Eight Week Waiting List For Buttsex

by Arthur B

Jim Bernheimer's self-published short story anthology has a few niggling issues.
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Regular readers of the site will be aware that Ferretbrain is a pretty happening site these days; we've got more people commenting on more articles, we have two whole podcasts up, we have snazzy business cards. I suppose it was inevitable that sooner or later someone would recognise us for the bigshots we clearly are - we've already had slightly dubious e-mails offering us silly money in return for a few links on the Friends page, which we courageously turned down because it was a blatant scam.

But now, at last, our international fame and prestige has won us that most precious resource that all Internet Critics dream of: freebies. You see, author Jim Bernheimer has a new short story collection out, entitled Horror, Humor, and Heroes, and he's sent us a PDF copy to review for the site. Score!

We actually had a moment of confused panic when we got Jim's request: is he serious about this? Has he read our reviews? If he has, does he simply have balls of steel or is he so confident in the quality of his work that he doesn't expect us to pan it? And most importantly, who gets first crack at the pinata?

Eventually our editor offered me the job on the basis that I've got as much claim as anyone to being the resident horror expert. Amusingly enough, title aside this volume has only the most tenuous of connections to the horror genre. Granted, it wheels out zombies and werewolves and vampires, but it invariably either treats them in a comedic manner or takes a more fantasy/SF-based approach to them: the zombie stories, for example, are more about the implications of mankind surviving a zombie apocalypse than they are about scaring the reader; they're "what if" stories that happen to feature the undead.

Horror, Humor, and Heroes is available in any format you could possibly want, from paperback to PDF to Kindle; the full range of places you can purchase it are avaiable at Jim's site. My PDF copy is a reasonably nicely put-together package, despite lacking the cover art (though that might be down to it being a review copy), although I did notice typos and grammatical errors unfortunately frequently. This is not the only aspect of Jim's writing where he really needs an editor to help him out, but it's the most obvious one; there's even typos in the opening dedication. Another oddity is that every single story in the collection has "by Jim Bernheimer" written prominently underneath the title, which in a multi-author compilation is obviously the normal state of affairs but is utterly pointless when you have a collection of short stories that are all by the same author and don't involve any collaborations.

Normally, with short story collections, I'd tend to focus on the generalities and pick out perhaps one or two stories for special comment, but I am going to take a different approach here and discuss each story in turn. This case merits such an approach, because each story is notable and inspires comment. (It's just that, ah, most of the time that isn't a good thing.) First off I'll discuss the various shorter tales, then I'll dive into Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, the novella that takes up about half the book, and I'll conclude with a look at the two-chapter preview of Bernheimer's upcoming fantasy novel series Battle Maidens.

The Short Stories


The Wolf's Story
by Jim Bernheimer


The Wolf's Story is a story written from the point of view of a wolf, a sort of more carnivorous Watership Down. Specifically, it is about Nal, an impetuous young wolf whose pack adheres to something which I think is intended to resemble Native American spirituality - they refer to God as the Great Spirit and are all about Nature, maaaan. Actually, the wolves' religion is more like Christianity, or rather a common evangelical Christian interpretation of how man lived before the Fall - the wolves believe the Spirit has made them custodians of the forest, and that as a result it is only fair that the other animals give them sustenance and sport, and animals can by and large talk to each other (being "of the Spirit"), but can't understand the speech of human beings (who are not "of the Spirit"). Oh, and they are closed-minded and judgemental and superstitious and they believe that crazy people are possessed by evil spirits and - wait, can anyone else hear that axe being ground?

Anyway, we find Nal taking time out from patrolling the forest to go on a solo hunt for a big deer that he can kill by himself and impress everyone with his skills. Let me back that up a second: he's a wolf, right, wolves being pack animals that aren't really known for solo hunts, their basic hunting tactics pretty much requiring the pack as a whole to participate, and he's hunting solo. I'm pretty sure this story is intended for adults - certainly, it's a bit too gruesome for small children - and I'm pretty sure that most adults who have any sort of interest in reading stories about talking wolves would want and expect the wolves to behave in a wolf-like manner, so this jarring bit of distinctly un-wolfy behaviour gets the story off to a bad start.

Anyway, we are meant to get the impression that Nal is an impetuous free spirit who isn't afraid to sass his elders, but he comes across as a preachy fuck - observe:
“If you have no pride in what you are and no joy in what you do, then your life must be empty and without meaning. I pity you.”
So, trotting through the forest with the egotism of an arrogant teenager, Nal encounters a wounded bear and wonders if the pack attacked it. I don't think wolves make a habit of hunting bears unless they're actually starving, but if Jim can't get pack tactics right he certainly can't be expected to depict a realistic food chain. (Incidentally, the narration is very dismissive about bears, which is odd because if the story had been about bears instead of wolves Nal could have been a lone bear wandering about being a forest guardian, and the story would have worked just as well and it wouldn't have flown in the face of bear behaviour.) Between the injured bear and the distant sounds of what are quite clearly gunshots - although obviously Nal does not recognise them as such - nobody's going to win any surprises for guessing that humans are encroaching on the forest, and they're packing heat. After encountering an injured fawn and having a chat with it (because it's his duty to investigate trouble in the forest), Nal resolves to solve the mystery of these strange forest intruders.

But not before eating the fawn. By himself. Not sharing a scrap with the pack. Because that's how pack animals work.

At first the men elude Nal, but in the middle of a prayer to the Great Spirit for guidance he's interrupted by the arrival of a raven, who is a sort of allegorical atheist in the same way the carrion bird in Animal Farm is an allegorical priest. We are told that ravens aren't blinkered by the religious worldview of the wolves, because they fly far and wide and learn about the world outside the forest, and then - gosh, there's that axe being ground again, louder and louder, who could possibly be doing it?

Anyway, the raven tells Nal about that crazy little thing called man and Nal tries to warn the rest of the pack, who are lead by a wolf called Fang because Bernheimer has no shame, but the pack won't believe him, and demand that Nal either provide proof or shut up. How he is expected to provide proof, short of dragging a human (dead or alive) into the midst of the pack, I'm not sure - I mean, he's a wolf, he lacks opposable thumbs, it's not like he's going to bust out his forensic skills and go all CSI: Nature on us. Incidentally, the scenes with the pack are a bit more interesting than the rest of the story, possibly because they are engaging in recognisably wolflike behaviour - there's a nice touch where it's mentioned that the wolves believe the Great Spirit lives on the Moon, so they sing hymns to the Spirit whenever the Moon is full.

It's during the course of his investigations that Nal has a chat with a wise old raccoon who explains that, yes, men do exist, and they have pointy sticks which shoot death at you. The raccoon conversation is important because it yields some much-needed context; the raccoon alludes to men turning others of his kind into hats, which raises images of the pioneer era of westward expansion in US history. "Oh," I said to myself, "the wolves are allegorical Native Americans - hence the spurious Native American trappings applied to their badly-photocopied Christianity - and the story is going to be about how their peaceful way of life that was perfectly in accordance with nature was savagely ripped to shreds by the Europeans." Fair enough; there's a mild Noble Savage undercurrent and a lack of understanding of the culture in question, but the motive is at least benign.

Then the raccoon mentions that there's two types of man - there's a white variety, and there's a red type who "throw sticks at each other with great force". Both are dangerous, both act in strange manners, both are not of the Spirit.

OK, so to recap: Jim has constructed a Noble Savage allegory with Native American trappings set during the pioneer era. And then he explicitly excludes actual Native Americans from the allegory by making them just as unintegrated with Mother Earth as whitey. So the true victims of the US's westward expansion are not, in fact, those silly human beings who had the dashed bad luck to get genocided, but the poor little woofles.

Oh, and the trees. Mustn't forget the trees.

Anyway, eventually there's a confrontation between Nal and Fang and Fang is all LISTEN NAL YOU'RE A LOOSE CANNON AND I GOT THE MAYOR GREAT SPIRIT BREATHING DOWN MY NECK, I'M TAKING YOU OFF THE CASE and Nal is like CHIEF YOU CAN'T DO THIS JUST GIVE ME TWENTY FOUR HOURS TO SOLVE THE CASE and Fang is all LISTEN SON YOU'RE A GOOD KID BUT YOU CAN'T FIGHT CITY HALL THE MOON IF YOU KEEP AT THIS I'LL HAVE TO TAKE YOUR BADGE and Nal is like SCREW YOU CHIEF, YOU WANT MY BADGE YOU CAN TAKE IT - I'M GONNA GO IT ALONE.

I'm paraphrasing slightly, by the way. But that's how the scene comes across.

Anyway, Nal lopes off to stake out the clearing where the lumberjacks are doing their logging, hoping to catch them at it in order to obtain proof, and his love interest (with attitude!) Teya shows up to help him, prompting this hilarious line:
“You risk much just by being here, Teya. Stay upwind from me unless you want them to smell me on you.”
What is he doing, pissing into a gale?

And then, quite predictably, things go to shit, Teya and Nal end up dead, and all the wolves cry and vow that the spirits of Teya and Nal will strengthen them in the fight against mankind. If you didn't see that coming, you're either 6 or brain damaged, which is a funny coincidence because that's the general level of sophistication the story assumes the reader has. With every plot twist and revelation telegraphed well in advance, The Wolf's Story is a suspenseless fairy tale. Whatever merits it had were suffocated at birth by a pillow stuffed with cliche and ignorance. To say that Horror, Humor, and Heroes doesn't have a strong opening number is putting it mildly.

Raw and Real
by Jim Bernheimer


If The Wolf's Story was mishandled, at least it tried to communicate an idea that wasn't completely trivial, vacuous, and obvious. The central message of Raw and Real is "reality TV is shallow and exploitative!", which is about as shocking and uncontroversial as saying that water is wet or that fire is hot or that Horror, Humor, and Heroes is a terrible shot story collection. In Jim's next compilation I fully expect to see stories about how bad airline food is and how George Bush sure was prone to verbal goofs.

That said, even though the concept behind Raw and Real is neither weighty nor original it is at least amusing. The story is set in the run-up to The Beast Must Die, a live monster-hunting reality TV pay-per-view special, in which three bounty hunters with outlandish stage personas are tasked to hunt down and kill "El Lobo", a Central American werewolf. Jim does have the decency to acknowledge that the idea isn't exactly fresh - the show is named after a hilariously bad werewolf-hunting B-movie, and it's briefly mentioned that the studio has had to fend off a lawsuit from the estate of a famous horror author for plagiarism - perhaps a reference to Stephen King and The Running Man. (In fact, one of the bounty hunters is a nebulously described man called the Gunslinger...)

The protagonist of this story is not one of the bounty hunters. Nor is it El Lobo, or the estate of any deceased horror author; instead, our main character is David, the executive producer of the whole sleazy affair. I get the impression that we are meant to intensely dislike David, a process which is hampered by the prose taking a sudden downward turn partway through the story, as if Jim half-finished a second draft and then gave up. I mean, check this out:
Five hours later, David muttered that his bonus better be huge!
That's just a horriby constructed sentence (especially with the exclamation mark at the end): it's as if the third-person narration slips out of a neutral tone and into David's voice.

That said, at least David has a distinctive voice. Pretty much every other character involved in the story is a one-dimensional stereotype. (The Wolf's Story was a bit like that, actually. It's like Jim can't quite stretch to writing two interesting characters at once.) For example, one of the Bounty Hunters is called Gangsta Mike and has a "posse" - but let's give Jim the benefit of the doubt there, Mike never gets any spotlight time in the story and it's entirely possible he was meant to be a stab at the way the mass media portrays black people.

Let's focus instead on the only bounty hunter who actually gets a speaking part - the big-titted bimbo who is only in the show to add some sex appeal. She hunts in a leopardskin bikini, and with her "huge knockers" and Amazon-themed schtick she's meant to be more popular with monster hunt fans than she really merits, considering her talent. Fair enough, she's a woman who allows her image to be exploited for ratings, it happens. Maybe she has a fully fleshed-out and colourful personality off-camera... oh wait, no, she's a shrieking prima donna providing comic relief in the manner shrieking prima donnas have traditionally done in stories about the entertainment industry for centuries. Oh, the hilarity as the producer gets things under control by calling her a bitch! On its own, this scene might be excusable - just because Jim writes about one female character being a spoilt brat doesn't mean that's how he sees all women, and David's intended to be a misogynist - but it's part of a disturbing trend that extends throughout the book that I'll comment on a litte later.

But what of the other major character in the story? Is El Lobo truly a monster, or has he been framed for a crime he didn't commit? You be the judge!
El Lobo spat at David’s feet, “My ‘victim’s fund?’ You mean all the people they say I killed in that village where I went on my rampage? Do you know that it was a stronghold of government opposition? Was I there that night? Perhaps, I do not know what happens when the beast overtakes me. I only know that I awoke the next day in the middle of the wild instead of the cage I went to sleep in. Forty-three is a considerable number of victims for one werewolf to kill in a single night, is it not? The number is even more impressive considering I traveled nearly twenty kilometers and bypassed another village to accomplish this feat.”
By the way, that's a nasty typo with the "victim's fund" (make your mind up, did he kill one person or dozens?), and it's repeated several times. There's actually the germ of a more interesting critique of reality TV than "it's stoopid" here - by posing as factual programming reality TV takes funding and attention away from genuine documentary and journalistic works. There could have been a nice opportunity for a subplot here - maybe instead of El Lobo spilling his guts an enthusiastic assistant producer could suspect the truth and try to dig into it, only to be overruled by David because there's no ratings in journalism any more. But no, Jim squanders the opportunity, and we are left wallowing in a story as insipid as the very thing it is satirising. Two pages later the producer is killed by irony and I simply can't bring myself to care.

My Son - The Monster
by Jim Bernheimer


This is a pretty short tale - it's only two and a half pages long - and it's quite fun. It's a brief reimagining of the story of Icarus and Daedalus, told from Daedalus's viewpoint. It's an interesting alternative take on the myth that fits nicely with the ancient Greek milieu. Unfortunately, the title completely gives away the major twist that Jim puts in the tale, but even if the title were different the game would still have been blown in the first paragraph. The idea is interesting, but the opportunity is sadly wasted.

The Red Badge of Doom, Charlie Horse, and The Rally
by Jim Bernheimer


A triptych of zombie stories next, with the longer Charlie Horse bookended by the extremely brief The Red Badge of Doom and The Rally. The Red Badge of Doom is so brief it looks more like a creative writing exercise than a fully-fledged story, and consists of the thoughts of a soldier on the frontline of the war against the zombies as he makes a promise to himself that he's going to take being infected and possibly turning within the next three days with dignity. It's nicely done, although the titular "badge" - a bedsheet with a big "B" on it, tied around the neck - seems like a ludicrous and jarring waste of resources in a war of attrition against the zombies, and seems designed for no purpose other than to allow Jim to construct a vaguely pretty image towards the end of the story.

Charlie Horse has more meat on the bones, but - like so many zombies - its guts are all inside out. The basic premise is that after a zombie apocalypse people have eventually managed to adjust, and have taken to using the zombies as a source of cheap labour and power generation. (The zombies are set to turning big turbine blades to generate electricity, which probably isn't actually cheaper or easier than just using conventional generation methods in practice but never mind.) It opens with a couple of zombie collectors venturing into an abandoned city to lure a few zombies out to be captured and processed; naturally, the young inexperienced one gets killed and the old pro feels bad about it and complains to his supervisor, a woman named Noel. (There are women named Noel? That confused me a bit because I've only ever seen Noel used as a man's name.)

So, Sean, our protagonist, spits a few cliches at Noel, and once again I'm having flashbacks to cheesy action movies and start expecting her to demand his badge. Of course, Sean quits first, in a scene which is almost as cliched; the most notable thing about the interactions between the characters is how stiff and artificial they feel. These people are supposed to have worked closely together for five years, but none of that ever comes across; the characters are simply wooden, cardboard cutouts painted with bright and easily-grasped stereotypes and designed to slot neatly into a cookie-cutter plot.

But then we move on to the actually interesting scene: a day at the zombie races! You see, Sean's fast-moving buddy, being in fairly good condition, has been entered into the races, and Sean realises he's a surefire bet to win, so Sean puts all of his life savings on the guy (whose name, in case you haven't guessed, is Charlie) so that he can win enough money to retire. Charlie wins the race. Sean retires and does not have to go zombie hunting any more. He feels grateful to his dead buddy.

You see, the problem is this story is told all backwards. What Jim needs to have done is cut the opening segments entirely - they're unnecessary and they show up the weaker points of the setting (such as the zombie electricity plants). The story should have focus exclusively on the Derby and concentrated on really getting us inside Sean's head, showing us the desperation that's brought him to gamble everything on this race and the fear that he'll lose and have to go acting as bait for zombies again next harvest season and his confidence that his "horse" will win. The revelation about the true nature of the "horses" should have been made about halfway through the tale, once the race starts, and then Sean's prior relationship to Charlie which gives him the inside knowledge he needs to win his bet should be revealed only at the end. As it is, this story blows all of its ammunition in the opening segments, leaving the ending a foregone conclusion. How dull.

The concluding part of the trilogy, The Rally is set in a political rally in the aftermath of "World War Zed". (Ouch, careful about acknowledging better zombie writers there, Jim.) The political speech presented is suitably emotive, despite some occasionally dodge prose ("He not only stands on his record, but he built a fortress on it!" - ow, the change in tense gave me whiplash!), but the story is otherwise devoid of substance. It's a three-page joke, and not very funny, which centres around a right-wing knee-jerk reaction to the "zombie tolerance act".

All in all, as a set of thematically linked stories these stories are remarkably lacking in thematic links, beyond the recurring zombie motif. The best one is Charlie Horse, and the other two could frankly have been cut without hurting the collection. Even then, Charlie Horse is botched, showing more potential than actual merit. Let's move on.

Reality Bites and Cookie?
by Jim Bernheimer


I'm reviewing them together because they seem to be earlier samples of Jim's work - apparently they've previously been aired on a horror podcast. Perhaps they worked better in the spoken word, but I have to say in print they are nothing special.

Reality Bites focuses on a conversation between a vampire and a lawyer for his life insurance firm, who refuse to pay out on his policy because he's undead rather than properly dead. The vampire's first response is to point out that he has a legal death certificate and the government is demanding inheritance tax from him, and threatens to sue. The lawyer laughs at him and points out that a jury would never rule on his behalf because of societal prejudice against undead.

Hold up there. Firstly, I'm not an expert on the US legal system, but I'm not sure whether a jury would necessarily be involved in a civil case about an insurance payout. Secondly, let's think about the implications of the lawsuit: our vampire can either win and establish in court that he is legally dead, in which case he gets the insurance money, or he loses and sets the legal precedent that he is not really dead, in which case he gets out of the death taxes. He ends up ahead whichever way the case goes. There is no reason for him not to sue. But he's an idiot so he tries a different tack. He tries to hypnotise the lawyer, fails, then she turns out to be a vampire, beats the crap out of him, and recruits him to be a vampire hitman for the government. It's all very abrupt and rushed.

Now, by this point I've started to notice a trend with Jim's female characters: they all seem to be hard-nosed, pushy types, or they're spoilt slutlets with an entitlement complex. Sometimes they are both. The lady wolf in The Wolf's Story was a bitch (literally hurr hurr), the women in Raw and Real consist of a spoilt slutlet bounty hunter, a hard-nosed assistant producer, and a nigh-characterless chick that the protagonist happens to be having sex with. There are no women in My Son - The Monster, The Red Badge of Doom, and The Rally. The two women in Charlie Horse consist of a hard-nosed pushy type (Noel) and a media slutlet (some actress who acts as bait for the zombies in the zombie race). And now we've got a hard-nosed, pushy lawyer who, once the vampire has left, begins to slut it up for the janitor when he shows up in order to get at his blood. I feel concerned. Does Jim have issues with women, or does he just have issues with writing women? It's hard to tell.

Cookie? is just bad, unfinished, unformed. There's no character, little plot (little girl talks to demon, demon has her make evil cookies which put people under her control), and no depth to it, just an extremely shallow glance at life on a trailer park. Poor people live in depressing circumstances? How nice to know. It would have been nice if that were at all relevant to the story.

Adventurers Beware
by Jim Bernheimer


This is a Dungeons & Dragons parody based on the idea that HEY ADVENTURERS ARE BASICALLY CRAZY. In itself, that is problematic, since it occupies a niche which is already well-populated by the likes of Norbert, The Order of the Stick, and a host of others. Much of the story focuses not on the adventurers themselves, but consists of a group of completely indistinguishable villagers with nigh-identical modes of speech discussing ways to get rid of them. It's reasonably well-observed, but caters too much to the niche for a general audience, and the jokes are a bit too stale for the geek crowd, who have surely heard them all before.

Wait, I tell a lie, some of the participants in the conversation are distinguishable by virtue of being female. One of them the buxom daughter of the innkeeper. The other one?
Duncan started to reply, but stopped. Wanda was a “sturdy” woman whose most attractive physical feature was her “personality.” He was fairly certain that Dirth Nimblefinger’s fingers were the only ones that dared touch the hag’s body.
Add "desperate fatty" to the extremely limited list of Jim Bernheimer Female Character Archetypes. (There's a bit later when he refers to Wanda's encounters with Dirth's fingers as a "female moment". Jim is a classy man!)

There's not much else I really want to say about this one, beyond drawing your attention to this especially loathsome bit of writing:
"Look at the buffoon! He’s wearing full plate mail, but every time he’ll jump off and almost fall over like a turtle. For what? Just so he can go over to help the unarmored elf off her horse. Hell! They’ve got me talking to myself again!”
Random people talking to themselves isn't a D&D cliche, it's a cliche of bad writing. Jim is using the fact that he is writing a parody to excuse his own terrible writing habits. What the hell, Jim?

A Matter of Perspective
by Jim Bernheimer


This one is about a nerd who is mistreated by emotionally manipulative beautiful women who mainly fall into the "nice tits but selfish and stuck-up" category of Jim's female characters - specifically, there's the hilariously named Bunny, the nerd's socialite ex, and her pal who is just as shallow. Like with Raw and Real, I'm a bit confused as to how to handle this - on one hand, the female characters are horrible, but at the same time the central character is a nasty little shit so that might just reflect his perceptions of people. Except the female characters in stories with a more neutral point of view are also horrible. Hmmm.

Anyway, this nerd is also a mad scientist who has invented a reality inverter in order to win Bunny back. Actually, it's more of a class inverter, a sort of zap gun which shoots a ray that flips your social status; Bunny's friend turns into a trailer park tramp (again with the knee-jerk dislike of people from trailer parks!) and her male friends turn into hicks, for example. When turned on Bunny it takes away her Oxford education and "about twenty points of IQ" but gives her huge tits. (I will miss my doctorate when Jim Bernheimer flips out on seeing this review and comes after me with his reality inverter but it's good to know there'll be a plus side.) Eventually, he shoots himself and turns into a redneck and gets back together with Bunny, who because she is now trashy and of a low nature is happier to shack up with him than she was back when she had standards.

Oh, Jim. I do worry about you.

The View From My Room
by Jim Bernheimer


Suddenly, bafflingly, Jim pulls out a genuinely excellent story. Why this gem was buried here rather than leading the collection is a mystery to me; certainly, if Jim hadn't solicited a review I would have never have read this far otherwise. It's got a strong concept and great characterisation of the protagonist; if I were Jim I would jettison the rest of this collection, keep this one, and keep practising until I had a book's worth of stories of equal merit.

The story, told in the first person, is about Adam, who is the first human being to be born on the lunar colony, and is as a result something of an international celebrity simply by virtue of having astronauts for parents. It's a tale of the nervousness he feels leaving the sheltered existence he has enjoyed on the Moon and heading off to college on Earth - the first time in his life he's ever set foot on the mother planet - it's genuinely moving, raises some interesting ideas, has plot developments that actually take you by surprise, and has an air of emotional verisimilitude about it which none of the other tales in Horror, Humor, and Heroes ever manage to attain.

Of course, maybe I'm just going a little funny after wading through Jim's sewage and mistaking a competent and average story for a great story that shows real verve and talent. I hope not, for Jim's sake, because the rest of the stories in this collection are even worse than the ones that came before.

Lieutenant Armchair
by Jim Bernheimer


The premise behind Lieutenant Armchair might have proven to be interesting if Jim had chosen to engage with it instead of taking yet another opportunity to express his ideas about male/female relationships. In a fierce ground war against giant mutant animals that have taken over many agricultural states of the USA, the draft has been reinstated. Since this is a mildly dystopian near future, officers are considered too precious to risk their lives on the front line, so they issue their orders remotely via radio and only the drafted grunts actually go toe-to-toe with the garguantian bees and the titanic deer and the ubercows. Since this causes a certain amount of resentment, their voices are digitally masked, so the troopers never know who their commanding officer is, or whether they have the same officer this week they did last week. (Keep that in mind, because it's going to be relevant.) Because the officers stay at home in the bunkers and give their orders remotely, the soldiers refer to them as "Armchairs".

Anyway, the story, opens with a bland and confusing battle scene that introduces us to our protagonist, Gibson, and his unit, a squad of soldiers differentiated only by ethnicity and rank. There's a Hispanic guy named Chico and who calls people "ese" and has no other character traits, and a Jewish guy called Moses who is the subject of lots of Exodus-themed jokes and wonders whether the canteen food is kosher and is generically wise and says "shalom". Jim really didn't need to give these guys much in the way of a rounded character since they have absolutely no bearing on the story, but it's nice to know that he can deliver an offensive stereotype in as few words as possible.

Anyway, there is a lot of shooting and yelling and the protagonist sasses back to the unit's current commanding officer in a way which would get him in serious shit in any real army. He isn't disciplined when he comes off duty, and he goes to a bar to score some action. After chatting with his sassy and promiscuous ex-girlfriend, he finds the bar's regulation Jim Bernheimer Hard-Nosed Frigid Bitch (a female archetype from the Jim Bernheimer line of cardboard cutouts). Gibson, our manly hero whose irreverent attitude we are meant to respect and admire, hassles the ice queen for a while until she starts crying and then calls her a whiny little bitch. This makes her shut up and do what he says, so he takes her outside and sits with her and makes small talk and then they start making out. Classy as ever, Jim!

Then the very obvious revelation that she was the Armchair on the day's patrol comes up. So there's some arguing and she starts crying again and Gibson twists the knife a little before making nice and building her up again, and then yells at her again to shake her up a little, and then they get back to the making out, and then they go off and fuck. There's a lovely exchange between them around this point:
“Let’s go to the suites,” she says with determination. “I think we both need this.”

“And protocol?”

“You’re probably a guy from the motor pool who smells a little like gas. I could be a nurse who has seen one too many body bags. It’ll be our little secret. Besides, you haven’t lost a member in eight weeks. That does mean you’re good. I can do a lot worse. The next group I end up with could be a complete waste of sperm.”
And a little later:
Her reply is a husky laugh. “You must have said three or four times today how you wanted to shove something up my ass. I’ve got standards, Mister! Survive another eight weeks and I might consider it. C’mon draftee, let’s see if you’re any good without the flamethrowers!”
The story concludes with Gibson, more laid-back after a three day sex binge, out on patrol and engaging in sly banter with Miss Armchair over the radio, whilst she is more capable of respecting her subordinates and giving them instructions because she has had Gibson's penis inside her for three days. In the final line of the tale Gibson expresses his hope that the current tour of duty lasts eight weeks - ahahaha! The punchline is buttsex!

Confessions of a D-List Supervillain
by Jim Bernheimer


We've made it through the short stories! Why not have a rest and a drink of water or something. You're going to need to keep your strength up for the final stretch. About a third of Horror, Humor and Whores Heroes consists of Jim's magnum opus, the novella Confessions of a D-List Supervillain. It's the story of a third-rate supervillain called Mechani-CAL, who is a talented inventor who isn't really cut out for the supervillain lifestyle and who keeps being overshadowed by a far more popular superh-

Oh, hello Dr Horrible, nice to see you. I almost didn't recognise you under the mechanical suit.

Chapter 1: I Went To New Orleans (and All I Got was This Lousy Prisoner!)


Anyway, the story starts with him about to be taken down by the Olympians, a superhero team of twelve college students who were given their powers by the Greek Gods. (I've got to admit, that's a pretty good superhero concept.) The twist is that the Evil Overlord, top supervillain in the evil genius field, has had a mild accident in his genetics labs, causing the uncontrolled release of a swarm of mind controlling aliens that within a fortnight have taken over most of the world and are busily organising a hivemind - and the Olympians, like everyone else of significance, are under their control! Which is a cool twist, but I don't think it needed to be revealed immediately; it could have been nice to start with a normal superheroes-vs-villain battle and have Mechani-CAL slowly realise that something is wrong with the Olympians.

Meanwhile, I'm slowly realising that something is wrong with the narration: it lurches uncomfortably between first person present tense and first person past tense on a regular basis. Rookie mistake, Jim: pick one and stick to it, and if in doubt go with past tense. Anyway, the battle concludes with Cal killing the parasite on one of the Olympians and escaping with her. No prizes for guessing by this point that it's Aphrodite, Cal is as classy as all of Jim's other protagonists:
“Too slow! We can go faster if I carry you. Grab on!” Alright, just about every guy’s and more than a few girl’s dream is to wrap their arms around Stacy Mitchell, the most heavily-photographed woman in the world, but I never thought that it’d be happening to me. If I survive, it’ll definitely go in my memoir, or at least in an email submission to an adult magazine.
Oh look, they've got to his hideout and he's desperately trying to impress her like a teenager trying to convince his girlfriend that his bedroom doesn't smell as bad as it actually does. When she mentions that her powers are sexual in nature and need "recharging" my heart sank, but thankfully it turned out that it was just a ruse of hers to try to get Cal to let his guard down - he guesses, correctly, that the bugs are addictive somehow, and she's currently going cold turkey and is desperate to knock him out, run away, and get her fix from her roachy overlords. So he locks her in his cellar until she calms down and plays nice.

Here's a revealing passage:
Stacy is trying new tactics with me. Instead of screaming and threats, (which got progressively more graphic) she wants to be my friend. It won’t last, but I’ve got to hope she can kick this thing. She doesn’t know the “lament of the nerd.” Every geek that gets into their late twenties looks back at all the girls/women that crossed their path and sees how the good-looking ones were always trying to get something. How many of them had I helped in study groups? They never overlooked the bad acne and eczema that followed me to UCLA. How many tires did I change and computers did I fix, hoping for a number from a grateful coed? How many boxes and pieces of furniture did I carry because a pretty pair of lips asked me?
Now, after David in Raw and Real and the inventor in A Matter of Perspective and Gibson in Lieutenant Armchair I think it is safe to come to the conclusion that Jim Bernheimer writes about guys with women issues far too frequently and too believably for it to simply be an artistic choice: I think he actually believes this shit. Jim, I know it's hard being rejected but you've got to get over it. Women hate it when guys get too desperate, especially when that desperation makes said guys lock said women in steel boxes and let them sit there coated in their own shit.

Chapter 2: Songs That Get Stuck in Your Head


This chapter opens with Cal bumming about in his lab, Aphrodite sitting around coated in her own shit in her cell (to be fair, she has access to shower facilities, she's just too mad to use them, but it's still an incredibly demeaning position for her to be in), and the past and present tense still doing a dizzying tango. Jim continues to weave his geek fantasy of having a superpowered supermodel stuck in his house, not allowed to leave until she is nice to him. At one point she has a mild heart attack and nearly dies. Cal revives her, and Stockholm Syndrome begins to set in. I begin to know how it feels. Words start bleeding into each other, I'm having trouble concentrating, and I am bored out of my skull. The monotony is briefly broken when one paragraph is printed in italics for no discernable reason.

Oh, and Aphrodite throws a tantrum so Cal knocks her out and clamps a big metal helmet on her head so she can't use her psychic powers. A bit later, to test out his new battle suit, he releases her from the iron mask and then beats her up. Jesus, Jim, do you have something you need to talk to a counsellor about?
I absorb her next four blasts, and my pulse rifle blows her into the adjacent cell. She’s bruised and beaten, barely able to stand.

I drop the rifle and grab Stacy with both hands as she tries to flee out the opening into the cellblock. Somewhere in all this, she became a symbol of all my failures and all the people who’ve beaten me.

I push her into the wall face-first and hold her there for a minute, unsure of what to do next.
His brilliant plan is to tell her to go to the bugs and get her fix, while he blows up his base and commits suicide; she's been bug-free for over a fortnight, if a strong-willed superhero with divine power like her can't give it up after that time then detox is going to be impossible, so he may as well just die now. Naturally, she is a bit conflicted but she chooses to stay with him and fight the good fight. Hooray for Stockholm Syndrome!

Chapter 3: Like I Need Another Reason to Invade Branson, Missouri


Aphrodite and Cal start the fightback by activating a few hidden caches of combat robots while they bicker in a way which is meant to come across as amusing banter but just underlines what a bitter dickhead Cal is. Then they attack some town in order to get the attention of superheroes and whack the bugs off of them. Another confusing and weirdly boring fight scene follows and some of the supers are debugged. Cal and Aphrodite capture two, and go back to the hideout to stash them in the cells until they detox. I have entered a strange state of consciousness where everything is completely dull. It was the fight scene that did it. Yes, the fight scene. It was full of short sentences which were meant to sound snappy. They did not sound snappy. They sounded dull and lifeless. Like an old man reciting an office's fire safety procedure. Quite dull. Yes. Quite dull. At least the past tense and present tense have stopped dancing about. The fact that much of this chapter is taken up by another creepy detox sequence might also have something to do with it. ("One man! One basement! Three beautiful women with Stockholm Syndrome! It's Friiiiiiiiitzlmania!")

Chapter 4: Free Choice and Other Positively Stellar Ideas


Happily, Jim decides to accelerate the pace of the story a little bit and advances the timeline by one raid-and-rehab cycle. By this point, Cal has assembled quite a decent resistance force, augmented by some liberated robotic superheroes. There is some banter, hampered a little by the fact that everyone sounds the same. Aphrodite asks Cal out on a date like we all knew she would, and then she has a girly chat with Athena where she convinces her that Jim Bernheimer Cal is awesome. Everyone puts their heads together and technobabbles as hard as they possibly can and they come up with a plan for saving the world which - IRONY! - involves breaking into the Olympians' HQ. It's all very nice and cosy and everyone's sort of getting along and it's like a Justice League cartoon. Except it's a Justice League cartoon which involved extreme and sustained abuse and violence towards women in the first act.

Oh, and Aphrodite and Cal finally fuck.

Chapter 5: War Dialing FTW


Because Cal has no self-esteem and all of Jim's women issues he's already trying to work out whether Aphrodite is exploiting him as the party sets off to attack the Olympian stronghold.

They win.

Cal gets the girl.

Because he loves her for who she really is, not the superhero.

She knows this because he's seen her on cold turkey and covered in her own shit.

Shit she was coated in because of him. Keeping her prisoner. In his basement.

Fucking hell. I think Jim just scored one full Goodkind on the Fantasy Rape Watch scale with this one.

Battle Maidens: Book One
by Jim Bernheimer


The compilation concludes with two chapter series from Jim's upcoming epic fantasy series, Battle Maidens.

Oh god, he's trying to do an epic fantasy series.

Oh god, he's going to try to write about women.

I am filled with fear and trepidation.

Chapter One: The Cracked Horn


Battle Maidens opens with with the protagonist, Majherri, and his companions entering a town, one of a series they have visited on a long journey in the company of their Battle Maiden riders. You see, Majherri and his friends are unicorns, and whenever they come into town all the people are very excited, especially the young girls. Majherri is weary from touring and has clearly had a lot of groupie action, for we are told that "He was tired and didn’t fancy yet another town full of maidens fondling him." But this is not a trivial fondling: no, this fondling is serious business, for the single unicorns like Majherri (who has lost his previous rider) are seeking suitable young girls to pair up with. They are the unicorns of the ancient order of the Battle Maidens, and their Bond with their rider makes the Maiden-unicorn pairing an excellent team. But Majherri has a problem: he is old, his horn is cracked, and has broken at the tip. It's been so long since he lost his last rider, this may be Majherri's last chance to establish a Bond before it's too late! With the opening scene of Battle Maidens Jim Bernheimer is asking us a striking and difficult question: Can a tired old warhorse find the right maiden to fondle his embarrassingly small horn?

Hurr.

The opening chapter gives us a taste of what to expect from Battle Maidens: dull, stilted dialogue and hilarious Freudian imagery. Like with so many of Jim's stories, there's a kernel of a decent idea in there - the Battle Maidens, as well as being ferociously powerful cavalry riders, know various interesting types of magic vaguely connected to the four classical elements, making them pretty damn kickass for female characters in a fantasy novel, and there is a noted lack of chainmail bikinis. This is frankly amazing for Jim; I suspect he wrote this one with an eye to appealing to the ladies rather than indulging in his fantasies.

But that doesn't change the fact that this is basically Pern with unicorns. Unicorns with inferiority complexes about their horns, and women who get all of their magical prowess through their connection to the unicorns. That's right, ladies: if there ain't no horn in your life, there ain't no magic.

This story isn't really about the Battle Maidens, see; it's all about Majherri and his own maiden problems. You see, his rider died, and that's not how it's meant to go: the unicorn is meant to die for the sake of the rider. Can his heart heal and ever know the sacred Bond again or has his horn been fondled for the last time? More importantly, will Jim Bernheimer ever write a story which isn't about men and the trials and tribulations women put them through? Dumb bitches, they won't stroke your horn, they cry when you lock them in a cell, they whine when you beat them up, they make you wait eight weeks before yielding up sweet, delicious buttsex...

Anyway, Majherri isn't picked by any of the snooty rich girls but finds a poor teenage girl who wasn't allowed to take part in the choosing due to some social stigma. She gives him a hug and he immediately pops a horseboner feels the Bondspark. Oh yeah, there's life in the old horse yet!

Chapter 2: The Girl in Poor Standing


The girl is called Kayleigh, apparently, and she wasn't allowed to take part in the choosing because her mother is suspected of being a whore and nobody knows who her dad is. That's probably going to be plot-relevant in the future. Not that we especially care about this, because Jim doesn't really seem to care either; he doesn't write Kayleigh anywhere nearly as convincingly as he does Majherri. It's almost as if Jim struggles to portray emotionally realistic female characters or something. In fact, Majherri's problems manage to upstage Kayleigh in her own chapter, when the Battle Maidens leader (canoness? Why not, they're basically the Sisters of Battle with unicorns...) yells at him for bonding with a girl too old - why, you're only meant to Bond with thirteen year olds!

Hurr hurr hu- wait, actually that's kind of sick.

Anyway, Kayleigh take's Majherri's side, because that's what she's there for - to help and support him, rather than be a full character with her own problems. All of the difficulties she faces in life stem from her background, and when she joins the Battle Maidens she'll travel far away and never meet most of the people who know her history again; oh, there's that bitch of a rival who's been picked by one of the nastier Unicorns, but she's clearly either going to be redeemed and be friendly or go evil and be a legitimate kill target in due course. No, the fact of the matter is that Kayleigh's problems are raised, examined, and dismissed extremely quickly, and Majherri's issues come to the fore yet again. It's almost as if Jim is more interested in the male protagonist than the female one!

That's the end of the sample, and I am left speculating what will happen to Kayleigh when she's off training with the Maidens and Majherri can't protect her from the wrath of her superiors. I bet she ends up in a Sisters Repentia squad by the time she faces her first battle.

Jim's Problems


Horror, Humor, and Heroes is a self-published book. It is easy to see why; were I a publisher I would fire an editor who approved of any of these stories, with the exception of The View From My Room and maybe My Son - The Monster. But Jim clearly wants to be a professional author these days and make sales to publishers that impose higher standards than Lulu and vanity press operations. How can he go about improving his work so that it can be lifted to the standard that we know, from The View From My Room, he is perfectly capable of?

First, Jim needs to either sort his head out or seriously address the way he addresses certain subjects. I've made fun of him a fair bit in this review, but joking aside he really does come across as someone who has deep-seated issues with women. If he genuinely mistrusts women then he needs to talk to a professional about that; if I've got the wrong end of the stick, that's fair enough, but he needs to seriously look at how he portrays female characters, and sexuality in general, if he's to avoid disasters like Lieutenant Armchair or Confessions of a D-List Supervillain.

While he's at it, he could work on trying to portray women, members of ethnic minorities, and people of different social classes from him as human beings instead of cardboard cutouts.

Actually, the white men of his own social class could do with some more characterisation.

And the wolves.

OK, so his characterisation sucks and needs a serious amount of work.

Secondly, he needs to be more selective about what he puts out there. I get the impression that Jim compiled this book by opening up his writing folder, dumping all of the stories he's failed to sell professionally into a PDF document, and adding some dedications and a copyright notice. Had he simply kept those stories back and continued to work on them until he managed to get the better ones into a sellable state and satisfy himself that the lesser tales aren't worth wasting further time on, he would have improved significantly as an author, and he wouldn't have this embarrassing abortion of a collection staining his bibliography.

Thirdly, he needs to stay well away from self-publishing. In this day and age self-publishing is too easy; there's little to no financial risk, which means that you can put out any old crap you like, and because there's no editors to please there's no impetus to improve - so long as you think it's good enough, then it's good enough, right?

Wrong. I think Jim and others like him are seriously stunting their growth as authors by taking the self-publishing route instead of submitting their work to editors. It is all too easy to insulate oneself in a warm, glowing bubble of positive feedback these days, and you're never going to grow as a writer like that: you need someone to kick your ass and rub your face in the mess you made on the carpet and show you exactly what you've done. A good editor would have thrown most of these stories straight back at Jim and given him pointers on how to salvage the ones that are worth salvaging; they would also have sorted out most of the typos and grammatical errors which are scattered throughout the book. Ramsey Campbell is an excellent example of why editors are incredibly important to a new writer; his earliest efforts are absolute dreck (and thankfully only one has seen the light of day), but with the advice of August Derleth he was able to take the sixth-rate Lovecraft pastiches he'd submitted and rework them into The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Unwelcome Tenants. Which, granted, was a first-rate Lovecraft pastiche, but it was a decent start to his publishing career.

Sadly, Jim has chosen to lose his bibliographic virginity far too early. He is trying to run before he can walk, and he doesn't even have a decent running coach to tell him when he's going off the track. When he's on form, as he in The View From My Room and just about no other story in this collection, he really is quite good. But he lacks all discernment and judgement when it comes to his own work and can't tell his shit from his silver. It is an absolute crime that a decent story like The View From My Room must be hidden beneath piles of steaming hot literary excrement, but that is what Jim Bernheimer has done. He is suffocating his own best work. He is living proof that easy access to self-publishing technology can horrendously damage your growth as a writer. Please, aspiring authors everywhere, heed the warning. And please, readers, don't buy this book: you will not do Jim any favours by encouraging this. If you must read some of his writing, his fanfiction.net page is here, knock yourself out.

If you are a creative sort who would like Ferretbrain to review something you've made, then please contact the editor using the instructions on the About page. Go ahead, make my day...

Corrections!


I have been asked to point out two factual errors in the review.

Firstly, I misremembered which wolves died in The Wolf's Story. Nal dies, his love interest does not. I do not, however, feel that whether she lives or dies really affects my main complaint about the story, namely that it's a noble savage story which portrays the primary victims of the westward expansion of the US as being the poor little woofles.

Secondly, at no point in Confessions of a D-List Supervillain is it explicitly stated that Aphrodite ends up covered in her own shit. However, it does state that in one instance she has a seizure vomits and pisses herself. I suppose it's not completely impossible for her to have some sort of special seizure where she loses control of her digestion and her bladder but her super-bowels are a-OK, but that's kind of a stretch.

Whether Aphrodite ends up covered in piss, shit, and vomit, or just piss and vomit seems to be supremely academic to me. Granted, she's coming off magic sci-fi heroin, this sort of incident is to be expected. Granted, she is being kept in confinement, some rehab programs demand that. But Cal is playing her the same song over and over and over again for hours on end. That is psychological torture. Cal beats her up to test out his new mechanical suits. That is physical abuse. I can think of no reputable rehab program in the world which advocates torture and abuse as healthy elements of the healing process. Cal treats Aphrodite horrendously badly, but she falls in love with him anyway. That's an incredibly creepy message. I don't think the absence or presence of one flavour of bodily waste really changes that.
~

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~
Comments (go to latest)
http://viorica8957.livejournal.com/ at 07:32 on 2009-04-17
Christ, it's like he has all of Joss Whedon's issues and none of his talent.

(For the record, I will happily offer up my first published piece to be ripped apart be angry ferrets. Wouldn't have it any other way.)
Arthur B at 07:54 on 2009-04-17
(For the record, I will happily offer up my first published piece to be ripped apart be angry ferrets. Wouldn't have it any other way.)

Hooray! Your name will be recorded forever on the roll of those who have taken the Ferret Oath.
Wardog at 09:56 on 2009-04-17
Oh *dear*. I feel like I should be apologising to both Arthur and poor Jim Bernheimer for putting them both through this.

Self-publishing is a genuinely difficult issue - there seems to be some kind of disjunct I can't quite put my finger on. I mean, very often you do stumble across some original fic and you think "gosh, this person can be write at what seems to be a publishable quality" but I've never stumbled across a piece of self-published fiction and thought "zomg! This should be commercially published!" Maybe I am just bitter, mean and cynical. Possibly it's connected to the fact you'll occasionally read something that has been published and think "what were they on, publishing this dross" and assume it works the other way as well - I mean, if terrible shite is being published, surely masterpieces are being ignored.

I'm not sure - obviously I haven't read the collection and after this review I can't really see myself settling down with it - but are you possibly being a little harsh on Bernheimer's Women Issues? I mean, is there a greater level of self-awareness there? I mean, he's writing in notoriously misogynistic genres ... and there's also obviously a level of parody involved? I'm still not saying it's okay but is it really as dire as you're suggesting?
Arthur B at 10:09 on 2009-04-17
It's entirely possible it is a parody. The difficulty is that it's an aspect of the stories that pops up often enough that it's noticeable, but at the same time isn't a feature of every single story.

If it was just one or two stories with the premise "protagonists in SF/fantasy act like creeps towards women", I'd take it as a parody. If all the stories had the premise "protagonists in SF/fantasy act like creeps towards women", then I could sort of accept it as being a connecting theme of the compilation. But neither is the case; it actually crops up in around three fifths of the stories, leaving me at a complete loss as to what to think about it.

There also doesn't seem to be enough tip-offs that it's a parody, no winking at the camera. Cal in Confessions is clearly meant to be slightly insecure around women and finds them difficult to approach and even more difficult to trust, but at the same time it's not clear whether he's meant to just be a bit messed up on the subject or whether we're meant to treat him as a traumatised victim of those manipulative pretty girls in college. And then there's Gibson in Lieutenant Armchair, who basically walks up to a chick, alternates rapidly between verbally abusing her and building her up, and beds her. That's the sum total of the story, it's how he solves his problems and her's, and his attitude is never really challenged or questioned.
Wardog at 10:39 on 2009-04-17
And then there's Gibson in Lieutenant Armchair, who basically walks up to a chick, alternates rapidly between verbally abusing her and building her up, and beds her.


Perhaps Gibson has read The Game ;)
Dan H at 14:56 on 2009-04-17
Possibly it's connected to the fact you'll occasionally read something that has been published and think "what were they on, publishing this dross" and assume it works the other way as well - I mean, if terrible shite is being published, surely masterpieces are being ignored.

Which is ironic, really, because an infinitely more sensible response is "if they published *this* what must the stuff they *rejected* have been like".

Self publishing, outside of niche publications where there genuinely *isn't* a market (hobby publications mostly) really annoys me. As far as I'm concerned there's two attitudes you can take to writing:

a) This is something I do for myself, or a small audience. In that case you keep it on your LJ or your hard disc. Nobody wants or needs a hard copy.

b) I am writing for publication. In that case you need to actually try to get published by conventional means.

Self publishing feels to me like a way to get all the validation of being a published author without going to the trouble of actually writing something worth reading.
Dan H at 15:27 on 2009-04-17
are you possibly being a little harsh on Bernheimer's Women Issues? I mean, is there a greater level of self-awareness there?


Obviously I haven't read it, but so much of what Arthur cites sounds like classic fucked up nice guy logic - bemoaning his inability to get "hot" women because they won't ignore *his* looks, confusing a desire to draw validation from an abused woman with "seeing her as she really is and respecting her for it" and so on.

The sad truth is that most geeks **really do** think that way about women.
Arthur B at 15:29 on 2009-04-17
Self publishing, outside of niche publications where there genuinely *isn't* a market (hobby publications mostly) really annoys me.

Yeah, I find it pretty significant that hobbyist publications feature prominently in the results for Lulu's top-selling books in March 2009; the top three books are a fanzine for out-of-print editions of D&D, someone's personal analysis and meditations on the Song of Songs, and a history of one of the less fashinable branches of motorsports, all of which qualify as niche/hobbyist publications.

This does seem to suggest that there's something to the idea that self-publishing works best for fields where there just isn't enough of a market for conventional publishers to cater to - and fiction (especially fantasy/SF/horror) is not one of those areas, since there's an absolute embarrassment of major publishers and small presses to choose from. It'll be interesting to see if that trend holds true in the coming months; I note that Lulu have already decided to split the contest into categories, and most of them are nonfiction.
Wardog at 15:58 on 2009-04-17
Did anyone else notice that the leader of the top-seller contest is called Ignatius Umlaut? How awesome is that? I wish I was called Ignatius Umlaut.
Rude Cyrus at 19:16 on 2009-04-17
She doesn’t know the “lament of the nerd.” Every geek that gets into their late twenties looks back at all the girls/women that crossed their path and sees how the good-looking ones were always trying to get something. How many of them had I helped in study groups? They never overlooked the bad acne and eczema that followed me to UCLA. How many tires did I change and computers did I fix, hoping for a number from a grateful coed? How many boxes and pieces of furniture did I carry because a pretty pair of lips asked me?


Methinks Jim is drawing from real-life experience here. Also, that exchange between Armchair and Gibson sounds exactly like a domestic abuse cycle. Eugh.



Shim at 00:00 on 2009-04-18
We actually had a moment of confused panic when we got Jim's request: is he serious about this? Has he read our reviews? If he has, does he simply have balls of steel or is he so confident in the quality of his work that he doesn't expect us to pan it? And most importantly, who gets first crack at the pinata?

Indeed, it does look rather masochistic (maybe that's his thing?). Maybe he's so impressed with the quality of our ferrets, he reckoned on getting some editorial advice without the hassle of approaching publishers? Maybe he's desperately keen to refine his writing and thought a brutal, no-holds-barred ferret rampage would be the fastest, best way to expose his shortcomings and incidentally, practice for the World's Emotionally Toughest Man contest he's entering?

Now I feel under pressure to take the Ferret Oath! All the cool kids are doing it, mum.
http://descrime.livejournal.com/ at 04:01 on 2009-04-18
Every geek that gets into their late twenties looks back at all the girls/women that crossed their path and sees how the good-looking ones were always trying to get something...How many tires did I change and computers did I fix, hoping for a number from a grateful coed?

I just love the way the character scorns the women for "trying to get something" when he admits that he was only helping them in order to try to get a date. You know, rather than from being a nice person trying to help a classmate out.

I also love how he reduces them to their appearances ("good looking girls" and "pretty pair of lips") while bemoaning that they didn't look deep, deep inside him to his (very) hidden core of specialness.

(Never mind the even creepier part where he was hoping a woman would be so grateful to him for changing a tire that she would offer up her body in compensation.)
http://descrime.livejournal.com/ at 04:04 on 2009-04-18
I'm so sorry it posted twice. How do I delete?
http://fintinobrien.livejournal.com/ at 04:28 on 2009-04-18
I too will take the Ferret Oath. I would be honoured to have any peace of fiction I churn out ripped to pieces by this site. Or maybe it's the drink talking.
Arthur B at 11:08 on 2009-04-18
I'm so sorry it posted twice. How do I delete?

You supplicate the admins and eventually we are merciful. ;)

On your actual point: it could be, of course, that Cal is meant to spoof such attitudes. Except he does eventually get the girl by being completely horrible to her in order to... try and get something (in this case an ally in the war against the bugs). Granted, locking an recovering addict in a room while the junk gets out of their system is arguably for their benefit, but he also loudly plays the same song to her over and over again for six hour stretches and then, like I quote in the review, beats the shit out of her to test his new combat suit.

So the key to dealing with women is to man up, stop being a pushover, and start being psychologically and physically abusive. This is extraordinarily like the method used by Gibson in Lieutenant Armchair, although he restricted himself to emotional abuse.

Jim Bernheimer teaches us that abuse works.
http://descrime.livejournal.com/ at 20:08 on 2009-04-18
That passage really reminds me of an episode of Big Bang Theory called "The Dead Hooker Juxtaposition." Very Hot Chick moves in upstairs and Main Protagonist Geeks are falling over themselves helping her move and set up her electronics and Hot Chick Next Door comes to their "rescue," telling Very Hot Chick that the guys are "special" and just don't know how to say no. Never mind that the whole reason they're saying yes is exactly Cal's reasoning. The whole thing ends in the two girls rolling around on the ground fighting while the guys look on.
Dan H at 11:48 on 2009-04-19

I just love the way the character scorns the women for "trying to get something" when he admits that he was only helping them in order to try to get a date. You know, rather than from being a nice person trying to help a classmate out.

I also love how he reduces them to their appearances ("good looking girls" and "pretty pair of lips") while bemoaning that they didn't look deep, deep inside him to his (very) hidden core of specialness.


As Arthur says, there's a *possibility* he's supposed to be parodying those kinds of attitudes, but you'd think that in that case he'd be shown to be wrong at some stage. As it is, it feels a lot like those attitudes are being *vindicated* by the text.

Again, it's terrifying but a lot of guys *really do* think like this.

There was a really interesting post on one of the old D&D boards I was on where one of the female posters, I think after hearing the guys talking about their relationship angst too much, wrote a long post called "There Is No Friend Zone" (short version: if you have a friend who is a girl, who does not want to go out with you, it is because she does not fancy you whether you are "friends" or not doesn't make a difference). She got a whole bunch of replies to the effect that "there is *totally* a Friend Zone, I know because I am in it right now with this girl who won't go out with me."
Rami at 23:30 on 2009-05-10
To be fair, I think there is a bit of ambiguity there because what constitutes the "Friend Zone" is terribly defined...
Arthur B at 00:09 on 2009-05-11
I've vaguely heard of the Friend Zone, but I hadn't bothered to look into it until this conversation. As far as I can tell, the theory states that most women have a Venn diagram in their head, with the two sets being "People they are willing to sleep with" and "People they are friends with". Theological debates rage over whether men also have Venn diagrams in their head, whether the two sets intersect or are entirely separate, and whether it is possible to change your position in the diagram. It strikes me as being either offensively obvious or just offensive, depending on what version of the theory you're talking about.
Wardog at 15:20 on 2009-05-11
I'm confused. I thought everyone had the same Venn diagram in their head, consisting of "People They Are Willing to Sleep With" and "People They Are Not Willing to Sleep With" and a Zone Of Shame in the middle?
Arthur B at 15:25 on 2009-05-11
I don't know about that, but this Venn diagram seems awfully topical...
Jamie Johnston at 22:08 on 2009-05-11
Coincidentally, I was just watching this earlier.
Arthur B at 13:02 on 2009-06-25
News flash: Jim has a novel out through a small press, so he's moved on from self-publishing already.

Glancing through the previews on Amazon it seems that having an editor has tightened up his prose and purged his typos, but I'm still counting 2-3 cliches per page. Still, it's an improvement.

Not enough to make me buy the book, mind...
Dan H at 17:06 on 2009-06-25
Small press, or vanity press?
Arthur B at 18:23 on 2009-06-25
It looks like small press to me, in that they grew out of a magazine project and they seem to solicit submissions without any explicit guarantee of publication. Of course, it's not always easy to tell the difference - ultimately the difference lies in who pays to print the books, as I understand it - but they're at very least trying to look like a small press.
Robinson L at 03:00 on 2009-06-26
(Thanks for updating Arthur, I feel weird commenting on stuff that's months old ...)

Sounds like Mr. Bernheimer is still not an author I'd be interested in reading, even if he wrote more towards my genre. Does it seem to anybody else that editors are better at fixing some problems (spelling, grammar) than others (cliches)? I suspect they didn't address his Women Issues either.

That said, the title for Chapter 3 of Confessions of a D-List Supervillain is still made of win. (I'm assuming you didn't make that up, Arthur.)

We actually had a moment of confused panic when we got Jim's request: is he serious about this? Has he read our reviews? If he has, does he simply have balls of steel or is he so confident in the quality of his work that he doesn't expect us to pan it? And most importantly, who gets first crack at the pinata?
*snickers* Actually, I think Mr. Bernheimer has the right idea. You send ferretbrain some of your material to review, there are three possible eventualities, which I will list in ascending order of likeliness.

Possibility 1: for whatever reason, you are ignored or refused, maybe you're a little sad, but aside from that you've lost nothing.

Possibility 2: You get good marks from one of the most critical, intelligent, and attentive reviewers on the internet. Even if there no other benefits, a good ferretbrain review is it's own reward.

Possibility 3: You get to laugh your ass off at your own expense, and a first-rate critique tailor-made to your specific authorial needs.

Sounds to me like a win-win situation.

Gah, "Friend Zone." What bollocks. I'm sure there are many of my friends who, if I were to ask them out, would refuse, and it sure as hell wouldn't be because of any "Friend Zone" nonsense.
Rami at 11:59 on 2009-06-26
Does it seem to anybody else that editors are better at fixing some problems (spelling, grammar) than others (cliches)

It's a lot more obviously an editor's domain to fix mechanical errors, whereas if they critique style they might be impinging on the author's... err... vision ("what you call incoherent, others call bold and revolutionary, man") and the author might just go somewhere else for their publishing needs. I expect that for small presses (and / or big-name authors) that's a very significant constraint!

I don't think it should be as significant as it is, but there you go.
Arthur B at 13:48 on 2009-06-26
It's a lot more obviously an editor's domain to fix mechanical errors, whereas if they critique style they might be impinging on the author's... err... vision ("what you call incoherent, others call bold and revolutionary, man") and the author might just go somewhere else for their publishing needs.

Let's not forget that on top of spelling, grammar and style there's also content. Publishers of all sizes probably reject a few bits and pieces that are perfectly well-written simply because:

a) the publisher's out to cater to a particular audience and the manuscript just doesn't fit, or
b) they actually don't want to be responsible for printing and selling an unauthorised sequel to Mein Kampf, or
c) they don't want to get sued by J.K. Rowling or Stephen King or whoever it is that the manuscript is plagiarising.

Someone who actually works in publishing could probably confirm this, but I suspect that unless you're the smallest of small presses, or unless you've pulled a Bloomsbury and become dependant on the work of one particular author, individual writers need you more than you need them. If the Internet has taught us anything it's that there's always more people dreaming of being published out there.
Arthur B at 16:03 on 2009-07-04
CORRECTIONS!

I have been asked to point out two factual errors in the review.

Firstly, I misremembered which wolves died in The Wolf's Story. Nal dies, his love interest does not. I do not, however, feel that whether she lives or dies really affects my main complaint about the story, namely that it's a noble savage story which portrays the primary victims of the westward expansion of the US as being the poor little woofles.

Secondly, at no point in Confessions of a D-List Supervillain is it explicitly stated that Aphrodite ends up covered in her own shit. However, it does state that in one instance she has a seizure and vomits and pisses herself to boot. I suppose it's not completely impossible for her to have some sort of special seizure where she loses control of her digestion and her bladder but her super-bowels are a-OK, but that's kind of a stretch.

Whether Aphrodite ends up covered in piss, shit, and vomit, or just piss and vomit seems to be supremely academic to me. Granted, she's coming off magic sci-fi heroin, this sort of incident is to be expected. Granted, she is being kept in confinement, some rehab programs demand that. But Cal is playing her the same song over and over and over again for hours on end. That is psychological torture. Cal beats her up to test out his new mechanical suits. That is physical abuse. I can think of no reputable rehab program in the world which advocates torture and abuse as healthy elements of the healing process. Cal treats Aphrodite horrendously badly, but she falls in love with him anyway. That's an incredibly creepy message. I don't think the absence or presence of one flavour of bodily waste really changes that.

(This text will also be added to the review, I've put it in a comment so it appears on the frontpage too.)
Wardog at 16:23 on 2009-07-04
Thank you, Arthur.
Sonia Mitchell at 01:38 on 2009-07-05
'I suppose it's not completely impossible for her to have some sort of special seizure where she loses control of her digestion and her bladder but her super-bowels are a-OK, but that's kind of a stretch.'


Though I agree that's it's academic, I don't think this type of seizure is far-fetched. It's reasonably common to lose bladder control during a seizure, but considerably less so for the bowels. Vomiting I honestly don't know about - my only experience is with people with epilepsy, not withdrawal - but I don't think it's implausible, particularly if she's unsupervised. One could imagine her gagging if she fits unexpectedly (especially if she ends up on her back), or maybe vomiting post-seizure.

As you say, it's pretty irrelevant, but I don't think Jim's bending the rules here.
Arthur B at 02:22 on 2009-07-05
As you say, it's pretty irrelevant, but I don't think Jim's bending the rules here.

I have no idea whether or not he's bending the rules; to be honest, I don't really know what the rules are, but I don't get the impression that Jim does either. He never quite managed to convince me, throughout the whole sequence, that he'd really researched how rehab programs work and what withdrawal symptoms are like, beyond what he's seen on TV.

Also, thirty minutes after having the seizure she's up and having a shower and feeling fairly chatty. Maybe there are medical conditions where half an hour after a fairly major event you're feeling pretty chipper, but I have no idea whether such things exist, and Jim doesn't offer enough in the way of explanation and description to let me just take his word for it.
Viorica at 11:49 on 2009-07-05
maybe vomiting post-seizure.


That's possible- the only time I ever saw someone having a seizure, they got sick afterwards. Though they might have had some other condition, I don't know.
Wardog at 12:19 on 2009-07-05
For me the point is less what muscular control she loses during a seizure but why Jim thinks it's okay to lock a woman up until she starts to like you...
Arthur B at 12:29 on 2009-07-05
For me the point is less what muscular control she loses during a seizure but why Jim thinks it's okay to lock a woman up until she starts to like you...

It's OK because she's hurting inside and you're doing it all for her! It's a healing, helpful sort of Stockholm Syndrome that enriches the victim's life!
Arthur B at 08:10 on 2010-10-18
Oh gosh, the first Battle Maidens book is out! It's got a bunch of five-star reviews! Granted, one of them is from Jim himself and a good few of the others are from users who've never reviewed any other book, but that doesn't mean it's not good, right? There's a Kindle version, I could download it and read it on the Kindle PC app right now.

I am contemplating something foolish.
Shim at 09:23 on 2010-10-18
I'm surprised by how similar the reviews are. I mean, he's not exactly a big-name author, so I'd have expected one or two low scores from people who'd found it wasn't what they expected.
Not too sure about the ethics of using a review slot (at 5 stars) to post an advertising video, though..?
Arthur B at 09:35 on 2010-10-18
I'm surprised by how similar the reviews are. I mean, he's not exactly a big-name author, so I'd have expected one or two low scores from people who'd found it wasn't what they expected.

Surely it's because the book is lovely and everyone who read it enjoyed it!
Shim at 16:20 on 2010-10-18
Well, I'm reluctant to rush into accusing someone of skullduggery; admittedly I did have a quick gander at the reviewers, but there's enough Real Names and previous reviews to make sockpuppetry seem unlikely. I wouldn't be that surprised if most of them are Jim's friends (or have the same agent, or are in the same writing group), but that's hardly uncommon in reviewing circles. But being less cynical for a minute, it's perfectly possible that the only people who've reviewed it so far are those that sought it out because they liked his previous work. Apart from anything else, that seems the most likely way you'd come across the book - I certainly haven't seen any advertising for it.
Arthur B at 16:25 on 2010-10-18
Who's talking about skullduggery? Not me! I counted 5 reviewers who'd never reviewed any other book, and all of those gave it 5 stars. But that's clearly because it was the first book they loved enough to bother logging in to review!
Shim at 21:35 on 2010-10-18
Maybe it was the first book they've read. In that case, to any reviewers who have sought out more Jim and stumbled across this page, good job! I had to work my way up from Spot. Now that you've got a whole novel under your belt, and while you're camped out waiting for the sequel, let me recommend you try some of the highly-acclaimed works reviewed elsewhere on this fine site.

Although of course, I have not yet read any of Jim's work! This puts me at rather a disadvantage in taking the mick with a clear conscience. Given the popular acclaim it's winning, maybe I should change that.
Shim at 15:07 on 2010-11-19
You can now buy it for 71p on Kindle, if you want. If.
Arthur B at 15:13 on 2010-11-19
Apparently there's already places offering it second hand.

But it's a book about a 14 year old girl fondling a proud old stallion's stunted horn. I'm worried I'll go on some kind of list if I purchase it.
Arthur B at 22:59 on 2011-02-27
Update: if you enjoyed Horror, Humor and Heroes, there's a sequel out, though Jim switches from writing to editing this time around.

Also the cover art is better because it doesn't depict a guy wearing a motorcycle helmet balancing a bottle on his head.

Also also, Jim has done the thing where he posts a 5-star review on his own work with a strange little video presentation as to why the book is cool. Which I'm not sure is really what Amazon provide their reviews system for.

Also x3, in case you were wondering: no, I have not received a review copy.
Sonia Mitchell at 00:27 on 2011-03-01
Ooh, you can read the first chapter for free!
Wardog at 15:54 on 2011-03-06
Arthur you have to stop webstalking poor Mr Bernheimer :P
Arthur B at 17:12 on 2011-03-06
Amazon actually does it for me, bizarrely enough.

I think Amazon's systems have really weird ideas about what I enjoy.
Wow! Almost two years since you posted this review and you're still commenting on me. With so many bad things happening in the world today, you should really find something more positive to obsess over. Seriously, get a puppy or something.

I should be flattered even if it is slightly creepy. When your review first came out, I took great offense, but I can laugh about it now. For a small press / independent writer, I'm doing pretty well - won't be quitting my day job anytime soon, but sales are strong. I'm sure there're plenty out there who haven't liked my short story collection, but no one except yourself has had such a negative reaction. (Let alone call my mental health into question or imply other unsavory things about me.)

Since you seem to be following my career, I figured I'd drop by and make sure you're in good physical shape. I don't want you to have a cardiac episode next month when the full length version of Confessions of a D-List Supervillain comes out. Considering all the reviews for that collection except yours said it should be expanded, I decided to give the public what they're asking for.

You commented about the video reviews. Unless you've got a publisher who has a deal with Amazon or you want to pony up a grand or so through Createspace, it's pretty difficult to get a book trailer on your sales page, so I did the next best thing. Oddly enough, someone reported them as abusive recently and I had to relocate them to my Amazon author page. Not saying it was you, since I just got into the Amazon Vines program and they have a reputation for backstabbing other reviewers and being somewhat trollish toward each other. They remind me of you to some extent.

Well, thanks for the time. I'll be curious to see if this post ever appears or is moderated away.
Arthur B at 02:16 on 2011-03-23
Hi Jim! (Assuming it is you and not someone trying to use OpenID to post as you.) I've actually been obsessing over Fighting Fantasy and Warhammer and (most recently) Michael Moorcock since this review came out, I've really just been popping in to mention when related books get published as and when I hear about them. :) I've done it on other articles when newsworthy stuff relating to the subject matter has come out.

I'm sure there're plenty out there who haven't liked my short story collection, but no one except yourself has had such a negative reaction. (Let alone call my mental health into question or imply other unsavory things about me.)

Honestly, maybe there's just a culture clash here. In the review I was more or less reacting to what I was reading and there seemed to be these really weird undercurrents, especially when female characters were involved, but I suppose it's entirely possible that we just have very, very different ways of looking at the world and expressing ourselves so it's hard for me to understand what you're getting at.

Since you seem to be following my career, I figured I'd drop by and make sure you're in good physical shape. I don't want you to have a cardiac episode next month when the full length version of Confessions of a D-List Supervillain comes out. Considering all the reviews for that collection except yours said it should be expanded, I decided to give the public what they're asking for.

Oh, interesting. Would you happen to have any links to hand for those reviews urging you to expand it? Maybe if I looked over what they had to say I'd have a better chance of seeing D-List's merits. Does Cal still beat up Aphrodite to test out his new weapons in the expanded version?

You commented about the video reviews. Unless you've got a publisher who has a deal with Amazon or you want to pony up a grand or so through Createspace, it's pretty difficult to get a book trailer on your sales page, so I did the next best thing.

Well, when you put it that way it is a convenient method to put up a trailer if you don't otherwise qualify to have one on your page.

Oddly enough, someone reported them as abusive recently and I had to relocate them to my Amazon author page. Not saying it was you, since I just got into the Amazon Vines program and they have a reputation for backstabbing other reviewers and being somewhat trollish toward each other.

It was probably one of them then, I understand that a good number of people consider it unethical to post reviews and ratings on your own material on Amazon.

Well, thanks for the time.

No problem! Thanks for taking the time to clarify these things.
Yes, it's me. For proof, you can go to the Amazon page for HHH and the discussion under

http://www.amazon.com/Confessions-D-List-Supervillain-coming-April/forum/Fx2C9SHOHGHZP3F/Tx23Q21WXCUCXLB/1/ref=cm_cd_ttp_ef_tft_tp?_encoding=UTF8&asin=144145652X&displayType=tagsDetail

The comments are mostly from the reviews on Amazon and emails I get from my website and whatnot. It would be pretty hard for me to fake things like being a top 10, 500, and 1000 Amazon reviewer along with all those real names. Granted a few of them are friends and many are readers from my fanfic days.

Currently, total sales for HHH are between 150 and 200 copies per month and since release it's sold over 1500 copies which for an Indy self-pubbed short story collection isn't bad at all. Were it as god awful as you make it out to be, the law of averages says I'd have to have some negative reviews other than this one. If I can't manage to get a book trailer on Amazon, I clearly don't have any power to get negative reviews removed.

It's gotten favorable mention on http://karissabooks.blogspot.com/search/label/Jim%20Bernheimer (She's reviewed everything I've sent her so far and no, I didn't know her prior to sending her my books.) I don't put much effort into marketing HHH, since it's two years old and sells decently on its own. The follow up anthology and my novels get the majority of my limited marketing efforts. There will be a HHH3 which will consist of science fiction short stories from other authors (along with one from me). I hope to have a long run of HHH books.

Yes, some people do consider self-reviews unethical. Still,the videos for Spirals book one and HHH2 were clearly labelled "And now a few words from the author" (or editor in the case of HHH2). There was no attempt at deception and they were meant to introduce the books using my voice in a cheesy cartoon video which I reasoned would get more clicks than just a video review.

The scene you mentioned of Cal snapping also exists, largely unchanged. We could quibble about the rational behind the scene, but when I wrote it that was the best way I thought of to bring the matters to the boiling point. You never saw fit to mention how Stacy kept baiting him to try and get him in the room so she could attempt an escape. Either way, the story needed to advance and a confrontation of some kind had to happen. After the battle, his cells are wrecked and he has no choice but to free her or kill her since he can no longer hold her prisoner.

Other authors might have done it differently, but that's the way I chose to do it. At that stage in the book, Cal is still a petty and bitter thug of a supervillain and his actions were based on how someone like that could possibly act. Would your reaction have been different had the genders been switched and it was Mechani-Kelly holding Adonis prisoner?

Anyway, nothing I can say will convince you that this story collection or the novels coming from it are worth any more of your time. When the review first appeared, I thought it was a gross injustice and might damage my fledgling reputation, but it did not. I certainly didn't appreciate seeing my name publicly linked with buttsex when people searched for me using google, but now people have to go 6 or 7 pages back on search engines before they see it. Things die down given enough time.

The reason I came back was I wanted to reread the review since Confessions is coming out next month and I wanted to prepare for what people who don't like it might possibly say. I just found it humorous that almost two years later there were still active comments showing up in this thread.
Wardog at 13:17 on 2011-03-23
Come on folks. This is largely pointless.
Arthur B at 13:34 on 2011-03-23
OK, that rationale for why the fight scene is written the way it is makes me understand where it's coming from a little better. I suppose the same also applies to the whole psychological torture aspect with him repeatedly playing that song at her?

I think part of the problem for me was that Confessions is so rooted in Cal's viewpoint, and Cal is so sure of himself, that I felt it blurred the lines as to which of Cal's actions we're meant to get behind and which we are meant to condemn. Yes, Cal is an insecure little guy at the start, but he basically doesn't ever turn around and question his actions to a serious extent. The incident comes across as something that needed to happen in order to break their stalemate (which is, to be fair, exactly what you say it is), rather than an act of unacceptable brutality on Cal's part.

Perhaps the novella format didn't help; as it was, in the page count you had left, I felt Aphrodite's emotional arc from absolutely hating Cal to reluctantly agreeing to work with him to falling in love with him seemed abrupt and not especially convincing. I also think that given the realities of domestic abuse in real life, authors in general need to think really hard about any scenario they depict in which a woman ends up happy in a relationship with a man who was previously violent towards them.

For what it's worth, had it been Kelly beating on Adonis my reactions probably would have been different, because like yourself I'm a product of a culture where gender is kind of a big deal and the power imbalance between the genders is regularly reinforced. But I think that sort of thought experiment isn't necessarily helpful; the fact is that women are immeasurably more likely to be victims of physical abuse in relationships than men are. And often victims don't get out of that situation because they tell themselves that their abuser "really loves them" or "can change". Here you've given us a story where an abuser does change, and really does end up loving the victim of their violence. I hope you can forgive me for being deeply alarmed by that when I read the story.

Either way, I don't think much progress is likely here so I'll leave it there.
http://webcomcon.blogspot.com/ at 17:55 on 2011-03-23
You never saw fit to mention how Stacy kept baiting him to try and get him in the room so she could attempt an escape.


Maybe I'm just not getting this, but I don't see how a narrative of "Those women keep baiting and ensnaring and seducing and tricking men and they just can't help lashing out and/or raping them" is any more appropriate. Is rape apology more appropriate than domestic abuse apology?
Ash at 20:11 on 2011-03-23
I think that the quote webcomcon posted is extremely problematic, not only on the skeevy rape analogy aspect, but on the "she was asking for it" aspect. She was trying to escape so, of course, she deserved to be punished.

This is wrong on so many levels, I don't even know where to start.

Oh, wait. I do. I'll start with how you've just dismissed me and one of my best friends as being responsive for the abuse we suffered as children. Obviously, if we'd just behaved better, or been smarter, or whatever, none of this would have happened to us. I would never have had to apologise for my very existence nor bear the scars on my psyche. Clearly this was my fault. Obviously.

You know what the funny thing is,
Ash at 20:37 on 2011-03-23
My apologies for posting post instead of preview.

What I was trying to say, Mister Bernheimer, is that the idea that abuse survivors are somehow responsible for it is extremely pervasive to the point where I really trully believed for most of my life that if good kids didn't live through the things I did, it wasn't because my family was fucked up but because I was a bad kid.

On some level, the fact that I never should have been born is driven so deep into my brain that I'll never get rid of it. I won't get rid of checking the fastest exit route being the first thing I do when I enter a room or of the fact that ot amazese me when people tell me I'm human too.

And now you're saying it's my fault I can't get touched without cringing?

Well, fuck that, and fuck you, mister Bernheimer, because you're a thoughtless, priviledged, arrogant little jerk who has no idea what the trauma of abuse is like from the inside. Lucky you.

I'm never to get that however and I would appreciate it if you didn't do anything that might induce some very painful remembering on my part.

It's already too late for me as I've read your comment, but please, consider the fact that sf/f is THE escapism genre. The genre people like me are most likely to pick up because if escapism is a hobby for you, it was a matter of survival for me .

And I do not appreciate my escapism shoving the cold, hard reality into my face with a side-dish of responsabilty for good measure.

Please excuse me while I go lie and try to calm down and convince my body that for now I'm safe. I will most likely fail on that last point. I haven't felt safe in years and your comment is exactly why.
Ash,

You don't know me and you don't know my life any more than I know yours. If you've suffered in the past, I'm sorry and I'm sorry that a public discussion between myself and Arthur about a series of science fiction stories has caused you any discomfort.

That said, you haven't read the story or the scene in question which is about a superhero and a supervillain fighting. She's that worlds equivalent of Wonder Woman and he's a thug similar to one of Iron Man's enemies and he's a bad guy. They have already fought once and she has ambushed him on two other occasions while trying to escape. Yes bad guys do exist in the real world without superpowers. The story is his journey from being a bad guy to being a not so bad guy.

As for science fiction and fantasy being a form of escapism, yes, you are correct to an extent, but for all the feel good stories out there there are things like A Clockwork Orange which aren't so nice. Going to tell Stephen King that he shouldn't have written Misery? Whole books in that long running Gor series kept trying to reinforce the idea that women should enjoy being slaves to men.

As a consumer, you have the right to refuse to purchase things that might offend you. If you think this collection or my forthcoming novel will offend you then please don't buy it. If you're basing your opinion of my works solely off of Arthur's perspective, that's up to you as well. I'll say it again. This is the only negative review of this short story collection out there at this time and if it were the steaming pile of fecal matter that he made it out to be someone else would have likely told me so in the two years that it's been on the market.

I write characters and characters behave according to what the plot of the story is. If you think for a moment that I condone violence you are sadly mistaken. That would be like me taking that comment at the beginning of the third Ferretcast where Arthur said he'd like to murder me (followed by a disclaimer)as anything more than the joke that it was. (I got a laugh out of that Arthur.)

Because I can't seem to get away from this particular scene with you folks, the ending of this scene has Cal releasing Stacy and knowing he was wrong in the first place. It then becomes her "answer the call moment" because if she walks out of his base and back to the mind controlling bugs, she's possibly dooming the human race and giving up. Not to anyone's surprise, she stays because she's a strong character.

In another story in the collection (Lieutenant Armchair) the male and female characters realize that he is the "loose cannon, violent, disciplinary problem" and she is the officer remotely in charge of his unit who almost got him killed that day and they're all alone. She tenses up and gets ready to scream fearing she is about to be assaulted and he tells her to "Relax, my parents raised me better than that." Again, characters behaving in the context of the story I was telling.

I'll end what I hope to be my final post here with this. I mentioned that I thought Arthur's review was a gross injustice. From my perspective, he decided on a narrative early on and cherry picked the things that reinforced his narrative. That's his way of reviewing things and it works for him and the fans of his reviews.

Finally, I hope you find happiness. My happiness is my wife, my daughters, my friends, and my writing. Best of luck with yours.

Arthur B at 14:43 on 2011-03-24
That said, you haven't read the story or the scene in question which is about a superhero and a supervillain fighting. She's that worlds equivalent of Wonder Woman and he's a thug similar to one of Iron Man's enemies and he's a bad guy. They have already fought once and she has ambushed him on two other occasions while trying to escape. Yes bad guys do exist in the real world without superpowers.

As I've already said, I'm really not interested in keeping this discussion going, but I do want to throw something in here just to make sure that the context of the fight scene in question isn't obscured. (Trigger warning goes here for discussion of the context of a violent incident, by the way.)

This isn't like a straight up battle where they both have full access to their faculties. It's an incident which takes place after Aphrodite has been imprisoned by Cal for a while, and is severely weakened by going cold turkey from space bugs. (I have a vague recollection that her powers aren't working for some reason at that point, but I may be wrong because, hey, two years since I read the thing). Cal, conversely, is just chipper; he's even upgraded his suit so it's more effective than it was previously. The fight very clearly goes his way; if my recollection is right, Aphrodite simply never manages to defend herself or fight back with any effectiveness, but again, it's two years since I read it, maybe she does manage to get some punches in. Either way, I think it is oversimplifying to say it's just like Wonder Woman duking it out with Dr. Doom, or even any of the other points in the story where Cal or Aphrodite get into a scrap. The power dynamics are inherently different. And for what it's worth, if I saw a story in which Dr. Doom did something similar to Wonder Woman with similar results I would be just as appalled by it. That goes whether that story is by Stan Lee, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, or you, Jim.

I understand the necessity of having an "answer the call" moment where Aphrodite chooses to side with Cal against the space bugs, given the premise of the story. I do think it's unfortunate that this "answer the call" moment involves someone who's just been beaten up deciding that the stronger thing to do is to stay with the person who has beaten them up rather than leaving. Again, that's got the potential to reinforce all the wrong messages, and while I don't believe that's the message you intended to put across, I do believe it needs to be pointed out, whether or not I'm the only person doing so.
Ash at 16:14 on 2011-03-24
@Mister Bernheimer

I'm sorry I lashed out at you. I tried to get my point across as non-confrontationally as possible and I think I failed to do so by insulting you, which is something I shouldn't have done.

You're right, I don't know anything about your life. If I may be so bold as to say so, that doesn't make any difference. My issue wasn't with you personally, or the discussion you were having with Arthur but with the phrase:
You never saw fit to mention how Stacy kept baiting him
and that's the only thing that caused me any discomfort.

I'm going to put it that way: When the supervillain captures the superhero, it's normal for the superhero to want to escape. Your phrasing seemed to imply that it wasn't normal for her to do so.

To reformulate my point, the way you phrased it seemed to excuse Mechani-CAL's acceptation by making Aphrodite responsible for the abuse that she suffered.

NO.

Maybe she enraged him to the point where he was blind with fury, I don't know, I haven't read your book. That doesn't change the fact that the only person responsible for the abuse is the abuser. What he did might be understandable, but it sure as hell isn't excusable.

I should also mention that the context of supervillain vs superhero was abundantly clear from context in both the review and previous comments.

Mister Bernheimer, where did you get the idea that I only read "the feel good stories out there"? I never said that. What I meant was, there's a difference between reading a book on a triggery subject that I picked up knowingly and having a book suddenly turn out to be about abuse, or worse, treating abuse off-handedly. In one case, I have braced myself for the fact that the subject matter might hit close to home. In the others, I have not. Worse, in order to enjoy your story and empathises with the character, I may have lowered my mental defenses.

Never, ever in a million year would I dream of telling writers what to write about. I might, however, expect them to treat the subject with respect.

Just because your work has only had one negative review that does not mean it isn't problematic. People might not have posted a negative review because they don't have anywhere to do so, they didn't finish/get to that point in the book, it's rude to criticise or any other reason that does not imply that your book is good. I have no opinion on the book, either way, but your comment made me doubt that I would like to read it.

There is a difference between those two cases, though: Arthur used a disclaimer. You didn't.

I don't know you, as we've already established, so I can only judge you on your words, which seemed to be condoning abuse. Granted, it only applied to that precise circumstance but there is no circumstance under which abuse is excusable.

I'm personally of the opinion that Character, not Plot, should drive a story, but that is not the point.

[T]he ending of this scene has Cal releasing Stacy and knowing he was wrong in the first place. It then becomes her "answer the call moment" because if she walks out of his base and back to the mind controlling bugs, she's possibly dooming the human race and giving up. Not to anyone's surprise, she stays because she's a strong character.


There was a third option for Stacey: Not go back to the bugs and lead a Resistance herself. She does not have to submit to her abuser in order to be a strong character.

She tenses up and gets ready to scream fearing she is about to be assaulted and he tells her to "Relax, my parents raised me better than that." Again, characters behaving in the context of the story I was telling.


Characters behaving incoherently in the context of your story, because no woman is going to take a stranger's word on the subject of them not being raped.

Thank you for your well-wishes, but as it's pointed out here, it takes a lot more than that for an abuse survivor to heal. But thank you.


@Arthur
(Trigger warning goes here for discussion of the context of a violent incident, by the way.)


While I'm grateful for the warning, I should mention that it wasn't the desciption of the abuse itself that triggered me but the comment that implied Aphrodite's responsabilty.
Arthur B at 16:36 on 2011-03-24
While I'm grateful for the warning, I should mention that it wasn't the desciption of the abuse itself that triggered me but the comment that implied Aphrodite's responsabilty.

Ah, OK. I just thought it'd be sensible to throw the warning in for the sake of other readers with other triggers. Since you'd already found the discussion triggering I figured it'd be good to err on the side of caution. Sorry if it came across as implying anything about your own triggers.
Wardog at 17:32 on 2011-03-24
Like Arthur, I think there's only limited value in discussion here. As far as I'm concerned, this was a book we reviewed and now it's done with, and I think it's unlikely we're ever going to reach an intellectual accord, especially if you keep dismissing the experiences of abuse survivors).

I would, however, like to flag up that there's a very real difference in a book being "not very nice" and propagating a genuinely harmful real world attitude. What you have written here is a story about a woman who is abused by a man and it turns out to have been genuinely for her own good (regardless of whether the man feels guilty or remorseful about it later). The problem here for me is lack of awareness - this is not a book about abuse, it's a book in which a nice guy gets the hot chick by abusing her.

Noticeably, in all the "not nice" books you mention, nobody is better for the abuse they suffer. Alex's victims don't fall in love with him. The main character in Misery is pretty much broken by his ordeal.

As for Gor, it is certainly not my place to judge the fantasies of others. If you would like you book to be included in this category of "misogynistic wish fulfilment" I could at least respect your honesty, if nothing else.

(PS - I'm with Ash, if your characters are drones to the demands of your plot, rather than the plot being motivated by your characters then ur doin it wrong)
Ash at 19:46 on 2011-03-24
@Arthur

I really hesitated before posting that because I was afraid it would come off as "my triggers are the only valid triggers!1!" which wasn't my intention at all. I just wanted to explain what was triggering for me in this particular conversation.

So, thank you for including a warning and erring on the side of caution. It means a lot.
Ethan E at 07:24 on 2012-03-08
He is suffocating his own best work. He is living proof that easy access to self-publishing technology can horrendously damage your growth as a writer.


This is what I most agree with. Having not read the book myself, of course, I take your word, and think that because you can put letters on a screen does not mean you should, in any way. This is why most everything I have seen I consider "Respectable" has had more then one hand in it, usually by way of beta or editor. One idiot is easier to slip through into publishing then three, which is a minimum number of people you should have if you plan to sell it, the third being an actual human reader.

Either way, I agree with the points of the review. Apparently, writing what you know does not work when you don't know anything.
Ashimbabbar at 00:17 on 2015-11-30
for some reason I keep thinking of a unicorn savagely disfiguring a battlemaiden candidate for making fun of the size of his horn, and other maidens hiring a hunter to off him…
( Come to think of it, my recently watching Yurusarezarumono may have something to do with it )
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