst of the worst, those whose bigotry cannot be ignored or dismissed.

The Beale-Torgenson Rule

This rule is a new one, and in direct response to Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies. I don’t think people who actively campaigned for these slates and used political ideology to get themselves or creators they publish or profit from nominated should be rewarded. Period. It’s one thing to offer up a list of works you were involved with that are eligible for Hugos – many authors have done this, many publishers have done this – but it’s quite another to incorporate your own work into a moral panic and deliberate crusade. Torgenson gets a little credit for treating the Sad Puppies slate as a set of suggestions…but not enough to escape this rule. Beale told his followers to vote in lockstep. No Hugo for him.

Obviously, there may be information I don’t have. If I come across any new information regarding the character (or lack thereof) of certain nominees, or their participation in Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies, I’ll update this post accordingly.

Now let’s look at the nominees by category.

Best Novel

Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK)
The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
Skin Game, Jim Butcher (Orbit UK/Roc Books)
The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)

Ancillary Sword, The Goblin Emperor, and The Three Body Problem were not on either the Sad Puppies slate or the Rabid Puppies slate. This leaves Jim Butcher and Kevin J. Anderson.

I cannot find any evidence that Kevin Anderson directly endorsed the Sad Puppy slate. He is acquainted with Brad Torgenson and has published some of his work, but I’m not going to base my decision solely on guilt by association. I don’t think I agree with Anderson on everything, but that’s not a prerequisite either. I can see no compelling reason to exclude him from consideration.

Jim Butcher does not seem to have been an active participant in S/RP either. He did call Irene Gallo unprofessional for her personal comments on the S/RP crowd (and, well, she was, a bit, but I don’t feel she deserved the goddamned Sword of Damocles crashing on her head), and he’s not without his problems. But I enjoy both the Dresden Files series and the Codex Alera, and I quite liked Skin Game, so I’m going to keep him on my list.

Best Novella

Big Boys Don’t Cry, Tom Kratman (Castalia House)
“Flow”, Arlan Andrews, Sr. (Analog, 11-2014)
One Bright Star to Guide Them, John C. Wright (Castalia House)
“Pale Realms of Shade”, John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
“The Plural of Helen of Troy”, John C. Wright (City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, Castalia House)

All of the nominees in this category were on the Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies slate. Most of them were published by Castalia House, which seems like a blatant grab if I’ve ever seen one, and John C. Wright is just absolutely awful. However, I can find no evidence that Dr. Arlan Andrews, Sr. was involved in campaigning for either slate, and he seems like a decent enough fellow. Through SIGMA, he’s associated with many people I admire. “Flow” should be read and considered.

Best Novelette

“Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium”, Gray Rinehart (Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, 05-2014)
“Championship B’tok”, Edward M. Lerner (Analog, 09-2014)
“The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014)
“The Journeyman: In the Stone House”, Michael F. Flynn (Analog, 06-2014)
“The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale”, Rajnar Vajra (Analog, 07/08-2014)

Gray Rinehart did accept a place on the Sad Puppies slate and appears to be connected to members of the S/RP community; that said, he does not seem to have campaigned on the slate’s behalf, he did not nominate according to the slate himself, and he does not seem particularly repugnant. I do not believe his work should be rejected out of hand, and I will be considering “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” in this category.

Edward M. Lerner appears to be casually acquainted with Brad Torgenson and gave his assent to a recommendation. However, he does not seem to have known what he was getting into, he had nothing to do with Rabid Puppies, and, once again, he does not seem actively repugnant. “Championship B’tok” should, in my view, also be considered.

“The Day the World Turned Upside Down” was not on either slate.

I haven’t quite worked out where Michael F. Flynn stands, except that he seems to view the whole brouhaha as a conflict between a ‘settled’ SF community and outside underdogs who have just realized they can buy memberships and vote, and his sympathies are somewhat with the underdogs rather than those who want to condemn Puppy-nominated works sight unseen. Again, however, he hasn’t set off any alarm bells for me. From reading his blog, I doubt I’ll enjoy his work much, frankly, but I’ll read “The Journeyman: In the Stone House” nonetheless.

I’m not sure where Rajnar Vajra stands on any of this. I will note that he’s one of the diverse writers the S/RP crowd are using to counter claims that they were interested in nominating only white, straight, heterosexual men. Nevertheless, I will be considering “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale”. I quite like golden age SF, actually.

Best Short Story

“On A Spiritual Plain”, Lou Antonelli (Sci Phi Journal #2, 11-2014)
“The Parliament of Beasts and Birds”, John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
“A Single Samurai”, Steven Diamond (The Baen Big Book of Monsters, Baen Books)
“Totaled”, Kary English (Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, 07-2014)
“Turncoat”, Steve Rzasa (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)

All nominees in this category were on one or both slates. “Turncoat” and “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” were both published by Castalia House. “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” was written by John C. Wright, who is a proud and outspoken bigot and has attacked (among others) Marvel for introducing Kamala Khan, the new, Muslim Ms. Marvel, and the creators of The Legend of Korra for making a same-sex relationship canon within the series.

Lou Antonelli has defended the slate, describing himself as proud to be on it, and stating that he doesn’t see any problem with it. He has also characterized critics of S/RP as hateful, scolds, Nazis, and claimed that the S/RP crowd has only been vicious in its own defense. He has described the slates and their supporters as a peasant revolt against an SF elite. Prior to the official release of the nominees, he appears to have plugged only his own work (as is fair), but did mention that he was part of the Sad Puppies slate in at least one context. Frankly he’s raising a lot of red flags for me. That said, he has also criticized those elements of the Puppy crowd who want to destroy the Hugos, and his story “On a Spiritual Plain” has been praised by people outside the Puppy community. So I’m still deeply ambivalent on the man himself, and disagree with him on many of the arguments he’s made, but I personally am going to read his story and give it due consideration.

I cannot find any indication that Steve Diamond campaigned for either slate. He seems like an okay guy. I’ll be reading “A Single Samurai” with pleasure.

Kary English agreed to be part of the Sad Puppies slate. Prior to the official release of the Hugo nominees, she did connect Sad Puppies to her discussion of her own nominated work. I disagree strongly with her characterization of the genesis and intent of the slate and with her continued defense of it. However: she seems like the sort of person I would like very much (even if we might disagree on certain points). She does not appear to be a virulent bigot. Her work seems interesting. So I will be reading “Totaled” and giving it my full consideration.

Best Related Work

“The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF”, Ken Burnside (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)
Letters from Gardner, Lou Antonelli (The Merry Blacksmith Press)
Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth, John C. Wright (Castalia House)
“Why Science is Never Settled”, Tedd Roberts (Baen.com)
Wisdom from My Internet, Michael Z. Williamson (Patriarchy Press)

All nominees on this category were on one or both slates. “The Hot Equations” and Transhuman and Subhuman were both published by Castalia House, and there’s our friend John C. Wright again. Hi there, John.

I’ve discussed Lou Antonelli above. He’s an S/RP defender but doesn’t seem as virulently awful as some others (though I disagree with much of what he’s said, and strongly disagree with his characterization of a woman who kicked him off her blog as a Nazi).

Tedd Roberts has defended the slate and attacked its critics (to be fair, he seems angriest at the most outspoken and strident people, the ones calling for categorical rejection for all nominees on the slate). Once again, though, he doesn’t seem awful. He seems angry, and justifiably in my view, that people would reject him for his association with controversy, that they would immediately judge and dismiss him out of hand without even reading his work. Fair enough. “Why Science is Never Settled” is on my reading list.

Michael Z. Williamson seems entirely irreverent and snarky toward just about everyone. I suspect I’d find prolonged contact with him infuriating. I don’t think I’ll like his book very much. But he’s not awful enough for me to strike him from consideration, and he doesn’t seem to have actively campaigned for Sad Puppies – as he tells it, Brad Torgenson asked if he wanted publicity, Williamson said yes, and then he promptly forgot about the whole thing. So I will give Wisdom from My Internet a chance.

Best Graphic Story

Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)
Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery, written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch (Image Comics)
Saga Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics))
Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick, written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics)
The Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate, Carter Reid (The Zombie Nation)

In this category, only The Zombie Nation Book #2 was on either slate. As far as I can tell, Carter Reid was not involved in campaigning and is not an awful person. I’m not going to endorse him over the other nominees, but don’t feel he should automatically be eliminated from consideration.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, concept and story by Ed Brubaker, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Entertainment, Perception, Sony Pictures Imageworks)
Edge of Tomorrow, screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, directed by Doug Liman (Village Roadshow, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, 3 Arts Entertainment; Viz Productions)
Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
Interstellar, screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, directed by Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Lynda Obst Productions, Syncopy)
The Lego Movie, written by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, LEGO System A/S, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, Warner Bros. Animation (as Warner Animation Group))

Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Edge of Tomorrow were not on either slate. I’m actually a bit surprised about Captain America, but maybe it’s more subversive than I realized.

The rest…look. Films involve a lot of people. Actors, directors, producers, writers…Brad Torgenson, at least, claims he contacted everyone on his slate and included those who gave him an affirmative response. I don’t know whether or not that’s true (there has been at least one nominee who refutes the story, but Torgenson claims that was an oversight), but I find it difficult to believe that he managed to reach out to everyone involved. And a lot of these movies were very, very good. The Lego Movie was better than it had any right to be. Interstellar wasn’t my favorite film, but it was very well made. Guardians of the Galaxy was tremendous fun. I haven’t seen Edge of Tomorrow yet, but I will. And I’ve heard surprisingly good things.

So I’m not striking any of them. They’re worthy nominees. All of them.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Doctor Who: “Listen”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Douglas Mackinnon (BBC Television)
The Flash: “Pilot”, teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, story by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, directed by David Nutter (The CW) (Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television)
Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper”, written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, directed by Alex Graves ((HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
Grimm: “Once We Were Gods”, written by Alan DiFiore, directed by Steven DePaul (NBC) (GK Productions, Hazy Mills Productions, Universal TV)
Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)

“Listen” and “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried” were not on either slate. I’m actually a bit surprised about Doctor Who, but I guess it’s gotten a bit too socially degenerate for the Puppies. Lesbian lizard women and all.

Again, I find it difficult to believe that everyone involved in these productions gave their permission to appear on the slate. At most, maybe the director or a publicist was contacted. And again, a lot of these episodes were quite good. (I don’t watch Grimm. I suppose I’ll be watching one episode, anyway.) So I’m not striking any of them out without giving them a shot.

Best Editor, Short Form

Jennifer Brozek
Vox Day
Mike Resnick
Edmund R. Schubert (Withdrawn; has asked voters not to consider him)
Bryan Thomas Schmidt

All of the nominees were on one or both slates. Theodore “Vox Day” Beale is the man behind Rabid Puppies.

Jennifer Brozek did not campaign for either slate. She seems like a cool lady who does a lot of great work. I will happily consider her.

Mike Resnick, as far as I can tell, only plugged his own work, as you can expect authors and editors to do. I have my issues with him, but do not feel strongly enough to strike him from my consideration.

Edmund R. Schubert withdrew after the ballot closed. He has asked that people refrain from voting for him. I will honor that request.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt seems…all right. He has stated that he was unaware of his presence on the Rabid Puppies slate and would have demanded his removal if he had known. He was aware of his presence on the Sad Puppies slate, but does not seem to be wrapped up in the politics of it. Bit of an asshole and perhaps unprofessional, at least according to Jim C. Hines (who, to be fair, has butted heads with him), but if I refused to have a thing to do with common assholes I’d never get anything done. So, again, I’m going to consider him in this category.

Best Editor, Long Form

Vox Day
Sheila Gilbert
Jim Minz
Anne Sowards
Toni Weisskopf

All of the nominees were on one or both slates. Theodore “Vox Day” Beale is the man behind Rabid Puppies.

Sheila Gilbert has been highly praised by authors I like rather a lot. She has worked hard at DAW and doesn’t seem like a bad person in the slightest. I can’t find her own take on the S/RP brouhaha but I feel she is worthy of consideration.

Jim Minz has edited a wide range of authors and also done fine work.

Anne Sowards edits Jim Butcher and Kat Richardson, among other people. That makes her pretty okay in my book.

Toni Weisskopf has been a consistent Sad Puppy nominee but, again, a fine editor and Jim Baen’s heir over at Baen Books. I’m not going to dismiss her either.

Best Professional Artist

Julie Dillon
Kirk DouPonce
Nick Greenwood
Alan Pollack
Carter Reid

Julie Dillon was not on either slate.

I can’t find a thing about the other artists’ views on S/RP or, really, anything else. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Best Semiprozine

Abyss & Apex, Wendy Delmater, editor and publisher
Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Association Incorporated, 2014, editors David Kernot and Sue Bursztynski
Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by Scott H. Andrews
Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
Strange Horizons, Niall Harrison, editor-in-chief

Beneath Ceaseless SkiesLightspeed Magazine, and Strange Horizons were not on either slate.

I can’t find a thing about the views of the Abyss & Apex staff in general or Wendy Delmater in particular on the S/RP kerfluffle, so once again, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.

The people behind Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine have stated that they were unaware of their presence on the slate until the last moment, and would have asked to be removed if they had known. Therefore, I am happily including them in my consideration this year.

Best Fanzine

Black Gate, edited by John O’Neill (Withdrawn; has asked voters not to consider the magazine)
Elitist Book Reviews, edited by Steven Diamond
Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery
The Revenge of Hump Day, edited by Tim Bolgeo
Tangent SF Online, edited by Dave Truesdale

John O’Neill withdrew Black Gate after the Hugo ballot closed. He has asked voters not to consider him. I will honor his request.

I’ve already addressed Steve Diamond above. In short, I don’t think I’ll end up caring for him, but I’m going to give Elitist Book Reviews my consideration.

Journey Planet was not on either slate.

Tim Bolgeo has been at the center of at least one convention controversy when he was invited and then disinvited as Fan Guest of Honor at Archon. The Revenge of Hump Day is reportedly full of racist, sexist and generally offensive humor. I’ll take a look at it but I don’t expect I’ll like it one bit. I haven’t been able to find anything from the man himself on this or other matters.

Dave Truesdale seems quite clueless, frankly. He circulated a petition against ‘censorship based on political correctness’ in the SFWA Bulletin last year, following its suspension in the wake of a controversy over some problematic language and a problematic cover. He claims that he’s never seen an incident of sexism or racism in the SF community. But he doesn’t seem to be terribly malicious, and he’s well respected. Tangent seems decent. Truesdale described himself as flattered that Tangent was on the slate, but doesn’t seem to have campaigned for the slate at large. So I’m giving it a shot.

Best Fancast

Adventures in SciFi Publishing, Brent Bower (Executive Producer), Kristi Charish, Timothy C. Ward & Moses Siregar III (Co-Hosts, Interviewers and Producers)
Dungeon Crawlers Radio, Daniel Swenson (Producer/Host), Travis Alexander & Scott Tomlin (Hosts), Dale Newton (Host/Tech), Damien Swenson (Audio/Video Tech)
Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
The Sci Phi Show, Jason Rennie
Tea and Jeopardy, Emma Newman and Peter Newman

Galactic Suburbia Podcast and Tea and Jeopardy were not on either slate.

Adventures in SciFi Publishing was knowingly included in the slate and had Brad Torgenson and Larry Correia on the podcast to discuss Sad Puppies prior to the release of the Hugo nominees. That said, they seem to have done their best to prevent all sides of this and many other issues in the SF community. I’m going to give this podcast all due consideration.

Dungeon Crawlers Radio was included on both the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies slate, but I haven’t found anything regarding their views on the matter. Plus their podcast seems pretty cool. I’ll be listening to a sample.

Can’t find a thing on Jason Rennie’s views regarding The Sci Phi Show‘s inclusion, either. I will note that he put the podcast on hiatus earlier this year. He has promised to return, but hasn’t yet. Frankly, this makes me less likely to vote for it. but I’ll try an episode or two.

Best Fan Writer

Dave Freer
Amanda S. Green
Jeffro Johnson
Laura J. Mixon
Cedar Sanderson

Dave Freer called for people to put pressure on Tor and its parent company to discipline or otherwise ‘address’ Irene Gallo for her (admittedly inflammatory) personal comments against the S/RP slate. He also called for a boycott of any Tor author who was not either a Sad Puppy or speaking out against Tor’s inaction if they did not respond. This is the tip of the sword. I’ve been reading through his posts on the subject and find his strident defense of S/RP and his refusal to see the slates’ problems absolutely repugnant. So I’m refusing to consider him. I do not believe he has conducted himself well and I have little interest in handing him any accolades.

Incidentally, Freer is also part of the Mad Genius Club blog collective, which also includes Brad Torgenson, and the next nominee on the list, Amanda S. Green. Who wrote her own open letter to Tor, criticized them for keeping John Scalzi (a ‘straw man’) in their stable apparently based not on the artistic merit of his work but on his personal views, said much the same about N.K. Jemisin, and also called for a boycott. I also find her conduct repugnant and her association with Sad Puppy Central suspect. I will not be considering her for an award.

Jeffro Johnson writes for Castalia House and has been pretty goddamned outspoken against critics of the S/RP slates. He does not appear to have called for boycotts, however, which is a point in his favor. His obsession with File770 and his critics there puts me off, but I’m going to read his material in the voting packet and try to judge it on its merits. I will, however, note that he is just barely on the ‘will consider’ side of the line for me, as Freer and Green are just barely on the other side.

Laura J. Mixon was not on either slate.

Cedar Sanderson is associated with the Mad Genius Club, endorsed the Sad Puppies slate (even as she qualified her statement by urging voters to vote for the BEST works and use the slate as a guideline), and chose to highlight some posts by other writers seemingly calculated to piss off the left wing elements of fandom while endorsing the slate at large. I don’t really care for any of this.

Best Fan Artist

Ninni Aalto
Brad W. Foster
Elizabeth Leggett
Spring Schoenhuth
Steve Stiles

This category was not included in either slate.

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (not a Hugo but administered alongside the Hugos)

Wesley Chu
Jason Cordova
Kary English
Rolf Nelson
Eric S. Raymond

Wesley Chu was not on either slate.

Jason Cordova is affiliated with the Mad Genius Club, helped campaign for the Sad Puppy slate, and has been laying on some serious denial about what the slate actually entails. Some of his anger is justifiable. But I just can’t get past his involvement with core elements of the Sad Puppy effort. So I’m not going to consider him.

I already addressed Kary English above, but in short, I do not find her ties to S/RP deep enough or her personal views repugnant enough to strike her from consideration.

Rolf Nelson is a Castalia House author who participated in the call to boycott Tor. Frankly, I consider his nomination to be a direct result of Vox Day’s self-interest and tendency toward self-promotion. I am not going to consider his work.

I have not been able to find anything on Eric S. Raymond’s views regarding Sad/Rabid Puppies. While I do not find his libertarian politics repugnant (though I would certainly disagree), he, too, is a Castalia House author. I’m just not giving Vox Day the satisfaction.

*****

So that’s this year. What comes next?

Well, like I said: I’m going to buy a membership to every Worldcon moving forward, as long as I’m able, as early as I can, so I can participate in the nomination process. I’m going to recommend works and creators that I consider worthy of an award, for whatever good that will do. I’m going to share the recommendations of others. I’m not interested in slate voting. I’m not interested in agenda voting. I’m just interested in good SF. And I’m interested in not rewarding people who grab at political zeitgeists for their own gain, or who want me or mine to suffer.

Look, I agree with some elements of the Sad Puppy crowd on one thing: SF needs to be about optimism again. It needs to be about a brighter future, a better future. Our world sucks. We are murdering it. It may be too late to save it. But science fiction has inspired so much already. Isaac Asimov put it best:

Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today – but the core of science fiction, its essence, has become crucial to our salvation, if we are to be saved at all.

I love dystopian fiction as much as anyone. But I’m tired of washed-out grays and browns. I’m tired of oppression and depression. I’m tired of antiheroes and moral ambiguity and shellshock. I want to dream. I want to blast off. I want to soar into an infinite universe full of possibility. And I want the next generation, and every generation after, to dream just as freely.

It’s just that I reject any future that clings to racist, patriarchal standards, and I reject anyone who wants such a future. The world only spins forward. And it should only spin forward.

Wicked Weekends: Man of Steel

All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

My favorite version of Superman’s origin story comes from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman. It’s four sentences, eight words, with accompanying visuals: Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple. That’s it. And we’re off.

I’ve gone on record as saying that I don’t see the point in origin stories, at least not where the legends of our time are concerned. We don’t start every new series of Sherlock Holmes movies by recounting how Holmes and Watson came to live and work together at 221B Baker Street. We don’t completely reboot James Bond with each new actor who steps into that venerable role. As much as I love Batman Begins, we know the story by cultural osmosis. It, too, can be distilled into a few words: Happy family. Unspeakable loss. Years wandering. New purpose. Or Spider-Man: Spider bite. Wasted power. Fallen mentor. Great responsibility.

So we know Superman’s story. The last survivor of an alien race, he was sent to Earth as an infant, where he was adopted by kindly farmers, protected and raised with their values. Imbued with great powers through his exposure to our yellow sun, he now fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.

Man of Steel is an origin story. There’s no getting around that. It’s a reboot for the Superman film franchise, taking up the torch from the classic movies starring Christopher Reeve and the cinematic saga that came to a close with the rather tepid spiritual sequel Superman Returns. I’m not sure we needed that reboot. I’m not sure we needed to be told this story again. As a rule, I would rather see the origins of these characters taken as read, so we can just get on with new tales. But it was an enjoyable, faithful, and thought-provoking ride nonetheless.

Yes, thank you, Zack Snyder. GET ON WITH IT!

Yes, thank you, Zack Snyder. GET ON WITH IT!

As sentient beings, painfully aware of our mortality and our ultimate insignificance in the face of eternity, we have been haunted throughout our existence with the same questions: are we alone? Is there something out there greater than ourselves? Do we need to be saved – from ourselves, from forces we cannot control, from forces we cannot yet comprehend or perceive – and, if so, will we be saved? And, above all, are we worthy of salvation? Superman represents a potential answer. Above all else, Superman represents hope that, yes, there is something more out there, a great and benevolent force that sees the good in humanity and will act to protect it. The parallels to religious doctrine, and particular to Christianity, are obvious. It is not surprising that Man of Steel grapples with those questions and draws those parallels, showing human beings at their best and their worst, and depicting Clark Kent’s struggle to find his role relative to our planet and our people in the face of all our complexity and contradiction. The movie’s failures are similarly complex and contradictory: it either goes too far in pursuit of these themes, or not far enough. The Christ imagery is heavy-handed and scarcely worthy of the name ‘metaphor’: Clark is 33 years old when he’s thrust before humanity and compelled to sacrifice himself for all mankind. He has a conversation about whether or not he should sacrifice himself, whether or not it’s the right thing to do, in a church, with a priest, while sitting in front of a giant stained glass window depicting Jesus Christ. At one point he drops through the sky while extending his arms in a Christlike pose. Yes. We get it. (In fact, it appears that Warner Bros. is aggressively marketing the film to Christian churches. I’m not sure what to think about that.)

At the same time, the movie fails to really hammer its points about humanity home. At one point, we see Clark confront a trucker harassing a waitress, backing down when it’s clear that the confrontation will only end in violence – Clark isn’t prepared to use force in this situation, even if the guy is an asshole. Later the trucker walks out of the restaurant to find his rig completely totaled, impaled on multiple telephone poles in an act of destruction and petty revenge that hardly seems in keeping with Superman’s sense of morality and self-control. Maybe the point is that Clark hasn’t quite become Superman yet – and it’s true, he hasn’t – but while the visual was good for a quick laugh, it didn’t feel quite right, somehow. Later, during a vicious attack on Metropolis, we see a Daily Planet intern trapped under some debris, and Perry White, as well as another Planet employee, stay with her even in the face of certain destruction. It’s a sweet moment, but lacks the punch of, say, multiple citizens working together to free her, racing against time, saving the day even without powers.

As for the Kryptonian side of the equation, the situation is similarly muddled. Jor-El’s plans for his son, the last survivor of Krypton, are unclear. In the movie’s story, Clark’s cells have been imbued with the information contained within the Codex, a Kryptonian artifact holding the genetic code for all of Krypton’s future citizens – Krypton now relies on artificial reproduction, you see, and each citizen is born to fulfill a specific role. Clark, as Kal-El, is the first natural-born child of Krypton in centuries, and though Jor-El and Lara clearly care for him, he seems to be an experiment as much as a child to Jor-El, a test of the value of free will. The movie’s antagonist, General Zod, wants to use the Codex in conjunction with recovered Kryptonian technology to turn Earth into a new Krypton, exterminating the human race and breeding new generations of Kryptonians. Jor-El, brought to Earth in Clark’s capsule in the form of an AI, finally confesses his own plan when pressed, claiming that he hoped Clark would eventually use the information contained within the Codex to recreate the Kryptonian race as equals to mankind, and Clark himself, familiar with both Earth and Krypton, would act as a bridge between the two peoples. An ambitious and worthy goal, to be sure, but considering that the Codex is designed to produce Kryptonians only for specific roles, it’s not entirely clear to me how ‘New Krypton’ would be any better than the old one. It’s also not clear to me how the Kryptonians lack free will to begin with. Certainly Jor-El was able to break whatever genetic programming he had to deal with and act in open defiance of the laws and traditions of his people.

Laurence Fishburne and Amy Adams as Perry White and Lois Lane

Laurence Fishburne and Amy Adams as Perry White and Lois Lane

Still, despite the muddled plot, heavy-handed imagery and occasional lack of conviction, the movie is a lot of fun to watch, and it does shine in several respects. The cast as a whole is solid. Henry Cavill is an excellent Superman, and Amy Adams is fantastic as a 21st-century Lois Lane. She may not be the fast-talking, nickname-tossing, old-school reporter we all know and love, but she’s a bright, clever, determined woman, a skilled investigator, and a dedicated journalist who only stops chasing the man who will become Superman when the potential consequences of her actions become clear. Despite her decision to abandon the story, she’s pulled into Superman’s life again and becomes integral to the fight against Zod. Though she does indeed form a romantic connection with Superman by the end of the story, it feels fairly natural after everything they’ve been through. The movie adds a new wrinkle to the classic story of Clark/Lois/Superman by introducing Clark Kent as we know him (reporter for the Daily Planet and mild-mannered secret identity for the all-powerful Superman) only at the end of the film, after Lois has already tracked down the mysterious ‘guardian angel’ who keeps appearing out of nowhere and saving lives all over the world and stood alongside Superman in both Smallville and Metropolis. In the Man of Steel universe, the Clark/Superman/Lois love triangle simply does not exist. Lois knows his identity from the start. And frankly, as much fun as that triangle can be, it’s been overused and I’m quite glad to see it dismissed completely in this iteration of the Superman mythology. Basically, I love this version of Lois almost as much as I love Dana Delany‘s version from the old animated series, and the movie is practically worth seeing for her alone.

Similarly, Laurence Fishburne is a Perry White for our time. He may not chomp cigars and shout “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” at the drop of a hat, but he’s a perfect foil for Lois, a caring and dedicated boss who isn’t fooled by her shenanigans but quietly supports her in her crusade for the truth nonetheless. Richard Schiff has a small but memorable role as long-time Superman ally Dr. Emil Hamilton. (Amusingly, Alessandro Juliani, who played Dr. Emil Hamilton in the ninth and tenth seasons of Smallville, also has a small role in the film.) Christopher Meloni doesn’t get a lot of screen time, either, but he makes what little he does get count, particularly as the film reaches its climax. And Michael Shannon chews the scenery a bit as Zod, but, well, it’s General Zod, so I can forgive that.

Jor-El on Krypton

Jor-El on Krypton

Last, but far from least, the movie does not skimp on the eye candy. The Krypton of Man of Steel puts one in mind of Time Lords and New Gods and the Asgard of the Thor movie, with ships and robots and suits of armor that reshape themselves at a thought, impossible architecture, gorgeous vistas, and ridiculous hats to spare. The ideas of John Byrne’s seminal post-Crisis reboot (also titled, in fact, The Man of Steel), are combined with modern cinematic sensibilities into something genuinely beautiful. The powers of the Kryptonians on Earth – their strength, speed, enhanced perception, heat vision and flight – are depicted in ways that, if not precisely revolutionary, are nevertheless decently realistic and fun to watch. The set designers and effects artist have even thrown in a few ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameos to reward sharp-eyed fans – notably Lexcorp and WayneTech logos on key props and set pieces.

All things considered, Man of Steel is not a perfect film, nor is it my favorite version of the Superman myth. But it’s a solid film, well-made and a hell of a lot of fun, and it’s saved by stunning visual effects and a charming and talented cast. I can’t wait for the sequel.

Superman Rating: 4 out of 5 capes. Super.

General Film Rating: 7 out of 10. Well worth seeing in theaters, but not the best movie you’ll see all year.

Media Mondays: Wonder Woman

You may have noticed by now that I kind of have a thing for Amazons. My favorite comic book superheroine, after all, is Wonder Girl, and Wonder Woman herself is a very close second. I go by Themiscyra just about anywhere and everywhere I can, and it’s not solely a Wonder Woman reference. And so it goes. The Amazon label is admittedly a problematic one, frequently co-opted by the less pleasant elements of radical feminism (you know, the folks who basically hate me for calling myself a woman, who gleefully throw pronouns like ‘he’ and ‘him’ at women like me when they’re not calling us ‘it,’ who don’t think we have any place in women’s spaces, that sort of thing), but it’s one I wear with pride nonetheless. I’m a firm believer in the power of archetypes – in our ability to draw strength from symbols deeply embedded into our culture. And the Amazons are pretty damn potent. To me, they represent a strength that embraces womanhood, rather than rejecting or denigrating it, as our popular culture too often does. They represent every last woman who chose to stand up and face the world on her own terms rather than giving in to the pressures of the dominant society. So hell yes, I’m an Amazon. Or, at least, I aspire to be one.

That said, of course, I have to concede the point that the Amazons as portrayed in Greek mythology aren’t necessarily perfect, praiseworthy figures. Some of the legends have them slicing off their breasts to better aim their arrows, taking those men they did not kill as slaves, engaging in sexual congress with men only to reproduce and then abandoning or killing any male children. To the Greeks, these were most likely figures of utter terror…and yet, at the same time, they were also clearly figures of intense fascination, because they keep showing up. The Amazons we know today – mostly through media like, well, Wonder Woman – bear only a partial resemblance to the Amazons of antiquity. That’s something I’ve struggled to accept – to the point of having a visceral negative reaction to the Amazons’ recent appearance on Supernatural. (I won’t spoil the episode, but the Amazons of Paradise Island don’t have a whole lot in common with the Amazons of the Supernatural universe, either.)

Wonder Woman’s history is a bit troubled as well: created by William Moulton Marston, whose work contributed to the modern polygraph test, she was not only intended to serve as the world’s first female superhero, but also as a proponent of his philosophy. The idea was to combine “ideal” female attributes – tenderness, submission, and beauty, most notably – with the power of Superman. Wonder Woman would use this power to encourage submission to loving authority. The early stories are thus rather confused, filled with outmoded ideas and instances of bondage that may or may not have been intended as sexual but certainly come off that way. While Marston’s goals may have been noble, he was definitely still rather misguided, and the execution of his ideas was seriously lacking.

And yet, for all the flaws of her creator, for all the missteps along the way, Wonder Woman became a feminist icon. Maybe it was because she was the most prominent female superhero out there – but I’ve always thought there was more to it than that. Wonder Woman is not without her issues, but nevertheless, she’s an undeniably strong woman who embraces her womanhood. She makes no apologies for who she is. At her best, she’s a warrior and a peacemaker at once, a philosopher and ambassador who falls back on violence only as a last resort – but fights capably and ferociously when she must. Yeah, she does all this in a strapless star-spangled swimsuit (and while I ended up avoiding J. Michael Straczynski‘s run on the comic book, I have to admit that I did kind of like seeing Wonder Woman in pants and a jacket in those promo pictures)…but look past that. Look at who Diana is. There’s a lot to love.

Trouble in Paradise

As I’ve said before, I gave up on comics altogether around the time when DC announced the New 52 – a reboot of their entire universe – and made a number of unwelcome changes to characters a loved a hell of a lot. At that point, I really didn’t trust them to do right by Wonder Woman. They’d already messed up Cassie Sandsmark and it soon came out that they’d seriously messed up Starfire. But my friends have been telling me that the current Wonder Woman run is actually excellent, so I took some time in the last week to see what Diana’s been up to.

Well, she’s…different. So are the Amazons. So’s Paradise Island. There are elements I like. I actually like the tension between Diana and her fellow Amazons. It makes for interesting drama. And while this Diana is angrier than the Wonder Woman I’m used to, she’s still strong and fiercely protective of those she cares about. She has the same powerful sense of loyalty and family and the same willingness to build her own family that I remember. She’s a little quicker to jump into a fight, but she’s still clever enough to avoid one.

That said, there are also things that annoy me. The fact that (as revealed in the second issue) Wonder Woman is now the daughter of Zeus, for one. Wait a second – that’s Cassie Sandsmark’s story. You guys took Cassie’s story and shoved it into Diana’s? I’m not actually angry, because it does open up some interesting story possibilities, but I am a little vexed. And, well…Diana’s living in London now. Which is great. Sure. London. I like London. Except…why the hell is she still wearing a costume based on the American flag? Seriously, that’s the whole point of the costume: she dressed in the colors and patterns of the American flag to try and make a good impression on the United States (then one of the most powerful nations on the planet) when she revealed herself to ‘Man’s World’. I’m kind of hoping this will be explained later on – maybe she chose to abandon the U.S. for some reason. And the idea of a Wonder Woman who belongs to the whole world, not just the U.S.A. (which always did seem a little odd), appeals to me. But for the time being, it bugs me.

And then we come to the Amazons. Boy, oh, boy…the Amazons. This is where my opening paragraphs start to become relevant again.

Yeah, by the way, this is not a comic book for children. In case you were wondering.

Let me explain something about how the Amazons in Wonder Woman used to work: essentially, they were all immortal, and they were all childless. After playing their part in Greek mythology, and suffering temporary enslavement at the hands of Hercules, they retreated from Man’s World to the secluded island of Themyscira, or Paradise Island. Diana herself was actually the only child born on the island, and ‘created’ would be the more accurate term – her mother, Queen Hippolyta, crafted a baby girl out of clay and begged the gods to give her life. The rest of the Amazons went on without children or families of their own. They got to live forever, but only in isolation, without any real opportunity for reproduction.

That’s not the case anymore.

As revealed in the latest issue, the new Amazons hew much closer to the old myths. Oh, they still live in seclusion on Paradise Island – a necessary story detail, as otherwise they would have undoubtedly been overrun, destroyed and/or assimilated into other cultures over the intervening centuries. But they aren’t precisely confined there. They don’t hold themselves completely apart. Instead, at certain intervals, they go out to sea, board ships en masse, have their way with the men there, kill them all, then go home to bear any children that may result from the unions.

Oh wait. It gets better.

Yeah. So this happened.

The Amazons also hew to the myths in that they kill any male children they bear…or at least they used to. Turns out they made a little arrangement with Hephaestus, god of the forge, some time ago. They deliver all their male children to him, he takes them as slaves, and in exchange, the Amazons get weapons from his forge. Because…the Amazons are incapable of forging their own weapons? Okay, okay, that’s probably unfair: Hephaestus makes magical weapons, weapons of genuine power, and I’m sure the Amazons can’t really match his craftsmanship there. Even so…

It turns out that Hephaestus actually treats the kids pretty well. You know. For slaves. He certainly treats them well enough that, when Diana offers them their freedom, they refuse and politely ask her to untie their master. ‘Cause, you know, Stockholm Syndrome isn’t a thing. They point out that slavery is preferable to death – but they’re still slaves. They were still rejected by their mothers, banished from their homes and sold into servitude because of the circumstances of their birth. Because they failed at a test they had no power to pass.

As I said before, the Amazons of myth did, according to some legends, practice slavery. They did, according to some tales, kill or abandon their male children. This is not entirely inaccurate. But it still leaves a foul taste in my mouth.

All things considered, I think I prefer the Paradise Island of Wonder Woman‘s prior runs. The Amazons who used their time in seclusion to study and grow, creating astounding new technologies and becoming better people. The Amazons who, faced with a world that was now entirely capable of finding them, chose to put the best of them forward, to try and bring what they had learned to the rest of the world, to try and improve the lot of their sisters on the outside. While the Wonder Woman of the current series intrigues me, I still miss the Wonder Woman of Greg Rucka‘s run, or Gail Simone‘s: the Diana who found strength in family and friends, who was an ambassador and an idealist first and a warrior second. That’s my Princess Diana. That’s my Themyscira. This new world…I’m not so sure about it yet. I’ll keep reading, for now, but I feel distinctly unsettled.

As a Greek mythology buff, I appreciate the accuracy. But as an Amazon…and as an Amazon who would have been killed or sold into slavery under the new order…I kind of miss my sisters. Even if they were never really there to begin with.

NOTE: Yep. This is SUPER late. I’ve been caught up in PAX East prep, and it’s not likely to get better. I’m going to try and work ahead so the next few posts will go up on schedule, and I may try to do some blogging and tweeting from the con, but I’m probably going to be pretty quiet as a rule. Wish me luck in the Omegathon – and hopefully I’ll see some of you at the con!

Fangirl Fridays: Rose Red

I know, I know. Technically this is a Fangirl Saturday post. Blame Katie! I was totally going to post last night, but then she invited me over to watch America’s Next Top Model (which is as hilariously awful as ever, but Ashley and Sophie are too cute) and I ended up sticking around for an encore of the Walking Dead season finale and by the time I got home, I was exhausted. Clearly all her fault.

Anyway. I mentioned in my first Fangirl Fridays post that the changes to Wonder Girl, a.k.a. Cassie Sandsmark, caused me to hit my wall and stop reading DC Comics. What I didn’t say at the time was this: I was pretty much heartbroken. I’d seen too much shit coming out of my favorite comics lately, and I was totally burnt out. Even though there were still some series that were going strong, series I still enjoyed, I turned my back on comic books altogether for a while. But slowly, ever so slowly, I’ve been dipping my toe back into the comic book world. Catching up on series I missed. And Fables was at the top of my list.

If I went into all the reasons why I love Fables, we’d probably be here all day. But, unsurprisingly, I’m an especially big fan of all the amazing female characters in the series, each of them strong and capable in their own ways, each of them unique individuals with their own voices. From Snow White to Cinderella to Beauty to Frau Totenkinder…I love them all. But the one I love most is Rose Red – because of all the women in the series, and (with two notable exceptions) of all the characters of either sex in the series, Rose has grown and changed the most.

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST FEW ARCS OF FABLES FOLLOW.

Rose Red, as described by Snow White

While perhaps not one of the main characters, Rose is a central figure from the very first issue of Fables – when her apartment is found trashed and covered in blood, and Fabletown’s sheriff, Bigby Wolf, is called in to her investigate her apparent murder. Thus, when we first ‘meet’ Rose, she doesn’t get to speak for herself – rather, she’s described by others, most especially her big sister, Snow White, Fabletown’s deputy mayor. In Snow White’s eyes, Rose is the black sheep of the family, and has been since before the fables fled to “our” world and established their settlement in New York City. She’s an unrepentant wild child, a party girl, a troublemaker. Her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Jack (of beanstalk climbing, giant killing fame) describes her in much the same way. She’s his lover, his partner in crime, and even the people who view her most sympathetically wouldn’t exactly describe her as an angel. It eventually comes out that Rose faked her own death, with Jack’s help, and naturally they’re both punished for it. In Rose’s case, that means moving upstate for a period of hard labor on the Farm…and that’s where her life begins to change.

The Farm, you see, is where they keep the fables who can’t pass for human at all. Beast (as in Beauty’s husband) is threatened with life on the Farm a few times when his curse becomes too much to bear and he can’t stop transforming into a monster over and over again. And the Farm’s current residents include all the animal fables that are unable to assume human form, as well as a whole society of miniature people, a dragon, some giants…you get the picture. It’s completely closed off from the outside world, protected by its remote location and a whole mess of spells to distract the “Mundys,” no one is allowed to leave except under very select circumstances, and the whole place is pretty much managed by the human fables without any real input from their non-human counterparts. If this sounds rather unfair, remember that, because it becomes important.

Rose's ignorance in action.

When Rose first heads up to the farm, escorted by her sister, she clearly views the whole experience as the punishment it is, and she’s not terribly kind to the non-human fables she meets. Indeed, she’s clearly ignorant and frequently obnoxious. Then it turns out that the Farm is on the point of open rebellion, led by none other than Goldilocks, who still lives with the Three Bears and has become a violent political radical. When Rose ultimately chooses to join the revolution, it’s a bit of a shock – but, unsurprisingly, she throws herself into the fight with her usual careless, rebellious glee, and soon she and her sister are at war yet again. But there’s another twist yet to come: it turns out at the very end that Rose joined the rebellion to keep Snow White safe, and that she ultimately played a key role in bringing those responsible to justice. By the end of the arc, Rose wholeheartedly accepts her place on the Farm…and, moreover, she rises to become its administrator, working with all the resident fables to make their lives better.

Don’t be fooled, though: Rose isn’t exactly perfect from this point on. And, honestly, that’s kind of what I love about her. She screws up. She makes some serious mistakes. While she proves herself to be a competent administrator, her relationship with her sister remains strained and her personal life is kind of a mess. In later issues, she’s put through the emotional wringer, and she ultimately retreats into herself completely, slowly but steadily self-destructing, pining for everything she’s lost.

Rose and Snow in a nutshell - but there's a lot more to it than that.

But in the end, with a little outside help, she turns things around. A trip down memory lane reminds her how her feud with Snow White got started – and shows her exactly what they once were to one another, and could be again. I won’t spoil it, but suffice to say that the story of Rose Red and Snow White is fascinating, heartbreaking, and powerful, and Rose’s decision to embrace their sisterhood once more feels like a real moment of triumph. So, too, does her decision to rejoin the world, to fight off her grief and sorrow and self-pity and take a stand in one of Fabletown’s darkest hours. She doesn’t save the day – not all on her lonesome – but she retakes the reins of leadership just when she’s needed most, and that decision impacts everything to come.

In fact, in the most recent issues, Rose’s life has changed again: again, without spoiling anything, she’s accepted new responsibilities and seized a vast new destiny. For good or ill, she’s becoming something more than a minor character in Snow White’s tale, a footnote in the fables’ tumultuous history. She’s becoming more than herself – or perhaps she’s becoming the person she was meant to be all along. I’m sure Rose has many trials ahead of her. But she’s already come so far, been to Hell and back and returned in triumph. Her story’s far from over. And I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Rose Red, taking control and returning in triumph.

Media Mondays: Comic Book Men

Behold the original boys' club.

Though my interest has flagged a bit in recent years, I still consider myself a Kevin Smith fan. Chasing Amy, despite a few problems, remains one of my favorite films. Dogma gets gross in parts, but I still think it’s a great commentary on religion as opposed to faith. Clerks and Mallrats are of course pretty damn great. And while I admit one viewing of Clerks 2 was enough for a lifetime, and Red State wasn’t quite the movie I was hoping for, I still like Kevin. I like what he’s doing. I think he’s the kind of guy I’d like to hang with. And though, as a lifelong Bostonian, I consider New Jersey the Eighth Circle of Hell*, I admit I’d given some thought to heading down to Red Bank one of these days to hit up the Secret Stash.

Comic Book Men, which finished its first season last night, has pretty much destroyed that dream.

In retrospect, I probably should have known what I was getting into the moment I heard the title. The show is aptly named. In fact, if I were a Cosmo-sipping, condescending Carrie Bradshaw type, I would probably say it should have been titled Comic Book BOYS, because these immature louts can hardly call themselves men, but I like to think I’m above that kind of clichéd rhetoric. My criticism of this show begins and ends with the fact that there is a serious lack of any kind of female influence in the world of the Secret Stash. Women are never-seen wives and girlfriends, or the poor ladies who wander into the shop seeking gifts for significant others, or the folks who periodically come in to sell off old comics and paraphernalia, or (and I can literally count these on one hand) that vanishingly rare and oh-so-prized beast, the female comic book fan. If there is even one woman employed at the shop, we never see her. Women are not the target market of the Stash in any way, shape or form. It is no surprise, then, that actual female customers are so rarely seen. I can only imagine they’ve found other, more welcoming shops far more deserving of their custom.

But we’ll get back to that.

This is Bryan. His duties apparently include acting like a total asshole and looking a bit like Alan Moore. HE IS VERY GOOD AT HIS JOB.

I knew right away that something was wrong with this show. Actually, for the first few episodes, that something had a distinct name and face: Bryan Johnson. From the first episode, he acted like a sarcastic, obnoxious douche. He clearly thought he was funnier than he actually was, and his treatment of his fellow employees sometimes bordered on the abusive. When he and the rest of the guys were sent out to a flea market to sell excess merchandise, he actually went so far as to take collectible plates off of fellow employee Ming Chen’s table and smash them just because he could. He finally gave Ming cash for the plates after being told off by a really awesome older gentleman…but then, as soon as said gentleman left, he tried to get that money back.

The only thing that kept me from completely hating Bryan – and for a long time, I did – was his behavior in last night’s episode. See, it turns out Bryan has a five-year-old niece, whom he obviously loves very, very much. In last night’s episode, we not only saw him buying superhero Barbies for her (I’ll be getting back to the Barbies, too), but we also saw him get a tattoo in her honor: a zombified portrait of his niece on her bike, right on his forearm where the whole world could see it. When he showed the tattoo design to his co-workers, they obviously thought he was insane, that everyone would be extremely creeped out by the undead little girl on his arm and his niece would not like it at all. But it turns out that his niece LOVES zombies – that it’s something they bond over – and when she came into the shop at the end and he showed her his tattoo, it was hands down the most heartwarming scene I’ve seen on television all week. The man I’d seen as the outright villain (or at least assholish anti-hero) of the show turned out to be a human being. I still think he’s kind of an asshole, but I have a little more sympathy for him now.

That doesn’t really change the fact that the Stash seems to be a really, really awful place to work, particularly if your name is Ming. See, Ming is kind of the Meg Griffin of the shop, as near as I can tell. He’s there to take constant shit from his co-workers. And, okay, look. He’s kind of a dork. He’s a little awkward, he doesn’t know nearly as much about comics as his co-workers, and sometimes he has really awful ideas. But you know what? I used to be like that. I had my ugly duckling phase. And I’m still awkward and shy and kind of a dork at times. And that’s no excuse – NO excuse – to treat someone like crap. It’s hard to tell if Ming’s in on the joke. Sometimes I think, yeah, he totally is, but all too often I’m convinced they’re laughing at him, not with him. And I have to say, if I were in his shoes, I would be done with that shop by now. No job is worth that level of abuse.

And the fact of the matter is that Ming is one of the most dedicated employees the Stash has. He puts up with EVERYTHING. He seems to do a hell of a lot more work than, say, Bryan. And he’s a lot more on the ball than any of them. In one episode, for example, he came up with a zombie-themed ad campaign (and sale day) for the shop. It ended up flopping, and I think his ideas were a little flawed, but he got one thing absolutely right: on the day of the sale, he was busting his ass out on the sidewalk trying to get customers in the shop, and he was talking to EVERYONE. Men, women, older folks, younger folks, all of them. And time and again, his boss and his co-workers kept yelling at him to target more typical customers, but Ming kept plugging away.

You know what? Ming was right. Zombie fans – geeks in general – come in all shapes and sizes. Men, women, old, young, gay, straight, professional, blue-collar, mime. You can’t always judge a book by its cover. The fact that it’s still news that women like comics, sci-fi movies, fantasy, zombie flicks – the fact that this is a controversial assertion – confuses and infuriates me.

This is a recurring problem with the Secret Stash as portrayed on Comic Book Men. Women are ignored, dismissed, tolerated at best. The products made for women and girls are denigrated – such as the aforementioned superhero Barbies. In last night’s episode, a couple of women came into the shop to sell some Barbies dressed and packaged as various superheroines: Batgirl, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, etc. These were official Mattel products from a few years back, and honestly, they looked great. I have not been into Barbies since I was ten, but I would totally buy them, and I bet I’m not the only one. And Walt Flanagan, manager of the store, flat-out refused to buy them. He refused to believe that any of his customers would possibly be interested in them. Bryan, as I said, ended up buying a couple of them for his niece, but Walt made it very clear – on the show itself and in the podcast studio afterward – that he could not conceive of a world in which he would carry Barbie or Ken dolls, superhero-themed or otherwise, in his shop.

Okay. That’s his right. But this shop sells all kinds of action figures and toys. I’m willing to bet they’ve sold some premium figures that are fashion dolls in all but name. These Barbies were official products, they looked cool, they seemed like they were well made, and they were in excellent condition. I’m willing to bet they would have sold. But Walt rejected them because they were girl toys. That’s what it comes down to. They were dolls, and this shop is for comic book MEN.

To be fair…for certain values of fair…it really, really is. Actual female customers are a rare breed in the shop, and given the sheer amount of testosterone wafting out the door, I can’t say I’m surprised. Especially when you consider the incident that truly infuriated me, the event that once and for all destroyed any interest I might have had in visiting the Secret Stash.

In the fourth episode, a woman came into the shop with her significant other – I’m assuming that’s who the guy walking around with her was, anyway – and it was very clear from the outset that they were both comic book fans and she was shopping for herself. She ended up spending a pretty big chunk of cash on some valuable old comics. The transaction itself went fine – the guys were personable and polite, they rang her up and saw her out the door. But afterward, while discussing the sale on their podcast, they made a bunch of sexual jokes about how “she knew what she wanted” and Ming (who rang her up) “gave it to her”.

Guys, this is a line. It’s a pretty clear line. It’s bright and shiny and painted right in the middle of the road. We used reflective glow-in-the-dark Day-Glo orange. And you just JUMPED right on over it.

Let me be clear: if I were that woman, if I had spent a bunch of money only to find out on national television that the staff who helped me had gone on to make a bunch of sexual jokes about me behind my back, I would be done with that store forever. I would tell all my friends to steer clear. I would do my level best to ensure that they never got any new business. That is not okay. That is not acceptable behavior in polite society. You treat your customers with respect before, during and after the transaction. You treat women as people, not magical unicorns here for your pleasure, not aliens who only rarely deign to descend to Earth. Women don’t shop in the Stash, Walt? Women aren’t your target audience? Gee. I wonder why.

I wanted to like this show. I really did. And there are parts of it I have enjoyed. I actually do enjoy seeing the staff haggle with the people who come into the shop to sell stuff or buy rare items. I like seeing the amazing memorabilia that comes in and the cadre of experts they call upon to assess it. Seeing the staff in full zombie makeup for Ming’s campaign was pretty cool. Watching them film a TV commercial full of all kinds of crazy crap was fun. And, again, Bryan and his niece were the most adorable thing ever. But all things considered, I’m not sure I’ll be back for Season 2. They’d have to make some serious changes to the show and the store. They have some serious, heartfelt apologies to hand out. And I really don’t think any of that is going to happen.

All things considered, I’d rather watch a show about New England Comics. They actually employ women there. And, more importantly, I’ve always been treated with respect. Something tells me that wouldn’t happen at the Stash.

In case you’re wondering, New York is the Ninth Circle, with Satan himself dwelling in the frozen waste of Yankee Stadium, his three mouths forever gnawing on Harry Frazee, Jonathan Papelbon and Johnny Damon. I barely need to mention that Connecticut is the Seventh.

Media Mondays: Once Upon A Time

As you may have noticed, I got a little sidetracked yesterday, and then I was distracted most of the day today, so this week’s Media Mondays post is extremely late. It’s also a bit of a cheat: Once Upon A Time‘s first season is already over halfway done, and most of the reviews are already in. But I’ve been spending most of this time trying to decide whether or not I like it, and why I feel that way, and those thoughts have only recently gelled.

So, short version: yes, I like Once Upon A Time. But not without reservations.

Let’s briefly recap the premise of the show: long ago and far away, the Evil Queen of Snow White fame unleashed a vicious curse upon the fairy tale world, creating new lives for all of the characters we know and love, good and bad alike, and casting them into our world, and more specifically the town of Storybrooke, Maine. The curse would not only change their lives and destinies, but warp their personal stories to prevent anyone but the Queen herself from finding their happy endings. Faced with this terrible curse, the people of the fairy tale world found one small glimmer of hope: the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, who would one day break the spell and set their world to rights. Using a magic wardrobe which could send one, and only one, person on to our world, whole and unscathed, Prince Charming and Snow White sent their infant daughter ahead, hoping against hope that she would find and save them. Years later, that daughter, now grown and going by the name Emma Swan, is confronted with her own son, who she gave up for adoption years ago. This young boy, Henry, has learned all about the fairy tale world and the curse that destroyed it, and he persuades Emma to come with him to Storybrooke, Maine. After some memorable encounters with various people in town – including the Evil Queen, who is now Storybrooke’s Mayor and Henry’s adopted mother – Emma decides to stay and try to bond with her son, despite the Mayor’s opposition and her own distinct skepticism regarding Henry’s beliefs. The story in each episode flashes between our world and the fairy tale realm, gradually revealing more about the show’s characters and their world before and after the curse.

Emma Swan, Hero of Storybrooke

Let’s start with what I like about the show. First and foremost: I love Emma Swan.

This woman is a complete and utter badass. She’s the only one on the show who seems at all willing to stand up directly to the Mayor/Evil Queen. This is not to say that she is without fear, or without emotion: her friendship with Mary Margaret (a.k.a. Snow White) is genuine, and her love and concern for her biological son, Henry, is obvious. Though she was initially reluctant to become involved in Henry’s life, their relationship has grown organically over time, and the thought of losing Henry now is clearly among her worst fears. But she does not let her fear rule her, or sway her from doing what’s right. Whenever Henry has been placed in danger, Emma has conquered her fear, marched right in and saved the day.

And she has never, not once, needed some man to come running to her rescue. Emma Swan is not a damsel in distress. She’s a knight in stylish leather armor. A Big Damn Hero. Not that she’d ever call herself that – from her perspective, she defends the helpless, upholds the law and chases down criminals simply because it’s the right thing to do. Though circumstances have sometimes prompted her to compromise her principles, she always questions herself, always accepts the consequences of her actions, always shows genuine remorse in the face of her mistakes. She isn’t perfect. She’s certainly made more than her share of mistakes. But she accepts those mistakes, learns from them, and moves on. If you ask me, that’s true strength – true character. For all her faults, Emma Swan is an amazing role model, and possibly one of the strongest, most genuine characters on television today.

I. Want. That. Hat.

I also have to give serious props to Regina, the Evil Queen of the fairy tale world and the Mayor of Storybrooke. She’s wonderfully manipulative and deliciously malevolent. Her costumes (particularly in the fairy tale world) are ridiculously awesome, and her plots are intelligent, ruthless, and horribly effective. As Henry’s mother and the town’s Mayor, she makes an excellent foil to Emma; in the fairy tale world, she is omnipresent, weaving in and out of one tale after the next, spreading her dark influence.

Despite her villainy, she is not without a certain human element. Her deep love for her aged father is obvious in the pilot, and while it’s not entirely clear what she has planned for her adopted son Henry (named, notably, after her late father), she does seem to feel some genuine affection for him, and sometimes seems genuinely frustrated and baffled by his open hostility toward her. Her animosity toward Emma Swan seems to have as much to do with Emma’s role as a rival for Henry’s love as any actual threat Emma poses.

Leaving the main characters aside, I love the way the show toys with and reinvents the Disney canon. Their close association with ABC allows them to play freely with Disney’s interpretations of classic fairy tales; thus, their retelling of Beauty and the Beast features Belle and Gaston, Jiminy Cricket is a recurring character, and Maleficent is one of the Evil Queen’s buddies. And yet none of these characters are quite like their counterparts in the animated canon. Even in areas ruled by ostensibly ‘good’ kings and queens, the fairy tale world is not an idyllic paradise. People are routinely pressed into wartime service, or forced into loveless marriages, or faced with all kinds of destitution and suffering. Prejudice, violence and oppression are not the sole province of the villains. Power corrupts in the fairy tale world, just as it corrupts in real life, and while the reign of Snow White and Prince Charming seems peaceful and relatively equitable, they are an island in a sea of chaos. As our understanding of the fairy tale world grows, we are forced to question, again and again, if it’s actually any better than the reality of Storybrooke.

Then, too, there’s this: for good or ill, the women of the fairy tale world seize their own destinies. Cinderella doesn’t simply accept the help of a fairy godmother who miraculously appears out of nowhere – when her tale goes wrong, she makes a deal with the devil to win her happy ending, and has to face the consequences of those actions down the road. Snow White doesn’t simply flee into the wilderness and stumble upon a band of merry dwarves; she spends years surviving in the wild as a thief before she even meets the dwarves, let alone Prince Charming. Belle chooses to go with the ‘Beast’ of her piece to save her father’s realm from annihilation, and rejects the possessive, controlling overtures of her betrothed, Gaston. Red Riding Hood has appeared in a few tales now, offering a few glimpses of her role as a kind of courier or scout and a friend of Snow White’s; her real-world counterpart, Ruby, is similarly omnipresent, tying a number of the characters together. We’ve been promised a Ruby/Red story in an upcoming episode, and I can’t wait to see exactly what her tale might be.

So what’s not to like about the show? Well, the storylines are still somewhat contrived, and some of the writing can be awkward. The show has steadily improved, to be sure, and I’m more than willing to give it a chance to find its footing – lots of series have awkward first seasons. With such luminaries as Jane Espenson on the writing staff, I have high hopes for Once Upon A Time‘s continued evolution. Even so, some stories are still distinctly lackluster. This past Sunday’s retelling of Beauty and the Beast was particularly disappointing; though I enjoyed some aspects of the tale, I was left wondering exactly what Belle saw in her love interest and exactly what kind of message the show was trying to send. The Beast flirted with Belle, to be sure, and was not always horribly unkind to her, but he also threw her into his dungeon upon a whim, and generally treated her too poorly to be worthy of her affection.

And as much as I love the way the female characters of the fairy tale world are portrayed, I find their counterparts in Storybrooke similarly aggravating. Snow White is a badass. Her real-world counterpart, Mary Margaret, is horribly passive, rarely showing Snow White’s backbone in any respect, and hewing closer to the animated Disney princess than her own true self – for heaven’s sake, the pilot even had her releasing a bluebird out a window! I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with kind, gentle female characters, but I’d like to see Mary Margaret stand up for herself more and show a little more inner fire. Ashley, the counterpart to Cinderella, was very much a damsel in distress when we met her, and her legitimate problems with her boyfriend are all forgotten when he surprises her with a proposal. Belle’s real-world counterpart isn’t even really present in her showcase episode. And Ruby’s omnipresence in the town – at the diner, at the bed & breakfast, as Ashley and Mary Margaret’s friend – is virtually her only defining characteristic, aside from her distinctly racy attire and her contentious relationship with her grandmother (whom we haven’t even seen outside the pilot). While I accept that the Evil Queen’s curse distorted their histories and their destinies, I’m not sure I love the way it’s seemingly changed their personalities and left Emma and Regina as the strongest, most active, most interesting female characters on the show.

Still, all in all, I’m still watching, and I expect I’ll finish out the season. While I had slightly higher hopes for Grimm (which has completely failed to hold my interest, to be honest), and I still wish ABC had gone ahead with the proposed adaptation of Fables, Once Upon A Time has turned out to be far more compelling than I expected, and I’m eager to see where it goes. The show has a great premise, fantastic characters, and a hell of a lot of potential, and I truly hope it lives up to its promise.