Archive for the Things You Should Read Category

The Self-Destruction of John Campbell

Posted in Comics, Politics and Society, Reviews, Things You Should Read, Weirdness with tags , , on March, 2014 by melendwyr

You may recall my earlier post detailing my sadness upon learning that one of my favorite webcomics, Pictures for Sad Children, had been deleted by its artist and creator John Campbell.

Upon learning that he had a Kickstarter project involving the release of his comics in bound and printed form, I concluded that perhaps he didn’t want the free online version of his work competing with his professional work.  Sadly, I have recently learned that the reality is much, much stranger than that.

As the bottom of that Wikipedia article indicates, in fact.

Campbell had gained a degree of notority for apologizing for purportedly “pretending to be depressed for money”.  Which is quite peculiar, but not nearly as weird as it would become…

John Campbell recently announced that all of the Kickstarter rewards which were going to be sent out had been, and that nothing else would be forthcoming – regardless of what had been promised or what people had paid for.  In fact, he released a video showing him burning printed copies of the book, one for each email he had received from people asking where their books were.  Along with the video was… well, a rant.

This might lead you to think that Campbell is staging some kind of avant-garde  performance art, which wouldn’t be incompatible with the style of his comic.  Possibly the whole thing is being faked… except for the vast number of people who haven’t received the work that they paid for and are beginning to become angry.

The rant itself sounds very much as though Campbell were sliding into depression, or schizophrenia.  Not quite at the word salad stage, but approaching it.  Faked?  Perhaps… not.  It’s really quite disturbing.  Campbell claims to have realized that he’s a transwoman, says that he has about $750 total, and has a lot of reasonably incoherent things to say about capitalism, society, and ‘privilege’.

Some people now claim they are working to scan the copies of the book and put them online.

I don’t know what the full truth behind any of this is,  but one way or another, it seems to be the end of John Campbell’s career.  Possibly the beginning of a number of angry lawsuits, although if the statement about the checking is correct I doubt there will be much of anything to win.


Dresden Codak is up again!

Posted in Comics, Things You Should Read with tags , , on March, 2014 by melendwyr

Dark Science #31:  Escalation

A truly excellent webcomic.  It’s a shame his long periods between postings limit the attention he can get.

Still, it could be worse, as my next post will discuss.


Theodore Sturgeon

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Things You Should Read with tags , , , on March, 2014 by melendwyr

I am fortunate.  A quick browse through a local used bookstore yielded not only a hardback copy of Godbody but a collection of short stories by the same author, Theodore Sturgeon.

Although once widely known and generally acknowledged as a master of science fiction, Sturgeon is relatively obscure today; remarkably so, for a man who was once the most anthologized English author living.  Finding his works in libraries is slowly becoming difficult, except in the ones whose stocks are full of old editions.

My first exposure was when I came across his short work “The Golden Helix” in just such an anthology.  My eye was caught by the editor’s introductory blurb in which it was noted that the story was written before the structure of DNA had been discovered, and furthermore, suggested that the choice of the double helix was slightly spooky in that context.  Curious, I paid especial attention, and found that the story more than repaid the interest invested.

On doing a little research, I found that Sturgeon was not only responsible for, among other things, the “Amok Time” episode of Star Trek, the “Live long and prosper” salutation, and the characteristic Vulcan hand symbol (although its form came from Leonard Nimoy).  I tried to find more of his writings but found them to be fairly scarce, even decades ago – the situation has worsened considerably, it seems.

Like Robert Heinlein, Sturgeon seems to have contributed considerably to what I can vaguely refer to as ‘hippie culture’.  Given the times in which he was writing, and the mores of public discourse involved, many of the concepts in his stories were remarkably ideoclastic and radical.  Many of them seem quite same now, although parts would still shock many if they took the time to think about them.

I think I may write reviews of some of his writings in the near future.

Strange in Context: Six Industries

Posted in Politics and Society, Things You Should Read with tags , , on March, 2014 by melendwyr

Okay, so Diane Duane posted an essay entitled ‘The Eyes in the Peacock’s Tail’.  She also posted a link to a The New York Times article by Mark Bittman.  Interestingly, she did so without further comment.  It is reasonable to presume that she intended to showcase it positively, though, since there’s not a word of displeasure, condemnation, or the slightest hint of disapproval.

Mr. Bittman asks whether children have the right to a healthy diet.  Couldn’t we just as easily ask whether children have the right to a healthy intellectual diet as well as a comestable one?  Or even a moral one?

Whether Ms. Duane considers her childhood to have been a healthy one with the benefit of hindsight isn’t the issue.  Nor is whether we happen to agree with her assessment.  Nor is even the retrospective opinion of her parents, if they were able and willing to have one, truly relevant.  What matters is that Ms. Duane’s younger self took the matter into her own hands and negated her parent’s (or parents’) efforts to keep her away from what they perceived at the time to be a danger to her well-being.

Under no circumstances am I questioning a parent’s right or responsibility to protect his or her children from danger.

Nonsense.  Her younger self rejected the concept of an absolute parental right, as does her current self.  As I do as well, as it happens.  I agree that trying to keep kids away from certain kinds of knowledge, trying to establish a ‘forbidden fruit’ that will dangle tantalizingly out of reach, is inevitably self-defeating and usually ineffective.  ‘The Eyes of the Peacock’ clearly establishes that Ms. Duane believes there are significant practical and ethical limits to a parent’s right to protect.  But that’s not the point.

I may advocate for giving people knowledge as they become capable of seeking it, but I don’t delude myself that there will never be negative outcomes from acknowledging the power of choice.  Some people will make poor decisions, and as long as it’s possible to be hurt, someone will choose paths that result in injury or harm.  And that applies as much to teenagers’ reading habits as to everything else.

I find it easy to grant for the sake of argument the teenaged Ms. Duane’s smarts and good judgment, and consider it most probable that her literary interests were healthy and harmless – at least, by my standards.  But knowing something about human nature, that will not always be the case.  Knowing something about teenagers – how their repressed drives towards self-determination tend to overcompensate when they steal a bit of freedom, how their relative lack of experience informs their choices, how their ancient genetic inheritance leads them to take risks that are unreasonable outside the perspective frame of Darwinism – makes the case even stronger.  Many people’s interests are neither healthy nor harmless, to themselves and others.

This is a particularly salient point in the case of Ms. Duane, whose website once included a chat room that had to be closed because too many young adults used it for chatter of a sexual nature.  And as she is a former psychiatric nurse, I cannot imagine that she’s not intimately familiar with the human ability to make poor choices.  Even more so in the case of teens.

So:  how is it that a person can so powerfully make the case for freedom of choice and the futility of restrictions, then turn around and either condone or approve of the exact opposite thesis in the slightly different context?

Is it merely that she doesn’t care about food as much as books?

The Eyes in the Peacock’s Tail

Posted in Politics and Society, Things You Should Read with tags , , on March, 2014 by melendwyr

I am a longtime fan of the works of Diane Duane.  Not merely her novels, which are frequently excellent, but in other genres as well.

She’s written a worthwhile essay called The Eyes in the Peacock’s Tail which she recently reposted to her Tumblr feed.  In addition to its inherent value, I think the points it makes are thrown into valuable relief by something else I saw in her feed a little while later.

Give it a look, and consider what it has to say.

Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages

Posted in Cooking, Things You Should Read, Things You Should See with tags , , , , on February, 2014 by melendwyr

If you have an interest in plants, unusual spices, the botanical aspects of cooking, or herbal etymology, either you’ve been to Gernot Katzer’s site or you should give it a look.

The topics range from common spices to ancient herbs extinct for millennia, but the kinds of information provided for each are similar.  Every flavoring entry discusses its source, including which part(s) of the plant are used, their taste and scent (as much as they can be described in words), some brief notes on their use in the kitchen.  The natures of the primary active chemicals involved are mentioned.  And, perhaps most importantly, the names of the spice in many languages are provided, along with historical notes on where they originated and what meanings they originally had.

This last is especially important if you’re dealing with cooking instructions that are in a language other than those you are deeply familiar with, or a recipe that is being translated from a foreign tongue.  Many vegetables and spices are improperly identified or poorly translated in such cases.  Local names and references frequently produce false cognates in other contexts or languages, and acquiring ingredients according to the instructions you’re given can produce highly variable results, from unpalatable messes to potentially dangerous toxins in some cases.

The illustrations are not only pleasant to look at but highly useful, making it easy to identify relatively exotic and unfamiliar flavorings when you’re looking for or encountering them.  And since people in temperate climates are unlikely to ever see such things as ginger flowers or fresh pepper berries, the photos are educational in addition to being informative.

Culinary backgrounds to linguistic data, it’s all here.  The only thing not present which you might possibly expect is information on finding or growing the source plants.  But that isn’t the intended function of the site.

For English speakers, the website is found at

Who really killed Star Wars?

Posted in Blogging, Fantasy, Fiction, Reviews, Things You Should Read with tags , on January, 2014 by melendwyr

Stumbling blindly through the alleys and darkened streets of the Internet, I came across The Caffeinated Symposium, a site full of analysis and opinion on certain aspects of nerd culture, written by David Cesarano.

The tone is a bit more strident than I would prefer, but I found several of the articles quite thought-provoking and well worth the reading – not least among which is “On the Devolution of the STAR WARS Franchise“.  I also found his analysis of why he didn’t like D&D 4th Edition to be useful, if not nearly as polished or sophisticated as the above.

Take a look.

Regarding Star Wars:   I’ve heard many, many people complain about how the prequels (and elements of the original movies, such as the Ewoks) reduced the quality of the series and fell away from what they expected.  The point that they represent Lucas attempting to re-establish his original vision – one that the series moved away from starting with The Empire Strikes Back – is one I’ve come across before. Many people have noted that TESB is dramatically more sophisticated than the first film, and that this was in large degree due to Lucas getting other people to work on the screenplay.  But the link with the “secret history” establishes just what massive fame – and the resulting creative control – caused to go so terribly wrong, rather as happened with Steven Spielburg and his attempts to extend past franchises and even alter the existing versions of past successes.