We Need Other Kinds of Heroes

A Harder Heroism

Somewhere in the last half-century, hero became a dirty word in popular culture. People enjoy hearing about the failings of those marked as heroes, whether dirty secrets or opinions that don’t abide by the current standard or memes Maybe even worse, heroes are looked at in some kind of contempt. And the word is further cheapened by being used for anyone famous or sucessful as if wealth is a measure of value or worth. We say that riches aren’t the most important thing, but act like getting rich is a virtue.

What you do with it is the virtue. And I’m not talking about the vanity charities started by actors, politicians, or athletes. Those are PR, something the make them look better or get a tax benefit. Does the famous sponsor stay involved in a real way? Do they put any time in the trenches for that cause? And does this vanity charity actually accomplish anything useful? I have seem many foundations and charities falter when the sponsor moves on to other things. Charity watchdog organizations, like Charity Navigator are both useful and disheartening, as the money and resources that people give in good faith get wasted.

Heroes do the right things, the hard things, without the cameras. Encouraging others to support a cause or charity, makes you a good example and someone to be admired. But a hero does something when it can and does cost them. Playing a helicopter pilot hero in a movie doesn’t make you a hero, flying an injured hiker out of the wilderness and unstable conditions does. Firewomen, policemen, and soldiers routinely risk injury and death to help others. And they will go back the next day to do it over again. It is the risk and cost of their actions than changes that helicopter flight from stuntwork to heroism.

Now heroism isn’t all about the burning building or knocking back an assassin, the more subtle kinds of heroism require a moral fortitude to face down people who don’t want to do the right thing, or who use their position or majority to force their beliefs on others. The hero may lose the battle to make a camp for kids or land a faltering plane safely but they don’t roll over. (The hard thing sometimes is in choosing the right thing. Bullying and abuse is easy to oppose, but free speech and anti-censorship is not as easy to support when a speaker is a mean jackass.)

People have been saying that freedom isn’t free, but costs cuts both ways. If you want freedom from offense by people who have different beliefs, you must grant the same to others for your beliefs. ‘Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander’ Disagreement on political and social issues is rarely evil and it’s petty childishness to demonize your opponents over opinions.  Too many have no empathy or the ability to walk in another’s shoes. Are people that self-centered or getting off on leading the howling mobs? Great leaders and heroes do more than destroy by feeding the riot’s flames, they make the compromises where everyone feels it’s an improvement. Grinding those who disagree with you into paste by riots or social media pile-ons, isn’t peace, it’s abusive.

I think that may be why we are foundering lately, we don’t have enough heroes who compromise and defuse the situations, we get leaders who want it to burn.



Necessary home repairs are good at occupying your energies, but puppies don’t really care. She wants to see what’s going on, and play with the workers. Leashes are just in the way. If she twists and pulls and breaks it, she can plaaaay! Tree trunks and other heavy objects aren’t important. Her leash ends up wrapped around her, a small stump, the smaller dog, etc, until I wonder if she enjoys being tangled or she’s doing a doggie version called “Fifty Shades of Dane.”

A Kiss to Build a Series On

damaged and worn clockface

il tempo si è fermato by Alessandro Prada, from Flickr under the Creative Commons 2.0 licensed attribution

A Kiss Before the Apocalypse by Thomas Sniegoski, Roc trade paperback 2008.

Many detective stories open with the PI involved with surveillance on a possibly straying husband, and Remy is hanging out watching a seedy motel while his target goes in with his persaonal secretary. Gunshots ring out from the cheap motel, but is it jealous spouse or rival? Remy charges in, and his subject is midway through murder-suicide, because the straying husband has seen in visions just how close the end of the world really is.

And then the killer sees Remy, sees Remy for what he really is, an angel. Remy isn’t your garbed in glory angel, he’s a married private eye with a taste for Chandler and a dog named Marlowe. His main preoccupation is that wife is in hospice and he’s having trouble saying goodbye.

The first major harbinger of the apocalypse is that the husband and the secretary don’t die. And more people don’t die who should have. (I really don’t want to think about the trauma and cost for all the people left behind) Then like the classic noir, forces from all sides want the threaten Remy or try to coopt him for their own causes. Like the classic PIs, it’s not easy sunshine and sparkly unicorns and Remy gets beat on, but the strongest feels are for Madeline and Marlow’s scenes away from the major confrontations.

I have a fondness for cross-genre science-fiction or fantasy mysteries. I read and reread the Lord Darcy and R. Daneel Olivaw stories over and over. Other stories may have a genre feel even if they weren’t cross marked. The angel romances have their own issues. But this isn’t a romance, and it’s not a redo of “Death Takes a Holiday.” This gives a thought to what happens when Mr Black has gone AWOL. It’s not anything that simple and the final race feels a little like the end of Raiders with the race to stop the Apocalypse.

One of the deeper mysteries is why Remy is living as a mortal when he’s not really human.  I’m not sure he’s quite sure, al he knows is what triggered his decision and he tried hard not to think about it, despite all the various angels and demons who mess with his life during the tale.  I have my own suppositions that he’s on a high moral path not in spite of his doubt and abandoned position, but because of them.  Learning that the author had been involved in the old Angel series was not a surprise.  The sometimes too heavy melodrama in that world is handled with a lighter touch.  Too much angst becomes whining, and Remy’s human lofe isn’t that bad.

One of the more notable parts are how Remy relates to mortals in his life. The scenes with Madeline were very painful and touching. Death is looming issue for them and the lack of dying is not really the good thing it might appear to be. I wish we had seen more story with her in her prime. Marlowe is so very much a dog and not a fantasy magic one. The dog has his ‘squirrel’ moments. Now the mystery wasn’t that fair, but it was the start of a series, so that is a bit to be expected. But the way the mystery and Remy’s personal life fit together is very well done. Sooner or later we all have to relate with the fear and denial when someone is dying, but the world won’t let you stop to be with them. That made for a grounded and real feeling fantasy with more depth than most mysteries I’ve read in a long while.

Rating 4.5 out of five stars

Anticipation…. it’s making me wait

ketchup dripping from a dispenser

Drop of Red Gold by Jökull Auðunsson, from flickr, under Creative Commons 2 attribution

In about twenty-four hours I should have the computer I’d ordered back in January. I have so many projects and even holiday games put on hold during the interim.  At this time, tomorrow I will be frazzled, trying to get past the set-up pains. I’m giving myself three days.

Sleeping tonight will be the hard part… Maybe I will finish that new chapter of a fun piece or flash series.

Leaders and Archetypes

How can we talk about heroes in our culture and not talk about leaders?  We have plenty of leaders, far too many, who are not very heroic.  But what about fictional heroes? Life imitates art imitates life.  Heroes become leaders, whether they like it or not, because their admirers imitate their actions and attitudes.  Celebrities support charities.  Picketers protest a school’s abrupt closing.  Fans support a hero’s hasty and foolish tweet.  Actors and artists of every kind influence their fans in good and bad ways, it takes only a little digging to find horrible examples.  Heroes can’t help leading unless they work in total secret and none know about them or their acts.

Woman with chignon

Hitchcock Heroine by ga3lle, per creative Commons 2.0

Debating what makes for the best leaders is a long discussion by itself, but whatever those qualities are, they overlap considerably with what the best heroes display;  the main differences are that heroes work mostly alone and leaders give orders.  But you say ‘leaders’ in movies and TV and the default image, the one you’ll follow into danger to life, career, and future, that default is male: GW Mclintock, Lou Grant, Captain Kirk, Sherman Potter, John Sheridan, Nathan Ford, Don Eppes, Mac Taylor, and the plethora of current team investigative and action team leaders.  Military/Strike teams are the most common leader from most of Hollywood’s Golden Age to more recent Agent Gibbs and Jack Bauer.  Crusty editors are well established with Lou Grant, Perry White, and JJ Jamison.  Business leaders are less comrade and more short term mentor at best, or more often evil and/or buffoon, especially on TV today (look at how the butler manipulates the boss on Downton Abbey)  Moral leaders in fiction are modeled on priests, reverends, and ascetics.

But you look in the popular media it’s still men despite queens, prime ministers, presidents, governors, and admirals.  Not that real life has reached proportionate gender representation, but it’s improving. Even in futuristic settings or high tech missions like investigation, no one seems to know how to write a good leader who happens to be female.

SF females who have earned their rank always started the story with ‘peanut head’ hair styles, closely bound to their heads.  Apparently they aren’t taken seriously as officers if their hair isn’t tight against their heads.  If the show and character lasted, the hair would soften.  What became disturbing was noticing the same thing for female bosses on various detective shows.  The female boss was the second female in the cast, and often a token minority of some kind because the investigative team was majority male.

There just aren’t enough archetypes for a female who leads others.  ‘The Bitch’ is by far the most common: demanding, cruel to subordinates, clients and public, claims all credit for team effort, waste others effort, and how does it benefit them.  This is not tough but fair who looks out for juniors much, the bitch cares more for herself and advancement than others around her. She uses co-workers and subordinates.

The second archetype is not seen as much, ‘Mama Bear.’   She’s more easy-going until one of her children, or someone under her protection is threatened.  Susan Ivanova was usually ironic and funny, but she could get scarey if her base was threatened.  Delenn both spiritual and often Mama Bear.  Buffy started as a solo hero but threaten her sister?  Lindsay Messer ended the kidnapper’s standoff over her daughter.

Sadly, I haven’t seen any other specific archetypes for female leaders.  Those that started as male aren’t often used for female characters, even when there’s nothing in the story that says it must be male.  The gruff commander, coasting-to-retirement, crazy uncle, hotshot jerk-off, wise old man… why are these only men? We have grandmothers born after the big wave of the women’s movement, why is media lagging so badly?  Why do female bosses still start as peanut heads and bitches?  And more importantly why are professional women who’ve earned their rank always written as bitches, always out for themselves over everything else?  Is this some kind of lingering fear that women only got promoted without earning it? Or that a growing belief that you can’t get promoted unless you use everyone like serfs?

That may be more troubling.

Hug your IT person…

Hug your IT person if you have one. 

It’s now over fifty days since my computer’s hard drive gave the shriek of death.  And after seven weeks I have ordered and had problems with three computers and two routers.  As this has been a bad drain on finances, I still don’t have a working computer until I get the most recent refunds and order another. A pro IT usually has extra equipment lying around, letting them test which part of the rube goldberg LAN died. Arguing issues, fixes, returns, and refunds is never fun.

Of course this quite disrupts most time and energy for writing.  Oh, I wrote a couple things that aren’t publishable last month but not a lot more.  At that point the snow wasn’t much of a detriment to output, unlike most years.

We have a problem, Houston…

At least I have a better computer than they did back in the day.

My old laptop’s hard drive began to play the whine of doom last fall. to the point where I risked that purchase from the cheezy and absent site. Once that was slightly redeemed, I ordered a refurb (my budget was reduced as the refund was tied up). This time I got from a dealer that I’d dealt with over more than a decade and I got the extended warranty because it was a refurb. Good thing as it could not even run the win 8.1 update. So after RL techies tried to fix and the manufacturer too, back it went. Then I had to wait for the replacement, which works better. Now during the last week, my router went senile. That replacement is also on its way (Funny, I don’t consider a week through USPS to be worth express shipping fee. I may be speaking to Amazon. Five weeks since I had a reliable computer. arggh. I’m using a borrowed computer, one that’s ten years old and running XP because it’s too slow to run anything newer.

(Personally. I now suspect I never got into writing for many years because I did everything longhand. Longhand requires too much of my attention to accomplish much.)

Just to keep things interesting, we had pipes freeze in the record cold and a nasty cold did not breeze through quickly. Sometime this week I hope everything will be up and running and I can get something done. I had some writing goals for February, but the biggest have only a slim chance in the next week. There is no way gimp will run on the oldest computer. (Which I also hope to replace in March)