Tomorrow I’m heading to South Carolina for AtomaCon 2019, where I hope to meet, face to face, John and Melissa, publisher and assistant publisher. I’ll also be hanging out with Con and writing friend Tania Burchell, who I met first at HawaiiCon. Tania is a science writer and a radio astronomer.
I notice how I pack and what I pack has changed over the decades. One change is so obvious I tend to overlook it. When I was in my twenties and thirties, most trips were road trips, and packing was a less crucial issue (because I could throw nearly anything into the car and call it good.) However, age, air travel and technology — and maybe experience — have changed what I bring and what I don’t.
In the old days, I think about 75% of what I brought was clothing and toiletries. The remainder was books, notebooks and pens.
Now, especially if I’m flying, the percentages shift pretty dramatically. I’ve gotten closer to figuring out what I need (and don’t need) in the way of clothing, at least for the most part. Clothes are probably no more than 60% of packing now. I try to always have:
a sun hat
water resistant coat/jacket
I tend to bring more tops and fewer slacks/trousers now, using the One Pair for Every Two Days rule.
business cards (hardly worth mentioning, but a change)
a flat rate USPS box when I’m going to a convention, so I can ship back bulky items like books
Yes, even though I bring two devices that allow for writing AND connect to the internet, I still bring notebooks and pens, and I still bring paper books, because that’s just who I am.
My pre-flight check-list contains a few things it didn’t thirty years ago, too. Things like, “Check Ride-Hailing Apps and update credit card data if necessary,” and “Get Passport.” Even though I have the vaunted Real ID, I still bring my passport, because… well, because I’m superstitious or something, I guess. It’s still the primary ID, so I have it if I need it.
Then I check my flight and hotel information six or seven times. Because that’s just how I roll.
On Sunday, November 10, I did a book event in Gualala, at the Four-Eyed Frog. I sold one book, and three supportive friends drove down from Mendocino to hang out. Otherwise attendance was not good. It was still a fun event and I’m glad I did it.
Joel, the original founder of the store and the current manager (he left and came back), said he had a national-selling author the day before, and they had four people show up. Bookstore events are flukey. And I got a chance to talk to a handful of people in the store before the event started, so the word got out.
We decided to make a weekend of it and stay at St. Orre’s, which is where we always stay. The place was full, but they got us into one of the small Creekside cabins, Fern Canyon. These individual cabins are set up more like conventional hotel rooms. In this case, we had a stunning view of the redwood trees marching down to the creek, and that large deck is a perfect place to sit with a coffee or an alcoholic beverage, or a glass of water, and commune with the trees.
When Joel moved away, the fate of the Frog was precarious, but a cooperative of people came together and put together an offer. I think you can call this a community-owned bookstore, although most co-owners are not interested in working in their investment. The store has rebounded, with books on the shelves and sales steadily trending upward. “Books on the shelves” sounds obvious; I was in there a few times when that was not the case.
Doug, Claire and Barbara, who came down, sat and chatted and we talked about books (and the book,) and then Doug said, “Well, are you going to read, or what?” I had planned to read a section from the second chapter, but since it was them, I read the opening, which again deals with a wildfire.
I would not call the event a marketing success (although Joel did ask me to leave him some more books on consignment), but it was fun, and validating, and I could not have created a better audience.
Day Four: Tuesday, around 10:00 am, after Liam thoroughly trounced me at Pokemon, we headed home. Traffic was light. The sky was pinkish-copper and my throat and nostrils itched with the smoke as soon as I went outside. We drove home carefully.
The stoplights were out, and our neighborhood was still without power. We had gas, though, so we could cook on the stove and take hot showers. The first thing we did was make a pot of coffee. The second thing we did was pour it into a thermos and take it across the street to our neighbor, who’d gotten home about an hour before.
The house was 54 degrees. It was in the seventies outside, so we opened the sliding doors and all the windows.
Pro-Tip: When your spouse gives you
a battery-operated headlamp as a gift years previously, and you put it in your
Emergency/Travel drawer, do not put it near the bottom of the drawer. Let it sit near the
top so you can find it in the pitch-black when you need to. Now, with our house
filled with daylight, the ratchet of generators and the cawing of the local
crows, I found it easily.
Go into a room, turn on the light switch. Remember, and turn it off. Go into another room, turn on the light switch. Remember, and turn it off. Go back into the first room…
I went into western Santa Rosa, because I heard they had power, and I thought the libraries might be open. I have a Verizon wireless modem, called a “jetpack,” that I had been counting on, but it malfunctioned, and on Tuesday afternoon and evening I could not get to the internet via my phone, due to the rate of demand.
Driving in, I came to a four-way stop with a glowing green light hanging over it. Cars were driving right through, not following the four-way-stop rule! I thought, “What’s wrong with these people? Don’t they know that… Oh. The power’s on.”
The power was on in some spots, just not the library. I made other plans and went to a friend’s house. He opened the door and said quietly, “Um, we’re not supposed to be here.”
I gasped. “You scofflaws! You mean they haven’t downgraded your status get and you came back?”
Day Two, Sunday: David and Tracey Jackson made room for us in
their household, which includes a ten-year-old, a seven-year old and a dog,
with no muss and no fuss. At least, that’s how Tracey made it look. A longtime
friend of theirs, Heather, was visiting. Heather was not under an evacuation order,
but she wasn’t sure she was going to have power when she went home to Sonoma.
Heather is an adopted family member, much the way we are.
If you have to evacuate and stay somewhere that isn’t your house, you can do
worse than hang out with a math professor, a scientist, a special education
teacher with a degree in Japanese, two smart, curious, creative children and a
The winds had died down a bit during the dawn hours, but it had picked back up, and gusts were slamming the house. To the north sat what would have looked like a fog bank, if it had been in the south… and it hadn’t been that brownish-pink color.
Mostly, we watched SocoEmergency.org, the various Facebook pages, and KRSO.com for updates. The kids were in the other room, watching a You-Tube channel where a You-Tube personality narrated his moves as he played Minecraft. His name was Thinknoodle. I grew to hate Thinknoodle.
I checked in on both sets of neighbors, each of whom had landed safely. Much like Petaluma, Rohnert Park, where we were, was an oasis of normalcy. They had power and were under no evacuation status. Things were open, like gas stations, a fact of some importance.
Tracey and I both checked in with Linda, Tracey’s mom, to let her know what was going on.
The house has two stories. You enter a foyer with an ascending staircase to your right that leads to the living room, kitchen and three bedrooms. The descending staircase on the left leads to a large den/rec room, two more bedrooms. Each floor has a bathroom. Basically, we had a private suite.
Some time during the morning, this conversation happened:
Me: (To Spouse) I wouldn’t have made it through this if it weren’t for you. Spouse: Well, you’re all right, I’m all right, and everything else is replaceable.
Tracey and Heather were experimenting with a new pressure cooker that Tracey had ordered. Heather, who enjoys cooking and likes to experiment, wanted to try red beans and rice, with hot dogs added, for lunch. The resulting dish was spicy, warm and a little soupy, which was how I thought red beans and rice were supposed to be. Heather called it “glop” but liked the taste okay. The kids thought it was just fine, especially the hot dogs.
Heather and Tracey also made brownies. Seriously, if you are driven out of your house at 4:00 am, go to the place where they are making brownies.
Wanting to settle in a little bit, I went downstairs and started sorting through the three bags I brought.
In the trunk of my car already I had:
a water resistant coat
By design I had:
clothes for 4 days
spare glasses (because I remember Iceland!)
charger cords for the phone and both PCs
external hard drive
copy of my birth certificate and passport
some heirloom jewelry
tax deductions folder
blood pressure cuff
By serendipity, I had:
several notebooks, including ones with notes and sections of current projects
I didn’t have:
items with emotional meaning
books that carry emotional meaning
any books other than the novella.
Fortunately, the room we were using is designated as Linda’s room, and it is half-filled with books. Many titles and authors I remembered from visiting Linda’s mainland houses before she moved. I picked up an Owen Archer history mystery by Candace Robb, and it kept me while we were there.
Sometime that evening, this conversation happened:
Spouse: I’m trying to think what I’m going to do if we go home and the house is gone. Me: Well, you’re all right, and I’m all right, and everything else is replaceable. Spouse: (Brief pause) Not everything! What about my 8-tracks?
Heather helped with dinner, creating a 1970s-era tuna noodle casserole. In the 70s I didn’t even like tuna noodle casserole, but this was delicious. I think that Heather, unlike my mom, is not afraid of spices. Anyway, it was good.
The wind finally, had died down.
Spouse and I went to bed.
Day Three, Monday: Monday
dawned clear and smoky. The smoke wasn’t moving, but that was a good thing. The
“wind event” had ended, but they were anticipating another one Tuesday through
Wednesday. The fire had swung around slightly and headed east. There were still
no fatalities, although there had been a few burn injuries and two of those
The fire nearly had doubled in acreage, but crews had halted its progress
toward Windsor and Highway 101.
Oliver’s in Cotati was open on generator power. Tracey and I went there
to stock up on provisions. They were quite well organized. They could take cash
and credit cards, but not checks, because the check verification system was on
Two people at the door of the store said they had eggs and butter only in the
dairy (ish) section. They were moving meats and deli things… and selling LOTS
of ice. In a couple of sections, battery-operated holiday lights festooned the
shelves, adding visibility and a festive atmosphere. They had one staff person
in nearly every aisle to offer assistance.
On Monday, we discovered that Sebastopol had been downgraded from “Evacuation
Order” to “Evacuation Warning,” the status we’d been at on Saturday. There was
still no power, and an anticipated wind event meant that the odds were good
there would be no power before Thursday. Halloween was starting to look a bit
After a bit of discussion we decided to impose on Tracey and David one more
night, and head back late morning on Tuesday.
Spouse and I went for a walk and critiqued the local Halloween decorations.
This was my favorite.
On Monday night I taught Lia to play Solitaire on my phone. She grasped
the concept right away, but the face cards confused her because they don’t have
numbers. When she went to bed, I tried to watch an episode of Classic Doctor
Who, The Mark of the Rani. This was my first introduction to a
female Time Lord (or Time Lady), a villain in her own right. According to Wikipedia,
the Rani was not successful as a recurring villain along the lines of The Master
(although I have a different perspective on Missy, now), but I have to say, she’d
be great to cosplay. I sort of understood what was happening, but I was nodding
off and so I never saw the brilliant secondary climax after The Master and the Rani
get stuck on her TARDIS in a constantly accelerating mode as a T-rex fetus (yes,
I said “fetus,” and I’m quoting the show) is growing, and coming to life. It
appears the little mining town and the Industrial Revolution are both saved. I
went to bed.
There was no wind. Our house was still intact. We were one day closer to Life
as We Knew It.
One: Saturday. We heard we were under an Evacuation Warning. The fire was
40 miles northeast of us but there was fear it would jump the freeway as it did
in 2017. We were anticipating a serious “wind event,” the gusts like they had
in 2017, too. It never crossed my mind that we would actually have to evacuate,
but for some reason in the midafternoon I went in and reviewed my “go-bag.” I
pulled out the binder that has our Trust in it, and put it in the second bag.
“I’m packing the Trust,” I said to Spouse, “because I’m neurotic.”
I packed my folder with all my verifications of tax deductions, and a folder
with an active contract in it – and five copies of Aluminum Leaves.
Weird, right? But I was like, “I’m doing a book event in two weeks and by God I
will have books at it!”
I unplugged the large laptop, wrapped up the cords, and put it and my external
hard drive in the bag with the trust. I set the baby laptop and my phone to
charge and when they had a full charge I put the baby laptop in a bag with some
pens, my Verizon “jetpack” and a bunch of my notebooks.
Infected by my anxious behavior, Spouse went into his office and pulled out a
couple of folders and put them in his duffle bag. Because he volunteers
regularly at places, he always has a go-bag.
I spent most of the day listening to reports of Healdsburg and Windsor being
checking the PG&E shutoff site. We went from “Clear” to “Possible shut
down,” to “Power has been shut off in this area.” It hadn’t but it seemed like
that might be a clue. Around 8 pm we lost power.
We went to bed about 8:30 and I kept my phone with me. Of course I couldn’t
sleep at first. I did not believe we would be evacuated. We never had before,
not with floods, not with fires in west county. And yet they were evacuating
huge swathes of people, far from the fire zone. I said, “Is this some bizarre
Spouse said, “No. They’re scared.”
Day Two, Sunday: The first phone Emergency Alert woke me up about 1 AM.
“The fire has reached Windsor! Get out now!” By then I’d been asleep for about
an hour. I thought, “Didn’t they already evacuate Windsor?” But people had
stayed. And now a spot fire, probably started by an ember carried on the winds,
had reached Foothills, Shiloh and Faught roads.
I went back to sleep. The second Emergency Alert woke me about 2 AM and said,
in Spanish, something like, “Evacuating Fulton.” Fulton is a village at the
crossroads of Fulton Avenue and River Road. The big fear, of course, was that
if the fire jumped, it would tear through the Russian River Valley. Evacuating
Fulton seemed weird, but maybe cautionary. In my defense, I had just awakened
and the alert was in Spanish. I’ve never seen the English version of that one.
I eventually went back to sleep.
The next thing that woke me up was sirens, in our neighborhood, and someone
talking on a bullhorn. Blue and red lights reflected off the hallway walls. “I
think we need to go,” I said.
I pulled on pants, T-shirt, and shoes, grabbing a sweater at the last minute.
“We’re going to Tracey’s,” I said, as if it had all been planned. It wasn’t.
Nothing had been planned, we’d just talked about it after Tracey and David had
offered, earlier on Saturday. It was 4:10 am. There was a sound like a nearby
train outside the house. It was the wind.
Tracey had texted me a minute or two earlier. “I hear Sebastopol is evacuating.
Are you coming here?” It turned out later that Tracey had stayed up nearly all
night, keeping in touch with friends throughout the county who were in the
numerous evacuation zones.
I grabbed the first two bags and threw them into the trunk of my car. I walked
quickly, not running like I was panicking or anything, into the house to get
the smaller bag. A Sebastopol police car went by. Through the bullhorn, a voice
called, “This area is under mandatory evacuation. Please leave immediately.”
Tracey texted me again. “If you don’t answer I’m going to call to you see if
I texted, or I think I texted, “On our way thank you.”
I had a flashlight, so I ran across the street to the house of our neighbor
Carol to make sure she, her son and her daughter had heard the order. Her
daughter has a house in Windsor. Early Saturday, she’d packed up and gone to a
friend’s in Guerneville. Guerneville is in the Russian River Valley; it had
been under an evac-order earlier the day before, so she’d come to stay with her
mother. Now she was leaving again.
They were awake. Carol said they had a place to go.
I ran back across the street, paused to trade phone numbers with next door
neighbor Karen. Spouse came over. “I will stay right behind you,” he said. He’d
pulled the truck out of the garage and closed the garage door.
Karen and I hugged.
I ran over to the other next-door neighbor’s house and pounded on the door and
shouted. There was no response. One car was in the driveway, which made me
think they were home, but after three minutes I gave up and ran to my car.
It was warm. too warm for 4 in the morning, and
the wind pushed me.
Spouse came over. “If we get separated, we’ll meet at the Starbucks in Cotati,”
I screamed. “Not Starbucks!”
“Peet’s, I mean Peet’s,” he said.
I pulled out, feeling my car rock in the wind.
From our house to Highway 116, called Main Street in the city limits, traffic
was moving and we made adequate time. By this I mean that we were actually moving
at the limit, 25mph, for several minutes at a time.
Then we got to 116.
A few things about Hwy 116; along with Highway 101, it is a north-south artery
and people evacuating were mostly trying to go south. Southern Santa Rosa had
power and was not under an evacuation order but getting to Santa Rosa was
actually harder than getting to Rohnert Park or Petaluma. At least, that’s what
we heard. And 116 was being used to funnel the final evacuators out of
Guerneville, Forestville, and various other unincorporated areas in west
Or to put it another way, at 4:30 this particular Sunday morning it was a
We planned to drive 8 miles to Rohnert Park. It took us four and a half hours. And – I’m not exaggerating – 2 hours of that was creeping along the two-block stretch of downtown Sebastopol.
I am so thankful I drive a hybrid.
At about 6:00 I texted Tracey that I’d just rolled up even with Many Rivers Bookstore and that she should expect us for brunch.
Every single side road coming into 116 was packed with cars, trying to merge. People were mostly being good and courteous, except for the inevitable few who would roll along the bike lane and then try to cut in. The ambulances, who were transporting people with medical or mobility issues, who were forced to use the bike lanes, were not happy with those people.
While I waited I saw a number of our familiar homeless people, hunched against the wind, walking their regular patches. They weren’t evacuating. They didn’t have transportation.
I was less worried about them than I might have been otherwise because I still didn’t think that this evacuation was driven by an imminent threat of fire. I thought this, like several of the other ones, was precautionary. But, if the fire had been close, what would they do?
I never thought the fire would reach us, or that the house was in danger. (Spoiler alert: I was right, it didn’t.) So why was I thinking about the house burning down? Why was I cursing myself for not grabbing a few pictures of my mom and grandmother, the photo of my dad and by uncle, a few more books? Why was I wondering what we would do if our house burned down? Why did my stomach hurt?
Every few seconds the stationary car would shudder as a gust of wind hit it.
After nearly two hours, I was sitting across from the Post Office on South Main. There was one car ahead of me, stopped at the intersection. That car waited while a car from the side street turned onto 116. A few minutes later, traffic eased forward and another vehicle from that street, this one towing an immense 5thwheel that looked like it could sleep 13, inched forward. It took about ten minutes to clear the turn and pull onto 116. And still the car ahead of me hadn’t moved.
I thought they’d probably fallen asleep, so I got out and started to walk up to them. The air was acrid, and the smoke smelled like garbage. It was growing lighter and the color of the sky was polished copper. The trees were lashing. Dust devils of leaves taller than my car swirled and danced in front of me as I walked up, planning to politely knock on their window and ask if they were all right. If they weren’t, I figured we’d call 911. Spouse has first aid training and decades of first responder experience. We’d be able to help.
I didn’t have to worry. I didn’t have to wake anyone up, either, because the car was empty. It was an abandoned vehicle. I turned back to Spouse, waved my arms futilely and got back in my car. It took a minute to safely navigate around it. Spouse followed, and then a Sheriff’s Office unit, red light and siren, pulled up. Spouse got out and pointed to the car, and they were dealing with it as we inched on.
All the evacuation material tells you to have a full tank of gas. People who have made a plan and think they’re going ten or fifteen miles away, may ignore that. They have half a tank, they’re good, right? Take into account that you may spend hours idling, not moving, burning fuel. It is possible that with half a tank you’ll run out of gas. (Spouse turned off his truck for a good portion of our two-hour enforced sojourn on South Main Street.)
Past Lynch Road, at the south end of town, we started actually moving, reaching speeds of nearly 20 mpg a few times. It was exhilarating.
We had turned onto 116 at about 4:30 am. We reached Tracey and David’s house at 9:15 am, where there was light, warmth, and coffee. Tom Petty had always promised me that I didn’t have to feel like a refugee. He was wrong.
Richard Powers, Pulitzer Prize wining author of The Overstory, spoke at Petaluma Copperfield’s, in conversation with Cheryl, the store’s book buyer.
I can throw around the usual words about Powers, like, genius. I think I’ll let his own words do most of the speaking. Powers is deeply thoughtful and deeply intellectual. He takes his work seriously, and doesn’t hide behind flippancy, self-deprecation or false modesty when he talks about his work or what he is trying to do with his work. (He is wryly humorous about himself in other ways –he doesn’t take himself too seriously.)
The Overstory is about people and trees; mostly about trees, and in particular, for a long stretch, about an event that happened in Northern California and Oregon called the Timber Wars. It was a real thing. Powers wanted to center the nonhuman (in this case trees) in the book. It meant, he said, telling the story using a different shape than the conventional western novel shape, with rising action leading to a climax and a denouement or wrap-up. The shape of The Overstory is very much the shape of a tree.
Powers’s work has been described by others as a blend of “the realist impulse…” combined with “the poet’s license to invent with unleashed abandon.” Powers talked about the “tension between realism and lyricism… or realism and allegory. Allegory has fallen so far out of favor that it’s almost embarrassing to admit to.”
While, outside, a busker played a mournful tune on a flute, Powers talked about expectations of readers opening The Overstory. They expect a novel, he said, but they seem to get a series of short stories, each about a person “whose life has been taken over by a tree.” “I wanted to push the whole locus of the story outside of ourselves.”
Then he said, “You know you’re not in the Kansas of Realism anymore.”
Powers’s moment of awakening came when he was teaching at Stanford, the heart of the Silicon Empire, and, he said, attending dinner-parties where people said, “We can fix every defect in nature, if you’ll just hang in there with us.” Seeking refuge from the dystopian, commodified present, Powers visited the Santa Cruz mountains, frequently walking in the redwoods, “in part to escape the oppressive future by entering the long past.”
Looking at an old-growth tree, Powers realized that, “Like any story about a colonial enterprise, the folks who did the heavy lifting weren’t in the story.”
He started working on The Overstory to acknowledge “his debt to the nonhuman.”
“We know how to tell stories about inner conflicts,” Powers said, and gave an example. “We know the political/social novels. We’ve forgotten how to tell… when we humans want something and the living world has another idea.”
He thinks these stories fell out of the Western canon about 200 years ago, and he said he thinks it’s “because we thought we’d solved that problem,” echoing the tech-person’s comment at the Stanford dinner party. Human exceptionalism is the root (pun intended) of most of our problems, such as the current climate crisis.
He talked about revising The Overstory five times before he realized the shape of the book would not be conventional.
Cheryl had a series of thoughtful questions prepared, but she almost didn’t need them, since in a couple of places Powers had anticipated the question. These two were very at ease with each other, and it’s clear that Cheryl had done her research, and communicated with him before the event. The planning showed because it didn’t show, if that makes sense; this interview was smooth and genuine.
Powers drew a large crowd and I was happy to see that.
If you haven’t read The Overstory, give it a try. Think of it this way; the opening, with its various characters, are the roots, the coming-together is the trunk of the story, and then, when characters seem to disperse, think of branches, cones and seedpods. It’s a brilliant book. And I’m delighted to have gotten to see him in person. (Thanks to Brandy for suggesting this!)
Fanlit posted two reviews of the fantasy anthology The Wand That Rocksthe Cradle. Kelly and Bill are excellent reviewers, with different areas of focus. I think the two reviewers give potential readers good perspective.
This week I will have some copies of Aluminum Leaves on consignment with the Sebastopol Copperfields. I’ve reached out to the Gallery Bookstore in Mendocino to see if they want more. They are the one bookstore who has actually ordered some (one) from the publisher, so we know they can do that successfully.
I’m working with the Four-Eyed Frog Bookstore in Gualala, Ca, for a book event later this year. Currently, they do have copies for sale. I’ll update this space and Facebook as details become available.
Let me start by saying, I love Batman and most of Batman’s sidekicks. I like Batman better than Superman, partly because he is a regular human guy, and partly because at heart he is a traumatized child and most of us can relate to that. At the same time, I understand very well that Bruce Wayne is a wealthy psychopath whose money and technology protect him from his crimes. I can secretly admire him, but honestly, there is no way he’s a good role model.
The CW likes Batman too, so much so that they’ve given one on his (several) spinoffs her own show. Batwoman airs on Sunday nights. Please note that this is not “Batgirl,” but a completely different character, one who rises to fill the role and duties of Gotham City’s vigilante after Batman and Bruce Wayne (weird, huh?) both disappear. In the comic books, Batman either 1) retires along with Superman and Wonder Woman, and/or, 2) came back but was killed by Darkseid or 3) wasn’t killed by Darkseid but was sent back thru time to the age of the dinosaurs. Let’s hope Batwoman doesn’t decide to address any of that!
In the CW’s stylish new show, Batwoman is the alter ego of Kate Kane (Ruby Rose), the rebellious lesbian daughter of Joshua Kane, CEO of a private paramilitary security force called the Crows. Kate’s mother and sister were killed in a car accident (Batman failed to save them; Kate barely got out of the car in time), who idolized her wealthy, reckless cousin Bruce Wayne. When her ex-girlfriend-turned-Crow, Sophie (Meagan Tandy) is abducted by a new comicbook-crazy villain-in-training who calls herself Alice, Kate returns from where she’s been learning fighting and survival skills to rescue her. In the process she uncovers Bruce’s secret identity and the batcave, and manages to forgive the absent Batman in about a minute and a half for twenty years of resentment that the bat “cared more about catching the badguys than helping innocent people.”
With “Luke Fox,” (Camrus Johnson) a Wayne employee, helping her with the tech, Kate resurrects the bat, bringing joy and some concern to a terrified and basically lawless Gotham. Along the way she rescues Sophie.
Like any TV show, there are things I like and things I doubt. And like most of these posts, I’ll do the list.
Things I like:
Visual Style: The first episode creates a good-looking Gotham City. It may just be that I know more about Gotham than I even did about DC’s other generically-named cities (Edge City, Central City, etc), but this town has character. Admittedly it’s a bad character, but still.
As always, pretty people are the order of the day and the CW didn’t skimp here. Ruby Rose, with her angular, high-fashion-model build and her assertive cheekbones, is the perfect physical specimen to support the batsuit and all the dramatic poses it requires. If the CW decides to do a spinoff called Batwoman’s Cheekbones, they will totally be up for it.
Stepsister Mary (Nicole Kang): Mary is my favorite character so far. She starts off as a shallow, self-centered society girl, and she’s a delight. She’s like a Kardashian only pleasant. Then we discover that social-ditz, med-student Mary secretly runs a street clinic in Gotham. Mary is brilliant, and her clinic and her medical training will come in handy for stepsis Kate when she has those flying-around-in-the-batsuit injuries that are virtually unavoidable.
The tech: I love Batman’s toys, and so does Kate. This could really be fun.
The Social Commentary: Kate is booted out of the ritzy military school she and Sophie attend, when they are caught smooching. Kate refuses to sign the “no homosexual conduct” pledge. Sophie signs it and breaks up with Kate.
“They don’t want you here,” wealthy, white Kate says to her girlfriend.
Sophie, a woman of color, checks Kate’s privilege. “I don’t have the luxury of being offended by that,” she says.
This actually could become a problem, casting Sophie as a craven, closeted woman with white one-percenter Kate as some kind of hero, but for right now, that sentence was priceless.
The voice-over narrative conceit: This worked for me only when I found out what it was. At first, Kate’s journal-entry narration really bugged me. Near the end, though, we find out that she is keeping a journal to show Bruce Wayne when he comes back (from the dead or the dinosaurs or whatever.) That made me think I liked it.
Rachel Maddow. Yes! The MSNBC commentator and writer does some voice work on the show, and I’m hoping for a cameo.
What I doubt:
Okay, honestly? Ruby Rose’s acting ability. I’m not sure any serious show about the Gotham vigilante can rely on the lead’s sheer good looks to carry such a complicated, dark character. Casting Kate/Batwoman as someone who is primarily a daredevil could lead to the problems that, well, Daredevil had. This show is going to have to count on Luke Fox, Mary and probably evil-nemisis Alice (played by Rachel Skarsten, formerly the Valkyrie Tamsin on Lost Girl) to carry the emotional weight of the show. But the show is not called Friends and Enemies of Batwoman.
The Universe. A dark, corrupt Gotham doesn’t worry me (although it does confuse me). No, what worries me that one positive review I read said that Batwoman has “everything we love about the Arrow-verse.” What were the things we loved? Unimaginatively corrupt cities? Mysterious invisible floating islands? Elastic timelines that never worked? The same plot recycled and recycled? Batwoman has already shorthanded “We’re Starling City/Star City lite over here,” with the idea that the municipal police are virtually nonexistent and the Crows, a corporate vigilante group, provide what security there is to a handful of the very rich. My problem with that is, far from giving a critique of it, Kate Kane thinks that’s cool. I mean, she says things like, “People aren’t afraid anymore, and that’s bad.” Note that she doesn’t say criminals, she says people. This is a bad start.
Alice: There is no question about who Alice is. Really, there is so little question that I wondered why people were acting like they didn’t know who she was. Then her identity was revealed at the end of Episode One. In one way, that’s good. Dragging out something that was headlights-in-the-dark obvious would have made Kate and her annoying father Joshua look even more stupid. In another way, it leaves less room for any real story about a person who shouldn’t be much of a villain. My desperate hope is that she is the puppet for a more plausible Big Bad, someone hiding in plain sight, who hopes to benefit (maybe politically?) from a fearful populace and a private army that can’t meet the deliverables in its contract.
Wimpy Heroes: The Crows are trained at the level of Delta Force or SEALS, at least allegedly, with top of the line technology (except for the stuff sitting pristine and unused at Wayne Enterprises, where it’s been for three years). They are soundly thrashed, not once but twice, by a giddy Lewis-Caroll-quoting demi-villain and a bunch of guys in rabbit masks. I mean, yes, Alice has a mole in the Crow organization, but still. Really?
The last show I tried to watch that took a new character from the title character’s universe was a dismal Krypton on Syfy. That show sank because it tried to do too many things. The difference here is that Kate Kane in an in-universe character and so is Batwoman. That may make a difference.
I like Mary, and the style of the show, and the toys. And Rachel Maddow! Those are all pluses. On the other hand, it celebrates being related to Arrow, a series with a main character who was contemptible and a storyline I found impenetrable. Batwoman espouses values that are bad; the wealthy individual over the community; privilege over service. Great cheekbones might not be enough to save it.
On the other hand, there is Mary. I think I’ll watch a few more episodes, and hope that the battle for Kate’s soul is interesting and authentic… and that Rachel Maddow shows up. (Oh, no! I am informed in this article that Maddow will not appear on camera.)