Friday Funnies: Lighten Up

panel from Ronald Wimberlys Lighten Up

“Lighten Up” is a comic Ronald Wimberly created about his feelings when an editor asked him to lighten the skin tone of a character in a Wolverine comic. As told, it’s one of those incidents you could call micro aggressions, one of those moments where the (unconsciously) racist assumptions underpinning (American) society come to the fore. If you’re not subject to them they can be easily overlooked or dismissed, but as seen here, they do resonate.

What got me thinking is when Wimberly aks whether a black editor would’ve asked him to change that skin colour only to note that he’s never had a black editor in twelve years working in comics. Because Marvel has had black editors in the past; Christopher Priest and Dwayne McDuffie frex. But they’re still rare to non-existent enough at the big comics companies for somebody to be able to work for over a decade without ever encountering one. And that’s a worry, because without people of colour, black people in positions of power within comics, the concerns of their readers and creators of colour will always come second.

Apart from its message, I just like the comic itself. It can be hard not to make a non-fiction comic into a succession of talking heads and static shots with most information carried through the text but Wimberly succeeded admirably. If you just had the text to read you’d miss so much; the continuous juxtaposition with html colour codes frex, or his use of Manet’s Olympia, or that “pin the tail on the racist” panel, a great example of text and drawing contradicting each other.

Resident Evil redux

Alice versus patient zero

Unlike myself, Mr Moth has played and is a fan of the original Resident Evil games the movies are based on. Therefore he’s considerably more hacked off at them than I was, though I can certainly agree with much of his criticism:

3) Paul WS Anderson really believes the Umbrella Corporation is staggeringly incompetent.

Umbrella manage to wipe out nearly every human in existence but to what end? They’re a business and the undead are not a target market. By the fifth film it’s clear that the Red Queen is intent on destroying humanity. The problem is that humanity is well on its way to total extinction by the time of, well, Extinction. Las Vegas is a ruin, buried by the Nevada desert in just five years. There’s no coming back from that, but still Umbrella hold board meetings and employ receptionists (exactly how were they recruiting their staff? “Are you a zombie?” “No.” “Welcome to Umbrella.”). Their long-term plan made no sense, and it’s worth noting that in the games, humanity is in much better nick.

But that’s ok, because they were never going to benefit from it, anyway. Every single one of their developments got away from them in one way or another. The Red Queen goes rogue and kills everyone. The Nemesis turns goodie. The super-secret exit to their bioweapons lab is besieged by thousands of zombies, kept at bay by the thinnest of chainlink fences. The airtight lab they store their highly infectious weaponised virus in has aircon vents that link directly to the offices. If their underwater base loses power, all their soldiers go to sleep during the power cut. They leave hundreds of clones lying around of their most powerful enemy.

The Resident Evil movies really only make sense as spectacles, especially after the first one, which I still think was a rather good suspense horror movie even if there were plot holes there you could drive a zombie horde through. The overall story arc doesn’t make much sense and Umbrella has to be the most incompetent, pointlessly evil corporation in the world.

And yet, having watched all five movies over the last two months, these are still entertaining movies that have the redeeming feature of starring strong, female characters who aren’t undermined by their male costars, hold their own without becoming the usual bad girl cliche. It can be so much worse, as a look at the Underworld series, that other naughties action horror with female lead franchise, shows.

“a covert kind of feminist SF”

In ada, “a journal of gender, new media & technology”, Lucy Baker looks at how Lois McMaster Bujold treats the birthing process in her Vorkosigan series and how it echoes real world feminist concerns:

Lois McMaster Bujold’s science fiction (SF) relies on the symbiotic relationship between the technological and the social. This is often illustrated by the tension between the scientific and medicalized process of reproduction (via uterine replicators, cloning, and genetic modification) and the primal, ‘natural’ process. Varied levels of technological advancement and associated societal changes across the myriad planets within her SF universe allow Bujold to structure this tension as an emotional and social process as much as a medical or obstetrical one, while maintaining a respect for the choices, risks, and vulnerabilities involved in becoming pregnant.


Bujold’s SF work highlights and integrates women’s experiences into the narrative. It is this examination and ultimately hopeful yet practical approach that makes Bujold’s work feminist – it is “Invention…stories and role models and possibilities, that prepare us to leap barriers and scale heights no one has reached before, that prepare us to change the world.” (Gomoll 6).

I only found this because it showed up in my referers one day, linking to my post arguing that Bujold writes hard science fiction. It’s further proof that despite her and the Vorkosigan series massive popularity, she’s still underestimated as a serious and important science fiction author. Partially it must be because the series is published by Baen Books, often somewhat unfairly dismissed as a publisher of cookie cutter mil-sf and other pulp and at first glance it’s easy to confuse the Vorkosigan books as something like the Honor Harrington series: lightweight entertainment.

That her gender also plays a part I’ll take as a given, though I note that hasn’t stopped her from winning an impressive number of Hugo and Nebula awards.

But what may also play a role is perhaps that Bujold is actually not obvious enough with her writing; as Baker argues, she writes “a covert kind of feminist SF”, nowhere near as overtly political as a Joanna Russ or even a Nicola Griffith. That the setting is the familiar sort of semi-feudal, aristocratic stellar empire helps hide this too, as the revolution the uterine replicator brings to Barrayar on the surface looks just like modernisation, not anything really revolutionary. In the same way the uterine replicator itself doesn’t look like hard science fiction because Bujold focuses too little attention to the technological side of things, but rather more on the social impact of it as filtrered through the point of view of her aristocratic protagonists.

(You could even make an argument that the overall story of the Vorkosigan series is showing the start of a bourgeois revolution, as progressive members of the old aristocracy make common cause with the up and coming rich merchants to remake the feudal system in their favour…)

And of course perhaps the most important reason why Bujold is underestimated is that she’s so very readable; you rarely have to struggle with reading her novels and we still tend to think difficulty equals genius.

Resident Evil: Retribution

Fake Alice closing the door on some zombies

Resident Evil: Retribution is the latest and so far last movie in the Resident Evil franchise. It starts with about ten minutes of recap of the previous movies, after which “Alice” wakes up as a housewife with a husband and a daughter. Cue a few minutes of syrup before the zombies attack. All of which turns out to be a danger room scenario, which the series is inordinately fond off.

Alice unchained

Real Alice meanwhile has been captured and is interrogated by evil Jill Valentine, which eats up a couple more minutes, before a power shutdown, which interestingly also shutdowns Valentine, allows her to escape. Despite the deadline she takes the time to pose here. To be honest, it is a nice shot of Alice in her badass uniform, against that white, sterile Umbrella corps background. Note the change in hair colour and length here.

Alice versus the Japanese zombies

The first real Alice set piece sees her re-enacting the zombie infection of Tokyo, which we know from the last movie but which is news to her. The last zombie facing off against Alice is in fact patient zero. This shot shows off everything I like about her: calm, cool, in control.

Big Wesker is watching you

Enter Wesker, the scumbag villain from the previous movie, the one who made everything worse and is now reassuring Alice that really, honestly, he’s on the side of angels and it’s the Red Queen AI who’s been behind the Umbrella Corp’s actions. Turns out she wants to wipe out the human race, which considering their track record in the previous movies, means she must be carrying out Umbrella’s true wishes.

Leon to the rescue

Wesker has sent a team of professionals to the rescue, including floppy haired Leon, who’s a much more important character in the video games. Here he’s just another bloke with a gun.

Soviet zombies shooting up capitalist Moscow

As the series has progressed, the bullshit has increased, from zombies to super zombies and here we have zombies intelligent enough to use weaponry and jeeps, something not seen in previous movies, so why now? Because it looks cool, probably, and normal zombies aren’t much of a threat anymore.

Good and evil square off

Meanwhile, despite dying in the first movie, that bloke in the middle is Alice’s boyfriend brought back to life by the Red Queen, as are the other non-mooks there. Alice meanwhile has gotten fake Alice’s daughter. The woman in the impractical dress is Ada Wong, yet another mysterious bad ass from the games brought into what’s essentially a drawn out cameo here.

Good and evil square off again

The climax comes with an extended battle on the ice, as brainwashed Jill Valentine goes mano a mano (wait, that’s not quite right) with Alice, while Rain on the right (also killed in movie 1) goes after the rest of the team, now reduced to Ada, Leon and that rapper dude from the previous one. The one true strength of the Resident Evil movies remains that it has so many kick ass women in it: Alice, Valentine, Ada, Claire Renfield, Rain.

Alice meets Wesker again

The movie ends with Alice meeting up with Wesker again, who now is the most powerful man in the world, holed up in the White House, defended by Umbrella and US army troops, the last surviving humans in the world, the logical end result of all of Umbrella’s scheming through the previous movies. Getting stuck in the White House, not the most defensible position in the world, being a prime example.

Asking SF readers to try something new is asking for trouble

K. Tempest Bradford has a modest proposal for (science fiction) readers ot broaden our reading horizons:

The “Reading Only X Writers For A Year” a challenge is one every person who loves to read (and who loves to write) should take. You could, like Lilit Marcus, read only books by women or, like Sunili Govinnage, read only books by people of color. Or you could choose a different axis to focus on: books by trans men and women, books by people from outside the U.S. or in translation, books by people with disabilities.

Science fiction readers responded to this with the openmindedness and willingness to explore new things for which they’re kno-oh gods who am I kidding:

Recently I wrote a thing which brought all the trolls to the yard. I’m used to it, but I wondered what it would look like if I just started saving the hateful tweets people send me in one place. Hateful being attacks on me personally, name calling, threats, etc.

The repeated chorus of how racist or sexist it is to not read white male authors is followed by racist, sexist slurs is …precious. Horrifying but unsurprising to see the slurs, but do these people actualy understand “racist” and “sexist” have an actual meaning?

Sady Puppy wrangler Larry Correia contributed his own very special brand of stupid (from File 770):

But the ironic thing about that picture? Tempest is wearing a Dr. Who shirt. A TV show about a white man and his white female sidekick, created by some white men, with episodes written by… Neil Gaiman.

Never mind that the good Doctor has also had a black British sidekick, or regularly has had adventures with a lesbian lizard woman from the dawn of time and her companion, the idea that reading only writers of colour or only women for a year meaning that you swear off all white men is just so incredibly dumb that you hope Larry doesn’t believe it himself, but you fear he does.

Professional kulturkampfers like Correira of course have to oppose anything that smacks of enlightment, but is it really too much to ask from grownups to stop being so incredibly defensive and be open to new reading experiences?

Little ditty about Rob and Helen

I’m so glad I’m not the only one who tought Rob was grooming Helen for abuse in The Archers:

The only soap I follow now is The archers, the last soap which doesn’t seem to think a month is a long time for a story arc. It is currently portraying domestic violence, although I am sure some followers are unaware it is doing so. A slow, realistic story of coercive control, where Rob has slowly moulded Helen to be the stay at home mum he wants, using all the techniques of emotional and psychological manipulation that real life abusers use.

I only started listening to The Archers because it was part of Sandra’s Sunday ritual but although it’s so often ridiculous it’s also addictive to see the storylines work themselves out over weeks, months and years. It is after the longest still running soap opera in the world and has a huge history to draw from. At times it also has the unfortunate habit to want to be contemporary and edgy, which tends to come off as cackhanded or patronising. Not so for the Rob and Helen storyline though, as Rob is scarily believable as an abuser. Warning bells should’ve rung long ago for Helen, but she doesn’t hear them because she’s in love, while from the outside it must look as if Rob, who was a bit of an arsehole at first, has mellowed a lot. But that’s only because he has focused his attentions inwards, getting Helen to become a full time housewife rather than keep working, something that currently is a new source of tension as circumstances have convinced Helen to get back to work…

It’s all been done relatively subtle and realistic, as far as The Archers can be realistic and it’s utterly chilling to listen to.

All her Children Fought

Proof you can tell a science fiction story with only three actors and one, not entirely convincing special effect. Based on the story by Tobias Buckell, who has the story of how it came to be up on his blog. It’s an excellent example of how much you can convey with just a bit of subtle incluing, by working within genre expectations. I can’t be the only one to watch this and be reminded of Ender’s Game, can I?

Some comments: I wonder if the choice of accents for the three actors was deliberate or just a coincidence, but it works in contrasting the boy and his minder with the main character. I’m not sure the premisse of the movie is valid, the reason why it’s young boys/children being sent up there rather than adults, but it makes emotional sense.

A week of short short stories reviews

So I made the decision to read through this list of 98 well received short SF stories from last year, as originally posted to MetaFilter, reading roughly three stories a day. The first week of posts is now up:

  • Introduction and list of stories
  • Day One: stories by Charlie Jane Anders, Eleanor Arnason and Dale Bailey
  • Day Two: Jessica Barber and two by Elizabeth Bear.
  • Day Three and Four: Helena Bell, Holly Black, Aliette de Bodard, Richard Butner, Richard Bowes & Chaz Brenchley.
  • Day Five: Siobhan Carroll, Dario Ciriello and C. S. E. Cooney.
  • Day Six: Julio Cortázar, Tom Crosshill and Amanda C. Davis
  • Day Seven: Amal El-Mohtar, Ruthanna Emrys and K. M. Ferebee.

It’s been interesting reading these stories this way, usually done on my tablet lying on the couch with a cat on my lap. Even if a given story isn’t too my liking, it’s easy enough to push through to a better one. I don’t read enough short stories normally and this is a good challenge to get me to read more.

Resident Evil: Afterlife

The infection hits Tokyo

If the Resident Evil movie series is good at anything, it’s at providing great looking images like this, set pieces that sacrifice logic for looks. Here we supposedly have patient zero infecting Tokyo with the T-virus, the first zombie to hit Japanese shores, but you would expect that after the destruction of Raccoon City and the subsequent spread of zombies over North America, Japan would be slightly more prepared for a similar outbreak, or that Umbrella would come clean about it. But no.

Alices attacking Umbrella

At the end of the last movie Alice promised Umbrella she’s visit them in Tokyo and she’d bring some friends. This is them. Alices and clones attack, loads of mooks die, not least from friendly fire as head baddie Wexler is not choosy in who he kills. It all ends with everybody from Umbrella and all the clones dead and Alice free to persue her quest for Arcadia.

That is a lot of the walking dead attacking that prison

Which turns out to be some sort of honeytrap, as she finds a lot of planes but no people, with the exception of a brainwashed Claire Redfield. They set off by plane along America’s west coast and come across a prison, surrounded by thousands of zombies, inhabited by a motly crew of survivors, most of whom won’t make it to the end of the movie.

you got to look good even after the zombie apocalypse

What struck me this time is how well groomed all these survivors are; Alice and Claire in full make up and pretty boy over there has kept his beard neatly trimmed. The Resident Evil movies always had a sense of style, but by now style has definately won out over substance. This is btw roughly were I first came in with the franchise, one late night after the football had finished. Back then I hadn’t realised how disjointed this movie was, one sequence stitched to another, or how much it was making up on the fly.

Knock knock

Case in point. This fucker. Suddenly there’s a supersized zombie king to make things interesting, a supernatural creature not seen in any of the other movies. This is something the movies have done before, when regular zombies are no longer enough, but it feels like cheating. Here it does what the run of the mill zombies couldn’t and break down the prison walls, functioning as catalyst to trigger our heroes frantic escape.

Surprise, surprise

They escape to the Arcadia, which Alice and co had learned was actually a ship sailing past the west coast, picking up survivors. It is of course a trap and of course it’s Wesker, who died in the first twenty minutes of the movie, who’s the mastermind, having infected himself with a new strain of the virus, keeping at bay with anti-serum and willpower. Cue massive boss fight including both the Redfields, Claire’s brother Chris having been introduced in the prison; a bit late, considering he’s once again an important character from the videogames not given his due in the movie series.

Jill Valentine working for Umbrella

A happy ending? Of course not. Umbrella, for all its incompetence in actually keeping a world worthy to rule over, are very good at having plots within plots and just as everybody is freed and the Arcadia is ready to become a haven for non-infected humans, up pop their gunships again. And who should lead the Umbrella forces but Jill Valentine, proving that a turn to evil always comes with a worsening taste in clothing, as she has her tits out and wears a not very comfortable looking leotard/fishnet combo.

Resident Evil: Extinction

a trench filled with dead Alice clones

You know, three movies into the franchise and I have to seriously wonder about how seriously the Umbrella Corp takes maximising shareholder value. So far, through their manipulative evil they’ve lost their super duper high sekrit research facility under Raccoon City, then Raccoon City, first overrun by zombies, then nuked to contain the outbreak and now at the start of Resident Evil: Exctinction we’re told the entire planet has been overrun. Society has collapsed, everybody but for a handful of survivors is undead and even the wildlife has been destroyed. So what is Umbrella doing? Staging elaborate tests for their Alice clones to run through and get killed. The end result is that trench full of dead clones. You do have to wonder about their priorities.

That is a flimsy fence to keep your secret headquarters safe

That danger room scenario wastes some seven minutes of an hour and a half long movie, only establishing that the bad guys’ base is in the middle of the desert, which is apparantly all of the US by now and that it’s surrounded by zombies kept at bay only by a flimsy metal chainlink fence. You’d think that the pressed mass of the zombies would’ve been enough to pull it down, but apparantly not. It also raises the question why and when Umbrella has been establishing all those super hight tech underground headquarters. This is in the arse end of nowhere, so they would’ve needed to bring in all sort of equipment and people to build it. For those of us living in cities with years overdue, far more expensive than budgeted metro upgrades, this seems unrealistic.

would you trust a diary you found at the feet of a suicide

Twenty minutes in, the macguffin driving the plot is introduced, a diary kept by somebody at the gas station that Alice stops at to refuel, after she escaped from the clutches of a hillbilly cannibal clan by introducing them to their zombie dogs. The diary talks about a safe zone in Alaska, free from infection, but the person who made it has hung themselves. Nevertheless, Alice is intriqued.

working for Umbrella is not the best career choice

So it turns out one of the things the bad guys are attempting is to find a (partial) cure for the zombie virus, giving the victims at least some of their intelligence back, curing their craving for flesh and making them into a docile work force for the Brave New World Umbrella wants to create. Needless to say it goes wrong. Needless to say yet another Umbrella scientist will find out first hand why working for Umbrella is a bad career move. It’s the casual psychopathery of the villains that makes you wonder why their mooks keep working for them, rather than just shoot the Umbrella board and lead scientists en masse.

Alice meets up with her friends from the previous movie

Meanwhile we’ve also been following Claire Renfield and her band of survivors scavenging for supplies, which includes some of the people we met in the second movie, including Carlos here. Alice comes back into their lives as their saviour from an attack by zombified crows, who’ve been feeding on the infected flesh of the dead. It’s the first and only time we see these crow attacks. This is the main weakness of this movie: it’s a series of set pieces that are supposed to overwhelm you with their awesomeness but fall short.

zombie party in downtown Las Vegas

What plot there is, is provided by Alice’s insistence they need to go to Alaska to look for Sanctuary, while the evil Dr Isaacs has become aware of her existence and wants to capture her for study. As the survivors go to Las Vegas for supplies, he sets a trap using his new, improved zombies. This seems wasteful but it’s Umbrella’s M.O. to kill off as many civilians as possible with each of their harebrained schemes. Here the plan is therefore to murder everybody including Alice and then take a blood sample. Things do not entirely go according to plan but it does allow some of the survivors to die a nicely heroic death.

Claire Renfield looking badass

It also allows Claire Renfield/Ali Larter to show off some of her badassery, which was badly needed. In the games she’s one of the more important characters of course and only introducing her in the third movie is a bit late. Interestingly she’s the third badass woman character to tag along with Alice in the movies, after Jill Valentine in the second and Rain Ocampo (Michelle Rodrigues) in the first. Which is I think one of the main virtues of the Resident Evil series in both games and movies, that there are so many strong female characters in it, without too much of the usual nonsense surrounding them.

Alice and friends

The climax of the movie has Claire and the remaining survivors escape to Alaska in an Umbrella helicopter as Alice fights off the now infected Dr Isaacs, killing him and warning the rest of Umbrella she’ll be paying them a visit. It’s a great image to end on, but it shows the absurdity of the whole series, the obsession it has with Alice. You’d think that after the apocalypse Umbrella would’ve lost some of its arrogance, but apparantly not.