A Dingy Patina

One of the things I’m doing tonight, as I sit down to write this post, is ripping some CDs and copying it to a brand new mp3 player.  (Cheapest possible, natch, but the sound on my computer is unreliable and I can’t write without music, which, yes, is stupid.  Deal. The only mp3 player still functioning is for audiobooks, so I needed a different one for songs, or I’ll be forever running out of memory.)

And one of the things I found are CD copies made by Dan for me to take to Oregon Writers Professional Writers Workshop — 16?  Good Lord, SEVENTEEN? — years ago.  He made them because he didn’t want me to potentially lose part of our cd library.  Also, because he could condense a lot of cds into one disk.

One of the CDs I just came across made me giggle because it says “French Music, listen to should wild euphoria erupt and should you need some countermeasures.”

And then I looked at the song titles and decided I’m not nearly euphoric enough to have them on the mp3 player.

Which brings us to those little influences that can make you feel like you’re dragging your tail.

I’ve been, as you all know, preoccupied with a lot of things, most of them pertaining to real estate.  Because I’m in and out of the house and stressed, I’ve been reading a lot of mystery.

And in a moment of weakness I bought the “Agatha Christie” Mystery “co-authored” by a young author.  In my defense, I assumed this was bonna fide fan-fic, written from a Christie outline.  I didn’t expect masterful prose, or even really Christie, but I expected good, honest fanfic.  You know, tips hate to material, etc.

I expected, as it were to meet an old friend, somewhat altered but not unrecognizable.

I should have read the reviews.  Because what I got was not a childhood friend aged 20 or 30 years.  What I got was finding mommy in the kitchen, eating live snakes in the middle of the night.

Took a while to sink in too.  It wasn’t that the book was so awful that I threw it against the wall.  I mean it was in no way, shape or form an Agatha Christie book.  It was all explained when I learned the “co-author” was not working from outline, had decided not to use Christie’s voice AND writes “psychological thrillers.”  That last one explained the police detective who was almost too neurotic to remember to breathe and walk at the same time, and who kept giving us hints he was gay, something that a) had no relevance to the plot and b) was so jarring in a Christie world as to make me ALMOST throw the book against the wall. And also why NO ONE in the book was clean.

That last one is what took a while to sink in.  I was so revolted with that book calling itself a Christie book, that I returned it.  And then I got another mystery (I’m almost sure it’s original indie, but I haven’t checked) and read that, and then another…

And then today I realized I felt depressed and out of sorts.  Not the active depressed where you want to kick someone or something or cry but just the blah depressed, a low grade sort of grey cloud hanging over me and my life.

And I realized the last three mysteries I read, starting with the fake Christie were DEPRESSING.

They aren’t outright supposed to be depressing.  I mean, these are cozies, set in England, and they are supposed to be… cozies, set in England.  yeah, there is supposed to be a murder, but you don’t dwell on it, you dwell on the puzzle.

And a couple of them actually have decent puzzles…

The problem is this feeling that no one is good, no one is honest, no one is even acceptable, and the detectives are often the worst of all.

Agatha Christie gave her characters foibles, sure, and often there was  a tight intrigue and not just the murderer but two or three other people would be no good.  BUT the propensity of the characters gave you the impression of being good sort of people.  Perhaps muddled, confused, or driven by circumstances to the less than honorable, but in general driven by principles of honor or love (even sometimes the murderer) and wanting to do the right thing for those they cared about.

You emerge from a Christie memory with the idea, sure, that of course there was unpleasantness, but most of the people are not horrors.

How did we get from there to now, where the characters aren’t even evil?  They’re just dingy and grey and tainted, all of them equally.  The victim, the detectives, the witnesses, will be vile and contorted, grotesque shapes walking in the world of men.

If this is a reflection of the psyches of most authors, I suddenly understand a lot about the self-hatred of western intellectuals.

But I wonder if it’s a fashion absorbed and perpetuated, communicated like the flu, a low grade dingy patina of … not even evil, just discontent and depression and a feeling that everyone in the world is similarly tainted.

I realized that was part of what was depressing me, partly because I’m a depressive, so I monitor my mood fairly regularly.  BUT what about normal people?  What if they just absorb this world view — and the idea that it’s smart and sophisticated, too — through popular entertainment, through movies and books and shows and then spew it out into the world, because it stands like a veil between them and reality, changing the way they perceive everything.

My friend David Burkhead, wrote a blog post about something like this (Well, actually about star wars, but…)

Back in the mid to late 70’s the “New Wave” was in full force. Downbeat endings, “black and gray morality” (which can be good if handled well, at least as a change-up from more clear cut items) or worse “black and black.” Those were the tone of Science Fiction.

Then, fairly close to each other, two movies came out which took an entirely different approach: Lucas’ “Star Wars” and Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The rogue was given back his heart of gold. The callous youth could be the hero of the piece, not ground down by the world weary cynics. Heroes who are actually heroes fighting bad guys who weren’t so “sympathetic” that you couldn’t tell hero from villain.

It was a refreshing change. And the result was that, for a time, it became OK to have good guys who were good guys. Bad guys who were actually bad and not just “oppressed” or “victims of their backgrounds”. You didn’t have to wonder who to root for.

Today we’re kind of in a similar position. One of the best selling series, for young people is The Hunger Games. Black and Very-Dark-Gray morality, little really to choose from in the sides, and (no spoilers) that’s shown pretty clearly in the ending. And in printed SF? So much “humanity is a plague” stuff. Bleah. (Read the whole thing)

What he didn’t say, though he might very well have thought it, is that such despairing stuff, such low grade despair and unpleasantness change us, particularly when they’re unremitting.  You internalize these thoughts, they become part of you.  If humanity is a plague, who will have children?  If humanity is a plague, why not encourage the criminals and terrorists?  If humanity is a plague who is clean?

You.  Me.  Most human beings.  Oh, sure, we’re not perfect — I often think people who write this lack the ability to distinguish between not being perfect and being corrupt and evil — and we often have unlovely characteristics.  But, with very few exceptions, most people I know TRY to be decent by their lights, try to raise their kids, help their friends and generally leave the world a little better.

Now, are we representative of everyone?  Of course not.  A lot of people are raised in cultures (here and abroad) that simply don’t give their best selves a chance.  But why enshrine those people and not the vast majority who are decent and well… human?

Even in a mystery there should be innocent and well intentioned people.  It gives contrast to the darker and more evil people and events.

Painting only in dark tints is no more accurate than painting only in pale tints.  It doesn’t denote greater artistry.  It just hangs a grey, blotched veil between your reader and reality, a veil that hides what is worthwhile in humans and events.

Make yourself aware of the veil and remove it.  It’s time the low-grade depression of western civilization were defeated.  No, it’s not perfect, but with all its failings it has secured the most benefits to the greatest number of people in the long and convoluted history of mankind. Self-criticism might be appropriate, but not to the exclusion of everything else.

Say no to the dingy-grey-patina.  Wash your eyes and look at the world anew.  And then paint in all the tints not just grey or black.





444 responses to “A Dingy Patina

  1. I’d come to a realization the other day that reading Charles Todd, who I enjoy, should only be done in small doses. The Bess Crawford series makes me happy, but the Ian Rutledge series just depresses me by the end of each book. On the other hand, I just discovered that an author I adored as a teen is on KU, and I’m feasting. DE Stevenson wrote happy, wonderful, life-fulfilling stories with unconventional romance and warm endings. Just what I need right now.

  2. Liberal projection, projected on the rest of the world for long enough, burns its way in….

    • Precisely what I thought when reading this:

      “a low grade dingy patina of … not even evil, just discontent and depression and a feeling that everyone in the world is similarly tainted.

      …and why I think so much stuff today is unreadable/unwatchable. It’s all just writer projection. And boooooooring.

    • Wayne Blackburn

      I mostly read older SciFi and Fantasy, except for some of the authors who could be described as Human Wave, most of which I know of from here, so I have actually been somewhat insulated from the nihilism of the past 30-40 years.

  3. How did we get from there to now, where the characters aren’t even evil? They’re just dingy and grey and tainted, all of them equally. The victim, the detectives, the witnesses, will be vile and contorted, grotesque shapes walking in the world of men.

    I was reflecting on a similar theme to a friend the other day. I have missed vast swaths of pop culture because it’s all just so morally tainted and awful. And I am not a prudish person.

    Television, in particular is dominated by series — The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Sons of Anarchy, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Jersey Shore, The Originals, The Shield, Dexter, The Wire, House of Cards, and on and on — where essentially all the major characters are simply, objectively, horrible people, driven by horrible impulses.

    It’s like watching a festival in honor of the seven deadly sins on your TV every day. Is this what we’ve come to?

    And the critics tell us this is great television.

    It probably wasn’t until the 2000s that I put down a book because all the characters in it were so vile there was simply nobody who didn’t disgust me. Fortunately that hasn’t happened often. In the genres I frequent there’s still seemingly a strong demand for an actual hero who is trying to do actual good and, even if misguided, has honor, conscience and a sense of right and wrong.

    I remember the last book I encountered that failed on that account. I only made it about 50 pages in when the “hero” of the story murdered two innocent cops for no good reason. I gave the book a scathing review on Amazon (not primarily because of that, actually, but because the writing was embarrassingly bad), and that is the only review I have ever had removed from Amazon. Apparently authors can complain about bad reviews and get them dropped. I didn’t know that until then.

    • The Other Sean

      In defense of the The Wire, not all the characters are horrible – just way too many. A small number of the cops are basically decent people, though often quite flawed. When McNulty isn’t working homicides he’s a decent human being; when he is, he’s obsessive and a philanderer, but otherwise decent. The ex-con-turned-boxer, the cop-turned-teacher, and the recovering dope addict all try to turn their lives around.

      Of course, most of the criminals, and all too many of the politicians and cops, are immoral, amoral, or downright evil.

      • ‘The Wire’ pretty much has to be filled with horrible people – it’s based on real people and events in Baltimore. I could argue that it’s been toned down from the real-life Bodymore, Murderland.

        • But did it have to be based on them?

          • The Other Sean

            Given that the producer/writer, David Simon, was a reporter in Baltimore covering the police beat it seems rather likely that it did. It is an example of “write what you know.”

            • One can also learn to know other things.

              • The Other Sean

                One can. In this case, he’s offering fictionalized tales that offer the flavor of what Baltimore is actually like, and may be intending to inform as much as entertain. As depressing as “The Wire” can be, and as often as even the best characters tend toward a pale shade of gray, it isn’t strictly gratuitous. The downbeat depictions in “The Wire” of political and police misconduct, the deterioration of the schools, newspapers, and heavy industry in Baltimore, mirror the reality of Baltimore. They offer a safer opportunity to comment on those subjects, and get those comments out to a broader audience, as entertainment than they would as an op-ed piece.

                That sad, I don’t agree with anything like all the views being espoused through it, and it is depressing-enough that I find it best to savor in small doses. But in terms of depicting just how f’ed up Baltimore is, and why, it does a great job.

    • This is why I hate most of what the critics call ‘great tv’ and actively avoid it. It’s why I *do* like shows like, say, Person of Interest which might seem grey at first glance, but upon watching you realize that, while it is most definitely a semi-bleak cyberpunk setting, the heroes are people genuinely doing heroic things. They’re often flawed, or have done things in the past that are not good, but in the here-and-now they are really trying to help and protect other people and to do the right thing and to *not* be the people they used to be. (And, naturally, the network is probably about to cancel it. All that AND it’s very anti-big-brother, so, y’know…)

      • What brought about the shock at the advent of cyberpunk was not that the SF had not had as bad, or worse, societies before. It was that for the first time, the horrible society was just the setting, not the problem.

      • Birthday Girl

        POI was one of my favorites until the girl with the superpowers took over. I’m just so tired of mandatory nonsensical superpowered girls stuck into a story just because it’s a checkbox.

      • POI is great. I wish more heroes on TV other than superheroes aspired to be as good as Reese and Finch do.

        At least it looks like season 5 will give it a proper ending. It’s just a shame worse shows will outlive it.

      • Laura Montgomery

        The Last Ship has really good people facing hard and awful choices and obstacles. Highly recommend.

        • The second season was much better than the first. It seemed to have a clear over-arching theme, whereas the first season sort of lurched from crisis of the week to crisis of the week.

        • Thank you for this tip! – it’s on my streaming list now. Here’s the user review that sealed it: “A little bit Walking dead, a little bit JAG, put it on a Navy Destroyer during the end of the world, and you have the Last Ship. This is an exciting action adventure that hearkens back to the days of TV yor when TV was good. When the characters were not all strung out crack heads killing each other over a couple of bucks. The immediate draw for me was Adam Baldwin .”

    • Comparing the original and “reimagined” series of Battlestar Galactica, the latter had superior writing, acting, and effects.

      But as far as I’m concerned, the original was better. Because it never made me root for the Cylons to wipe out humanity.

      • The new Doctor Who has better scripts, sets, FX, and budget for crowd scenes.

        The first one had more fun.

        • YES! I gave up after the second season of the New Who. The wit and fun were gone. If I want grim Dr. Who, I’ll dig out some of the Sylvester McCoy episodes

          • When the alleged Doctor gleefully cut off somebody’s hand with a sword, I knew I had to stop watching. But there were so many other things I found unheroic and undoctorish.

      • The Other Sean

        It seems to me that in the “reimagined” Battlestar Galactica they both went a little too grimdark, especially expending lots of effort of showing humanity at its worst and basest. There is too much desperation and too little hope. The day-to-day life in the rag tag fleet is shabby and dark and grim. Everything is close to the edge.

        Contrariwise, I found that the original was too light and fluffy at times. The sense of hope is always there, but there is little desperation. Yes, sometimes the people get sick of wandering the stars and fall for foolish plans to settle, but day-to-day life in the fleet of the original series seems shiny and happy, despite problems.

    • Liberalism is a philosophy of consolation for Western Civilization as it commits suicide.

    • I wouldn’t class Breaking Bad as being part of the dingy gray patina, because 1) it doesn’t presume moral relativism, in fact it flatly repudiates it, and 2) it shows very clearly that while we can control our actions, those actions have consequences which we cannot control.

  4. It’s not the lurid reds of the torture chamber that slowly damage the soul of the reader, but the dingy grey-brown of the “World’s Greatest Dad” coffee mug on the torturer’s cluttered desk. The horrible made every-day normal.

  5. Mark Thompson

    Nero Wolfe seldom disappoints. Avoid “The Mother Hunt” and you should be fine.

    • Terry Sanders

      Even in THE MOTHER HUNT there wese som halfway decent people. The client wasn’t scum. The lady who made the buttons was merely cantankerous. Etc. The ugliness was mostly in a tight, self-selected “community”–that particular officeful of literary types.

      Sounds kind of familiar…

    • I’ve read all of them.

  6. As a reader I’m turning toward my science and technical books for more inspiring colors of emotion verse the grey that passes for a lot of modern fiction. It’s more interesting and exciting to read about the geology of Colorado or how to build a TCXO from scratch than it is to trudge through yet another “If You Were an Ancillary Victorian Gender Neutral Jack Rabbit Vampire Midwife” book or story with poor editing.

    I used to turn to science fiction to escape reality, now I turn to reality (science) to escape science fiction.

    • I spent years reading history for the same reason. Then it too got colonized.

      • History is ripe for this sort of thing because our heroes and heroines have been on pedestals for so long that we’re shocked when they turn out to have been flesh and blood like the rest of us. The mistake is the 1970s style of tossing them all into the septic tank, which I suspect started with ulterior motives, but fits right in with the disillusioned attitude. That’s just as bad, if not worse, than portraying them as alabaster saints.

        • Good Lord, man, they haven’t been on pedestals since I’ve been cognizant. Arguably since the 20s. I enjoyed fictionalized/popularized history a great deal, but halfway through the oughts it became all about social justice.

          • Never encountered that in prior to 1950s works. Washington. Franklin. Jefferson, Columbus. Various figures depending where you were in relation to the Mason-Dixon line. All larger than life. 1970s had Washington who liked to party hardy, Jefferson who was a hypocrite, Franklin the member of the Hellfire club, anti-Columbus sentiment in general. And while some of it was true, that wasn’t the sum of those men.

            • Perhaps not in the US? In Europe it’s since before I was born. Also, Kevin, I didn’t read history (other than old history books from my parents’ and brother’s schooling) till the late seventies. Because well… too young.

              • I was wondering if my experience was provincial. The area was something like the song I’m Oki from Muskogee, and this extended to the school and the available books. 1950s and prior works I remember; there were limited 1960s history texts, all associated with the Civil War (likely because of the centennial, and the histories were neutral); and then came the 1970s works. That’s where we started running into revisionist stuff and one with some pro-Soviet propaganda.

                There wasn’t much revisionist books in the school libraries, but the regional library seemed to have a good bit, and they seemed to be recent (mid to late 1970s). There either my choices passed over 1960s stuff, or there was a shortage of that as well in the history section. I remember one that set off the manure detector with a historic error on the dust jacket, and I put them back on the shelf.

                All that said, My absolute favorite was a self-published book on an obscure period in state history. It dated from the 1970s, but was pretty straight forward, without oddball theories, and heavily footnoted.

            • The Other Sean

              I attended elementary school in the 1980’s and high school in the early-mid 1990’s, and it was 2000 by the time I had my first American history course at the university level. Elementary school was Catholic, high school was an independent prep school, first college history course was at a major state university.

              Over the 15 year period between that first elementary school “social studies” course and the first college-level America history course, the treatment of America’s Founders migrated from near-idolatry to somewhat positive but with caveats/alternate views, to neutral-to-hostile.

              Nowadays, Lincoln still gets a neutral-to-positive treatment, TR gets a neutral treatment, and the rest of the Republican presidents get a hostile treatment. Conservative Democrats such as President Cleveland aren’t treated better. In covering more modern times, moderate, pro-defense Democrats that used to populate the Senate and House get short shrift while the Progressives are busy lionizing the Great Society and demonizing Reagan. Soviet apologia abounds. Attempts to thwart Communism are derided when not outright condemned.

              The exceptions to this were courses by an older professor (PhD probably earned when my parents were toddlers) and another professor who’d emigrated from the former Soviet bloc. The former sounded like an old school patriotic liberal, while the latter was actively hostile toward Communism. (Anybody ever notice that those who lived under the Communists are much more hostile to Communism than our own darn Progressives?)

            • Don’t forget General Washington’s ill-fitting false teeth. Vital that you know about that and contemplate it as he and Col. Alexander Hamilton ride into the British camp after crossing the Delaware.

        • “What would posterity think we were? Demi-gods? We’re men, no more no less, trying to get a nation started against greater odds than a more generous God would have allowed. First things first, John. Independence; America. If we don’t secure that, what difference will the rest make?”

          Parson Weems has many sins for which to atone. Those reacting to him are typically guilty of the opposite sins.

          • Has anybody seen the whole Alexander Hamilton musical, or listened to the whole soundtrack? I hear it is pretty good, and the two pieces I heard were pretty decent. I do not know if it is uplifting, but the guy who wrote is apparently some kind of Hamiltonian fan.

            • I am not particularly attuned to Hip-Hop so doubt I would fancy the music, but I did read the book (by Ron Chernow) it was based upon!

              Reviews by those whose opinions I respect (e.g., Richard Brookhiser, Terry Teachout) have been generally favorable about its historical accuracy and dramatic effect.

      • I agree that lots of published history has become leftie apologetics and agitprop. But on the plus side some of my favorite writers of history were proponents of the “better by the yard” approach to shelf space, so there is a lot to re-read. 🙂

        • A Distant Mirror left a debt in my wall.
          On one hand, it is a great resource for the middle ages, quite possibly one of the best and most accessible.
          On the other hand, she stops about every three pages to say “while this would appear to disprove Marxist contentions, it really doesn’t because of [long-winded, flimsy rationalization].

          • A Distant Mirror was one of those books I could only read by way of the index, because attempts at sustained reading caused dangerous levels of eye-rolling and incredulous laughter.

            I think I actually found it by way of a bibliography in a Cantor history. With that sort of recommendation and the breathless jacket blurbs I was expecting better.

      • The Grey Goo is a fungus, seeping its way into all forms of literary endeavor. I think it affects the optic nerve, possibly by re-wiring it so that it filters everything through the anal sphincter.

        Strong, regular applications of fungicide are essential to prevent it creeping into good writing. I recommend Human WaveTM as the most effective Grey Goo fungicide on the market! Avoid SJW fungicide as it only spreads the fungus.

        • That was supposed to be TM superscript. Does WP not accept SUP HTML tags? Does it insist on lower case or does it reject all cases?

          This is a TestTM.

          • No idea – it won’t show (TM) as superscript on the screen, but it comes out correctly on the final blog post. *shrug* WordPress – you get what you pay for.

          • You could try HTML character codes: &tm; should become &tm;.

            • What, ? I presume the angle brackets will disappear …

              • Try that again … upper case &TM vs &TM (lower case.)

                BTW – I am listening to Hugh Hewitt’s broadcast and he just said Rep. Mike Pompeo just busted HRC, leading her into a statement under oath that there was no, no, NO classified information on her home server.

                Damage control commencing … 3… 2 …

            • … or not, in which case you’d have to use the numeric code ™ like so:

              • Wait, WHAT did WordPress just do? It just double-decoded that code!

                Okay, that was an ampersand, followed by #8482;, to produce ™. Except that the first ampersand was HTML encoded as & amp; (with no space), which SHOULD have made just the ampersand appear… oh, never mind, at least this time I think I managed to explain it right.

    • Probably the reason why the Martian became the hit it became, and fortunately they managed to keep that quality in the movie too. You can like the people. There isn’t even a designated villain in the story, it’s man vs nature all the way.

      • Andy why the students are passing dog-eared copies around like it was samidzat.

      • Oh, yeah. When the closest thing you can find to a villain is the stuffy bureaucrat–who is honestly trying to avoid provoking the budget cut that will destroy all of NASA…

  7. When I burnt out on SF 20 years ago I went to mysteries. I read most of the stuff Patricia Cornwell and Sara Paretsky wrote. And after some years I was re-reading one, stopped, closed the book, and put the whole group in the trade box.

    Both of those authors could write well, but everything their characters said and did was filtered through paranoia and loathing, and while the stories might have been decent, I always felt mildly depressed after finishing one. Kathy Reichs wasn’t quite as bad, but got consigned her to the trade box too, along with John D. MacDonald.

    Downbeat may be trendy and cool if you’re a Goth, but I don’t have time for that kind of thing any more.

    • Yep — I haven’t touched another Patricia Cornwell and Sara Paretsky… in fact I get sick to my stomach if I touch their books. I still like to read John D. MacDonald though… Actually I haven’t touched a top selling mystery in over five years.

    • The Goths I know are often quite upbeat, or at least not downbeat. It seems to be (for the sane ones? Those from just as/after punk maybe? Not the ‘dress the part’ pretenders.) more, “Reality isn’t always great. Sometimes it is, but don’t lie to yourself about the rest of it.” I know one Goth who claims to be “Goth when Goth was” (well, not back to sack Rome times…) or “Goth As F***’. All black? Can do, but can do Goth in pink just as easily. Me? Not a Goth. Sometimes I do hang around (upside down) with some, though.

      • My own take on Goth is underscored by one of “God’s” lines in that generally execrable movie “Bruce Almighty”: “You want to paint pictures like that, you’ve got to use some dark colors.”

        It’s the interplay between dark and light, kind of a psychological chiaroscuro. 😉

      • Punk wasn’t downbeat, tho. A few outliers, but overall it was far more Ian Dury than Sid Vicious. Punk was all about “be yourself, whatever that may be and even if you’re not very good at it.” So if you love to sing but suck at it — get up on stage and sing anyway, with your whole heart.

        I think there’s an element of that in Goth, but it’s still too self-conscious to be itself, and that sometimes comes off as being all downer.

    • One reason why I don’t much like the Stephanie Plum series is that while some of the characters are sort of likable most of them, especially the main character, are stupid, and they DO NOT improve. They keep making the same mistakes at least in the few books I have read (one from the beginning of the series, then from about the middle, and one two or three books later towards the end or at least what was the last book back then, I think there were maybe 12 or 13 books back then), and the comedy which can be funny if you take it scene by scene depends on them making the same mistakes and never learning. Which, all by itself, is pretty depressing. You start to feel like giving the main character and her dysfunctional family and friends a thorough beating sooner or later, or start hoping that they get that in the story at least.

  8. Cloudbuster, the first book I had that reaction to was “The Fountainhead”. Only book I ever put aside because I wanted all the characters to slowly die in a fire.

    • Hmm, maybe that’s why I was never able to force myself through The Fountainhead. I’ve enjoyed other Ayn Rand books: Anthem (though depressing) and Atlas Shrugged (though Galt’s speech was ludicrously long and tiresome), but have simply gotten stalled somewhere in The Fountainhead a couple times over the years.

      • I wouldn’t recommend the slog. It’s got a couple of good insights, but I’d be hard-pressed to say they’re worth digging for.
        If you got to point where she mocked postmodern poetry, you’ve gotten to the best part. It doesn’t get better, even with the “triumphant” ending.

      • I’m told the best line in all of them are “The end,” but wouldn’t know. Have never made it that far.

      • It’s the only Ayn Rand book I’ve read, and more than enough to put me off trying any more.

        No need to finish it; the main character stays a sociopathic jerkwad all the way through to the end. Well, he was consistent at least…

  9. Polliwog the 'Ette

    An author who surprised me by suddenly going grey-toned was Georgette Beyer in Penhollow. It made me curious about *why* she wrote it since it was so unlike her usual style. I’m glad she didn’t make a habit of writing in that way.

    • I think she was trying to write in the “trendy” style of the day. “Pastel” is less poisonous, but still not her usual delightful, witty prose. Like the Matrix #2 and 3, I just pretend they don’t exist 🙂

    • Penhallow was the one Heyer mystery I couldn’t bring myself to finish. At the time, I thought it was because the patriarch of the family died (it was at a time when my own patriarch – though a very different and better man than Penhallow – was ailing), but I suspect your observation is more correct.

      • I can’t stand her mysteries, as much as I love her romances.

        • Her husband (Mr. Rougier) loved mysteries and plotted them for her. So they are more his books than hers, for whatever reason.

          • Polliwog the 'Ette

            That might explain why they aren’t nearly as good, although a few have her “zing” which improves them a lot. I don’t like any of them as well as any but her worst romance (Cousin Kate for me, I hate books with psychos), but Penhollow is the only one I haven’t finished.

  10. I don’t mind black-and-grey or grey-and-grey in and of themselves.
    I just mind them without catharsis.

    Sure, give me a downer ending. I don’t mind a bit.
    But make it tragic.

  11. My current project is sort of an American “cozy” – some mild mystery, a couple of unpleasant but easily-defeated characters (rather like the TV series Blandings, which my daughter and I are enjoying tremendously on streaming video) and lots of gentle comedy. Yes, it’s going to be terrifically escapist, but it is rather pleasant, writing about nice, ordinary – if sometimes eccentric – people. We’re writing it together – The Chronicles of Luna City.
    I’m rushing to finish and bring it out next month, in time for the Christmas rush. One of my regular publishing clients suggested that I ought to lock up the domain name for it – and I did. As it is going to be several books and an ongoing blog…

    • What does “c4c” mean? I keep seeing it here.

      urbandictionary says:

      cam for cam,
      char for chat or
      comment for comment
      used on myspace
      “Hey anybody want to talk? C4C.”

      But that doesn’t really seem to fit.

      (And what’s MySpace? I seem to remember that was a thing about a century ago in internet time.)

      • Comment for comments. You have to comment to get the comments automatically sent to you.

      • comment for comments. something to post to be able to click notify box.

        • Because the WordPress programmers, for some reason, decided that people wouldn’t want to get other people’s comments in the mail until after they’d posted a comment of their own. Which is a bizarre blind spot of a missing feature.

          But then, I’m a programmer myself, and I can tell you from personal experience that we programmers often have no idea what the users want until the users tell us. And often the users themselves have no idea what they want until they see the program we wrote, at which point they say, “Oh, and it would be really neat if it could also frobnicate the bogulums as well.” Then we add a bogulum-frobnicating feature, and then when they see that, the users ask for a frobnulum bognicator as well, so we add that, and so on. You know a program is getting close to complete when the user requests slow down to maybe one per month. (They never stop entirely). Which is why the best software is written as a collaborative effort between programmers and users, and why I’m lucky to work in the place I do, where we really put that value into practice.

          Whoops, went off on a tangent there. Anyway, the point is, WordPress really should have that feature, but if nobody suggests it to the programmers, they probably won’t ever realize it’s missing.

          • And often the users themselves have no idea what they want until they see the program we wrote, at which point they say, “Oh, and it would be really neat if it could also frobnicate the bogulums as well.”

            Lucky you. Half the time, in my experience, we asked them whether they wanted it to frobnicate the bogulums — twenty times or so, and got the answer no, never, so we designed it in the simpler way that not being required to do that allowed. . . .

            • It’s YAGNI all the way down, except when it isn’t.

              But if you leave out everything you absolutely don’t need today, it will be easier to meet the pent-up demand for variegated frobulation unleashed by their first look at a frobule. Trust me on this.

              • Although, if you don’t anticipate the probability of needing to add several kinds of variegated frobulation, with two or three user-configurable controls on each variegation, you’ll end up with an architecture that has to be patched awkwardly and ensures early end-of-product-life when you can’t fit any more features in and nobody will pay to re-architect the whole thing.

                • And if you do anticipate it, the resulting architecture will interfere with the zazign freep, which is necessary.

          • Dealing with this right now in the day job. We built software to the specs provided by the org’s internal IT staff, but there wasn’t a whole lot of user input after a certain point. Today, surprise, surprise, the users are mad, think this new software is less functional than the stuff that’s older than my driving-age daughter, and we’re going back for a UI re-design. (Sigh).

          • As $HOUSEMATE says, “The customer never knows what he wants until he sees what he gets.” And many times I was told to “fix this bug.” The “bug” being that I wrote to what their spec. said, not to what they imagined but left out of the spec. And as for asking that has three ways to go.
            1. No reply other than a demand to have it done by Tuesday. (Six month later will come the call, “We finally got around to installing it and…” discovered it was written to spec.)
            2. The least important of a set of questions will be answered, the rest ignored. Which reverts to case #1, if things go well.
            3. If the questions are not sent as set, in order to avoid #2, there is complaint of getting asked so many questions – and it reverts to case #1, if things go well.

            It would surprise me at all if the programmers asked “Hey, what if someone just wants to get the comments, but doesn’t want to comment themselves.” and got told, “Oh, nobody ever does that. Forget about it.”

            Amazingly, I don’t hate people. Though at times I am tempted to make a list for any unfriendly neighborhood psychopaths.

            • Which is why the place where I work has adopted a “release early, release often” style, sometimes called “agile programming”. We try to do development cycles of just two weeks for the smaller projects, and up to six weeks for the larger ones, and put in just one feature per cycle. Then we ask the users, “Okay, of these ten features you want, which one is the one you want next?”

              Now, we’re relatively fortunate in our set of users, because they’re all highly intelligent people, whose skill set is something other than programming. I know that’s not the case everywhere — we’re basically Lake Wobegon: all our users are above average. But even with a more typical user-programmer interaction, the agile methodology often works. I’d recommend it to just about anybody.

              There’s a type of user it doesn’t work well with, though: the micromanaging managerial type, a.k.a. the Pointy Haired Boss. If the user community you’re serving is more than 25% PHBs, then I wouldn’t recommend agile programming, because the feature your boss will tell you to implement next is “All of them, and how dare you show me incomplete work.” If you’re one of those unfortunates stuck in that scenario, the best (and indeed, the only) way for you to do agile programming is to ditch that job the instant you get a chance and head to some company that doesn’t suffer from collective recto-cranial inversion. And you have my sympathies, because you probably can’t find another job right now or you already would have.

              But if you’re lucky enough to have mostly halfway decent people in your user community, a small project or two run on agile-programming practices can be a good test scenario to get the users to trust the programmers more and vice versa, and you can end up in a virtuous cycle (the opposite of a vicious cycle) where more user happiness leads to more user engagement. It’s really great when it works, and I’m lucky to be in a place where it has worked.

              • Former Employer had one dealer that liked to make changes with he version he got until approval. My suspicion is he was after a range of things and figured how to game to their system to get them. That approach would likely have helped in his case.

                There was one site was was *wonderful* not only did they know exactly what they wanted, and could say it, they didn’t pull the “It dunwerk, fixit!” nonsense many places did. They gave detailed reports of any fault, “If it’s in this mode, at this menu, and this button is pressed then THAT happen when THIS was expected.” It was almost as good as having a big “IT’S HERE, STUPID!” arrow in the code.

              • Another way it doesn’t work is when your “feature” isn’t self-contained and depends on 1 or more additional features (such as external interfaces) which it won’t operate without and whose schedule you don’t control.

              • Actually, we’re doing a relatively good job with a form of “agile” where I work – not so much from the standpoint of the original agile idea of having a complete “potentially shipable increment” at frequent intervals, although we ARE getting some good development discipline* from that, so much as having a better than average integration of product manager (representing the customer & business needs), developers, testers, etc.

                *Development discipline: that happy balance between developers who hide behind a poor spec (because there ARE no waterfall-like complete specs in agile) and developers who decide they know so much more than the customer about what the customer needs that they become loose cannons. Trust me, I’ve seen both.

                • what’s your opinion on testers?

                  • Hard to be objective – it’s what I do (on embedded firmware).
                    OTOH – lotsa variation, between by-the-book spend-all-your-time-documenting-test-cases-to-prove-spec-coverage vs. the-developers-unit-tests-probably-caught-the-obvious-so-spend-your-time-exploring-edge-cases vs. I-don’t-want-to-test-manually-so-lets-automate-all-possible-tests types.
                    Developers, being human beings with limited resources, create bugs that can be found by all methods. And testers, also being human beings with limited resources, miss some bugs.

            • In my 30+ years as a programmer, I’ve worked on exactly one project in which I was given a complete spec at the beginning, I programmed to that spec, and the customer was satisfied at the end.

              Most of the time, it’s either pulling teeth to get information from the customer, or working toward a moving target.

            • Or (from a tester’s point of view), the developer’s response to a bug that can, and will, be triggered by ordinary imperfect or curious human users, is “DDT – Don’t Do That”.

              • Ouch. We had the legend of Billy the Buttonpusher who had found a sequence of commands that would trigger a truly hard lockup – and shut down the line/plant. When he didn’t feel like working, he’d issue that sequence and have a (long) break while it was rectified. Eventually the sequence was found and the nasty bug eliminated. I can only imagine the frustrated disappointment when ‘Billy’ discovered that the damn thing would keep on working.

            • “The “bug” being that I wrote to what their spec. said, not to what they imagined but left out of the spec.”

              Orvan, as a tester and a developer, what I see all too often is developers with the attitude of “Yes, we knew that the customer was asking for the wrong thing, but instead of pointing this out and risking making the customer unhappy, we’ll write something we know is wrong and then hide behind the spec later. Never mind that we’re hired because we’re supposed to know how to do this stuff when the customer doesn’t.”

              • When I did ask, they ignored. So I went with what I had. At one point one suggest I write the spec, so I did. I included an impossible feature to see if they bothered reading it. They didn’t. They ordered the device with the feature that if *this* button were pressed, the device would transform into a pumpkin at the next occurring midnight.

                If it was a simple, “That can’t be right. It must really be this.” I would at least try to get confirmation that that’s what was really meant. They got ‘written to spec’ when they didn’t answer.

                • Understood.
                  Few customers will put the right people on reviewing specs, with sufficient time to do it thoroughly, and handle the scheduling impact of a spec showing up for review in the middle of other activities.
                  Team review would sort out a lot, but it’s horribly expensive.
                  Also, there’s often little career benefit to the “right people” for pushing themselves into the review cycle (even if they know about it), because business managers very often have no practical concept of how much less they’ll pay, in development cost & risk, for the product to be really thought through carefully early-on.
                  And that MIGHT be a sign that many successful business managers are good “think on their feet” (a.k.a. “wing it”) types as opposed to planner types, so assume dev projects should be handled the same way.

                  Best compromise I’ve seen so far is hiring a really good, proactive product manager – someone in daily contact with the developers, & with good enough judgement about when questions should be elevated to the customer vs. just making a decision.

              • After the third time you ask to confirm specs — seven times apiece — and they confirm until it’s done, you start to get cynical.

          • “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said, ‘faster horses’.”
            — attributed to, apparently erroneously, to Henry Ford

            Still a valid comment, though. Often, users say they want some specific thing, because they can’t envision a better way of doing things. Thinking about things can often lead to a better way, such as when Steve Wozniak designed the Apple 2 disk controller. His design used 7 small-scale ICs, at a time when disk controllers typically used dozens of medium-to-large-scale ICs.

            People often get hung up on the how, and not the what.

          • That was the one good thing about “Rapid Application Development” a couple of decades ago. You might not be able to extract a program spec from the users without torture equipment, but show them something and they instantly know what they *don’t* want…

  12. I had a horrible realization a month back that the book I’d enjoyed reading most all year was a cookbook. Now, it was a great cookbook, amusingly written and full of winning recipes but… really?

    At least that’s not true any more since I read Larry Correia’s new book over the weekend. Twice. Found it to be everything I’ve been missing in epic fantasy. Heroes whose motives I could actually stand. Dark and horrible things occasionally happening, but not glorified. No requirement for me to like the bad guys.

    • Authors wanting you to like the bad guys seems to be a modern thing. It seems to happen a lot in long-running series, especially the urban fantasy types where the heroine ends up having romantic entanglements with the “bad guy” who turns out just to be the “misunderstood guy,” who, over the course of the series is reformed and turned into a good guy. There must be a named trope for that, right?

      But what about when the bad guys are really, you know, bad guys? I noticed a comment about the Gotham TV series somewhere, where the commenter was mentioning how much he likes The Penguin, and not in an “that’s an effective portrayal of a bad guy” kind of way, but in a “like him as a person” kind of way, which shocked me a bit, because the character is truly a scary sociopath and I worry about anyone who could actually like him.

      • Aristotle observed a long time ago that we like characters to be as good as we are, or a little bit better, and while that encompasses more than moral goodness, it does include it.

      • Gotham is absolutely unwatchable because absolutely everyone in there with the possible exception of Alfred is a natural fit for the “he/she/it needed killin” defense. The best medicine for the place would be dosed in megatons.

        • I think Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne are sufficiently “good” protagonists that they, along with Alfred, make it tolerable for me. I have someone to root for.

          • Gotham is an attempt to answer the question: what kind of environment is necessary to produce a Batman?

            Too often these days, writers become waylaid in the first part of that question and never get around to Batman (or, when they do, have so tortured their moral compass that Batman is indistinguishable from the villains.)

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Now I haven’t watched Gotham, mainly because I don’t watch TV, but the biggest problem with it to my mind is Bruce is just a kid.

              So you got these “good guys” fighting the evil in Gotham but you know that they can’t really make a difference until Bruce is old enough to become Batman.

              Of course, even Batman can’t really fix Gotham. [Sad Smile]

              • It’s fascinating to me seeing Bruce’s journey from grief-stricken boy to Batman, and Jim Gordon’s fight to make a difference against seemingly insurmountable odds. Rooting for Gordon’s like rooting for Travis and Crockett at the Alamo.

              • Batman as angsty teenager…
                Not really something I want to watch.

            • One of the most heartbreaking things for me to watch in the latter half of the season is Selina Kyle’s moral journey. Obviously, she’s a petty criminal from the start of the series, but she hasn’t crossed any big lines yet. So [SPOILER ALERT]….

              … the fact that her big “crossing the line” moment comes when she murders a man to protect Bruce is particularly poignant. I kept having these “No, Selina, no!” moments as her behavior escalated. You know she grows up to be Catwoman, so you know she has to go this way, but you hate to watch it happen. Of course, Catwoman has often been portrayed as probably the most sympathetic villain in the Batman milieu. It’s hard not to have some affection for her, but even Gotham doesn’t excuse her transgressions.

              At the same time, by the end of the season you see that young Bruce is holding to his ideals and establishing that there are moral boundaries he won’t cross, and we’re beginning to see the man he will become. I think it’s clear the two are consciously intended to be moral mirrors of each other.

              • Of course, Catwoman has often been portrayed as probably the most sympathetic villain in the Batman milieu.

                In fact, I consider “The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne” (collected in the first “The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told”) to be the single best Batman story ever. Part of the back story was that Selina had apparently claimed to have amnesia about her actions as Catwoman and was in prison to pay her debt (no attempts at escape or anything like that). Batman comes to her for help after falling afoul of a particularly nasty trap of the Scarecrow’s and well, one of the best stories of redemption in the DC universe. And it was an Earth 2 story so it could “stick” and they didn’t have to reset it three issues later to keep the status quo.

                • Terry Sanders

                  Seconded! And it used the most believable and entertaining view of Selina’s criminal career.

                  “Was I the only master criminal who didn’t LECTURE ALL THE TIME??!!!”

                  “After a steady diet of murderous psychopaths and deranged mass murderers, you have no idea how REFRESHING it was to hunt someone who was just in it for the money…”

                • Yes, that was a lovely story.

                • One of the things I liked about DC’s old multiverse (I am told that they recently brought it back but I’m not following any more so I don’t know of it works this way) was that they could use the older “Earth 2” versions of the characters to give them their “happy ending.” The main universe, Earth 1, was constrained–Superman and Lois continue their dance around each other (although they did eventually change that), Selina’s too valuable as a villain to ever permanently reform her, etc.–but on Earth 2 they could have the older heroes who moved past the status quo. Clark and Lois married. Selina truly reformed and married to Bruce. The various heroes having grown children, for a new generation of heroes (and some villains).

                  This allowed a sense of closure that we could not get with the main series.

                  That, I think, is the main “casualty” of DC’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths”. They lost that. Sure, eventually they married Clark and Lois, but overall they were stuck with a perpetual status quo (until they had one of their periodic “crises” which generated a new status quo for a while). And that’s a big part of the reason I dropped out of reading comics in the late 80’s. Tired of the endless round of the same-old same-old and the things they took out were some of my favorite things. Mind you, I was probably in the minority as I’m told their sales boomed during that period. But there it is.

                  Not sure what this has to do with anything. Just some public musings. 😉

                  • We can profitably learn from it the peril of unlimited series. 0:)

                  • Keep in mind that comics had originally been conceived as a short-term medium, with an anticipated fan base of 12 – 15 year-old boys. Nobody imagined such horribly arrested societal development that fans would read them once they discovered girls, much less once they were into adulthood. So a constant status quo made marketing sense, and “continuity freaks” were not worth consideration.

                    Then Marvel arrived, with extended soap opera story-lines and even (gasp!) character development! Geeks like Roy Thomas (who had a fan-boy letter in the first Fantastic Four letters column, IIRC) became professional writers and mined continuity for stories when the idea factory ran slow. DC, which had grown accustomed to tossing Timely table scraps had to adjust to the new market, developing its own continuity rehabs, thus was Earth-2 born.

                    When DC performed its Crisis on Infinite Earths continuibotomy, Marvel publicly horse-laughed, proclaiming they had no need for such, having “gotten it right in the first place.” Ultimately Marvel has had to eat those words.

                    One thing about the old Earth-2 retirement home was the range it gave for stories about different character paths, without recourse to DC’s “Imaginary” stories form. Yes, we got some closure as WIB notes, but it also allowed for characters to come out of “retirement” for short periods. Imagine a story in which middle-aged, no longer playboy Bruce Wayne is kidnapped and sweet, lovely Selina Wayne decides to get him back …

              • Selina & Bruce representing acceptance and rejection of The World As It Is?

        • Megatons per second.

          I binge watched it on Netflix. It kept getting worse. Somebody needs to shoot the James Gordon character, he’s a dick. New season is up at ITunes. I’m not spending any money on it. No way, no hope, no chance. When you’re rooting for the Penguin, you know it’s time to shut it off.

          Second season of The Flash, same deal. Not watching it unless they give it away. Penny Dreadful, same deal turbo-nitrous version.

          Agents of Shield I’m watching, but it’s starting to bug me. Too many compromises, too much ‘they’re all dirty’. I can already predict where they’re going to go.

          News flash from the Marvel Comics universe, they have gone full-SJW. The new Captain America fights for migrant rights against the eeeeevile conservatives on the border. Needless to say, they’re getting zero dollars from me.

          What isn’t crap these days is carefully selected anime. (As in, a lot of it is porn, so be careful.)

          I did watch Sword Art Online and SAO 2, recommend both. Nice and fun, decent writing, zero filth. Anime you don’t have to cover the kid’s eyes all the time. Presently watching Aldnoah Zero, giant robots can be fun. One of the characters has a brain and is using it, not something one sees every day.

          • Yeah, Gordon can be kind of a jerk, but not an immoral jerk, in my opinion. I never found myself rooting for The Penguin.

            • Gordon represents the viewer: he begins his tenure in Gotham believing in Truth and Justice in a world of Black & White. Significantly, his first big decision is whether to murder Penguin, a challenge for which there is no moral response. His journey is through the swamp of corruption while not himself becoming corrupt … or rather, irredeemably corrupt. This swamp cannot be drained without getting hands dirty, but are the stains permanent, and how much such staining can be tolerated remain unanswered questions.

              Sadly, what our culture currently passes off as sophisticated thinking is merely sophistry.

          • The rest of the Marvel line, based on the post-universal-apocalypse reboots so far, is going to be worse. Glib, ignorant superficial
            Lefties, as though the company moved its corporate HQ to a Starbucks outside Columbia U.

            • I found Daredevil infuriating with it’s Occupy-level anti-business messaging.

            • DC as well. What’s with making superheroes evil? Superman is supposed to be Truth Justice and the American Way.

              What they’ve done to Green Lantern is not be believed and so incredibly PC.

              • It may have escaped your notice, but a certain large portion of the populace seems more enamoured of Truth justice and the Swedish Way.

                Those would be people largely ignorant of the lack of diversity in Sweden, the relative absence of corporate taxes & regulation, the high rates of alcohol & drug abuse, and the Wallander-esque Nordic Noir.

                • Former lack of diversity. The influx of immigrants in the past few years has been catastrophic. Sweden now has one of the highest rates of rape in the world — driven by immigrant men.

                  My daughter spent a couple weeks in Stockholm earlier this year and her impression of the mood on the ground is that the ethnic Swedes despise the Muslims. They’re all over, begging in the streets, leaving trash everywhere.

                  It’s a little-known fact that fourteen planned refuge centers in Sweden have been pre-emptively burned down this year alone. Like seemingly everywhere else in the first world, the government is involved in a cold war with its native citizens. I suspect that war is going to get hotter before it gets colder.

                  Swedes vaunted successes were only possible when Sweden was filled with Swedes. A Sweden full of Muslims is going to be a very different and far less pleasant place.

                  • Heh. I saw a report yesterday that one German mayor had distributed a “Welcome to Deutschland” letter advising the “refugees” that Germany is a clean country and “elimination” ought be done only in toilets.

                    Claims about “all cultures being equally good” suffer from being full of [crap].

                  • Which is why three proposed refugee centers in existing buildings have spontaneously combusted in the last month. So far, they’ve been empty….

                  • Downside of the Treaty of Westphalia: when nationalities became identified with territory, culture assumes everyone in the territory is of that nationality, that national culture.
                    Thus much of the modern world has trouble imagining that large numbers of unassimilated immigrants to Sweden, for example, wouldn’t change the culture of territorial Sweden, pushing the national Swedish culture out or aside, or killing it entirely (except perhaps for outposts in Minnesota…)

                • Liberalism is a philosophy of consolation for Western Civilization as it commits suicide.

                  • Philosophy of consolation or siren song?

                    Or is that a distinction without a difference?

                    • Can we put them out of our misery?

                    • I’d say there’s a difference – but embrace the power of “and”. (Like the Red Queen, liberals are quite capable of holding two – or more – conflicting ideas at the same time.)

              • Well, they had Superman renounce his American citizenship. One good political cartoon had a kid’s room with a Superman poster in the trash and a Navy SEAL poster on the wall.

          • Well. Marvel is owned by Disney these days, so it’s a real Mickey Mouse outfit.

            • Reading indie, non-licensed superhero literature nowadays I find again and again a hateful trope where the great famed and powerful superhero turns out to be a jerk. And not even a complex jerk a la “No man is a hero to his valet. This is not because the hero is not a hero, but because the valet is a valet.”

              I think my favorites are Wearing the Cape and Cloak Society for the very reason that they don’t use it.

              • This is another thing that keeps me sticking with Gotham, because time and again the young Bruce earns the admiration and respect of his valet (well, Butler). It’s refreshing to me that they’re clearly building a hero, not a whiny, millenial, tarnished, tortured hero, a real honest-to-god hero. Not the hero Gotham deserves (because it doesn’t deserve such a good man), but the hero it needs. 😉

                • Back when Batman was going through one of his “psychopath in a cowl” phases, I had people tell me that was more “realistic” than the heroic model.

                  Not, it’s not more realistic, it’s easier to make it “plausible.” “He’s crazy” is the easy way of excusing why he dresses up in a thematic disguise to fight crime. After all, a “sane” person who wanted to fight crime could become a police officer or a prosecuting attorney or even a politician.

                  The harder, and, IMO more satisfying, task is to build not just one but a set of motivations that combine to make becoming Batman a rational, sane course of action. Not only giving him the strong motivation to fight crime, but also to shut out more conventional approaches. So not only the murder of his parents, but a highly corrupt police department (despite a few gems like Gordon), politics equally corrupt. a young attorney or rookie cop, even with the Wayne wealth behind him, would be swallowed up by that, but somebody outside the system… And the rest follows.

                  Miller’s “Batman, Year One” actually did, IMO, a pretty good job of establishing that (despite what Miller did with the character elsewhere). Young Bruce Wayne had good reason to believe that “ordinary” approaches would be ineffective. He had to do something “crazy” if he was going to have any effect. (And, incidentally, BY1 also highlighted something that often got forgotten in the comics: Gordon was good not just a “good guy” or a “good cop” but supremely competent, one of the bright spots in the darkness that is Gotham City.)

                  • Of course the Gordon of BY1 had his flaws, cf his affair.

                    • A character need not be perfect in order to be good. You would think the proglodytes would recognize this, considering their defense of Billy Jeff’s habitual sexual assaults.

                      Of course, that presupposes their defense was not predicated on his merely being their bastard.

                  • Miller’s Dark Knight represents the effect of years spent staring down into the abyss. It addresses the tragic effects of such lives as Superman and Batman lead. As such it is not hopeful, except in the way that Ragnarok is hopeful.

          • Umm, just watched Sword Art/ Sword Art 2 a little while ago, there are a couple “naked girl in shower” scenes gratuitously tossed in the second season.

            • BobtheRegisterredFool

              I’ve heard hearsay about how things ended in the original webnovel. Kayaba was a mass murderer that used deceit. In hindsight, the main characters seem a bit too cooperative with him after finding out. I see other flaws in hindsight, but the author was good enough to keep me from noticing at the time.

              He did get me reading Hogan’s Realtime Interrupt, which was more fun than I found a lot of Hogan’s stuff to be.

            • Reality Observer

              First season, too. (Well, lingerie, anyway.)

              To be honest, except for a very few anime, I would say that there is little difference between “clothed” and naked for the females. I do pity the poor Westerner teenager that moves to Japan and finds out what the schoolgirls actually wear.

          • Ushio & Tora is the best anime currently running.

            The main character is unabashedly good and strives to always do the right thing. He also isn’t afraid to fight evil when it comes his way. That’s what the show is: Good Vs. Evil.

            And it rocks.

            The fact that anime fans aren’t watching this, but are watching the glorified porno shows instead flabbergast me.

            • many young men prefer watching boobs to well written shows.

              • While well written boobs are clearly an older man’s preference…

              • True – I’ve noticed a lot of people prefer to relax with emotional-experience driven entertainment vs. something that makes them think. Feelz vs Thinkz, I guess.
                Most of Madison Avenue seems to be about seducing people to a small amount of Thinkz (i.e. a decision to “try that”), using a large amount of Feelz.

            • BobtheRegisterredFool

              There is a lot of anime and manga made for the young boys (shonen) demographic. The market segment has a lot of turnover due to aging, so it can tolerate stories being told now that are very similar to stories told a half dozen, dozen, two dozen years ago. Shonen Jump in particular sells a lot, and has a very strong flavor.

              Your western anime fan is often someone who has been watching anime heavily since their late teens. If they ever had any interest in Shonen, they may have burned it out through overexposure. They may also associate it with shows that ran for very many episodes, and included a bunch of filler episodes that did not mesh with the tighter creative vision of the original manga.

              • Yep, “Ushio & Tora” is based on the original manga from way back, only it is tighter paced without any filler. The director of “Trigun”, of all things, is directing it. It’s a real throwback to the reason people like me even became fans of anime and manga in the first place.

                I understand that a large chunk of anime fans have “grown out” of shonen anime and manga over the years, but what they’ve chosen to replace it with are usually far less, uh, “mature” than what they’re leaving behind. It isn’t like they’re moving on to “Planetes”, “Tiger & Bunny”, or “Kids on the Slope”. No, they’re moving on to shows that fetish over young girls showing their boobs unprovoked and/or plots filled with boundless nihilism in its place. Porn and despair in the place of hope and ambition.

                Thankfully, there are still good shows being made like the aforementioned ones, but it is disheartening to see such quality outright dismissed. Though I know a lot of western anime fans are SJWs, so that might help explain it.

            • Reality Observer

              Sigh, yet another one to check out…

            • I understand it’s supposed to be very faithful to the 1980’s original.

          • Reality Observer

            I’m beginning to get some tolerance for subtitling, so SAO 2 is now on my list. Glad to see someone recommending Aldnoah Zero – I just added that tonight, so looks like I have something to look forward to; thanks.

        • Laura Montgomery

          There are spells where Gotham is really good, but it’s when Jim Gordon is kicking ass. Otherwise, there’s way too much focus on the internal workings of the psychos. And the truly awful things they do. But whenever I’m about to abandon the series, it re-focuses to Jim and Bruce Wayne. And then I’m caught again.

        • “dosed in megatons”

          shown the bright white light of freedom.

      • Turning the badguy into an anti-hero seems to be modern. For my part, I don’t mind a good redemption story, especially if done well. But I don’t like making excuses for evil which seems to be what it boils down to.

        The thing is I think most of these people don’t believe in evil at all. As in don’t believe it exists. They believe it’s all misunderstandings so they exaggerate or manufacture ANY redeemable trait or excuse for bad behavior and rationalize from there.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Oh, they believe in “evil”.

          That’s the role of Religious People and Conservatives in their world-view.

          They just can’t make those who oppose the evil, good guys. [Frown]

        • But they don’t believe in good, either.

          • That usually follows not believing in evil. which is probably why ‘dingy’ is all left over. If there is no good and no evil you just get equally lousy people doing various lousy things in a world that sucks.

          • And now an evil thought. Should some evil party nuke Hollywood, that would indeed be an evil act, but… would it also be doing the world a favor, just in a very nasty evil way?

            And I do not mean the death of various promoters of dingy, but the resulting impression on the survivors.

            • A while back I watched Mission: Impossible 3 (on Netflix, so I didn’t give them any money). At the climax of the movie a nuclear warhead is screaming towards San Francisco and Tom Cruise is fighting to send the self-destruct code. I found myself wonder why he was bothering. I’ve been to San Francisco; there isn’t much there that cannot be improved by a multi-kiloton makeover.

              • Just once I’d like for there to be a movie where someone suggests they send the self-destruct code to a regretfully launched ICBM and a knowledgeable person explains that ICBMs are never built with a self-destruct code. Otherwise the enemy would just steal the code and launch a 1st strike themselves. (Or better yet since everyone seems to think we have them, a story where the Enemy plan to steal the self-destruct codes for Gullible Democracy’s ICBMs and then launch a 1st strike before the fools have a chance to discover the theft and re-program the warheads.)

                • I rather fancy the concept of a self-destruct code designed to be stolen by enemy agents and which, when entered in their computers for transmission will establish a virus causing those computers to slag themselves.

              • Trouble is, Jeff, the things I remember from a trip to SF many years ago that I’d really hate to see “made over” – were small things, scattered, likely to get mashed along with bigger more irritating things.
                Much of the world is that way, SF just moreso.

            • The number of evil acts in history from which each of us has personally benefited is enormous beyond counting.

          • Precisely. They are committing suicide, and want you to join them.

        • Now, in my own writing, I like to have the “bad guy” have understandable motivations. Maybe even not be bad so much as opposed to the hero. Unless of course it’s one of the demon-consorting baby-killing scenery-chewing baddies, in which case, oh yeah, they’re bad. I think the problem is that a lot of storytellers are blending the line between “people opposed to the hero for their own reasons, not evil” and “evil people who justify it because of their tragic childhood”. And audiences go right along with it…

          Take GRRM. From what I can tell one of his more popular characters is the guy who in chapter one is caught screwing his sister and throws a child off a tower to hide that. But because we get inside his head later and see that he’s fond of his family, and tortured, and stuff, he becomes a “good guy” to a lot of people. I could never make that conceptual leap. The guy threw a child out a window to kill him! But I still felt the tug on my emotions, encouraging me to sympathize. And that’s why I’m not reading any more Martin, because I don’t want my lines to get blurred like that. There’s good, and there’s evil, and it’s important to be able to tell which is which.

          • Here’s the sillygism:

            I’m not a bad guy (no matter what I do).
            This guy is like me.
            Therefore, this guy is not a bad guy.

          • (Waggles hand) Personally speaking, I’ve found myself not being as determined to see Jaime Lannister’s corpse as I was at the beginning of book one; that, however, is only because he’s actually trying to be a better person.

          • Christopher M. Chupik

            Right now I have a villainous character who is proving to be more sympathetic than originally intended. Fortunately, he’s a minor villain, so maybe he can be salvaged.

        • Denying evil also makes for a suitable excuse for being seduced by evil, if only in your entertainment. And evil can be quite seductive, life is full of frustrations and disappointments and it would be very satisfying, at times, to even go to extremes and kill, maim and destroy all those idiots who stand in your way or won’t do what you would want them to do or have actually hurt you for real.

          So a character who does that – most of us would like to be in his shoes at least sometimes. But most of us would also like to think we are good guys, or on the right side. Or at least not monsters, not really.

          So – deny evil as a reality, downplay and explain away the evil in that monster who you would sometimes like to be, and hey… it’s all just a matter of perspective, dontcha know, and if you like that guy… well, is he REALLY that much worse than that so called hero?

          And of course the so called hero can also become much more seductive once the dark side has been revealed. 🙂

          • Denying evil is often easy because most people are not “evil.” They don’t dress up in spandex costumes, cackle maniacally (okay, HRC does that) and generate complex plots for no clear material purpose (okay, HRC does that, too.)

            It is because culturally we have lost sight of what “evil’ actually is. Among other things, it is expediency. It is denying the human status of others because doing so makes lives easier, avoids troubling conscience with issues we wouldn’t like the resolutions to. Doing what we wish becomes much more comfortable when Jews, when Negroes, when Females, when unborn children, are not wholly human. When we can ascribe stereotypes and reduce complexity it is easier to attack Homosexuals, Undocumented Migrants, Islamists, “Christianists” and those who object to government determining what their conscience should dictate.

            As Edmund Burke observed, “ All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” The more that the status of “good” men can be undermined, the easier it becomes to immobilize them.

            Few today apply serious consideration to the matter of Evil because few today wish for the difficulties such thinking entails. Thus, like weeds in an untended lawn, evil proliferates.

            After all, who are we to decide what plants ought grow in that field? What are weeds but plants growing other than where we prefer them? It all seems a very arbitrary expression of privilege, this establishment of rules about where plants “should” grow.

            • I have actually read people say that a character in a book was not evil, merely greedy.

              • sigh finger slip. . ..

                Greed is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

                • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                  C. S. Lewis talked about a fictional character who was “moral” and a thief.

                  Why was the character considered “moral”?

                  She was unmarried and a virgin.

                  Note, Lewis was talking about why the character & readers considered her moral.

                  • No, he was talking about the sloppy use of “moral” and “immoral” to mean one specific virtue and vice.

                  • I can accept the idea of a moral thief, if we are talking about Robin Hood or somebody similar who does steal mostly for some higher purpose than his own pleasure. And there can be similar excuses for lots of things. But giving a bit of the loot for charity doesn’t count, the character should have resorted to stealing or whatever because that was the only choice left, that or submitting to something more evil than breaking a few laws.

                    • Evil is the deliberate sacrifice of a greater good to a lesser one. So any number of crimes can be justified — really justified, not excused — by necessity in morals as in law.

              • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                Idiots. The world is full of idiots.

            • The Other Sean

              Denying evil is often easy because most people are not “evil.” They don’t dress up in spandex costumes, cackle maniacally (okay, HRC does that) and generate complex plots for no clear material purpose (okay, HRC does that, too.)

              Shall we simply conclude that HRC is evil?

            • Denying evil is often easy because most people are not “evil.” They don’t dress up in spandex costumes, cackle maniacally […]and generate complex plots for no clear material purpose […]

              Hrm, close call on the household. $HOUSEMATE will dress up in spandex. I have been known to cackle or at least laugh in an unnerving maniacal manner. The complex plots for no purpose aren’t happening, however.

      • I like a lot of the Goa’uld characters on Stargate. Wouldn’t trust ’em as far as I could throw ’em, but I still *like* them. (Similarly, I also dislike most of the Tok’ra.) I think that’s indicative of excellent character development, in that they’re more than just Bad Guy With A Sign So You Know He’s Bad (ditto the inverse). I think it makes their defeats more meaningful than if they were just obstacles to be destroyed.

      • I dunno how modern. Shaw was very heavy into it.

      • Reality Observer

        I know I’m wrong, but I call that the “Buffy Trope.”

    • “I had a horrible realization a month back that the book I’d enjoyed reading most all year was a cookbook.”

      Hey, don’t knock the greatness of cookbook writing. I was reading through The Joy of Cooking a while back and realized that those ladies had picked the right name for it–they really were getting a lot of joy out of both cooking food and writing about it.

      • One of the better books I’ve read in the last few years was Cooking for Geeks. Not just recipes and methods, but explanations of why things are so and how they work. It put the magic in by taking the magic out.

        • That’s why I loved Alton Brown’s “I’m Just Here For The Food” (cooking) and “I’m Just Here For The Food Too” (Baking).

          Knowing how things work makes them so much for fun and exciting, because the complex becomes a series of steps, all of them doable!

          • It’s why Good Eats was so superior to shows like Iron Chef or Cutthroat Kitchen.

          • Reality Observer

            My favorite cookbooks, too.

            They have some of the Good Eats on Netflix these days. (Unfortunately, most of them seem to be the “healthy” pushing shows, rather than the better ones, particularly with the “kitchen equipment lady.” I had to turn off the “make your own energy bars” show the other day.)

      • The _Cooks’ Illustrated_ cookbooks – great recipes and lots of “why’d that happen” and “why you don’t do it this way – it blows up/tastes nasty/curdles/comes half scorched.”

        • Once The Daughter became mobile, and before she could read (fortunately a blessedly short period of time), I took up reading cookbooks. You can complete an entry in a short time and if you cannot pick it back up for day … or weeks … you aren’t at risk of loosing the plot line.

          Cooks is fun, I like the science. Funny that. Once The Daughter was older she would snatch my copies of Cooks when they came in the mail and she really liked Good Eats on the cooking channel for the same reason.

      • Get a copy of The Nanny Ogg Cookbook.

          • I got the three Alton Brown books that corresponded to the Good Eats series – I love them! Funny with good recipes (they had to rework some from the series) and good science.

            I also have a McCalls from the 1950s as a basic good one. We have several pretty cookbooks – but they are all useless. Company is always amused at my personal cookbook – my best recipes go in it and I use it when I cook my dishes. (My wife cooks too – but we each have our specialties).

            The geeks really laugh when they see my cookbook though. You see, back in the day I played SFB and we had a long-running campaign. I was the Klingons, and one day I had paint and the cover of my binder – and well it has a full size Klingon insignia on it. That is what is now (20 years later) my cookbook.


            • The best cookbooks always look, dingy because they are used/have hand written notes added/spilled on/stained, etc. If they look pristine (and aren’t brand new), you know they aren’t worth bothering with.

        • Hadn’t known about that one. I do have a copy of Serve it Forth, by Anne McCaffrey, that I found in a used book store. One of my regrets is not picking up a copy of Adventures in Thyme and Spice at the Worldcon at which it was available.

          I also have a couple of cookbooks by an author whose name (first, middle, and last) matches mine, because it’s fun to see my name on the shelf.

      • The older Joys, anyway. The newer one had a lot of the little anecdotes pulled out. (Has more recipes, perfectly worth buying, but not as much fun to read.)
        Old Joy is perfectly good pleasure reading. Also refreshes your memory of which fork goes where, if’n you need to know, and how to properly cut up both game and livestock. I think probably it’s one that ought to be on the list of recommended reference books for writers, but I’ll leave that call to the rest of you.

        • Another reason to avoid the new Joy of Cooking editions is the inflated portion sizes, especially in the 2006 edition. There’s an academic paper by Brian Wansink and Collin R. Payne that points out the increase in portion sizes — and gives the raw data, too. Which is good, because their conclusions are complete cherry-picked hokum: they talk about the increase in calories-per-serving over 70 years: a 43.7% increase since 1936! But if you look at their actual data, and turn the numbers into a line graph in your head, it looks like a classic hockey stick. A nearly flat line all the way from 1936 to 1997 with a slight increase, then a sudden JUMP between the 1997 edition and the 2006 edition.

          In other words, this paper, and the MANY articles that were written about it (just Google “annals of internal medicine joy of cooking” without quotation marks), are basing ALL of their “43.7% increase since 1936” quotes on a single data point. ONE bad edition of a classic cookbook, and they try to imply that portion sizes have been getting steadily worse, which is flatly contradicted by the data.

          But did any of those articles (seriously, Google it, I don’t want to post tons of links here and go into moderation) mention the absurdly bad use of data? NO.

          Anyway, my point, when I stop getting distracted by awful journalism (journalism as usual, in other words) is that the 2006 edition of Joy of Cooking sucks for many reasons, the anecdote removal being just one of them.

    • I need to write heroic fantasy. Well, no. I need to rewrite. But if you read SF, may I — clears throat — suggest Darkship Thieves? It was a happy book to write and I can’t imagine it being depressing to read.

      • But, Lady Sarah, I have already read both Darkship books and am eagerly awaiting the sequel. I do love space opera, but my taste for MilSF has dwindled recently and I’ve been finding fewer Baen books that demand I buy them immediately. I wish Baen put out more epic fantasy!

        DT was definitely not depressing to read, and I did re-read it over the summer just to counter that feeling of “everything is dank and grim”. I should have said I was talking about newly-published novels as found on the local library shelves which is probably my real problem.

      • Yes. Read this. And then the next one (Darkship Renegades). And then A Few Good Men. And I think somebody promised us another Darkship one? Yes/no? Yes? We’ve been awfully well behaved >.>

    • I admit I do like a ‘sympathetic’ villain…in the sense that I like the villain to be as fully realized a character as the hero, with motives, etc that make sense (I am not a fan of the “Because Evil is Fun!” trope, it’s boring), only instead of heroic, they’re evil. This only works, though, if the hero is also truly interesting, and doesn’t get outshone by the villain. I think that’s possibly Gotham’s biggest problem: Penguin is interesting (in a terrifying sociopath kind of way–I worry about someone who likes him as a *person* o.O) while James Gordon…really is not. He gets outshone by the Penguin (and various other villainous characters) because he is, frankly, boring.

      But to me, there’s a world of difference between “make your villains interesting with understandable motives” and “really I want you to root for the villain and/or everyone is as bad as the villain.” That almost never works, because it’s rarely done on purpose (and when it is, almost never done well).

      The only book I can think of offhand where I really *did* root for the villain was Georgette Heyer’s “The Black Moth.” The villain was waaaaay more fun than the hero, because the hero was so very boring, and the villain had plenty of good traits himself. Heyer apparently realized this herself (Black Moth was her first book, written when she was 17, so it’s understandable the hero was so virtuous as to be dull), and brought the villain back as the hero of “These Old Shades”. Different name, but pretty much the same back story–and by that point, had a sort of distant friendship with the hero/heroine of the original novel (not bosom buddies, but they got along tolerably well, all being older and wiser).

      • I think my own reaction to The Black Moth was unease through a lot of it — I hadn’t read much Heyer (actually I may have started with that one somehow) and I didn’t like the villain much but I rather wondered if I was meant to.

      • “I think that’s possibly Gotham’s biggest problem: Penguin is interesting (in a terrifying sociopath kind of way–I worry about someone who likes him as a *person* o.O) while James Gordon…really is not. He gets outshone by the Penguin (and various other villainous characters) because he is, frankly, boring.”

        I’ll have to disagree with that. The person who does the right thing and is not an utter psychological wreck is, to my mind, always one of the most interesting characters of a work

      • The opponents in West of Honor are given reasons for their actions; indeed, it would be possible to sympathize with them but they have some execrable allies. So which is the greater virtue, and for whom?

      • There are those who declare that everyone always thinks he’s doing the right thing. Leaving aside the falsity — have they never put off work knowing it would be harder later, or eaten more than they know they should? — there’s the little matter that self-delusion doesn’t mean you’re not evil.

        • Just because Joe Pugnacity thinks his wife and kids need “a little slappin’ round” to keep them in line does not mean he is right, nor admirable.

          From the little insight we are given, Saruman and Sauron each believed himself right, as did — in another context — the Lady in the Green Kyrtle.

          Forget childish things and face life in the real world.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Yep, we find excuses for failing to do the right thing or for doing the wrong thing.

        • Nearly everyone is the hero of their own life story, as they rehearse it in their own minds. Realizing this helped me immensely in understanding my fellow humans.
          People know they have faults, but the faults are just little ones and just part of being human. (Can’t have a bunch of Mary Janes walking around, now can we?) If they make really big mistakes, there were usually extenuating circumstances or others to blame. At least, they tell themselves that.
          That’s why the existence of a vast quantity of amoral/immoral literature/music/TV/movies is such a threat to the existence of a good society. It allows people to feel even more excused in their personal failings instead of giving them attractive ideals of virtue that they might seek to emulate.
          For instance, why did so many young women love Bridget Jones in her first film? She made them feel that it was OK to be promiscuous and rather witless; someone dreamy, smart, and rich (i.e., Mr. Darcy) would still want them. Jane Austen would have been appalled, considering her clearly conveyed ideas of the importance of self-control and intelligence.

      • I was actually thinking about that recently – sympathetic, dangerous, understandable villains.

        The classic (cardinal) virtues are where I’d start, those being temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice.

        If I understand them correctly, temperance is the virtue of self-control. Of not over-indulging in passions or appetites.
        Fortitude is the virtue of courage – of doing things that you believe to be right though it may be hard. Control of fear, etc.
        Prudence is the virtue of knowledge – seeking understanding and doing the right thing to advance your cause.
        Justice is the virtue of morals. Doing what’s right.

        Then I started thinking about what would happen if you had someone who had the first three virtues, temperance, fortitude, and prudence, but did not have the last – justice. I think that would be a REALLY interesting villain (and it sort of reminds me of Grand Admiral Thrawn not that I think of it).

        • One problem with Harry Potter is that you can do — comically — the Team Evil approach, but if you try to be serious, the first thought is the other three founders were insane to allow Slytherin House.

          Which got me thinking on how to make it more sane.

          Seven Lively Virtues would be easy — Slytherin House would be Zeal — but there are only four. I tried to line up with the cardinal virtues, with Gryffidor as courage and Ravenclaw as prudence of course, but first I had Hufflepuff as temperance which meant Slytherin as justice, which doesn’t work.

          Then I re-read Goblet of Fire and in the person of Cedric Diggory arguing that Harry should win realized they were justice. After all, ensuring all students who can learn do is rendering all of them their due. Slytherin as temperance works. You need self-control to be ambitious.

      • It’s more important if the villain is on stage a lot. Tolkien did not delineate Sauron much, or Beagle Haggard, and it works because of their limited apperances (and force of nature status).

        For instance, it matters more than Draco Malfoy is not a well-rounded character than that Voldemort isn’t.

  13. I have a comment about how “everything sucks” is almost a defining characteristic of both Goth and Hipster (who add “unless it’s obscure or done ironically”) subcultures and how those subcultures are generally mocked by the larger culture, but that the urban provincials that make up so much of the literary world think that they’re cutting edge, but I don’t have enough caffeine in me to make it coherent.

  14. I grew up on Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mysteries. Simply devoured them as a young boy and I am positive they influenced my character tremendously. I hate to see that genre defiled.

    • If I ever finish St. Augustine’s City of God – I found a large collection of Poirot and they are on top of the reading pile. I need to carve out more time for reading. Sigh.


      • City of God is available as a free unabridged audiobook from Librivox. I think Audible has a pay version, which your library may have on Overdrive or Hoopla or one of the other services.

        Anyway, if you don’t want to listen to music in your car, City of God is a good listen.

  15. I think John Barnes did the bad guy as protagonist better than most in “Kaleidoscope Century”. Thankfully the rest of his books in that alternative history aren’t as dark. (Nor is the protagonist.) It’s a good series along with his “Thousand Cultures” that makes for a good reading over the holidays or winter.

    (Not that I’ll get much reading done with radios and software projects.)

  16. Try James Doss’ Charlie Moon books. (Detective, not stfantasy; though, some are borderline.) The stories are set in contemporary Colorado. Charlie begins the series as a member of the Ute Tribal Police but goes freelance later in the series.

    I think Charlie Moon is one of the few fictional detectives that I should actually like to ‘hang out’ with. Holmes or Wimsey would be too intimidating; many of the others too grim.

    • Try CJ Box’s Joe Pickett series about a Wyoming game warden. Plenty of unlikable characters (esp. his mother-in-law) but Joe himself is a decent guy, your basic plodder, the type of guy who would give the governor a ticket for fishing out of season.

  17. This is one of the reasons I like Brandon Sanderson’s books. There is pain, and there is darkness, and there is evil, yes. But there are also genuinely good people striving to do what is right, sometimes at terrifying personal cost. The moments that make that most clear nearly make me cry.

    • Not only that, but his heroic figures often study and learn and work to develop new, difficult skills.
      None of this “I’m a hero just because I’m willing to die” trend that has monopolized our it’s-awesome-to-be-mediocre culture recently. (Sorry, I liked The Lego Movie, too, but it’s a sad trend that recent heroes in children’s movies don’t actually do much praiseworthy besides rush into death.)

  18. Yeah, I had noticed the “life sucks and then you die” tone to British books for many years. It has to be some sort of parasitic literary trend. Fortunately Pterry and a few others had a natural immunity. I wonder if it was an aftereffect of the world wars and the aftermath.

    What we need to do is hire a few B-24s and airdrop Human Wave books to those poor beleaguered Britons and give them hope! 😀

  19. I have a daughter who, in younger years, was scared by Agatha Christie “Death on the NIle”. Nobody seemed trustworthy after that series. LIterature (including film) does affect the reader.

    I suspect a large part is the abandonment of Christianity. Without Christianity, there seems no point to the “goodness” in society. Now people might choose a new religion, but 1) there is no such religion yet 2) the good/bad of that religion would not be completely congruent with the Christianity our culture is built around. 3) Christianity fits well with the world, better than other religions [granted, I’m a Christian,]

  20. One of the salient traits of the mystery genre is that its working out constitutes a return, a restoration of moral order to the universe. Such works as you describe are the antithesis of that — they argue there is no moral order. If all persons are corrupt, are hypocritical, are tainted then the murderer is merely one with sufficient will to act upon such desires, more Nietzsche’s superman, less a villain.

    “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” In such a world we are all fallen and can never get up, because the stench of sin cannot be washed from us. Thus is the world of the snotty adolescent, of Holden Caulfield, a world in which “mysteries” cannot be written; they may be puzzles, they may be thrillers, but there is no man who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. There are only mean streets, filled with mean people and selecting amongst them is merely a matter of taste.

    No wonder such leaves you depressed; they would depress a hyena.

    • “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.”

      I always like this one: “If God does not exist, why shouldn’t I kill your annoying hipster ass?” Tends to focus their attention on the argument, so to speak.

    • “In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.

      I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things. He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge.

      He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.

      If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in.”

      -Raymond Chandler, “The simple art of murder”

      • Ah … I read that often enough, but so long ago that I quite forgot it was one of the things that I followed in creating a good few of my heroes; guys who were honorable, stubborn, proud, not given to whimper about what in life had happened to them. (Carl in Adelsverein – survivor of a brutal massacre, Peter in the same – Civil War survivor, the only one of four brothers, and he an amputee, Dolph in Quivera Trail – also a CW veteran, Fred in Sunset & Steel Rails – a survivor of a lot of stuff, clear-eyed and decisive about threats to those he loves.)
        Thank you for reminding me about this. There are so many real-life men I have known who were exactly this.

      • “Then what is magic for?” Prince Lír demanded wildly. “What use is wizardry if it cannot save a unicorn?” He gripped the magician’s shoulder hard, to keep from falling.

        Schmedrick did not turn his head. With a touch of sad mockery in his voice, he said, “That’s what heroes are for.”
        — Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

  21. In one of Madeleine L’Engle’s essays, she comments that she doesn’t like “antiheroes” in books, and suspects that young readers do not, either.

    I have always found I have to have at least one character I can “root for” – they don’t have to be perfect but they have to have something about them that makes them seem like a fundamentally decent person. One of the reasons I often avoid “modern” novels (including bestsellers) in favor of Golden Era mysteries, or Victorian novels-of-manners, or scientific books, is that I get so tired of a book full of people who are all just….crummy. I want to see at least a few characters who are *better* in some way than I am, who will make ME strive to be better….

    And yes, to RES: the reason I like mysteries, at least the “classic” ones, is there the sense of things being restored at the end; an attempt to make the world right. And that requires the assumption of an underlying moral order.

    • I do like some so-called anti-heroes. But upon closer inspection, they usually turn out to be just grumpy actual-heroes…

      For me, it boils down to integrity. If the so-called anti-hero is a person of integrity, then they’re actually a hero with added sarcasm/cynicism, not an antihero.

      The actual antiheroes I’ve ‘met’ (say, any of Alan Moore’s characters) I loathe passionately.

    • The worst thing a book can inspire is not, “I don’t care what happens to these people.”

      It is, “I really wish you could ALL LOSE.”

  22. “If humanity is a plague, who will have children? If humanity is a plague, why not encourage the criminals and terrorists? If humanity is a plague who is clean?”

    I agree with the premise. Indeed, who is clean? My country just elected a substitute drama teacher with good hair based on that very premise. If they’re all dirty, vote for the guy giving out the best candy.

    This has been the depressing norm in SF books for so long, anything other than that stands out like a shining star.

    My solution was to finally say FUCK IT!!!! at the top of my lungs and WRITE MY OWN. I created a plague of demons that -deserves- to die, and heroes to kill them.

    Because if I have to read one more ‘flawed protagonist’ piece of depressing shit, I’ll open a fucking vein.

    • Too many people do seem to take ‘flawed characters’ (which *should* mean, not nauseatingly perfect, but actual people who mess up but are doing the best they can and are decent but not perfect) to mean “scum”…

      • As I asked some years ago, “Where have all the heroes gone”


        Some years back, I watched the deCappuccino version of The Man in the Iron Mask. The movie was okay, but one line caught me. It’s near the end, the second in command of the palace guard points to a dying d’Artagnon (it’s not a spoiler at this late date, is it?) and says, “All my life, all I wanted to be . . . was him.”

        Damn . . . that moment.

        You see, I grew up with heroes. I grew up with comics during the late Silver Age, Superman was the Big Blue Boyscout, when Batman wasn’t the cowled psychopath, when Robin was starting solo adventures with Batgirl (and while I knew I could never be Batman, I thought maybe Robin was achievable). I wanted to be the hero, dammit, or if not the hero, at least a competent sidekick.

          • Oh please tell me this is real. I don’t care for some of the characterizations (Selina in particular) but, damn, I’d watch that.

            • Sorry, but it seems to just be a fan-film ‘trailer’ with no actual movie planned. I saw an interview with one of the creators that had an interesting tidbit. His older brother and friends all liked to play superheroes. Since he was the tag-along little brother they always assigned him to be the sidekick kid, Robin. So growing up he always felt that Robin was the absolute coolest hero… since it was the one he’d always played as. It didn’t occur to him for a while that most comic book readers didn’t think so too. Well, after having seen that ‘trailer’, I have to agree the Robin is the coolest superhero now.

              • BTW, I love the little detail that Grayson addresses Superman as “Clark” in the trailer, just as Batman typically did.

            • Unfortunately there’s nothing but a trailer and an old screenplay. The trailer was shot sometime between 2002-2006. Not likely the film will ever get made.

        • You might enjoy Justice by Jim Krueger.

  23. My sister finally read one of my books yesterday. She liked it so much she had to call me … First one in my family to read my stuff. So now I have a sister telling me that I need to get cracking because her favorite characters need a sequel. Imho I quit reading (and I am a voracious reader) sci-fi and fantasy when I couldn’t find a single interesting book. It is Probably why for so many years you could only find the classics on the shelves of bookstores..

    So the difference in my writings? even the dark ones? Hope– and the characters change.

    • When I found you and human wave– it was like a band constricting my chest disappeared.

    • Is this a family thing? None of my f-ing relatives will read my stuff either. In fact nobody has read far enough into it to even say it’s boring and stupid. I’m becoming a bore with this “please please please Pleeeeeeease read it?” thing. 😦

      • Yep— at least in my family. I have a huge one as well. If everyone (siblings, uncles, aunts, and cousins) bought a book, I would do really well. Most of them are not readers. Most of them do not like fantasy and sci-fi… and so forth *sigh. It took a few years, but I don’t ask them personally to read my books. My sister didn’t even tell me she bought it… only after she read it. 😉

        • Sounds familiar.

          Maybe if I make them pay to read it…

          • My parents actually read my (hopefully soon to publish) book – not sure if they wanted to, but they did (benefit is it is a novella, so only ~25K words) and I was surprised that Dad liked the characters and wants more. And I don’t think he has read SciFi in 30 years. Mom liked it to – although she complained about the number of “but” and “and” – but that has also been fixed with the last major round of “grammar edits”.

            My brother-in-law has it now – although I finally put an ending on it (it ended in the middle of a paragraph before) – and even started mapping out the next two.

            I’ll let you guys know when it becomes available – but I did want to ask about pricing point on it? I was thinking 0.99? It is only 25K words – but I used to love the pocket books that were only 100 pages – and that works out to the same page count. (I do have a day-job so I have freedom to price where it makes sense.) I’m doing the self-thing cause I want to.


            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              IMO 1.99 or 2.99 would be better. Sadly, 0.99 shouts Bad Indie to me.

              • $0.99 shouts “short story” to me, and possibly “intro promotion”. But then, I don’t have time to read a lot of Bad Indie so I mostly pick stuff from authors I can trust (e.g. Huns/Hoydens), or recommended by same.

              • 20K words is where I jump to $2.99. Anything shorter is $0.99.

            • 99 cents is short story for me. 1.99 for novelettes, 2.99 for novellas.

              • I believe it is possible to “price” it at, say, $2.99 but offer an introductory discount of one or even two dollars.

                There are arguments for and against this, but it helps preserve the image of novella while acknowledging the risk of sampling an unknown author.

              • I’ve declared EMT to be my “entry point” story for my “FutureTech Industries” world and so set it at $0.99 being as close to “first taste is free” as I can get with a permanent price.

                We’ll see how that goes.

                • Thanks everyone for your feedback. I might go with the 1.99 but put it on sale for a while. Anyway, back to work and hopefully some writing tonight. Have a good day everyone.

      • Mine can’t. They’re in a different language than they speak 😀

      • Depends on the family. My Dad’s side of the family is horrified that I dare write *gasp!* sci-fi noir instead of “Good” (read: extremely poorly written and horribly cliched) Christian fiction, though Grandma did not disown me over it as I’d feared/hoped she would. Mom’s side of the family (read: her sister), on the other hand, is absolutely thrilled and desperately wants to read it, but her iPad is so old that she it won’t support the Kindle app, and I’m Kindle-only for the time being. I think I should just email her the Word document for free at this point.

      • The Other Sean

        Maybe. I’ve never actually read any edition of my mother’s textbook, even though I have copies.

      • Sib has read a few of my things, Mom’s read more (without telling me, until she slipped up and asked for more Ivan the Purrable.) No critique or anything like that, though.

      • Reality Observer

        I get my daughters to read my stuff (for now). They have to, since they are my cover artists. Ten percent of the net will come their way.

        (No, I haven’t told them that it’s going to be quite a while before they can buy a frappe with their share of the earnings. Shhh….)

  24. “And in a moment of weakness I bought the “Agatha Christie” Mystery “co-authored” by a young author.”

    Er, do you mind giving the name of this book? Or at least a hint, acted out charades-style so that I can figure out the name on my own? Because I was given a “new” Christie a while back and haven’t had time to read it yet. If this does happen to be the same mess that sent you into depression, I’d like to know so it can go in the “send to the used bookstore” pile before I allow it to contaminate my brain.

    The thing about Christie that I always loved was her very clear morality. As Poirot put it in Halloween Party, “You and I have something in common. We do not approve of murder.” Poirot and Marple might have their issues, but they were good people working to bring peace, justice, and order to the community. And murder was bad. Even when it was the a******* victim killed by the sympathetic murderer, it’s still bad. None of this “who am I to judge” nonsense; we judge because we have a sense of right and wrong. That seems the most basic thing about Christie, and if you get it wrong, you haven’t written a Christie story.

    • I forget which private eye sort of radio show it was, but the Main Character at least explained what he was doing by say that there had been a murder and he disapproved of murders. Meant to be humorous, but there was more than just humor there.

    • Poirot and Marple might have their issues …

      Too many these days cannot distinguish between levels of moral failings, perceiving no fundamental differences between incivility and assault, between indifference and murder; either way, “we’re still pushing little old ladies around.”

      Nobody wants to inhabit a morally indifferent world. The worlds of Doyle, Christie, Sayers, Marsh, Chandler, Stout and others all offer moral centers which remain; no matter how far the protagonist wanders in moral fog the center exists and can be found. That is why it is possible to set a mystery in the Soviet Union or even Nazi Germany (see: Night of the Generals) — there is still a fundamental morality to be preserved, even if that morality is dedicated to deplorable ends.

    • I meant to put it in. It’s The Monogram murders.

      • Darn it.

        Do you have any good lies I can tell my mother when she asks me how I liked the book she gave me?

        • “It was interesting, even if it fell short of the Christie style.”
          “Just not quite my cup of tea.”

          • It is possible to praise technical elements while admitting not caring for for particular thematic components.

            This is also a useful technique for limited praising of meals: “it was obviously a good cut and quite well cooked, I’ve just never cared for mayonnaise-based sauces on my steak.”

            Done properly the recipient of such comment comprehends the not liking the dish as a failure on your part.

        • Tell her that one just didn’t do it for you, and give her a copy of Joy Cometh with the Mourning by David Freer? (Distracting with a good book is always a good ploy, right?

    • I still remember the ending of that “publish after my death” Poirot novel Christie left–CURTAIN.

      (spoiler warning)

      An old, feeble Poirot figures out whodunnit, but it’s literally impossible to make a case against him. So Poirot ends up killing him. And then stops taking his heart medicine. To the very end, he does not approve of murder–even when he himself does it, for the very best of reasons.

      And so he puts himself in the hands of le bon Dieu.


  25. I don’t know if it’s a trend or if these kids just need to get the hell off my lawn, but a lot of current crapsack world stuff is just so tedious. It’s as if many of these writers think that fatal flaws make well-rounded characters, or that a mushy, muddy world with no moral contrast is deep.

    It’s not and it’s pathetically easy to conceive and to write. It’s also completely unbelievable and unrelatable since our own world is filled with moral contrasts despite the postmodernists’ best efforts to create an alternate reality.

    I don’t find any of this dreck depressing, just incredibly boring. We get it authors: you’re depressed, you’re a nihilist, you’re a misanthrope, and you think everyone is as damaged as you are. But you’re not really damaged; it’s just that no one ever posted bail for your emotions.

    It’s time to grow up.

  26. It was pointed out to me, and fixed i the blog, that the line should be “the callow youth.” Somehow “callous” escaped from my fingers, maybe from Luke’s callouses from working the moisture farm. 😉

    I fixed it over on my blog.

  27. Did you ever relocate that thumb drive I handed you at LC?
    In addition to a ton of Heinlein in multiple formats it had most of Max Allan Collins’ Nate Heller noir detective stories. They remind me of how I think Jim Butcher would write period historical detective tales instead of urban fantasy.

  28. When there are no moral heroes to look up to, there’s no need for us to strive to be any better. Again, I’m reminded of the quote “a people can be no greater than their stories.” Not “won’t be” or “will have a hard time being”. CAN’T BE.

    Destroying a culture’s stories – its founding myths – leads to a weakening of that culture and its eventual destruction. Which may or may not be a deliberate objective of those who hate that culture, those myths, and those stories. It is anathema to them. At one point, I thought it was because they didn’t understand it. And that’s probably true for most who are just passively reading and consuming the cultural fare of the day. But I’m growing more convinced that there are those people who DO understand what Western Civilization is and means, and they have chosen to hate it.

    • “But I’m growing more convinced that there are those people who DO understand what Western Civilization is and means, and they have chosen to hate it.”

      It is the great battle of our lifetimes. Just waking up to it is halfway to winning.

    • A recurring theme of John Ford/John Wayne westerns is that of the protagonist who helps build a world in which there is no place for him (Ethan Edwards in the The Searchers, Tom Doniphon in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.) This is also the fundamental tragedy at the core of Shane, True Grit and is a subject of more than a couple of L’Amour’s novels (and arguably is represented by Moses’ inability to cross that final river.)

      We need stories to show us the world which can be, which we can strive to build, even if we will never enter it. Frodo can never truly return to the Shire, but he can make it possible for Sam’s children to grow up there.

      • I don’t know if I’m exactly a fan of this theme.

        If your world depends on virtues/behaviors/ethoses which it cannot produce, and cannot tolerate, it’s a world that cannot sustain itself. It’s an unstable system, and less plausible that it could even generate in the first place.

        If your new order owes a debt to it’s heroes, it better not disown/abuse/discard them if it wants to survive!

        • It sometimes requires virtues to begin that it can not produce but does not need. The violence that cleaned up towns and set them on law-abiding ways is not compatible with the law-abiding ways, but once it’s done, the town can soldier on.

          • a) the tools needed to “break the plains” may not be the same tools useful for maintaining the fields; a hammer can drive a screw but ill-suited to remove it.

            b) doing that which is necessary to create the “new” world can be damaging, leaving psychic and emotional scars which leave you unsuited. Many combat vets have experience of this; there are things which cannot be unseen.

            An interesting exploration of the topic can be found here, taking about 90″ to view listen to:

  29. I generally don’t read mysteries, because they bore me. A major exception is the Cadfael series, which I’ve read… four? five?? times from beginning to end (and am starting to feel the urge to read again). For the duration I find myself living right there in the monastery, and that may be the difference… I’ve been heard to say those books are actually SF, despite appearances.

    • You might actually like the Musketeer’s mysteries. I’m told no matter what I try to write, it’s always SF 😛

      • The Other Sean

        I enjoyed the Musketeer mysteries immensely, purchasing the lot of them in the wake of 2014’s Labor Day sale. In addition to being nice period mysteries in their own right, they offer a somewhat different and fun take on the Musketeers without taking any major liberties with Dumas’ portrayal of them in canon. Do you think you’ll ever write more of them?

  30. Could all this dark and dreariness be disillusionment, or worse, ennui? The things they valued most lost their luster, and now they thing everything is dull and meaningless? Or is it ham-fisted attempts to write flawed characters?

    • Embrace the power of “and.”

      Much of it is a consequence of intellectually incestuous relationships in which authors write (first) to entice editors, (second) to impress peers, reviewers and those who vote awards, with readers coming in a distant (third.)

      A discussion of the nasty habits of most contemporary editors is probably beyond the scope of this venue, but suffice to say that the number of them you could trust to watch the tykes while you attend a con party can likely be counted on a single pseudo-pod.

    • Most of our culture now values perfect, which means…. yeah, they’re going to be disillusioned.

  31. It’s something I’ve noticed in SF/F television and movies starting about in the 90s. Everything turned to heavy drama, where everyone is bad to some degree, if you just look hard enough. I think it’s bad cause it makes it seem like this is what we aspire to; being ok with someone doing evil, cause “everyone is evil in the right circumstances.”

    • Or the exasperating upside-down version where either the characters or the writers get self-righteous about doing evil on the grounds that it allows somebody else to keep their hands clean….

  32. “I can’t write without music”

    Does it matter if there are lyrics? Do you write more effectively to instrumental pieces?

  33. One of the pleasures of reading is one is not confined to works produced by 21st century authors. Your depressing take, Hoyt, on the depressing “..Agatha Christie” Mystery “co-authored” by a young author..” reminds me one can always go back and read Christie as a tonic.

    Of course I realize Rome is burning around us and it’s the end of civilization but none the less, I enjoyed a grand sunrise yesterday at 9:02 a.m.

    -and, and, and… there are some 21st century authors putting out stuff that ain’t half bad. Why just last year I read something called Darkship Thieves by a youngster (who I’d like to hear pronounce ‘squirrel’) that was quite a pleasure! & postings by that author led me to buy a novel by a little girl named Cedar something who seems to have a lot of potential.

    Christie. Your ‘dingy patina, Hoyt, prompted me to go downstairs and pick up my copy of Arthur B. Reeve’s ‘The Social Gangster’ published in 1916 part of the ‘Adventures of Craig Kennedy Scientific Detective’ series, to re-read after more than 20 years. A long parenthetical aside: (Back in the early sixties, when I was a young beatnik poet full of angst and anger in NYC I spent countless hours in 2nd hand book shops and out on the street in front of said shops picking ups books such as the above from the ‘4 for a dollar’ bins.) -just to establish why I’ve 5 or 6 Craig Kennedy’s on my shelf, you understand.

    Damn I got loquacious simply trying to say there is a specific tonic for the depression induced by many of today’s writers.

    & one last parenthetical aside without even bothering to type the parenthesis; Have you guys considered building your own house rather than shopping for one Sara? I suspect you’ve enough friends who’d help that you could tip up the walls in a week, roof and close it in in two more weeks and in a few months end up with a place that suits all your needs with no compromises ( -and if you’re anything like me, you can spend and enjoy the next 50 years ‘finishing’ it!)

    Just sayin’

    Hum. I wonder if I exceeded some word limit, it looks like my first few paragraphs may have been cut. Oh well… I’ll have to hit the ‘post comment’ button to find out.

  34. If it’s been covered here before I missed it, but given the subject of the piece, what do you think of Raymond Chandler?

  35. Another plug for Paul Kidd’s “Effectuators” series. I’m now on book 4, and I haven’t lost interest yet. I think the refreshing thing about it is that he emphatically *doesn’t* have this dingy attitude. (In another book, he can’t even pull off the apocalypse “right” 😛 ) There’s a refreshing lack of despair.

    The dinginess (no one is clean, everyone is fundamentally driven by base animal motives that are given free reign in a bad enough situation) is one reason why the war movie Fury really set my teeth on edge. My relatives loved it for “realism”. I thought it was insulting.

  36. The Hunger Games. Black and Very-Dark-Gray morality, little really to choose from in the sides, and (no spoilers) that’s shown pretty clearly in the ending. And in printed SF?

    I thought the ending of the third book was pretty wrenchingly out of character for the main characters. The author just couldn’t let anyone be good in the end.

  37. There is another Australian author that I can’t quite decide what to think about his work. He has very interesting ideas to play with, but all of his characters need to be on antidepressants or something. They are all pretty much suicidal (literally so in one or two of his books). It isn’t even low grade depression/despair, it’s the full blown thing.

  38. My favorite mysteries written by a still-living author are the “Garrett, P.I.” stories by Glen Cook. He’s a hard-boiled gumshoe who happens to be living in a fantasy world that has been at war for generations. He has no powers, just persistence. He is very human, and by no means infallible. He’s not out to fix the world – just help his friends and his clients, then relax with that nectar of the gods called beer. But he has enormous amounts of heart, and ends up helping a great many people along the way.

    The touch I especially like is what’s going on in the background of his world over the course of the series. Everything that happens, stays happened.

    • Good books — Nero Wolfe with elves.

      The Nero Wolfe analog is a mostly dead telepath. He’s been dying for centuries…

  39. John Milius once said that being cynical was easy- it’s hard to be corny.

    • There is a reason Milius isn’t working much in Hollywood these days.

      There is also a reason Fran Capra’s movies, with all their “Capracorn,” are still watched and loved while those of his cynical, director peers are largely ignored.

      “Corny” is a fairly jejune criticism, adolescent superficiality masquerading as sophisticated judgement.

      • The interesting thing is the context in which he said it- in regards to the mandatory downer endings of the “New Hollywood” films of the Seventies… and here comes George Lucas and Steven Spielberg with their clear good vs evil and happy endings. Happy endings that people wanted- a lesson he applied to “Conan” and “Red Dawn”.

        • I should acknowledge I consider Milius one of the greatest Hollywood directors/screenwriters of the last forty years, and his inactivity a condemnation of Hollywood, not him.

    • “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” — Slappy Squirrel

  40. I think it is laziness. To come up with a character who is good you have to define good, and that is beyond most people. There is no cultural good anymore.

    But further than that. I notice the same trend in photography. One wants a photo to display of elicit an emotion. The easiest emotions to elicit are negative; porn, anger or despair. So you photograph something old and falling apart, or some injustice or a woman undressed. Quick easy emotion and reaction, cheap.

    Try to elicit a positive emotion. Love, a smile, awe, warmth. It is excruciatingly difficult, first to find a photographer who would recognize, then to capture a moment or scene that elicits those reactions.

    My favorite photo is one that people look at, stop and state for a bit, then start chuckling. Rare and special.

    I remember reading A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch. It was summer, hot and I was shivering. A dark story but extraordinarily powerful for its portrayal of humanity in the most hopeless of situations. That was very hard, a matter of the craft.

    • Good characters in fiction are the very devil. Not only because most authors have too little material to make them of, but because we as readers have a strong subconscious wish to find them incredible.

      ― C.S. Lewis,

  41. Considering the revelations today about HRC informing her family that night about this being an “al Qaeda-like attack” and admitting as much to Egypt’s PM within hours of the attack, it would seem the dingy patina is the only way they can generate the smoke and mirrors they use to claim a “fog of war” existed. Their actions cannot withstand the bright clear light of truth.

    Funny how little benefit of fog they accorded Bush, Cheney & Rumsfeld.

    Funny how the Abu Ghraib abuses were Bush’s doing but the utter lack of security at the consulate in Benghazi was the fault of the security contractors … without discussing who was responsible for vetting and selecting those contractors.

    Still, what difference at this point does it make?

    • This just in:

      In response to a claim by the bloggers of Power Line: HILLARY HAD NO STATE DEPARTMENT COMPUTER. WAS SHE EVER REALLY SEC. OF STATE?

      State Department spokespersons have released this picture of HRC’s officially issued personal computer:

      Along with this official HRC email to Chris Stevens.

      • One of the phrases I remember from high school English is “suspension of disbelief”. In order to enjoy fiction of any kind, you have to suspend your disbelief. SF especially. FTL, Alderson Drives, jumppoints, Necklin rods, wormhole travel…

        I am not capable of suspending my disbelief enough to allow for a Secretary of State in the 2000’s NOT having a government issued computer in their office.

        • I forgot to add- are there not any pictures of her in her office? Posing with other officials or visiting dignitaries? Greeting visiting Girl Scout Troops (you know she wouldn’t take pics with a Boy Scout Troop…) or other civic visitors? There should be photographic evidence one or the other of that claim.

  42. Y’all need something to cheer you up. Courtesy of MAJ Arkay’s comment at thisainthell.us, allow me to link to you–the pink gorilla suit.

  43. I agree. Which is why my sf/fantasy/mysteries tend to have people who are in general, pretty good folk. Because they too are real, and I’d rather populate my head with those than people I’d avoid 😉

  44. When they say 1-bit grayscale (all black or all white) is simplistic and boring they have a point. Fauxsophistication of the intellectually lazy and morally shiftless consists of replacing it by 0-bit grayscale (all medium grey).
    Writing in 8-bit grayscale, on the other hand, is hard work 😉

    • Perfect place for this quote:

      The Sophisticate: “The world isn’t black and white. No one does pure good or pure bad. It’s all gray. Therefore, no one is better than anyone else.”

      The Zetet: “Knowing only gray, you conclude that all grays are the same shade. You mock the simplicity of the two-color view, yet you replace it with a one-color view….”
      -— Marc Stiegler, David’s Sling

  45. I should get you the Boxed Set of Hilary Caine Mysteries from Jim French Productions for Christmas.
    Brash, insouciant, puns, wordplay… Hilary makes things happen– though sometimes in a bull-in-a-china-shop fashion!
    Quite the antidote to contemporary ennui-steeped anti-heroes…!

  46. Sarah, have you read the Flavia de Luce mysteries? (They start with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.) They might be what you need to restore your faith– no “humanity is a blight,and we are all blighted” gloom hanging over Buckshaw Manor. The people in the De Luce family and the nearby village do have their foibles and problems, but the author allows them to succeed in spite of their human weaknesses.

  47. So … Dyson swarms, anyone? How do sci-fi authors react?

    (When picking through the Huygens data, they found a star-system that has weird irregular variations in starlight that we don’t have a good explanation for yet. (Not regular transit dimming that would be indicative of a planet in a periodic orbit.) The media, for one, was keen to preemptively welcome our new planetary-engineer-overlords. 😛 )

  48. I’m wondering if anybody else recalls — wasn’t Gino “Dingy” Patina a slugging third baseman for the St. Louis Browns in the 1930s?

    • Sorry, no. My late uncle was a Yankees fan, despite the miles between the Tar Heel state and the Bronx, and I have been a Red’s fan from the Johnny Bench era but only an indifferent one lately.

      • The Yankees used to have a farm team or two here in the Tar Heel state — I recall Don Mattingly playing locally, around 1980, and Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettite and Mariano Rivera all came through here in the early 90s en route to The Show.

        I started following the Reds in 1961 and remember Pete Rose as a rookie and Bench coming up as well. It is amazing how much more easily one can follow distant teams — I listened to the 1990 World Series on the radio (Cincinnati station WLW 700 AM is one of the original “superstations” and can be listened to across much of the area East of the Missis-sip) when

        Browning’s wife went into labor late in Game 2 of the World Series. Browning left the stadium to be with his wife at the hospital. However, as the game entered extra innings and Piniella realized his pitcher was absent, the Reds called the announcers and had them issue a statement on radio and TV asking Browning to return to the ballpark in case he had to pitch. While Browning did hear the message, he stayed with his wife. The Reds won in the 10th inning.

        I kind of miss the challenge of following the team before there was internet. Since there has been internet the team has been pretty indifferent, so I can understand being an indifferent fan these days.