Reading Doc Savage: Land of Always-Night

FullSizeRender (49)In packing for a trip, I discovered I’d somehow bypassed some of the earlier Doc Savages, so we backtrack now to book 13: Land of Always-Night. On the cover, Doc, wearing torn shirt and steampunk goggles, looks back and away from a grove of giant mushrooms, not noticing the several odd figures vaguely resembling the Monarch from The Venture Brothers menacing him with raised hands.

This one has to be my favorite beginning yet:

It is somewhat ridiculous to say that a human hand can resemble a butterfly. Yet this particular hand did attain that similarity. Probably it was the way it moved, hovered, moved again, with something about it that was remindful of a slow-motion picture being shown on a screen.

The color had something to do with the impression. The hand was white, unnatural; it might have been fashioned of mother of pearl. There was something serpentine, hideous, about the way it strayed and hovered, yet was never still. It made one think of a venomous white moth.

It made Beery Hosmer think of death. Only the expression on Beery Hosmer’s face told that, for he was not saying anything. But he was trying to. His lips shaped word syllables and the muscle strings in his scrawny throat jerked, but no sounds came out.

The horrible white hand floated up toward Beery Hosmer’s face. The side street was gloomy, deserted except for Beery Hosmer and the man with the uncanny hand. The hand stood out in the Merck almost as if it were a thing of white paper with a light inside.

Continue reading

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Playlist for Female Leaders

Women in leadership positions face a lot of unwonted and unwanted bullshit. Self care’s important, both physically and mentally. Here, for your weekend, is some music. This is some of the playlist I listen to when walking.

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Nattering Social Justice Cook: Time to Fix the Missing Stair

AnitaThe following is my personal opinion and unconnected to any SFWA activity. I am speaking as a member of the speculative fiction community, one that has been involved in it for a decade and a half now, and one that has watched its internal workings with interest.

I met Monica Valentinelli in 2016 at GenCon. I don’t know her well, but I’m proud to count her as a friend and she is one of the people I have consulted with about issues gamewriters face and the gamewriting community overall. She has been a valued bridge-builder and I trust her judgment. For those who don’t know about the recent events prompting this essay, here is her account of the event as well as some reactions.

Monica is currently being punished for speaking out, with vitriol, suggested boycotts, and more, all for going public about her decision. Forces with an interest in women not speaking out have decided to make her a cautionary tale, particularly since she’s dared to lead to other people, including men, to follow her example.

One manifestation of that is a brief statement asking why she hates women, declaring that her example will make conventions reluctant to invite any women in the future. Let’s unpack that one a little because the underpinnings seem ill-constructed to me.

There are many kinds of humans in the world. That means there’re also many kinds of women. The logic of the above statement says two things: 1) that it is wrong for people speak out about conditions that are uncomfortable, unprofessional, or sometimes even dangerous and 2) that only people with the strength to survive a gauntlet that can include being groped onstage, being mocked publicly, having their work denigrated for no reason other than having been produced by a woman, and a multitude of other forms of harassment deserve careers and the rest are out of luck. Does that really need to be demanded for someone to have a career? Writers are notoriously unstable mentally as it is. Serial harassment is a professional matter.

This was underscored for me on a Norwescon (a con that does a great job with selecting programming and volunteers and understands the issues) panel that I moderated last Friday, Standing Up to the Mob, with panelists Minim Calibre, Arinn Dembo, Mickey Schulz, and Torrey Stenmark. The description was:

How do you support female creators who are being harassed online by the ravening hordes of the unenlightened? Tips for voicing your support in ways that mean something.

Here are Arinn Dembo’s excellent notes on the panel overall.

Harassment is not confined to female creators: anyone who is “othered” is particularly at risk for storms of online harassment. But women are more subject, on the average, to gender-specific slurs, accusations of sexual activity/inactivity (slut/frigid), and rape-threats. And, as with Monica and countless other women, it bleeds over into physical space with intimidation, unwelcome advances, stalkers, or attacks from random men just because they were the closest woman.

I can tell you from personal experience that women get made uncomfortable at conventions on a regular basis, that I have heard literally dozens of these stories, and read dozens more online. That online threats spill over into real life intimidation and more threats, sometimes outright attempts, to harm our health, our finances, and our loved ones — often children. The issue is real. It is time to stop pretending it is not.

What follows is an attempt to collect some notes from that panel and use them to explain why I think what Monica did was brave and inspiring, and why it should be a kick in the butt to do something.

The panel was specifically about online harassment. If you’re reading this online, you are part of that world as well, and you may have noticed instances of online harassment before. If you haven’t, I can assure you they’re there. The harassers’ agenda is to overwhelm the victim, to cut their productivity, and to punish them for some perceived slight while at the same time making an example of them so other creators will hesitate before speaking out.

How can you support an online creator that is under attack? Some methods listed during the panel:

  1. Buy their stuff. Spread word of it to other people that would enjoy it. Support them financially, particularly at a time when they’re worrying about being hit there.
  2. Believe them when they say, “This has been my experience.”
  3. Let them know you’re supporting them. Drop them a nice note, send them kitten pictures, do whatever you can to show you have their back. Provide something that counteracts the scores of nastygrams, death/rape threats, and other harassing messages they’re getting.
  4. Draw fire away, not towards. Untag them in conversations that are going to get heated. They’re catching plenty of it as ise. Don’t just fan flames and make things worse for them.
  5. If they want to take a break, encourage it. Facilitate it even. Offer to moderate their social media if they want to move away from it.
  6. Figure out what rewards the troll and try to remove it. Often the reward is attention or any kind of reaction.
  7. Hold people accountable for their toxic fans, particularly when they’re egging them on.

Our community should protect its own and behave like a healthy immune system, coming to the aid of parts under attack. But it is not enough to rely on the goodwill of individuals. That moves me to the metaphor of the missing stair, which came up frequently in the panel.

If you’re not familiar with it, the analogy deals with a serial harasser in a community. Everyone in the community knows about them, and the way its deal with is to warn people privately: Don’t get caught in an elevator alone with X, don’t accept invitations from Y. Watch out for Z, they pinched my butt so hard it left a bruise. It’s like a staircase with a missing stair, which everyone knows not to step on. Over and over, despite the fact that people keep tripping. Keep getting hurt: physically, mentally, economically.

It’s time to stop pretending the missing stair doesn’t need to be fixed. Relying on word-of-mouth means that the people who are new, who are just entering, are the ones most at risk of trying to step on it. Some conventions have tried to deal with it in one way or another; others plead ignorance, saying that each convention is organized by different people, so how can this knowledge be passed along? In my opinion the situation is unacceptable.

Monica has done the most important thing people can do against harassment: speak up. Odysseycon failed to do the second most important: believe someone when they say, “this is my experience.”

How can we repair the missing stairs so no one is hurt by them again? In my opinion, there needs to be some sort of way for conventions, conferences, and other organizations to compare notes in a systematic way, perhaps a database where, each time there is an incident, it gets documented. So a convention organizer could check: is the person I am considering using at my convention someone who has harassed people in the past? Because con organizers need to know what they are taking on.They need all the information there and findable so they cannot ignore it.

Such a system would depend on people coming forward and on people not being punished for speaking up. One objection that gets raised to such a system is: what if it gets used unfairly? What if someone targets a person and uses the system against them?

It is a valid question, though perhaps not quite as strong a possibility as some people might paint. However, having the database would let the convention organizer look at the incidents. Are they all coming from one person? Then they may want to investigate further. Are they coming from multiple people? Then there is a problem. A serial “blamer,” someone intent on weaponizing the system, would in fact be exposed by it.

One reason this idea of tracking incidents sometimes creates unease is the idea of a formal blacklist to replace the current web of gossip and tips passed along among con organizers, authors, and other publishing professionals. That is not the point. The point is to allow con organizers to be informed when making their decisions. If harassment is something they don’t want to worry about, they don’t need to consult the database. But for the ones who want to make sure every guest feels welcome, this would be a valuable source of information. And it would be more objective than that web of gossip, and let people know that they’re not the victim of some background campaigns that they don’t. Indeed, this system would act to prevent mislabelings.

The inevitable question, “Why doesn’t SFWA do it?” will be raised. The answer is this: This effort must come from a coalition of the people organizing conventions. They know best how something like this should be structured and administered, and it is not my place to tell them how to do it. SFWA has provided some useful resources for conventions; both the Accessibility Checklist for SFWA Spaces and the Policy and Procedure on Harassment in SFWA Venues statement are available online.

This is what I know. The missing stair is tripping up newcomers to our community. People are being hurt by it, even the ones who know how to navigate it well, by efforts to pretend it doesn’t exist. The fact that we, the fantasy and science fiction community at large, tacitly allow this situation – the enabling of serial harassers in a way that drives out new writers, fans, and publishing professionals — absolutely infuriates me. We need to start talking seriously about how something like this should be implemented in a way that is both as fair and is effective as possible. For Pete’s sake, people.

I welcome conversation here, particularly between people with actual experience organizing and running cons. Mine consists of going to a lot of conventions over the past decade or so and watching the SFWA events team put on an amazing conference each year without my assistance, while congratulating myself on having avoided all the work while being to reap the benefit of their hard work. However, I do have plenty of experience with comments, which will be moderated for obvious reasons.

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Nattering Social Justice Cook: Supporting The Next Generation

Ancient village with modern kids and bubbles.

Ancient village with modern kids and bubbles.

If you don’t know about DonorsChoose, it’s a great program that lets you support individual classroom projects. I sponsored one in honor of my aunt Nona. Here’s the lovely thank you note I just got.

Dear Cat Rambo,

Thank you so much for your donation to my classroom. Having copies of Persepolis: The Story Of A Childhood has had a dramatic impact on my students as they finish their eighth grade year.

When the students received copies of a book that they were actually interested in, they felt like they were the ones in charge of their learning experience. The decision to design a unit around Persepolis was student driven. Earlier this year I noticed that students were coming to class regularly asking questions about the Middle East and Islam. In student interest surveys, the class overwhelmingly expressed a desire to learn more about these topics. So when students got copies of Persepolis, they felt as if their voices were being heard. When I started the unit, I noticed a big increase in student engagement. “I felt lucky!” Eighth grader De’jean Williams said when the class received the books. “Adults hardly ever listen to us- it’s nice when they finally do.”

The Persepolis books have provided students with a window into life in the Middle East. Students are beginning to understand the complexity of the forces shaping the region. They are deeply engaging with questions about the role of government, culture and religion influencing a society. Middle school is the time when students are first beginning to shape their world-view. Reading Persepolis is helping students in this process. As the United States gets more and more involved in the region, I am so glad that my students understanding of the region is growing.

Thanks again for your generous donation! You are truly making a difference in the lives of young people!!

With gratitude,
Ms. Founds

Want to see students reading diverse, interesting, informative reading that features protagonists like them? Find programs doing just that and help them.

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Upping the Number of Plunkett Slots

Something I’m trying to do this year is pay things forward as much as possible. Recent technological upgrades means I can now fit more than 8-9 people in a class (can now handle up to twice that many, which is more suited to some classes than others), so I figured one way to do that is to make more class slots available to people who couldn’t otherwise afford the class.

So, each class now has three Plunkett scholarship slots, the third of which is specifically reserved for QUILTBAG and POC applicants. Everyone is encouraged to apply, but I want to make sure it’s getting to a diverse range. The only qualification for a Plunkett is this: you would not be able to afford the class otherwise. Just mail me with the name/date of the class and 1-3 sentences about why you want to take it.

I have had several classes lately with no Plunkett apps, so I want to stress this: please take advantage of them if you’re a writer working on your craft. You will be helping me by ensuring that I have interested people to teach to.

That said, here’s upcoming classes if you want to look them over:

Classes Offered April-June 2017

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Where I’ll Be: Norwescon 2017

Thursday
What is a Story?
3:00pm – 4:00pm @ Cascade 9
Marta Murvosh (M), Cat Rambo, Curtis C. Chen, Nancy Kress, James C. Glass

SFWA: What is it, Where is it Going, and Why Should You Care?
6:00pm – 7:00pm @ Cascade 3&4
Cat Rambo (M), Django Wexler, Adam Rakunas, John Walters, Rachel Swirsky

Friday
Reading: Cat Rambo
2:00pm – 2:30pm @ Cascade 2
Cat Rambo (M)

Standing Up to the Mob
4:00pm – 5:00pm @ Cascade 3&4
Cat Rambo (M), Torrey Stenmark, Minim Calibre, Arinn Dembo, Mickey Schulz

Saturday
SFWA Meeting
10:00am – 11:00am @ Pro Suite
Cat Rambo (M)
You do not need to be a member to attend! Come find out what SFWA is up to.

Koffee Klatsch: Cat Rambo
11:00am – 12:00pm @ Pro Suite
Cat Rambo (M)

Kookie Klatsch with Cat Rambo
2:00pm – 2:30pm @ Olympic 1
AmélieMantchev (M), Cat Rambo, Eric Snyder

Autograph Session 2
3:00pm – 4:00pm @ Grand 2
Catska Ench, Cory Ench, Ethan Siegel, Ian McDonald, Marc Gascoigne, Mike Underwood, Nancy Kress, Alexander James Adams, Cat Rambo, Dale Ivan Smith, Erik Scott de Bie, Evan J. Peterson, Jeremy Zimmerman, John (J.A.) Pitts, Jude-Marie Green, Kristi Charish, Laura Anne Gilman, Liz Argall, Django Wexler, Frog Jones, Raven J. Demers, Spencer Ellsworth, Susan R. Matthews, Morgue Anne, Brenda Cooper, Lisa Mantchev, Bella la Blanc, Mark Teppo, Claudia Casper, Susan diRende, Kristy Acevedo

Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading
8:00pm – 10:00pm @ Cascade 3&4
Marta Murvosh (M), Brenda Carre, Carol Berg, Jude-Marie Green, Cat Rambo

Sunday
How I Fen
1:00pm – 2:00pm @ Cascade 3&4
Cat Rambo (M), AmélieMantchev, Alita Quinn, Gabe Marier

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Live Classes for April through June 2017

Being able to trust your revision process frees you to write whatever you like.

Being able to trust your revision process frees you to write whatever you like.

Here’s the latest roster of live classes for the Rambo Academy of Wayward Writers, with links to descriptions. Info that you may want to know:

Logistics:
Classes are taught online. You need internet connectivity and a microphone at a minimum; a webcam is preferred but not crucial.

Costs: Cost is $99 per class; $79 for former students. Newsletter and Patreon subscribers should identify themselves for the special discount rate that’s happening this quarter.

Scholarships: I am upping the number of Plunkett slots in each class to 2 or 3. A Plunkett scholarship is based on economic need. If the cost is preventing you from taking the class, you should apply by mailing me the name of the class and why you want to take it. I strongly encourage QUILTBAG and PoC applications. If you want to sponsor a Plunkett slot, drop me a line.

Wednesday, April 5
4-6 PM Pacific time
Character Building Workshop
Learn how to create interesting, rounded characters that your readers can identify with, whether hero or villain. We’ll cover how to write convincing interesting dialogue as well as how to flesh out a character so they come alive and help you move the story along. A combination of lecture, discussion, and in-class writing exercises will help you apply new technique immediately to your own stories.

Saturday, April 8
9:30-11:30 AM Pacific Time
Fantastic Worldbuilding with Fran Wilde
Learn how to build worlds that bedazzle and entertain — but that are still logically consistent and believable. Join Norton Award winning author Fran Wilde, author of Updraft, Cloudbound, and The Jewel and Her Lapidary for a workshop that will leave you ready to make magnificent worlds of your own.

Wednesday, April 12
7-9 PM Pacific Time
Flash Fiction Workshop
This workshop focuses on flash fiction, also known as short short stories. The workshop consists of a mixture of lecture, in-class writing exercises, discussion of how to turn fragments into flash, and an overview of flash fiction markets. Come prepared to write! By the end of the class you will have 3-4 “word lumps” and the knowledge required to turn them into actual flash fiction pieces.

Wednesday, April 19
4-6 PM Pacific Time
Story Fundamentals
This workshop focuses on the basics of creating short stories: plot, characters, setting, worldbuilding, raising tension, creating satisfying endings, and more. You should emerge from the class with a greater command of story basics as well as a hearty dose of encouragement for creating new stories.

Saturday, April 22
9:30-11:30 AM Pacific Time
Literary Techniques for Speculative Fiction Writers
This class combines lecture, discussion and in-class writing exercises designed to introduce a number of techniques to use in your own writing such as foreshadowing, alliteration, rhythmic device, allusion, etc, and ways to test them out in short fiction as well as discussion of when and where to use them. We look at several existing pieces to see how and why they work, and discuss why the author chose the techniques that they employed. The class concludes with a discussion of markets open to literary genre work and how to submit to them.

Wednesday, April 26
4-6 PM Pacific Time
Description and Delivering Information
How do you give the reader the evocative and interesting descriptions and information they need without boring them or making the story drag? How do you give them information without cluing them in that it’s important? Fine-tune your descriptive skills through lecture, writing exercises, and discussion.

Saturday, April 29
9:30-11:30 AM Pacific Time
Writing Your Way Into Your Novel
The process of novel-writing varies greatly, but one thing is always true: a butt must go into a chair and the words must be written. Come find out how to get past sticking points through a combination of lecture and writing exercises that will help you map out your course for navigating the sea of words and build a daily writing practice that will get you to the end of the book.

Wednesday, May 3
4-6 PM Pacific Time
Editing 101
Students have found that learning to trust their editing skills has made them more productive when producing early drafts. This class combines lecture, discussion, and in class exercise to help you develop a rewriting practice tailored to your own particular strengths and weaknesses as well as one that lets you know when a story is ready for submission. Topics include how to edit at both the sentence and story/book level, working well with writers, theory of ToCs, electronic publishing, copyright, and making a living as an editor

Saturday, May 6
9:30-11:30 AM Pacific Time
Moving From Idea to Draft
The question isn’t how to tell a good idea from a bad one; it’s how to learn to turn any idea into a story. Come with a story idea, no matter how vague. We’ll discuss multiple ways of plotting a story based on its unique inspiration, as well as engaging in class exercises designed to hone your plotting skills. Learn how to build a roadmap for your story that will help you complete it in a class that combines discussion, lecture, and in-class writing exercises.

Saturday, May 13
9:30-11:30 AM Pacific Time
Writing Steampunk and Weird Westerns
How to Write Steampunk & Weird Western will cover gathering and using historical details, ethical implications of both genres, basic mechanical concepts, economic underpinnings, creating texture, dialogue considerations, and more. Plus we’ll do some fun writing exercises. A combination of lecture, discussion, and in-class writing exercises will help you apply new technique immediately to your own work.

Saturday, May 27
9:30-11:30 AM Pacific Time
Story Fundamentals
See description for April 22 class.

Wednesday May 31
7-9 PM Pacific Time
Story Fundamentals
See description for April 22 class.

Saturday, June 3
9:30-11:30 AM Pacific Time
Creating an Online Presence for Writers
To blog or not to blog, that is the question. Learn how to create an online presence that lets readers find you while not disclosing private information or spending all your time tweeting. Lecture, in-class exercises, and discussion all help you make the most of the Internet without becoming its thrall. You will receive a electronic copy of the second edition of Creating an Online Presence as part of the class.

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Reading Doc Savage: The Sargasso Ogre

sargassoogreOur cover is mainly green, depicting Doc poling a log in what have to be anti-gravity boots because there is no way he would maintain his balance otherwise, towards an abandoned ship. As always, his shirt is artfully torn and his footwear worthy of a J. Peterman catalog.

In this read, book eighteen of the series, we finally get to see another of Doc’s men, electrical engineer Long Tom. I do want to begin with a caveat that this book starts in Alexandria and initially features an Islamic villain, Pasha Bey; while I will call out some specific instances, this is the first of these where the racism is oozing all over the page and betrays so many things about the American popular conception of the Middle East. I just want to get that out of the way up front, because it is a big ol’ problem in the beginning of this text.

We begin, therefore, with the incredibly problematic Pasha Bey:

An American man of letters once said that, if a man build a better mousetrap, the world would beat a path to his door.

Pasha Bey was like that. His output was not mouse traps, but it was the best of its kind. Being modern, Pasha Bey had become president of a vast organization which specialized in his product. The fame of Pasha Bey was great. From all of Egypt, men beat a path to his door, which was likely to be anywhere in Alexandria. They came to buy this product, of course.

Pasha Bey’s product was murder!

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Reading Doc Savage: The Spook Legion

FullSizeRender (46)We return to a gentler, more innocent world again with Doc Savage number 16: The Spook Legion. In the intervening time since Quest of Qui, they’ve undergone adventures The Fantastic Island, Land of Always-Night, and Murder Melody. For people interested in undertaking their own reads, here’s an excellent post about which Doc Savage books to start with.

On the red-toned cover, Doc confronts a machine with what seems to be a cabalistic gesture of some sort. Maybe just jazz hands; the cover artist was fond of a particular kind of pose. A closer look shows Doc is in the process of turning invisible; the bricks behind him are starting to show through.

Author Lester Dent tries to pull off some tricky stuff in this book and it sometimes trips him up, unfortunately. How much that actually affects the book is something I’ll leave to you to judge. It’s also a fairly convoluted book, presenting the information as though sliding things into place to give us the final picture. You have to respect Dent’s ability to plot and willingness to just go all the way with the weirdness at times.

Much like Quest of Qui we begin with a certain number of negative assertions, this time about an individual:

Leo Bell was a counter clerk in a Boston telegraph office. Leo was level-headed. He certainly did not believe in spooks. At least, he did not believe in spooks at precisely 10 o’clock at night, as he moved behind the counter straightening the books of message blanks.

At 10:05 Leo’s disbelief and spooks received a rude jarring.

Though he’s alone in the office, he investigates a wastebasket that overturns by itself, and then finds a mysterious message: a telegraph blank filled out as follow:

DOC SAVAGE
NEW YORK CITY
MATTER OF VITAL DANGER TO THOUSANDS MERITS YOUR ATTENTION STOP PLEASE BOARD BOSTON TO NEW YORK PASSENGER PLANE OF EXCELSIOR AIRWAYS AT NOON TO-MORROW STOP GET ABOARD IN BOSTON STOP SUGGEST YOU USE DISGUISE AND BE PREPARED HIDEOUS AND AMAZING EXPERIENCE.
A N ONYMOUS
(1440 Powder Road)

Hideous and amazing! Let us begin. Leo does, of course, send off the telegraph and soon after Doc Savage calls on the phone. He points out certain subtleties we might have missed earlier:

The mysterious circumstances surrounding the appearance of the message then came out. Dr. Savage heard it through without comment then advised, “There is probably no A. N. Onymous listed in your directory.”

Leo Bell looked in the directory.

“No,” he said. “There is not.”

“The name was the result of a trick writing of the word ‘anonymous,'” Doc pointed out. “The dictionary defines an anonymous work as one of unknown authorship, which seems to fit in this case.”

Lemony Snickett has nothing on Lester Dent. Leo and the night manager discuss the mysterious telegram and then vanish from the book, never to be seen again.
Continue reading

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Story: Red in Tooth and Cog

That’s the problem with self-repairing, self-charging appliances—they go feral.”This story originally appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It is the story referenced here. It is approximately 7100 words in length.

Red in Tooth and Cog

A phone can be so much. Your memory, your edge against boredom, your source of inspiration. There’s always an app for whatever you need. Renee valued her phone accordingly, even celebrating it by giving way to the trend for fancy phone-cases. Its edges were bezeled with bling she’d won on a cruise the year before, and she’d had some tiny opals, legacy of her godmother, set into the center.

It was an expensive, new-model phone in a pretty case, and that was probably why it was stolen.

Renee was in the park near work. A sunny day, on the edge of cold, the wind carrying spring with it like an accessory it was testing for effect.

She set her phone down on the bench beside her as she unfolded her bento box, foil flaps levering back to reveal still-steaming rice, quivering tofu.

Movement caught her eye. She pulled her feet away as a creature leaped up onto the bench slats beside her, an elastic-band-snap’s worth of fear as it grabbed the phone, half as large as the creature itself, and moved to the other end of the bench.

The bento box clattered as it hit the path, rice grains spilling across the grey concrete.

Renee thought the creature an animal at first, but it was actually a small robot, a can opener that had been greatly and somewhat inexpertly augmented and modified. It had two corkscrew claws, and grasshopper legs made from nutcrackers to supplement the tiny wheels on its base, originally designed to let it move to hand as needed in a kitchen. Frayed raffia wrapped its handles, scratchy strands feathering out to weathered fuzz. Its original plastic had been some sort of blue, faded now to match the sidewalk beneath her sensible shoes.

The bench jerked as the robot leaped again, moving behind the trashcan, still carrying her phone. She stood, stepping over the spilled rice to try to get to it, but the rhododendron leaves thrashed and stilled, and her phone was gone.
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