Ms Marvel: No Normal


I’ve been working this week on catch-up reading, piling through the works of G. Willow Wilson–in addition to a lot of her earlier works, I’m also having a look at her most popular series, Ms. Marvel.

Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel, is one of the most important characters in modern comics.  No Normal is compiles issues 1-5 of the series, introducing the Pakistani-American teenager and the major secondary characters in her life.  G. Willow Wilson is possibly the best-known Islamic writer currently working in comics, and by far the most popular in North America.

In many respects, the new Ms. Marvel is a culmination of ideas and passions which appeared in proto-form in Wilson’s earlier works, including her autobiography The Butterfly Mosque, and her early independent comics, Cairo and Air (Volume 1-4).

Without giving away too many spoilers, I think that No Normal touches on some of the critical concepts that will define the ongoing series:

  • Representation, and specifically the power of representation to define and evoke heroism.
  • Youth culture, and specifically the modern tendency to denigrate millennials and teens–the campaign to make young people feel stupid, worthless, and bereft of any meaningful future.
  • Community, and the sometimes uncomfortable jostling of international traditions in the new cultural environment of the modern USA.
  • Heroism, and the qualities that define an extraordinary person–regardless of race, religion, gender, or age.

What makes this comic a triumph in terms of representation is the range of Muslim characters it offers. Kamala Khan is a beautifully written child of first-generation immigrants, and this window into her life depicts the people who surround her with warmth, sympathy and an eye for detail. Her conservative Pakistani father and mother, her willfully devout brother Aamir, her Turkish-American friend Nakia, the imam at her local mosque…even her best kafir friend, Bruno, are all very lovingly drawn here.

The ongoing engagement with these characters and the evolving relationships within her community are the real bread and butter of this book, but I appreciate the fact that the creators slather them liberally with fun, fresh connections to the larger Marvel universe.

These opening issues are a solid beginning to a series which gets even better as time goes on.


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Your Disposable Fat Friend

I didn’t have glasses in the 1980’s. But I did have braces and a couple of shirts like this in junior high.

As I mentioned earlier, I started a Book Club on Facebook.

I’m currently re-reading the work of Silvia Moreno-Garcia, including her debut novel Signal To Noise. The second paperback edition of the book came out in 2016, with a pretty cool new cover. In the corner, there was a blurb that compared the book to the popular Netflix horror series Stranger Things, which got me thinking.


I found this an interesting observation, and it rings true in some respects–Stranger Things is about being a child or teenager in the early 1980’s in suburban America, and Signal to Noise is a similar story about kids growing up in urban Mexico.

The book and the show cover some similar territory. Normal kids weather an encounter with the Weird, and are transformed by it. Similar exploration of their relationships with each other, peers outside their group of friends, and parents.

Signal to Noise has a smaller cast of characters, which is understandable. But I definitely saw some parallels, particularly the presence of the character I’d tag as Disposable Fat Girl. She’s the voice of self-care, common sense, or maturity in a lot of stories about young women growing up, but she’s never the protagonist or a romantic rival, and far too often she is fridged/butchered without much thought.

In Signal to Noise, Daniela is that character. She is not the sharpest knife in the drawer where magic or academia is concerned, but she has a wealth of emotional intelligence. And for a wonder, she is not thoughtlessly killed. The epilogue of the book finds her a successful wife and mother, who has made a career out of her impulse to nurture other people–she’s a cook. Recognizing the value of Daniela’s friendship in childhood is actually one of the signs of the protagonist’s growth as a human being:

“Well…” Meche said, grabbing her arm. “Thanks. I don’t think I ever said thanks to you.”

“For what?” Daniela asked.

She thought about all the times that Daniela had put up with her, showing kindness when Meche was a bundle of nerves and impatience. Smiling at her when Meche made a sour face. Listening patiently when Meche ranted. Meche had just accepted all this as fact, never questioning Daniela’s devotion.

“For everything.”

Daniela smiled, drifting towards the other end of the room.

Comparing the role of Daniela in Signal to Noise with the role of Barbara Holland in Stranger Things is a grim exercise. Barbara is a very similar character in a similar role–the BFF of the female protagonist, a de-sexualized and underappreciated support system to a young woman coming of age and making choices about boyfriends etc.

But Barbara’s fate in Stranger Things is much, much darker than the life that SMG envisions for Daniela. She doesn’t get to step gracefully aside to make room for the drama between the romantic leads, letting them work out their problems as adults. Instead [spoiler!] she is brutally assigned to serve as the show’s only significant Monster Chow.

I didn’t like this aspect of Stranger Things, but it certainly felt “true” to me in some respects. This was definitely the fate that was assigned to me as a young woman in the America of the early 1980’s. The fact that I rejected the role and refused to be the weak, disposable sidekick of a more conventionally attractive girl definitely limited my social opportunities in junior high and high school. Sometimes if you refuse to be a wingman, you don’t get invited to the airshow at all.

I don’t particularly see myself as Daniela OR Barbara in reality, but I feel a sense of truth to these depictions because I recognize that this is the way the world WANTS to see me… and the way people want me to see myself. A fat girl or woman is a comfort doll, a supportive and unthreatening doormat, a ritual sacrifice, etc.–but she’s never a romantic protagonist, a hero, a sex object. In other words, she’s not a valid human being or a complete woman with all the dimensions that a female protagonist in fiction should expect to have.

When you reject the few limiting positive tropes for plush female bodies, the only other roles that are really common in horror are the Scary Fat Ladies that you see in Stephen King, Clive Barker and their imitators. Essentially, the message that the genre delivers to plus-sized women and girls is “YOU WILL BAKE ME COOKIES AND GIVE ME HUGS OR YOU WILL BECOME THE MOTHER OF ABOMINATIONS IN MY STORY”.

Speaking for myself–gonna pass on both options, and see what’s behind Door Number Three.

At any rate–these are just a few random thoughts about minor characters in two works of art that were linked by the marketing department. Signal to Noise is a rich novel that opens a lot of subjects for reflection, and I’m engaging with all of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s work this month. I would recommend that all of you do the same.


Me in 1984, at my Maximum Barb Phase.

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Eye Cups

One of the fans on the Kerberos forums brought up an interesting topic today: “What’s your favorite good luck charm?”

As an archaeologist and anthropologist, this is an incredibly tough question. I find fetishes, amulets and apotropaic objects REALLY fascinating, regardless of what culture they come from, and I’m always delighted to learn more about them.

That being said, if I have to pick one favorite? It’s got to be Greek Eye-Cups.

This is what the Eye Kylix looks like when it’s just sitting on the table or the shelf, which is already beautiful. But it’s intended to be a drinking cup for wine, and there’s an extra dimension to the object when you lift it to your mouth and take a sip.

I think that this is pretty neat. I also find it fascinating that this was a relatively brief fad, and that a lot of these cups were made for export to Italy and other Mediterranean trade partners of the Greeks in 540 BCE – 480 BCE. Like a lot of Greek pottery of that period, the majority of intact pieces have been recovered from Etruscan graves.

So these are my favorite good luck charms–they’re intended to ward off evil. What’s yours?

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A Cheat Sheet For Playing God


Wonder what I’ll be doing on my birthday this year? Spending it at a convention! And not just any convention, but a really cool one, where you get to have lots of intimate interaction with your fellow attendees–including the guest of honor, the best-selling author Patricia Briggs, and a whole lot of other very cool working writers who will be teaching workshops and participating in the programming.

I’ll be starting off the day bright and early at 9:30 am at Foolscap, giving away all my quick and dirty world-building secrets for free.

If you want my cheat sheet for playing god, you’re just going to have to come!

February 3-5th, 2017

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Race Is A Construct

“Race is a construct.”
Yes, yes it is.
Race is a construct, like religion, gender, and national borders are constructs.
People will happily kill you over a construct. Show me a national border which is not defended by armed soldiers. Show me a gender boundary which is not defended by violence and inequality. Show me a religious worldview which has no history of blood spilled, whether its adherents were being eradicated or forcing their views on others.
Yes, humankind draws a lot of arbitrary lines in the sand, lines which we use to define physical space, sexual space, spiritual space, political space. The fact that these lines are often arbitrary does not mean that these lines are not dangerous live wires through which powerful currents flow.
When anthropologists say “Race is a construct”, what we’re saying is that our ideas of race have no basis in sound biological science. In biology, “race” is a category of taxonomy that has some rational basis in geographic isolation, or mathematical variance within the DNA of a species. In order for a “race” of animals to exist, they have to be a strain that has enough in common with each other, and enough difference from other population groups, to justify the term.
There are very few human populations that have so much biological difference from other humans, and so much geographical isolation, that you could legitimately argue they might be a “race”. I could argue that the Sherpas and the people of the Andes might be the beginning of a “race” of humans, because of their physical adaptations to high altitude…but even that would be a stretch in the eyes of some biological anthropologists.
All the rest of us, scientifically speaking, are just “ethnicities”. We have ancestry, we can have some physical features that correlate to some broad geographic area, but our cultural constructs of “race” are not rationally defined scientific categories. They are historically defined political categories–we simply use race as a way to legitimize the distribution of POWER and RESOURCES in a given society.
Anyway. Upshot of all this is simple:
On behalf of other anthropologists, I’d like to ask people to stop misusing the principles of my scientific discipline to try and shut down important conversations about race.
It’s not helping.
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Carrie Fisher, RIP


My current favorite picture of Carrie Fisher. She looks and feels so much like my mother in this picture that it makes my heart go squish.

I honestly don’t know how to process her death. I think I first saw her at the Lensic theater in Santa Fe, during the first run of A New Hope in 1977. I know the first movie made a powerful impression on me at the time, although I think Star Wars and her role as Princess Leia had more formative impact on my development as a woman when Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were released.

Leia ended up being a role model for me in a lot of ways that were not necessarily positive. I definitely recognized myself in her: she was a tough, smart, competent woman with a quick wit and a penchant for sarcasm who was fighting with all her power for her principles, while the shadow of a destructive father figure loomed over her life.

Unfortunately, she also had a lot of romantic vulnerability, and a tendency to fall for men who were funny, passionate, and deeply flawed. Guys who faced the world with the wry half-smile of the wiseass who doesn’t just THINK he’s better than everyone else, and above the rules–he KNOWS it. And he’s happy to prove it at your expense.

I ended up getting involved with two guys in the Han Solo category, in the course of my life. Lots of passion, lots of regrets on both counts–those relationships didn’t work out any better for me than they did for Leia, which is one the reason that the scenes with her and Han in The Force Awakens gave me a pang. They felt…true. In a way that made me sad, guilty and a little uncomfortable. (Whatever, at least I don’t have a son who goes around trying to murder the universe. Okay!?)


One of my favorite movies for her was a bit part in The Blue Brothers, where she plays the vengeful, oft-jilted ex-girlfriend of John Belushi. That final scene with her and Belushi pretty much perfectly captures the dynamic of the relationship I had with my comedian ex. Here was a guy who would make me incredibly (and quite legitimately) furious–and then could fast-talk, pretty-boy, beg and emotionally manipulate me into forgiving him for just about any outrageous abuse. This went on for years–he would dump me on my ass every time I did forgive him, with about as much ceremony as Jake Blues dropping Carrie in the ditch.

I saw Rogue One in the theater, the night before her death was announced. The footage of 20-year-old Leia in that film, the Leia of 40 years ago, comes across as a haunting in retrospect. One of those stories about seeing someone’s ghost before you heard the news that they had passed.

I am incredibly sorry that she’s gone, and that she went so suddenly. She was a fixture of the pop culture multiverse in which I spend a lot of my time, like a star in the heavens.

Like all great lights, she will be missed.


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Fuck 2016


A handmade gift from my friend Els. A Christmas Tree ornament representing 2016 as a burning dumpster fire.

I have vastly different levels of reaction to various celebrity deaths.

For me, the worst reactions this year were to the sudden deaths of crime writer Michelle McNamara (Patton Oswalt’s wife) and the actors Carrie Fischer and Anton Yelchin, both of whom had turned in great performances in genre movies.

I think what bothered me most in those cases is that the deaths seemed so sudden and unfair. Premature cheapshots that took out people who still had work to do, and people counting on them.

I do feel the loss of great icons who choose to end life on their own terms. Or who pass away when they’re over 70, or at the end of a long battle with an obviously fatal illness like cancer.

But there’s some part of me that believes it sucks less to die on a predictable schedule that gives you a chance to get your affairs in order, ironclad your will and put together your swansong album.

This shit where you just never wake up from a nap while your daughter is at school at age 46, or get crushed against your mailbox at the age of 27 just when your career is taking off, or have your heart give out on a plane while you’re in the middle of reprising your most iconic role…

Well, it’s just bullshit.

When I say “Fuck 2016”, I’m not just saying “no” to all mortality. Like the death of an award-winning author who passed away peacefully at the age of 96 on Christmas Eve, survived and supported by generations of his children, grandchildren and great-children, and knowing that his estate will continue to provide for them for decades. I mean… how much better does death get than that…?

I’m not sad that people die at all, that mortality exists.

I just don’t like to see people get cheated.

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Woke As Fuck 2017


Here’s the short version of this post: I started a book club on Facebook. You’re welcome to join it and read along with us in 2017.

Here’s the long version:

The goal of the Woke As Fuck Book Club is to spend 2017 reading the stories, novels, essays and autobiographies of suppressed voices. The authors we’re going to read are:

  • People of Colour (anyone non-white, including people with ancestry from Asia, India, Australia and the South Pacific, Africa, as well as indigenous people from Eurasia, North and South America)
  • Muslims and other non-Christians,
  • LGBTQ or otherwise alternative in their sexuality
  • Disabled or Non-Neurotypical

I’m a genre writer and a life-long genre reader, so my major focus is going to be pulp fiction and graphic novels. I read primarily science fiction, fantasy and horror, but for the WAF Book Club, autobiographies and collections of essays are on the table. I may even sidestep into some crime fiction, romance or academic work along the way.

You could create a Woke As Fuck Book Club to cover any literary genre, obviously. I wanted to make this process fun for me, so I chose the kind of material I generally like to read.

If you were to start a similar program yourself, obviously you would choose the kind of thing that works for you personally. Maybe it’s poetry, or mysteries, or plays. Maybe you’d be reading investigative journalism or some other brand of meaty non-fiction. There are suppressed voices in every literary field, and the goal of a WAF Book Club is to deliberately seek them out and engage with them, in every meaningful way.

Here’s my current Book Club Manifesto. I may update it as the process goes forward.

The WAF Book Club is a study group. Our shared goal is to Get Woke.

We’re going to spend a full year in 2017 reading and supporting literature written by POC and other marginalized voices, including Islamic, queer and disabled authors, and possibly some female authors–although I am going to keep the works of straight white women to a minimum.


1. DON’T JUMP THE GUN. This is a big undertaking and things will get chaotic really quickly if we’re out of sync all the time, posting threads and links at random. Nothing wrong with reading ahead if you’re on fire, but please save your threads and comments until the rest of us are ready. We’ll get to every possible author as soon as we can.

2. KEEP IT FUN. Genre of titles for this Book Club should generally be some form of pulp fiction, personal essays, or autobiography. Science fiction, fantasy, horror and graphic novels are strongly preferred. (Because getting woke can be fun, right?) A few biographies and scholarly works or anthologies occasionally okay as well, but we are not academics.

3. BUY THE DAMN BOOK. Commit to buying the work new whenever possible, to support the living author and/or heirs of the author. When that is not possible, for whatever reason, try to find some other way to contribute to the author’s livelihood. Check out a legal copy from a library. Support a Patreon, or file a request that the book be purchased by your local library. Reading marginalized creators is good–but they also need to get paid.

4. WAKE OTHER PEOPLE UP. When you’ve read something, commit to publishing reviews of the work in whatever medium you can, including professional magazines and websites, fanzines, newspapers, your own blog, Amazon, Goodreads, etc.. Send fan mail to the author. Send letters and emails to the publisher asking when the next book is coming. Nominate the work for awards. Etc..

Feel free to add your friends and other interested parties to the group at any time to post, suggest books, etc.. If you find an interesting article or book about an author or a subject that is related to this book, please feel free to post it, or add it to the Woke List.

5. BE PATIENT AND KIND. With everyone. Including yourself.

The whole point of this exercise is to elevate your state of consciousness. That means you’re moving uphill, starting at a lower place by definition. I’m going to write a review for everything I read. Someday I’ll re-read those reviews, looking back from higher ground, and I may cringe a little at the way I used to think, the things I used to believe, the things I didn’t know and the things I didn’t see.

That’s okay. It’s worth it.

6. SHARE YOUR FAVORITES. Please post recommendations of authors (and specific books!) to the reading list at any time. The group will retain an ongoing list of books, comics and stories for future reading and reference, and we’ll have open threads for any book or author that we’ve already covered. If someone joins late, they’ll have the opportunity to jump with a new comment or link at any time.



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Why You Should Follow Me On Twitter


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Christmas Memories of Mister Bear

Mr. Bear walks into the room while I am putting on Christmas clothes for a Christmas party.

MB: “I don’t think that Christmas movies are really trying.”

ME: “In what sense?”

MB: “I just searched through the Netflix Christmas movie section. They have a movie called ‘A Christmas Puppy’. The cover is literally a picture of a puppy with a bow around its neck.”

ME: “And this represents a lack of effort.”

MB: “I would say that they are failing to plumb the depths of the human experience, yes.”

ME: “This is not drama which lives up to the ideals of Aristotle and Shakespeare.”

MB: “Look, I’m not saying that it’s IMPOSSIBLE that a movie called ‘A Christmas Puppy’ could be a deep existential think piece about what it means to be loved and wanted…”

ME: “So what you’re looking for is ‘A Christmas Puppy, by Søren Kierkegaard’.”

MB: “That would be awesome.”

People think I’m the weird one.

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