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December 02, 2008


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adolescents whose troubles generally involve being picked on by evil wizards rather than jocks and cheerleaders

And then the evil wizard turns the jock into a cheerleader. Comedy ensues.

'They' do say that you can't go back. If I re-read the late-1970s X-men comics that gave me so much pleasure, they'd probably make me wince, what with comics having changed o much since then (in part because of my favorite mutants). I prefer keeping my memories intact. In a way the X-men movies are the characters the way I remember them.

Actually, lately the evil wizards turn people into furries. Cat/human hybrids.

I can go back for many things, including my X-men starting point (the Dark Phoenix saga, and don't get me started on the third movie!) I can even go back for the Lackey novels I read as a teenager and still get a similar cheap thrill out of having obvious buttons pushed; the nostalgic connection is strong enough and the buttons basic enough for it to work. And it still works for new ones in the same vein. But as new material goes, this anthology isn't good enough. I don't even think it would have been good enough when I was a teenager. Even then, I had judgment regarding stuff in my favorite series -- some of the stories in the early Darkover anthologies bored me silly, and I loved Darkover.

Serge, it would depend on which X-Men comics. The pre-Byrne ones I've revisited seemed kind of hard to decipher in retrospect, because I got spoiled on that beautiful Byrne-Austin art, in which Byrne's perfectly clear layouts were impeccably burnished by the tasteful inking. The stories were kind of interesting too. I figure I'd at least like looking at the X-Men of that era, though I got tired of seeing the characters smiling genially so much of the time that I was starting to think of them as Ol' Uncle Cyclops and so forth.

And then I got hooked on the Teen Titans, even years after I'd decided Marv Wolfman was loose in the flue. He certainly pulled it together for an interesting series there. Should I find the box they're in and revisit it? Or would that just help me weed out my collection some? (Either way might be a good thing.)

Susan... I stand corrected. It is possible to go home again, and without falling off the merrygoround like Gig Young did in Twilight Zone. Still, there is a risk to find that it doesn't resonate as much or at all anymore. By the way, when I went to Quebec City in 2004, after a 9-year absence, it confirmed what I had started figuring out a long time ago, that where I grew up isn't home anymore, and not just because the physical landcape has changed.

Kip W... I think there was an element of soap opera in those X-men comics that worked fine back then, but I'm not sure it would, today.

By the way, did you have a favorite X-man? Mine always was Hank McCoy, ever since he showed up in an early 1970s issue of Hulk.

Kip W... I got tired of seeing the characters smiling genially so much of the time

I dropped out of many comics in the early 1990s, including X-men, but I still went to the comics shop, which is how I noticed a tendency of covers of that era to show heroes gritting their teeth way more than a dentist would recommend.

Susan... lately the evil wizards turn people into furries

Furry hermaphroditic jockey cheerleaders who twirl their batons?

There are some things we can revisit from our youth that still have an inherent quality, or can at least inspire nostalgia... and then there's stuff that's just junk. I don't think I would want to re-read the X-Men comics that I read in the 90s, and it's a good thing, too, because they all got destroyed in a roof-looking accident, but that's beside the point. Actually, come to think of it, the reason they got destroyed is that even in the late 90s I was not liking them much, so I had taken them out of their footlocker and bagged them up to get rid of them...

I avoid revisiting a lot of things from my youth, for fear they'll turn out to suck.

I was an adult when I read the first of the Valdemar books, so maybe that's why I thought it was stupid. I definitely haven't read any others. However, I've reread books I read many years ago (recently: Mirabile by Janet Kagen and The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester) and still like them.

Marilee J. Layman is my name
And Terra is my nation
Deep space is my dwelling place
The stars my destination

Has anybody else read Lackey's The Serpent's Shadow? I was very interested in its premise of Bramwell with magic, and I very much enjoyed the first chapters, but it kind of became blah later on. Great cover by Jody Lee though.

Favorite X-men: Phoenix, Rogue, Magik (okay, that last was a New Mutant).

I've just realized that the plot of the not-being-written fantasy story that I've been telling myself for years has some uncomfortable similarities to the early X-men stories I imprinted on. Hmm.

I haven't read The Serpent's Shadow; the only thing I've ever enjoyed of Lackey's (other than her music, which is quite good) are the Valdemar books and the Oathbound duology which later got hooked into the Valdermar universe. I'm not sure if that was the original intention or if she merged two originally separate story-universes. The non-Valdemar stories in the Valdemar universe tend to be rather better fantasy overall and much lighter on the teen angst.

Basically, "The Serpent's Shadow" was supposed to be a retelling of Snow White, but in London's late Victorian setting. Unfortunately, the Snow White elements felt forced, not an integral part of the story. I don't know what the "Valdemar" books are like, but the fantasy in "Serpent" didn't feel particularly magical, if you know what I mean.

Well, you're not giving me any incentive to read it! Is it supposed to be steampunky or just historical fantasy? I don't have any problem with the latter, but given that non-recommendation, I can't see any reason I should seek it out.

Susan... It's a historical fantasy, and I definitely wasn't recommending it. I was curious about what you thought if you had read it since you used to be a fan.

Susan... the plot of the not-being-written fantasy story that I've been telling myself for years has some uncomfortable similarities to the early X-men stories I imprinted on

We would like to hear more about that.

Well, I have this story I've been telling myself for years that I doubt I'll ever write down properly, though ever so often it invades my head and says "write me now!" and I once wrote a few pages of the middle. Mostly I ignore it and it goes away again. But it only just now occurred to me that the plot seems to have some similarities to the Dark Phoenix storyline in that one of the major characters' power gets violently (world-wrecking-caliber) out of control and she ends up dead by suicide. I hadn't noticed this before, but it's hardly surprising, given how much I liked the DP story. (This is the original story, where Phoenix dies by her own hand and really is Jean Grey. Not any of the later retcons or the movie.)

It may be less a direct X-men influence than a taste for depressing endings and the common recognition that once you have a character who is way too powerful, you have to take them out of the picture somehow because they unbalance the story.

(And what's with the royal "we"? Hmm?)

I remember the Dark Phoenix saga very well. Goodness, I don't know how many times I read that issue. (When the Phoenix came back a few years ago, Wolverine simply told Jean "The last time you looked like that, the Universe peed its pants." And, when she died again, her last words to Cyclops is that all she'd ever done for him was to die on him. Sad.)

Regarding extremely powerful characters... Somehow Superman has managed to avoid that storytelling pitfall. It probably helped that he isn't powerful enough anymore to toss planets around.

Oh, the 'we' wasn't royal. I figured it safe to assume that yourother visitors would want to know too.

All hail King Serge!

There's often a problem with Superman team-up comics, as unless there's kryptonite involved one tends to wonder why Superman doesn't just sort it out himself.

(Sometimes when Superman does something really stupid you can se why he might work with Batman, who usually has a couple of spare braincells)

Neil... Lex Luthor has come up with a few other ways to cause Superman a lot of pain, but the Big Guy's teaming up with anybody makes no sense. Usually. Last year, a plot involved a bunch of Kryptonian criminals ecaping from the Phantom Zone (and yes that included you-know-who) and he had to ask for Luthor's help.

In general, I find Lackey to be much better at set-ups and characterizations than actually following through with satisfying plots.

Serpent's Shadow is part of her Elemental Masters series, (mostly) set in early-1900s England. They're all based on fairy tales, although I could never tell which one Serpent's Shadow was meant to be (Snow White, hmm?). I rather like them, but Serpent is probably one of the weakest. My favorites are Phoenix and Ashes (Cinderella and WWI) and Fire Rose (1906 San Francisco). Fire Rose was the first, and is not officially part of the series, although it's obviously part of the same universe. Also, the cover image is a major spoiler, which still pisses me off.

I realize it's against comic tradition, but I was very against Jean coming back. They killed her in part for a different reason than usual (she having committed a full-scale complete genocide of an intelligent alien race), and it was really one of the most powerful comic book death sequences in Marvel history. They should have let it stand.

Superman always had the goofy Kryptonite vulnerability; does he have others now? I was never a Superman reader. Something about also having Supergirl and Superboy and Superdog and Superwhoever turned me off the whole concept. I never seem to connect well with DC's universe.


I too was against Jean's return, but what REALLY annoyed me when they originally brought her back, more than a decade ago, was the writers telling us that the person who had killed herself and who had been around since the birth of the Phoenix was not Jean. Guess what? The Phoenix was a separate being who had assumed the thoughts and personality and memories of Jean when her 'death/rebirth' had happened during that fateful space shuttle flight. Jean hadn't really been dead though, but in suspended animation. That cheapened the whole thing. Luckily good writers, like the one I mentionned in an earlier post, were able to make up for that.

As for Superman... It's not that he now has new deadly weaknesses, but that, when they revamped the whole thing back in 1986, they made him less astronomically powerful. And he can be hurt severely if not outright killed. I didn't follow the character's adventures before and after the revamping because I just didn't care about the writing. I began keeping up again only a couple of years ago. Yes, Supergirl and Krypto were recently brought back, but there are some neat stories, like the one where Clark asked his human mother if she was disappointed in him when he became a teenager and stopped going to church. It's not that he had become an atheist, but that his powers meant he could hear all the dirty secrets that church-goers whispered to each other in a holy place and he didn't want to stop believing in people's potential goodness.

That being said, I don't really connect with DC either. There was Green Arrow for a time, but I really am a Marvel person. What about Superman? He's always been special to me, because he is the first comic-book character I dicovered.

Having it not be Jean ruined it for me. They had to do it, since Phoenix had committed genocide, and that was apparently the first hard line Marvel ever took on a character. They couldn't have Phoenix having been Jean and bring Jean back, so they had to make it not-Jean. But I hated that idea; it meant all the characters' and readers' emotions surrounding her death were based on a lie. That was the beginning of the end for me with X-men (and associated books); I stopped reading soon after.

Susan... By the time they had brought back Jean Grey, I had long since begun my long X-men hiatus. Had the way too long plot involving the Brood finally not done me in, Jean's rebirth would have.


This is a somewhat timely post, as about two months ago I got a sudden sharp craving for the books that helped me through middle school, and have been tearing my way back through the Valdemar books as I can lay my hands on them --started with By the Sword, which I own, bought cheap used copies of Oathbound and Oathbreakers, borrowed Vanyel's trilogy*, and forced mom to lend me the nice hardbound mage winds trilogy at Thanksgiving. Torn through them all (finals? What finals!) and have been struck with just how good she is at doing just what you said --providing a guilty burst of warmfuzzy.

Um. Yes. That's all I really have to say, beyond hello, and I'm so glad I'm not the only one who has a soft spot for pretty pretty white horsetypes with lovely blue eyes. *wistful sigh* and all that.


*Vanyel's trilogy was the only one I hadn't reread at least once in the seven or eight years it's been since I first read the books. It was just so terribly *sad*. Rereading proved that, yep, Van is the buttmonkey of the universe, poor thing. But still, terribly good.

Hi Sorcyress, and welcome to Rixo! Should we call you Sor or Kat or Sor/Kat? :)

I think there must be a potential PhD thesis to be written on the topic of books featuring attractive companion animals of unusual eye color and intelligence. Is it an extension of how we project a level of intelligence onto our pets? Simpler relationship than with humans? Purity of love uncomplicated by sex?

Thank you!

I am equally comfortable with being called Sor or Kat, and will probably start just signing as Sor before too long (mostly just throwing the Kat in so you have some idea of who I am in real life) Soyeah, I've no real opinions on names beyond "not Kitty".

I could certainly see that as a thesis --I think you'd need more examples from other literature to do a really good job of it. The first one I can think of is Tamora Pierce's Alanna books, which have a magical purple-eyed cat, but I'm sure there must be others.


Thanks for the clue; I did catch on to who you were. That reminds me that I should ask you if your dance repertoire includes a reasonable waltz, polka, and schottische, 'cause if so, I have a Secret Plan in mind that you might enjoy.

The Elfquest comics have highly-intelligent wolves, though their eye color is normal. But the primo example of the genre would be Anne McCaffrey's Dragonrider books, where you have dragons of unusual intelligence and Big Swirly Eyes. Dragons aren't exactly normal animals, but then Lackey's Companions really aren't animals at all.

I can waltz fairly well --ask Marc for my technical level, as I still maintain that I am good at "that turny one" and crossstep. (I'm also getting decent at redowa, but don't meet people who can lead it for me very often) I can do a basic polka, but not any variations for it without an excellent lead, and while the term schottische sounds familiar, I can't immediately identify what it is.

I do like secret plans though!

Elfquest! Of course, Elfquest would work too. And I've unfortunately not (yet?) read any Pern books, so I'm not familiar with them. Would Naomi Novik's dragons count as well? Are they intelligent?


Novik's dragons are certainly intelligent, but I don't recall them having particular exotic eyes.

Tell Marc to teach you a bit of schottische so you can be involved in CIC, and hold January 31st. :)

Marc explained me the schottische, and I've definitely learned it, but like polka, can't do any variations.

31st is sworn over to you, yep, even though it makes me a little edgy when I have to write "this day is free because *** told me to keep it thus" on my calendar. I always have to hope I'm not accidentally signing up for a ritual embarrassment or something.


It's not a definitely plan until I nail down some sites, but mostly silliness mixed with dancing.

David Weber's treecats (in the Honor Harrington books) are also of unusual intelligence, but I don't recall them having unusual eye color, and in any case their bond with their human isn't the focus of the stories.

their bond with their human isn't the focus of the stories

That's something of an understatement - at least regarding the first book in the series, which is the only one I have read or ever intend to read.

After all the explanation about the special bond between a treecat and its human, the exceptions made to the usual rules about pets in space, the special accommodations made, Honor Harrington's little furball has no effect on the plot whatever. The unfolding of the action would be unchanged if she had never met the thing.

If a treecat is placed on the mantlepiece in the first chapter, it should be fired by the end of the last. (Or fired upon - either way is fine by me.)

The treecats do have a plot-relevant role in some of the later novels, and some of the HH-universe collections have stories that focus exclusively on treecats or are written from treecat perspective. I have to say that these are some of my favorite stories overall, less because I am succumbing to Teh Cute Fuzzy than because they are delightfully free of space battle porn elements and much more tightly written than the novels.

I was amused by the novel (I can't remember which it was) in which a parade of treecats shows up at HH's place having decided they wish to emigrate to another planet and blithely (but accurately) assuming she will facilitate this.

Susan... a parade of treecats shows up at HH's place having decided they wish to emigrate to another planet

"It's all about me-ow!"

I've never read Weber. I've never heard anything that would make me want to start.

Well, let's see...there's the female naval officer lead. There's the fact that at least early on it's a thinly veiled retelling of the Napoleonic Wars. There's the battle-hardware technology race. There is the occasional amusing Tuckerization (Jordin Kare makes an appearance). If these things do not attract you, yeah, probably better not bothering. Or you could read one and see whether you like it.

I've heard that HH doesn't actually act much like a female. I'm not that interested in history (gasp) and the rest of it doesn't attract me. So I'm not bothering. Now, for good female officers, you need Elizabeth Moon's Families Regnant and Vatta's War series.

Well, I've been told that I don't act much like a female myself, so I'm not sure I buy that sort of comment. It usually implies not acting like a stereotypical female and screaming and crying and waiting to be rescued by manly heroes. (I just had this debate with someone else, and I'm completely blanking on the circumstances, but they were such that I heaped derision on the person.) HH is a talented naval officer and tough enough to command a fleet. I don't find that incompatible with being female.

That's not to say you should bother with the books. They certainly have plenty of flaws and aren't to everyone's taste regardless. I just didn't find that particular problem to be much of a factor.

Even if one doesn't act like a normal female, one can still see a female character and think "That's totally written/played by a guy."

As a gamer, I can illustrate this well by the fact that many male gamers will decide to play female characters, and then have the female character be totally willing to seduce guards, sleep with the villain, or otherwise use her body to advance the party's goals however she can. While some women might act like that, most of us are not in fact willing to prostitute ourselves for our friends' benefits.

I used to see this when I worked at a store that catered to transvestites. Most of them didn't want to dress like women do on a day to day basis. They wanted to dress hyper-sexy, even though this generally made it much harder for them to pass because it involved showing significant skin area.

HH does not sleep around casually, however, or otherwise act like a macho-fantasy cliché like some of the women in Steamypunk: a tough, aggressive women who's just dying to get it on instantly with some nerdy dude for no reason whatsoever. HH has two lovers over the course of, what, a dozen novels so far, both of whom are deep and serious love affairs. Her mother, in fact, despairs over her lack of social skills and her total inability to flirt.

Susan... I've been told that I don't act much like a female myself

I remember something that my friend Yoko told me almost exactly 20 years ago, not long after I had moved to the USA. One of our co-workers was a young Hispanic man, and he liked me quite a bit, but he confided to my friend that he never knew what to make of me because I just didn't behave in the expected ways. Since this was in San Francisco, he probably thought I was a homosexual or bisexual.

AJ... one can still see a female character and think "That's totally written/played by a guy."

Like when the writer's descriptions overemphasize the female character's bust size or overall physical beauty?

Susan: I'd be interested, then, to see why some readers say that HH does not read as female to them.

Serge: Well, that's one dead-giveaway, but I was more referring to mannerisms, dialog and over-all behavior instead of description (besides, I've been known to describe my characters, in games, as being "racked" but then again, I play with a bunch of guys, they've been a bad influence on me).

I'm sure I've seen some examples of this in writing, but I'm currently drawing a blank.

AJ... I figured that's what you really meant. Meanwhile, there are women writers who don't do convincing male characters. I used to be quite a fan of CJ Cherryh, but, looking back, her 'men' were not very convincing. Kind of the reverse image of the 1970s, when heroic-fantasy females were described as Conan with breasts.

Serge, great, Conan with breasts. Now all I can think of is Ahh-nold flexing his pecks in that Conan movie. If I have nightmares tonight, it's all your fault.

I remembered my main example of women written by men, who painfully show it. Not to speak ill of the dead, but Robert Jordan developed a horrible way of writing women about mid-way through the Wheel of Time (which, not coincidentally, is when I stopped reading this books). All of the female characters who had previously been interesting became either stupid, controlling, jealous, or manipulative when they got their claws into a man. Sometimes a combination of these traits.

But the real kicker was when three women who had previously seemed to have their heads screwed on straight gigglingly decided that they were fine sharing precious main character Rand Al Thor (who, honestly, was not much of a catch, being CRAZY and all. Any one of them could have done much better). It really came across like some sort of harem fantasy on the author's part and annoyed the heck out of me.

Susan: I realized that I forgot that I wanted to address the transvestite comment.

I have to say, it doesn't really surprise me that most transvestites prefer to dress as some fantasy of a woman instead of something closer to reality. After all, when I go to the Renaissance Faire, everyone who is in costume is in some sort of sanitized, idealized version of medieval and renaissance garb. No one wants to be a dirty peasant, they all want to be lords and ladies.

And really, if you're going to dress as something you're not, you might as well have fun with it.

AJ... If I have nightmares tonight, it's all your fault.

I hope I wound up not causing in you too troubling a cavalcade of nightmares.

Coming soon... Conan the Bra-bearin'

I've heard that HH doesn't actually act much like a female....Now, for good female officers, you need Elizabeth Moon's Families Regnant and Vatta's War series.

In all 3 series, the female officers generally have spent a lot of time in the formal professional envronment of a Navy. In HH's case, for all the equality of sexes, the Royal Manticorian Navy is a lot like what I'm told about the modern, male-dominated, Royal Navy*. So the normal professional formal ways of doing things look fairly unfeminine. She's a female in an evironment where her femininity is not an asset, so it often gets pushed aside.

Or to put it another way, HH isn't like a lot of women (in fiction?) but she's not a male character who happens to have been written female. At the risk of more nightmares, she isn't James Kirk with breasts**.

* Only knowing about US and other Navies from books and films and mostly fiction at that.
** That would be a brilliant Star Trek episode.***
*** On second thoughts, probably not.

I can't remember what I dreamed about last night, so it couldn't have been too traumatic.

Neil, I'm sure if we looked hard enough, we could find you a fan-fic about a be-breasted Kirk. Come to think of it, there are some things I just don't want to look for...

I grew up in and spent most of my career with the US Navy, so I knew a lot of officers, including the then-few female ones. Most of them were still clearly women and still able to be a good officer. That's probably why Moon's books read true to me.

I always test as male online, but it's because they're looking at my wording and writing, interests, and skills. The thing is, they're the ones defining those as male. Even lumpy as I am now, I'm clearly female, and I don't think anybody ever thought I was a lesbian (at one job, they used to say I slept my way to my job). But they did see me as less feminine, again, for language, interests, and skills. We've got to stop making those things triggers for gender identity.

Incidently, an excellent stfnal examination of gender identity is Melissa Scott's Shadow Man. It's out of print, though.

Neil, I bet Shatner would go for that.

Neil and AJ, there actually is an episode of Star Trek in which Kirk gets stuck with breasts (along with the rest of the, as it were, matching accessories).

I've never seen it, but it's in the much-derided third season, and I have no reason to believe that it's well-handled; I'm in no hurry.

I'd be interested, then, to see why some readers say that HH does not read as female to them.

AJ, it was Marilee's comment; perhaps she can elaborate on what she was told. My problems with the HH novels run more along the lines of his hardware fetishes, tendency to put in stupid jokes, and lack of trust in his readers.

I also don't know if he's intentionally an apologist for hereditary forms of government and/or organized religion, but finding both of those in the new series along with the HH stuff made me wonder.

What episode is that? I don't think I've seen quite all the episodes of Trek classic, but that doesn't ring any kind of bell at all.

Well Paul, that certainly piqued my curiosity, but not enough to send me off in search of the episode. I'm not a huge fan of the original Trek.

Susan, the hardware fetish and stupid jokes probably explain why my one friend enjoys HH so much. He loves designing new ships and things for the Rifts RPG, and he's the only person in our circle of friends who laughs aloud at my husband's corny puns while the rest of us groan or ignore them.

Well, try this for a sample:

The HH books are an extended retelling of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. So along with the hardware p*rn, you get Revolutionary politics retold. One of the main players in this, just in case anyone happened not to get the reference, is one Rob S. Pierre.

I'm not sure if that's meant to be funny or if he simply thinks his readers are so dumb they won't get it without being hit on the head with a clue-by-four, but that's the kind of thing that drives me absolutely batty. It completely breaks me out of the story in irritation.

That'd be Turnabout Intruder

In the final episode of Star Trek, the Enterprise is answering a medical emergency of an archaeological expedition. Kirk is confronted with the deep hatred of an old love, Janice Lester, who is severely ill from celebium radiation. As payment for jilting her, Dr Lester arranges for an alien machine to swap the consciousness of Kirk and herself in order to take command of the Enterprise from Kirk . Onboard the Enterprise, Kirk (in Lester's body) tries to convince Spock what has happened. As a result, Janice (in Kirk's body) conducts a court-marshal with the intent of executing Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Kirk (in Janice's body) to keep her secret.

That's what happenes when women get exposed to celebium radiation. To say that that the story's implications regarding women in positions of command are offensive is an understatement. It was 'interesting' to see Shatner act like a woman, or rather what he considered to be a woman.

And in the late 1970s, there was an anthology of fanfic that was published professionally. One story, "The Procustean Bed", had the whole crew zapped away then zapped back onboard, but their body now is what it'd have been if they'd been born of the opposite sex. The story was written by a woman, I think, which makes me wonder why she felt that a female Kirk would act any differently than one with a boner.

Oh, right, "Turnabout Intruder'! I was thinking more of Shatner remade as female, which led to unpleasant visions of him in drag with falsies that I just couldn't make match any memory of the show. (And I'm not thinking too well 'cause, did I mention, sick.)

I did vaguely recall "Procrustean Bed" and went looking in my 1970s Trek novel collection, but couldn't remember exactly what I was looking for and soon gave up and crawled back into bed. For some reason I thought it was in the Phoenix duology, but those only have Kirk getting (wo)manhandled by the Romulan Commander amid a lot of rather creepy hurt/comfort stuff.

The story was written by a woman, I think, which makes me wonder why she felt that a female Kirk would act any differently than one with a boner.

Less testosterone? Too distracted by his new equipment? In mourning for the loss of his old equipment? In deep denial about how hot his formerly male crewmates are in their new lady bodies?

AJ... If I remember correctly, and I read this in 1981 so my recall may be incorrect, at some point the Enterprise is attacked by the Klingons. When a torpedo hits the ship, the female Kirk finds himself clinging to the male Uhura.

Serge: Oh my. Dare I hope that it was meant as satire? I suppose that would be too much to ask.

AJ... If it was a satire, it was an extremely subtle one.

Okay, be afraid: I found the story. I actually own the anthology. So I reread it. And I actually don't know that it's quite as bad as Serge remembers it to be. Sure, it's not brilliant fiction. It's dated in the common sense of not evolving society to go along with technology (yes, it's the 23rd century and we're still fighting for women's rights...how depressing). And they didn't have much grasp of the ins and outs of transgender issues 35 years ago. And it's by the same two women who wrote the Phoenix duology, which accounts for my misremembering it as being part of that, since they really do have some creepy thing about physically/sexually humiliating Kirk. (The tone is exactly the same whether Kirk is in male form or female form.)

But there are legitimate questions buried under all this drek about whether behavior is separable from biological gender and whether someone who has learned the behavior that fits a certain body type going to be able to alter it on the spot if that body type changes. Can someone big and strong adapt to suddenly becoming small and delicate, or do the methods of compensating for size (either extreme) have to be developed over a lifetime? Gender isn't the whole story, but it's part of it.

I'm reminded of Neil walking through the New Zealand wilderness by himself. Neil is six-foot-something and male; I bet he doesn't run the same calculations most women would run before going off on adventures in strange lands, which include things like "odds of being groped, assaulted, or raped." I know that I (almost 5'9" and sturdily built) don't have quite the same problems women more petite than I do have, but how much of that is simply that I don't look (physically) like a pushover and how much of that is my faintly sociopathic attitude? And how much of that attitude is rooted in having the body type that I do?

Kirk's problem in the story is that he still acts like a macho guy (surprise) without having the physique or training (in the new body) to back it up with his fists (a necessary skill in the brawl-happy Trek universe). McCoy makes a cogent point about how it might be a different situation if he'd come up through the ranks as a tiny, drop-dead-gorgeous woman: he would developed have a whole different command style (and martial arts skills) that maximized the advantages and minimized the disadvantages of that particular phenotype.

The authors of the story load it down with the creepy let's-humiliate-Kirk stuff and some seriously slashy undertones (in the original K/S sense of the term slash), but there's some underlying questions there that probably felt more original back in the late 1970s but aren't totally settled now.

(I've been trying for an hour to think through my cough medicine enough to make this comment coherent, but I'm giving up now. I trust you guys will figure it out and make some brilliant points that I simply can't come up with through my medicated haze.)

Susan... I obviously had forgotten some things about that story, like the female Kirk remaining as macho as the original. What had bugged me was his acting helplessly at some point. Or maybe I misremembered that too.

I guess who we are is a combination of things. Says he profundly. I'd probably have been a different person if I had turned up female because of being weaker and having to keep predators in mind. (Of course, being male didn't keep me away from male predators.) Still, I expect that the basic 'me' that's wired in my brain would have been the same. What a horrible idea.

That being said, I hope you recover soon.

Kirk wasn't helpless; he still manages to toss a Klingon around. But he's so busy proving he can that he doesn't do the obvious, which is reach for the phaser and blast away. So he gets pinned and then we get more of the creepy-sexual stuff. If he'd grown up in that body presumably he'd have been better trained to not get in so close that sheer physical strength and weight could really tip the balance.

(ObModesty: Willie Garvin against Simon Delicata in A Taste for Death: his entire combat strategy centers around not letting Delicata get a good grip on him, because Delicata's strength would make it unbreakable.)

One point I meant to make which vanished in a haze of tussin-stuff is that Kirk's feelings are relative. He isn't necessarily small or weak as women go, but he feels weak compared to what he was before.

Susan... As they say, when you have brawn, you don't need brain. As for Willie, well, we know he's a smart fellow - he certainly has good tastes where it comes to friends.

One thing that I think I do remember correctly is that the sex-changing aliem device doesn't work on Spock, presumably because of his hybrid genetics. Somehow though, I think it's because the authors didn't want to humiliate him, and isn't he the character that women were drawn the most to?

AJ, I've just had a lot of people tell me that HH doesn't read like a woman.

As to becoming weaker, I've done that. I was tall, skinny, and as strong as the average man for most of my adult life (I have a few more years to say that) but when I had the renal failures and the stroke, I became much weaker. You learn how to do things different ways, to use tools, and ask for help.

Neil is six-foot-something and male; I bet he doesn't run the same calculations most women would run before going off on adventures in strange lands, which include things like "odds of being groped, assaulted, or raped."

No. I still avoid, for example, ill-lit and dodgy-looking neighbourhoods, especially at night, but a bar that doesn't appear threatening when I enter generally isn't. Nevertheless it was silly to go through a mountain pass on my own; I was feeling especially bloody-mindd that day.

I'm wondering if a female Kirk would lose and/or rip their shirt quite so often.

In-story, one male on each ship (they theorize that it is the strongest male, but it's never decisively proven) gets turned into XYY rather than XX.

Externally, the real reason for this was that the female authors wanted Spock to be right on the edge of losing control and thus exuding Dangerous Vulcan Sexuality so they could up the slashy subtext without involving actual Scary Gay Sex by having Spock as the Manly Man and Kirk as the Girly Girl. That's the way their minds run. In their novels, they replaced Spock with the Romulan Commander as proxy, if I recall correctly, so you could still have straight sex (possibly necessary for professional publication?) but also have someone who was strong enough to toss Kirk around the room so you could get that special humiliate-Kirk vibe going.

I wonder if their fanfic used the same sort of dodges or whether they just went straight for the slash. I don't wonder this enough to actually go looking for any.

I've only recently spent any time in bars since until they banned smoking in them up here they were off-limits to me due to allergies. But among the first observations to make would be "how many women are present" and "how drunk are the men." If the answers are "few" and "very," it's a caution signal. I don't even really do this consciously; my subconscious does an insta-analysis and provides a little warning if necessary.

Everything I looked up about Japan suggested that I might get groped on the subway if I rode in a crowded car but was otherwise likely to be extremely safe there even traveling alone. And once I got accustomed to navigating around, I felt very comfortable. No problems at all.

Willie's got the brawn, but he'd already been up against Delicata once and learned how much that didn't help. Being a brilliant combat strategist, he could change tactics like that. I'm not sure I'd describe Kirk as a brilliant combat strategist regardless, but Willie also didn't have to cope with a body with a different height, weight, center of gravity, etc. That might have challenged even his skills. He's good at working with Modesty, but being able to instruct someone with a different phenotype is different from being able to apply it to oneself on the fly.

Susan... I obviously had forgotten a lot about that story. Such is the effect of time. (Also, at the time, my full attention might not have been toward what I was reading, thanks to a broken heart.) As for Willie, I haven't read all the stories, but I get the sense that, if he were severely hampered physically, I get tthe sense that he'd be smart enough to change tactics. Or maybe he'd be smart enough to find a way out of the fight. But I may be talking thru my hat. You know much more about the character than I do.

As they say, when you have brawn, you don't need brain.

What? I don't understand.

Marilee - In Howl's Moving Castle our teenage heroine Sophie is cursed and becomes a 90* year-old woman. Apparently this is based on the experience of the author, Diana Wynne Jones, who injured her back** and went from an active 40 year old to hobbling with a cane.

* This is her estimate, but she's quite active. Due to the varying effects her effective age changes at various times in the story.
** It might have been something else.

Neil... "If I only had a brain.."

Early this summer, I saw Jet Li and Brendan Fraser side by side on TV. To say that there was a drastic difference in height and size is putting it mildly. And yet, I expect that tiny Jet Li would probably wipe the floor with brawny Fraser in a real fight.

I loved Howl's Moving Castle, though not as much as Spirited Away.

I thought when I was writing of my post-surgical weakness and the helplessness of being unable to raise my arms from the shoulders. (I could move my forearms, carefully, but had to keep my elbows glued to my sides.) I ended up not bringing it up because it was a temporary condition, which puts the focus more on enduring and waiting than adjusting. But it was certainly memorable to have my body suddenly turn so useless.

(Obviously that was a comparison of the two films. I liked the original novel of Howl's too.)

Spoilers for A Taste for Death, re. relative importance of brain/brawn:

Qryvpngn'f znwbe jrnxarff eryngvir gb Jvyyvr vf gung orpnhfr ur unq vauhzna unaq fgeratgu, ur arire npghnyyl gubhtug nobhg svtugvat be yrnearq nal grpuavdhr orlbaq "teno gur thl naq fdhrrmr." Fb jura Jvyyvr znantrf gb oernx uvf svatref naq znxr uvf qrngu-tevc hfryrff, ur'f erqhprq gb synvyvat nebhaq urycyrffyl naq Jvyyvr, jubfr oenja vf nppbzcnavrq ol oenvaf, vf noyr gb gnxr uvz.

Susan... Thus showing the evolutionary advantages of versatility.

Neil, yes, I'd heard that, too, about Howl's Moving Castle, but Jones didn't turn back into a young girl. ;)

Susan, Howl's and Spirited Away are from different authors, even though the same director, and he managed to save a good bit of the feel of Howl's.

Spirited Away is probably the better film, but I'm fascinated by Howl's because I can see that all the European clothes, cities, landscapes etc. are well researched, but the way they're put together is subtly wrong.

No, Jones didn't turn back into a young girl. I've reminded myself of something Joe Abercrombie wrote about a character of his, Inquisitor Glotka, a war hero who was crippled by torture who returns and becomes an inquisitor and torturer himself*. Down at question 5 of this post he says

Inquisitor Glokta was born out of the experience of injuring my back, which I did pretty frequently over a period of about five years. It gives you a strange, savage and twisted outlook on the world when every movement is painful...
Lying there one day, staring at the ceiling, I can remember thinking: What if this was your life, and it was never going to get better? How bitter, how cynical, how venomously ruthless would you become? How utterly indifferent to the pain of others. A man who felt like this all the time would be a woeful, a disgusting, a pitiable thing. But with nothing more to lose, nothing more to fear, he would also be a terrifying one...

I've never had problems with my back, but being slightly too tall for many bits of furniture etc. I'm always watching out for it, so stories about it tend to stick in my memory.

* He's a more attractive character than that sounds as he's the most honest and self-aware of a group of protagonists who all have terrible flaws.

My body isn't giving me any trouble, but there are times when I go to the gym and I do something wrong and I pull a muscle in my back. It goes away after a few days, but it's a reminder of how little it takes to make you fully aware of your body when it doesn't work the way it should. My wife's recent knee-replacement surgery is another reminder not to take things for granted.

And yet, I expect that tiny Jet Li would probably wipe the floor with brawny Fraser in a real fight.

Really, who couldn't Jet Li wipe the floor with?

AJ... who couldn't Jet Li wipe the floor with?

I don't know, but I don't intend to volunteer to find out. That being said, I wish there had been more of him as the Monkey King in Forbidden Kingdom.

Is there a novel on which Spirited Away was based? I couldn't find one, only books about the film itself.

When I was in Kyoto a building was pointed out to me as the one on which the bathhouse in Spirited Away was based. Don't know if it's true, but I took a picture of it, which is somewhere in my Gazillion Pix From Japan Trip that I really need to organize and post one of these years...

I haven't read anything by Joe Abercrombie but it sounds like maybe I should. Do you recommend it? I like his attitude (as expressed on his webpage) about the stereotypical epic fantasy novel. It prompted me to go down a little mental checklist on my NotBeingWritten fantasy story to see how many traps I'd fallen into:

grumpy wizard - well, I'd describe her more as antisocial
deadly barbarian - nope
jumped-up nobleman - nope
feisty girl - sort of, but she'd actually rather have stayed home and is feisty only because she's more-or-less kidnapped and forced into it
mysterious quest - nope
cardboard characters - probably
dark lord - yup
talk like extras from a bad soap opera - err, probably
fight like extras from a bad cop show - nope
prophecy - not exactly; it was more like one of those agreements where you really ought to have read the fine print
farmboy with mysterious parentage - nope
magic tower or other strange tall building - nope
battles - yup
intrigue - yup
magic sword - nope

I'm not sure I come out much worse than, say, Star Wars.

(looking at the reviews of his first novel on Amazon, PW hated it but all the other editorial reviews are good, and the customer reviews are fair to excellent)

(And it just occurred to me that I could look up novels I'd reviewed for PW and see what other people thought, and wow is it a surreal experience to see my own words up on Amazon as the official word from PW! Talk about killing off any possible remaining mystique I still thought the book industry had!)

Susan... What do extras from a bad cop show fight like? That being said, I for one would like to see a story, even a short one, written by our Rixosous Hostess. ("I'm not grumpy, just antisocial.")

I don't know, but my characters pretty much don't fight, so solves that problem.

My favorite TV fights were on Batman: BIFF! POW!

Susan, I think Spirited Away is an original script, not based on a book.

So your characters don't fight, but there will be at least one battle?

I should compare my book to that list, too.

Oh, and I wanted more Jet Li doing *anything* in Forbidden Kingdom as long as it meant less screen time for that other guy... you know, the kid who has watched gazillions of martial arts movies, but is *shocked* when his teachers dish out tons of sadistic training techniques.

Saving only that I haven't read the final part of Abercrombie's trilogy, I would recommend it.

I should probably note that, having a warped sense of humour, most of the elements he mentions in his list actually appear in his novels, although in most cases he's given them a twist. For example the sword, which The Blade Itself is not really named after, was made back in another age by Kanedias the Master Maker, doesn't rust or need sharpening, but doesn't signify anything and is essentially a piece of metal for hitting people with. It's just very good for doing so.

AJ... I couldn't agree more. I could have done without the kid. And without Jackie Chan. I just can't warm up to him. There's something phoney about his screen persona. Is there something wrong with me? (Yes, there is, I'm sure, but I was referring specifically to Chan.)

Not "will be" one battle. Is one battle. It's all in my head already. I don't think of this as "unwritten book" so much as "personal bedtime story."

Yeah, I did guess that from the description of the first book on his website, which mentions a bunch of those elements. I'll keep an eye out for a copy of the first book.

I also realise that I should probably say that if his dialogue were representative of soap operas, it's more like the leads in superior soap operas and the fights aren't in any cop show I've seen. Not unless I've been sleeping through a lot of mounted police dramas anyway.

Neil... mounted police dramas

...or the sordid truth about Dudley Dooright.

First thought: Due South.
Second thought: cops being stuffed and mounted would certainly create drama.
Third thought: wait, I get it: horses!

Serge: I mostly enjoy Jackie Chan movies, but I understand what you're saying about his screen persona. I can see how it might come across as fake, cheezy, or annoying. I like the stunts and fights in his movies, but I find myself rolling my eyes at all the wish-fulfillment, as he usually has at least two girls who look to be half his age vying to be his girlfriends.

Susan: So the story has already been told, just not on paper? :)

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