Back from Birmingham and some random pop culture musings

In case you noticed my absence, I’ve been away for a few days in Birmingham in the UK. I actually came back a couple of days ago, but I didn’t get around to blogging until now. Photos are forthcoming, but for now I’d like to talk about a couple of SF-nal things that happened while I was away:

I watched an current episode of Doctor WhoThe Girl Who Died – and it was actually pretty good. Plus, it guest-starred Maisie Williams, the young actress who plays Arya Stark in Game of Thrones. In fact, I might have some more words about that later on.

Captain America – currently not Steve Rogers, who is taking a well deserved break, but Steve’s pal Sam Wilson, usually better known as Falcon – fought anti-immigrant racists (Can we have him smash up PEGIDA, please?) and decided to sever his ties with both the US government and SHIELD, because both are failing ordinary Americans. Predictably, some American conservatives led by Fox News were very upset about this. I guess they missed the time where Steve Rogers was so disillusioned by the Watergate scandal that he hung up his shield and took off his costume and went around calling himself Nomad, Man without a Country, for a while. Or any of the many other times before or after that had Captain America take a political stance to the left of the US Republican Party.

Captain America also further shocked certain Americans by kissing Thor on a gorgeous Alex Ross cover. Don’t get your hopes up, slash fans, it’s not Steve Rogers kissing Thor Odinson (though that would be awesome), but Sam Wilson kissing Jane Foster, who’d currently wielding the hammer, while Thor Odinson is taking a break. Still, Captain America – a black man – kissed Thor – a white woman – on the cover of a mainstream Marvel comic, which is pretty awesome. Now how long do we have to wait to see that in the movies?

At Wired, Amy Wallace offers a follow-up to her article about the 2015 Hugo controversy. It’s a pretty good article, just don’t read the comments.

Meanwhile,the Sad Puppies are still busily whining and rewriting history to suit their preferred narrative. Okay, that’s not exactly new, but the epic meltdown by this year’s spokespuppy in the comments is somewhat amusing.

Talking of SFF books, Birmingham is quite well-endowed with bookstores. In addition to the usual W.H. Smith and Waterstones stores (including gorgeous Waterstones in a repurposed 19th century bank building), Birmingham also boasts what appears to be the only Foyles bookstore outside London (opened only two weeks before I visited, too) as well as a big Forbidden Planet store, which had moved since I was last there and was somewhat hard to find (I even had to resort to asking likely looking people on the street to find where it had gone).

Now Forbidden Planet is mainly a store for comics, toys, t-shirts (I bought a great Dalek t-shirt) and general geeky stuff, but the bigger stores such as the flagship store in London and the one in Birmingham also tend to have a good selection of SFF books. And this particular Forbidden Planet was much better with regard to carrying SFF books by women writers than either Waterstones (okay, we know they’re crappy in that regard), W.H. Smith (somewhat less crappy, amazingly) and Foyles (not really the place where I’d go for SFF, whether by women or not, anyway).

Coincidentally, Forbidden Planet also carried a surprisingly amount of what I like to term “puppy fiction”, i.e. either books by prominent puppies and supporters (I spotted novels by Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt, John C. Wright among others) or books by writers not affiliated with the Sad and Rabid Puppies, that nonetheless contain all the Nutty Nuggets that Puppies tend to enjoy including this year’s puppy nominee The Dark Between The Stars by Kevin J. Anderson*. I wondered about this a bit, especially since many of those books and authors (not Kevin J. Anderson, but others along those lines) are hard to find and little known in Europe. But then I realised that the abundance of Nutty Nuggets on Forbidden Planet‘s shelves was due to the fact that they carried a lot of imported US paperbacks, including a lot of Baen Books, which are normally hard to find in Europe. And Nutty Nuggets are more likely to appeal to American readers and Baen publishes quite a bit of it. But on the plus side, I also found a Sharon Lee/Steve Miller book (published by Baen) that had eluded me so far.

Finally, a new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens has landed. Now as I’ve explained before here and here, I initially wasn’t particularly excited about more Star Wars (even though I’m as much a fan of the original trilogy as any geek who was a kid when they movies came out), because IMO that story has been told and it’s time for new stories. And besides, I’ve yet to enjoy anything that J.J. Abrams has wrought.

Hence I was pleased that I found myself rewatching the trailer a few times, because – hey, this looks actually good. But of course, some people were less than satisfied by the trailer for The Force Awakens, including a bunch of racists so angry that there are character of colour in Star Wars now (apparently, they missed Lando Calrissian, Mace Windu, Jango and Boba Fett, Bail Organa, Captain Panaka, Captain Typho and a couple of other characters of colour in the original trilogy and the prequels. Oh yes, and the fact that James Earl Jones provided the voice of Darth Vader) that they proposed a boycott that may or may not be intended seriously. Jessica Lachenal and Chuck Wendig weigh in and expose this boycott for the idiocy it is.

Talking of Star Wars, I even checked out the Force Awakens toys at Forbidden Planet, but alas, no Rey or BB-8 or even Gwendoline Christie’s character Captain Phasma. I did spot Finn and Poe Dameron and Kylo Ren, but the women (and the cute robot) were not available as usual. Yes, I probably should have checked out the Disney Store, especially since I passed one in Birmingham’s Bullring shopping center. But I’m still not used to the fact that Star Wars and Marvel superhero merchandise can now be found in Disney Stores of all places.

By the way, the Birmingham Forbidden Planet store has a big Yoda statue (I’d say lifesize, but the statue is actually bigger than Yoda) standing near its entrance. And while I was waiting at the cash register, I watched how a little girl stared at the Yoda statue and then told her mother, “Look, mummy, it’s a booger monster.” I and most other customers in earshot could barely contain their laughter, but the little girl actually wasn’t wrong. Because my then friends and I observed even thirty years ago that Yoda was the colour of snot.

*Wow, that book is hefty in physical form. I didn’t notice this when I got an electronic copy in the Hugo voters’ packet, but then I never finished that particular novel, because it wasn’t my cup of tea at all.

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