Spawn of Mars
Don't worry. If you like your religion, you can keep your religion.
The Rot Is Deep
It's All So Casual Now
Sunday, September 17, 2017 9:03 pm
So, on Netflix, I'm watching The Blacklist, that show starring James Spader. Generally it's just cool and outrageous. Like most modern TV, though, it can't merely deliver its clever plot but must also deliver an Approved Point of View.

It is particularly annoying when Reddington, an amoral killer, goes on some dogmatic rant about, oh, religious intolerance of sodomy. The writers, in their own real lives, hate (or at least must seem to hate) such intolerance, and so they can't help but depict their "hero" as doing the same — even if it makes him, at least briefly, a mouthpiece instead of a person.

Sadly, though, I experienced a more dispiriting moment in the show. Dogmatic rants at least indicate the writers are aware that they are taking positions. What happens when the rot is utterly unconscious? 

In one episode, children who are retarded and mentally afflicted are being given, by their parents, to a loony witch-like woman. The parents are essentially disposing of their children. A member of the FBI task force, speaking of Ethan (one of the children) and his mother Jeanne (who disposed of him), says:
Ethan apparently requires around-the-clock care, medical therapy, speech and language therapy. In fact Jeanne quit her job to be Ethan's full-time caregiver.
Notice the feminist worldview. Ethan required so much care that Jeanne had to quit her job. And for what? To become Ethan's "full-time caregiver."

Or as we used to say: his "mother."

The writers find it obviously tragic that Jeanne had to prioritize being a mother over being a wage slave. A woman is defined by having a job, after all; and caregiving is just an assignable task. There was no rant; no speech. Just a remark — almost casual — by a character explaining the situation.

Indeed, the rot has settled in.

It Doesn't Give You Cooties
Use the Proper Pronouns
Friday, March 10, 2017 3:58 pm
I enjoy Jim Gaffigan, the comedian. Yes, once you've watched his specials repeatedly, you see the patterns in his subject matter. But I enjoy him a lot.

During one bit he says this as a prelude to the main joke:
A woman can grow a baby inside their body. And then somehow a woman can deliver a baby through their body. And then by some miracle a woman can feed a baby with their body.
"Their"? I know he is speaking as we have all been forced to speak. But even when the sex of the person in question is quite known and unavoidable, he can not say "her." Again, this is commonplace these days. But what is really sad is that no part of him cringes; no part of him recognizes the hideous solecism.

You can argue that language changes. So, yes, the loss of the generic "he" is leading to a loss, too, of sex-specificity in pronouns, at least for abstract males and females. So language happens. Language is what people speak. But it is truly a loss when a "woman" is no longer a "she" but is just another "they."

Anyhow, resist this nonsense. If you can't bring yourself to use the generic "he" when the sex is unspecified (and if you can't, you're silly), at least use the sex-specific pronoun that is appropriate to a subject that is clearly male or female.
The Goblin Emperor
Hugo Awards 2015 - Novel by Katherine Addison
Friday, May 29, 2015 6:59 pm
I am a voter for the 2015 Hugo Awards. I am posting my thoughts about the candidate works. Be warned that spoilers abound.

Maia, the half-goblin and youngest son of the Emperor of the Elflands, banished with his mother from the court, inherits the crown when the Emperor and all other his other sons are killed in an airship accident (which was, in fact, no accident). Maia is not at all prepared and has to find his place.

To begin with, this novel passed one of my standard tests: I never cringed at the dialogue. Sometimes I cringed at what was being said, but never the way it was being said. None of it was cloying or cute. Indeed, none of the writing made me cringe. That may seem like faint praise, but it's not. Addison's style is controlled and effective. She revealed things in a sound order, with a sound pacing. Things followed one another well and I wanted to keep reading. Her fantasy world did not dazzle me and seems a bit conventional (even to me, who doesn't read much fantasy), but it worked. 

At one point, Maia receives a letter from Mer Celehar, who is investigating the sabotage that killed the previous Emperor. The letter is long and describes everything Celehar has been up to. Momentarily I thought: "This stuff is good. Addison should have narrated this action as a sub-story instead of having it relayed in a messenger speech." But immediately I realized two things. First, the action was engaging enough, even if presented at a remove. Second, any sub-story — that is, a chapter from Celehar's point of view — would have been contrary to the novel's approach. Everything is from Maia's point of view. Maia is in every scene. This is a book about Maia as Emperor, not about court intrigue and the like. The intrigue is there, of course, but only as something around Maia. In the end, Addison's disciplined maintenance of one point of view keeps you properly bound to Maia's travails.

Early on there are some conventional hints of steampunk (most notably: transport via airship). I appreciate such things, not least because I favor tech even in my fantasy. And while this is not a steampunk novel by any means, the clockwork steam-tech is actually relevant. The Clocksmiths' Guild figures in both the sabotage that starts the tale and the building of a wonderful mechanical bridge. This bridge is an occasion of Maia's political assertion and, in the end, symbolic of Maia's nature as an Emperor. It is pleasing that the tech is not just decoration.

This being a novel published in 2014, I was braced (as ever) for social nonsense.

Celehar has been disgraced for having a male lover who was also a murderer. A nobleman is afraid of having a young man interviewed in wake of an assassination attempt because, of course, he is lusting after that young man. One of Maia's goblin half-sisters became a pirate captain and has a "wife." This final tidbit is more like signaling from Addison than agitprop, but the implication is that a woman naturally might have a "wife." These things are tolerable, however, not least because no character says: "Golly, there's nothing wrong with loving a man, Celehar!" And indeed, the characters, at least, tend to accept that such loves are "unnatural." So the homosexual messaging was mild.

On the other hand, the feminist messaging kneecaps the novel. And I mean kneecaps it. Despite some misgivings, I was really enjoying things — and then in Chapter 34 (of 35), we get the full-on "Hear Me Roar" denouement. Now, the things presented are not non sequiturs. Addison is actually a careful writer, and I'm generally impressed with the way everything was neatly plotted, not least the intrigue. Nothing in Chapter 34 comes out of the blue. However, it was all better left unsaid.

Except — I realized sadly as I read on — Chapter 34 was Addison's point. She could no more leave it unsaid than simply stop writing.

Take, as an example, Maia's elven half-sister Vedero. Earlier she had been promised as wife to a son of a prominent family. There had been no formal contract, however. And as it turns out, she does not wish to be married. Maia asks her what she would do, were she not given in marriage. And she replies that she would "study the stars."

Yes, fine, there are girls who would rather be scholars than wives. It's a character touch, it explains her refusal, it's a nod to the conventions of this girls-can-do-anything era of ours. But in Chapter 34, Maia joins Vedero at the telescope. Vedero is, of course, wearing trousers. She goes on about the wondrous telescope — which was designed by a woman. Then she goes on about her colleagues, of whom one is translating works of poetry, another is writing a treatise, another has started a magic school for girls... Yea, all sorts of women disdaining marriage and motherhood! "Women," as Vedero says, her shoulders "stiffly defensive," "can and should do the same intellectual work as men."

Thus, what was a tolerable character touch becomes jarring propaganda. STEM for the elven lasses!

You realize that many noblewomen in the book have been acting, in one way or another, against their duties — chafing, bristling, brooding. Again, Chapter 34 is not out of the blue; it is, in retrospect, inevitable. Earlier, Maia's Empress-to-be said that she preferred to be allowed to choose her duties. What a colossal misunderstanding of duties! We do not choose our duties. What we are imposes duties. Some things we can choose to be: a scholar; a wife. Some things we can not choose to be: a woman; a daughter. But in either case, the duties are never chosen. They simply must be fulfilled. And yes, sometimes a prior duty prevents us from choosing to be, say, a scholar instead of a wife.

The very worst feminist moment comes in the excuses made for Shevean. She is mother of the other surviving heir to the throne, Maia's younger nephew Idra. Shevean participated in a failed coup against Maia. And Idra says of her:
She is very fierce. [...] She would not be what she is if she ever had something given her that was a burden equal to her strength. One hears people say it all the time — 'she should have been a son to her father' — but it is true. If she had been a son, she would have had a duty that went beyond children.
Idra does elaborate by describing Shevean's simple rage against Maia, who, like everyone it seems, would not conform to her wishes; but the fundamental blame belongs, of course, to patriarchy.

In fairness, Chapter 34 is not only feminist claptrap. Essentially it is the crystallization of Maia as Emperor. The specifically feminist stuff is there because Maia is the Emperor who builds the bridges. After all, Maia is the one who, among so much else, allowed a woman to be one of his bodyguards. Why, this is a Goblin Emperor that even a 21st-century American feminist can support!

Not least because Maia is essentially a woman.

When I started the novel, his name threw me. "Maia" is a woman's name. Oh, wait, no, the pronouns indicate "Maia" is a he. Well. Okay. Fantasy novel; goblin language; I don't know. Fine. Maia is a he. And you have to keep reminding yourself that he is. It's as if Addison is trolling you, giving him a girl's name and daring you not to notice his essential girlishness.

I don't mean in his emotions, as such. I think Addison does a good job depicting Maia's pain and difficulties. He is quite credible as an abused, neglected, overwhelmed, and sad young person. However, he is not credible as an exemplar of anything male.

This is most evident in the way that all his struggles are resolved in the infamous Chapter 34. Basically, he makes friends with all those who have not attempted to overthrow or assassinate him. With so many of the people who had distrusted or troubled him, he achieves a kind of rapport.
Idra, Csethiro, Nedao, Vedero: instead of bulwarks, he began to feel he had alliances, that his life — for perhaps the first time since his mother died — was not merely a matter of surviving from one hostile encounter to the next.
Now, Maia is not utterly naive, nor is the book. As he says to his bodyguards:
I believe that the Adremaza meant his advice for the best, but he was cruelly wrong. I do not ask, or expect, you to be friends with me as you are friends with other mazei, or other soldiers in the Untheileneise Guard. But it... it's silly to deny that we hold each other in affection.
And when the bodyguards affirm their affection for him, Maia says: "Then we will be a different sort of friends."

None of this is handled shabbily. It is affecting. But as a culmination it is so feminine. The word "alliances" is used but what we actually have here is an end to Maia's emotional isolation. This is what terminates his imperial worries. His reign will be good because he has friends. He has gained no insights or skills regarding the flourishing of his realm; but gosh and golly, people really like him. They do!

Honestly. What a girl.

For a while I was excited by The Goblin Emperor. Here is a book I'd never heard of, that did not involve space fleets or cybernetics, that I began reading just to judge it for an award; yet, over a weekend, I kept returning to it gladly, in between this or that. Then the sour bits accumulated. Then Chapter 34 hit.

Is it a well-written book? Yes. Is it worth reading? Yes. Does it deserve to be on the Hugo shortlist? Sure. Do I regret reading it? Not really.

I don't know anything about Addison. I am not judging the book based on her race, sex, or whom she voted for in 2012. I do not deny the simple quality of this book because of its feminist message. It is not merely message fiction; there is a good story here. But in the end, the message is never irrelevant to the evaluation of a book. I would never award first place to a novel with the shopworn attitude of The Goblin Emperor.

In Vocation
Witch and Wife
Monday, March 30, 2009 10:56 pm
What does everyone know about Bewitched? It's about a free-spirited young witch whose uptight husband does everything he can to suppress her natural inclinations to magic.

No. It's not.

Go back to the first season, before the show became focused on the farce, and you'll clearly see its theme. Abandon the feminist distortions and you'll see that Bewitched is about two newlyweds, thoroughly in love, who are trying to establish a normal, suburban life. 

Both Samantha and Darrin have given up their prior lives; both have freely chosen their marriage; and both want it to be as it should be. What did Darrin give up? He's an executive at an ad agency, what the early 1960s considered to be the exemplar of white-collar hustle. To be sure, when he marries Samantha he keeps his job; but he does not keep the life of a Mad Man.

Sheila, an old flame, recently back from Nassau, having heard that Darrin is now married, invites him to a party. Come, she insists to a hesitant Darrin; everyone will be there. "We're your friends," she reminds him. So Darrin and Samantha go, thinking it's just a pot-luck; but of course Sheila has thrown a formal soiree. "Is this your little bride?" Sheila asks, superciliously, when the modestly dressed Samantha is presented to her. And during dinner Sheila goes on about Newport, Paris, Maxim's, the Riviera, Countessas and scandals… Darrin, though modestly from Missouri and not so wealthy himself, had been jetting with the jet-setters.

When, another time, Samantha is seeking a boyfriend for a friend of hers, she settles on a bachelor at McMann & Tate, an art director named Kermit. Darrin is doubtful. "Kermit's having a ball being single," Darrin says. "Women throw themselves at his feet. What a life that Kermit lives!" Samantha replies: "You were leading the same kind of life when you met me — and you were glad to give it up." Darrin, in other words, has chosen a new, more earthbound path — even though it takes him from his Nassau-hopping friends and his tomcatting ways, and is even apparently something of a financial burden, since, right away, quite naturally, as he seeks a home for himself and his wife, he must admit they will have to tighten their belts to buy a house.

Indeed, it is class that truly animates the objections of Samantha's parents. Referring to mortals such as Darrin, Endora sneers: "They all look alike to me. Noses to the grindstone; shoulders to the wheel; feet firmly planted on the ground… No wonder they can't fly." Endora is as jet-setting as Sheila. Once, she drops in on Samantha, who is quietly playing solitaire at home, and invites her to lunch. Samantha agrees and suggests a little place around the corner. Endora counters by suggesting a bistro in Paris. Though Samantha hesitates, she agrees to go, and does enjoy herself. And Endora asks: "Don't you sometimes miss all this?" Samantha answers: "Not really. I have other things that make up for it." Endora is dismissive: "Like a snappy game of solitaire? Topped off by a gourmet lunch at the cozy Have-a-Snack?"

Another moment of snobbery comes when Maurice has been shown a picture of Darrin in an Army uniform. Maurice doesn't yet know Darrin is not a warlock, and so he is surprised that Darrin would have been in the Army. Samantha, unready to admit that Darrin is mortal, says: "Everybody goes into the service." Doubtful, Maurice replies: "Everybody, perhaps, but not us." While by "us" Maurice may only mean "we witches and warlocks," notice the flavor of it all: Maurice, haughty Maurice, a well-dressed, urbane man who has arrived in a limo, scorns a man who would join the Army. When Maurice learns what Darrin really is, he exclaims that his daughter has married a "common, ordinary mortal!" Endora, trying to placate him, says: "Times have changed. This happens in the best of families." Maurice is unpersuaded. "I can't understand it," he cries to Samantha. "A girl of your background, of your breeding!"

Now, of course Samantha did not merely descend from the upper classes. She descended from a higher plane. Her primary motivation is her love for Darrin, but she wholly enters into the role of wife. She wants to be a homemaker. She wants to make a home. In contrast, perhaps, to her maiden life; for her parents are clearly separated. When Maurice arrives, Endora says: "Nice to see you." When Maurice beholds Samantha, he remarks: "You must be my daughter;" and to Endora: "She turned into quite a girl." Endora, at one point, threatens to move in with Maurice.

Samantha does not come from a grounded, unbroken family.

When defending Darrin's plans to find them a house, Samantha says to Endora: "All young married people dream of owning their own home." And Endora declaims: "That's fine for them, Samantha, but not for us. We're quicksilver, a fleeting shadow, a distant sound. Our home has no boundaries beyond which we cannot pass. We live in music; in a flash of color. We live on the wind; in the sparkle of a star… And you want to trade it all for a quarter of an acre of crabgrass."

Yes, Samantha does want to trade it all: not for the crabgrass as such but for the house it surrounds: for the home inside the house. And Samantha knows that the proper way to make a home is to make it. A home is a thing of work. Shoulders to the wheel. Why, Endora wonders, doesn't Samantha just create that cup of coffee she wants, ex nihilo, with a twitch of her nose? Says Samantha: "This is a normal household and I'm trying to avoid witchcraft." Why be down on your knees, planting flowers, when you can just wish them into existence? "We're going to do it the right way — from seeds." Why not just wave your hands and clear this clutter so that we can leave already? "I'm going to stay here," Samantha says, "and clean this house with my own two hands." And now you're baking a cake? "I want to do something for my husband."

Do something. That is the nature of marriage: doing. This is precisely the sort of mundane work that Endora, because of her powers, because of her class, disdains. When Darrin wonders if, perhaps, he should relent, and let Samantha use her magic to help his career, he realizes: "If I do it once I'll do it again, and before you know, I won't be able to do anything for myself." Samantha has willingly joined Darrin in a life of doing for oneself — and hence for each other.

All motivated, as said, by love.

They've fallen hard for each other. They married before either had met the other's family; before, of course, Darrin even knew what Samantha is. They continually affirm their love to each other. There are many, slyly sweet scenes about their newlywed randiness. Considering that she is a witch and he a mortal, "I suppose I shouldn't have married you," Samantha says to Darrin, "but I love you so much." "I love you," says Darrin, "and I can't give you up."

Impassioned though they are, they do not neglect that they are in a new state, a state of marriage. Sacrifices come for the sake of their normal household. Oh, Endora declares that Samantha can't change what she is. "I'm not trying to change," Samantha replies, "I'm trying to adjust." "He's trying to make you over," declares Endora; and Samantha counters: "He's doing no such thing." Samantha, for Darrin's sake, chose to abandon witchcraft.

In one episode, Darrin himself voices the feminist argument against Samantha's choice.
Darrin: I've been selfish, stupid, and unreasonable, and I want to ask for your forgiveness.

Samantha: I don't know what you're talking about.

Well, when we were married, you tried to fit yourself into my scheme of life.

I love you. I want you to be happy.

But what did I want? I wanted you to give up everything that was natural to you. I said, "No more witchcraft. Give it up." That's what I said. Isn't that what I said?

Yes, but I understand.

That's because you kept an open mind. But not me, no. My mind was closed, just like a clamshell. But that's all over.

Over?

Yes. From now on I want you to use that power whenever and wherever you want to.

Darrin — You don't really mean that?

I most certainly do. Why have I said to you, "No witchcraft. Don't help me, don't help yourself." Why? I ask you, Why? Well, I'll tell you why: It was ego. If I couldn't do it I didn't want you to do it. If I couldn't give something to you I didn't want you to have it. Ego! Pure ego. Simple as that.

Darling, that's not ego — that's the way it should be.
You can lament Samantha's lack of consciousness; you can decry her supposed submission to patriarchy; but she knows what she wants a marriage to be. During that episode Darrin gets a taste of being a warlock, of having one's life enriched effortlessly. Samantha is not happy with his turn.

Then a gift comes to the house. Darrin had ordered this for their six-month anniversary — ordered it before his "liberation" of Samantha. The gift delights Samantha to the point of tears, for it is a gift he acquired for her not as a demigod but as her normal, loving husband. Then Darrin admits that he regrets the past couple of weeks. "Now I don't know," he says, "if I'm too crazy about the idea of never having to worry about anything anymore. Might be a good idea to worry about where your next meal is coming from. Gives you a chance to work up an appetite." Still tearful and happy, Samantha says: "Oh — You do understand!"

Samantha is not suppressed, repressed, or oppressed. "I'll be the best wife a man ever had." Samantha has chosen a certain way of being and, most importantly, a vocation for herself. The comedy of intermittent witchery comes, of course, in that vocations are often hard, especially since they usually involve some sort of self-control and a dedication to more than one's natural inclinations.

"Unholy and Evil"
When the Culture Could Be Honest
Monday, May 16, 2005 2:16 am
Beware! Spoilers follow.

I was watching The Godfather: Part II the other day. I had not seen it in many years. I knew how the story would go; I was prepared for the powerful scenes. I had not, however, remembered the dialogue as such — and I was struck by what Kay says  about her abortion.

Recall she has come to tell Michael she is leaving with the children. She no longer loves him and can no longer bear being the wife of the Godfather. He thinks that she is unhappy about recently losing a baby; he has been told it was a miscarriage. He says to her, "I know you blame me for losing the baby." And she replies:
Oh, Michael, you are blind. It wasn't a miscarriage — it was an abortion. An abortion, Michael. Just like our marriage is an abortion. Something that's unholy — and evil. I didn't want your son, Michael. I wouldn't bring another one of your sons into this world. It was an abortion, Michael. It was a son — a son — and I had it killed because this must all end.
Wow. "Unholy." "Evil." "Killed." Seriously, could you expect such honesty out of Hollywood today? There are no qualifications in Kay's words; no seeking of "common ground;" no tortured philosophical rationalizations about the beginnings of life or of personhood or of humanity. She doesn't say that it was an agonizing decision for her; she calls the act unholy and evil. She says not that she had a fetus removed but that she had her son killed.

The modern screenwriter could never write such words, not unless he was ironically placing them in the mouth of some twisted religious right-winger. There is too much at stake in the culture of death to allow the truth to be spoken so clearly. The worst part, actually, is that the modern screenwriter wouldn't even think of abortion as "unholy" and "evil." Unholy? Evil? Such regressive concepts! Few pro-aborts even admit that an abortion is a killing. How enlightened we are! Abortion, however unpleasant, is just a procedure, now. You know what? This scene would have been a wee bit less dramatic if Kay had just been exercising her inalienable woman's right to control her own reproduction. Gosh, Michael wouldn't even have had much cause to get angry with her.

How wonderfully far we have come.

Magazines
StoryHack #1
Cirsova #6
PulpRev Sampler
Categories
50-Word Story
Art
Catholic Faith
Catholic Life
Family
Fantasy
Language
Literature
Men & Women
Metaphysics
Movies
Music
Personal
Publishing
Science
Science Fiction
Television
Trifles
Writing