Jump the Shark and The Death of Arthur

  • The independent literary revolution sparked by the rise of the Amazon Juggernaut has largely focused on adult fare. Not adult fare in the pornographic sense, but adult fare in the ‘reading level and philosophically sophisticated sense’. You can’t swing a dead cat around the Amazon algorithm without hitting an author throwing his own finished novels into the thriller and fantasy and romance genres. Perhaps the same is true for children’s books, but given the large back supply of classical children’s books in my house, I’ve been largely insulated from the enwokening of books for the younger set.

There are also ancillary issues involved with children’s books that I’ve heard of but cannot discuss beyond the most unreliable of speculations. Which I fully intend to do here.

The children’s book market has always been very competitive and publishers fare more willing to produce shovelware. Infiltrated early by the anti-Western illiterate, it has long been unfavorable ground for the sort of Western Renaissance 2.0 that the opening of markets had enabled of late. Discounted as ‘beneath serious thinkers’ too stupid to realize the importance of not throwing your children into the arms of your enemies, the libraries quickly filled up with variations of The Rainbow Fish.

For those who don’t know, The Rainbow Fish, is a lavishly illustrated poison pill sold as a “lesson about sharing” whose deeper message conveys the modern myth of equality of outcome as the highest ideal, and the value of envy and ostracism as a means of effecting that outcome. It’s insidious and raised a small ruckus at the time of its initial American release. This is the children’s equivalent of being forced to read Johnny Got His Gun, and it is almost everywhere.

Almost, but not quite, because our ancestors have left us with a large and valuable inheritance of works written before the West came down with a bad case of Modernity. Even minor classical works such as the classic Sesame Street tale of Bert baking corn bread. When it’s time to do the work, no one has any interest in Bert. When its time to eat the treats, suddenly everyone is his best friend. A good man, Bert refuses to share until they pitch in and do a little something to help. Hard as it is to believe, but even the fallen Childrens Television Workshop used to honor Western ideals, and if you’ve got physical copies, they’ll have a hard time taking them away. “You don’t work, you don’t eat,” is the kind of message a lot more children and adults need to hear these days, but you won’t find that sort of message in the publishing world of NYC.

For that, you need to look to the independent world, where a few brave souls still tend the flame of fallen culture.

Enter one E. Darwin Hartshorn, whose works have an energy and foundation firmly rooted in the good, the beautiful, and the true. His Jump the Shark reminds me in many ways of the golden age of the Tunes most Looney. The joke in the title was lost on my daughter – wait, that’s not right. For her, the joke was that a shark, which she knows for a fact is a swimmer, would have no need of jumping. Once she jumped into the book, an easy read for a six-year-old, she was lost in the artwork, which has an almost video-game feel to it. The brief story of loss and redemption carries with it some cartoonish violence and enemies of the Super-Mario variety, and is presented with an earnestness as refreshing as it is charming. This is the kind of book that I have been looking for and unable to find until now.

The Death of Arthur takes a much more serious tone.  It takes some grim turns. It is written for an older set – a chapter book more suited for second grade  not thereaders.It’s.  kind of book that you toss to a child and leave to ponder on their own. In our house it is the kind of book meant to inspire serious discussions about morality, honor, family, and friendship. It is a thinking man’s children’s book, and not well suited for the sorts of parents who silence curious children by sticking their children’s noses in a full-volume tablet when pushing them around the grocery store or at restaurants or really anywhere.

Both come much recommended for parents of children on the early edge of reading.

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This past week saw your ‘umble host moonlighting on the set of a major network television show.  A small role that you’ll hear more about once the air date approaches.  This post will be vague because I’m not entirely sure where the network draws the line on disclosure, but I did want to mention a few things that I learned.

To start with, actors who do their own stunts really are a breed apart.  These are two completely different skill sets.  To do both well simultaneously isn’t so much utility infielder work as it is two-sport superstar work.  Hopefully when the thing sees the light of day you’ll think I managed to pull it off.  If it looks great, you can blame the incredible director, co-stars, and editor who all played a role in helping this neophyte hang with the real professionals.

Full disclosure:  I’m not sure if the work I did technically qualifies as stunt work, but I’ve got enough  aches and bruises from the work to feel like it qualifies, and the stuff I did was bottom tier, basic stuff.  In my own defense, I had to do the same action a lot – maybe forty times – and did what I could to power through the challenge like a veteran.  The stunt co-ordinator showed a great deal of patience, and the directors on set did everything they could to make sure I was comfortable.

But ego and masculine pride compel a man to shrug off the hurts.  Not wanting to look weak in front of the veterans and the pretty girls are powerful painkillers.

At least until the next night, when a man’s 46-year old body doth protest just enough.

Perhaps moonlighting as a stunt man – or faking one’s way through it without totally embarrassing himself – at the ripe old age of 46 was a mistake.

But it sure was a hell of a lot of fun.  If you have the body to take it, and you ever get the chance, I highly recommend throwing yourself into that line of fire.

At a minimum you’ll find a new appreciation for the guys that make a career out of it.


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Corona Thoughts

People in an industry I don’t really trust tell me that people in a country I don’t fully trust are reporting to a global organization I completely don’t trust a story that I’m supposed to take very seriously.

I have already seen politicians I don’t trust explain that science I don’t trust offers a political solution I don’t trust to prevent the next one.  I give it better than even odds that an industry I don’t trust has a means of protecting me from this latest and greatest threat to all humanity.

Now, I’m not saying that the Corona Virus isn’t a problem here, but if it is a problem, then it’s a safe bet that all of the people who are responsible for teaching me not to trust any of the entities mentioned above will bear a much greater burden for my lackadaisical response in the face of the Horseman of pestilence.  They are a child crying wolf for the tenth time.  I’m rolling over and going back to sleep, and if half the village gets eaten…well, I’ve spent enough nights falling for his tricks.  At least this time I’ll save myself a few wrinkles and live a more peaceful life.



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Retrocomic: Galaxia

Given the amount of pozzed material on the shelves at the local comic shop, if there’s no Alterna available, my tastes run toward the longboxes of old anthology comics.  Burned out on the sordid and pointlessly seamy offerings of ‘Eerie’ and ‘Creepy’ and too short on cash to grab the ever-reliable ‘Conan’ titles, I took a risk on ‘Galaxia’, a steal at only two bucks.

That cover promises a lot of great stuff, and the contents deliver on all of them.  That’s the cover to an anthology comic – five stories that range from planetary romance to space opera to mil-sf, with a dash of 70s era gangster wars blended with straight-up cape and flight superhero action.

They are all intriguing, but alas, as near as I can figure only the one issue made it to print*.  Probably why the asking price was a mere two dollars.  With only the first chapters of five stories that promised to weave together before the end, this issue is merely a tease – a glimpse of something that might have been really special had it only blossomed in our current golden age of “Screw the Powers That Be, I’m Publishing Whatever I Want”.

Try and stop me, Bluehair!

It’s hard to judge the quality of the tales.  They felt a bit rushed and incomplete – no duh, they are all chapter one of a longer work, and they feel like it.  This is an introductory issue after all.  The art was well done, the writing ranged from fine to fun, and it left me wanting more.  Also, there is this in the editors page.

Good luck getting that one past an editorial board in NYC.

All that said, there is a strange twist to this story.

Everything old is new again.

Late last year a slew of explicitly muscular Christian works hit the market, a spontaneous trend that Razorfist christened ‘Crucifiction’. Alexander Hellene has the full story here. And that is relevant because if you look close, all of the stories in ‘Galaxia’ read like proto-crucifiction.  Here, the editors lay it out in black and white:

Like all the best D&D campaigns, and as the master of fantasy himself (Tolkien it should go without saying), these stories are not the explicit “Captain Cross” style of tales.  They don’t read like the cringe-inducing efforts to make bible stories Hip and With-It.  They are subtle – for the most part – and the Christian influence is a foundation of the work.  Like any strong house, you don’t really notice that foundation unless you really look for it.  And you would surely notice it if the foundation wasn’t there. Like the name Gideon Cross.  Or the sigil on a flag in the background of a battle featuring a rose over a cross.  Or a dozen other sly means of tapping into Christian culture without making that the centerpiece of the story.

A little on the nose, don’t you think?

All of these stories were written from a base of assumptions that the West used to take for granted.  They unabashedly revel in Western Civilization in the same way that Stan Lee’s stories of ‘misunderstood genius outsiders hunted by a fearful and ignorant society that just doesn’t understand how awesome they really are’ revel in the assumptions of his own civilization.

Are they better than Stan Lee’s works?  I don’t know.  But they are different.  And they are different in a way that I really like.  And want to see more of in my own civilization.  I see it in the independent works of creatives like Alexander Hellene and Jon Del Arroz and Adam Lane Smith.  And you can probably see it in my own works as well.

*As mentioned before, I’m not a huge comic book fan, so my research consists of a bit of rudimentary web searches and sending this comic to a better read friend.  If you have any insider knowledge on this title, feel free to set the record straight in the comments.

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Yes, I am reviewing a forty year old children’s film.

It’s a classic.

The older brother from Land of the Lost leads a complicated life.  He lives in a high crime area – Los Angeles, go figure – and spends so much time working on a secret home security project that he neglects his day job working for the security corporation run by Mister Drummond from Diff’rent Strokes.  He loses his job as a result, which is rough because he and his fiance, Valerie Bertinelli, were about to tell Mister Drummond – her father, mind you – of their recent engagement.  To make matters worse, Mister Drummond’s company is almost bankrupt thanks in part to corporate espionage paid for by a rival company owned by Thurston Howell.  Said espionage includes hiring two inept burglars, Red Buttons and his bullying boss played by a longtime Hollywood character actor named Chuck McCann.  Fortunately, the older brother from Land of the Lost has almost perfected his new invention, a cyber-dog named CHOMPS (Computerized HOMe Protection System).

Hilarity ensues.

This thing didn’t age well.  It’s produced by Joseph Barbera – the second half of the Hanna-Barbera that you know – and it shows.  The comedy is over the top, cheesy, and squarely aimed at the six-year old set.  The dastardly spies and crooked crooks run schemes simple enough for little ones to follow.  They cheaped out on the soundtrack, with the motif for CHOMPS, a little 12-bar ditty, sounding every time the dog appears on screen.  The orchestral music also has that funky ‘tail end of disco’ sound mixed in.  Cartoonish sound effects, the same ones you heard in every Hanna-Barbera show, are present in full force.

My kid didn’t care about any of it.  It’s a cute dog beating up grown men for ninety minutes – she loved it.

As a time capsule, it’s great.

One thing that struck out to me was how woke the casting was all the way back in 1979.  All of the crooks are white guys, just like you see on most police procedural these days of the 13/50 meme.  The two black guys who appear are a uniformed cop and a smart reporter.  Chalk this one up as a data point suggesting that the woke and the based are both out to lunch on what casting used to be like compared to today.

So should you watch it?  Show it to your kids?

No – it’s pure nostalgia fuel.

But I enjoyed it.

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The Last Gasp of Americana

My youngest has taken to reading Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, and with a three-day weekend to kill, watching the films seemed like a great way to wind down otherwise active and sun-filled days.

What a difference a decade makes.

Honestly, the first one is a little hard to watch.  Hollywood’s slavish devotion to character arcs means that our hero Greg spends the first seventy minutes of the movie mistreating his best friend and trying to connive his way into popularity before rising to an existential threat and for once in his damn fool life doing the right thing.  They also shoved a pubescent Chloe Grace Moretz in here to serve as the jaded voice of adulthood character – a girl who does nothing but sneer at Greg and tell the audience why he is lame.  It’s a fine movie with just a few blemishes.

The second film, though.  In a rare feat, the sequel improves on the original.  By focusing Greg’s relationship with his older brother Rodrick, this film makes the antics of our central gamma, Greg, much more palatable.  Most of his problems are of his brother’s doing and not his own making.  Rodrick steals the show with his performance as an idiot who plays the fool to lull everyone into underestimating him.  He has a low cunning that replaces actual intelligence – a common failing among teenagers.  They fight, they work together, they learn valuable lessons about brotherhood.  Standard fare we don’t often see in these unstandard times.

Hollywood doesn’t make movies like this much anymore.  Set in a regular American town, the cast is mainly regular American people with the few foreign faces there to provide comic relief.  You’ve got a family completely intact and normal, who care for each other, and mostly look out for each other.  You’ve got jocks that aren’t jerks.  Pretty girls with empathy.  Nerds who are gross and unlikable rather than secret kings.  Fat kids who managed to be well liked because they are friendly and funny.  It’s everything Hollywood normally gets wrong about school settings, done right.

It doesn’t make any sense.  Films like this can be made cheap – they have no CGI, the stars can be no-names, and the settings are in literally every town.  Every American who has gone to middle-school knows how ripe they are for relatable drama.  The younger set loves them for that glimpse of what’s to come.  The older set loves them for that cringe-inducing reminder of how small and awkward they used to be.  Parents love them for that reason and because the age of the characters should mean safe material.  No sex.  Smoking and booze are still on the horizon.  Awkward flirting and social ineptitude are rife and understandable.  How hard is it to stick to that formula?

Pretty hard if you are a degenerate

Instead we get trash like this, because screw you, America.

It ain’t about the money any more, if it ever really was.  You can retreat to old movies – we’ll always have those – but this is an industry that no longer serves the nation on which it feeds.  Enjoy Diary of a Wimpy Kid while you can, because we won’t be getting any more of them any time soon.

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Fighting Nontroversy with Nontroversy

Late last week some pretty little TikTok dish made headlines by pointing out that it’s hard to accidentally get pregnant or catch a sexually transmitted disease if you don’t actually have sex.  The Wuvs Da Science crowd flipped their lids because they don’t Wuv Da Science when it comes to epidemiology, which always takes a backseat to political considerations.  If you doubt me, check out all the laws that expressly forbid insurance companies from factoring epidemiology into their actuarial tables when it comes to diseases of the…shall we say brother on brother variety.

Here’s the guilty party.

What a monster.

This is not good for the peddlers of modern thought.  It is a direct shot amidships and any popular voice reminding the world that the only true safe sex is that practiced within a monogamous marriage (preferably one recognized by the Church) and that leaves the couple open to procreation.  Encouraging people to rein in their libidos – in fact, to deny themselves any moment of transient pleasure at all – risks starting a cascade effect that might lead to such dangers as eating less, going outside, lifting weights, reading old books, or thinking for oneself.  Even arguing about whether practicing a little self-control does a body good works against the greater goal of trapping people into the hedonistic death-spiral.

A counter had to be developed.  After a brief and perfunctory two-minute against against Nurse Cutiepie, the modernist zeitgeist hit upon an rather interesting solution.  Rather than confront this hatefact head-on, they launched an effort to push it to the figurative backpage where people would stop noticing it.  That would be a solid victory on the war on noticing.

Stick a pin in that for a second, before we move on to what happened, we should be clear about what didn’t necessarily happen.  There didn’t have to be a smoke-filled room were shadowy puppet-masters pulled strings to make the following events occur.  There didn’t have to be a private chat where a small cabal of key influencers gathered to formulate and coordinate a response to Nurse CutiePie.   Although those things are possible, and we have records of them happening in the past, they are not a requirement for the sort of conversation shifting process that occurred here.

Everybody in on the Safe Sex scam already knows that abstinence is their achilles heel.  They ravage even the slightest hint of that strategy with fake studies and shifting measures of success.  They all hate it, and they all want to silence the idea forever.  So when the chance arrives to talk about something else, when the chance comes to countersignal one authoritative voice with another, they’ll grab onto that chance with both hands.  Hell, they will manufacture that voice if they have to.

Enter Nurse Scoldsmug.

Tyranny is now a woke six smarming your face, forever.

How conveeeeeeenient.

Look at the jangling keys, kiddos.  Pay no attention to the nurse laying down the hatefacts.  We have this other discussion that we prefer, because it rests on ground we mistakenly think we control.

The antivaxxers always punch well above their weight.  They are a strong counter-balance to the Nanny State.  They are always in a low-grade simmer, and they always rise to meet any Nanny State swarm with a counter-swarm of their own.  That makes them the perfect patsy for deflecting interest away from medical facts that get in the way of the GloboHomo agenda.  A bit of empty sloganeering waved their way is like a red cape to a charging bull.  They launch themselves at you, thus providing a chance to steer the conversation away from any challenge to the march toward the progressive agenda’s next pyramid of skulls.

It’s easy to do, and this sort of propagandistic monkeying with the public conversation is now old hat to the influencers.  First a social media site gooses an algorithm or two to force a bland dance-vid jump into the “trending” category.  Then the clickbait merchants have grist for their fake news mill about this hot new trend, which dumps the scolding into the anti-vaxxer’s laps, and they never refuse to dance when they hear that music.  Now the fake news gets more grist by writing about the backlash of the anit-vaxxers who pounced on the first articles.  And welcome to the positive feedback loop of modern discourse.

You don’t need a conspiracy when you have a woke culture.  Everybody already knows the steps to the dance.  All you need to do is change the tune.

There are a lot of interesting facets of this tempest in a beaker.  For example, a pediatrician makes good money off of peddling vaccines while a nurse has no financial interest in promoting abstinence.  From a cui bono analysis alone, Miss Six loses this one.

But my favorite angle has to be the meta-analysis.  That’s the part where we notice that thanks to the Progressives we are marching forward into an era where debates on medical science and on public health policy will be conducted by dancing nurses pointing at colored shapes.

Whatever chastisement God sends our way, we deserve it.

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Secrets of Secrets of the Nethercity

It’s time to break the seals and talks bout why you should run your D&D crew through Autarch’s Nethercity.  But first we need to tuck all the sensitive and classified data behind the fold.

Don’t click next unless you want to have the Secrets revealed through antiseptic blogging rather than rich play at the table. Continue reading

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Alterna Haul

Alterna Comics continues to demonstrate why smaller publishers are the future of comics.  The big boys are just too old, too slow, and too set in their ways to compete with the likes of Alterna, Arkhaven, and that thing Jon Del Arroz is doing where he just pumps out solid titles month in and month out without a publisher.

The It came on a Wednesday line is all anthologies all the time.  It’s a sample platter meant to entice you to dive into the full range of Alterna’s other titles.  I get them mostly for the one or two page Mr. Crypt and Baron Rat tales, which my daughter loves.  They have sold me on Log, the tale of a barbarian treant with a great big honking axe that fights demons.  It looks like a one trick gimmick, but based on what I’ve seen in ICOOAW, it’s deeper and a lot more interesting than that.  It’ll get added to my next pull list.

The Actual Roger came to a close with a bang.  At five issues, and one of those a double issue to boot, it had plenty of room for multiple storylines, several heel-face turns, and recurring villains.  The Big Bad proved to be a joke few people younger than the older Gen-Xers would have the culturally knowledge to understand.  Like the old Looney Tunes, they don’t have to.  It’s an ugly scrawny guy with a building sized sonic cannon who wants to crush the city – that’s all they need to know to follow the action.

My own daughter lost interest, but I thought it was a fun and breezy read.  As mentioned, she prefers the wacky hijinks of Mr. Crypt and Baron Rat, which we also picked up.  They are perfect for those just learning to read.  Alterna nails the Saturday Morning Cartoon feel and even manages a sympathetic and complex character in Mr. Crypt – a monster who just wants to be loved – without getting all preachy about it.

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Lost the Plot in Space

Season Two of the Netflix version of “Lost in Space” moves the bulk of the action from the confines of a small family survival drama into a much larger scope.  This time around it’s not just the Robinson’s, but all 600 members of Mission 24 that get involved.  After a bit of mucking around by themselves, the Robinson’s get back into space where they can participate in political intrigue on the decks of the badly damaged mothership that hauled the Jupiter 2 out where no man has gone before.

Having resolved their rocky re-started marriage, Mama and Papa Robinson show genuine affection for each other, and each brings something valuable to the team.  There is an impressive moment early on when Papa puts his foot down and tells Mama, “No,” and though she doesn’t like it, she accepts it.  That relationship beat has been absent from so many shows for so long, it stands out for its novelty if nothing else.  Of course, he reverses himself two minutes later, but it was nice while it lasted.

The best romance of the show doesn’t really count.

Once again, Don West and The Robot steal the show.  Once again, the show serves as an excellent example of the best we can expect from a converged Hollywood.  The sense of wonder is there for brief moments.  The adventure and action are there.  There’s even a touch of romance, although the dull and soft male half of that subplot earns his place as a suitable interest solely by dint of a lack of competition.  Much like my feelings for the show as a space opera adventure, Penny accepts the many flaws of her romantic interest more out of a lack of other options than because of any real positive features.

The show has a lot of flaws, but does a workmanlike job papering over them.  One example is the show’s tendency to pull a JJ Abrams.  It helps you forget how stupid a plot-point is by immediately following up a reversal or reveal with somebody running hell-bent for leather down a busy spaceship corridor…for reasons.  Unforetunately for me, I’m a writer incapable of watching a show without over-analyzing it.  So I see what they did every time they do it.

The best is example is Mama Robinson learning a valuable lesson about how her superior math skills cannot overcome the reliability of men to do the dramatically necessary thing instead of the smart thing.  Mama defies Captain Ethnically Ambiguous and all her warnings about how her plan is too dangers.  Mama then learns her lesson, that she should listen to the Captain’s judgement.  Then, not five minutes later, she sets out to save Don West despite the Captain’s warning that it is once again too dangerous.

Record scratch.

It’s fine, actually.  That kind of ‘reset every episode’ and ‘no character growth ever’ worked just fine in the 1960s, and it works just fine in the 20teens.  Doctor Smith gets the same single-episode character arcs that reset periodically.  So does Perfect Judy.  And Will the Robot Whisperer.  The only people that get to experience a permanent character change are those who perform a heel-face turn moments before their death.

It’s fine.  It’s a throwback, and it’s fine.

The season ending cliffhanger ends on a dud.  They make a big whoopty-do about one of the least interesting characters, and the sort of mystery that they’ve just spent two full seasons beating you over the head about how the answer doesn’t matter.  Until suddenly it does?  We just saw a literal alien invasion and a massive change in the logistics of being lost in space, and the potential answer to a mystery we didn’t even know existed is supposed to top that?  Does not compute.

The unreadable face of The Robot saves the day with his implacable strength and mysteriously laconic mannerisms. The same applies for The Evil Robot who literally dropped out of the skies in last season’s finale, and the damaged robot sidekick, nicknamed Scarecrow by the crew. The interplay between those three ‘bots, the inherent uncertainty of what they are, what they want, and what they might do, makes it worth wading through all the overwrought drama and the admittedly more subtle gyno-centric writing of the human portion of the show.

The show also spends a little more time reveling in the Space Opera, with multiple alien planets and atmospheres encountered. We get a sort of space battle – more like an emergency space repair, actually – and plenty of soaring astrophysical visuals.

The generally standard BS tax – the amount of nonsense that one must accept in the stilted finger-painted human characters – is generally lower and better hidden than most of Hollywood’s offerings these days. The action and adventure and exploration are all top notch, and the robo-stories and mystery boxes keep me coming back for just one more episode.

On balance, the Second Season gets a rating of Three JJ Abrams.  Don’t take it as seriously as the showrunners do, switch off your brain, and buckle in for some light-hearted adventure that won’t tax you.

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