PC Koshinbun: Beast Master, Conan, and Luke as Mary Sue

Another day, another roundup. Here’re some recent consumables for y’all:

  • Cirsova’s got a piece about Otto Skorzeny, a diabolical, brilliant, intriguing member of the SS upon whom some great villains could be based.







  • Clinical psychologist Jordan B. Peterson recently engaged in a “debate” with Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News. Almost painful to watch in how one-sided this is.








Hard Vance: Dust of Far Suns

At our last (and first!) Bushi meetup, Gitabushi gifted me a number of old books, including a couple Vances. I also gifted him an old Vance book, but the trade was far from reciprocal, for JV is one of my favorites and Gita isn’t so impressed. C’est la vie.

Dust of Far Suns turned out to be another solid collection. Although one of the Demon Prince stories kind of dragged for me, I have yet to read a Vance story I didn’t appreciate as a work of superior quality. Dust is a pleasantly small little number with four quick and meaty short stories, unrelated so far as I could tell aside from all being set in the future.

Another notable fact is that they all seemed “hard” scifi to me. That is, Vance was never one to shy away from blending a little magic into his scientifiction if it suited a given story. These ones, though, all come across as scientifically plausible (to a layman like me, at any rate). There are parts, especially in the first and third stories, which go into some detail about futuristic technologies such as solar sails and image projection. Most of this was probably made-up science, but not being a scientist, I couldn’t tell.

The titular opening story is a cool little number about an old, hardened grump named Henry Belt, who is responsible for training space cadets. He’s bristly, he’s said to drink heavily, and everyone hates him, but he’s also responsible for turning out the best spacemen Earth has got. But he’s been informed by a prognosticator that he’s destined to die in space, and he’s getting on in years…so he tells his latest class that he doesn’t care much whether he makes it back this time. What will happen?

“Dodkin’s Job” tells the story of a Nonconformist living on a world run by the Organization, a global government run on red tape. Our hero is a man of no small intellect and ability, if he does say so himself, but he just can’t abide stupid, pointless rules and routines. But as a result, he’s been declassified (demoted in social rank and employment assignment) so many times that he’s only one strike away from becoming a “junior executive,” the lowest class comprised of the dregs of society. Still, his latest job is a drag and a new order has just come down that will cost him 3 hours of his personal time every day, just because some bureaucrat felt like flexing a little muscle. This will not stand!

“Ullward’s Retreat” is about a future in which space and privacy are at a premium. There are just so many people that a typical family lives in a domicile the size of a large closet. But not Ullward! This guy’s amassed nearly 3/4 of an acre – a veritable paradise, and he’s very fond of showing it off. But he’s about to set his eyes on something much larger…

“The Gift of Gab” was probably my favorite of this collection, and it reminded me in parts of The Gray Prince. The story starts off with the disappearance of a crewman from the raft upon which most of the tale is set. But where could he have gone?

Vance’s experience as a seaman really shows here as he describes parts of the raft and its operation, as its crewmen carry out their job of mining the sea for metals to be sent back to Earth (I presume?).

I’ve said before that I really enjoy the imaginative depiction of alien beings and environments in my scifi, and “The Gift of Gab” really delivers with its mysterious sea world the the strange life found thereon.

Overall I’d give this book a 4.5/5. Really enjoyed it!



Gordon R Dickson’s Dorsai!

My first exposure to Gordon R. Dickson came through his fantasy title The Dragon and the George – a quite exciting tale of a modern, mundane man thrust into a medieval fantasy world. It’s been done many times, but in this case our protagonist finds himself in the body of a dragon. Great book!

At the time of that post I was doing a bit of light research, as I am apt to do, and found that Dickson was more recognized and lauded as a scifi writer. Since then I’ve read Mission to Universe; it was okay.

His Childe Cycle is supposedly where it’s really at. Perhaps.

I just finished reading Dorsai!, and it was pretty good. I feel disgusting placing a comma next to an exclamation point, but here we are. Before getting into specifics, I think we’ve got another solid 3.5-4 out of 5 in this one. I got through it quicker than the last one (Lest Darkness Fall) and I daresay I enjoyed it more, but it didn’t blow me away.


Dorsai! is the first book (in publication order) of Dickson’s uncompleted Childe Cycle – a story meant to span a millennium, from the 14th to 24th centuries. At the time of Dorsai!, humanity has expanded to the stars and begun to diverge. While there are not (yet) any branches of the species, planets have specialized. The titular planet of the Dorsai, for example, is a society of elite fighting men. Most of the worlds’ commanders and the best troops available hail from the warrior planet.

The story focuses on one Donal Graeme, a Dorsai who has just reached adulthood. Of course there is something “odd” about him; everyone says so. As the story progresses, we follow his career and meteoric rise through the ranks. Obviously the guy is a genius! His true motivation is somewhat obscured, though revealed to us and to himself in a vague, slow-drip kind of way, until the end of the tale.

Dickson does a nice job blending action and strategy (both military and political). I was reminded a little  of Ender’s Game and Foundation, in the satisfaction derived from following as Donal devises and executes an unlikely plan or figures out something no one else sees.

His world building was also quite well-done on a macro level, I thought. By the end of the novel I felt like I had a pretty decent picture of the worlds of Man and how they interacted with one another.

Bottom Line: If you see this one in a secondhand bookstore, pick it up. It’s good, inspirational, classic military scifi.


*Spoilers Ahoy*


All that said…I think Dickson wrote a decent-good book that could have been great. I think he wound up bogging himself down with Big Ideas and fantastical elements that got no follow-through. Character development was weakish. Anea, Lee, Galt, ArDell Montor, William, and even Donal himself fall all prey here. We get glimpses into personality and motivation, but that’s about it. Donal’s uncle Ian felt to me like perhaps the closest thing to a whole character, but he didn’t really get any kind of an arc.

There is a part where Donal is told that he is special in some way and that he can walk on air if he believes he can. He proceeds to do so, but then dismisses this unexplained power and never makes use of it again. This thread is just kind of lost. What was the point?

At the end of the story, Donal explains that he has a superhuman sense of insight – that he can see how events will unfold: sort of a quasi-Muad’dib prescience, I suppose. He is a sort of unforeseen evolution (as opposed to Dune‘s Paul, who was the result of carefully planned breeding come to fruition sooner than expected).


This is all well and good, but the dialogue and explanations between Donal and Sayona felt excessive. To know that Anea was designed to gravitate to the most powerful man of humanity is enough. To know that Donal’s a superman who can predict the future is enough. Too much exposition!

There were several discussions throughout the story about the economy of the worlds. While I did find the idea intriguing – that because planets specialize they must trade and contract men and women of different specialties from other societies, this too became a little too dense for me to easily follow. The idea that some planets want to trade people as commodities, essentially, while others want to allow their workers some degree of freedom to choose their assignments – this would have a good place to end, for me.

One element I did appreciate was the bond between Dorsai men. Of course they were prepared to fight and kill one another when finding themselves on opposite sides. But in the abduction mission near the end of the story, Donal, El Man, and Ian wind up fighting and subduing a fellow Dorsai. He surrenders and they “hire him out” as a prisoner (an interesting if not immediately clear idea). He then takes them as far into the base as his honor will allow without directly betraying his commander.

Again, on the whole I found this an enjoyable read. But ultimately it felt like Dickson got too ambitious and got in his own way. He spent too much time on half-developed grand ideas that would have been better spent on further development of his characters.




The truth about Princess Leia

The internet is teaming and writhing with hot takes on Star Wars. Personally, I haven’t seen The Last Jedi and I feel no great desire to. I only finally watched Rogue One a few months ago on Netflix, so I may catch TLJ on TV or streaming out of curiosity someday. For me it isn’t so much moral outrage, even though a lot of the people involved in “New Star Wars” do show contempt for those of us with more traditional and conservative values. It’s more that I’ve reached my Star Wars saturation point. I still love the original trilogy. Knights of the Old Republic was great, and the old Expanded Universe was hella fun. The Clone Wars animated series was pretty well done, too.

But slapping the Star Wars label onto something isn’t enough for me to like it, and I’ve seen enough of the franchise’s recent offerings to know that I’m not really its target audience anymore.

Incidentally, when you’ve lost Bishop Barron, you know you’ve taken a wrong turn. I mean, the man is an excellent critic and can throw a strong rhetorical jab, but he’s also pretty charitable when it comes to contemporary media. After all, the whole “Word on Fire” thing of his is about engaging with and finding Christ in our modern culture, no matter how buried He may sometimes be. So when he watches your movie and falls asleep, and laughs at your protagonist…

The Bishop’s chief criticism of New Star Wars and the people involved with it comes down to this:

“The overriding preoccupation of the makers of the most recent Star Wars seems to be, not the hero’s spiritual journey, but the elevation of the all-conquering female. Every male character in The Last Jedi is either bumbling, incompetent, arrogant, or morally compromised; and every female character is wise, good, prudent, and courageous.”

I don’t want to say this 3rd-wave feminist mindset isn’t concerned at all with good storytelling, but certainly it’s far more interested in intersectionalist narrative and female/minority empowerment (whatever that means) than overall quality. That is to say its agenda is not entertainment but messaging.

I noticed this apropos thread in my Twitter timeline this morning and picked out a couple pieces:

Obviously not everyone is buying into this baloney, but the whole line of thought seems to be indicative of an all-too-common reductivist false duality: Either a female character is a Strong Womyn who needs help from no man or else she is a regressive damsel in distress and of no use to us. #NotMyPrincess

For the sake of brevity, I won’t delve into the character of Rey in The Force Awakens or the chick from Rogue One (I honestly don’t even remember her name). Let’s talk about Leia and the original trilogy.

The fact is, yes, she was a damsel in distress. Quite literally – she was a princess in mortal peril (about to be executed) upon the Death Star. Whether the princess can or does physically ask the knight to rescue her from the dragon’s lair is irrelevant.

She was again saved at Jabba’s palace by Luke and Lando.

She was also a strong female character. The two facts are in no way contradictory.

The thing is, even though the characters of the original trilogy fall into certain archetypes, they were layered. They developed. They all had strengths and weaknesses. And none of them were defined exclusively by their sex, race, or any other one element of their identity.

Let’s look at some more facts about the original trilogy, with a focus on Leia but keeping the other main characters in mind.

A New Hope

Luke: A farm boy who is good at flying. He is saved by Obi-wan twice early on in the film. Not a particularly great shot with a blaster. Not particularly quick to learn the ways of the Force. He is courageous, and he helps rescue Princess Leia. He is rescued by Han at the Battle of Yavin, allowing him to score the shot that blows up the Death Star.

Han: A somewhat greedy, roguish smuggler. He’s got tricks and skillz. Doesn’t want to bother with rescuing Leia until enticed by wealth. He’s gutsy and somewhat impetuous in a fight. He helps rescue Leia. Ultimately does the right thing and comes back to rescue Luke.

Leia: A princess with a lot of moxie. She’s got attitude and is willing to die for a righteous cause. Pretty good in a blaster fight (she might have even nailed a few more stormtroopers than Luke). Not a pilot; not a gunner; not a brawler; not a Force sorceress. She is rescued on the Death Star by Luke and Han and crew.

The Empire Strikes Back

Luke: He’s coming along. Does some jedi training. Rescued by Han early on on Hoth. Tries to rescue his friends on Bespin. Gets rescued by Leia when he’s hanging from a wire.

Han: Rescues Luke on Hoth. Shows some brains to match his fighting and flying skills. Woos Leia. Gets carbonited and his friends try to save him.

Leia: Does the courtship dance with Han. Admits her love for him. Kinda sorted rescued by Luke on Bespin, then rescues him. Tries to save Han from Boba Fett.

Lando: Put in a tough spot, he sells out his friend but in the end he decides to try to atone and make good.

Return of the Jedi

Luke: Helps rescue Han (and Leia). Instrumental in recruiting the Ewoks native to Endor to the cause of the Rebellion (and shows mercy in resolving the capture of him and his friends peacefully). Finishes his character arch as a space knight/wizard. Redeems his evil father. Still not insanely powerful in any regard, though the guy’s a man with his own skillz now.

Han: Rescued by Luke, Leia, and crew. Now he’s all-in with the Rebellion and with Leia. When he thinks she loves Luke, he’s even willing to step aside for the sake of their happiness. Quite a bit of progress from the selfish smuggler from the first film.

Leia: Helps rescue Han, then is rescued by Luke. Slays Jabba the Hutt personally. Fights alongside Han (and Luke) on Endor.

Lando: Helps save Han (and Leia). Plays an instrumental role in destroying the second Death Star, along with the heroic Nien Nunb.

So for the original trilogy, here’s my rough count:

(I’m not counting Lando here and only really listed him above because yes, there was a major black character in 1980 who did heroic and cool things. Finn was not the first.)


See, the thing is, in Star Wars a bunch of friends and comrades help each other out. They are all rescued at some point. They all need help. And they all reciprocate. Unless you give Luke an extra credit for blowing up the Death Star, Leia’s actually got a better ratio going than him! So yes, she needs rescuing! She also helps save her friends!

The pitting of the sexes against one another is idiotic. Luke, Han, and Leia are all brave. Luke and Han are men, and they show it. Leia is a woman, and she shows it.


There’s nothing shameful about this at all. She was a great character and a strong woman back when the men of Star Wars were strong and great, too. Before they were forced to compete and lose by inferior, agenda-driven writing. Back when she was Princess Leia and not General Leia. And the greatest sin here isn’t the incorporation of certain values and beliefs into the new Star Wars stories; it’s that it’s become so central as to render good storytelling secondary.




Lest Darkness Fall

It’s been almost a whole year since I read my first de Camp book, The Tritonian Ring. HP of Every Day Should Be Tuesday fame and I did our para-read of the title and both enjoyed it to varying degrees.

So how about Lest Darkness Fall, a title specifically mentioned in the illustrious (or notorious) Appendix N? This one fell into my lap not too long ago in my secondhand bookstore adventures, but I must admit The Appendix N Book Club’s recent coverage is what really spurred me to give it a read.


Long-story-short, I enjoyed it. Whereas I gave The Tritonian Ring a 3/5, I think I’d throw Lest Darkness Fall an extra point or half, putting it somewhere in the 3.5-4/5 range. Pretty solid.

Interestingly, there’s not a whole lot of scifi or fantasy going on in this one. The premise of the story is lifted none-too-subtly from Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and the hook is nothing grander than a bolt of lightning. Is it magic? Is it some kind of science (‘a la Frankenstein)? Who knows? Ultimately it’s irrelevant.

*Minor spoilers*

The retelling of a modern man thrust back in time, equipped only with his wits and a superior mental store of knowledge makes for a fun tale. There’s no (real) sorcery, no aliens or lost civilizations; not even any fellow time-travelers. But our American protagonist, Martin Padaway, must build a new life and achieve the lofty goal he sets for himself.

Reading about the economic and political dealings of a literal man out of time may not do it for everyone. There are some fight scenes and Padaway unwittingly finds himself in military command, but most of his victories come in the form of social manipulations and maneuverings. If you’re all about ACTION, this is another one you may want to give a skip.

*Medium-Spicy Hot Spoilers*

I have to say the story started down points with me because of the whole flawed premise. No, not random time travel that happens right after it’s posited by a random dude. That’s fine. It’s the idea that this archaeologist thought he had to save the world from the so-called “Dark Ages.” The idea that the time period after the fall of the Roman Empire was a historic black hole devoid of scientific and cultural progress may be a popular misconception that completely ignores the accomplishments of the Byzantine Empire and other parts of Western Europe, but…

De Camp was a history guy and he should have known better. And maybe he did, but he apparently considered Classical Rome some sort of apex. Still, it sticks in my craw to get this from the guy who reputedly criticized Howard’s works for not being historically realistic enough.

His disregard for religion in general was also pretty clear. The fights between various ancillary characters regarding different forms of Christianity (orthodox versus a number of different heretical branches) were sometimes entertaining, but more often I found myself put off by their silliness. Padaway himself didn’t really seem to see religion as anything more than a kind of tribal classification. “I’m a Congregationalist. It’s the closest thing we have to (insert religion) in America” became a gag line to be supplied whenever anyone asks him about his creed.

Perhaps this is why I didn’t find Padaway to be that compelling of a character. He’s got his principles, sure – he tries not solve his problems non-violently where possible, and he doesn’t pursue revenge when the opportunity is open to him. But he is a “modern man” in the sense that he doesn’t seem to give much thought to ideals or powers greater than himself (aside from the overarching goal of “avoiding the fall of Rome to the darkness!!”

Contrary to the Appendix N Bookclub guys, who sometimes take the time to identify “problematic” elements in these stories (to be fair Hoi seems to be more circumspect in this), I wasn’t offended by the end of the story, in which Padaway (a) realized he was a big-shot now and didn’t need to put up with women he wasn’t not completely enamored with (b) sent Justinian a letter advising him that he may want to nip Islam in the bud before it’s born (c) merely started taxing slavery rather than trying to immediately end the practice.

Padaway did eventually become a little full of himself, but I saw his behavior as somewhat of an adaptation to his new environment. It’s well and good to judge by today’s standards, but when you’re living in a rough-and-tumble world where might makes right and you want to survive, you build and display power.

As to the criticism that he was a little too good and knowledgeable, I agreed. It didn’t ruin the story for me, as he did encounter failures. He couldn’t produce a working clock. He couldn’t get gunpowder to work. It took a lot of trial and error to produce usable paper. Still, I did find myself thinking “who the hell is this guy?” Archaeologist who knows how to build a printing press, a stink bomb, a superior horse collar, a crossbow (ok that one I can maybe buy), brandy distillation, etc?


And he seemed to know certain historical occurrences almost to the day. “This deposed king should be returning to Rivella tomorrow.” Come on.

But those points aside, there was a lot to enjoy. His Arian friend the banker was a fun, if silly, character. I was pleased to see Belisarius make an appearance (though Justinian’s order prompting him to join Padaway was ridiculous). The story itself wasn’t overly long and moved at a decent pace. Though it was light on action, it had plenty of conflict. If you’re a fan of the kinds of stories in which a protagonist must think and bluff his way out of most sticky situations (I almost want to invoke Asimov, but his style is more serious than de Camp’s), you may enjoy Lest Darkness Fall.

In the context of Appendix N, I must admit this one more than any of the other entries I’ve read had me scratching my head. My first thought was “NPCs and hirelings (or whatever they’re called)” because this story’s got tons of them. Appendix N Bookclub talked about economics and world building, which I think is a great takeaway. When Jeffro did his retrospective on this story, he talked about domain-level play and provided quite an extensive write-up of in-game applications of some of its elements.

Bottom line: this wasn’t one of my favorite Appendix N reads, but I’m glad I picked it up. Enjoyable without being a masterpiece. But when you’re talking about part of body of work that’s of a high baseline quality, not being the best isn’t shameful.





Libertarians in Space: The Burning Bridge

I had a long train ride home yesterday and so I burned through a shortish Poul Anderson story I’d picked up some time ago free for Kindle.

It’s interesting – to many of the Appendix N crowd, Anderson is probably best known for his fantasy epic the Broken Sword and Three Hearts and Three Lions. But if you do a little searching, he wrote a lot of scifi. Some of that is on display in his last Appendix N entry, the High Crusade, but genre was a lot less well-(or rigidly)-defined back then, and I’m not really sure I’d call that particular story scifi.

“The Burning Bridge,” which is a single short story from the collection Orbit Unlimited, presents us with the story of a fleet of colony ships on their way to the inhospitable-sounding world of Rustum, a planet with 1.5x Earth gravity, an alien ecology, and 20 light years of space separating it from the rest of humanity. The colonists, a group of people called Constitutionalists, are scientists and freedom-lovers (“archaists”) that have decided to leave Earth in light of its increasingly oppressive government.


Suddenly a message reaches the fleet – the government has decided not to proceed with its “educational decree,” the last straw that set the 3,000 travelers on their exodus. Now the fleet must decide whether to proceed on their mission or to return home to Earth.

Of course, there are complications. Perhaps the most pressing is the consideration of time. Because of the workings of space travel, in two months the ships will have reached the “Point of No Return,” whereupon stopping and reversing course will actually take longer than proceeding to Rustum before the ships and their crew return to Earth. And because of the relativity principle of lightspeed, each day they continue means weeks or months more will have passed for Earth.

Admiral Coffin’s first instinct is to complete his mission, but he must wrestle with his compunction to grant the colonists and crew a say in their ultimate fate, and the practicalities and possible consequences of doing such. For one thing, it would be logistically impossible to rouse each of the 3,000 passengers in order to hold a vote. Furthermore, can Earth’s message be trusted? And can the colonists themselves, granted this perhaps false hope of returning to the comforts of their old home, be trusted to make the best decision for themselves and for humanity?

I won’t reveal what ultimately happens, but I will say that certain elements remind me of Gordon Dickson’s Mission to Universe, which would be published four years after Orbit Unlimited.

Coffin himself is a somewhat interesting character in what he represents. His name reflects his morose persona and the mournful state of his existence. A Christian in a world of heathens and pagans, he mourns for his faith and the razing of his father’s church to make way for a Buddhist temple. An aging spaceman in a time when Earth seems to be turning inward and losing its interest in the stars, he mourns his dying career.

This wasn’t the best scifi I’ve ever read, and if ACTION is thing that really gets you going, this one isn’t for you. Still, there is plenty of conflict, and the world Anderson paints draws you in and makes you want to learn more about it. It’s a nice little read, and I imagine it’s even better in the context of being one part of a larger story.




Worth a Watch: The Babysitter (2017)

Despite my growing fondness for weird tales and Gothic fiction, I’m still not really that much of a “horror fan.” A lot of modern horror movies are too reliant on cheap scares (oh shit something popped out and there was really loud string music!) and also I like being able to sleep at night without dwelling on dark and terrifying alternate realities.

But I do make allowances, particularly for horror movies that some might not even consider real horror. Netflix’s teen horror comedy The Babysitter is such a one. The trailer looked kind of goofy in an Evil Dead kind of way and gave off a sort of late-80’s-early-90’s camp flick vibe.

I gave it a viewing last week and on the Bushi Binary Watch Scale, I give it a 1 for “Watch.” Without saying too much about the plot, it’s able to successfully build and maintain tension while scattering in plenty of humor. While there are certainly a few gaping holes should you make the mistake of taking the story too seriously and there are silly moments, I wouldn’t call it a silly movie.

A word of caution – there’s a bit of dirty language, and that girl-girl make-out scene featured in the trailer does carry on a little bit longer in the film. It doesn’t get much more graphic than that, though, with the exception of a very brief scene with a couple in bed and a rather unsexy handjob apparently going on under the covers.

Aside from that, of course there’s gratuitous blood and violence. But in a fun way.

Evil Dead II
Pictured: Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams


Kaiju commented that it is definitely an homage to classic slasher films like Halloween. Personally I can’t point to any of that, but it did feel like a throwback to growing up in the 80’s and 90’s. The wardrobe and the cultural references were dead-on. There’s even a “hot girl getting in the pool” scene!


If any of this sounds up your alley and you’ve got a Netflix subscription, go check it out! There are definitely worse ways to spend an hour and a half. Like watching Mazes and Monsters.

Oh, and Bee’s SF Dream Team kind of sucks. Picard is a waste of a slot!